Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Masks and images

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Masks are arrested expressions, and admirable echoes of feeling, at once faithful, discreet, and superlative. Living things in contact with the air must acquire a cuticle, and it is not urged against cuticles that they are not hearts; yet some philosophers seem to be angry with images for not being things, and with words for not being feelings. Words and images are like shells, no less Integral parts of nature than are the substances they cover, but better addressed to the eye, and more open to observation. I would not say that substance exists for the sake of appearance, or faces for the sake of masks, or the passions for the sake of poetry and virtue. Nothing arises in nature for the sake of anything else; all these phases and products are involved equally in the rounds of existence…

— George Santayana, Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies (London: Constable, 1922)

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2023 at 3:15 pm

Lessons from long meditation

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Cory Muscara meditated 15 hours a day for 6 months straight with one of the toughest Buddhist monks on the planet. He posted a Twitter thread about what he learned. Here’s the first post in the thread.

Here are the lessons:

This is Sayadaw U Pandita. He was notorious for his unwavering belief that enlightenment is possible in this life & his ruthless expectation that his students get there. We slept 2-5 hours/night. No reading, writing or speaking.Lots of pain. Lots of insight. Let’s get into it👇

Cory Muscara

1. Finding your true self is an act of love. Expressing it is an act of rebellion.

2. A sign of growth is having more tolerance for discomfort. But it’s also having less tolerance for bullshit.

3. Who you are is not your fault, but it is your responsibility.

4. Procrastination is the refusal or inability to be with difficult emotions.

5. Desires that arise in agitation are more aligned with your ego. Desires that arise in stillness are more aligned with your soul.

6. The moment before letting go is often when we grip the hardest.

7. You don’t find your ground by looking for stability. You find your ground by relaxing into instability.

8. What you hate most in others is usually what you hate most in yourself.

9. The biggest life hack is to become your own best friend. Everything is easier when you do.

10. The more comfortable you become in your own skin, the less you need to manufacture the world around you for comfort.

11. An interesting thing happens when you start to like yourself. You no longer need all the things you thought you needed to be happy.

12. If you don’t train your mind to appreciate what is good,you’ll continue to look for something better in the future, even when things are great.

13. The belief that there is some future moment more worth our presence than the one we’re in right now is why we miss our lives.

14. There is no set of conditions that leads to lasting happiness. Lasting happiness doesn’t come from conditions; it comes from learning to flow with conditions.

15. Spend more time cultivating a mind that is not attached to material things than time spent accumulating them.

16. Sometimes we need to get out of alignment with the rest of the world to get back into alignment with ourselves.

17. Real confidence looks like humility. You no longer need to advertise your value because it comes from a place that does not require the validation of others.

18. High pain tolerance is a double-edged sword. It’s key for self-control, but can cause us to override the pain of being out of alignment.

19. Negative thoughts will not manifest a negative life. But unconscious negative thoughts will.

20. To feel more joy, open to your pain.

21. Bullying yourself into enlightenment does not work. Befriending yourself is how you transcend yourself.

22. Peak experiences are fun, but you always have to come back. Learning to appreciate ordinary moments is the key to a fulfilling life.

23. Meditation is not about feeling good. It’s about feeling what you’re feeling with good awareness. Plot twist: Eventually that makes you feel good.

24. If you are able to watch your mind think, it means who you are is bigger than your thoughts.

25. Practicing stillness is not about privileging stillness over movement. It’s about the CAPACITY to be still amidst your impulses. It’s about choice.

26. The issue is not that we get distracted. It’s that we’re so distracted by distractions we don’t even know we’re distracted.

27. There are 3 layers to a moment: Your experience, your awareness of the experience, and your story about the experience. Be mindful of the story.

28. Life is always happening in just one moment. That’s all you’re responsible for.

29. Your mind doesn’t wander. It moves toward what it finds most interesting. If you want to focus better, become more curious about what’s in front of you.

30. Life continues whether you’re paying attention to it or not. I think that is why the passage of time is scary.

31. You cannot practice non-attachment. You can only show your mind the suffering that attachment creates. When it sees this clearly, it will let go.

32. Meditation can quickly become spiritualized suppression. Be careful not to use concentration to avoid what is uncomfortable.

33. One of the deepest forms of peace we can experience is living in integrity. You can lie to other people about who you are, but you can’t lie to your heart.

34. Be careful not to let the noise of your mind overpower the whispers of your heart.

35. Monks love to fart while they meditate. The wisdom of letting go expresses itself in many forms.

36. You can’t life-hack wisdom. Do the work.

Sayadaw U Pandita passed away in 2016. While I often resisted his style of teaching, I had the deepest respect for him. Through his teachings, my life changed in ways I can’t describe; a sentiment echoed by thousands of others. I am forever grateful.

There’s more at the link, including photos and discussion.

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2023 at 4:58 am

Ancient Greece had extreme polarization and civil strife too – how Thucydides can help us understand Jan. 6 and its aftermath

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Rachel Hadas, Professor of English, Rutgers University – Newark, writes in The Conversation:

The second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection is upon us. And each new revelation about that brutal mob assault on our government raises a host of fresh questions about what transpired in the days prior to January 6, notably who was involved in planning the events of that day. Why, for instance, did former President Donald Trump reportedly consider a blanket pardon for all the insurrectionists?

An answer to that question and others will surely raise more questions and ultimately reveal the scope of what we still do not, and may never, know. But maybe now, two years on, we finally have the perspective to see that the lie Trump told about the 2020 election – that he won and President Joe Biden lost – is still shredding the fabric of our democracy.

But how do we make sense of it all?

As a professor of English and a student of the classics, I suggest that the insights and objectivity of a historian who lived nearly 2,500 years ago can bolster our understanding of the country’s current plight.

Early in his great work, “History of the Peloponnesian War,” [free ebook version – LG]about the decades-long war (431–404 BC) between Athens and Sparta, Athenian historian Thucydides (460-400 BC) expresses the hope that his “History” would be “judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or other and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future.”

Divisions fracture democracies

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thucydides was cited frequently, and for good reason.

In “History,” he devotes a brief passage to the Great Plague that struck Athens in 432. After describing the symptoms, he seems to stand back and comment on the dire damage done by The Plague, not only to people’s bodies but to their behavior – and by extension to the city-state that had prided itself on its democracy. Civic responsibility gave way to a desperate emphasis on individual survival or immediate gratification, and the spirit of cooperation crucial for a working democracy withered. Journalists, historians and professors of classics alike wrote not only about the similarities between the long-ago Great Plague and COVID-19, but also about the timeless force of Thucydides’ insight.

When it comes to an equally celebrated passage on civil war, later in the same work, Thucydides uses the same technique. First he provides a granular description of chaotic factionalism. Then, he stands back and offers a coolly objective assessment of the larger disorders attendant on civil strife. He writes about the civil conflict in Corcyra (modern Corfu) over the broader war between Athens and Sparta over territory and power. The Jan. 6 committee argues that Trump’s election lie sparked civil unrest in the United States and ignited the insurrection.

The causes of civil strife differ, but some of Thucydides’ conclusions about democracy and civil unrest applied to American society two years ago – and still apply now.

It will happen again

Among Thucydides’ trenchant insights, I believe two stand out in our moment.

