Do You Mind If I’m Totally Frank?

Last week, that’s what one of my students asked me in the middle of a discussion led by a classmate. The topic was what stoicism teaches about getting along with others. At the beginning of the discussion, I skimmed the student leader’s questions. The last one was about stoicism and sex which was addressed within the related reading.

With about ten minutes left in class, I said to the student leader that he should probably pick one of the remaining two questions. Without hesitating he jumped to the last much to his classmates’ delight. Apart from a little antiseptic sex ed talk, I’m guessing this was the first time they’d ever truly discussed sex in a classroom.

It’s ironic that the more interpersonally consequential the subject—take sex as one example and marriage as another—the less likely we are to talk about them with adolescents and young adults in any detail. I guess we think of such topics as too personal, private, and value-laden. As a result, pastors rarely if ever talk about sex and marriage from the pulpit, parents rarely if ever talk about their relationships with their children, and educators routinely sidestep topics like that. That means adolescents and young adults are left to themselves to resolve all of the challenges posed by human intimacy through trial and error.

The sex question immediately piqued everyone’s interest. One especially animated student turned from the student leader to me and asked, “Do you mind if I’m totally frank?” Me, “Sure, of course.” Her, “There’s a big difference between fucking and making love.” As they repeatedly say on the television series Fargo, “Okay, then.”

Couple that ice breaker with the fact that it’s a small class, the students are friends, and they think I’m way cooler than I am, the conversation was more candid than I had anticipated. It’s kind of a blur. At some point, I pointed out that they hadn’t yet dealt with the stoic’s primary insight on sex, that in middle or old age few people reflect on their younger selves and wish they had been more promiscuous. Stoics point out that the opposite is much more common, that sexually active people often regret the damage done by being so promiscuous. To which one student bravely said, “I’m 19 and I regret being as promiscuous as I was in high school.”

From there the discussion turned to the confusing and controversial stoic suggestion that sex, even inside of marriage, should only be for the purpose of procreating, which strikes me as an overreaction to the dangers of promiscuity.

Rewind the tape to earlier in the week when, with two colleagues, I was involved in a protracted discussion with a student teacher who is struggling in her internship. I was asking questions designed to get her to admit a regret or two in the hope we could turn to what could be done to remedy the situation. “What would you have done differently if anything?” “Okay,” she finally said without asking if she could be perfectly frank, “I fucked up.”

After the meeting that utterance was what one of my colleagues wanted to talk about first. He was right, she does have to be smarter about professional contexts, meaning more tactful and diplomatic, but these two incidents point to a huge generation gap when it comes to attitudes towards profanity.

Swearing, using “fuck” more specifically and not just as a verb, but as any part of speech, is so common among adolescents and young adults that some adults’ resistance to it, like my colleagues, hardly makes any sense to them.

Just as it’s unrealistic to expect married people to abstain from sex except when procreating, it’s unrealistic to expect young people to stop swearing altogether. The best hopelessly square people like myself can hope for, is that they learn to use profanity freely around their peers when in informal settings and then “code-switch” and refrain from it when around mixed aged people in other settings.

If you don’t agree, you can go forget yourself.

Waking Up at 4:30 a.m. is Stupid

We all owe Filipe Castro Matos a big “thank you” for highlighting the absurdity of groupthink.

Take a good idea, wake up earlier to get more done, and then keep extending it, because if some is good, more must be better, right?

Why 4:30a.m. FCM, why not 3:30a.m.? Imagine how much more you could get done with that extra hour.

Few will stop to think about what’s given up by having to go to sleep right between dinner and desert. Even fewer will ask why “being more productive” is so important.

What about waking up just early enough to enjoy some solitude, stillness, silence? What about determining that time yourself, and then once awake, marching to the beat of your own drummer? What about freezing out anyone that uses the term “life hack”.

Read This If. . .

You enjoy iconoclasts, craft beer, and independent businesses—Dick Cantwell’s Beer is Immortal (Allecia Vermillion).

You think we’ve ruined kindergarten. The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland (Tim Walker).

You wonder what makes dogs happy. Hint: The answer is in their tails. The secret lives of dogs: Emotional sensor helps owners understand their pup’s feelings (Michael Walsh).

Paragraph to Ponder—The Normalization of Gun Violence in the U.S.

From the Economist by way of John Gruber.

The regularity of mass killings breeds familiarity. The rhythms of grief and outrage that accompany them become — for those not directly affected by tragedy — ritualised and then blend into the background noise. That normalisation makes it ever less likely that America’s political system will groan into action to take steps to reduce their frequency or deadliness. Those who live in America, or visit it, might do best to regard them the way one regards air pollution in China: an endemic local health hazard which, for deep-rooted cultural, social, economic and political reasons, the country is incapable of addressing. This may, however, be a bit unfair. China seems to be making progress on pollution.

Freedom Not to Speak

Power to anyone, who with microphones in their face, opts not to speak. I’m glad Marshawn Lynch refuses to speak to the media. The league is stupid for fining him. They argue players as employees have to promote the league, that ultimately, it’s in their best interest. On the surface that’s logical, but when they insist that every employee has to promote the league by speaking to the media it’s a pointless exhibition of power. The majority of athletes will always be happy to talk to the press, freeing up outliers like Lynch not to.

