Do X. Evaluate. Do X Differently.

“Why don’t you just try X for 30 days and see if your life gets better?

Today, roughly two-thirds of the population will make New Year’s resolutions. The most common resolutions:

  • Eat healthier
  • Get more exercise
  • Save money
  • Take better care of ourselves
  • Read more
  • Make new friends
  • Learn a new skill / hobby

Looking at this in the context of having recently read James Clear’s Atomic Habits, he makes a really interesting point that these kinds of improvements require tackling three aspects of the problem: identity, systems and goals.

For example, instead of resolving to eat better, we might resolve to become vegetarian. This is adopting a new identity that shapes the kind of food choices we make into healthier alternatives. You could also make it smaller, and maybe adopt an identity as a “water-drinker”.

You can extend these to the other resolutions. Instead of resolving to exercise more, decide to become a runner. Instead of saving money, you could become a person that pays cash or pays your entire credit card bill every month.

Identity feeds into systems. If you are going to become vegetarian, will you eat dairy and eggs? If you will occasionally eat meat, say during Thanksgiving, how often will you need to eat a vegetarian diet to think of yourself as vegetarian? What does a healthy vegetarian diet look like?

Same goes for running. How many miles and how many days per week do you need to run to think of yourself as a runner?

These, in turn, lead to goals. If you run sporadically, then setting a consistent schedule will result in more exercise, just as consistently eating vegetarian will result in eating better.

Goals have the problem that life gets in the way, and we give up on them. If your goal is to run a marathon, you cannot continue if you get injured or develop a cold that prevents you from following a training program. If you think of yourself as a runner, being sick is only a momentary set-back. But, the minute you know you can run again, you need to start. Otherwise, you aren’t proving to yourself your identity that you are a runner.

The start of a new year is an excellent time to think through the kind of person you want to be and the identities you want to adopt. But, the beginning of the month, of the week or each new day are good times to start trying to be a different, better person too.

Don’t let the inevitable failures that life throws in the way of each of us stop you from pursuing being the kind of person you want to be. The question isn’t whether you always eat healthier, but whether, in the main, you are eating better than you were before. You need to have systems and goals in place to get feedback on your progress, and you need to build in flexibility to change course. Do, evaluate, and do it differently. The goal is to be the person you want and not the number of miles you ran in a given week, that’s just the feedback.

cafebedouin.org: 2018 Year in Review and Looking Ahead to 2019

“In 2018, I would also like to get back to more original content. I’m thinking it would be good to post something original once a week, but spread it across different forms: poetry, essays, drawing, photography and so forth. Maybe also do more brief commentary of 250 words or less, sketches of story ideas or fragments, aphorisms, book reviews and the like. The goal still being to post something everyday, something that seems weird or interesting, just with some more originals.”

cafebedouin.org: 2017 Year in Review and Looking Ahead to 2018

I posted something every day in 2018. The top five posts were:

  1. Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor: Summary
  2. OpenBSD: Configuring mutt & gpg/gpg2
  3. Freedom & Limits: The ASUS C201 with libreboot and Parabola Linux
  4. Hamonshu: A Japanese Book of Wave and Ripple Designs (1903) – The Public Domain Review
  5. OpenBSD & The Command Line

As of a few hours ago, cafebedouin.org had 3,314 views, 2,097 visitors, 522 likes and 36 comments in 2018. It seems like a lot for a little idiosyncratic personal blog that I never imagined anyone reading.

My favorite posts of the year were:

I think I did more original content in 2018 over 2017. Still, I’d like to do more.

So, I’m going to go with a twice a day posting schedule for 2019. In the mornings, it’ll continue as before with links to articles and websites with quotes and maybe some commentary. I often schedule these posts a week or more in advance. I’ll also keep Sunday reserved for music (or visual media) I’ve been listening to recently or find interesting for one reason or another.

In the evenings, the posts will be a Foucault-style hupomnemata, i.e., “to capture the already-said, to collect what one has managed to hear or read, and for a purpose that is nothing less than the shaping of the self.”

I once read of the process of the French essayist, Alain, who set out two pieces of paper, kept a quote or topic in mind, and then wrote until the pages were filled. He did not edit, and the results—such as his book, Alain on Happiness—explore ideas with immediacy and occasional brilliance. Of course, this approach can also be repetitive, but the repetition can help bring out different facets of an idea.

