I just solved our political impasse

I’d like to announce my non-candidacy for a some office either too insubstantial to make any actual difference, or too high-ranking to stand a remote chance of attaining ten votes nationwide. I’m doing so because I believe in feelings and beliefs, and feel that my feelings and beliefs are sufficient to both not win, and to not risk causing any sort of actual change that will improve anyone’s actual life at all.

My platform is really quite simple.

Let us resolve the abortion and gun culture wars by implementing one simple measure once and for all. Allow people to continue owning guns, and allow others to use them in the commission of abortion. Problem solved.

Support folks in building their favored socialist or survivalist utopia within the context of our present economic structure. There are no shortage of co-ops and suburban enclaves, no shortage of gutter punk houses and Amish communities, no shortage of Costcos that will outfit your commune with bulk pickles and entire pallets of toiletries at a low, low price.

Indeed modern capitalism enables a voluntary socialist community to outfit itself at a tax rate of approximately 0.01%, so long as they can endure itchy buttocks and occasional constipation. Substantial amounts of land can be purchased in the backcountry for about $5 per acre, and Amazon.com will soon deliver to these remote areas by drone.

Universal healthcare can be implemented overnight by resorting to inexpensive and well-founded medical products, like crystals and shots of apple cider vinegar. Climate change can be addressed through the clever use of geodesic domes. Income inequality can be curtailed by using a cryptocurrency available at a sharp discount to commune members. College tuition can be eliminated by hosting free local workshops, teaching people to code but also to weld. When people learn that welding will enable them to earn five times as much as a person with a degree in the classics, the people will rise up and choose to weld shit together.

Keeping these innovative and entirely realistic proposals in mind, I hope I won’t earn your vote in the relevant and tedious celebration of our lack of essential liberties that occurs every so often and leaves all of us miserable and disappointed.

Toxic garbage dumpsters

Katie Herzog argues that call-out culture is a toxic garbage dumpster fire of trash:

There’s a name for this behavior: witch hunts. Someone is accused, judged, and condemned for an alleged or apparent transgression, and the townspeople on Facebook and Twitter grab their pitchforks and rush to the burn pile. There may be little evidence to support the prevailing narrative, but that hardly matters. […]

In a recent Wired piece, techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci wrote about contemporary censorship, which comes not from governments but from our own social networks. “The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech itself,” she wrote. “As a result, they don’t look much like the old forms of censorship at all. They look like viral or coordinated harassment campaigns, which harness the dynamics of viral outrage to impose an unbearable and disproportionate cost on the act of speaking out.”

Dangerous knowledge

Paul Goodman reflecting1 on a group of campus hecklers in 1967:

I realized that they did not believe there was a nature of things. [To them] there was no knowledge but only the sociology of knowledge. They had learned so well that physical and sociological research is subsidized and conducted for the benefit of the ruling class that they were doubtful that there was such a thing as simple truth, for instance that the table was made of wood—maybe it was plastic imitation.

To be required to know something was a trap by which the young were put down and co-opted. Then I knew my guests and I could not get through to them. I had imagined that the worldwide student protest had to do with changing political and moral institutions, and I was sympathetic to this. But I now saw that we had to do with a religious crisis. Not only all institutions but all learning had been corrupted by the Whore of Babylon…

  1. From New Reformation, p. 70-71

On conversation

James Radcliffe on conversation:

At its best the act of conversation can be many things; connection, communion, truth-finding, enlightenment, inspiration, a healing…  I do not overstate when I say that I have participated in conversations that have bordered on spiritual awakenings.  […]

The thing that I love about a great conversation is the same thing that I love about being part of a great gig, about making love, or participating in the creative process.  All these things are capable of rendering up jewels of light.  This is the truly good stuff; this is what makes life worth living; this is what balances the chaotic fury of flying blind thru the ever-storm of a darkening experience.

I’ve thought something of the sort recently. How my very favorite thing in the world might just be conversation, and how seldom we might consider this a possible answer.

Bread, circuses, and the web

Tristan Harris on designing for time well spent:

[W]e live in an attention economy.

An attention economy means that no matter what you aim to make (an app or a website), you win by getting people to spend time. So what starts as an honest competition to make useful things that people spend their time on, must devolve into a ruthless competition to seduce our deepest instincts to get more of people’s time — a race to the bottom of the brain stem.

The problem is, to fix it, you can’t ask anyone who’s in that competition NOT to maximize the time their users spend. Because someone else (another app, or another website) will swoop in and siphon that time away to them instead. […]

So we’re not going to get out of this situation, or convince those apps or websites to do something else until we create a new kind of competition — until there’s a newthing apps and websites can compete for.

And what if we could make that? What if instead of competing to get us to spend time, apps and websites were competing to help us spend our time well? What if they competed to create net positive contributions to people’s lives?

I don’t want to be distracted anymore. I want a world that helps me spend my time well.

Last year, I wrote about how this fight for our attention is most obvious in the case of notifications:

Each and every notification constitutes a minor encroachment on our lives. One every so often might not be a big deal, but if you live with the defaults, you’re going to get notifications constantly. This is emotionally draining.

If a person acted the way that many notifications do, you’d think they were being psychologically abusive.

Harris and others are organizing practitioners, and developing these ideas further, with Time Well Spent.

Special thanks to Anne for sharing.

The origin and fragility of ideas

Publikwork on the origin of ideas:

No one knows. Their origins are as inscrutable as crop circles and Stonehenge.

Oh, plenty of people claim to know the secret; plenty more have a sure-fire, foolproof method for sparking brilliant new thoughts. On demand. At the snap of your fingers. Well, I’m here to tell you, ideas can’t be trained. They don’t come when they’re called; they won’t fetch or roll over, either. They’ll play dead, though. They’re doing it now. At this very moment.

I thought I had one, but when I looked closely, it wasn’t moving. No signs of life. I nudged it with my foot, I poked it with a stick, nothing, no response. Great, now what? Well, once in a while I’ll find a stray idea in the shower or under the covers, so I checked there, but nope. Not this time. The cupboards are bare.

Virginia Woolf on thoughts1:

Thought — to call it by a prouder name than it deserved — had let its line down into the stream. It swayed, minute after minute, hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it until — you know the little tug — the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one’s line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and the careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked; the sort of fish that a good fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one day worth cooking and eating. […]

Instantly a man’s figure rose to intercept me. Nor did I at first understand that the gesticulations of a curious-looking object, in a cut-away coat and evening shirt, were aimed at me. His face expressed horror and indignation. Instinct rather than reason came to my help, he was a Beadle; I was a woman. This was the turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me. Such thoughts were the work of a moment. As I regained the path the arms of the Beadle sank, his face assumed its usual repose, and though turf is better walking than gravel, no very great harm was done. The only charge I could bring against the Fellows and Scholars of whatever the college might happen to be was that in protection of their turf, which has been rolled for 300 years in succession they had sent my little fish into hiding.

  1. From A Room of One’s Own, 1929.