The Tyrannies of Unexamined Opinions

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Marketplace Morning Report ran a great story in preparation for today’s disappointing jobs report. Senior reporter, Krissy Clark reported on the recent “U”-shape of the economy. In other works low-skill and high-skill do just fine, but the middle continually wanes. No one outsources the janitor or the CEO.

Considering the great stagnation I thought this childhood video summed up our situation. And while it’s a poor economic outlook, at least we can take comfort in the childhood memories of Sesame Street.

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On The “Busy” Trap: An American Tale

Recently a large number of people posted links to Tim Kreider’s New York Times piece, “The ‘Busy’ Trap” on their Facebook walls. I suppose that means they like it. I suppose it means we all must stop and smell the roses. I like roses. I prefer peonies, but that’s just me.

My concern with the Kreider’s piece is that glosses over many substantial aspects of our culture and society. Valuing busy work and disparaging idleness is nothing new to this country. Thoreau was the outlier, not the norm. One has to afford idle living. Besides, we all know Thoreau snuck back to Emerson’s house with frequency.

Kreider asserts that “The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of
life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.” That statement alone may be true, but it lacks originality. Our country has consistently chosen to values busy work over idleness.

Sherwood Anderson’s 1920 publication of Poor White tells the story of a boy who fights his laziness in order to become a better man. Hugh McVey, born to a drunken loaf takes shelter in the education of the Shepherd family, who try to cure him of his ways. Still, the fourteen year old boy loses his way and frequently joins his father lounging on the Mississippi banks.

Appalled and aghast, Sarah Shepherd the decedent of a New England family captures the America’s cultural ethos about work at the turn of the previous century when she says to Hugh, “You have to get over it…Look at your own people—poor white trash—how lazy and shiftless they are. You can’t be like them. It’s a sin to be so dreamy and worthless.”

Notice the use of sin and the name Shepherd, the religious undertones clearly highlight the pejorative nature of idleness around the turn of the century. In other words, busy work may be a choice, but it’s something our nation has chosen repeatedly.

For Hugh, Sarah Shepherd’s word sunk in. On one of Hughes visits to his drunken father he saw him passed out in a field and became disgusted, “The words of the New England woman, who was, he knew, striving to lift him out of the slothfulness and ugliness into some brighter and better way of life, echoed dimly in his mind” Plato would compare this to moving out of the cave, but more on philosophers in a bit. The point here as the American ethic of being busy and industrious is nothing new.

To be sure, Anderson highlights the rise of the industrious culture by portraying Hugh McVey as a restless inventor who fears the sin of idleness. Our busy work and industrious lead Anderson to write that “The machines men are so intent on making have carried them very far from the old sweet things.”  But sweet old things are really idyllic moments in some bucolic setting that remain temporal and ephemeral because, after awhile, we get board and need to occupy our time creating something.

Technology, no doubt, has increased our desire to do things faster. Technology ought to make our lives easier and afford us luxury, but now we find with increased efficiency we need to continue to be busier to work towards that point where we can actually afford idleness.

Just recently, Frank Partnoy, a professor of law and finance at the University of San Diego School of Law, described the current pace of life on American Public Media’s Marketplace. His focus is not that we runaway and become idle, but that we merely slow down and recognize our surroundings.  Mr. Partnoy doesn’t tell us to flee to the woods or the country, but rather insists we slow down.

“And the best thing to do is just to take a breath and be cognitively aware of what your own limitations are. Say, “You know what, I live in a fast-paced world and my computer screen is flashing at me and I’m subject to all this stimulus. What I need to do every once in a while is just take a break, take a deep breath, look outside, stare out into the distance and that that will help us make better decisions.”


We will continue to innovate technologies to make our lives easier, and inevitably it will continue to keep us busy because it frees up time from to begin another project. When it comes to idleness for divine inspiration, as Kreider implies with examples of Newton’s apple and Archimedes “Eureka” moment, Mr. Partnory makes a different observation while discussing his book on innovation:


“Yes. The Post-it note is a story that’s told everywhere, in every business case book. It’s even in my daughter’s sixth grade science book. It’s often told as an epiphany story — this sudden discovery. But if you look at the truth of the Post-it story, it’s a story that developed over a long, long period of time … The process of developing the Post-it took a total of 12 years …  Thomas Edison did not suddenly invent the light bulb overnight.”

