Minorities vs. Majorities

“Today, as then, public opinion is the omnipresent tyrant; today, as then, the majority represents a mass of cowards, willing to accept him who mirrors its own soul and mind poverty. That accounts for the unprecedented rise of a man like [Teddy] Roosevelt. He embodies the very worst element of mob psychology. A politician, he knows that the majority cares little for ideals or integrity. What it craves is display. It matters not whether that be a dog show, a prize fight, the lynching of a ‘nigger,’ the rounding up of some petty offender, the marriage exposition of an heiress, or the acrobatic stunts of an ex-president. The more hideous the mental contortions, the greater the delight and bravos of the mass. Thus, poor in ideals and vulgar of soul, Roosevelt continues to be the man of the hour. On the other hand, men towering high above such political pygmies, men of refinement, of culture, of ability, are jeered into silence as mollycoddles. It is absurd to claim that ours is the era of individualism. Ours is merely a more poignant repetition of the phenomenon of all history: every effort for progress, for enlightenment, for science, for religious, political, and economic liberty, emanates from the minority, and not from the mass. Today, as ever, the few are misunderstood, hounded, imprisoned, tortured, and killed.”

-Emma Goldman, “Minorities Versus Majorities.” Anarchism and Other Essays. 1911.

Zuihitsu: 2020-08-08 to 2020-12-31

  • A great meeting has three key elements: the options, desired outcome, and the roles of the participants are clear.
  • Solitude is freedom from inputs from other minds.
  • Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.—Ray Bradbury
  • Life is a game that is played on a five-inch field — the distance between your ears. —apologies to Bobby Jones, the American golfer.
  • There’s a market for confirming people’s opinion and not for the truth.
  • The catastrophe we think will happen has in fact already happened.—Donald Winnicott
  • An engaged practice does not permit unengaged labels and objectification.
  • Perfection and beauty are created by happiness.
  • Be there when the stillness comes.
  • “Discipline is choosing between what you want now, and what you want most.”—Abraham Lincoln
  • Between sense and nonsense, there is no right or wrong.
  • Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the Will.—Nietzsche
  • Dangerous grifter-led subcultures generally appeal to “lost young men.”
  • Make the revolution irresistible.—Toni Cade Bambara
  • There are two religions in the world: the religion of being right and the religion of being in love, and you can’t be a member of both at the same time.
  • A decrease in common sense and an increase in superstition and gullibility are infallible signs of alienation.
  • Changez vos amis.
  • There can be no separate survival.
  • Hold faith with the sun in a sunless place.
  • Broaden definition enough and you make a sieve of meaning.
  • People are myopic.
  • Every job looks easy when you aren’t the one doing it.—Jeff Immelt
  • Münchhausen Trilemma, when asked for more proof the end is either circular, regressive, or dogmatic.
  • Don’t be afraid to take. Takers never worry about taking too much. If you worry, then you aren’t solely a taker. Relax about it.
  • Kind and reasonable people using coalition-building, science, and determination to solve problems. Are you in that room?
  • The prior can often only be understood in the context of the likelihood.
  • With distance, every conflict seems solvable and senseless.
  • Stories not explanations.
  • Truth only comes at the end of the line.
  • Find a place of radical expression and acceptance.
  • Ignore the bullshit of the day.
  • Apocalypse is the suburb of utopia.
  • The land of the possible has many paths, and we can know only one.
  • It’s possible to be both empathetic and strong.
  • Pictures, luggages and life; everything’s impermanent.
  • A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance.
  • Morals are like aesthetics, best left for interpretation.
  • Living under the constant threat of destruction.
  • ”A trip through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat.”—Wilson Mezner on time spent in Hollywood
  • The labor of thought, the labor of writing and the labor in reality builds our character.
  • Everything is a delibrate construction.
  • Analog shuts out digital distractions.
  • Look for the extraordinary intruding on ordinary life.
  • Strip away complexity and simplify.
  • Humility is thinking of yourself less.
  • One person’s apocalypse is another person’s day-to-day.
  • Knowing isn’t doing.
  • Stupid cannot be educated.
  • One person with a mind and knows it can always beat ten people who haven’t and don’t.
  • Take the trouble to find the right thing to say, then say it with levity.
  • Desperate people do desperate things.
  • Right don’t come to you doing wrong.
  • LOVE, life’s only valid expression.
  • What is conversation for? One answer: leaving the other person better off emotionally.
  • Start with something that works.
  • Pain is the body registering a departure from what it regards as “normal.” If you can train yourself to think of pain as normal, then the pain will cease to exist.
  • Serve the material.
  • The dynamics of the high school clique are social dynamics everywhere.
  • Respect the individual.
  • People want to believe in something, even if it is false.
  • Every road is new.
  • Our lives are measured not by gain but by giving.
