Ran Prieur

"The bigger you build the bonfire, the more darkness is revealed."

- Terence McKenna

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December 14. Yesterday on the subreddit someone linked to this thread from two years ago, There's nothing I "want to do". How to translate goals and ideals into motivation?

My first comment is looking inward. The guy says "I spend countless hours meditating," but what he describes is daydreaming. Daydreaming and meditating are both good for you, and they're both done inside your head, but otherwise they're complete opposites. Daydreaming is having fun putting stuff on a blank canvas; meditating is aggressively refusing to put anything on that canvas until you notice that it's not actually blank.

My longer second comment is looking outward. For the vast majority of all humans who have ever lived, motivation was not a problem. Internal motivation only becomes an issue when systems of external motivation break down.

External motivation can run the whole range from a brutal work camp to an exciting and well-moderated group project. The 20th century was the peak of a system of external motivation that we view as generic and normal (a blank canvas) when really it's very specific and very weird.

It starts with money, which is like the whip of the work camp, and also like the emotional reward from meaningful activity, but unlike both of those it's completely quantifiable and completely lifeless.

Then you get businesses, machines made out of human labor, whose goal is to pass more and more money through themselves. (They do this by paying workers less than their labor is worth, except the executives who pay themselves more than their labor is worth.) You can also draw wages from government, but because business has invested in mass mind control, public values hold that government should pass less and less money through itself. (Supposedly this is because taxes are repressive, even though the penalty for refusing to pay taxes is much less than the penalty for refusing to buy anything.)

Anyway, all these social breakdowns are happening because the business-and-wage-labor model of external motivation has run its course, and we have nothing to take its place. One problem is that machines increasingly work better than humans. But the deeper problem is that money was never a good motivator in the first place. If you're poor, the need for money is oppressive and you're still in a work camp. And if you're not poor, money is like a game token that only feels satisfying when you're getting more and more of it, which can't go on for long.

I don't have a solution. Of course I support an unconditional basic income, but that's decades away, and it only compounds the social problem of no external structure. But I see several things that could expand into that void, and they could all happen in parallel:

1) People will get more skilled at internal motivation. 2) More bullshit jobs. 3) A Russian dieoff with lots of addiction and risk-taking. 4) Exciting political movements that make the world worse, with the worst case a nuclear war, and the second worse case a bunch of dictators and revolutions that make more places like Haiti. 5) Exciting political movements that have symbolic value without ruining the world. 6) More and better computer-generated artificial worlds.

I'm most interested in 1 and 6.

December 12. Back to politics, Anne comments:

I think the two aspects of the Trump election nobody can quite manage to grasp are how pedestrian he is, and how strange the election was. The actual process of choosing a nominee, and then a president, was like watching Kaiju wrestle Mecha right over your head, with falling chunks of masonry and broken water mains and everything, and then now that it's over we just have another politician picking marginally competent partisan hacks and looking exactly like every other Republican president elect in my lifetime. I'm not sure I want to see more of the mecha battle, honestly, but it does feel like a bit of a let-down to imagine that we're just going to endure another eight years of squabbling over abortion restrictions and selling off drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico, with no need to smuggle sacks of forged passports to the immigrants hiding in the corn shed.

This fits with my latest theory of how the world is changing: like everything else, social conflicts are getting flashy but shallow. A common criticism of the "alt-right" is that the label is a lie and they're just old-fashioned white supremacists. But old-fashioned white supremacists actually wanted to own slaves and commit genocide. The new right just wants to be casually racist without any social penalty. The old right wanted to lynch black people; the new right wants to wear a KKK outfit for Halloween.

Years ago, when I first started thinking about collapse, it was all about collapse of the practical infrastructure: power will go out, food will stop coming into the city, government offices will shut down, and so on -- but the culture will stay basically the same. Now I'm thinking it could be exactly the opposite.

I call it the Zoo Animal Apocalypse: that we will pass through catastrophic cultural upheaval, but without any serious breakdown in the systems that keep us fed and sheltered.

