Friday, April 28, 2017

Young Adults & the Construction Trades

NAHB conducted a national poll of young adults ages 18 to 25 to find out how this age group feels about a career in the construction trades. The majority of young adults (74%) say they know the field in which they want to have a career. Of these, only 3% are interested in the construction trades.

Most of the young people interested in the trades say the two most important benefits of this career choice are good pay (80%) and the attainment of useful skills (74%). Less than half cite as benefits that the work is seasonal (15%) or that it does not require a college degree (37%).

The 26% of respondents who do not yet know the career path they want to take got a follow-up question about the chance they might consider a number of fields (construction trades being one of them) using a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 meant ‘no chance no matter the pay’ and 5 meant ‘very good chance if the pay is high.’ Construction trades got an average rating of 2.1, with 63% of undecided young adults rating it 1 or 2 (no or little chance regardless of pay) and 18% a 4 or 5 (good to very good chance if pay is high).

The 63% of undecided young adults who indicated there was no or little chance they would consider a career in the trades no matter the pay were prodded about the reasons for their resoluteness. The two most common reasons are wanting a less physically-demanding job (48%) and the belief that construction work is difficult (32%). They were then asked if there was any compensation level that might entice them to reconsider a career in the trades. For slightly more than 20%, that number is either $75,000 or $100,000, but for the plurality (43%), there is no amount of money that could make them give the trades a second thought.

by Rose Quint, NAHB |  Read more:
Image: NAHB

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Is Every Speed Limit Too Low?

When Lieutenant Gary Megge of the Michigan State Police attends a meeting, he sometimes asks, “How many of you broke the speed limit on your way here?”

Hearing his question, you might assume that Lt. Megge is a particularly zealous police officer. The type of person who walks half a city block to avoid jaywalking on an empty street. The model citizen who defers almost obnoxiously to the letter of the law. But that is not the point of Lt. Megge’s question at all.

“We all speed, yet months and months usually pass between us seeing a crash,” Lt. Megge tells us when we call to discuss speed limits. “That tells me that most of us are adequate, safe, reasonable drivers. Speeding and traffic safety have a small correlation.”

Over the past 12 years, Lt. Megge has increased the speed limit on nearly 400 of Michigan’s roadways. Each time, he or one of his officers hears from community groups who complain that people already drive too fast. But as Megge and his colleagues explain, their intent is not to reduce congestion, bow to the reality that everyone drives too fast, or even strike a balance between safety concerns and drivers’ desire to arrive at their destinations faster. Quite the opposite, Lt. Megge advocates for raising speed limits because he believes it makes roads safer.

Traffic Engineering 101

Every year, traffic engineers review the speed limit on thousands of stretches of road and highway. Most are reviewed by a member of the state’s Department of Transportation, often along with a member of the state police, as is the case in Michigan. In each case, the “survey team” has a clear approach: they want to set the speed limit so that 15% of drivers exceed it and 85% of drivers drive at or below the speed limit.

This “nationally recognized method” of setting the speed limit as the 85th percentile speed is essentially traffic engineering 101. It’s also a bit perplexing to those unfamiliar with the concept. Shouldn’t everyone drive at or below the speed limit? And if a driver’s speed is dictated by the speed limit, how can you decide whether or not to change that limit based on the speed of traffic?

The answer lies in realizing that the speed limit really is just a number on a sign, and it has very little influence on how fast people drive. “Over the years, I’ve done many follow up studies after we raise or lower a speed limit,” Megge tells us. “Almost every time, the 85th percentile speed doesn’t change, or if it does, it’s by about 2 or 3 mph.”

As most honest drivers would probably concede, this means that if the speed limit on a highway decreases from 65 mph to 55 mph, most drivers will not drive 10 mph slower. But for the majority of drivers, the opposite is also true. If a survey team increases the speed limit by 10 mph, the speed of traffic will not shoot up 10 mph. It will stay around the same. Years of observing traffic has shown engineers that as long as a cop car is not in sight, most people simply drive at whatever speed they like.

