Joe Keohane: In Praise of Meaningless Work (The New Republic)
Yes, we should all hope—demand, even—that the workplace of the future will be governed more by respect and sensitivity than cupidity and the Peter Principle. But until that day comes, we should embrace not the meaningfulness of work, but its meaninglessness. The cold, unromantic transaction. The part that keeps food in our bellies and a roof over our heads. The part that, theoretically, gives us our nights and weekends. Let’s demand that recompense, first and foremost, and deal with the rest later. With unemployment falling to pre-recession levels, employees are hopefully gaining the leverage to say enough. The prayer is that the line will be drawn, and managers will then see that the way forward is actually very simple: Hire good people. Treat them well. Help them succeed. Compensate them fairly. Let them go home.
John Gray: H.P. Lovecraft Invented a Horrific World to Escape a Nihilistic Universe (The New Republic)
The weird realism that runs through his writings undermines any belief system—religious or humanist—in which the human mind is the center of the universe. There is a tendency nowadays to think of the world in which we live as an artefact of mind or language: a human construction. For Lovecraft, human beings are too feeble to shape a coherent view of the universe. Our minds are specks tossed about in the cosmic melee; though we look for secure foundations, we live in perpetual free fall. With its emphasis on the radical contingency of the human world, this is a refreshing alternative to the anthropocentric philosophies in which so many find intellectual reassurance. It may seem an unsettling view of things; but an inhuman cosmos need not be as horrific as Lovecraft seems to have found it.
He is often described as misanthropic, but this isn’t quite right—a true misanthrope would find the inhumanity of the universe liberating. There is no intrinsic reason why a universe in which people are marginal should be a horror-inducing place. A world vastly larger and stranger than any the human mind can contain could just as well evoke a sense of excitement or an acceptance of mystery.
Roger D. Hodge: First, Let’s Get Rid of All the Bosses (The New Republic)
A radical experiment at Zappos to end the office workplace as we know it.
Meetings might be scheduled at 10 p.m. on a Sunday, in the middle of what appeared to be a party but was really just an extension of the all-encompassing Zappos corporate culture.
But entry-level jobs aren’t that easy to come by in Las Vegas (or anywhere), Coy responded, and for people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, a job that’s always in flux can be pretty terrifying. “People who live in trailers,” he said darkly, “generally do so because they’re broke, not because it’s a fun social experiment.”
One thing Zapponians now have to do is their own research about salaries, to find out the market rate for jobs at other companies that correspond to their roles. In a normal corporation, such things are taken care of by the human resources department. Not at Zappos, not anymore. Instead, if Murch wants a raise, she has to do all the research into what she’s worth, create a badge, come up with qualifications for receiving the badge, and then design the actual look of the badge. Then it all has to be approved by the People Pool & Comp circle.
Claudia Rankine: The Meaning of Serena Williams (NY Times)
On tennis and black excellence.
She shows us her joy, her humor and, yes, her rage. She gives us the whole range of what it is to be human, and there are those who can’t bear it, who can’t tolerate the humanity of an ordinary extraordinary person.
As long as the white imagination markets itself by equating whiteness and blondness with aspirational living, stereotypes will remain fixed in place. Even though Serena is the best, even though she wins more Slams than anyone else, she is only superficially allowed to embody that in our culture, at least the marketable one.
Walter Kirn: If You're Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy (The Atlantic)
As government agencies and tech companies develop more and more intrusive means of watching and influencing people, how can we live free lives?
It awed me, the Utah Data Center at night. It awed me in an unfamiliar way—not with its size, which was hard to get a fix on, but with its overwhelming separateness. To think that virtually every human act, every utterance, transaction, and conversation that occurred out here—here in the world that seemed so vast and bustling, so magnificently complex—could one day be coded, compressed, and stuck in there, in a cluster of buildings no larger than a couple of shopping malls. Loss of privacy seemed like a tiny issue, suddenly, compared with the greater loss the place presaged: loss of existential stature.
