Facebook is to community like porn is to sex

Antonio Garcia Martinez, writing for Wired:

Ultimately, nobody really cares about privacy, except media elites, under-employed Eurocrats, and zealots who’ve made it a career. Everyone else would sext you their privates for a fleeting feeling of human connection. And they do.

[Zuckerberg] very immodestly proposes that Facebook occupy the social nexus vacated by the disappearance of churches, unions, lodges, and other local associations that once served as core of American civil life. This resurrected public forum would be as abstract and mobile as a Facebook group, and would no longer be restricted by the pesky limits of distance or national origin.

Facebook is to real community as porn is to real sex: a cheap, digital knockoff for those who can’t do better. Unfortunately, in both instances use of the simulacrum fries your brain in ways that prevent you from ever experiencing the real version again. But we’ll take what we can get.

 

I don’t think anthropologists or historians will look back on western society or American culture and say, “Ah, the Internet was where people started becoming lonely, depressed, and sad”. Institutions like churches and other parts of civil society started collapsing around the time television was in every home, sometime around the 60’s and 70’s.

Was it television that drove us away from other people? Maybe. In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam makes the argument television news scared the heck out of us all and made us distrustful.

I wrote in a paper recently there may be an upshot to Facebook for democracy: it serves as an antiseptic. It lets people show themselves in a way they may not have before. If they’re racist, homophobic, or genuinely a bad person, you’re likely to see it on Facebook. The medicine stings for society, but ultimately it is good for the patient.

As Martinez points out, teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma organized a teacher’s strike more effectively than unions ever have.

There are bits and pieces of the “Facebook is to porn” metaphor I agree and disagree with. I get the point, however, that Facebook serves as a weak proxy for building meaningful connections. I just think it’s unfair to blame Facebook for it. Poor community organization and construction patterns, reliance on welfare, the drug war, and a clear market demand for a moment of simple relaxation are bigger factors. If anything, Facebook (like porn) is the last thing some people have to work with.

I suspect our cultural issues surrounding health and depression come more from other cultural changes. Facebook just amplifies them a bit, letting us see what’s happening faster and close-up.

I just don’t think people can afford to be in most social organizations anymore. They cost thousands of dollars a year and require hundreds of hours of time. Ask a college graduate with a $400/mo. car payment, a government-mandated health insurance bill, hefty rents despite splitting it three ways and a car payment of $250 a month because your city is huge and you can’t plunk down $5,000 for a used car all at once to join Rotary, Kiwanis, an industry association, or go bowling for $3,000 a year and see how far that goes.

Can I take 3 minutes to convert your political beliefs?

The Indiana Republican Party is holding their convention this weekend. There is a debate about whether to remove marriage being defined as a man-and-a-woman in their official platform. Last night, the report came that Speaker of the House Brian Bosma is against it. Governor Holcomb dodged it and refused to form an opinion. It’s up to the delegates, and I have no idea how they’ll vote.

But as they’re voting, literally a half mile up the street Indiana’s largest gay Pride parade and festival will be marching along.

I’ve written about Pride before. To recap: I don’t quite understand it, and I’m still not convinced it helps win over the hearts and minds of the people that have hearts and minds that need reaching. But people have fun, it does no harm to me, and best I can tell it doesn’t cost a bunch of money from public funds (parking revenue losses may be a wash with other parking revenue elsewhere, and police presence may be a regular shift of officers. I don’t know.)

I know a lot of gay people. I know a lot of Republicans. And I know a lot of Democrats. I know two gay Republicans. I know that Republicans get booed, with few small exceptions (like former Mayor Greg Ballard), and most of the people there are firmly in support of the Democrats. It’s not hard to imagine why.

But this does not align with reality. We know that about half of the population has to be conservatively-minded and half are progressive and liberal. It’s been this way forever. So how can you have that many thousands of diverse individuals at Pride and not have more than half a dozen people in favor of a narrowly defined government, cost savings, and personal freedoms?

You can’t. At least a third of the people there have some conservative ideals.

Over the years I have shifted between political parties, often voting fiercely independent in each election. But this does no one any favors because it still rewards bad behavior. There’s one party that is so hung up by civil liberties and personal freedoms they can’t help be renege on their own platform and deny them to people. This is idiotic and hypocritical.

But for the millions of gay men and women looking for a party, the Democrats are “the least bad choice” in most but not all circumstances around their personal freedoms. But what if you think charter schools might be worth looking at? What if you don’t think a government program is a solution to a problem? This is no way to live. This is no way to run a country or a state. Because then you’re tied to the baggage of the rest of the platform.

If you’re reading this and nodding slightly in agreement — regardless of our sexual orientation — consider if the Libertarian Party isn’t exactly who you are. Consider that maybe people should be free to do with their bodies as they wish, love who they choose, take part in safe, lawful events as they choose, and also we can do things in this country without it being a government program. That maybe there are some cost savings yet to be found in a few places. That maybe some government programs do more harm than good. Perhaps the solution to not every problem is an increase in taxes, but a re-alignment of taxes. That the best way to honor our veterans is to avoid sending them to more wars. And that maybe, just maybe, adults are free agents capable of deciding what’s best for them in every circumstance of their own lives. Perhaps a policy of “do no harm” is ideal.