I’m no Alain. But, then again, Alain wasn’t Alain at first either. Maybe Foucault is right that the writing process itself can be transformative.

So, mornings are for exploration of the new. Evenings are for synthesis, bringing the unknown into the known. This is the initial idea, at any rate.

Possible fodder for evening posts:

  • I have been collecting rules and maxims for life over the last six months or so, and I was thinking of doing a once a week series with that focus.
  • I still haven’t included any material from the commonplace book I kept for years before starting cafebedouin.org. Adding in material from it with some reflection now that it has been several years might be interesting.
  • It might also be worth doing open-ended stream-of-consciousness writing. However, it probably won’t be much fun to read. I beg your pardon.

The main goal is to keep evening posts short, immediate, and to keep the editing filter in check and see what materializes.

Also, I’m also thinking of trying to do some watercolor in the coming year. It might work as part of the Postcard Friday I mentioned in my year in review as a possibility for 2019. Adding a photo of my attempts might also make it as an evening post.

In short, expect some changes and more posts in the coming year.

Personal Year in Review: 2018

Last year, I tried a series of experiments:

  1. 2018 Experiment: A Reading List
  2. 2018 Experiment: Daily Meditation
  3. 2018 Experiment: HIIT Burpee and Running Program
  4. 2018 Experiment: Ketogenic Diet

Results

The reading list is a good idea. However, I started with 101 books to read this year and only read about twelve of them. I did look at twelve more, but I either stopped because I wanted to spend more time on them or because I wasn’t enjoying them. This year, I’ll keep the list down closer to fifty-two and keep the page counts lower.

The other good thing that came from the reading list is I kept a list of books I heard about during the course of the year, but keeping focused on the list removed the urge to read these new books. I added them to a 2019 list of books to look at and after reviewing the 500 or so books on the list at the end of 2018, it felt right to pick only 10% of them. This seems like a better process than selecting books in the moment.

Daily meditation was a game changer. I meditated consistently for the first two months. Then, I had a problem with my phone, and I did not have access to the meditation tracking app I used for a week or two. After this break, I fell out of the habit. There’s something about following a ritual that enables making something into a practice. Change it a little bit, and it is easy to lose the habit. It took me until October to start again, and I have been consistent, more or less, since.

It’s hard to say exactly what meditation does, but I find it changes my personality a bit in a positive way. I’m less likely to get angry or frustrated, because meditation shows that most of our thoughts and feelings are just pure nonsense. If you do it long enough where your legs start to hurt, it can be a useful exercise in thinking about impermanence. The pain is there, and it is unpleasant. But, it is temporary, and let’s just see how long we can go and not let it bother enough to stop meditating. You might think it sounds more like sado-masochism, and you’re not completely wrong. Still, it is a useful exercise.

The 2018 Experiment: HIIT Burpee and Running Program, modified as described in the discussion session, shows real promise for being a program that can be used to maintain muscle strength as we age. However, I am going to focus on running and losing weight, and only do 30 burpees in 10 minutes twice a week to establish a habit. Any more and I would expect to gain weight. I would like to get stronger and improve my overall fitness, but only once my weight is under control.

Finally, there was the 2018 Experiment: Ketogenic Diet. I lost about ten pounds trying this before 2018. When I tried it in combination with the HITT program above, I gained fifteen pounds. The Ketogenic Diet is impossible to follow if you have a wife, children or social life when you are expected to eat the same food as everyone else. If you can get everyone else in your life on board, it’ll probably work. Otherwise, you are best served trying something else.

Personal Goals for 2019

  1. Weight within 15 pounds (7kg) of ideal weight: Ideal weight has been traditionally been defined as 100 pounds (~46kg) for 5 feet (~150cm) and an additional 5 pounds (2kg) for each additional inch (2.5cm) of height.
  2. Running program: Run 6 days a week for >= 40 mins.
  3. Daily meditation: 300 days and/or 200 hours.
  4. Read Book of R: complete book and all exercises.
  5. Read book list: aiming for half the list.
  6. Be creative: One drawing, poem, essay, etc., a week.
  7. Improve relationships: Starting with something small, a Postcard Friday but using TouchNote to send the cards. It allows for adding digital pictures and some text, which strikes me as an interesting way to blend the physical and the virtual to help keep in better touch or open a new, different channel of communication.

