"Das Chaos sei willkommen, denn die Ordnung hat versagt."
- Karl Kraus
June 26. Three links from readers. In the last week two different people have told me about Peter Turchin and his theories about cycles of history. I think it's easy to make a model that predicts that past, and almost impossible to make one that predicts the future. But it's interesting (and unsurprising) that Turchin has found and charted a strong inverse correlation between elite overproduction and popular well-being.
Inside the Social Media Cult That Convinces Young People to Give Up Everything. Reading this, it occurs to me that the actual beliefs of the cult are arbitrary. When you strip it down, a cult is an engine that takes people with unmet needs for meaning and belonging, and chews them up to generate power for the cult leaders. In between those two things, it's just whatever works.
And an interview about the Madness of Knowledge, a book that investigates how we feel about what we think. I would say it like this: First you have a thought, or find a thought. Then you have an emotional reaction, either feeling good about the thought or feeling bad about it. Then you have another thought, which says, "No emotions here! Only pure, clean thoughts, which I will now use to explain why the first thought is correct or incorrect" -- whichever one you felt it should be.
To not be a slave of this process, you need a particular skill: observing your feelings about your thoughts. This skill is a kind of intelligence. How much saner would the world be, if we taught it and tested for it?
June 24. Back to Coronavirus, I saw a guy on CNN who said two interesting things. First, even when young people get it and recover, they have long-term lung damage, which appears on a CT scan as "ground glass opacity." So I'm thinking the virus could have a subtle death toll that's higher than the obvious one, if the average infected person has years taken off the end of their life.
Second, he grew up before ordinary people could get antibiotics, and before the polio vaccine, and he talked about how much more careful people were, back then, about avoiding infection.
You've probably seen this chart of Coronavirus cases in EU vs US. What's wrong with America? My guess is, as the most powerful nation in the world, America became a breeding ground for a mental state where people think the rules don't apply to them and they can never lose.
It reminds me of a bit in this New Yorker piece on Frank Ramsey, a super-smart mathematician and philosopher who died at 26. And "he wrote, in his last year, that there are many kinds of sentences that we think state facts about the world but that are really just expressions of our attitudes."
More Coronavirus links, mostly from Reddit. Survivors of COVID, what changes have you noticed to your health since you've recovered?
A long comment on Coronavirus phases and treatments.
A good thread, Who liked the world better when it was closed?
And linked from Weird Collapse last week, COVID-19 Broke the Economy. What If We Don't Fix It?
June 23. Continuing on the thorny subject of race, Matt comments:
Oddly, as language has been more and more policed for racism, the most problematic terms are allowed to persist. There's no term more problematic than "white". It's not literally descriptive. It's ethnically vague. It has deep associations with rightness and purity. And yet no one on the left, which I'm aware of, has seriously suggested doing away with it.
I can name one person who has, Noel Ignatiev. I think he was way ahead of his time, and the abolition of the social construct of whiteness is eventually going to happen. It's hard to imagine how to get there from here, when the right needs whiteness as a hero and the left needs whiteness as a villain. But one big step, which might happen in this century, is for all forms that ask for race to have a "null" option. And then more and more people, of all ancestries, could opt out of identifying as any race at all.
June 22. It occurs to me, this left wing political correctness regime is like how conquering peoples prevent conquered peoples from speaking their native language. This time, we're not being allowed to use language with any hint of racism, and the idea is, by killing the language, you kill the culture.
If a language conjures up something unreal, then killing the language kills that thing; but if a language reflects something real, then killing the language only hides that thing. For example, almost all nature-based languages have been lost, along with countless words for ecological concepts, but we're rediscovering those concepts and making words for them. Even the word "ecology" was not invented until the late 1800's.
Is racism real or unreal? I see racism as a subset of tribalism, which I define as identification with a group, where the group identity is based on conflict with other groups. Tribalism is a deep part of human nature, and it will probably never go away.
The thing about racism that's unreal is race. Geneticists say race is an illusion -- they haven't found any genetic markers that can define it. And the way we think about race was only invented a few hundred years ago. Here's a good article about it, The Enlightenment's Dark Side:
Race as we understand it - a biological taxonomy that turns physical difference into relations of domination - is a product of the Enlightenment. Racism as we understand it now, as a socio-political order based on the permanent hierarchy of particular groups, developed as an attempt to resolve the fundamental contradiction between professing liberty and upholding slavery.
