1. Another week ends, another writer gets fed up with positive thinking. This one was written by Freddie deBoer, a writer and teacher who just moved to New York and become acquainted with the writer scene there. This new world is as meritocratic and ambitious as he once suspected it was. As he says, “There’s a series of mini-Hollywoods that are tiny and meaningless to the wider world but which are tracked as obsessively as real Hollywood is by the tabloid press, by the people inside them. I never had this problem in Indiana.”

But what’s exceptional about this piece, entitled, “You Can’t Fake It,” is that deBoer looks deep into the underlying psychology behind all this nervous negative energy. Why are we such a mess? Why, despite all the means for happiness and well-lived lives and positive vibes, are we still anxious and miserable?

It’s a long piece, and I recommend you read it all, but deBoer’s essay strips back all of our explanations, layer by layer, and comes extremely close to what we would (but maybe he wouldn’t) actually call sin. He starts with anxiety, then moves to the easy target (and rightful cause): social media. We’re anxious because we’re always looking at happier people. But he says there’s something deeper going on. The sentence is too good to summarize (ht SZ):

And so we have irony-drenched tweets that express acerbic and bitter takes on contemporary politics, expressed with total insouciant self-possession, that are the product of the bone-deep fear that stems from our absurd and brutal political moment; we have the endless progression of positivity-mongering Instagram memes, expressed in a kind of lunatic self-worship that borders on pure solipsism and almost Nietzschean insistence on getting what we want personally, which could not exist if the people sharing them did not feel some sort of deep and penetrating inadequacy.

He says, in short, that it comes down to this split personality we have—online, yes, but also everywhere else. We’re hopelessly insecure, but we’re just as hopelessly narcissistic. Even our own postures of insecurity, deBoer argues, are ways of normalizing our own self-obsession. He talks about the “selfie” as a great example of this, how selfies act as “a sort of perpetual digital group therapy, where we ostentatiously support each other by praising each other’s looks in effusive terms.” This isn’t so bad, deBoer says, if it didn’t mask the deeper reality here: that we are, in fact, not okay with how we look. That no one is. And here’s where he cuts to the mustard:

Here’s what I do know. We’ve got a political critique of the ways that notions of human worth are dictated by traditional inequalities of race and sex and class, and a set of political concepts like self-care that are designed to fight the negative effects of that. We’ve got a self-help culture that constantly counsels that everyone is a ray of brilliant and unique light that alone can shine the way through a dark world. We’ve got an increasingly woke world of marketing and goods that sells its products by selling you to yourself. (A gym I pass by sometimes used to have a sign that said, “Join the Body Acceptance Movement!”, neglecting the fact that if we all accepted our bodies there would be no such thing as a gym.) We’ve got a medical industry busily developing all manner of powerful drugs to “manage” all of this anxiety and insecurity and feelings of inadequacy. We’ve got our social media tools to craft and perfect and share an idealized visions of ourselves, curated and managed to the millimeter, so that we can present exactly what we want to present, to put our best foot forward with digital precision.

And none of it works.

I’ve known people in my life who were the most outwardly secure and confident, who never betrayed a hint of doubt or guilt or remorse, who projected cool at all times, who were quite popular, who received plaudits and positive affirmation from others at all times, who were academically and professionally successful, who had money and respect, and who cultivated the kinds of micro-celebrity that are common to contemporary life. And yet the flow of life revealed that, inside, they hated themselves fully and completely and with a bitterness that I can’t imagine enduring at any time, let alone all the time. None of that stuff mattered. None of it could get at the core self-hatred within. They could never fool themselves. And, well…

I wonder: is this the human condition?

2. Just in time for the Love & Death Issue, this one looks amazing: The Big Sick. Death, resurrection and Kumail Nanjiani?

3. This is a story coming out of the Silicon Valley community, the real one (not the show that Kumail is in), after a junior software developer made a pretty huge error, accidentally erased all his company’s production database. After his CTO told him to leave and never come back, and threatened lawsuit. That’s when subRedditors came in and defended the guy, saying the company made more mistakes than the developer himself (ht JD).

An extensive review of employee teams at Google found that the most successful were those with a high level of psychological safety. In other words, when employees felt safe enough to take risks (and make mistakes) without being shamed or criticized, they did better work…“The wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible. Yet organizations that do it well are extraordinarily rare,” wrote Amy Edmondson, the Harvard Business School professor who coined the term “psychological safety.”

