get pulled in

Asha and I have been watching Community. I've seen it before, but it's the first time for her.

One thing I love about the show is that it really rewards viewers who allow themselves to get pulled it. The series has a number of episodes that are a little bit silly: a stop motion animated Christmas episode, a bottle episode that knows it's a bottle episode, a paintball shootout with a post-apocalyptic feel, and so on.

It's easy to start watching these episodes and pull back. What's made watching the show with Asha so fun is that we do just the opposite: submit to the story and the fun that comes along with it. The more you let yourself inhabit the universe, the more enjoyable it is.

Go on, let go, and get pulled in.

the origins of the attention war

Remember that off-hand reference to "a short phone call with my dad" where I helped him "think through a valuable piece he's working on"?

Well, that piece is out today in Quartz here.

The article identifies how some early national security funding was crucial to the early development of Google and Silicon Valley. It's a smart, well-researched piece that concludes in this way:

[T]he collaboration between the intelligence community and big, commercial science and tech companies has been wildly successful. When national security agencies need to identify and track people and groups, they know where to turn – and do so frequently. That was the goal in the beginning. It has succeeded perhaps more than anyone could have imagined at the time.

Earlier this week, I wrote about why I think the "attention war" is a better framework than the "attention economy."

As the Quartz piece demonstrates, the origin of Silicon Valley (and, as a result, the actors in our attention war), is intricately connected to our war machinery by way of the mass surveillance state. As a result, I'm doubling down on this idea of the attention war.

fell the false prophets

I take my political commitments seriously. That means that I have to take the people who support an opposing political vision seriously.

For reasons now confusing to me, Ben Shapiro is set forth as an example of a sharp political mind. He's a conservative figure who opposed Trump and who many consider a representative voice of the right. A recent New York Times piece speaks of his prowess as a debater and communicator.

I've never considered him a serious thinker. He comes across as the worst iteration of a smug gunner in a law school. Which is why I so was heartened by the thorough excavation of his nonsense in this article. Rather than pull out some quotes, I really do recommend you read the whole thing. It will expose you to a number of conservative ideas and strategies (and their vacuousness).

I bring up Ben Shapiro not to just dismiss Ben Shapiro, though I think we should do that. It's important that when someone is raised up as a serious thinker, we actually consider their thinking and examine it rigorously. I believe that it's clear that Ben Shapiro has been weighed and found wanting. We should fell other false prophets when we see them, too.

the attention war

We hear a lot about the attention economy these days. The basic idea: our attention is a scarce resource and various actors are all competing for it in the marketplace.

This push and pull of attention sits well inside the metaphor of an economy, but I've been wondering lately if war fits the landscape better.

First, thinking about the competition for our attention through the lenses of economics can obfuscate the harms perpetrated and the manipulative tactics used by the actors who want our attention. If it's just a marketplace of attention, then all they're doing is vying for your share. The reality is much more odious.

Second, viewing the landscape as one of war instills the right mindset for those caught in the crossfire. Invading forces want to not just have our share of attention, they want to own it. The war of attention is a battle over resources: who gets to dominate, where and when.

We have to defend our territory (our attention) appropriately.

I may explore this topic more in future posts, but what I'm left with this line of thought: Now that I know that I'm in a war, what should change? Where have I lost ground? What tactics does the enemy use? How can I respond appropriately? Can we win?

take the time to unsubscribe

Tell me if this hasn't happened to you before: You open your email inbox and see an email from a company you don't want to hear from or a newsletter that you never read and then you quickly delete the message. Days, weeks, or months pass and then the sender pops up again in your inbox. You again delete. The cycle continues.

Sometimes I forget that I can unsubscribe right there and be done with it forever.

Pay attention to when you're annoyed: you might just find that the time is ripe to unsubscribe.

what's next?

With Michael Flynn's guilty plea, some say that impeachment is now more likely. Though the odds are long, this seems about right.

Let's assume that Mueller's investigation either leads to impeachment or sinks Trump's 2020 campaign. What's next?

Who is next from might be President Pence, right? We should shudder at that thought, too. It's true that the absence of Trump in the White House would be a good thing for the country. However, we can't forget that run-of-the-mill Republicanism is dangerous in its own banality.

