Another Week Ends

Before we get going, the Houston Conference is almost here!! While we never turn anyone […]

David Zahl / 10.10.14

Before we get going, the Houston Conference is almost here!! While we never turn anyone away–last minute walk-ins more than welcome–we need to know by Monday morning (10/13) if you are planning/hoping to dine with us. You can either pre-register on the site (through Tuesday at midnight), or send us an email at so we can reserve you a plate. The food is going to be delicious!

1. First off, this is both incredibly fascinating and incredibly sad. Perhaps you’ve heard of The Downtown Project, a “start-up city” in Las Vegas founded and pioneered by Tony Hsieh, the guy behind Zappos. Hsieh recently stepped down from leadership, following the third suicide in 18 months by one the Project’s entrepreneurs. In trying to figure out what happened, Re/Code’s Nellie Bowes spoke to a number of the community members, many of whom singled out Hsieh’s emphasis on happiness as being a major factor in the tragedies. It would appear this is an instance of an incubator of performancism gone horribly, horribly awry, ht MJ:

Many in the Downtown Project, including a crisis counselor who worked with the parents of one entrepreneur, pointed to Hsieh’s philosophy — his obsession with happiness, and with imposing it upon the community — as one of the problems…

“Startups are a major stressor, and it can be a trigger for dormant stuff that’s already there,” said Kimberly Knoll, a therapist who works with Downtown entrepreneurs. “The difference here is the focus on happiness — that’s a goal. But if we negate the negative emotions in our lives, it takes us away from happiness and brings around shame. The whole idea of Downtown is grand and wonderful and purposeful, but sometimes the way we’re going about it isn’t psychologically healthy.”

“The pressures are the lack of being able to confide with people, having to put on a vest or mask, and having to say everything’s great,” Knoll said. “The struggle of how do you keep your team going, and knowing that you’ve only got one month left on your runway.”… Add to this a peculiar pressure in Las Vegas: It is very important you be perceived as happy in Las Vegas…

Jonathan Jenkins, the affable Southern co-founder of supply chain startup OrderWithMe, said that by the third suicide, he realized he needed to start a church. “A lot of the young people who do these startups, they don’t think they can be frank with each other,” Jenkins said. “Just before this meeting with you, I met with someone who said, ‘You know, I’m out of runway. Like even for food to eat.’ And who do they turn to?”

2. On a related note, according to NY Magazine’s Science of Us site (highly recommended), new research is establishing an alarmingly clear link between perfectionism and self-harm. Oy vey, ht RW:

BOOK-COVER...Delivering-Happiness-1In one 2007 study, researchers conducted interviews with the friends and family members of people who had recently killed themselves. Without prompting, more than half of the deceased were described as “perfectionists” by their loved ones. Similarly, in a British study of students who committed suicide, 11 out of the 20 students who’d died were described by those who knew them as being afraid of failure. In another study, published last year, more than 70 percent of 33 boys and young men who had killed themselves were said by their parents to have placed “exceedingly high” demands and expectations on themselves — traits associated with perfectionism… It doesn’t take much imagination to explain what might drive a perfectionist to self-harm. The all-or-nothing, impossibly high standards perfectionists set for themselves often mean that they’re not happy even when they’ve achieved success…

The dangers of perfectionism, and particularly the link to suicide, have been overlooked at least partially because perfectionists are very skilled at hiding their pain. Admitting to suicidal thoughts or depression wouldn’t exactly fit in with the image they’re trying to project. Perfectionism might not only be driving suicidal impulses, it could also be simultaneously masking them.

3. Considerably less downbeat (thank God!) would be The NY Times Magazine’s profile of author Marilynne Robinson, whose new novel Lila debuted this past week. Suffice it to say, despite some unexpected digs at Flannery, Robinson did not fail to deliver some characteristically trenchant observations:

“Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I’ve never seen in my life… One of the things that bothers me… is that there are prohibitions of an unarticulated kind that are culturally felt that prevent people from actually saying what they think.”..