The gun show was not about weaponry, primarily, but about autonomy—construed in this case as the right to stand one’s ground against an arrogant, intrusive new order whose instruments of suppression and control I’d seen for myself the night before. There seemed to be no rational response to the feelings of powerlessness stirred by the cybernetic panopticon; the choice was either to ignore it or go crazy, at least to some degree.
The assault rifles and grenade launchers (I handled one, I hope for the last time) for sale were props in a drama of imagined resistance in which individuals would rise up to defend themselves. The irony was that preparing for such a fight in the only way these people knew how—by plotting their countermoves and hoarding ammo—played into the very security concerns that the overlords use to justify their snooping. The would-be combatants in this epic conflict were more closely linked, perhaps, than they appreciated.
There are so many ghosts in our machines—their locations so hidden, their methods so ingenious, their motives so inscrutable—that not to feel haunted is not to be awake. That’s why paranoia, even in its extreme forms, no longer seems to me so much a disorder as a mode of cognition with an impressive track record of prescience.
Aziz Ansari on Acting, Race and Hollywood (NY Times)
Arnold Schwarzenegger is an unsung pioneer for minority actors. Look at “The Terminator”: There had to be someone who heard his name tossed around for the role and thought: Wait, why would the robot have an Austrian accent? No one’s gonna buy that! We gotta get a robot that has an American accent! Just get a white guy from the States. Audiences will be confused. Nope. They weren’t. Because, you know what? No one really cares.
Kevin Drum: Even in the Hands of an Expert, Mockery Is Tough to Control (Mother Jones)
On Obama's mocking comments regarding conservative's fear of refugees.
That's the risk of using mockery. Used on its own, it makes ordinary people feel like you're clueless and condescending. But even if you do it right, as Obama did, the way it's reported can end up having the same effect. And that effect is exactly the opposite of what liberals would like to accomplish. So if you care about the real world, and you care about public opinion, keep the mockery to a minimum. That doesn't mean you can't fight back, and it doesn't mean you have to go easy on the fearmongers. You can do both. Just do it in a way that doesn't immediately turn off the very people you'd like to persuade.
Parker Molloy: 5 things the media does to manufacture outrage.
People are so sensitive these days! People are just offended by every little thing! Millennials, amirite?!
Are there people upset about stupid nonsense? Absolutely. If it becomes “a thing,” however, it’s because the media made it “a thing.”
Why did I say that? If I’m responding to someone’s question, am I trying to answer it (or better understand what they’re asking), or just boost my ego? Am I trying to be helpful or just look clever? Am I trying to contribute to a conversation or just make sure people know I Have Opinions? Why did I make that bad joke that disturbed the flow of the meeting?
Ijeoma Oluo: Black Kids Will Save America (The Establishment)
Our kids are out there fighting for their lives. They’re fighting against police brutality, the school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, discriminatory drug laws. It is an uphill battle met with resistance and danger at every step, but they keep fighting. When the news media labels them terrorists, they move to Twitter. When the old guard of civil rights leaders refuse to represent them, they decentralize and represent themselves. They pay heed to nobody. They don’t ask, they demand.
There is still a long way to go, and the deck is still stacked against our kids. They do need our support. But if you had asked me 5-10 years ago if a group of black college students could take down a university president, I would have laughed in your face. These kids are bolder than I could have ever imagined.
Roxanne Gay: Student Activism Is Serious Business (The New Republic)
In the protests at Mizzou and Yale and elsewhere, students have made it clear that the status quo is unbearable. Whether we agree with these student protesters or not, we should be listening: They are articulating a vision for a better future, one that cannot be reached with complacency.
We cannot ignore what is truly being said by both groups of protesters: That not all students experience Yale equally, and not all students experience Mizzou equally. These conversations were happening well before these protests, and they will continue to happen until students are guaranteed equality of experience. They are still being forced, however, to first prove that it is worth opening a conversation about either.
