Book Review: The Culture Code (Coyle)

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


One of my favorite books is also called The Culture Code, so I figured I’d try my luck again. It panned out!

Unfortunately, the culture Coyle is talking about is not the interesting kind, with folklore and recipes, but the corporate kind. That would be enough to turn me off in most instances. I/O psychologists are barely better than advertisers, and advertisers don’t deserve to sleep indoors. But the studies that Coyle pulls and the conclusions he draws all generalize out of the office and into the parts of life that matter. And it was pretty well written, too.

“Safety” is the take home. The more rigid the hierarchy, the worse the performance. The more comfortable and familial the environment, the more people will collaborate, the better the output and happier the participants. It’s not rocket science, but it is actual science, and backed up with a bunch of blind experiments.

Four stars, because that’s the highest rating I can give a business book and maintain my integrity.



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Book Review: Pathways of Bliss

Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation by Joseph Campbell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Joseph Campbell’s work is always best consumed through audiobook. He’s a dry writer. Unfortunately, he’s an even drier speaker, as career academics usually are, so you’ve really gotta hunt for the audiobooks where they hired professional narrators to read it, instead of the recordings of his university lectures that they try to pass off as books.

The ideas contained in the work are gold, especially if you’re a Jungian or some other kind of witch. Human beings think in terms of the mythological. These archetypes help us understand aspects of ourselves, and we call on them the way that voodoo practitioners let the loa ride them, or how ancient Greeks invoked the protection of situational gods, color-coded for easy reference

The main idea of pathway to bliss is We Live in a Society and we lost the plot, which is why we have such a hard time figuring out what makes us happy. The first step is initiation, the transformation from the comfort and protection of childhood to suddenly having all the responsibility of adulthood thrust on us. In many cultures, this is a highly ritualized process. In American culture, it’s not, which is why there are so many cringy “adulting” jokes. Women get menstruation, which serves as a pretty undeniable threshold, but men just kind of stumble along and eventually segue into what their interpretation of proper adulthood and conduct is.

The other function of initiation is to unite the mentalities of the tribe with regard to what the values of the tribe are, and to provide a clear, concise set of rules for the aspiring initiated to follow and uphold. A code. We don’t have a code anymore. Instead, we have a selection of half-ass codes that we spend all our time arguing about, because as mythologically-minded creatures, we want the meaning and purpose provided by a unanimous code.

There’s a vague blueprint, though. You graduate. You get a job. You marry. You produce 2.3 offspring. You provide for them. You keep all those plates spinning until the kids grow up and launch along their own ill-defined trajectories, and then you retire, and then…

And then?

Campbell talks about how it’s at that point you’re free to pursue your bliss, even though time has almost run out. You spend your whole life working toward the golden years where you’ll finally be able to fish in peace, and once you’ve squared away the rest of your requirements and you have your lifetime boxed up nice and tidy, you get in your little boat and row out. And sometimes, after a week, you realize that fishing is boring, and holy shit, I wasted my entire life.

There is no formalized initiation. There is no clearly defined rule set. We have interpretations of the expectations foisted on us, but interpretations are all they are, since our culture is without a true moral compass. The main message of the book is that we don’t need to put our bliss off until we’re almost dead. In fact, it’s the worst move we can make. Our lives belong to us foremost, and we contain all the archetypes, and maybe some would resonate with us better than others if we gave ourselves the chance to explore those sides of ourselves.

Maybe you weren’t meant to be a fisherman. You thought you were, but you waited and scrimped and saved for 50 years, and now you’re out there, and fishing is boring. Maybe your true passion is base jumping. Well, you’re 70, so you’re not going to go base jumping. Not more than once, anyway. It’s tragic to deny yourself the best life you could have had, and the best you that you could have been, because instead of pursuing some ridiculous bliss dream off the beaten path, you followed what you thought was expected of you — but which was never really expected of you in the first place!

