Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/#9a417fe513f58988c3b5b1e84cfc57397194a79b 2018-03-21T21:50:00Z Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/ ranprieur@gmail.com March 21. http://ranprieur.com/#98eb8db50209624f7354db1ef1867dafba5d6c42 2018-03-21T21:50:00Z March 21. Sometimes I think that all disagreements come down to semantics. Or, if we somehow had perfect communication, there would be no conflict -- but then, that depends on your definition of "conflict".

Anyway, after some feedback from the last post, I realize that being "good at dancing" has a range of meanings, which could be framed as two competing definitions with no overlap: one is when the head trains the body to make a set of precise moves; the other is when the body moves on its own. Both kinds of movements become smoother and more complex with practice. I think it's obvious that some cultures are much better than others at loose and spontaneous movement, and that it has something to do with social class and authoritarian politics.

I was thinking it had something to do with intellect, where more cerebral people are also more stiff, but now I'm doubting that, because intellect can be either allied or opposed to authoritarian culture. In Nazi Germany, you had an anti-intellectual ruling party whose members were terrible dancers (definition 2), and an underground culture that was both looser and smarter.

Those people mostly got killed, but their values lived on. I believe that top-down systems, whether inside or outside the body, tend to break down from their own inflexibility, while bottom-up systems... but now I've hit a semantic wall, because what exactly is the "bottom"? The first line of the Tao Te Ching says: the Tao that can be described in language is not really the Tao.

And now I'm getting into theology. Imagine the unknowable Divine, not as an authority we obey, but as a wave we ride.

March 19. http://ranprieur.com/#13271a43f22e17d5def5eabd6bcbbfd5068a309e 2018-03-19T19:30:39Z March 19. I'll continue on music because I just got an email from Eric with two different fertile ideas. First, that "music serves as a cultural marker. Listening to a certain kind of music makes us feel like we belong somewhere."

Suddenly I understand why my musical taste is so "weird" -- I've always felt that I belong nowhere in this world, so I look for music that makes me feel like I belong in some other world that doesn't quite exist. This line from The Picture of Dorian Gray is exactly how I feel about many of my favorite songs:

...the silent spirit that dwelt in dim woodland, and walked unseen in open field, suddenly showing herself, Dryad-like and not afraid, because in his soul who sought for her there had been wakened that wonderful vision to which alone are wonderful things revealed; the mere shapes and patterns of things becoming, as it were, refined, and gaining a kind of symbolical value, as though they were themselves patterns of some other and more perfect form whose shadow they made real: how strange it all was!

Most people listen to music to feel at home with some human subculture, while I listen to music to talk to God -- typically after breathing cannabis vapors, and sometimes kneeling before two large vintage speakers.

Eric's second idea is that many genres of popular music have their roots in some kind of fringe dance music. As the sound becomes mainstream, people no longer dance to it.

This reminds me of something I often wonder: why are white people so bad at dancing? I think it's because dancing comes from the body, and European culture has been consistently heady for hundreds of years now. That's why Elvis was so popular. Just as television was emerging, he was the only white man whose movements were fluid and not stiff.

What would it take for everyone in the world to be good at dancing?

March 17. http://ranprieur.com/#c0b84236ebfe87afb5de71746ffd84bdd0f833f7 2018-03-17T17:10:17Z March 17. Linked the other day on the subreddit, an interview with indie rock star Julian Casablancas about money, music, and politics. I'm not sure where to start. Of course I agree with him that this is a dark age for popular music, but I see his music as part of that dark age. His band's biggest hit, Reptilia, has 95 million YouTube views, and sounds to me like by-the-numbers indie rock, nowhere near as creative as someone like Ezra Furman.

This is a good point:

The Oscars obviously have blind spots, but with movies it's generally the authentic artistic endeavors that get recognized. But when you look at what gets nominated for a Grammy? I don't understand what the hell it's all about.

