The way I see it, modern American society is a lot like a massive multilevel video game designed by our parents, managers, and government — all without any pre-planning, principles, or plot coordination between parties.
It’s no wonder the game’s plot feels weak and unsatisfactory. Where’s the hero arc? The ultimate salvation? The clear metrics in the corner that tell us if we’re winning the game or not? Instead, all we get is second-hand backstory and form-filled talk tracks. “Meaningless” is how some people put it. It’s just too easy to peek under the hood and realize there’s no master plan or final destination.
And maybe there never was. But at least we maintained the illusion better before. We used to be told how to live, provided lore that outlined where the lines were drawn between right and wrong, and granted something resembling safety and stability in exchange. Yes, I’m talking about the glue of society: religion. “Literally false but metaphorically true,” as Bret Weinstein puts it. In our dramatic pendulum swing away from collectivism towards the most extreme form of individualism that we’ve ever experienced, we’re now forcing ourselves to come up with all our own answers to the existential questions that have plagued humankind since forever. What is our purpose on this planet? Do we have a responsibility to one another? Who even are we?
Answering those questions alone is asking a lot of a person. The easier option is to choose from the platter of social-strata-acceptable possibilities we’re presented with for education, occupation, geographical location, personality, etc, and call it a day. In contrast to the tightly-knit choice architecture that religion used to provide, each of our choices now has to stand separately — it’s on you to narrate any cohesion to your existence.
There are a lot of benefits to being good at that narration. Describe your “calling” convincingly and you've defined a new game that others want to watch and play. But it’s a catch-22: if you spend all your time constantly sketching (probably quickly outdated) pictures of your thinking on the bigger questions we’ve all been tasked with answering, you neglect the actual doing that would reveal answers with richer hues. It’s too easy to confuse playing the “performing yourself” game with figuring out who that self really is.
This is what growing up very visibly online is like. It’s hard not to internalize the sense that you’re constantly being watched and thus everything you do demands a defensible explanation. Granted, there are many benefits to this — incredible opportunities are unlocked by constructing a digitally consumable caricature of yourself that makes you legible to literally anyone in the world. It’s probably the most far-ranging bat signal possible to find people who think and feel similarly to you.
Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths by David Chapman
On the mechanics and subtle death of subcultures.
Winning is for losers by Jacob Falkovich
There’s so much fodder here that I don’t even know where to start.
The gentrification of disibility by Freddie deBoer
Who benefits when something becomes destigmatized?
Culture wars are long wars by Tanner Greer
One of the best high-level explanations of today’s tensions.
The new founders America needs by Bari Weiss
A modern manifesto of sorts.
The deracination of literature by Mary Gaitskill
The lost art of literary style.
Words are polluted by Mills Baker
A short and sweet note weighing words and truth.
Narrative distillation by Kevin Kwok
Storytelling as a differentiator on every axis.
Setting the Table by Danny Meyer (book)
On hosting and hospitality in business.
Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford (book)
An ode to craftsmanship and satisfaction.
All my favs in one place.
Blue state by Chartreuse (song)
Excellent thinking noise.
A real reader creates her own canon, for it consists precisely of those books that she has used to create herself.
— Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz