middle brow | citizen how \ 30 march 18 /

in search of: convenience, excitement. 

that combo seems to be the main driver of human behavior, right? convenient excitement. like, we pretend we like local and small and artisanal until we shop at amazon for a pair of fucking scissors. it's so damn convenient! and where would i even find scissors?! well, i know i used to get them at the CVS on the corner, but that closed. and there's a hardware store down there somewhere, but i'm pretty sure it just makes keys now. and also serves as backup storage for a local dollar store.

and really. this applies to craft beer, too. craft breweries are loads of fun! and they're super adaptable! like, if they make a quadruple ipa that's actually green from hop dust and for some weird fucking reason it doesn't sell that well except to the guy in the slayer shirt who's been drinking craft beer since two years before he was born, they can adapt! they can immediately make a less hoppy beer. they don't have seven marketing departments to consult. and a design team. and an accountant. they don't have very many long term contracts that would make a quick shift impossible or costly to bear. they tend not to have shareholders who care about every last tenth of a percent of margin. 

and craft breweries are also great because they help local economies. and they create jobs. and they take risks with forgotten beer styles. and they make beautiful labels. and they have a mission! and a belief system! entirely apart from their bottom line. (which any macro could only imitate and pretend to have.) and usually there's someone with a cool beard in the building. 

and that's all great! those are all great reasons to support craft breweries. and to have fun at a craft brewpub on a saturday night. but are they really the reason we like craft breweries? query: if budweiser opened a brewpub, would it be full on the weekends? or, if, say, they opened a brewpub and called it "goose island", would it be full on the weekends? (we'll truly always love you, goose. promise. this is just an intellectual exercise.) what if constellation brands (corona, high west) opens a brewpub in the west loop and calls it ballast point? will it be full on the weekends? i think we all know that the answer to all of those questions is a resounding yes.

two of our biggest pains as humans. bigger pains than a broken bone. or heartbreak. or a sty in your eye. or a pinched nerve in your lower back. or when you drop a 55-gallon steel drum on your elbow and it slices the tendon connecting your bicep to your elbow and your bicep literally rolls up like a snap bracelet and gathers at your shoulder. the two pains that are constant and that slowly destroy us are boredom and the efforts necessary to eradicate boredom. and craft breweries mitigate both of these pains.

how? well listen. first. we humans ain't afraid of hard work. have you ever seen a man leaving a textile factory after a long 10-hour shift and smiling ear to ear?  i have. have you seen a woman on a construction site whose shirt is drenched in sweat, laughing like a hyena at a super politically-correct joke about international economic policy? i have. people aren't afraid of hard work. of that kind of effort. instead, we're afraid of efforts that require us to make a change. to do things outside of our comfort zones. that's the kind of effort i'm talking about.

and boredom? that's straightforward.

so craft breweries erect these small breweries. where they serve beer. in a plain warehouse. in a place with ample parking. and music. and. uh. in so doing, they remove boredom. i mean: beer?! that gets your really drunk?! with music?! and parking?! and no dress code?! you mean i can wear my slippers-with-the-fluffy-insides-but-since-they-have-rubber-bottoms-i-pretend-they're-shoes-even-for-church?! so wait, this bordeom killer is also really convenient? it's in my neighborhood? and it doesn't require me to do anything different from what i normally do? and they're making the beer right behind the bar!!! what an amazing distraction from my boredom! (i was getting bored of plain old bars, as they are.)

anyway. there's more confirmation of this in our habits around whole foods and amazon. so many of us profess to love local food. and farmers. and breweries. and generally shopping local. it gives us some pleasure to spend money at a local, independently-owned store. as it should. because we feel like we're helping someone. we're sold that story. and we buy it. but what's more convenient and does a better job of killing boredom than a struggling small business? that big whole foods with all the people in it. and the wine bar. and the sample plates. and the section with all those fake olives. pretending to be covered in oil. (swear to god. those olives aren't real. they're made of polypropylene so they look squishy. and then they're covered in soybean oil.) its so exciting in there! and guess what? it's so fucking convenient. it fits the paradigm of what a grocery store is. so we don't feel out of place. and it has a parking lot. and it has berries in the fucking summer. so you can make those blueberry pancakes that your kids think are terrible. effortless excitement! local businesses and community members be damned!

and no doubt. i know all about the above because i do it. i shop at whole foods. i love whole foods. whole foods sells our beer! they sell lots of it! and we'll keep selling it there for as long as they'll so graciously have us. this is more of a "why do so many of us profess to prefer small things but act in such contrast to that preference?"


