On popping collars

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

While there’s probably some truth to this, it’s critical that we first distinguish between two groups of unreasonable people.

In the first group, you have rebels. These folks are defined by their animus, and are psychologically predisposed to complain. This is not to suggest that it’s necessarily a permanent condition; often it is not. Nor is it rare; most people are afflicted in their earlier years. As to its seriousness, in runs the full spectrum. Some rebels wear Hot Topic, and some commit murder.

The second group of unreasonable folks — the folks responsible for all progress — consists of those who agree when a subject is agreeable, and disagree when it is disagreeable. They neither concur nor dissent by reflex, but examine the situation carefully. They decide, and then express the content of their decision without regard to external influence.

In Shaw’s formulation they are the most unreasonable of all, though I’d prefer to think they’re the most reasonable. Regardless, progress depends on this second group. The first group doesn’t contribute to progress and may in fact hinder it.

Now let’s consider the polo shirt.

As it happens, it was a common practice throughout the eighties and nineties to pop one’s collar. For those unacquainted, this involves unfolding the shirt collar so that it stands upright toward the jaw. The collar fully covers the neck, protecting it against the harsh sun and melanoma. In this way, popping one’s collar was purely a matter of function.

However, popping collars soon became an expression of mainstream cool. Movie stars were doing it, as were those kids at school who never invited you to what was probably a terrible party anyway. The practice of popping one’s collar had lost all pretense to function, and became a matter of fashion for most people.

These people took their collar popping very seriously. That is, until they didn’t. They simply abandoned the practice when it became passé, and folded their collar back in response to social terror.

Still others persisted in standing their collar upright, whether out of utility or a sincere appreciation of its appearance, and they did so despite many threats of violence.

It is this last group that all progress depends on.

To put it simply, in the end, we cannot judge the popped collar. We can only judge the popper. We must look to their motivations, and determine whether they arise from their own will, or whether they merely pop with the times.

Let us celebrate the former and pity the latter.

Behind the palace walls, no one is worried

From a recent article in Rolling StoneDemocrats Will Learn All the Wrong Lessons From Brush With Bernie, Matt Taibbi writes:

Politicians are so used to viewing the electorate as a giant thing to be manipulated that no matter what happens at the ballot, they usually can only focus on the Washington-based characters they perceive to be pulling the strings. Through this lens, the uprising among Democratic voters this year wasn’t an organic expression of mass disgust, but wholly the fault of Bernie Sanders, who within the Beltway is viewed as an oddball amateur and radical who jumped the line.

Nobody saw his campaign as an honest effort to restore power to voters, because nobody in the capital even knows what that is. In the rules of palace intrigue, Sanders only made sense as a kind of self-centered huckster who made a failed play for power. And the narrative will be that with him out of the picture, the crisis is over. No person, no problem.

This inability to grasp that the problem is bigger than Bernie Sanders is a huge red flag. As Thacker puts it, the theme of this election year was widespread anger toward both parties, and both the Trump craziness and the near-miss with Sanders should have served as a warning. “The Democrats should be worried they’re next,” he says.

But they’re not worried. Behind the palace walls, nobody ever is.


I plan to spend a month or two, later this year, traveling across the country and car-camping. Nomadic beatnik, hippie vagabond, granola wanderer style. It’ll be smelly, but a lot of fun I think.

A few things to read:

(I obsessively read up on these sorts of things. Also, there’s a real cottage industry of car-living writer-advocates.)

Raised for slaughter

Ryan Boren shares his experience with the American school system:

In the late 80s and early 90s when I was in high school, the treadmill wasn’t as stressful and pervasive as now, but straight A students like myself were encouraged and expected to get on it. We were expected to join the student council and National Honor Society, give a shit about Who’s Who Among Students and National Merit Scholarships, and do extracurriculars we didn’t really care about. Who’s Who and National Merit came along with the tests I had to take, but I skipped the rest of the script. I saw it as styrofoam and a waste of time. What did this have to do with who I wanted to be?

My own experience with school was pretty similar, though I never saw very much in the way of “encouragement” or “expectation” from teachers. The expectations seemed already internalized by many of my peers, and were therefore unnecessary to express.

This precocious internalization is perhaps a part of what made my school district “top-notch”. As a reward for this, its buildings are not falling apart, and we were offered classes in Latin and philosophy.

Probably one of the most important things I’ve ever done was really an omission. I never took school very seriously.

One of the first lessons you learn in school is to relinquish one of your most basic expressions of autonomy: Your ability to use the restroom when you need to.

In school, I learned that you needed to ask another person for their permission. It’s obviously absurd, and everyone knows it, so there’s a kind of pretext. A fear of looming pedophiles, perhaps.

None of this is conscious or deliberate, of course, but such practices are nearly eternal. They persist by way of inertia and their utility. It’s obviously useful to have people always ask for your permission. And if they do so, you don’t even need to exercise your (usually illegitimate) authority. All this makes one feel very moral and important.

I suppose, then, there are three general approaches you can take to school:

  1. Take it seriously and do well.
  2. Regard it as nonsense, but play the game and do well.
  3. Regard it as nonsense, and don’t play the game.

I was fairly settled in that third camp throughout high school, but college put me closer to the second. It was a fine way to spend time and learn a few things. If all the classes I’d ever taken were taught as my philosophy courses — dialectical, tiny class sizes, written exams, essay-heavy — I’d probably have been planted in the first camp all along.

But they weren’t, and so I wasn’t. If I could do it all over, from Kindergarten, I’d have planted myself closer to the second camp. However, I suspect, it’s very difficult to maintain that split-mentality over time without losing yourself.

The trouble is, people like to do things that appear sensible. If what you’re doing doesn’t seem sensible, then you’ll stop doing it and descend toward the third camp. Or, you’ll start to believe that what you’re doing is sensible in order to preserve your sanity, and graduate to the first camp.

The latter is properly understood to be the process of indoctrination if you’re in North Korea, but here in the United States, this is called “adaptive behavior”.

Universal basic income

Andrew Flowers of Five Thirty Eight on universal basic income:

The idea is as simple as it is radical: Rather than concern itself with managing myriad social welfare and unemployment insurance programs, the government would instead regularly cut a no-strings-attached check to each citizen. No conditions. No questions. Everyone, rich or poor, employed or out of work would get the same amount of money. This arrangement would provide a path toward a new way of living: If people no longer had to worry about making ends meet, they could pursue the lives they want to live.


The economic uncertainty surrounding basic income is huge, and the politics of bringing such a program about on a large scale are daunting. But something makes this radical proposal so exciting that people and governments are increasingly willing to try it. Basic income challenges our notions of the social safety net, the relationship between work and income, and how to adapt to technological change. That makes it one of the most audacious social policy experiments in modern history. It could fail disastrously, or it could change everything for the better.

Basic income has attracted a motley crew of supporters, spanning the ideological spectrum. Efficiency-minded libertarians like the idea of streamlining the bureaucracy of the welfare state. Silicon Valley techies hope a guaranteed income would cushion the blow as automation replaces human jobs. Those with a more utopian bent, such as the organizers of the Swiss referendum, want to open up more options, to let people create art and free the world of … “bullshit jobs.”

Via Matt.