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Brave New Perspective

What is perspective exactly? I think the analogy between a physical vista, and a metaphorical ‘stance’ on some issue may be a bit misleading (at least in clear weather). I agree – we shouldn’t lallygag over completely substance-free questions. That said, posing the correct question may be just as important as giving your own perspective – especially when that perspective may be completely mal-formed or missing. The first post can clear the fog, so to speak, so that we know where to drive to get the best view of the idea-landscape.

On a related note, I was listening to a podcast recently called ‘Entitled Opinions (about Life and Literature)’ (recorded for a Stanford University radio show) that talked about Wittgenstein as a philosopher. One of the criticisms against him is that all he did was raise questions and outline criticisms of modern philosophical perspectives, yet provided no meaningful input into alternatives. Much of his work denigrated academic philosophy as a general pursuit, but his answer to ‘what should philosophers be doing?’ was essentially ’something else.’ So what use is there for scepticism without substantial alternatives? If we were all sceptics, there would be nothing to doubt (since no one would think of any ideas). Yet, if we’re all idea generators, then we can’t meaningfully communicate and share important ideas. Perhaps this is a (meta-)topic for another day, but I think it’s a worthwhile one.

Ok back on the topic at hand. You mentioned dirty jobs. I agree, currently those are needed. But inevitably automation will replace many of the human jobs within those fields, will it not? What happens then? Will we get a new class of dirty jobs, or will the landscape of ‘career options’ be forever changed. I would tend to go with the latter. I imagine a world where the large majority of the developed countries essentially contain modern-day aristocrats. A world in which we are even more removed from the ideas of hunger, bad harvests, and self-sufficiency. I like to imagine the Wall-E space-ship, but with more exercise (since I think we are much to vain to ever allow obesity to be the norm). In that world, how does one choose a job, if even the idea of having a job is optional?

In that world, I’m thinking the ‘true calling’ gives way to our affinity towards working directly with physical objects (i.e we strive to be Jiro, not Bono), since inevitably it seems that the ‘high-level’ issues will either be truly reduced to a marginal rate, or completely hidden away from anyone within the developed society. Come to think of it, this is sounding more and more like some sort of dystopian novel, but I can’t help but go along with it. If automation and science removes the need to think about our own survival, and we’ve automated away retail shopping, food production, sanitation, transportation, etc. what is there left? Only the two extremes: either we make like John in Brave New World and fight for some broad justice, or we reconnect with our hunter-gatherer DNA and make artisan food and accessories. Is there really an alternative?

The Forever Tweaking Hindsight Driven Utilitarian Analysis Tool

Before I start with my incessant ramblings, I need to call you out on something, well, call us out on something. If we were to give NFC some kind of modus operandi, it would go as follows: write about a non-linear idea/concept/issue, often creating abstract dichotomies that lead us down a path of discovery to some feng shui conclusive balance. And the balance is not binary, it’s a weird hindsight driven understanding that is often individually specific, and sometimes engrossed in a meta layered dichotomy. And that’s cool. And fun. And mostly, it swims in truth. It approximates the grey nuanced world we live in. But, what I’m hoping we can graduate to, is skipping the posts that establish these dichotomies & asks the open ended questions, without an attempt to give a perspective on it. Get into the nitty gritty, write an extreme version of a perspective only to highlight the values of the opposite, or just you know, your own perspective. So on that note, lets dive into the trenches..

Well you sort of answered the question of pursuing high level versus low level ideals from the beginning of your post, it’s both.  But yeah yeah yeah, enough of the possibilities of the equation, lets try and answer it.

