Self Help and 7 Habits

Who couldn’t use some help? The anti-self-help attitude you will find in many universities makes perfect sense if you stop and think about it. It’s a territorial dispute. Education is the role of the college. If people are able to live constructive and rewarding lives without needing to go to school, then why would they continue to fund professors? If there is no teaching, then there is no research.

The dirty secret of academia is that teaching is second tier and research is the ultimate goal. Does it seem strange that the members of schools who are paid primarily to teach consider teaching to be a waste of time and something that diminishes their status? Or is it because they know that the book is actually more effective at transforming people than the classroom is? What is certain is that publishing is a priority for professors and that incentivization model drives a lot of the behavior and bias of those working within that system. 

Public higher education is approaching a moment of crisis. Instead of seeing their writing as superior to teaching, instead of seeing literature as superior to self-help books, public education institutions would do well to include self-help books in their curriculums and to value teaching higher in relation to research.

The one book I would recommend to people beyond all others is Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People. I remember my dad gave me a copy when I was in high school and it was a helpful anchor for me during the confusing and dynamic process of becoming an adult. It’s a book I’ve returned to from time to time, listening to the audiobook and reminding myself of the great practical advice Covey lays out so clearly. The great thing about this book is that it relies on nothing dogmatic. There is very little that could be considered esoteric. The book is so pragmatic it is almost scientific. 

Any individual, organization, business or team wanting to improve their performance could benefit from studying this book. It has a bunch of ideas that have entered popular discourse, as well. The ideas of “being proactive,” of “looking for the win/ win” and “starting with the end in mind” are all common usage these days. These practices will work in the classroom, in business, in politics. They are tried and true methods of organizing and prioritizing energy in order to achieve your desired results, to maximize the return on your efforts. 

Starting with the end in mind is an organizational gold mine. There is so much value in coming up with your personal mission statement through articulating your personal goals. This is something that often changes over time and in different contexts, so it is a habit that requires continual revisiting. Your goals should give shape to your habits. If you want to run a marathon, your training will be geared towards that end. If you are competing in the long jump, you will have entirely different techniques to train. This is just one small example of how the goal helps to define the process. 

If you aren’t coming up with your own mission statement, the chances are good that you are following someone else’s. If you aren’t doing things that are designed to move you closer to a goal, then you are doing things to help someone else realize their dreams. There is a great merit in service. Interdependence is ultimately the larger goal, but without the care for self that comes from a goal driven agenda there is little chance that you will be able to serve effectively, since you will be mostly consumed with satisfying the needs of others.

If you have clear goals, then it is easier to understand how best to use your time. When we are following a plan that we are designing ourselves, it is possible to shift from reactive to proactive. This is also something very important to today’s cultural climate. We are in extremely reactive positions and that continually disempowers us from acting in our own best interests. This goes across the board for all social groups, but for this example I will look at the civil unrest caused by systemic racism in our country as was impossible to miss last year. 

If our goal is to have a more equitable society, then we need to shift the conversation to reaching that goal more so than criticizing our failure to be there. When we respond to injustice, we react to the circumstance and are part of the process that is enacted again and again. This particular form of violence leads eventually to more violence. To create lasting change, however, it is more useful to do the work of community building and advocacy that will move us in the direction of a more equitable society. We need to think critically to identify the pain points, but once we understand what the underlying problems are it is up to us to work on solving them. 

To reach the goal of a more equitable society, systemic change will be necessary. In order to best facilitate that change, there are many proactive things we can do. For one thing, we can validate and celebrate self-help strategies that actually work. There are of course some get rich quick scammers who take advantage of the self-help genre, but any ideas that actually lead to self-improvements should be promoted and shared extensively. The more we can individually up our game, the stronger our team will become.

There has been a class bias when it comes to the self-help genre, but I believe that anyone at any level of society can benefit from a read of the 7 Habits. It is a valuable resource of practical wisdom that can help people to ground themselves during the chaotic and confusing turbulence of a global pandemic during the digital age. 

Real Men Cry: Jocko Willink, Brené Brown and Emotional Vulnerability

Mastering your emotions is old school. Jocko Willink won’t teach you how to do it, but he will tell you how important it is. He seems to have inherited a respect for emotional control and so he has no recommendation beyond what Nike prescribes. Willink is, however, very open about his emotions and it is not rare to hear him breaking into tears as he is reading something or recounting a story that involves great loss. He is a person who has found the ability to feel deeply and to remain operational. I think that Jocko is a national treasure for the way he devotes himself to teaching leadership skills. His love of literature and his experience in war make him one of the most dynamic speakers and thinkers we have today. I learn things from listening to and reading Willink. He is a very smart guy with a lot of experience to draw from in his discussion of management ideas and all things war. I have learned a lot from listening to Willink, but nothing about how to deal with your emotions, only that you have to somehow some way.