The first time I started paying attention to politics was during George W. Bush's presidency. At the time, I was mostly against things: against the Iraq the Patriot Act, against stem cell research prohibitions, etc. I didn't have a coherent political vision for the future that I wanted. (To be fair to myself, I was young.) I saw the same thing happen with people who were against Obama.

Now, I worry that we are so strongly identified with being against Trump that we're losing out on an opportunity to politic by clear contrasts. It's not that we shouldn't vehemently oppose the bad ideas and behavior of the Trump era. It's that it's not enough. Asking ourselves "What's next?" is good for the country. It's also good politics.

So, what's next?

the joy of quiet

I caught a bug going around my office and by Friday, I was sick enough to work from home. I've spent much of the weekend trying to nurse myself back to some degree of wellbeing with mixed success.

My throat in particular has been hurting. It's enough pain for me not use my voice at all. I communicate in hushed whispers and charades with Asha; a short phone call with my dad was a trial (but worth helping him think through a valuable piece he's working on).

There's the pain of sickness but there's also the joy of quiet. Even in the weariness of repairing myself, I still recognize the ease I feel not using my voice for just a little bit. Asha understands that I'm not trying to speak too much and there's comfort in being able to stay silent with that understanding in place.

It reminds me just a little of what it's like to go on a silent retreat. Everyone there has bought into the quiet. The shared understanding creates a special sanctuary from the noise.

I'm looking forward to returning to full health but not necessarily full voice. I'll be thinking about ways in which I can incorporate that joy of quiet into my life in an organic way. Sometimes a pause can make you roar all the more powerfully.

I watched the votes

Do you remember when there was a public debate over who should get "credit" for sinking the hellish Obamacare repeal bill? The theatrics of Senator McCain's vote earned him praise. Others pointed out that no, it wasn't Senator McCain, it was Senators Collins and Murkowski that really did the bill in.

For the tax cut bill, we don't have to debate: Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, John McCain, and Jeff Flake all voted for this awful bill and deserve all the credit for its passing.

I watched the votes. Save Senator Bob Corker, it was a party-line vote. President Trump's clownish and offensive behavior gives Republicans the perfect way to "stand for something" while implementing the exact policies they have always desired.

The point here is not that I expected these Senators to surprise us all and vote against the bill and then support progressive policies. The point is that these votes are depressingly predictable. If we want a politics that actually represents us, we need to pay attention to the way power is actually exercised and drop our false hopes that Republicans will spontaneously drop support for policies that they've campaigned on for decades.

remembering who you are

Our immune system is pretty incredible. It detects something foreign, something not you, and then your body reacts accordingly. In a way, your immune system knows who you are, literally destroys the thing that isn't you, and then repairs the cracks.

Last week, I showed where one of my cracks was by sharing a failure. I still don't feel good about failing, but I was heartened by the response of my friends and family. They found the thing that wasn't me — the shame of not succeeding — and attacked it. They helped me remember who I am.

Of course, the experience of failure is part of you. We make mistakes and there are consequences to that. But the demons that come along for the ride with the failure — the embarrassment, the lowered self-esteem, the fear of trying again, etc. — are not you. They're foreign invaders.

That's where your community (your immune system) comes in. We're not alone; we exist together in an integrated way. Show me where your cracks are and I'll show up to remind you who you are.

do you like it?

When someone asks if you like some piece of art, it's reasonable to answer in a binary fashion: Yes, I like it; No, I don't like it.

There's good reason, however, to avoid this.

Here's two ways I like to answer that question instead of saying that I don't like something.

It's not for me.

This recognizes that while you don't connect with it, you can see that others can (and do) connect with it, and that's great. "It's not for me" admits the pervasive subjectivity of art while staying true to your preferences.

I like what they tried to do.

This communicates that while you don't think the artist(s) achieved their vision, you find their vision laudable, and appreciate that they tried. This might even be paired with a conclusion that you actually like it. I know that there are creations that I love just because of what a creator tried to do with the medium, whether it was a piece of music, a TV show, or a video game.

Making stuff is hard. There's no need to fall into the binary of an up or down vote. Respect the effort of creation by making an effort in your opinion of it. The two above are some ways of doing that, but make it your own.