Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Why We Must Feel Responsible for Each Other

This quote from the late Amitai Etzioni has become my new mantra: "...we are not merely rights-bearing individuals, but also community members who are responsible for each other."

While these words sound good on paper, are they realized in practice? 

The answer to that is quite simply: no. 

This, from Joseph Longley in Governing:

In 2023, for the third consecutive year, drug overdose deaths robbed more than 100,000 Americans of their lives, according to recently released data. The scale of this loss — a fivefold increase from the early 2000s — is shocking: Overdose deaths today outnumber fatalities from gun violence and car accidents combined.

Would a nation of people who truly felt "responsible for each other" stand idly by as over 100,000 of their brothers and sisters suffered such miserable and premature deaths? I would think not. 

Longley presents us with some disturbing data:

Despite the crisis we are in, 85.1 percent of people with a substance use disorder didn’t receive any addiction treatment in the past year. Meanwhile, only 43 percent of local jails provide medications for opioid use disorder — basic health care required by federal law. As a result, individuals returning from incarceration are up to 129 times more likely than the general population to die of an overdose.

Rather than offering these people the medication that they so desperately need, many states have doubled down on regressive punitive measures:

This legislative session... at least three states — GeorgiaIdaho and South Dakota — have enacted laws that make providing a deadly dose of fentanyl a homicide, despite evidence showing this does nothing to decrease overdose deaths. Arizona is among states that increased mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking, despite the evidence that mandatory minimums do not deter crime.

Humans require human-centric solutions, not neglect and punitive-posturing from states eager to win political points. 

Longley:

While legislators may be tempted by the political sugar rush of passing tough-on-crime legislation, actually ameliorating this crisis requires patience, persistence and funding. With record federal funding and $50 billion in opioid settlement funds hitting state and local coffers, states and local jurisdictions can absolutely afford to make robust, game-changing investments in the entire continuum of care for substance use disorder: prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery services.

This, though, requires a shifting of temperament from policy makers. They must understand that addicts are people, too. They, probably more than anything, just need someone to walk with them. 

Marvin Olasky - in his seminal work, The Tragedy of American Compassion - emphasizes the importance of suffering with the needy, as opposed to helping them from a distance. 

It seems to me that, to truly help someone in need, you need to suffer with them. 

These states, however, appear to be legislating their way out of an issue that requires real human connection and understanding. 

To be sure, I could never understand what people suffering from addiction are going through. Not the faintest clue. But I do know this: a society that wishes to flourish and endure, must never let their people die such deaths of despair. 


Friday, June 7, 2024

Sorry, What Was Your Name Again?

Dale Carnegie - in his 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People - wrote that "a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language." 

Too often, though, I find myself forgetting people's names at various functions and gatherings. This is not only embarrassing for me, but insulting to the person on the receiving end of my lapsed memory. 

Your name is your identity. 

As Alan Ehrenhalt once told me, "At the pharmacy that I go to, I know the names of all of the technicians, and they know my name, and I actually find that rather comforting." 

One thing that can help facilitate name-to-name, weak-tie relationships are name badges. This is something that Starbucks understands. 

Sherry Turkle, in her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, writes:

When Starbucks got into financial trouble, it rebuilt its brand with seemingly small changes, some of which highlighted the importance of conversations between customers and baristas. Every employee wore a name badge, and counters were lowered so that it was easier to strike up a conversation. 

But name badges, while useful in some settings, are unlikely to become quotidian. I can't imagine walking down the streets of Midtown Manhattan with a sticker reading, "HELLO, my name is Frank." 

What might be more practical, is to just ask. And when someone tells you their name, do your best to try and remember it. 

Jazz guitarist Jimmy Raney, during a 1993 master class at the University of Louisville, made an interesting parallel between remembering chords and "licks," and remembering people's names:

Take what you like and play it on your instrument. There's some kind of a connection there. I find that if I can't remember someone's name, if I write it down, I'll never forget it. If you have a friend, and you've met their wife forty times, but every time you call him you can't remember his wife's name... All I have to do is write it down, and I'll never have to look at it. 

