April 18. Bonus weekend post. Thanks Jason of Anodyne Coffee for donating two pounds of roasted beans to Leigh Ann. I don't make coffee myself, and could happily live without it, but if some is around I'll take a sip. (Actually I feel that way about a lot of things.) Some humor from the New Yorker, Ayn Rand Reviews Children's Movies. (I knew Willy Wonka was evil.) And a fun image gallery, After You Die. My favorite scenario would be a hybrid of purgatory, reincarnation, and simulation: given sufficiently powerful consciousness-managing technology, an obvious way to make a utopian society would be to put everyone through simulations until they become a good enough person to live in the real world.
April 17. Two links from readers. First, Matthew Crawford on distraction. It's about how technologies designed to capture our attention are getting more powerful and they're in more places. Crawford's solution is for people to engage physical reality, for example by playing sports or making a car, which is more satisfying than techno-distraction and tends to block it out. Another interesting point is that money can buy shelter from distraction, like special airport lounges, and this creates a feedback loop where powerful people have the silence to think their way to more power, while powerless people are too distracted to resist. I don't think the article has enough faith in humanity. Today's young people would be immune to advertisements from the 1950's, which means we're getting smarter. I think human adaptability is bottomless, while the techno-distraction industry is now running to stand still, with ever more powerful brain candy reaching for the last crumbs of our numb and cynical attention. This might even be bad for rich people, if they're so insulated from distraction that they don't develop enough resistance to survive on their own. The article also has a fascinating paragraph about music in gyms. There used to be one boom box with music decided by one person or by consensus. Now they play "awful generic gym crap" and everyone is just listening to their own music on earbuds. This is part of a larger trend of technology enabling cultural divergence. I think this process is still in its infancy, and I'm curious where it's going to take us. Another example of cultural divergence, Unequal, Yet Happy. The observation is, while wealth inequality is enormous and growing, happiness inequality has been steadily shrinking. And the theory is, this is because status is becoming less vertical and more horizontal. Instead of everyone envying the rich, everyone thinks their own subculture and lifestyle is best. The author thinks this is bad because it makes us stop caring about wealth inequality. I think this is a case of an intellectual getting fixated on an ideology and forgetting the original point, which always comes down to people feeling good. But don't worry: when climate change trashes global agriculture and only the rich have food, wealth inequality will be a popular issue again.
March 11. Sarah Perry has a new post on Ribbonfarm, . It's so dense with ideas that it's taken me a week just to wrap my head around it. These are the main points:
Related: Steven Strogatz on the dangers of
April 15. A few more thoughts on yesterday's subject. I've seen discussions of whether writers "walk their talk". I hope that nobody, writer or reader, would allow something as important as actions to be determined by something as sketchy as words. My goal has always been to talk my walk: to accurately use words to explore and explain my actions and motivations.
This is harder than it sounds. Being accurate and writing well are two different skills, and there's a constant temptation to slant the story toward words that sound good, or phrases that readers are familiar with. I know I've done this and I regret it. And even if you're scrupulously honest, you can still be misunderstood if you get too close to any popular myth, which can distort perception and make people think you have values that you never said you had.
I don't know where the myth of social asceticism even comes from. Medieval monks? Diogenes was not avoiding guilt but avoiding constraint. Did Thoreau ever write anything that contradicted his practice of going into town every weekend for a family dinner?
I feel like I was a novice wizard who accidentally summoned demons. If I write differently and people just stop reading, that's cool; but if someone lashes out at me, that means I was feeding something that should not have been fed.
April 14. Just a heads up that there's a new subreddit thread about the differences between my old writing and my new writing. I made a couple comments there, including that my old writing was about making people feel strong emotions, and my newer writing is about seeking understanding. Or you could say I've shifted from being a warrior to being a scout.
I also want to say, I was in a dark place for a few decades. As recently as ten years ago more of my energy went into what I was against than what I was for. At times I got so deep that I made the number one counterculture error: morally condemning people for participation in an imperfect system. Now I think that's a mistake on every level, but when someone condemns me, I don't mind -- it's karma.
April 13. Can civilisation reboot without fossil fuels? This is an important question, and I'd like to see more than just this one guy trying to answer it. His answer is that the most realistic source of energy would be charcoal and wood gas, but that wood power would be heavily constrained by competition with agriculture.
I think the most likely scenario is that solar power is able to adapt and survive through the coming resource bottleneck, and eventually it will grow to surpass the energy we're now getting from fossil fuels. Then, if the most powerful nations have stable zero growth economies, we've got utopia, but I don't expect humanity to learn that fast. Probably there will be solar empires, still addicted to growth and all fighting each other, and we'll eventually hit peak solar, in which it takes more and more effort to harvest the last few photons. Then we'll either finally figure out how to live without growth, or we'll get another crash.
Loosely related: a short video posted to the subreddit about Max Weber and the Protestant Ethic, arguing that religion used to be about staying out of the economic rat race, but that all changed when Calvinism tied salvation to material success.
April 10. Another slow week, or maybe my attention is just going to stuff that wouldn't be good to blog about. Here's something fun for the weekend: GeoGuessr is a browser game that shows you a random Google street view and you try to guess where it is on a map.
. Most psychological skills get easier as I get older, but motivation remains as hard as ever. This guy argues that, instead of trying or waiting to feel motivated, it's better to just devote blocks of time where you force yourself to do stuff you don't feel like doing, and this is easier if you start each session with mental planning.
This is definitely the right way to do your taxes, but if we're talking about creative work, I think it should be considered in balance with the opposite position: that if your vision isn't lighting a fire under your ass, you need to reach deeper inside yourself until you find one that does.
April 8. Unrelated stuff. The Failed Promise of Deep Links is a smart article about how the internet could be used for exciting new ways of communicating, but in practice it keeps sliding into behavior that is boring, annoying, and profitable. I knew the old definition of "deep links" but I didn't know there's a completely new definition and the old definition is being forgotten.13 Reasons Rain Dove Is The Androgynous Model Of Your Dreams. This is a surprisingly good article about a female model who looks like a man. The last paragraph:
"I want to be boring. I would like people like me, in the future, to not be shocking. I want to be good at what I do, but I just want people to look and think, OK. When a man wears a dress it shouldn't be shocking; you shouldn't look twice unless you're thinking, Nice dress!"
Consistency and discipline over motivation. Most psychological skills get easier as I get older, but motivation remains as hard as ever. This guy argues that, instead of trying or waiting to feel motivated, it's better to just devote blocks of time where you force yourself to do stuff you don't feel like doing, and this is easier if you start each session with mental planning. This is definitely the right way to think about doing your taxes, but if we're talking about creative work, I think it should be considered in balance with the opposite position: that if your vision isn't lighting a fire under your ass, you need to reach deeper inside yourself until you find one that does.
April 6. Some technology links. Drone startup wants to plant one billion trees a year. The survival rate will probably be worse than hand-planting, but it should get better, and it's already cheaper than hand-planting on a large scale. Imagine if a trickster did this with drug-bearing plants, or a controversial opportunist plant like kudzu or autumn olive. Another drone story from last fall: Flag-carrying drone sparks violence at soccer match. Whoever planned this, it must have been like scoring on an unguarded goal. The sequence of events is so predictable that it makes me amused at humanity. Another link from 2014, Violent video games don't make you aggressive - difficult games do. And if a difficult game can make us aggressive, how much more aggressive do we get when life itself is too difficult?The End of Farming is about lab-grown animal products. Lab-grown meat is still much worse than farmed meat in both taste and efficiency, but milk is getting close. I'm also thinking, even if lab-grown food can surpass farmed food, it still needs a tech infrastructure. Old-fashioned animal grazing is more robust and will survive in areas that are technologically unstable or off-grid.October 2014 - February 2015March 2015 - ?