UPDATE: Fake news, apparently. But the thought experiment is still valid!
File under: you may have problems, but you don't have this problem. Those poor people. And what do you do? You've in love and you've already broken the taboo, through no fault of your own. But taboos are powerful and you can't pretend everything is normal. Gah. Also, no mercy from the Mississippi Herald with the categorization implicit in that last sentence.
I think this week calls for this. Dropping massive bombs, dropping forensic investigations, threatening to sabotage health care, and on and on: argh.
Also: my bookclub selected the dreaded Hillbilly Elegy. The chooser is someone I'm rather fond of and would like to show goodwill towards, but fuck understanding the mysterious folk voter and their folksy rural ways. Like I said in an earlier post, if we're not analyzing the mysteriously morally bankrupt suburbanite and their folksy asshole ways, then I don't want to talk about it. So my question: is there any redeeming features to this book? I'd like to have a premise to be a good sport and read it, but so far I haven't been able to find one.
I just read another article saying that often, when someone has a problem, they just want to be attentively heard rather than having their problems solved, you've all read a dozen of them, often gendered (women want to vent, men want to solve). And this one was very sort of Buddhist-ish and sweet -- not my style, really, but if it's yours you'd like it. But I'm not linking it, because that's not I want to talk about. Instead, there's an aspect of the issue that I don't think I've ever really seen discussed: the impact on the emotional valence of the interaction of the fact that most offered solutions are completely useless.
As people here may have noticed over the years, I'm a compulsive problem-solver. I am very, very fond of handing out advice. And I'm generally strongly oriented toward the rational, practical approach to most situations. Which means that I've been reading the various iterations of this article for decades, and feeling kind of torn about it: on the one hand, the description of people who just want to vent and feel heard rather than having their problems solved makes them sound in the abstract, like idiots who'd rather wallow in emotions than make their lives better. If a problem is an actuall problem, why wouldn't you try to solve it? The concrete examples, on the other hand, always left me sympathizing with the person with the problem and thinking the advisor was a jerk lacking in basic emotional skills.
Anyway, for general life-stage reasons, I've had more problems of the kind that people try to solve for you than usual over the past year, and all of that advice made something about this type of interaction click for me. First, problems are generally hard, or they wouldn't be problems. They would be moments in your day when you decide to do the obvious right thing to make things turn out all right. So if someone is offering you advice? Even if they're smart, and thoughtful, it's probably not going to work -- either you've already tried and failed with something similar, or the circumstances make it unworkable, or it's the kind of sensible advice that would obviously work if you followed it, but is really hard to follow (want to lose 50 pounds? Finding the calorie intake that means a pound a week of weight loss for you, and maintaining it for a year will work, guaranteed!)
That's not to say giving advice is bad: I do it anyway, I just know that it's mostly useless. Mostly useless isn't always useless, sometimes someone's going to come up with something workable. And if you're sensitive and caring about it, advice that isn't directly useful can be a way to show connection and concern. And mostly that's how the advice I've been getting has felt -- an expression of caring and concern -- even when it hasn't been directly applicable. (And some, of course, has been directly applicable, and very much appreciated.)
But for getting advised to be anything but a difficult experience, you have to be okay with shooting most of it down, and the advisor has to be okay with getting shot down. Where that isn't the case, you can get into a very ugly situation where the advisor won't accept having their advice rejected without ultimately getting insulted and angry about it. And this can also come with a helping of 'obviously, you're resisting solving your problems. You want to keep having the same problem -- if you didn't want to, you'd do as you're told.' (Which is kind of what it sounds like to me when people say 'some people don't want solutions, they just want to be heard'. I'm pretty sure almost anyone with a problem would want a solution, if one that was actually going to work were on offer.)
If that kind of a dynamic develops or threatens to develop, the advisee is kind of stuck: they can pretend the advice is useful, and lie about planning to follow it (which has its own problems); they can carefully and apologetically manage the advisor's frustration with them (which is probably not something the advisee is excited about doing, given that they came into the conversation with a problem already). Or they can deal with the advisor's frustration and hurt feelings head on (again, who wants to do that when you've already got a problem?)
Tl;dr: I wonder if the prevalence of people who want just empathy, not advice, is not so much about the advice itself, as about trying to avoid a bad experience with being bullied by an advisor who's overly attached to the value of their unhelpful advice?
Entrepreneurs are just wealthy kids. An illustative - but dull and unremarkable - anecdote, under the jump for a fig leaf of privacy:
My gym was founded circa 2010 under the following premise: X is a senior in college from a wealthy family. His dad says that he needs to figure out what he wants to do with his life over Spring Break. At the end of Spring Break, X says he wants to open a CrossFit gym. His dad funds it and the gym is moderately successful.
After a few years, X sells the gym to his older brother, Y, who also owns a couple of nutrition shops locally.
At the gym, there are two fulltime trainers, A and B. Both are getting degrees at the local university. Both are in or nearing the internship phase of their degree, (probably something like Athletic Training, although I don't know for sure.)
Y is getting married and they decide to move out of state. So Y sells the gym. Trainer A talks to his dad, who agrees to co-sign the loan, and buys the gym. Trainer B quits, but I'm not sure of the circumstances.
I bumped into Trainer B at the grocery store on Sunday. He is completing his internship in a nearby city, and working at an Amazon warehouse known for having very shitty working conditions.
I don't know why B quit when A bought the gym. The following is purely speculative: I imagine it would stung to have your peer launch forward in his career due to having an UMC background, with father who could pinch hit. Trainer B moved up from a poor, largely minority region of the state, and is more or less on his own up here.
There are three tiers of spoons-in-mouths here: X and Y come from gold spoons, and A comes from a bronze spoon, and B comes from aluminum spoons. I would hypothesize that the comparison with B stings more than the comparison with X and Y, because A and B seemed to be in identical stages of their life, until abruptly, they were not.
Trainer B will be fine - he's a very hard worker, honest, solid guy, equipped with a bachelor's degree and good work experience. This is more just musing on how wealth perpetuates itself, in a microscopic sense.
There's one more part: Trainer C is still part-time. He also works at Y's nutrition shops. I asked Trainer C who had bought the nutrition shops when Y moved away. C said, "Y still owns them. I've been running the store for the last few years, so it doesn't really matter if he's here or there."
I hadn't really thought about owning a business as a form of collecting rent or skimming off the top. But if you're not a part of its operation, and yet you profit from it...we really do worship property rights in this country, don't we.
Like I said, an anodyne story, completely dull and unremarkable. I'm just laying it out as how ordinary this kind of perpetuation of wealth is.
Nick S writes: Dylan Mathews (who has written several times about Effective Altruism) decided to donate a kidney. Good for him. It's interesting to read about the process, and I thought this paragraph was nice
And "lucky" is really the right word. As I'm no doubt the first person to notice, being an adult is hard. You are consistently faced with choices -- about your career, about your friendships, about your romantic life, about your family -- that have deep moral consequences, and even when you try the best you can, you're going to get a lot of those choices wrong. And you more often than not won't know if you got them wrong or right. Maybe you should've picked another job, where you could do more good. Maybe you should've gone to grad school. Maybe you shouldn't have moved to a new city. So I was selfishly, deeply gratified to have made at least one choice in my life that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt was the right one.
Heebie's take: Holy shit, he makes donating a kidney seem...reasonable. And the fact that he went through with it really counts for a lot. I now have more respect for him for practicing what he preaches.
It's really hard to quantify what is the most effective form of altruism. I figured Mathews must have covered this ground, so I went looking, and came up with this interview where they start talking about how to have the most-best-virtuous career, and "earning-to-give", ie take that nice Wall Street job, keep enough to live lavishly and still donate mightily! which is where he lost me. I just can't get behind the idea that it's more better to be complicit in the dumb-shittery of Wall Street and donate half your beaucoup bucks than it is to actually be a cog in a useful wheel making the world go round a little better.
But back on the topic of kidneys. Bottom line: does donating a kidney have enough bang-for-the-buck that it's the best use of a portion of your appetite for virtuousness?
The United CEO is very #sorrynotsorry that the disagreeable passenger refused to be forcibly ejected and had to be forcibly-forcibly ejected.
Via you all, elsewhere
For the most part, the folks you meet in the US are decent and helpful, but it's also the case--thinking of things like the United fiasco, and kids being denied food if they're behind on school lunch payments, and a million other daily outrages--that America is an asshole nation. Along the lines of the insight behind the parable of the polygons, what percentage of assholes does it take to make a large community shitty? Part of me wants to say it's not really about individuals. A lot of these cases are people slavishly following some rule or procedure: the enforcers under implicit threat of economic harm, the victims under explicit threat of physical force. So maybe we're microscopic cogs in a catastrophic plan, designed and directed by a red right hand? Anyway, it sucks.
To balance the entry below, let's mock Rahm Emmanuel for being colossally dumb:
On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a new educational proposal: starting with this year's freshman class, every student in the Chicago public school system will be required to show an acceptance letter from a college, a trade school or apprenticeship, or a branch of the military in order to graduate.
I'm thinking we could also start withholding people's paycheck until they can demonstrate that they will spend it responsibly - maybe a lease, birth certificate of all dependents, proof of utilities, and a few grocery store receipts from recent weeks? (Not rich people.) "The beatings will continue until morale improves."
Concentration camps in Chechnya for gay men...the fact that gay men are being rounded up and put in concentration camps is horrifying.
Trump's presidency certainly makes it feel like we're complicit and, on an individual level, helpless.
Here's a post! It's even on the front page! I feel guilty that posting has been so lax this week!
It sure would be nice if this post had a topic. It's a Rorschach Test post - tell me, what do you see?