Re: Rebecca Jennings, "Failure to Launch"
Rebecca Jennings' "Failure to Launch" is difficult but necessary reading. It begins brightly, with exuberance. Yes, there's crypto and NFTs and scams galore, but just look around:
The people here are young and friendly and full of hope. And why shouldn’t they be? For one month, they get to live in a mansion in Beverly Hills (Zillow estimate: $12.9 million). It’s not just any mansion, but the one where Paris Hilton used to live, with a precious little pergola overlooking a million-dollar view of Los Angeles, next to a pool surrounded by tastefully sculpted rocks, with bathroom faucets shaped like swans about to take flight.
Most of the frauds I read about involve taking your money and not even letting you look at Paris Hilton's former mansion. However, when Jennings' tale gets dark, it is brutal. There isn't just bullying and manipulation, but violence, sexual assault, and a cult of lies and secrecy. To wit:
When one woman said she was groped by a former member who no longer lived at the house but stayed over anyway, she said there was no one around to enforce the company’s zero-tolerance policy.
During a heavily alcohol-fueled outing on a party bus in April 2021, several cohort members harassed the women on the bus, before one of them allegedly stuck a hand up the skirt of a member I’ll call Jessica (not her real name). After the incident, according to sources, Goldstein and Peters asked Jessica to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much each of the men violated her. Launch House denies that Jessica was asked to do this. In a few days, only the man whom Jessica had ranked the highest was kicked out of the house.
Police came to the house twice that night for noise violations, according to Beverly Hills Police Department records obtained by Vox, and found about 200 cars parked outside on the dead-end road; on the second visit, they shut the party down. The morning after, rumors began to swirl: Someone saw someone with tattoos tied to the gang MS-13; a content creator got “jumped” and taken to the hospital; another fight broke out. Attendees described a frenzied scene and a company unprepared to manage it.
When Jessica woke up the next morning, she, along with several other women who’d attended the party, was pretty sure she’d been roofied.
How does hype about technology turn into fraud, and how does that fraud turn into a cult devoted to the sheer exploitation of its members? I don't have any easy answers, but I wonder if we fill people's heads with cheap and terrible visions of success. The founders of this "Launch House" fraud sound like they've never outgrown being the worst kind of senior in high school. The one that wants to impress those much younger than themselves. Somehow, they're rolling in millions of dollars and exercising incredible power. Moreover, I wonder about the constant overpromising those in tech-related businesses continually do. Not for nothing has Elon Musk been celebrated as someone particularly adept at being able to sell anything to the Department of Defense. That overpromising entails believing a half-truth, an eventual lie. It results in demanding cultish loyalty most when the ship is sinking.
Kyla Houbolt, "hold on"
Kyla Houbolt has been writing amazing poetry on a regular basis, and I regret I cannot give all her work the attention it deserves. Her short lyric "hold on" stuck with me, and I'd like to share some thoughts it inspired. The poem itself:
hold on (originally shared on Twitter) Kyla Houbolt hold the phone stop the show hold somebody's beer there's a bird trying to get through a hatching.
There should be a "Philosophy of Moments." Maybe "Philosophy of Momentariness." I don't know. I do know there's lots of Philosophies — Philosophy of Mathematics, Philosophy of Physics, Environmental Philosophy, etc. — but I could use something that takes the guesswork out of saying "this moment counts."
It's easy to say "this moment counts" for others. Wanting to be uplifting and useful aren't entirely alien instincts. Plenty of programming depends on characters having a heart-to-heart, say, while laser cannons tear up a fleet of starships. But for ourselves? It can feel delusional and narcissistic to declare that anything we do matters. Perhaps worse, people who've failed to build trust can and will jump from celebration to celebration, as if the rest of life doesn't matter. One example: we don't really talk about what sitting in front of the television for days on end has done to some of us. How a few have become addicts unable to handle the least dose of reality. When someone in this condition wants to say "this moment counts," I confess I have been confused. I have cringed.
Still some moments seem to be light breaking through the clouds. "...there's a / bird trying / to get through / a hatching." Emphasis on seem. I've known... situations (let's say that) so toxic that the arrival of new life would be miserable. You can imagine: a new grandmother determined to make the child bearing a child feel like an afterthought. Being told during a birth about all the accomplishments of the rest of the family.
Some people refuse to grow, and they spoil what is momentous for everyone else. The result is that more people have difficulty growing. Powerful moments require trust. "Hold my beer," it turns out, is not just a way for us to dunk on actions embracing absurdity. When you see something amazing, you want to share, unless you've been taught to deny the amazing or are distrustful of sharing.
Addendum: I suppose the first few classes of "Philosophy of Moments" would be dedicated to whether there was a first moment. Whether the world was created or is eternal. What that meant for different authors—how to ground morality, what place science merits—and what it means for us. Maybe we can't compare everything to when it all began, though we ourselves are in the midst of destroying all life on Earth. Nietzsche's contrarian lines opening "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense" feature well here:
Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of "world history," but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die.
"Philosophy of Moments" as a goth take on epistemology? I can do that.