No Comment: Cow Dung Capitalism

“Unadulterated cow urine and dung have always been procured from cow-shelters by the traditional for use at home and in temple pujas. What’s recent is the array of therapeutic and beauty products flooding the market that use these as ingredients. There are face packs, bath scrubbers, mosquito coils and incense sticks that contain cow dung. There are creams, cough syrups, body oils, health tonics, weight-loss tonics, and floor disinfectants that contain distilled cow urine. You name it, they have it. And the names of gau mutra or gau arka (cow urine) or cow dung are not hidden away in long lists of fine print on the packages. It is star-lighted right up front as the chief ingredient in bold letters. You can go to a neighbourhood shop and buy it, or drop by a fancy mall and have it bar-code billed before it’s popped into your shopping bag. And, if you so wish, you can even go online and click—or finger tap—yourself a delivery…

….When Laxmi Rao, a 63-year-old corporate trainer in Delhi, first raised a glass filled one- fourth with a mixture of one drop of gau ark (distilled cow urine) and water to her lips, she didn’t feel the slightest twinge of nausea. She has an interest in alternate forms of therapy and had been suffering from knee pain and acidity for several years. A recommendation from a friend and some quick online research on the medicinal attributes of cow urine led her to give the mixture a shot. “I wasn’t queasy at all,” she says. “I was more like, ‘What the hell, let me give this a try’.” She knocked back the concoction in almost one whole gulp.”

-Lhendup G Bhutia, “Cow Dung Capitalism.” Open. September 16, 2016

Sociology/Psychology of the Last Five Minutes

I used this in conversation, and I had forgotten where I had seen it. I think this might be the original source for me:

Of all the prejudices of pundits, presentism is the strongest. It is the assumption that what is happening now is going to keep on happening, without anything happening to stop it. If the West has broken down the Berlin Wall and McDonald’s opens in St. Petersburg, then history is over and Thomas Friedman is content. If, by a margin so small that in a voice vote you would have no idea who won, Brexit happens; or if, by a trick of an antique electoral system designed to give country people more power than city people, a Donald Trump is elected, then pluralist constitutional democracy is finished. The liberal millennium was upon us as the year 2000 dawned; fifteen years later, the autocratic apocalypse is at hand. Thomas Friedman is concerned.

You would think that people who think for a living would pause and reflect that whatever is happening usually does stop happening, and something else happens in its place; a baby who is crying now will stop crying sooner or later. Exhaustion, or a change of mood, or a passing sound, or a bright light, something, always happens next. But for the parents the wait can feel the same as forever, and for many pundits, too, now is the only time worth knowing, for now is when the baby is crying and now is when they’re selling your books.

And so the death-of-liberalism tomes and eulogies are having their day, with the publishers who bet on apocalypse rubbing their hands with pleasure and the ones who gambled on more of the same weeping like, well, babies.”

-Adam Gopnick, “Are Liberals on the Wrong Side of History?” The New Yorker. March 20, 2017

I probably came across the reference in John Naughton’s online diary, which is excellent and worth using an RSS reader for.

Cargo Cult X

“Good listeners do often reflect words back—but not because they read it in a book somewhere. Rather, it’s cargo cult advice: it teaches you to imitate the surface appearance of good listening, but misses what’s actually important, the thing that’s generating that surface appearance.

The generator is curiosity.

When I’ve listened the most effectively to people, it’s because I was intensely curious—I was trying to build a detailed, precise understanding of what was going on in their head. When a friend says, “I’m furious with my husband. He’s never around when I need him,” that one sentence has a huge amount underneath. How often does she need him? What does she need him for? Why isn’t he around? Have they talked about it? If so, what did he say? If not, why not?

It turns out that reality has a surprising amount of detail, and those details can matter a lot to figuring out what the root problem or best solution is. So if I want to help, I can’t treat those details as a black box: I need to open it up and see the gears inside. Otherwise, anything I suggest will be wrong—or even if it’s right, I won’t have enough “shared language” with my friend for it to land correctly.”

-Ben Kuhn, “To listen well, get curious.” benkuhn.net. December 2020.

I liked this notion of cargo cult as an adjective. I was trying to think of other types of cargo cult advice. Most self-help is cargo cult advice. There is rarely one right way to be in the world, and as the rest of this text suggests, perhaps all advice given without understanding the context a person lives in has the potential to be cargo cult advice.

Then, it occurred to me that cargo cult can have more expanded use as an adjective. Facebook friends might be cargo cult friends.