One of the only public intellectuals I can think of who is maybe more badass than Jocko Willink is Brené Brown and it is because of her commitment to understanding emotions. She is an intellectual firebrand, an advocate for feeling deeply, an enemy of shame and a friend to all who struggle with feeling vulnerable gracefully. I found Brené Brown when I needed her most: as a new father struggling to adapt to the new emotional experience of being vulnerable. The experience of having someone you love unconditionally who depends on you for their survival and well-being opened me up to feelings of vulnerability I had never even imagined. 

There is a logic to Brown’s work. You can read it or listen to it in a sequence that will make a lot of sense, but you might need to hear her words more urgently than you need to understand her theory. This is a time for embodying the spirit of her book Rising Strong. We are at a crossroads. We can choose cynicism or caring deeply. Both Jocko Willink and Brené Brown advocate for caring deeply, they just have different techniques for how to do so effectively. Willink prescribes early rising, physical therapy, and doing the work to stay on the path to protect your people and to win the day. “Discipline equals freedom.” There are thousands of techniques he gets into, but the core mission behind all of his ideas is to be there for your people, to do the work. Make good decisions that put you in the position to have leverage. Jocko is a Navy Seal, and he is teaching us about relationship skills. That is the core of his leadership philosophy.

Brown teaches us how to own our emotions. Her main thesis is that shame is a horrible management strategy that has been used over time excessively and has created a culture of shame that stunts our emotional growth and limits our experiences. Through confronting the feelings of shame and giving voice to the experience, she points to a path of greater self-awareness and self-actualization. When people talk about doing the work, they are pointing to the same process. Doing the work, emotionally, is rewriting your own motivations to shift from a shame-based set of ideas to a more human and accepting model of behavior.

I can remember going through my Brené Brown education vividly. I listened to Rising Strong one spring season not too long ago while I would go on these long hikes in Nisene Marks forest. Being in a wild setting is therapeutic to me and so is exercise and I was using the two together to help me to process my feelings. I would eat some edibles, put on my headphones and head out into the woods.

If you listen to Brené Brown, you will most likely have some breakthroughs. What she is teaching us is so simple, but so incredibly important and valid. Our culture has a lot of problems with how we teach people how to be valuable members of society. Brown is especially powerful for people who have been raised to be strong and to avoid showing weakness. Being vulnerable is unavoidable, but lots of us try our hardest to out-maneuver whatever threatens to make us feel exposed. But we are all members of the human family and we will all experience devastating losses. Running from the feelings of vulnerability, hiding behind the armor of shame only makes the whole experience that much more chaotic and potentially dangerous.

It is only when we own our feelings by giving them a place, by voicing them, that we regain the leverage we need to work with and through our emotions. As a proud Texan, Brown offers a wonderfully rich contrast of things. It would be very difficult to mistake her discussion of vulnerability for a watering down of masculinity or toughness. She is not attempting to demonize masculinity or to attack men. Brown is a friend to men. She can teach us how to be more human. Women too, of course. But men need friends in this process of learning how to be more human. If we want men to change, then we should celebrate the people leading the charge.

Through listening to Brown and walking through the woods feeling the grace of cannabis moving through me I have several memories of the most painful epiphanies, of just sobbing and crying with nobody around to see or hear and all of the bottled-up pain inside of me would just come out in these awful roars of grief for what I couldn’t change, for what I couldn’t forget. The loss of friends, the loss of love, the fear of failure, all of it, everything I was ashamed of came rushing up out of me like a stampede of buffalo shattering the underbrush of my heart as I stumbled with tear filled eyes deeper into the dark and wild. 

Some people will try to shame you for who you are. In a world where almost anything we do seems to be criticized by someone who feels superior, it is so important and refreshing to have people like Brené Brown and Jocko Willink who can remind us how to be more human, who can help us to find the courage to continue fighting despite inevitable loss. The human condition is absurdly beautiful and impossibly fragile. We are all walking our own paths through these woods and thankfully there are friends who can help to remind us that it is ok to feel pain, it is ok to feel vulnerable and that the only way to get stronger is by doing both. 

