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: Industrial Society and Its Future

Industrial Society and Its FutureIndustrial Society and Its Future by Theodore J. Kaczynski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only thing Teddy hates more than civilization is the god damn liberals.

His rhetoric is by now archetypal of shrub-crouching anarchoprimitivists, and relies on the same general arguments appealing to nature and drawing attention to the absolute state of the place, and humanity’s psychological and “moral” decay since we really doubled down on agriculture.

Society, as we know it and jocker .gif live in it, was a mistake because it runs so contrary to what evolution programmed us for. We did just fine for two million years living in accord with the land, “in the hands of the gods” as Daniel Quinn succinctly put it, until about 10,000 years ago when we decided to start watchdogging plots of dirt that grew calorically dense but nutritionally vacant grasses that, truth told, we don’t digest so good. Finally given a reason to go to war, we started going to war. Progress marched on, technology continued to advance, and with every new jump it brought with it the promise of a better, more fulfilling, and easier life that ultimately culminated in actual slavery (before giving way to the modern, wage kind), war, murder, rape, animal abuse, all of it. Name a bad thing and you can eventually trace it back to the technological advances that brought us out of the shrub.

Most of these green and black philosophers make vague allusions to how bad farming was, usually connecting it to being cast out from Eden (whether they mean to or not), and drop hints that something must be done, nudge nudge wink wink. Teddy makes his suggested solutions pretty obvious by, as Epictetus advised, embodying his philosophy. He also takes things a step further by suggesting all technology starts as a key and becomes its own lock. Every new bit of tech that guarantees simplification of life leads to greater reliance on that tech, and its providers, ultimately adding another layer of dependency, which takes its psychological toll.

The main thrust of Teddy’s argument is that man has an ingrained psychological need to be free, like every other animal, and wandering around the savanna scrounging out each day’s existence provided more freedom than does farming, sitting in a cubicle, or being a mathematics professor. The further we get from this freedom, the more we lean on the allowances and permissions granted us by the “masters”, the keyholder technocrats, the more miserable and neurotic we become.

Teddy believes the system benefits no one but the system, which is why we’re feeding children drugs to make them sit still in school, throughout the years where every comparable animal would be running, playing, and exploring, so they can grow up to become automatons of appropriate malleability. Obviously, no creature can distance itself from its nature so completely, so maintaining the status quo into adulthood many require further prescriptions, recreational chemicals like smonk and drink, and that good good Netflix, to maximize docility.

He suggests the power process (a psych term he seems to have invented for this manifesto) denied by modern life is sublimated into hobbies and work, so people pursue things like an academic career, collecting Magic the Gathering cards, or maximizing their body count (in either sex or homicide), providing them a sense of purpose that would otherwise be met with daily Darwinian attempts at survival and reproduction.

He also smashes libs unceremoniously and remorselessly. Here are a few occasions on which the lib status was adjusted to destroyed:

Those who are most sensitive about “politically incorrect” terminology are not the average black ghetto-dweller, Asian immigrant, abused woman, or disabled person, but a minority of activists, many of whom do not even belong to any “oppressed” group but come from privileged strata of society. Political correctness has its stronghold among university professors, who have secure employment with comfortable salaries, and the majority of whom are heterosexual white males from middle- to upper-middle-class families.

The language in this screed is a little dated, my dude, but I trust your judgment regarding university professors.

It is not the primitive man, who has used his body daily for practical purposes, who fears the deterioration of age, but the modern man, who has never had a practical use for his body beyond walking from his car to his house. It is the man whose need for the power process has been satisfied during his life who is best prepared to accept the end of that life.

In which the fear of death evaporates by a life well lived. Socratic.

The people who rise to positions of power in leftist movements tend to be leftist of the most power-hungry type because power-hungry people are those who strive hardest to get into positions of power. Once the power-hungry types have captured control of the movement, there are many leftists of a gentler breed who inwardly disapprove of many of the actions of the leaders, but cannot bring themselves to oppose them. They need their faith in the movement, and because they cannot give up this faith they go along with the leaders.

This comes tailing a hundred or so pages about how leftists are crippled by their personal insecurity and so enroll themselves in massive collectivists movements because it’s only through that union, through joining with this mob, that they can conceive of having personal power.

If our society had no social problems at all, the leftists would have to invent problems in order to provide themselves with an excuse for making a fuss.

He also argues that these libs, these despicable libs, tend to champion causes that are already part of the established status quo. Virtue signaling wasn’t a coined term when he wrote this, but it’s the same concept. I don’t have it marked, but let me paraphrase:

A leftist of this type will come out in staunch defense of something like racism being bad, which is a socially accepted perspective as it stands. The ones who argue that racism is good are social aberrants. Everyone agrees racism is bad. So when this leftist gets on the soapbox and bellows “racism is BAD you stupid FUCKERS! How many TIMES do I have to SAY IT?”, they’re not necessarily doing it to advance an anti-racist agenda, as the overwhelming majority of “the system’s” agenda is already vocally anti-racist.