  • Don’t share opinions on topics that have low thresholds to having opinions and where there is little to differentiate them.
  • Don’t run towards ruin.
  • Only the dead are without fear.
  • The meaning we overlay onto our experience is primary of our many manufactured fictions.
  • Every signal has a cost. No costs; no need to communicate it.
  • Don’t feed the mouth that bites you.
  • Your fantasies have cursed your realities.
  • Ask a question. Find forty answers.
  • It’s too dark at night to wonder around with your eyes closed.
  • Do the small thing.
  • Create fun and a little weirdness. —Zappos motto
  • Change the initial conditions.
  • Puzzles over facts.
  • The people that need to read, don’t.
  • Wipe your feet at the door. Meaning: Your personal business shouldn’t be a problem for your business.
  • Power yields nothing without demand.
  • If it’s important and you stop, someone else will do it.
  • If you wish to know something, pay it careful attention.
  • Humanity is rife with brand and tribal loyalty.
  • Pragmatism > Culture Defense Warrior
  • A vantage point can only be occupied by one person at a time.
  • Better to try and fail than do nothing.
  • Be present in the present.
  • Invite the witness inside.
  • There is no final, fixed answer.
  • Keep increasing the number of sensed experience per second until the illusion of continuity shatters.
  • Intellect subs for faith. Faith subs for wisdom. Wisdom subs for both intellect and faith.
  • Balance and strengthen. Strengthen and balance.
  • Cities are full of weird, wonderful people, and people can teach us a lot.
  • Every experience can be a source of wisdom.
  • Labels not stories. Stories provide unnecessary detail that is wrong. Labels bypass thought.
  • Sick leaders attract sick followers.
  • Selection effects are everything.
  • Ideological conflict has no easy solutions.
  • It’s expensive to be both comfortable and to appear virtuous.
  • No one wants to be reincarnated as the fly eating poop.
  • It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.—Warren Buffett
  • It’s easier to train an expert to manage well than to train a manager to be an expert.
  • World-class talent wants to work for and with other world-class talent, or As hire other As, Bs hire Cs. Cs don’t hire As or Bs.
  • Wiping your mouth (or your ass) with paper isn’t making it clean.
  • Mine is classy, yours is crassy.
  • The measure of government is how many quiet tragedies it has authored.
  • Class and demographic biases rule over expertise.
  • Happiness is the difference between what you have, and your definition of enough.
  • Boats rowing the stream are harder work, but frequently have better company.
  • There are ways to eliminate suffering in ourselves and others. We need only discover and master them.
  • Advice requires context. What is good for the grey beard isn’t good for the novice.
  • Can you apologize for someone else?
  • Wanting things to be different (which includes wanting them to remain the same) is the cause of suffering.
  • Thinking blocks experiencing, like seeing an image taken with a camera rather than using your eyes.
  • Labels define culture, personally and socially.
  • Tests check but also drive performance.
  • Bridge the gap.
  • Don’t be The Other for people to define themselves against if you can help it.
  • Keeping free time scarce means keeping people unambitious and increases the market for convenience, gratification, and any other form of relief.
  • To be is to be related.
  • Socratic method: Let them talk. Ask questions. Let them expose their ignorance. Do not cheer when that happens.
  • Dread is lack of agency.
  • Spend over a year with no address.
  • Check if there’s a Japanese camping version.
  • Be more curious.
  • Social interaction in any medium is always a balance between self-expression and the accommodation of others.
  • Simple pastiches reign, signs of humanity’s lack of imagination.
  • Pursuing one kind of truth tends to obscure other kinds.
  • Many visions, many maps.
  • Your priorities are reflected in where you spend your money.
  • What ordinary thing has become invisible to you?
  • Practice analytically, perform intuitively.
  • Keep complexity in mind, enough to drive good decision-making.
  • You’re never too young to die.
  • Five big things instead of 500 half-assed things.
  • Cultivate an obsessive desire to make the world a weirder place.
  • Float to the top or sink to the bottom. Everything in the middle is the churn.—Amos in Season 5, Episode 2
  • Nobody really saves anyone. She taught me how to save myself.
  • Just because someone’s the underdog doesn’t mean they are the good guy.
  • Not every stain comes out.
  • Philanthropy is scooping soup, not solving the problem of soup lines.
  • Everyone has an eye on the self.
  • Every choice rules out a panoply of others.
  • Following models or trying to discover yourself avoids the hard work of creation, the difference between prefab or bespoke.
  • Education is sticking around until you get it.
  • We see what we need to see in other people.
  • The greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
  • The brave find their courage in adversity.
  • You do not have to be good.
  • Support people not projects or ideologies.
  • Every childhood is strange in its own way.
  • People are not composed entirely of their facts.
  • Save what you can save.
  • Turn yourself away from what you think is happening so that you can see what is really happening.
  • The worries of others are a largely unknown landscape.
  • See people as their best and most complete selves.