anyway. the bit of information that set me off on this train of thought was an article in eater about how the relationship between small farmers and suppliers, on the one hand, and amazon-whole foods, on the other, has soured since the acquisition. and how we laughed when the whole beer- and food-media industry wondered aloud how the merger would turn out. about what would happen to craft beer. about what would happen at whole foods generally. about what would happen to all of those incredibly happy, dyed-in-the-wool hospitality personalities who hand-sell certain socially-radical chicago beers and indiana crackers and wisconsin cheeses. we had studied antitrust law years ago. and we had a modest hunch that we knew how this would turn out. first, we thought: prices would drop. (they did.) second: consumer choice would suffer. (that's just beginning with this crackdown on whole foods' small suppliers.) and third: layoffs would start. 

big companies like amazon make decisions that maximize shareholder wealth. that's it. that's it. honestly. if they don't, they'd face certain lawsuits by their shareholders. it's the legal duty of the officers and directors to do so! and cutting labor costs and streamlining logistics (by reducing choice) always increases profit margins. 

but is any of this behavior going to stop us from shopping at amazo—er, whole foods? fuck no! it's conveniently exciting!


which brings me back to some thoughts that often circulate on top of my body about anarchy and libertarianism. and all of this stuff reminds me of why i think those political philosophies are sorta bunkish.

sure. libertarians aren't arguing for anarchy. they're just arguing for the absolute smallest government imaginable. so let's lump the two together for the sake of this argument. (and thats taking libertarians for their word. even though they're all who we know they are: republicans who support gay marriage. because at the end of the day, what they really believe is that less regulation will enrich job creators, who will then send welfare on down the chain to the working class. how magnanimous is this?! so magnan that they shout it unashamed from their BMWs as they blow stop signs in bucktown and lick ice cream cones in suburban indianapolis.)

sorry. got off track there. the goal here is to tie libertarianism to the whole convenient excitement thing. and i can do it! i promise.

so... what would happen in an anarchist state? if the libertarians, or something like them, won? 

i mean, sure! true self government sounds pretty enticing. it would mean we wouldn't pay taxes to fund wars we don't support because we're pacifists. or fair housing policies we don't support because we're racist. or whatever! total freedom and bliss! (presume, for now, that we're all white men. ok? the freedom and bliss thing doesn't really work without that presumption.)

but anyway: we're governing ourselves! we've removed the shackles of the big federal government and the commie government of the state of california! and we can run our town the way we want to. yay yay yay yay! and nobody is really in charge. but then.... guess what? 

some small inconvenience arises. like, a road crumbles. or someone is dumping too much waste upstream of the town's water source. or the local hardware store owner will retire because there really ain't much of a market in this new independent state. or cuz this racist hippie (yes. they exist.) sets up his slip-n-slide such that he lands across his neighbor's property line. giggling his stupid fucking head off.

and people hate inconvenience. and they hate disputes. so, what then?

well... someone has to solve the problem. and small disputes can be adjudicated by the community. but then who'll enforce their decision? hmm. i think we need some kind of force! some group of people with authority. and maybe even some way to physically dominate over others in the community to enforce the policies determined by the community. let's call them... the colice! since they'll be enforcing "community policies". but how will we pay for them?

and some of the bigger inconveniences. like the problem with the road. they have to be solved by the rich folks in town. and when those rich folks spend money to fix the road, they're gonna want something in return. like, some kind of power, or return on their investment. cuz, uh, that's how they got rich.

really, the broader principle here is this: whenever there's an inconveniece, human nature is that someone will take over. and human nature is also that the group will let them, as long as they're reducing some inconvenience.

right now the discomfort is with a faraway government's commands. but if some libertarian community removes the shackles of that faraway power. and then a local player—an individual (political) or group (business or political) will find some other discomfort. and will remove it. and in so doing will gain little bits of power or wealth or both. and then they'll have traded one shackle for another.

and, y'know, power corrupts. so the newly-imbued with power we get a little trippy. and not, like, acid trippy like the racist hippie would. but power trippy. and he or she would start imposing upon the less powerful in the town. (see famous yale study.) especially, given the tribalist nature of humans, people of a different race or economic class or religious and sexual or gender persuasion. the outsiders. and then, what recourse do those outside the tribe have? there's no government for them to turn to when they're being oppressed, remember?

the only solution for those outside the tribe will be to remain oppressed—which is surprisingly common, given our tendency to adapt to shitty situations like amputations—or to move away, which is an oppression and inconvenience in and of itself. and so many won't move. and those folks will be lorded over by the newly rich and powerful.

and there goes your fancy anarchy.


this is how amazon gains power and wealth. and facebook gets our data. we're looking for convenient excitement. or, put another way, convenient distraction. we like convenience. and we like distractions from our boredom. and we praise and subject ourselves to those who deliver either/or.

maybe let's all stop being so lazy. and maybe our neighbor won't have to declare bankruptcy.