"Look at the sunset from the sun's point of view."
- Steven Wright
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 massacres can happen 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.
May 18. Posted to the subreddit, Japan's suicide rate plummets during coronavirus. In other places, the numbers are not in for actual suicides, but calls to suicide hotlines are up in Australia.
I will not be surprised to see a global decline in suicide, because pain is more bearable if you can put your finger on what's causing it. I don't want to say that Coronavirus is causing "real" problems, but that it's causing obvious problems, where normally the problems in prosperous societies are so subtle that people don't know why they're unhappy or what could ever make it stop.
NY Times article from last week, How Pandemics End. It goes through the history of pandemics, and distinguishes between a medical end, and a social end: "People may grow so tired of the restrictions that they declare the pandemic over, even as the virus continues to smolder in the population and before a vaccine or effective treatment is found."
I agree with letting it smolder. Even though I love life under quarantine, I know that a lot of people hate it, and they need to get back to a somewhat normal life. Quality of life is more important than quantity. Also, the more of us get the virus and survive, the better position we're in, if years go by and we still don't have a good vaccine.
Here's an idea for a sci-fi novel. Imagine a pandemic, where not only can you get it twice, but every time you get it, it's worse!
May 15. I'm still on semi-vacation from blogging. Here's a great quote I just got over email:
We have homo sapiens, the people who know, which somehow became homo sapiens sapiens, the people who know they know. Maybe someday we'll reach homo sapiens sans sapiens, the people who know they don't know.
And some music. This week I've become obsessed with two songs from the 2019 album Signal by Automatic, a Los Angeles band with no guitars, only drums, bass, and keyboard. The songs are Humanoid and Strange Conversations.
May 11. Catching up on Coronavirus, of all the experts they interview on CNN, Laurie Garrett is the most interesting. She mentioned that most of the people who die from Coronavirus have high blood pressure, and that it's turning out to be more of a cardiovascular disease than a respiratory disease. It's also really weird as viruses go, with new vectors of transmission popping up, and an incubation period anywhere from two days to two weeks.
More weirdness: Last month I saw an interview with a nurse at the Seattle-area rest home where it hit early, and she said that not one patient had a runny nose, but that all of them were red around the eyes, like red eye shadow. That's the only time I've heard mention of that symptom.
Garrett says the best case scenario is three years, and that's if we get a slam-dunk vaccine and vaccinate everyone in the world. My comment: as potential vaccines take longer, are more expensive or fiddly, and have more bad effects, we come closer to the best move being global herd immunity, where most of the world gets it, and we just slow it down enough so that hospitals don't get overwhelmed.
Here's a big Reddit thread, What positive effects has the quarantine had for you? Also, Small Farms in N.Y. Are Experiencing a Surprising Boom.
May 8. I want to get gradually back into blogging, but I want to be more careful about what kind of idea-space I'm creating, and what kind of energy I'm feeding. On the one hand, I always have stuff to say that I think will be helpful, but on the other hand, I don't want anyone to care what I think, if that makes sense.
Today, just a couple links. Cross-posted to the subreddit from the Slate Star Codex subreddit: What changes significantly worsened your quality of life? The most interesting answers are stuff that we normally think will improve quality of life, like moving to a new place, going to college, meditation, fasting, working out, and not drinking.
You're a Completely Different Person at 14 and 77, the Longest-Running Personality Study Ever Has Found. Why is it that every single system for classifying personality, insists that your profile is fixed for life? Because that gives the system more power, and if you buy into that, you lose your power to change yourself.
May 5. Just letting everyone know I'm okay, actually really enjoying the time away. I don't know if quarantine is making the internet more toxic, or if it's just me, but going online has increasingly been something I dread, not something I look forward to. What if, in a few years, everyone feels that way? Is the internet a fad?
Here's a nice long reddit comment about working with nature in gardening, including a rant about how weeds are just trying to heal dead soil. "Struggling with plants? Often the correct solution is to remove the human."
April 23. I've decided to take a break from blogging. I have no plan for when I'll come back, but my guess is two to three weeks.
April 22. Stephen Wolfram article, Finally We May Have a Path to the Fundamental Theory of Physics. The basic idea is that you can get an extremely complex system, by applying a simple rule recursively, and he's trying to find the rule that will create our universe.
The kind of rules he's looking at, are rules for transforming a system of relations. This fits with an idea that's strange to western metaphysics, but common outside it: that relations are more fundamental than things.
At the end of the article, after a lot of heavy technical stuff, he concludes:
So what does all this mean for our original goal - of finding a rule to describe our universe? Basically it's saying that any (computation universal) rule will do - if we're prepared to craft the appropriate description language. But the point is that we've basically already defined at least some elements of our description language: they are the kinds of things our senses detect, our measuring devices measure, and our existing physics describes.
This reminds me of Donald Hoffman's work, summarized in this article from last year, The Case Against Reality. The basic idea is that our senses have not evolved to see reality as it is, but to see increasingly useful representations, like how our computer shows us desktop icons, instead of silicon chip schematics. Even physics and astronomy are not seeing reality, only squinting at pixels. From Hoffman's conclusion:
We suppose that the long sweep of spacetime, with its countless stars and planets, is the preexisting stage for an accidental drama in which we are bit players. We think it's faintly mad to suppose otherwise. But we're mistaken. We are the authors of space and time; their myriad contents are our impressive stagecraft.
And from Wolfram's conclusion:
While we view our universe - and reality - through our particular type of description language, there are endless other possible description languages which can lead to descriptions of reality that will seem coherent within themselves, but which will seem to us to correspond to utterly incoherent and meaningless aspects of our universe.
I've always assumed that any entity that exists in our universe must at least "experience the same physics as us". But now I realize that this isn't true. There's actually an almost infinite diversity of different ways to describe and experience our universe, or in effect an almost infinite diversity of different "planes of existence" for entities in the universe.
March 6. I made a video: Ladytron - International Dateline (doom edit)