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The Immortal American Spirit

Americans. What is it about us that makes us so anti-establishment and distrusting of elites? So “I’m going to do it my way?” Is it the constitution? Is it our first two amendments? Kurt Andersen has a theory.

In a recent podcast, Andersen spoke with Sam Harris about what makes America so unique in this regard. From the first colonists onward, America attracted a certain type. It drew people seeking the gold of El Dorado, or the Garden of Eden, or a place to pursue their religion, or an economic utopia. In short, America attracted people susceptible to advertising and willing to risk death in order to pursue their fantasies. The title of Andersen’s book is Fantasyland.

Selection pressure put it right into our DNA: the entitlement to interpret reality one’s own way. After generations, it’s evolved into entire ideologies. Today we have four major American ideologies oriented around a subjective interpretation of reality. For the sake of completeness and crystallizing the concept, I will mention them here. They are:

1. The conspiracy right (wary of a secret world government)

2. The conspiracy left (wary of hegemonic global corporations)

3. The evangelical right (wary of the antichrist and Satan’s work)

4. The post-modernist left (wary of categories like ethnicity, gender, and religion as tools of oppression)

But it’s not all dark. There is an upside to an entire nation feeling entitled to their own personal interpretations of reality! We Americans have a knack for self-reliance and self-invention, which makes us the most entrepreneurial people in the world. In business school we learned about how American tax laws are oriented towards the entrepreneur. It’s also easy to hire and fire people here. New companies are arguably the largest driving force in our economy.

This is why proprietism fits so well within American culture. Proprietism is the entire economy as sole-proprietorships, blurring the lines between worker and business owner. A proprietor has more freedom than an employee, but still needs sufficient rapport and acumen to stay in business. Proprietism is the perfect middle-ground (or high-ground?) between a capitalist and a socialist society. It keeps the free-market and meritocracy asupects of capitalism, without the concern of society being torn asunder into bourgeoisie and proletariat. The free-market is obviously essential to American society, and meritocracy is extremely important to Americans.

But there clearly must be limits to how unequal a society can be. Sam Harris illustrates this point by asking whether it would be beneficial for anyone to live in a society where a small group of trillionaires live in utopian fortresses while the rest of us toil about and fight for survival outside. Proprietism also “egalitarianizes” society by decentralizing ownership in a balanced way. Contrast that to a socialist society which promises to indiscriminately redistribute income and wealth from those who don’t need it to those who need it. Who decides who needs money and who doesn’t? Politicians.

Proprietism may not be the perfect system for all cultures, but it is deeply compatible with ours. It’s the ultimate manifestation of our “frontier spirit” inherent within American Exceptionalism.

Ideological Tectonics

The ideological repertoire represented by American Democrats and American Republicans is in constant flux; a “democrat” in 1960 could have vastly different political views than today’s democrat. I think it’s likely that we’re on the cusp of a major political shift, but it’s not clear exactly how it’s going to play out. I see two possibilities.

The first is that libertarianism rises from the “center” and steals voters from each side. I believe there’s already enough closet libertarians out there to outnumber hardline democrats and republicans, but the libertarian party lacks the internal cohesion and the momentum required to breakthrough as a formidable alternative. Gaining that solidarity and numbers would require no less than a highly proficient and charismatic leader to be the “one.”

The second possibility is that both parties will fracture and we’ll either have a four-party system or they will reconglomerate as two new major parties, which may or may not carry along the nomenclature of “democrat” and “republican.”

As of now, the right has been fracturing into establishment republicans (also known, ironically now, as neoconservatives), and the alt-right.

Neoconservativism is a kind of evolved liberalism; they were originally called “liberals mugged by reality.” They believe in free market and civil rights, but they stick out for strongly self-identifying as Christians and patriots, both of which have an impact on their ideology.

The alt-right was born of Internet-age nihilism; they see civilization as a grand and perpetual culture war, and seek refuge in the trenches dug by American paleoconservatives. They believe in one human right above all others: free speech.