Challenging Writing and Active Voice

What writing addresses high stakes situations with straightforward clarity, today? Where do we find writing that seeks to serve the reader, to take them on a journey and to give them some valuable takeaway after the narrative is finished? When is writing is more of a boot camp than a roller coaster? What kinds of writing seek to transform a reader through stimulating intellectual growth? Some writing is purposefully difficult, and some writing is meant to be easily consumed. Some writing acts as a prompt, as a call to action for the reader. Other writing is like a roller coaster offering us a way to pass the time with maximal entertainment value for minimal effort.

Challenging writing asks the reader to be an active participant. It serves as an invitation to focus your intellect on thinking about a problem or an opportunity. In analyzing a situation, it maps out the potential and points the reader to possible paths of action. It asks you to imagine a world and to consider what kinds of problems you would face if you were living in that world. People join cross fit gyms to build up their physical strength and they read challenging writing to increase their mental strength.

Roller coaster writing is like so many things in our culture: it’s fun. A lot of our culture is designed to give us cheap thrills. Roller coaster writing seems like it’s covering a serious situation with high stakes, but in reality it is safe and is a disposable experience. We get the adrenaline rush without the reality. The only effort we make is in experiencing the ride. The roller coaster dominates our experience.

Challenging writing often practices active voice. Active voice situates us psychologically in a position of understanding and clarity. We are making up the world in our imaginations as we read. The text is a map that orients us and gives us direction. The journey is a kind of mental workout that builds strength and gives us a point of reference for future work. Writing that strives to create action in the reader generally uses the active voice for the sake of clarity and the impact of being straightforward.

Why try to draw a distinction between challenging and other writing? We have so many high stakes situations facing us today. Coming together to face and fix some of the problems we can actually solve will build some momentum in a direction we favor. If we want more social equity, then we need to think clearly, to analyze a plan, and to make decisions consistent with our values.

Great writing challenges us to be accountable for our thinking. It points to the things that we can change and draws out examples of what can be done. Challenging writing takes a defensible stand by earning whatever position it maintains. This writing uses the power of analysis to explain a point of view. Through explaining why something is important and how it has been formed, the value of the writing becomes self-evident. It teaches us something that we can replicate for ourselves.

We need challenging writing more now than ever so that we can face the problems of our current situation and begin to move from an increasingly chaotic situation to more equitable and socially stable dynamic. We need to appeal to those with resources to invest in ways that will benefit the community and increase the common good.

Transparency, Privacy and Competition

The way we live now is wild. Reality television has mushroomed into a massive social media explosion. What people show on Instagram is sometimes as fake and scripted as what happens on produced reality television programming. At the same time, people are also sharing too much real information online a lot of the time in ways that professional media outlets wouldn’t, and for good reasons. When does transparency go too far and become a total lack of privacy? What guidelines should we be establishing to safely and effectively use social media? How is this dynamic driven by competition?

Is there any chance that we can work our way out of this mess and back into simpler times? Are we hunters, farmers, doctors, soldiers, influencers, cyborgs or what? People have taken on varied roles in different periods of history. Right now, we are in a period of historical transition and it is especially important to experiment and to envision new ways of doing things. Sometimes, those experiments and periods of growth might best be done in privacy for the sake of going through the process of trial and error without an audience. 

Is it possible to grow and change for the better in a world dominated by social media culture? Or do we just have to change our attitude about cultural productions and the value of making mistakes in public. This might sound strange, but it happens all the time with podcasts. Sometimes a certain amount of dysfunction makes it more relatable to listen to. It’s more like real life. Some podcasts are so polished and produced you feel like you should brush your hair and put on some nicer clothes before you listen. Oftentimes we want something a little more relaxed.

Maybe competition is a normal human response, and the way it’s happening online is simply an extension of how we compare and debate the merits of each other’s lifestyle points in analog life. Martha Stewart was an influencer before there were lifestyle blogs. The number of people who are now able to create content and connect with an online audience is radically and exponentially increased. The Internet adds scale to lifestyle marketing in a completely new way. When it becomes interactive, it becomes much bigger and more differentiated. There is a lifestyle influencer for any imaginable cultural niche. 

While this new media has also created a new economy, we are still working out how all these new forces function. We are in the infancy stages of social media and haven’t developed enough best practices to know what we are doing. It can be a wild and dangerous combination when businesses experience massive scaling through the internet and people are suddenly thrust into positions of immense power and responsibility. Since these massive fortunes have been created within our lifetimes, there is a learning curve like never before. We have new money, oh boy do we have new money.

Bezos, in talking about the infrastructure bill said that he hopes the initiative will help to keep a competitive advantage for the US. His official statement reads: “We look forward to Congress and the Administration coming together to find the right, balanced solution that maintains or enhances U.S. competitiveness.” In that statement you can grasp something of our reality. We don’t live in isolation; we exist in competition. We have to remain aware of external threats to our security. If we don’t do this, they might do that. Businesses may be multinational, but they have national roots. Lifestyle might be the focus of a majority of social media, but it is made possible by macroeconomic and geopolitical concerns.