 A final concern with Kreider’s piece stems from its audience. Not that you and I are somehow to blame, but rather we must ask to whom Kreider is speaking. He’s certainly not talking to someone desperate to make it out of the poverty line. No, he’s talking to a select audience that could—if they just tried hard enough—afford the luxury of idleness.

Kreider claims that, “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.” He may be right, but not many of us can afford idleness. Idleness may differ from laziness, but they both require the wealth to afford to do nothing.

Many philosophers argued, probably selfishly, that not everyone can enjoy the fruits of idleness. Remember when that arrogant jerk Aristotle said that not everyone will attain true happiness because it requires the wealth and luxury of idle time to contemplate philosophy. Yeah, what a jerk he was. But then again, Plato set up his republic so that Philosopher-Kings and Guardians never had to toil with manual labor because the affairs of the state required time and thought.

Okay, so those models work out really well for the elites, but they just tried to address practical problems. Namely, someone needs to till the land, mend clothing, and fashion tools amongst other things.  The ancient philosophers just figured those smart enough should be in positions of decision-making. A cast system is useful for giving idleness to some and not others.

In truth, not everyone can afforded the luxury of idleness, which why I find Kreider’s piece difficult to swallow. His actual audience is a select group of people who might be able to afford such a luxury. Realistically, most of us can’t just go take our jobs to the woods. If we could, I’d be holed up in a cabin for the Brule River in Wisconsin.  

Because our social structure allows for social mobility, we must busy ourselves with work to earn a status that affords idleness. The social mobility of our democracy, while imperfect theoretically creates that opportunity to rise; the converse side means that we compete with each other and thus busy ourselves to stay ahead.

In the end life is wonderfully busy. And in the words of Andy Dufresne from Stephen King’s Shawshank Redemption, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.

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The Plague of Irony Part I

I suffer from irony. I attended a private liberal arts college, I was surrounded by theories, and I learned to be self aware. From the primordial discussions of college dorm rooms sprang forth the rise of ironic humor. Until recently, I didn’t realize how much of a plague it was. 

Ironic humor, long a staple of the amorphous hipster scene recently sparked new discussions with the recognition of a new term “hipster racism” or “ironic racism.” Max Read describes the phenomena well in a recent piece on Gawker

Assiduously casual, meant to demonstrate a kind of worldliness or edginess, “hipster racism” acts like a behavioral flannel jacket or a trucker cap, a rejection of perceived upper-middle-class values, still wrapped in enough layers of irony to create a distance from the mythical rednecks or hillbillies it’s thought to be emulating. Whether or not the hipster racist “actually believes” the bullshit he spouts (or thinks it’s some kind of sophisticated satire) is immaterial; it’s a posture, a performance, a middle finger to mom and dad and all the “McCarthyist hijackers” who won’t let Benjamin Leo say “nigger,” or whatever his beef is. 

Race isn’t the only topic up for ironic review. Gender roles and misogyny also suffer from the rise of mainstream ironic humor. Take the ever aggressive and competitive world of tech start-ups. Bloomberg Business reports on The Rise of the ‘Brogrammer.” The author, Douglas MacMillan reports on the rise of a fraternity like culture of program hard, play hard, but as MacMillan reports, women are left out of the joke of ‘brogramming.”  He quotes Sara Chipps, founder of Girl Develop It, as saying “This brogramming thing would definitely turn off a lot of women from working” at startups, says Chipps. MacMillan continues:

A poster recently displayed at a Stanford University career fair by Klout, a social media analytics company, tried to woo computer science graduates by asking: “Want to bro down and crush code? Klout is hiring.” Says Chipps: “No. I don’t want to bro down. I can’t imagine that a girl would see that and say ‘I totally want to do that, it sounds awesome.’ ” Klout CEO Joe Fernandez says the sign was just a joke and “definitely not meant to be an exclusionary thing,”

So yes, ironic or hipster humor has worked its way across most levels of touchy areas and whether those of us on the left, myself included, like to think of ourselves as open minded, we have to confront the fact that what we think is high minded humor is really just offensive.

