Friday Round-up – July 3, 2020

As I noted in my post earlier this week, I missed my last Friday roundup post. This is my first effort in doing better.

Here is my round-up list for the week ending on June 26th July 3rd, 2020.

📽 Video: The Toxic World of Self Help: Hustle Culture, Toxic Positivity, Addiction, and Fake Gurus. | James Jani (YouTube)

I am guilty of buying into the world of self-help. The vast majority of my reading over the last five years has been variations on the self-help genre (to the point that I’ve coined the term animated bibliography to describe its form). I know that the returns on investing in self-help diminishes quickly, and I am aware of how dubious the promise that self-help sells is, but I constantly find myself getting sucked into it. This video doesn’t necessarily say anything new that I haven’t realized myself, but it pulls it together nicely with many examples of how dark this world can be for the copycat authorities that use the same tactics in different domains. This video is a good summary and reminder to myself the next time I’m sold the promise of a better life through tactics and strategies for sale.

Listen: A Recipe for Caesar | Common Sense Podcast by Dan Carlin AND Jon Stewart | Joe Rogan Experience Podcast

I covered a different interview with Jon Stewart in my last published Friday roundup, but I wanted to link these two different podcast episodes along a similar theme, despite the shows being wildly different. I noticed that both Dan Carlin and Jon Stewart remarked on the difficulty that comes with being a voice that people turn to when making sense of the world. Stewart noted that towards the end of his time on the Daily Show, he sometimes struggled to be the person to go on television and say something smart or comforting after a tragedy struck (it might have been part of the reason why he burned-out and needed to retire). Similarly, Dan Carlin has not put out an episode of his podcast Common Sense in a few years, but he released this episode earlier this year. In it, he notes that he’s tried recording an episode multiple times but felt he was adding nothing of substance to the conversation. He struggled to, like Stewart, be a voice for people (like me) who turn to him to help understand the world we find ourselves in. I listened to both of these episodes in the same week, and gained a new appreciation for those like Carlin and Stewart who make livings giving me monologues to pre-digest current events. It must be tough to strike a balance by being both insightful and non-inflammatory, where you avoid stoking the audience against “the other side” (whatever side that happens to be at the time). A YouTuber I follow recently commented on folks like Tim Poole whose sole purpose is to inflame the left/right hostility, rather than adding anything of substance to the discourse. It’s causing me to slowly evaluate what voices I allow in and whether they’ve earned their place in my attention.

Read: Why I’m Leaving Academia | Ozan Varol

I have some deeper reflections that this article prompted, but I wanted to capture this here first. Varol has been a law professor for 10 years now, and with the success of his recent book, he’s decided to move on from his teaching duties to pursue other endeavors. This reminds me of Nassim Taleb’s idea of via negativa. Varol specifically invokes this idea (though not by name) by reflecting that decisions he’s made in his life that had the greatest positive impact were often decisions that “subtracted” from his life. It’s a reflection I applied to my own circumstances and still need a bit more time to process.

Watch: Every Race in Middle-Earth Explained | WIRED (YouTube)

Because we all need to have some fun once in a while, here is an informative half-hour from a Tolkein scholar who covers the history of Middle-Earth through its inhabitants.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

On Late Posts

Despite my promise to do better on the Friday before last, I did not get a post up this past Friday (largely due to a report at work that kept me occupied during the day) AND I had no post ready yesterday (largely due to not keeping a regular writing schedule).

I’ve found sense of pride in not missing a weekly deadline for the last few years, but things have ground to a halt recently. I’ve let my workflow dry up in favour of short dopamine hits (my distraction of choice being YouTube) to take the edge off of the anxiety around not getting work done.

Thankfully, I have some time off of work coming up, which will help with recharging the old creative batteries. I’ll be back next Monday with a real post.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Reflection – A Systems Review of Results

I’ve been mulling over a quote I wrote down in my notebook back in March, especially as it relates to my productive output at both work and for my personal projects:

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”
~Paul Batalden

At the end of the day, I’ll look back at my lists of tasks and feel frustrated that another day has slipped by thanks to my monkey brain’s inability to focus. Of course, this is placing the blame on the wrong focus because it’s ignoring two important facts: it assumes I’m not in control of my behaviours when I blame it on my “monkey brain,” and it assumes that I’m setting myself up for success merely by sitting at my computer. Both of these are patently untrue. I have control over my environment and (to borrow a phrase from Jocko Willink) I should be taking extreme ownership over my work situation.

If I find myself frustrated with my lack of output, I have to look at the system that my productivity is set against. If I spend my day getting lost down YouTube video and blog holes, then it’s because my system is optimized for it.

If I’m allowing myself to give in to temptation or distraction, it’s because it’s easier to fall back on things that are psychologically comforting and there is too much friction to get started on the real work.

Motivation is a flywheel – I have to overcome inertia to get the wheel turning, and it takes time before inertia helps the wheel turn freely. If the system is optimized to prevent me turning the flywheel, then it’s important to look at the system for fixes, rather than bemoaning the outcomes.

It’s not a quick fix. It will take time, effort, and a direction to push towards that will start the flywheel. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. If the flywheel grounds to a halt, then it’s my job to stop, reset, appraise, and re-engage.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Friday Round-Up – June 19, 2020

After a poor performance last week left me with no Friday post, and even though today’s post is much later than I intended, here I am to make good on my promise to do better.

Here is my round-up list for the week ending on June 19th:

📖Article – Jon Stewart Is Back to Weigh In | The New York Times

Sorry if you hit a paywall on this article (I managed to read it fine from Pocket). I’ve lamented elsewhere that I genuinely miss Jon Stewart, not just from his tenure on the Daily Show, but also from other initiatives he’s thrown his weight behind (remember his masterclass in oration?). While this interview is part of Stewart’s media blitz for his upcoming movie release, it is also chocked-full of wonderful insights and observations about the world we find ourselves in. He’s ever poignant in his wit, but also speaks from a cautious place. The interview is so good, I quickly reached the limit of my free highlights in Pocket.

💭 Reflection Mega-Thread – How We Process Information

I want to turn this into a more formal blog post in the near future, but for now I’d like to lay out a few strands that have come together over the last two weeks about how we process, curate, and digest information.

🎧 Listen – You Must Avoid This Weakness | The Daily Stoic Podcast

First, a short listen from the Daily Stoic reflecting on how our minds are not reliable when it comes to processing truth. Instead, we are bound up in our own biases that we seek to confirm. If we want to be functioning, contributing members of society, we must actively exercise our critical faculties, including seeking out when we are wrong. Or as the closing lines state: “It’s the snowflakes who fly into a rage when someone challenges their views. It’s the snowflakes who can never admit they’re wrong or address deserved criticism or feedback.”

🎧 Listen – 479: Post-truth Expertise | CBC Spark Podcast

Next, a thought-provoking podcast episode from the CBC that tackles expertise in a seeming post-truth world. There is a lot of good information floating around in the ether, waiting for us to latch on to its wisdom. And yet, despite good information there for us to seize, we see many people in our peer groups turn away and distrust the experts. Shunning the norms of knowledge communities, they instead embrace their own norms of knowledge and assertion.

📣 Twitter – Carl T. Bergstrom (@CT_Bergstrom)

Speaking of experts, one of the voices I’ve turned to on Twitter to help me filter the signal from the noise is Mr. Bergstrom. He has provided both some levity :

As well as valuable information to help stop me from embracing each news article that flies out with clickbait titles:

I have a blog post percolating in my mind about curating news feeds, but I’ll leave that breadcrumb here for now.

🏳‍🌈🎧 Listen – I Don’t Want To Get Over You (Season 3 Mission 9) | Zombies, Run!🏳‍🌈

Finally, I want to give a huge shout-out to the writers and folks behind Zombies, Run! for this episode I listened to last week. The episode really stuck out for me. A large portion of the dialogue involves two lesbian characters discussing a mutual love interest (the love interest is the current partner of one of the characters, and a former lover of the other character in the conversation). The conversation between the characters touches on topics like “gold stars” and the fears that bisexual partners may have, even in committed relationships. I’ve heard my own queer friends discuss these topics, and while it felt noteworthy that the development team included “voices” from a wide range of folks, it was awesome to hear conversations that weren’t centered on the heterosexual experience that’s often given as the default in media. It gives the game a sense of realness and depth, despite it being about living in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland. It’s also important, as we reflect on this Pride month, to think about the kinds of voices we engage with that represents life, and whether we are seeking out sources that look to bring more diversity to the table. I’m happy to be supporting the app and the team.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Aristotle and Moral Education in Art

silhouette of three performers on stage
Photo by Kyle Head on Unsplash

I spent a large chunk of my weekend grading essays from my students. Their task was to watch the movie The Road, adapted from the novel by Cormac McCarthy and write a paper based on themes and ideas presented in the course. Based on the course content presented so far, I encourage students to examine the story’s protagonist and argue whether he is a good candidate to be considered a tragic hero as defined by Aristotle.

While grading papers, I mused about Aristotle’s strict criteria for what makes for a tragic hero. The tragic hero must be noble and good (though not a paragon of virtue), but possesses a minor flaw of character or error in judgment (hamartia), which when applied to circumstances brings about some sort of downfall or negative consequence (an inevitable reversal of circumstances, or peripeteia). It’s not that the character is vicious, but merely that their minor flaw is the cause of the negative outcome. However, the negative outcome must be caused by the character (and not, for instance, by the gods), and the consequences of outcome must be in excess of the original cause. The character must also see that they are the reason for their suffering (anagnorisis – the move from ignorance to knowledge). In the context of a narrative or telling of the story, this would elicit pity and fear, a purification of emotions (catharsis) for the audience.

On the one hand, Aristotle is spelling this all out as a way of formalizing and categorizing types of art (Aristotle was a philosopher and biologist by vocation). He might have even considered writing this down as a way of formalizing a set of guidelines to critique plays, finding a way to point out what makes some plays good and others not.

But I had another thought. Aristotle’s teacher, Plato, took a dim view of the arts. In his Republic, Plato was comfortable with banishing the poets from his ideal city, and only allow art that held up the moral authority. I’m wondering if Aristotle had something like this in mind – that art could be used as a moral education tool.

Maybe, the best examples of art are ones that teach the audience lessons, albeit in a less direct route (than, say, fables). If this were true, then we could interpret Aristotle’s criteria the following way. A piece of art is valuable as a moral training tool when the audience can build an emotional connection with the suffering of others. Rather than it being a spectacle for them to lose themselves in, the art gives the audience a moral framework to judge themselves against. The tragic figure is like them: not a god or immortal, but an example of a good person trying to do good things. The tragic figure might even be a little aspirational, something the audience can work towards. They aren’t depraved in the soul, but they are responsible for their actions, even if those actions have negative consequences.

Instead of blaming their suffering on an external cause, the tragic figure realizes that they are the cause of their own suffering. The audience sees this, sees that they could be this person, and through their emotional connection, learns to empathize with the tragic figure. In a sense, they could be the same person, were the circumstances be different. The audience feels the pain, takes pity upon the otherwise good person, and maybe even fears this happening to them.

Given that Aristotle’s ethics was predicated on relative moral excellence, it’s possible that he intended art to be educative, though I don’t have the scholarship background to confirm whether this is true (or plausible). To be clear, I don’t think art must function in this capacity. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have art for its own sake, or for the creative expression of what’s inside the artist.

Still, the thought of morally educative art is interesting. I’ve often thought of what kinds of art I’d want to expose my own children to in the development of their moral character. What kinds of lesson would I want them to absorb and learn from as they develop an internal sense of ethics and morality?

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Friday Round-up – June 12, 2020

I’m sorry.

There is no formal round-up post this week. I’ve done a poor job with staying on top of things, so I don’t really have a curated list to share. Don’t get me wrong – lots of stuff happened this week both awesome and thought-provoking, but I didn’t do a good job of carrying those items forward into a coherent post. I noted in my journal this week how disappointed I’ve felt with my output recently, and I narrowed it down to a lack of consistency. When we first entered the isolation period, I was coasting on the momentum of my regular systems. However, those systems have atrophied over the last month, and the content funnels aren’t getting filled like they used to.

I’ll do better next week.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Reflection: T1J – On Riots

My Monday post this week is late. Instead of trying to cobble something together, I will share this video from T1J’s YouTube channel published last week. It gave me a lot to think about.

“Now these stories are very complex and nuanced, and American schools generally do a bad job of teaching Black history. But the point I’m making is, it’s not true that Martin Luther King Jr. did some peaceful protests and gave some speeches and then single-handedly changed everyone’s minds. The progress we’ve seen is due to the combined efforts of Black leaders and activists throughout history, some of whom disagreed on the best path forward, but all of whom contributed towards shaping the world and making the world a little better for people of color. Another thing people fail to realize is that Martin Luther King Jr. was very unpopular during his time. So, whether or not something is palatable to the white masses is not a good measure of whether it is the right thing to do.”

“On Riots” 7:24-8:07

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Friday Round-up – June 5, 2020

My attention this week has largely focused on what’s happening in the United States with the protests and marches. As such, the vast majority of this week’s round-up are a collection of posts from social media that I want to help amplify.

Here is my round-up for the week ending on June 5th, 2020:

📖Article – James Mattis Denounces President Trump, Describes Him as a Threat to the Constitution | The Atlantic

I read Mattis’s memoir a few months back, and in it he specifically states that he does not intend to publically comment or speak out against a sitting President. He notes that it’s inappropriate as a former military member (he feels that there should be a separation between executive politics and the military) and as a former Cabinet member. The implication is that while he resigned his post in protest over the policy decisions being made by the White House, there will come a time when he feels it would be appropriate to finally criticize the President he served under. That is what made this post all the more surprising (thought not surprising when you read it) – things have gotten to the point that he feels his silence is counter-productive to upholding the American Constitution. Based on his memoir, I hold Mattis in high regard, both as a leader and as a thinker, so this is something I took note of.

