hope and curiosity
I was hit by a car yesterday on my bike. I am so lucky to be mostly unscathed, and I don’t know if I have the words. But it brought up a lot of emotions - mostly around uncertainty and hope.
When we wander out into the world, we are dealing with other humans. There are natural forces too, like hurricanes and wind and sunrises. It’s a mix of mess and beauty.
But within the entire breadth of existence, there is this underlying thread of uncertainty, amplified by hope. With everything that still happens, we are still able to carry this glowing orb of belief within us. In the past few pieces on here, I’ve talked about stories and meaning and nostalgia.
Today I want to talk about hope.
So there are a few things going on in the economy right now -
Federal Reserve “pausing”
Banks continuously blowing up
Debt ceiling drama
What’s interesting about these three thingsis that they are all projections of hope.
The Hope Function
The Fed manages the economy now to get it to some future state - a hope of balancing things out. The banks are traded to their death by the market based on what happened to previous banks - a complete lack of hope. The debt ceiling is an optics-based battle based in potential wreckage of our economic future - a gamble on hope.
Hope is essentially a function of information, knowledge, and expectations, based off uncertainty - the chance of something not happening or happening.
For the Fed, there are no real solutions. They are flirting with a pause, slowing things down as a credit crunch spirals from the banks failing and continued quantitative tightening. They raised 25 bps yesterday, and that might be the last time they do that for a while.
For the banks, they keep failing. The market is punishing any bank with “west” in its name in a spectacular show of market fundamentalism. JPM bought FRC making them essentially a monetary policy entity. And now small and medium sized businesses are getting beat up.
For the debt ceiling, there are 4 solutions - a discharge petition, the 14th amendment, the coin, or premium bonds. The best solution would be to raise the stupid thing and stop playing political football.
But when you run these three things through the hope function, it sucks. It sucks a lot. The post-mortem on SVB essentially boiled down to “this is everyone’s fault” which is just annoying and disappointing and sad. When you have these three things (with all the other stuff going on) running through the collective hope function we all have, it makes sense that we would begin to feel drained.
It changes how we perceive hope.
When FRC was bought out by JPM, the CEO of Citi said:
It's always a sad day when you see a bank fail but we are all very pleased to get the major source of uncertainty that was remaining from the recent bank turmoil addressed… This is a case of a small handful of banks that were poorly managed and getting this addressed is very important.
But uncertainty is only part of the problem!
When uncertainty compounds, it can decimate any idea of hope. Like if you keep on getting kicked in the shin, you’re soon going to expect a kick in the shin sort of stuff. As banks continue to fail, it is a kick in the shin to the economy - and people will begin to expect that.
This gets into the second variable - information.
When I posted about my bike crash yesterday, a lot of people began to correct one chart, which from like a data perspective, sure. But it felt like I was living in a warp - “can they not see the underlying point of the other three charts? The point is that people are dying, that cars are too big, too many, too much”but it became a Big Battle About Being Correct.
That’s what stuck out to me - the act of reasoning, of realizing that there was indeed a forest amongst all those trees was somewhat lost to these people. There was no future outlook, no desire to go beyond, no predictive modeling in their heads, no “well maybe x means y” - and that’s the problem with a lot of our discussions as a capital-S-Society.
Information is different than knowledge.
As David Lublin wrote in Continued Histories of the Future about the fall in the number of stories that talk about the future:
Perhaps the ability to collect and parse huge amounts of data in real-time has drawn our attention to short term prediction instead.
And I do think we are somewhat stuck on the short term!
We are starstruck by the data, by the constant tornado that is the Internet. Jorie Graham has the view that technology anchors us to the present moment, where we get lost in information in place of knowledge. As Kerry Howley writes in her profile on Graham:
A life tethered to a phone is a life tethered to a present tense, a stream of insistent notifications (ding!) beckoning the mind back to now… The internet beckons into a flat now, a constant “attending to,” a well of insistent digital need. She notices in the people around her “a sense of shame without a clear source, a sense of scarcity,” a sense of “entrapment.” There is not space for the mind to build a picture of people who do not yet exist… The internet is ever present and real and beneath the threshold of visibility, and in this it resembles time.
No wonder we feel trapped and no wonder we can’t properly extrapolate to the future. Everything is a remake, everything is nostalgia, nothing is new - nothing is curious. We get lost in this constant, and because the Internet functions as time, it can remove the need for the real-world passage of time - it muddles reality.
This is a large part of how often we get wrapped into our own worlds, how time becomes stagnant, the removal of empathy, the insistence to unhappiness in many. There are a lot of reasons for this:
We are lonely. The US is in a loneliness crisis. We don’t see each other. Suburbs, car culture, and the subsequent lack of third spaces are a huge part of this. But also boomers have turned the workplace into their entire lives, so infrastructure is tied to work - and work is not a place to find meaning for a lot of people.
And we tell stories that make us lonelier. The stories of the zeitgeist are usually dystopian. There are many reasons for this - these type of novels are easier to write (think Hunger Games, Divergent, the big YA books from the 2010s). The present and future both have to be believed in for utopia, which is hard and it’s difficult to agree on what utopia looks like (quite easy to agree on dystopia)
There’s something ironic almost about the combination of these two things and how they both get exploited. We are lonely and we engage with these stories that make us feel lonelier - not just dystopian novels, but the constant news cycle that is tilted towards negativity.
We are so connected, online, the world at our fingertips. Why do we feel bad?
But as Ruth Franklin wrote in the review of Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World:
What if the monsters are present not because reason isn’t awake to fend them off but because reason, in its slumber, actively generates them? If monsters can exist not despite reason but as a consequence of it, then perhaps we’re not as safe in the rational world—the land of logic and science—as we thought.
We are at a weird point.
