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Welcome to another Mindf*ck Monday newsletter, the only weekly newsletter that doesn’t wash its hands after using the bathroom. Each week, I throw three ideas at you that will help you be a slightly less horrible human being. This week we’re talking about: 1) how to be more resilient (and why it’s important), 2) how working from home could change the world, and 3) the social dangers of distrust.
Let’s get into it.
1. How to be more resilient – Any time we’re faced with difficulty in our lives, it’s an opportunity to make ourselves stronger. I’ve written about this many times and in many places and I’ve especially been harping on it this year. But it occurred to me that I have not dived deep into the general principles of what makes a person resilient and what makes them psychologically weak.
I spent much of last week researching and writing about what I think are the five most important principles of developing resilience in the face of adversity and how you can adopt them. It’s a long piece. But I trust you’re resilient enough to make it to the end:
2. How working from home could change the world – In the past couple of weeks, Facebook, Twitter, and Shopify have all announced that they are going to continue to allow employees to work from home indefinitely. Other corporate giants such as Morgan Stanley, Mondelez, Nationwide Insurance, and Barclays are strongly considering doing the same.
Let’s imagine a world where working from home does become the new norm. What are some of the second- and third-order effects we may see?
It’s well-known that the information age has caused the largest cities in the world to become overcrowded, overpriced, and over-developed, as everyone flocks to them for the high-paying tech, finance, and service jobs. Cities such as San Francisco, São Paulo, London, and Shanghai have seen their cost-of-living soar while the interiors of these countries watch their communities erode as they struggle to maintain jobs. This urban/rural divide has been an ongoing problem around the world and governments have seemed helpless to stop it.
But if you can now work from anywhere, why pay $3,000/mo in San Francisco for a dingy one-bedroom apartment when you can live in a two-story home with a huge yard and swimming pool in Boise? Why spend two hours a day in traffic in São Paulo or Los Angeles when you can enjoy the same quality of life somewhere smaller and quieter?
Working from home might provide the great demographic reversal that policymakers have been desperately trying to create for decades. We may see a much-needed economic leveling occur between the coastal megacities and the interior small- and mid-level cities. That would be great.
But another consideration: the culture and character of cities would change as well. Until now, cities have culturally and logistically organized around their major industries. Cities that relied on car manufacturing became car manufacturing cities. Cities that depended on finance developed cultures around finance, and so on.
With most of the workforce being remote, I could see cities instead organizing themselves around hobbies, interests, and attractions. Cities will develop much more “character” and “personality” as the increased freedom of movement will drive like-minded people to each geographic location. Beach people will live by the beach. Mountain people will live in the mountains. Country people will live in the vast countryside. And busy city people will still opt for the bustling urban chaos.
The quality and character of each location will become amplified, reversing another trend—the cultural homogeneity caused by globalization. Being in a high-end mall in Bangkok is indistinguishable from being in a mall in Toronto or Mexico City, in many ways. There are the same stores, same shops, same restaurants. Perhaps this will change that as regional tastes are amplified and each city/country develops more of its personal character.
Either way, I welcome and encourage more companies to implement remote working. It’s good for the employees (no time lost commuting). It’s good for the companies (no more expensive real estate to maintain). And perhaps, it’s good for the world, too.
3. The social dangers of distrust – A couple weeks ago, after a series of newsletters about conspiracy theories and the prevalence of disinformation, I was overwhelmed by reader responses at how much general distrust there is out there — of the media, of government, of science and data, or of just people in general. I won’t lie, it bummed me out for a few days.
The core argument in my book Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope was that the world isn’t getting worse (actually, most data suggests it’s getting better), but for some reason our perception of the world is that it is constantly getting worse. I wanted to understand, why is that?
One of the things I came across in my research was a lot of data about social trust. Basically, social trust has been in free-fall over the past few decades. Despite governments becoming less corrupt, we distrust them more than ever before. Despite more and better information availability, we distrust the media more than ever before. And despite our societies being safer and less violent, we distrust other people more than ever before.
What was particularly concerning about this research was that if you look at political science, pretty much everything that makes a modern, stable democracy work, depends on some degree of social trust.
I started writing about this in last week’s email, but it got to be way too long and nerdy. But I decided that it was still worth writing for those who were interested, so I decided to put it on the website for my lovely readers.
The TL;DR of the article though, is that while I think it’s important to stay skeptical for the simple fact that humans get tons of things wrong, I do think that there needs to be some baseline level of trust that the institutions we’ve built for ourselves, in the long-run, usually work and they are worth keeping. Put simply, let’s be careful that we’re not throwing any babies out with the bathwater over the coming years. A more detailed analysis is inside.
In the meantime, I trust you to take care of yourself. And stay resilient in the face of everything. See you next Monday.