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Kontext King

Yes, political correctness comes from fear, and ignoramic dissonance, but also, one other fundamental human characteristic. Laziness. And not necessarily, but a little necessarily, the laziness of the individual, but mostly the laziness of the categorical boxes of language that suffocates said individual’s speech. The stem of this problem exponentiates, like the invite list of a high school house party, when shining a light on the human tendency to organize the world (jocks and nerds rejoice), and the linguistic limitations with the categories at hand. Most people don’t come up with new words, or phrases, or categories, or constructs. They follow. What’s the latest insta-gentrification filter? And it doubles down when considering the satisfaction of putting an object in it’s correct box. Tick. Job’s done. Ah, I solved the problem. Su Do Ku finished. Rubik’s cube solved. Proof QED. And it’s built into language. We say “this is that”, or “these are this way”. We don’t say, “given X, Y, and pink bananas, this has a 95% confidence interval of being correlated, while causational connections cannot be drawn”. Grey, nuance, contexts of situations, and complexities of concepts, are challenging, unnerving, and don’t lead to a happy neatly wrapped up world that can be tucked into the universe of blissful calm sleep. It leads to more questions, discomfort, and sometimes, actually most times, a feeling of injustice. A feeling that needs to eventually become a comfortable one, or at least accepted, when dealing with the nuance of seemingly everything.

This sparks an earlier discussion we had on the free will continuum (briefly: most behaviour is explained through environmental genetics, and genetics genetics, and less so through free will, existing on a continuum rather than a binary of determinism v free will). In the year since we swam in those thoughts, I’ve tried to internalize that sentiment and give less credit to free will and more to the aforementioned factors, and in doing so, it has allowed me to become more of a passive observer, seeker of context in people, environments, situations, etcetera. And this is where I think the solution to political correctness is, the seeking of context. Hey, so you notice an uncomfortable trend across a certain subset of the population. Maybe find out that there are underlying historical reasons to explain said behaviour, or the interminglings of local individually specific reasons, perhaps in concert with historical reasons. (And of course the duh, the trend doesn’t include everyone in the group, duh). If you accept that most behaviours don’t come from a conviction of free will, and often is explained with context, political correctness resolves as an unnecessary overreaching disguise that leads to fearful sentiment, and unsolved questions. Open free discussion of context is king.

We’ve taken tons of jabs at political correctness, so lets take a moment and ponder the roots, and find some *ehem* context of the stems of it’s usefulness. One fundamental problem that it addresses is stereotyping in institutionalized power domains.  Here’s a quick example: a 2009 study that asked black, white, and latino participants to send out identical resumes to a variety of entry level positions. What came of it, “black and Latino applicants with clean backgrounds fared no better than white applicants just released from prison”. Throwing aside outwardly abrupt, idiotically ignorant HR managers, what’s most enlightening in these situations is that the HR managers are being racist on an unconscious macro level. And lets look at that word ‘macro’ for a second. The use of that macro word highlights the trend of stereotyping, without necessarily blaming individuals for it. When pressed, I’d guess the non-abruptly-ignorant HR managers would be appalled at the thought of this discrimination.  Political correctness of thoughts here is almost a self reflective mechanism of “hey, was I being unfairly judgmental without knowing it?” or “what are my predisposed biases and how do they reflect my decision making”.

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When spewing in the arena of idealism, refreshing yourself with a reality check, or an expectations calibration, is as necessary as wiping your butt after a gleeful number deuce. As much as I preach about being a Kontext King, a reflector of your thoughts & biases, the underlying madness that lies beneath any idealistic mumblings is the ugly nature of our reality. And this is most poignantly reflected through the lens of the attractiveness bias. As in any general advice thread we’ve seen on reddit, Step 1) Be Attractive. In a species, even an intelligent one, arrived at through billions of years of sexually charged evolution, the playing field of privilege will never be fair. Accepting that fate at least allows the nuance of context to be swallowed with a gulp of expectation, rather than harshly down, mean and jagged. Political correctness can’t solve that.

 

 

Insta-gentrification Filters

Political correctness as a sort of linguistic cultural gentrification is a brilliant analogy. Our generation has been obsessed with gentrifying every place we visit, and everything we do. Does this come from fear? From ignorance? From the same cognitive dissonance that allows people to enjoy beef and chicken burgers every day while simultaneously tweeting their unabashed bewilderment over the unnecessary killing of one gorilla? Maybe.

I just watched Bo Burnham’s brilliant Netflix special: ‘Make Happy’. In one of his bits, he talks about how he worries that maybe his shows won’t find an audience because they are largely about what he knows best: performing for other people. But our generation is different, we’ve grown up performing. Social media is non-stop performance art for our friends. We have been cleaning up our lives into nicely packaged square pictures since we were teens: linguistic gentrification is just a natural extension of Instagram filters.

Political correctness has clearly been around for much longer than sepia toned selfies, but are we now more susceptible to its most pernicious elements? I think so. Humans are now, more than ever, living in urban, cosmopolitan cities that require real collaboration and not just polite tolerance. Does token inclusion really lead to commonplace inclusion, or is it just the Wizard of Oz curtain that is begging to be opened? In his essay, The Soul of Man under Socialism, Oscar Wilde pointed out that ‘the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realized by those who suffered from it.’ Are we hiding societal issues under the gentrified veil of Instagram filters and euphemistic words?

If Political Correctness has been around for a long time, exactly how is our current version different to what came before it? We are more informed and connected than any of our predecessors, but that also comes with a burden: we are acutely aware of a million perspectives. How do you build a society with a million perspectives? It seems that lately many people have turned to political correctness as the only way to stabilize a cosmopolitan population. But maybe, like Slavoj Zizek thinks, the only way to fight issues like racism, is with progressive racism. To what extent can racist jokes build bonds within a diverse society as we realize that we can laugh at our differences? Instead of hiding behind our filters, can we instead be honest about our strengths and weaknesses? Maybe we don’t need to gentrify our lives, but we need to share honest perspectives that open our eyes to the problems and solutions that exist around the world.

Look out world, the NFC boys are back in town, and we’re ungentrifying your perspectives, mannn.

Ugly Change

It’s been a while, so I’ll start easy, with familiar territory … a big bad B word that we love and hate. But before we get to exploring the intricacies of the question you raised of how to observe with precision without being mean, lets begin with discussing a pressing divide in the discussion surrounding political correctness. But even before then, as scarily difficult as it was to write the two sentences above, it’s nice to be back on a no concentrate diet.

This divide I eluded to earlier separates the people in the game of democratic politics, and the average citizen participating in the socio-economic framework of a free market society. The former deals with political correctness as a set of rules to a game, to please the masses, to not get caught in a bad sound bite, and ultimately to collect delicious votes when the time comes. The rules of what is PC and what isn’t may change through time, but in the world of politics, it will always continue to be a game of whoring to the populous and not offending a large demographic voter base. The latter part of the divide is far more fascinating. It involves how the average citizen interacts with the rest of society and the inner-workings between the marginalized and privileged. Part one of this video on the philosophy of South Park perfectly articulates this. A theme in the video that I think is central to the component of PC culture is inclusiveness. The point he makes is that false inclusiveness of PC culture only provides a means to appeal to more demographics, and also to shed a sense of guilt of the privileged, rather than to actually include and solve underlying problems. A quote from South Park itself:

“What is political correctness but a verbal form of gentrification, spruce everything up, get rid of all the ugliness in order to create a false sense of paradise”

While I think fundamentally this is true for the current state of our Western populous, what it doesn’t take into account, is the benefit of that this false inclusiveness will have for generations to come. Although it may not solve the underlying problems of marginalized populations, and even if PC culture is a hot commodity to market to the privileged, what currently is a token inclusion, will end up being a normal occurrence. Although the change is ugly, at least it’s change, and for the same reasons that people stereotype to begin with, if the norm is inclusive, the stereotype will be too.

Donald Trump, Slavoj Zizek, and Louis CK on Political Correctness

Political Correctness. For a long time, the concept of being politically correct seemed to me like an inconsequential formality – a courtesy that we as humans living in a cosmopolitan, inter-connected developed world simply must try our best to adhere to. But even as I write that definition down, it somehow seems condescending and pernicious – a thin veil that hides the ugly reality of our opinions. But that rebuttal seems like too much of a swing towards the other, cynical side of the spectrum. Surely words and phrases that people call ‘politically correct’ are more like euphemisms, rather than outright lies. So where on this spectrum does your opinion lie? How much political correctness can a society handle before it crumbles under its own feeble cowardice to call a spade a spade?

