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This is the seventeenth issue of The Discourse. All previous issues are here. We’ll start with an essay and end with essential reads and links. Shall we begin?


Wokeness is my brand

In case you haven’t seen it, a brief recap: Gillette, the razor company, released an advertisement asking men to reconsider what makes one “masculine” and to not brush off bad behavior as “boys will be boys.”

There was some support for the company. There was also derision by those who felt alienated by the stand. I’ll leave who is right up to you. (For the record, I enjoyed the ad.)

Ads have always tried to play on some deep psychological insecurity a certain group possesses. Diaper commercials play on the guilt of being a bad parent. Truck commercials play on the guilt of not being manly enough.

But we’re seeing a new version of this brand strategy. One where established brands play on our guilt about the news or about politics (not just cultural expectations of our gender, geography, income level, etc). It's an exploitation of our low-level guilt that we’re not doing enough to fight them and our purchasing decisions can help close the gap. Because the world is at stake, somehow. Brands continue to no longer about the actual good they are selling (I know, they never were). But now it’s all taking on a sort of cosmic, good-versus-evil importance.

Support the #metoo movement and buy these razors. Stick it to those snowflake libs, watch Fox News. Buy Pepsi, because Kendall Jenner tells us it’s the brand for protestors. Show that you care, listen to Pod Save America.

It’s a means of seeking our political absolution via consumption. The shows you watch, the items in your home, and even the way you talk need to reflect that you are doing enough to be different than them. To absolve whatever guilt you have for not doing enough to make the world a better place.

Politicians, brands, and celebrities are getting smarter. They know if they talk the talk they don’t have to walk the walk. That if they associate themselves with whatever cause we’re feeling guilty about, supporting them means we can find salvation ourselves. It doesn't matter what they actually do. Just signaling the right things is enough for our short attention spans.

I wish more of us saw this for what it truly is: The deepest form of cynicism. One where wealthy boardrooms, unprincipled politicians, uncreative entertainers, and otherwise valueless “brands” capitalize on our desire to good in the world to line their pockets and make them famous — without actually making the world a better place.

I don’t care if Gillette wants to “get political.” I care about the impact it has. And all it’s done is exacerbate the schisms in our world in an attempt to sell more razors. And I just know that in some creative meeting in their HQ they are going to think of this as a success and it’s going to encourage more brands to do the same to us.

Your optimism and desire to make the world better is the most valuable resource you have. It's the hope that is core to being an American. It's to believe we can do better. Don't give it away for razors. 

Welcome to The Discourse.


Dept. of "whatever happened to that?" 

When do we give second chances? Last issue I wrote about giving bad people second chances and whether we can separate bad people form their art. In Bloomberg, the great Tyler Cowen asks the same.

From the piece: "
The result is a set of conflicting and probably irreconcilable values. America believes in equal treatment before the law. But America’s increasingly powerful system of social pressures and sanctions does not provide for equal treatment." 

The Gig Economy. Regular readers will know my fascination with the Gig Economy... not actually being a thing. Why does this matter? The idea that Uber and Airbnb are things that result in less job security for its workers is a core anti-Silicon Valley argument. There are many many ways Silicon Valley has negatively affected our world. So let’s pick one that’s actually true? From Mother Jones:

When the Labor Department itself produced a new figure for 2017, they found that contingent work was about the same as it had been in all the previous surveys going back to 1995.


Quick Links

Jack Dorsey Has No Clue What He Wants
  • An at-times-combative interview with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey
  • Notable for Dorsey’s ambiguous answers and reluctance to state definitively his responsibility for what takes place on Twitter.
  • There's also a vague sense that Dorsey doesn't actually know how his platform works?
The Takeaway: While it’s easy to join the pitchfork mob against Dorsey and Zuckerberg, stop and wonder. Should one person be responsible for the speech of millions? Do we want Dorsey to be the arbiter of what appears on Twitter? I’m not so sure, and thus, I wish his ambiguity was framed a little more sympathetically. 

The War on Populism
  • America was conditioned for a decade to view terrorism as its greatest existential crisis. Now? It’s populism.
  • In the name of combating populism, some anti-democratic things have happened.
  • “By the time it’s all over and Trump has been dealt with, and normality restored, and the working classes put back in their places, we probably won’t remember that any of this happened.”
The Takeaway: Increasingly lost in our politics and news is the role of income inequality and the general dissatisfaction with our current economics. The author here makes the case that the War on X is always a means of distracting us from that fact.

Go Deeper: Fox News host Tucker Carlson is at odds with his own party about the role of our economic policies have had on our culture and the working class. 

The Trumpification of Political Discourse
  • Representative Rashida Tlaib called President Trump a “motherfucker” in a speech this month.
  • The rep views it has being candid and “apologetically me.”
The Takeaway: This gets to a fundamental misunderstanding at why President Trump won in 2016. I’d bet my house that it wasn’t because of his speaking style. It was because he representative a refutation of a power class who had not listened to the concerns of a nation, increasingly reminded of a growing chasm of income inequality.

The “I-dont-make-predictions” prediction: More politicians will copy Trump’s style without understanding the reason it worked. And we’ll get a lot of awkward moments. Like that time Marco Rubio decided he wanted to get in the mud.

🐦Twitter Thread of the week

A cross-generational look at why Digital Natives are so quickly upending what is "normal" in our politics and morality. "I think this one of the first times in the country’s short (and it is *short*) history we’ve had a serious cultural shift without a war in the middle of it."


Thank you for making room in your crowded inbox for The Discourse. The next issue will arrive fresh on 2/3, maybe. See you then!

— Sean

P.S. The Discourse's bi-weekly newsletter will always be free. If you'd like to help, be a pal and forward it to that friend who always complains about the news.
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