First is how people . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2023 at 6:47 pm

The third magic: A meditation on history, science, and AI

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Noah Smith writes at Noahpinion:

This post is essentially a rewrite of a big and half-formed idea that I wrote on my old blog eight years ago. I was deeply dissatisfied with that post, but I thought it contained a few interesting seeds. So now I’m trying again, and will undoubtedly fail again. But hopefully something else interesting will come out of the attempt.

Humanity’s living standards are vastly greater than those of the other animals. Many people attribute this difference to our greater intelligence or our greater linguistic communication ability. But without minimizing the importance of those underlying advantages, I’d like to offer the idea that our material success is due, in large part, to two great innovations. Usually we think of innovations as specific technologies — agriculture, writing, the wheel, the steam engine, the computer. The most important of these are the things we call “general purpose technologies”. But I think that at a deeper level, there are more profound and fundamental meta-innovations that underlie even those things, and these are ways of learning about the world.

The first magic

Humans’ first big meta-innovation, roughly speaking — the first thing that lifted us above an animal existence — was history. By this, I don’t just mean the chronicling of political events and social trends that we now call “history”, but basically any knowledge that’s recorded in language — instructions on how to farm, family genealogies, techniques for building a house or making bronze, etc. Originally these were recorded in oral traditions, but these are a very lossy medium; eventually, we started writing knowledge down, and then we got agricultural manuals, almanacs, math books, and so on. That’s when we really got going.

Animals make tools, but they don’t collectively remember how to make those tools. History, especially written history, is what allows tinkering to stick — it means that when one human finds an ingenious new way of doing something, there’s a good chance that many other humans, and eventually all humans, will know how to do it. And of course those techniques can then build on each other over time. In the modern day we think of history as primarily a social science, but fundamentally it’s the foundation of technology as well; it’s the thing that lifted us from an almost animal existence into the agricultural age. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2023 at 1:27 pm

Thinking about a new year, our resolutions for it, and whether those are good.

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A short video, and an interesting contrast of ideas. Full disclosure: On the first of January, I shall get an email to myself that I wrote one year ago, about my plans, goals, fears, and hopes for the coming year, and I shall write one to be delivered a year later. However, the same is true for the first of each month. 

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2022 at 12:10 am

What One Black Judge’s Family History Can Teach Us About Justice

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Dahlia Lithwick writes in Slate:

At present, Black judges make up 12.77 percent of the federal bench. This is actually, finally, starting to approach adequate representation for Black people in this country, in no small part because President Joe Biden has put forward the most racially diverse set of judicial nominations in history. But for decades and indeed centuries, diversity on the bench has not been anywhere close to where it should be. Donald Trump’s judicial appointees were, recall, 84 percent white.

Diversity matters on the federal and state judiciaries for a whole host of reasons, chief among them that such diversity determines whose stories are told in court and how. As former head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Sherrilyn Ifill, put it in the New York Review of Books last week, in describing Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s questions at oral arguments in October over the future of affirmative action: “It has been a long time since a Black justice on the Court has spoken with such depth and experience about the many ways in which race can be deeply entwined with identity and self-expression.” As Ifill further detailed:

This oral argument mattered, in tone and substance. Its importance may have been underestimated by a benumbed Supreme Court press, understandably focused on what is likely to be the Court’s decision. Something was different here, whether it was Justice Jackson’s stunningly clear interventions; or [Solicitor General Elizabeth] Prelogar pointing out to the justices that only two women are arguing before the Court this term (would it be reasonable, she asked, for women to see that disparity and ask “is that a path that’s open to me?”); or Justice Kagan asking whether judges can consider race in hiring clerks—a question surely targeted at Justice Kavanaugh, who has spoken in the past about, and even earned praise for, hiring diverse law clerks. These moments seemed to pull the Court itself into the charged national debate about racial equality, closing the distance between the justices and our country’s ongoing struggle to build a fair and equitable democracy.

It is not, nor should it be, in dispute that “justice” often lies in the eye of the beholder. Jackson has made it abundantly clear in her short time on the Supreme Court that she will be a voice for a broader and more diverse notion of racial equality, and dignity as guaranteed in the Constitution. These interventions are important, as Ifill noted, if only because they remind us that the constitutional history of racial justice is too often written by those who have benefited most from a constitutional history of racial injustice.

I had been thinking about all of this when I contemplated the recent portrait ceremony of Judge Robert L. Wilkins. Wilkins was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2014, where he sat alongside then-Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. On Oct. 14, his official portrait was hung at the court in a ceremony typically representing one of the highlights of a judge’s tenure on the bench.

Wilkins was born on Oct. 2, 1963, in Muncie, Indiana, to Joyce Hayes Wilkins and John Wilkins. After he earned his J.D. from Harvard in 1989, he spent over a decade at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia—first as a staff attorney, and later as special litigation chief. He left the practice of law to work full time to help establish and create the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In 2016, Wilkins authored Long Road to Hard Truth: The 100-Year Mission to Create the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

What struck me most about Wilkins’ speech was that he used it to detail a sometimes submerged narrative about the complicated meaning of freedom: He told the story of his own family’s long journey through U.S. constitutional history, a very different encounter with the Framers’ ideas about freedom and justice.

Excerpts from his remarks at that event are reprinted, with Wilkins’ permission, below.

***

My maternal grandmother, Marcella Hayes, was with us during my investiture to become a District Court Judge. She has . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 December 2022 at 5:42 pm

All People Are Created Educable, a Vital Oft-Forgotten Tenet of Modern Democracy

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Jack Cade's rebel mob with two pikes holding up two severed heads.
1867 Illustration of Jack Cade and his rebels with the severed heads of Lord Say and his son-in-law, hard-working administrators, killed because Lord Say built a paper mill, supported books, and spoke Latin. Shakespeare is very overt in his depiction of the imagined savagery of a self-governing mob.

Ada Palmer, an historian, novelist, composer, and professor in the History Department at the University of Chicago, writes in Ex Urbe:

Many shocking, new ideas shaped the American Experiment and related 18th century democratic ventures; as an historian of the period, I often notice that one of the most fundamental of them, and most shocking to a world which had so long assumed the opposite, often goes unmentioned — indeed sometimes denied — in today’s discussions of democracy: the belief that all people are educable.  I think it’s urgent that we bring that principle back into the spotlight if we want to defend democracy from one of its common failure modes: pseudo-populist oligarchy.

Within “all men are created equal” lies the sub-principle that all people, or specifically all enfranchised citizens of a state (which often at the time meant white male adults, though some made it broader, or narrower) that all such people are, if given appropriate educational resources, capable of learning, exercising sound judgment, and acting on said judgment, thus that they all people are equally rational and capable of competent self-governance.  This thesis does not assume that all people when adults are equally prepared to participate in government, but that all people when born have the capacity to absorb education if given access to it.  Rare intellectual disabilities might make the education process challenging for certain individuals, but (the thesis argues) even then the right support and resources make education possible, and such situations are not the default human state.  This is the thesis that all people are fundamentally educable. 

