Tuesday, August 10, 2010


For the people who have been telling me since kindergarden that I think I'm all that, and for the relatives who don't read this blog because it has too many big words, I am your loss, which I'm down with. For the people I've bullshitted to, substituting a keen sense of exactly how much I can get away with for the rewards of deeper honesty, you are my loss, I am sorry.

I've been reading this book on "launching your personal brand," which is not quite as terrible as it sounds. Close. Beneath the stink of yesterday's trends is an (accidentally) insightful commentary on reputation, which is old, stolid, inevitable. The most authentic parts of you are seldom what anyone is willing to pay you for, but authenticity speaks to us, in the marketplace where we are starved for it as much as anywhere else.

I don't know when I came to the conclusion that God would strike me down with lightning if the people around me doubted for an instant that I was Smart. But at some point--maybe being forced to live with myself for long hours in the simple dark, maybe learning just how much it is that I love sunlight--I began to let it go.

I like physics, and like philosophy--even school philosophy--but not nearly enough to devote my life to either of them. I've been driven to that in an attempt to prove myself, seeking the rubber stamp, but maybe it's no good; maybe the rubber stamp will crush you. Maybe I'm worth not being crushed.

Of course I care what people think. I want them to think I'm nice, that I'm pretty, that I'm smart; I want them to think my taste is good and I'm not too weird and my breath doesn't smell bad. Commonly, I want to be the one insightful voice that resonates so deeply and so compellingly that they can't forget or disagree with me--I want to be so smart that people love me. Sometimes it works. Sort of. Strategy wise, I can't recommend it--I've heard physical beauty works better, maybe you can give me some tips.

And, of course, it's no accident people who accomplish something have often spent some time alone. And it's no accident that in letting go of some of the expectations of others, I realize I've already accomplished a lot that I care about.

Monday, August 09, 2010

this is how it works

Here is a fantastic animation which all of you should watch, even if I have already sent it to you twice. And here are some of the most interesting things it says:

For tasks which involve any sort of higher cognitive function, paying people more for them will decrease performance.

If you really want people to perform well at complex cognitive tasks, the thing to do is "pay them enough that they don't have to worry about money," and then incentivize them with autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

There's so much interesting in these few concepts that I can barely begin to unpack, but here's two things.

Escapism: From Harry Potter to Grey's Anatomy, from Pern to Stephen King to Lord of the Rings to Twilight, it seems to always offer a world where we can fantasize ourselves into lives of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Often in fantasy contexts mastery is about the main character's slow development of their unusual supernatural abilities; often in romance stories, the purpose given to the main character is simply to love and be loved.

In virtually all cases, autonomy is key; even if the characters we relate to are trapped in narrow and precarious situations, their unique abilities make their choices wider (or at least feel wider, because they are so different) than our own. If you find yourself constantly drawn to escapism (like I do), it seems like a fair bet that the characters you are reading about give you a much more satisfying sense of mastery, autonomy, and purpose than your own life.

Enoughness: I want to know what it means to pay people well enough that they don't have to worry about money. This is fantastically interesting to me, because I'm interested in human flourishing--in seeing people reach their potential--and understanding what kind of material support is needed in order for flourishing to happen seems paramount. Here's what I've come up with.

People will probably worry about money if they perceive that a lack of money is preventing them from having one or more of these things:



Medical care, including pain relief and some preventative care

Physical safety

Satisfying emotional self-expression

Opportunities for personal and professional growth; choices about livelihood. This includes needs like education, variety, and adventure.


A sense of belonging and respect in their community

Satisfying relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners and/or potential romantic partners

Opportunities for meaningful work, including the opportunity to raise children with resources they consider sufficient for the task

I have a theory that if people felt these needs were being met, necessity creep--people's rising standards of what material goods are essential to their existence--would be relatively easy to control. What do you all think?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

misdirected hate

This is the quote that makes me love Andrea Dworkin:

"It is true that we had to talk to each other. How else, after all, were we supposed to find out that each of us was not the only woman in the world not asking for it to whom rape or battery had ever happened? We couldn't read it in the newspapers, not then. We couldn't find a book about it. But you do know and now the question is what you are going to do; and so your shame and your guilt are very much beside the point. They don't matter to us at all, in any way. They're not good enough. They don't do anything.

As a feminist, I carry the rape of all the women I've talked to over the past ten years personally with me. As a woman, I carry my own rape with me. Do you remember pictures that you've seen of European cities during the plague, when there were wheelbarrows that would go along and people would just pick up corpses and throw them in? Well, that is what it is like knowing about rape. Piles and piles and piles of bodies that have whole lives and human names and human faces.

I speak for many feminists, not only myself, when I tell you that I am tired of what I know and sad beyond any words I have about what has already been done to women up to this point, now, up to 2:24 p.m. on this day, here in this place.

And I want one day of respite, one day off, one day in which no new bodies are piled up, one day in which no new agony is added to the old, and I am asking you to give it to me. And how could I ask you for less--it is so little. And how could you offer me less: it is so little. Even in wars, there are days of truce. Go and organize a truce. Stop your side for one day. I want a twenty-four-hour truce during which there is no rape.

I dare you to try it. I demand that you try it. I don't mind begging you to try it. What else could you possibly be here to do? What else could this movement possibly mean? What else could matter so much?

And on that day, that day of truce, that day when not one woman is raped, we will begin the real practice of equality, because we can't begin it before that day. Before that day it means nothing because it is nothing: it is not real; it is not true. But on that day it becomes real. And then, instead of rape we will for the first time in our lives--both men and women--begin to experience freedom. If you have a conception of freedom that includes the existence of rape, you are wrong. You cannot change what you say you want to change. For myself, I want to experience just one day of real freedom before I die. I leave you here to do that for me and for the women whom you say you love."