I’ll start off with a few observations of my own. I’ve been following the American primary race quite closely. In a recent debate, Marco Rubio responded to Donald Trump’s accusation of politicians being politically correct with the line ‘I’m not interested in being politically correct, I’m interested in being correct’. Rubio’s implication is that because Trump has made his entire campaign about electing a political outsider who is ‘not afraid to tell it like it is,’ he has completely ignored actual facts in favour of simple pandering rhetoric that demonizes the status quo. True as that may be, Trump’s strategy has worked wonders for him, and his message of ‘don’t listen to the politicians, I see it the way it is’ has resonated with many people across the U.S. So what’s wrong with ‘telling like it is’? Here’s the problem: most political issues are complicated, nuanced, and boring. What Trump does is turn political correctness on its head. He accuses other politicians of hiding the truth under the PC blanket, and then uses his anti-PC rhetoric to do the very same thing! In essence, both the Clinton’s and the Trump’s of the world project complicated issues onto bite-sized talking points. One does it with flowery, inclusive (yet fundamentally deceiving) language, and the other with exclusive, hateful speech. Which is more harmful? I don’t think it’s completely clear.

Here’s a point against political correctness. One of my favourite living philosophers, Slavoj Zizek, has a great reason why being PC can hurt society: it makes it harder to rebel. For example, imagine that you are an employee stuck in a mindless, unfulfilling job. In a PC-free culture, a boss creates no illusions that he is your boss. If you dislike them, that’s too bad for you, but at least there is a clear target against whom you can target your rebellion: ’this awful boss is making me do this mindless work!’ In a PC culture, where your boss may be much more friendly to you, you may suddenly have no one to blame for your predicament. Often, you instead end up blaming yourself. But what’s wrong with being friendly? Doesn’t that improve your work environment? Well, I see it as a local-global discrepancy. On a local scale, sure it improves your interactions day-to-day, but globally, the PC boss is actually doing you a disservice by removing a natural drain into which you can funnel your discomfort. Instead of rebelling and effecting change within the company, you instead sink into a self-loathing misery.

Of course, I am describing extremes of the spectrum. To help find the balance, I think it’s poignant to look at the most observant people in our society: comedians. Take Louis CK’s Saturday Night Live monologue from earlier last year, where he spends the season finale opener talking about the middle east, modern racism and pedophilia. He walks a tight rope (for a national broadcast) between being honest and unnecessarily pushing boundaries. During an audible groan from the audience, he quips ‘how do you think I feel? This will be my last time hosting..’ Yet, somehow, he manages to remain the quintessential Louis, making poignant, PC-free observations, without overtly offending anyone. Can we as a culture find the same type of balance?

NFC Podcast #11 – Topic will be named next week

In this NFC podcast, we have a special guest: Hershal Pandya. We talk about procrastinating, Stephen King, and soul crushing jobs.

Motivating the Nihilists

Valentin, you forgot to mention to Hershal the ever-pervasive, sometimes oddly positive, but mostly dwelling theme of nihilistic spiralling we have around at NFC. And in this theme of pointlessness, I believe lies the preservation and perseverance of procrastination.

When people are driven with sheer purpose in life, especially a grand purpose that stems from a strong willed faith, it’s easier to get that stem of motivation to get things done to coincide with that purpose. And when I say strong willed faith, it’s not necessarily referring to just believers of a higher power, a life after death, or any real purpose beyond the limits of the human experience, I also include people who operate under goal centred ideals of motivation in their current existence. When I graduate from law school, or help save the world, or raise a great couple of kids, or buy a beach house, or finally turn that one pack into a 6 pack, I’ll be happy. That faith in the gratified future you drives you on those nights where you’re running on low motivational fuel.  And the closer you are to believing the satisfaction in the end destination of that goal or the blinder your faith is, the easier it is to make those tough calls on those nights.

So what does this mean for the ones prone to nihilistic spiralling, the ones that can’t staple meaning on an idea for longer than a rat can wait to hit an inconsistent food lever? I think this is where we channel the inner Lykovs in us. Instead of relying on passion to drive our career choices and motivation, dial it back a generation, and just accept that a job is a job to survive off of, to put food on the table for you and your family. So long as you choose to be a participant in society, i.e. you’ve decided not to kill yourself, treating and programming your career as a job to survive in the world makes the whole thing a bit easier to not procrastinate. And of course it’s not a binary thing, it can be a mix of passion and survival. So I suppose it’s more accurate to say prioritizing survival over passion motivation might make the productivity to procrastination window a little more clear in our nihilistic spectrum of the world. And as for the rest of your hobbies and creative pursuits, I think as you said Valentin, embracing the spice of procrastination is to embrace the curious nature of the universe around us.

The Old Believers

Our first guest contributor! Welcome, Hershal, to the wonderful world of armchair pseudo-intellectual speculation, loosely held together by pithy titles and out-of-nowhere rhetorical questions! Isn’t it great?