Many in the 18th c. who thought democracy was absurd rejected it because they disagreed with this thesis, believing that the majority of people (even of white men) were not educable, i.e. that even with educational resources most people were born incapable of being guided by Reason and making sound political judgments. Those who believed this predicted that government by the people would collapse into absurdity, since it would be led by a parliament of fools. We get a taste of what such critics of democracy thought would happen to America in the satirical scenes in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2 in which Jack Cade’s populist rebels happily kill each other and laugh about it, and believe they can end hunger by having everyone eat on the king’s tab at restaurants and making the gutters run with wine (and which is the source of the much-misunderstood “First thing we do is kill all the lawyers,” step 1 in which executing everyone who can read is their step 2) — this is what many 18th c. anti-democrats believed would happen if governing was truly done by the people.

Often modern people have trouble wrapping our heads around how sure pre-modern Europeans were that human minds and their capacities (A) varied fundamentally, (B) were locked in at birth and immutable, and (C) were only very rarely rational or educable.  This doesn’t mean elite education, it means any education, grasping the basics beyond I’m hungry and I want to eat that fish.  Plato and Aristotle (and many transformations thereof over 2,000 years), described a human soul/mind led by three forces: the appetites, the passions, and the intellect i.e. reason.  The appetites were simplest and most bodily: I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m tired and want to rest, I’m bored and want entertainment, I’m horny and want sex, my arms hurt I don’t want to carry this anymore.  The passions we might call mental but worldly: pride, ambition, loyalty, patriotism I want to be famous, I want to be respected, I want to be well-talked-of in the city, I want to protect my way of life, I want to have power, I want to advance the glory of the state, I want to battle evil, etc.  Reason, or the intellect, was the calculating, understanding, and contemplative power, which did math, understood the universe, aspired to the spiritual and eternal (whether Justice or the Pythagorean theorem) and exercised ethical judgment, weighing goods and bads deciding the best course (Eating this whole jar of pickles would be yummy but then I’ll get a stomachache; electing this demagogue would make me rich but then he would tyrannize the state.)  Both Aristotle and Plato say that different souls are dominated by different organs of the soul (i.e. either the appetites, passions, or intellect) and that only a tiny minority of human souls are dominated by the intellect, a larger minority by the passions, and practically all by the base appetites.  Plato’s Republic uses an exam/aptitude system to identify these rare souls of gold (as opposed to silver = passions, bronze/iron = appetites) and make them rulers of the city, and proposes a eugenicist breeding program to produce more.

The principle that souls of gold (i.e. souls fully capable of being educated & of wise rule) are a tiny minority, and that most humans are immutably not educable from birth, was very thoroughly absorbed into European belief, and dominated it for 2,000 years.  In Dante, we see the entire structure of Hell revolve around the appetites/passions/intellect distinction.  Medieval epistemology, psychology, and even ideas about medicine and plants incorporated this principle, and spun elaborate explanations for how and why different souls perceived the heavenly world (Good, Justice, Providence) better than others.  Eugen Weber’s powerful history, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914, shows how people in the period wrote about their own French peasants in incredibly insulting, infantilizing, quasi-bestial terms, strikingly similar to the racist language we’re used to the Age of Empires using to demean non-Europeans. Anyone who hasn’t looked at period sources will struggle to believe how ferociously confident the European majority was in the thesis that the majority of people even in their own country could never understand a book, a moral quandary, or a political proposition.  Keeping the rare wise elites in charge was the only barrier between order and savagery.  The fact that so many people were willing to believe in the totally mythical tragedy of the commons (yes, it’s totally invented, real peasants took great care of their commons) is one relic of how certain people were for a long time (and some still are) that most people are not capable of making the kinds of prudent, sustainable judgments necessary for custodianship of a polity.

It took a lot to get even a small radical fringe by 1750 to entertain the notion that all people–or even just all men–were created equally educable.  A long survey of the causes would get unwieldy, but they include (among other things) contact with  . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the essay:

Now, at one point I helped my Ph.D. adviser James Hankins with his research on the history of conservatism.  We (mostly he) looked at many examples over many times, places, and regimes, and observed after innumerable case studies that a consistent defining characteristic of conservative thought over time is the belief that some people are better at ruling than others, thus that the best way to run a government and society is to put those superior people in power.  Whether it’s a hereditary aristocracy, an exam-based meritocracy, an earn-the-franchise-through-military-service timocracy, or a divine right monarchy, many systems posit that some are more capable of rule than others, and that the best system will put them in power.

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2022 at 5:01 pm

Bertrand Russell on anger in an argument

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Bertrand Russel makes an excellent observation:

If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do. If some one maintains that two and two are five, or that Iceland is on the equator, you should feel pity rather than anger, unless you know so little of arithmetic or geography that his opinion shakes your own contrary conviction.

The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion. So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard; you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants.

— Bertrand Russell, An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1943)

Written by Leisureguy

11 December 2022 at 3:43 pm

The white-supremacist foundations of the (fictional) tragedy of the commons

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Heavenly Possum has a fascinating thread on Mastodon. It begins:

There is no such thing as the tragedy of the commons: a thread.

The oldest published reference to the idea is in a lecture by an early political economist at Oxford, William Foster Lloyd, in 1832 titled “On the Checks to Population.” Lloyd first articulated the argument that many of us have been taught as an inevitable and immutable fact of economic life: that any resource owned in common will be exploited to the point of ruin.

“Why are the cattle on a common so puny and stunted? Why is the common itself so hare-worn, and cropped so differently from the adjoining inclosures? No inequality, in respect of natural or acquired fertility, will account for the phenomenon.”

jstor.org/stable/1972412

1/

It’s not clear what, if any, empirical research Lloyd made into the status of England’s remaining commons at the time of his writing, and he doesn’t seem to have accounted for the fact that English landlords had been privatizing the commons for centuries, leaving increasingly marginal land for the commons.

Lloyd’s idea was championed by ecologist Garrett Hardin who, in 1968, published an essay in the journal Science titled “The Tragedy of the Commons.” In it, Hardin framed Lloyd’s argument in the context of global overpopulation, arguing that common property inevitably and inexorably led to resource exhaustion and advocating for total privatization of all resources as a remedy.

2/

“[T]he rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another; and another…But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit–in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.”

Hardin, casually and without evidence, dismisses the existence of commons that did not fall victim to this ostensibly inevitable tragedy: “Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast below the carrying capacity of the land.”

3/

Hardin’s solution? “The social arrangements that produce responsibility are arrangements that create coercion…” Hardin believed that privatization, with its attendant exclusionary violence, was the only solution to the tragedy.

pages.mtu.edu/~asmayer/rural_s

This story has been taught to countless students in countless economics and other classes. It is taken for granted and repeated endlessly. It has been gleefully embraced by the propertied class, because it works to ideologically justify their ownership of the world’s resources as necessary for the common good. It is rarely presented with any evidence, because it is assumed to be so logical, so self evidently true, that it does not need any.

The logic is airtight. People are utility maximizing, rational machines. When presented with a shared resource, of course they will exploit it to exhaustion. Of course. Even if most people were angels, Hardin argued, all it would take is one defector to start the race to over-exploitation. In the face of even one over-exploiter, each individual would have a rational incentive to also begin over-exploiting for personal gain. Every actor knows this choice will lead to eventual ruin for all, but if any one actor waits, they risk being left without even the tiniest share. Of course.