Black Lives Matter is a good idea right now, but in the long term, it is both good and possible to not even have the concept of black lives or white lives, only human lives.
June 21. Quick note: in 2013, I posted about that year's edge.org question, What should we be worried about? That link is the official page. And this is an archive.org capture of that page, What should be worried about?
Scroll down about a third, and right between Naughton and Scheiner, the archive has an answer by mathematician Steven Strogatz, which is missing from the newest version, even though the count at the top still says there are 155 responses. I don't know why they think they removed it, probably some bullshit legal reason, but as an optimistic paranoid, I notice that the effect of the removal, from a page that nobody is looking at anyway, is that I'm giving it special attention, and I've reposted it here: Too Much Coupling.
The basic idea is, if a complex system has too many ways for the different parts to influence each other, the whole thing can break down in the same way that too much brain coupling causes an epileptic seizure.
June 19. Today, some topical politics. Don't you hate it when you open a bag of apples, and one of them is bad, and when you go to throw it out, half of the other apples call in sick in protest? That's what Atlanta cops did, after one of them was charged with murder for shooting a fleeing suspect twice in the back.
What if a black guy shot a fleeing white cop twice in the back, and when he was charged with murder, half the black people in Atlanta called in sick in protest?
There are two things going on here. One is that law enforcement culture has a sense of entitlement, in the right to use deadly force. The other is that white culture has a sense of entitlement, in having a higher social position than other races. Obviously, not all cops or all white people. But enough of them that it's going to take a lot of work to unravel it.
How weird is it that taking precautions against a pandemic has been politicized? Never in the history of right vs left, or liberal vs conservative, has this happened, and it's largely the work of one man.
Imagine you have total mind-control over Donald Trump, under the condition that he still has to seem to be himself, and imagine your goal is to kill as many of his followers as you possibly can. Could you do any better than he's already doing? Personally, I couldn't even do as well. The other day he said, "Some Americans are wearing masks because they don't like me." The message is, if you like me, you won't wear a mask at my campaign rally.
Now, I don't think killing his followers is Trump's conscious goal -- I think it's his subconscious goal, and I'm wondering who his subconscious is working for.
June 17. Some stray technology links, starting with a smart one about AI: Human-Level Intelligence or Animal-Like Abilities? What I would say, which is not quite what the author is saying, is that everyone wants computers that are smart like we are, but the actual progress in AI is being made in systems that do not understand concepts in the way that humans do, but that work anyway. "Cats have navigation abilities that are far superior to any of those in existing automatous-navigation systems, including self-driving cars."
A couple weeks ago, on the same day as the Space-X launch, this also happened, and it might end up being more important: Electric-powered Cessna makes maiden flight, "the largest all-electric passenger or cargo aircraft ever to fly."
A weird idea that's obvious in hindsight: Stanford lab envisions delivery drones that save energy by taking the bus.
And after a retrofit, the Golden Gate Bridge makes trippy music when the wind blows.
June 15. I meant to post this more than a week ago, but other stuff got in the way: Weirdos during the depression is a short blog post about two characters in classic novels, one who pretends to be a miserable drunk so people won't bother him about his mixed-race marriage, and one who pretends to have a gruesome facial scar so people won't bother him about his beard.
Here's the Hacker News thread and the subreddit thread, where I said this: "If you break rules that other people are following, you have to pretend to be unhappy, or they'll get really mad, because they don't want to face the grief that they could have been breaking the rules themselves all this time."
Again digging into the archives, the rest of this post is from July of 2008:
One of my favorite bits in the Bible is the parable of the jealous workers: Some workers show up at a farm in the morning, and agree to work all day for a certain wage. Then some other workers show up in the afternoon, and they get the same amount of money for only working half a day. And the morning workers say, "No faaaair!" And Jesus says, "Morning workers, you consented to that deal and it's wrong for you to resent someone for getting a better deal."
To this day, religious scholars have trouble taking the parable at face value, but if you think it through it makes perfect sense. If the morning workers get their way, if it's not fair for people who came later to get a better deal, then the world can never get any better.
June 12. Double post today. First, there's a dust-up on the ranprieur subreddit, with some discussion about what kind of online community people want. Personally, I like the weirdcollapse subreddit better.
