Against Hustle

“Even Thomas Merton — a mid-twentieth century activist monk who lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, and whom Odell holds up as a model of informed, participatory refusal — might have difficulty following the same path today. My mom lives a couple hours away from the Abbey of Gethsemani and when we went there a few months ago there were barely any monks left. Reading a flyer I realized that not only do you have to renounce all worldly belongings to join the Abbey, you can’t bring any debt with you. Charities can alleviate some of the burden, but even becoming a monk won’t necessarily help you escape student loans.”

—Rebecca McCarthy, “Against Hustle: Jenny Odell Is Taking Her Time at the End of the World.” Longreads.com. April 2019.

Walgreens Tests New Smart Coolers

“Walgreens is piloting a new line of “smart coolers”—fridges equipped with cameras that scan shoppers’ faces and make inferences on their age and gender. On January 14, the company announced its first trial at a store in Chicago in January, and plans to equip stores in New York and San Francisco with the tech.

Demographic information is key to retail shopping. Retailers want to know what people are buying, segmenting shoppers by gender, age, and income (to name a few characteristics) and then targeting them precisely.”

—Sidney Fussel, “Now Your Groceries See You, Too.” The Atlantic. January 25, 2019.

Another technology that sounds creepy, but will be everywhere in 10 years and no one will think twice about. It reminds me of the good old days when movie theaters started on time and didn’t show 20 minutes of ads first.

If You’re Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t Be Yours — ProPublica

“Through 2016, our analysis found that between the time older workers enter the study and when they leave paid employment, 56 percent are laid off at least once or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than choosing to go voluntarily…When you add in those forced to leave their jobs for personal reasons such as poor health or family trouble, the share of Americans pushed out of regular work late in their careers rises to almost two-thirds.”

—Peter Gosselin. “If You’re Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t Be Yours.” ProPublica. December 28, 2018.

Empty Realm

Therefore, both the factory line and the movie theater are sites of discipline, and within each capital stamps our minds with the indelible mark of sameness. The relentless monotony of the latest sitcom, same as the old sitcom, is the monotony of the office (this identity realizes its apotheosis in video games, where after work players continue to “grind” their life away in what are ultimately glorified spreadsheets). To be entertained is to give consent. The superficiality of mass culture finds its reflection in the superficiality of social relations under the corporate gaze. “Honey, I’m home” is “welcome to Walmart.” This stultifying logic of uniformity, originating in the capitalist mode of production and ensuring its continuation, seeps into every facet of our lives. It hijacks the human drive towards mimesis, we become our own impostors. The alienated subject is reproduced, the NPC emerges.”

—Evan James. “Empty Realm.” Jacobite. October 2, 2018.

Interesting throughout.

Alone in the Jungle

“Capitalism will deplete you, while letting you think you have the means to improve your lot. Indeed, it will attempt to force its therapy on you… Anxiety, and especially depression, as the late social critic Mark Fisher noted, often have social causes, but we are led to believe that we suffer individually and must struggle alone. Fisher’s point is that we are prevented from even considering such conditions as social. The treatments on offer, the most common ways to discuss recovery—therapy and pharmaceuticals—are essentially solo journeys that patients undertake. Against this hyper-individualist vision of psychic healing, we do well to highlight Fisher’s core insight that the tools we are given skew how we understand the world and our place in it. Language, typically the most essential method by which we articulate our affective life, can be a most insidious means of our own oppression if co-opted by those who would exploit us.”

—Miya Tokumitsu. “Tell Me It’s Going to be OK.” The Baffler. No. 41. October 2018.

The law of the jungle appeals most to people that don’t live in the jungle.

Public Opinion Polls, Media & Market Manipulation

“Behind the scenes, a small group of people had a secret—and billions of dollars were at stake. Hedge funds aiming to win big from trades that day had hired YouGov and at least five other polling companies, including Farage’s favorite pollster. Their services, on the day and in the days leading up to the vote, varied, but pollsters sold hedge funds critical, advance information, including data that would have been illegal for them to give the public. Some hedge funds gained confidence, through private exit polls, that most Britons had voted to leave the EU, or that the vote was far closer than the public believed—knowledge pollsters provided while voting was still underway and hours ahead of official tallies. These hedge funds were in the perfect position to earn fortunes by short selling the British pound. Others learned the likely outcome of public, potentially market-moving polls before they were published, offering surefire trades.”

—Cam Simpson, et al. “The Brexit Short: How Hedge Funds Used Private Polls to Make Millions.” Bloomberg. June 24, 2018.

The Fallacy of Calories In / Calories Out as a Mental Model for Weight Control

One of the common comments people make about weight control is: “It’s just calories in / calories out.” It’s true, but it’s also wrong in important ways.