Decide to K.I.S.S.

“…irrelevant information or unavailable options often cause people to make bad choices. When both elements are present, the probability of a poor decision is even greater.”

—Chadd, I., Filiz-Ozbay, E. & Ozbay, E.Y. “The relevance of irrelevant information.” Experimental Economics. November 11, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10683-020-09687-3

Determining what is possible and the relevant information between choices is key to good decision-making. It’s obvious, but at the same time, it’s something worth keeping in the forefront of our minds when making decisions.

The Space Between the Notes

Brouk in 2017, the year she died, on how she started making music: “I found one note that I loved and I played that note again and again and again. And I just listened. Put the sustain pedal down and just listened to the overtones. And I just played that note til I heard the next note, and the next note, and then eventually I would hear a melody. So I taught myself to play, and it wasn’t just the notes. It was the space between notes.”

—Ann Friedman, “The space between“. The Ann Friedman Weekly. December 4, 2020.

How to Think For Yourself

“It matters a lot who you surround yourself with. If you’re surrounded by conventional-minded people, it will constrain which ideas you can express, and that in turn will constrain which ideas you have. But if you surround yourself with independent-minded people, you’ll have the opposite experience: hearing other people say surprising things will encourage you to, and to think of more.

Because the independent-minded find it uncomfortable to be surrounded by conventional-minded people, they tend to self-segregate once they have a chance to. The problem with high school is that they haven’t yet had a chance to. Plus high school tends to be an inward-looking little world whose inhabitants lack confidence, both of which magnify the forces of conformism. And so high school is often a bad time for the independent-minded. But there is some advantage even here: it teaches you what to avoid. If you later find yourself in a situation that makes you think “this is like high school,” you know you should get out.

—Paul Graham, “How to Think For Yourself.” PaulGraham.com. November 2020.

How Many Summers Are Left?

“I ask Grant Heslov about his friend’s decision to step back from acting, to direct and otherwise live his life. ‘This is how he put it to me when I was trying to do something during the summer recently,’ Heslov says by way of an explanation. He says Clooney proposed an exercise. ‘Let’s sit down and try to figure out how many summers we have left,’ Clooney said. ‘Let’s say we were 55 at the time. So let’s say we have 25 more summers left—25 years, 25 summers. That doesn’t seem like that many if you lose a whole summer, right?’”

-Zach Baron, “George Clooney When We Need Him Most.” GQ. November 17, 2020.

Reminded me of Warren Buffet’s 20 Slot Rule and Wait But Why‘s Your Life in Weeks. Also, there’s this chart from the CDC. If you make it to 65 years of age, you’re more likely to live longer than average. Obvious, when you think about it, but it’s still a point worth remembering.

Apocalypse is the Suburb of Utopia

The land of the possible has many paths, and we can know only one. Everything’s stochastic and impermanent. Our lives are packed with luggage, the vast majority of which would be best left at the side of the road.

Utopia is a place with kind and reasonable people using coalition-building, science and determination to solve their problems. How many of us can hope to live there? Grass so much greener than where we live, day-to-day.