And speaking of dire circumstances at work, another one from Quartz talks about the (dis)connection of busyness with creativity, i.e. if your boss is hounding you about efficiency, you’re never going to be producing the quality of work he/she wants done efficiently anyways (ht LR). Instead, like Nikola Tesla, they recommend relaxing. Actually, Tesla got sick, but you know…David Zahl, if you’re reading this, I guess this means you’re going to be returning from sabbatical with some real genius to impart.

4. Mark Galli, in his weekly wrap-up, mentioned Joshua Retterer’s amazing piece on Wendell Berry. Galli writes:

I know I’m living in fantasy land, but how interesting it would be to hear opponents in some cultural argument first admit how they themselves contribute to the problem under discussion.

Amen to that. And speaking of Berry, if you’re so inclined, actor Nick Offerman spoke on the To the Best of Our Knowledge Podcast about the documentary being made about him.

5. From America’s Finest News Source: “New Study Finds No Long-Term Health Benefits.”

PRINCETON, NJ—In the most comprehensive research of its kind, a new study released Monday by Princeton University found no long-term health benefits. “Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, our results clearly show no lasting positive impact on overall health,” said lead author Michelle Kessler, adding that the data also clearly points toward no enduring improvement in longevity, stamina, or the ability to sleep. “In fact, across all demographic groups, we not only discovered no sustained increase in overall wellness, but also indications that the adverse effects may in fact greatly outweigh the advantages.” Kessler went on to say that even the short-term benefits might be wildly exaggerated themselves.

6. Super cool science piece on the psychology behind our “us/them” biases. Apparently, in the filming of the first Planet of the Apes, the actors playing chimps ate with the chimps, and the gorillas ate with the gorillas. I guess that’s not so surprising, given what we tend to believe about the human capacity for lines in sand… and I think Jesus had something to say about the below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvZiUuT7AHsAmong the most pro-social things we do for ingroup members is readily forgive them for transgressions. When a Them does something wrong, it reflects essentialism—that’s the way They are, always have been, always will be. When an Us is in the wrong, however, the pull is toward situational interpretations—we’re not usually like that, and here’s the extenuating circumstance to explain why he did this. Situational explanations for misdeeds are the reason why defense lawyers want jurors who will view the defendant as an Us.

…Despite that role of cognition, the core of Us/Them-ing is emotional and automatic, as summarized by when we say, “I can’t put my finger on why, but it’s just wrong when They do that.” Jonathan Haidt of New York University has shown that often, cognitions are post-hoc justifications for feelings and intuitions, to convince ourselves that we have indeed rationally put our finger on why.

7. And finally, ending on a note of summer, “Let the kids play!” is the tongue-in-cheek pronouncement of Lenore Skenazy of the WSJ. But not just anywhere! Not in a pool, not on hot pavement, not in the street, not even in the grass. It has to be a safe place. And what about hydration? What about sun exposure? (ht MM)

It’s always seemed to me that drinking when thirsty does the trick. No. Now there’s a new product on the market called Gululu, which is a water bottle with a Wi-Fi connection. The Gululu app allows parents to monitor how much water their child is drinking. The cagey gadget even knows if the kids are secretly not drinking—pouring out water to stop their parents from texting them to drink more. To make the sipping less onerous—it really does get tiring if you’re not thirsty—an animated character on the bottle’s built-in screen grows happier and healthier the more the child drinks. Let’s hear it for more screen time!

Gululu’s other advantage is it keeps the little ones from drinking the wrong sort of water. Google “hose water” and you will be deluged with stories linking the stuff to just about every illness except gout. Some study, endlessly reported, found that hose water contained “PVC plastic additives, which can cause birth defects, liver toxicity, and cancer.” Naturally, in these stories there is no mention of how many cisterns of water a child would have to guzzle for any of these issues to ever develop.

Being a kid these days is no walk in the park. But that’s just as well. Yet another Parents magazine masterpiece warns that to keep children safe at the playground, you should “walk away if you see cement, asphalt, dirt, or grass: These surfaces are linked to head injuries.”


-One of our latest favorites, Mischa Willett, was kindly reviewed in a couple journals, here and here.

More Reformation 500. Two book reviews about this year’s favorite anniversary.

-Mike Myers resurfaces on newfangled The Gong Show, which looks totally absurd.

Father John Misty is running out of layers of irony.

Camille Paglia, at it again: for her scrutiny of her own kind, she remains every conservative’s favorite liberal.