Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.

– Virginia Woolf

Featured artist: Yeti Iglesias

Dense Discovery
Dense Discovery

Welcome to Issue 249!

Aug 1 2023 | Link to this issue

In the age of absolute identity politics, one of the most disheartening phenomena must be the rise of the far-right culture-war takes on manhood. Conservative ‘manfluencers’ amass huge followings by proclaiming that masculinity is under attack from progressive ideas and by presenting an aggressive version of masculinity that glorifies many traditional stereotypes.

If you feel similarly confused and upset about these toxic fire brands gaining so much popularity, Christine Emba’s recent opinion piece ‘Men are lost. Here’s a map out of the wilderness.’ offers a very thoughtful, balanced interpretation and a way to counteract it.

Emba acknowledges that today many (cisgender, heterosexual) men feel directionless, in part because “past models of masculinity feel unreachable or socially unacceptable; new ones have yet to crystallize. What are men for in the modern world? What do they look like? Where do they fit? These are social questions but also ones with major political ramifications. Whatever self-definition men settle on will have an enormous impact on society.”

One of the reasons why conservative influencers seem successful in their messaging is that they know how to “highlight positive traits that were traditionally associated with maleness – protectiveness, leadership, emotional stability – and encourage them, making ‘masculinity’ out to be a real and necessary thing, and its acquisition something honorable and desirable. And the fact that they’re willing to define it outright feels bravely countercultural.”

However, “if the right has overcorrected to an old-fashioned (and somewhat hostile) vision of masculinity, many progressives have ignored the opportunity to sell men on a better vision of what they can be. … To the extent that any vision of ‘nontoxic’ masculinity is proposed, it ends up sounding more like stereotypical femininity than anything else: Guys should learn to be more sensitive, quiet and socially apt, seemingly overnight. It’s the equivalent of ‘learn to code!’ as a solution for those struggling to adjust to a new economy: simultaneously hectoring, dismissive and jejune.”

Proposing a progressive, more clearly defined script for masculinity is often seen as taking away from the progress made by women: “Justifiably, progressives want to preserve the major gains made for women over the past several decades – gains that are still fragile. It’s easy to mistake attention as zero-sum, to fear that putting effort toward helping men might mean we won’t have space for women anymore. … I’m convinced that men are in a crisis. And I strongly suspect that ending it will require a positive vision of what masculinity entails that is particular – that is, neither neutral nor interchangeable with femininity.”

Emba believes a new model for masculinity that can counteract the one of the past needs to be able to gain popular appeal by putting the distinctiveness of men to good use: “What would creating a positive vision of masculinity look like? Recognizing distinctiveness but not pathologizing it. Finding new ways to valorize it and tell a story that is appealing to young men and socially beneficial, rather than ceding ground to those who would warp a perceived difference into something ugly and destructive. … In my ideal, the mainstream could embrace a model that acknowledges male particularity and difference but doesn’t denigrate women to do so. It’s a vision of gender that’s not androgynous but still equal, and relies on character, not just biology. And it acknowledges that certain themes – protector, provider, even procreator – still resonate with many men and should be worked with, not against.”

I agree with Emba that rejecting the old, unacceptable expression of masculinity has left behind a vacuum that many (especially young) men are struggling to fill. An unambiguous, positive new model that inspires needs to do more than simply point to the past and say ‘Not like this!’

One of the interviewees in Emba’s essay offers a memorable, if oversimplified, piece of advice for bringing up his three boys: “I try to raise my boys to have the confidence to ask a girl out, if that’s their inclination; the grace to accept no for an answer; and the responsibility to make sure that, either way, she gets home safely.”Kai


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Apps & Sites

Usage →

Mac/iOS system analytics

Usage is a lightweight macOS and iOS app that provides insights into your system’s performance, processor, disk usage, network activity and much more. It comes with a host of customisable widgets and interfaces to give you a diagnostic overview of the status and health of your devices.

Habo →

Free habit tracker

Looking for a minimalistic, nicely designed habit tracker that is open-source and free and is available for both Android and iOS? Search no more: Habo is for you.

Green Skills →

Skills for a sustainable future

With the recognition that we must rapidly reorganise our civilisation to ensure that our children and future generations inherit a livable planet, this handy list of skills by climate educator AimHi Earth (also available as a PDF) can help prepare us for a nature-centric future.

Legal Lullabies →

Terms of servizzz

The title and domain name of this project alone justify its inclusion in DD: “Lull yourself to sleep with the soothing white noise of your favorite tech giant’s terms of service.”


Worthy Five: Gabor Szorad

Five recommendations by sustainability advocate and food executive Gabor Szorad

A question worth asking:

‘How could I contribute in a little way today to make life on earth sustainable?’ If you are out of ideas, you can check out well-researched actions based on the type of work you do here.

