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Month: September 2020

Landing the Space Shuttle

The Daily Battles People Face

When I last wrote about Atul Gawande’s words, I thought I understood them well enough. However, in retrospect I realize that I now have a deeper understanding.

My initial takeaway from his message was that physicians have the opportunity to be in an exalted position in society where they can quite easily come across a wide range of people in a way that few other professions can. I took this to mean that physicians have an opportunity to broaden their own understanding of the world around us and the people that inhabit it.

But I think a deeper meaning than that. Rather, I think he means that through their experiences, physicians can learn to not judge others. Gawande invites us to instead look at others more fully and with nuance. Ultimately, we may not understand them, but that’s okay.

Chris Hadfield supplements this message extremely well:

We’re all students of the human condition, whether we mean to be or not. And as we get a little older, we gain a little perspective. I think what we’re truly getting at is a collective understanding of where we are and what it means. And the where we are is the part that we could share the best. What it means is an individual choice, but the more people you meet, the more you understand what battles people are fighting, the more you see the commonality of the human experience itself.

Chris Hadfield

Dossier

“Curiosity and What Equality Really Means,” by Atul Gawande, June 2, 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/curiosity-and-the-prisoner

“Moving Away from Nosology,” by Sahil Nawab, June 16, 2020. http://www.sahilnawab.com/blog/moving-away-from-nosology/

“Chris Hadfield – Lessons From An Astronaut – PART 1/2 – | London Real,” by London Real, February 7, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0Rn3e_czoE

Why I Love Movies

Movies and film are such a visceral art form that combine so many senses. They guide us through this journey of emotions, some that the authors intended and some that they didn’t and were instead made through the unique experiences and interpretation of the individual viewer.

But there are a lot of other art forms that share this journey of emotion—music, painting, dance, writing, to name a few.

But, for me, I love movies because I love the art of making them. It’s not a solitary effort, but rather quite collaborative in nature—working with a team to put this vision together. I love the blend of the technical and artistic elements that are necessary. It is an art form that gives you a lot of freedom, but also comes with just as many limitations to work within.

All of these in combination are why I love movies.

How Typing Fast Makes Using Computers Fun

Typing is a severely underrated skill. Over the years, I’ve come to find typing well has served me extremely well because it enables me to use a computer more efficiently and effectively. Being able to write down my thoughts faster than I can writing by hand makes creating content much more enjoyable and, in fact, encourages me to write more.

I think Ali Abdaal does an excellent job of summing this up in his video:

Diving in the Nevada Desert

Working with actual 70mm IMAX film cameras? Cave diving? I can’t wait to see Ancient Caves.

College is the New Entry to the Middle Class

Today, we are making history just as those in the past. I don’t think we realize this often enough. I was reminded of this while watching Hamilton among the masses when it was released online. While originally extremely limited due to its theatrical nature on Broadway, now that it is available to the common folk, it is no longer a status symbol of the upper class.

When I was a new student at Yale in 2015, everyone on campus was talking about the Broadway sensation “Hamilton.” “It’s amazing,” a classmate told me. I had never been to a musical. Neither, as far as I knew, had anyone from my hometown. I searched the internet for tickets: $400—way beyond my budget as a veteran enlisted man attending college on the GI Bill.

So I was pleased this month when “Hamilton” became available to watch on the streaming service Disney+. But now the show is being criticized for its portrayal of the American Founding by many of the same people who once gushed about it. Is it a coincidence that affluent people loved “Hamilton” when tickets were prohibitively expensive, but they disparage it now that ordinary people can see it?

In 2015, seeing “Hamilton” was a major status symbol. In 2020, it doesn’t mean much. The affluent are now distancing themselves from something that has become too popular. [. . .] Once something becomes fashionable among the upper class, aspiring elites know they must go along to have any hope of joining the higher ranks. But once it becomes fashionable among the hoi polloi, the elites update their tastes.

The upper classes are driven to distinguish themselves from the little people even beyond art. This explains the ever-evolving standards of wokeness. To become acculturated into the elite requires knowing the habits, customs and manners of the upper class. Ideological purity tests now exist to indicate social class and block upward social mobility. Your opinion about social issues is the new powdered wig. In universities and in professional jobs, political correctness is a weapon used by white-collar professionals to weed out those who didn’t marinate in elite mores.

[. . .]

To understand the neologisms and practices of social justice, you need a bachelor’s degree from an expensive college. A common refrain to those who are not fully up to date on the latest fashions is “Educate yourself.” This is a way of keeping down people who work multiple jobs, have children to care for, and don’t have the time or means to read the latest woke bestseller.

Rob Henderson

The idea that college serves as the entry to the “middle class” is key, but depends on your definition of middle class and upper class. This issue is rife with nuance. Especially because these definitions change over time and vary from person to person and situation to situation.

There are a few definitions that I think are particularly useful. Elizabeth Currid-Halkett describes the modern elite as people who “signify our class position by reading the New Yorker, acquiring elite college degrees, buying organic food, breastfeeding our children, and, of course, listening to podcasts. . .” This group of people are not necessarily defined by wealth, but by “cultural affiliations.” Imagine, as Currid-Halkett points out, a professor of literature at an elite university. They would likely earn less than a plumber running their company, but few would argue that the professor is not an elite member of society, despite the lack of wealth. Rather, the professors wealth is in cultural capital.

This definition by cultural capital includes working professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, or anyone trained at an elite university. However, these people still trade their time for money. An alternative definition of upper class includes those whose money works for them, such as entrepreneurs and executives. This is not to say that they don’t put in hard work, but rather once the hard work is done, they can let their business or earnings continue to grow without further effort. These individuals would rarely be considered middle class by any definition.

Because it is independent of education, this definition lends itself more broadly to the idea that college has now become an entry to the “middle class.” Today, a college degree has become a prerequisite to even entry-level positions. There are fewer and fewer careers where a non-college graduate can rise up the ranks. As a result, college has become a large barrier for many to move up to the next social rung. Douthat argues that for all classes, the rungs of the social ladder have moved further apart.

As society continues to change, we can look back in history to better understand how we got here, and perhaps where we will go in the near future. In the past for example, the elite aristocracy was not defined necessarily by material wealth, but by land ownership, family heritage, and social status. Extremely wealth merchants, for example, would not be a part of the upper class even if they had more wealth than the aristocracy. Elites were defined by their leisure activities; they had the time to pursue artistic endeavors, completely unencumbered by a need to work.

Contrast this with the midcentury idea of elite, the wealthy businessmen of America, for example. These people had to work extensively and own large businesses and monopolies. They were not necessarily well-educated (though, many were), but education became a secondary factor.

Today, this idea of workaholism has gained prominence amongst the elite. They work more than any other generation of elites in the past. However, not every type of work qualifies. Rather, only highly educated work counts.

The middle class, however, is slightly different. College is now the entry to the middle class ideology. The experience shapes the individual towards having a middle class thought process, mannerisms, and social structure.

We can only guess what the next generation of elites look like.

Dossier

“Letterheads: social media and the end of discourse,” by Sarah Jeong, July 10, 2020. https://www.theverge.com/21320338/letter-harpers-writers-free-speech-canceled-social-media-illiberalism

“‘Hamilton’ Loses it’s Snob Appeal,” by Rob Henderson, July 14, 2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/hamilton-loses-its-snob-appeal-11594746441

“How Whole Foods, yoga, and NPR became the hallmarks of the modern elite,” by Ezra Klein, November 14, 2019. https://www.vox.com/podcasts/2019/11/14/20964420/whole-foods-yoga-npr-elite-ezra-klein-elizabeth-currid-halkett-inequality

“Dear Liberal Arts Students: Seize this Moment,” by Jennifer Senior, July 12, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/12/opinion/liberal-arts-college-covid.html

“The Meritocracy Trap,” by Daniel Markovits, September 10, 2019.

Social Change from the Aggregation of Discourses

In our rhetoric courses, we were taught about the “aggregation of discourses” that define a particular field. This rhetorical concept might seem quite abstract, especially in modern times where it is less pronounced. Essentially, the aggregation of discourses refers to the total conversation between experts, for example within their books, scientific papers, or articles. Within these pieces, the experts address one another and build upon each others ideas. This is an important concept, because these discourses have a deep influence on the ultimate direction of any given field. To be a part of the discourse signals a level of expertise and acceptance within a field and is held in high regard.

In many fields today, especially outside of the sciences, that role is filled by others, such as podcasters, YouTubers, and reporters. These are the people that most often are entrenched in public discourse, or rather, communicate to the public the dialogue between experts that often occurs in more austere forms. This “act of interpretation” is left “solely on the viewer, which leaves it exposed to an unprecedented vastness of minds” under the veil of objectivity and democracy.

There used to be something called the public intellectual.

A class of thinkers — mostly writers with prestigious degrees and academics with a knack for writing — set the Discourse. They told other people what to think, or rather, they told the unwashed masses what was going through their own heads lately. These disclosures were taken with great seriousness, even if they tended toward rambling, incoherent, or obvious. From there, the educated and those who wanted to be seen as educated would pick and choose the opinions they wished to align themselves with. It is through this process that politics were created, refined, and rehashed. (Indeed, the phrase “Overton window” was popularized by them.) This was part of what it meant to participate in the public sphere.

[. . .]

When societies remake themselves, it doesn’t happen because of a handful of pamphlets (or a hashtag or two). Just like the opinionating class first used social media for its own ends, Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press existed for centuries — printing religious pamphlets, sermons, and Bibles — before it began to undermine religion’s monopoly on public life. And the printing press is only one piece of a picture that includes a scientific revolution, religious strife, industrialization, and economic exploitation. Similarly, our current cultural moment is happening against a background that can be best described by that cartoon dog sipping coffee amid a house in flames.

Sarah Jeong

While pamphlets themselves might not directly instigate social change, it can be surprising how much of a difference they do make. These documents—whether in the form of a traditional pamphlet like Common Sense by Thomas Paine or A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift, or the form of a blog post or YouTube video—end up providing a spark that can mobilize the public towards a unified goal. After all, that is the power of human language, to bring people together and share ideas and concepts, including social structures.

We often forget that the historical narrative often omits the emotion from such events. Remember that, for the people living in the moment, this was a revolution that they were making. These were real people with real struggles and no idea whether they would succeed. The pamphlets anchored their emotions and channeled it towards a specific goal.

Dossier

“Letterheads: social media and the end of discourse,” by Sarah Jeong, July 10, 2020. https://www.theverge.com/21320338/letter-harpers-writers-free-speech-canceled-social-media-illiberalism

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