Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/#9a417fe513f58988c3b5b1e84cfc57397194a79b 2018-09-07T19:30:00Z Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/ ranprieur@gmail.com September 7. http://ranprieur.com/#94e6759ce50102f2c1f210de4270188a19d931b7 2018-09-07T19:30:00Z September 7. I was going to write more about bridge collapse as a metaphor for social collapse, but then my metaphor collapsed -- because when a human snaps, the people around them tend to make up for it by getting stronger, and bridge cables don't do that. A social organism has to be in pretty bad shape, before one person's mental breakdown can take down the whole thing.

The other day I caught up on months of posts by smart blogger Siderea, and these are my two favorites. You Should Probably Know about Vienna is about how Vienna keeps rents low without rent control. I'm not going to summarize it because that post is already a summary of a longer article.

The New Behaviorism makes two points. 1) When psychologists talk about "learning" they're usually talking about eeeeevil behaviorism. 2) Behaviorism doesn't work very well.

This comes back to one of my favorite subjects: the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In a perfect society, motivation is 100% intrinsic, and that's actually been done by some hunter-gatherer tribes -- the test is whether a culture lacks the concept of "freeloading". As we drift farther from that ideal, into a system that depends on tasks that not enough people find enjoyable for their own sake, we need to use reward and punishment as clunky patches for a broken system. If we go too far down that road, supposed experts in human psychology might not even think about actions being driven by anything other than reward and punishment.

September 6. http://ranprieur.com/#6d15e134ed3906078821a610b4c18207e8c9f736 2018-09-06T18:20:21Z September 6. Catching up on links, the NY Times has a really good article on the Genoa bridge collapse. Basically, the bridge was designed with no redundancy, so the failure of one cable would bring the whole thing down, and then the cables were encased in concrete, which was supposed to make them resistant to corrosion, but instead it hid corrosion. Then they were sloppy with maintenance and testing. I wonder if the same kind of thing happens with social collapse, especially the part about corrosion being hidden.

More doom from this Flickr vid, Temperature Anomalies by Country 1880-2017.

Subtler doom from this reddit thread, What are some cliche things that people do in real life only because they've seen it done before in movies? For example, accidentally killing a guy by breaking a bottle over his head. The bigger issue is that our whole culture seems to be drifting from understanding how things really work, to making dumb mistakes because they seem cool. That has to be a normal way that people and systems are weakened by having too much power.

Deeper in that thread is a discussion of what autistic people are really like, including this comment explaining that the only way they become savants, is if they become totally obsessed with something at an early age. That makes sense. Nobody gets a skill by magic -- you have to put in the time. I don't want to say put in the "work" because if you're obsessed, it doesn't feel like work, which is why obsession is so powerful.

I imagine, when a society is young and strong, it emerges bottom-up from whatever people are obsessed with; and when a society is old and dying, like ours, there's almost no overlap between what people are obsessed with, and what they need to do to keep the whole thing going. A symptom of a dying society is a glorification of "hard work" that you do for virtue or status and not because you enjoy it.

A long article from the Guardian, How to be human: the man who was raised by wolves. It's mostly about how much he enjoyed living in the wild, and how difficult and painful it is to live among humans. There's much more about feral kids in this mirror I made of a Fortean Times article long gone from the internet, Wild Things.

September 4. http://ranprieur.com/#6b3371324abfae1bd7d9ad9015262e1baf3bcb3f 2018-09-04T16:00:02Z September 4. From earlier this year, a smart blog post, notes on cheese. It's about cheese in the sense of art being bad because it's "cheesy". The basic idea is that you have to risk looking stupid to make good art, or even to be an interesting person.

Cheese isn't the same as deliberate camp or winking meta-textuality, because those things are ironic. They don't opt out of dignity; they opt out of trying. They might be trying at something, but not, the vast majority of the time, what they're winking at. Cheese isn't cheese unless it's sincere.

The final sentence mentions cheese as an attribute of whole cultures, which reminds me of an anecdote from the early 1940's. A Japanese guy was convinced that his country had such a vigorous culture that they couldn't lose a war with America. But then he saw some Hollywood musical, with forty chorus girls garishly dressed and lifting their legs in perfect unison, and he realized, a culture that could try something that ridiculous, and pull it off, was going to win the war.

I'm not sure if my own fiction counts as "cheesy". I think of it as elevated trash. At its heart it's cartoonish rather than literary, but I try to make every detail brighter than the sun. I actually admire the kitschy painter Thomas Kinkade. Even though his art lacks both darkness and weirdness, it takes both courage and skill to pack beauty so densely.