A lot of this used to be the Republican Party, which does not seem to exist anymore. Someone once told me the reason they don’t vote Libertarian is because “Libertarians don’t win”. Well, you know what changes that, right?

Thoughts on the SCOTUS “gay cake” decision

The Supreme Court ruled today in favor of the Colorado bakery owner who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple. The headlines on this are terrible because people conflate “SCOTUS rules narrowly” with a 5-4 decision. In fact, it was 7-2. The “narrow” decision derives from the mere declaration this ruling decided just this case, mostly punished the Colorado agency that administered too unfairly, and doesn’t have much impact on other cases going forward.

That said, this is a good ruling. I know my gay and lesbian friends see this as a “loss” but that’s looking at this through the same partisan team mentality we decry every other day. For you to win it doesn’t always mean the other team has to “lose”.

Guys, it’s a cake. It is not an unreasonable request. It’s not like it was water service or electricity or a life-saving heart surgery. It’s a cake.

It is not unreasonable to ask for a cake. It is not unreasonable for someone to decide they don’t like you. It is not unreasonable for you to decide you don’t like them. It’s not unreasonable for you to decide not to hire them or for them to serve you. It’s not even unreasonable for you to tell your friends about it and for them to tell their friends about it. In fact, that’s all that should have ever happened.

But it went to court, as is their right to do, and it went to court again and again.

Guys, it’s a cake.

You can ask for a cake, be declined, and go somewhere else. I can’t even get a plumber to respond to several requests over the last two weeks and they don’t know anything about me or my life. They just straight up don’t respond. So I try someplace else until someone does respond. This only becomes a problem if the issue is so systemic and ingrained people can’t get access to vital services or trivial ones. Yes, we have had that problem in the past. But this was not that problem and courts can only solve the problem presented directly to them.

This is an okay decision. It means the government has no precedent to force someone to do something for someone they don’t like. You may argue that we should just criminalize bad thoughts, but this cuts both ways. If a gay woman didn’t want to bake a cake for a guy with a swastika on his forehead, she could still decline to do that. And the swastika guy can screw off somewhere else until he finds a Nazi baker.

And you know what — maybe if you tell your friends and all your friends agree, the business will suffer. And maybe it’ll go away like another restaurant people got up in arms about. Because unlike government mandates, businesses can go away.

This is a good thing.

Justin’s summer reading list

I’m making an effort to double-down on the amount of “productive” pass-times this summer. As Emerson asked, “How much of human life is lost in waiting?” I go further and wonder how much life is lost watching TV and diddling away at the day.

If you’re interested, here are some of the books I’ve read in the last few months you may enjoy. At the end is my upcoming list of books I’m starting soon.

The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World by Adam Gazzaley

I started to look at distractions after hearing Tristan Harris talk about brain hijacking. Harris doesn’t have a book, but Gazzaley does. This wasn’t as eye-opening as I expected, but can see how it might be for someone just thinking about the level of distraction in their life. There is a lot of background on human brain development that can be a chore at the beginning.

 

Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

I had high hopes for this book. It’s new, the waitlist to get it at the library was lengthy, and everyone seemed to be talking about it. The writing is approachable and easy, but it’s about Dalio’s life as an investment manager. It’s a huge tome that left me annoyed. He started with access to money, went to Harvard, and continued to have money afterward. It’s hard for a frugal Hoosier like myself to get interested in hearing about how great it was his son could study abroad in China.

 

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

I had low expectations for this book because of its spammy title. But it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read recently. Each chapter is a story unto itself. It’s full of fascinating anecdotes I hadn’t heard before from inside Disney, Pixar, Google, the military, and more. Each with their own point and details about goals, processes, and achievement.

 

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

In 1915 a group of 7 British explorers set out to cross the Antarctic from west to east. It had never be done before. Their ship, the Endurance, became logged in the ice and sank. This story details how these 7 men spent 2 years in the dark, miserable, cold of the South Pole searching for rescue. It’s like a real-life Hobbit movie except it’s real.

 

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

Another of one of my very rare 5-star reviews. This book covers the Presidency of James A Garfield, a man you haven’t heard much about because his entire presidency was spent dying. Criss-crossing between the story of his assassin and Garfield, you get the real sense of how the country felt in 1881. You also get a feel for how infuriating medicine was in 1881. As one physician later reported, “Nature did all it could for Garfield, which would have been enough.” He spent two months “basically rotting to death” as the country mourned and screamed for justice. Even more fascinating is how the country mobilized to cure the President, including Alexander Graham Bell and the race to invent the precursor to the X-Ray.

His legacy is one we don’t talk about: a man who was trusted by everyone because he never wanted to be President reunited the North and South as the country rallied behind him. Ulysses S. Grant, General Sherman, and Jefferson Davis all agreed Garfield brought them closer together.