It's also interesting to compare music with TV, which has been in a golden age for a while now. The 1970's cannot hold a candle to the last ten years of television, so we're not talking about a general cultural decline. I think there's something about the medium of music, in the context of our economy and technology, where popularity has become strongly correlated with blandness.

Casablancas sees the evil music industry excluding the best artists, but I see it the other way around: with cheap home recording and internet distribution, the best artists no longer have to fight for a place at the table of big money. They're happy to stay independent and do exactly what they want, and big money is happy to go on with beautiful people and algorithmic songwriting.

Is it better this way? With all the great TV shows out there, there still has not been a single episode that speaks to my soul the way my favorite songs do. Maybe some future technology will enable visual storytelling to be cheap enough to take the risks to reach that level.

By the way, a 2018 album has emerged as my favorite non-Big Blood album of the decade: Insecure Men. That's the album on YouTube and here's an article about it. I would tag it as space lounge music. The songs have the structure and melody of classic pop, with so much strange beauty layered on top that I guess people find it hard to wrap their ears around it. For an argument that music is getting better, compare Dire Straits' 1985 hit "So Far Away" with Insecure Men's "I Don't Wanna Dance With My Baby".

March 14. http://ranprieur.com/#7b0108e07d32ae9a39e735de0feba4a6a372d8fa 2018-03-14T14:40:40Z March 14. Taking the week off from heavy thinking, here are four links from Nautilus. The Case for Making Cities Out of Wood, specifically, wood processed in a new way that makes it as strong as steel but only one sixth the weight.

Why Is There So Much Hate for the Word "Moist"? People imagine that it's about the sound of the word, but studies show that it's completely about the meaning, which people project onto the sound. Similarly: "In one study that exposed Americans and Canadians to different British accents they were unfamiliar with, they couldn't guess with any accuracy which ones belonged to people in the upper classes and which ones to people in the lower classes." But once we know, then the sounds of the accents sound upper or lower class.

Inheritance Is Moving Beyond Genetics and Epigenetics, to weird neo-Lamarckian stuff that we can't completely explain.

This Neural Net Hallucinates Sheep. It's about how artificial intelligence works more by correlation than understanding. So given the kind of landscape that often contains sheep, an AI will identify anything white as a sheep -- yet actual sheep, colored orange, it will mistake for flowers, and it's terribly confused by goats in a tree. The practical upshot: "Want to sneak something past a neural network? In a delightfully cyberpunk twist, surrealism might be the answer. Maybe future secret agents will dress in chicken costumes, or drive cow-spotted cars."

March 12. http://ranprieur.com/#2c6a2b4d1c188b8bd857581d85659365de46e337 2018-03-12T12:20:18Z March 12. Some doom from reddit: What significant changes to the environment have you noticed throughout your life?

And some techno-optimism mixed with some doom: What BIG THING is on the verge of happening?

On the lighter side, Concert venue workers, what band/genre of music has the worst fans? Which has the best? There are a lot of nominees for worst, but everyone agrees that metal fans are the best.

March 9. http://ranprieur.com/#3e67de705c47acf7a548fd000b55a1f219255e16 2018-03-09T21:50:19Z March 9. Important new David Graeber essay, How to change the course of human history (thanks MakeTotalDestr0i). The whole thing is worth reading, but I'll try to summarize it.

Graeber wants to overturn the "conventional narrative": that primitive life was good, agriculture changed everything, and now we're stuck in big systems that can only work with hierarchy. Recent archaeology refutes this. There were complex civilizations before agriculture. Then agriculture didn't suddenly capture us -- it was one of many food options, tried and sometimes abandoned over thousands of years. Hierarchy also didn't capture us -- there were cultures where politics were seasonal, authoritarian in summer and anarchist in winter, or vice versa. Prehistory wasn't a row of falling dominoes -- it was a time of massive experimentation.

In Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, "cities with sophisticated civic infrastructures flourished for over half a millennium with no trace of royal burials or monuments, no standing armies or other means of large-scale coercion, nor any hint of direct bureaucratic control over most citizen's lives." This leads Graeber to his most radical point, made explicitly in one of the comments: "there is no correlation between scale and hierarchy."

