Weekly Wisdom 12/13/2020—The Value of Worship

Also, on the folly of chasing metrics, the value of suffering and the global tentacles of hispterdom


Welcome to Weekly Wisdom. Here I share my highlights and notes of all the best stuff I read over the past week. All the notes are presented as is, so bear the typos and other irregularities. You can read the previous editions by clicking here.

Deprivation as Depravation

Hipsters have taken over the world

…in recent years a different type of globalisation has accelerated. A new design aesthetic is taking over the world, spread not via brands or FDI, but through social media and the internet. Even as formal trade slows, the globalisation of taste is rampant. Starbucks may not have reached large chunks of the world, but there are very few large cities in the world now in which a visitor cannot order a latte surrounded by exposed wood and vintage light bulbs.

The Economist, Flat White World

The style, all “raw wood tables, exposed brick, and hanging Edison bulbs”, has been termed “AirSpace” by Kyle Chayka, an American writer. Sajith Pai, a venture capitalist in Delhi, describes it as “the bastard child of IKEA, Starbucks and Apple”.

The Economist, Flat White World

Over half the world’s population now live in cities, according to the World Bank. Not everyone in poor-world cities (or even those in rich ones) will be able to afford regular flat whites or visits to craft-beer bars. But cities create high-paying specialist jobs, so some will.

The Economist, Flat White World

What does the rise of this class mean? A class of people who buy into a common cult of mid-century furniture and banal contemporary art do not always endear themselves to their fellow citizens. Even in rich countries, they cluster in cities which tend to vote for left or liberal-leaning parties. And even in those places—where they are accused of “gentrification” or worse—they are not always welcome. The rise of such a style hints at an urban-rural divide that is growing all over the world.

The Economist, Flat White World

Numbers are Carrots and the Stick

There is a real tendency in the modern world to count everything but see the significance of nothing. I see people weighing their meals and tabulating their calories without a single hint of health and vibrancy in their eyes. I see people fast-walking laps around the park, their eyes on their FitBit number, completely oblivious to the sky and the trees and the birds. I see people posting spreadsheets and projections and countdowns to their FI (Financial Independence) number without giving any indication that they will spend their freedom doing anything beyond further calculations of further metrics.

Thomas Bevan, The Tyranny of Numbers

Which leads on to my next point. See, not only do numbers not capture what matters (love, happiness, awe, spirituality, creativity are by definition unquantifiable beyond mere surface appearances) they are also extremely open to manipulation.

If you’ve ever worked in an office or a hospital or a school or in the police force you have encountered Goodhart’s Law. This heuristic in its simplest form states that: ‘When a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a good measure.’

Sounds innocuous enough. But the way it manifests in reality is often harmful and corrupt. An example: A politician decides that hospital patients must never wait more than four hours to be admitted on to a ward. The result, rather than speedier care will be that they are shuttled to unaccounted-for purgatorial anterooms for eight hours so that they ‘technically’ don’t pass the four hour limit.

Thomas Bevan, The Tyranny of Numbers

What to think about

This is an excerpt of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech, “This is Water“. The excerpt is powerful by itself, but in context, it is deeper and more powerful. The speech was about the true value of a liberal arts education, but it is in truth about surviving as a human.

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

The Value of Suffering

Many people delay taking action because they hope to avoid suffering. They keep searching for a path that won’t involve tradeoffs.

But some form of suffering is always inevitable. The process of taking action is the process of choosing your pain.

James Clear, 3 ideas, 2 quotes, 1 question (December 10, 2020)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.