The policy of the US has historically been isolationist, but in a world with internet and nuclear weapons that is absurd. We are interconnected, and we have to figure out how to make that reality work best for the common good. With the Internet, that means business and social networking opportunities. While we strive to grow and connect to more people, the sense of our identity comes into play.

As long as our interconnectedness comes with the threat of violence, with an attempt at domination, then we will continue to make decisions that give us a competitive advantage. There are some situations, even in a world with hostile threats, where being competitive is counterproductive. If we want to enhance our competitive advantage, then we should be working on creating a stronger sense of team spirit and camaraderie, but we should also look for opportunities for cultural exchange. We most likely have more to gain from transacting with each other than we have to fear from losing our competitive advantage.

New Differences

If there’s any truth to the idea that it takes thirty days to create a new habit, what happens after a year of doing things in radically different ways? I think it’s safe to say that there will be a period of readjustment. As things begin to open up and more and more people feel empowered by immunization what is going to happen to the ways we have changed? Will things go back to as they were before? How will that work?

Questioning is the modus operandi of analysis. Analysis aims at an understanding and a description of a complex process. In order to make sense of the transition from a period of lockdown to a period of restored freedoms, we have to ask the right questions.

Who will be most affected? Right now, we have a very dynamic new set of forces interacting that are complicating the usual power dynamics. We have been divided even more distinctly into age groups and other demographics as a management strategy for fighting the virus. Now, those with immunization possess an advantage over those who don’t in terms of being allowed to travel or resume other normal activities.

Another new division that has been emphasized is between essential and non-essential employees. If you worked as a teacher or in any other essential public position, then your income was uninterrupted and so you basically had an entire year’s advantage over people who were told not to work because they were privately employed in “non-essential” jobs. The difference between these two sets of experiences should not be underestimated.

The psychological impact of being forced to stop competing in a workforce, to be kept from earning the resources needed to provide for your family is a major consideration. On the other hand, many public essential workers have had financial stability but have had to undergo such radical changes in their work/ life balance and their stress loads have increased far beyond the advantage given by their financial stability. For anyone who isn’t independently wealthy, this has been an extremely challenging year one way or another.

I’m suggesting that anticipating these new social antagonisms will help us to understand how to mitigate conflict to a degree. Through coming up with strategies to address the new needs, we will also identify business and community building opportunities. There will be a chance to found new organizations, to start new brands and generally to rethink how we use culture and our communications to address our needs and concerns in a proactive and productive manner.

I think that one key factor for all of the different groups with their different needs will be some way of measuring if you are doing well. We will need some sort of performance indicators to help to guide us in the right directions. What structure could we create that would measure progress for any of the varied needs we collectively assume?

When it comes to the problems we are facing, human psychology is the number one ingredient that is most responsible for both the symptoms and the solutions. We are suffering from problems of our own making, but we can find health and prosperity through solutions of our own devising. The first step in this process of self-improvement begins with realizing that we are the only ones who will be able to understand and respond to our own situations. We need both self-realization and self-actualization. We need to learn more about our own condition and work on a practice that will empower us to improve.

Every single person is a complicated case and needs figuring out on an individual basis. People struggling with frustration and resentment over being forced to not work are going to require different ways to think about their needs and contributions than someone who has been working on the frontlines serving the public during an entire year of escalated tension. We need to understand our own needs in order to address them. If we understand the needs of others, then we can find new ways to collaborate.

We need to identify and to create the new opportunities. As there are new needs, there are new demands and that means new markets. For people who have elevated stress levels, but who have financial security, there may be some techniques for rewarding that work that were not previously available. If stress is not simply the difficulty of a situation but the imbalance between work and reward, then coming up with better ways to reward those who are exhausted by the stress of their work will be an effective strategy to fulfill a new demand. 

For people who have been out of work, who have had employment or income reduced even while the cost of living has remained the same or increased, there is going to be a need for economic activity. These people will be incentivized by opportunities to make money or to make meaningful contributions. They will be needing to restore a sense of confidence in their ability to be productive. Programs designed to put people to work and to reward achievement will help people in these groups to transition successfully.

If we are able to successfully identify our own needs and the needs of others, then this next phase can be a dynamic and rich period of growth. We are only limited by our understanding, our imagination and our will to get it done. But, if and when we see a vision of how it can be done better, how our energies will be put to good use and rewarded for the work, then we will truly gain traction and begin to leverage our way out of this quagmire.

