A Life of Qualitative v. Quantitative Value

And one day I woke up and realized…

We live in a world of corporate celebrities: A generation deluded by dollars & cents; a life of quantitative versus qualitative value.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, nor should it.

Countless students across the country are currently deep into their freshman semester in college. They will be encouraged and told to pursue quantitative majors like mathematics, finance or economics. Whether or not these kids would ordinarily excel at such majors as opposed to a major that instead focuses on verbal and written abilities, they will be encouraged to pursue such studies. And so future artists, thinkers and writers are told to go to work on Wall Street, in banks or in medicine because that is what matters. It is not what you want to do, it is what you can make money doing.

Why is this the case? Because our society disproportionally values the quantitative versus qualitative aspects of life. We have somehow begun to confuse the two, that quantitative value somehow infers qualitative. It is a chicken and egg problem.

In a world of 24/7 news media, the Donald Trumps, the Jamie Dimons, the Carlos Slims and Rupert Murdochs, we have been inundated with corporate celebrities. Billionaires like Mark Cuban have their own shows. Stock jocks in movies like Wall Street and the upcoming Wolf of Wall Street show the fictional lifestyle of the Wall Street largesse in ways that make kids want that lifestyle more than to ever want to reject it.

We have come to confuse possessions and money as symbols of personal accomplishment. We have chosen who we interact with on the basis of prestige and monetary value. We choose who we fuck on the basis of such wealth as well. And somehow intellectual capacity and a couples commonality will almost always mean less than the trophy-wife status to both male and females alike. We’ve traded in our Volkswagens for BMWs, even if we can’t afford them. And we have confused ‘above the line’ and ‘bellow the line’ as measures of personal value as opposed to the merits such individuals presumably posses.

We have convinced a generation based on the excess of everything that led to the financial crisis of 2008 that such mistakes are un-repeatable on the basis of valuing quantitative things. It’s what you can count that somehow measures a life, that gives one meaning. It is somehow in the things we acquire that defines us.

IT IS NOT.

I am not someone who has looked back on life and decided I want to live my life qualitatively. I have made the mistake of being deluded into working in Finance as my day job for the better part of three and a half years. I have realized in my youth, even as I begin to seriously save towards getting out to LA to work in an industry that better represents my passions, that even that industry has somehow fallen victim to this way of thinking. And I do not want to be that way.

I want to see the world. I want to fall in love with someone independent of the size of their wallet or the titles they may have acquired. I want to see my day to day as pursuing a career, not working a job. I want to find reward in my life, looking at the trees change color and breathe in air and be happy for life, and not be envious of the fact that I do not own the BMW parked beneath that very tree.

And somehow to me that is rich. Rich is the person that has such true value to life that anything quantitative somehow falls to provide real value.

You see, we will always want more even when we presumably by quantitative analysis have “everything.” Billionaires still go to work. Lists make them compete amongst each other to vie for the top quantitative spot.

Quantitative life is a wasted life. A life is worth living for the opportunity it presents. And sadly we barely have much time to enjoy it. I am 25, in some 60 years or so, I will likely die. And I want to know that when I reach that point that I will be happy with the life I lived. When on my death bed I want to know that my life here on earth had some sort of purpose as opposed to anything I once possessed. I want to know it meant something, and the way I will be able to appreciate it is by valuing it qualitatively.

I have many dreams and ideas of how I want to live and learn. And qualitatively I hope to achieve those goals and dreams, but it starts by rejecting the lock-step idea of leading a quantitative life.

…..T-minus 7 months to Los Angeles, and I promise to never look back. Good day Wall Street, I am near done.

Critically Assessing Breaking Bad v. the Cult-like Mentality

Breaking Bad is a brilliant show. Breaking Bad is even likely to be among the most celebrated TV shows of all time. But here’s what Breaking Bad is not: it’s not yet the best of all time. In fact, it is likely way too early to debate that rationally, as we are still within the aura of its final season. In fact, there is no way to debate “best of all time” PERIOD. It is a label assigned by people who treat opinions as fact. And guess what, fact and opinions as much as we like to think otherwise are two very different things.

