Recc Roundup 07/22/19-07/28/19

  • Reading (book): Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, by Kate Brown
    • A book comparing the history of two towns that arose around nuclear plants during the Cold War nuclear arms race, one American and one Russian. Get ready to hear about how a whole bunch of people got horrible radiation poisoning!
    • (No seriously, it’s, uh, really just a spectrum from incompetence on one end to human experimentation and general callousness on the other.)
    • Also the mindset of people who lived in these towns and were aware they were under constant government watch, constant threat of danger, constant risk of horrible illness or death, but still like defensive of or grateful for what they had is wild, and the comparison of the American and Russian mindsets in particular is some good shit.
    • Also the way the American residents dealt with the cognitive dissonance of being good, patriotic, commie-hating Americans with that conservative we-support-the-military-industrial-complex-that-sustains-us mindset, while living under government (or government contractor proxy) control, with curtailed freedom of press, assembly, self-governance, etc, their whole living situation subsidized by the government, etc.
  • Reading (article): Psychic Healing at the End of History, by Hannah Gais, (The Baffler, April 10, 2019)
    • This article on the popularity of psychics presented on state TV as a salve and alternate explanation for the crisis of communist collapse and capitalist shock after the fall of the Soviet Union is my gender, my sexuality, my Mood, and my Patronus.
  • Watching: Rhythmic gymnastics instagram is a thing I’m now fascinated by, also while it’s deeply impressive, I am solidly willing to assume that all of these kids need help because this cannot be a sport that fosters good physical and mental health and I’m worried about all of these very bendy girls.
  • Listening: I’m just gonna keep this all very Russia-and-Russia-adjacent themed in this here post because there’s some powerful aesthetic here that I’m vibing with–

It’s suffering time again

This is from an article about mental health apps and how mental illness is kept individualized, masking the societal factors that contribute to depression and stress with twee marketing and self-improvement solutions and I’m just gonna post a bunch of quotes because this truly captures the basis of if not every, then the vast majority of every instance of failing mental health I have ever experienced.

And it hits at why I get really frustrated when I engage in that casual and frequent acceptance that I just can’t do some basic thing because I’m so mentally wrecked from work–I can’t have any part of my life that my job, and a capitalist society more broadly, haven’t claimed from me–and it’s entirely beyond my control because my problem really is entirely caused by external, social factors that aren’t changing any time soon. There’s really nothing I can do–changing jobs in no way solves this problem–except start believing that it’s something wrong with me, and I should get over myself and go see a therapist like everyone else (or, you know, use one of these apps, as I am very much about to not have health insurance lol.) And this way of thinking about stress, burnout, depression, what have you, is just not the accepted framing, and I sound absolutely insufferable over here like “um excuse me, I’m not the one who is sick, oh ho ho, it is society who is sick, my comrade.”

Anyway, here’s someone talking about this far better than I:

We frequently speak of mental illness as “stigmatized,” but at least in young, urban, middle-class segments of American society, this no longer seems to be the case. Existential dread is now one among many inconveniences that you might as well digitally outsource, but the fact that we can now find an app for curing depression is just one symptom of a larger shift in the discourse around mental illness. The same consumerist culture that once shunned mention of depression now also seeks to cannibalize its language for use in advertising and media.

A ubiquitous truism about marketing holds that advertisements sell us a better and more beautiful version of ourselves—if you smoke Virginia Slims, you will be skinny; if you take Cialis, you will be able to play catch with your son—but increasingly advertising seems to appeal to a vision of well-off millennials as lazy, depressed homebodies, prone to ordering food online every night and binging Netflix for eight hours at a time. You order delivery from the restaurant across the street not because you’re awesome or want to be awesome, but precisely because you’re not, these ads tell us, and that’s just fine. If the end goal of Instagram and Candy Crush was always to numb us into contentment, isn’t it easier just to come out and say we will take away your pain

[A]s one meme has it, “we live in a society”: one that requires many of us to work inhumane hours without fair compensation or medical care; one that in the sparse gaps between those working hours bombards us with junk food, mass culture, demonstrably addictive social media, and the vague promise of incremental political reform; and one that, meanwhile, listens to our phone conversations, tracks our most minute movements, and recommends us purchase after purchase based on what we Google while on a bathroom breaks.

The formalism of clinical psychology, [clinical psychologist and philosopher David Smail] writes, leads too many people to view their well-being as a matter of medical diagnosis rather than as the result of externally imposed conditions—chief among them “the machinery of global capitalism,” which “has enormous effects on vast numbers of people in the world who are themselves in no position to see into its operation.”

[T]he navel-gazing recommended by apps like these has the potential to entice us away from larger questions about the structural forces that generate a great deal of our suffering. Similarly misleading is our recent societal tendency to see depression as a kind of cultural common denominator, the most “relatable” of all memes.

I Feel Better Now, by Jake Bittle for The Baffler, July 11, 2019

Recc Roundup 07/08/19-07/14/19

  • Reading (books)
    • American Advertising Cookbooks: How Corporations Taught Us to Love Bananas, Spam, and Jell-O, by Christina Ward
      • If you are into the weird terrifying things that were considered recipes back when jello molds and mayonnaise were going to win the Cold War (examples here) this is a fascinating book of photos from said advertising cookbooks (so, not just recipes, but recipes using specific products being advertised through the cookbook) with some historical context blurbs that I really could have used more of.
    • How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States, by Daniel Immerwahr
      • About America’s imperialist history, as stated. Also full of cutesy little asides about like, “And because of America doing x, a young boy who would grow up to be [historical figure of some note] did y… wow everything is connected.” That’s fun.
  • Reading (articles) – Not gonna lie, this is mostly going to be comprised of Longreads picks but here you go:
    • How the All-American Motel Became a Last Resort for the Country’s Most Vulnerable, by Andrew Fiouzi (MEL Magazine; July 2019)
      • It’s basically what you think it is–millennials like the aesthetic but don’t actually go there (I mean. Not wrong, in my personal experience of myself), other people are pushed there due to housing scarcity, domestic violence, the precarious position of sex workers, etc.
    • The Nonprofit Hospital That Makes Millions, Owns a Collection Agency and Relentlessly Sues the Poor, by Wendi C. Thomas (ProPublica; June 27, 2019)
      • Our healthcare system… it’s not great!
      • Ok but actually the whole part about the debt collection/legal system side of it is a great followup to me ranting about my job to you, the reader, of this blog, who I am sure I have done this to as there is a 0% chance someone reading these words has not heard me go off about how much I hate debt court.
    • The No. 1 LadiesDefrauding Agency, by Rose Eveleth (Longreads; July 2019)
      • Women invented the Ponzi Scheme in the 1800s, financial scams are a feminist act, girl power~
      • (No but actually it’s a fun read for people who are riding that wave of scammer tales.)
  • Listening
    • The Red Wall Podcast – In their own description, it’s “[y]our best and only leftist podcast for Brian Jacques’s “Redwall” series” and that’s going to either be incredibly your jam or it’s not but here you go.
  • Watching
    • …it’s really mostly still reality TV that I’m not recommending you poison your brain with, folks, don’t do it, it’s real bad.
  • Errata – Apparently the Trader Joe’s ube ice cream I recommended in my last post is facing shortages and won’t be back until the end of July and let me tell you, I am deep in the TJ’s fandom now, my friends, in that a) I managed to catch it before it sold out and b) I know this information. Send a fucking intervention now.

A tarot spread for quitting my job

I’m giving my 3-weeks (an extra week because I’m polite and also want to announce to the world I am quitting and cannot contain myself any longer) notice tomorrow and am tackling that anxiety with some good old-fashioned woojoo here we go. A 5-card spread for making tough choices:

  1. Your Motivation: Seven of Wands, inverted
    • “Reversed, this card suggests embarrassment, anxiety, or an inability to stand up for oneself.”*
    • I mean, generally yeah, I’m pretty strongly motivated by shame and also am a passive person who can’t stand up for myself until I get to the point where I’m crying and acting irrational and like, that’s not some effective self-advocacy. I do regularly feel pushed to do things that I consider embarrassing in my job, usually in how I am forced to talk to opposing counsel. And I’ve been worried that I’m quitting not just law but my job entirely because I can’t toughen up and deal with that. So, you know, we’re off to a roaring start on the “I am making a terrible mistake” path here.
  2. Ideal Outcome: Three of Wands
    • “[T]his card encourages us to exercise [foresight] with an open mind. We must consider the many routes we may take and plan accordingly, and in doing so, we will benefit.”
    • Cool, so, the ideal outcome is that I quit my job with an actual path in place for a) what I want to do instead of law, and b) how to get there. I have neither. I have no hopes and dreams and aspirations, careerwise, and having any foresight or planning as I go into this is definitely the ideal outcome.
    • So the takeaway I get here is… yeah, I wish I knew what my plan was but I am too passive and unambitious to have one, and I pretend that it’s because I am hip to the capitalist scam of “you have to love your job so you don’t question your own oppression” but no, I mean, that is also true, but also also it is true that I am an unmotivated, indecisive hack.
    • I have. No idea how to get to my ideal outcome. But it can’t just happen. I’ll never stumble upon what I want to do and a plan to get there. Fuck.
  3. Your Values: Ace of Rings, inverted
    • “Reversed, this card can imply a fixation on the material world, anxiety, and greed.”
    • I have been talking a whole lot about how I think my ostensibly consumer-rights law firm is actually just preying on poor people by taking their money and promising to get them out of debt that we cannot get them out of, because the law is stacked against them and they have no defenses, and the affirmative cases we take are embarrassingly weak because again, the law is not on our side here, and the firm is ultimately about making money off these desperate people while promising them the world, but.
    • …actually I think that is something I have convinced myself is true so that I feel justified for leaving, and delude myself into thinking it’s not out of laziness and a fragile constitution.
    • So this… suggests that my values are not as strong as the fake case I’ve made for myself makes them out to be, and the real reason I am leaving is what I said in point 3 here. Cool cool. Doing real great here.
  4. Option 1 Likely Outcome: Ten of Rings
    • Option 1 is “I quit.”
    • “This card symbolizes juggling family affairs and financial matters, as well as desire for tradition and affluence.”
    • Uh huh. So like. I’ve also been saying that I can’t quit because I will be a greedy selfish drain on my family and also I will not have any money, which are things I would strongly prefer to avoid. So that is indeed the likely outcome of quitting, as I suspected.
  5. Option 2 Likely Outcome: Three of Rings, inverted
    • Option 2 is “I stay.”
    • “Reversed, it can represent weakness in work or team situations, incompetence, and an inability to delegate.”
    • I despise the other lawyers I work with, on the whole, and I am in fact actively getting dumber working here, as they will not train me and just push me to do so much work I can’t learn, and keep making mistakes.
    • So yeah this checks out, thank you stars and mystical forces.

In conclusion:
– I need to shuffle better, damn.
– This confirmed what I suspected and feared, without offering me any insight.
– Other than the fact that I know I’m gonna quit anyway, so I guess the real witchcraft was the impulsive, ill-advised decisionmaking we made along the way?
– Anyway, see you at your place once I’m destitute and desperate. Spare a few stale breadcrusts and slightly spoiled fruit my way if you can, because I’m quitting my job tomorrow!

*Descriptions taken from the Marigold Tarot guide, as that is the deck I’m using.