1. Ever feel like a robot at work? Well, the good news is, it’s the weekend so maybe you can hit your off-switch.


The bad news comes from an article John Harris wrote in The Guardian, “Digital giants are turning workers into robots.” It’s about increasingly invasive programs which monitor work ethic. Eugh.

The US retail chain Target announced in 2015 that Fitbit trackers were to be offered to its 335,000 workers, as part of its embrace of what the business vernacular calls “corporate wellness programmes”. As things stand, workers who opt to have their metabolisms monitored are organised into teams who compete to raise money for charity. Just for fun, then. Until, perhaps, it’s not…

In the context of the automated future, what all this means is pretty obvious. On the way to being replaced by a robot, you will have to become one, and tumble into a mode of existence glimpsed 20 years ago on the amazingly prescient Radiohead album OK Computer, in the sound-collage titled Fitter Happier. Intoned by a Stephen Hawking-like speech synthesizer, the words long ago became a grimly funny signifier for modern living: “Fitter, happier / More productive / Comfortable / Not drinking too much / Regular exercise at the gym, three days a week / Getting on better with your associate employee contemporaries.”

Harris cites Dave Eggers’ dystopian novel The Circle (not my favorite Eggers book but still good) as a picture of where our society is headed. The Circle is about surrendering privacy to technology–at the time of its release, I felt that it served to exacerbate anxiety, while avoiding the good things about technology. The rise of the internet gave us 10 years of Mockingbird, after all.

But as Harris notes, fear seems to be the predominant emotion of the day, which in his view contributed to Brexit and Trump; I would say it’s more anxiety: the fear of fear, induced by articles like this! Still, it’s a good reminder of our tendency to create a dystopia when we try to make a utopia. And, when we finally turn ourselves into computers, God will love us anyway.

2. Elsewhere in dystopian news: high-powered political-correctness on college campuses have led to a “brave new” idea: that free speech is promoted by censorship. Yesterday Jillian Kay Melchior responded with an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal: “Censorship Is Free Speech? It Must Be the Class of 1984″. In it, Melchior discusses the rise of “inclusive language” campaigns, by which she means the organized policing of speech.

d72c0b4f6b2145406918398f905f435cUW-Milwaukee even included “politically correct” on its list of disfavored terms, arguing that it “has become a way to deflect, say that people are being too ‘sensitive’ and police language.”

Which brings us to the warped idea that by suppressing “dominant” voices, universities actually further free speech…

“I think, in a way, the whole PC culture idea can almost promote free speech because there are a lot of people who have been marginalized in the past,” Ms. Kvellestad [a UPenn student] told Heat Street during a phone interview in December. “So it’s kind of free speech in a different sense, that we’re giving credence and voices to voices that we were not hearing.”

Melchior relates this to the increasingly referenced 1984, by George Orwell (not to be confused with Georgina Orwell):

He anticipated a world in which administrators, professors and students demand the right to act as censors even as they claim to venerate the right to unrestricted expression.


Orwell expresses similar views in his essay, “Freedom of the Press”:

The chief danger to freedom of thought and speech at this moment is not the direct interference of…any official body. If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face…The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary.

(Orwell is a hit these days! Here’s a laugh from the AV Club: The Guardian printed a ridiculous, fake 1984 quote.”)

3. Ok, here’s some good news. A story of grace, from back in July:

4. This week, The Atlantic published an article by Derek Thompson titled, “Everybody’s in a Bubble, and That’s a Problem.” Thompson discusses “bubbles”, a term that has come to describe de facto segregation–the way we naturally cluster together with visually similar and likeminded people.

The United States, once critiqued for being a melting pot, is now considered “a cafeteria plate with its carefully inserted divisions keeping the constituent ingredients from cross-contaminating.” The article’s most profound moment is in describing humanity’s predisposition to bubbles:

Living in bubbles is the natural state of affairs for human beings. People seek out similarities in their marriages, workplaces, neighborhoods, and peer groups. The preferred sociological term is “homophily”—similarity breeds affection—and the implications are not all positive. White Americans have 90 times more white friends than they have black, Asian, or Hispanic friends, according to one analysis from the Public Religion Research Institute. That’s not a description of a few liberal elite cliques. It’s a statistic describing the social networks of 200 million people. America is bubbles, all the way down.

