Sunset pool
July 26, 2015, 2:25 pm
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Hudson river view
July 26, 2015, 2:23 pm
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all kinds of richness
October 11, 2013, 12:24 pm
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In our work lives, the status quo is snobbery and the desired goal is love, explains Alain de Botton below. Snobbery is being judged based on superficials while all the richness of our inner lives roil hidden beneath the judgment: a vision from Dante’s hell. In essence, bosses reduce workers to one or two capabilities that meet their business needs, while workers yearn to use their genius and suffer through their days.

To break this unhappy  – and untenable – blockage, one must see the real potential of a person’s inner life. This is accomplished by imagination, which breaks the bonds of the snob judgment and allows the real inner richness and creativity to be revealed and to play a part.

It’s a good lesson to know if you want to be happy in your workplace, or to make a pleasant workplace for the people who work for you.

Alain de Botton on the chasm between our rich interior selves and our jobs:

We live in a world surrounded by snobs.  What is a snob?–A snob is someone who takes a small part of you and uses that to judge the whole of you.  And the dominant snobbery nowadays is job snobbery.

This is a deeply frightening vision.  Partly it’s frightening because most of us are unable to bring our true richness of character and personality in line with our business card.  The business card does not fully reflect who we are. We are being judged, we feel, in a humiliating way.  We feel there is so much in us that has not got an expression in capitalism.  You know, capitalism is a machine that recognizes outward financial, external achievement.  And most of us carry all kinds of richness which we are unable to translate into that language.  There are very few of us whose full complexity of character has been brought out, as it were, on their business card.  Most of us, what is special about us requires – it requires love.  And by love, I mean imagination.  It requires someone to say, even though that person looks a bit, it could be anything boring, uninteresting, unimportant, dull, actually that’s because I’m only looking at them in the first 30 seconds.  They need more time.

So we need charity and we need complexity.  And the cruelty of the modern world, the cruelty of New York City, for example, so this is a city where people give you 30 seconds and not much longer, if you’re not careful.  And that’s very challenging, it cuts people up inside.  It literally drives you crazy.

What are you worth?  Getting past status anxiety, Alain de Botton

August 18, 2013, 3:58 pm
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the uneasy fear of ideas
November 7, 2010, 7:17 pm
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Even in the new world, things get old in a hurry.  And it makes sense that in the American north east, where the Puritans and Quakers and Dutch first established themselves, and where new treaties and governments and constitutions were established first, and native peoples beat back, the body politic began its atrophy.

H. L. Mencken was a Baltimore writer and social critic.  In this excerpt from his essay, The Scene Almost Staggers, he takes down the eastern seaboard cities, that densely populated string of urbanity from which the great western expansion sprung.  Class esteem, self actualization and fear are the hallmarks of the east coast society that only a few generations earlier had escaped similar social strictures and clambered onto boats to make the trans Atlantic journey to a new kind of elusive freedom.

I left a midwestern city ten years ago, its twins and lawns and new uncomfortable towers, drawn by the lights and density of the American north east.  A girl I knew back then said, curiously, LA was the city to go to now, because of its start up verve, sun, sense of possibility.  Her words rankled; and I went east easily trading the new car city for the potential urbanity of the older east.  But the streets, wonderfully formed, were for the most part empty, and still are.  The cities are there, but the money and the ideas and the people are in the suburbs.

Mencken pulls no punches describing his own home town from the vantage of San Francisco.  If a city is as much its people as it’s building, spaces and forms, then what’s the advantage of beauty and urbanity if occupied by thugs and savants?

From Mencken’s essay:

The East, it seems to me, is gone, and perhaps for good. All the towns along the seaboard are now as alike as so many soldiers in a row. They think alike. They hope and fear alike. They smell alike. They begin to look alike. What one says all the others say. What one does all the others do. It is as if some gigantic and relentless force labored to crush all personality, all distinction, all tang and savor out of them. They sink to the spiritual and intellectual level of villages—fat, lethargic, and degraded. Their aspirations are the aspirations of curb brokers, greengrocers, and honorary pallbearers. The living hope of their typical citizen is to die respected by bank cashiers, Young Men’s Christian Association secretaries, and policemen. They are ironed out, disemboweled, denatured, dephlogisticated, salted down, boiled, baked, dried in a kiln.

