Live Long & Prosper

“Behavioral scientists have spent a lot of time studying what makes us happy (and what doesn’t). We know happiness can predict health and longevity, and happiness scales can be used to measure social progress and the success of public policies. But happiness isn’t something that just happens to you. Everyone has the power to make small changes in our behavior, our surroundings and our relationships that can help set us on course for a happier life.”

-Tara Parker-Pope, “How To Be Happy.” The New York Times.

Open Question: What does it mean to be “happy”?

In brief, the author seems to take the ideas of Blue Zones:, i.e., places where people tend to be exceptionally long lived, and flesh these concepts out with “happiness” research. The nine key ideas of Blue Zones:

  1. Move naturally, or have a lifestyle that incorporates movement without doing movement for movement’s sake, a.k.a. as exercise.
  2. Have a purpose.
  3. Downshift, take time every day, week, month and year to do nothing or be contemplative.
  4. The 80% Rule for eating. Eat until you are 80% full.
  5. Eat mostly plants.
  6. Drink alcohol in moderation, 1-2 servings a day.
  7. Belong to a community.
  8. Prioritize your relationships.
  9. Make sure the relationships are with good people.

The New York TimesHow to Be Happy” reframes these into categories: Mind, Home, Relationships, Work & Money & Happy Life. Then, it attempts to provide more detailed advice.

Mind

  1. Become acquainted with cognitive behavioral therapy, i.e., become proficient at managing negative thinking.
  2. Boxed breathing for acute situations and breath focused meditation to cultivate a more equanimical disposition.
  3. Rewrite your personal story, positive without the pedestal.
  4. Exercise.
  5. Make an effort to look for the positive in any situation.

Home

  1. Find a good place to live and a good community within it to be part of.
  2. Be out in a natural setting.
  3. Keep what you need, discard the rest.

Relationships

  1. Spend time with happy people. Conversely, avoid the unhappy and the unlucky, the stupid, Hoodoos, toxic people, psychic vampires, and associated others. Obviously, the negative formulation is a hot topic here at cafebedouin.org.
  2. Get a pet. [Editors note: Pets, children and other people aren’t going to make you happy, save you, etc.]
  3. Learn to enjoy being alone. In this historical moment, with fewer communities and relationships mediated through the Internet, it’s an important skill. If you can’t manage it, find ways around it, e.g., join an intentional community. If you are turning on the radio or television to hear human voices and escape your own thoughts, you might want to think about finding ways of being better company to yourself.

Work and Money

  1. Money isn’t going to make you happy. The more money you have past a certain threshold, the more problems you will have. But, being poor is no virtue and is its own source of suffering. Try to avoid the material extremes.
  2. The New York Times wants you to find your purpose at work. Right livelihood is important, but defining ourselves through our work is a major issue post-industrial age. When surnames became necessary, people chose their occupation. Think of all the occupational last names: Smith, Miller, Cooper, etc. The problem with finding purpose at work is it often turns into our life’s purpose. Our life should be about more than work.
  3. Find ways to reclaim your time, which I interpret to mean work less.

Happy Life

  1. Be generous. Show gratitude.
  2. Do things for other people.
  3. Stop being a judgmental prick to yourself and others.

Conclusion

Something about The New York Times presentation leaves much to be desired. Is it the focus on work? Is it because much of it seems like platitudes? I’m not entirely sure. The ideas aren’t bad, particularly the ones that stem directly from Blue Zone suggestions. But, the focus on “nesting” in the bedroom, volunteering (with the implication that it be the modern form and involve some kind of institution) and so forth managed to rub me the wrong way. But, most of this is good advice, when you get down to the nut of it.

Oddkin

“Here’s Donna Haraway, talking about kin, in Staying with the Trouble (2):

“Kin is a wild category that all sorts of people do their best to domesticate. Making kin as oddkin, rather than, or at least in addition to, godkin…troubles important matters, like to whom one is actually responsible….What shape is this kinship, where and whom do its lines connect and disconnect, and so what?”

Haraway is reclaiming kin to mean not merely blood relatives (“godkin”) but also those whose company [1] we choose to be in (“oddkin”). “Odd” works here to mean unexpected or unusual but also suggests the odd ones out. “Oddkin” brings the odd ones together into kinship.

But what does it mean to be oddkin? To whom are we actually responsible? The nuclear family restricts the answer to that question to the smallest possible unit: only immediate [2] relatives, not other more distant ones, and certainly not friends or neighbors. This isn’t just a philosophical restriction—it’s built in to our streets and buildings and laws with parking lots and bricks and surveillance cameras. But oddkin rewrites those boundaries, opens them wide up. Oddkin stakes the claim that the shape of kinship isn’t a birthright but a choice, that the people we choose to gather with are connected to us in ways at least equivalent to those we were born alongside.”

-Mandy Brown, “Oddkin: A working letter.A Working Library. August 29, 2021.

Zuihitsu: 2021-08

Collecting these little ideas has become a major focus. Here’s this month’s installment.

  1. Calm people live, panicked people die.
  2. Emotions are the barometer of mental health.
  3. Belief is a way to remove the irritation of doubt.
  4. The Internet amplifies variance.
  5. We’ve lost and need to go back to the drawing board and start over is one of the hardest things for people to say to themselves.
  6. Let the bullets fly for awhile.
  7. Approach everything like a curious idiot, rather than a know-it-all genius.
  8. New words are addresses to previously unused embeddings in concept space.
  9. Selling is part of life.
  10. Do not prize originality. It’s easy enough to be original when you stay on the same bus long enough.—cf. Helsinki Bus Station Theory
  11. There is power in mystery.
  12. Widen the limits of what is or is perceived to be possible, and it will come with the cost of lowering your ability, real or imaginary, to discern the probable.
  13. There are no shortcuts; there are no miracles.
  14. A schedule is more important than a to-do list.
  15. Generation, degeneration, regeneration.
  16. Life is a read, eval, and print loop (REPL) process.
  17. Surprise enables seeing with different eyes.
  18. Do not look for a successful personality to duplicate.—Bruce Lee
  19. Do not rule over imaginary kingdoms.
  20. Whenever the law falls short, people find a way.
  21. A fish doesn’t know what water is, until it is beached.—Marshall McLuhan
  22. No risk it, no biscuit.
  23. The most effective debugging tool is still careful thought, coupled with judiciously placed print statements.—Brian Kernighan
  24. Arguing with someone who doesn’t care about the truth is a waste of time. Most people care more about fitting in than truth.
  25. Don’t mind what happens.
  26. Many people’s presentation of self are masks hiding secret pain.
  27. It’s better to whole-ass one thing than to half-ass many.—Kelly Shortridge
  28. Unix-philosophy: (1) design for creativity, not tasks, (2) embrace constraints, and (3) self-host and iterate.
  29. Technology is the art of arranging the world so that you don’t have to experience it.—Heidegger
  30. Where is the taser for the reader’s balls?
  31. The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.—William Blake
  32. Everything’s a flyer for the show.
  33. The world is full of wonder. What are you doing to experience more of it?
  34. What you see is all there is.
  35. Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.—Mary Oliver
  36. Look beyond the default options.
  37. It’s only integrity when it hurts.
  38. Our failure to reach our perceived ideal ultimately defines us and makes us unique.
  39. If force could solve a complex problem, wouldn’t it have done so already?
  40. Real praise is specific.
  41. Stopping the bad is easier than starting the good.
  42. Foster self-realization.
  43. Try to escape the darkness outside and within.
  44. Detailed models and graphics more often explain imagined possibilities than reality.
  45. Marketing of innovation is selling the ideas of five years ago to those stuck 10 years in the past.
  46. If you don’t save your own history, no one else will or they’ll do it badly.
  47. The enemy also gets a vote.
  48. Just another dot in a galaxy of uses.
  49. The difference between water and ice is one degree.
  50. Augment and magnify different types of culture.
  51. If you want to take a good shit, you’re going to have to eat well.—Milos Forman
  52. Instant feedback encourages experimentation.
  53. Nature is not a temple but humanity’s ruin.
  54. A.I. is a technology of extraction not of intelligence.
  55. Forget individualism; life is a collaboration.
  56. Fear fame, wealth and power as a pig fears getting fat.
  57. Some entropies are measurements of ignorance.
  58. The only people who get upset at you having boundaries are the people who benefited by you having none.
  59. Start small. One change at a time. Process over results. Be grateful.
  60. Sometimes the expression of an idea is more important than the idea.
  61. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.—Jane Goodall
  62. Labeling the past is propaganda, not history.
  63. If you want wilder, curiouser thoughts, you have to avoid the Aunties, or recommendation algorithms.
  64. Reject all mass movements.
  65. “[T]he politican is powerless against government bureaucracy; society cannot be changed through political action.”—Jacques Ellul
  66. Nothing escapes technique, broadly defined as methods of efficiency.
  67. The master shapes tools and is, in turn, shaped by them.
  68. Society is made up of countless conflicting forces that don’t cancel each other out but continually give rise to new situations.
  69. Feed your head.
  70. Disposable work, disposable lives.
  71. Don’t let a cop live in your head. Don’t be a cop.