Student activism is widespread, because some students are making the most of their college experience. They understand that this may very well be the last moment in their lives when they can confront real issues in an environment where they are forced to encounter people who don’t look like them, who don’t think like them, environments where change is still possible. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and protestors at campuses across the country including Yale and Mizzou are part of a robust, vital tradition that we should not overlook. Today’s student activists are doing the necessary work to ensure that the next generation that participates in the tradition of student activism will be fighting different battles. Or, perhaps, they are doing the necessary work to ensure that students, of all identities, might have a fighting chance to experience college and life beyond more equally than those who came before them.
Malcolm Harris: What’s a ‘safe space’? A look at the phrase’s 50-year history (Fusion)
Neither accommodation nor diversity—the preferred liberal solutions—are good answers to an intersectional critique. With this new conception of how power operates, the standards for what constitutes a safe space have increased. There’s virtually no way to create a room of two people that doesn’t include the reproduction of some unequal power relation, but there’s also no way to engage in politics by yourself.
Even most advocates will admit that literal safe space is a utopian idea. Without a unified radical movement, utopianism can look like petty intransigence or an inability (rather than refusal) to cope with the world as it is. But with insights gleaned from decades of experimentation, scholarship, and struggle, most leftists understand that in the web of power relations there is no real shelter to be found. No one can be so conscious and circumspect as to cleanse themselves of all oppressive ideology before entering a meeting or a party or a concert or classroom. As a result, the meaning of safe space has shifted again.
A safe space, despite the denotation of the phrase, is somewhere people come together and—in addition to whatever else they’re doing—wrestle with the chicken-and-egg problem of how to change themselves and the world at the same time.
Jelani Cobb: Race and the Free-Speech Diversion (The New Yorker)
The default for avoiding discussion of racism is to invoke a separate principle, one with which few would disagree in the abstract—free speech, respectful participation in class—as the counterpoint to the violation of principles relating to civil rights. This is victim-blaming with a software update, with less interest in the kind of character assassination we saw deployed against Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown than in creating a seemingly right-minded position that serves the same effect.
The broader issue is that the student’s reaction elicited consternation in certain quarters where the precipitating incident did not. The fault line here is between those who find intolerance objectionable and those who oppose intolerance of the intolerant.
These are not abstractions. And this is where the arguments about the freedom of speech become most tone deaf. The freedom to offend the powerful is not equivalent to the freedom to bully the relatively disempowered. The enlightenment principles that undergird free speech also prescribed that the natural limits of one’s liberty lie at the precise point at which it begins to impose upon the liberty of another.
Virginia Pasley: On Campus Racism And The Fairy Tale Of The P.C. Police (NPR)
Maybe we shouldn't worry so much about the students who ask that others consider their feelings and their histories, the ones who don't want to talk to reporters, the ones who would like people to stop wearing Native American headdresses or blackface to Halloween parties. Maybe we should worry more about the students who seem hellbent on doing whatever they'd like, history or context or plain old manners be damned. Instead of worrying about the students who point out violent threats on Yik Yak, worry about the students making threats.
Zoe Samudzi: Why our conversations about Paris have been broken from the start
Perhaps one of the most important points drive home after the attacks was the dissonance present in President Obama’s saying that these were “an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we all share.” This, of course, begs the question: Whose humanity? Who has the privilege of being humanized? Why weren’t the recent suicide attacks in Baghdad and Beirut also an attack on humanity?
In attempting to discuss both historical colonial and present neo-imperial European violence, many people expressed a non-desire to politicize the deaths. But how do we reconcile the dissonance in hastily naming a political perpetrator whilst refusing to analyze the motivations for their actions?
