He’s Out

Tim Cook finally unveils the worst-kept secret in Silicon Valley, in the pages of Bloomberg Businessweek.  To be honest, it didn’t seem like it would be a big deal.  This has to be one of the most gay-friendly places on Earth, and the man whose intensity is the stuff of legend never gave the impression that his orientation was relevant – because who can picture him having time for any kind of relationship other than the Auburn Tigers?  But he said it, and sounded much like Anderson Cooper when he did: everyone knows, everyone’s known, it’s not a big deal, but I need to say it for the sake of other people who might need the help or the inspiration or the comfort of knowing it’s not just me.

And that’s not nothing.  In fact, that’s huge, in perspective.  Because the worst thing you can be growing up in exurban Alabama is different.  Gay, black, foreign, or just smart – if you have anything that keeps you from being just like everybody else, you’re going to be on the outside looking in.  The closest thing I ever had to being a minority was that four-year undergrad stint where I wasn’t in a fraternity, and it drove home the point that as a minority, it’s not the active prejudice that does for you as much as the ignorance of your existence. The assumption that difference doesn’t exist – it’s that third Goventa level of power, the dismissal of anything that the dominant power doesn’t wish to acknowledge.

Well, this is going to be hard to dodge.  Possibly the richest, most powerful living Alabamian – and Auburn alum – is gay, and doesn’t care if you know, and thinks his home state should work harder on not being assholes to gay people.  The cognitive dissonance alone might be enough to power the state for a year or two.  (Although it REALLY makes you wonder what would happen if Nick Saban delivered and supported an openly gay Heisman-caliber quarterback who came through with a national title.)

Good for Tim.  He didn’t have to, but he knows the meaning of non nobis solum. And if some kid in Alabama feels less alone and more empowered – or if somebody in the old country rethinks their beliefs as a result – he’s done more than any amount of boosting AAPL stock.

Grow the fuck up

Comes now the news that the woman behind the popular and acclaimed “Tropes vs Women” video series has been forced to cancel an appearance at Utah State University. Anita Sarkeesian received rather extensive death threats, and police said they couldn’t screen for firearms at the event because of Utah open-carry laws.

Setting aside the extent to which the Beehive State chooses to coddle ammosexuals and gunsuckers at the expense of public safety, this is basically a capitulation to terrorism. Some limpdick in a basement made threats to shut down something he found objectionable. That’s terrorism. Full stop. And it all came about because apparently somebody is terrified that a model of masculinity built on homophobic insults in Call of Duty groupchat and 4chan boards might not stand up to modern standards of, you know, mature society.

And really, that’s what we’re dealing with here. Arrested adolescence in a bunch of boys who never evolved past the He Man Woman Haters Club in the basement. Guys who are actively resisting the need to grow up to get along in the modern world. In its way, it’s of a piece with the rest of the Peter Pan syndrome that afflicts way too much of modern society and which I’ve spent plenty of space here decrying. And this is why.

Because you have to grow up. You can’t live your entire life stuck at 14. That’s called Lord of the Flies and that tends to be the usual result when you leave a bunch of spotty student boys to their own devices. And for the pubescent-minded scum that are flogging this movement in the name of fighting off adulthood, I’m sure that’s the dream.

But it’s 2014. And society is for grown-ups, regardless of age. You can be a grownup at 12 or you can stave it off your entire life. But it’s long past time for our society to stop indulging people who won’t grow up.

Life Without Consequence

One hears quite a bit from time to time about the eroding middle class.  It’s well-documented that the disparity in wealth in this country is growing, and that the top of the stack has a greater percentage of the money than ever before, but I’m looking at it in a different way.  It’s impossible not to, with the recent rash of cops killing minorities and stand-your-ground nutballs looking for a chance to shoot a brown person.

PJ O’Rourke spoke of the Whiffle Life, that idea that above a certain point a kid on drugs is going to get routed into a treatment path and sent to a clinic and maybe worst case reform school, rather than jail and a beatdown from the cops and juvie. And that makes plenty of sense when you look around you.  But then look at the kind of gentrification happening in San Francisco, where one formerly working-class area after another gets hipsterized and Googlefied and your nightclub has to close because the people in the new million-dollar condos don’t like the racket and never mind who was there first.

And the middle class…well, that’s not really a thing anymore, right?  Because everybody wants to claim they’re middle class, but you there working in an office at a computer – you’re on an hourly wage, right? And you get more or less whatever benefits they’re willing to cough up, probably a choice of two HMOs if you’re lucky, right? You fill out a time sheet just the same as if you were punching a clock? And you probably get two weeks vacation a year and can’t work from home, can you?  Guess what: from a legal standpoint, you’re indistinguishable from that union pipe fitter who probably has better benefits because of collective bargaining, but you don’t need a union because you work inside at a table, right?

I haven’t read Thomas Pikkety’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century yet.  The take-home message, as far as I’m hearing, is that he asserts that capitalism inevitably leads to a flow of resources to the top of the pyramid, that the rich will only get richer and the rest will be left behind, and that the only reason this was interrupted in the 20th century was due to the impact of the world wars and the confiscatory levels of taxation needed to finance them (and the Keynesian spending to get out of recession in between and thereafter).

This comes around every so often.  Back in the day when Old Navy first launched, no less than Time magazine was concerned that Gap Inc was splitting into its high end and low end brands (and that was before Banana Republic became what it is today).  John Edwards, before he knocked up his videographer, had gone to great lengths to push the theme of “Two Americas” as the basis for his campaign. Naturally, Occupy Wall Street drew a line between the 1% and the 99% and it didn’t get any less bright just because the movement collapsed into its own dysfunction.

But the split comes round in different ways out here.  Sure, there’s the private transit system every major company now employs to move its workers back and forth from the Mission to 650 and back (which keeps drivers on duty for fifteen hours while only paying them for eight). But there’s also the revelation that the split in iOS/Android ownership tracks with economic status pretty smoothly.  And that in turn leads me to look at things like Google or Facebook services where everything is free at the point of use, as long as you’re willing to be data-mined.  You’re paying, just not in cash on the barrelhead – and if you can pay the money up front, you don’t have to have a cellphone contract or an email provider harvesting your data.

Really, the only way to measure class in this country is by the spectrum of diminishing consequences.  I said years ago that the definition of a charmed life was freedom from the consequences of your actions, and in the grand scheme of things, that’s about it.  Debt? Ignorable, written off, repackaged. Crime?  Do a few months in tennis prison or else just catch probation, maybe wear an ankle bracelet. White male? You can do anything.  Black?  Better not get pulled over.  Woman?  Better not want to be a gamer or a sports fan.

And the most annoying thing of all, the very worst thing, is that now you don’t even have to grow up. If you want trampolines and treehouses at work, they’ll build that for you.  They’ll drive you to and from and bring your meals to you.  You can even keep saying girls are icky and passing notes and pulling hair if you like.  As long as you chose a sufficiently lucrative field, you can pretend like it’s still third grade and that fifty years of society never happened and get paid $200K a year for the privilege.  The American Dream is a luxury good but adulthood is a lifestyle option.

It’s worse than it used to be. There are plenty of reasons why. Social networking made it possible for sociopaths to link up and validate their opinions (e.g. Reddit and 4chan). Obama backlash gave voice to all manner of racists with the thinnest veneer of politics smeared over their demands for birth certificates. A whole generation grew up with endless positive affirmation and helicopter parenting and freedom from setback.  And strange and straitened economic circumstances created conditions where unemployment could sit at excessive levels for historic lengths of time while bailed-out investors shot money out of a firehose at any and every stupid idea imaginable.

Twenty-five years ago, in a college education class, the Japanese education model was decried as a system where all through high school, you work like mad, you take extra courses, you attend cram school in the evening, you barely leave your room, because you must get into one of the correct six universities no matter the cost…and once you get there, you switch to glide because you made it into The System and will be all right from now on.  A quarter-century later, it’s hard not to think of that as you walk around Stanford.  If you want a motto for the current tech boom, the current state of American society, the current level of cultural maturity, make it this: Stay seventeen forever.

Or you could declare that we live in a society, and you have to accept that there are other people, and live accordingly.  And if you don’t?  Nobody’s too old to be spanked.  And we as a society need to call out these adultolescents…and reach for the paddle.

flashback, part 70 of n

Last night, going through a box of stuff from the crawlspace (as the wife dug out T-shirts to be made into a quilt), we unearthed a particularly unflattering sweater of mine, vintage September 1990.  I didn’t want to throw it away, but I couldn’t put into words why.  And then, this morning, came the most unexpected news ever: David Lynch confirming that twenty-five years after the end of Twin Peaks, there will be more.  Showtime, nine episodes, 2016, picking up right where we left off (when Laura Palmer, or her doppelgänger in the Black Lodge, said “I’ll see you in twenty-five years”).

And it all came rushing back, with Gene Loves Jezebel’s “Jealous” underneath.  Because I know what I’ve talked about before with the beginning of my college experience and how it all went wrong, but…

There is another edit.

In this edit, I don’t panic at the failure of my abortive Greek experience, and I don’t latch onto the first girl who shows an interest for fear no one else will.  In this edit, the show I fell in love with over the summer becomes the hook by which I meet some other people, and we watch the season premiere with coffee and cherry pie to see if Dale Cooper was really shot dead at the end. In this edit, I meet some fun and interesting people who aren’t tied to the Greeks or the theater department and who have an interest in politics and this new show called Seinfeld (since Jerry Seinfeld is honoring a prior commitment and doing a standup show on campus despite his new program taking off like a rocket since then). In this edit, I pile in a car with people, go buy ice cream, and have to eat it all because it doesn’t fit in the dorm fridge. In this edit, I don’t have all my chips on one immature and jealous girl and I actually make friends instead, because I make a smart decision instead of panicking.

And that’s where the film runs out, because I don’t have footage of that decision, because I didn’t make it.

I have a vivid emotional feeing around September 1990, because it was a liminal moment at its truest.  There was a brief window where maybe the college experience could have been salvaged, maybe things turn out differently, maybe I get to have an acceptable college experience rather than spending the next twenty years trying to retroactively piece one together out of a scattering of memories and a series of increasingly poorly chosen compensations.

Maybe I want that sweater to be its own sort of memento mori, but in the opposite direction – instead of remembering your own mortality and fragility and inevitable doom, remember that you can make the right call and make life a little better in doing so.