💭 Reflection – What can I do as a white ally?

When this week started, I could find no words that would be appropriate. This is, of course, a huge privilege – that I can choose to remain silent while people are out fighting for their lives and a better world.

It would be inappropriate for me to wax on about my thoughts because that would mean centering my voice (even if this is my blog). My voice, my thoughts, and my opinions are not important in this social conversation. Instead, I want to share and amplify some of the great ideas that I bookmarked in my feed.

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Volume I of Creative Ecosystems and Funds that are doing the work to support Black people, especially Black queer, trans, and nonbinary folks, and Black women. ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣I’ll be making an updated version of this graphic every 2 weeks through July to show new adds.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ Donate directly to the funds! ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ What this moment cannot be is a momentary surge of white guilt translating to temporary care and funds to Black people. White people, how will you use your wealth and power to create strategic plans for societal reparations for Black folks? ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ How can you put pressure on your workplaces, governments, etc, to pay reparations to Black folks? How can you make this your own person practice? How will you support not only organizations, but also local Black folks?⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ Do reparations make you feel a type of way? Go to google. Do not ask a Black queer woman to explain a concept that has been well researched by Black people across time.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ SUPPORT AND FOLLOW THESE ORGS AND FUNDS. They have been doing the WORK long before I made this graphic. ⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ You can view the full list of ecosystems & funds by clicking my bio link.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ If you’d like to submit your Creative Ecosystem or Fund, please hit my bio link and fill out the form. This list in no way encompasses all creative ecosystems, it needs to grow & it needs your help to do that work.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣ ⁣⁣Note 1. While I focused this post on reparations for Black folks, Indigenous folks also need to be included in conversations on land & monetary reparations. This is all a part of the larger convo on white people redistributing their power and wealth to the people they’ve stolen from. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Note 2. My repost guidelines are in my “repost” story highlight. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣ Note 3. I could only tag 20 max in this post, I’ve tagged all of orgs in my “blk ecosystems” highlight! ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Note 4. Every listed org/fund is not solely run by or only supports Black people. Some of these organizations support NonBlack people as well, but they (1.) Show dedicated support to Black people, and also (2.) Have Black leaders on their core teams/boards.

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Sending love and hugs to you all everyday. ❤️ Just wanted to take a moment to say and address this again in a post on my feed so this is embedded here. That I will continue to share important information in my stories always at the start of each day, along with swipe up links to things I’ve found helpful in educating myself. I also have a highlight on my page and link in my bio, along with important petitions, donation pages and any further information for books to read, movies to watch, podcasts to listen to that are all really helpful in educating and learning more. I’ll also be sharing any movements and protests we can take part in around the world. . And of course I will continue these conversations offline not just in this online space always. This isn’t a trend, I stand with each and every one of you. Today, tomorrow and always. Change needs to happen and this broken system needs to be fixed. I think, it’s so important we all make sure we really are taking a stand together and help create conversations within our day to day lives always. . I also want to say it’s important right now, we do what we feel works for us in terms of educating, learning and supporting in ways we can. Whether it’s finding and educating online or educating offline. TO make change, we need to continue to speak up, embed conversations in everyday life, help one another carry this throughout all our lives. I’ve attached @nataliesoutlet guide to how to use our voices for change and empowerment in this post as a carousel, which are ways offline we can also show our support and use our voice to fight for what is right. Let’s all continue to positively encourage each other to work together to fight for the change that is needed. If any of you also have anything you’d like me to share, please send them my way ❤️ I also have listed below some incredible, inspiring, amazing and wonderful WOC and MOC creators who I absolutely adore!!! ❤️❤️❤️ @stylebyaysh @laurennicolefk @nimiblackwell @sarahjoholder @basicstouch @styleidealist @iansangala @nicoleocran @_marisamartins_ @eniswardrobe @freshlengths @perpetualplaces @sulsworld @daisyboateng @brenna_anastasia @emmanuellek_

