Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/#9a417fe513f58988c3b5b1e84cfc57397194a79b 2020-01-16T16:00:14Z Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/ ranprieur@gmail.com January 16. http://ranprieur.com/#a0de88c908a9d9c56939deee21e6cd5d2c2ed60f 2020-01-16T16:00:14Z January 16. This week I'm mostly taking a break from writing to play lots of Starsector. Lately, as a social philosopher, I've been thinking about how to make society more like a good game. But now I'm wondering if it's more realistic to make society a substrate for games -- not a great game in itself, but a well-functioning game that's loaded with great minigames. If there were something like reincarnation, and I had to make the case for being a human at this time in history, I wouldn't talk about our earth-shaking technologies, but our music, our drugs, and our games. So since I'm here, that's what I want to enjoy.

Related: 7 Reasons Why Video Gaming Will Take Over.

And congratulations to Morgan Weaver, from my hometown soccer team, on going second overall in the NWSL draft. It's interesting because, other than being fast, she's not an elite athlete. What raised her draft stock was a growing awareness of her psychological skills: motivating her teammates, and playing better in big games. Here's a video of her 2018 hat trick against Washington.

Last week I was unfair to Neil Peart, juxtaposing some of his clunkier lyrics with two great songs. My favorite Peart lyrics are from the 1984 song Between The Wheels:

It slips between your hands like water
This living in real time
A dizzying lifetime
Reeling by on celluloid

Struck between the eyes by the big time world
Walking uneasy streets
Hiding beneath the sheets
Got to try and fill the void

January 13. http://ranprieur.com/#4ae37963e811dd5bdcf2e15590268a7bdb193da0 2020-01-13T13:30:36Z January 13. On the subreddit, an excerpt from a book by Peter Thiel on the Unabomber, arguing that people are losing faith in technological progress because we think there are no secrets left. Personally I'm a big believer in unknown unknowns -- I think we've barely scratched the surface of what we can potentially understand. I've lost faith in technological progress because it has created a world where I'm constantly asked to do stuff I don't feel like doing, and when I look at wild animals, or at anthropology literature about the nicer primitive cultures, none of them have that problem.

Related: yet another article trying to reframe willpower, with a depressing argument that we can force ourselves to do an unlimited amount of stuff we don't feel like doing, if we only believe we can. As if that would be a good way to live. But near the end is a smart idea: instead of thinking of willpower as a resource, think of the need for willpower as an emotion, telling us to "find new paths that may not require us to do things we fundamentally don't want to do."

Yesterday morning I went to my dad's house and shoveled a bunch of snow, and I actually enjoyed it. If the temperature is below freezing, so that everything is dry and not slushy, shoveling snow is a fun workout, and every shovelful feels rewarding.

This is a simplification, but we have lost faith in technological progress because all the fun jobs have been replaced by machines, and the only work left for humans is bullshit jobs -- unless you're in the top tenth of one percent, and then life is a fun game of accumulating capital, with the rest of humanity as game tokens.

From 2017, Table-top Generals is about board games, and how much better they are now than the games we grew up with. I'm thinking, human society is the same way. The world we have right now is like Monopoly, a terrible game that we're all playing because we don't know there's anything better. Out there in the space of possibilities, there's a human society like Settlers of Catan, which is not even the best game, just a popular game that was finally actually fun.

Of course, you can't swap out human societies like board games, and every attempt to "change the game" through top-down power has been a disaster. I think the key technology, to enable bottom-up game-changing, is some kind of sci-fi food fabricator, something robust and decentralized, so that we can really cut loose, knocking stuff down and trying new stuff, and still have enough to eat.

January 10. http://ranprieur.com/#7da6c5b17cb5f14589194f8d64dbebef3560e13f 2020-01-10T22:00:37Z January 10. Neil Peart has died. It's pronounced "peert" and not "pert". He was the drummer and lyricist for Rush, and when I was a teenager, I loved both his drumming and his lyrics.

I still love his drumming. I don't have any obscure Rush songs with better drumming than their famous songs, but this is my favorite Rush song that's never played on the radio: Cygnus X-1.

As for Peart's lyrics, let's just say, in Myers-Briggs, he was a total S, but at least he aspired to be an N. Here's a verse from the Rush song "Mystic Rhythms":

More things than are dreamed about
Unseen and unexplained
We suspend our disbelief
We are entertained

On the same theme, from Joanna Newsom's "En Gallop":

Palaces and storm clouds
And the rough straggly sage and the smoke
And the way it will all come together
In quietness, and in time

And from Beat Happening's "Secret Picnic Spot":

This is our secret picnic spot turned inside out and made pure
by the heavy wind and rustling leaves
From now til we greet again
Joining hands and feet
Tender teeth
Digging and scraping
Tender feast
Moonlight sway
Over all

January 8. http://ranprieur.com/#9cc336e5aef162ae933deb52a30f4d8890ff4817 2020-01-08T20:40:51Z January 8. Adam Elkus has a really smart blog. Usually when I link to something, I'll read a bunch of long-winded paragraphs, figure out the basic idea, and condense it to a couple sentences. But Elkus defies condensation. Sometimes I can't even say what his argument is, but he always gives me tangential ideas.

