Artifice Over Truth—Weekly Wisdom

Also the history of tax-free zones, the reality of low-skill jobs, and the commodification of faith.

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💡Something I learned

Special Economic Zone

This podcast starts at the world’s first Duty Free shop and weaves the narrative around the history of Freeports, and Special Economic Zones. How China employed them and how later efforts in implementation have not met with much success.

📕Something to read

  • Anna Delvey. We started watching the Netflix miniseries based on this article. I had already read it. The show takes a lot of liberties, for the sake of melodrama. However, the central thesis is preserved; humans prefer status games. We’ll take artifice over the truth. We are all just status monkeys.

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🗣Some Quotes and Notes

The Pulpit of the Individual

While I disagree with the clear political hackery at work in this essay, I would say the premise has merit. Divesting spirituality from religion is yet another way of taking something unquantifiable and turning it into a consumable good. Spirituality becomes a commodity.

Eventually the spiritual, but not religious will want to rule, will want to transmit values to their children, will want to stop the “spiritual and religious” from corrupting them, and so they will have to adopt a certain infrastructure that makes them indistinguishable from all that they criticize. “Spiritual but not religious”—as a matter of substance—is destined to become a Church.

— Zohar Atkins, “Spiritual But Not Religious”


It was fun revisiting this piece now. The US labor market has crashed. Jobs that were considered ‘low-skill’ can’t find any workers. What we have learned is that they are not low-skill. In this pre-pandemic tale of Fast Food Worker burnout, the thing that stands out is the restraint.

I doubt I would have shown the restraint that these workers did. That is a high-skill proposition.

At McDonald’s, I asked the manager who wrote me up for losing my temper at Mustard Lady if anyone had ever thrown food at her, and, if so, how she’d kept it together. Was there … a trick to it?

My manager looked at me as if I were oblivious, and responded that of course people had thrown food at her. “You have a family to support. You think about your family, and you walk away.”

— Emily Guendelsberger, Fast-food worker burnout

The Sum and the Parts

Designer Dan Hill, answering questions in the newsletter Dense Discovery. The way we approach understanding systems is backwards. We are looking at maps, not territories.

A concept worth understanding:

Donella Meadows wrote that “The behaviour of a system cannot be known just by knowing the elements of which the system is made.” Our overly analytical approach to understanding rarely helps – we need to engage with the world, not simply quantify it. Equally however, as Richard Sennett put it, “You can’t understand how wine is made simply by drinking lots of it.” That engagement takes craft, commitment, and humility.

— Dan Hill, Dense Discovery

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