As people begin to feel better about the future and are able to exercise their rights freely, we are going to see a lot of overcompensations that will unfortunately lead to accidents and tragic losses. It is a very good time to go slowly, to be measured, and to build upon tried and true practices. It is also a good time to found new things, to manifest that startup energy, to create solutions to the problems we are experiencing. Which direction is right for you? What resources do you have to fortify your decisions? These are some of the questions we can ask that will be helpful to coming up with sound strategies for social recovery.

Why the Future Belongs to Stoners part 1

There’s nothing wrong with cannabis. It’s a beautiful plant with amazing flowers and effects. As with the pineapple, the pomegranate and the papaya, Cannabis is a naturally occurring living organism with many properties beneficial to health and wellness for humans and even for other animals. 

Sometimes people complain of feeling anxiety or sleepiness when they consume THC. This could be for a number of reasons. Different strains can have different effects, but also farmers are not equally good at growing weed. Cannabis is not like apples. It is a boutique crop, a difficult flower to grow well. The difference in the experience of consumption between top shelf flower and run of the mill boof is night and day and the pricing in dispensaries reflects this reality.

The quality of the crop is what matters most about cannabis, and one way cannabis brands are marketing the quality of their flowers is through high THC numbers in their testing. While the cannabinoid percentages do matter, they are no clear indication of the quality of the flower or of your experience if you were to consume it. In order to really use cannabis effectively, you have to find a farm that grows flowers that you enjoy. It’s really that simple. You have to just experiment until you find the right farm and usually that will keep you connected to the best benefits that cannabis can offer.

Besides the quality of the flowers, though, there is a big reason why people feel tired or anxious when they consume cannabis. This is because it is pointing out the problems they are not dealing with. When people get stoned, it often causes introspection and analysis over the problems, especially social situations, that are on your mind. It brings those things you are worrying about to the front of your attention. This is one of the reasons why stoners will win in the end. It causes self-reflection and that is the gateway to self-improvement and that is the gateway to being a better member of a community and that is the gateway to security and happiness. So yes, it is a gateway drug.

The Verge of Something Big

The world is populated by 7.75 billion people. The United States alone has upwards of 330 million according to the US Census Bureau. It’s starting to feel a little bit crowded, and heaven knows we could use a few more planets to stretch our legs and really get a chance to unwind. Wouldn’t that be nice? Just you, your own terraformed acre of Mars, all hipstered out with air plants hanging on industrial walls. I can picture it now. I can almost smell the oatmilk steaming.

Is there really any other choice? None that isn’t a war crime has been on the agenda.

While life seems to be on a one-way track to cybernetics and interstellar existence, there’s no certainty that we will reach this lofty goal. Still, you have to wonder how close we are getting. Some of those robotic prototypes being developed by Boston Dynamics have looked scary for at least six years by now, but last summer during the chaos of the pandemic they teamed up with Ford to develop Fluffy the Robot Dog

This dog has four legs and prances around the factory, but instead of a head it has a configuration of cameras and scanners. Ford has been using Fluffy to create three dimensional maps of their manufacturing spaces and providing writers with science fiction scenarios that are now all too believable. If Ford is using robot dogs to save money and enhance efficiency, we can be sure that more robots are on their way.

Should we be scared of these robot dogs? Of course. The potential nightmare scenarios are baked into the technology, but are those real concerns or just fantasies of nervous techies? If the ways we have adapted to technology are useful predictors of how it will go in the future, then you can be sure that robot dogs will be used for the full range of their potential for benevolent and malicious purposes. That’s what humans do with technology. They find every possible use and then a bunch more. 

What’s the upside? No more trying to breed poodles with other dogs for people with allergies. Instead of shedding hair, dogs will soon be vacuuming. Is the era of the Jetson’s finally here? 

I will believe in technology more once we solve some of the major social problems here, like homelessness. Take that as an example. Homelessness has been on the rise and has reached tragic levels here and all around the country. There are people who are outside of society with little hope of making their way back to a normal lifestyle. What if Elon Musk implants some of his neuralink devices in homeless people and they transform into superstar celebrities of different fields in a couple of months? What then? You know what happens.

We are all getting that thing implanted in our heads. 

What about virtual reality? How is that going to come into play? In a world with robots and artificial intelligence, we are also advancing our abilities to create worlds that are believable but that don’t exist. Alex Honnald recently discussed on Joe Rogan’s podcast that he is developing a virtual reality climb so people can experience what it looks like to see him climbing from the perspective of someone perched on the cliff. 