Wishful Thinking: Reading List for 2019

Last year, I tried a reading list experiment. The goal was to narrow down my ever expanding list of books to read to a manageable set for the year by selecting a 101 books. It was too much. So, this year, I’ll try the same, but reduce the number to one book a week, counting the six books that are less than 100 pages as one book.

  1. Albertine, Viv. To Throw Away Unopened. 320 pgs.
  2. Bardugo, Leigh. Six of Crows. 465 pgs.
  3. Bardugo, Leigh. Crooked Kingdom. 536 pgs.
  4. Bourdain, Anthony. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. 312 pgs.
  5. Bowden, Charles. The Red Caddy. 120 pgs.
  6. Bui, Thi. The Best We Could Do. 329 pgs.
  7. Bujold, Lois McMaster. The Curse of Chalion. 490 pgs.
  8. Bujold, Lois McMaster. Paladin of Souls. 470 pgs.
  9. Bujold, Lois McMaster. The Hallowed Hunt. 423 pgs.
  10. Chiang, Ted. Stories of Your Life and Others. 281 pgs.
  11. Davis, Eleanor. You & a Bike & a Road. 172 pgs.
  12. Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. 335 pgs.
  13. Doucet, Julie. 365 Days. 360 pgs.
  14. Egan, Greg. Dichronauts. 312 pgs.
  15. Epicurus. The Art of Happiness. 288 pgs.
  16. Farrukhzad, Furugh. Sin: Selected Poems of Furugh Farrukhzad. 136 pgs.
  17. Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues. 308 pgs.
  18. Fisher, B. K. Radioapocrypha. 82 pgs.
  19. Gwynne, S. C. Empire of the Summer Moon. 384 pgs.
  20. Hart, Tom. Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir. 272 pgs.
  21. Howe, Fanny. The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation. 196 pgs.
  22. James, Marlon. The Book of Night Women. 417 pgs.
  23. Jos, Charles. feeld. 80 pgs.
  24. Kraus, Chris. Aliens & Anorexia. 244 pgs.
  25. Lester, C. N. Trans Like Me. 240 pgs.
  26. Lispector, Clarice. The Complete Stories. 640 pgs.
  27. Madhubuti, Haki R. Run Toward Fear: New Poems and a Poet’s Handbook. 68 pgs.
  28. Morgan, Richard K. Thin Air. 400 pgs.
  29. Moore, Elizabeth Anne. Sweet Little Cunt: The Graphic Works of Julie Doucet. 214 pgs.
  30. Myles, Eileen. Not Me. 202 pgs.
  31. Nelson, Maggie. Bluets. 98 pgs.
  32. Pink, Sam. The Garbage Times/White Ibis. 272 pgs.
  33. Pollan, Michael. How to Change Your Mind. 480 pgs.
  34. Pressfield, Steven. Gates of Fire. 384 pgs.
  35. Prine, John. Beyond Words: Lyrics, Chords, Photographs. 180 pgs.
  36. Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. 169 pgs.
  37. Rosling, Hans. Factfulness. 342 pgs.
  38. Saroyan, William. The William Saroyan Reader. 498 pgs.
  39. Scott, James C. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. 464 pgs.
  40. Sim, Dave. Cerebus. 546 pgs.
  41. Smith, Clark Ashton. The Devil’s Notebook: Collected Epigrams and Pensees of Clark Ashton Smith. 82 pgs.
  42. Sylvester, David. Interviews with Francis Bacon. 208 pgs.
  43. Taylor, Irene. The Assassin’s Cloak: An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diarists. 706 pgs.
  44. Tidbeck, Karin. Jagannath. 114 pgs.
  45. Tillman, Lynne. The Complete Madame Realism: And Other Stories. 296 pgs.
  46. Towles, Amor. A Gentleman in Moscow. 462 pgs.
  47. Trudell, John. Lines From A Mined Mind: The Words of John Trudell. 270 pgs.
  48. Watts, Alan. The Wisdom of Insecurity. 152 pgs.
  49. Wells, Martha. All Systems Red. 144 pgs.
  50. Wells, Martha. Artificial Condition. 158 pgs.
  51. Wells, Martha. Rogue Protocol. 158 pgs.
  52. Wells, Martha. Exit Strategy. 176 pgs.
  53. Westhale, July. Trailer Trash. 76 pages.
  54. Westover, Tara. Educated: a Memoir. 334 pgs.
  55. Wilkinson, Karen. The Art of Tinkering. 224 pgs.
  56. Villoro, Juan. The Wild Book. 240 pgs.
  57. Yong, Ed. I Contain Multitudes. 368 pgs.