You see, I find any sort of cult-like enthusiasm both deeply annoying & completely off-putting for the type of emotional thinking and blind-folded group-think that it connotes. I think many people would say Sopranos is still a better show than Breaking Bad, myself included. And that’s nearly ten years removed from its penultimate finale with a lot of time to contextualize and think back. I think people are too quick to get caught up in the herd versus critically analyzing what they’re saying or thinking. People want to belong to a movement so badly, to fit in with what is popular, that they loose all sight of critical analysis. So people just blow up your Twitter feed with “OMG best show EVER. PERIOD. No debate.”

And so the ultimate reason I am so critical of Breaking Bad is not because it is a highly flawed program, it is not even in the slightest way highly flawed. The reason I am so critical is because when people are attaching “best ever” labels and fanatically crying its name, it must live up to that expectation. And for me it doesn’t.

And before you click “X” in a fan-boy rage, at least hear me out *FINALE SPOILERS*….

For me, I could not get into the characters of Breaking Bad. To this day, I do not like Walter White, I do not emphasize with him the way I feel I should have. Additionally, despite being a huge fan of Gilligan since the Xfiles, I feel like the writing throughout this show tended to underline things too much, as opposed to letting the viewers interpret things for themselves. The most recent example I can think of is the foreshadowing of Lydia’s fate. Could you honestly spend any more time with that Stevia insert? Come on! The thing is, this narrative technique is littered throughout this series (think the pink teddy bear and every time Walter goes to the Black Board to parallel his thug life with school life). Now maybe for some less sophisticated viewers, it makes literary techniques more easy to grasp, but for those with more comfort in literary interpretation, it comes off sort of weak effort-wise. I think you can even make the argument that Breaking Bad also tends to at time rely on fast-forward narrative and “Deus ex machina“, making the show at times feel contrived. And this creates some issues with believability gaps throughout the series (especially in the finale as the New Yorker points out very well in its ‘Felina’ recap here). But even Spielberg employs fast forward narrative and “Deus-ex-machina” moments. I mean, who didn’t love the ending of Saving Private Ryan, or the epic velociraptors ending of Jurassic Park?! …You get my point, it’s a cheap no-no technique (that most screenwriters would never get away with) but it friggin’ works.

Now that I’ve done some critiquing, Breaking Bad is also highly addictive, good TV. The fact that those are the only things I can think of to critique the show is telling to just how good of a show it still is. Those critiques are really very minor and do very little to reduce the overall effect of the show being extraordinarily good. The cinematography is among the best if not the best on TV. In fact, I would say it is the best, but hey that’s still just my opinion. And Bryan Cranston does an outstanding job as Walter White. The fact that I don’t even like his character, yet still watched the show, is telling to his ability as a brilliant actor. And the series really moved like an action movie. It was literally like sitting down to watch a gripping thriller every time you watched it (even if the writing was at times a bit too obvious or the plot too unbelievable at times).

Now here’s the thing, that’s all my opinion. You see, when we sit down to watch television, movies or listen to music, it is our opinion. You cannot debate opinion, it’s like talking politics, you will never get that person to change their mind. So why then do fan-boys and cult-like enthusiasm continue to dominate the Breaking Bad debate? Probably because it is recent cultural phenomenon and the cult of Breaking Bad is a helluva large one. People are judging Breaking Bad through the lens of its final season which was 10 times above any season before it. Naturally this is the case, because it is structured in the vein of a Shakespearean tragedy! And again, if people spent any time being critical about something, instead of blindly accepting it as dogma, they would know the final act is always earth shattering. I think if most people judged the series in its entirety, they would realize there were at times quality gaps, particularly in the slow-moving second season. And so when judged as a whole, apart from being trapped under the awe of the monumental Shakespearean “Fourth Act” (AKA the Final Season) we can say “hey Breaking Bad was really damn good, but I don’t know about best of all time. Maybe Sopranos was more consistent and better overall. But hey, that’s just my opinion.”

So how about everyone just calm the hell down and put down the blue meth for a second. Breaking Bad is great. Breaking Bad is brilliant. But the best of all time arguments need to be at the very least held off until all this can sink in for a little while. And even after it has, that’s still your opinion. And so are all “best of” lists and silly statements like that. They’re opinion, not fact. And oh by the way, in my opinion Mad Men is better 🙂

“There are no facts, only interpretations.” – Friedrich Nietzsche