What Football Teaches Us

Urban Meyer, the head coach of Ohio State University’s football program, is one of the most successful college coaches in history. He’s coached three national championship teams and has multiple Big Ten titles to his name.

More importantly, he’s the perennial enemy of my alma mater, the University of Michigan.

Earlier this year, Meyer was suspended for not reporting that one of his assistant coaches, Zach Smith, was abusing his wife, among plenty of other things that would get any normal employee fired. Meyer protected Smith by lying through his teeth to university officials about what he knew.

As a result, OSU suspended Meyer for three games at the beginning of the season. Because of this, he forfeited about half a million of his 7.6 million dollar salary.

When I read this, my first thoughts were not about justice; they were not about the terrible abuse Courtney Smith suffered, or what an asshole Zach Smith was; they were not about what Urban Meyer should’ve done, or why he did the unbelievably stupid thing that he did.

I thought, instead: “Maybe this is the year. Maybe this is the year Michigan can snap its losing streak against Ohio State.”

*** Continue reading

We Have Met the Scab, and He is Us: Shadow Work and the Internet

You are a sucker.

Every day, you work for free, doing work that used to be done for a wage.

You work for nonprofits, government entities, wealthy companies. And you don’t even know that you’re do it.

This work is hard to track. There’s a Bureau of Labor, but no bureau of this kind of work. There aren’t any unions that can represent you, labor laws that can protect you. But this work has a massive effect on your quality of life. It’s called shadow work: the small pieces of unpaid labor we do in our day-to-day lives. Continue reading

Proper Dreaming

If there were ever a place for dreamers, it would be a college commencement speech.

After four or more (never less) years, a college student is ready to bound out into the world, armed with knowledge, pep, and a quickly deteriorating set of skills. But probably the best dreamers among all college students aren’t engineers or the English majors. No, that title in particular would belong to the art students.

Robert De Niro gave a commencement speech to the graduates of the New York University Tisch School of the Arts. It will go down as a classic commencement speech because of the way it begins:

“Tisch graduates, you made it. And you’re fucked.”

Continue reading

6 Reasons Being a Farmer is Terrifying

You might think being a farmer is a pretty sweet gig. From a cubicle, things look pretty nice: you’re working outside, one with the land, a  Wendall Berry poem come to life. But being a farmer is an insane profession; the job goes out of its way to make them as terrifying as possible for the weirdest of reasons. Like…   Continue reading

Mystical bookshelves full of magic

Elders

It is important to have elders. One of mine is Ray Bradbury.

He was one of the best science fiction writers that ever lived. Countless short stories, television scripts, plays, and books flowed from his pen. He also had a love of life few had, or will ever, match.

This shines through in a book of his called Zen in the Art of Writing. It is the best book about writing anyone can read. Oftentimes such work can fall into dull introspection, cynicism, and tactics; Bradbury doesn’t waste his time with any of these things. He is unabashedly in love with writing and wants you to be too. Continue reading

(Actually) Living Walden Two

A utopia is, by definition, nowhere. But that has not stopped people from trying to make it somewhere.

Most attempts throughout history to create such communities separately from society were done so for religious or political reasons. More recently, such communities were created as scientific utopias. Many of them were inspired by a single book called Walden Two, by B.F. Skinner.

Skinner was one of the most prominent behavioral psychologists of the 20th century. Turns out he originally wanted to be a novelist, but went into behavioral psych instead.

Its thrust is that human society is grossly inefficient, and that all of us working against each other makes a society where nobody is happy. By living communally and using behavioral psychology to shape human expectation and behavior, a planned society can make life better for everyone. It presents a completely different way of living than we experience now. Continue reading

Why Stop Asking?

Walden Two is a novel about an intentional society, or what we’d call a commune, based on scientific principles.

Its writer, B.F. Skinner, supposed that people could thrive while living communally. He wrote this book in an attempt to rewrite all our current social rules about work, love, and play.

I was at the dinner table last night discussing it with my folks and my fiancee. It was a good discussion.

What surprised me was that my folks knew about Walden Two. Though the book was written in the fifties, it really found its footing in the late sixties and early seventies, when they were growing up. There was a lot of talk about experimental ways of living during that time. People knew there was something wrong with society and sought new ways of living. They experimented. They asked the question “How is it that we should live?”

Something stuck in my craw during that conversation.

Continue reading

Story of Our Stories: Part IV

(Continued from Part II)

Science As Meta-Narrative

If we cannot depend on ourselves alone, we often think that we can depend on science.  

Usually, when you see a criticism of a scientific study or fact, it’s coming from a political position. We can laugh or rage at people who think that climate change isn’t real, or that the world is only thousands of years old. But science itself is a meta-narrative. It is the idea that if we think empirically, we can discover universal truths. These truths can tell us the ideal way to do everything. They can tell us how to live.

Central to it, in Lyotard’s mind, is what you and I might think of as clarification, he presents as a death of ambiguity. Continue reading

https://pixabay.com/en/king-artus-metal-sculpture-bronze-1507392/

The Story of Our Stories: Part III

Continued from Part II

Meta-narrative and the Individual

“You are the Hero of your own story.”

– Joseph Campbell

Thinking of ourselves as heroes is an intoxicating idea. What better way to imagine the arc of our lives than slaying dragons and the rescuing princesses? We imagine that we are lionized the way we lionize politicians, business leaders, artists. We value people that make their lives their own, that carve out their own destinies.

This is the idea that a person can, and should, be an individual, that they should forge their own path through the darkness of existence. The rights of the individual, and the liberty of the individual, should come before the needs of the state. It is the story of human dignity, in whatever form that might take.

We believe that a person should be able to chose the path for themselves. That we should be free to work, free to build lives, free to speak, and free to worship as we please. It is the cornerstone of our civic religion. It is a good and noble thing.

But there are problems with the way we venerate the individual. Continue reading