I see you did some research on procrastination – I did as well. This week, I spent countless hours on the internet perusing various flavours of instant gratification instead of focusing on other, more pressing, matters (like this post). Completely unlike any other week, I swear. Here’s one article I stumbled upon. It’s a facinating read about a Russian family, the Lykovs, of ‘Old Believers’ that fled from the atheist Bolshevik purges of Christianity in the 1930s. The Lykovs escaped into the Russian Taiga, a harsh wilderness that’s cold and barren in the winter, and full of dark clouds of mosquitoes in the summer. Amazingly, the family of four (growing to six, after two more children were born in the wilderness) managed to live on their own with no human contact until 1978, completely unaware of World War II, space travel, or nuclear weapons. When the father was shown a cellophane container by a party of geologists who made first contact, he exclaimed ‘Lord, what have they thought up—it is glass, but it crumples!’.

I bring this up to highlight two points. First, a meta one. Procrastination does sometimes lead to bits and pieces of wonderful new knowledge like the fascinating story of Old Believers. How much do I retain during a typical procrastination-induced binge? I don’t know, probably not much. But I do enjoy breaking up the monotonous routine that often seems like the way you’re supposed to live your life. Plan out your schedule, do everything the schedule says, and be a good little robot. Procrastination is the antithesis to the schedule, it’s a way for me to be anti-programming (to use Rachit’s phrase he coined during our life and death segment). Are you ok with never knowing about the Lykovs, in exchange for a few hours of more peaceful sleep? I’m not. But maybe I’m that rat that’s checking for new knowledge constantly, instead of scheduling a one hour binge session once a week? The ‘b’ word may or may not be applicable here.

Second, the Lykovs could not have procrastinated much. How could they? Their lives, and the lives of their entire family were at stake. Procrastination is a product of a societal safety net, something that does not exist in the harsh Siberian wilderness. From an evolutionary perspective, procrastination doesn’t make much sense. We procrastinators should have died out ages ago. Where are all the lions surfing the safari-equivalent of Reddit? They’re dead. As humans, we procrastinate because we can, but when push comes to shove, we get shit done. In some ways this thought is a relieving one: we are programmed by millions of years of evolution to survive, to live until we can reproduce. I’m sure everyone’s heard the advice that’s given to entrepreneurs, artists, and other people looking to start a long, intimidating journey: just put yourself out there, and commit yourself fully. Just do it, as Nike has been saying for decades. Sure, it’s trite, but it makes sense. Fear is the ultimate motivator, it triggers a response that has been hardwired into our brain: get shit done.

I have a few more thoughts I’d love to share, but in the interest of space, I’ll end it here and leave you with my one of my favourite comics of all time:

panic

~ V

The Elements of Procrastination

Before I delve into the topic of productivity, I want to say that it is an honour to be the first ever Never From Concentrate guest contributor. Shoutout to Rachit and Valentin for providing me with a platform to pontificate on profound subjects and for implicitly endorsing my pseudo-intellectual bullshit. Reading through the archives, it’s admirable to see how the two of you attempt to arrive at clear conclusions about ambiguous issues, particularly when it’s so easy to be a non-committal fence sitter and thereby seek validation from people on both sides of an argument (author’s note: sometimes my self-awareness is exhausting). I hope to be able to hold myself to the same standards as the two of you and use this opportunity to flesh out some concrete opinions. Here we go:

Considering the name of this blog, I’d be remiss if I didn’t begin by sharing an anecdote about a Google Chrome extension I used to use called “Concentrate.” The conceit of the tool was relatively simple; I would enter the URLs of various websites that typically hindered my productivity, specify the length of time that I wanted these websites to be inaccessible for, and then try my hardest to be productive. Whenever I opened a new browser tab and my Pavlovian response kicked in—typically, this meant checking Twitter—my browser would redirect me to a screen that showed me a picture of an orange and said “Concentrate.” If I’m being nitpicky, I’d prefer if it showed me some sort of inspirational quote rather than just a picture of an Orange, but like, what is this, TechCrunch?

I don’t have any data to reinforce this, but my best guess is that procrastination is composed of two main elements: (1) an inability to delay instant gratification, and (2) a general lack of interest in a given task. In my case, the “Concentrate” extension helped me combat the former. It gave me an opportunity to regain my perspective and think, “It doesn’t matter if Andy Richter tweeted something funny about a topical internet subject, my exam is in eight hours and that’s objectively more important right now.” Eventually, I bought a smart phone and I once again succumbed to my utter lack of self-discipline.

