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I don’t especially like David Brooks’ work, but I really loved this quote from his piece in The New Yorker, “Social animal”. I can’t help but think this is what these fabulously wealthy idiots are missing.

During the question-and-answer period, though, a woman asked the neuroscientist how his studies had changed the way he lived. He paused for a second, and then starting talking about a group he had joined called the Russian-American Folk Dance Company. It was odd, given how hard and scientific he had sounded. “I guess I used to think of myself as a lone agent, who made certain choices and established certain alliances with colleagues and friends,” he said. “Now, though, I see things differently. I believe we inherit a great river of knowledge, a flow of patterns coming from many sources. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past we call genetics. The information passed along from hundreds of years ago we call culture. The information passed along from decades ago we call family, and the information offered months ago we call education. But it is all information that flows through us. The brain is adapted to the river of knowledge and exists only as a creature in that river. Our thoughts are profoundly molded by this long historic flow, and none of us exists, self-made, in isolation from it.

“And though history has made us self-conscious in order to enhance our survival prospects, we still have deep impulses to erase the skull lines in our head and become immersed directly in the river. I’ve come to think that flourishing consists of putting yourself in situations in which you lose self-consciousness and become fused with other people, experiences, or tasks. It happens sometimes when you are lost in a hard challenge, or when an artist or a craftsman becomes one with the brush or the tool. It happens sometimes while you’re playing sports, or listening to music or lost in a story, or to some people when they feel enveloped by God’s love. And it happens most when we connect with other people. I’ve come to think that happiness isn’t really produced by conscious accomplishments. Happiness is a measure of how thickly the unconscious parts of our minds are intertwined with other people and with activities. Happiness is determined by how much information and affection flows through us covertly every day and year.”

One consequence of this rise in perfectionism, Curran and Hall argue, has been a series of epidemics of serious mental illness. Perfectionism is highly correlated with anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The constant compulsion to be perfect, and the inevitable impossibility of the task, exacerbate mental-illness symptoms in people who are already vulnerable. Even young people without diagnosable mental illnesses tend to feel bad more often, since heightened other-oriented perfectionism creates a group climate of hostility, suspicion, and dismissiveness — in which the jury is always out on everyone, pending group appraisal — and socially prescribed perfectionism involves an acute recognition of that alienation. In short, the repercussions of rising perfectionism range from emotionally painful to literally deadly.

And there’s one other repercussion of rising perfectionism: it makes it hard to build solidarity, which is the very thing we need in order to resist the onslaught of neoliberalism. Without healthy self-perceptions we can’t have robust relationships, and without robust relationships we can’t come together in the numbers it would take to rattle, much less upend, the whole political-economic order.

It’s not hard to see parallels between the three dimensions of perfectionism and so-called “call-out culture,” lately the hegemonic tendency on the Left: a condition in which everyone watches everyone else for a fatal slip-up, holding themselves to impossibly high standards of virtuous self-effacement, and being paralyzed with the secret (again, not unfounded) fear that they’re disposable to the group, that their judgment day is around the corner. The pattern is of a piece with other manifestations of neoliberal meritocratic perfectionism, from college admissions to obsessive Instagram curation. And because it divides rather than unites us, it’s no way to build a movement that ostensibly seeks to strike at the heart of power.

Perfectionism makes us scornful of each other, afraid of each other, and unsure of ourselves at best. It prohibits the types of solidaristic bonds and collective action necessary to take on neoliberal capitalism, the very thing that generates it. The only possible antidote to atomizing, alienating perfectionism to reject absolute individualism and reintroduce collective values back into our society. It’s a gargantuan task — but with the vise-grip of neoliberalism tightening on our psyches, it’s the only way forward.

From “Under neo-liberalism, you can be your own tyrannical boss” by Megan Day in Jacobin. 

This is a theme I have been banging on about for a while, so let’s just add this as another good article for the collection.

This is perfect

if you are waiting for the right girl
the really truly special one who blows
your mind and cock and the girl shop
doesn’t have her in yet you can take
a loan girl until the right one comes
and then you can return the other one
since they mostly dust off fine
you might just have to wait a long time
to buy the girl you’re looking for
and even then she may not be available
straight away but thankfully
there are women who will let you
take them home with nothing sparkly
you can drive them round and round
for free while looking for a better one
there are women who will wait
in the passenger seat

– Bronwyn Lovell

You must see these photos.