Less widely understood is that the left is facing an internal bifurcation as well, and interestingly, free speech plays a role in this one too. The split has to do with the belief held by some leftists that freedom of speech, press, and expression should not be granted to those whose speech can be interpreted as oppressive. The leftists who oppose this asterisk to free-speech like Sargon of Akkad and Mark Lilla are contrasting/distancing themselves from the proponents by calling themselves “liberals” instead of “progressives.”

Psychologist/philosopher Jordan Peterson sees progressives as followers of postmodernism, broad philosophy that (quoting the Wikipedia article) “asserts to varying degrees that claims to knowledge and truth are products of social, historical or political discourses or interpretations, and are therefore contextual or socially constructed.” In other words, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and religion are all social constructs, and an individual who speaks about the social construct of which they are a majority member is acting oppressively, because he or she is perpetuating his or her dominance in those categories by speaking about it.

To me it seems that the alt-right and progressives would be unlikely to ever form an alliance, because the alt-right is, in a lot of ways, a defensive reaction to identity politics of progressivism. Liberals and the alt-right have a little more in common, given that they hold the first amendment in high regard, but there would be a lot more issues they would have to reconcile before cooperating. The same essentially goes for a liberal-neocon super-party of moderates; the two would have to agree on a number of social issues like gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, and immigration, but they might more easily come to a consensus on regulation and globalization. I therefore maintain that the most likely shift in the American political landscape would be the rise of a libertarian-minded third party.

The Leader We Want

In this talk, author Simon Sinek inspired me to think about inequality in a way I never had. He mentions that group or tribe members don’t take issue with their leaders’ superior compensation and perks when there’s an understanding that it’s the leader’s job to protect the group from external threats. It’s a tit for tat written right into our DNA: you get this extra little something-something, because when we’re in a jam, you’re the one who’s gonna get us out.

My life experience has certainly given testament to this “law” of nature. Employees greatly respect the managers that go to bat for their employees or take responsibility when things go wrong. Folks applaud when these managers are promoted and given the corner office. On the flip side, employees are wary of managers who haven’t demonstrated this quality, and flat out resentful to those who have actively shown that they’ll allow their people to take the fall. When evidently self-serving managers get promoted, people feel disdain.

This was the emotion that fueled resentment towards the financial sector in the early 2010s and inspired Occupy Wall Street. It’s not outrage at wealthy people just because they’re wealthy (though jealousy is undoubtedly part of the equation). It’s outrage at wealthy people who seem to have broken a law of nature. It’s an attempt to shame leaders who betrayed those they were given the responsibility of leading.

It’s not that we want equality of outcome. We do want leaders who get unique compensation and perks. We also want them to hold themselves accountable for the well being of the whole group, because that’s part of the deal.

I’ve written about Sinek’s ideas before, because I’m adamant that they could spark a social science revolution. In Leaders Eat Last, Sinek pleas managers to be the kind of leader that the title suggests. He argues that what the modern workplace is missing are the healthy doses of serotonin our hunter-gatherer ancestors enjoyed when they worked together in teams. Life in corporate America typically offers only two brain chemicals: cheap dopamine thrills when things get done and plenty of stressful cortisol-drunk experiences.

And why shouldn’t brain chemicals and tribe dynamics be the basis of social science? Those are real and relevent to every interaction, transaction, competition, and collaboration. Understanding our ancestors’ environment has refined our understanding of dietary and physical needs. So too could understanding our ancestors’ interpersonal dynamics help us refine our social systems. My guess as to what such social systems would look like? Less bureaucracy, more good leadership; less hierarchies, more teams. More sharing, but not equality of outcome. In a word, proprietism.

Life in a Post-Fact Society

It’s the Information Age, and the most powerful way to earn votes in a democratic society is to channel voters on an emotional level rather than persuade them with factual data or evidence. This is the paradoxical paradigm of our time. How can it be?