L.M. Sacasas’s The Questions Concerning Technology

If you find the list below interesting, you could always subscribe to his newsletter, and as with all Substack newsletters, it can be turned into an RSS feed by adding /feed to the main url, like so: https://theconvivialsociety.substack.com/feed. Don’t know what RSS is? There’s a post for that. h/t to Alan Jacobs for the reminder.

  1. What sort of person will the use of this technology make of me?
  2. What habits will the use of this technology instill?
  3. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of time?
  4. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of place?
  5. How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to other people?
  6. How will the use of this technology affect how I relate to the world around me?
  7. What practices will the use of this technology cultivate?
  8. What practices will the use of this technology displace?
  9. What will the use of this technology encourage me to notice?
  10. What will the use of this technology encourage me to ignore?
  11. What was required of other human beings so that I might be able to use this technology?
  12. What was required of other creatures so that I might be able to use this technology?
  13. What was required of the earth so that I might be able to use this technology?
  14. Does the use of this technology bring me joy? [N.B. This was years before I even heard of Marie Kondo!]
  15. Does the use of this technology arouse anxiety?
  16. How does this technology empower me? At whose expense?
  17. What feelings does the use of this technology generate in me toward others?
  18. Can I imagine living without this technology? Why, or why not?
  19. How does this technology encourage me to allocate my time?
  20. Could the resources used to acquire and use this technology be better deployed?
  21. Does this technology automate or outsource labor or responsibilities that are morally essential?
  22. What desires does the use of this technology generate?
  23. What desires does the use of this technology dissipate?
  24. What possibilities for action does this technology present? Is it good that these actions are now possible?
  25. What possibilities for action does this technology foreclose? Is it good that these actions are no longer possible?
  26. How does the use of this technology shape my vision of a good life?
  27. What limits does the use of this technology impose upon me?
  28. What limits does my use of this technology impose upon others?
  29. What does my use of this technology require of others who would (or must) interact with me?
  30. What assumptions about the world does the use of this technology tacitly encourage?
  31. What knowledge has the use of this technology disclosed to me about myself?
  32. What knowledge has the use of this technology disclosed to me about others? Is it good to have this knowledge?
  33. What are the potential harms to myself, others, or the world that might result from my use of this technology?
  34. Upon what systems, technical or human, does my use of this technology depend? Are these systems just?
  35. Does my use of this technology encourage me to view others as a means to an end?
  36. Does using this technology require me to think more or less?
  37. What would the world be like if everyone used this technology exactly as I use it?
  38. What risks will my use of this technology entail for others? Have they consented?
  39. Can the consequences of my use of this technology be undone? Can I live with those consequences?
  40. Does my use of this technology make it easier to live as if I had no responsibilities toward my neighbor?
  41. Can I be held responsible for the actions which this technology empowers? Would I feel better if I couldn’t?

Heaven & Hell

“Once a wise and holy old hermit was favored, for his piousness, with the visit of an angel who said it was sent to offer him a boon. The man thought and replied, “I have tried my life to know my Creator through his Creation. I hope that I have been worthy of going to Heaven, but fear as a sinner I merit only Hell. It bothers me that either way, I shall know one but not the other, and my knowledge of Creation will be forever incomplete. I would like to see both Heaven and Hell before I die, so that I will know the fullness of Creation.”

Very well, said the angel, who in a rush of winds seized the hermit up and transported him through the air.

The hermit found himself in a fine hall filled with people seated at a banquet. The hall was hung with the finest tapestries; the silver candlesticks held the finest candles. The people were dressed in clothes of silk, brocaded and jeweled, wearing gold jewelry and gems. They sat in carved chairs, seated at a great table with a feast set for them beyond imagining, with every delicious thing to eat or drink heaped before them. But their eyes were hollow and their hands gaunt, and they wept and moaned. The hermit looked more closely and saw that amidst their fine clothes, bands of iron held them in their chairs, and manacles of iron were on their wrists. And as he watched, he saw an astonishing thing: when any one reached for a morsel or a chalice, it could be grasped, but the moment it was brought to one’s lips, the chains to the manacles abruptly shortened, slamming their hands to the table, yanking their relief from their lips. All the host sat in utmost luxury before the great feast, and starved.

This, said the angel, is Hell.

The angel again seized him and bore him through the air. Again he found himself in a fine hall. It might have been a twin for the first: the tapestries and candelsticks, the fine clothes and gems, the magnificent banquet. But here, the rafters rang with laughter and song. Their eyes sparkled in flushed cheeks. The hermit looked more closely and saw, to his surprise, the same iron bands about their bodies, and on their wrists the same iron manacles. And as he watched, their hands reached out to the feast, pouring wine into chalices, spearing meat on their knifes, and grasping handfuls of bread and fruits, and they all turned to their neighbors, and raised the morsels each to their neighbor’s lips.

This, said the angel, is Heaven.

-siderea, “The Difference Between Heaven and Hell.” siderea.dreamwidth.org. August 13, 2021.

This version give me medieval vibes. The version I first heard was the Chinese version, i.e., hell is where there is only 6 foot chopsticks and no one can feed themselves; and heaven is where there is only 6 foot chopsticks and everyone feeds one another. Not as flowery (or Christian), but preferred.

What Makes a Champion? Early Multidisciplinary Practice, Not Early Specialization, Predicts World-Class Performance

“Abstract

What explains the acquisition of exceptional human performance? Does a focus on intensive specialized practice facilitate excellence, or is a multidisciplinary practice background better? We investigated this question in sports. Our meta-analysis involved 51 international study reports with 477 effect sizes from 6,096 athletes, including 772 of the world’s top performers. Predictor variables included starting age, age of reaching defined performance milestones, and amounts of coach-led practice and youth-led play (e.g., pickup games) in the athlete’s respective main sport and in other sports. Analyses revealed that (a) adult world-class athletes engaged in more childhood/adolescent multisport practice, started their main sport later, accumulated less main-sport practice, and initially progressed more slowly than did national-class athletes; (b) higher performing youth athletes started playing their main sport earlier, engaged in more main-sport practice but less other-sports practice, and had faster initial progress than did lower performing youth athletes; and (c) youth-led play in any sport had negligible effects on both youth and adult performance. We illustrate parallels from science: Nobel laureates had multidisciplinary study/working experience and slower early progress than did national-level award winners. The findings suggest that variable, multidisciplinary practice experiences are associated with gradual initial discipline-specific progress but greater sustainability of long-term development of excellence.

-Arne Güllich1 , Brooke N. Macnamara2 , and
David Z. Hambrick, “What Makes a Champion? Early
Multidisciplinary Practice, Not Early
Specialization, Predicts World-Class
Performance
.” Perspectives on Psychological Science. 1-24.DOI: 10.1177/1745691620974772.

Strikes me as obviously true. Early specialization is like early optimization, and it doesn’t tend to give the best results.

Four Hours of Work

“The real lesson – or one of them – is that it pays to use whatever freedom you do have over your schedule not to “maximise your time” or “optimise your day”, in some vague way, but specifically to ringfence three or four hours of undisturbed focus (ideally when your energy levels are highest). Stop assuming that the way to make progress on your most important projects is to work for longer…

…The other, arguably more important lesson isn’t so much a time management tactic as an internal psychological move: to give up demanding more of yourself than three or four hours of daily high-quality mental work. That’s an emphasis that gets missed, I think, in the current conversation about overwork and post-pandemic burnout. Yes, it’s true we live in a system that demands too much of us, leaves no time for rest, and makes many feel as though their survival depends on working impossible hours. But it’s also true that we’re increasingly the kind of people who don’t want to rest – who get antsy and anxious if we don’t feel we’re being productive. The usual result is that we push ourselves beyond the sane limits of daily activity, when doing less would have been more productive in the long run. “

-Oliver Burkeman, “The three-or-four-hours rule for getting creative work done.” OliverBurkeman.com. April 3, 2021.

Zuihitsu: 2021-07

Collecting these little ideas has become a major focus. Here’s this month’s installment.

  1. The interior of our skulls contains a portal to infinity.—Grant Morrison
  2. Personal density is proportional to temporal bandwidth.—Thomas Pynchon
  3. Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.—Salvador Dali
  4. Relationships come with no guarantees.
  5. The tears we cry moisturize the skin of life.
  6. Take the broken pieces of another thrill and make a brand new toy.—Elvis Costello
  7. Getting married isn’t going to make you less alone.
  8. Acts demolish alternatives, that is the paradox.
  9. Individualism doesn’t scale.
  10. People who live in cities tend to collect neuroses.
  11. People become estranged from their former selves, their goals and dreams unless they continuously try to define and remember them.
  12. Life is stranger than even the strangest among us can suppose.— paraphrasing Terence McKenna paraphrasing J.D.S. Haldane
  13. Few theories work well when applied over two orders of magnitude.
  14. Let go of things not meant for you.
  15. Hold plans lightly.
  16. Action over thought.
  17. Limits usually have limits.
  18. Separate the real from the unreal.
  19. Create the job you want.
  20. The more you do what you want the less you want to compare.
  21. Most things take less time than you think.
  22. You can be the best X, and there are going to be people that hate Xs.
  23. Opportunity flows through people.
  24. Nobody knows what they are doing.
  25. Life is long.
  26. Our weakness can also be a strength.
  27. What we understand depends on how we think.
  28. Even unseen work has value.
  29. The offer of a generous spirit is not to be refused lightly.
  30. The best ideas are rarely discovered in isolation from practical implementation.
  31. To deny the past is to deny the future.
  32. When we crave power over life—endless wealth, unassailable safety, immortality—then desire becomes greed.
  33. Only one thing in this world can resist an evil-hearted man. And that is another man. A spirit capable of evil is also able to overcome it.
  34. Presume to punish and reward others, and you’ll enter into a master/slave relationship.
  35. Do nothing, unless it must be done and done that way.
  36. Save talking until you know something.
  37. The counsel of the dead is not for the living.
  38. To wield a weapon you do not understand is most likely to end with harm to self.
  39. Strange roads have strange guides.
  40. In innocence, there is no strength against evil.
  41. True power accepts and doesn’t take.
  42. A candle only looks bright in the dark.
  43. Truth varies with the man.
  44. Learn by going where you have to go.—Roethke
  45. Leave a little room for luck and chance to aid you.
  46. Nothing can be without becoming.
  47. There’s misery enough; you don’t have to go looking for it.
  48. Harm draws harm to it.
  49. Better shark than herring.
  50. Is wisdom all words?
  51. Grow in grace.
  52. Used goods can be had at less price and for more value.
  53. What cannot be mended must be transcended.
  54. Before you start, decide when quitting is the best choice.
  55. Hard times are like bad weather, they don’t last.
  56. Expression is compression.
  57. People make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing.—paraphrase of Karl Marx
  58. Talent wins.
  59. Don’t get stuck on the details. 
  60. Bad times help you appreciate good times.
  61. Be a thread woven into the fabric of shared human experience.
  62. People in cities don’t mix, they sort.
  63. Mercy to the guilty is the only kind of mercy there is.—Eve Tushnet
  64. There are some things you just don’t want to know.—Zeckhauser
  65. If you focus on people’s shortcomings, you’ll always be disappointed.—Zeckhauser
  66. Practice asynchronous reciprocity.—Zeckhauser
  67. Pleasure is no enemy of discipline.—Virginia Woolf
  68. Habits form from enjoyment. Want to form a habit? Find a way to make it fun.
  69. The only advice one person can give another is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions.
  70. To be a happy person, one must contemplate death five times daily.—Bhutanese folk saying
  71. The art of life is to know how to enjoy a little and to endure much.”—William Hazlitt
  72. Some people are enlightened only on retreat.
  73. We live in a time when endless wants wreck us, and enough is a radical supposition.
  74. In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy.
  75. The institutionalization of values leads inevitably to physical pollution, social polarization, and psychological impotence: three dimensions in a process of global degradation and modernized misery.
  76. Useful things for useless people.
  77. Define a problem by its behavior, not by your preferred solution.
  78. Aim to enhance total systems properties, such as creativity, stability, diversity, resilience, and sustainability–whether they are easily measured or not.
  79. If something is unsustainable, it will end. You don’t have to end it.
  80. Small things often.
  81. I am not inclined to ruin myself for the sake of hurting my enemies.—Hermocrates
  82. Focus on the past is ego. Focus on the future is pride. Focus on the present is humility.
  83. It is dangerous to be right when the status quo is wrong.—paraphrase of Voltaire
  84. Personality is important in love but rarely outside of it.
  85. We squander our lives on trivia.
  86. Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.—Oscar Wilde paraphrased
  87. Knowledge is acquired when we succeed in fitting a new experience into the system of concepts based upon our old experiences. Understanding comes when we liberate ourselves from the old and so make possible a direct, unmediated contact with the new, the mystery, moment by moment, of our existence.—Aldous Huxley
  88. Imitation is at the root of all behaviour.—René Girard
  89. Humour is a test of expertise.
  90. Technology is commodification, and words commodify knowledge.
  91. Social embeddedness is key to any communication medium.
  92. Good times will come, and hard times will come. If we are to endure, we must be principled and create value on solid foundations. 
  93. All empty souls tend toward extreme opinions.—William Butler Yeats
  94. Early commitment leads to cost overruns.
  95. Self-sufficiency and money cannot co-exist because money implies dependency.
  96. …to resign oneself to accept the lesser of two evils is unworthy of the human spirit.—Jacques Maritain
  97. My idea of rich is that you can buy every book you ever want without looking at the price and you’re never around assholes. That’s the two things to really fight for in life.—John Waters
  98. Are you asking the right questions?
  99. When traveling, have a spare for what you wear.
  100. It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.—Harry Potter