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.

Villeneuve’s Dune

Empire’s Ben Travis, who gave another five-star review, said that for fans of the Dune books, the latest and best film adaptation had been well worth the wait.

He wrote: “For science-fiction devotees, especially those who have long-worshipped Frank Herbert’s dense tome and waited decades for it to be brought to the screen in a more successful incarnation than previous filmmakers have managed, make no mistake: Villeneuve’s Dune is the adaptation you always dreamed of.”

-“Dune: Critics largely lavish praise on epic sci-fi remake.” BBC. September 7, 2021.

It isn’t a surprise to anyone that I plan on watching Villeneuve’s Dune when it comes out. I’m also take the opportunity to point to The Secret History of Dune.

The Four Reading Levels

  1. Elementary: What does the text say? Literacy.
  2. Inspectual: What is this article/book about? Superficial, skimming.
  3. Analytical: Is the information / argument good? Meaning, perspective and use.
  4. Synoptic: Comparative. Trying to incorporate multiple points of view into our own view.

Nothing I want to quote from the article by Bruno Boksic on this topic. But, I thought it was a useful mental model.

Troll Taxonomies

“The internet doesn’t turn people into assholes so much as it acts as a massive megaphone for existing ones, according to work by researchers at Aarhus University.

-Tom McCay, “Online Trolls Actually Just Assholes All the Time, Study Finds.” Gizmodo. August 27, 2021.

I think there is a troll gravity online, where the megaphones of a few draw people into their troll orbit. And like gravity, there is a difference between super massive jackholes of trolldom, where galaxies of individuals revolve around them. On the other end, there are the asteroids and comets of trolldom, not there all the time, but occasionally, they fly in and are a spectacle. If you are going to have this kind of discussion, you probably need to develop a taxonomy of trolldom.

Also, the reason people behave differently online is because there is not a threat of physical violence. A grief troll online can just ask questions that offline would likely end in a beating.

Planet of Cops

“The woke world is a world of snitches, informants, rats. Go to any space concerned with social justice and what will you find? Endless surveillance. Everybody is to be judged. Everyone is under suspicion. Everything you say is to be scoured, picked over, analyzed for any possible offense. Everyone’s a detective in the Division of Problematics, and they walk the beat 24/7. You search and search for someone Bad doing Bad Things, finding ways to indict writers and artists and ordinary people for something, anything. That movie that got popular? Give me a few hours and 800 words. I’ll get you your indictments. That’s what liberalism is, now — the search for baddies doing bad things, like little offense archaeologists, digging deeper and deeper to find out who’s Good and who’s Bad. I wonder why people run away from establishment progressivism in droves.”

-Freddie deBoer, “Planet of Cops.”freddiedeboer.substack.com. Originally posted: May 2017.

Immediately made me think of this scene: “You’re not cop. You’re little people.”

Thoughtcrime: I Fought the LAWS and the LAWS Won

Editor’s Note: Some links in this article lead to media sites and journals that are affiliated with the Iranian military. If access to such sites is prohibited by your employer’s policy, please do not click links in this article from a work computer.

-Evan Omeed Lisman, “Iran’s Bet on Autonomous Weapons.” War on the Rocks. August 30, 2021.

Drone swarms are the future of warfare. Strikes me as next level stupid for an employer in this space to prohibit their employees from even accessing this information on their work computer. But, I suppose working for the government can lead to brain damage.

For more on LAWS, you might try this podcast:

“Lethal autonomous weapons represent the novel miniaturization and integration of modern AI and robotics technologies for military use. This emerging technology thus represents a potentially critical inflection point in the development of AI governance. Whether we allow AI to make the decision to take human life and where we draw lines around the acceptable and unacceptable uses of this technology will set precedents and grounds for future international AI collaboration and governance. Such regulation efforts or lack thereof will also shape the kinds of weapons technologies that proliferate in the 21st century. On this episode of the AI Alignment Podcast, Paul Scharre joins us to discuss autonomous weapons, their potential benefits and risks, and the ongoing debate around the regulation of their development and use.