Luckily, there is some logic to the speed people choose other than the need for speed. The speed drivers choose is not based on laws or street signs, but the weather, number of intersections, presence of pedestrians and curves, and all the other information that factors into the principle, as Lt. Megge puts it, that “no one I know who gets into their car wants to crash.”

So if drivers disregard speed limits, why bother trying to set the “right” speed limit at all?

One reason is that a minority of drivers do follow the speed limit. “I’ve found that about 10% of drivers truly identify the speed limit sign and drive at or near that limit,” says Megge. Since these are the slowest share of drivers, they don’t affect the 85th percentile speed. But they do impact the average speed -- by about 2 or 3 mph when a speed limit is changed, in Lt. Megge’s experience -- and, more importantly, the variance in driving speeds.

This is important because, as noted in a U.S. Department of Transportation report, “the potential for being involved in an accident is highest when traveling at speed much lower or much higher than the majority of motorists.” If every car sets its cruise control at the same speed, the odds of a fender bender happening is low. But when some cars drive 55 mph and others drive 85 mph, the odds of cars colliding increases dramatically. This is why getting slow drivers to stick to the right lane is so important to roadway safety; we generally focus on joyriders’ ability to cause accidents -- and rightly so -- but a car driving under the speed limit in the left (passing) lane of a highway is almost as dangerous.

Traffic engineers believe that the 85th percentile speed is the ideal speed limit because it leads to the least variability between driving speeds and therefore safer roads. When the speed limit is correctly set at the 85th percentile speed, the minority of drivers that do conscientiously follow speed limits are no longer driving much slower than the speed of traffic. The choice of the 85th percentile speed is a data-driven conclusion -- as noted Lt. Megge and speed limit resources like the Michigan State Police’s guide -- that has been established by the consistent findings of years of traffic studies.

Yet most speed limits are set below the 85th percentile speed. We first investigated this topic at the urging of the National Motorists Association, a “member-supported driver advocacy organization” that has made raising speed limits to the 85th percentile one focus of its efforts.

One member pointed us to a 1992 report by the U.S. Department of Transportation on the “Effects of Raising and Lowering Speed Limits,” which, beside making the same arguments described above, noted that the majority of highway agencies set speed limits below the 85th percentile, leading over 50% of motorists to drive “in technical violation of the speed limit laws.” Lt. Megge believes the compliance rate in Michigan to be well under 50%.

It seems absurd that over half of drivers technically break the law at all times. It’s also perplexing that speed limit policy so consistently ignore traffic engineering 101. So why do people like Lt. Megge need to spend their time trying to raise speed limits?

by Alex Mayyasi, Pricenomics | Read more:
Image: NDF
[ed. Then there are places like Lynnwood, WA that love enforcing the posted speed limit. It's a great revenue generator.]

Is the Solution to Extreme Wealth Inequality Really – Alaska?

Consider the following two headlines and the fact they describe events that are occurring simultaneously: “Grains piled on runways, parking lots, fields amid global glut” and “Famine looms in four countries as aid system struggles to cope, experts warn.” How can it be that human civilization is producing so much food we’re running out of places to put it, and at the same time famine is spreading? It’s a question like this that lies at the heart of the 21st century. It’s the question of inequality.

The future is already here – it's just not very evenly distributed.
—William Gibson

Something is wrong. If degrees of inequality can be thought of as degrees of temperature, climate change isn’t our only man-made heating problem. Our distributional thermostat appears to have broken decades ago, and as a result the world is now sweating profusely and looking at 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) as some kind of utopian fantasy. Where economic inequality was once thought of as a way to drive innovation, the IMF and OECD among others now see too much inequality as pulling against economic growth.

It’s one thing to turn up the temperature a few degrees to get a bit more comfortable. It’s entirely something else for eight people on a planet of over 7 billion to own as much wealth as half the other 7 billion combined. How did it get this way and what can we do, if anything? The answer requires putting together a puzzle that includes three major pieces: land, the power to say no – and the state of Alaska.

