"People do not go to hell after death. The designers and builders of hell are human beings. The designs and buildings are almost completed. It is becoming difficult to add more hell."
December 20. I'm taking this week off for family stuff. Also the world is ending tomorrow. I mean, probably not, but if you were to look at the sky for a sign that the world is ending, it's hard to beat a Jupiter-Saturn conjunction on the winter solstice. The two largest planets have not been this close in the night sky for 800 years, and humans have probably never seen them this close on the winter solstice.
Some people thought the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world, and we're not even totally sure what astronomy the year 2012 is based on. This is something you can go outside and see. On top of that, it's happening at the end of an epic year. So I'm surprised there isn't a bigger deal being made about it, by people who believe in some kind of synchrony between heavens and earth.
And two trippy instrumentals I recently discovered. From 1960, Duke Ellington - Chinoiserie. And from 1995, Slipstream - Pulsebeat.
December 17. I want to take a different angle from Monday's post, one more favorable to libertarians. Their experiment failed because all the unregulated living attracted bears. But maybe bear attacks are not such a bad thing. Bear with me....
It's anecdotally obvious, although I haven't seen a study, that American blue tribe culture is correlated with food allergies. At a group dinner in Seattle, you always have to work around what all the different people can't eat. But when I visit my cousins in rural Michigan, or Leigh Ann's family in central Florida, everyone can eat everything.
Somewhere I read, if you're having an allergic reaction, and suddenly you're being chased by a bear, the allergic reaction stops. I even read about a treatment for allergies, where first you activate the allergy, and then you activate the fight-or-flight response.
In high school health class, in 1982, they told us that the fight-or-flight response is harmful. (They also told us that marijuana has reverse tolerance.) But now I'm thinking that hyperarousal is good for us, and we need to do more of it.
I think this is part of what's fueling the right wing. They see mainstream left culture as too bland and safe, and they want to take risks and feel danger. I still think not wearing a mask in a pandemic is a dumb risk. Some risks I like include restoring the right to roam for kids, abolishing the TSA, and not buying insurance.
Don't get mad at me if you take my advice and lose everything, but if nobody bought insurance, the average person would benefit, because insurance companies have to take in more than they pay out. A lot more, judging by all the advertising they buy. Also, a continuing insurance payment is chronic pain, while a sudden catastrophic loss is acute pain, and acute pain is usually preferable. Also, if nobody bought insurance, we'd have to rely more on people we know.
December 16. On the subreddit, there's a comment thread on the subject of money, and I want to back off from my statement that money is irredeemable. There are several reforms, all of which I've written about before, that would make money more useful than harmful. Maybe we wouldn't even need all of them.
First, make all necessities free at point of use. If it's realistic to live your whole life without money, then the money universe has no power over you.
Second, some kind of depreciating currency. I wrote about this a lot in 2008, at the top of this archive and this archive. Basically, right now we need the government to redistribute wealth because concentration of wealth is baked into the system. But if both assets and debt lost their value at a few percent per year, wealth distribution would tend toward equality.
Third, full liability for businesses. If a business commits a crime, every co-owner is prosecuted as if they did it themselves. This would eliminate the stock market, because nobody would buy stocks with that risk. It would force every business to be only a few people who all know each other. This would be a radically different world, but I think a better one.
Fourth, redefine property to be based on physical possession of an item or occupation of a place. I wrote about this in 2009 in this post.
Of course, all four of these are impossible right now, especially the last two, which if done suddenly would cause total collapse. But we could go a long way toward the first two, just with a UBI paid for by steadily increasing the money supply. COVID stimulus is already leaning in that direction.
The other problem, with any reform that eliminates the possibility of getting rich, is that in the modern world, getting rich is the meaning of life.
December 14. Sent by two readers, A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear. It's an interview of the author of a book with that title, about a bunch of libertarians who took over a town in New Hampshire, and tested their utopian vision of minimal government. It did not go well.
I often wonder why there still is a Libertarian Party. Together, democrats and republicans have been pushing the libertarian agenda for decades, moving steadily leftward on social issues and rightward on economic issues. Now weed is legal, and there are homeless people everywhere because all the money has been sucked to the top.
Hey right wingers, if you hate billionaires so much, why not propose a tax of 100% of assets over 999 million dollars. Presto, no more billionaires. Seriously I think the rich are mostly good people who haven't done anything immoral except follow their own luck, and bad laws, into having more money than good laws would permit anyone to have.
