In its aftermath, an inquiry found, unsurprisingly, that the majority of those who died were poor, old, and lived alone. More surprising was the gender imbalance: significantly more men died than women. This was especially strange considering that in Chicago in July of 1995, there were more old women who lived alone than old men.
What made these men more vulnerable than the women? It wasn’t physical circumstances. Both groups lived mostly in “single room occupancy” buildings, or SROs—apartments of one room in what used to be called flophouses. It was social circumstances. The phrase “No known relatives” appears repeatedly in police reports of the dead men’s homes. Letters of regret were found on floors and in backs of drawers: “I would like to see you if that’s possible, when you come to the city”; “It seems to me that our family should have gotten along.” The single rooms of the deceased are described as “roach infested” and “a complete mess,” indicating few or no visitors. The women, according to Eric Klinenberg, who wrote a book on the heat wave, had people who checked up on them and so kept them alive; the men did not. “When you have time please come visit me soon at my place,” read another letter, unsent.
What conditions lead to this kind of isolation? Why men?
Still, there is a good chance that Jennifer and Jason actually like their IKEA dressers, and prefer them to the old oak chest that their grandparents tried to foist on them. Indeed, the extraordinary popularity of IKEA testifies not only to its convenience but to its ability to appeal to the middle-class self-image. Jennifer and Jason are drawn to IKEA because it reflects who they are: they too are modern, movable, and interchangeable, their wants satisfiable in any neighborhood with a food co-op and a coffee shop. More fundamentally, Jennifer and Jason are untraceable, a “composite material” made from numberless scraps and pieces. They have a long catalog of home towns, and their accents are NPR neutral. They can probably rattle off the various nationalities in their family trees — Dutch, Norwegian, Greek, and Jewish, maybe some Venezuelan or Honduran for a little color. From these backgrounds they retain no more than a humorous word or phrase, a recipe, or an Ellis Island anecdote, if that. They grew up amidst a scramble of white-collar professionals and went to college with a scramble of white-collar professionals’ kids. Their values are defined mainly by mass media, their tastes adorably quirky but never straying too far from their peers’, and like the IKEA furniture that they buy in boxes, they too cut themselves into manageable, packaged pieces and market themselves online. They are probably “spiritual but not religious.” They have no pattern or model of life that bears any relation to the past before the internet. For all intents and purposes, they sprang up de novo in the modern city. Whereas the Veneerings’ high fashion covered over an essential vulgarity, Jennifer’s and Jason’s urbane style masks a hollowness.
It may be tempting to call Jennifer and Jason, and the the group of people whom they represent, “cosmopolitans.” ( And indeed, IKEA, with its vaguely exotic Swedish names, provides a dash of cosmopolitanism on the cheap.) However, Jennifer and Jason are something newer and more bizarre than cosmopolitans: as Ross Douthat aptly pointed out in the wake of the Trump election, the increasingly insulated college-educated classes of the coastal cities do not grapple with real, substantive differences in beliefs and values, associating instead with cliques of like-minded classmates. In addition, classic cosmopolitans seek out what is best in others’ traditions while showing a fierce pride in their own — a Jordanian extolling the majesty of Petra, a Mexican diplomat breaking into lines of Octavio Paz, etc. Westerners like Jennifer and Jason show no such pride or attachment, instead leaping at opportunities to mock the foibles of their native lands.
Donald Trump wins, so The New Yorker ponders Jason Brennan’s argument against democracy:
Brennan calls people who don’t bother to learn about politics hobbits, and he thinks it for the best if they stay home on Election Day. A second group of people enjoy political news as a recreation, following it with the partisan devotion of sports fans, and Brennan calls them hooligans. Third in his bestiary are vulcans, who investigate politics with scientific objectivity, respect opposing points of view, and carefully adjust their opinions to the facts, which they seek out diligently.
While it’s nice that our future epistocrats are so relatable, that’s exactly what gives me pause. Why is a book about how politics should be cold and calculating trying to sit down and have a beer with me?
If epistocracy is the best system and you can…
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I think Otium undersells why shared external goals and shared internal community get linked together so often (namely, the energy of a big goal can unite a group, and being part of a close knit tribe can increase efficiency working together and get people to put in more hours), but overall this is a good cry to seriously consider your priorities in large groups and projects.
Epistemic status: argumentative. I expect this to start a discussion, not end it.
“Company culture” is not, as I’ve learned, a list of slogans on a poster. Culture consists of the empirical patterns of what’s rewarded and punished within the company. Do people win promotions and praise by hitting sales targets? By coming up with ideas? By playing nice? These patterns reveal what the company actually values.
And, so, with community cultures.
It seems to me that the increasingly ill-named “Rationalist Community” in Berkeley has, in practice, a core value of “unconditional tolerance of weirdos.” It is a haven for outcasts and a paradise for bohemians. It is a social community based on warm connections of mutual support and fun between people who don’t fit in with the broader society.
I think it’s good that such a haven exists. More than that, I want to live in…
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What can anyone add of the Great Old One Cthulhu? By far the most famous of Lovecraft’s creations, He has also become the most popularized, neutered, and generified. He’s a great big dragon that sleeps under the sea and wants to devour thousands of souls for breakfast. Let’s make an ironic college club around him and name it Campus Crusade for Cthulhu? Eh.
Everyone reading this already knows the most evocative line about this egregore:
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.
He is a sleeping god. He is beyond death. And He drives you insane with contemplation of him. Okay fine to all that, but we’ve been inured to such things. What is special about this egregore, that defines him apart from being “the one most often turned into a plushy toy by now.”
Well for one, we know…
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After our long trek through Siberia, I wanted to change things up and do something rather different for Anthropology Friday, so today we’re reading Peter Leeson’s work on pirates. Strictly speaking, it isn’t quite “anthropology” because Leeson didn’t go live with pirates, but I’m willing to overlook that.
The Golden Age of piracy only lasted from 1690 through 1730, but in those days they were a serious menace to ships and men alike on the high seas. In A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, (1724,) Captain Charles Johnson complained:
“This was at a Time that the Pyrates had obtained such an Acquisition of Strength, that they were in no Concern about preserving themselves from the Justice of Laws”
Pirates stalked the ocean’s major trade routes, particularly between the Bahamas, Caribbean islands, Madagascar…
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“Defenders of nepotism—for they do exist—argue that close relatives are able to offer presidents more candid advice than any outsider. They note that by some counts 16 presidential children have worked in the White House, variously as private secretaries (a tradition begun by the 6th president, John Quincy Adams, himself a president’s son), as unpaid gatekeepers (cf, Anna Roosevelt, daughter of Franklin), or as formal advisers (Dwight Eisenhower’s son John served as a national security aide). But such a defense of nepotism breaks down when America has a bad president.”
“When ordinary aides find themselves in that unhappy situation, a sense of duty to their country, to their office or to the rule of law may prompt them to question furtive actions and poor decisions, or to resign. Other aides may be more strongly moved by self-interest, and a desire to keep their good name from being soiled by an unfit boss. But when a child wields power at the pleasure of a parent, fidelity to country or to the law must vie with deeper, more visceral loyalties. That tug of loyalties is more painful still when a parent is like Mr Trump, a clannish, vengeful man who, by his own son’s account, would send him to school with the growled warning: ‘Don’t trust anyone.’ As for trying to preserve a free-standing good name, that is tricky if you are called Donald Trump junior.”