Ran Prieur

"Giving others the freedom to be stupid is one of the most important and hardest steps to take in spiritual progress. Conveniently the opportunity to take that step is all around us every day."

- Thaddeus Golas


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January 7. I'll be busy all day tomorrow, so I'm going early into the weekend with this excellent writeup, on the Ask Historians subreddit, about Fascism:

In essence, it is swaying people to your political side not by argument or reason but giving them the intensive, almost lustful, experience of being part of something greater, a movement that will solve whatever ails them, of history, so to speak. And this is achieved through ritual, staging, and performance... By displays of violence, Fascism seeks to transform politics from the - admittedly often skewed - exchange of ideas into an aesthetic experience itself: Aesthetic violence is the end point of fascist politics, not just its tool.

Something aesthetic but less exciting, an update on my piano playing. I've become obsessed with polyrhythms, specifically playing one time signature with my left hand and another with my right. I practice when I'm lying in bed with restless legs, by wiggling my feet in different polyrhythms, usually 3-5, my favorite. This one minute exercise goes through the following sequence: 1-1, 4-5, 2-5, 1-2, 3-5, 2-3, 3-4, 4-5, 1-1. My goals are to get cleaner, to move easily between any of those, and between right and left hand dominant, and to add melody. My November 24 piece was already using melodic polyrhythms, but only 2-3 and 3-5, and the poor recording made it hard to hear the individual notes.

January 6. I want to wait for some perspective before I write about the Trumpers who right now are storming the Capitol. But this is a good time to post this image of what Trump really looks like, if his orange makeup and hair are photoshopped off.

Some reddit links I've been saving up, starting with psychology, which now especially I think is more important than politics. Mental Health professionals, what small things do parents do that give their kids mental health issues later in life?

Redditors in Therapy: What is One Thing That a Therapist Has Told You That Changed Your View on Life?

Most of What You Read on the Internet is Written by Insane People. The author doesn't mean it in a bad way, just that most content on the internet is created by people who are totally obsessed with that particular kind of content.

And posted yesterday on Weird Collapse, Call for suggestions for "Welcome Post", as the subreddit gets more readers. My favorite bit: "I really enjoy being able to read collapsy posts that are also shruggy."

January 4. Out of all the board games I've played, my favorite for theme is Spirit Island, because you play nature spirits trying to stop colonizers. And my favorite for gameplay is also Spirit Island. It's a super-brain-burner where you're trying to optimize a bunch of moves by different spirits working together.

Nobody I know likes to play it, but that's okay because it's perfect for solo play. A month ago I got the Jagged Earth expansion, and since then I've been playing three-spirit solo games whenever I have the time. My goal is to play a nine-spirit solo game, which will require bending the rules, buying more tokens, and getting access to a giant table.

Anyway, when you play any game a lot, you tend to see it as a metaphor for other things. In Spirit Island, there's a trade-off between gaining energy, drawing and playing cards, and placing presence on the board. So I'm thinking, in modern society, there's too much energy and card-playing, and not enough placing of presence.

What is placing of presence, in the real world? It reminds me of my favorite definition of love, by Thaddeus Golas: "Love is the action of being in the same space with other beings." It also reminds me of the practice of being fully present in each moment.

A week ago, I mentioned the metaphysical idea that heaven and hell are in this world. So a good trick for being fully present is to let go of any notion of an afterlife, or greater success in this world, and just say, what if this, right here, is heaven. Of course, if you're having a bad day, or a bad life, it's more realistic to say this is hell. But you can start with a good moment on a good day: smoke some weed, go on a walk, watch a sunset, and imagine that you're already in heaven, this is it.

From the Tao Te Ching: "Without desire, to observe the mystery." And if you can do that, then you can practice the same move in increasingly difficult times and places.