Well, who could say? If Teddy was as smart as they claim, he wouldn’t be serving four consecutive life sentences plus 30 years right now. The philosophy makes sense in spots, but it’s predicated on a lot of assumptions that you need to be pretty disaffected to accept in the first place.

Four stars. It lost a star because I don’t want to be on any more watch lists than I already am.

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Berlin: The Designpanoptikum

December 5, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

In the heart of Berlin, there’s a dungeon scrapyard exhibition overseen by a delightful and charismatic Russian who’s definitely a serial killer. Google assured me that it would be a “surreal museum”, but neglected to mention how similar it would be to that awful J.Lo movie The Cell. The similarities were only emphasized by the fact that I, too, am a thicc bilingual headshrinker, though she is admittedly a better dancer.

Panoptikum is a German word, meaning Panopticon. Helpful, right? Well, the Panopticon was a decidedly Lawful Evil brainchild of social theorist, philosopher, and institutional bastard Jeremy Bentham. Boiled down to its essence, it’s a big round building made of glass, with a spot for a guard in the middle, enclosed by one-way mirrors. The inhabitants of the glass cells have no privacy. They can see each other, but they can’t see the guard, who obviously can’t be watching all of them at once… but you never know where he is looking, behind that smoked glass.

Bentham, sweetheart that he is, suggested the Panopticon could work equally well for a prison or a school. He described it as “a mill for grinding rogues honest”. As reasonable as it might be to want to flying dropkick the dude off a rope bridge, his figuring isn’t wrong. It’s been common knowledge that social expectation and the old “what will people think” instinct is a deep-rooted and effective behavioral modulator, but it’s on such a hair trigger that even the suggestion of being watched can promote a sort of bastardized honesty. A Newcastle study put coffee and tea out for their department with an honesty box next to it with a little note, “Please pay for what you take!”. On the rear wall behind the box was a poster, rotated weekly; either a bunch of flowers, or a pair of eyes. On the eye weeks, the researchers found a lot more honor-system money than on the flower weeks.

Of course, that might not generalize to all people, it might just be that college students are more inclined to feel anxious about being stared at, or eye contact in general. You ever met college students? They love to feel anxious.

When Bentham named the Panopticon, he was making an allusion to Argus Panoptes, a giant from Greek mythology with a hundred eyes. Panoptes translates to “all-seeing”, and that he did, right up until Hera assigned him to guard Io to make sure Zeus didn’t knock her up while she was a cow. Long story. Ultimately ending with Hermes getting recruited by Zeus to sneak up on Panoptes (how that happened is unclear), cast a god-tier Sleep spell, then brain the poor doofus with a rock.

None of those things gave me any inkling of what Berlin’s Panoptikum was gonna be about, but I’m a sucker for anything surreal, probably as compensation for all the ADHD and disdain for sleep.

All alone, with nobody holding my hand through it, I figured out how buses worked. Turns out, they’ll take you in different directions depending on what side of the street you board. The bus numbers will be the same regardless! You just need to know the incredibly German name of an area near wherever you’re going.

Well, I didn’t, so I took the first bus a half mile in the wrong direction, then leaped off and grumbled my way back to the bus stop. It started to rain, because of course it did.

The correct bus eventually dropped me off in central Berlin, a little more than a block from the Panoptikum. I was greeted by an enthusiastic Russian in flawless, German-accented English, who then explained to me that a heavy Russian accent was part of his shtick until 6 pm. He lapsed into it and started giving an overview on the Panoptikum as I marveled at his terrifying sculptures.

25371171_1149915838478054_937305132_o “Form and function,” he said. “Once, they are the same thing. Once, form was secondary consideration. The product of the function. Now everything is so artistically designed and… and… ergonomic, so all of these things must be beautiful as well as functional, but they don’t look like anything. Certainly they don’t look like what they are for. But we have come so far from that, that we no longer recognize things by their functional form. Take this, for example.”

He held up an odd looking metal clamp, sort of like two L-shaped pieces of steel with a long bolt running between them. The steel slid freely, if noisily, along the threads.

“Do you know what this is?”

I shrugged. “Metal?”

“A good guess,” he said, “And technically correct. But this is something specific. This has a function. I ask everyone this question, no one has ever gotten it right. Take time, look around, think about it. I will ask again before you leave, after you see museum.”

I looked at it again. It wasn’t a clamp. There was no way to tighten it. Still looked like giant metal pincers, about a foot and a half long.

