Teju Cole on travel playlists

teju cole music you travel with helps create internal weather

“The music you travel with helps you to create your own internal weather.”

— Teju Cole, in his new book Known and Strange Things: Essays

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Curiosity: the cure for a post-fact world

Thinks for you. (Image via Frank Okay)

Lies are seductive. They linger because people are motivated to protect their tribal desires while the liars themselves will do anything to distract you from giving meaning to the facts.

Does smoking kill? Is the Trump administration complicit in Russia’s election hacking? It appears so, but both tobacco and party alike want you hanging on to your doubts. They rather you distract you with other stuff, like beneficent special research they’re funding or tweets to Snoop Dog and Nordstrom’s.

How do we get people to step outside their narrow window and look at the supportive evidence? As Tim Harford surmises, the key ingredient to opening eyes is curiosity.

“Facts rarely stand up for themselves — they need someone to make us care about them, to make us curious.”

Curiosity makes the facts juicer, the same way fear lights up your amygdala. It’s a sad state that the only way to get people’s attention in a post-fact world is by entertaining their senses. But the challenge in selling curiosity will be such.

Read The Problem With Facts

Alan Watts on the law of reversed effort

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“When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float’ and that ‘insecurity is the result of trying to be secure.”

— Alan Watts on the ‘law of reversed effort’, also known as the ‘backwards law’ when doing what’s right make things wrong (as featured in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking)

Reverting to inclination

Image via Moritz Schmidt

‘America first’ breeds an architecture of fear. It compels other nations to cling onto their own nationalist tendencies in pursuit of their own primacy.

The internet flattened world only temporarily before mobile phones made people screen-obsessed and non-interactive, further pigeonholing them into online groups that merely reconfirmed their biased beliefs. 

As conformity increased in the long tail, broader differences compounded. Today’s mob has repopularized coercion out of short term gains. What comes naturally puts a dent into the artificiality of freedom.

If America gives up doing the good work, others will fall like dominoes. Bad design is easy to replicate. 

The magic of music

Image via Alice Moore

Music is powerful because of its ability to galvanize emotions.

As Oliver Sachs demonstrated, music is therapy; familiar sounds trigger memory and can help people feel like their former selves.

Music can also suspend doubt and fear. Your workout playlist can push you the extra mile. Ambient noise can boost your concentration and thus productivity levels. In short, music can free your mind so you can do anything from dancing with fear to get stuff done.

There’s something instinctive about music that tugs directly at the heart. It needs little if no processing. Even a plant doesn’t need a mind to dance toward the sun.

“Language is used every day, and easily becomes shopworn, and it takes a poet to recall it to its freshness, its ability to embody eudaimonistic insights in a meaningful way. Music is not as shopworn, and thus may cut straight to the heart.”

Martha Nussbaum

Open is closed

Free or not, the data no longer matters. (Photo by Jan Laugesen)

There are two worlds: open and closed. In the closed world, “you can know only what you’re permitted to know.”

China, Turkey, and North Korea are closed worlds. The news is state-run, recast as edited real life.

Meanwhile, open information systems suffer from hack journalism. Excess information confounds true and fake news. Consequently, no one knows what’s going on. They fall prey to an incompetent demagogue that condemns them to “exciting times.

Both open and closed systems shroud the data, either by default or with intention. Everyone knows everything and nothing; none of it adds up to actuality.

The annihilation of space by time

To be experienced. (Image via Kelsey Johnsen)

Tempus fugit. Time flies. But that’s because we allow technology to accelerate it.

When we speed through life as we scroll through our Instagram feeds, seeing everything as “pictures on a wall,” we don’t remember much. We get caught in looking at the rapidity of impressions rather than engaging in real wonders. We see the world like a rolling film and any pause causes a fight with intolerable boredom.

The rush to speed through life and accomplish all our goals in quick succession is the fastest way to reach “the annihilation of space by time.” But if we walk and slow down, we can catch the everyday moments in between. Slowness is what stimulates.

Technology flattens time and our expectations along with it. We expect everything to be instantly digestible, a downloadable shortcut. The time we spend digging deeper — experiencing– is what puts the bones in the goose. Acknowledging that “it will never be finished,” opens up space and time to dream.

Read A Model Railway Journey

Finding Your Purpose

Is it better to be told what to do and ride around the racetrack of life or remain goalless, floating with the tide?

“We do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES…we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal.”

To pick a goal is to assume that there’s an end. But we are always developing. Our perspective today is different than it was a decade ago, and so forth. Experience and knowledge change us.

Instead of searching for goals, Thompson implores, “look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.”

All believing is betting. But God rewards the courageous. Almost always the assured outcome is the unique path we take ourselves. 

“No one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.”

Read Hunter S. Thompson Letter on Finding Your Purpose

The naked, karaoke version of you

Image via Kane Reinholdsten
Image via Kane Reinholdsten

It’s no fun if you’re good at karaoke. It’s equally annoying to laugh while you’re signing. You’re supposed to be so bad that your friends can’t ignore you. Said it’s Japanese creator Daisuke Inoue:

“I was nominated [as] the inventor of karaoke, which teaches people to bear the awful singing of ordinary citizens, and enjoy it anyway. That is ‘genuine peace,’ they told me.”

One could say we live in the “karaoke age” of social media, where posting stories on Instagram and Snapchat is supposed to reveal our strengths and our weaknesses. Of course, the opposite happens too: people share an edited version of themselves. Some people even become social influencers, turning pleasure into a business, forgetting that sharing was intended to be fun and unprofessional.

Says karaoke hobbyist Alexandra Molotkow in her essay Sing to Me:

Good karaoke performers are often likable for what they’ve forgotten they’re not: famous, or even all that good…Karaoke is a way of performing your shortcomings, which implies the hope of transfiguring them — flaws become eccentricities, which add up to character.

What makes karaoke genuine is what makes acting behind a smartphone screen look fake: it exposes your vulnerabilities in public. Anything less than acting poorly on the mic will make people think you’re a flake.

Most social events are transactions. It’s no surprise that at the end of the day, we make friends with individuals who strip us of our restraint and give us the freedom to express ourselves. The real you is already naked and famous.

Karaoke presents as much naked you as most strangers could possibly enjoy; but it’s still mostly an add-on, something you mustn’t confuse with the you that requires permanent renovation. Whoever you are, you are worthy of attention and approval. May we remember what to keep to ourselves.

Give it some thought

There’s always a ‘why,’ even if the oberservation is visceral. Feelings are antecedents to descriptions. The problem is communicating your gut into words. 

You already know the answer. What you don’t know is how to explain it. You can’t possibly understand anything until you give it some thought.

Reflection is at the core of all deeper understanding. If you’re still struggling to express it, grab a piece of paper and make a list. Reasoning starts from the inside out.