4/

The first problem with Hardin’s tragedy is that it’s not true. The second problem, which helps explain the first, is that Hardin was a racist ecofascist who hated nonwhite people, blamed them for ruining the planet, and advocated strongly for their exclusion from western countries, what he called “lifeboat ethics.” There simply weren’t enough resources for everyone, he argued, so he wanted to prioritize white westerners. “Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all” is a line from his essay that people don’t like to teach when they push the myth of the tragedy.

The Southern Poverty Law Center maintains a profile on Hardin, who advocated for, among other things, segregation, eugenic forced sterilization, and ethnic cleansing. He likened nonwhite people having many children to a “passive” genocide of white people. He was, in short, a monster. We should understand his evidence-free arguments for a tragedy of the commons through this lens: Hardin was a racist and eugenicist who believed most people were too stupid not to over-exploit resources and had to be violently contained to ensure enough would be left over for the “right” people. This is not a work of ecological science or even economics, but rather white supremacist propaganda.

5/

Then along came Elinor “Lin” Ostrom and her 1990 work “Governing the Commons.” In it, Ostrom presented game theory approach to commonly owned resources, explaining how people as self-interested rational actors could avoid the logical trap of over exploitation. And then she did Hardin one better: she detailed the workings of actual extant commons which, according to Hardin and every neoliberal since, should not exist.

Ostrom illustrated what anthropologists and people in stateless societies have known for generations: people are perfectly capable of working out rules to sustainably manage shared resources. In her book, Ostrom detailed one common . . .

Continue reading. It’s worth it.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2022 at 10:19 am

A human story more than a sports story

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My interest in American football is vanishingly small, but this profile of an NFL quarterback who walked away from the game is interesting at the human level, as an examination of the kinds of decisions we all face when we come to a fork in the road of life. Seth Wickersham writes for ESPN:

THE DAY AFTER he retired, Andrew Luck reached into the shower in the bedroom at his Indianapolis condo and turned the knob. He stepped back and waited for the water to get hot. It was the afternoon of Aug. 25, 2019, and he was in a fog over what he had done. When Luck had told Indianapolis Colts executives that he was going to walk away from football, they didn’t believe him. Couldn’t fathom it. “When you going to turn it on?” they asked two weeks before the season began. “I’m not,” Luck said. When he had told his teammates he hadn’t been able to live the life he wanted to live, they said they understood. Didn’t argue. They said they’d seen his pain and now sensed his relief. But his eyes dampened and his face reddened when he told them. He knew they wanted him for a shot at a Super Bowl, and he knew he wasn’t going to deliver. He also knew, no matter how guilty he felt, that he wasn’t going to change his mind.

When it came time to tell the rest of the world, Luck wrote it down. He sat at the counter in his kitchen and composed a retirement speech. He wrote longhand on a notepad and then typed parts and pieces into his laptop, polishing and rearranging as he went, titling it: ALUCK – FIRST DRAFT. It was strange to write. Usually, retirements are celebratory events at the end of storied careers. Nobody, not even Luck, would be celebrating this one. He used phrases like “I have a lot of clarity in this” and “it is the right decision for me.” The cycle of getting hurt, rehabbing, getting hurt again, had brought him to this place, he said. A place where it was time to “remove himself from football.”

The sports world was stunned. This was a generational quarterback. A quarterback on track for the Hall of Fame. A quarterback who’d just won the Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. A rare quarterback who seemed born to do what he was doing. This was Andrew Luck.

How could he walk away?

He delivered his speech, with trembling conviction. And the next day, at home, he couldn’t pick an emotion. They were all tangled together, relief mixed with mourning, guilt mixed with a profound unburdening, a dozen thoughts and feelings that he couldn’t name or even really describe. He had no idea what came next, or how hard it would be to find out. All he knew was that he didn’t have to pretend anymore. He stepped into the shower and stood under the water, and with the steam rising started to cry.


.
ALMOST THREE YEARS
later, on a May morning in Indianapolis, Andrew Luck is holding a fishing rod and sliding into waders in a dirt parking lot a few miles from his house. He’s 33 now. He just said goodbye to his wife, Nicole Pechanec, and dropped off their 3-year-old daughter, Lucy, at preschool. Another daughter, Penelope, is due in two months. After Luck retired from the Colts, he tried to find new outlets for his obsessions. He makes a perfect cappuccino, the whole beans purchased from a local shop where he always tips generously. Skiing fills his need for an outdoor physical act that requires total concentration, with speed and danger. Cycling provides the rush of skiing but in warm weather, and is easier on the joints. Rowing is something Nicole encouraged. And he loves fishing for all the usual reasons: the quiet and detachment, the hope and adrenaline, the fact that he can go alone or with friends.

He stands outside his black Audi sedan, fiddling with gear, and threads his line. A group of kids watches him from a distance. Luck is slimmer and more defined than he was in his playing days. His eyes are under a heavy brow, conveying little and absorbing everything. He is still famous around town, for the hope he once provided and the fading hope that he could still one day provide it again. He snakes through woods, down to a quiet river. There are some small rocks set up on a bank, where Lucy arranged them a few days ago when she came here with her daddy. That makes him smile. He steps into the water, cold and clear and perfect for trout, and lets out line in quick movements.

Time stretches out in front of him as it has stretched out in front of him since he threw a football better than almost anyone on the planet; strange and confusing, liberating and exhilarating, as he tries to understand how a game turned into an obligation and into a corruptive force.

“How do you fall out of love with something you loved?” he says.

He reels in his line and casts again and stares at the shimmering surface of the water.

“Elements of decisions of why I did it that I’m still processing,” he says.

“I think …”

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 December 2022 at 9:53 am

The full enchilada on the looking-over-the-fence meme

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Image shows four situations of 3 boys — 1 tall, 1 average height, 1 short — trying to look over the fence at a baseball game. 

Reality: Tallest boy stands on a big stack of boxes with an super view of the field, average boy stand on one box and can see the game, short boy stands in a hole and sees only the fence.

Equality: All three boys stand on one box. Tall boy's head is high above fence, average boy's head is just above fence, and short boy on box still can see only the fence. 

Equity: Tall boy stands on the ground and can see over the fence, average boy stands on one box and can see over the fence, and short boy stands on two boxes and can see over the fence.

Justice: The fence is gone, and all can watch the game unaided.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2022 at 11:27 am

The gods of Silicon Valley are falling to earth. So are their warped visions for society

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Moya Lothian-McLean writes in the Guardian:

The new gods are running into a bit of trouble. From the soap opera playing out at Twitter HQ, the too-big-to-fail bankruptcies in the cryptocurrency space, to mass tech layoffs, the past month has seen successive headlines declaring a litany of woes facing the bullish tech boyos in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The minute-by-minute coverage of Elon Musk’s escapades and the global levels of interest in the FTX collapse both go well beyond what you’d expect from a business story. I’m willing to gamble a few Bitcoins that the popular fixation has little to do with any particular interest in successful software engineering; rather it is the personalities who inhabit these spaces, and the philosophies that propel them in their godlike ambition. What is their end goal, we wonder. What drives them, beyond the pursuit of growth? It is easy to assume that money is all that motivates the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Musk and Jeff Bezos. Except, when you start to examine the mindsets of these men, it’s clear that cash is far from the whole story.