 

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

This book is unapologetically British, so it’s cumbersome and pretentious. But the story of how the dictionary came to be and the insane man behind the idea is fascinating. It’s the original crowd-sourced project where 6 million slips of paper, each with a different word were mailed to one man. Sorting, sifting, and organizing all those pieces into trays, tracing their etymology, and fact-checking each would take 20 years. The initial estimate was 2.

 

What it Means to be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretation by Charles Murray

This is the best book I’ve read so far on Libertarian principles and how it would look in the United States as a governing principle. It may seem farcical to some, but it pulls data from a variety of respectable sources and looks to history as a means of determining what the country might look like. (For what it’s worth: I read a lot of books on lots of political philosophies. That’s what thinking people do.)

 

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

This is the first book of Millard’s I read (and is what drove me to Destiny of the Republic). Her writing fits my preferred style and tells a good story. This one is about Theodore Roosevelt’s post-presidency expedition into the jungles of South America. The goal: explore the River of Doubt, which had never been mapped before. He and his team encountered hostile tribes, dangerous wildlife, scarce food, impossibly thick brush and forest that blacked out the sun, and intense heat. This is the trip that nearly killed the Colonel. A story so fantastic, once Roosevelt returned many Americans didn’t believe him or his son, Kermit, because it seemed too impossible that he returned.

 

Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker

Now that we have enough history between now and Bush 41, it’s worth looking back. This book blew a lot of things I believed out of the water (like Cheney being the real puppet master). I also have more respect for Condoleeza Rice as being one of the smartest people in the country. We were lucky to have her. This book also covers the lead up to every major decision in the Bush White House. I came away thinking a lot of decisions were just unknowable, a 50/50 coin toss that the country lost time and time again.

 

Coming up on the list

  • Creative Mischief by Dave Trott
  • Managing the Professional Service Firm by Davis Maister
  • Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram
  • 1776 by David McCullough
  • Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Having twice your income saved by 35 is not obnoxious

When I was 20 I no longer worked a jobby-job with the State. So I needed to roll my retirement account savings into a new account. I found Jim Fleming nearby and we’ve been loyal to each other ever since.

During our initial conversation, I asked Jim, “How much money should I be saving each month to have a comfortable retirement?”

“That depends on a few factors. Let’s run some numbers based off when you’re 60, 65, and 70 years old,” he said.

He flipped his computer screen around and said, “These numbers assume that Social Security will exist in some form as it does today, with some modest increases in inflation.”

The numbers for what my annual retirement outlays were around $60,000 inflation-adjusted dollars per year. Keep in mind, my reported income the first year I started my business in earnest was $17,000.

“How much should I be saving then, of my own money, each month?” I asked again, driving at the real number.

Without so much as a stutter: “About $300-$350 a month”. That, on top of what we hoped would remain of Social Security, was what I needed to be saving each month.

I didn’t hit that goal at 20 years of age and $17,000 a month. Yet when I started my business I made room for retirement savings. “Let’s start with $50 a month,” I said.

That, coupled with my rollover money from the State was a start. If you’re curious, I think my retirement savings at that point amounted to around $4,000.

Each year Jim would call to check in and each year or two I would bump the amount of money I was saving by $25 or $50. An extra $25 a month wasn’t noticeable to me. I had expenses under control. I took the risk of foregoing college when I couldn’t pay out of pocket anymore so I never had loans. I got rid of my car. I lived in a modest house in the city, but at a low rate and rented out a spare bedroom. On any given month I could pay for utilities, insurance (pre-Obamacare), groceries, and some small business expenses on about $650 a month. For a while I didn’t use a cell phone, instead opting for an iPod Touch and Skype calls over WiFi. I ate a lot of tuna sandwiches in 2010.

Last year I set a life goal to get to that magic $300 a month number. I hit that in March. Looking at my retirement funds, I have a healthy amount of money in there. I’m fortunate to be able to say that. I get that some people don’t have that luxury. In fact, a lot of people don’t.

For ten years I have harped on anyone who is leaving college to “immediately start saving something, anything, for retirement.” I usually get dumb looks. I might as well be telling my friends they should hop on one leg from now until they’re 65.

The Twitter story about having twice your annual salary saved by 35 struck people as obnoxious and rude*. I don’t think it is. I think it’s math. Some people are naturally stuck in a terrible spot because they had to go to college to get a decent career. Others are there because they didn’t do the work earlier to prepare and drive a $20,000 car.

Like hours in a day, we (everyone using Twitter anyway) have some level of income. It sounds preachy, but this has to be a priority. We can’t even assume Social Security is going to be there for us.

Don’t blame education. I didn’t know any more or less than any other 19 or 20-year-old. No one is surprised to find out they get old and things cost money.

The savings advice is not rude or obnoxious. It’s not even unrealistic. It is possible, just like losing 100 pounds is possible for a 300-pound person. Don’t lament it or mock that math. Assess and take action.

* What’s obnoxious and rude is the jackass that said millennials don’t own homes because we spend it all on avocado toast.