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The New Diversity
Welcome to the Dawn
Recently people have been asking me is Woke real, or a ghost that rabid conservatives chase. I have to come up with a real answer, but the Supreme Court just helped. Simply ask the question “How is diversity different than variety?” Then ease into the more difficult question. “What is the difference between justice and social justice, and which should be required by law?” Then circle back to diversity. That may be an impossible question, but several years ago I read something about London in the 1800s that made it clear to me that ‘diversity’ in the context of American national politics can only be Woke or Anti-Woke of which I am neither. London was and is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural center of exchange. It was the center of a global empire. What London knew about the world was, in effect, what the world knew about itself. To prove oneself in London was what it meant to be worldly wise.
I may write something very specific about Affirmative Action in a week or two, but I’ve been working on the following for a while in order to flesh out a sense of social, cultural and professional competency on an increasingly larger stage over time. Competency cannot be set aside for you, as the proliferation of affluent douchebags demonstrates.
It is the only the will to compete and successful competition that makes one competent.
A New Way of Knowing
The new diversity is actually the only diversity that ever existed. It is a paradigm that I have always used to gauge the entire scope of my life. It is the diversity of nations. In other words, I am a diverse individual if and only if I have demonstrated the ability to live and work in other nations.
There are several concepts that I would like to propose for your consideration with the caveat that I am now writing in the context of my growing understanding of what it is that Large Language Models can do and cannot do. They cannot plan, and they cannot transliterate concepts. When you get bored with ChatGPT-4, which will require about 6 months of constant use - certainly my intent, then you will recognize how it does or does not contribute to creative culture. My good fortune, or so it seems is that I spent a lot of time purposefully multitasking as a young adult. I would write, eat, listen to music and watch TV. While I was writing I would take a topic from the TV estimate its impression on me, relate it to the song that was playing, the food I was eating, and the prior things I had already written about. I called this my New Way of Knowing. So transliteration of concepts is an overcomplicated way of saying reasoning by metaphor. I suppose to be reductive about it, that’s what I was doing. Allowing a number of metaphorical interpretations to wash over me and see what came out of my pen. Prosody. Illustrative writing. Not poetry not prose, not irrationally Fauvist, just something new. I had to do it. I was just a programming yuppie impressed with business-speak, but I was planning to do more than I could do.
That yuppie, who failed linear algebra twice, and failed to extend his fluency in French beyond three years of study, assessed that he would aim to be a first rate mind, but only in his home country. During the years of his insecurity in failing to secure the sinecure of an Ivy League edumacation or a job on Wall Street as a quant, he made a Left turn. A survey of the alternatives took him down through a garden of forking paths (Thanks, Borges) and towards Asian culture & philosophy (Thanks, Clavell, Otomo, Mishima), and some other directions I’ve subsumed into my subconscious. All in all between 1987 and 1992, I walked around in eccentric circles. All that jello firmed up in 1994 with my marriage and birth of my first child. Some days I wonder how long I may have prolonged that adultish childhood (or childish adulthood) but today I tend to be rather revolted by the products of that class of people I once was. And yet I’m also jealous of them in the way one might be wistful over not having misspent one’s youth extremely. There are real 500 horsepower cars with airbags today. Ashley Madison is real. People really invest in random meaningless crypto. One handed keyboard clicktrack music really sells millions. These economies of seduction have produced Andrew Tate, and I guess millions of wannabees. So, yeah whatever to the childish things.
Almost Transcendent But Only Cigars
But there were other stirrings in that jello. My wife, working as she did for the Atlanta Olympic Committee had to go to finishing school. International business ethics. How do you not take a bribe from a nation whose majority culture bribes? How do you not insult Arabs with your dogs or your feet? As much fuss as people were still making over Spike Lee, Molefi Asante, Mumia Abu Jamal and Chuck D, these international rules had some really obscure cultural signifiers. I had something of an itch that told me, despite my lack of international travel, that someday I might play on that level. There were many clues. For the first obvious thing was that my cousins often traveled to West Africa and Europe and their French was pretty good - they went to UN schools. In Brooklyn, hanging with the new Afrikkan bohemians I met scions of diplomats who traded in kinte and mudcloth, all the rage at the time. I was told that I really must hang out in the Congo by such a snickering bro. I completely forgot my invitation to the Hamptons by a woman whose family had some legacy serving in the White House, and of course during my time in Boston I made several pilgrimages to notable black weekends on Martha’s Vineyard. All of that was within reach, just above my head.
I eventually did get some work done in Italy, UK, Australia and Germany, but I did much more work here at home in the good old USA. The US proved to be a great deal more kind to me than I expected. I worked it as a compartmentalized professional and family man. I didn’t quite realize until 9/11 how little I understood or cared about geopolitics. Like most ordinary blackfolk, I didn’t have the slightest inkling that conservative antipathy to communism was anything but a figleaf for their insufficient respect for the depravities of domestic racism. Still, there were enough liberal-minded people for me to be comfortable with my business persona, which was effortlessly close to my full self. When you decide that it’s good enough to be a good American making six figures as an entrepreneur or as a corporate hotshot, you have time for golf, minivans and $500 watches. Why complain?