The concept of “effective altruism” has had its day in court after FTX, the world’s second largest cryptocurrency exchange announced that, oops, it was mysteriously short of $8bn and would be filing for bankruptcy, post haste. As the dust – and fraud allegations – settle, the personal guiding principles of FTX’s millennial chief executive, Sam Bankman-Fried, have come to the fore. Bankman-Fried ostensibly was driven into crypto by an adherence to the “effective altruism” movement. Originally espousing giving as much targeted time and money to philanthropy as possible, EA has been morphed by its most prominent practitioners into getting very, very rich and then spending that money on projects that better the human race. This “earn-to-give” philosophy is dependent on data-driven analysis of what causes offer the best returns of “betterment”. It’s utilitarianism with a god complex.

Since Bankman-Fried’s spectacular fall from grace, it seems as if this doctrine may be doomed to the same downward spiral as its most famous disciple. It’s hard to argue that you possess the best instincts to improve the prospects of the human race when you can’t even keep your own affairs – or billions in customer funds – in order.

Then there was the allegation last week by the Insider journalist Julia Black that Musk, along with other billionaires, appear to be engaged in their own personal eugenics programme via a movement called “pronatalism”. Black writes that pronatalism – an ideology centred on having children to reverse falling birthrates in European countries, and prevent a predicted population collapse – is “taking hold in wealthy tech and venture-capitalist circles”, with the aid of hi-tech genetic screening.

Musk has championed pronatalist ideas publicly. Privately the Tesla co-founder is, in his own words, “doing my part”; he has 10 children known to the public, two of whom are twins he fathered with an AI expert who serves as an executive for his Neuralink company. But the ideas go beyond Musk and into the canyons of Silicon Valley; the world’s richest and most powerful people see it as their duty, Black claims, to “replicate themselves as many times as possible”.

Black’s subjects also namecheck effective altruism, longtermism (which prioritises the distant future over the concerns of today), and transhumanism (the evolution of humanity beyond current limitations via tech), as complementary philosophies. The concept of legacy is key to understanding our tech pioneers. As one interviewee tells Black,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2022 at 1:04 pm

Rebecca Solnit comments on class warfare in the US

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Rebecca Solnit comments in Facebook on that post. (And at the link you can see additional comments she made):

My friend Nancy posted this and I said Please Lord, just one movie in which city folk represent decency and sanity and country folk are wacked to hell and back (besides Cold Comfort Farm, which is great, but English and from the 1930s). To which I might add the old conceit in which the city represents decadence and the countryside wholesomeness has bedeviled the English-speaking world for several centuries and is now a fixture and a curse upon American politics, the right having convinced rural people that, first, they are the wholesome Real Americans and second that we city folk despise and hate them.

Hate them for their wholesome traditional ways, rather than maybe we don’t hate them or maybe we hate intolerance and racism and the repression that hides abuse of all kinds (and maybe not a few city people are refugees from those idyllic-looking rural places that want to kill queer people, unsubmissive women, immigrants, and dissenters). I will give it to Barbara Kingsolver’s new book Demon Copperfield, in that it portrays a lot of violence, cruelty, trapped ness, and addiction in rural America. Aunt June who went to Knoxville is maybe the strongest moral force in the book and the most cleareyed character. Thanks to Susan for reminding me that Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is another portrait of rural America as unwholesome, and so is Jane Smiley’s retelling of King Lear in A Thousand Acres. What other classics of the unwholesome countryside are there? I think Thomas Hardy straddles the divide, loving some things and recognizing the cruelty and repression of others.

I grew up in a suburban cul-de-sac, the last subdivision before the country, on the edge of dairy farms. Our street was a spur off a long street, and I and learned to ride (western, of course) at the end of the long street become dirt road dead-ending in a horse pasture. I’ve spent many of the best days of my life in rural and wild places, and I admire the skill and toughness of people who work the land and tend it, but it’s probably assumed that since I’m urban, left, and environmental I hate rural people. And it’s true that I grew up among middle-class white people who mocked and ridiculed Dolly Parton and country music and southern accents, but I haven’t heard that nastiness in a long while.

I got an essay out of it years ago, titled “One Nation Under Elvis”: “The story that racism belongs to poor people in the South is a little too easy, though. Just as not everybody up here, geographically and economically, is on the right side of the line, so not everyone down there is on the wrong side. But the story allows middle-class people to hate poor people in general while claiming to be on the side of truth, justice, and everything else good.” In other words, a vile class war pretends to be an anti-racist war. I’ve met rich urban/northern racists and poor southern/rural antiracists. Categories are leaky.

To all this I’ll add a few paragraphs from this great column from four years ago by Paul Waldman (but please note that just as far from all conservatives/MAGA nuts are rural, so not all rural people are conservatives/MAGA nuts). Waldman writes: In the endless search for the magic key that Democrats can use to unlock the hearts of white people who vote Republican, the hot new candidate is “respect.” If only they cast off their snooty liberal elitism and show respect to people who voted for Donald Trump, Democrats can win them over and take back Congress and the White House.

The assumption is that if Democrats simply choose to deploy this powerful tool of respect, then minds will be changed and votes will follow. This belief, widespread though it may be, is stunningly naive. It ignores decades of history and everything about our current political environment. There’s almost nothing more foolish Democrats could do than follow that advice.

Before we proceed, let me be clear about what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that the desire for respect isn’t real. As a voter says in “The Great Revolt,” a new book by conservative journalist Salena Zito and Republican operative Brad Todd, “One of the things I really don’t get about the Democratic Party or the news media is the lack of respect they give to people who work hard all of their lives to get themselves out of the hole.”

But the mistake is to ignore where the belief in Democratic disrespect actually comes from and to assume that Democrats have it in their power to banish it.

It doesn’t come from the policies advocated by the Democratic Party, and it doesn’t come from the things Democratic politicians say. Where does it come from? An entire industry that’s devoted to convincing white people that liberal elitists look down on them.

It’s more than an industry, actually; it’s an industry, plus a political movement. The right has a gigantic media apparatus that is devoted to convincing people that liberals disrespect them, plus a political party whose leaders all understand that that idea is key to their political project and so join in the chorus at every opportunity. https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/why-democrats-cant…/

[I’d also add that the Democrats reliably advocate for legislation–access to healthcare, education, social services, clean water, etc.– that would benefit anyone poor or struggling and most people who are rural (if not big farming and ranching interests), but this is often ignored by the mainstream media and the right just plies them with the red meat of ideological issues, with the help of conservative Christian churches obsessing about abortion, sexuality, “traditional families” aka patriarchal repression, and lately critical race theory, trans kids, and other us-vs.-them frames.]

p.s. Eric Michael Garcia, the author of this genius tweet, is the author of a book on autism titled We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation. Link in comments. [Comments here – LG]

Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2022 at 10:57 am

The Town That Went Feral

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In the New Republic Patrick Blanchfield reviews a brief history of an effort to put Libertarianism into practice in Grafton NH. (Like all previous attempts, it was an utter failure, and for the same reason: a reliance on mere logic, with no consideration given to experience — and as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. observed, “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.”