While we are replete with easy to access facts, we have a bigger yet surplus of non-facts. Some non-facts are opinions and interpretations of facts, and they present themselves as such (though the audience may nonetheless take them as facts). Other non-facts are presented as facts. They have sinister intentions: getting clicked or promoting an agenda. It’s like we legitimately live in two different realities these days, and non-facts have probably been exacerbating the situation.

I recently listened to an episode of the podcast Invisibilia that gracefully underlined this point with an allegorical but true story. The reporter-hosts described a heated ideological divide in Eagle’s Nest Township, Minnesota. Some members of the town, lead by a bear behavior researcher, believe that black bears are extremely gentle, non aggressive creatures. He coaches people in the art of feeding them with their hands and mouths; I’ll call these people pro-bear. Other members of the town find this practice irresponsible and dangerous, because it encourages the already aggressive animals to approach people. Let’s call them pro… safety? These two sides live in two mutually exclusive realities. When people report that bears are stalking them or exhibiting aggressive behavior, pro-bearers tell them that they misconstrued the situation. When pro-bearers claim that all black bears are well intentioned and cuddly, pro-safetyers also accuse them of miscontruing reality. The differences are seemingly irreconcilable. What’s the truth?

The truth is complicated. Bears do not eat people, so if one offers them food, they will gently accept the offer with due respect, kind of like they’re bound to a social contract. They eventually start to associate people with food, and may even follow or congregate around us. If people react negatively, the bear will probably get the picture and buzz off, but if provoked, they may blow back. So in actuality, black bears are pretty unlikely to be aggressive out of the blue, but they are powerful enough, and the possibility of attack is existent enough, that many people would rather not incentivize them to hang around.

This story interests me because it shines light on our current partisan problem. Imagine if Eagle’s Nest Township had two newspapers: one pro-bear and one pro-safety. If there was a bear encounter, the two papers would report the story with different victims and villains. They would focus on or omit entirely different details from the story to support their respective agendas. Not only would the two papers report bear stories differently, they might eventually create a divide on multiple issues. Important figures in the town’s business and politics will be identified as either bear-haters or bear-sympathizers. Each paper will do its diligence to make protagonists or antagonists of these figureheads in accordance with that paper’s bear agenda. Eventually, an ideological wedge will bifurcate the town. All issues become bear issues at root, and black-and-white, tribal thinking takes over. From there, it’s not a stretch to imagine the newspapers using tactics like false balance or fallacious logic to help forward a point, or they might just make stories up entirely. The complex reality of bear behavior becomes uninteresting, unpopular, and irrelevant.

Such is the case with so many of our issues today. Maybe having some form of welfare state keeps a society stable and can even help businesses via consumption? At the same time, isn’t the free market a wonderfully efficient way to incentivize investors to help entrepreneurs make great products that improve the world? Isn’t it possible that welfare states disincentivize work for some people? Do we not need leaders and job creators? Maybe abortion does involve an inhumane annihilation of a human life? But maybe that just needs to be weighed against the social cost of unwanted children and reluctant parents? No guns and nobody dies of guns, but maybe if everybody had a gun, nobody would die of guns either?

The point is, issues are mind-numbingly complex, so it’s easier just to pick the side that tugs at your heartstrings the hardest. So many of us get so deep in our post-fact bubbles that we truly believe that our side is totally right and their side is totally wrong about everything. Ironically, “this proves…” is not only a dangerous phrase, it’s probably a tell-tale sign that you’re about to read bullshit.

Theories and Thoughts on Trends

My recent post about beards got me thinking about trends, specifically cultural ones. Here are those thoughts.

1. Short-term trends are often aesthetic and relatively inconsequential, like the shape of eyeglasses or the cadence of hip-hop vocalists. Short-term trends can carry cultural meaning and are inherently tied to individualism, so it’s more likely that only a portion of the population actually participates in a short-term trend. If you are doing something to categorically differentiate yourself from everyone else, you’re not going to pick something that everyone else does.