It is important to honor the individuals who were killed in these acts of violence, and central to honoring their deaths is ensuring that we understand why these attacks may have happened in an effort to prevent further human suffering. Thus, it is important to conceptualize these deaths as “collateral damage” within the War on Terror. We are unused to classifying western deaths by terror attack as “collateral damage,” because we are unused to situating ourselves within the paradigm of violence and unused to likening ourselves to similarly victimized Muslim civilians abroad. “Collateral damage,” in our detached wartime vocabulary, connotes unnecessary deaths: it is a term that normalizes both the dehumanization and expendability of the black and brown, foreign Muslim “other.” We cannot properly honor the deaths of Parisians killed in these terror attacks without analyzing our governments’ understanding of the subsequent radicalization that has followed invasions and airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria; drone strikes in Somalia, Pakistan, Lebanon, Yemen, and other countries; and the American bombing of the Doctors without Borders hospital in Afghanistan in October.
Squashed: It’s My Fault. I Didn‘t Read the Fine Print
The point isn’t that all the boilerplate should be inherently unenforceable. Most of it is pretty benign. “This is the address to which you should address your billing dispute.” “We really can’t promise that our network is so robust you can run a hospital or nuclear submarine on it. So please don’t try.” “In case for some reason you were confused, the trademark ‘Verizon’ is not yours, even though it’s stamped on your phone.” But sometimes there’s something nasty in there. Forced arbitration clauses. Class action waivers. Undisclosed charges (or whatever it is that makes AT&T think it can just tack on a few dollars in extra charges every month to pad its bottom line). There’s really nothing an individual consumer can do about any of this.
Anyway, two points.
1. The Consumer Financial Protectin Bureau is really important to curb the worst of these abuses.
2. Let’s not blame people for “agreeing” to things that they didn’t actually agree to in any meaningful way.
Justin Falcone: The Origin of HyperCard in the Breakdown of the Bicycle for the Mind
The computers we have today are not bicycles. Instead we’ve got something more like a car for the mind. Which, you know, does get you around and is easier and more comfortable than a bike. But at what cost? When we decided that America would be a place for cars, we signed ourselves up for urban sprawl, air pollution, car crashes, and oil wars. And even on a human scale, cars are as much liabilities as they are assets — I’m sure we’ve all known people working terrible jobs to keep their junker running so they can get to their terrible job.
Lindsay Zoladz: Grimes’s Art Angels Is Superhero Music for Introverts (Vulture)
Immersing yourself in Art Angels is like being inside a vibrantly hued video game — a joyride down Rainbow Road. But for every moment that Boucher let us into her world, there’s another when she’s receding from view, lost in a private reverie, humming to amuse nobody but herself. And thank God, because this is the strange charm I was scared her music might lose as it sought and found a larger audience. “If you’re looking for a dream girl,” she sings with a hard-won assertiveness on the final track, “I’ll never be your dream girl.” Grimes still makes superhero music for introverts, fight songs for people who did not realize they were strong until the perfect song came along and told them so.
Philip Sherburne: Oneohtrix Point Never — Garden of Delete (Pitchfork)
Garden of Delete is unlike anything that Daniel Lopatin has done, in terms of technique, mood, or scope. It is denser than his previous albums, by several orders of magnitude. It is more varied, and it is funnier—scarier, too. The album carries with it a risk of whiplash that's as potent on the 15th listen as on the first.
One of the most notable and striking differences between Art Angels and its Top 40 kin is that these are not love songs. The album is an epic holiday buffet of tendentious feminist fuck-off, with second helpings for anonymous commenters and music industry blood-suckers. Her conflicted, vertiginous relationship with the fast fame that followed Visions seems to have led her to a place of DGAF liberation.
Robin James: Women’s Resilience and Post-Feminist Sexism
We expect women to perform a specific kind of resilience: they must loudly and spectacularly demonstrate that they have overcome patriarchal oppression. Noisy feminism is both a new gender norm for women to embody and a tool white supremacy uses to scapegoat non-white men for lingering sexism.