At some point, from my sojourn in America’s Business Class, I had to make the conscious decision to put in the extra effort. ‘Lean in’ is what I think is the biz-phrase. For me that meant achieving that precise amount of excellence and political maneuvering to reach Director / VP / Partner. I called it the ‘dosh point’. I was trying to make my equivalent of the Santa Capitalist’s Nice List. It came with a healthy dose of contempt for the likes of those I perceived to be entirely mediocre yet still above my head. In most cases it was some English major who was VP at a software consulting company in their 20th straight year of tenure, or some guy who never read books but could tell you everything about Disney parks. This was the nature of software companies and IT departments before the invention of the iPhone. It was considered genius to be a domain name squatter. I still remember the megawatt grin of the dudette who owned ‘haveaniceday.com’.
There were occasional standouts. The woman from Lebanon and I had a mutual admiration society going on between us. The French salesguy who is an excellent photographer and I got along quite well. The internationally unidentifiable dude with the Spanish surname who helped me map out a six week tour of Asia. Among Americans however there was only one type with whom I consistently got along famously, they were the smart sons of farmers. And Mennonites. Something about farmers and Mennonites, I guess. Like the cat who would explain at length the difference between the Greek and Aramaic translations of the Bible - because he bothered to learn those languages to have a clearer understanding of the Word of God. I admired his discipline. I admire most people’s discipline. I appreciate the elan of those who enjoy the fruits of discipline, but I prefer the company of people who don’t have conversations with their sunglasses on. I like people who, when thrown a daunting task say, “How hard could it be?” and mean it.
It’s often difficult as an American, surrounded by myths of success and witness to blood-led news reportage, to get a whiff of the deportment of the wise in our careers. No one quite sees this like consultants of the type I was, exposed to the corporate cultures and cultural geographies of scores of businesses and cities around the US. It was only when my company was going through the process of preparing itself for sale that I got a taste of that well-sorted American. He was a consultant himself, of the sort who can digest the entirety of a business and put its strengths and weaknesses into a rubric. I could tell that he was far beyond the ‘dosh point’ and he had a certain kind of ease in his knowledge of life outside of the rat maze of getting and spending. I could almost sense his genuine desire to lift us rats out of our mazes, like the pilot of a flying saucer with an exit strategy tractor beam.
In particular he didn’t engage in the kind of affluent one-upmanship I often found myself in. Someone mentions their vacation in Hawaii, then someone else mentions their vacation in the Greek Isles, then someone mentions European river cruises. You know how it goes. Lots of Ford vs Chevy, not much humility. But as I said before, I admire the elan of those who enjoy the fruits of their discipline so I genuinely want to know what there is to know about Greece, I guess. But it’s hard to get that info from resort guests.
There has to be something to this cliche diversity besides all that which is non-American. It’s exactly what I found myself saying yesterday in a podcast. The joke is that if GenZ takes over the world, it will be very easy to take it back. All we have to do is use pencils and write in cursive on the back of a paper map. It is also said that death is no surprise to the wise man. So no matter how dark our times become, there will be the wise who have seen mankind up close and personal in their lives and business in various spots around the world. I said that when people are possessed of an irrational conviction then let them rest with it. If the whole of this country is saying something goofy, perhaps other countries may not be. If everyone in the hemisphere is obeying foolish priorities then it’s time to reach back into history for wisdom. When people live long enough they will eventually come to understand “Everything they taught us was a lie.” You should have looked elsewhere. That’s the human diversity you were missing.
The self-possession of wisdom is not some standpoint epistemology, but in the evidence of a well-lived life. Not only in resources and materiel, but in the habits of getting through it. Not just here in the comfortable known, but in the approach to the stochastic and chaotic, in the obscure and strange. Not for the fascination, but for the ingestion. Not for the performative narration, but for the remolding and refinement of the self. It’s in the discipline. It’s in the practice. It shows up in the eyes, in the manner, in the ability to grasp the bigger things - which eventually show themselves in readily identifiable matters, like loose shoestrings on a toddler. The wizened recognize that which is off-track.
Some are eager to throw away their native cultures for an immersion in the presumed purity of the foreign domain. It’s easier to do as American places lose their traditional civility. The tent camps in Los Angeles are more filthy and disturbing than any litter that made Iron Eyes Cody weep in the 70s, but I’m sure eco-tourists would rather visit the interior of the Amazon jungle than brave the wilds of Skid Row. Everyone has their reasons, I suppose.
Every time I come to this kind of assessment of what is going on, I find myself always attracted to the pursuit of wisdom, the point of which is to discipline oneself toward virtue. And when I try to contextualize it in terms of whats in the mind of our society’s Chatting Class, I keep thinking any single culture is too provincial to approach great wisdom. As humans we have to see ourselves in the full context of humanity, which means everyone, everywhere at all times living and dead. I know this takes a very long time. So I want to be both gentle in my admonitions and determined to make the most of my longevity. We have to compete with everyone and take no shortcuts. We must engage the world or be lost to it.
The Stoic Soundbite
Affirmative Action is patronizing nepotism. So who’s your daddy?
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