December 9. Bunch o' links. First, on a tangent from Wednesday, a minor example of how much room there is for the world to get better: German Cities Are Solving The Age-Old Public Toilet Problem by simply paying businesses to allow public access to their toilets.

And some awesome potential technology, Night-vision glasses with nanocrystals that allow direct vision into the infrared.

Not exactly making the world better, but here's a fun science post, What This Here Compound Needs Is Some Hydrogen Peroxide, about chemists pushing the limits of making stuff volatile and explosive.

From the subreddit, a study has confirmed something that anyone could guess: Self-Control Is Empathy With Your Future Self.

A great article about Thoreau, Thoreau Was Actually Funny as Hell.

And some music. Almost all of my favorite songs are either old or obscure or both. This is a rare example of a recent popular song that I love: Benjamin Clementine - Cornerstone.

December 7. Two nuggets of wisdom from the world of sports. UFC fighter Miesha Tate (now retired) was talking about why Ronda Rousey might be a weaker fighter now that she's suffered a loss. Tate said she used to go skiing as a kid, and she was completely wild and reckless until she had her first serious crash. Once she understood how dangerous it was, she could never ski the same way again. (That would not happen to Conor McGregor.)

This year I've been feeling that way about life, and it's not just because of the scooter crash. It's mainly because I've been looking back over my life under the influence of cannabis, which raises my social intelligence to nearly average, and seeing all the mistakes I've made. It's like I've been dancing around high-rise construction girders and now I'm finally looking down.

Of course the penalty is not as bad. Instead of falling to my death, I'm just creating hostility that I'm not aware of until it bursts out from some mean person or idiot -- that is, someone who's even more incompetent than me, so I can still believe I haven't made any mistakes.

This is a cultural problem. Our normal response to flawed social behavior is to brush it off until it reaches a certain threshold and then to lash out at the perpetrator, often in moral terms, which is foolish -- the word "sin" comes from an ancient word that means "missing the mark". Almost nobody has the skill and patience to gently explain other people's mistakes to them. This is basically what "political correctness" is trying to do, but the people who enforce it are bad at it, because it's really hard and we're almost all bad at it.

My point is, there's a lot of room for this world to get better. Sometimes I think, if you ranked all realistic possible worlds on a percentile scale, with 100 being the most beautiful and enjoyable and harmonious, 2016 America is around the fifth percentile, a lot closer to North Korea than to much better worlds that we can't even imagine.

For the second nugget, you might have caught this on the latest Sunday Night Football, when Cris Collinsworth talked about asking Michael Bennett, one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, which offensive linemen were easier to beat. Bennett's answer was something like, "If you go looking for ducks, you'll never find them. You have to assume they're all ducks."

That's some serious Lao Tzu shit right there, and you can apply it in all sorts of contexts. If you go looking for a time when it's easy to be happy, you'll never find it. You have to assume the time is now.

December 5. A few tangents from last week's big post. In this subreddit thread I was asked to say more about the "dangerous uprising in human psychology," and one comment says it better, with historical examples of "transition from democracy to authoritarianism based on a groundswell of popular support."

The next comment says that "Trump's presidency is shaping up to be just another mediocre republican kleptocracy," and I tend to agree, but it reminds me of the Far Side cartoon where a guy is puzzling over a piano stool that has just crashed harmlessly on the pavement, not noticing that he's about to be crushed by the piano. My point is, if there is a global popular trend toward authoritarian politics, Trump may not be the apex of that trend, or even a trigger, just a mild early warning.

Elsewhere in the same thread is a discussion of how different styles of raising kids can lead to different political systems decades later. This is a huge and complex subject, and I don't know if the extreme adult management of kids' activities over the last 20 years is going to lead to a more suffocating society, or a rebellion against that. Also I don't know how much that trend is limited to America, which brings me to this comment by a reader who felt the same as me, and tried some of the same things with the same failures...