Piketty 101

A few years ago, a French economist by the name of Thomas Piketty made waves with the publication of Capital in the 21st Century, a prodigiously weighty economic tome that simplified the perpetual problem of inequality down to three symbols: “r > g”. Translated, this equation claims that wealth begets wealth faster than economic growth creates wealth, or in other words, the rich get more of the pie faster than the pie itself can grow the size of the slices for everyone. Assuming this is true, there is then no way around redistribution of wealth outside of another wealth-destroying world war or social revolution, because humans have their inequality limits.

The internet, however, is full of surprises, and a critique of Piketty’s hypothesisby a college student called Matt Rognlie bubbled up from an online comments section to gain notoriety. Rognlie is now credited with adding an incredibly important insight to this discussion by pointing out that if one looked really closely at the letter “r” in Piketty’s equation, only one part appeared to be responsible for almost all the growth, and that lone part was land ownership.

The value of land

As it turns out, those who accumulate wealth tend to invest it in real estate, and the value of the land part of property trends upwards over time. There are a few reasons for this. Land, for the most part, does not increase in quantity. In fact, if we take rising sea levels into account, land is actually becoming scarcer. At the same time, demand for land will always exist, especially in cities.

There are great benefits to living in cities. That’s where the people are. That’s where the jobs are. That’s where the stores are. That’s where the infrastructure is. And so living in and near cities is in high demand, in fact increasingly so. Limited supply combined with increasing demand means rising prices. It then also means rising costs for renters and soaring windfall gains for owners.

Now, as a thought experiment, take a building that just sold for $1 billion and magically swap it with an empty plot of land in the middle of the desert. What happens? The building is now worth only the value of its component parts, and the previously worthless lot of sand would sell for hundreds of millions of dollars. This dramatic change in land value reveals something extremely important. The value of land is socially created. It is not created by the owner of the land. It is created by everyone and everything else surrounding it.

This is not a new revelation. Back in the late 1800s, an American named Henry George saw the problems created by treating land value like everything else, instead of something unique and socially created, and wrote a worldwide bestseller titled Progress and Poverty about the need for a land-value tax. This tax would be a tax not on what’s built on land, but on the land itself, or more specifically the unimproved value of land. An empty lot and an adjacent skyscraper would cost the same to their respective landowners, and this would incentivize owners to develop land to its fullest potential, and discourage sitting on undeveloped land to gain unearned windfalls.

A land-value tax has yet to catch on, despite promising to replace all other forms of taxes, and despite its popularity among economists, including Milton Friedman, who saw it as “the least bad tax” of all. Imagine a company like McDonald’s or a billionaire such as Bill Gates avoiding land-value taxes. They couldn’t. We all see where each store and mansion exists. It would also be an extremely progressive tax on both corporations and individuals because land is so unequally distributed towards the top, with so little owned at the bottom. And most importantly, it would be a tax on rentierism instead of actual work.

Taxes can’t tackle excessive inequality all on their own, though, no matter the form they take. There’s a second key element of rising inequality to consider. This element requires looking not at reducing inequality after the fact, but reducing inequality from the get-go.

by Scott Santens, World Economic Forum |  Read more:
Image: Image: Economic Policy Institute

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Everything That’s Wrong About Raccoons

Too many people want you to dismiss a raccoon’s deal of “Oh they’re mischievous cat-dogs with friendly washed hands and a jewel-thief face” when it’s really an ALL-HANDS NO-FEET TRASH-CAT WITH A DOG’S STOMACH AND A POSSUM’S HEART.

It can put itself up in trees but it waddles on the ground, I can’t be in trustment of a beast that clambers and waddles both; either be graceful and lithe all of times, or be clumsy and relatable on the ground. Seals can barely pull off “limber in the water, silly on a rock” and raccoons, you are not seals, you do not have their wise old laugh-faces, you just seem creepy and duplicitous.