2. A long-term trend is more likely to be utilitarian. It sticks around and evolves in a single direction because the trend serves some sort of purpose beyond aesthetics. For example, auto engineers have applied technological innovations to make headlights and taillights better by maximizing visibility (without blinding other drivers) while keeping an eye on energy consumption. This trend serves a purpose: making cars more safe and efficient. Contrast this to the shape of headlights and taillights, which is more likely to be governed by the rules of short-term trends. Perhaps the overall surface area of lights has been getting greater for the purposes of visibility, but whether they are rounded, edgy, or flared is an aesthetic matter. Sometimes a trend might fall in gray-area: automakers of the mid to late 2010s favor designs that include large, open grills in the front, which just so happen to offer utility by allowing superior engine ventilation.

3. Short-term trends can often be cyclical rather than evolving in a single direction. A style will inevitably go mainstream and lose its uniqueness and thus its charm, and at that point its aesthetic opposite, or a variation on its aesthetic opposite, will suddenly appear fresh and interesting. That flip-flop, if repeated, will result in a cycle. Jeans are a great example: the waist height, flare, color, and fit all fluctuate and cycle almost predictably.

4. Short-term trends, and possibly long-term trends too, follow the innovation adoption lifecycle. When a short-term trend first appears on the scene, it’s being exhibited by innovators: cool, rebellious, quirky, edgy types. At this point, the trend may seem aesthetically odd, perhaps because it’s so disruptively quaint or starkly different from the status quo. This reminds me of the mid 2000s when I first saw some male urbanites wearing skinny jeans with a tight taper around the ankle. My brain switched back and forth like the optical illusion where you see both a decorative vase and two faces simultaneously. Did they look boldly cool or bizarrely out of touch? Eventually early adopters, a bigger segment of the population, will take a liking to and pick up the rogue trend. Some early adopters will be very high-profile and charismatic, underlining the trend’s charm and identity. Eventually, an early majority takes notice and before the trend makes its way to the late majority, it has officially become “mainstream.” Finally, laggards latch onto a trend making it stale and eliminating its charm. By this point, innovators and early adopters were already onto something else if we’re talking about a short-term trend. If we’re talking about a long-term trend, the innovators are not disappointed that everyone copied them, because the behavior turned out to be useful. For long-term trends, innovators are pioneers.

coolcurve

5. Our sense of trends is probably evolutionary and an inherent feature of social animals. When a few people wander from the flock or start to exhibit divergent behavior, they might seem weird at first. This is society’s way of being wary in case the behavior turns out to be dangerous. If a few influential people (“early adopters”) start to copy them (“innovators”), the rest of the tribe will start to take notice and eventually, the majority of the tribe may exhibit the behavior. If the behavior has benefits, which in hunter/gatherer society could be a matter of life or death, the trend will become long-term. If it doesn’t have benefits, it will be short-term: just a phase.

Consistent Worldview? GTFO!

Here’s something I never expected to say: Tomi Lahren, you go girl!

She might be insufferably bratty, but she’s brave. Tomi was recently suspended from her show and lambasted by fans for? Having a consistent ideology.

Tomi declared that she is pro-choice. “I’m someone that is for limited government… Stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well.” Tomi said that to believe in one and not the other would be hypocrisy. This flies in the face of what most conservatives believe (an ideology I call modern American right or MAR), hence the blackball.

A friend and I recently had a text conversation about the ideological divide, and I brought up an observation made by Sam Harris in this podcast. He said that an individual’s stance on one issue is, but shouldn’t be, an alarmingly strong predictor of that person’s stances on other unrelated issues. To me, this is a problem in and of itself, but my friend nonetheless asked a great question: is it actually a problem? He elaborated, “I believe in liberty. I believe one person’s freedom ends where the next person’s freedom begins. Knowing that about me makes my stances on multiple issues very predictable.”