That all changed though when I moved from the U.S. to Europe. I moved to Germany a few years ago with modest savings, learned the language, started studying philosophy (which is what I currently do, and it doesn't cost me a thing), and got a job teaching English (which is basically off the charts bearable compared to all other jobs I've had).

None of this required any serious form of luck. ANYONE could do this. What stops Americans from doing this, in my experience, is that they don't really think it's real, or they believe whatever crazy ideas about Europe they've picked up from American inculturation. I suppose it would also be hard for any sci-fi dystopian hero to believe that all they have to do to escape is catch a plane.

Before moving here and spending some time, the modern condition seemed completely insane. But what I discovered is that what I was experiencing wasn't actually "the modern condition". Instead, what I found completely insane was American culture -- something I still take to be completely insane. When I go back now though, I see it from outside. It's sort of just like some crazy theme park.

December 1. I wanted to post this yesterday but it wasn't quite ready. Moving from the political back to the personal, I should start by saying that I don't know the fine distinctions between "neoreactionary", "dark enlightenment", and "alt-right", and I don't much care. I see those as different flavors of the same dangerous uprising in human psychology, which is influenced by older people with more power, but its core of energy is in young males who have probably spent a lot of time on 4chan.

So thanks Wes for tracking down this deleted blog post where one of these guys shows rare introspection. I normally wouldn't post something that the author deleted, but this is a valuable window into the personal psychology of cultural collapse.

I realized that I wasn't able to ground myself in either the world I grew up in or the world I was to be a part of. I lost the ability to want to 'help people', to 'be successful', or to 'have meaningful experiences'. I began to view all concepts, beliefs, values, ideas, words, feelings, emotions, thoughts, actions, relationships, as equally arbitrary.
Formerly warm, trusting, empathetic, and affectionate relationships suddenly felt cold, artificial, cynical, and pathetic. Socializing in groups of close friends used to give me a narcotic/anxiolytic high not unlike benzodiazepines + a small amount of cocaine, but now the experience felt somehow menacing, inauspicious, and draining.

Welcome to my world. I mean, there's stuff in the full post I don't relate to, but all those things he has lost, I barely had in the first place. My first day of kindergarten felt "menacing, inauspicious, and draining," as did the rest of my time in schools, jobs, even most parties.

I've never felt grounded in any aspect of modern society. Belonging is not something I've lost, but something I've never experienced -- except that some music makes me feel like I belong in a luminous world outside the walls of this one. Like a sci-fi dimension shifter stuck in a Kafka hellworld, I try to remain cheerful and keep trying different stuff, but I'm not sure if there's something I'm supposed to be doing here or if it's just a big accident.

Teachers always got frustrated that I was smart but not interested in anything they were teaching. In college the few papers I actually enjoyed writing were punished by my lowest grades. I traveled around America by car, train, bus, and hitchhiking, but didn't find any place that felt any better. I visited multiple back-to-the-land communities, I tried homesteading, I thought total technological collapse would be a good thing, and now I think those are all false escapes.

So I understand why young people are drawn to forbidden politics and chaos. But why the right wing? To me, the right is all about flags and uniforms, which I find repulsive. These people think they're Nietzschean heroes, but in a movie they'd all be the buddy character -- they haven't given up enough on belonging. The recent left thinks individualism has gone too far, but I think it hasn't gone far enough. It's like when something dies, it breaks down into toxic molecules before it breaks down into soil and air and water.

My latest utopian vision, which is probably still inadequate, is to use automation and a guaranteed basic income to gradually universalize dropout culture. One percent, then ten percent, and finally nearly one hundred percent of humans will just putter around all day following their peculiar obsessions, as long as they don't interfere with others doing the same, and eventually these atomized individuals will reconnect into a new living polyculture.

November 30. Going early this week into fun stuff, I just made a post on a reddit music thread, listing some psych/stoner/krautrock/space jams. I think OP was looking for tight focus on consensus-defined genres, and I gave him the loose edges of my own hybrid genre. Without the full list for context, it would be hard to hear what some of the tracks have in common.