This is a neat trick. 

I also find it helpful, when someone introduces themselves to you, to repeat their name at least ten times in your head. In fact, it helps if you say it aloud. Though, that may make you seem a bit... unstable.

Example:

Jim: Hello, my name is Jim. 

Bill: Nice to meet you, Jim! Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim, Jim. Jim. Got it!

Anyway, just some food for thought!

I have much growth to do here. Tips/suggestions are welcome! 

 

 

Sunday, May 26, 2024

On Memorial Day, This Is My True North

**The Following Post is Adapted from a X post made earlier in the day by the author, it's been edited slightly from its original version**

In 2012 I was 9 months into my deployment overseas. I had a two week leave at the latest you possibly could have it. To coincide with my then-fiancĂ©'s law school graduation. By this point, time was moving excruciatingly slow. As an engineering company we mostly knew our hardest missions were behind us, and thankfully we were kept very busy still, but we were very much in the rear. At the time I was disappointed by this, which is something I look back on with shame. My personal disappointment was more relief for everyone who cared about me. But you don't think about these things when you're a young man. In this era Afghanistan was becoming more and more of a mess, and worse, an unreported-on mess. ISIS was a “JV team” and I knew the country back home was checked out. This fact frustrated me further. When I got to the last point before a flight to Germany (where all our leave flights go through) and then to the United States, I saw an Army unit arrive from Afghanistan. The collective look of tired on their faces said it all. When I got on my final flight and was a mere hour from surprising my now-wife at trivia night like we used to play when I was home, they announced from the cabin to wait for the remains of an American soldier to be taken off the plane first. I was the only one in uniform at this point, surrounded by civilians. Complete quiet took over. But I could feel a lot of eyeballs on me. Even though I was in the middle of the plane there was no way I was going to leave ahead of anyone else. Everyone left except the airline crew and me. Then I got my things and walked out. To this day I do not know who this soldier was. I could have easily look it up via the date and fact that his final destination was my born and raised home state of Minnesota. One day, probably when my son is older we’ll figure it out together. Until then, a mystery soldier he will remain. Who like so many other war dead gave the last full measure of devotion. Tomorrow is for all of them.


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Skate Parks and Third Places

 


Skateboarding was an integral part of my childhood. 

Though I was never particularly good - with my specialty being the tic tac, a trick that one of those skateboarding pugs could probably do - I enjoyed it thoroughly. 


While skateboarding for me was mostly a solitary activity, I did, on occasion, meet up with friends to ride the metaphorical concrete waves. 

In fact, an old buddy and I used to spend hours on end playing SKATE using silly, made-up tricks. 

Sort of like this (but nowhere as good, obviously). 

Samuel J. Abrams, in an article published earlier this year for AEIdeas, described skate parks as "critically important third places that drastically improve neighborhood social capital and community strength." 

Before I go any further, I want to make sure we're all on the same page about what "third places" are, so I'll let Ray Oldenburg, the man who pioneered the term, explain it himself:

The third place is a generic designation for a great variety of public places that host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.

I frequently use this term in my writing with the assumption that people know what I'm talking about, but I want to avoid speaking in a sort of communitarian jargon. Thus, Oldenburg's definition is instructive. 

Back to skate parks...

Abrams wrote this article in response to Mayor Eric Adam's (and Tony Hawk's) new plan to build a 40,000 square-foot skate park, called the Skate Garden, in Brooklyn's Mount Prospect Park. 

While this park would certainly serve as a much-needed "boon for the community," it has been met with resistance from some local killjoys. One group in particular, Friends of Mount Prospect Park, has been opposed to the Skate Garden from day one. 

This from their petition:

Green space is precious in Brooklyn. Our City needs to be more resilient and green. We should preserve and enhance the green space in Mount Prospect Park – not pour concrete on top of it. The plan to site one of the largest skateboard arenas on the East Coast in this neighborhood park is unacceptable. Especially in a borough full of asphalt, there’s no good reason to give up a well-loved park to build a new skateboard complex.

The Skate Garden, however, would integrate the park's greenspace and would not remove any of the park's amenities. It would serve as a compliment, not a replacement. 

And, moreover, as Abrams notes, "parks need to be more than just green spaces." Adding fun, engaging, and interactive features to preexisting parks, like the Skate Garden, is actually a community-friendly, New Urbanist idea. One, I would argue, that we should embrace. 

But, perhaps this is just more anti-skater prejudice. 

I'm sure you've seen these skate-stoppers around the city:

These prevent skaters from grinding on ledges. But, more importantly, they are emblematic of the city's skate-negative posture. The city is, in effect, saying, "you are not welcome here." 

I hope, for the sake of Brooklyn - young Brooklynites, in particular - that Adams and Hawk are allowed to move ahead with the Garden. 

Mark Judge was the inspiration for this post, and I highly recommend reading his article for Chronicles here





Monday, May 13, 2024

The Power of Reading Everything

 


In one of my more popular posts, I remarked on my late introduction to the wonders of literature. Some, having read it, were incredulous. Perhaps they were under the impression that anyone who wears the sort of thick-framed glasses that I do must, in fact, be an avid reader. But, alas, it was only a few years ago that I came to understand the unparalleled power of reading. 

It's absolutely imperative to note, though, that to really be a reader requires one, not just to read books by authors who are ideologically uniform, but rather, to read damn near everything.

I have, thus far, read books by libertarians, Marxists, liberals, post-liberals, neoconservatives, paleo-conservatives, moral relativists, feminists, environmentalists, and on and on. You come to realize - if you are reading the right authors, that is - that all of these ideologies offer something interesting to digest. 

Edward Said made me rethink my, and our, myopic and utterly reductionist understanding of the dynamic between the Occident and the Orient. 

Wendell Berry made me think twice before separating human welfare from land and animal husbandry. 

Theda Skocpol enhanced my understanding of the importance of civic participation. 

Patrick Deneen made me look at classical liberalism with a more critical eye. 

Amitai Etzioni strengthened my understanding of the common good. 

All of these writers are of wildly different political backgrounds. But they've all made me a far better thinker. If, conversely, I remained an uncritical inhabitant of an ideological echo chamber, I would be nothing more than a dogmatist, regurgitating meaningless platitudes. 

Don't be a walking bumper sticker; be a well-rounded thinker, unafraid of challenging your own paradigms. 

There's no question that I have my own biases and certain ideological-predilections, but I try my best every day to make myself almost uncomfortable, reading anything and everything worth reading. 

 

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Resisting the Reactionary Impulse



Many of us in conservative circles long for, what we envision as, those halcyon days of an American monoculture. There is, I will admit, good reason for this yearning. Robert Putnam, in The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again, characterizes the time after the Gilded Age and before the 1960s liberation movement as an era of we-ness, where social cohesion was strong and civic-engagement was blossoming. 

Putnam illustrates this time with his famous inverted-U curve (otherwise known as the "I-we-I" curve):


Many of us would like nothing more than to return to the mid-20th century, when we truly had a common culture and deep love of country. 

But we must face the music: times they are a-changin'. Actually, they've already changed drastically.

Troy Olson, whom I often have disagreements with regarding "turning the clock back," conceded in a recent piece for this blog that the period of the 1950s - characterized by a dominant Christian ethos, ethic homogeneity, and the primacy of the English language - "is gone." 

Harvard University's Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology, Theda Skocpol, documented this reactionary impulse within the conservative movement extensively in her 2016 book, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism:

When Tea Partiers talk about "their rights," they are asserting a desire to live again in the country they think they recall from childhood or young adulthood. Their anger evinces a determination to restore that remembered America, and pass it on to their children and grandchildren (whether or not they are asking for this gift). 

We must escape the past-tense and look toward a new, communitarian future. For, to think as a reactionary is to romanticize a time that cannot be resurrected. 

But, we need not lament the passage of this previous chapter in our history. What good would that do us, anyway? Plus, there was plenty bad about, say, the 1950s: racial segregation, the mistreatment of women, and overall social rigidity. 

I, of course, am not advocating for a disregard for the past - for that would fly in the face of what it really means to be a small-c conservative - but, rather, an application of what worked in the past to the recipe of the American future. This will entail the revival of organized religion, the unification and promotion of families, and, of course, a robust patriotism. 

Some of the newer ingredients should include: New Urbanist city planning (read more about that here), social media applications that can facilitate new iterations of community, and non-profit organizations that can address our epidemic of loneliness head-on. 

There is no need - or utility - in weeping over the past; the future can look much brighter.  


Saturday, April 20, 2024

On A More Perfect Civic Nationalism

The namesake of this great corner of cyberspace and I have been debating this topic in mostly agreeable fashion the last few weeks. We both agree that American life needs a civic and communitarian rebirth. It is the absence and need for civic nationalism that brings us to this issue but where we differ (or do we?) comes from whether we believe the project could be a success and how it could be a success. 


One might think my proposal for an alternative would focus intently on America's demographic makeup, especially the pre and post-1965 immigration and naturalization act which for the first time opened up America to basically everywhere in the world through the same rule of law, specifically of federal immigration law. The 1980s brought us one round of amnesty which punted the issue of illegal vs. legal immigration down the road another few decades not unlike the compromises in the 19th century did for slavery and the southern states economic dependence on that system. Slavery was both a moral issue and a practical political question of who is an American citizen? The former was solved by the bloodiest war in American history, including a slain president. The latter goes back to the founding itself and animates our politics and culture to this day.

What does it mean to be an American? Can anyone who raises their hand be an American? Right now we really have the worst of all worlds. In that people are coming over our border illegally either as economic migrants or taking advantage of our asylum system and Joe Biden's open invitation, receiving and draining resources, and worse, many of them have no intention to become Americans. Now they may stay here for some time. If the Democrats get their way, they'll all be voting one day. Yet even if that occurs they do not have intentions of becoming Americans because the animating force of the left and mainstream Democratic Party even is that America is merely an "idea" and immigration law is a poem on a statue. 

Against these odds and this scope, civic nationalism, even if aggressively pursued through the family, through education, has little chance of success.

But merely rewinding the clock back to a pre-1965 America, even though many immigration law changes can and must be made, is not feasible either as that America is gone. Instead, what may work is considering our times of crisis a "fundamental time for choosing" between two differing and ultimately incompatible visions of America. If we are led by wise and prudent people, we may just avoid the major wars of the prior crises at home and abroad. 

In this existential struggle for a 21st century United States of America we have Obama's vision of "America as an idea" that is both placeless and atomized into various identity groups around race, sexuality, and gender identity, where "our democracy" just keeps existing somehow around a vague set of slogans like "diversity is our strength" and the "rules-based", "liberal world order", or in their eyes, around a set of political ideas like the rule of law, due process, equal protection of the law, and so forth. The problem with this vision is the slogans barely exceed the impact of a hashtag trend and in the past decade Obama's party has deeply undermined all of the political ideas that people agree to make up "America." Simply put, there is no genuine effort to get new people whether they are called illegals, new arrivals, migrants, criminal aliens, or what have you to become Americans in a political sense of the word. In addition to the fact that politics is downstream from culture anyway, Obama's vision of America is simply not going to work and is already dead on arrival outside the coastal corridors of power who do not have to live with the consequences of their own ideology usually. 

What could work is admitting that America needs a common culture. Needs a monoculture. And this culture is reinforced by what largely already has taken place and takes place that works. First off, a common language. Americans speak English. That is our common language and 4 out of 5 Americans speak no other language than English. While just like with religion, accomodations are made for those who do not, our daily realities reinforce a majority American culture. The customs and norms that flow from this common culture are the basis to build a new monoculture. Obama's vision of multiculturalism doesn't fail because it's diverse and people cannot get along, broadly speaking -- people can get along and America more so than any nation has this history. Rather, his vision of multiculturalism is failing because a common American culture already did exist. 

America also does not exist just anywhere because of a set of political ideas and foundations. America was founded in a specific place, by people who shared a common language, a common religion with only denominational exceptions, and common ancestors. From that core beginning a political union was then established and that founding period was both an experiment in self-governance and also the most extremely well-thought out and deliberate attempt to form a more perfect political union in human history. In this sense, America is a miracle. However, it is also a miracle that happened at a place of peace with incredibly blessed geography and natural resources to be cultivated. The land of hope between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is some of the most fertile land of abundance and possibility on planet Earth. 

This fact should have informed American humility abroad, that while our ideas and nation are indeed exceptional, it would be difficult to merely repeat this elsewhere in other lands with greater historical burdens, inferior lands for cultivation, or areas that lack common language, ancestors, and customs. 

This is why people were so harsh when Obama was so cavalier about American exceptionalism. It was one of the few times where our nation's 44th president truly showed his cards. Another, was a "fundamental transformation" of the country that was so vague that it could be interpreted as anything from getting US troops out of Iraq and focusing on the home front or if you're a post-national progressive, you could read all of your hopes for transforming the system you do not like to your mind's imagination and heart's desire. 

Barack Obama will not be the last articulator of his vision, but he will be the last one who is successful at it. The gloves are off now, and the progressive view of the future is now utterly exposed as unworkable. 

And Donald Trump will not be the last articulator of the alternative vision, rather, I suspect he will have a Wilsonian role to play in the establishment of a new political era. And that era must build and stress a one nation cultural Americana just as much if not more than it stresses a civic nationalism. 


Next Article(s):

On Economic Nationalism and Reindustrialization 


In Defense of the 1950s 


Changing the Culture Will Mean Staking Out a New Counter-Culture First 


Troy M. Olson is an Army Veteran, lawyer by training, and co-author (with Gavin Wax) of ‘The Emerging Populist Majority’ now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target. He is the Sergeant-at-Arms of the New York Young Republican Club and co-founder of the Veterans Caucus. He lives in New York City with his wife and son. You can follow him on X/Twitter, Instagram, and Substack at @TroyMOlson.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Becoming a Communitarian: A Guide of Sorts

Lately, I've been reading a lot of Amitai Etzioni, the late Israeli-American sociologist, sometimes referred to as "The Godfather of Communitarianism," and I've come to realize that he was not a man content with mere theoretical pontifications: he was a man of action. 

Often, after describing a societal problem, he will offer readers some practical prescription. While coming up with answers to deep-seated problems may seem like a daunting task, it doesn't mean we shouldn't at least try.

All of my pieces for National Review conclude with at least a few sentences of prescriptive measures that we can take to improve our current situation. None of the measures I suggest for combating loneliness - like throwing dinner parties, joining softball leagues, or talking to people in the supermarket - are particularly novel, but they sure can't hurt. 

For a few months now, I've considered compiling a short, comprehensive list of communitarian acts that we can all employ in our daily lives. This is, by no means, a complete how-to guide, but rather, a simple blueprint for conducting yourself in a more communitarian way. While I've been putting these ideas into practice in my own life, I thought I'd share these tips and tricks with anyone interested in reading. Amitai Etzioni in his 1999 book The Limits of Privacy writes, "...we are not merely rights-bearing individuals but also community members who are responsible for each other." We ought to listen to Etzioni... 

Here are seven tips for becoming a communitarian:

1. Always hold the door for people. This is an easy one. There is never an excuse not to hold the door for someone, especially if they are carrying groceries or some other heavy objects. This applies even if the person in question is far away. When opening a door, you should always look behind you and see if there is anyone coming. This simple action can make someone's day. 

2. Acknowledge customer service workers.  Again, this shouldn't be a tall order, but unfortunately it is. I've worked as a barista, making coffee all over the city for years, and I can tell you: people can be cruel. Perhaps the worst form of cruelty is indifference or apathy. When you greet a customer, and they say nothing in response, it makes you feel utterly invisible. The people who bag your groceries at a supermarket or bus your table at a restaurant deserve to be seen. Always make it a point to greet and thank them. They matter too. 

3. Listen without inserting yourself. I've heard David Brooks articulate this point before. Often times when a friend is grieving or telling you about a problem they are experiencing, we find it useful to, in turn, respond by offering them our own personal anecdotes. This is a rational response. We are attempting to relate to them by, in effect, saying, "you are not alone." This approach, while seemingly innocuous, is actually quite selfish and me-centric. We should, instead, just listen. If a friend's cat died and she is mourning, don't tell her about the time your cat died; just listen and be with them.  

4. Avoid saying "no problem." This one might strike you as odd, but I am totally adamant about this: when someone asks you for a favor and you reply with, "no problem," you are, in effect, insinuating that there might have been a problem. Or, at the very least, you are implanting the idea of a problem into their head. Instead, you should reply with, "my pleasure." I would highly recommend reading Micah Solomon's article on this. 

5. Send the elevator back down. My dad repeats this one ad nauseam. If you take the elevator up to the tenth floor, you should make it a habit to send it back down to the first floor as you get off. This is a small deed, but a thoughtful one. 

6. Shame your friends for littering. We ought to take pride in our communities. There should, therefore, be zero tolerance for littering. Most littering, I would wager, is not deliberate. Your friend, for example, may go to toss an empty bottle of water into a garbage can, only for it to miss and land in the street. Indifferent, your friend may just keep on walking. Don't let them. Tell them to go back and pick it up. Try not to sound too sanctimonious when doing this, though. 

7. Always answer your phone. We've become accustomed to texting our friends, "can I call you later?" when we can't answer the phone. This deprives the caller of your human voice, an important part of social connection. Instead, pick up the phone and tell your buddy that you'll call him back later. I've blogged about this before here.   

I encourage readers to send me your tips for living like a communitarian. I'd love to read them! 

 


Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The Rise of TikTok Influencers: Exploring Fame and Fashion in the Digital Age


In recent years, TikTok influencers have risen to prominence, captivating audiences worldwide with their creativity, charisma, and authenticity. This phenomenon has transformed the landscape of social media, reshaping the way we consume content, interact with celebrities, and perceive fame. But what are the factors driving the popularity of TikTok influencers? What is the genesis of the mechanisms to their success, and their impact on contemporary society? We are going to do a brief analysis and breakdown.

TikTok, a video-sharing platform known for its short-form content and algorithm-driven feed, has provided a fertile ground for aspiring influencers to showcase their talent and build a loyal following. Unlike traditional celebrities, TikTok influencers often come from diverse backgrounds, ranging from amateur dancers and comedians to makeup artists and fitness enthusiasts. This democratization of fame has allowed individuals from all walks of life to attain celebrity status, resonating with audiences who crave authenticity and relatability.

One of the key reasons for the popularity of TikTok influencers is their perceived authenticity and relatability. Unlike polished and curated content found on other social media platforms, TikTok videos often feature raw and unfiltered moments that reflect the everyday experiences of ordinary people. This authenticity fosters a sense of connection and intimacy between influencers and their followers, leading to increased engagement and loyalty.

TikTok's user-friendly interface and diverse array of editing tools have empowered influencers to unleash their creativity and innovation. From choreographed dance routines to comedic skits and DIY tutorials, TikTok influencers have embraced a wide range of genres and formats to captivate their audience. This emphasis on creativity and originality has enabled influencers to stand out in a crowded digital landscape and garner attention from brands and marketers seeking to collaborate with trendsetters.

The algorithm-driven nature of TikTok's feed has played a crucial role in propelling influencers to fame and fortune. TikTok's algorithm analyzes user behavior, preferences, and engagement patterns to curate personalized content tailored to each individual user. This algorithmic discoverability has enabled lesser-known influencers to go viral overnight, reaching millions of viewers and catapulting them to stardom. The potential for virality on TikTok has leveled the playing field, allowing newcomers to compete with established influencers on equal footing.

As TikTok influencers amass large followings and attract attention from brands and advertisers, they have unlocked lucrative monetization opportunities. Brands are eager to collaborate with influencers to leverage their reach and influence to promote products and services to a highly engaged audience. From sponsored content and brand partnerships to affiliate marketing and merchandise sales, TikTok influencers have diversified their revenue streams, turning their passion into profit.

Beyond entertainment and commerce, TikTok influencers wield significant social impact and cultural influence, shaping trends, driving conversations, and advocating for social causes. Influencers have used their platform to raise awareness about important issues such as mental health, body positivity, and environmental sustainability, mobilizing their followers to take action and effect change. The ability of TikTok influencers to catalyze social movements and spark meaningful conversations underscores their role as cultural tastemakers and influencers.

Below I have provided my own take and a list of negative aspects I find to be concerning and detrimental to societal progress. This is a short list of five negative connotations I have experienced, and many of my peers have experienced, since downloading the app in 2022.

Mental Health Struggles: TikTok's emphasis on perfection and popularity has exacerbated mental health issues among young users. The constant exposure to curated content, comparison culture, and unrealistic beauty standards can lead to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and depression. Moreover, the pressure to gain likes, followers, and validation from peers can fuel a sense of worthlessness and self-doubt, contributing to poor mental wellbeing.

Body Image Concerns: The created culture of idealized beauty and body standards has perpetuated unrealistic expectations and body image concerns among young users. Influencers often showcase their flawless appearances and filtered images, creating an unattainable standard of beauty. This can lead to body dissatisfaction, disordered eating behaviors, and a negative body image among individuals, especially impressionable teenagers.

Cyberbullying and Online Harassment: Anonymity and lack of accountability have made TikTok a breeding ground for cyberbullying and online harassment. Users, particularly young people, are vulnerable to bullying, hate speech, and harassment from peers and strangers alike. The platform's comment section and duet feature can be used to target and ridicule individuals, leading to psychological distress and social withdrawal.

Addiction and Screen Time: The addictive nature and algorithm-driven feed can lead to excessive screen time and smartphone addiction among users. The platform's endless scroll feature encourages users to spend hours mindlessly scrolling through content, often at the expense of real-life interactions, hobbies, and responsibilities. Excessive use of TikTok can disrupt sleep patterns, impair concentration, and negatively impact academic or professional performance.

Social Comparison and FOMO: TikTok fosters a culture of social comparison and fear of missing out (FOMO) among young users. The highlight reel of curated content and glamorous lifestyles can lead individuals to compare their own lives unfavorably, feeling inadequate or left out in comparison. This constant need to keep up with trends and peers can fuel anxiety, insecurity, and a sense of social isolation among users.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Reflections from Jerusalem


Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel and be immersed in a truly unique society with a set of traditions (and circumstances) that have kept communitarianism stronger than in the rest of the Western world. 

First, Israel’s mandated military service brings people from different walks of life together and keeps loyalty to country above domestic political quibbles. While Israeli politics have been unusually divisive in recent years, and especially since the government pushed sweeping judicial reforms last year, the Israelis I spoke with stressed that all of that is put aside in the military. 


It was not obvious that would be the case. Many Israelis on the left were so opposed to the reforms that they vowed to refuse service if the reforms passed, but when push came to shove after the October 7th attacks, the military’s needs were not only met but exceeded, with reservists reporting for duty at a rate of 120%.


The threat Israel faces is existential, and existential threats leave no time for luxury beliefs. As tense as politics are at home, there are far more dangerous enemies abroad. Additionally, this forced interaction with the other side humanizes political opponents, something sorely lacking in the United States. Israeli civil society is much stronger and healthier than American civil society. 


This is not to say that the United States should mandate military service, Israel does so out of necessity, not to build community. That said, Americans would do well to get out and interact with those they disagree with, and to find some way to give back to their country. It need not be military service, but being involved in a church community or volunteering could have some of the same effects. 


Israel is also a demographic anomaly. Its fertility rate runs far ahead of all other OECD countries (in fact, it is now the only one above replacement level). Additionally, while most Western nations are becoming more secular and liberal, young Israelis are conservative and religious. Not everything in Israel is applicable to America. For example, Israel’s more socialist founding makes it the cool thing to rebel against rather than a trendy ideology, but it is clear that Israel’s more communitarian structure and strong civil society are having a tangible impact. It should not be taken as inevitable that young people will be secular liberals. 


Looming in the background (and increasingly, the foreground) of conversations about both the military and demographics are the Haredi, or Ultra-Orthodox. They are a largely isolated part of the population who were a small minority at the time Israel was founded. However, given their sky-high fertility rate, their population is growing rapidly and making it much harder for the state to keep the exceptions it made for them in place. 


The key exceptions are twofold. First, Haredi are not required to serve in the military. This both isolates them from the community-building that the rest of the country is doing and limits the capacity of the armed forces. 


Second, the state has to subsidize their communities because their men stay home and study the Talmud instead of working. As of 2019, 51% of Haredi lived below the poverty line, and that’s with large state subsidies. This combination of not serving the country and consuming state resources has caused some Israelis to become resentful of the Haredi, and their arguments are not entirely unfounded. 


The Haredi are both the most and least communitarian people in Israel. On the one hand, they exist in tight-knit, highly religious communities. On the other, they are almost completely detached from their country. Their way of life should be respected, not insulted, but they also have to begin to integrate. The October 7th attacks and the military’s need for more soldiers appear to be pushing things in that direction, with a bill in the works that will penalize those who do not serve.


Integration will be good for both Israel and the Haredi. It will at least slow the accusations that the Haredi are free-riders and allow them to share their lifestyle with secular Israelis, while grafting them into the country’s institutions. 


Being in Israel, especially during this time, was inspirational. The love of country and sense of service was deeper than what I typically see stateside. By investing in civil society, Israel has become a healthy democracy with strong bonds to community, country, and religion. It is an anomaly in our secular, individualistic Western world. We should defend it, try to learn from it, and apply the lessons to our own nation. 


Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Against AirPods & Alienation

 

When you take the train as much as I do, it's hard not to become a bitter Luddite. Everyone - or, at least, nearly everyone - on my daily commute into the city is hopelessly tethered to their screens. It's actually impressive how they manage not to look up once the entire ride. Their phones have become an appendage. 

These commuters have a fundamental inability to sit still, alone with their thoughts. If deprived of their phones for even a minute, they fidget, knowing not what to do with their liberated hands. 

Many of these train-riding automatons no longer have any use for wired headphones. Now, they use the dreaded Apple AirPods. I can't stand these darned things... They are awful little white ear boogers. When you wear AirPods, you are telling those around you that you cannot be bothered. You become a cyborg, cocooned in a digital microcosm. 

This digital microcosm is a lonely, anti-social place to be. No longer are you experiencing your surroundings, your fellow humans, or your thoughts. Instead, you are enwrapped in an endless scroll of Instagram Reels, advertisements, and text messages. 

You can probably tell that all of this bothers me. 

To be sure, I too am guilty of accruing too much screen time on my phone. Often, I lose track of time when watching YouTube videos or scrolling X. In small doses, it's fun and amusing. In copious doses, it's tedious and draining. 

I recently finished reading Sherry Turkle's 2011 book, Alone Together. She makes many of these same points about the anti-social nature of the modern digital age. Very importantly, however, she urges prudence and understanding of our times, rather than a reactive rejection of technology. She admonishes readers not to give in to the "Luddite impulse." 

I completely agree. Technology isn't going anywhere. We'll have to learn to live with it. Our relationship with technology, though, must change. 8-hour screen time isn't sustainable for people. We must curtail our use. 

At this point, I'm sure you've come across this image of a man using a Virtual Reality headset on the train:


This is dystopian. I'm afraid we are in the early stages of normalizing such anti-social behavior. 

We need to pump the brakes and return to real human connection.