At one level, the offensiveness of ironic humor or “hipster racism,” “hipster misogyny,” “hipster homophobia” is basic. As a close friend once asked: “even if you are joking, why did your mind go there first?” A fair point. Why would anyone—even if they’re smart and “self aware” still think make a derogatory joke about women is acceptable. It’s not and shouldn’t be. 

So many of those suffering from the plague of ironic humor believe that it is okay to make these jokes because everyone knows that the person making the joke is really self-aware about all of these issues in question. The jokester recognizes the inequity in class, race, gender, and socio-economic backgrounds amongst other issues. To the jokester, making such a joke signifies his/her own self-awareness to others.

While the ironic humor may serve as a signifier to other “self-aware” groups of people, it can all signify callousness, ignorance, and misconception. This is what happens when the ironic jokes goes bad. Trust me, I know because I’ve offended people—unwittingly of course.

At a business lunch, I made an ironic joke about religion. Three important things: I’m Jewish, it was Good Friday, and I felt really comfortable with the group. Apparently, though, self-deprecating Jewish jokes about crucifying the Jesus was not viewed with any eye of irony. No, it was insulting and offensive to at least one member of the lunch, which I discovered much later. In fact, it’s what prompted this essay.

What many of us accustomed to the cloistered walls of liberal arts colleges, readings of Foucault, Barthes, and critical race theory forget, is that we are a minority. Our ironic jokes used as signifiers may attract a few like-minded folks, but it has the potential to offend many people in the process.

Those of us trapped by the tyranny of ironic humor often view religion in the same category as race, gender, and homosexuality—as something we have transcended beyond, something archaic.

Truthfully, I respect religion, and after that lunch on Good Friday, I had a lovely Seder with my family. The point, however, remains that I still rest under the spell of ironic humor. Instead of nothing, I had to say something ironic.

Why?

Because we are elitist. Whether we mean to be or not, if you suffer from ironic humor, you use it to indicate “self awareness.” But isn’t that really the same thing as saying, “Look at me, I’m more cultured than you.” Truly self aware people know how to talk less and listen more. Perhaps by just not talking as much those of us striving to move beyond ironic humor, might actually do so. 

Ironic humor and our desire to show our self-awareness actually closes ourselves off because it prevents us from considering that we might actually be offensive to friends, loved ones, and business partners. Instead of showing our cultured minds, it reveals callousness for others who fail to conform to our view of the world, which, ironically, is the opposite reaction these types of jokes intend to make.

(After writing this, I stumbled upon the opening of Leo Strauss’s essay concerning Plato’s Republic. I’m not motivated to write a follow-up. Part II will discuss the ethics of Leo Strauss’s take on Irony and how it really is used in leadership as a way to spot the other elite. In addition, it’s the elite, Strauss argued, that should run the country. In other words, mass deception is good if it helps benefit the greater population. )

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The Disparity of National Funds for Local Politics

Isn’t it odd that that Scott Walker, the conservative Tea Party backed candidate and unabashed champion of states’ rights raised most of his funds from outside his state?

According to the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch, approximately 66% of Scott Walker’s campaign contributions came from out of state, compared to only 26% of Tom Barrett’s. That’s a large discrepancy. As you might expect, most of Barrett’s funds came from Unions, while Walker’s came from very wealthy individuals. 

Frankly, iWatch does a much better job discussing the source and magnitude of the funds on both sides, while couching them in the context of Citizens United. Check out their article for details.

My concern is the ethical or moral disconnect of proposing limited government while taking handouts and funds from national sources. Sure, it’s legal, but somehow seems contrary to very platform Walker and other Tea Party backed candidates promote. 

It seems that money no longer influences politics, it buys it outright. 

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Duluth Pack in the movies!

1 hour 32 minutes and 55 seconds. That’s the point at which you will find a Duluth Pack bag in the movie Sneakers.

If I could take a snapshot of Netflicks films I would insert it here. But I don’t know how and I don’t think I can. 

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Am I missing something?

I do not understand why pundits, authors, and economists point to pre-recession levels of data as a good place for economic stasis. Shouldn’t we point to pre-bubble data points instead?

While a combination of assumptions  about home prices, massive leverage in the shadow banking world, greedy borrowers, and willful blindness of regulators all helped to create “wealth” and a jobs boom by 2007, we know that it was not an actual boom, as evidenced by the recession and three years of sluggish growth. Instead of being a robust economy we created a massive bubble; it popped.