This gives us hope for a better world. But it also leaves a void, by taking away a beautiful answer to an important question: How did the world get so fucked up? If it wasn't agriculture or cities, what was it? If our ancestors experimented and found Utopia, how did they lose it? It's suspicious that we have no written record of a non-repressive large scale society. Did the world get fucked up by writing?

Taking another angle, imagine we're in Utopia now. I mean clearly we're not -- even with all the antidepressants, depression is probably higher now than it's ever been. But imagine if someone from Gobekli Tepe traveled to the present day. What would they like most about our world?

March 7. http://ranprieur.com/#a546053904e5184659c5e369e0f2fff43bff11e3 2018-03-07T19:30:25Z March 7. Loose ends. This new subreddit thread, social bumper cars, has some good discussion of Friday's post. Gene makes an important point, that people with social disorders find each other difficult to be around. So we can't build a social utopia out of total incompetence. But I still think bumper cars are a good metaphor. If we can all develop the skill of being thick-skinned, then we don't need to develop the skill of not saying anything offensive.

Also linked from the subreddit, The Role of Luck in Life Success Is Far Greater Than We Realized. I would go even farther, because if you look deeply at things other than luck, it still comes down to luck. What is talent if not luck? Even "hard work" might come down to genetic stamina, or having people around you who are skilled motivators, or that you happen to really enjoy doing something that society happens to find valuable.

New subject: several ex-doomers are writing fiction now. James Kunstler has his World Made By Hand novels, John Michael Greer has written Lovecraftian fantasy, Tim Bennett wrote a novel about aliens, All of the Above, Paul Kingsnorth wrote an acclaimed historical novel called The Wake, and an ex-peak-oiler and reader of this blog, Gregory Jeffers, has just released his second novel.

I find fiction much more rewarding than nonfiction, and I'm only continuing this blog through force of habit. My unusual fear is that my novel will get popular too soon, and complicate my life so that I can't continue writing at the same level.

March 5. http://ranprieur.com/#ccdf5e9db35be510bb6831d7d5623a1e1872b6d3 2018-03-05T17:10:49Z March 5. I don't have a post today, but do I have some news. This summer I'll be in Europe for a month, from July 10 to August 10. Leigh Ann will be there for a class, so I'll be based with her in Bonn. During the last two weeks we'll be traveling together, and during the first week my sister might join me. If anyone wants to host me, or me and one other person, for a night or two, let me know, ranprieur at gmail. Trains are very expensive, so I'll have to stick to an efficient route. I still need to research buses and possibly hitchhiking.

March 2. http://ranprieur.com/#fd8a417c15295c79ace178d287945bb8437f04b8 2018-03-02T14:40:21Z March 2. Continuing on psychology, this new Nautilus article is about schizophrenics and how they do lot better in developing countries, supposedly because their cultures are more collectivist and value "empathy and social competence".

But the article also mentions autism, which in one model, is the opposite of schizophrenia: "Where an autistic person's sense of self is cripplingly narrow, schizophrenics' selves are cripplingly expansive."

So I'm wondering, would someone on the autism-aspergers spectrum also do better in a more traditional culture? Or worse? This smart Twitter thread (thanks Gabriel) argues that even the developed world demands too much social competence:

You don't need to be on the autism spectrum to lack social tact or find yourself disgusted with the need to demonstrate social tact everywhere. When people talk about "neurodiversity" it's not because there's giant group of oppressed Aspies. It's because Aspergerdom is a cultural symbol of what it means to be undersocialized.

I like Starcraft but my reaction time is never going to get up to the level necessary to compete with the pros. So I play casually. I'd get destroyed if I played with people of even a moderate skill level. This is how undersocialized people see the world of oversocialized people.

I've never been to a professional for a diagnosis, so I don't know if I would come out neurotypical, aspie, or schizoid. But when I imagine my ideal culture, it's like social bumper cars: everyone is having fun, because no matter how big of a mistake you make, nothing bad can happen.