For example, one of the things that we know happens once people reach their thirties is that they start to lose 3-5% of their muscle mass per decade. In medical terms, this process is called “sarcopenia with aging”, and it accelerates further when most people reach their seventies.

So, “sarcopenia with aging” is slowly reducing “calories out” for most people older than 30, and this subtly shifts the equation of “calories in / calories out” over time. It’s a force that requires that we either:

  1. Consciously change our eating habits to reduce calorie intake as we age
  2. Work to reduce sarcopenia through a program of strength training

But, doesn’t the human body’s homeostatic mechanisms guide us to reduce intake as we burn fewer calories? Yes, it does. Except we live in a cultural environment that makes every effort to disconnect eating from feelings of hunger. Make sure to eat three square meals a day is an idea that puts food consumption on a predictable schedule. From there, the concept has evolved further, where food has become primarily a recreation for many people.

Consider the ever expanding “holiday” and spectacle seasons. Is it a coincidence that the Super Bowl (or pick your holiday/spectacle of choice) party is an excuse to eat and drink in ways that make weight control difficult, if not impossible?

The same dynamic is in play with ever increasing portion sizes and richer, more calorie dense food.  Movie theaters sell large tubs of popcorn, soda and candy to justify increased prices, which offset decreased ticket sales. Whether you are talking about eating out in restaurants or convenience food, there are billions of dollars being spent delivering just one message: “Eat more.”

Why? Imagine if everyone in the United States cut their calorie intake by 100 calories a day, how many billions of dollars of revenue would that cost food companies in a year? Conversely, the opposite is also true. More calories equals more revenue.

In the context of this dynamic, the “calories in / calories out” argument is problematic. On one level, it suggests that weight is an individual problem. It is as if the billions spent on food marketing, the dearth of sound nutritional advice available to most people, the socio-economic constraints of food availability, etc. are all irrelevant. On another level, the idea of an “equation” implies that “calories out” is a viable approach to a weight problem, and it is why exercise is so often offered as a solution.

But, the treadmill, the elliptical machine, the stationary bike, the aerobics class or other cardio exercise is not how you address the problem of “sarcopenia with aging”. And cardio exercise, by itself, is not enough. There is a saying, “You cannot outrun a bad diet.” Unless you are someone like an elite endurance athlete logging +100 miles of running a week, the only way to bring weight under control is to eat less, not more. Exercise can be an important catalyst for changes, making them happen faster. But, exercise can also undermine weight control as it drives increased appetite and can make it more difficult to eat less.

We need to eat less in an environment where we are always incentivized to eat more. Saying “it’s just calories in / calories out,” is like saying, “Just eat less.” It’s correct, but it’s missing taking into account many of the factors that make that so hard.

 

The Human Cost of the Ghost Economy

 “To think of The Ghosted is to think of injustice, a cataloging of fist-fights, tuberculosis, detention centers, scabies, crabs, lice, roaches, hot plates, Section 8 housing, laborers hiding under blankets in the backs of trucks, children lying stiff against the tops of trains, assembly lines in windowless heat-filled rooms — a type of economic violence many consumers try to close their minds to. We do not want to think of them because of what it says about us…

…the people working in the warehouses, and the landfills, and construction sites, and digging ditches, we will all one day be dead, or injured, or humiliated, or imprisoned, or abandoned. All of our needs outsourced. Benefits and overtime and healthcare and pensions and retirement and workers comp and unemployment, no longer. Planning no longer. Stability no longer. College no longer. Health no longer.”

–Melissa Chadburn, “The Human Cost of the Ghost Economy.” Longreads.com. December 2017.

A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse

“What would happen if we stopped acting as if the primordial form of work is laboring at a production line, or wheat field, or iron foundry, or even in an office cubicle, and instead started from a mother, a teacher, or a caregiver? We might be forced to conclude that the real business of human life is not contributing toward something called “the economy” (a concept that didn’t even exist three hundred years ago), but the fact that we are all, and have always been, projects of mutual creation. Labor, similarly, should be renegotiated. Submitting oneself to labor discipline—supervision, control, even the self-control of the ambitious self-employed—does not make one a better person. In most really important ways, it probably makes one worse. To undergo it is a misfortune that at best is sometimes necessary. Yet it’s only when we reject the idea that such labor is virtuous in itself that we can start to ask what is virtuous about labor. To which the answer is obvious. Labor is virtuous if it helps others. A renegotiated definition of productivity should make it easier to reimagine the very nature of what work is, since, among other things, it will mean that technological development will be redirected less toward creating ever more consumer products and ever more disciplined labor, and more toward eliminating those forms of labor entirely.”

—Graeber, David. “A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse.” The Baffler. April 2013.