“it is possible to imagine [a critical sensibility] in which social paranoia is not foundational”

The sore winner is a product of the hyper-surveilled and personalized world in which we all now live, one in which people feel both nebulously responsible for everything wrong while also feeling responsible for nothing at all.

From the Outline article “A decade of sore winners” by B.D. McClay. A lot of stuff in this article is spot-on. It also relates directly to the response I received from my Republican representative regarding the impeachment of President Trump.

One of my rep’s many dubious points was that Ukranian leaders publicly attacked candidate Trump in the press, and that this was evidence of Ukranian meddling in 2016 elections. Specifically, he linked to an article in The Hill by Ambassador Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States from 2015 to 2019. I read the article by Amb. Chaly, and all I can see is an opinion piece that fairly criticises statements made by a candidate for one of the most powerful positions in the world.

How do you make the mental leap necessary to conflate principled criticism with personal attack? Furthermore, how could anything in that article be considered meddling in an election? The vast majority of Chaly’s article is a recent history of events in Ukraine.

This is sore winner territory. Here’s how McClay illustrates it in their article:

Worse still than the idea that things are for you is the extension into identification: that these things literally are you. If someone writes books for teen girls, to criticize her books is to criticize teen girls. Expressing something other than support for Taylor Swift guarantees you a place in that special hell for women who don’t support other women. If you like superhero movies and video games, and somebody outlines the reasons they think superhero movies and video games are a waste of time, that’s an attack on you, personally, not a disagreement over aesthetics.

How do we get past this? More critical thinking taught in schools and beyond? More restrictions on social media? Surely it has to be a personal exercise but it seems like such a fundamental and widespread problem, almost a public mental health emergency (one of many).

It is impossible to imagine a critical sensibility that does not exist socially. But it is possible to imagine one in which social paranoia is not foundational, and in which social reception — of work, of ourselves — does not have to determine our reaction to each other.

It’s possible to imagine it, but it’s pretty difficult to picture without some sort of major overhaul in day-to-day life.

Low-stakes escapism

Everything feels so high-stakes. Doesn’t help that the general election is a little over 24 hours away. 😐

Escapism helps lower the bar a bit, knocks you off the daily life tightrope, but sometimes even books and movies can feel like too much. If I’m already wound tight, then I’m not sure that filling 100% of my free time with James Bridle or Adam Curtis is going to do wonders for my mental health. I know, I *promise* I’ll get round to them eventually!

These are some options for low-stakes, low-cost escapism that have worked, or could work, for me:

I’ll try to add to this over time.

Important note: Consider turning off all pop-up notifications on your devices and removing the count badge from your email if you have a Mac or an iPhone. You don’t need any of that gunk, I promise.

If a tree falls in a forest

❤️👍😍⭐️🙌

The quick-kudos tools that have evolved online definitely have their usefulness, but most of the time it feels like sugar. Satisfying and fostering a hunger. It cultivates a bottomless pit of competition, arbitrary measurements of self worth, and requires a level of intrapersonal gymnastics that I’m not personally capable of sustaining.

Is the problem just the public-ness of it all? What about deliberately quiet kudos?

I want to give those sorts of kudos almost every day. It’s hard to describe the use cases, though there are many… Maybe someone famous does work you admire. That’s the I-want-to-tell-you-that-this-is-fantastic-but-I’m-genuinely-not-latching-on-for-likes use case. Or a rather private friend finishes a project they should be damn proud of. That’s the you-need-to-know-this-is-great-but-we-both-know-you’d-prefer-if-I-didn’t-turn-this-in-to-a-conversation use case.

And I sure as hell would be happy to receive that sort of thing. Little pick-me-ups are critical, especially when you are mostly/fully your own employer.

It’s the digital equivalent of a great compliment from a stranger. The sort of compliment that leaves you feeling a tiny bit lighter. The sort of compliment that isn’t motivated by a mob of people giving you the same compliment. And it usually has little to do with the identity of the complimenter. (In fact, when a complete stranger follows up an IRL compliment by introducing themselves, that’s often when the moment sours a bit, or gets a smidge creepy.)

So how to give quiet kudos? It should be as simple and familiar feeling as similar features – as in, just select an emoji – but definitely not public. It shouldn’t associate an identity with the kudos either, IMO. Hopefully that would avoid spamminess. It’d probably also need a daily/weekly/monthly summary setting but good lord, it definitely shouldn’t ever send a “you received 0 kudos this week!” sort of email. And it should include other reactions, the bad with the good.

I would be surprised if this doesn’t exist already in some form or another… need to dig a little harder. I suppose one preexisting version of this is the e-newsletter since it’s an opt-in system. Particularly TinyLetter. But that just feels a little too business-y for what the sort of thing I’m imagining. Might look in to making the tool I’m imagining. Add it to the someday list.

In summary:
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I say yes.