Once when my dog died a passel of raccoons showed up in the backyard as if to say “Now that he’s gone, we own the night,” and they didn’t flinch when I yelled at them, and I found it disrespectful to 1) me personally and 2) the entire flow of the food chain. Don’t disrespect me if you can’t eat me, you false-night-dogs.

YOU SCRUBBLEMENT UP YOUR WITCH HANDS AND I DON’T TRUST IT, THAT IS A HUMAN ATTRIBUTE AND I WANT YOU TO LEAVE THAT TO US, STOP BEFORE-WASHING AND RUBBLE-SCRITCHING YOUR FUR-FINGERS, YOU MASHED-DOWN SMALLBEAR

They’re a dense badger lie

THEY CAN POINT THEIR FEET BACKWARDS TO CLIMB DOWN TREES, THEY CAN SWIM, THEY CAN SWEAT LIKE A YOU OR ME, A PERSON OR PANT LIKE A DOG TO COOL DOWN AS THEY CHOOSE, THEY IDLY AND INSOLENTLY SLIDE BETWEEN THE ANIMAL AND THE HUMAN WORLD AND IF THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU TAUGHT ME NOTHING ELSE IT’S THAT THAT IS FUCKED UPWARDLY

I don’t like the word “chittering” and that is the only sound a raccoon makes

MAYBE THEY ARE AN ASSEMBLAGE OF VERY CONDENSED SQUIRRELS THAT POWERED UP INTO A MEDIUM-SIZED BEASTIE AND THAT WOULD BE INAPPROPRIATE, IF SQUIRRELS HAD DEVELOPED POWER-RANGER-LIKE ABILITIES

I hate the way they wobble-squample across the street at night when you see a shadowy mass under a streetlight and then it turns out to be like seven fur-children

A raccoon is the child of a cat and a wizard and it walks in too many worlds for it to be allowed to stay in this one

STOP LOOKING AT ME, YOU RIVER-DABBLER

by Mallory Ortberg, Toast |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Fitz and the Tantrums / Lia Kim x May J Lee



Why Microdosing Is Taking Over Medical Marijuana

Welcome to marijuana 2.0. With microdosing, people are getting the maximum benefit from the minimum amount, without becoming stoned, paranoid or lethargic. Some are microdsoing to regulate their moods, boost their creativity, or enhance their workouts and yoga sessions. Susannah Grossman, 29, founder of Verdant Communications in Denver, takes several small doses through the day. "It lifts my spirits, relieves the stress and tension that build up, and allows me to approach my work with more keen interest."

Michael Backes, author of Cannabis Pharmacy, says when prohibition ends, microdosing could be the most popular way that people use cannabis. Right now, however, anyone who wants to microdose faces two hurdles: finding the right minimum dose, and finding products that will deliver it.

The challenge with finding your dose is that it's different for each person. With most drugs, there's a bell curve. If you give two aspirin to 100 people, the majority will find it relieves pain, while some outliers may have negative reactions or need 8 pills to get relief. But with marijuana, there's no majority response.

One reason for this may be found in the way that cannabinoids – THC, CBD, and other compounds found in the plant – support the natural functioning of the endocannabinoid system, which can vary from person to person. Humans and other mammals have cannabinoid receptors, which are found throughout the body in tissues, organs, and especially the brain. The body naturally makes chemicals that fit into these receptors, and together they regulate and balance the body's systems, from digestion to nerve signaling to the immune system. Whether by coincidence or evolution, the cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant mimic the endocannabinoids made by the body.

Dustin Sulak, a physician and Reiki healer in Maine, has been practicing cannabis medicine since 2009. He says there are always forces, such as microbes and environmental toxins, pushing us away from balance, and other forces, such as the endocannabinoid system, bringing us back. "Our bodies are already working to prevent dementia, reduce inflammation, and respond to any pathological process," Sulak says. "If we can enhance the functioning of that system with a little bit of extra THC, we can benefit."

