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Kaleberg writes:

This looks like late stage communism in the Soviet Union back in the 1970s: “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.” No one believes in the system anymore, but everyone is willing to parrot the lines in hopes of lucking out in the lottery and getting a cushy apparatchik job, a decent apartment and maybe even a car or dacha. If you had technical skills, there were fairly well paying jobs available with access to better housing, special stores and vacation resorts, but most people didn’t have those skills. If you were inner party, you had access to all sorts of goodies, sweet jobs, foreign travel, hard currency. You might even run into Galena Brezhnev and Boris the Gypsy at a nightclub. For the rest, there was always hope. Just don’t get caught saying nasty things about Lenin.


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    Oh boy, a Ribbonfarm post… :p

    I am terribly torn about having Ribbonfarm links on WL. On the one hand, sometimes there’s some very insightful stuff in there. On the other hand, as a friend of mine would say: it’s the most insight porniest insight porn that ever insight porned.

    So let me go ahead and ask that we have a norm of “never a Ribbonfarm link without a comment that says what specifically is the takeaway”.

    (In this case, it looks like you linked to a comment and not to the actual Ribbonfarm post, so the situation’s a bit different. I think quoting the comment wholesale isn’t unreasonable; what does everyone else think?)

    (Also, unrelatedly, stylistic note: Word Caps—capitalizing each word in a sentence—is also known as “title case”, as it indicates that the sentence is a title. That is inappropriate in this case, as the link text isn’t the title of anything, it’s just a summary of the thing you’re linking to. Sentence case—initial-word caps only—is appropriate here. I’ve gone ahead and changed it.)

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      “never a Ribbonfarm link without a comment that says what specifically is the takeaway”.

      Wonder how hard it would be to make the “submit link” page support messages like “hey, looks like you’re you’re submitting a link to $DOMAIN, you should know we have $COMMUNITY_NORM for links to $DOMAIN”.

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        That’s an excellent idea, and I’ve added an issue to that effect to the issue tracker.

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        Comment quote added, I think that works yeah. Thanks for the tip about casing too, I was a bit confused.

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        As to the linked comment itself—well, it’s quite right, of course, about what late-stage communism looked like… but I am hesitant to say that “premium mediocre” is a good analogy or description. This is mostly because I still don’t understand what the heck “premium mediocre” is supposed to mean, nor am convinced that it’s a sensible category. (We talked about this on IRC and didn’t really reach any conclusion; does anyone here think they have a good account of this concept? Or is Rao just talking out of his ass on this one?)

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          I think ‘premium mediocre’ is one of those things where the author hasn’t entirely digested their idea yet, or they haven’t really completely felt out its exact gradations. Let me try, what is premium mediocre?

          At the object level, premium mediocre is fairly simple. It’s a sprinkle of golden chips on a block of lead. It’s paying for fancy options on a frankly un-fancy product. Premium mediocre is a ricers hot ride, or all the options on an economy car.

          At the narrative level, premium mediocre is a social performance of wealth and convenience in an environment where neither are really sustainable for normal people. The point of the performance is costly signaling at its grotesque finest: prove that you’re an upward aspirant by showing you have the attitude of aspiration, even if what that mostly amounts to is pretending to be someone who isn’t going to be a cab driver. The basic idea is that we’re now in an economy which is incredibly high variance. to the point where there is a minority of the population which has real valuable skills. Everyone elses hopes are to be precariat gig economy cosmic garbage or somehow manage to procure a bullshit job of some sort. This is the ‘new economy’, and Maya Millenial is trying to compromise on this whole ‘meaning versus financial situation’ spate of existential worries.

          The thing is, the important thing which distinguishes ‘premium mediocre’ from many other similar performances of gaudy pseudo-wealth is that nobody is fooled. Maya is well aware she’s full of shit, her employers mostly want to have her real economic situation be illegible to them so they can optimistically think the best of it, parents want to see their child thriving so this performance is partially a way to avoid the pain of having to acknowledge that they aren’t.

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            I agree with your description of what premium mediocre is, but I disagree with Rao’s use of it to explain civilization on a grand scale. I think “premium mediocre” is a useful concept to describe things that have the trappings of fanciness without any of the actual quality, and while I appreciate having the punchy tag to attach to the concept, I don’t think “premium mediocre” is anything new.

            To pull out some earlier examples, one of the reasons the “gilded age” was called that was because everything in it was premium mediocre. Things were gilded, rather than being made of gold. It was a hollow society, with a thin layer of extremely rich people, and a bunch of industrial proles toiling in the factories below. Those proles consumed “premium mediocre” goods like newly cheap ready-to-buy clothes or novel consumer goods (stainless steel tableware), which gave them some of the trappings of the actually rich without having having the actual qualities of the goods that the rich consumed. Ready-to-buy isn’t tailored haute coture, and stainless steel isn’t silver.

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