“You use it every day,” he assured me. “You have to. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.”

Then he set me loose in the grown up version of Sid’s room from Toy Story.

The basement had that cloying, stale grease smell of a disused garage.

“Do not go to the museums,” he warned me. “Not if you want to see art. You want art, go to the junkyard. Art everywhere. Costs much less.”

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“Form and function. Do you know what this is?”

I looked it over as he crouched down and slapped the thing. A low-pitched BONG sound echoed through the eerie silence of his subterranean trophy case.

“Well, I was gonna say a land mine, but I guess not.”

“Close!” he said, opening the hatch. “Washing machine. Back when they were first invented, only rich people had them. You put the clothes in, the motor shakes them up, cleans them. No motor now, of course, so now it’s just… this thing.”

He was insistent I take selfies with his zany assortment of hats from the dump. I didn’t want to wear the deflated punching bag on my head, although he was really pulling for it. 25383075_1149915881811383_2081062368_o

We compromised on the World War I helmet. I’ve since learned it’s called a Stahlhelm.

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“Do you know why the helmets had those little horns?”

I did not.

“It is not like a viking thing, and it is not like they came to terms with being the bad guys, dressing up like devils. It is an example of… German overengineering. Germans are a very efficient people, and sometimes they get too focused on it, and they lose sight of what’s practical.”

“I know,” I said. “I used to have a Jetta.”

“See, the steel helmets were good for protecting against shrapnel, but back in the trenches, you would just poke your head up and shoot. The metal was not thick enough to stop a direct hit from a bullet. But the scientists at the time, they thought, what if we installed a plate that was thick enough to stop a bullet? Their trench fighters would be almost impervious to gunfire, then! So they manufactured these heavy steel plates that click into the little buttons on the side of the helmet, protecting the head. This did not work for three reasons.

One, it was very, very expensive. That’s a lot of steel, and you need to give one to everyone in the army. Germany ran out of steel.

Two, it was too heavy. People running around with 2 kilos (4.4 lbs) of steel on their head, it interfered with their balance. The helmets would also slip down over their eyes because it’s so much heavier in the front.

Three, in the instances when the plate did actually stop a direct hit of a bullet? The force of the impact would break the soldier’s neck in 80% of cases anyway. So for all that money, and all that effort, and all that steel, they’re only saving one out of five direct hits, which are rare enough to begin with.”

It hearkened back to something he’d said earlier when we were looking at an old iron lung.

“See, in America, life is precious. In Russia, Asia, the Middle East, life is cheap. I get Chinese tourists in here, I tell them this woman lived sixty years in this iron lung, and they are incredulous, they ask me ‘why not just die’? Well, because she was an American. They had the resources, so she lived in that iron lung, she did university from her hospital room, and she eventually became a depression counselor. Helped a lot of people. But not everyone could have done that, I don’t think. Most people would rather just die.”

I was reflecting on all this when I turned the corner, caught sight of this little number.

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“Don’t worry, it’s not a sex doll,” he assured me.

“That’s not what worried me.”

“That is part of typewriter,” he said. “Sort of a duality thing, you know? Because of the mouth, and the typewriter, and both of them use words, both of them are for words.”

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“That’s Yuri Gagarin,” he said. “You know who that is?”

I laughed. What a Russian thing! “Yeah,” I said.

“First man in space,” he told me, even though I just said yeah.

“So is that how they did it? Dr. Strangelove style?”

He grinned. “More or less.”

We made our way back to the front door and he picked up the weird metal clamp thing again.

“So! Any guesses?”

I squinted at it, then nodded.

“Is it a doorknob?”

“It is!” he said. “It is a doorknob! And hopefully, your time here at the Panoptikum opened some doors to some new ways of looking at things for you. Thank you much for coming.”

“Thank you,” I said. “This was incredible.”

“You got it right, here,” he said, “Take one of postcards, for free. Whichever one you want. Go ahead.”

I decided on the one that he had explained in the gallery as representing the German spirit.

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Refreshed and disturbed, I walked back out into Berlin’s perpetual rain to find the lauded East Side Gallery.

Next time.

(If you liked the crazy bullshit you saw here, there’s plenty more where that came from. If that site is too hard to navigate [and it fuckin’ is], there’s also a Facebook page. It’s in German, so if you like it, everyone will think you’re cultured.)

Above board, the guy who owns it and gave me the tour is an artist and photographer named Vladimir Korneev. I’d love to link to his gallery or something, but he shares a name with a Russian songwriter so there’s way too much foreign-language smokescreen for me to find anything.

I strongly encourage you to hit up this headtrip if you’re ever in Berlin. He’s probably not a serial killer. He didn’t serial kill me! But they never really seem to.

Love,

The Bastard