So why do people continue to point towards pre-recessions numbers?  Those pre-recession numbers got us in trouble in the first place. Right?

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The misplaced graduation speech

Link to the Star’s Post:

http://voices.kansascity.com/entries/misplaced-graduation-speech/

The misplaced graduation speech

Tucker Slosburg
Special to the Star

If the bachelor degree is the new high school degree, then the messaging is hitting the wrong audience. The economic landscape changed as well as the job market. College graduates don’t need to hear how they must take action to do good work in the world they enter. High school students need to hear that before going to college or starting a job.

The democratization of higher education produced many benefits, but in doing so, it weakens the degree. That is, the more people with the degree, the less distinctive it becomes. Every parent wants their child to get ahead of its peers. It’s harder to get ahead if all children obtain a college degree.

Distinguishing oneself means taking on responsibility, leading projects, starting clubs, organizing events. College, more than high school is one of the best places to hone these skills. You set your own schedule; you make your own way. Modern employers want to see portfolios of what students accomplish, not just straight top grades.

Unfortunately the motivating speeches come at the end of the process instead of the beginning. Inspiring graduation speeches are similar to actually attending your own funeral.

You get to hear all sorts of wonderful things and reflect on missed opportunities.

Of course I’m not saying life ends with the end of college, but merely suggesting that such an inspiring speech might be more appropriate to high school graduates, many of whom choose not to go to college or can’t afford it.

This raises some socio-economical issues. Only a small sample of schools will be able to afford expensive celebrity speakers and many will not. Critics might say it’s unfair. True, but graduating from high school seems like a good time to discover life isn’t fair.

On the flip side, we live in a world that wants to be both global and hyper-local. I recommend that high schools seek out local celebrities or leaders from their community to speak. Wisdom need not come with a large price tag.

The best advice I can think of for anyone, high school or college, comes from Ghostbusters. Dan Akroyd, complaining to Bill Murray about being fired from the university states, “You don’t know what it’s like. I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.”

It’s true, the world wants results. You may be a helluva nice guy and kindness is good, but it does not pay the bills.

When searching for a job or creating a company, think less about profit and more about why you want to do a job. Regardless of what the Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes and industry as tech, manufacturing, lumber, agriculture, or service, they are really all services.

Think about that. No matter your industry, think about how you can service others. If you can do that, then kindness and goodwill might actually pay the bills.

Tucker Slosburg currently he lives in Kansas City and works for Tromans-Slosburg Investments.


Read more here: http://voices.kansascity.com/entries/misplaced-graduation-speech/#storylink=cpy

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The Tragedy of the Romney Bullying Article

It seems a great opportunity to discuss bullying at national level fell victim to political writing.

Let me be clear, I don’t defend Romney’s actions. And it’s pretty damning if over four people confirmed the incident. I just think it’s a shame that we framed this as political, not a sociological discussion.  

In a less political malicious world, this article would have approached the Romney camp in a way that a smart PR strategist could capitalize upon. This could have been the moment to make Romney look human. Have him state that he made mistakes in his youth, that he’s dedicated a life to public service to discourage this sort of behavior. That he regrets he had foolish decisions in his youth and has learned from them.

Then he could have gone on to talk about a how bullying is a real problem facing the nation. He could have showed some heart and become a champion around the issue. He had seen the light, if you will.

But, no. Chiefly, I imagine the journalist approached the Romney camp fairly aggressively with accusatory questions. Naturally, the Romney camp had to deny.  

An opportunity to discuss the nature of bullying lost to the will of political agenda. 

As I finish this writing, the Washington Post is now reporting that Romney has apologized. Unfortunately it’s too little, too late for the apology and for the article to do what it should have done, get Romney to discuss the perils of bullying. 

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Need a Politician? There's an App for That.

Tucker Slosburg
Special to the Star

In a world of customization and personalized apps, it should not surprise us that the Laruens County Republicans in South Carolina enacted a pledge that—among other things—states:

• “You must favor, and live up to, abstinence before marriage.”

• “You cannot now, from the moment you sign this pledge, look at pornography.”

