October 29. I finished Monday's post with the words "interesting choices". That's become a big part of my thinking, partly through Sid Meier's famous description of a good game as a series of interesting choices, and partly through one email I got more than a year ago from Owen, and never posted. Here's some of it:
In game design, they talk about choices that matter. If a choice is presented but people feel obligated to take only one of the branches, that's not really a choice. You must take this option, taking that other option is stupid. Or if taking a branch doesn't result in any perceived consequence. Then take any branch, the choice doesn't matter. They put those kinds of choices in front of you all the time. How do you like your steak cooked? Should I use the gelpacks or the powder for the dishwasher?
This is important so I'll say it again in my own words. If the choice doesn't effect your path, like Coke or Pepsi, then it's not interesting; and if one choice is obviously stupid, like keep your car on the road or run it off, then it's not interesting. But deprive people of interesting choices for too long, and they start making the obviously stupid choice just to feel alive. Another way to say it: we would rather do the wrong thing that we choose ourselves, than the right thing that is chosen for us. I think this explains a lot of behavior that otherwise doesn't make any sense, and it's why even the most benevolent central control can never make a good society, or even a good family.
Our CenturyLink promo offer is $15/month for six months and then it goes up to $47 [update: now they're trying to charge us $47 from the start], which is not terrible, but if it goes up again we'll probably switch back to a fresh promo offer from Comcast. This is one of the ways that technology makes us poorer. I mean the internet is wonderful, but we all
October 27. The last Monday of every month is Finger Pointing Day, when I post links about those bad people doing those bad things. The big one today is by Julian Assange, Google Is Not What It Seems. Assange tells the story of being interviewed by some people from Google who appeared to be politically neutral, but they turned out to be representing the American foreign policy establishment, and he argues that Google has been allied with these people and their world view for a long time:
By all appearances, Google's bosses genuinely believe in the civilizing power of enlightened multinational corporations, and they see this mission as continuous with the shaping of the world according to the better judgment of the "benevolent superpower." They will tell you that open-mindedness is a virtue, but all perspectives that challenge the exceptionalist drive at the heart of American foreign policy will remain invisible to them. This is the impenetrable banality of "don't be evil." They believe that they are doing good.
Next, Why I stopped reading/hearing/watching the news. You probably don't have to read it because the arguments are exactly what you would expect. But this fits with my October 13 post about why the 21st century is so depressing. You are biologically adapted to be part of a tribe, and in a good tribe everyone has a voice: your awareness extends to the interests of the whole tribe, and your political influence extends to the behavior of the whole tribe. Now, through the liberal media, the tribe we care about is the entire world. At the same time, your global political influence is exactly zero. The role of the government, working together with the big media, is to form a giant buffer, a big squishy membrane, between the masses and the forces that really run things. From our side the membrane looks like politicians listening to the people and solving problems -- or more often, failing to solve problems. Then dissenting voices say that the politicians are bad people, but these voices are also part of the show. When Obama does complete 180 on Guantanamo Bay, you hear that he betrayed voters, but you don't hear the more troubling interpretation: that there is an unseen authority above the President of the United States, and it has torture prisons. The other side of the membrane also shows an illusion, and this brings us back to the Assange piece: the people at the top cannot function unless their view of reality is filtered to make them the good guys. So on one level the world is ruled by a few hundred very powerful people who all know each other, but on a deeper level the world is ruled by the stories they tell themselves, the way they have to frame reality to make their actions right: The world is ruled by the story that global-scale decisions must be made from the top (or center), that decisions from the bottom (or edge) are dangerous; that political stability is more valuable than political participation; that "economic development" (the definition is too big to get into here) is a good thing; and the story I find most interesting, that you raise the quality of life of ordinary humans by taking away their pain and giving them stuff, not by giving them interesting choices.
September 22. 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.
September 19. I got an email from a reader that once again made me regret my famous essay "How To Drop Out". 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 more readers, but has linked my popular image to the 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 repeatedly: using the word "civilization". Language is dangerous -- we start off using words to make us smarter, and gradually we shift into using words make us feel good. If you tell the story that This One Thing is the root of all evil, it makes you feel like you're smart and your life has meaning. I no longer think "civilization" is even a thing. Like all value-loaded words, it is a fictional composite of many things that are only loosely related. Now I find it more accurate and helpful to not blur together
October 24. Home internet is back! It's over phone now instead of cable, so we had to get a DSL modem, and I did some research and I bought a Zyxel Q1000Z off eBay for $29. Then I had to trace some phone lines in the house and do more research. This page, doing your own telephone wiring, was a big help. I ended up opening the box on the back of the house, noticing that a cable had been disconnected and plugging it back in, and tracing a Cat 5 cable from the box to a cut end under the back door. But the cable was long enough that I could drill a hole through the wall of the house and bring it into the utility room, where I wired it to a loose phone jack and plugged in the modem. Our CenturyLink promo offer is $15/month for six months and then it goes up to $47, which is not terrible, but if it goes up again we'll probably switch back to a fresh promo offer from Comcast. This is one of the ways that technology makes us poorer. I mean the internet is wonderful, but we all need the internet now. So there's a bunch of money we each have to pay, just to be included in normal society, that we didn't have to pay in the 1980's. When Americans talk about "economic freedom" they're mostly talking about the freedom of the rich to leverage their money into more money. Economic freedom for the poor means that everything necessary is free. And in a sane society, fewer things would be necessary.
I recognize that this kind of creepshow fanbase is an ongoing risk. So many of the topics that interest me - paganism, black metal, global health, informatics, ecology - are just shot through with Americans (mostly) who feel perfectly comfortable describing their insanely privileged lives as some kind of last-ditch bunker action against a howling paleo-Lovecraftian chaotic swarm of death.
The Western child today is mostly kept inside his own home, associating with other children only in highly structured, adult-supervised settings such as school and sports teams. It was not always so. Throughout history, bands of children gathered and roamed city streets and countrysides, forming their own societies each with its own customs, legal rules and procedures, parodies, politics, beliefs, and art. With their rhymes, songs, and symbols, they created and elaborated the meaning of their local landscape and culture, practicing for the adult work of the same nature. We are left with only remnants and echoes of a once-magnificent network of children's cultures, capable of impressive feats of coordination.
I don't know what to make of the fact that on reddit, this link did best on a right wing subreddit called Dark Enlightenment. How did overprotection of children become associated with the left?
October 18. Quick note: we had to cancel Comcast because it went up to $67/month, and it will be a week or two before we have CenturyLink. On top of that, Spokane Community College no longer offers open wifi, so I have to ride three miles to the public library to get online. So posting and emails will be light for a while.
October 18. Quick note: we had to cancel Comcast because it went up to $67/month, and it will be a week or two before we have CenturyLink. Until then I'll be getting online just a couple hours a day at the library, and probably posting less.
October 17. Read Iggy Pop's incredible John Peel lecture. This is the best thing I've read in a while on any subject. Some excerpts:
I always hated radio and the jerks who pushed that shit music into my tender mind, with rare exceptions. When I was a boy, I used to sit for hours suffering through the entire US radio top 40 waiting for that one song by The Beatles and the other one by The Kinks. ... I worked half of my life for free. I didn't really think about that one way or the other, until the masters of the record industry kept complaining that I wasn't making them any money. To tell you the truth, when it comes to art, money is an unimportant detail. It just happens to be a huge one unimportant detail. But, a good LP is a being, it's not a product. It has a life-force, a personality, and a history, just like you and me. It can be your friend. Try explaining that to a weasel. ... If who you are is who you are that is really hard to steal, and it can lead you in all sorts of useful directions when the road ahead of you is blocked and it will get blocked. ... When I was starting out as a full time musician I was walking down the street one bright afternoon in the seedier part of my Midwestern college town. I passed a dive bar and from it emerged a portly balding pallid middle aged musician in a white tux with a drink in one hand and a guitar in the other. He was blinking in the daylight. I had a strong intuition that this was a fate to be avoided. ... The most punk thing I ever saw in my life was Malcolm McLaren's cardboard box full of dirty old winklepinkers. It was the first thing I saw walking in the door of Let It Rock in 1972 which was his shop at Worlds End on the Kings Road. It was a huge ugly cardboard bin full of mismatched unpolished dried out winklepickers without laces at some crazy price like maybe five pounds each. Another 200 yards up the street was Granny Takes a Trip, where they sold proper Rockstar clothes like scarves, velvet jackets, and snake skin platform boy boots. Malcolm's obviously worthless box of shit was like a fire bomb against the status quo because it was saying that these violent shoes have the right idea and they are worth more than your fashion, which serves a false value. ... If I wanna make music, at this point in my life I'd rather do what I want, and do it for free, which I do, or cheap, if I can afford to... Every free media platform I've ever known has been a front for advertising or propaganda or both. And it always colors the content... I can't help but note that it always seems to be the pursuit of the money that coincides with the great art, but not its arrival. It's just kind of a death agent. It kills everything that fails to reflect its own image, so your home turns into money, your friends turn into money, and your music turns into money.
I want to mention here that my latest favorite band, Big Blood, all have day jobs and don't even try to make money from their music. And if we ever get an unconditional basic income, we will get to listen to millions of people who don't have to compromise toward what Iggy Pop calls "the kind of music that people listen to when they're really not that into music."
October 15. I got several comments via email on Monday's post. Here's my condensed version of a comment from Jed:
I'm not even sure young people are that unhappy, but to the extent they are, I think it is because of a mismatch between time scales. Young people have only been around a little while, they are immersed in a world where things happen quickly (online, media) and they feel like they can't affect things. They can, they do, but the way water wears away rock. Real social change is multi-generational. The changes that stick are the ones that people live and pass on to their children in a new form. Regarding "saving the world" - prior to the 20th century we didn't even have a good sense of the whole world, much less any sense that we were responsible for it. With nuclear proliferation, whale management, ivory trade, the ozone hole, etc. we have been pragmatically dealing with the fact that we're all in this together. I'd guess that the sense of responsibility will just get stronger (one of the things we pass on to our children). Young people, especially elite ones, are sloshing around the world, taking for granted that they can live anywhere and quite likely will. They will see it as one world, their children even more so and that perspective will be influential. That doesn't mean that we'll get the management right. There will be a lot of bad decisions because of ignorance, fixed beliefs, special interests with excessive influence, truly conflicting large-scale interests, etc. We'll keep banging up against those problems and hurting ourselves as we learn. Some mistakes will do permanent damage. But we will learn - slowly, with a lot of regrets, which the next crop of young people won't really grasp unless they get interested in history. I don't think there's a faster or cheaper way.
New subject: Adam Curtis is a filmmaker and blogger who does long thoughtful posts that typically do a close reading of 20th century history to reveal some dark narrative. His latest is called The Vegetables of Truth. First he argues that the role of science changed when we realized that technology creates new dangers:
Because a new breed of scientists came forward and said that they knew how to analyse the dangers - and anticipate the risks. They wouldn't try and build dazzling new futures, instead they would keep the world safe by spotting the dangers before they arrived.
And this goal of avoiding bad things, instead of doing good things, now dominates our culture and has pushed out the older goal of political and economic equality. Curtis brings this together with a scientific study showing that people who eat more vegetables live longer - but the scientists failed to take a political stand for the most likely interpretation: people with more money live longer, and they eat more vegetables, so to increase public health and lifespan we should redistribute wealth.