Libertarians love money and hate government, which doesn't make sense, because money is completely created by government, and inequalities in money are protected by government force. And not just money. From this Ribbonfarm comment (thanks Baltasar):
The private is always an invention. And it can only exist to the degree there is a power structure, typically a state in the modern world, to legally and violently enforce its private status. Private property is always a socially-constructed and state-sanctioned entity that disappears or loses its valence when the state no longer functions.
I would respect an ideology that opposed both government and property (beyond personal items). The precedent is almost all the non-state peoples of history and prehistory. But I'm not ready to give up yet on government. I think we have a lot of room to make it better, while money is irredeemable.
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with money, because it can buy everything that a kid thinks is awesome. Now I understand that money is a way to make other people do things that they would not do if it weren't for money. Capitalism is the ideology that money magically makes selfishness beneficial, when really it's the exact opposite: because it insulates us from the effects of our use of power, money makes it possible for completely nice people to participate in evil.
December 10. I've got no ideas this week. So here's a full repost of a post from 2011:
March 7. I've had several emails lately from people worried about "government", and I want to do a little rant. We are in the midst of an ancient struggle between central control and... well, the opposite is so complex that if we try to describe it with a single word, that word gets distorted by the forces of control. For example, "liberty" and "freedom" have come to mean the freedom of the powerful to crush the weak under their boots. Even "autonomy" implies individualism, and ultimately, the strong individuals crushing the weak under their boots.
The opposite of central control is a system where all powers are distributed to all: group decisions are made by consensus of all members, and anything that anyone is permitted to do, everyone is permitted to do. So there are no official secrets, no restricted areas, no licenses, no uniforms. There are restraints, but they apply to all. There are people with greater physical and mental powers, but there is no mechanism to leverage these internal powers into external powers written into the system. The only "authority" is when someone is respected for understanding something better than others.
Obviously, we're a long way from building a system like that at a high level of complexity. I think it's going to take us thousands of years. In the meantime, we will pass through many rises and falls of control systems under many guises. It's like a bunch of plagues passing through us until we gain immunity to all of them. And if our immune systems are lazy, they will always be fighting the previous one instead of the new one.
The last round of really bad control systems was in the mid-20th century. The Nazis were the scariest, but the Soviet system was more stable, and over time, more harmful. Two of the most influential political writers of the 20th century, George Orwell and Ayn Rand, were both reacting to the Soviet system. Their reactions, among others, have come down to us as a set of cultural immune system habits: the enemy is big government, existing for its own sake, fed by taxes, building ugly concrete monoliths full of dull-minded bureaucrats, justifying itself through stories of happy people working together.
If you haven't noticed, that system is dead, except in China, where it's not quite dead. The new dominant control system is big money, existing for its own sake, fed by profits, building sparkly glass monoliths full of depressed cubicle monkeys, and justifying itself through stories of strong and free individuals working hard to earn shiny toys. Government remains only as a buffer between big money and all other life, or in some cases, as a weapon that both sides are grappling with to use it against the other. In the third world, soon including America, big money controls government absolutely. But most Americans, stuck in the old immune response, see the hammer of government coming down on them and don't notice who is holding the hammer.
I don't mind the government. It's true that most federal spending makes its way (through bank bailouts and military contractors and medical insurance companies and the mortgage payments of entitlement recipients) to the giant concentrations of money. But my income is low enough to not pay federal income tax, and I expect to be able to keep it that low. It's true that governments are still strong enough to crush anyone who gets in their way, but they're also so slow and predictable that it's easy to get out of their way. Governments are like glaciers, while private interests, unhindered by government, are like fires.
I'm thinking that even big money is dying, because it can't concentrate any more wealth at the top without the bottom falling out. So what's the next phase of control? Don't answer that, but keep your eyes open.
December 7. Stray links. Attack Drones Dominating Tanks as Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict Showcases the Future of War.
Related: AI is an Ideology, Not a Technology. It has a lot of examples of how AI is framed as machines doing wonderful things, while ignoring the human contributions. The key paragraph:
"AI" is best understood as a political and social ideology rather than as a basket of algorithms. The core of the ideology is that a suite of technologies, designed by a small technical elite, can and should become autonomous from and eventually replace, rather than complement, not just individual humans but much of humanity. Given that any such replacement is a mirage, this ideology has strong resonances with other historical ideologies, such as technocracy and central-planning-based forms of socialism, which viewed as desirable or inevitable the replacement of most human judgement/agency with systems created by a small technical elite. It is thus not all that surprising that the Chinese Communist Party would find AI to be a welcome technological formulation of its own ideology.
A nice article on the UBI (thanks Steve), The Radical Idea Of Making Sure Everybody Has Enough Money To Live On.
