Seeking Scenius for an NYC Golden Age
Thanks to the long and tireless work of many people, and resultant shifting attitudes about a variety of political issues, New York City is on the potential precipice of radical transformation: magnitudes more of wealth, people, innovation, health, and happiness. The time is as ripe as ever to kick off a golden age.
This is the opposite view that many of my friends and acquaintances have, no matter how accomplished or intelligent they are. I think the vast majority of them only hold that view because they haven’t actually examined the political reality of the moment—they’re just going off vague assumptions and uncalibrated gut feelings. They lack both: (1) an object-level understanding of NYC’s (and New York State’s) civic and political workings, and (2) the lenses to analyze them.
If NYC is to seize the moment and drive forward into its golden age, more people must enter the civic and political realm. We need more than good advocacy groups and politicians at this point, although we absolutely need those too. We need more new civic scenes: groups of individuals obsessed with NYC’s future of radical abundance and how to get there, who are continually playing off each other and trying to one-up the abundance-advancement of each other. We need NYC-specific scenius.
Other writing I’m working on deals with “how to enter the civic and political realm.” The point of this essay is to just declare that I am one of those NYC-obsessed people, and I want you to be in a scene with me.
But finding good scene partners, especially in civics and politics, is hard. There are broadly three kinds of guy in the potential-scene space, and you only want the third:
The armchair philosopher. They’ll talk about theory all day, but they do not actually experiment with their theories or try to bring them into the world. They might seem like excellent partners at first; they’ll engage with you in an intellectually interesting way, but they’re like people in a music scene who’ll endlessly discuss music theory, or bands, or venues with you—but they won’t join you in a jam session.
The apparatchik. The person who is intimately familiar with, and works within, the current political system. They might seem like excellent partners at first, because they seem to know how to get things done; they’ll impress you with detailed procedural knowledge. But they’re infected with status quo bias; they’re like people in a music scene who will only ever play cover songs with you.
The scene partner. They have the theory of the philosopher, the detail obsession of the apparatchik, and the ability to synthesize both of these. They have a grand vision of the future, and they make bold and creative plans to chart a course there from the present. They’re criticized by the armchair philosopher who has no skin in the game, and they’re criticized by the apparatchik for being out of touch with reality. They’re the people in a music scene who will form a band with you and hack away in jam sessions and crappy venues until you all make it bigtime. Or they’ll be another band racing you to the bigtime.
But how do you know that I am a potential scene partner, as I have declared myself?
You don’t really, not until you play some notes and see if I play back in the right way. If I were another person looking at this website, I would think something like: “He’s definitely interested in NYC, and he’s definitely willing to work.But I wonder if he’s good-bonkers about NYC.” But I’ve got plans. More’s to come.
Maybe the epic future of a Maximum New York sounds interesting to you, but being an NYC-scene person sounds like it’s too much. For now I’ll just say that it’s something you can grow into. Like learning an instrument, the beginning will feel uncomfortable and you’ll lack confidence. But if you stick with it, you’ll find out if you have the hunger. And as with almost everything, you just have to stick with it and you’ll beat 99% of everyone else.
I’ll be your scene partner, if you’ll be mine.
Learning how NYC’s political system works is difficult if you’re coming in cold—like you’re in the situation where you’re completely new to a domain, and you don’t even know where to start learning. After almost a year of dead ends, I figured I’d just start from the very beginning, a very good place to start: I took four months to read the 540-page city charter myself and reformat it into a Roam database. That gave me the context I needed to really get going.