“A lot of people who actually believe in the sacredness of life, they write things that are horrible, desolating things, ” Robinson said. “Because, for some reason, this deeper belief doesn’t turn the world. . . . It comes down to fear; the fear of making self-revelation of the seriousness of ‘I sense a sacredness in things.’ ”

“It’s interesting that people systematically misrepresent these pillars [Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin],” Robinson said, with astonishment. Calvin is not, as we are taught, a cold creature who claimed we were born preordained to heaven or hell. “Calvin has a strange reputation that is based very solidly on the fact that nobody reads him…”


In her review of Lila for the Times, Diane Johnson pays Robinson a number of compliments, a couple of which are especially relevant:

It’s courageous of Robinson to write about faith at a time when associations with religion are so often negative and violent. And goodness, a property Midwesterners like to think of as a regional birthright, is even harder than piety to convey without succumbing to the temptation to charge it with sanctimony or hypocrisy. That is not the effect of this lovely narrative.

4. The Dish pointed us to an editorial Damon Linker wrote for The Week, in which he just comes right out and asks, “Why do so many liberals despise Christianity?”. It’s polemical, sure, but not as much as you might suspect from the title. This section in particular struck me as important, ht WM:

The urge to eliminate Christianity’s influence on and legacy within our world can be its own form of irrational animus. The problem is not just the cavalier dismissal of people’s long-established beliefs and the ways of life and traditions based on them. The problem is also the dogmatic denial of the beauty and wisdom contained within those beliefs, ways of life, and traditions. (You know, the kind of thing that leads a doctor to risk his life and forego a comfortable stateside livelihood in favor of treating deadly illness in dangerous, impoverished African cities and villages, all out of a love for Jesus Christ.)

Contemporary liberals increasingly think and talk like a class of self-satisfied commissars enforcing a comprehensive, uniformly secular vision of the human good. The idea that someone, somewhere might devote her life to an alternative vision of the good — one that clashes in some respects with liberalism’s moral creed — is increasingly intolerable. That is a betrayal of what’s best in the liberal tradition.

For our own take on the dynamic Linker describes, go here.

5. The Atlantic quizzed Jeff Tweedy on songwriting and as per usual, the Wilco frontman’s comments are insightful:

[Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End”] has an incredible line that says so much—much more than what you should be able to say in so few words. “Don’t be sad, I know you will/ But don’t give up until/ True love will find you in the end”.

This captures a very real internal moment. I think it’s a window into the way someone really thinks and feels when they’re telling somebody else not to be sad. The speaker tells the subject to feel better—it’s even an order, “don’t be sad.” At the same time he knows that’s impossible. In fact, before the line is even over, he’s retracted it…

The gift, I think, is the ability to be able to go into your subconscious, come back unscathed, and present something from it… This is the sustaining and consoling part of what artists do, even the ones who aren’t fighting mental illness. I know that’s the part that most matters to me: being able to disappear into something that’s bigger than you, and returning from it with something to show. Music in general is a thing I’ve disappeared into, as a listener, since I was a little kid. And making my own music takes me to an even richer and deeper place, as far as how it can console me and be a comfort to me.

6. Your weekly Onion update: “Area Man Patiently Waiting For Humiliating Email To Cycle Off First Page” and “Pastor Always Knew Agnostic Would Come Crawling Back To Church For Wedding.” And I’m not sure how funny this is, but there’s now a website that claims to show you what you’ll look like in 20 years, ht SC.

7. In TV, some very exciting news: Amazon has ordered more scripts for Whit Stillman’s The Cosmopolitans!! This isn’t a guarantee that the series will be picked up, but it’s an encouraging development.


-In a week where we dumped on Richard Dawkins, perhaps regrettably, here’s a heartening NYT article about “An Atheist and a Christian Apologist Thriving in an Improbable Bond.”
– Bill Watterson wrote the foreward to a book on 19th Century cartoons!
– Joshua Rothman on “What Gone Girl Is Really About”.
– This is rad:


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