Sulak, 37, who wears his dark hair in a ponytail, has developed a protocol for microdosing. "I discovered that most people have a certain threshold of cannabis," Sulak says. "Below it they'll experience a gradual increase in health benefits, and above it they'll start building tolerance, experiencing diminishing benefits and more side effects, like short term memory loss and clumsiness." He adds, "I can't tell you your perfect dose, but I can teach you how to find it for yourself."

He describes the system. "Abstain from cannabis for two days. On day three, consume one milligram of THC and one milligram of CBD, preferably in a tincture or oil where they can be measured precisely. Before consuming, ask yourself three questions, and answer on a scale of one to 10: How easy is it to breathe, how comfortable and calm does your body feel and how easy is it for you to smile authentically, to feel content and grateful?"

After writing down your scores, he says, you take the cannabis, wait 45 minutes and ask the questions again. If there's been no change in your scores and you've felt no effect, increase the dose by one milligram.

"You repeat this process over the next few days," he says, "increasing the dose by small increments. When you reach a point where you feel a difference after consuming, you've found your minimal effective dose."

At this point, he asks patients to continue raising the dose by tiny amounts. At some point, he says, there will be no further benefit from a higher dose. "You've established your therapeutic range, and can take the minimum dose." (...)

Unlike many in the field, Sulak believes that THC is the primary health agent in marijuana. "The idea that THC is recreational and CBD is medical is far from true," he says. "THC, milligram for milligram, has a much greater therapeutic effect than CBD. You could treat pain with 3 mg of THC, but it might take 15 to 30 mg of CBD to attain the same relief." For overall wellbeing and to prevent disease, he recommends combining the two compounds.

by Sara Davidson, Rolling Stone | Read more:
Image: Getty

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Marriage Decision

It’s John Deere’s Tractor, You’re Just Driving It

It's official: John Deere and General Motors want to eviscerate the notion of ownership. Sure, we pay for their vehicles. But we don’t own them. Not according to their corporate lawyers, anyway.

In a particularly spectacular display of corporate delusion, John Deere—the world’s largest agricultural machinery maker —told the Copyright Office that farmers don’t own their tractors. Because computer code snakes through the DNA of modern tractors, farmers receive “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it.

Several manufacturers recently submitted similar comments to the Copyright Office under an inquiry into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. DMCA is a vast 1998 copyright law that (among other things) governs the blurry line between software and hardware. The Copyright Office, after reading the comments and holding a hearing, will decide in July which high-tech devices we can modify, hack, and repair—and decide whether John Deere’s twisted vision of ownership will become a reality.

Over the last two decades, manufacturers have used the DMCA to argue that consumers do not own the software underpinning the products they buy—things like smartphones, computers, coffeemakers, cars, and, yes, even tractors. So, Old MacDonald has a tractor, but he owns a massive barn ornament, because the manufacturer holds the rights to the programming that makes it run.

(This is an important issue for farmers: a neighbor, Kerry Adams, hasn’t been able to fix an expensive transplanter because he doesn’t have access to the diagnostic software he needs. He’s not alone: many farmers are opting for older, computer-free equipment.)

Over the last two decades, manufacturers have used the DMCA to argue that consumers do not own the software that powers the products they buy.

In recent years, some companies have even leveraged the DMCA to stop owners from modifying the programming on those products. This means you can’t strip DRM off smart kitty litter boxes, install custom software on your iPad, or alter the calibration on a tractor’s engine. Not without potentially running afoul of the DMCA.

What does any of that have to do with copyright? Owners, tinkerers, and homebrew “hackers” must copy programming so they can modify it. Product makers don’t like people messing with their stuff, so some manufacturers place digital locks over software. Breaking the lock, making the copy, and changing something could be construed as a violation of copyright law.

And that’s how manufacturers turn tinkerers into “pirates”—even if said “pirates” aren’t circulating illegal copies of anything. Makes sense, right? Yeah, not to me either.

