September 19. So a couple weeks ago I got an email from a reader that once again made me regret my famous essay "How To Drop Out". What I regret is the title. I should have called it something like "How to gain the benefits of industrial civilization without being in a position of forced obedience." To use the phrase "drop out" was a short-sighted marketing move that got me a lot more readers, but has linked my popular image to the poisonous myth of the heroic puritan, someone whose goal is not to enjoy life but to avoid guilt through an impossible lifestyle that has no connection to a society that is viewed as a cartoonish monolithic evil. This is related to another mistake I made not once but over and over again: using the word "civilization". I agree with John Zerzan that symbolic language was invented for deception -- and it goes beyond deception of others into accidental deception of the self. We have needs, and we use language to tell ourselves stories about what we need, and then we are drawn toward stories that use language with more elegance and economy, so that we veer off from remembering what we need into telling beautiful stories. The critique of civilization is a great story, but now I find it more accurate and helpful to not blur together schooling and cars and other things I hate into an abstraction that commands me to also hate ice cream and airplanes and good TV shows. My less-wrong story about what I need is more free time and fewer obligations, without having to go hungry or sleep under a bridge. This is a hard battle to fight, but in the context of yesterday's post, it occurs to me that it's not as hopeless as fighting for increasing financial success.
is a new system for food producers to describe their practices in detail for consumers, which is better than the big agribusiness system of hiding the details of how they meet an increasingly meaningless organic certification. 4) If you're making cannabis edibles or salves, the OXO ricer is a good tool to squeeze the oil out of the buds, and here's a pdf article with detailed instructions. 5) The entire state of Montana is being gentrified.
September 17. Two doom links. The Dying Russians by Masha Gessen examines the mysteriously high Russian death rate. In the absence of war and epidemic disease, nothing like this has ever happened, and it's hard to tell why, but it seems to be psychological. Older Russians are so unhappy and hopeless that they're losing the will to live, which leads them to die more in many ways. The Russian experience is unique, but I have a guess at the deeper pattern, which could happen anywhere: a generation is raised to see the meaning of life in a particular thing, and then that thing is taken away. Maybe this is why Americans continue to believe in upward social mobility.Is Artificial Intelligence a Threat? This long article is about Nick Bostrom and other thinkers who see the danger that a powerful nonhuman intelligence could destroy humanity by seeking a seemingly benevolent goal without common sense. Isn't that what we're already doing with the global economy, a machine-like system programmed to maximize economic growth?
August 15. I'm obsessed with another band! They're a married couple from Maine, Colleen Kinsella and Caleb Mulkerin, who play psychedelic folk under the name
is a good tool to squeeze the oil out of the buds. 5) The entire state of Montana is being gentrified.
September 15. Had a great time at the permaculture convergence. This was the third one I've been to, the most rural, and by far the most casual. I spent a lot of time napping and hanging out by the pond. If anyone I met there is checking out my blog, here's my top bar hive page, and a page about building a cobwood hut. Also, I didn't mention this at the convergence, but I will sell my land to a permaculturist for below market value.
A few things I learned: 1) Making cheese is easy, but making a particular kind of cheese is really hard. 2) Milk kefir has more probiotics than kombucha, which has more than water kefir or yogurt. 3) Agritrue is a new system for food producers to describe their practices in detail for consumers, which is better than the big agribusiness system of hiding the details of how they meet an increasingly meaningless organic certification. 4) If you're making cannabis edibles or salves, the OXO ricer is a good tool to squeeze the oil out of the buds.
More generally, I love hanging out in the country with no responsibilities. While permaculturists have many of the answers for how to improve society, we are nowhere near making the convergence experience permanent. Like Burning Man or Rainbow gatherings, it's a glimpse of a utopia that is hundreds of years in the future if it's even possible. Personally, rural living only makes me feel better for a few days, but I have not yet come to the end of lots of free time making me feel better, which is why I live in the city now.
. So he seems to be the better songwriter, but Colleen is my new favorite singer. She has an enormous range, and her voice has almost the same edge that Joanna Newsom had on The Milk-Eyed Mender, but wilder. Most of you will hate her, but if you're curious, start with her cover of
August 4. . The author looks at the origins of our concept of "drugs", and shows how the perceived difference between legal and illegal mind-altering substances has nothing to do with their effects, but emerged from a cultural fear of outsiders. So whatever drugs people on the fringe of society happen to use, are made illegal to keep them down. It occurs to me that marijuana legalization uses the same strategy as gay rights: before you can pass the laws, you have to spend decades working in popular culture to change the image of a group of people, from scary outsiders to harmless ordinary folks.. He speculates that robots will eventually be used by occupying powers for counterinsurgency, because people will take them more seriously than machines that don't mimic biology, and they'll be immune to the emotional breakdowns of human soldiers. So the people might eventually see the well-behaved robots as friends, and the fallible human guerrillas as enemies. Going back to the point above about changing images: humanity itself, in the eyes of humanity, is now an out-group, and high-tech management is the in-group. To reverse this, we need to draw attention to the failures of controlling technologies, and we also need more independent actions that are fun and helpful.
