1. By this point, you’ve probably gandered at The NY Times’ “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace”, which describes the retail baron’s notorious pattern of “burn and churn” when it comes to its employees. If the report is to be believed, the closest reference point to their company ethos is that of the Prussian military, i.e. “Amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.” While reports about the mega-retailer’s internal culture have been circulating for quite some time now, this is the article that will cement Bezos et al at the top of the performancist foodchain. One of the ways they’ve gotten there, it would appear, is through the establishment of a corporate religion, the primary vehicle of which being “leadership commandments principles” that self-consciously extend beyond the workplace, rather brilliantly exploiting contemporary anxieties about productivity and identity. I suppose it’s their prerogative to pursue profits via whatever legal(istic) means available to them, and certainly most of us have benefited in one way or another–but wow. I don’t know whether to feel horrified, implicated, or thankful. Probably some combination:

635705922469070709-MR-ROBOT-TV02In contrast to companies where declarations about their philosophy amount to vague platitudes, Amazon has rules that are part of its daily language and rituals, used in hiring, cited at meetings and quoted in food-truck lines at lunchtime. Some Amazonians say they teach them to their children…

Company veterans often say the genius of Amazon is the way it drives them to drive themselves. “If you’re a good Amazonian, you become an Amabot,” said one employee, using a term that means you have become at one with the system…

Some veterans interviewed said they were protected from pressures by nurturing bosses or worked in relatively slow divisions. But many others said the culture stoked their willingness to erode work-life boundaries, castigate themselves for shortcomings (being “vocally self-critical” is included in the description of the leadership principles) and try to impress a company that can often feel like an insatiable taskmaster…

“I was so addicted to wanting to be successful there. For those of us who went to work there, it was like a drug that we could get self-worth from,” [said Dina Vaccari, who worked on projects from corporate gift cards to sales of scientific supplies, 2008 to 2014.]

Looks like Banksy has already captured the article for posterity:

2. On the opposite side of the mercy-spectrum, over at Aeon, Laura Turner took a shot at answering the question, “What Does It Mean To Forgive Someone in Public?” While we would clearly take issue with her notion of conditional or “two-way” pardon, there’s much to commend the piece, especially its emphasis on the necessary concreteness. True forgiveness is not pie-in-the-sky. It does not look away from flesh and blood (it sheds them), ht EKR:

We tend to be conflicted about public forgiveness. We are in awe of those who can forgive; we are angry with those who forgive too easily; we cluck at those who do not forgive quickly enough. What we don’t always understand is that people like the Amish community in Nickel Pines were steeped in forgiveness long before the day their children were shot. They had to forgive each other for small offenses and large, for white lies and hurt feelings. For those of us less steeped in the practice of forgiveness, seeing its immediacy in public can be strange. Unbelievable. Weak…

Forgiveness is not a wave of the hand, a “forget about it.” It is a robust and honest release of the need for revenge undertaken in light of the reality of the situation. It is aware, open-eyed, and transcendent. Dylann Roof ought to go to prison for life; forgiveness does not negate that. Forgiveness without justice is a clanging cymbal… Forgiveness, if we treat it like a simple sentiment that ignores flesh-and-blood details, is meaningless.

3. Long read of the week would have to be Mark Edmundson’s masterful, courageous essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Why We Need to Resurrect Our Souls“. In his view, our culture has substituted the self for the soul, and not without significant cost. He maintains that “self at its best is a protection for the life of soul, and when the moment comes for soul to exert itself, self must stand aside.” My favorite section, though, involves the distinction between knowledge and wisdom, in particular the insufficiency of information, with which we are currently saturated (and being saturated!), ht SMZ:

Lodged within the insistent rush of information is the implication that no form of knowledge can be anything but transient. Thus we guard ourselves against the pressure of finding unconditional truth — finding a good and true way to live individually and collectively — by committing ourselves to sensation and information. In this way, we both evade our hunger for truth — for the discoveries of the true scholar — and satisfy that hunger in a displaced form. Stuffed full of pointless information, we can consider ourselves wise. We feed ourselves incessantly and are still starved, which only makes us want to consume more…

Edmundson goes on to lament how little help our religion has provided amidst the overload of fleeting sentiment and fact:

The main event in America’s predominant religion, Christianity, has been a usurpation. More and more, the faith of American Christians is not faith in the compassionate and merciful Jesus, but faith in God the Father. When fundamentalists talk about Christ, they are often talking about Yahweh. They have forgotten the figure who was mild, sometimes humorous, endlessly kind. They have little interest in Jesus the poor vagrant who was not well disposed to worldly authority, who liked to spend his time with publicans and whores, who despised money. The true Jesus was what Whitman said he was himself: perennially on the side of the down and out. But many American Christians have recharacterized Jesus as a bitterly judgmental father, in love with punishment and retribution.