Homicide. Suicide by hanging. A great deal of drinking, mainly of whiskey, mainly by men. Blood pooled on the floor. Chairs overturned. Many weapons: guns and knives and ropes. Burned Cabin, where a burned skeleton is barely visible, Dark Bathroom, which contains a dead woman in a bathtub beside an empty liquor bottle, and Unpapered Bedroom, in a boarding house where an unknown woman has been found dead.

In Frances Glessner Lee’s dioramas, the world is harsh and dark and dangerous to women. “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” her series of nineteen models from the fifties, are all crime scenes. Glessner Lee built the dioramas, she said, “to convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.”

From “Death and feminism in a nutshell” by Nicole Cooley in the Paris Review. 

There has been a lot written about poverty and its effects on how parents feed their children – food affordability, cheap calories, risk-taking and new foods etc – but this article picks up on something else important that hasn’t been said so much…

An overwhelming majority of the wealthy parents told me that they routinely said “no” to requests for junk food. In 96% of high-income families, at least one parent reported that they regularly decline such requests.

Poor parents honored their kids’ junk food requests to nourish them emotionally, not to harm their health.

Parents from poor families, however, almost always said “yes” to junk food. Only 13% of low-income families had a parent that reported regularly declining their kids’ requests.

One reason for this disparity is that kids’ food requests meant drastically different things to the parents.

For parents raising their kids in poverty, having to say “no” was a part of daily life. Their financial circumstances forced them to deny their children’s requests — for a new pair of Nikes, say, or a trip to Disneyland — all the time. This wasn’t tough for the kids alone; it also left the poor parents feeling guilty and inadequate.

Next to all the things poor parents truly couldn’t afford, junk food was something they could often say “yes” to. Poor parents told me they could almost always scrounge up a dollar to buy their kids a can of soda or a bag of chips. So when poor parents could afford to oblige such requests, they did.

Honoring requests for junk food allowed poor parents to show their children that they loved them, heard them and could meet their needs. As one low-income single mother told me: “They want it, they’ll get it. One day they’ll know. They’ll know I love them, and that’s all that matters.”

Junk food purchases not only brought smiles to kids’ faces, but also gave parents something equally vital: a sense of worth and competence as parents in an environment where those feelings were constantly jeopardized.

To wealthy parents, kids’ food requests meant something entirely different. Raising their kids in affluent environment, wealthy parents were regularly able to meet most of their children’s material needs and wants. Wealthy parents could almost always say “yes,” whether it was to the latest iPhone or a college education.

With an abundance of opportunities to honor their kids’ desires, high-income parents could more readily stomach saying “no” to requests for junk food. Doing so wasn’t always easy, but it also wasn’t nearly as distressing for wealthy parents as for poor ones.

From “Why do poor Americans eat so unhealthy?” by Priya Fielding-Singh in the Los Angeles Times. 

Neither of us sees marriage as an achievement, but instead as a mechanism we’ve chosen to bind us closer. Marriage makes you family, which was especially important to us, since neither of us particularly want children; and family means sticking together through the tough spots, and coming out with a love that is deeper and stronger for it. That felt like a big, difficult, fascinating experiment – a challenge and an adventure. I felt lucky, having entered the relationship open primarily to him as a person, rather than evaluating him as a potential husband, to feel that I saw him with a clarity that might have been absent had I been trying to slot him into a preconceived role. By the time we decided to get married, I didn’t feel like I needed him to complete me or to offer some tangible thing I couldn’t secure myself, but simply that my life was at its best when we were each other’s companions, champions, and great loves.

From Jill Filipovic’s “Why I changed my mind about marriage” in Cosmopolitan. Like Jill, I have changed my mind and am about to get married, too. And like Jill, I still think it is a sexist institution.

Maybe I share some of her sentiments because for both of us our marriages will be about family but not about having babies. For Jill  it is because she doesn’t want children, where as for me it is because I have four already, (two of my own and two stepchildren).