When I started this site in 2002, I named it after myself and not some subject, because then, whatever I end up writing about, the name is still accurate. But I still have to deal with the energy that bounces back from everything I've ever written. My latest project, to clean up that energy, has been to go through the entire blog archives and cut them down to stuff that I still like. I don't want people to ask "What did Ran Prieur think about this?" I want them to say, "Hey, this guy has some good ideas."
I purged almost all presidential politics, and a lot of wrong predictions. (I didn't notice any right predictions.) And I found myself cutting a lot of final paragraphs, where after I had the good ideas, I tried to say why the ideas were important. Every archive is now linked from the bottom of this page, and in the future I might be doing more explicit reposts, instead of doing new posts on stuff I've already covered.
June 12. For today's main post, I have more to say about tacit knowledge. First, from 2012, a piece with two strong examples of tacit knowledge, Chicken Sexers, Plane Spotters, and the Elegance of TAGteaching. In both chicken sexing and plane spotting, people can learn to reliably tell the differences between things, and teach others, without ever knowing how they know.
Second, the tacit knowledge article contains a method for learning to ride a bicycle, where you start with a very small bike, which enables you to learn the skills with zero risk of falling over. My thought is, I feel like I've lived my entire life on a tall fucking bike, falling over and falling over and falling over when I'm supposed to be learning. Maybe that's what's causing the epidemic of anxiety and depression: technology is changing our environment so fast that there's not enough room to make mistakes without being punished.
Third, the rest of this post is a repost from March 3, 2010:
Last week when I wrote about saving knowledge, everyone agreed that how-to-do-it knowledge is easier to preserve alive than dead -- through a living community of people teaching each other, rather than through written instructions. This is because if a skill is at all difficult, it contains subtleties that are easy to understand and transmit through hands-on practice, but almost impossible to transmit through words and pictures.
Dameon had the idea to take this basic principle and do some quantitative thinking. Over the last few centuries, as western civilization has grown more complex, it has depended on a larger and larger number of living skills. We are now orders of magnitude above the number of living skills that a forager-hunter tribe depends on. How was this possible? Through increasing population, and through specialization. There are people who know how to design a computer chip, but have no ability to feed themselves without a massive industrial infrastructure -- which now depends on computer chips.
Now, what happens when the population stops rising? Can we rein in and stabilize complexity so it doesn't overshoot our ability to know how to do everything? I doubt it. And what happens when some crisis forces specialists to generalize? If fiber optic technicians have to grow potatoes to survive, key skills for maintaining fiber optic networks could be lost. There are probably tens of thousands of skills equally obscure and important.
And if a skill dies, even if there are still books about it, the human attention required to resurrect it from books is much greater than the human attention that would have been required to keep it alive in the first place. So if we want to bring back a dead skill, without an increase in population or specialization, we have to sacrifice some living skills.
What we're looking at is catabolic collapse -- a loss of complexity that feeds back and causes more loss of complexity, and so on until the system finds a new point of equilibrium.
June 10. I can't wait until humans get politics figured out so I can stop writing about it. Today, some head-stretching links on other subjects.
From the "advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature" department, Slime mould simulates Tokyo rail network.
This Is What Happens When You Take 550 Doses of LSD At Once. The article covers several cases of accidental LSD overdose, and this is the one from the title:
When the drug finally wore off another 10 hours later, CB felt normal, and her chronic pain had completely disappeared. For seven years she had been taking morphine every day to treat symptoms of Lyme disease. After her LSD overdose, not only had her pain evaporated, she felt no withdrawal symptoms from the opioids she had been taking.
Going deeper into mind-body stuff, a good one from the subreddit, What we can learn from untranslatable illnesses. These are illnesses with physical symptoms, that only appear in certain cultures. When people say "it's all in your head," they seem to think that should make it easier. Really, mind-based illness is on a whole higher level of difficulty.
I don't have a link, but I heard about an illness that only appears in one Latin American culture. The symptom is that you have really bad luck, and the only cure is to go to a shaman.
What is emergence, and why should we care about it? This is a dense critique of reductionism, the idea that no matter how complex something is, it can always be understood by breaking it down into little parts. This is not science but faith: when in practice reductionists can't explain wholes in terms of parts, they insist that they just need better number-crunching.
Emergentism is the idea that the failure of reductionism is not merely practical, but fundamental:
that parts and wholes have equal ontological priority, with the wholes constraining the parts just as much as the parts constrain the wholes... that the universe is in some sense open to novel phenomena that cannot be perfectly anticipated using any scientific theory, but, once present, can still be studied using scientific methods. In other words, emergentism suggests that even our best quantitative theories cannot always tell us when qualitative changes will occur.
