Getting a lot of "Boss Baby" vibes from this war...
Fellow non-experts on international conflict, let's all stop making asses of ourselves.
Hello, dear readers. I hope you’re having a good day.
I haven’t posted a whole lot about the situation in Ukraine, and there’s a really good reason for this: I’m not an expert, and I try to know enough to know what I don’t know.
This is one of those ideas that I’ve been trying to internalize since reading a really smart piece published by Harvard Business Review, titled, “Do You Know What You Don’t Know?” The article touched on something called the “illusion of explanatory depth,” which is a fancy way to say that people often think they’re more knowledgeable on a given topic than they actually are.This is different from simply BS-ing your way through knowing ignorance in that you still believe that you understand the topic at hand, all while subconsciously filling in the gaps with buzzwords and shoehorned in areas of your own personal areas of self-believed expertise.
Law of the instrument and The Boss Baby
You’ve almost certainly heard of Maslow’s hammer/law of the instrument/law of the hammer before. The basic idea is that people are inclined to gravitate in the direction of what they know, and is the origin of the idea that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
A more modern take on this is a 2019 tweet from Twitter user @afraidofwasps, reading, “Guy who has only seen The Boss Baby, watching his second movie: Getting a lot of ‘Boss Baby’ vibes from this…”
If you’re a writer who has spent the past several years railing against so-called “cancel culture,” you might try to find a way to link that idea with what’s happening right now in Ukraine. That’s exactly what conservative Washington Post columnist Jason Willick did when he tweeted that the world’s response to Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine was “the first geopolitical ‘cancellation’ of the 21st century.”
On Fox News, former Trump administration Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and right-wing commentator Monica Crowley used a similar line.
Another example of this, as written up brilliantly by Katelyn Burns in a recent Medium post, is the effort to blame Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on… uh… pronouns?
(This last one really confuses me because 1.) the U.S. doesn’t have any combat troops currently involved in the Ukraine conflict, 2.) I really do not understand why the response to a war would be to… reduce the number of people who can join the military? It’s clear this is just shoehorned nonsense.)
None of that isn’t to say that there aren’t people on the left with goofy and unrelated explanations for the war, but the right’s were the ones that really jumped out at me for how numerous they were.
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The point here is that if tomorrow we found out that an asteroid was going to wipe out all life on earth, the right would find a way to blame it on “pronouns” and trans people and “cancel culture.” There’s a lesson here: these are not critical thinkers, and they should not be taken seriously moving forward when they try to connect various other issues to their pet projects, either. Let this be the moment that their credibility cements its place in history’s dumpster.
War is hell, and cringe.
I recently watched Renegade Cut’s “Post-Satire Capitalism” video. If you’ve got about 15 minutes, I recommend you do the same. It’s a great look at some of the world’s absurdities (news articles about privatizing the moon, the FBI singing the praises of MLK, Mark Zuckerberg lecturing the world on the importance of privacy, and so on), and how our world has essentially been Quibified.We seek out things that are short and digestible, that don’t take too much attention. For instance, significantly more people will see my tweet about this newsletter than will actually read the newsletter. Whatever I put on Twitter needs to convey the message of a 1,000 word newsletter post in 280 characters. It’s hard.
We’re all watching now as people try to make sense of the world the only way they know how: by posting through it.
The Associated Press recently sold an NFT photo of refugees stuck on an overcrowded boat.
News networks run ads alongside footage that had just moments earlier been accompanied by air raid sirens, resulting in the inevitable surreality of the below clip:
And people just keep posting through it. I’ve seen a fair number of posts thirsting after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, highlighting that he provided the voice for the titular character in the Ukranian release of the Paddington movies, or sharing remixes of his speeches intercut with things like his appearance on Ukraine’s edition of Dancing with the Stars. To many, war is just another form of content. Others have written some great posts about this already, so I’ll just recommend you check those out here:
None of this is particularly new. There are a bunch of songs warning that we were heading down this road (for instance, the two songs linked below, which both predate Twitter, provide some biting commentary on the callousness of war as entertainment).
Desaparecidos, “The Happiest Place On Earth”
I got a letter from the Army so I think that I'll enlist / No, I'm not brave or proud of nothing / I just want to kill something / Too bad that nowadays, you just point and click / Swing Lo satellite, hot white chariot / In the computer's blue glare, bombs burst in the air / There was a city once, now nothing's there
Our freedom comes at their expense / Makes sense, does it? Dollars and cents
They're stretching barbed wire / Across a picket fence / That's surrounding your housing development / In case you lack the confidence
Oh God, my God, give strength to thee / These amber waves, purple majesty / Is nothing but backdrops for Disney
Lonesome for no one when / The room was empty / And war as we knew it was obsolete / Nothing could beat complete denial
All we do is talk, sit, switch screens / As the homeland plans enemies
All we do is talk, static split-screens / As the homeland plans enemies
Invasion's so succexy, so succexy / Invasion's so succexy, so succexy
Let's drink to the military / The glass is empty / Faces to fill and cars to feed / Nothing could beat complete denial
In any case, I’m curious to know what you all think about this. Please comment below or send me an email. Until next time…
The HBR article illustrated how buzzwords can be used to gloss over concepts we don’t fully understand by pointing to the time the author attended a meeting where a company’s vice president talked about “streamlining business practices in the coming year.” While attendees nodded along during the speech, none of them could actually explain what the VP meant in his speech (and it’s entirely possible the VP didn’t, either!).
See: current uses of words like “woke,” “cancel,” etc.
“I remember seeing an elaborate and complicated automatic washing machine for automobiles that did a beautiful job of washing them. But it could do only that, and everything else that got into its clutches was treated as if it were an automobile to be washed. I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail,” wrote psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1966 book The Psychology of Science.
See also: people who are so invested in war that their response to Russia invading Ukraine is to call for immediate military intervention by the west.
Quibi was created as a way for people to consume YouTube-length videos that were produced with Hollywood-level quality. They were short, meant for viewing between meetings and during commutes. The Renegade Cut video highlights the launch, which touched on the success of Dan Brown books’ unique approach to chapters (they are very short and there are a lot of them).