Virilio, Parenting, and the Network State
"There is something in the synchronization of emotion that surpasses the power of standardization of opinion that was typical of the mass media in the second half of the 20th century."
In today’s issue of Other Life:
On parenting and happiness
The mental communism of the Current Thing (Paul Virilio)
The Network State is getting real
News and Upcoming Events
A new print publication called Field Report is hosting a launch party in Austin, TX on Wednesday. Other Life readers are welcome. I plan to come through. RSVP here.
Kids Increase the Volatility of Parental Happiness
Does having kids make you happier? The research is a little complicated but here’s one thing we can say: Kids seem to increase the volatility of parental happiness, in two different ways.
Deaton & Stone (2014) compared the happiness of people with kids at home to similarly-aged people with no kids at home. With 1.8M responses, they find that—controlling for income, religion, etc.—havings kids at home increases positive emotions AND negative emotions.
Myrskyla & Margolis (2014) look at panel data (tracking people over time) and find that happiness increases in the years right before birth, decreases in the years right after birth, but only returns to baseline.
In other words, kids increase the volatility of parental happiness in the daily cross-section of emotion and the over-time dynamics of emotion. But in the end, it probably washes out—at least on these metrics. The topic is complicated and many other competent studies together will paint a more nuanced picture.
I’m reminded of Kierkegaard, who once said: “Marry, and you will regret it; don't marry, you will also regret it.” Perhaps something similar could be said of having kids.
In my experience (can you believe my little guy turns 2 in December?), the above research checks out. Except my overall life satisfaction is a bit higher than baseline now, I think, even though life is way harder.
Virilio, Speed, and the Communism of Affects
Virilio had this idea that the internet would usher in the communism of affects—it would function as a centralized orchestration of emotions.
I think he was onto something that is very hard for techno-libertarians to see.
One can say that internet activity is decentralized, but he's got a point: the dominant apps and their algorithms are essentially centralizing and dictating apparatuses, even if they are aggregators of decentralized signals.
Soviet Communism forced people to say the same things, but the contemporary communism of affects forces people to think about the same things. We are allowed to express differing opinions, but we are not allowed to be unaware of that which is soliciting opinions. To not know what is soliciting opinions on any given day, or to have no opinion at all, is social death.
Network States are Happening
I started watching the replay of Balaji's Network State conference in Amsterdam this past week. I think he's doing an amazing job with this entire project—the concept, the brand, the media, and now the organizational follow-through. I only watched about 10 presentations last night before bed, but what really strikes me is that, collectively, this whole space is learning what works and what doesn't. It's not just a sexy concept, things are being figured out.
There's a rich dataset of experiments running for several years now, all testing slightly different hypotheses from different angles, but together shedding a ton of light on the question of what is required to bootstrap fundamentally novel polities.
One thing you notice pretty quickly is that many of these projects have mutually exclusive hypotheses; some are succeeding more than others, and faster than others. It's no longer possible to make blanket, abstract assertions about what is required to build a city, or the best way to build a city. It's fascinating to watch one speaker make some assertion, but then it's disproven by real data in some following presentation. Like when Dryden from Praxis said—and I like Dryden, I’m a member of Praxis and rooting for it to succeed, listen to Other Life podcast #117—but he casually asserted that it takes a billion dollars to build a city, as if it’s listed on a dinner menu somewhere, but then he was followed by a pretty long list of folks who seem pretty well on their way for much less than a billion. Which is all just to say that it's getting real. Maybe it does take a billion, but the point is that all of these ideas and guesses suddenly feel very different in the cool light of competitive experimentation. That’s a really important threshold.
Signal is rising from the noise of the agora. I am excited to watch the rest of the video. I recommend you do so, too.
Source/inspiration: The Network State Conference 2023 Livestream