June 30, 2011

But if a man's education has been literary...

The causes of any widespread scepticism are likely to be sociological rather than intellectual. The main cause is always comfort without power. The holders of power are not cynical, since they are able to enforce their ideals. Victims of oppression are not cynical, since they are filled with hate, and hate, like any other strong passion, brings with it a train of attendant beliefs. Until the advent of education, democracy, and mass production, intellectuals had everywhere a considerable influence upon the march of affairs, which was by no means diminished if their heads were cut off. The modern intellectual finds himself in a quite different situation. It is by no means difficult for him to obtain a fat job and a good income provided he is willing to sell his services to the stupid rich either as propagandist or as Court jester. The effect of mass production and elementary education is that stupidity is more firmly entrenched than at any other time since the rise of civilization. When the Czarist Government killed Lenin's brother, it did not turn Lenin into a cynic, since hatred inspired a lifelong activity in which he was finally successful. But in the more solid countries of the West there is seldom such potent cause for hatred, or such opportunity for spectacular revenge. The work of intellectuals is ordered and paid for by Governments or rich men, whose aims probably seem absurd, if not pernicious, to the intellectuals concerned. But a dash of cynicism enables them to adjust their consciences to the situation. There are, it is true, some activities in which wholly admirable work is desired by the powers that be; the chief of these is science, and the next is public architecture in America. But if a man's education has been literary, as is still too often the case, he finds himself at the age of twenty-two with a considerable skill that he cannot exercise in any manner that appears important to himself. Men of science are not cynical even in the West, because they can exercise their best brains with the full approval of the community; but in this they are exceptionally fortunate among modern intellectuals.
Bertrand Russell - On Youthful Cynicism

June 29, 2011

Fear eats the soul

I have to tell you something about the relations of strength between those who live in resentment, intoxicated by their bitterness, alienated by their melancholy and their bad blood, and those who, not so much out of virtue as through their makeup, self-discipline, or just because they have something better to do (e.g., a new book to write), manage to escape this merry-go-round of poisonous emotions. It is the second lot who, once again, for reasons of pure emotional mechanics, will triumph over the former. Joy makes them intelligent and strong, whereas spite is a poison and sooner or later poison kills.
Michel Houellebecq - Public Enemies

June 28, 2011

Stymied by a lack of inhibitory control

Before becoming a Stoic, I spent much time and effort trying to make other people think I was a good person; since becoming a Stoic, I have focused by energy on trying to be a good person. I am striving, in other words, to acquire traits that ancient philosophers would have regarded as virtuous -- traits such as loyalty, courageousness, kindness, and most important, self-control, the trait that makes the other traits possible

June 27, 2011

Especially the tourist

If what happened to the defeated Central Powers in the early 1920s is anything to go by, then the process of collapse of the recognised, traditional, trusted medium of exchange, the currency by which all values are measured, by which social status is guaranteed, upon which security depends, and in which the fruits of labour are stored, unleashes such greed, violence, unhappiness, and hatred, largely bred from fear, as no society can survive uncrippled and unchanged.
Partly because of its unfairly discriminatory nature, it brought out the worst in everybody—industrialist and worker, farmer and peasant, banker and shopkeeper, politician and civil servant, housewife, soldier, merchant, tradesman, miner, moneylender, pensioner, doctor, trade union leader, student, tourist—especially the tourist.

June 24, 2011

Old punks

inverted drafting via wired
Despite his best efforts not to oversell the Angels, many readers felt a strong kinship with them. Thompson received countless letters from fans inquiring about club membership. To one teenage fan, Thompson provided strong cautionary words. “The best of the Angels,” he wrote in a letter dated July 6, 1967, “the guys you might want to sit down and talk to, have almost all played that game for a while and then quit for something better. The ones who left are almost all the kind who can't do anything else, and they're not much fun to talk to. They're not smart, or funny, or brave, or even original. They're just Old Punks, and that's a lot worse than being a Young Punk.”