With robots, neuralink implants and virtual reality on the horizon how will that divide people in the near future? Will we become two different species?

Elon Musk has envisioned a future where speaking is no longer necessary. What will that do to human psychology? With neural implants, what happens to the unconscious? If the unconscious is truly structured like a language as Lacan suggests, then what happens when language becomes less relevant? What are the potential psycho-sexual side effects of this plan?

While there are definitely some questions that have terrifying potential, things could also go well. The bright side of this transformation could be the chance to connect with likeminded people around the globe. Think about it this way. With 7.75 billion people in this world, there have to be an impossibly large number of people with whom you might have incredible professional and personal relationships, but as things are now you will never know of their existence. If technology renders language irrelevant andreveals the truth of who we are, maybe we will actually get to meet the people we would get along with best. 

That utopian vision seems a long ways off, but with how things are advancing you always have to keep in mind the potential of exponential growth and acceleration. We are on the verge of something big.

How Comedy Works

“Although most people value humor, philosophers have said little about it, and what they have said is largely critical.” This is how the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy begins its article on the Philosophy of Humor. Academics have traditionally looked down on comedy as an inferior genre.

I am a fan of comedy. When I was in graduate school in literature I tried to write about comedic works, but I found it hard to get professors to take the value of comedic literature seriously. There’s a really fun conspiracy theory as to why that tendency persists. It comes from a postmodern novel.

Umberto Eco wrote the novel that later was translated as a film, entitled The Name of the Rose. The premise shared by novel and film is that there is a missing text from Aristotle’s poetics and in this text describes how comedy works. It is undeniable that Aristotle’s influence over the development of philosophy and science in Europe has been huge, and that historical anomaly is even stranger considering we only have a tiny fragment of his works.

According to Christopher Shields’ article on Aristotle in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Aristotle’s extant works read like what they very probably are: lecture notes, drafts first written and then reworked.” In other words, we are missing a lot more than just his thinking about comedy. Of 200 works he composed, we have 30 volumes and they are in draft form.

What does it say about our culture that such a limited sample of a philosopher’s work could have such a big impact on cultural history? It speaks to the limited capacity of literacy in ancient times and even now. It took a couple of centuries for people to edit the work of Aristotle. To live, he had to teach. I wasn’t like there was a publishing industry. The learning happened through teaching students like Alexander the Great. If teaching was the important thing, then why did they write? Writing was about thinking, and thinking is such a rare thing in human history that works usually build on other works and are rarely foundational, so a missing treatise On Comedy could actually stunt the development of human research.

The best book I did find that described how comedy works is Freud’s book, The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious. Freud’s great discovery in psychology was the existence of the unconscious, the shadowy nebulous life that lies beneath the surface of our awareness and translates itself surreptitiously at night through our dreams. The unconscious is not good or bad but simply the things that have been blocked from being expressed due to social constructs of what is or is not acceptable. The unconscious develops as a response to repression, to prohibition, but it also creates an internal conflict and pressure. 

The tension between what a person wants to do and what they are allowed to do creates energy that can cause internal friction if not expressed. Humor plays off of this tendency to repress, this hidden store of energy. The way it works is not that complicated. The comic’s joke leads us in one direction as a narrative. We are introduced to a serious topic that has serious consequences for people in the real world. Immediately we begin to prepare ourselves to respond appropriately. We are going to have to be good listeners, to empathize with someone’s pain, to struggle over tough questions with no good answers. We brace ourselves to deal with this rant. Suddenly, though, the story takes a turn and we are aware that we have been misled. We have been tricked into preparing both to repress our feelings and to deal with someone else’s difficult situation and then all of the sudden the true nature of the reality is revealed to us: the story is not serious, it is just for fun. 

That is the nature of the laugh. It’s our response to fake weights. It is a strongman lifting a barbell with one hand. It is a kook taking a slam. In the case of the kook slam we have this situation where we see a person who looks like they know what they are doing with the ocean. They have shown up with gear ready to get the wave of the day but then they are so entirely without experience that they get their lunch handed to them. We thought we were going to have to feel respect or reverence for someone doing something we might not be able to do ourselves and then we are rewarded with a laugh for realizing that the kook knows even less than you. They look expert and then are shown to be a fool. 

People talk about comedy punching up or punching down and that usually has to do with who is the subject of ridicule and their relation to the comic in terms of power dynamics. In the context of the joke, who gets to feel superior to whom? If you make a joke about someone with less privilege than you then it is called punching down. I don’t have any rules for what makes comedy good or bad, but there are some mechanics of how it works. Punching down can be funny but it can also backfire. It all depends on how much the comic can get the audience to go along with the premise and tap into the energy of the reversal of expectations.