But, even utopia rests on the cliff-edge and can easily change into apocalypse. Change some of the underlying structure. Change some of the personnel. Change the culture. And apocalypse will come like a fell wind pushing you from safety to calamity.

Life is subtle, glacial shifts that happen as we migrate from the youthful land of promise to one defined by limits: physical, of our historical moment, or of imagination. No one escapes transformation nor comes out alive.

Our destiny, in part, is to confront what we fear. Alone, insane, destitute and defeated. The catastrophe we think is going to happen has already happened, in our heart-mind. Truth is secondary to stories and opinion, a half-truth of unengaged labels, objectification and prejudices. A lack of common sense and gullibility are the red flags of alienation. The stink of fear and cries on the unsympathetic ear. But, these are also the tools of our survival.

But, even among the horror, beauty. Holding faith with the sun in a sunless place. Seeking perfection in the flawed. Loving the broken. It is our stories, our half-truths and deluded fictions that redeem the world.

Forgive me, dear friends. I was neither as strong, capable, or honorable as I wished. A mixed dish, contrary flavors, but I can be no more than myself. Why should I think you would be any different, even though I desperately wished it? Maybe if I wished enough, I could make it so, with the strength of my belief, smaller than a mustard seed.

Zuihitsu: 2020-06-16 to 2020-08-08

  • You can’t learn anything with your mouth open.
  • Is it complex or merely complicated?
  • Use the right tool and the tool will do the work.
  • Always respect the task.
  • It’s easy to make things difficult. It’s difficult to make things easy.
  • Don’t put it down, put it away. 
  • Think fast and talk slow. Listen, analyze, evaluate, prepare a fallback strategy, then act.
  • Write about what you don’t know about what you know.— Eudora Welty
  • Making policy is the art of taking good decisions on insufficient evidence. —Wayland Young
  • Shut out or shut in, is there a difference?
  • To see things as they really are, you must imagine them for what they might be.—Derrick Bell
  • Imagination is political.
  • If information is inconsistent, people will follow their own preferences.
  • Direct action is the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free.
  • Putting yourself in new situations constantly is the only way to ensure that you make your decisions unencumbered by the nature of habit, law, custom or prejudice – and it’s up to you to create the situations.—Crimethinc
  • To make friends: be ok at talking, good at listening, and excellent at shutting the fuck up.
  • Optimization: never set one target, always at least two: what you hope to get, and what you don’t want to lose to get there.”
  • Oysters get herpes, rabbits get syphilis, dolphins get genital warts.
  • It’s easier to win battles when you aren’t fighting all of them.
  • Consensus equals average.
  • Biology enables, culture forbids.
  • Sometimes it’s easier to delete one big mistake than try to delete 18 smaller interleaved mistakes.
  • Concepts both clarify and obscure.
  • Listen for the voice that is hard to hear.
  • Without new vocabulary, new thinking cannot be born.—Ai Weiwei
  • We retain the facts which are easiest to think about.—B. F. Skinner
  • Embrace the future; don’t complain about it.
  • Stargazing, not navel or shoegazing.
  • Form, context and fit.
  • …the mind is always in pain.
  • Data erases all our nuances and contradictions.
  • Fear of individual threats is the justification for secret police and brings the might of the state down on the individual, a lottery.
  • Balanced: careful and curious.
  • There’s a right way of seeing.
  • Kindness is keeping your shit to yourself.
  • First order of business is getting your say.
  • There’s a lot more to be learned from contrast than comparison, about ourselves and others.
  • We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.—Plato
  • Make one person happy. Understand their story, if you can. But, never more than one, and don’t have it be the focus of all your energy.
  • Dial the silence up.
  • Algorithms are the new aunties.
  • The hardest thing in life is to know what to want; most people never figure it out, so they wind up pretending that they wanted what they could get.
  • Peculiar competence is usually paired with disadvantage.
  • Some people imagine they are evil. Some people don’t have to imagine. Some people imagine they are good, and they are the worst.
  • Erotic projections aren’t real.
  • If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.—Dolly Parton
  • It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
  • Complete disorder is impossible.
  • What’s the most important question I’m not asking?’
  • Observe. Orient. Decide. Act.
  • Everything is habit-forming, so make sure what you do is what you want to be doing.—Wilt Chamberlin
  • Born as individuals, then select their family, who are the people their share space with.
  • Small groups are crucial for tight coordination.
  • Advance by extending the number of important functions you can perform without thinking.
  • Autonomy is collective.
  • Ask where are you headed, and why?
  • Stay long enough, and people will show you their true selves.
  • Second draft = first draft – 10%.
  • Language is a projection of personal quality. 
  • Monetization is poison.
  • Inability to waste hours wastes years.
  • If you raise your children, you can spoil your grandchildren. But if you spoil your children, you’ll have to raise your grandchildren. 
  • Prefer text to subtext.
  • Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.
  • Human beings are projects of mutual creation. Most of the work we do is on each other.
  • Time is not infinite. None of us can afford to spend what is left of it dallying with the stupid and bland (people).
  • When faced with a decision that offers deteriorating quality of choice, people will respond with either voice (advocating for change from within) or exit (opting out of the system).—Albert Hirschman
  • “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”—W.B. Yeats
  • Agnostic or paranoid; there is no third way.
  • The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.—Frank Herbert, Dune
  • Don’t serve or drink poison.
  • The more you do, the more you have to do.
  • Don’t mind what happens.
  • You only have access to your own mind.
  • Abandon your masterpiece and sink into the real masterpiece.
  • Don’t save the world, savor it.
  • Loss and gain is happening every moment in every life.
  • Scarcity breeds demand.
  • A choice in ignorance is not a choice.
  • Happiness isn’t found, it’s made.
  • The wheel of life has many spokes.
  • Once you turn your back on something, you can no longer lay claim to it.
  • Shame is a privilege.
  • Different beliefs in different places.
  • “Was kümmert mich mein Geschwätz von gestern, nichts hindert mich, weiser zu werden,” or “I don’t care at all about whatever I said yesterday, as nothing prevents me from getting wiser.”—Former German Chancellor Adenauer
  • August Landmesser, guy refusing to do Nazi salute.
  • Some pathogens cannot be killed, only contained.
  • “…science must always test and measure, and much of reality and human experience is immeasurable.”—Starhawk
  • Most of the world looks better in reproduction than it did in life.
  • A good critic can turn someone into a good artist given enough work to review.
  • The Other is the last outpost against social oblivion by society’s marginal people.
  • If you already have an answer, you won’t look for a better one.
  • Everyone is in a box, coffin or cocoon?
  • Everyone wants to be free.
  • “There ain’t no Sanity Claus”.—Groucho Marx, in A Night at the Opera
  • Heresy is only another word for freedom of thought.
  • Political apathy is not a neutral stance, but a strongly conservative one.
  • An obstacle is an inspiration.
  • Home is acceptance.
  • What you hide is the part of yourself you smother to be with others.