I've been obsessed lately with making playlists. The above is not a playlist because the songs don't flow into each other or form a narrative, which takes a lot of really enjoyable work. Right now I'm trying to integrate my favorite band with my latest discovery, Lora Logic. It's funny, when you first hear an album in an unfamiliar style, it all sounds the same, but over more listens it resolves itself into the lame songs and the great songs, and right now I think Lora Logic's best song is Martian Man, which fits well with Big Blood's Destin Rain.

I'm always looking for great songs by classic rock artists that are never played on the radio, and readers have sent me a bunch, but the other day I heard Leigh Ann playing this in the other room and was like "What IS that?" If you're older than me you probably already know it, but it's new to me: Alice Cooper - Hello Hooray. In the same category: The Doors - My Wild Love and Blue Oyster Cult - Astronomy.

New subject, funny subreddit: Scottish People Twitter.

November 28. With all this buzz about the alt-right, last week on the subreddit there was a piece trying to define an "alt-left", but this comment goes through it point by point and explains why it's more right than left. If I defined an alt-left, it would explicitly take no position on race, or on racially charged subjects like immigration.

You could say that's easy for me to say as a white guy, but in my experience, nobody is more obsessed with race than self-identified whites. I don't even identify as white. I mean, I check the "white" box on bureaucratic forms, but if I listed a hundred things that define who I am, "likes rhythms that emphasize the one-beat" would be in the top twenty and white wouldn't even make the list.

The core of my alt-left definition would be economics. Libertarians want a "level playing field" but I want a playing field slanted so hard that trying to turn a lot of money into more money would be like climbing a mountain, and being content with just enough money for basic dignity and comfort would be like coasting downhill on a bicycle.

Related: a new essay from Aeon magazine, What if jobs are not the solution but the problem?

November 23. Over on my misc page I have a few Thanksgiving recipes, and I've just developed a recipe for unsweetened fresh cranberry sauce. You need a food processor or a powerful blender, and then it's a pound of berries, two apples peeled and chopped, and a cup of tart cherry juice. For the big meal I plan to wait until Friday morning and try to find a $50 turkey marked down to $10.

Of the three books I mentioned a week ago, the one that keeps pulling me back is suprisingly the most difficult: Ellen Chen's translation and dense commentary on the Tao Te Ching. Chapter 52.3 has a line that perfectly applies to recreational drugs: "Use the bright light but return to the dim light."

November 21. Posting will probably be light this week. Thanks Gabriel for this link, The Court of Values and the Bureau of Boringness. A lot of people have noticed a problem with democracy: that ordinary voters focus on what the candidates symbolically represent, and don't know or care about how the government works. The author's solution is to divide government into two branches, one where boring nerds set actual policy, and one where "outrageous charismatic buffoons" argue about values.

November 18. More fun stuff for the weekend. In this absurd man-on-the-street interview, a guy says that Trump will raise Atlantis by completing the system of German idealism. I found the video on the Sorcery of the Spectacle subreddit, which... I don't even know what it's about.

On the self-improvement front: Do you ever catch yourself doing something that's supposed to be purely for fun, but you're not having fun anymore, just continuing to do it out of habit? I'm working on noticing that more often and more quickly, and this completely painless practice has raised my happiness baseline.

I also noticed something about meditation. I've seen it described as watching a stormy sea, and trying to still the waves so you can see to the bottom. But the waves are not in the "sea" -- the waves are in the watcher. Now I finally understand the value of observing the breath. I remember a metaphor about a guy who tames a demon by giving it a curly hair and telling it to make the hair straight, so the demon just runs its fingers over the hair again and again and can't do anything else. When you can focus your attention finely enough, observing the breath is exactly like that, because you're no longer observing a whole breath but running your attention carefully along it.

By the way, I never budget time for meditation -- I just budget plenty of time for sleeping, and whenever I can't sleep, I repeatedly still my thoughts and follow my breath. Either I succeed in putting in meditation practice, or I succeed in sleeping.