June 23, 2011

Only connect

In Guatemala, impunity has created a bewildering swirl of competing stories and rumors, allowing powerful interests not only to cloak history but also to fabricate it. As Francisco Goldman describes in his incisive 2007 book, “The Art of Political Murder,” about the assassination of Bishop Gerardi, the military and its intelligence operators concocted evidence and witnesses to generate endless hypotheses—it was a robbery, it was a crime of passion—in order to conceal the simple truth that they had murdered him. “So much would be made to seem to connect,” Goldman writes.
A Murder Foretold - The New Yorker

June 22, 2011

Sensational results with a sensational process

Hard science gives sensational results with a horribly boring process; philosophy gives boring results with a sensational process; literature gives sensational results with a sensational process; and economics gives boring results with a boring process.
Nassim Taleb - The Bed of Procrustes

June 21, 2011

My mother was raised in care and I'm terrified of being homeless

Social class isn’t defined for individuals by how much loot one has: it’s defined by how far one can imagine oneself descending. I fear the pit.

June 20, 2011

The same unexpected behavior

As the sun loses energy by radiation, it becomes hotter and not cooler. Since the sun is made of compressible gas squeezed by its own gravitation, loss of energy causes it to become smaller and denser, and the compression causes it to become hotter. For almost all astronomical objects, gravitation dominates, and they have the same unexpected behavior. Gravitation reverses the usual relation between energy and temperature. In the domain of astronomy, when heat flows from hotter to cooler objects, the hot objects get hotter and the cool objects get cooler. As a result, temperature differences in the astronomical universe tend to increase rather than decrease as time goes on. There is no final state of uniform temperature, and there is no heat death. Gravitation gives us a universe hospitable to life. Information and order can continue to grow for billions of years in the future, as they have evidently grown in the past.
Freeman Dyson - How We Know [a review of James Gleick's The Information]

June 18, 2011

Everything acts on everything at once

Underground groups -- subcultures -- can be distinguished from independent cultures by their habit of referring constantly to the parent society
Bruce Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown

June 17, 2011

The liberation of all deviant desires

Careful readers of Natural Right and History soon realize, however, that [Leo] Strauss was a subtle critic of the philosophic principles that founded the United States. He brings into doubt the principles on which Enlightenment liberalism and America were founded, and he shows them to be woefully deficient. Strauss, it becomes clear to the alert reader, was a trenchant critic of the principles and institutions that are most uniquely American (e.g., natural rights, individualism, limited government, and laissez-faire capitalism) precisely because they are all ultimately grounded on a moral philosophy of rational self-interestedness. Strauss believed that such principles ultimately lead to nihilism by untying man from the “eternal order.” In other words, he believed that liberal-capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. For Strauss, the very idea of a right to “the pursuit of happiness” necessarily leads to the liberation of all deviant desires.

June 16, 2011

Implications of a discovery of extraterrestrial life

Anthropological files contain many examples of societies, sure of their place in the universe, which have disintegrated when they had to associate with previously unfamiliar societies espousing different ideas and different ways of life; others that survived such an experience usually did so by paying the price of changes in values and attitudes and behavior.
Section on "Implications of a discovery of extraterrestrial life" in Proposed Studies on the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs

June 15, 2011

O victory forget your underwear we're free

We wanted to unite all the people who were writers, who were musicians, who were artists, to demonstrate that the West and the United States was devoted to freedom of expression and to intellectual achievement, without any rigid barriers as to what you must write, and what you must say, and what you must do, and what you must paint, which was what was going on in the Soviet Union. I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War.
Tom Braden, first chief of the CIA's International Organisations Division, Modern Art was a CIA Weapon

June 14, 2011

Strange fruit

Saw A Man Within, last year's Burrough's documentary. I was a big fan in my more fucked up youth, mainly of the last three novels and some essays, but even more so of the man himself. Whatever I was supposed to be [I went to a military school] I was not interested in becoming. Burroughs the man presented rebellion hiding in plain sight - short hair, three piece suit, balding and stiff. You couldn't imagine him dancing or fucking, never mind doing either of them well. For an uncool teen he represented an entirely plausible role model of sorts, as long as you ignored almost everything.

Burroughs expressed a lack of interest in psychedelics as opposed to the numbing altered states of junk and booze. This is reflected in his lack of emotion and human connection, an abstractness from himself and others. The desire to shock seemed as much aimed at himself as others. [A quote I remember runs something like: “...I think of the most horrible, disgusting things I can imagine, and then write them down...”]. What's hinted at in the work is made clear by friends / admirers in the documentary – he was incapable of confronting his own feelings for others and need to love and be loved, right up until almost the end.


Another angle. Now I read a lot fewer fucked up writers, or if I read them, the first attraction isn't toward their fucked-upness. If I'm going to pay close attention to someone then they need to moving toward to the light in some respect, trying to make things better.