The review begins:

In its public-education campaigns, the U.S. National Park Service stresses an important distinction: If you find yourself being attacked by a brown or grizzly bear, YES, DO PLAY DEAD. Spread your arms and legs and cling to the ground with all your might, facing downward; after a few attempts to flip you over (no one said this would be easy), the bear will, most likely, leave. By contrast, if you find yourself being attacked by a black bear, NO, DO NOT PLAY DEAD. You must either flee or, if that’s not an option, fight it off, curved claws and 700 psi-jaws and all.

But don’t worry—it almost never comes to this. As one park service PSA noted this summer, bears “usually just want to be left alone. Don’t we all?” In other words, if you encounter a black bear, try to look big, back slowly away, and trust in the creature’s inner libertarian. Unless, that is, the bear in question hails from certain wilds of western New Hampshire. Because, as Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling’s new book suggests, that unfortunate animal may have a far more aggressive disposition, and relate to libertarianism first and foremost as a flavor of human cuisine.

Hongoltz-Hetling is an accomplished journalist based in Vermont, a Pulitzer nominee and George Polk Award winner. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (and Some Bears) sees him traversing rural New England as he reconstructs a remarkable, and remarkably strange, episode in recent history. This is the so-called Free Town Project, a venture wherein a group of libertarian activists attempted to take over a tiny New Hampshire town, Grafton, and transform it into a haven for libertarian ideals—part social experiment, part beacon to the faithful, Galt’s Gulch meets the New Jerusalem. These people had found one another largely over the internet, posting manifestos and engaging in utopian daydreaming on online message boards. While their various platforms and bugbears were inevitably idiosyncratic, certain beliefs united them: that the radical freedom of markets and the marketplace of ideas was an unalloyed good; that “statism” in the form of government interference (above all, taxes) was irredeemably bad. Left alone, they believed, free individuals would thrive and self-regulate, thanks to the sheer force of “logic,” “reason,” and efficiency. For inspirations, they drew upon precedents from fiction (Ayn Rand loomed large) as well as from real life, most notably a series of micro-nation projects ventured in the Pacific and Caribbean during the 1970s and 1980s.

None of those micro-nations, it should be observed, panned out, and things in New Hampshire don’t bode well either—especially when the humans collide with a newly brazen population of bears, themselves just “working to create their own utopia,” property lines and market logic be damned. The resulting narrative is simultaneously hilarious, poignant, and deeply unsettling. Sigmund Freud once described the value of civilization, with all its “discontents,” as a compromise product, the best that can be expected from mitigating human vulnerability to “indifferent nature” on one hand and our vulnerability to one another on the other. Hongoltz-Hetling presents, in microcosm, a case study in how a politics that fetishizes the pursuit of “freedom,” both individual and economic, is in fact a recipe for impoverishment and supercharged vulnerability on both fronts at once. In a United States wracked by virus, mounting climate change, and ruthless corporate pillaging and governmental deregulation, the lessons from one tiny New Hampshire town are stark indeed.


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“In a country known for fussy states with streaks of independence,” Hongoltz-Hetling observes, “New Hampshire is among the fussiest and the streakiest.” New Hampshire is, after all, the Live Free or Die state, imposing neither an income nor a sales tax, and boasting, among other things, the highest per capita rate of machine gun ownership. In the case of Grafton, the history of Living Free—so to speak—has deep roots. The town’s Colonial-era settlers started out by ignoring “centuries of traditional Abenaki law by purchasing land from founding father John Hancock and other speculators.” Next, they ran off Royalist law enforcement, come to collect lumber for the king, and soon discovered their most enduring pursuit: the avoidance of taxes. As early as 1777, Grafton’s citizens were asking their government to be spared taxes and, when they were not, just stopped paying them.

Nearly two and a half centuries later, Grafton has become something of a magnet for seekers and quirky types, from adherents of the Unification Church of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon to hippie burnouts and more. Particularly important for the story is one John Babiarz, a software designer with a Krusty the Klown laugh, who decamped from Big-Government-Friendly Connecticut in the 1990s to homestead in New Hampshire with his equally freedom-loving wife, Rosalie. Entering a sylvan world that was, Hongoltz-Hetling writes, “almost as if they had driven through a time warp and into New England’s revolutionary days, when freedom outweighed fealty and trees outnumbered taxes,” the two built a new life for themselves, with John eventually coming to head Grafton’s volunteer fire department (which he describes as a “mutual aid” venture) and running for governor on the libertarian ticket.

Although John’s bids for high office failed, his ambitions remained undimmed, and in 2004 he and Rosalie connected with . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 November 2022 at 6:15 pm

Musk’s Twitter Buy Makes No Sense – Unless It’s Part of Something Bigger

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Dave Troy writes in Byline Times:

Ever since Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, plunged the world into an endless stream of speculation and condemnation around his purchase of Twitter, the biggest unanswered question has been: why?

For many, his ultimate goals seem to be a mystery. As someone who has followed the company and its role in information warfare closely, I believe we need to use a different set of lenses to evaluate what’s happening.

First, it’s not a very attractive business, and it probably isn’t worth what Musk paid for it based on business metrics alone. He will struggle to service the debt payments associated with it, and he could try to improve profitability by slashing headcount and charging for services like Twitter Blue (which will provide a verified “checkmark” but may not include identity verification). That subscription feature may generate around $100 million a year if it has high uptake — nothing compared to the company’s $3.7bn in 2021 revenues.

It’s also important to realise that co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey endorsed Musk’s takeover bid. Why? Dorsey actually believes Twitter never should have been a company, but rather a foundational protocol on which a Twitter-like service could be built for the benefit of all — rather like the foundational Internet protocols that have enabled the web and email. Dorsey retained his shares in Musk’s Twitter; he said in April, “Elon is the singular solution I trust,” and he seems to be standing by that assessment.

Twitter cost Musk and his consortium of investors about $44 billion — denominated in United States dollars. That seems like quite a lot to pay. However, just as home mortgage payments get less expensive in real terms as time goes on, if you had a high degree of confidence that the value of a dollar would go down, perhaps dramatically, you might not care very much about price — especially if you thought your new asset could help you devalue the dollar.

Looking closer at the biggest investors (among them Musk, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, Qatar, and Dorsey), all of them have an interest in challenging the US dollar. Musk and Dorsey are major Bitcoin fanatics, and believe it’s the future of money. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have expressed interest in displacing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. It is a peculiar characteristic of the investor list that all of them are interested in displacing the dollar.

Of course, this strategy is also one favoured by Vladimir Putin. His disastrous war in Ukraine is about more than territorial gains — it’s also a challenge to the West and what he perceives as unreasonable Western hegemony. He intends to . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2022 at 5:53 pm

Twitter alternative: how Mastodon is designed to be â€śantiviral”

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You can follow me on Mastodon

The more I use Mastodon (I registered at mstdn.party), the more I like it. It seems much more conversational than Twitter was, more a human rather than machine/algorithm sort of environment.

Indeed, some long-time Mastodon users have been discombobulated by what feels like a home invasion as hordes of Twitter refugees arrive, bringing with them a different culture and approach. This essay speaks to that feeling.

I do think, though, that things are settling down — plus after a few days of active use, I am becoming familiar with how it works and what it (and I) can do.