January 1, 2021. I can't think of anything to say about the new year that's not completely obvious, and I seem to be in a mental fallow period right now. Posted yesterday to Weird Collapse, Alienation and Doublethink is a smart blog post that starts with a Twitter thread "in which Allison Pearson claimed that she knew 'hardly anyone' who knew somebody who'd had Covid only to immediately say that her whole family had had it." The point is, a lot of people have two minds, one for practical stuff, and one for ideology.

The author mentions Soviet doublethink, and corporate doublethink, but I'm thinking, in those cases, you can get sent to the gulag, or lose your job, for allowing practical understanding to inform your ideology. Where's the penalty for accepting the medical consensus about COVID? For that matter, what's behind the recent surge in flat-earthism?

I think ideology exists for its own sake, and can thrive in the total absence of extrinsic penalty and reward. There's something about humans that compels us to tell stories about the world beyond our senses, and we get in trouble when we depend on those stories to feel good about ourselves.

Is this something we can overcome?

December 30. I'm tired of the topics of contemporary society and politics, and I expect to write about them less in the new year. But I'll probably still post links.

Here's a Weird Collapse comment thread, COVID was the West's Chernobyl. It quotes Samo Burja, and this is a nice piece he wrote earlier this year, Why Civilizations Collapse.

December 28. This year, my favorite social idea on this blog was an alternate view of collapse. In the context of ancient ruins, we imagine that people at the time were saying, "Oh no, our buildings are falling to ruin." But they were probably saying, "At last, I have better options than maintaining these stupid buildings."

Going back to the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction, Alex reports that astrologers say it's "a great mutation from earth to air cycles." Earth-to-air fits with a societal shift to living in a way that leaves fewer traces, which historians call a "dark age".

My two favorite metaphysical ideas from this year are from the same post on July 8. Verbatim repost:

Two important links from the Psychonaut subreddit. What I've figured out so far is a fascinating metaphysical framework inspired by DMT:

There is only one reality. Heaven, Hell, and mortal life are not three different things. They are one single thing.... This one single reality is connection to all things, if you are ready for it you experience this as Heaven. If you are not ready for it you experience this as Hell.

And an article, Mainstreaming Psychedelics: Secularizing spirituality with the aid of Eastern religion. The main idea is that we can put psychedelic experiences on a spectrum, where at one pole is the Eastern unitive-mystical state, being one with everything, and at the other pole is the Western interactive-relational state, where you can get specific practical insights.

Back to year-end, I see another way to frame it. Over here, you've got a clunky and unsatisfying human-made world. Over there, you've got the total bliss of union with the void. I'm interested in the stuff that's in between those things. It could be better things we could do with this world, or it could be other levels of reality, whether this reality is a simulation, or a game, or a work of art.

Finally, my song of the year, like the coronavirus, is actually from 2019: Automatic - Humanoid. The complete lyrics: "I see you, turn into, turn into, humanoid." The obvious interpretation is that we're overly domesticated, and we can draw some energy from our primal roots. But I also like the idea that all this time we've been not yet human, and now we're finally getting close.

December 27. Just a quick note. If you follow the NFL, you already know about this, and if you don't, last night was probably the greatest pass of all time. Here's the thread on r/NFL.

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?

December 2. Far Side: wolf returns to city of straw 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.

I don't do an RSS feed, but Patrick has written a script that creates a feed based on the way I format my entries. It's at http://ranprieur.com/feed.php. You might also try Page2RSS.

Posts will stay on this page about a month, and then mostly drop off the edge. A reader has set up an independent archive that saves the page every day or so.

I've always put the best stuff in the archives, and in spring of 2020 I went through and edited the pages so they're all fit to link here. The dates below are the starting dates for each archive.

2005: January / June / September / November
2006: January / March / May / August / November / December
2007: February / April / June / September / November
2008: January / March / May / July / September / October / November
2009: January / March / May / July / September / December
2010: February / April / June / November
2011: January / April / July / October / December
2012: March / May / August / November
2013: March / July
2014: January / April / October
2015: March / August / November
2016: February / May / July / November
2017: February / May / September / December
2018: April / July / October / December
2019: February / March / May / July / December
2020: February / April / June / August / October