October 1. I'm back in Spokane. Finally found out (thanks Lacy) that John Robb's Global Guerrillas blog is back. If you're into Enneagram, you'll understand when I say that Robb is a rare type 3 doomer. Where the usual type 6 doomer would be like "Oh noes, the world is going to hell," Robb is more like "Wow, look at all these new opportunities for ambitious people to have influence way beyond their apparent power." Anyway, for a while he was writing about resilient communities, and while I agree they're a good idea, I'm a type 5 and want to read the newest ideas about the craziest ways the world could change. Robb has been back to writing about that stuff for a couple years now. Among his many good ideas, my favorite is that the big threat from information technology is not one super-intelligent computer, but trillions of stupid ones. Two more doom links. America is rapidly aging in a country built for the young. It's about housing, and how too many houses are isolated in the suburbs, require lots of yard work, have lots of stairs, and who's going to live in them when the Baby Boomers have to move out? I imagine that Millennials could buy whole neighborhoods of decayed McMansions and turn the houses into barns and the yards into food forests... except they don't have any money. A new study finds a link between depression and terrorism. I don't like the framing of the article. "Terrorism" is a faddish propaganda word that asks us to reduce all political violence to a cartoon of a bomber in a turban. But if you step back from this moment in history, there may be a deeper truth here. Imagine that in 500 years, Islam and other sky father religions are dead, the whole world is secular and westernized, but depression is worse than ever because a high-tech security system gives us no participation in power. As people become more unhappy, they have a growing need for the world to change, until even huge risks and destructive changes seem preferable to continuing the nightmare of ordinary life. Any ideology that fills this need can overthrow a depressed society, the same way that a dry forest can be burned by any spark.
September 29. The last Monday of every month is Finger Pointing Day. This month's links have more depth than usual. Battered Worker Syndrome is a good rant about the new corporate culture of not caring about workers. Except it's mostly not about the syndrome, in which workers "fawningly suck up to the hierarchy." It's more about how workers correctly respond by slacking off and gaming the system.
Does responsible consumption benefit companies more than consumers? I first wrote about this issue seven years ago in this post about garbage laws and the organization Keep America Beautiful, which has completely succeeded in making us think of saving the planet as the responsibility of individuals, not politicians and businesses.
From 2005, Are the desert people winning? According to a study of more than 400 cultures around the world, desert cultures are bad, forest cultures are good, and the desert cultures have taken over the world. At the same time, I think we're slowly shifting toward forest culture, or there wouldn't be so many of us who agree that forest cultures are better. Or if you want to factor out forest and desert, you could say that nasty cultures beat nice cultures in a conflict, but that successful nasty cultures gradually become nice.
Finally, Wolves cooperate but dogs submit. It also mentions a study in which wolves and dog puppies were good problem solvers, but adult dogs were stupid because they have learned to obey humans instead of thinking for themselves. So even dogs can be harmed by culture. (By the way, I follow a fringe theory that dogs are not descended from wolves, but from now-extinct wild dogs. I wrote about it in this post in 2008.)
September 25. I'm in central Florida staying with Leigh Ann's family. This is my first trip to Florida and the landscape is impressive. The giant oak trees covered with spanish moss look like something out of Lord of the Rings. Anyway, here are some unrelated links, and I'll try to post again on Monday. You've probably seen this article about how a low dose of lithium is good for your brain. I'm wondering if my water filter is taking it out, and if I should get a looser filter or drink more tap water. Psychology article, Personhood: A Game for Two or More Players. It doesn't have any new information, but offers an interesting way to think about human socialization.
Rethinking the origins of the universe. A physicist claims to have mathematically proven that it is impossible for black holes to exist. The article does not clearly distinguish between the infinitely dense singularity at the center of a black hole, and the gravity that prevents light from escaping, so I'm not sure if it's still possible to have one without the other. But if a singularity is impossible, that casts doubt on the Big Bang theory.
August 22. You probably heard about that guy who lived in the woods in Maine for 25 years. This new article,
September 22. A reader sends this extract from the book Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado, explaining why poor people don't plan long-term, basically because they're in a closed loop of being too tired and stressed in the present to sacrifice any of the present for the future.
I should say, in the context of Friday's post, that my own writing is aimed at people who have the time, the energy, the education, and the support network to break the script and live well on the fringes of society. Most poor people are completely fucked beyond my ability to help them. At best, I'd like to help change our cultural assumptions, so that we move sooner to the belief that we all have an unconditional right to comfortable survival, without having to "earn a living" by obeying the people and systems that have the money.
But here's a thought experiment: how could we get a guaranteed basic income that somehow is still evil? Imagine if the largest retailers arranged with the government so that instead of getting $10,000 cash, you got $10,000 in credits that you could use at Amazon, Walmart, Starbucks, Comcast, and so on. All your physical needs are met, but not your emotional need to participate meaningfully in the economy. You can't support your local coffee shop or bookstore, and if you're an entrepreneur or small business owner, you can't serve the poor because they can't pay you -- you have to serve the rich. This leads to cultural inbreeding, as the only way to join the world of money is to echo the values of the world of money, and that world might veer off into insanity. Even with no economic poverty, there can still be great political poverty.
I'm traveling to Florida soon to visit Leigh Ann's family, and might not have time to post again this week.
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.