The same subject from another angle: Why Tacit Knowledge is More Important Than Deliberate Practice. The idea is, to get good at something, you have to learn skills that can't be described in words. More good stuff in the Hacker News comment thread.
June 8. This is really obvious: the police are used against lower-class crimes, and not upper-class crimes. When Facebook breaks a law, cops are not going to march into Mark Zuckerberg's office and tase him if he resists. I mean, if he does something really bad, the police will show their presence, but they don't need to, because he knows if he runs away, they'll finally start treating him the way they treat the lower class by default.
At the same time, big government can stand up to big money. So when someone says they're anti-government and pro-police, what they mean is they support force going down the pyramid, but not up it.
For all of history, force has gone down the pyramid while wealth has gone up it. America didn't change that, we just had enough prosperity to buy off the middle class. As the age of economic growth ends, the middle class cannot be bought off, and they're noticing that their interests align with the lower class.
I'm actually proud of how well America is handling this. We're working through a lot of shit in a short time with minimal casualties, and seriously talking about real reforms.
Four links on how policing could be done differently. First, Are Cops Constitutional?
Professional police were unknown to the United States in 1789, and first appeared in America almost a half-century after the Constitution's ratification. The Framers contemplated law enforcement as the duty of mostly private citizens, along with a few constables and sheriffs who could be called upon when necessary. This article marshals extensive historical and legal evidence to show that modern policing is in many ways inconsistent with the original intent of America's founding documents.
From the NY Times, Cities ask if it's time to defund police and reimagine public safety. Specifically, "many social welfare tasks that currently fall to armed police officers - responding to drug overdoses, and working with people who have a mental illness or are homeless - would be better carried out by nurses or social workers." That means fewer jobs for people trained in using force, and more jobs for people trained in engaging citizens without force.
Rolling Stone has just reposted this 2014 piece, Six Ideas for a Cop-Free World.
And What America can learn from Nordic police. Reading this makes me realize how really authoritarian America is. Our baseline culture takes for granted that torture works, that sentences should be long and prisons should be dreadful, that being nice to people is a bottomless sink, and humans will only serve the larger good under threat of punishment. Nordic countries are assuming the opposite, and it's working better for them.
June 5. In coverage of civic unrest, "violence" is a propaganda word, by which I mean, it's both morally loaded and sloppily defined. In practice, the word violence makes crimes against property seem just as bad as crimes against people.
Property is just a big game we're all playing, and it hasn't been fun for a long time, if it ever was.
Here's a thought experiment. Imagine the police all got together, and announced, "We're tired of putting our asses on the line protecting stuff. From now on, we're only enforcing laws that protect people." That's what good cops actually do when things get really bad.
The first thing that would happen is, any concentration of valuable stuff near poor people would be looted. Then the big companies would hire mercenaries to protect their warehouses. But if we break in, they can't shoot us, because laws protecting people are still being upheld. So if enough people gather to win a shoving match, they can take possession of anything.
At the same time, any business that's on good terms with most of the nearby people will be protected. More generally, any system of human activity that can justify itself locally will be preserved, while any system that relies on far-flung abstractions will be dismantled, and the whole economy will be stripped down to activities that make sense on a human scale.
Okay, but where does your friendly mini-mart get its merchandise? Who's going to make stuff if they can't make money from selling it? The answer is, anyone who enjoys making stuff. The manufacturing economy would be stripped down to home workshops and the happiest factories. I don't think any of them are making microprocessors, so high tech would be stripped down to stuff that's easy to scavenge and tinker with.
What about food? Farmers love their work, otherwise they would quit, because it's a hard job that pays basically nothing. But industrial farming would slowly fall apart without industrial manufacturing, and distributing food would be even harder. So we would need a lot of volunteer work, and really skillful organization, to stop a lot of us from dying.
But in trying to get through this, we would be constantly asking two questions of every task: 1) Is this really necessary for human well-being? 2) Am I enjoying it? Notice how rarely, under the present system, we hold our actions to those standards. Instead, the question we're always asking is: if I say no to this bullshit, how much will my life be ruined?
