The Awkwardness Principle

““The practices that carry the greatest potential for transformative change are usually counter-instinctual.” I take him to mean that if you’re trying to get better at life in some way – more patient, or better at listening, or less prone to procrastination or anxiety or self-sabotage – the necessary actions are pretty much guaranteed not to feel especially good. They’re more likely to feel scary, or at least awkward, like wearing an ill-fitting shirt, or writing with your non-dominant hand. While learning to be patient, you should expect to feel restless. As you embark on a long-postponed creative project, you should expect to feel unready. One way or another, change will feel crappy.”

—Oliver Burkeman, “The Awkwardness Principle.” OliverBurkeman.com. January 28, 2021.

The 50 Best Cult Movies

“Making a list of movies that seem underrated or underappreciated is one thing; accounting for the ones that generate religious fervor is another,” Adam Nayman writes in this history of the cult movie. “Cult films come in all varieties—and sometimes with vigorous debate about their status attached—but genuine, possessive devotion is the baseline.”

-The Ringer Staff, “The 50 Best Cult Movies.” TheRinger.com. January 25, 2021

Fascists in Need of a Punch

“Fascism: a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

—Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, s.v. “fascism,” accessed January 24, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fascism.

When I think of fascism, I think of uniforms and the threat of violence. Want to wear a Hawaiian shirt with tactical gear and carry a gun? Into wearing a white hood and burning a cross on someone’s yard you don’t like? You might be a fascist.

In the United States, there are fascist elements baked in. We have ideas that “America” is exceptional. After the Capitol riot of 2021, there was a great deal of talk about the Capitol building being “sacred”. Sacred can mean dedicated to a specific use. But, the more common use implies religion and a deity. What religion is the Capitol building dedicated to? The religion of America.

It is understood that America is white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. America might be a melting pot, but there’s no question what the dominate flavor should be, at least among the fascists.

Then, we have a system of government that has concentrated much of its power into the hands of the President, putting the “sacred” functions of government into the hands of one person. There are even ideas like the unitary executive theory that argue that the President has complete authority over executive functions.

Autocratic control by a dictatorial leader is a feature of the U.S. system. It only requires someone to use it that way with sufficient cooperation from the other branches of government to make it a reality. The 45th President demonstrates the point.

Once you have autocratic government, then severe economic and social regimentation and forcible suppression of the opposition is not far behind. Who is the opposition? It can be some specific group: Jews, immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, aborigines, Germans, Arabs, Igbo, etc. Or it can be a group fabricated whole cloth, a catch-all term indicating an ideology or an imaginary distinction: Jacobians, anarchists, socialists, communists, terrorists, or antifa.

Every age has its opposition to the status quo, whether it’s anarchists organizing for an eight hour work day; the American Taliban, pushing for the return of a white, Christian orthodoxy; American revolutionaries and/or reformers fighting George III, Lincoln or Jim Crow; etc. All are dangerous to the established order. Whether you think the danger is good or not depends on your values. However, fascist values, with an authoritarian leader and a strong state subordinating the individual or individual states, are also American values. The United States has had its fair share of cult of personality leaders, and in some ways, great man (or woman) narratives tie into the individualist streak of our culture.

Labeling opposition as socialists or neonazis is standard in every kind of politics. It is a time-honored way of reducing nuance and creating The Other that can serve as a catalyst for cohesive action. The target of these labels largely doesn’t matter. They just have to be The Other and someone that opposes, or could oppose, the political project. Fascists do have a unique advantage that such thinking is built into their philosophy of authoritarian control and a national culture.

At the level of the nation, there is little an individual can do. You can only hope in institutions and in good people.

However, the process described above also happens in microcosm at the interpersonal and local levels. Local chapters of Proud Boys, booj and other fascist groups precede the appearance of those ideas on a national stage.

Look for the uniforms. It could be as simple as a color, an article of clothing, etc. Of course, these are also signs of tribalism. The key questions are whether these groups use violence and how.

Neo-nazis may have bad ideas. But, you cannot kill ideas, even bad ones. You can kill and arrest people, however. Sometimes, this is necessary, out of a sense of self-defense of the body politic.

Targeting people raise the stakes on violence. Generally, non-violent resistance raises the moral stakes. It reaches good people by creating opportunities to engage their conscious. But, again, there are individuals that do not respond to this approach. Some people aren’t in touch with their goodness or their conscious. Some people only understand the language of social censure and/or violence.

Violence is a dangerous tool. It is often self-perpetuating. But, it sometimes cannot be avoided. Some fascists, the violent ones trying to dominate a local space who don’t heed non-violent resistance, simply need to be punched. You need to speak to people in languages that they can understand, whether they be moral, violent or other.

World Wisdom Map

“The World Wisdom Map is a unique project to document the life lessons and stories of people from each of the 195 countries in the world. This consciousness project combines visual, and wisdom anthropology that exists in the world and further sparks awareness about the diversity of lifestyles, as well as the coping mechanism that people employ to create a meaningful life. Using the tool of technology, it is easier to connect and exchange information to ignite hope and global participation in an unbiased and creative way. This collation and exhibition of human wisdom invites you to engage, contribute and learn from in an artistic and interactive way.”

World Wisdom Map

If you are willing to dig around a bit, there’s a few gems in this World Wisdom Map. I liked this one:

“I’ve learned that how we choose to suffer makes all the difference. Suffering is, perhaps, inevitable, but I now see it as a cave that I learn to enter with courage, have tea with the monsters there, only to realize they aren’t monsters, they are parts of me [shriveled] from fear, that need to remember what light looks like. It takes time of just sitting with it, compassionately when possible.”

Sara Sibai (32), Lebanon

Newsletters & The Web

“My friend Lucy once told me that she falls in love with the way that someone thinks…and that’s what newsletters make possible for me; they’re a record of how strangers see the world…[But] I guess there’s something about newsletters that bugs me, and I can’t put my finger on it…[proceeds to put finger on it, i.e., newsletters are easy to write, notify people of new work and provide a way to pay for content, which are all things they web should do and doesn’t.]

—Robin Rendle, “Newsletters; or, an enormous rant about writing on the web that doesn’t really go anywhere and that’s okay with me.” RobinRendle.com. January 1, 2021.

I agree with everything Robin Rendle writes in this essay. And I appreciated the irony that when I wanted to subscribe to his site’s RSS feed, I learned he probably doesn’t have one. He is using netlify, which has some github projects that can generate RSS for a netlify site, but probably not given how his site is set-up without trying to rewrite plug-in code. I guess we can call this Exhibit A for the point he is making?