It makes sense to John Deere: The company argues that allowing people to alter the software—even for the purpose of repair—would “make it possible for pirates, third-party developers, and less innovative competitors to free-ride off the creativity, unique expression and ingenuity of vehicle software.” The pièce de résistance in John Deere’s argument: permitting owners to root around in a tractor’s programming might lead to pirating music through a vehicle’s entertainment system. Because copyright-marauding farmers are very busy and need to multitask by simultaneously copying Taylor Swift’s 1989 and harvesting corn? (I’m guessing, because John Deere’s lawyers never explained why anyone would pirate music on a tractor, only that it could happen.)

by Kyle Wiens, Wired |  Read more:
Image: Mardis Coers/Getty

Gorillaz

When Labor is Cheap

Labor is cheap in India which leads to some differences from the United States.

The first couple of times I took a taxi to a restaurant I was surprised when the driver asked if I wanted him to wait. A waiting taxi would be an unthinkable expense for me in the United States but in India the drivers are happy to wait for $1.50 an hour. It still feels odd.

The cars, the physical capital, in India and the United States are similar so the low cost of transportation illustrates just how much of the cost of a taxi is the cost of the driver and just how much driverless cars are going to lower the cost of travel.

Everything can be delivered.

Every mall, hotel, apartment and upscale store has security. It’s all security theatre–India is less dangerous than the United States–but when security theatre can be bought for $1-$2 an hour, why not?

Offices are sometimes open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Not that anyone is in the office, just that with 24 hour security there is no reason to lock up, so the office physically stays open.

by Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution |  Read more:
Image: Wikimedia

Jerusalem Hotels: Unlikely Hotbeds of Furtive, Meticulous Romance

Just inside the ornate glass doors stands a cluster of modestly dressed young women, not too overtly scanning the crowd.

The objects of their attentions are sitting restlessly in the lobby, periodically getting up to pace the floor. Each side is looking for the prearranged clue — a gold necklace, a forest green tie — that’ll identify their partner.

One by one pairs form. Each man leads a woman to a corner where they’ll spend the next hour, maybe two. Both hope that the person sitting across from them just might be the one.

It’s the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Central Jerusalem and these young men and women are engaged in “shidduch dating,” a system of matchmaking used by religious Jews, from the liberal Modern Orthodox to the ultra-Orthodox Haredim.

Tourists sharing the lobby stare openly at the daters. There’s something about the shidduch date process — the constrained romance, perhaps — that piques curiosity, even envy.

A friend of mine recently wondered why she couldn’t just “outsource her love life to a shadchan” — a Jewish matchmaker. Even though they’d been best friends for over a year, my yoga teacher’s first date with her now-husband was a “shidduch-style” meeting at the King David Hotel just down the road. While they weren’t fully part of the culture, they tapped into a process that evidently works for many.

The ultra-organized world of shidduch dating follows a strict set of practices to guide young people from the time they are deemed of age all the way through to the chuppah, the altar, Jerusalem matchmaker Sarah Dena Katz explained. That could be 18 for women and early 20s for men, although the ages vary according to custom and religiosity.

Additionally, especially in Haredi communities, parents take the lead in finding acceptable candidates for their children. They compose shidduch resumes and, in a manner vaguely reminiscent of college honors societies, compile lists of references to be contacted for further research by a prospective date’s parents.

Kippa or bald spot?

Jenna Bazelon, 26, is the founder of FrumGirlProblems, a private Facebook group with over 9,500 members, all women. Sporting the tagline, “Is that a kippa? Oh, no… just a bald spot,” the group spun from Bazelon’s desire to enjoy the process of shidduch dating by finding the humor in it with like-minded young women.

She recalled that one time, a potential date called her directly without any pre-vetting or involvement of an intermediary. Confused, Bazelon asked if he was calling her as a reference for someone else. “No,” he said, “for you. I was just looking through a stack of resumes and I saw yours. It looked interesting and I thought I would give you a call.”

“What?” Bazelon said she asked the man. “’Why did you think that you could just give me a call?’ It was so out of the blue, so inappropriate.”

Naturally, he did not get a date. Like the Passover Seder, there’s an order to things, and it’s best to stick to it for positive results.

Once the resumes have been read, the references have been called, and both parties and parents have agreed to the match, a time and location are set and the preparation can begin. For many, the first date is also the first interaction with a member of the opposite sex outside of their family. The shadchan preps the novices on the intricacies of having a conversation, ordering off a menu, and tipping.

by Tracy Frydberg, The Times of Israel | Read more:
Image: Nati Shohat/Flash90

Monday, April 24, 2017


Alessandro Trincone
via:

Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless

Late capitalism is like your love life: it looks a lot less bleak through an Instagram filter. The slow collapse of the social contract is the backdrop for a modern mania for clean eating, healthy living, personal productivity, and “radical self-love”—the insistence that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, we can achieve a meaningful existence by maintaining a positive outlook, following our bliss, and doing a few hamstring stretches as the planet burns. The more frightening the economic outlook and the more floodwaters rise, the more the public conversation is turning toward individual fulfillment as if in a desperate attempt to make us feel like we still have some control over our lives.

Coca-Cola encourages us to “choose happiness.” Politicians take time out from building careers in the debris of democracy to remind us of the importance of regular exercise. Lifestyle bloggers insist to hundreds of thousands of followers that freedom looks like a white woman practicing yoga alone on a beach. One such image (on the @selflovemantras Instagram) informs us that “the deeper the self love, the richer you are.” That’s a charming sentiment, but landlords are not currently collecting rent in self-love.

Can all this positive thinking be actively harmful? Carl Cederström and André Spicer, authors of The Wellness Syndrome, certainly think so, arguing that obsessive ritualization of self-care comes at the expense of collective engagement, collapsing every social problem into a personal quest for the good life. “Wellness,” they declare, “has become an ideology.”

There is an obvious political dimension to the claim that wellbeing, with the right attitude, can be produced spontaneously. Months after being elected leader of the most right-wing government in recent British history, yogurt-featured erstwhile PR man David Cameron launched an ill-fated “happiness agenda.” The scheme may have been better received if the former prime minister were not simultaneously engaged in decimating health care, welfare, and higher education—the very social structures that make life manageable for ordinary British people. As part of Cameron’s changes to the welfare system, unemployment was rebranded as a psychological disorder. According to a study in the Medical Humanities journal, in the teeth of the longest and deepest recession in living memory, the jobless were encouraged to treat their “psychological resistance” to work by way of obligatory courses that encouraged them to adopt a jollier attitude toward their own immiseration. They were harangued with motivational text messages telling them to “smile at life” and that “success is the only option.”

This mode of coercion has been adopted by employers, too, as Cederström and Spicer note. Zero-hour-contract laborers in an Amazon warehouse, “although they are in a precarious situation . . . are required to hide these feelings and project a confident, upbeat, employable self.” All of which begs the question: Who exactly are we being well for?

The wellbeing ideology is a symptom of a broader political disease. The rigors of both work and worklessness, the colonization of every public space by private money, the precarity of daily living, and the growing impossibility of building any sort of community maroon each of us in our lonely struggle to survive. We are supposed to believe that we can only work to improve our lives on that same individual level. Chris Maisano concludes that while “the appeal of individualistic and therapeutic approaches to the problems of our time is not difficult to apprehend . . . it is only through the creation of solidarities that rebuild confidence in our collective capacity to change the world that their grip can be broken.”

The isolating ideology of wellness works against this sort of social change in two important ways. First, it persuades all us that if we are sick, sad, and exhausted, the problem isn’t one of economics. There is no structural imbalance, according to this view—there is only individual maladaption, requiring an individual response. The lexis of abuse and gas-lighting is appropriate here: if you are miserable or angry because your life is a constant struggle against privation or prejudice, the problem is always and only with you. Society is not mad, or messed up: you are.

by Laurie Penny, The Baffler |  Read more: 
Image: Joanna Slodownik