This thought experiment is an extreme simplification of a process that's going to actually happen over a really long time. My point is, the more we respect quality of life over claims of ownership, the more meaningful and enjoyable our lives are, if only we can overcome challenges that are mainly logistical.
June 3. Timely Terence McKenna quote, from this video:
We can embrace chaos, and see that chaos is the environment in which we all thrive. That's how I've done it for years. You think I could have gotten away with this in the Soviet Union? I don't think so. I require a society on the brink of social breakdown to be able to do my work, and I think a society on the brink of social breakdown is the healthiest situation for individuals. I don't know how many of you have ever had the privilege of being in a society in a pre-revolutionary situation, but the cafes stay open all night and there's music in the streets and you can breathe it, you can feel it, and you know what is happening. The dominator is being pushed.
It never succeeds, it never is able to claim itself. But on the other hand history is young. We may have a crack at this. A global society is coming into being, a global society made out of information that was not intended to be ours, but which is ours, through the mistaken invention and distribution of small computers, the printing press, all of this stuff. Information is power, and information has been spilled by the clumsy handling of the cybernetic revolution by the dominator culture, so that it is everywhere. Never has the situation been more fluid.
June 2. My latest take on Trump, standing on the shoulders of this excellent reddit comment from early 2016.
The nice thing about Trump is, he's not an ideologue -- he's a negotiator. He doesn't really believe in anything except his own power, so he found a movement he could get in front of, and he's very good at knowing what they want.
As their negotiator, he always starts with an offer as extreme as he can get away with, so that the eventual compromise will be more in his favor. [update june 3] For example, CNN thinks that when he had a street aggressively cleared of peaceful protesters so he could walk to a church, that was an act of clumsiness, when really he was carefully testing how far over the line he could step.
So America is being tested, to hold the line against the authoritarian personalities among us, and to push the line back, as we try to overcome our own history as invaders and slavers.
June 1. Two comments from a Reddit thread about what non-Americans think of the protests, both with a good thread below. From Luxembourg:
Nobody here understands why you are so unable to reform the police. The clear problem is a severe lack of police accountability, a lack of non-violent training, way too short training spans, an omnipresence of guns, a militarized police and a deep-rooting institutional racism.And from the other side:
Most of the world does not have a chance protesting the police. The thought of doing so will get you locked up. If you think you have it bad in the US, you have no idea how it is overseas. The police in developing countries get away with everything.
Also, here's a repost of a comment on this page from 2014, about civil wars:
Civil wars are first and foremost about local score settling. The trigger isn't some guy going door to door saying "you know those Yazidis? We're starting a group to get rid of them, would you like to know why?" Everyone was already itching to kill the Yazidis. The trigger in most civil wars is the sense that the long-repressed vengeance on your nearest and dearest enemies has become possible.
Civil wars are almost never geographic at first. Syria was not divided into "rebel" and "government" territories until after several weeks of fighting. Why? Because the government troops and the people who hated them were evenly dispersed around the country. Once the shooting broke out, some local battles went one way, some went another, and each side eventually had to work out supply lines connecting places where they'd won. Your loyalties aren't determined by your residency, your residency is determined by which army you're running away from.
Civil wars aren't anybody's program. Usually the two sides each feel like they are legitimate, and can't figure out what the other guys are playing at. They think "shit, these guys are clowns, let's just get them out of the way." Everybody underestimates the consequences of their actions, the time it will take, and the dying that will happen as a result. Nobody in Syria in 2011 was saying "right, lets call a protest, and in three years we'll be holed up in a burning hotel shooting twelve-year-olds in the head as they pull their mothers' bodies from a drainage canal!"
May 31. Picking up from last night, I wonder if this ever occurred to the authors of the Second Amendment: that the faction of citizens who have a lot of guns would be made weaker by their guns. It's because humans have recovered morally to the point where deadly force is really bad, and nobody wants to use it, at least domestically. So if the Trumpers want to revolt, as soon as one of them actually uses a gun, militarized police will respond with overwhelming force.
Meanwhile, other political factions have developed ways to engage the police without deadly force, and they have carved out a small grey area in the state monopoly on violence.
I know this was all sparked by bad cops, and these protests are a tactical move to reform policy. But that's not the only thing going on. This is also an attempted revival of primitive warfare, best described by Stanley Diamond in the book In Search of the Primitive. Of course there can be toxic cultures at any level of technology. But a lot of tribal cultures, and a lot of wild animals, know how to settle conflicts with physical aggression, while minimizing death and serious injury.
