May 27, 2010

Flaws, biases, & irrationality

The characteristic feature of the loser is to bemoan mankind's flaws, biases, & irrationality -- without exploiting them for fun and profit.
Nassim Taleb, aphorisms via twitter.

May 25, 2010

More aware than me

I just think to look across the room and automatically assume that somebody else is less aware than me, or that somehow their interior life is less rich, and complicated, and acutely perceived than mine, makes me not as good as a writer. Because that means I'm going to performing for a faceless audience, instead of trying to have a conversation with a person

What I'm doing now

Philosophy calls for simple living, not for doing penance, and the simple way of life need not be a crude one.
My girlfriend moved into this house a few weeks ago, with the gaps between her going back to her place becoming longer and longer and then ending. We work together, break for meals and eat good food, drink coffee and wine. So far it's an easy way to live, with no fight and no resistance.

One odd thing about the last few months is how contentment has stopped me from needing or even wanting to update this blog.

When I was a lot younger and writing [very badly] all the time it was because I had none of the good things in my life that I have now, and even though I enjoyed writing a lot, it was like drink or drugs, a poor substitute for the thing itself, a coping mechanism rather than a solution.

Great things can come out of sickness, but never mine, and the only way out after butting my head against the wall for so long was to change my life. I quit my job and keep whatever hours I want as long as the work I accept gets done. I work in shorts or a sarong, take breaks and bike rides whenever needed, never face a boss and never need to work when not in the mood. It's as close to idyllic as I could expect with minimal effort or talent.

My ambitions when I was younger mostly concerned lifestyle rather than achievement, but for a long time I focused on the latter and failed. When I gave in and went straight for the thing itself rather than tokens I found that it was easy to achieve and [so far] to maintain. Life is essentially a joke and a game at the moment, although I'm sure it'll get serious again soon enough.
If you shape your life according to nature, you will never be poor; if according to people's opinions, you will never be rich.
Seneca quoting Epicurus, Letters from a Stoic p65

May 23, 2010

Suit and tie

Inwardly everything should be different but our outward face should conform with the crowd.

May 16, 2010

Time off

To live under constraint is a misfortune, but there is no constraint to live under constraint.
Seneca, quoting Epicurus, Letters from a Stoic p59

May 14, 2010

Sokal cont'd

almost taiwan

Still avoiding this and doing other things, but read the following in Neal Stephenson's In the Beginning was the Command Line and wanted to file it next to the Sokal posts:
It is obvious, to everyone outside of the United States, that our arch-buzzwords, multiculturalism and diversity, are false fronts that are being used (in many cases unwittingly) to conceal a global trend to eradicate cultural differences. The basic tenet of multiculturalism (or "honoring diversity" or whatever you want to call it) is that people need to stop judging each other-to stop asserting (and, eventually, to stop believing ) that this is right and that is wrong, this true and that false, one thing ugly and another thing beautiful, that God exists and has this or that set of qualities.

The lesson most people are taking home from the Twentieth Century is that, in order for a large number of different cultures to coexist peacefully on the globe (or even in a neighborhood) it is necessary for people to suspend judgment in this way. Hence (I would argue) our suspicion of, and hostility towards, all authority figures in modern culture. As David Foster Wallace has explained in his essay "E Unibus Pluram," this is the fundamental message of television; it is the message that people take home, anyway, after they have steeped in our media long enough. It's not expressed in these highfalutin terms, of course. It comes through as the presumption that all authority figures--teachers, generals, cops, ministers, politicians--are hypocritical buffoons, and that hip jaded coolness is the only way to be.

The problem is that once you have done away with the ability to make judgments as to right and wrong, true and false, etc., there's no real culture left. All that remains is clog dancing and macrame. The ability to make judgments, to believe things, is the entire it point of having a culture. I think this is why guys with machine guns sometimes pop up in places like Luxor, and begin pumping bullets into Westerners. They perfectly understand the lesson of McCoy Air Force Base. When their sons come home wearing Chicago Bulls caps with the bills turned sideways, the dads go out of their minds.

The global anti-culture that has been conveyed into every cranny of the world by television is a culture unto itself, and by the standards of great and ancient cultures like Islam and France, it seems grossly inferior, at least at first. The only good thing you can say about it is that it makes world wars and Holocausts less likely--and that is actually a pretty good thing!

The only real problem is that anyone who has no culture, other than this global monoculture, is completely screwed. Anyone who grows up watching TV, never sees any religion or philosophy, is raised in an atmosphere of moral relativism, learns about civics from watching bimbo eruptions on network TV news, and attends a university where postmodernists vie to outdo each other in demolishing traditional notions of truth and quality, is going to come out into the world as one pretty feckless human being. And--again--perhaps the goal of all this is to make us feckless so we won't nuke each other.

On the other hand, if you are raised within some specific culture, you end up with a basic set of tools that you can use to think about and understand the world. You might use those tools to reject the culture you were raised in, but at least you've got some tools.

In this country, the people who run things--who populate major law firms and corporate boards--understand all of this at some level. They pay lip service to multiculturalism and diversity and non-judgmentalness, but they don't raise their own children that way. I have highly educated, technically sophisticated friends who have moved to small towns in Iowa to live and raise their children, and there are Hasidic Jewish enclaves in New York where large numbers of kids are being brought up according to traditional beliefs. Any suburban community might be thought of as a place where people who hold certain (mostly implicit) beliefs go to live among others who think the same way.