July 2020

July was a hellishly busy month, and I didn’t have the energy or time to read any books. In any case, here’s something I’ve been thinking about and an article I really enjoyed.

IKEA kind of rules

I’ve been spending a lot of July in the Palo Alto IKEA, and it actually kind of rules. I was down on IKEA for a while, but I think I understand it better: avoid the furniture unless it’s real wood or metal and instead focus on lighting and general home accessories.

I made the mistake of buying a floor lamp from a mid-tier furniture retailer, and it stinks. It cost two or three times as much as an equivalent IKEA floor lamp, and the quality is much worse. It has some spots with noticeably thin paint as if a coat is missing, and the paint chips easily. The weight in the base smells funny and crumbles.

On the other hand, I got a $13 pendant light from IKEA that’s made from powder-coated steel. The finish is almost perfect. To get anything higher quality, I’d probably need to spend 10 or 20 times as much.

It’s ironic that by far the cheapest in the business is also the most reliable. No wonder some top-tier interior design firms use IKEA lighting . You get what you pay for - unless you’re at IKEA.

The distribution of quality is curiously bimodal - either buy IKEA, or spend much, much more to get something better. In my experience, everything in between is worse.

Is it OK to have a child? by Meehan Crist

This article isn’t really about whether or not it’s ethical to have a child. Instead, it’s an examination of why people even pose this question. It’s about climate change and how, in the popular imagination, the burden of solving this crisis has been shifted from those who caused it (oil companies) to individuals.

Systemic actors (like oil companies) promote this persistent narrative that individuals need to solve systemic problems. Sort your recycling, don’t use plastic straws, don’t eat meat - it’s up to you to stop climate change. Often it’s wrapped up with a strange commercial focus. If you make the right consumer choices, if you purchase the correct products, then you too can be a pious citizen of earth, free of guilt. It’s an attractive myth because it makes individuals seem powerful. Most are not.

(Tangentially related are many minimalists who, in their quest to own less, become even more fixated on their possessions. Many supposed minimalist websites are entirely dedicated to assessing and recommending products. Just buy the right things, they say, and you too can be free. Another mirage.)

I think this article is great. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about how much damage is done by presenting people as atomic individuals, and this article illustrates this damage perfectly.