The thing about waking up from time wasted along strange, unproductive and unfulfilling paths (again and again), is that eventually you get a sense that things need to change in quite obvious ways. And so we have our weaknesses / contradictions, and beyond a certain age are stuck with genuinely narrowing horizons, limited by decisions made long ago for reasons that at best were romantic or senseless, if not demented. There's very little that I can explain about my life, and long ago gave up trying to impose a narrative, because all the ones I came up with were just absurd creations myths.


I had very limited expectations as a teenager, with Burroughs being the best of the worst version of myself I could have been – paranoid and repressed – and if I'd worked harder I could have achieved a shitty local optimum, being really great at something I wasn't happy with. While Burroughs seemed to push as far as possible down a blind alley, I'm glad that I turned back, broke things down, and took the simpler in the long run step of changing everything possible, an option that – narrowing horizons notwithstanding – I keep in my pocket and pat on occasion, just for kicks.

Related: You are what you read

Why women should perhaps avoid men with too much Bukowski at home

I don't want to be loved in spite of what is worst in me, but because of what is worst in me. I even go so far as to hope that what is worst in me is what people like best about me.
Michel Houellebecq - Public Enemies

June 13, 2011

Heroes in popular fiction

Awesome heroes stuck in mediocre lives are compelling, because they suggest that having a mediocre life may not be your fault.

June 12, 2011

The demon machine

“I believe that my brain chemistry has changed as a result of this, mostly for the better. I am sated. I am complete in this environment. This is the environment I needed in order to become what I needed to become. With the Internet, I have communication with large amounts of people, in perpetuity. Always having a new war, a new battle.”
Andrew Breitbart profile in the New Yorker

June 11, 2011

Why modern philosophy is a low stakes game

...the particular merit of Western philosophy is to have placed the question of truth center stage, sacrificed everything for it, going so far as to eventually consent to a form of suicide, reducing its own scope to that of an epistemological complement. It is Nietzsche, I think, that big subtle cat, who first recognized the dangers the sciences having more or less killed off revealed truths would have on philosophy itself. But it was he, consequently, who tried to taint the search for truth with suspicion. He thereby opened up in philosophy what might be called the era of disloyalty. Because what is philosophy if it relegates the search for truth to the background? We're pretty much back to the sophists.
Michel Houellebecq - Public Enemies

June 10, 2011

The most intimate regret

...the most intimate regret and the most hidden is not to have loved life.
E. M. Cioran, The Book of Delusions [full text]

June 09, 2011

I never had any plans beyond a certain lifestyle - II

I'm happy if I get food, sex, exercise, reading, some creativity, sociability, and a high level of control over my own time and / or space [ideally both, but often only one, being a freelancer who needs to pay the bills].

This feels good until I meet people who are working hard with talent and luck on more focused and appealing plans that seem to offer greater prospects for overall and long-term fulfillment, and then the monkey comparisons kick in. I'm getting better at being myself – becoming a better self to be – but sometimes it's dizzying to wonder how I got here and the hacking off of other branches at an early age, with the clear hells I escaped far outnumbering any plausible better outcomes.

Almost everything that's happened to me has been a surprise, a surrender into circumstances that then coalesce around something that can be sustained for a while, or else falls apart before being recognized as anything real enough to be destroyed. And things fall apart continuously, and if they don't then I seem to destroy them.

But this surrender and surprise is probably true for most people, based on the long-standing principle that there's very little that's exceptional about me. We all fall into particular reality tunnels, and moving between them requires only a trickster / daydream kit that involves a sine wave flow between concentration / lack of focus.

This is mostly OK. If I thought about it deeply or not there would only be different sets of rapidly evolving and semi-fictional rationalizations that reveal more about that day's particular tunnel vision than tell a coherent or plausible story. Instead I only get on with things – with no talent, a lot of luck, and sporadic bursts of hard work.

June 08, 2011

People tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests

I'm not saying that television is vulgar and dumb because the people who compose the Audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests.

June 07, 2011

Confessions of a low self-monitor

From an unpublished paper I'm editing:

High self-monitors tend to engage in several activities in different specialized social systems, and they will play different roles and tailor their self-presentation behaviors to suit the specialized situation, whereas low self-monitors tend to take part in many activities in the same social system, which is often homogeneous and well-suited to their personalities (Snyder & Gangestad, 1982). This shows that high self-monitors prefer to play diverse social roles in a segmented social world, while low self-monitors are more likely have more uniform one