The implications of Americans’ social and geographical sorting are complex. In politics, it creates circumstances where more than half of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters don’t know anybody voting for the other candidate.

Homophily: could have something to do with why Jesus came into the world as a person–because we are unlikely to respond to something strange and generally unrelated to us. And this is also why every culture makes Jesus in their own image. We don’t need another God to say, “Tear down your walls!” We need one who scales our walls in the dead of night, who sneaks past our watch towers to tell us we our loved.

5. A recent lament by David Brooks was titled, “The Lord of Misrule,” in the New York Times. His description of the current president is at least a theologically astute description of the law.

When elites try to quash the manners and impulses of the people, those impulses are bound to spill out in some other way. By the Middle Ages the cathedrals were strictly hierarchical, so the people created carnivals where everything was turned on its head. During carnival (Purim is the Jewish version), men dressed like women, the people could insult the king and bishops, drunkenness and ribaldry was prized over sober propriety.

This is the classic case of the law increasing the trespass, or at least failing to get people in line: it’s the preacher’s kid sneaking out to a rock concert, the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey in the conservative South, the predominance of meth addiction in placid Utah.

unnamed-1Carnival culture was raw, lascivious and disgraceful, and it elevated a certain social type, the fool.

There were many different kinds of fools: holy fools, hapless fools, vicious fools. Fools were rude and frequently unabashed liars. They were willing to make idiots of themselves. The point of the fool was not to be admirable in himself, but to be the class clown who had the guts to talk back to the teacher. People enjoyed carnival culture, the feast of fools, as a way to take a whack at the status quo.

You can see where I’m going with this…Donald Trump exists on two levels: the presidential level and the fool level.

His tweets are classic fool behavior. They are raw, ridiculous and frequently self-destructive. He takes on an icon of the official culture and he throws mud at it. The point is not the message of the tweet. It’s to symbolically upend hierarchy, to be oppositional.

Fools, however, have classically been more than just rebellious punks. Though Brooks says they are often liars, they are also often truth-tellers. In King Lear, for example, the fool was the only one telling the truth. Not to say anything conclusive of our new president, but maybe “mud throwing” isn’t the whole story.

6. Personally very excited for this:

7. Over at Vox, Michelle Goodman wrote, “I was a self-help guru. Here’s why you shouldn’t listen to people like me.” Goodman writes about how during her climb towards self-help stardom, her personal life proved more dysfunctional than the life she was telling her readers they could have:

Friends were growing annoyed with me for repeatedly canceling plans so I could work late. My fiancé asked more than once if we were still engaged. At a rare dinner with a couple of buddies, one asked what I was working on. “A story about entrepreneurs who don’t work 80 hours a week!” I chirped, entirely serious. One friend cackled wildly. Another spit out her beer.

Around this time, I started having chest pains…multiple tests later, a cardiologist told me there was nothing wrong with my heart. I’d probably been having a panic attack. The prescription? Less stress, more rest.

unnamedPublicly I was the poster child for the well-balanced, successful freelancer. Privately I was unraveling. Writing a book about creating a self-styled career you love had led me straight to a job I hated. I was supposed to be this emissary of work-life balance, the queen of controlling one’s career destiny. Yet Sunday evenings now gave me the same fetal-position dread my book claimed to help readers avoid…

Practicing what you preach is tough. And not just for me. I’ve known dating advice columnists who don’t date. I interviewed a career expert who advocated nanny care for telecommuting parents while trying to manage two crying children between sound bites. I know a “turbocharge your freelance income” workshop leader who’s privately admitted he has no idea how much he makes because his wife handles all the money.

The dirty little secret of those in the advice business is that we wind up teaching others the lessons we most need to learn ourselves.

In the words of Jesus: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Probably, most of us can’t see our own planks because they’re in our eyes. Until it starts to hurt.