His latest post, Lift Up The Receiver, I'll Make You A Believer, is about artificial intelligence and human emotional needs, and it reminds me of some thoughts I've been having about authenticity, about people being real or unreal.

Leigh Ann and I have been watching the TV series His Dark Materials, based on the series of novels by Philip Pullman. It's full of sci-fi gold: a steampunk alternate universe, a divinatory gizmo, a knife that cuts between worlds. I liked the novels, but I absolutely hate the show, and it's hard to explain why. All the characters are bullshit -- only the villain, Mrs. Coulter, is slightly interesting. Everyone else is a polished-to-death cartoon of a certain type of person. Their emotional reactions are always exactly what you expect. The dialogue could not get any worse without getting better -- because then the badness would let some light in.

I don't want to pick on this particular show. Harry Potter and Star Wars are just as bad. And I don't want to pick on Hollywood -- I loved Knives Out, and I can't wait for season three of Future Man. There's still room to do interesting stuff. But in general, in entertainment and also in social media, it's like we're all under a suffocating blanket that tells us how we're supposed to behave, and the result is, on the surface, humans are less weird now than maybe we've ever been -- but underneath we're still totally weird, because reality is weird. At some point, that realness has to break out.

Possibly related: People are seeing Cats while high out of their minds.

January 6. http://ranprieur.com/#9a1386731a9a18deeefbf532ec7f23c217d439c7 2020-01-06T18:20:05Z January 6. Over on Hacker News, someone posted the 2010's prediction thread from ten years ago, and here's the new thread on that thread, mostly about "how little of current importance was even mentioned."

And some feel-good links. My favorite band released a new album at the end of 2019: Deep Maine. I love the first track, "Hail The Happy Hourlings".

The Goodreads page about the book Wilding, about a couple who let nature take over their farm: "Thanks to the introduction of free-roaming cattle, ponies, pigs and deer - proxies of the large animals that once roamed Britain - the 3,500 acre project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife numbers and diversity in little over a decade."

Energy startup achieves solar breakthrough: "For the first time, concentrated solar energy can be used to create the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, glass and other industrial processes."

Finally, just saw this on the NFL subreddit, a 27 second video with some inspiring words from Marshawn Lynch.

January 2, 2020. http://ranprieur.com/#e4375da03c2f665cbc5bde86c93e93dcaefbcc32 2020-01-02T14:40:37Z January 2, 2020. I think of the zero years as part of the previous decade, not the next decade. And it's not because of calendar math, but culture. The music of 1970 sounds more like the 60's than the 70's. The clothing and hairstyles in 1980 looked like extreme 70's and not like the 80's at all. The 90's didn't start until "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was released in fall of 1991, and didn't end until 9/11/01.

I'm hoping for a 30-year cycle, where the next decade will give us a loosening like the 60's and 90's. Because things are so tight right now. There have never been so many rules that we'll get in trouble for not following, from cultural niceness rules, to the number of different payments we have to make, to password rules so labyrinthine that I don't go anywhere without a sheet of old-fashioned paper where I've written them all down.

In general, the trend of the 2010's was that the burden of an increasingly maladapted society has been put on the shoulders of disconnected individuals. That explains the explosion in homelessness, depression, anxiety, even autism. There's a video, I don't have a link, but it mentioned a two year old who developed full-blown autism. So they took him to a treatment center, which put him in a very low stimulation environment, and the therapist gradually built up his ability to deal with more stimulation. By age 8, he was neurotypical.

People are the same as ever, but every time the human-made world drifts farther from human nature, there's another group of people who can't deal with it, and they're diagnosed with some disorder that makes it their fault. It reminds me of the "First they came..." thing from Nazi Germany. "First there were a lot of homeless people, then there were a lot of depressed people..."

But it's not like there's anything we can do about it. Our ancestors could stand up at a village meeting, and actually convince the village to do things differently. Now, even though we're still talking about human behavior, it's more like an unfolding disaster. You're not going to talk a storm or a fire into changing course.

My prediction for the coming decade is slow psychological collapse, in which more and more of the things that need to be done, to keep the system going, someone says fuck it. And they're right. My advice is, take care of your own mental health first, even if it means not doing your duties, and have compassion for other people who put their own mental health ahead of serving you.

That commercial is everywhere now: "Just okay is not okay." That's the voice of the dominant system, trying to shovel back the tide of dying motivation. In ten or twenty years, you'll be grateful to find anything that's even just okay, and if you find someone who's actually highly motivated to do something well, they'll either be doing something society considers useless, or dangerous.