Hipsters on Food Stamps, Part 3

The final post of the Hipsters on Food Stamps trilogy goes into depth about irony and how it relates to higher education and, of course, narcissism. Alone starts by referencing the following New York Times article entitled, “How To Live Without Irony”.

“The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism. The same goes for ironic living. Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise.”

So this is true, but that’s the secondary purpose of irony, not the primary purpose: in exchange for this self-defense, it puts all of the ironist’s energy in the service of the thing it is defending against; that while he affects a distance from “all this”, he participates 100% in it.

The primary purpose of irony is not to avoid responsibility for one’s choices, it is to maintain the integrity of your identity while you engage in an activity that conflicts with that identity in some way. If that doesn’t make sense, Alone provides an example:

However much the “not corporate” hip coffeehouse needs the barista’s extensive roasting knowledge or values the ambiance he creates with his MFA and thoughts about 2666, it is way more than the $7/hr no benefits it is paying him, making skinny lattes for an organ donor in a light blue North Face coat while he and his Julliard buddy Garf roll their eyes disdainfully when she asks for two Splendas. It’s only because he can roll his eyes about how mainstream she is that he stays, it offers him a perch from which he is better than her. In math terms, the difference between what he is actually worth and the amount he is paid is how much he values feeling superior to MILFs.

In this example, the barista uses irony to maintain his anti-corporate identity while simultaneously working at corporation(Starbucks) for minimum wage. The barista can work at a non-profit, without irony. Someone who isn’t anti-coporate can work at Starbucks, without irony. But the anti-corporate barista can never work at Starbucks without irony because Starbucks is a corporation and anybody with a functioning brain see the glaring contradiction there. The only way for the barista to keep the job at Starbucks and his anti-corporate identity is through irony — “Yes, I’m working at Starbucks, but that isn’t who I really am. I’m better than that.” In other words:

It’s the rationalization that allows you to blow a guy you can’t stand. “I hate him but I’m going to make him cum so hard he’ll just want more of me, which will be his punishment.” Let that analogy sink in for a moment. From his perspective, not only did he still get blown, he liked it even more. NB: in this analogy, the guy is capitalism and you’re not.

Now that we’ve established the primary objective of irony, let’s move onto projection.

When someone hates something that to outside observers looks exactly like themselves in every way, you should quickly consult a French book to see if they don’t have a word for that phenomenon, and they do, it’s called projection.

It’s not an action, it’s a problem of perception. The unwanted feelings don’t make sense coming from someone like you, so you conclude they must be coming from the other person.

To use the frequent example of “homophobia”: a guy feels gay impulses and can’t “handle it” but he doesn’t get rid of them by putting them onto someone else, he confuses them as coming from someone else. He smells gayness, “Where is it coming from? Me? Impossible! Jesus washed my feet. Must be that guy.”

The purpose of projection is not to get rid of the feelings, but to explain their presence, to defend the self against a label: “I’m not gay….. even if I have gay sex once in a while.”

The world comes to us as phenomena (sights, sounds, feelings, thoughts, epiphanies, etc) and through interpretation we attribute what we experience to different parties (self, other people, environment, God, etc). This process of drawing relationships between experiences and actors is how we are able to draw boundaries between self and the outside world. If I always see a fire truck when I hear siren noises, then I can safely attribute that noise to the fire truck and not from inside my head. Similarly, if I always feel irritated after not eating for an extended period of time, I can reasonably attribute the irritation to my own bodily processes, and not some external stimulus.

Projection occurs when someone misattributes a perceived phenomenon that came from an internal source to an external source. If I don’t eat for five hours and perceive that the person I’m talking to is irritated, I would be projecting my irritation onto them. I’m experiencing the irritation, but I misjudged the source of the irritation to be external instead of internal, so I’m projecting.

Similarly, the guy who feels gay impulses but doesn’t believe himself to be gay will misattribute these gay impulses to external sources, like other people. In other words, he will project his gayness onto others.

Alone quotes the following from the New York Times article:

Obviously, hipsters (male or female) produce a distinct irritation in me, one that until recently I could not explain. They provoke me, I realized, because they are, despite the distance from which I observe them, an amplified version of me.

So true; totally wrong. When people “figure themselves out” and then applaud themselves for their “brutal self-honesty”, you can be sure it is further defense. The easiest way for a self-aware person to protect himself is to “figure out” something that is actually correct so that he stops there and doesn’t go any further, which is also the problem with most therapies. “I’m learning a lot about myself and my motivations.” No you’re not. “Figuring yourself out” not only fails, but is the defense itself. Stop doing it.

In other words, therapy only works if you “figure yourself out” and then act on the information to make changes in your life. The issue Alone is bringing up here is that it is quite easy to “figure yourself out”, applaud yourself for your self-awareness, and use your insight as a reason (read: defense) for why it isn’t necessary to take further steps.

Wampole realizes that she is projecting her irritation with ironic living onto hipsters which means that she is actually irritated by her own ironic way of living, not that of hipsters. (Remember, projection is the misattribution of an internal phenomenon for an external one.)

Why, then, is she writing about this in a New York Times article? If she was serious about addressing her personal issues with irony she’d would be doing anything but writing an article about her personal issues with irony. She’s using her insight (“I’m projecting my irritation with irony onto hipsters”) as a justification for not chasing down the implications of what she’s found.

Irony is psychological defense that allows a person to think of themselves in one way while simultaneously doing something in contradiction to the way they think of themselves. There are two levels of irony in Wampole’s New York Times article: her anti-irony posturing coupled with her ironic way of living, and her anti-capitalist intellectual posturing coupled with her giving away her work to the New York Times, a for-profit capitalist enterprise.

(In a way, the article actually highlights her lack of self awareness. Sure, she realized that she was projecting her irritation with irony onto hipsters, but she then proceeded to write an article criticizing irony that was ironic on two different levels.)

Glengarry Glen Ross is on Netflix, you should watch it a lot. The easy “critique of capitalism” is that “second prize is a set of steak knives” because that’s how little it costs to motivate you to work harder for them, and if that doesn’t work there’s always “third prize is you’re fired.” But the real wisdom which is not about capitalism but which is about narcissism comes from understanding that first prize isn’t a Cadillac Eldorado, you think Alec Baldwin needs a car? There is no first prize. Real closers don’t want the prize, they want to be the best, that’s why they will practice practice practice and don’t play the lottery. The car is a temptation only for people who do not know their own value, the value of their own work, who won’t lift a finger to advance themselves, who are motivated only by threats or by rewards, who would rather have the appearance of success than actual success.

When a someone’s identity is in contradiction to their work, they use irony as a defense mechanism to maintain the integrity of their identity. This means that irony is actually a narcissistic defense mechanism.

If someone’s personal identity is not related to their work — in the case of narcissists, who they think they are better than what they do — they have no motivation to put in the time to improve their work. Doing so would only expose them to evidence that their work product is mediocre and make it harder to maintain the integrity of their identity. It makes sense, then, that they are only motivated by external rewards or punishments, which are the sort of things they can use to signal success and reinforce their identity.

On the other hand, for the person who’s personal identity is directly tied to their work (read: Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross), there are plenty of reasons to improve at their job. Every improvement they make is a positive update to their personal identity, and since they put in the time to practice and willingly accept feedback, they have an accurate idea of how much their work is worth. To these people, a failed sales call does not threaten their identity, it actually strengthens their identity since it is another data point they can use to assess their abilities.

You gave the system you don’t like a spectacular blowjob, and then tried to punish it by making it want you more. From the system’s perspective, not only did it still get blown, it liked it even more. In this analogy, the system is the system and you’re not.

Read: Christy Wampole gave the New York Times a great article, for free, in hopes of getting a chance to write for the New York Times again. Not only did the New York Times get a great article, it got a great article for free. The New York Times represents the system and Christy Wampole represents the type of people that the system easily exploits.

Is it any wonder, then, that the system encourages narcissism and irony? It’s in the system’s best interest to exploit the labor of people like Christy Wampole and the Starbucks barista, and it’s in your best interest to figure out what your work is worth so this doesn’t happen to you.

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John Doe

John Doe

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Processing information, stacking concepts. Writing this down so I don’t keep thinking about the same things over and over again