And more music. Lora Logic was a minor figure in the British post-punk scene in the late 70's and early 80's. Personally I find her jumpy rhythms almost unbearable, but her music is raw, complex, and inspired, and it needs a bigger audience. If you only listen to one song, try Brute Fury.

November 16. I'm tired of politics. We've all chosen our positions for emotional reasons we're not even half aware of, and then we argue over tacked-on rationalizations. The smartest people are the stupidest, because their rationalizations are the most inpenetrable, so nothing can break through to the level where the real action is.

I haven't read many books lately, but now I'm trying to start again with three books, all of which I've read or started reading before: The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings by John Keel, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evans-Wentz, and Ellen Chen's Tao Te Ching.

Moving on to fun stuff... how cool is it that the Oakland Raiders are good again? Their quarterback, Derek Carr, had an older brother who flopped in the NFL because he couldn't perform under pressure. Watching this unfold on TV was so painful for Derek that he was motivated to become one of the best quarterbacks at making throws under pressure. Last week the Raiders dominated the defending champions, and one of their linemen made this awesome quote: "We ran the same running play ten times in a row. We kept wearing them down with double teams. They knew it was coming. It didn't matter. That's when you take somebody's will."

Last week I linked to my favorite songs page, but I want to call out one song that I'm especially into lately, from 2002, Broken Social Scene - Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl. It's like the twee Stairway to Heaven.

November 14. Over on the subreddit there's an interesting discussion of why I have so many alt-right readers. Sometimes they annoy me and I want them to go away, but where there's annoyance, there's always an opportunity for learning.

Anyway I have more to say about the election. If you watch UFC, you know that everyone talks trash before the fight, and during the fight they hit each other, and then after the fight they embrace. Donald Trump understands better than I do that politics works the same way. For the general election I thought he would reinvent himself as a lovable moderate, and instead he doubled down on being dark and divisive -- and it worked! Then, the moment he was declared the winner, he suddenly pivoted to making peace and bringing America together. So I'm wondering, how much of Evil Trump was a performance? What's under that scary clown mask?

I barely considered the possibility that Trump would turn out to be basically the same as every other president. I said he'd be a great ceremonial president, but I might have underestimated how much the presidency is already ceremonial. When the whole Bush family endorsed Hillary, I was sure the oligarchy feared Trump. Now I think we all fell for a deep con.

Imagine you're the secret ruler of an America that's been hollowed out. All the power is in the cities now, and the peasants want a revolution. But there's nothing you can do for them. The manufacturing jobs are lost forever to automation, the immigrants will keep coming in, old-time white culture is dying -- but you still need those people to work at Walmart and maintain the infrastructure, and they have a lot of guns.

So you let them have their messiah, a big city billionaire who talks the language of the rural working class, and he pulls a shocking upset. Urban liberals are genuinely horrified -- they don't even know they're part of the show. A guy waves a confederate flag over a sign saying "Accept it, you lost," and he doesn't even see the irony. And Trump does his best. He gets eight years, because the charismatic ones always do, and he gets a few symbolic victories. But on a deeper level the world continues on its inscrutable path, and Trump serves to pacify the right just as Obama pacified the left.

I don't really believe in sinister rulers who consciously planned exactly whatever happens, and that we make a better world by overthrowing them. My actual belief is much weirder. Did you ever get in a totally baffling conflict, and years later you looked back and discovered a subconscious level on which it all made sense? So there's an example of one single link where the subconscious mind is in control and the conscious mind is just along for the ride. What if these links can form networks? What if they form a global subconscious civilization that is secretly running everything? Never mind the Reptilians -- the enemy is within.

I don't do an RSS feed, but Patrick has written a script that creates a feed based on the way I format my entries. It's at http://ranprieur.com/feed.php. You might also try Page2RSS.

Posts will stay on this page about a month, and then mostly drop off the edge. A reader has set up an independent archive that saves the page every day or so, and I save my own favorite bits in these archives:

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