Cynical expectations

There are people who like to ascribe only the basest of motives to the actions of others. This is not always because they act basely themselves; often they would not dream of acting as they suspect others of doing. They talk like this because they think that cynical explanations testify to their knowledge of life. A readiness to believe that others are acting honourably, so they imagine, is a sign of naiveté.

— Vasily Grossman, Stalingrad

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Physical artifacts of digital work

Here is one month worth of blog posts:

Aside from the fun of using my typewriters regularly, one of my favorite parts of this project of typing posts on index cards is being able to put my hands on the physical artifacts of those posts.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like it is important to have these sorts of concrete manifestations of the work I’ve done. I think one of the reasons that “knowledge work” (I hate that phrase, but can’t come up with a better one on short notice) is so stressful, mentally draining, and soul-sucking is we spend all of this time and energy on it, and what is there to show for it as a result? Character- and word-counts? Story points and velocity? Even those exist only in the digital ether, and if often not even in an app or platform we own.

To-do lists and whiteboards full of post-it notes sort of help; we are physically checking something off, or moving an item from the Doing column to the Done column. These rituals are important in that they give us a concrete thing we can hold onto.

However, they are second-order representations of accomplishment, and they have a disturbing tendency to take on a life of their own. Look at all the post-it notes I moved! Check out how we increased velocity last sprint! Great, but what did you actually get done?

Then again, maybe other people are able to visualize digital work in their heads better than I can. For all I know, this stuff is all personal preference.

Systems problems and racist ancestors

Why Does the Myth of the Confederate Lost Cause Persist? – The Atlantic:

But so many Americans simply don’t want to hear this, and if they do hear it, they refuse to accept it. After the 2015 massacre of Black churchgoers in Charleston led to renewed questions about the memory and iconography of the Confederacy, Greg Stewart, another member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told The New York Times, “You’re asking me to agree that my great-grandparent and great-great-grandparents were monsters.”

This sort of cross-multigenerational family loyalty seems completely alien to me. I really don’t get it.

If I were to learn that an immediate family member—a parent, or a sibling—had done something terrible, I imagine I might feel betrayed by this person I trusted and thought I knew. I might also worry that, having grown up with this person in my life, some part of whatever horrible thing they had done might have rubbed off on or influenced me. Am I a terrible person because of what they did, or because I lived my whole life up to this point with them around me and either had no idea they had done this terrible thing or hadn’t realized that it was terrible?

These sorts of questions make sense to me in that context.

But if it’s a grandparent, or a great-grandparent, or some bunch of people to whom I am only distantly related, I just can’t see how familial loyalty holds. I have never met them, and they have no meaningful role in my life.

What I am fairly sure that what people like Greg are actually acknowledging (consciously or otherwise) when they raise this sort of objection is that, if they agree that their great-great-grandparents were monsters, then they will have to admit that they themselves are also monsters. They live within and benefit from the same sort of power structure as those ancestors, and they don’t want to think about it or question any of it. They are offended by the mere suggestion of questioning that structure and their place within it.

And to be clear, even if I don’t have an ancestor who fought to defend slavery in the Civil War, or if I do and I feel no loyalty to or need to defend that ancestor, I still live within those same power structures. For people like me—male, white, and having all the relative privilege our culture provides via those categories—I am not sure we are all that much different from Greg.

The way we think about our relationship to and place within existing power structures may be different, but unless we are actively trying to change those structures, that difference is not worth much.

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