Go on out there, chase your bliss. The Gonzo kids would say “Let your freak flag fly”. Do that, if it makes you feel better. It’s your life. You’re the protagonist of the story, and I think that the real and deep-down origin of neuroticism is the cognitive dissonance that comes from knowing yourself to be the hero of your personal mythology while observing yourself constantly acting unheroic.



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Into the Abyss

August 10, 2018. Manchester, New Hampshire.

After seven hours on the road, pausing only to explore an Old Ones cult site, storm a terrible castle, and eat distressingly dry corned beef at a Greek diner that still advertised one of their menu items as “Michael Jackson’s favorite grinder”, we were in dire need of respite.

Establishing a forward operating base was our first priority. For my part, I can sleep anywhere. My bonfire days in the Frozen North frequently necessitated pitching a $10 K-Mart tent over gravel, then drinking bottom-shelf whiskey until you didn’t realize you were sleeping in a puddle of rainwater and broken glass. That’s not a knack you lose. The Girl was always more discerning, and became even more so after our experience in Phoenix with the inept criminal front halfway house hotel. We agreed that she can veto any of the lodgings I book. Sometimes, late at night, I’ll hold a flashlight under my chin and tell her spoOoOoky stories about hostels in Ireland.

She insisted on the airport Super 8. I was hoping to stay in a quaint deep woods motel called “Unsmiling Jed’s Sleepaway”, attached to sister business “Unsmiling Jed’s Discount Plastic Surgery Silo and Chili Kitchen”. If I can’t protect it, I don’t deserve to have it. That goes double for life.

A friendly foreign woman checked us in at the Super 8, then proceeded into utter bafflement when I asked for a first aid kit. I chewed myself up pretty good climbing Bancroft’s Castle, and I’d spent the last half hour bleeding into an oily dog blanket to avoid ruining my upholstery. That’s how plagues start.

There were no band-aids, or antiseptics, or possibly medicine as a concept. There was a three gallon tub of hand sanitizer. I thanked her, but graciously declined.

We went up to the third floor. The hallways were lined with people sitting on the carpet outside their rooms, shouting and smoking cigarettes. The room itself was clean and the air conditioning worked. All my boxes were checked. The bathroom reeked of weed, which some would interpret as a bonus. I scrubbed my wounds raw in the sink, tucked away the precious cargo of wine and peaches, and set out to investigate downtown Manchester.

Streetlight technology has not yet made its way to Manchester, so we spent twenty minutes missing exits in ocean-floor darkness. What little town we could make out looked worryingly like Wilkes-Barre, which is not where one would choose to vacation, were one sane.

Downtown erupted like graphic pop-in on a video game running at its lowest resolution. One second you’re in leatherface country, with nothing breaking the abyssal darkness but the occasional half-broken Jiffy Lube sign. The next, you’re on vibrant neon market strip, replete with hipsters and the homeless.

We knew we had hit downtown proper when we passed by the “craft grilled cheese bistro”.

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only programmers will understand!!!! like and reblog if u get it

Since I am an adult man, grilled cheese cannot be dinner. Both “gastropubs” we tried, despite their bitchin’ Greek mythology names, offered generic terrible burgers and a draft list that consisted of Coors Light.

“I’m so hungry,” the Girl told me. “I’m gonna die.”

“We all will,” I assured her. “Soon.”

Yelp claimed there was a brewery five blocks away. We walked off the only lit street into absolute, encompassing blackness. It would’ve been spooky if I didn’t always kind of hope some Putty Patrol mook would lunge at me from the dark while I’m far away from home, having told no one where I’m going and left no paper trail.

There were no incidents. No one was murdered in self-defense. No one knows what we did last summer. The Stark Brewing Company was in the basement of a grim looking office complex, and it was vacant save for two other lost souls.

We sat at the bar and ordered a flight and an imperial stout. I wanted to find an actual restaurant, but the Girl ordered “Penne with vodka sauce”, which was not the right color, flavor, or texture to be anything but penne bolognese. The Girl didn’t seem to mind. I ate a pulled pork sandwich.