This archaic revival is still really clunky. Humans are not ready to revoke the state monopoly on violence. But that should be our long-term goal: laws about attacking people or property, that are blind to whether the attackers or victims are wearing uniforms.
And even if the police were perfect, I still think there is a healthy level of social unrest, and a good society will have room for careful street fighting, and well-constrained destruction of the human-made world. Some day, this kind of thing could be part of a festival.
May 30, late. It occurs to me, the people now fighting each other, will be fighting on the same side if the Trumpers try a revolution.
May 30. I just want to follow up from last night before the situation changes too much. I was in the 1999 Seattle WTO protests, and though they started out as a fun street party, they got increasingly ugly. But compare these protests to literally any war. The damage to buildings is less, the rate of serious injury is a tiny fraction, it's much easier to opt out, and a lot of people are having a good time, while in a war, no one is. And yet people will apologize for war and say that it's necessary. Maybe there's a necessary level of domestic unrest.
2020 is supposed to be a bad year, but I'm really impressed with how good a job humans are doing. Coronavirus is a cutting-edge pandemic, and it hasn't even killed one in ten thousand of us. It wasn't long ago that protesters would be cut down with live bullets. Compare the death of George Floyd to the death of Emmett Till, a 14 year old who was lynched after being falsely accused of flirting with a white woman, nobody was held accountable, and that was only 1955.
In 1955 Spain had a strict-definition fascist dictator, and now they have a guaranteed income. In 1955 there was no ecology movement, homosexuality was a mental illness, the average woman had five children, and psilocybin hadn't even been named yet. I mean, we still have a long way to go in terms of policy, but if you look at our understanding, it's like humans are finally starting to figure shit out.
May 29, late. I'm watching TV the sound off, listening to moody krautrock, and these riots are awesome! It's street theater, with just the right level of violence, in which the peasants are confronting the guards.
If the peasants are too aggressive, it hurts their cause. If the guards are too aggressive, the city burns. So the two sides meet on equal terms, in lines in the streets, and suddenly it's completely social. Women come forward and stand there chewing out the cops, and the cops have to listen.
Meanwhile, the men have evolved a gesture. They stand there with their hands up, technically a show of submission, but leaning forward dangerously. In 2050 you can buy a t-shirt of a guy with his arms upraised like that, wearing a covid mask.
May 29. A few notes on the Minneapolis riots. In the Rodney King riots, black people attacked white people and asians, just for their race. This time, what we saw on the TV was black people, with other races in supporting roles, fighting the police. Or, the rioters seem motivated by ideals of justice more than by tribalism.
Of course they burned a lot of stuff other than the police station, so part of their motivation is that it's fun to burn shit. But they understand, better than the president, that people are more important than property. Buildings and products are just a game we're all playing, and no one destroys a game that they're enjoying. Or, no one attacks an institution in which they feel they have full participation and agency.
So the spark for the riots was bad cops, but the fuel was a bad social order, in which both people and property are tokens in a game of turning money into more money, and the ratio of players to NPC's keeps getting lower. The main thing holding capitalism together, is governments making sure that we aren't starving.
A complex society in which everyone has full participation, is a hard problem that might take us another thousand years to solve. The problem of bad cops is a lot easier. The law just has to consistently hold police officers to the same standards as ordinary citizens, in how much they can hurt people. That might only take a few decades.
May 27. Continuing from Monday, Rob sends this reddit comment by Gizortnik on male bonding, with a great metaphor of testing boundaries by throwing rubber balls, versus throwing bricks to actually hurt people.
It reminds me of a bit from yesterday's link on healthy work teams, with this metaphor from gaming:
In RPGs, when I have my core team, I really like trying to level up all my characters evenly. If I gain a new character at a lower level, but she has a skillset or affinity that complements the rest of my team, I'll invest in leveling her up a bit so she can move around the map with a little less worry about enemy attacks. And if I have a character that's at a super high level to begin with, I avoid putting them into combat with weaker enemies, because they'll just hog experience points that will benefit my low- and mid-level fighters more.
Of course you also have to not get your characters killed. So social leveling means giving people challenges hard enough to make them stronger, but not so hard that they're traumatized. One more metaphor: when you're working out, you want all your muscles to be about equally strong; and you want to push them enough to make them stronger, but not enough to damage them.