A concept worth understanding:

With time, AI systems will be able to automate all of the human activities needed to speed up scientific and technological advancement, which can help us solve technological challenges we are facing – possibly with very little human intervention. Holden Karnofsky calls this sort of technology PASTA: Process for Automating Scientific and Technological Advancement. A poll among researchers puts the expected timeline for PASTA for this century with about 90% confidence.

A book worth reading:

Human Compatible by Stuart Russell lays out how we could make safe rules for an intelligence higher than humanity’s. This is arguably the largest existential threat we are facing. We won’t get PASTA and survival of humanity at the same time if we don’t get AI governance right.

A recipe worth trying:

To stick with the PASTA concept, I recommend this healthy and hearty tomato-aubergine pasta.

A piece of advice worth passing on:

Our technological development has outpaced our ability to regulate it for quite some time. So don’t expect technology to save the day. If we are to put hope into technology as the knight in shining armour, we all ought to demand and work towards better rules and regulation that puts humanity’s interests above those of corporations.

(Did you know? Friends of DD can respond to and engage with guest contributors like Gabor Szorad in one click.)


Books & Accessories

Humanly Possible →

The story of humanist freethinking

I’ve always felt drawn to the Humanism movement as a progressive philosophy of life. This book offers a historical overview of that movement and why it remains a powerful, areligious champion of humanity. “At a moment when we are all too conscious of the world’s divisions, Humanly Possible – brimming with ideas, experiments in living, and respect for the deepest ethical values – serves as a recentering, a call to care for one another, and a reminder that we are all, together, only human.”

Carmageddon →

How cars ruin the world

As many DD readers would know, I care and write a lot about the many ways in which car dependency is bad for us. This new book provides a deep dive into how cars were normalised and how our reliance on them has come back to hurt us. Carmageddon “takes readers around the world to show the ways car use has impacted people’s lives – from Nairobi, where few people own a car but the city is still cloaked in smog, to Houston, where the Katy Freeway has a mind-boggling 26 lanes and there are 30 parking spaces for every resident, enough land to fit Paris ten times.”


Overheard on Mastodon

The reason most public transportation is seen as ‘losing’ money is precisely because it charges for trips. If you don’t charge fares, suddenly it can’t ‘lose’ money. It just costs money, the same as the roads.

@[email protected]


Food for Thought

Men are lost. Here’s a map out of the wilderness. →


I really enjoyed this one: a long read on today’s confusing image of ‘good masculinity’, why right-wing, conservative influencers find a gullible audience, and what a positive vision of ‘being a man’ could look like. “For all their problems, the strict gender roles of the past did give boys a script for how to be a man. But if trying to smash the patriarchy has left a vacuum in our ideal of masculinity, it also gives us a chance at a fresh start: an opportunity to take what is useful from models of the past and repurpose it for boys and men today.” (Possible paywall – free archived view)

First Errand →


A 99% Invisible podcast episode examining the Japanese reality TV hit ‘First Errand’ (on Netflix with the title ‘Old Enough’). The show follows Japanese children ages 2 to 5 as they run their first-ever errands, alone. It provides the perfect hook for showing how bad urban design and poor intergenerational culture make most Western streets unsafe for children. In Japan, children are remarkably independent: fifth-graders make 85 percent (!) of their weekday trips without a parent.

What to do with climate emotions →


The wonderful Jia Tolentino speaks to people deeply worried about climate change and how they’re dealing with the dread and anxiety about a future that is radically changing before our eyes. “‘No one can make a proper decision from an air-conditioned room,‘ Natasha told me. ‘People say this new generation has eco-anxiety, that they’re worried about the future, and I’m, like, “Dude, we’re worried about today.”’... Natasha added that Westerners always seemed to be looking for a linear course of action, ‘to figure out how to feel, then figure out how to act, then act. But here, we just act, and we feel things during, we feel things after, and then we act again.’” (Possible paywall – free archived view)


Aesthetically Pleasing

If you like birds (and who doesn’t?!), you will enjoy the top 100 photos of the 2023 Audubon Photography Awards.

I have a huge soft spot for book cover designs/designers. The portfolio of the talented Holly Ovenden bursts with colour and creativity.

A blog featuring thousands of photos from around the world that capture the many unique and everyday moments that shaped our history.

I absolutely love the playful yet functional stencil version of sans type Macan. “Macan draws influence from last century’s Grotesque genre, the industrial aesthetics of stencil typefaces, and the mesmerizing qualities of rave flyers from the ’90s.”


Notable Numbers


According to a late 2022 traffic survey conducted for the City of London, for the first time, people cycling made up a greater proportion of counted traffic (26.8%) than cars and private hire vehicles (25.8%).


Seeking relief from the heat, on Amazon, sales of air conditioners increased 248% during the 30 days ending July 14. Sales for fans grew 60%.


Taylor Swift concertgoers are spending about $1,300 per show, a recent study shows. If the current spending pace continues through the end of the tour, The Eras tour will have generated an estimated $5 billion in economic impact, more than the gross domestic product of 50 countries.



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