Theory of Obscurity – A Film About the Residents

“Through fly on the wall observations and candid interviews, this film tells the story of a group that has always played by its own set of rules. We traveled with The Residents around the US and Europe during their 40th anniversary tour as they staged their elaborate productions, shooting more than 20 performances and also capturing rare behind the scenes moments that show what it truly takes to put a dynamic show together on your own, and on a tight budget.”

Theory of Obscurity

I have previously mentioned The Residents Commercial Album on this blog.

What’s Wrong With Twitter: #TooFarLeft

“The hashtag ‘TooFarLeft’ trended on Twitter on Saturday morning, in part because of comments made Friday by former President Obama…Obama spoke at a fundraising meeting Friday evening and warned donors of the danger of the 2020 Democratic primary field moving too far to the left.”

-Marty Johnson, “‘Too Far Left’ hashtag trends on Twitter.” TheHill.com. November 16, 2019.

I don’t use Twitter. But, I read this piece and thought it might be a useful corrective. The Overton Window for political discourse in the United States runs from the moderate conservatism of your run-of-the-mill educated liberal elite to the extremist ideologies of the radical right. If this is your starting point, then it’s not terribly difficult to be “too far left” of the bounds of this framework.

But, scanning through the #toofarleft hashtag, I almost immediately had misgivings. We need to redefine the boundaries of our political conversation, if for no other reason to diversify the universe of views, foster creative solutions to problems and make the conversation more interesting. It is clear to me that this is not what is happening on Twitter.

We need more people speaking with perspectives from the Left because that is what is missing. But, identity isn’t a perspective. Identity informs a perspective.

We cannot share our lived experience. It is impossible to convey what it’s like to be a combat veteran, mother, addict or any of the other infinite aspects of our selves that inform our understanding of the world. Yet, the arguments frequently offered these days take the form of: “As an X…” You’ve immediately reduced your experience to that one thing and you’ve alienated your audience by referencing an experience they don’t share.

Or, if they do share it, chances are they already share your perspective. You’re preaching to the choir and alienated everyone else. And this is true everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you a devote Catholic against abortion talking about souls, a scientist advocating for artificial intelligence, or protesting in the Extinction Rebellion, you have to start not with yourself but with the perspective of The Other; we all do.

This is one of the central problems with social media. It erases the audience, or rather, you become your own audience, with the rest of the world listening in on your interior dialogue. Why would we want to do that to ourselves or to the world?

Thank You For Your Service

“Almost half of U.S. veterans and active service members feel uncomfortable with being thanked for their service, a new survey has revealed…

…The poll found that instead of saying the simple thank you, most veterans and service members preferred gratitude that went beyond simple platitudes and that tried to connect with them on a more personal level.”

—Tareq Haddad, “Veterans ‘Uncomfortable’ With ‘Thank You for Your Service,’ Ask for More Civilian Support This Veterans Day.” Newsweek. November 9, 2019.

Deeply uncomfortable with, “Thank you for your service.” In my experience, it is said by people that generally don’t know what that service entails and have naive notions that the U.S. military is promoting “freedom” around the world and is maintaining it at home. “Thank you” is often a performance, where the individual is erased in the service of a national mythology. It’s best not to ask what was done and how it effected the people who did it and the folks on the receiving end because it might be horrible.

Exhibit A of the kinds of damage done by false praise mentioned this morning.

Blue Wall Voices Project

“One year out from the 2020 presidential election and without a clear frontrunner in the Democratic primaries, a large share of voters –about four in ten (41%)–say they have not yet made up their minds about who they plan to vote for in November 2020. These ‘swing voters’ either report being undecided about their vote in 2020 or are leaning towards a candidate but haven’t made up their minds yet. With a substantial number of votes still up for grabs, this analysis looks in-depth at this group of voters to explore the policy issues that could swing these voters to vote for either President Trump or the Democratic nominee.”

-Ashley Kirzinger, et al, “Blue Wall Voices Project.” Kaiser Family Foundation in cooperation with the Cook Political Report. November 7, 2019.

Four in ten of Americans on their preferred political platform.

Change Your Conversations/Life

tl;dr: Discussions with people with love and respect done in the spirit of discovery of truth can be a powerful force for personal change. Without love, respect and a concern for truth, discussions devolve into signalling group allegiances and programming / deprogramming The Others and is best avoided.

Anti-idiotarianism: Opposition to idiots of all political stripes. First coined in the blog named Little Green Footballs as part of a post expressing disgust with inane responses to post-9/11 Islamic terrorism. Anti-idiotarian wrath has focused on Islamic terrorists and their sympathizers in the Western political left, but also routinely excoriated right-wing politicians backing repressive ’anti-terror‘ legislation and Christian religious figures who (in the blogosphere’s view of the matter) have descended nearly to the level of jihad themselves.”

-The on-line hacker Jargon File, version 4.4.7, October 30, 2019

“But the Twitter conversation about national politics among U.S. adult users is driven by a small number of prolific political tweeters. These users make up just 6% of all U.S. adults with public accounts on the site, but they account for 73% of tweets from American adults that mention national politics.”

-Adam Hughes, “A small group of prolific users account for a majority of political tweets sent by U.S. adults.” Pew Research Center. October 23, 2019.

Let’s start with the obvious. The baseline is that no one cares what you think, about anything. People don’t want to read your “hot take” about the news of the day. They don’t want to hear about how the world would be so much better, if only you were installed as Emperor of the World. You’re not going to be Emperor of the World.

