Sinatra, Bogart, and “Cool”

[Frank Sinatra] is idolized — and obsessively studied and massively imitated — not merely for the creation of art but for the creation of public self, for the confection of affect and biography that the artist projects onto the national screen.And what Frank Sinatra projected was: cool. And here is where the damage was done. Frank invented cool, and everyone followed Frank, and everything has been going to hell ever since.

In America, B.F., there was no cool. There was smart (as in the smart set), and urbane, and sophisticated, and fast and hip; but these things were not the same as cool.

The pre-Frank hip guy, the model of aesthetic and moral superiority to which men aspired, is the American male of the 1930s and 1940s. He is Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep or Casablanca or Archie Goodwin in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels.

He possesses an outward cynicism, but this is understood to be merely clothing; at his core, he is a square. He fights a lot, generally on the side of the underdog. He is willing to die for his beliefs, and his beliefs are, although he takes pains to hide it, old-fashioned. He believes in truth, justice, the American way, and love. He is on the side of the law, except when the law is crooked. He is not taken in by jingoism but he is himself a patriot; when there is a war, he goes to it. He is, after his fashion, a gentleman and, in a quite modern manner, a sexual egalitarian. He is forthright, contemptuous of dishonesty in all its forms, from posing to lying. He confronts his enemies openly and fairly, even if he might lose. He is honorable and virtuous, although he is properly suspicious of men who talk about honor and virtue. He may be world-weary, but he is not ironic.

The new cool man that Sinatra defined was a very different creature. Cool said the old values were for suckers. Cool was looking out for number one always. Cool didn’t get mad; it got even. Cool didn’t go to war: Saps went to war, and anyway, cool had no beliefs it was willing to die for. Cool never, ever, got in a fight it might lose; cool had friends who could take care of that sort of thing. Cool was a cad and boastful about it; in cool’s philosophy, the lady was always a tramp, and to be treated accordingly. Cool was not on the side of the law; cool made its own laws. Cool was not knowing but still essentially idealistic; cool was nihilistic. Cool was not virtuous; it reveled in vice.

Before cool, being good was still hip; after cool, only being bad was.

Much though I would like to be Frank, I might actually be more Bogart. Source: Things Worth Fighting For – ABC News

A 4-Part System for Understanding How the World Works

Via Lion of the Blogosphere.:

  1. Human biodiversity (HBD):
    • Differences between races.
    • Differences between men and women.
    • Biological/evolutionary basis for behavior.
  2. Value transference. … [In] a post-scarcity economy, the majority of work is value transference work, work that doesn’t create any value but just transfers the value created by others.
  3. Relative wants. …This is also related to our desire for status.
  4. Religion and groupthink. … [Religion is] “A cultural system of beliefs, behaviors, practices, ethics and societal organization that relate humanity to an order of existence.” Groupthink is the tendency for people to believe whatever other people believe.

Stagnant vs Permanent

Let us take the second [argument] first. And let us strip it of the illegitimate emotional power it derives from the word ‘stagnation’ with its suggestion of puddles and mantled pools.

If water stands too long it stinks. To infer thence that whatever stands long must be unwholesome is to be the victim of metaphor. Space does not stink because it has preserved its three dimensions from the beginning. The square on the hypotenuse has not gone moldy by continuing to equal the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Love is not dishonored by constancy, and when we wash our hands we are seeking stagnation and “putting the clock back,” artificially restoring our hands to the status quo in which they began the day and resisting the natural trend of events which would increase their dirtiness steadily from our birth to our death.

For the emotive term ‘stagnant’ let us substitute the descriptive term ‘permanent.’ Does a permanent moral standard preclude progress? On the contrary, except on the supposition of a changeless standard, progress is impossible. If good is a fixed point, it is at least possible that we should get nearer and nearer to it; but if the terminus is as mobile as the train, how can the train progress towards it? Our ideas of the good may change, but they cannot change either for the better or the worse if there is no absolute and immutable good to which they can recede. We can go on getting a sum more and more nearly right only if the one perfectly right is “stagnant”.

And yet it will be said, I have just admitted that our ideas of good may improve. How is this to be reconciled with the view that “traditional morality” is a depositum fidei which cannot be deserted? The answer can be understood if we compare a real moral advance with a mere innovation. From the Stoic and Confucian, “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you”; to the Christian, “Do as you would be done by” is a real advance. The morality of Nietzsche is a mere innovation.

The first is an advance because no one who did not admit the validity of the old maxim could see reason for accepting the new one, and anyone who accepted the old would at once recognize the new as an extension of the same principle. If he rejected it, he would have to reject it as a superfluity, something that went too far, not as something simply heterogeneous from his own ideas of value.

But the Nietzschean ethic can be accepted only if we are ready to scrap traditional morals as a mere error and then to put ourselves in a position where we can find no ground for any value judgements at all. It is the difference between a man who says to us: “You like your vegetables moderately fresh; why not grow your own and have them perfectly fresh?” and a man who says, “Throw away that loaf and try eating bricks and centipedes instead.”

Real moral advances, in fine, are made from within the existing moral tradition and in the spirit of that tradition and can be understood only in the light of that tradition. The outsider who has rejected the tradition cannot judge them. He has, as Aristotle said, no arche, no premises.

(Extra line breaks added for readability.) Source: The Poison of Subjectivism, in which I am reminded how much I like C. S. Lewis’ writings.

Always Remember: The Nazis Were Socialists (i.e., Leftists)

The idea that Nazism is a more extreme form of conservatism has insinuated its way into popular culture. You hear it, not only when spotty students yell “fascist” at Tories, but when pundits talk of revolutionary anti-capitalist parties, such as the BNP and Golden Dawn, as “far Right”.

What is it based on, this connection? Little beyond a jejune sense that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists are nasty. When written down like that, the notion sounds idiotic, but think of the groups around the world that the BBC, for example, calls “Right-wing”: the Taliban, who want communal ownership of goods; the Iranian revolutionaries, who abolished the monarchy, seized industries and destroyed the middle class; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who pined for Stalinism. The “Nazis-were-far-Right” shtick is a symptom of the wider notion that “Right-wing” is a synonym for “baddie”.

via Leftists become incandescent when reminded of the socialist roots of Nazism – Telegraph Blogs.

Over-Sensitive, Over-Reacting, Passive-Aggressive Positivity, Unable To Deal With Criticism

Does this sound like anyone you know?

I’m charmed and sometimes I’m exasperated by how [Millennials] deal with the world. My huge generalities touch on their over-sensitivity, their insistence that they are right despite the overwhelming proof that suggests they are not, their lack of placing things within context, the overreacting, the passive-aggressive positivity.

I am looking at Millenials from the POV of a member of one of the most pessimistic and ironic generations that has ever roamed the earth. — Generation X . Even my boyfriend agrees that [Millenials are] overly sensitive, especially when dealing with criticism. When [a Millenial] creates something they have so many outlets to display it that it often goes out into the world unfettered, unedited, posted everywhere … but when criticized for this content they seem to collapse into a shame spiral and the person criticizing them is automatically labeled a hater, a contrarian, a troll.

Anxiety and neediness are the defining aspects of [Millenials] and when you don’t have the cushion of rising through the world economically then what do you rely on? Well, your social media presence: maintaining it, keeping the brand in play, striving to be liked, to be liked, to be liked. And this creates its own kind of ceaseless anxiety. This is why if anyone has a snarky opinion of [Millenials] then that person is labeled by them as a “douche”—case closed. No negativity — we just want to be admired. This is problematic because it limits discourse: if we all just like everything—the Millennial dream—then what are we going to be talking about?

Millennials can’t deal with that kind of cold-eye reality. This is why [they] only ask right now : please, please, please, only give positive feedback please.

Edited for compactness, from Generation Wuss.

Why are some people so much luckier than others?

In one experiment, Wiseman asked people to self identify themselves as lucky or unlucky. Then he gave his test subjects a newspaper. “Count the number of photographs inside”, he told them.

There were 43 photographs.

On average, the unlucky people took 2 minutes to count them all. The lucky people? Seconds.

The lucky people noticed the giant message that took up half the second page of the newspaper. It said, “Stop counting – There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”

The unlucky people missed it. They also missed the equally giant message half way through the newspaper, “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.”

The “lucky” people weren’t lucky. They were just more observant.

via Why are some people so much luckier than others?.

Against Empathy

I have argued elsewhere that certain features of empathy make it a poor guide to social policy. Empathy is biased; we are more prone to feel empathy for attractive people and for those who look like us or share our ethnic or national background. And empathy is narrow; it connects us to particular individuals, real or imagined, but is insensitive to numerical differences and statistical data. As Mother Teresa put it, “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” Laboratory studies find that we really do care more about the one than about the mass, so long as we have personal information about the one.

In light of these features, our public decisions will be fairer and more moral once we put empathy aside.

via Against Empathy | Boston Review.

A Non-Conformist’s Guide to Success in a Conformist World

I found this unexpectedly comforting; I myself am an example of point #10.

1. Don’t be an absolutist non-conformist.  Conforming in small ways often gives you the opportunity to non-conform in big ways.  Being deferential to your boss, for example, opens up a world of possibilities.

3. In modern societies, most demands for conformity are based on empty threats.  But not all.  So pay close attention to societal sanctions for others’ deviant behavior.  Let the impulsive non-conformists be your guinea pigs.

6. Fortunately, the content of modern education is neither linear nor cumulative.  You can safely forget most of what you didn’t feel like learning right after the final exam. 

8. Educational success hardly guarantees career success.  But educational credentials open a lot of doors – including most of the doors to non-conformist-friendly careers in academia, science, and yes, bureaucracies.

10. Social intelligence can be improved.  For non-conformists, the marginal benefit of doing so is especially big.

12. When faced with demands for conformity, silently ask, "What will happen to me if I refuse?"  Train yourself to ponder subtle and indirect repercussions, but learn to dismiss most such ponderings as paranoia.  Modern societies are huge, anonymous, and forgetful.

There are more at the link. Via A Non-Conformist's Guide to Success in a Conformist World, Bryan Caplan | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty.