Standardized Thought

“From this [advertising] expert he learned that the key tool of the ad trade was to “standard[ize] thought by supplying the spectator with a ready-made visual image before he has time to conjure up an interpretation of his own.3 In that instant before the process of making sense was completed, a presupplied image and, subsequently, a thought (not quite your own) could take hold. Thought was being standardized.”

—Rebecca Lemov, “Into the Whirlpool.” The Hedgehog Review. Summer 2020.

A discussion of legibility and mass manipulation from print media through YouTube and Facebook algorithms. Nothing new here for people familiar with James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State or Edward S. Herman’s Manufacturing Consent. However, I did like this idea of standardizing thought, which is clearly what the 24 hour news networks, YouTube, Twitter, etc. are doing.

Black Death, COVID & Renewal

“So, our outline for today:

1. Renaissance Life was Worse than the Middle Ages (super-compressed version)

2. Where did the myth come from in the first place? (a Renaissance story)

3. Why is the myth of a golden Renaissance retold so much? (a post-Renaissance story)

4. Conclusion: We Should Aim for Something Better than the Renaissance”

—Ada Palmer, “Black Death, COVID, and Why We Keep Telling the Myth of a Renaissance Golden Age and Bad Middle Ages.” ExUrbe.com. June 4, 2020.

What does the history of Black Death suggest for our post-COVID-19 future? A complicated question. This is a precis, i.e., most essential points, of a book length answer to that question. Academic and long, but also interesting.

GPT-3 Creative Fiction

Creative writing by OpenAI’s GPT-3 model, demonstrating poetry, dialogue, puns, literary parodies, and storytelling…

[In Dr. Seuss style:]

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your way!

—Gwern Bradwen, “GPT-3 Creative Fiction.” Gwern.net. June 19, 2020.

It’s interesting to read GPT-3’s take on different writing styles.

Market Inefficiency vs. Other Values

“Efficient systems have limited ability to deal with system-wide economic shocks. Those shocks are coming with increased frequency. They’re caused by global pandemics, yes, but also by climate change, by financial crises, by political crises. If we want to be secure against these crises and more, we need to add inefficiency back into our systems.

I don’t simply mean that we need to make our food production, or healthcare system, or supply chains sloppy and wasteful. We need a certain kind of inefficiency, and it depends on the system in question. Sometimes we need redundancy. Sometimes we need diversity. Sometimes we need overcapacity.

The market isn’t going to supply any of these things, least of all in a strategic capacity that will result in resilience. What’s necessary to make any of this work is regulation.

—Bruce Schneier, “Bruce Schneier says we need to embrace inefficiency to save our economy.” Quartz. June 30, 2020

Why Does DARPA Work?

DARPA PMs need to think for themselves, be curious, and have low ego. Why does this matter? When you are surrounded by smart, opinionated people the easy option is to either 100% accept what they’re saying because it’s eloquent and well-thought through or reject it outright because it sounds crazy or goes against your priors. Thinking for yourself allows you to avoid these traps. PMs need to be curious because building a complete picture of a discipline requires genuine curiosity to ask questions nobody else is asking. A large ego would lead to a program manager imposing their will on every piece of the program, killing curiosity and the benefits of top down problems and bottom up solutions.”

Ben Reinhardt, “Why does DARPA Work?benjaminreinhardt.com. June 18, 2020.

Some People are Toxic Avoid Them

“You can only work for people you like…

Some people are toxic avoid them. This is a subtext [to working for people you like]. There was in the sixties a man named Fritz Perls who was a gestalt therapist. gestalt therapy derives from art history, it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. it doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energized or less energized. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. if you are more tired then you have been poisoned. if you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and i suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.”

-Milton Glaser, “Ten Things I’ve Learned.” Milton Glaser.com.

See also Hoodoos, Sucking Black Holes, Psychic Vampires, and The Unhappy & The Unlucky. The lesson in all of these is to be very careful about who you spend your time with.