Taking a step back, even if we perfectly understand the skills that each individual needs for a social organism to be healthy, we're still talking about really hard skills. I mean, I've aced college-level math classes, I've written a novel, I've fixed up a house, I'm more than 50 years old, and I still have no clear sense of where the line is between a social rubber ball and a social brick. In some future utopia, either kids are going to need years of formal training in this stuff, or the culture needs to still run smoothly if our skills are second-rate.
May 25. Matt comments on the last post:
People are more playful when status matters less and meaner when it matters more.
My friend recently wrote a play about male body issues and, after a reading of it, the men got into a discussion about how when guys are one-on-one, we can be vulnerable. When guys are in a group -- at least, American guys my age -- there's an invisible social pressure to assert dominance, which is usually done through being verbally mean. Ragging on each other. In the best guy groups, the meanness is matched with playfulness. You might say something superficially mean, but there's affection underneath. Once you leave your group, though, or the dynamic changes because of a new member or woman, there's less guarantee of playfulness.
I think the playfulness comes from trust, but there's also a way in which trust is built through tests of superficial meanness. If the superficial meanness gets answered with real meanness, then there's no trust and just more meanness. But if the superficial meanness gets answered with more superficial meanness -- that is, if you signal that you can handle rough play -- then you get more rough play. And the playfulness leads, sometimes, to real moments of vulnerability with each other.
Loosely related, a blog post about psychological health in the software industry, Habits of High-Functioning Teams.
May 23. Thinking more about yesterday's subject: the fictional citizens of Letterkenny achieve social utopia, not through a simple rule that you can say anything, but through a really difficult skill. The best I can explain it is that they remain playful at all times. It takes a lot of social agility to keep playfulness from veering into meanness. People need to know each other and trust each other at a level that gets more difficult as a community gets larger and has more people entering and leaving.
I wonder if this is part of how social media is causing mass anxiety. The internet is too thin a connection to discern playfulness from meanness, so we're all afraid to be playful and afraid of other people being mean.
May 22. This week, Leigh Ann and I have been watching two TV shows on Hulu that are near opposites. Little Fires Everywhere is a social horror show. Everyone is hypervigilant and super-nice, because the social environment is so delicate that the slightest mistake could lead to disaster. I hate it, but I'm watching it anyway because it's really well done.
At the other extreme, Letterkenny is a rapid-fire deadpan comedy about smart hicks in Canada. Everyone says exactly what they're thinking all the time, conflicts rise and fall like waves in the ocean, and at the end of the day everyone is friendly.
Now, which of those worlds would you rather step into? And why do we find ourselves in the other one?
I blame social inequality, which under capitalism is pretty much the same as wealth inequality. It's been true for all of history that less powerful people have to be really careful what they say around more powerful people. And now, under left-wing political correctness, the more powerful also have to be careful before the less powerful. Walking on eggshells has been universalized -- which is fair, but a nightmare.
How do we get out of it? Here's how it might happen. First, we need some kind of really strong safety net, most likely a universal basic income. Then, no matter how much you say the wrong thing, the maximum penalty is that you're still guaranteed dignified survival. Then, among the fallen, subcultures will rise, so clearly fun and careless that they spread to the culture at large.
May 20. Bunch o' links about head-hacking. Stanford researchers devise treatment that relieved depression in 90% of participants in small study. The coming larger study will not achieve 90%, but the treatment is strong magnetic pulses through your skull.
What Happens to Your Body When You Take Naps Every Single Day? Once you get in a routine, it's really good for you.
From the Showerthoughts subreddit, As children, spinning in circles to feel dizzy was our first attempt to get high and alter our minds.
Moving to actual drugs, a well-written trip report, My experience with 15G of mushrooms, which is triple the "heroic dose".
A scientific paper, Survey of entity encounters on DMT. The conclusion:
N,N-dimethyltryptamine-occasioned entity encounter experiences have many similarities to non-drug entity encounter experiences such as those described in religious, alien abduction, and near-death contexts. Aspects of the experience and its interpretation produced profound and enduring ontological changes in worldview.
The comment thread on that article in the Psychonaut subreddit, with some interesting stuff about possession by spirits.
And a nice thread about tripping with pets. The animals are not tripping, although I do remember a post by a guy whose dog accidentally ate some LSD, and seemed to become permanently smarter.
March 6. I made a video: Ladytron - International Dateline (doom edit)