Belief systems around romantic relationships and “finding the one” might be another. Doesn’t make more sense to think about relationships as a skill, and it is possible to have meaningful relationships with many “the ones”, if we could only learn those skills?

When you start thinking about it, much of what is going on in our culture is cargo cult culture. There are many people, following the same paths, subscribing to the same ideas, and it gives them a sense of belonging to a group, which helps them form their identity. But, much of it is a display that denies our experience and requires us to gaslight ourselves and deny our lived experience.

There’s to lot to unpack in this idea. Perhaps something to think on further and write a longer essay about.

Ideological Amazon & Punk Nazis

“The words are violence crowd is right about the power of language. Words can be vile, disgusting, offensive, and dehumanizing. They can make the speaker worthy of scorn, protest, and blistering criticism. But the difference between civilization and barbarism is that civilization responds to words with words. Not knives or guns or fire. That is the bright line. There can be no excuse for blurring that line—whether out of religious fanaticism or ideological orthodoxy of any other kind.

Today our culture is dominated by those who blur that line—those who lend credence to the idea that words, art, song lyrics, children’s books, and op-eds are the same as violence. We are so used to this worldview and what it requires—apologize, grovel, erase, grovel some more—that we no longer notice.”

-Bari Weiss, “We Ignored Salman Rushdie’s Warning.” Common Sense. August 13, 2022.

Thinking for yourself is never going to line up with any kind of ideological orthodoxy. Free speech is ultimately about listening to unorthodox voices. But, if it is used to drown them out, giving certain orthodoxies the greatest share of voice, then do you really have free speech? What often pretends to be “free speech” isn’t about free speech. It’s about something else. As Steve Bannon would have it: “This is not about persuasion: This is about disorientation.”

The disorientation is to make it more difficult to come to independent conclusions, and it is also designed to limit the kind of traction unorthodox ideas can get among the population. Both are very much designed to promote established ideas and the status quo.

To use a metaphor, who is the Amazon of ideology in a culture? Often, thee are driven by political elites, whether they be based on religious, business, or some other orthodoxy. Ideally, free speech is about expanding the Overton window, the things that we can talk about. Shouting down the opposition isn’t free speech. Giving room for dissenting voices is free speech.

Of course, if that is the view, people will claim their views are somehow dissenting. They’ll espouse the most mainstream ideas, and they’ll exclude some portion to signal that their ideas are in the minority or unique.

There’s also the other direction. You may have some unique ideas. But, it’s very possible that they aren’t interesting to many other people, even if you believe they should be. Tolerance for people that do not share your views has to flow in all directions. A minority that thinks they are on the right side of history and doesn’t have to listen to people that don’t agree with them have all the same problems of the dominant ideologies without the political clout. For people on the sidelines, it is hard to see the advantages of switching out one for the other.

So, it’s a complex business. The Dead Kennedy’s offered good advice though in Nazi Punks Fuck Off, i.e., our default mode should be to listen to new ideas and voices. But, a punk Nazi, or one that shares some of our ideas or aesthetic, isn’t necessarily an improvement over the choices of the ideological Amazon.

Punk ain't no religious cult
Punk means thinkin' for yourself
You ain't hardcore 'cause you spike your hair
When a jock still lives inside your head

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!
Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

If you've come to fight, get outta here
You ain't no better than the bouncers
We ain't tryin' to be police
When you ape the cops it ain't anarchy

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

Ten guys jump one, what a man
You fight each other, the police state wins
Stab your backs when you trash our halls
Trash a bank if you've got real balls

You still think swastikas look cool
The real Nazis run your schools
They're coaches, businessmen and cops
In a real fourth Reich you'll be the first to go

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

You'll be the first to go
You'll be the first to go
You'll be the first to go
Unless you think

US Approves Google Plan To Let Political Emails Bypass Gmail Spam Filter

“The US Federal Election Commission approved a Google plan on Thursday to let campaign emails bypass Gmail spam filters. The FEC’s advisory opinion adopted in a 4-1 vote said Gmail’s pilot program is permissible under the Federal Election Campaign Act and FEC regulations “and would not result in the making of a prohibited in-kind contribution.”

The FEC said Google’s approved plan is for “a pilot program to test new Gmail design features at no cost on a nonpartisan basis to authorized candidate committees, political party committees, and leadership PACs.” On July 1, Google asked the FEC for the green light to implement the pilot after Republicans accused the company of giving Democrats an advantage in its algorithms.