Good point, right? Maybe it’s not a problem; maybe it just means that people have underlying principles that guide them towards stance 1 or stance 2 on every issue. But maybe they don’t. Maybe the very fact that my friend identified an underlying principle (believing in liberty) points to the problem: that modern American right and modern American left ideologies (MAL) are actually just a bunch of random stances strewn together.

Here’s what I mean. Libertarians believe in the non-aggression principle and other notions of liberty. They will tackle complex issues philosophically by breaking them down into matters of prevailing rights. These principles of liberty are the axiomatic foundation of libertarianism. Guns? People have a right to do what they want, so long as they’re not hurting anybody else. Tax? People have a right to do what they want, so long as they’re not hurting anybody else. Business? People have a right to do what they want, so long as they’re not hurting anybody else. Marriage? People have a right to do what they want, so long as they’re not hurting anybody else. Abortion? Ok I’m sick of the repetition.

But what is the consistent principle behind modern American right or modern American left ideologies? It almost seems like there’s not one, because both are paradoxes when it comes to the role of government. MAR ideology says we should chill out on government interference with economic liberties but the government needs to walk a fine line with civil liberties, while MAL ideology says sure let the government meddle with the economy but they need to leave civil liberties alone.

There are nonethless some attempts at reconciling the paradoxes in order to point to some underlying principle behind MAR or MAL. One I’ve heard is that liberals believe people are inherently good, while conservatives believe that people are inherently evil. Another is that liberals believe that greedy rich people are a drain on society while conservatives believe that greedy poor people are a drain on society. The former is more of a personality trait than a principle, and the latter is basically scapegoat-seeking. Either way, both attempts to capture a principle behind MAR or MAL lack the philosophical elegance of libertarianism’s insistence on liberty.

Epilogue?

Now that I put libertarianism on a pedestal, let me knock it back down with an ontological question about “freedom” and “rights:” IRL, where exactly does one person’s freedom end and the next person’s freedom begin? Is there not murky territory? Which right should triumph if my right to sing loudly conflicts with your right to not hear my bad singing? I only want to make the point that even though libertrarians may be the most consistent when it comes to having an overarching theme to their stances, statements like “one person’s freedom ends where the next begins” draw a line that doesn’t exist in reality. Rights are, after all, social fiction. They’re completely made up.

Thanks to RFP!

Beards

Like a ton of dudes my age, I’ve had a beard most of my adult life. Beards, and maybe facial hair in general, have surged in popularity over the last few years. This happened before, but it’s been a while. In 1976, an economist at the University of Washington compiled a study published in the American Journal of Sociology which shows, quite plainly, a multi-decade beard explosion in the second half of the 19th century.

What was happening in the world during this period that might have compelled men to abandon a clean, diplomatic Roman look for a bold, wise Greek look? I’ll throw a couple things out there:

-First of all, the Second Industrial Revolution (evolution?) was happening. Society was trying to orient itself as it made the shift from agriculture to mass production, and in the US, the standard of living would not increase until the early 20th century. That means that instead of hunting and farming, lots of American men were going to work in factories, and they weren’t doing a better job than their fathers at providing for their families.

-In 1841 Ralph Waldo Emerson published Self-Reliance, a plea to emancipate the self from the corrupting forces society and its institutions.

-Third, this era was also influenced by the ideas of one Karl Marx, who identified the alienating nature of factory labor as one of the damaging and unsustainable characteristics of capitalism.

So, I propose that men of the second half of the 19th century let their beards grow out in an effort to reclaim their lost masculinity and individualism.

Could the current beard surge be for similar reasons? Maybe millennial men, helplessly anonymous in the desk jobs of corporate America, feel emasculated, especially because they know that their baby boomer dads were doing better as young yuppies? Millennials have been called the slash generation, as in “I’m a marketing specialist/singer” or “I’m a customer service supervisor/blogger.” This mass reclamation of individualism caught my attention years ago; proprietism is ultimately the economic manifestation of it.