The beers were warm, but I didn’t care. It didn’t matter what the beers were, so long as they were beers. And not Coors Light. The brewery themed all of their beers off of dogs, for some reason, which I believe to be the ideal business model. According to the bartenders, the brewery had been open for 25 years, but hadn’t yet received their big boom.

I was outraged. The beers were excellent, and would probably be even better if they weren’t room temperature, and the taps were not only named for specific dogs, but also had pictures.

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The bathroom was covered in sharpie beer lore.

The bartender and waitresses swore a lot more than you would normally expect in this context. The Girl maintains they were swearing at us. I disagreed.

“They were swearing <i>with</i> us,” I mansplained.

“We weren’t swearing,” she countered.

“But if we HAD been.”

As I’ve grown larger and more sinuous, I’ve tried to cut back on how often I cuss at strangers. Cultural relativism is the understanding that not everyone grew up among the coalcrackers, and good-natured oaths like “how the hell are you” or use of the fuck-word as a conversational placeholder, while subjectively soothing, can set off fight-or-flight in the small, soft, and bourgeoisie.

I try to maintain direct proportionality between my barbarism and my well-heeledness. Neither the wait staff nor the other two customers shared my bond, and the middle-aged guy on my right proceeded to tell me how his hometown of Denver, Colorado is the greatest fuckin’ city in America, next to maybe Southern California. Which is not a city.

We talked about our homes and travels for a while, then I got my pulled pork sandwich and they left. The sandwich was slightly warmer than the beer. Beats the alternative.

An armada of children came into the bar.

“Oh, shit,” the bartender said. They were visibly teenagers, and on the wrong side of it. They had that gangly awkwardness you get around fourteen or fifteen, and if they were trying to play it off, they were woefully bad at it. There were also nearly twenty of them. It looked like a field trip.

People in their twenties don’t travel in packs of more than six. It’s hard to transport a throng, unless you have a party bus, and why do you have a party bus when you’re twenty-eight? You’re twenty-eight and party buses have always been sad. Get a job. Also, it’s hard to get that many adults to agree on something.

It can be done. You can say, “Hey, adults, you want to do some drugs?” And in a sufficiently sized crowd, you’ll manage to pull twenty or so who will follow you to your house or whatever. This is called an “afterparty”. It doesn’t go to bars at 9pm.

Have you felt out the social zeitgeist recently? Look at a random handful of current memes and it’ll be pretty clear that most adults consider socialization to be a required burden, like paying emotional taxes. “Going out” is the price of living in a civilized society. You’re not going to scare up twenty people, then put them in a party bus, then take them to an abandoned bar half a mile outside of where the actual nightlife is.

“Hey, we’re just about to close,” the bartender said.

A reedy blonde in a top consisting mostly of straps screeched, “But your WEBSITE said you were open til ONE!”

Screeched.

The bar fell silent. Well, more silent. The Girl and I traded looks, her horror for my delight.

“Uhhhhhh,” the bartender said, but with excellent elocution, as though that were the word she had deliberately chosen. “Okay.”

They sat the itinerant mall food court in a big corner table, whereupon they requested shots.

The waitress who had sworn at/with us the least came back to the bar and said, “You guys said you were from Pennsylvania, right?”

We nodded.

“Can I see one of your licenses quick?”

She compared mine against the obviously fake ID one of the tweens had given her. After a moment she said, “Yeah, you can see, the font is different. And the picture looks like it’s photoshopped.”

“Yeah, no one’s license picture ever looks this good,” the Girl said, studying the fake ID.

“Except mine,” I added. They ignored me. I didn’t take it personally.

The waitresses disappeared into the back. Five minutes later, the only dude working at the place was gendered into being the bad cop. He sulked over to the teens.

“You guys gotta leave,” he said. “C’mon. We know your ID’s fake. We’re not trying to get fined. You gotta go.”