-“AIAP: On Lethal Autonomous Weapons with Paul Scharre.” Future of Life Institute Podcast

Confronting the Technological Society

“But as more and more activities and areas of life get absorbed in technique — in recent years perhaps most visibly through digital technologies shaping friendships, learning, buying and selling, travel, music, leisure, and much else — the possibilities of pushing back against it diminish. The lesson here is not that the particular technologies are necessarily harmful and ought to be shunned. Rather, while they aim to make countless activities easier and more efficient — and us happier — they tend to obscure from our vision the real, kaleidoscopic, sometimes maddening but appropriate complexities of these activities. Education, political engagement, friendship, artistic and scholarly excellence, moral and intellectual virtue — these are and remain vexingly difficult, and there are no shortcuts to becoming good at them, even if various tools are helpful along the way. What we need is to learn to appreciate the tensions and difficulties of pursuing these deeply meaningful ends. As Ellul writes in The Political Illusion, “Only tension and conflict form personality, not only on the loftiest, most personal plane, but also on the collective plane.”

An ethics of nonpower — choosing not to exercise mastery at the expense of proper human ends — will involve tensions and conflicts, the maintenance of which is a prerequisite for the pursuit of the best things. The craftsmen of governments demanding separation of powers and a system of checks and balances recognized this principle, ensuring restraint and organized tensions to prevent despotism. Freedom requires tension, and Ellul in his insistence on dialectical thinking is ultimately concerned with preserving human freedom. Whereas technologies grant us greater freedom to master our environment, technique as a whole restrains it and itself becomes the new environment resisting our mastery. An important point Ellul seems to have missed is that for the technician, the craftsman, and the mechanic, mastery over technology requires not confrontation from without but proper care for the thing and submission to its physical demands. Freedom from the tool goes hand in hand with freedom and skill to manipulate it, which often makes older tools that reveal their workings superior to the new ones that conceal them. The master technician may thus be freer than the mere user who has not been disciplined by the making of the tool…

…We ought instead to take Ellul’s book, placed in the context of his larger work, as an appeal to walk a middle path between unrestrained technophilia and reactionary technophobia, a path we see only if we refocus on human ends, which are familial, communal, political, and ecclesial. This requires that we are willing to admit that among our vast array of technical means many fail to serve us well, that progress on this path has often little to do with innovation, and that control over our means is not simply given but something we must struggle for by confronting them with these higher than technical ends.

-Samuel Matlack, “Confronting the Technological Society.” The New Atlantis. Summer/Fall 2014.

Another reminder, along with L.M. Sacasas’ The Convivial Society, to read Ellul’s work.

The United States, Pro-Life as Sickness

When visiting Brussels, Belgium, Engelhart speaks to Wim Distelmans, an oncologist and euthanasia proponent, about whether assisted death should be offered to more people in the United States. “It’s a developing country,” he tells her. “You shouldn’t try to implement a law of euthanasia in countries where there is no basic healthcare.” A reader wonders, then, what it means to assert dignity within circumstances that do not do the same….

The Inevitable is interested in dignity and how people define it, but it does not ask so explicitly whether the state, and the laws it creates, can recognize people’s dignity in the first place. If our systems of governance fail to care for so many — and kill others on death row and in the streets — can they be trusted to control the choice to die? If a “developing country” without universal health care did offer wide access to assisted death, one wonders whether its use could make that country’s ills more obvious, more urgent, less ignorable…

…“Philip came to think that efforts to suppress rational suicide were ‘a sign of an increasingly sick society,’” Katie Engelhart writes. “They were a sign that, maybe, society wasn’t so confident in its reasons for insisting on life.”

-Elena Saavedra Buckley, “The Dignified Exit.Los Angeles Book Review. July 23, 2021.

Open Question: What is dignity, and what does it mean to die with it?

Open Question: Is the United States a developing country, from a moral, maturity or other perspective?

I has never occurred to me to think of the United States as a developing country. But, really, when you say something like “American Taliban”, you know exactly who that refers to and what that means. What is the difference? Does living in the “richest country in the world” make any difference if you can’t afford to see the doctor you need? How is that different than having no doctor to see at all?

Facebook Directs Your Eyes

“What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality. Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them. Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook…

…To sum up: there is a lot of research showing that Facebook makes people feel like shit. So maybe, one day, people will stop using it.”

—John Lanchester, “You are the product.” London Review of Books. August 17, 2017.

I’ve been off Facebook, and most social media, for over four years. I can’t imagine returning. In fact, lately, I’m leaning towards a more extreme position. The problems of the Internet are larger than social media and the feudal Internet, where Microsoft puts ads on every Windows machine and cloud infrastructure sits behind every website and stores local files in the cloud. But, instead, these are the more obvious symptoms of commercialized communications, embedded down to the level of the protocols that make it all possible, such as HTML. That’s why efforts like the Gemini Protocol, small Internet pubnixes, Tor, cryptocurrencies, and so forth are worth learning about because they have the potential to completely transform our ways of communicating online in ways that are both more meaningful and authentic.