middle brow | citizen how \ 8 dec 17 /

to adult.

we write a lot about politics. we think a lot about politics, so we write a lot about politics. and we believe staying informed and passionate about such is what makes one a good citizen. hence the title of the weekly rant. ... but we spend almost as much time thinking and writing about how to get older. which is really a very adult thing. something we couldn't have dreamed of writing about in our 20s. when we weren't even cognizant of our physical and intellectual and emotional ages. when we were effectively 14 year olds. or 6 year olds. fuck. virtually anything past reading age. we stayed that way until we were about 25. 

anyway. at some point. you read american pastoral by philip roth at the right time in your life and you realize that you're an adult. and at that moment you realize that despite your "adulthood", there's virtually no distance between you and your 90-year-old adult friends. which you naturally get the second you turn 26. but you also realize that there's very little distance between you and your 90-year-old friend's great grandson. because of how dumb you are. how young and unwise you are. and how fickle wisdom really is. but what sets you apart from your 25-year-old mountain climbing neighbor is that you still realize that you're getting older. that you're aging. and then you hit your 30s and maybe you stop worrying about getting older. or obsessing over it. and you find the right ways to get younger as you get older. i mean, not everyone figures this out. jump off the bus in the gold coast. and most of the older dudes you see. with their pleather pants and earrings and ferragamos with socks and tans in the winter and super clean cars and it's like they're always fucking carrying one of those extra large bags from barney's and there's probably nothing even in the fucking bag it's just a super stiff, like-new barney's bag that they carry from valet stand to valet stand. ever on the verge of lighting the cigarette between their fingers but never quite doing it. or you can go to fulton market and it's even worse these days. the only difference being that fulton market also features women who haven't quite learned how to get younger as they get older. 

but i digress. 

some people hit their twenties and never want to leave. as if it's a place. as if they just took a trip to panama city and got a sunburn in the shape of maryland on their belly and met some girls who talked funny and they missed their ride back to des moines and have been there ever since. in their head. trying to order a drink over a dude who's still talking about his days as an offensive linemen in pop warner football. ... others accept their impending middle age with grace. and something about it teaches them just how valuable it is to recover the curiosity and confidence of youth. and in that sense, they get younger as they get older. and they begin to understand some of the subtler things that can only be understood with age. like the impossibility and importance of going home. and the many ways in which people can be intelligent. and the relatively uselessness of talent. and the communal nature of success and failure. and they marvel at the streetlight that didn't used to be there. and the sign that announced it in advance. ... and they tend to avoid nostalgia. because their present life is filled with contentment. which is just plenty.

but now i really digress.

we try to write about how to get older. sometimes. is what i'm trying to say. and one of the super important things you learn as you age is that you have limitations. and in this fancy millennium. we know so much more about our brains. and we know that our thinking suffers constantly from cognitive biases that make us act irrational. and since we know this happens, we can correct it. 

one of these biases is called "optimism bias". it's defined as a bias that causes one to believe that he's at a lesser risk of experiencing some negative outcome. think: smokers who don't believe their get lung cancer. or young adult males who think they'll never be the kind of person who laughs so hard they pass wind in front of their girlfriend's family. we all know optimism bias very well. we all suffer from it.

so let us modestly propose that this bias is one of the few phenomena that can explain the passage of the shitty, shitty tax reform bill that's about to be signed by donald trump. consider the republican attempt to repeal obamacare. the move was massively unpopular. and it was snuffed out again and again. likely due to the quick and easy mobilization of obamacare proponents. how were folks so easy and quick to mobilize against this unpopular republican move? because it was framed as the repeal of a universal health insurance law. people were told they'd be losing something. and people are inherently loss averse. (another suboptimally rational behavior, btw.) and so when they hear that healthcare will be taken away from anyone, they fear it will be taken away from them. and they react swiftly and purposefully.

compare that to this tax bill. worried about living in one of the most unequal countries in the developed world? sorry. but the bill raises taxes on millions of middle class americans while cutting them on wealthy americans and corporations. worried about the national debt and deficits? sorry. it adds $1.5T to the deficit. that's structural, by the way. (that is, it's not a one-time thing; it's permanent.) worried that our tax code is too byzantine? and that filing taxes is too cumbersome? that postcard was just a joke. due to the nature in which reform was passed, things have gotten even more complicated. we could go on and on in greater detail, but our point doesn't require such: this bill is shit. and it was supported by, like, 20-30% of voters. that's a tiny percentage! that's an extremely unpopular bill! especially for a bill that's framed as a "tax cut"!!!! 

but despite the lack of popularity, virtually nobody protested in the streets. virtually no campaigns went viral on facebook, telling us to call our congresspeople to demand they vote no. how come? because our optimism bias told us we'd certainly be getting a tax cut, even though this bill is garbage. certainly the bad parts of this bill won't happen to us. it's a *tax cut*, and we brush our teeth at least once a day! and we told that funny joke at lunch yesterday. and we're great! obviously we'll be fine. we'll get that tx cut. but poor, poor american middle class. many of them will suffer. ... and this perception that our lot would improve made us lazy. after all, why should we get up and fight if we're not even gonna be harmed? ... and our congresspeople knew this was happening. and one by one, so-called "principled" republicans fell into line with their party. and voted for a shit bill. why? because they knew we were lazy. and that laziness would cause us to forget that it was voted on last week. and certainly, at tax time in 3 years, that it was republicans who made our tax bill higher. 

we were manipulated again. in a stroke of genius by the big guys. the lobbyists and senators and congressfolks felled the little guys again.

but if we adult properly. we'll increasingly be able to spot that optimism bias. and overcome it. and force ourselves to get just as amped about stuff that might seem fine for us, if bad for the rest of the lot. because we'll realize that it likely won't be fine for us. or maybe we'll even see the value in fighting for our friends and neighbors.

cross your fingers. and keep faith in your fellow americans. we're mostly pretty all right.