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The Impossibility of Comparative Consequences

A calculus of comparative consequences is impossible. Every effort to develop one is a process of rationalizing bias.

Consequentialism assumes, based on experience or thought experiments, that it can assess the consequences of a particular act. This position implies that one act causes consequences. These consequences can be evaluated, reduced to some kind of common metric, and then compared to other actions and their consequence to determine which action is best.

At the most broad philosophical level, consequentialism raises the problem of causality and induction. The problem of causality is one can never be certain that one event causes another. The problem of induction comes up when one makes assertions about circumstances where one has no experience by assuming that they are similar to circumstances where one does have experience, e.g., actual events are similar to counter-factual ones.

Therein lies sufficient grounds to reject consequentialism. One can never be certain consequences were caused by a particular act. Further, even if one wanted to pretend that one can draw a line between an act and a consequence, there is no way to be certain one is accounting for all relevant consequences.

Suppose it is possible that one can draw a line between an act and a consequence and that all morally relevant consequences can be accounted for. Consequentialism also claims that it can compare among the many different possible outcomes and determine which is “best” according to some criteria.

This assumes two things. One, it assumes that not only can one account for all relevant consequences in circumstances that actually occurred, but one can also do so in evaluating the consequences of actions that were not taken. This is the problem of induction, where one assumes that some possible course of action would happen with consequences similar to what one has experienced in the past.

Consequentialists defend against the problem of induction by saying that consequentialism is not intended as a guide for decision making but as a standard for evaluating consequences after the fact. Yet, the standard still requires making comparative judgments about acts that did not happen, which is as impossible to know as knowing all consequences in advance before acting. Making this distinction does not help them.

Pretend for a moment that even if one’s sense of consequences is not perfect, it is enough to draw useful moral distinctions. Now, suppose one has a billion US dollars, and one decides to invest it developing a space elevator. Based on consequentialist moral standards, which out of the infinite number of ways or combination of ways one could have spent that money is best? For example, it could have been used to provide clean water and food to people starving or suffering from food insecurity, eliminate disease through vaccination programs, train physicians, etc. Ultimately, any assertion of which way is best is based on a value judgment that comes before the consequences. If one thinks eliminating suffering right now is more important, then one is going to think an action aimed at addressing the here and now, such as alleviating hunger, is preferable to a space elevator even if, in the long run, the space elevator may have better consequences.

Consider the Trolley problem, where a trolley is out of control and going to kill five people and you only have the option to throw a switch which will turn the trolley down a track to kill one person. What is the “best” outcome? Aside from moral questions about the responsibilities of the actor and committing harm, how does one value the lives in this and other hypothetical scenarios? If these five people being saved are a criminal gang, then it seems difficult to argue that saving them would result in the most happiness for everyone. Or, perhaps the person being sacrificed is a once in a generation talent of some kind and the other five bring less happiness than this gifted person on one’s consequential scale. On the other hand, perhaps the criminal gang will eventually turn into good people that bring better net consequences than the person that was sacrificed. The only thing that is certain is that all lives do not have equal consequences, and it is impossible to tell what they are if some of those consequences remain in the future, and every action of current moral import will have future implications.

So, what is consequentialism really doing when it says it is evaluating consequences, when in fact it cannot? It is cherry picking moral options and which consequences are relevant. If one dictates the premises, one can dictate the conclusion. It’s a system for rationalizing bias. At base, consequentialism is a morality market with only one buyer determining the value (consequences) of different products (actions). And, like any market, there are externalities that are not factored into the price that are borne by society at large or are simply ignored. It’s a terrible basis for a morality.