October 5, 2017 (Thursday)

by Yule Heibel on October 4, 2018

I’m sitting in the palazzo’s cute little breakfast room (it turns into a bar in the afternoon), listening to Cinematic Orchestra through earbuds, trying to drown out (without much success) the crap pop Italian radio station the waitress has turned to and is playing at rather high volume. We slept well, except I woke up freezing and put on a t-shirt around 7a.m. At nearly 9a.m. (close to 3a.m. EDT) I told W. we better get up lest we miss the 9:45a.m. breakfast deadline. Coffee is non-negotiable.

Not much to say about Florence at the moment; yesterday was just the touchdown. More to come later.

I did make the mistake of checking Twitter yesterday and seeing something that annoyed me (big surprise). It was a tweet complaining about the preponderance of “whiteness” in the current meditation boom. The complaint was based on observing a bunch of lifestyle magazine covers where mindfulness meditation was featured; and each cover also featured (young) white women. So, the tweeter felt obliged to make her “privilege”-bashing tweet. Privilege-bashing, again. Oh the privilege of white people… (As if magazines don’t need to sell, and to sell they therefore need to appeal to a majority, and that majority of magazine buyers in the specific niche of lifestyle happens to be white women …which is why white women dominate the covers… d’oh. Ebony magazine, say, is a niche and even a lifestyle publication where white women don’t dominate its covers, gee…)

Besides. Who cares if there’s an industry around mindfulness? There’s an industry around food, too – and this doesn’t negate the fact that food is enjoyable and nutritious (good for you – like meditation, purportedly). And of course anything that’s good and good for you will be marketed and exploited in a capitalist market-based society. How could it be otherwise? What would be the point of stripping “good and good for you” of that? We’d all be thrown back on mother’s milk in that case: it’s good and good for you, and just about the only thing in the world of that category that can’t be marketed because it totally and absolutely belongs to the producer (mother) and only her. The wet-nurse “industry” was a cottage attempt; mother’s milk fundamentally does not scale to mass production, while we, fundamentally, live in a world that scales – or tries (and tries) – to scale to that level.

Maybe that’s what’s at the heart of all these bullshit critiques: an attack on (or at least a deep discomfort with) the facts and effects of scaleability. Think of that film – Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance (1982). Think of our obsession with (and horror of) cancer (wild out of control growth of bad cells). Of insects, vermin. Somewhere, somehow, deeply, we feel that scaling in the form of seemingly out-of-control growth (see Tower of Babel…) is dangerous and evil and wrong – or at the very least hubristic and an invitation to the gods to smack us down.

But masochists are drawn to the wrong critiques of scale. They’re drawn to the bashing, not the thinking-clearly-about-it. There are legitimate reasons to critique scaling, mass production, industrialization, growth-for-growth’s sake. But identity politics ain’t a part of that legitimacy.

Different topic: yesterday, staring at menus in unfamiliar languages, I wondered about the alleged origin of the modern restaurant in post-revolutionary France (all those chefs of aristos, now unemployed, becoming entrepreneurial instead), and I wondered: 1) did early restaurants have written menus; and 2) did that fundamental need for literacy help create a class barrier – build in a class barrier – from the restaurant industry’s inception? Or, create a marker, if not an actual barrier?

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