We’re really divided right now. Let’s hope that beards are the only thing we have in common with the second half of the 19th century.

civilwarbeards

The two guys with mustaches were being ironic.

Thanks for the inspiration, DT!

An Ideological Civil War: Let’s Not and Say We Did?

Conveniently, I found a scapegoat for the writer’s block I’ve had over the last several weeks. I kept getting distracted by the increasingly dangerous and irreparable ideological divide in this country. I’ve written before about how we need to get beyond “left versus right,” even alluding to it two posts ago and in the homepage, but it was worse than ever this month. So, I’d like to discuss (yet) again how we got here and why it’s bad for us.

The process of indoctrination into a modern American ideology probably starts as early as childhood or adolescence: you absorb ideas from the media and people around you. One day, you take a stance on something. For example, maybe second amendment protection sticks out as an important issue in your young mind, or maybe it’s the right to marry someone of the same gender. You submerse yourself in ideas to validate or invalidate your stance, and validation usually wins, at least at first, because it feels better. You collaterally absorb ideas about other stances from the same media and people, and you form a worldview. A worldview is kind of like a mosaic of stances, and if yours is a popular one, then you have been indoctrinated into a modern American ideology.

3d-glasses

Sometimes there’s a part two to the process. I’ve seen a lot of peers go through what would best be described as a post high school ideological revolution, which I’ll call PHSIR. Most of the ones I observed involved people who grew up in conservative families with stances oriented around Christianity. Something about entering the working world, or maybe something in the college curricula or community, inspired the young adults to question their backgrounds, usually moving them towards civil rights and away from capitalism and Christianity. That’s what I’ve seen the most, but it’s not the only kind of PHSIR. In college and grad school, for example, I absorbed perspectives from the business world. Some people bounce back after their PHSIR and become moderates. Others keep the same ideology their whole lives, and yet others may never settle on an ideology.

The problem is not so much this process of indoctrination in and of itself, but the lack of mainstream ideologies to get indoctrinated into. Our culture is dominated by two: modern American “left” and modern American “right” ideologies, which I’ll call MAL and MAR. In this post I discussed, among other things, how these two ideologies evolved from two different takes on classical liberalism, the granddaddy of Western ideologies. MAL says “yes” to civil liberties, “it depends” to religion, and they want to dial the economy a notch towards socialism and away from capitalism, because they believe that to be a fairer way to help people succeed. MAR says “it depends” to civil liberties, “yes: Jesus” to religion, and they want to dial the economy a notch in the capitalism direction, because they believe that to be a fairer way to help people succeed. MAL thinks greedy rich people are responsible for society’s woes, MAR likes to pin it all on greedy poor people.

Just now as you read those (somewhat intentional) oversimplifications, you probably experienced some emotions and possibly even tried to decode partisanship in my word choice. If you agreed with any of the descriptions, I validated your worldview. If you disagreed with any of the descriptions, you probably didn’t think that I invalidated your worldview so much as you thought I was being biased. If you’re reading this and you don’t know me, you may have even judged me to be a Republican based on my comment above about absorbing perspectives from the business world.

This is precisely the problem. Most of us in the United States, through the process of indoctrination, have identified with either MAL or MAR. The current ideological war has fostered a very black and white (blue and red?) “us versus them” mentality, so we’re always hypersensitive to and ready to attack anything we can’t identify as belonging to our own ideology. This makes it impossible for most Americans to handle any new idea. At a glance, new ideas don’t seem to fit within our ideology, so the reflex is to dismiss it as radical or associate it with the opposing ideology. Usually we’ll even go the extra mile and draw analogies between a new idea and Nazi-occupied Germany or dystopian science-fiction. That is how deeply the left versus right divide has damaged us.

hitler

Take proprietism for example: the economy as a vast network of sole-proprietorships. Already it sounds complicated and radical but maybe you’ll listen because you’re polite and want to be a supportive friend. Then I tell you it’s pro free-market, so if you identify closely with MAL, you’re already writing it off and preparing a critique of capitalism. Then I tell you it involves shared-ownership on a massive scale, so if you identify closely with MAR, you’re already writing if off and preparing to admonish me of naive Marxist idealism. MAL attacks everything as though it’s MAR and vice versa. Since our ideological war has rendered us incapable of being open to new ideas, we’re opting instead to continue down whatever schizophrenic middle ground it creates.