Speaking of resurrected soul, praise God for this:

4. Edmundson’s take on the church is as good an opening as we’re going to find for this next item. Those looking for a bracing polemic against Semi-Pelagianism might do well to check out Chris Kratzer’s provocative and impassioned, “Is Evangelical Christianity The Wizard Behind the Curtain of America’s Moral And Spiritual Decline?” As the title suggests, Kratzer has some skin in the game, a refugee from the toxicity at which he is taking aim. But that is probably why his critique packs such a punch. My sense is that his diagnosis applies more broadly (and less exclusively) than capital-E Evangelicalism, but we’ve been writing so much about the ‘secular’/’progressive’ side of the self-righteousness coin lately, it’s a helpful reminder that certain human inclinations run universal, present company very much included. A couple choice portions:

Grace has rendered spiritual growth as something you already are, not something you become or do. The Christian life is not about becoming something tomorrow you are not today through spiritual gymnastics, but about being more of who you already are because of Jesus, through believing. Your performance does not determine you identity, your identity determines your performance. Grace is the beginning and end of everything you are, do, and become. This is the Gospel, that your part is to realize you have no part, only believe. Anything less than this pure Grace Gospel, is Law

What many Evangelicals declare as needing to have a “balance,” of Grace and Law, one can just hear many of the New Testament writers declaring, “bullshit!” Not because it’s fun to be vulgar, but because of the ramifications of a death cocktail mixture of Grace with Law. Mix the Gospel with any amount, however small, of the Law, and guess what you have? Law.

5. Social Science Study of the Week comes to us from The Science of Us and has to do with new research demonstrating the professional value of saying thank you: “Being appreciated is one of the great motivators on the job, even better than money.” Go figure.

6. In humor, evidently this is really happening: “Deez Nuts for President? Why Not, Says Iowa Farm Boy”. And I doubt I could find a better follow-up to yesterday’s post than McSweeney’s list of “25 WORDS YOUR KINDERGARTNER MUST KNOW BEFORE FIRST GRADE”. But the thing that got me laughing hardest this week was definitely Colbert’s public-access interview with Eminem, which I retroactively added to this week’s post on the man. Also, this, ht JAZ:

7. A couple of poignant paragraphs in the middle of Rod Dreher’s multi-part (and mixed-bag) wrestling with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ much-hyped new book, Between the World and Me, entitled “TNC, Tolstoy, Dante”, ht SR:

The hardest thing I had to overcome in my own struggle with the heavy legacy of my family was my desire for justice. It’s not that justice is wrong, but that it is not as important as love. This is a Christian teaching. As I spend these final days of my father’s life with him, I know that I would not have had the strength to be here serving him and loving him if it had not been for the power of God to push me and pull me off my obsession with justice — a justice that could never be realized in this life — and into the clear, rushing waters of love… The things that he did me wrong will never be made right. That life cannot be unlived. But then, the things that I did wrong to him — and there were some — cannot be undone either. Neither one of us are innocent. There are no innocents. But injustice can be overridden by love.

8. Finally, as someone who works in “media” (sort of) this one freaked me out, Todd VanDerWerff’s “2015 is the year the old internet finally died”. Not sure how much it actually applies to Mbird–we’ll keep on trucking, come what may–but the following observation about the way people are sharing material online today struck me as relevant:

On social media, you share an article because you agree with the take, sure, but also because it says something about you, whether that fact is that you’re angry about a political issue, or that you like cute bunnies, or that you love Back to the Future. Your social media feed is a curation of things you want people to know about you. Inconvenient truths, negative views, or anything too dark will be pushed aside.


– Sad Day: Goonies house shut down after owner gets sick of people doing the Truffle Shuffle on the lawn.
– Life imitates Onion once again, ht WTH.
– Speaking of Eminem, did you know that he was a Donkey Kong champion? Beautiful.
– Finally, Brene is back at The Work of the People, people: