Previously (not required): What Is Rationalist Berkeley’s Community Culture?
Response to (at Otium, highly recommended): Naming the Nameless
The strongest attractor is to that which attracts.
To pleasant interactions. To invisible, quiet competence. Things that ‘just work.’ Only the options you didn’t know you wanted. Where that which sounds right, and feels right, is right. A land of smiles and trust.
Nice things. They’re nice.
We can have them!
As Sarah puts it:
But for your typical consumer, the generic California/BoBo style works fine. It signals elegance, which means, more or less, that it’s designed for educated, high-Openness, upper-middle-class, urban people. When I enter a space or a website with this aesthetic, or buy a product with this branding, it’s shorthand for “Ahhhh, this place is run by competent professionals who know how to give me a pleasant experience. I will not feel harried or inconvenienced or confused here; I will be well taken care of. I will easily be able to slot my existing behavior patterns into the implicit “rules” of how to use and navigate this place or device or website.”
I gotta admit it. Nice things are pretty sweet. The best part about nice? When you’re done appreciating how nice it is, you can stop paying attention. Nice becomes background. Focus advances. Life is better.
I wants them.
But, at what cost? What is the price of nice?
Otherwise, we can’t have nice things. Because you didn’t make them.
The second price, the equivalence of niceness and rightness. Nice defends itself by banishing the not nice. In ways not nice. It pretends not to notice.
When you can’t or won’t pay for the shields, and don’t preserve them, that too is why you can’t have nice things. Because you break them.
If one uses not nice to banish and hide not nice, what counts as nice matters quite a bit.
Anyone, anything, anywhere that can create and preserve nice things, on any level, deserves praise. I may sometimes think of Berkeley as the devil, or the enemy, but one must give him his due on aesthetics. He’s a man of wealth and taste. On this, devil delivers.
But what, then, in such a place, is nice? Is nice now an aesthetic, a style, rather than a substance? And hence, is it the aesthetic of having the aesthetic? Has the thing been banished by the symbolic representation of the thing? Does this tyranny of superficial niceness inevitably create a particular ideological cascade? It seems to. Does it banish truth, slowly pressuring all into conformity, via the Scott Alexander quote that cannot be repeated enough times, so here it is again:
Sometimes I can almost feel this happening. First I believe something is true, and say so. Then I realize it’s considered low-status and cringeworthy. Then I make a principled decision to avoid saying it – or say it only in a very careful way – in order to protect my reputation and ability to participate in society. Then when other people say it, I start looking down on them for being bad at public relations. Then I start looking down on them just for being low-status or cringeworthy. Finally the idea of “low-status” and “bad and wrong” have merged so fully in my mind that the idea seems terrible and ridiculous to me, and I only remember it’s true if I force myself to explicitly consider the question. And even then, it’s in a condescending way, where I feel like the people who say it’s true deserve low status for not being smart enough to remember not to say it. This is endemic, and I try to quash it when I notice it, but I don’t know how many times it’s slipped my notice all the way to the point where I can no longer remember the truth of the original statement.
Is GT’s Kombucha, the symbolic representation of the symbolic representation of the thing that hates symbolic representations of things, the inevitable endpoint? Inclusive symbols of exclusivity, as we come together to be intolerant of the symbolic representation of intolerance, and hence, inevitably, of actual real things?
Not only the abyss, when gazed into, also gazes into you.