One of the fundamental convictions of New City Commons is that navigating a remarkably complex world requires an ability to distinguish the weather from the climate, culturally speaking, and to understand how the two are connected. Weather, in our view, refers to happenings, daily events. Weather events can be massively significant, even catastrophic. But just as weather emerges within a climate, discrete events emerge within large-scale cultural trends with long time horizons. A cultural climate may amplify or dampen the effect of a particular weather event, but it always provides the context necessary for making sense of that event. We think it’s fair to say that climate, by and large, receives less attention than weather. Our view is that this is a mistake. Our bet is that our readers agree.
From time to time we’d like to draw your attention to previous editions of Culture Briefing, for the simple reason that learning to name the climate requires sustained attention to cultural trends as they develop and change. Though the weather events that precipitated these volumes may no longer be in the news cycle, the arguments and analysis we put in front of you then deserve our attention still. This week, we bring you three such examples.
The first, written shortly after the election of President Trump, examines an underappreciated cultural current that seems to have accelerated in recent years. While many decry the merging of news and entertainment, few pay attention to the downstream powerful effects of reality TV on our public life.
The second, from this time last year, is a piece by Sam Speers on the rise of interest in unregulated chemical supplements, especially in Silicon Valley. As Sam puts it, “you can learn a lot about a culture from the drugs it takes”—and as this recent interview on hallucinogens between famed optimization titan Tim Ferriss and natural food guru Michael Pollan shows, the cultural tie between drug use and self-actualization is alive and well.
The third, from April of 2016, explores the cultural significance of rites of passage, especially those that take place in and around universities. As students of all ages celebrate graduations, and teachers strike across the country, it’s a good time to think deeply about the value and purpose of education, and its role in the mysterious phenomenon called “growing up.”