I usually conclude posts with a hopeful tone, but this problem shouldn’t be contorted or watered down. Instead we’ll close on a high note by introducing you to my friend’s provocative new Facebook blog, Elevated Content. His blog’s mission is akin to mine: a viewpoint not on the “left versus right” spectrum, but separate from (or elevated above) it. The result is content that focuses on the connections between the people and entities that shape the world, rather than content framed in the context of an ideologically gridlocked world.

If you visit Elevated Content right now, you will see subject matter in support of our president-elect, Donald J. Trump. Some of you will get a right-wing vibe, but what if I told you the author is a former Obama supporter? He and I had a fascinating phone conversation last week. If nothing else, try that. Don’t avoid talking about politics; that’s not helping. Talk about it, but dig past all the superficial stuff like whether politician so and so lied about this or that. Get into the big questions about what roles and responsibilities we have as the most industrious and ubiquitous species on the planet. Maybe start with a discussion about what utopia should look like, and then work backwards to identify what policies we’ll need to get there. I bet you’ll be shocked at how much common ground you’ll uncover.

Are We More Orwellian or Huxleyan?

Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World and George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four were highly influential warnings of what the western world might become. They are both dystopian, futuristic science fiction novels in which the characters and plot are ancillary to the authors’ primary objectives: world-building and examining human nature.

The two worlds have striking similarities and contain thematic elements that seem all but essential to dystopian fiction. A catastrophic war occurs prior to the events of the book. Atop the rubble emerges a totalitarian regime and a submissive population. Society is rebuilt with a commitment not to repeat mistakes of the past. The society, by way of error, contains some ancient relics: a few flawed but comprehensible characters who feel alienated and mistrusting of the brutalist civilization around them. Both 1984 and Brave New World explore this tension.

Upon that backdrop, two different stories emerge from two different means of controlling the masses. In 1984, the government of Oceania portrays itself to its people as an omnipotent, omniscient, and foreboding force. The main character’s environment is bespattered with cameras, microphones, and posters of Big Brother, a propagandistic personification of the government. In the world Orwell created, the years following World War II represented only a mild setback in a global macro trend towards centralization and authoritarianism. Orwell was keen to notice that, despite popular political paradigms placing Nazi Germany on the far “right” and the Soviet Union on the far “left,” the two states were actually under the control of similar governments. He may have even foreseen how the Cold War would create economic and military alliances, the likes of which would turn the world into a checkerboard of communist and capitalist states. In 1984, the three world superpowers are in ideological gridlock and perpetual war.

Brave New World presents a happier but equally upsetting and, to some, scarier future. In this world, Henry Ford and Sigmund Freud, who are believed to be the same person, are the philosophical and spiritual grandfathers of the era. Humans are created in assembly lines where they are chemically conditioned into different castes (Huxley was not yet aware of genetic modification). Sex is no longer taboo, but the very notions of “family” and “motherhood” are. The population is easy to control, easier even than the people of Oceania, because they are, if not genuinely happy, superficially content. They go to “feelies,” movies that offer a completely sumbmerssive sensual experience where you feel what the actors feel. They take soma, a euphoria-producing medication that is ubiquitous to the point of being a dogmatic staple of their society. In short, the consumption of popular culture and products is cool and fun, so why worry about crap like finding meaning in life?