Advertisers attempt to use comedy, but it is a tricky thing for marketers to pull off. This is due to people’s skepticism about marketing already. There is a common idea that marketing is manipulating people through lies and false promises, so when a brand presents the public with a joke it is trusting that they will understand the humor and it won’t discredit the seriousness of their other communications. The thing about jokes is they are dishonest, but with good intention. 

Because brands feel a tremendous amount of pressure to be creating content and when they run out of ideas the calendar always presents the easiest way to predict what people will be doing and thinking at a certain point in time it is almost irresistible for a brand to not try to do an April Fools’ joke. Because April Fools’ Day is a day when tons of people who don’t understand comedy attempt to be funny it is a great source of negative examples of how comedy works.

This year, I saw three examples of ads that played a prank on their audience in a way that I view as very counterproductive. They promised their fans something great and then revealed that it was a joke. Instead of causing you to feel like something bad is happening and then feeling super relieved when it isn’t true, these brands created the opposite experience. Instead they created a good dream, a better dream, and then waking up sucks. The successful joke is like a nightmare and the waking up from the nightmare is the laugh.

Why We Shouldn’t Hate Hippies

Hippies get a bad name, man. In order to understand why this group is so reviled, you don’t have to look at history. You only need to go to your local farmer’s market and not be suffering from Covid. The nose knows. These people don’t care what you think at all. But are they really hippies, or are they stinky fakes?

That’s like seeing someone in line at the liquor store wearing a wetsuit and then thinking that all surfers are idiots. That’s not a surfer; it’s a kook! Kooks are notorious for glomming onto the limelight, since they are interested in surfing not for how it makes them feel or how it challenges them to grow, but because they want to be cool. It’s the same with hippies, brah. The funk is real, but the character is not.

Now we all know wanting to be cool immediately makes you uncool. Some clever marketers, clever but not wise, have seen how widespread this tendency to be unreal is and have started marketing to kooks, blatantly. Instead of taking surfing seriously, they fully embrace the flail and celebrate this ineptitude with puns and ironic hairstyles. For some people, surfing is a religion. For others, a way to try and get laid.

Surfing attracts people from all walks of life, but most of the surfers I have known who really deserve respect are nothing like the stereotype. Surfing is a magical activity, but one that is full of ironies. When a human synchronizes their movements with the natural energy of a breaking wave, it is truly something astounding. To be good at surfing requires a lot of time studying the water and taking it seriously, like any other art form. But you can get a wetsuit and a soft-top and someone somewhere will mistake you for a surfer.

It’s the same with hippies. There are fake hippies galore, and they are the ones replicating the negative stereotypes. There are real hippies, too. There are sincerely optimistic folks out there working to make another way of living a reality. They are too busy doing the hard work of regenerative farming to be clowning around downtown. 

Every lifestyle has its serious practitioners and its superficial fakes. Since these lifestyles are not mainstream, the public is easily misled about them. They see the fakes and don’t know better. How would you? It takes time to understand the authentic article hiding among the counterfeit. 

Who gets to say who is real and who is fake in any particular lifestyle? We don’t have the hippy Olympics. Maybe we should, though. Professional surfing puts any doubts to rest about the levels that people can take that activity. If you could watch the dude who wears his wetsuit to buy his craft beer you would see his inexperience within about two minutes of being in the water. Meanwhile, any of the pros or even just competitive surfers in this region are able to milk the last drop of potential out of every swell that rolls through town. The difference between their performances is unmistakable.

Same goes with hippies. We aren’t really seeing the awesome ones. They are cross breeding landrace heritage cannabis cultivars with regional genetics that have been tried and true somewhere rad up in the mountains. They are planning psychedelic voyages and growing their own food. They are making advances in sustainable development. We don’t hate hippies; we don’t know them. We only see their imitators.

Who are these people who invade a lifestyle and make it so lame? Let’s be honest. They are techies who have enough fuck-you money to not care that they are being absolute douche canoes in the water or at a health food store. Horrible insecurities that are buttressed by financial success is a recipe for the fake hippy, the kook or the wannabe artist. How many people buy a dream for a couple of years, but never put the work in to make it a reality?

The truth to life is that anything you want to do well is going to take a lot of hard work for most people. But the people who are doing the hard work are not usually looking for attention. They may want to do business, but they are fulfilled by the life they lead and aren’t hungry souls siphoning attention from curious tourists eager to see a real Santa Cruz hippy. They will be tending to their work, helping their families, being valued members of their community.