Related: a Goodreads review of the book Scarcity, summarizing the argument that scarcity is a huge cognitive burden, which prevents poor people from getting out of poverty. It also mentions the concepts of tunneling, and cognitive bandwidth, and I wonder how these can be applied to people who are financially well-off, but still so narrowly focused on one thing they're afraid of, that they can't take a step back to see how to make things better.
An optimistic essay, The Pandemic Offers an Opportunity to Re-Wild Our Communities. I mean, this stuff is all going to happen, but it's optimistic to think it will happen through human institutions, and not over their objections:
The benefit to cities expands exponentially by just getting out of nature's way. Lands that are released from traditional maintenance regimes will quickly begin to cleanse stormwater, sequester carbon, reduce the heat island effect, improve habitat, and become a low-tech but important part of a new infrastructure that is needed now more than ever. Crumbling parking lots and parks released from maintenance will take time to rewild, but once that transformation occurs, cities will feel greener and like a true respite.
December 4. Some personal stuff. Earlier this year Leigh Ann got a Fitbit, and she liked it so much that she just got a better one and I got her old one. So I've been tracking my sleep, and Monday night, after getting high, I had only 33 minutes of REM sleep. I thought, wow, THC really does kill REM sleep. But the next night, sober, I had 22 minutes. The next night, even more sober, 7 minutes! Last night I did everything right, and still got only 28 minutes, and all after sunrise. [Update: After looking at some research, this is exactly what happens in studies of heavy users. They sleep worse on the first night of a break, and even worse on the second night. At a gram a month, I thought I'd be closer to non-users than heavy users, but apparently not. Next I'll experiment with melatonin.]
The other day I had a visitor, and we walked around and talked about stuff. I told him my latest insight about meditation: Being is the ground of doing, and meditation is practicing being without doing. The better you are at being, the less it matters what you're doing. Charles replied that the deeper root of being, is non-being, like an empty cup. So now when I focus on my breathing, I frame it as creating an emptiness inside me to pull the air in.
Modern people often complain about feeling empty inside, or needing to "fill the void". So now I'm thinking, that could be a symptom of having too many ways to fill the void, so that we're never empty enough, for long enough, to learn to feel comfortable with emptiness. Related: an old Reddit thread on an important and rarely asked question: Why is boredom painful?
Back to politics, my latest take on Donald Trump is that he's a time traveller from the past. In the movie Idiocracy, a completely average guy from our time goes hundreds of years into the future, and humans have become so stupid that he's a super-genius and the most important man in the world.
In our world, instead of becoming stupid, we became nice.
Trump comes from a time where if you meet a weaker man on the road, you take all his stuff and leave him in the ditch to be ignored by passers-by. A lot of ancient history was actually like that. Someone from that world, in ours, would marvel at the charity of his adversaries, and the gullibility of his allies.
His downfall was that he never understood us. Deep down, he really believed that if he insulted John McCain enough, Arizonans would recognize him as the stronger leader. That's why he thinks the election was stolen, because he cannot understand how any strategy could win other than absolute ruthlessness.
I do appreciate Trump for being so transparently who he is, and it's the strangest thing that his followers don't see it. People are worried about deep fakes, but one thing I learned in 2020 is that no technology can distort reality better than the human mind.
I think Trump started out cynically exploiting his followers, and together they fell into madness. That madness is an epistemological practice: building your mental model, of the world beyond your senses, as whatever you want it to be, or whatever makes your life feel meaningful.
Philosophically, I'm a pan-first-personist. I believe that reality is fully created by experiencing perspectives, because that's all reality is. But that doesn't mean you can just do anything. We have to share the universe with other reality-creating perspectives, and one thing you can't do, is make other people not real.
When Trumpers say Biden won through voter fraud, what they mean is, they don't think Biden voters are real. And reality creation goes way deeper than other humans. Somewhere I read that shamanic healers say the one thing they have no power over, is a pandemic. So... South Dakota ER nurse recalls how dying patients spend last minutes insisting virus isn't real.
November 30. Catching up on links, starting with a discussion on Weird Collapse, about a study showing that unconditional cash transfers work much better than psychotherapy at making people's lives better. This reminds me of a robust finding about therapy, which has been known since the 1970's: that the kind of therapy doesn't matter. What matters is the relationship between the therapist and the patient.
Three quick links on drugs. Wheat's Evil Twin Has Been Intoxicating Humans For Centuries. And, How Magic Mushrooms Are Changing the Lives of Terminal Cancer Patients. And a speculation about genetically engineering kombucha to produce psilocybin.
Some doom. Peak Oil Never Went Away. And Deep Frozen Arctic Microbes Are Waking Up.