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ok it took forever (there are so many great books!!) but thanks to all your recommendations here’s a stack for kids, from babies up to about 12, I’d say (YA/teens set coming soon). it does include books about racism and how to be antiracist, but also about what it’s like to be made to feel different and other or to be welcomed and included with love, and about how to love everything about yourself ❤️. (also to be clear, it does include books about some experiences other than being Black and dealing with systemic racism in the US; I went a little more broad for this one!) 📚 let me just say up front that there are way more I could have added, but already it’s hard to read the tiny titles even zoomed in. so please comment below with everything I left out! also, I don’t have kids, so I could be a bit wrong about what age a book suits, please correct me on that below too. (for instance, I’ve learned the young readers’ adaptation of Born a Crime and Stamped might be better for older kids!) 📚 also, if you can, as always, please buy books from your local bookstore (and even better if it is Black- or minority- or woman-owned!) instead of from a giant online retailer ☺️. 📚 yes you can repost, just please don’t crop or alter the image, and tag @jane_mount and @idealbookshelf in the image and the caption, thank you! 📚 https://www.idealbookshelf.com/pages/ideal-bookshelf-1163-antiracist-kids-booklist

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THIS POST IS FOR WHITE ACTIVISTS! Please read all of the slides and the caption before commenting or sliding into my DMs on this one because I anticipate some push back. I will ask that you read this post more than once before you challenge me and I’ll be happy to engage. Over the past week I’ve watched as white activists call one another out, publicly shame one another, and cancel each other. It astounds me that folx cannot see how they’re using the very tools of white supremacy and the prison-industrial complex under the guise of social justice and activism. Shame is the tool of the oppressor. We must stop using it. We must stop weaponizing social justice. White folx are being told “you should have known better” (maybe they should have) and that their allyship is “performative” (and maybe it is). But there are just so many assumptions being made. It’s like we forget that everyone started somewhere when they began their activism work. As white folx, it is our job to call those white folx in, not shut them out. It is our job to call them in, so that they can learn and do better next time. What also blows my mind is the complete lack of engagement with disability justice within activism. I’m really just over white folx telling other white folx to “google it.” Do you not see the ableism and classism there? If you’re so much further ahead in your activism, why not share resources? Why not have a conversation? My social justice knowledge is a privilege that I gained through a critical education. Not everyone has that. So here are my thoughts on this particular form of white activism. I’m not here for it. I want y’all to know that wherever you are in your activism, I see you. I’m always here to answer any questions you have and will share resources or point you in the direction of the answer if I don’t. I will never shame you, belittle you, or call you out. I’m committed to meeting you where you’re at if you’re willing to do the work. Image IDs are in the comments! Apologies to folks that are having to dig for them. Full body pain flare + brain fog meant that I spaced out on adding them right away and so there are some other comments in the way!

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Friday Round-up – May 29, 2020

This was a pretty bad week for me consuming content. Between some big stuff happening at work, and a general feeling of blah-ness, I don’t have a lot to share this week.

Here is a round-up list for the week ending on May 29th:

📽 Video – Comedy News: Is It Deep or Dumb? | Wisecrack

I think this video does a good job to interrogate my love of certain kinds of comedic news. I was a late-convert to Jon Stewart, and felt crushed when he announced his (much deserved) retirement. While I’ll admit I haven’t given Trevor Noah a fair shake, I pretty much stopped watching the Daily Show after the change-over. Similarly, I’ve watched other shows that riff on the format, whether on cable (such as Samantha Bee), subscription services (like Hasan Minhaj), or online content (I get John Oliver through YouTube). It’s not lost on me that all of the names listed above are Daily Show alumni. My consumption also includes shows that are inspired by the presentation format, like Some More News on YouTube. Still, it’s rare that I consistently follow any one show because I tend to find the material or subjects to be somewhat hollow. The only exceptions to this, as noted by Wisecrack, are Oliver’s and Minhaj’s shows, which I feel to be both smart and wise in the material they present. Rather than trying to punch for the sake of cracking jokes, their shows punch at topics that are meant to help people that aren’t in on the joke. That is, their shows aren’t just speaking to the in-crowd as a private way of mocking the out-group. This was a great video essay that made me think.

📽 Video/Reading Group – Hannah Ardent Reading Group on “The Origins of Totalitarianism” | YouTube & Hannah Ardent Centre for Politics and Humanities at Bard College

I purchased Hannah Ardent’s The Origins of Totalitarianism as a birthday present for myself a few years ago (I know, I’m weird). I still haven’t cracked into it as of writing, but last week I received an email update from my alma mater, and in it they discussed how one of the faculty members had recently returned from time spent doing research at the Hannah Ardent Centre for Politics and Humanities at Bard College. The email also described the regular reading group that occurs, and how it recently moved online to promote physical distancing. I checked out their YouTube page and found this series that I hope to carve out some time to follow along with. Origins is a pretty hefty book, and Ardent is a pretty powerful thinker, so I’m glad to have a resource to help me understand the nuances of her work better.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan