Friday Finds (IKEA Words, Carnegie, Christianity, Marx)


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Hi friends,

Greetings from Austin!

Let’s talk about the mission of this newsletter. I’m here to shake you out of the news cycle and drag you away from the intellectual junk food that passes for “content” these days.

See, the Interent places us in a Never-Ending Now. Just about everything the algorithms serve us was made in haste and published in the past 24 hours. Friday Finds is the alternative (and so is the giant list of links I’ve recommended here). I hope this newsletter activates a posture contemplation in you that’s painfully missing from today’s Internet.

Here's what I want to share this week:

  1. Write of Passage Weekly: Happy anniversary to us because this week, we published our 10th newsletter. This one is about IKEA Words, where people use prefabricated language to write until it becomes boring and stale. Read the latest edition here. Or, sign up to receive future editions here.
  2. The Microwave Economy: An inspiration for IKEA Words was this piece I reference all the time. I wrote it while moving into a new apartment I wanted to inject with life (in contrast to the somewhat soulless building it was in). The essay begins with a critique of our obsession with efficiency, focusing on language, music, and architecture. At the end, I outline a practical design philosophy which I'll use as a guiding light when I become an architect in my next life.
  3. The Simpsons Guide to Writing: This episode of the Write of Passage Podcast is about John Swartzwelder, a notoriously private writer for The Simpsons. He recently talked about what made the show so successful, which is the focus of this episode. (Listen here: iTunes | Spotify | Overcast)

Today's Finds

Interviews with SF Hippies in the 60s: Short, revealing, and exactly what it sounds like. (History Defined, the Twitter account that shared it, is very good too).

The Gospel of Wealth: This essay changed the landscape of American philanthropy. Andrew Carnegie wrote it in 1889, as one of the wealthiest men in the world. He argues that instead of living a life of rampant hedonism or hoarding cash till death and giving it to the government via a huge tax burden, wealthy people should use their money to make the world a better place. One of Carnegie's most interesting observations is about the nature of capital. Since money compounds so fast, people rarely remain at the same level of wealth. They either compound it exponentially or go bust. Carnegie didn't try to stop inequality. Instead, through this essay, he aimed to nudge wealthy people into allocating their money in socially beneficial ways. Big philanthropy initiatives from the Rockefeller Foundation to the Giving Pledge (founded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett) were born out Carnegie's ideas in this piece.

The Technological Society: Jacques Ellul is worth reading because his work synthesizes two influences you rarely see together: Christianity and Karl Marx. He comes to similar conclusions as Marx, but instead of focusing on capitalism, he focuses on technology. Though his writing is dense with insight, it can be dry to read. Nevertheless, he was one of the 20th century’s most perceptive social commentators. In addition to The Technological Society (don’t buy the mass market paperback edition because it’s poorly printed), I recommend this essay, this controversial reflection, or this book-length synopsis of his work. Studying him, you’ll see how technology has its own teleology. It values the quantitative over the qualitative, hard data over felt senses, and standardization in the same of efficiency. Ellul wrote that in a world of technology, “Reality is what is seen, counted, and quantified.”

Shop Class as Soulcraft: One of the best ways to find good things to read is to look for the essays that were so good that they eventually became books. For a list of essays that eventually became books, I recommend this compilation from Joe Wells. This essay reveals the downsides of the transition from physical labor to knowledge work. Manual trades have lost their honor and the material world has lost its mystique. So has craftsmanship, where people pursue excellence for its own sake. Part of the challenge is that the media narrative is shaped by urbanites who prioritize knowledge work and vaguely scoff at manual laborers. In praise of craftsmanship, the author writes: “The tangible elements of craft were appealing as an antidote to vague feelings of unreality, diminished autonomy, and a fragmented sense of self that were especially acute among the professional classes.”

America's Top Math Coach: Though Will Frazer teaches at an otherwise average public school, he's won 13 of the last 14 national math championships. He's become dominant by rejecting the standard approaches to teaching math, and bringing competition to the world of learning. Frazer abandons the traditional methods of rote memorization and regurgitation that define math classrooms. He's also found ways to teach kids math faster than they've ever be able to at school. By valuing speed as much as accuracy, Frazer rejects the conveyor belt model of education, where every student learns at the same pace. He covers extra material so kids can learn 2-3 times faster than standard students.

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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