Orwell’s vision is more overtly frightening, and our focus on preventing it may have taken energy away from preventing Huxley’s. For example, Edward Snowden arrested our attention and concern when he revealed that the US Government has been using our technology as survellience while we drown in an ocean of entertainment via the same technology. Therein lies the ultimate irony: a conservative estimate is that we will take 1.2 trillion photos in 2017, many or most of which will be of or about ourselves.

Consumer culture has induced us to surveil ourselves not because we’re intimidated into doing so, but because it’s cool and fun.

BN1984

But let’s not go too far…

I live in the United States in the year 2016 and not only have I had the chance to live a fulfilling and meaningful life, I can write and publish opinion pieces like this too. I’m one of those people who thinks you can be critical and grateful at the same time. I admit that while hammering this one out, I’ve been more cognizant of distractions than I normally am. I’m researching Huxley one moment and browsing cycling gear or watching SNL’s watered-down satire the next. This certainly doesn’t feel like dystopia, but it still is a brave new 1984.

Why Millennials Support an “Idiot”

We get it: a serious presidential candidate should know the names of at least some foreign leaders.

The media is a little confused as to why such a huge chunk of millennials support Gary Johnson, the presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party. In this short video, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes lists some hot issues that millennials care about (or should care about in MSNBC’s opinion?) which Johnson does not support, including free college and Obamacare coverage. On a Real Time with Bill Maher episode that aired September 30, Maher called Johnson a “fucking idiot,” and expressed his frustration and concern that former supporters of Bernie Sanders in the Millennial demographic would jump ship on Clinton to support Johnson.

This past weekend I was hiking with a close friend who told me he would vote for the fucking idiot. His logic is this: we need to start breaking the tyranny of the two-party system, and that’s not going to happen unless we start to back alternate parties. In other words, we need to get the momentum going on the third and fourth-party numbers so we can one day kill the following scenario: “I would vote for [third-party candidate], except that he/she has a snowball’s chance in hell so all I’d be doing is taking a vote away from [lesser-of-two-evils] and giving it to [greater-of-two-evils].”

My wife, who is from a country with three prominent parties, asked me, “ok so what’s your actual problem with a two-party system?” That threw me off. Because the US of A is a huge and diverse nation so there’s no way two parties can accurately represent all our ideologies? That’s a ridiculous answer because what then would be the magic number of parties to accurately reflect the views of 320 million people? Because it blocks third parties from entering the election? That’s almost tautological. Or maybe it’s personal because I can’t squeeze most of my views into either “democrat” or “republican?”

I think it might be that last one. I also think it’s my frustration that perfectly valid candidates for president get marginalized. John Kasich: too moderate to get support. Bernie Sanders: too grassroots to be mainstream.

Or maybe I’m just tired of the black-and-white thinking that comes in tow with a two-party system. If I agree Donald T. is a little thin-skinned, I must be a Clinton supporter. If I say it’s lame that of all the crazy things the guy said, America tars and feathers him for using hyperbolic guy talk, suddenly I’m on a slippery slope to being OK with sexual assault. I scroll through Facebook and see the clickbait articles posted by my more zealous friends; they take tiny pieces of information about either Clinton or DT and extrapolate wild conclusions. Also, my perception may be fallacious, but it feels like the mud-slinging gets worse every 4 years.

In reality, the majority of us agree on a majority of issues, but it’s hard to see that. At some point, probably early in our adulthood, we all go through a political orientation. We find a perspective we like and we submerse ourselves in the dogma that most closely aligns with that perspective. For example, a person may decide early on that they find abortion repulsive, surround themselves in conservative ideology, and end up supporting death penalty along the way.

But for some reason I just have this naïve feeling that this problem is going to get better. Millennial’s love their Facebook friends, but we hate running with the herd. We hate the status quo and that’s why we like Sanders and Johnson.

Anyway, it’s 2016 and we have Google. At some point, I don’t know when, we’re going to care less about what a candidate knows and more about what kind of decision-maker he or she is.

Thanks to MK for the inspiration.