1. For every voyeur, there’s an exhibitionist – and social media sites are no exception. We try to post the most enviable pictures of ourselves possible on Facebook or, at the very least, the most desirable. And others obsess over other people’s pictures, thinking, “If I could just be in that group of people, doing that activity — this person I barely even know is just so lucky.” Enter stage center the (don’t click this) “rich kids of instagram” tumblr site, which features teenagers or college-age kids on yachts, at the Hamptons, or in ritzy Miami clubs. The tagline? “They have more money than you and this is what they do.” The Wall Street Journal did a great write-up of the phenomenon, despite some distracting bits of Freudianism:

The site is indeed a photographic celebration of money-grubbing misanthropy. One shot shows a $9,000 Versace gold-plated AK-47 assault rifle, posted during a summer of mass shootings. “It’s ominous,” Reiss said.

But is it a symbol of class warfare? “That’s a pretty good interpretation,” he said.

Most of the website, however, is dedicated to the more mundane mantra: “I’m rich, screw you.” It’s photos of teenagers in cars that cost more than many people’s homes.

“Cars have always been an externalization of the ego,” Reiss said. “This is just, ‘I am what I own.’

“A lot of these kids have very weak esteem. Their identity is in what they have, rather than who they are.”

While some of (psychiatrist) Reiss’s evaluations are undoubtedly true, it seems he’s missing an amorphous inner humor to the entire thing, which the insiders undoubtedly get. There’s an abortive sarcasm here, too, which trivializes the entire wealth gap by making it into a matter of joking. In doing so, it’s not merely trying to pump up someone’s self-esteem on the basis of what they own or do – even more so, it’s addressing a material guilt that accompanies these things and trying to build up self-esteem, perhaps, in spite of what they own or do. And all this, of course, is more concisely just a matter of the Law.

2. In parenting news, a South Carolina mother punished her her son for smoking pot by forcing him to smirkingly shuffle around the sidewalk at a major intersection with a sign that read, “Smoked Pot Got Caught Don’t I Look Cool? NOT!”

 

Although the kid arguably seemed more shamed about looking hapless on the sidewalk than he was about pot-smoking, this brings up some of that parenting grey-area between Second (i.e., “adolescents shouldn’t be smoking pot”) and Third (“I myself think it’s reprehensible for you to smoke pot”) uses of the Law. It seems like a key issue in corrections is to figure out how to do more of the former and less of the latter, which is why the woman brought all the shame and condemnation from the community to into play. We at Mbird tend to be skeptical of human attempts to engineer genuine, Second-use conviction, and people can judge for themselves the sincerity of the kid’s repentance.

3. It’s been hard to find much weekly news not dealing with the RNC so, without getting too into the bloodlust of electionary politics, it’s safe to say that positions and ideologies of both parties often acquire the same moral force as…well, morality. A surprisingly good analysis in this vein of this week’s GOP convention was offered at The American Conservative, a well-written, but admittedly quite polemical, publication which examines contemporary politics. In a piece called “Nothing Succeeds Like Success?“, a commentator discusses the Law components of the convention:

It’s almost as if Romney is presenting himself as a totem: I am success; make me first among your gods, and success will fall like manna…

It’s a bizarre way to present yourself, when you think about it, and bizarre to think that it would be generally appealing. It’s much easier for me to understand why people would love George W. Bush’s prodigal son schtick, or Bill Clinton’s poor country boy conquers the big city act, or certainly Ronald Reagan’s autodidact against the experts routine…

The writer’s not wholly right to criticize this position from an electability perspective, since in an age of recession, people will more want to identify with (recently) elusive economic success. And yet, from all the entrepreneurs speaking, the appealing subtext of “we’re the ones who were hard-working enough to make it” seems clear. Despite that, the other political parties (of course!) show the same moralizing, self-justifying appeals – given a Christian anthropology, it’s a wonderful way to get voters. To not be entirely pessimistic, however, both parties of course stand for good things that are good in government – the campaigning, however, still had this unavoidably psychological element.

4. Mockingbird favorites Sons of Bill have just released a  music video for their fantastic “Siren Song” – enjoy!

5. Speaking of success, there’s one easy way to attain it: video games, writes an editor for the popular gaming site IGN. Without being at all moralistic or denigrating gaming’s leisure/nonproductivity aspect, he points out their use as avenues for easy ladder-climbing:

It’s a comforting thought, isn’t it? Just put in the time, and you will do nothing but progress. You will win. You can do everything. There are no paths closed off to you. You know that moment when you learn a game has a system where unused skills will degrade or weapons will break down…and you recoil at the thought? That’s you wanting to have it all and keep all the progress you ever make.

The real world does not operate this way. You can “grind” at a job for 10 years and still be laid off. You can “grind” at your physical health your whole life but if you switch to an unhealthy lifestyle you will immediately begin losing this progress.

Gamers have jokingly quipped that if textbooks had achievements, we’d all be geniuses. But the fact is… that’s probably true. These days everything is a game.

While this could seem seem like a dark view of the ‘real’ world that gaming can help, in fact the real-world elements of suffering which gaming helps is mostly the suffering of not being able to make easy, measurable progress in many situations. Gaming, of course, offers an outlet for that.

And for those looking for religious achievement, check out the recent “9 Games that Let You Choose Martyrdom.”

6. Finally, over on Slate, renowned author Martin Amis discusses pornography as something dissociative. It’s neither moralistic, nor explicitly Christian, nor judging of value in any explicit way at all – just a guy with some insight on what he sees as the facts: