Sunday Advice Column #48


The exile of Napoleon Bonaparte and his return during the 100 Days looms heavily in the opening chapters of The Count of Monte Cristo. Napoleon was a populist leader of a military revolution in France, which overthrew the monarchy.

France was sharply divided between Bonapartists and Royalists. The division touched every single layer of society from the peasantry to the extremely wealthy. Much of the rich sided with the Royals to preserve the system that enriched them, huge populations of the poor went with Napoleon. They were sick of elites shitting on them and were willing to go as far as joining Napoleon’s armies to die as “cannon-fodder.” Anti-Bonapartist propagandists used that term because of Napoleon’s tactic of overwhelming enemy forces with numbers. Body counts were high, battles were won, the highest price was paid by the poor. As always.

The rich could not understand why the poor would rather die under a different tyrant than simply slave, and live, under the existing one. I don’t know that anyone has ever explained it well. Napoleon promised freedom and liberty at a time where there were no fact checkers except the opposition pamphleteers, who earned little trust because of their obvious connections to the Royalists.

The weird thing about the Napoleonic revolution, according to Marx, was that it wasn’t really a revolution. It was an exchange of elites dressed as a revolution. This is instructive in today’s climate. When you get down to the “sides” people are joining, the tensions are really between Nationalism and Globalism. There are extremely rich people who will benefit depending on which idea takes hold, most of the protesting in the streets is, in my opinion, proxy clashes for elite desires.

Trump is a nationalist. Clinton was/is a globalist. What are regular people? I don’t think they are either. I think normal people are tribalists. They are concerned with their immediate family and friends. They want to feel safe. They want to be successful. They want to have enough to help their friends. Nationalism and Globalism make promises to these people, but I doubt they can actually be fulfilled. Nationalism thrives on turning people against each other, Globalism thrives on turning them into wage slaves.

There are real issues with going full Nationalist or Globalist. The world has probably advanced too far to ever go back to battling nation states, but humans have not changed enough to accept a world that pretends all people and cultures are the same. We are stuck between a time where we love each other’s food, music, and art, but we hate the retrograde ideas that come along with them. We want cheeseburgers without deforestation. We want falafels without honor killings.

Christopher Hitchens and the New Atheists believed the way forward was the elimination of religion. It’s hard to argue with the record. Religion has caused some dastardly acts. But it also influenced Christians to hide Jews from Nazis. It’s a reason why hospitality is so important in the Middle East.

I don’t think we can ever, or should ever, get rid of religion. We could affirm the universal utopian goals that most of them promote. Within these moral frameworks we might be able to find a way to discard Nationalism and Globalism. Imagine a kind, faithful revolution that benefitted no elites, that required no war. A multinational expression of global good will. Not forced down by elites, but generated from the bottom.

On to your questions.

Why shouldn’t we move to East Bay? Why should we?

For those outside of the Bay Area, this question relates to the classic problem of knowing when it’s time to give up living in San Francisco and accept that the East Bay is what you can afford. I left San Francisco last year and it is shaping up to be the best choice I made since moving to California.

Tech companies enabled by old San Francisco money with political connections have radically shifted the economics of living in the city. The sharing economy, speculative property investment used to conceal foreign fortunes, and the fight for office space has caused just about everything in San Francisco to be extremely expensive.  I’ve been into the city twice this week and the contrast between rich and poor is shocking. Every train station in San Francisco smells like piss and dead hobos. It makes the industrial sprawl I live in look clean. Yet there are stores half filled with things for minimalists to buy and Teslas everywhere.

The East Bay used to be the more affordable option for people who wanted to remain in the Bay Area. Now the East Bay is looking a lot like Brooklyn. There are great places to eat, good music venues, lots of young people doing interesting things, and a middle class family can still manage to own a home if they are very careful with their finances. That last part is changing fast. If you plan to stay in the Bay Area and you aren’t rich, you should probably start looking really hard at buying property in the East Bay if you can, even if you’re a little further out than you want to be.

If you move and rent, you’re going to be in the same situation you’re in now in five years. Rents are climbing and Oakland is already difficult to afford for median salaries. We got serious about saving and managed to put together a downpayment. Our mortgage is far less than what rent would be anywhere in San Francisco. It’s kind of a drag there aren’t more cafes and such around us, but it’s an excuse to go explore outside of our neighborhood. Plus, who needs $4 drip coffee anyway?

TL:DR version: if you have a household income of $300K+ a year, you can afford San Francisco, if not, GTFO.


How would you summarize the purpose of life in one sentence? 

No one knows the purpose of life and anyone who says they do is lying.

What are some of the most difficult films to watch?

You could make a case that certain brutal horror and war films are hard to get through, but the films I find difficult to watch are usually art-house affairs without traditional narratives. If I want to struggle with following something, I can just read post-modern philosophy.

If I had to pick one film, it would be the documentary Earthlings. It’s an absolutely harrowing movie about factory farms and maybe the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s an extreme and biased film, but the suffering you see is real. I think about it a decent amount and it was very influential on my slow move towards a more plant-based way of living.

Can you describe the creepiest person that you ever met?

My wife and I were sitting at a cafe in San Francisco with our dogs and this eccentric older man came up and gave our dogs some treats from his pocket. This is a very normal occurrence in the Castro. People tend to be friendly and enjoy dogs in this neighborhood, but this man felt “off.”

He gave each of our dogs a treat and then said “wouldn’t it be a tragedy if these were poisoned treats.” I told him it would be because I would beat him to death in the street with my chair if either of our dogs so much as sneezed. He looked put out and stammered that he was only joking, I told him I wasn’t and he walked away quickly. Fuck that guy.

What is the dirtiest thing you have seen someone do?

About seven years ago I saw a cop trying to cuff a homeless man for some crime. The man managed to drop his pants somehow and started shitting all over his own legs and pants. I think if I was the cop I would’ve just let him go rather than put him in the backseat of my squad car.

What is something you personally think people shouldn’t wear in public? 

I’m not easily bothered by that kind of thing and believe people should be allowed to express themselves in their dress however they want. However I’m in favor of requiring nudists to bring a towel or something when they sit in public places (for sanitary rather than moral reasons).

I also have a distaste for religiously required clothing, especially when the female version is more restrictive or more uncomfortable. But again, if that’s what you want to wear, no one should stop you.

What is the easiest way to catch a liar?

Let them keep talking without interruption.

At the end of the day, what matters most? 

Whether or not you have pleased the gods with your bravery.

What is the strangest experience you ever had in an elevator?

Nothing comes to mind.

What is the most unfair advantage a person can have?

Natural beauty.




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