Clive Thompson in Medium discusses how the design of Mastodon shapes its culture:

Back in 2017 I wrote a short column for Wired about “antiviral” design.

I’d recently been using some fun, experimental web services, like Rob Beschizza’s txt.fyi. These sites all allowed you to post stuff online, much as Facebook or Twitter did. But they had no social mechanisms for promoting posts: No “like” buttons, no share buttons, no feed showing which posts were the most popular. Txt.fyi even had a no-robots tag on each post, telling search engines not to index them. The only way someone would see what you’d posted on txt.fyi is if you somehow actively shared the URL with them.

The reason for these curious, un-Twitter-like features?

As Beschizza told me, it was encourage people to communicate and be creative — without constantly thinking about “will I get a huge audience for this”? Beschizza (and the other folks making these similarly antiviral sites) all believed that the design of the big social sites had deformed people’s behavior. Twitter and Instagram and Facebook etc. had coaxed people to constantly try to hack the attentional marketplace. It created a world of people incessantly making posts designed to be operatically theatrical, or to enrage — or to elicit some sort of high-voltage reaction.

As Beschizza said …

“I wanted something where people could publish their thoughts without any false game of social manipulation, one-upmanship, and favor-trading.”

It was, as I called it, “antiviral design”.

I’ve been thinking more and more about how this applies to Mastodon.

I’ve been using Mastodon on and off for several years now. But the influx of newcomers has me using it a lot recently, so I’m noticing more and more how people behave on that network — or, more importantly, how they’re encouraged to behave.

And I’ve realized that Mastodon is a superb example of antiviral design.

It was engineered specifically to create friction — to slow things down a bit. This is a big part of why it behaves so differently from mainstream social networks.

Consider Twitter, as a counterpoint. Over the years, Twitter’s management has increasingly designed the site for one central purpose: To . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2022 at 7:31 am

“How an 18th-Century Philosopher Helped Solve My Midlife Crisis”

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Alison Gopnik has a very interesting essay (no paywall) in the Atlantic:

In 2006, I was 50—and I was falling apart.

Until then, I had always known exactly who I was: an exceptionally fortunate and happy woman, full of irrational exuberance and everyday joy.

I knew who I was professionally. When I was 16, I’d discovered cognitive science and analytic philosophy, and knew at once that I wanted the tough-minded, rigorous, intellectual life they could offer me. I’d gotten my doctorate at 25 and had gone on to become a professor of psychology and philosophy at UC Berkeley.

I knew who I was personally, too. For one thing, I liked men. I was never pretty, but the heterosexual dance of attraction and flirtation had always been an important part of my life, a background thrum that brightened and sharpened all the rest. My closest friends and colleagues had all been men.

More than anything, though, I was a mother. I’d had a son at 23, and then two more in the years that followed. For me, raising children had been the most intellectually interesting and morally profound of experiences, and the happiest. I’d had a long marriage, with a good man who was as involved with our children as I was. Our youngest son was on his way to college.

I’d been able to combine these different roles, another piece of good fortune. My life’s work had been to demonstrate the scientific and philosophical importance of children, and I kept a playpen in my office long after my children had outgrown it. Children had been the center of my life and my work—the foundation of my identity.

And then, suddenly, I had no idea who I was at all.

My children had grown up, my marriage had unraveled, and I decided to leave. I moved out of the big, professorial home where I had raised my children, and rented a room in a crumbling old house. I was living alone for the first time, full of guilt and anxiety, hope and excitement.

I fell in love—with a woman, much to my surprise—and we talked about starting a new life together. And then my lover ended it.

Joy vanished. Grief took its place. I’d chosen my new room for its faded grandeur: black-oak beams and paneling, a sooty brick fireplace in lieu of central heating. But I hadn’t realized just how dark and cold the room would be during the rainy Northern California winter. I forced myself to eat the way I had once coaxed my children (“just three more bites”), but I still lost 20 pounds in two months. I measured each day by how many hours had gone by since the last crying jag (“There now, no meltdowns since 11 this morning”).

I couldn’t work. The dissolution of my own family made the very thought of children unbearable. I had won a multimillion-dollar grant to investigate computational models of children’s learning and had signed a contract to write a book on the philosophy of childhood, but I couldn’t pass a playground without tears, let alone design an experiment for 3-year-olds or write about the moral significance of parental love.

Everything that had defined me was gone. I was no longer a scientist or a philosopher or a wife or a mother or a lover.

My doctors prescribed Prozac, yoga, and meditation. I hated Prozac. I was terrible at yoga. But meditation seemed to help, and it was interesting, at least. In fact, researching meditation seemed to help as much as actually doing it. Where did it come from? Why did it work?

I had always been curious about Buddhism, although, as a committed atheist, I was suspicious of anything religious. And turning 50 and becoming bisexual and Buddhist did seem far too predictable—a sort of Berkeley bat mitzvah, a standard rite of passage for aging Jewish academic women in Northern California. But still, I began to read Buddhist philosophy.

In 1734, in Scotland, a 23-year-old was falling apart.

As a teenager, he’d thought . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

11 November 2022 at 9:23 pm

Self-reflection questions

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Greg Isenberg asked one billionaire, one math professor, and one 99-year-old person (three different people, I assume) what self-reflection questions they asked themselves, and posted their answers — that is, their questions — on Twitter. Here’s the list (with minor edits);

• If had $50M in the bank, how would my day-to-day change?
• How will being anxious about this serve me?
• Should I answer this text or email right now?
• Am I really happy? Or am I just really comfortable?
• Am I really trying my best or am I just telling myself I am?
• What is it that l can think of, read, watch, listen, and talk about for hours on end without tiring of it?
• If I had to describe who I wanted to be in 3 words, what would those words be?
• What would this look like if it were fun?
• What would it take to snap me out of my bad mood immediately?
• What’s the first thing I think of when I wake up most days?
• How do I want my life to be different in one year?
• Is this project making me a better person?
• Am doing this for myself or because someone else will benefit? required me to? is hoping I do? is unable to?
• Am I doing/not doing this out of fear?
• What am I in love with? Is that what/whom I want to be in love with?
• Would my 15 year old self think I’m the coolest?

One suggestion: Use FutureMe.org to write in detail your answer to “How do I want my life to be different in one year?” and have FutureMe send you that email in one year. Then set about making the necessary changes. In one year, you’ll get the email and can judge for yourself how you did.

Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2022 at 7:58 am

A student asked her cosmology professor the meaning of life. Here was his response.

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  • Brian Thomas Swimme is a professor in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness (PCC) Department at CIIS in San Francisco, CA.
  • In this excerpt of his book Cosmogenesis: An Unveiling of the Expanding Universe, Swimme recounts a time one of his students asked him about the meaning of life.

From Big Think:

I had just finished my lecture on Einstein’s special theory of relativity. The mathematical equations for one of his basic ideas, the so-called invariance of the space-time interval, filled the blackboards. I still had twenty minutes to spare. Perhaps I had galloped through the details too fast. I tended to overprepare for this course since it was loaded with some of the best students on campus, including Oona Fitzgerald who had scored a perfect 1600 on her SATs.