I read an article a little while ago that suggested that some of this might be out of my control. The author compared an individual’s excessive need to check their phones with a study conducted on rats. The study examined two groups of rats: a primary group who were fed at the same time every day and a secondary group who were fed at random intervals. The first group of rats began to sense a pattern and eventually began checking for food only at the designated time; whereas the second group of rats, unsure of when the food was going to come, began checking obsessively. This sounds a lot like humans, checking our phones obsessively because we are never quite sure when the next ‘ping’ is going to come. In the modern technological age, procrastination is now a subconscious impulse.

Unfortunately, even before purchasing my smartphone, the “Concentrate” app did nothing to combat the latter element of procrastination. It would seem that when I’m disinterested in a subject, I will purposefully go searching for distractions because literally anything else will seem more interesting in the moment. I’m pretty confident in my assertion that I’d rather watch five conspiracy theory documentaries than update my LinkedIn Profile.

I think this supports your point, Rachit, about why people tend to be more creative during periods of procrastination. In a perfect world, nobody would be forced to work towards tasks that they’re unmotivated to accomplish because it is a complete waste of human capital. Economic theory tells us that society is collectively more productive when we’re all allowed to focus on our comparative advantage. For many people, this is the thing that inspires them—the place their brain wanders when they’re doing mindless data entry. I’m not naïve enough to think that this is feasible at all times, but I think it’s worth noting that the person with the potential to solve climate change could very well be too busy analyzing lab samples to ever  get to that point.

Slow down, man

It somewhat fitting that our topic of productivity is delayed by a slew of procrastination on my part. So in that spirit, lets talk about delicious, yummy procrastination. Whenever I delay, avoid, or push things to future Rachit’s problems list, I find that all the distractions are that much tastier. I remember reading an entire book (Richard Branson’s autobiography) during an exam period, and have a fond memory of the experience and the scrumptiousness of the words. It feels naughty and rebellious, akin to when a child is supposed to be doing his chores, but is playing video games with a chocolate stained moustache. However, other than causing issues, procrastination also has its importance in creative productivity. Tons of studies on incubation periods during problem solving, or any sort of creative activity has shown the positive effects of not thinking or not actively working on your task at hand. I probably just have a higher incubation period than you do, Valentin. Yeah, I’m going to run with this — I needed some inspiration to be productive about productivity. It’s science bro.

And here we are, productivity. Lets talk macro first. The economics of the free world, at least on this half of it, point us towards growth. Grow GDP. If GDP isn’t growing, there’s something that’s not in tact. But when we shrink down to the micro level, the philosophy isn’t always in tact. While we praise career home run hitters, the majority of us strive for that delicate B word between the two. Maybe the other side of the world is on the right end of that scale – most places in Europe, and Australia are famous for mandating an extensive amount of vacation time. A friend of mine that lives in Paris told me he gets 9 weeks of vacay a year. 9 weeks! But even beyond that, as much as I am a fan of long binges of vacay, I came across this company that mandates a 3 day weekend, every week. And I think theres something to the short vacay you don’t get with longer ones: the constant recharge, the further local exploration, and just the increase in weekly tomfoolery time. Its good for the soul. And productively speaking, its worked out well for them since implementing the policy – no major differences in output or company growth. So this isn’t that difficult of an argument to make on the micro level, everyone loves weekends, but if you take it up to the macro scale, it can start to sound silly. Take things a bit slow, don’t necessarily grow right away, stabilize and strengthen. Actually it sounds pretty sound, but these are all words and not sound science. So I went off to the God of Google, and after some tens of minutes of googling, I came up shorthanded. There are arguments to the incompleteness of GDP as a tool of growth, but a non-growth-based-emphasized economy wasn’t to be found. So when you can’t science, you go to your next best resource, Drake. No new friends. Once you’ve found a good solid group of friends, it doesn’t always make sense to keep growing your inner circle, instead spend time servicing the ones you have.

And on that note, I’m going to pass you the rock for the other angle that we wanted to discuss on the productivity topic, and thats the super micro scale of the physical constraints of actually getting some work done. Has the stimuli filled world of the internet economy physically strained our brains to be less productive? Or are we just incorrectly romanticizing the productive landscape of the past? Or both. Likely both as always, but where does the optimal balance lie?

NFC Podcast #10 – Anti-Programming

The 10th NeverFromConcentrate podcast where we talk about the Potato Paradox, Dean Potter, and the myth of Sisyphus.