Think of Washington: a hundred thousand miserable botches of ninth-rate clerks, all groveling at the feet of such puerile caricatures as Daniels, Burleson, and Palmer. Baltimore: mile after mile of identical houses, all inhabited by persons who regard Douglas Fairbanks as a greater man than Beethoven. (What zoologist, without a blood count and a lumbar puncture, could distinguish one Baltimorean from another?) Philadelphia: an intellectual and cultural slum. Newark: a worse one. New York: a wholesale district with an annex for entertaining the visiting trade. New Haven and Hartford: blanks. Boston: a potter’s field, a dissecting room. Mental decay in all its forms, but one symptom there is in common: the uneasy fear of ideas, the hot yearning to be correct at all costs, the thirst to be well esteemed by cads.

-H. L. Mencken, The Scene Almost Staggers, 1920, San Francisco

enlightened catastrophism
January 21, 2010, 1:49 am
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Different cultures react differently to security and risk.  Take for example the French and the Americans:  one reluctant and secretive and the other anxious and xenophobic.

From Urban Age’s Civilizing Security in New York:

What distinguishes New York and Paris?

1. Different national rhetoric

French Approach: “enlightened catastrophism” (Jean-Pierre Dupuy)

• Reluctance to overreact and to create “moral panics”.

• Culture of secrecy among high-ranking French bureaucrats.

• French state: pivotal role in the production of social trust and solidarity.

American Approach: anxiety without an object (Habermas)

• A discourse of “war”.

• A state of constant citizen alert and anxiety.

• The construction of referents of otherness, the alien, dirty and subversive.

Civilizing Security in New York:  A View from Europe, Sophie Body-Gendrot

dutch tolerance in america
March 27, 2009, 10:19 am
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Here is a quotation from Janera’s blog entry Triangle of Tolerance.  Back at the founding, New Amsterdam was a free trade zone – and general liberalism flowed from economic policy into social spheres and back again –  while Boston and other eastern cities, dominated by the puritan British, became defined by religious intolerance.

The thought is that generations and generations later we are still suffering by these attitudes and ideas.  I find the mention of land rights particularly revealing – an industry and ideology has grown like barnacles, encrusted, around what originally may have been a simple and useful idea.

From the article –

According to Shorto, the free trading, tolerance, and keen business sense of the Dutch is still felt in America. The Dutch were the first to issue public shares in a company, and in New Amsterdam, an ethnically mixed group co-existed, trading with the Indians and making a profit, while pubs abounded and prostitution was pervasive. This was starkly different from the puritan English settlements of Boston and Hartford, which were much more religious, operating from the assumption that they had a God-given right to the land.

This small story has had a big impact on the American identity and culture, according to Shorto. Whilst some Americans need to identify with English purity, others accept the impact of other groups—Blacks, Latinos and the Dutch, among others—on the origins of America. While Russell was talking, I couldn’t help but think that this dichotomy has trickled down to modern-day American politics with the Republicans adhering to the puritan explanation of American history whilst the Democrats may be more inclined to acknowledge America as a true mix of ideas from its inception.

in the land of the timid
April 21, 2008, 12:40 pm
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(le Corbusier|peasant|more peasants|Rockefeller)

This is from the review of a book about Corbusier’s trip to America in the 1930s – a lecture tour and business trip.  It seems he developed a low opinion of the new world; two examples of its crude character are given here.  He had an affair with an American woman from New York city whom he ultimately decided was peasant-like.  He pursued business with Rockefeller, who was building skyscrapers at the time, and also concluded he was less than civilized. Peasant lovers and land developers. Very cosmopolitan!

Le Corbusier in America is the fascinating but sad story of his master’s attempt to woo the New World in the 1930s, even as he insulted it for timidity. Mardges Bacon has been working on this tome for 20 years and, with its 80 pages of detailed notes, it is a piece of scholarship that will not be superseded. Among her many insights are the ways his American lectures helped establish modern architecture in the academies, how he almost won a series of important commissions (before his caustic comments lost them), the role he played in bringing mass-housing to this country and the design of the UN Headquarters. Also the affair with his American muse, Marguerite Harris, is clarified: a woman he could see as a symbol of the New World and compliment in letters and drawings as ‘the peasant woman of New York’. The fact that most lovers would not take this as praise suggests how complex and sophisticated were his thoughts. He also said that Nelson Rockefeller, who he hotly pursued for commissions, has ‘the iron fist of a peasant’ — though not to his face. Modernism and the primitive were mixed in LC’s mind during the ’30s while Americans, reading his books of the ’20s, were determined to find only the apostle of the machine. This led to continual misunderstanding.

~Charles Jencks book review of Le Corbusier in America: Travels in the Land of the Timid, by Mardges Bacon, London: MIT Press, 2001.