No one wants to listen to athletes that are coerced to talk because you can’t force anyone to say anything remotely authentic or interesting. I wish Tiger Woods would stop talking to the press starting today. Listening to him is painful because you can see him thinking “What do they want me to say?” Let’s try an experiment. Let’s let Tiger know it’s okay not to speak and then see if he chooses to say something semi-interesting five or ten years from now.

Switching gears, I’ll never understand why the family and friends of victims of horrific crimes agree to speak immediately after losing a loved one. Take last week’s tragic shooting of the on-air newsperson and her cameraman. That same night on CNN I saw her dad and fiancee talking to the press. Why? The public has no real need or right to know how they feel at that moment. I don’t begrudge the press for asking the questions, but I wish more people would decline the invitation to speak.

I pray I’m never in any situation remotely like the father and fiancee were last week, but if I get called up by the Seahawks to fill in for Kam Chancellor and become the oldest player in the league to return a pick for a touchdown, don’t be upset if I make like Marshawn Lynch afterwards and say “No comment.” Don’t sweat it though, I’ll probably blog about it.

Understanding Trumpism

Think about the 2016 U.S. presidential election in the context of renowned Sinologist Orville Schell’s analysis of modern China in this recent essay. Some excerpts:

This confidence in the strength of the China model—and the supposed weakness of its Western competitors—has reshaped the way Beijing relates to the world. Its new confidence in its wealth and power has been matched by an increasingly unyielding and aggressive posture abroad that has been on most vivid display in its maritime disputes in the South and East China seas.

Couldn’t one say about the U.S., “Its longstanding confidence in its wealth and power has been matched by an unyielding and aggressive posture abroad that has been on most vivid display in it disputes in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.”

Obama has been far more restrained than his predecessors when it comes to conventional warfare, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand when it comes to his unprecedented, unyielding, aggressive use of drones.

Schell adds:

One clear message of this turbulent week is how interconnected everything actually has become in our 21st-century world. Financial markets, trade flows, pandemics and climate change all ineluctably tie us together.

This irrefutable insight is lost on Trump’s followers mired in 20th century notions of politics as a zero-sum game that we’re predestined to win as the world’s sole economic, political, and military superpower. Trumpism rests upon notions of American Exceptionalism mixed with nostalgia for the past when the relative economic, political, and military strength of the U.S. was undeniably greater than it is today; as well as competition between nations at the expense of cooperation; and scapegoating the newest citizens for pernicious public policy challenges that preceded their arrival.

Schell again:

Of late, China has been acting in an ever more unilateral way, perhaps at last enjoying the prerogatives of its long-sought wealth and power. Mao imagined a China rooted in the idea of “self-reliance,” zili gengsheng. The most encouraging news out of this week would be for Mr. Xi and his comrades to recognize that China can no longer be such an island—that China cannot succeed in isolation, much less by antagonizing most of its neighbors and the U.S.

As large, dynamic and successful as China has become, it still exists in a global context—and remains vulnerable to myriad forces beyond the party’s control. It must take the chip off its shoulder, recognize that it is already a great power and begin to put its people, its Pacific neighbors and the U.S. at ease. Any truly great nation must learn that the art of compromise lies at the heart of diplomacy, that it is almost always better to negotiate before resorting to war and that compromise is neither a sign of weakness nor surrender.

If the alarms over the past few months presage such a revelation in Beijing, it would not only enhance China’s stability but its soft power and historic quest for global respect. Given Mr. Xi’s track record, one dare not be too optimistic.

Is any U.S. intellectual in position to lecture China’s leadership about soft power and global respect? “Make America great again,” trumpets Trumpism, meaning less compromising, less diplomacy, more unilateralism.

Trumpism thrives on the insecurities of a people who feel their world dominance slipping. Ahistorical to the core, it has no patience for the complexities of public policy, environmental degradation, or globalization. It assumes people aren’t smart enough for the complexities of 21st century life. It advocates sloganeerism, brashness, and business principles as panaceas for problems real and imagined. It asks no questions, listens only for openings to speak, and never admits fault.

Eventually, enough people will see it for what it is, and reject it.

Inside Amazon

Despite only being two to three days old, this New York TImes Amazon expose has generated 5,735+ comments. And a rebuttal by Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos.

First, let’s acknowledge that the trustworthiness of the Times’s investigative reporting has regrettably slipped in recent years. Despite that, it’s an amazing peek inside the company that so many consumers, myself included, have to this point mindlessly supported. And by amazing, I mean really disturbing.

It’s a precautionary tale for any business or organization that believes data analysis or “metrics” is the answer to all problems.

Bezos says its not the company he knows. That probably means he’s completely lost touch with most of his employees’ day-to-day realities.

Amazonians’ long hours and personal sacrifices might make sense if it had a more inspiring mission than sell more shit and dominate retail. Another reminder that materialism shapes 21st Century U.S. life and wealth is a powerful motivator.

In skimming a small cross-section of the comments, I was struck by how many readers said they were completely cutting the Amazon chord. Will they follow through? Will they slow the giant retail supertanker? Time will tell.