Domestic Cozy: 3

This entry is part 3 of 13 in the series Domestic Cozy

I increasingly like a thesis I initially resisted: many unusual and toxic culture-war phenomena in nominally public spaces can be understood as an outward projection of a cozy ethos prevailing in domestic spaces. Applying Jungian magical thinking, we should expect this projection to be anything but cozy. The shadow of domestic cozy ought to be a particular pattern of public strife. We should expect this strife to have a recognizably domestic heat signature — the ugly family scene rather than the barroom brawl, soccer riot, or gang war.

When I first tweeted about domestic cozy, Ben Mathes suggested that phenomena like safe spaces and trigger warnings on college campuses, and associated high incidences of depression and anxiety in Gen Z adolescents, ought to be considered an expression of the Zoomer personality. It does seem like the spike in those phenomena coincided with Zoomers starting to enter college. An epimemetic product of a stressful coming-of-age decade, and overprotective (but not necessarily overindulgent) parenting. I resisted the suggestion initially, since it seemed inconsistent with the peaceful domestic expression of the archetype, but I am now on board, via the Jungian argument.

The term domestic cozy evokes peaceful ASMRish imagery — comfort, safety, relaxation, intimacy, trust. Its outward, public-facing projection, however, reverses all that. It is associated with discomfort, aggression, stress, hostility, and distrust. The imagery evoked is that of the scene, as in creating a scene: screams, verbal aggression, lost composure, unseemly emotional affects, and inappropriate displays of vulnerability.

We can unpack it in somewhat more detail if we assume the default Zoomer social unit, irrespective of context, to be the family. The term fam, which apparently originated in black culture a couple of decades ago, has in recent years crossed over into mainstream usage. I think the driver has probably been the Zoomer need for an overloaded notion of family. The Zoomer experience of the world is a strong pack experience in an unflattened Hobbesian world. Zoomers navigate the world in family-like fictive-kin groups to a relatively greater extent than older generations, because they were raised to believe that the world beyond family is devolving into apocalyptic chaos (which may or may not be true).

If Millennials act like they’re always in public, performing for an imagined audience, and Gen Xers act like they’re solitary, invisible, cyberpunk antiheroes hacking their way through futuristic technology-stack underbellies, Zoomers act like they’re always at home with family, with the concomitant expectations of safety, intimacy, and trust. When those expectations are stressed, they react the way families do under threat, with the aggression of family members responding to a threat to one of their own.

When family-like expectations of a public environment are violated, the responses can exhibit all the exaggerated theatricality and button-pushing impulses of family conflict. When family members fight, they are generally more intent on inflicting emotional trauma than physical or financial hurt. They are also more equipped to inflict emotional trauma, being privy to family-zone information.

When these tendencies center on presumed fictive kin who don’t actually sign on to be part of the “fam”, such as university administrators, or on impersonal institutions, the resulting conflict presents as an incongruous, one-sided family drama. Apologies and displays of shame seem to matter more than, say, financial compensation. Information useful for inflicting emotional trauma and reputation loss is actively sought out — embarrassing tweets, awkward photographs — and shamelessly deployed. The shamelessness in deployment is particularly revealing: public spaces run on a calculus of status and reputation between relative strangers. Normally, the user of embarrassing information suffers almost as much reputation loss as the victim. In family spaces, public status and reputation don’t matter in the same way. What seems like shamelessness to older generations is more like an extension of shameless spaces outwards.

Mere words seem to carry an unusual amount of weight. This makes sense through the lens of family. Words you can shrug off from a stranger are far more weighty when uttered by a family member (or someone unconsciously, but incorrectly, cast as part of your family). When you shift context from public to domestic, offense can turn into harm. You may not care particularly if a stranger mispronounces your name, misgenders you, or directs a slur at you. You are much more likely care and be actually hurt if someone you’ve miscast as a family member does.

One sign I’ve particularly noted is individuals processing issues like sexual harassment allegations in seemingly ineffective ways; by precipitating a “scene” via a tell-all Facebook post or tweeting screenshotted DMs for instance. But tactics that are ineffective for navigating a system of due process can make complete sense in a family context. If you’re mad at a parent, sibling, spouse, or child, you generally just yell and say things that you later wish you could take back. Suing, seeking legal emancipation, or filing for divorce are exceptional conflict patterns for families. In public spaces, this would normally be reversed, except we’re not in normal times.

When the domestic-cozy fam pack is out on the prowl in its pajamas, treating the world as its living room, the rules change. The culture war is, arguably, an ugly, metastasized family scene, spilling past all domestic boundaries at once.

This operating style may offend older generations with different sensibilities around public appearances, but I suspect is actually better adapted to modern conditions.

Series Navigation<< Domestic Cozy: 2Domestic Cozy: 4 >>

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Marc Hamann says

    This just brought this concept together for me. Good one!

  2. A year ago you gave the optimistic prognosis that the culture wars will end in the early 2020s. Does that still hold under the revised big picture?

