An exploration of how to be sanely political in today’s world

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Photo by Brian Wertheim on Unsplash

Why do we focus so much on politics? It’s not a rhetorical question. The events of the past few weeks are just the crescendo of a longer-term trend of derangement, now apparently ubiquitous across the political spectrum. I ask because politics still makes me crazy when I engage with it, as well as many of my otherwise level-headed friends, family members, and colleagues. Every conversation is a minefield of strong opinions, often unjustifiably so given the accompanying grasp of the subject, and raw emotions, tripwires triggered by innocuous comments. …


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Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

My prolonged relationship with imposter syndrome, longer and more consistent than most in my life, began when I started work. 18 years of education left me comfortable with any task accompanied by a detailed mark scheme, and embarrassingly inept at handling the ill-defined problems outside the classroom. I had no idea what I was doing, and I felt it viscerally; a nagging anxiety gleefully comparing my inexperience with the competent adults surrounding me. Over time its intensity has waxed and waned as I moved from job to job, changing colleagues and expectations, but always there, persisting. This loyalty has bred familiarity and the opportunity for self-inquiry and analysis. Where does imposter syndrome come from? Why is something so ubiquitous rarely talked about in the workplace? How do we get past it? …


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Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

How would you describe a life’s trajectory? Take a single life heading through time, simultaneously minute and meaningless, a flickering spark in infinity, and the most important thing there is. Stop it at random, a single frame of existence, and plot a course into the future. Can you judge the direction of travel?

If you’re willing to compress the infinite variety of life into a single word (I am), there are roughly three trajectories: growth, stagnation, and deterioration. The default is stagnation, a life purportedly in motion but actually in stasis, the small hillocks of growth and deterioration flattened to immateriality with the birds-eye view. But it is an unstable equilibrium, dependent on apathy and easily disturbed, liable to lapse into its adjacent phases, growth and deterioration. …


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Photo by Remi Moebs on Unsplash

The world we live in

The world is out of control. The last 10 months have left this one fact clear, whatever your ideological leanings and political bias. As a species, our self-assurance has cracked under the ineluctable demands of exponential contagion and an R₀ rate greater than 1. It’s been an anxious time. Insidious uncertainty has engulfed life in a cloying fog, colouring experience with the existential anxiety it promotes.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a tragedy for millions, the vanguard for death, unemployment, and isolation. Yet for millions more little has really changed. They wake up, go to work (normally in the same building), eat dinner (home-cooked), and see friends (virtually). Subtract the uncertainty and anxiety, ignore the Events propagated in the news, and life goes on; the humdrum atoms of experience broadly unaffected by quarantines, curfews, and shelter in place orders. That’s not to denigrate anyone’s suffering — which is real and meaningful — but to pinpoint the root cause of our existential distress: we’ve been roughly disabused of the notion we’re in control. …


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If Karl Max lived in 2020 he would’ve written ‘pop culture is opium for the people’. This article isn’t about Karl Marx, but it is a combination of two things: an apology for putting down the opium pipe and embracing disconnection from the cultural zeitgeist, and a manifesto for better ways to direct your attention.

I’ve never been at the forefront of pop culture. I blame my mum for refusing to buy Sky, limiting me to 5 TV channels until I’d nearly left home (despite numerous threats of reporting her to the NSPCC). By the time she’d caved it was already too late for me; I’d never catch-up on a whole childhood. I gamely tried through university, but I could barely keep up with the proliferating channels: Facebook was already a given, I resisted Twitter, Snapchat briefly obsessed me, Instagram subtly hooked me, I still miss Vine, I danced ‘Gangnam Style’, did the ‘Harlem Shake’, my ‘Neck and Nominate’ was pathetic and I managed to avoid the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’. That nostalgic journey through the early 2010s reveals my bias; given my natural inclination this article is self-serving, but I was lost for a time in the hazy, smoke-filled opium den and I hope this gives my argument legitimacy. …


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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I didn’t realise I was selfish until I was 24. It was more a creeping realisation than an instant flash of insight, the indisputable accumulation of half-forgotten events and off-hand comments: staying awkwardly silent during a group conversation on charities we were donating to, friends’ birthdays I attended empty handed, an inexplicable urge to ensure I pay for only what I ate and not a penny more at dinner, rightly mocked, the almost total focus on myself and my own issues with little mental energy devoted to others. …


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Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

There’s a specific, unique feeling when something really resonates with me. The reaction is physical, an intense, visceral excitement, as if my body is first to recognise the implications. The energy roils in anticipation before the thoughts are fully formed, then they cascade through my brain, mixing and stumbling and too fast and incoherent to verbalise in a way anyone could understand. Only later, systematically sorting through the chaos inside my head, do I process the full implications of that moment. For others the Eureka moment seems more ordered, the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle, carefully placed, revealing the whole picture in a flash of insight. It is a tantalisingly elusive feeling, the common thread the suddenness and unexpectedness of the moment, difficult to reproduce by design and specific to the person and context. …


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Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash

Diagnosing the problem

Consider the question ‘what are your values?’ Can you answer it? If you’re anything like me you will struggle. In trying to elucidate the core tenets of our personal philosophy we quickly run into a big challenge — we don’t have one. I had the nebulous notion that I wanted to be a ‘good person’, with little exploration of how I would embody that, and the vague sense that at least most of my actions would fit that claim. But I’d think very little day to day on how my values inform my actions, whether my mundane, quotidian decisions were actually consistent with my self-narrative. …


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Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash

When I was a child I couldn’t wait to get older. In the vague, tangled blur of my childhood memories — I’m not one of those people who claim clarity for their earliest recollections (I’ve always suspect they’re lying) — I remember a pervasive feeling of powerlessness in my interactions with adults, a recognition of my lowly status and a vague suspicion they were laughing at me in ways I couldn’t understand.

As a teenager the story was mixed: each passing year came with more difficult, supposedly more important exams, and the sense my life’s path was being decided without my agency, but it also meant legal drinking, hazy, technicolour nights clubbing veiled with excitement, and the hope that one day I’ll understand how to engineer a sexual encounter. …


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Photo by Juri Gianfrancesco on Unsplash

When was the last time you had a good conversation? Not the disengaged post-smartphone version — superficial words exchanged half-distracted — but a fully present sharing of ideas, bypassing the surface level chaff to meander through deeper currents. Not a discussion of people, of who did what and how we judge them from our ivory tower, but of the momentous events that mark our lives, of the beguiling ideas that can instantly alter a life’s course and the intimate feelings we shield from the world.

For most of us the concept has become something alien; ‘an uninterrupted conversation, with no notifications, no vibrating pocket and insistent blinking LEDs…what on earth do you mean?’ It seems quaint, almost Luddite, yearning for a time consigned to antiquity by the inevitable march of technological progress. Long-form journalism flails in its death throes, we ingest our information in 140 character chunks and nuance has been systematically excised from public discourse. In the public sphere conversation has degenerated to trading soundbites, with no shared attempt to find common ground. How can we? Our beliefs are increasingly identity based, and there’s something existentially threatening about compromising our own identity. …

About

Matthew Born

26 year old Londoner working in Tech, thinking a lot about productivity, philosophy, politics, happiness and far too much more to fit in 160 characters

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