For maximum accuracy, imagine this said in Toby’s voice from The Office. Shamefaced, the flash mob of children dispersed.

We paid for our room temperature beers and left the poor, foul-mouthed brewery to close at 9:30 on a Friday. The Girl and I accidentally stalked the battalion of teens through the street, but only because we were all moving back toward the only lights in the city, like moths. They turned a corner and vanished, presumably to find an arcade or laser tag or some sort of large swing set.

The Girl and I followed the sounds of some obnoxious bros announcing, “It’s like a fahkin sketchy ally, dewd”.

It was, in fact, the least sketchy alley I’d ever been in. Cat Alley was the best lit venue in all of New Hampshire. It was clean and well-maintained, and it was covered less in graffiti and more in an outdoor art gallery dedicated to cats.

There were more, but they didn’t all warrant a picture.

Portland Pie Co loomed from the endless darkness like a beacon in the night, hearkening back to those days lost in Maine during the Great Lobster Drought of 2017. We split a bourbon barrel ale which did me in. It was bedtime.

On the way back, toward the end of the main drag, a man made of pure light rode by blasting EZ-Listenin from his Tron bicycle, also made of pure light.

I can’t prove he wasn’t Jesus.

Heartened, we returned to the hotel, where no one was smoking or yelling in the hallway anymore. Excellent. I lost consciousness immediately.

Next stop, Portsmouth.

Love,

The Bastard

Madrid: Hangin’ in There

November 1, 2017. Madrid, Spain.

I think I was so enchanted by Barcelona because it was such a cosmopolitan cultural hub. Walking down the street, you’d find eight different kinds of food in the same block and people speaking as many different languages.

Madrid is different. There’s not a lot of culture to see here. There’s a handful of museums (pic related), but nothing really novel, nothing that you’d go out of your way to hunt down unless you’re on a school field trip. For the record, the line to get into the Prada museum seemed to be comprised mostly of school field trips, and it wrapped around the block. I’ve been going to coffee shops to write every morning; this morning, I had to resort to a Starbucks because Spain doesn’t open until 10 AM.

breakfast

This is breakfast, in a bare minimum kind of way. Dasayuno mediterraneano, which is some bread, olive oil, tomatoes fresh out of the blender, and salt. Bone apple teeth.

The statuary seems likewise confused as to why I opted to spend four days here. I tried assuring them it was for proximity to airport and affordability of tickets, but they weren’t convinced.

vatofrice

After a week in Spain, I finally got my hands on some paella. The hostess assured me it fed a minimum of 2 people, and I assured her “Nuh-uh”. It turned out, I was right. It wasn’t bad, but it was a pound of buttered rice with seafood and chicken bones in it. I feel like the travel writers (including this dude) might have overhyped this one.

The fact of the matter is, the Spanish economy is not doing so hot. That’s why everything costs at least $5 more than it does in the real world and probably why the inhabitants seem to subsist entirely on tapas. It’s not a problem in and of itself, but you can see it in the infrastructure, and how everybody is always coming at me with little grabby-hands, begging and demanding and pan-handling and whoring. I can’t stand grabby-hands.

Rome in 2 days. Staying the course. Gonna try to get belligerently drunk tonight, that oughta get things a little more mezclado. Silver lining, I’m getting plenty of Spanish practice. I think if I got a job where I needed to use it, I’d be fluent inside of a month. My working vocabulary is growing by leaps and bounds each day. Hopefully I can skive the same deal with my strictly literary knowledge of Italian once I get to Rome in 2 days.

I also bailed out of the worst hostel in Europe that doesn’t kill you and into a much nicer place called SafeStay Madrid, which is, by the fact they need to put “safe” in the name, somewhat ominous. It’s a huge, clean, pleasant place, though. Hot water and everything! They’ve also got a giant movie room where I spent most of yesterday marathoning Stranger Things. I still can’t believe Sam Gamgee is shacking up with Winona Ryder.

Love,

The Bastard