    If you loosen the generational stereotype / ordering scheme a bit you will notice the poetic qualities of their fusion: Assange, the prototypical hacker activist with great public visibility, caught in the Ecuadorian embassy, living there with a cat. You could have used that scenery as an emblematic image for an introduction to domestic cozy but the image of an involuntary Hikikomori also misses a truth about the phenomenon you describe now, namely the hypochondriac nature of alienation and the obsessive projections and neurotic ties to strangers as an outside-in family. There may be an unflattened Hobbesian world but a University campus is surely not part or it, as you know from your own experience. It is already a safe space. If you go there as an adventurer / warrior you will more likely starve to death from boredom than from violence.

    So while the unflattened Hobbesian world is phantasmatic, there might be no resolution for it as the success of a Freudian therapy. There was no trauma to begin with, only artificial/cultural memories and media effects, so you cannot overcome the phantasmatic band-aid by going through the trauma again in the hope to finally get real. Orpheus way through the underworld is not your way and this is not because the world is super-complex and mysterious, you just cannot get rid of all the media, entertainment and business plugins. Not even ‘politics’ goes away i.e. mass tribalism in the colors of faith and ideology + democratic sauce.

    • I think 2020-24 is still my prediction. These things are strongly narrative driven, and Trump is a bigger part of the reason the wars are being sustained than people think. And the US is sort of the global bellwether for the turnaround. Hard to imagine anyone in current crop of contenders being worse, so whoever succeeds him will bring back a slight sense of normalcy.

      I do think college campuses have greater psychological violence going on than those of us who’ve forgotten those years think.

      • Pierre-Emil Chantereau says

        Normalcy is over, and Trump is the way forward. The decline will accelerate as reality descends unto a culture totally unprepared to meet it’s boundary conditions and totally incapable to maintain discourse. There is no going back.

        Society is over. Honk honk.

  3. Simon Pearce says

    This is very nicely argued and unexpected (in a good way). I’ve not read Jung and now I must! I was recently at a fancy hotel where a family of four literally came to the main dining room for breakfast in their pajamas each day. Adults, kids, all of them. I found it disgusting for reasons I could not place. For me, it ties to this thrusting of domestic cozy into public spaces and the paradoxical feelings of revulsion this creates in others from this unusual “colonization” of shared public spaces. People attempting to domesticate public space feels like an act of aggressive acquisition to people in those spaces which explains the sense of mutual outrage when multiple groups do it at once.

  4. Ryan C Spence says

    Quick question here, maybe.

    On forming pseudo-fabrics of understanding, it is my understanding that these are ways to understand/interpret/categorize minutia and meaning that find common expression in a modern day. I love the effort, however, I’m trying to understand the goal. Draw some lines for me. How about these:

    Should we anticipate Domestic Cozy’s will struggle with commonwealth structures? (Does a Cozy struggle with political language? Can a Cozy succeed at city park planning?)

    Should we understand Premium Mediocre’s external projections create existential psychopathy between projection and person? If this is the case, does it explain either a break in the desire for introspection or a sense of comfort with hypocrisy? (Do PM parents require kids to clean their rooms while employing a cleaning staff for the house? “Please don’t talk to the help, they know too much.”)

    I think these are fantastic markers, but I’m looking for some further insight.

  5. I am going to be 50 this year and have kids age 15,14, and 13 … this domestic cozy reminds me very much of them. The finger will learn – Steve Jobs ? how the effect of technology effect our behaviour. Yes, 3 of them are kind spoiled with youtube, minecraft … internet …The school culture encourage wearing pajama on school day :) I could not tell you how may times i have to adjust my outlook and let go my anger because of this :) … I think this domestic cozy generation will be more wise than our/my generation because they have time to think and decide on their own … there is no urgency here, again the technology buys us time in the world to be able to be a philosopher in such a young age. I think their generation would have the least of attachment as their previous generations. They know money is not important, status is not important, having things is not important, having kids or even family is not important, or this or that … they just savoring time and experience as it floats in their life. I think the overall effect of this, that when the time they go to the world and become ‘leader’ or ‘non leader’ then they could become a better ‘leader’ than their previous generations. I am very optimistic about this.

  6. Joseph Rhea says

    I like this heuristic – it seems like you could also map the dominant social media platforms used by each generation to the overall ethic:
    – Gen X – LiveJournal / MySpace (“respect me as I reflect and curate my unique way through life”)
    – Millenial – Instagram / Facebook (“by impressed by me showing off my awesomely styled life”)
    – Zoomer – SnapChat / webcam (“I guess you can catch this inside joke I made for my friends”)

    However, it seems like the increasing furor in social warring may come more from 1) an institutionally managed life, where an increasing percentage of kids’ times are managed by parentally chosen professionals who uphold carefully chosen norms; and 2) living in the very-unsupervised alternative space of digital adolescence. The “shameless” conflict dynamics are as toxic in families as they are in any other social circle, a product of dysfunction rather than intimacy; rather, it seems more like the slash-and-burn tactics of high school drama that used to happen more in person (with the risks and costs associated), but now happen through digital trollsuit personas.

  7. I think it is worth analysing the logic of this in terms of the ages of the people involved, and the development of technology; most of what we call generation z came of age in the era of the war on terror, the financial crisis, and the beginnings of 10 years of social media culture war.

    In that context, you can think of their predominant image as “under 20s goals in fragmenting social environments”.

    Millennials? Their image is infantilism (living with parents, not having sex, not fulfilling prescribed consumer roles) due to hitting the transition to instability during their own transition to adulthood. Or alternatively, of compulsively self branding narcissism. The economic imperatives underlying this there should be familiar to any blogger, and of course have been talked about here before. But soon, if this life script disruption based model is correct, their image will become something to do with weird parenting, I’m quite confident, as they finally move out of the arrested “making a living” stage on average and start experimenting with domesticity. (This actually could have an interesting overlap with what I’m about to talk about, if trends are able to overlap.)

    So back to gen z’s, what happens if a young teenager hits this kind of instability during their period of understanding social context, friendship groups, identity, and the transition from childhood?

    They get known for developing strange identities, for being tribal, and for seeking comfort from information overload.

    “Trigger warnings” are just a specialised version of the general generation z admonishment, “tag your shit!”, a desire for distributed norms of meta-data that transform endless streams of data into connected and emotionally comprehensible mindspaces. To the jaded gen-x social media war refugee, the world appears to have gone crazy, and you find ways to switch off, for the gen z the world has always been crazy, and they wish to regulate their distance from it.

    The social media refugee assumes that the purpose of a trigger warning is to allow the entire class to leave, but the request for information as to the emotional load of a given situation makes sense for those who are constantly proactively managing such loads.

    To try to understand the phenomenon of desire for coziness without understanding the explosion of decommercialised self care, the informal public service announcements reminding people with cutesy pictures to take their meds, and the sharing of endless mental health advice, is I think to reverse the chain of causality. Gen z are highly focused on producing practices of life that allow constantly connected identities, and also are highly sensitive to suggestions of how to preserve mental balance without taking the options of switching off, meditation retreats, going on trips in the wilderness, that primarily rest on giving time for conventional human emotional processing mechanisms to catch up with a fast moving environment, that are more available to those with particular time control privileges such as scheduled holidays.

    Paradoxically, these norms are also shared by celebrities, who though they do have as significant time pressures as the average waged or subsistence-grifting person, are nevertheless so online that concepts developed or popularised within under 25s become copied and promoted by them, such that their origin in a precocious 15 year old paraphrasing some early 20th century philosopher is ignored. (And indeed, whereas the millennials are often thought of as childlike, generation z are often thought of as unnervingly precocious, weirdly specifically well educated, and obviously actors or backed by others in some way)

    A fundamental element I believe of the modern culture war has been a clash between those who embrace escapism, in the sense of computer games or anime with medieval or fantasy elements, with those who prefer to intensely re-enscribe the problems of the real world while dealing live and collaboratively with the emotional fallout.

    The public mental health left vs the sub-reality right.

    The existential mental problem posed by the mental health left to those focusing on self-absorbed escapism is that they “bring politics into things”, that is, that they break the effectiveness of these escapist media to distract from real life events, by forcing difficult real life questions into them.

    The further paradox here is that the media embraced by people taking this second position is often made by celebrities taking the first position, leading to a near constant nervous tension among those who do not either defect to the snowflakes and start seeking other forms of “self-care”, or consume an ever increasing diet of rationalisations allowing them to justify ignoring whatever problem is currently thrumming through the “mental health awareness” infosphere channels. The phenomenon of sceptics and conspiracy theorists who act not to say that secret evil events are happening, but that people are trying to make events appear to be happening that are actually not. Sceptics and conspiracy theorists should be antithetical positions, assuming your desire is truth, but if your desire is to sheild yourself proactively from the emotional impact of social problems and critiques, creating a subreality in which you can escape, the two align perfectly.

    Of course, both views are exaggerations, but it is very possible to build your patreon subscriptions either by asserting you have discovered a new cause of toxicity, injustice or social damage that can be proactively diagnosed, opposed and excluded from your environment, or that you have finally proved such a causal model to be false, and safely ignored.

    Their psychological value as protectiom allows them to have an existence independent of their reality, though some will be inclined to push closer to reality than others.

    Now coming back to the observation about domesticity and childcare, I think we could end up seeing an increasingly strong connection between anxious thirty year old semi-professional parents with no time, and a desire not to fuck up their kids, and this filtering social-theorising self-diagnosing younger generation, whereas the intensively computer game playing conspiracy theory watching hardcore remainder increasingly become connected to the retiring chain letter sharing boomers, pushing back against this modern nonsense like trigger warnings and gender expression and ecological collapse.

    Gen X, of course, will stay out of it.

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