A point where it seems like things should be getting better (the monsters should go away!!) - after all, we have logic and science - but it certainly feels not that way at all. But then of course, it’s kinda always been this way?
As Goethe said to Luden:
"Even if you were able to interpret and investigate all sources, what would you find? Nothing but one great truth which has long been discovered and for whose confirmation one does not need to seek far; the truth, namely, that in all times and in all countries things have been miserable. Men have always been in fear and trouble, they have pained and tortured one another; what little life they had, they made sour one to the other. The beauty of the world and the sweetness of existence which the beauty of the world offered them, they were not able to esteem or to enjoy. Only to a few life became comfortable and enjoyable. Most people, after having played the game of life for a time, preferred to depart rather than to begin anew. That which perhaps gave or gives them some degree of attachment to life was and is the fear of death. Thus life is; thus it always was; thus it will always remain. That is, after all, the lot of man. What further witness is needed?
Think about that - it’s always been grouchy, we’ve always been grouchy, and the world has always contained beauty.
But we get stuck.
We get stuck on the short term, on the inevitable loneliness of being human, on the stories that we tell each other about the future, in the cycle of time of the Online.
Mostly because people lose curiosity.
David Roth wrote The Limits Of The Billionaire Imagination Are Everyone’s Problem, a broad discussion on how boring and trite the most wealthy are with their money - how their boringness squashes all of us.
That inequality, when compounded over time and amplified by the cretinous and absolutely joyless mediocrity of the people in whose accounts that compounding gets done, winds up not just freezing the world in place, but shrinking it to the size of their own incuriosity.
And Kelsey McKinney wrote in The Internet Isn’t Meant To Be So Small:
In the late aughts, Twitter and Facebook still valued curiosity, but over the next decade they realized that it wasn't good for business; curiosity brought people to their platforms, but then it whisked them away.
Hope is curiosity.
And curiosity has been squashed by the mechanics of incentives, of short-termism, of the exploitation of loneliness. And that removal of curiosity is brutal because sniffing around and checking things out is a key part of being human - of living.
There was this final gem of a line from Howley’s interview of when Graham was diagnosed with cancer-
The thought, first and foremost, of leaving behind her family. You have to keep living, she had written in Fast. You have to make it not become waiting.
There is a difference between living and waiting. That’s what Goethe is saying too. The monsters are always going to be there.
There has to be availability to a world outside of screens, the development of your own structure for seeing the world, and an embrace of authenticity - for us to be truly curious. Obtaining these things requires us to seek some concept of Self, which in a world that demands Loudness and Certainty, can be hard.
I think often of Jean-Luc Nancy’s Listening, a masterpiece on the difference between listening and hearing -
[To listen] will always then, to be straining toward an approach to the self… one is on the lookout for a subject, something (itself) that identifies itself by resonating from self to self.
Listening is different than hearing.
There is something within us that breaks when we stop listening to one another, which exacerbates all of the above problems. It’s really quite similar to Simone de Beauvoir’s views on individuality - we can only embrace individuality when everyone has the chance to embrace individuality, and we can only find a True Self when we listen to others (and music) - when we embrace their Self. We have to see each other.
There is a difference between living and waiting. Between knowledge and information. Between hearing and listening. And curiosity is key.
The Evolution of the Hope Function
The stories that we tell ourselves has had to change. It’s forced us into buckets of nostalgia, of retelling familiarity because that’s the only stable thing left. As Ernst Bloch, the og hope thinker, wrote about hope:
Hope must be unconditionally disappointable… or else it would not be hope
He then gives two reasons for this:
Hope is future facing and because of that it embraces the idea of change (not the idea of continuously doing the same thing) and incorporates chance
Hope is exposed to the condition of defeat - and it is not confidence - “it can never be mediated by solid facts”
Hope is based on uncertainty, on the idea that things won’t work out - that you can be disappointed. In his essay on Bloch, Gerhard Richter writes:
The negative knowledge that this undecidable disappointability may unpredictably interject into any discourse of closure and abjection prevents even the deep mourning that is born of discouragement from simply remaining itself.
And what all that means is that when we operate with the Blochian idea of hope -
Hope is disappointable
We will be let down
Life isn’t perfect and finishable
However, this hope remains steadfast. Because it’s still there, in some form, despite setback and modifications to the general idea of what that hope was.
And I think this is the problem with the stories that we tell ourselves, with the meaning that we give things, with the nostalgia that we get wrapped into. The valuation model that we have for hope is based on what we see in the world around us - which is skewed by those that design the framework for the world and how fundamentally boring they are with their rocket races.
I know that this article was a spew of quotes and references, but the core idea is that that hope is profound and curiosity is the forcing function - and as we process technology, a world where curiosity can feel stifled, where information isn’t always knowledge, perhaps it’s best to redefine how we think of hope. Hope is allowed to be angry and real - as long as it is resilient. And man, do we need it right now.
This from Daniel Hadas thread on Moby Dick haunts me -
Every sort of technological progress has made some natural problem less pressing, more easily solved. But death is the one exception - death is still as it always was. And so, at the moment of our death, even if never before, we will face that white whale, alone and with no pills or machines to help us
There is likely a need to tell better stories. Make space to listen to one another. Be endlessly curious, even when the world sucks. At the end of it all, it’s only hope.
Thanks for reading.
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Also I talk more about these things in my short form videos and YouTube
I know some people think the Fed is intentionally running the economy into the ground or whatever but for purposes of this analysis we will concentrate on objectivity
Very much old man yelling at cloud vibes from me - it is the Internet after all
We emotionalize and anthropomorphize everything. I guess I wonder if uncertainty and hope are just illusions. While macro conditions and sentiment does influence the markets and equities, I just want to see the patterns in it all.
I hope that you (and your bike) heal up quickly and completely.