• “You must be faithful to your spouse. Your spouse cannot be a person of the same gender, and you are not allowed to favor any government action that would allow for civil unions of people of the same sex.”

Sure the strictness of the pledge might shock people and satisfy others, but whether one agrees with the pledge is irrelevant. It’s the notion of such a strict pledge that ought to concern us. The recent trend to customize everything in our lives has led us to believe that we can also customize our congressional representatives.

Instead of buying into a mass culture, we create our own customized narratives of how we want to view the world. In essence, the rise of Faceboook, Twitter, RSS feeds, and other personalized applications provide an a la carte platform, thus enabling us to develop our own reality, not too dissimilar to what Walter Issacson’s description of Steve Jobs’ “reality distortion field.”

Forcing elected officials to fit into a particular reality field from a pledge doesn’t distort reality; it prohibits elected officials from adapting and weighing new information. Signing pledges, I suppose, indicates that these candidates are “principled,” but our willingness to appear “principled” has stifled our ability to grow as a country. Being too principled is another way of saying “I’m more of a fundamentalist and will not consider an alternative approach to anything.”

My generation gets flak for being the “Generation Me,” but our whole body politic has shifted into a selfish organism unwilling to negotiate or compromise on any issue. Moreover, that type of mentality reflects in our Congress and its failure to accomplish much of anything last year. It’s not that politicians won’t compromise; it’s that the electorate, which demands personalized and tailor-made candidates, won’t let them.

These types of demands we place upon our elected officials have stifled their ability to do what is required of good government: deliberate, negotiate, and compromise. Our digital lives, which allow for overwhelming customization and atomization actually coddles us into believing we should get everything our way, including our elected officials.

A National Journal story shows just how principled our body politic has become and helps explain our frustration with Congress. Over the last 19 years we have witnessed the vanishing of left-leaning Republicans and right-leaning Democrats. Just a few weeks ago, Olympia Snowe of Maine announced her decision not to run for another Senate term because Congress has “devolved into this hyperpartisan environment that discourages and disillusions and frustrates people.”

Pledges are not something new, but they seem to be growing. Consider Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform. His Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a promise from elected officials to “make a written commitment to their constituents to ‘oppose and vote against tax increases.’” The 112th Congress has signatures from 238 Representatives and 41 Senators, if you wanted to know.

The solution to all of these problems, of course, is more technology. Obviously we must develop and app that takes our input and evaluates a candidate for us. Instead of pledges, we need a tool that will tell whether or not a candidate will live up to our expectations. The less we have to think about a candidate, the less we have to evaluate their decisions. Of course another solution might be to simply recognize that we can’t always get what we want.

Tucker Slosburg has written political-economy pieces for the Idaho Business Review and has worked on various local political campaigns in Kansas City and Boise. Currently he lives in Kansas City and works for Tromans-Slosburg Investments. You can reach him at tslosburg@gmail.com or follow him on twitter @tuckslos.


Read more here: http://voices.kansascity.com/entries/need-politician-theres-app/#storylink=cpy

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Let me say that part of me really wants to support the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’ve said before that people should have divested from the investment banks right after we ‘stabilized’ the market at the end of 2008. It was beyond my comprehension that companies continued to use the Wall Street firms to finance their growth.

So yesterday I walked with and watched another Occupy Boise march. 

As the march progressed through Boise, I asked a couple of bystanders their thoughts. One said that “corporations employ a lot of people. It’s a symbiotic relationship.” Whereas another person said, “it’s about time, I’m all for it.”

I then got a chance to speak with a few of the marchers. Protesters make clear they speak for themselves, not the group. As they explained why they were marching, I found one common theme—lack of voice.

These quote that highlight their view: “I’m here because I’m part of the silent majority and I’m not being heard.” Another protester bemoaned, ““I’m sick of all this stuff going on and feeling like I don’t have a voice.”

I then asked a follow up question to all the voiceless protesters that seemed to catch them off guard. I asked if any of them had ever attended city hall meetings, to which most replied “hardly ever,” or “nope, but I guess I should.”

I find it hard to stomach the complaints of the voiceless when they fail to show up for regular city council meetings.

If Democracy is really broken, who’s at fault? The elected officials for not doing want citizens want, or citizens, who fail to show up and voice their concern?