20 March 2012

Bubbles

I encourage you to take a look at Bryan Caplan's two posts about being happy he lives in a "bubble" of the type Charles Murray criticizes in Coming Apart.
I have a visceral dislike of the term "bubble." I don't know if this was location-specific or not, but "bubble" was the term a certain type of too-cool-for-school kid used in my high school to denote how much more awesome than our hometown (s)he was.

(Frankly, there was something to this complaint. Bethesda, like most modern suburbs, is simply not designed to provide utility to teenagers.

But I got really sick and tired of hearing about how bad it was to be "trapped in the Bethesda bubble." People always said this as if they were on the verge of escaping to New York or Paris where they would spend all their time in cool cafes and all-ages clubs meeting fascinating people and discussing big ideas and "experiencing life." If you spend your time in a suburb sitting around and gossiping about friends then even when you're transplanted to a cosmopolitan metropolis you're still going to sit around and gossip about friends.  If you have a boring life as a seventeen year old it's at least partially your fault. Stop blaming it all on geography and make some of your own fun.)

Putting my terminological dislike aside, I'm very sympathetic to Caplan's position regarding bubbles.

Building a bubble is my second leading motivation for making money. (The first is the standard American dream motivation: allow my children to have a more prosperous upbringing than I did.) In short, I want the ability to say "screw this; here's some money; now strike your bullshit off the list of things I need to worry about." Obviously money doesn't scour away all bullshit.
This is the time when you go listen to Zevon's "Lawyer's, Guns and Money." I even embedded it in the bottom of the post for you. Go ahead. I'll wait.
I'm sure this paragraph would give Epictetus a big chuckle. But money sure seems like a nice option to have in your toolkit.*

You know the old passage in Exodus about not suffering witches to live? That's how I feel about fools. Okay, to be clear I don't want them put to death, I just don't want to have to suffer through their foolishness.

Here's an example from yesterday's news: "Hate the full-body scans, pat-downs and slow going at TSA airport security screening checkpoints? For $100, you can now bypass the hassle." In a better world I would never have to make choice between $100 and not having an epsilon moron in a polyester uniform reach down the front of my trousers and have himself a rummage. But in the sad world in which we live, the world in which most people think its perfectly okay for powerful men to steal my money in order to pay troglodytes with no job prospects in order to prevent terrorism politicians from being called 'soft on terror' that's a trade I'll make.

(Hat tip to my friend A.B. for that story.)

I'm reminded of an old Chuck Klosterman essay which I can't put my finger on now. In it, he discusses how it's fairly easy to ignore the things in pop culture we don't like, but most people aren't content with that. We don't just want to not hear that band or watch that show we dislike, we want everyone else to stop listening to the band or watching the show. We want the things we don't like to be universally un-liked. We want them to cease existing. This is a pretty natural – or at least common – instinct and yet a pretty bizarre and not so very nice thing to do.

The idea of happily withdrawing into a bubble, and being unaware of the cultural experiences of the mass of people outside seems arrogant. But I think, viewed in light of what Klosterman points out, it's actually an extremely accepting stance. Go ahead and listen to the pop music I hate. Watch the reality shows I can't stand. I don't care. I'm not going to be upset that people like things I don't. That's much easier to pull off if you distance yourself more completely from the cultural artifacts you don't like. If they aren't part of your life it's much harder to get upset that they are a part of someone else's.

3 comments:

  1. I know you read Arnold Kling. I bet you've read The Diamond Age too.

    Vickies and Thetes. It's the way.

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  2. I'm just happy to read a blog post that references Bryan Caplan and Chuck Klosterman... fits nicely in my bubble!

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  3. @Mike: You bet I've read Diamond age. Multiples times, actually. I need to get a Neo-Victorian badge I can put on my bag or laptop or something.

    @btf: We can be bubble-buddies!

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