Coffin, Cage or Cocoon?

Imagine being put in a box. Is it a small prison cell? Is it so small that you cannot move, a torture technique out of the middle ages or some 9/11 black site of torture? Imagine dying, and being reborn in the same box. Imagine a life that is a dying and an awakening and a dying again, a Groundhog Day of suffering.

What would freedom mean, in this circumstance? Would release from the cycle, physical death constitute freedom? Would being released from the box by outside forces, returning to the life we had before the box be freedom? Or is freedom taking the experience of the box and using it for transformation, to become something more than what we were before?

Coffin, cage or cocoon. Choose one.

Oliver Burkeman’s Last Column: The Eight Secrets to a (Fairly) Fulfilled Life

  • There will always be too much to do – and this realisation is liberating.
  • When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness.
  • The capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower. 
  • The advice you don’t want to hear is usually the advice you need.
  • The future will never provide the reassurance you seek from it.
  • The solution to imposter syndrome is to see that you are one.
  • Selflessness is overrated.
  • Know when to move on.

“If you’re prone to thinking you should be helping more, that’s probably a sign that you could afford to direct more energy to your idiosyncratic ambitions and enthusiasms. As the Buddhist teacher Susan Piver observes, it’s radical, at least for some of us, to ask how we’d enjoy spending an hour or day of discretionary time. And the irony is that you don’t actually serve anyone else by suppressing your true passions anyway. More often than not, by doing your thing – as opposed to what you think you ought to be doing – you kindle a fire that helps keep the rest of us warm.”

-Oliver Burkeman, “Oliver Burkeman’s last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life.” The Guardian. September 4, 2020.