-Jon Brodkin, “US approves Google plan to let political emails bypass Gmail spam filter.” ArsTechnica. August 12, 2022

Who does this serve? Does it serve the person using Gmail or does it serve someone else?

My suggestion: Don’t use Gmail. Protonmail is probably the easiest alternative to set-up and use.

Tragedy vs. Comedy Modes

As Brown notes, Meeker argues that Western Civilization is mostly founded on the “tragic mode,” inspired by the great tragedies in which a “larger-than-life character attempts to bend the world to his (and it’s always his) image.” The character’s success “is also his undoing,” and tragedies end in bloodshed, death, and a funeral of some kind. Our civilization has been built on the tragic idea that we can bend nature to our will, the result of which has been complete ecological catastrophe.

Meeker proposes an alternative for surviving our disastrous times: the “comic mode,” inspired by comedy:

Comedy is not a philosophy of despair or pessimism, but one which permits people to respond with health and clear vision despite the miseries the world has to offer. Its mode is immediacy of attention, adaptation to rapidly changing circumstances, joy in small things, the avoidance of pain wherever possible, the love of life and kinship with all its parts, the sharpening of intelligence, complexity of thought and action, and strategic responsiveness to novel situations. It permits people to accept themselves and the world as they are, and it helps us make the best of the messes around us and within us.

Upon reading this, I was immediately struck by how well the tragic and comic modes map to Brian Eno’s concept of genius vs. scenius, with one being a egosystem and the other being an ecosystem. Our world is an ecosystem inwhich our only real chance at survival as a species is cooperation, community, and care, but it’s being lead by people who believe in an egosystem, run on competition, power, and self-interest.

Comedy and scenius show us a way forward. A chance at survival that, in Meeker’s words, “depends upon our ability to change ourselves rather than our environment, and upon our ability to accept limitations rather than to curse fate for limiting us.” Comedy, like scenius, gives all the characters in the story a surviving role and a chance to live to see another day.

-Austin Kleon, “The comedy of survival.” austinkleon.com November 19, 2020

Make the best of the messes around us and within us is great advice. Recommend the whole bit.

A Cyclic Theory Of Subcultures

“During Involution phase, many counterelites are trying to slice off adherents and resources at the same time. Some people even become meta-counter-elites, complaining that the counterelites themselves have strayed from the true principles, etc. The actual elites realize their status is also precarious, and some of them side with the counterelites in order to get a new base, bringing the conflicts to the highest levels. The overall tone of the movement becomes darker. Ordinary rank-and-file members hear so much criticism of the movement that it’s hard for them to stay optimistic about it. They stop talking about it as The Amazing Movement That Will Change Everything, and become defensive: “I’m not, like, one of those members of the movement, I just sort of think some of their ideas make sense sometimes.”

-Scott Alexander, “A Cyclic Theory Of Subcultures.” Astral Codex Ten. August 9, 2022
  • Phase One: Pre-Cycle, niche
  • Phase Two: Growth, moving to mainstream
  • Phase Three: Involution, complexity, sub-groups, elements shrink
  • Phase Four: Post-Cycle, established institutions, final form or return to Phase One

See also  Giambattista Vico‘s La Scienza Nuova which posits a civilization cycle and is described in Wikipedia as follows:

“Relying on a complex etymology, Vico argues in the Scienza Nuova that civilization develops in a recurring cycle (ricorso) of three ages: the divine, the heroic, and the human. Each age exhibits distinct political and social features and can be characterized by master tropes or figures of language. The giganti of the divine age rely on metaphor to compare, and thus comprehend, human and natural phenomena. In the heroic age, metonymy and synecdoche support the development of feudal or monarchic institutions embodied by idealized figures. The final age is characterized by popular democracy and reflection via irony; in this epoch, the rise of rationality leads to barbarie della reflessione or barbarism of reflection, and civilization descends once more into the poetic era. Taken together, the recurring cycle of three ages – common to every nation – constitutes for Vico a storia ideale eterna or ideal eternal history. Therefore, it can be said that all history is the history of the rise and fall of civilizations, for which Vico provides evidence (up until, and including the Graeco-Roman historians).”

Pretty straight-forward parallels, with the post-cycle indicating a frozen state where institutions persist for some period before descending back into Phase One or dissolution.

Let Go With Grace

“Once you accept that as a fundamental boundary on your capacity as a manager, it’s going to set you free. Free from centering on the self-serving anguish over what you could have done differently, and on to the acceptance that these outcomes are inevitable when dealing with the opaque potential of strangers.

The redeeming realization is that this is a great, big world. The human pieces that don’t fit into your puzzle will complete someone else’s. And in fact, if you refuse to let go of a piece that doesn’t fit on your end, you’re keeping someone else from making theirs. Besides, nobody wants to be the piece that doesn’t fit.

So learn to let go with grace. You’re not here to save anyone. It’s an illusion of grandeur to believe that you can.”

-David Heinemeier Hansson, “I can’t save you, nobody can.” world.hey.com. August 5, 2022

This reminded me of a conversation with a neighbor I had several years ago. They were trying to get involved in the lives of heroin addicts in order to “save” them. I said it was a mistake. It’s a rare circumstance where you can “save” anyone. Moreover, the most likely outcome is that they would negatively impact her, not the other way around.

There are acute situations, where an intervention at a key moment, might change the outcome. They happen. But, they are rare.

But more than 99% of the time, people interesting in “saving” others are not focused on these moments because they have a different agenda. They feel broken and in saving others they are trying to save themselves. Or, more generally, if others can be saved, perhaps they can be saved. And much of that time, they doom themselves because they are busy trying to solve someone else’s problems rather than working on their own.

But, of course, that also sounds selfish. You don’t want to save others? You only want to save yourself.

The reality is that I can only control what I do. The key point is that we are interconnected. We cannot solve only our problems. But, we cannot solve the world’s problems. Nor can we solve the problems of a large group. Our effective influence is a few people, who we have enough interaction with to see those rare moments when an opportunity opens. We need to prepare ourselves to meet that moment, which means working on our own shit and keeping good relationships with people – building our relationships – so we trust one another when the storm hits. The reality is that trust often isn’t fully cemented until after the storm, when you rose to an occasion and you could have left.

But, the only way to get there is to spend the time and do the work. Even then, it may not be enough. It won’t be enough if you are with other people that aren’t spending the time and doing the work. I guess the net on that is make sure you choose your relationships wisely.

Shadow Libraries: Library Genesis, ZLibrary & Sci-Hub

I’ve never seen the term “shadow libraries” mentioned in this blog post before. I had heard of Sci-Hub. But, I’m not a scientist, and I have never needed to access it. But, I does make me wonder.

Open Question: How does one balance how copyright helps to foster an environment where people conduct research and against the negatives associated with restricting access to that information?

In a print paradigm, the medium is a bottleneck. So, you need to provide incentives for publishers to publish a work. But, in a digital environment, the material costs have largely been eliminated or transferred to the reader.

Of course, there are costs of selection, peer-review, editing and the other functions of a publisher. But, it seems to me that capitalism is a horrible system for an information architecture, particularly in the sciences where much of the funding for foundational research is either paid by governments or are channeled through public universities. Research that cannot be accessed is no different from research that was never conducted at all.

Our Technology Sickness—and How to Heal It

“Because of the digital revolution, our lives are being transformed by three grand bargains. The intellectual bargain: we have more knowledge but less capacity to concentrate and focus. The social bargain: we are much more available but much less attentive. And most importantly, the emotional bargain: we are much more connected, but much less empathetic. When we trade away skills for power, attention for availability, empathy for connectivity, and quality for quantity of relationships, we sign up to a Faustian pact that we do not even know exists—one that gives us more control over the outside world, but less control over our inner world.

What then is to be done? What shifts in thinking and behavior will help us reverse course?

1. A philosophical shift: Less choice, more freedom…[essentially, a variation of the Helsinki Bus Station Theory. The longer you travel down a path and narrow your scope, the more interesting the path. More options means you are in a space more people travel.]

2. A cultural shift: Attention over availability…Our humanity should not be measured by how much attention we attract but by how much attention we devote to what matters. [Or, as has been said elsewhere, “Focus on nourishment rather than poison.”]

3. Remedial technologies [and behaviors. The idea is to train an incompatible behavior. It is possible to turn Airplane Mode on your phone, a remedial technical solution. But, turning your phone off and reading a book accomplishes the same thing and removes technology from the equation. The Amish might be a good reference point.]

4. A Talmudic shift…Jews are expected to be conversant with all sides of a controversy, but in their lived behavior they are expected to follow one position among many. Such a culture ensures that one’s intellectual world is much more expansive than the world of one’s lived practice. [Or, don’t let your politics define the ideas you are allowed to engage with.]

—Micah Goodman, “Our Technology Sickness—and How to Heal It.” Sources. Spring 2022

Excellent essay, all the way around. Recommended.