The Contradictions of City Life

We like to say we go to cities for the freedom: Jobs, culture, excitement. And yet living and working in one, you exhibit more herd-like behavior than one does in the country. 

I’ve lived in both, and for the last two years have been back in the city. And I’m not knocking those who enjoy urban living, but it’s full of contradictions that I personally find unfulfilling. 

Maybe when I was younger, I loved city life more. Now, in my mid-thirties, I realize that it might not be for me. 

Contradiction: Thousands and thousands of people meet crushing loneliness. How can you be so saturated in humanity but feel so isolated? How do all of these people and all of this stuff going on make you so depressed? This has been a recognized phenomenon for some time, and no one has a satisfactory answer. 

My take is that populations that are a) too large and b) too diverse have low trust and cohesion. It’s simple. If you feel littlenperceived connection to that teeming mass of humanity that seems almost too big, you won’t make the effort to get to know them. Because why bother? They’re probably transients anyway, here today, somewhere else tomorrow.  Continue reading “The Contradictions of City Life”

Always Be Moving Forward: Nine Lessons Learned from Following the Rules

You go along with the checklist. You follow the rules. And you find that you still can’t “make it.”

Replace “you” with “me,” and that’s where I am now. 

You see, I did the pre-approved, Boomer-sanctioned thing: College. Grad school. Safety. Security. Don’t rock the boat. And I still have to get a second job. 

I’m not against working hard. But it is kind of depressing. 

Perhaps “disillusioning” is a better word. But I’m telling you, this is why I do not find it irresponsible to warn as many young people as humanly possible to explore alternatives to college. 

It’s another reason why I warn people away from law school as much as humanly possible. 

Law school provides you with some of the most unmarketable skills in one of the least-demanded fields. 

Every instinct telling you to go to law school? Listen to it, and then do the opposite. 

The same goes, generally, for college. 

Look, I’m no self-improvement guru. I don’t have everything together. But I can tip you off about what not to do. Why make the same mistakes someone else did? Continue reading “Always Be Moving Forward: Nine Lessons Learned from Following the Rules”

Escapism Is Rearmament

You probably heard all of the knocks against escapism growing up. Stuff like: “Grown-ups don’t waste their time with that kind of stuff.”

Like what? Reading a book?

Imagination?

With all the ugliness and strife in the world, who wouldn’t want to escape? That’s where we come up with some of our best ideas.

Escape . . . removing oneself from confinement or a dangerous situation. 

And yet escapism gets a bad rap. It’s seen as retreat, a frivolous diversion into the unreal. Avoiding real life and real responsibilities. 

Even the dictionary seems to hold this view:

…habitual diversion of the mind to purely imaginative activity…

But that’s not what we do. We aren’t forced to flee to these imaginative worlds by marauding enemy hordes (though the enemies of civilization, intellectual and physical, do fit this bill). We seek to escape to somewhere better, even if only for a little bit, to recreate ourselves. 
Recreation = re + create

Retreat is running away. 

Escape is rearmament.  Continue reading “Escapism Is Rearmament”

Cultural Traps, Part III

Observing your own culture with a detached eye helps one recognize the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. I’ve written about some of these traps before, those parts of American culture that we all take for granted but might not actually make sense.

In this third edition, I’m going to look at some things that might be emerging trends in America that are both really stupid and really dangerous, many culled from my own experiences and observations. 

Some of these might not be uniquely American. They may just be human nature. But when I see my countrymen and women (whatever the hell that means anymore) act like scary monsters, I can’t help but see these tendencies shaded in red, white, and blue. 

Opposing one thing automatically means liking the other.

Are you against the death penalty? Then you clearly want to open all the prisons and are super-soft on crime.  

…or maybe you’re just against the death penalty. 

Perhaps you oppose partial-birth abortion. You obviously want women at risk of death die from birth complications to die. 

…or maybe you’re just against partial-birth abortion. 

This might be more of a logical fallacy than a cognitive trap, but it is still (a) everywhere l, and (b) dumb.

Unintelligent people think like this, or liars. I’m sorry if that sounds mean, but it’s true. One is either incapable of seeing this trap, or is wielding it as a rhetorical club. 

If the former, you can learn. If the latter, its effective, sure, but it really doesn’t move the needle in any direction. It does something that could arguably be another entry on this list, which is assuming ill intent on the part of the other. Rhetorically, it’s a weapon. But it weakens your own position and makes you look silly. You risk losing credibility, which in a debate–akin to a trial–is the kiss of death.  

Disproportionality and overreaction, aka hysteria.

Debating is an art that requires practice and preparation. It also requires an understanding of the rules of a particular interaction, such as whether the relationship with your opponent will be ongoing, whether you’re trying to change the other’s mind, or whether you’re trying to illustrate a point to your observers. But either way, you want to make your points using reason, logic, and evidence.

Of course, what really changes hearts and minds is emotion. So use rhetoric where applicable. It’s very effective, and for some people, whether you call them midwits or IYIs (“intellectuals, yet idiots,” per Nassim Nicholas Taleb), that’s all they understand.

This trap dovetails nicely with the first, but it’s distinguished by what I call default nuclear. Continue reading “Cultural Traps, Part III”

The Monopoly on Normal

The state is defined by some as being the entity that has a monopoly on violence. 

But there’s more to a society than just who has the guns. There are other forms of control. 

I’m more interested in the entity that has a monopoly on normal.

And that entity is not necessarily just “The State.”

What is acceptable?

What can you do?

What can you think?

Who is it that you can criticize? And who is it that you can’t?

And who makes these rules?

There’s this tendency, which I find laughable, of constantly deriding the 1950s as an era of overwhelming, stifling conformity, a boogeyman to be invoked every time we beat our chests and crow about “how far we’ve come.”

And while certain things are better–many, in fact–in other ways thigs today are just as stifling. 

Every era has its problems. And every era has standards that you will be nudged to comply with–at first gently, and then with increasingly greater force. Until, eventually, the guys with the guns, threatened or actual, will come pay you a visit.  Continue reading “The Monopoly on Normal”

Sartorial College

I used to think that fashion was stupid, dressing up was for stiffs, and that society had gotten to the point where what you do and who you are matter more than how you look.

And then I started working.

Suddenly, all of that boring, corny stuff my parents used to say made sense.

You see, humans are visual beings, and first impressions are powerful things. There is science behind all of this, but I’m both a lawyer and a man who knows my limitations, so I won’t go down that rabbit hole here. 

I have learned something else though: Second impressions matter too. And third. And fourth. And so on. 

How you present yourself carries over not only into your business and personal relationships, but also in how you carry yourself

Again, the explanatory  science is out there. You have the Internet. Search amongst yourselves. 

Me, I have trouble working if I’m not dressed up. I wear a suit and tie to work everyday, and have for the past eight years, even when the dress code at my workplace has been relaxed. 

What kills me about this more than anything are the comments I get:

  • “Aren’t you hot in that?”
  • “It’s Friday, you know.”
  • “Alex always look sharp…like a movie star.” (Someone actually said this to me)

And my favorite:

  • “You’re making the rest of us look bad!”

To which I say, you’re making me look good. Thanks! Continue reading “Sartorial College”