September 8. Busy this week, so I'm just purging my link queue with little or no comment. The terror and the bliss of sleep paralysis. "Sleep paralysis has tormented me since childhood. But now it's my portal to out-of-body travel and lucid dreams."Algorithm recovers speech from vibrations of potato-chip bag filmed through soundproof glass. That is, a good enough computer with a good enough camera can watch the bag vibrating from sounds in the room and figure out the sounds. Also related to hearing, Nerve implant retrains your brain to stop tinnitus. I predict that technologically assisted physical brain retraining will be a big thing in a few decades. Reddit comment from last month about how a well-organized consumers union could force Comcast to be responsible.
And some great life philosophy, Seneca on busyness and the art of living wide rather than living long:
Indeed the state of all who are preoccupied is wretched, but the most wretched are those who are toiling not even at their own preoccupations, but must regulate their sleep by another's, and their walk by another's pace, and obey orders in those freest of all things, loving and hating. If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.
September 5. As usual, by Friday I'm burned out on the Big Subjects. Leigh Ann and I have been watching Heroes, the 2006-2010 TV show. Everyone agrees that only season one is good, but I think even season one is poorly written, and was carried by great ideas which got used up. Also we've finally started watching Game of Thrones, and it's, eh, pretty good. Visually it's perfect, and there are some fun characters, but the big themes are family and loyalty/betrayal, both of which bore me. My favorite thing is how the world starts with zero magic and the magic gradually creeps back in.
On my favorite songs page, "Argyle Square" by Orphans & Vandals is currently sitting at number one (and I'm tempted to raise "Terra Firma" to number two). Aaron mentions that Bob Geldof had a similar sound back in 1990, in a few songs on his album Vegetarians of Love. Check out No Small Wonder and Thinking Voyager Two Type Things.
And here's a simple and oddly compelling song that I've been meaning to post for a while, John Matthias - Pre-Loved Vintage. I'm a sucker for polyrhythms and I'd like to put the bit from 2:28 to 2:51 on an endless loop.
September 3. One nice thing about the internet is that it's humbling. I used to think I was really smart, but now I can see that there are people out there who are much smarter, like Venkatesh Rao of Ribbonfarm, or reddit user Erinaceous, or Sister Y, who blogs at The View from Hell and Carcinization. And most recently (thanks Gabriel) a Finnish guy who calls himself VIznut and does a blog called Countercomplex.
In VIznut's August 5 post, The resource leak bug of our civilization, he starts out talking about how vast increases in computing power are being mostly wasted, and argues that the waste "is nothing utilitarian but a reflection of a more general, inherent wastefulness, that stems from the internal issues of contemporary human civilization."
The bug: Our mainstream economic system is oriented towards maximal production and growth. This effectively means that participants are forced to maximize their portions of the cake in order to stay in the game. It is therefore necessary to insert useless and even harmful "tumor material" in one's own economical portion in order to avoid losing one's position. This produces an ever-growing global parasite fungus that manifests as things like black boxes, planned obsolescence and artificial creation of needs.
Wow, Ivan Illich lives! Then he goes into more detail about "black boxes". Ground-level processes that humans used to do on their own, are automated into modules, which are stuck together with other modules into bigger modules. In theory this makes life easier but really it makes life less meaningful:
People who have a paid job, for example, can be regarded as modules that try to fulfill a set of requirements in order to remain acceptable pieces of the system. When using the money, they can be regarded as modules that consume services produced by other modules. What happens beyond the interface is considered irrelevant, and this irrelevance is a major source of alienation. Compare someone who grows and chops their own wood for heating to someone who works in forest industry and buys burnwood with the paycheck. In the former case, it is easier to get genuinely interested by all the aspects of forests and wood because they directly affect one's life. In the latter case, fulfilling the unit requirements is enough.
So what can we do about this? VIznut suggests that hackers build popular movements of making useful tools and art "with low-complexity computer and electronic systems." I never would have thought of that, but I still don't see it happening. What I see instead is more and more useful stuff (from programming to wood-chopping) being automated, as more people turn their attention to virtual worlds designed to seem more meaningful than reality ever could. And when we finally get burned out at the farthest limits of artificial superstimuli, then we must either go back to painful unrewarding reality or go extinct, and one of those will be much easier.
Or, before we get too far on that path, reality will catch up to us in the form of the collapse of the global economy: Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we're nearing collapse. I still see no evidence for a technological collapse, but maybe we'll have no time for Minecraft version 27 because we'll be too busy foraging bugs and tree cambium -- or building low-tech drones to fight the high-tech drones of occupying armies.