We were on the fourth floor of Thompson Hall, which had earned the nickname “the Boeing complex” because of the close relationship the corporation had established with the Departments of Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics. Over the years, a significant number of professors and students had worked there. The Seattle-based company had funded part of Thompson Hall’s construction when the demand to maintain the university’s English Gothic architecture had led to extraordinary cost overruns.

I could have ended the class right there. My quota of chalk had already been transformed into the mathematical equations I had written out. I dropped the three leftover stubs into the wire-mesh holder at the corner of the blackboard and opened the class for questions. Oona Fitzgerald raised her hand, her round, freckled face beaming. “What’s the meaning of life?” she asked. This evoked some tentative laughter, and she smiled as if she might be joking. But after glancing around, she faced me again and waited. It would have been simple enough to avoid her question with a light remark, but I wanted to honor her sincerity. The bit of courage I needed came when I remembered Dr. Barker’s response to the same question I myself had asked a few years earlier in my quantum mechanics course. His irritated reply—“Science doesn’t deal with meaning”—left me feeling foolish. As if no real scientist would ask such a question. Only an amateurish pretender. Years later, and his words were still with me.

As I leaned back on my desk and reflected on Oona’s question, the strangest feeling arose. The students could see I had taken the question to heart. The mood in the room shifted. A tingling grew inside me. It was as if, unknown to me, I had been waiting for this, and yet I felt like a criminal faced with a forbidden act, something that should be avoided but that was too alluring to ignore.

I told the students what I thought was an important truth, that almost none of us knew our true identity. Just as amazing, we forgot that we did not know our true identity. This strange situation came from the tiny worlds in which we lived. We thought of ourselves as Americans or Chinese, as Republicans or Democrats, as believers or atheists. Each of those identities might be true, but each is secondary truth. There is a deeper truth. We are universe. The universe made us. In a most primordial way, we are cosmological beings.

Then I said it.

“To take this in, you need to ride inside the mathematical symbols.”

I did not know what I meant by saying you need to ride inside the mathematical symbols. I just said it.

“Begin with the primal light discovered in 1964 by Penzias and Wilson. This light, this cosmic microwave background radiation, arrives here from all directions. We know that each of these photons comes from a place near the origin of the cosmos, so if we trace these particles of light backward we are led to the birthplace of the universe. Which means, since this light comes from all directions, that we have discovered our origin in a colossal sphere of light. This colossal sphere, fourteen billion light-years away from us in every direction, is the origin of our universe. And thus the origin of each of us.”

I held out my arms as if clutching a gigantic ball.

“We can speculate about  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2022 at 9:01 pm

The Conservative Stalwart Challenging the Far-Right Legal Theory That Could Subvert American Democracy

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In the New Yorker, Jane Mayer writes of an effort to preserve democracy in the US. Her article (no paywall) begins:

A powerful new litigant has joined one of the most momentous cases slated to be heard by the Supreme Court this term. The respondents in the case of Moore v. Harper filed a brief today that included a surprising new signatory: J. Michael Luttig, who has been known for years as perhaps the most conservative Republican judge in the country. Now, though, he has joined a coalition of veteran lawyers and nonpartisan government-watchdog groups who are fighting against a far-right Republican election-law challenge—one so radical that critics say it has the potential to end American democracy as we know it.

The former judge is a surprising co-counsel to Neal Katyal, the well-known Supreme Court litigator. Katyal is a counsel of record in the case for several respondents, including Common Cause and the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, that are opposing the far-right groups. The case is scheduled to be heard by the Court on December 7th. Luttig told me that he signed on as Katyal’s co-counsel because he regards Moore v. Harper as “without question the most significant case in the history of our nation for American democracy.” Putting it more colloquially, he said, “Legally, it’s the whole ballgame.”

Having such a well-known conservative former jurist argue against the election-law challenge may carry some weight with the conservative super-majority on the Court, several of whom have ties to Luttig that stretch back decades. Justice Clarence Thomas, for instance, was personally shepherded through his contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings by Luttig in 1991. At the time, Luttig served as the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel in George H. W. Bush’s Justice Department. After Thomas was confirmed, Luttig himself was sworn in to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit at the age of thirty-seven; he became, at that moment, the youngest federal appellate judge in the country.

Luttig’s ties to Chief Justice John Roberts also go back years. The two worked closely together in the Reagan Administration as young lawyers, both under the tutelage of then White House counsel Fred Fielding, and again together as lawyers in the George H. W. Bush Department of Justice. Later, in 2005, George W. Bush considered them simultaneously for a seat on the Supreme Court, which ultimately went to Roberts. The following month, Bush again considered Luttig for a Supreme Court seat but chose Samuel Alito. After establishing a reputation as a hard-right standard-bearer in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia on the appeals court, Luttig became the general counsel of Boeing; in 2020, he retired.

The evolution of Luttig’s political role since then has been remarkable. While some might assume that he has abandoned his conservative views, his position is more of a reflection of the radical changes that have overtaken the Republican Party. A judge who once represented the far-right pole in jurisprudence now looks like a throwback to an earlier age of G.O.P. probity and restraint. Ordinarily, Luttig told me, he wouldn’t get involved in a case like this. But Moore v. Harper, he explained, is the natural outgrowth of the extraordinary behind-the-scenes role he played in the final Götterdämmerung days of the Trump Presidency.

On the evening of January 4, 2021, Luttig was asked to weigh in as an emergency outside legal expert to Vice-President Mike Pence, whom Trump was pressuring not to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory. Luttig emphatically advised the Pence team that the Vice-President had no choice. The Constitution clearly stated that the Vice-President’s only role was ceremonial. Luttig stressed that Pence had to certify the 2020 Electoral College vote, in defiance of Trump’s attempted coup. But, in the early morning of January 5th, as the pressure from Trump continued to rise, Pence’s advisers contacted Luttig. They told him, while he was holed up in his vacation home in Colorado, that he needed to share with the American public his view that, under the Constitution, Pence had to certify Biden’s Electoral College win.

A retired sixty-six-year-old lawyer stuck in Colorado at the time, Luttig recalled telling Pence’s lawyer, “I don’t even have a job right now. I’m unemployed. . . . I don’t have a fax machine.” Eventually, Luttig decided he would tweet, but he told me he had no idea how to do so. He called his son, who works in tech, but he was too busy to explain, so he sent him Twitter’s online instructions. Luttig’s tweet, when it finally posted, was published on the Times Web site, and later quoted by Pence in his letter to Congress on January 6th, leading to the historic standoff between the President and Vice-President. Luttig’s role was crucial because of his unique standing. The lawyer who had improperly advised Trump that Pence had the legal power to delay, and perhaps overturn, the election, was one of Luttig’s own former law clerks: John Eastman. Eastman’s rogue legal theory was based, in part, on a fringe-right reading of the Constitution called the independent-state-legislature theory. Its proponents, including Eastman, claimed that state legislatures had the authority to reject the results of the 2020 election that were certified by other state officials and the courts. It wasn’t lost on those involved at the time that the majority of state legislatures were dominated by Trump’s Republican Party.

“The independent-state-legislature theory was the centerpiece of the former President’s effort to overturn the 2020 election,” Luttig told me. “In advising Vice-President Pence on January 6th, I concluded that there was no such doctrine of constitutional interpretation.” Luttig added,  . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2022 at 10:08 am

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