And some good news. Voters Overwhelmingly Back Community Broadband in Chicago and Denver. It's funny, Americans hate "socialism" in general. But in a lot of specific cases, we like it.
And Birds Sing to Their Eggs, and the singing affects their embryonic development, which can help them adapt to climate change.
November 25. Going early into the holiday weekend, two personal recordings. Erik has just posted a podcast he recorded with me this summer, Mini Truth #1: The Future of Civilization.
And last night I made another piano recording. This was over at my dad's house, on an actual piano, recorded on two vintage Sansa Clip mp3 players, for the left and right channels, so about as lo-fi as it gets. It only took me about 100 hours to get to this level. I'm not even using the black keys yet. I wish meditation paid off this well.
November 24. Again posted to Weird Collapse, Welcome to the new Middle Ages. It's a fascinating argument:
In our economic structure, our politics, our identity and our sex lives we are moving away from the trends that were common between the first railway and first email. But what if the modern age was the anomaly, and we're simply returning to life as it has always been?
I'm not sure if the author is really onto something, or if he's just cherry-picking similarities between us and pre-modern people, that are mostly accidental rather than having some common cause.
For example, celibacy. It was high in the Middle Ages because almost everyone belonged to a religion in which almost everything sexual was immoral. That's no longer the case. My guess is, celibacy is rising now for two reasons. First, we've invented a lot more ways to feel good, which sex has to compete with. Second, our social landscape has become so delicate and complex, that in the journey from first meeting someone to having sex, there are a lot more ways to fail. And keeping a relationship going is even harder.
Related: a review of a new book called The Light Ages, about how medieval people were a lot smarter than modern people think.
November 23. A nice thread on Weird Collapse, Use this post to talk about how you're doing as the world slowly unravels.
I just got back from Seattle, where the woods by my sister's house now have a bunch of homeless campers, and the retail neighborhoods are half boarded-up. To prep for the drive home, I took a longer-than-usual break from weed, and my dreams have been more vivid. This morning, I was eluding a tracker in a city, and I entered a library, where I found a tiny book, published in 1898, called Thoughts on the Flat Earth. I read it, and there was nothing about the earth being literally flat, but it was very beautiful.
Then I woke up and saw this awesome video (thanks Arne), Celui qui tombe, a dance that represents life, done on a rotating platform.
November 20. Back in 2014, I made a video for one of my favorite songs, just using the cover art from the album. Two weeks ago, some puritanical bot took offense at that image, and YouTube notified me that it had been age-restricted.
Luckily, I had a folder of good images, mostly anime fan art, all ready for a new video. So the other night I used a weed session to winnow them down and find the right order. It's funny, whenever I do this, I start with the images all random, and right-arrow through them with the song playing, and three or four of them will already be in the perfect spot.
The song is about a real person, but the video is completely about the world inside my head: Big Blood - The Rise of Quinnisa Rose.
By the way, inevitably, YouTube keeps getting worse. Here's a Hacker News thread about their new policy of showing ads on all videos even if creators don't want them.
November 18. Two long articles about collapse. From the Atlantic, The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse is about Peter Turchin, a historian whose mathematical models predicted an "age of discord" beginning around 2020. The nice thing about historians is they have no bias against predicting collapse, while mainstream economists and technologists have to be optimists. On the other hand, historians do have a bias against predicting something that has never happened.
And from the NY Times, How Do You Know When Society Is About to Fall Apart? It's mostly about Joseph Tainter, but there's an interesting section at the end about scholars who are "questioning the entire notion of collapse." I would say it like this: Collapse is something that archaeologists see, when they look at ruins. But when you look at the lives of ordinary people, you see changing opportunities, doors closing and other doors opening. So they might say, "Oh no, our buildings are falling to ruin." Or they might say, "At last, I have better options than maintaining these damn buildings."
November 16. Still on vacation from topical politics, some links on other subjects. Life on the Outside "is a podcast that shares stories about returning to society after decades of incarceration." (Thanks Dan.)
Chili pepper consumption associated with 25% reduction in death from any cause. That link goes to the Hacker News comment thread, with lots of ideas for how this could happen without chili peppers actually being good for you. My guess is, there's a cultural correlation between people who eat bland food and people who aren't careful about their health. Update: my next thought is that old people don't eat chili peppers and young people do. So you could also find a reduction in death associated with, say, watching Pokemon.
The apocalypse continues, as One in five COVID-19 patients develop mental illness within 90 days:
The study analysed electronic health records of 69 million people in the United States, including more than 62,000 cases of COVID-19.... In the three months following testing positive for COVID-19, 1 in 5 survivors were recorded as having a first time diagnosis of anxiety, depression or insomnia.