What tool do we use to determine the hyper individualistic answer to the equation? But of course, the most utile tool of human problem solving, utilitarianism. The use of this tool starts with your projections of satisfaction of each perspective – does the feeling of making perfect sushi bring me more happiness or the satisfaction of pursuing a utopic societal ideal by means of charitable work. And that’s just the initial step of the tool. What it ultimately comes down to is trying things out, small attempts at a time, taking those risks, and doing a post hoc analysis in order to recalibrate the projections and then rinse & repeat. People typically have expectations of trying to figure out what their true “calling” is by a pros and cons list, stuck in the initial projections, without realizing most of the work is done by taking the needed risk, accepting the possible failures involved, and gaining the new perspective of their own satisfaction equation. It’s the forever tweaking hindsight driven utilitarian analysis tool.

Beyond this though, the idea of finding one’s “true calling” probably needs a reality check, or an expectations calibration. In any sort of civilized society, we’re going to need the “dirty jobs“, the service oriented jobs, the maintenance jobs that may not be on paper ‘fulfilling’. The romanticization of finding your “true voice” through this idealized career where you’re engaged intellectually, while contributing to some high level ideal, or whatever the perfect set of variables are, is almost an impossibility. We need to sprinkle some nutrient rich practicality into the stew. And I’m not saying pursuing this individual ideal career is wrong, it’s more of a ‘no big deal if it doesn’t come to fruition’ approach. Or just, no big deal if you treat your work practically as a means to an end, and pursue your high level / low level ideals as hobbies. And recently, with the advent of the internet, access to education, hyper specific markets, and reach to people around the world, fulfillment through part time hobbies with a practical career that support high level & low level ideals (*ehem*, NFC)  are more possible than ever.

Take some risks, and get back to me.

Jiro Dreams of World Peace

For our new topic, I want to discuss a dichotomy that I’ve been struggling with as I think more about how to find ‘fulfilling’ work. Be warned, we will undoubtedly conclude that there is no need to gravitate towards one extreme or another, and the most sensible thing is to find the b-word. Nevertheless, I think it’s interesting to discuss the factors at play. So without further ado, I present to you: the highs and the lows of perspective. In short, I can summarize the whole issue with a single question: thinking about my ‘career’, should I find a high-level cause to support (like ’the environment’, ‘ethical eating’, ‘original art’, ‘autonomous driving’), or should I quit flattering myself and dedicate my time to perfecting a specialized skill that provides clear meaning (e.g. making sushi, creating quality knives, or becoming a respected film maker)?

The problems of high-level perspective are perhaps unique to us as a species. Even more specifically, they are perhaps unique now in the history of our own species. How recently have we cared about anything other than the very bottom three (Physiology, Safety and Love/Belonging) rungs of the Maslow hierarchy of needs? I’d argue that significant portions of the human race have not cared until extremely recently, perhaps the last 50 years. So how do billions of people find ‘fulfillment’ now that their essential needs are met? Should we ignore perspective, and seek out specific skills, or find the necessary skills that let you apply yourself towards a high-level objective?

The Japanese sushi chef Jiro Ono, of ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ fame, is maybe one of the most famous examples of the low-level approach: find fulfillment in making the best food in the world. Perhaps the Japanese culture as a whole is geared more towards this perspective. From sushi and king-fu masters, to ‘salary-men’ that dedicate their lives to a single company. In the west, we’re in a slightly confused middle-ground. We respect and obsess over ‘masters’: from sommeliers, to barbers, to architects. Yet we also obsess over ‘shooting for the moon’ and grand ideas like environmentalism, peace, ethics, and love.

Consider the countless athletes and celebrities who spend significant time with charities. It is almost taken for granted that any ‘superstar’ (whether in sports, media or business) has their own ‘high-level’ foundation. Steve Jobs, for example, was and is criticized by many for not doing more philanthropic work. Of course there is nothing wrong with charity, but how much of this activity can be explained by our desperate need to support a high-level cause above all else? Can an artist create simply for themselves, or does the modern age make this impossible without some underlying agenda?

Should we aspire to be Jiros, or should we find our Yoko, and imagine ‘all the people living for today’?

NFC Podcast #12 – Political Korrectness

In this episode of NFC, we talk about artistic integrity, political correctness, NOT Donald Trump, and David Foster Wallace.

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.