Even if Emperor of the World were a position for which they were hiring, if you were picked, it’s a certainty you’d fuck it up, as would anyone. Socrates, Buddha, or Jesus might be able to pull it off, but they wouldn’t want the job. You cannot liberate people and rule them at the same time.

For any discussion, this is the central question. Is it going to be an open ended process of discovery searching for truth? Or does it serve some other purpose, like binding a group together around an established ideology? The answer, at least 1 out of a 1000 times, is the latter.

There are people that want, more than anything, to be part of a group, to share in a collective power, even if it is a small share of that power. Discussion, in this context, is programming. With one side trying to program or deprogram the other.

But, people following a program are idiots. Merriam-Webster defines “idiot” as a foolish or stupid person. In this context, I think a better definition of idiot is: a person that subscribes to a particular ideology in order to be accepted as part of a group, thinks their opinions are correct (though they are idiosyncratic reflections of the opinion of their group), other people are wrong, and other people desperately need to hear what they think, whether they want to or not. There’s little point in talking to idiots, or people acting like an idiot.

Everyone acts like an idiot, every now and again. But, for many, being an idiot is a calling. The goal is promotion of the partisan, whether it is true or not. Although, many of these partisans are true believers, even if what they believe isn’t true.

The sanest strategy is not to get in the business of programming others and to try to avoid other people programming you. Avoid discussions of this sort, unless you deeply care for someone and feel an obligation to help pull them from the path they have chosen. Just be careful to give higher regard for your relationship rather than to your ideas.

If you eliminate those types of discussions, what’s left? Let’s assume we are contemplating an open ended discussion as a process for the discovery of the truth.

  • Why engage in a process like this one?
  • Who should we have these discussion with?
  • How should we do it?

Sometimes talking our ideas through with someone else helps us to develop them, particularly if that person disagrees with us. It allow us to confront problems or aspects of a problem we might not have considered otherwise.

But, our feelings about the other person are key. While it is possible to have civil discourse with people we don’t like, it’s best to have these discussions with people we know and like. If you don’t know or like someone, you are going to be less open to what they are saying. It becomes easier to become partisan or be contrary in a way that blocks a useful exchange of ideas.

What is useful discourse? Paul Graham has a helpful essay, “How to Disagree,” that talks about a hierarchy of disagreement:

  • DH0: Name-calling
  • DH1: Ad hominem, personal attacks.
  • DH2: Responding to tone
  • DH3: Contradiction
  • DH4: Counterargument
  • DH5: Refutation
  • DH6: Refuting the central point

If most of the discussion is equal to or less than DH3, it probably indicates that it isn’t useful. We can safely avoid conversations that drop down to these levels or we believe will quickly devolve into them.

In sum, we know what good discussions look like. If you don’t care for the person and there’s no forward progress to be made, end it. As an act of kindness, let them have the last word. It’s trying to get the last word the prolongs conversations that are better off dead.

Triage Your Hells

Listen. In a perfect world, we’d all be able to work through our problems with love, compassion and understanding. We’d see that we are all flawed human beings looking for measures of love, respect and power over our lives.

But, we don’t live in that world. In our world, some people only understand violence. Some are so wounded that they have little to offer anyone else but a share of their suffering. Some only know how to take your time and energy and will give nothing in return. And there are others, so many others.

Perhaps, life is like the Chinese fable: Hell is a place with only six foot chopsticks and no one can feed themselves. And, heaven is a place with only six foot chopsticks, and everyone feeds everyone else. And maybe, it only takes a few people from hell to turn heaven into hell, and vice versa.

You may be an angel, ready to feed the world with your six foot chopsticks. And God bless you, sweet angel. But, a bit of advice: be prepared to run if the demons put you on the menu, and maybe pick a better hell next time.

Disabling Facebook and Other Social Media Tracking in WordPress

I realized yesterday that the default sharing options in WordPress enabled tracking by Facebook and Twitter. I don’t want advertising or tracking on my site. I found that you can turn these “features” off in the Dashboard.

Simply click on Enabled Services and drag and drop into Available Services, and vice versa, for services you want enabled, such as Email or Print.

The New Consumer

“Be cautious about investing in sharing economy models that do not directly address the evolving needs of workers. We are in the middle of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the digital revolution, which has resulted in a redefinition of work. The transition will likely continue to disrupt industries and investors should take heed.”

—Paula Campbell Roberts, “The New Consumer.” KKR.com. October 2, 2019.

While an interesting overview of the gig economy and it’s implications, the term “asset light consumer” as a near substitute for “poor” is a crime against the English language on the level of “pre-owned” becoming a euphemism for “used”.

Jacob Lund Fiskar: 10 Year Update

Jacob Lund Fiskar wrote Early Retirement Extreme. This post is after ten years of retirement. Interesting throughout.

“My spending has remained around the $7000 per year mark for almost twenty years now. Since we got married thirteen years ago, my wife’s spending has also hovered around the $7000 per year mark. In other words, our combined expenses total about $14,000 per year…

…Spending money mainly serves to resolve friction from inefficient lifestyle design. And for us, there’s just not a whole lot of friction left anymore except real-estate, taxes, and insurance premiums, which account for nearly 60% of our budget. We consider spending money a failure to solve our problems by smarter means.”

—Jacob Lund Fiskar, “Early Retirement Extreme: The ten year update.” GetRichSlowly.org. October 2, 2019