Some nice advice in this thread, People 50+ who battled depression in their 20s, did it get any better, and if it did, what changed or what did you do?
I'm looking forward to legal psychedelics, because they're good for me. But every time there's a new thing, there is money to be made by selling it to people who are better off without it. And psychedelics are dangerous things to be better off without, and use anyway. This thread is about one of those dangers: Does anyone else feel like several posts made in this subreddit are made by people that think they are the messiah of the psychedelic Renaissance?
And the apocalypse continues, as Scientists grow bigger monkey brains using human genes. The study author says: "To let them come to be born, in my opinion, would have been irresponsible as a first step." So, how many steps before Petgenix is selling us talking dogs?
November 12. Even farther off the usual subjects, today I want to recommend a wine and review a movie. We try a lot of under $10 red wine, and to my taste, a Portuguese blend called Colossal Reserva blows them all away. It's smooth, balanced, full-bodied, and stays good a long time after opening.
My favorite film of the 2010's is The Witch (2015). Every October we watch a lot of horror movies, and when we watched it last year, it stuck with me for days afterward. So this year I rewatched it, and it's not a horror film -- it's an art film: slow-paced, meticulously crafted, with top-notch acting and a radical personal vision. The writer-director, Robert Eggers, went on to make The Lighthouse (2019), which is even more stark and ambitious, and right now he's filming a Viking revenge saga called The Northman.
The Witch is about a Puritan family, in 1630's New England, who are exiled from their fortified town and make a farm at the edge of a spooky primal forest. Spoilers follow... Where a normal horror film might keep the audience in suspense about whether witches are real, we find out right away, when a baby vanishes and the next shot is a hunched figure carrying it through the forest. And then, where a normal movie would have a balanced conflict between the two sides, the overly moral Christians and the amoral forest creatures, The Witch gives us a total curbstomp by the baddies. The family fails to score a single point, except against each other, falling into suspicion and conflict as they're destroyed.
The protagonist, a teenage girl named Thomasin, is the most sane member of the family, and the first one the others blame when anything goes wrong. That's something a lot of us can relate to, being around crazy people who are hostile to anyone who doesn't share their insanity. Also, it was the first big role for Anya Taylor-Joy, who's been in everything lately, including the very highly rated show The Queen's Gambit. Her acting is fine, but the remarkable thing about her is her look, with eyes almost impossibly large and far apart. If humans really do turn into elves, that's what we'll want to look like.
November 9. Writing about politics and society is seductive but exhausting. I'm taking the week off. Today, some woo-woo links. The Big Study is a blog by a veteran paranormal writer, and this summer he did an impressive eleven-part "Summa Faeryologica". You might want to start with part one, but I started with part eleven, because it's at the top and the most interesting, and worked my way down.
I see a lot of room for cross-pollination between paranormal researchers, and scientists focusing on the increasing evidence that there is no third-person reality. The latest book on that subject is The Case Against Reality by Donald Hoffman. If reality is 100% first person, if our senses are like desktop icons for an incomprehensible world of interrelating perspectives, then it should not freak us out when reliable witnesses defy consensus reality.
More examples in this recent reddit thread, What was the strangest moment in your life that you still can't explain upto this day?
And three posts on the psychonaut subreddit. A decent collection of trip reports, How many have met god(s)? What did your learn?
When I was a child I fell asleep, woke up inside a womb, was born, lived an entire life, died and woke back up in this life. It's rare, but other people have independently reported the same kind of thing, and the comment thread links to this report of a ten year alternate life in a near-death experience.
This report is more psychological than metaphysical. Without drugs, just through emotions:
Suddenly, my vision changed and I was inside my body for the first time in my life. I remember looking at my hands and thinking: omg I am a human too! I have a body! ... When my relative came into my room, I felt separated from them for the first time. I could think and choose what to say, I no longer reacted and no longer cared so much about how they perceive me. I did not feel connected any more to anyone. I felt fully inside myself, and other people were other people, with their own thoughts and problems and personalities.... I felt really good and I remember thinking "so this is how everyone else feels, this is what it's like to be human."
The comments are like, cool, you had a trip. But I take it at face value: we're all walking around assuming that everyone experiences reality the same way that we do, but there are radically different ways to be human, and we only find out if we can somehow shift from one to another. What this person reports, feeling starkly separate from other people, is how I feel all the time, and I'm always trying to get in a "flow" of something outside myself.
March 6. I made a video: Ladytron - International Dateline (doom edit)