We are only seeing the surface of things and in this state of oversimplification we are not only seeing a caricature of reality, but we are seeing a fake caricature. The connection between the stereotype and the reality is ingenuous. It is only when we begin to realize what a horrible version of subcultures we have received that we will start to see the world for what it really is. The good parts are oftentimes not going to be the most obvious.

We shouldn’t hate hippies for their followers.

Lights, Camera, Influence! Social Media and Social Change Makers

What is digital culture? Culture is one of those all-encompassing concepts that is hazy and hard to see, like Society, and with 5G Internet it is omnipresent. Digital culture is like the smell of air. It’s gotta have one, but we only smell things that are floating in the air, like a puff of weed. Digital culture is both the cannabis we smoke and the air it is blown into. 

Humans project cultural understandings and misreadings onto the world. Through interpreting the signs around us, we recognize the existence of other cultures, subcultures, even microcultures. Culture is the totality of our collective consciousness and its expression. It is an awareness of our differences and an articulation of those difference in form. Learning happens as individuals act, transact, and are acted upon. Digital culture is a massive conversation and collaboration among billions of people.

Culture breaks down into smaller and smaller sub-cultures online. The smaller the niche the more distinct the code. Language is one key part of cultures, and you can see how this local specificity develops in smaller and smaller places with language through slang. This tendency of creating inside jokes, insider codes, is an engine of diversity. If we are constantly addressing the specifics of our spaces and our experiences, then our communications will become narrower and narrower as we adapt to be useful in that specific place. 

Just like breathing, the way we experience culture happens both voluntarily and involuntarily. As long as we are alive and interacting, we are a part of culture, but with conscious effort we can amplify our effect. We can get more out of and give more back to our culture by taking an active role. 

The Internet radically changed the way our culture grows and shifts. In addition to the way language and fashion diversify and differentiate influenced by local conditions, the interactive space of the digital network–the world wide web—creates another layer of cultural exchange. What does a website like OnlyFans do to our idea of what our neighbors may be up to? In a world with millions of podcasts, there are more people actively shaping culture than ever before. In that sense, we are becoming more democratic. 

Because of the broadening of cultural participation through social media, there is a much more chaotic cultural scene. Internet culture is so interesting because it accelerates the broader culture in two distinctly different directions. On the one hand it allows for an alliance between cultural misfits, for better or worse. People who are in the minority culturally in their geographical location can connect to likeminded people through the Internet. This networking supports and sustains their culture. Culture needs attention to grow. 

Content creators have the opportunity to participate in the shaping of culture. There are steps a thoughtful creator can take to be more conscious in designing content to have desired effects. There are parts of the larger cultural contexts we want to change, and by understanding the power of cultural influence we can push the needle in the direction we think will be safe, fun and profitable. 

Every time we do a photo shoot, record a podcast, publish a blog and share a story we are starting a conversation. The more effective we are at getting people to care about the things we are interested in, the greater our influence.

You just have to know that the potential is locked away inside of people and change is possible. Listening to Jane Goodall talk about being plant-based inspired me to give it a try. That is one month of not eating meat that is directly attributable to one podcast. I was in a place where I was all but ready to experiment with a plant-based diet and Goodall’s stoic steadfast point of view added that last nudge of encouragement I needed. I’m back to eating meat because I found it impossible to eat enough protein on a vegetarian diet, but it was a great challenge, and is making me more conscious about what I eat and eating more plants than I was before. 

That is an example of a moment when something changed for me culturally. It is a significant change, and a voluntary one. Being inspired to try plant-based eating creates cultural conflict, too. It means joining a minority group. Changing a habit means potentially offending people who are used to that habit. I don’t judge people for what they eat. When you are the only one who can’t eat a family dinner, however, it might not feel that way to everyone. 

Making anything significant culturally means making some kind of cultural change. It doesn’t have to limit anyone else’s options, but even through expanding a new direction, breaking original ground an idea can be revolutionary. Silicon Valley fell in love with the word disruptive because it minted a lot of new billionaires, but it is more than just disruptive when new ways of sharing and creating culture emerge. Disrupting the culture of gatekeeping has been a good thing for innovation.

This is just the beginning phase of social media, though. I think that the first chapter of social media closed with the storming of the capital. That was a moment when we no longer could deny what had been obvious for a decade: the internet is transforming our culture. Social media is not a cute pastime. It is the new stage. It is a stage of development when subcultures can grow in strength and numbers and have undeniable effects on the real world.

This is a moment when we can participate in the process of cultural change, by exercising our powers of imagination. We are taste makers, conversation starters and innovators of culture. Welcome to the show. Prepare to be influenced.