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.

Not Inferno

“…the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

—Italo Calvino, “Invisible Cities”

Rambo III

Colonel Trautman: You expect sympathy? You started this damn war! Now you’ll have to deal with it!

Zaysen: And we will. It is just a matter of time before we achieve a complete victory.

Colonel Trautman: Yeah, well, there won’t be a victory! Every day, your war machines lose ground to a bunch of POORLY-armed, POORLY-equipped freedom fighters! The fact is that you underestimated your competition. If you’d studied your history, you’d know that these people have never given up to anyone. They’d rather DIE, than be slaves to an invading army. You can’t defeat a people like that. We tried! We already had our Vietnam! Now you’re gonna have yours!”

Rambo III

Recently, I’ve been rewatching the Rambo series. The recent installment made me aware that there have been two more additions to the series since the original three, and I was curious how these films had aged.

The first film is still a classic of American action film. Its focus on police brutality resonates in the era of Black Lives Matter to the point of prescience. Or, as Bryant, the cop in charge in the original Blade Runner put it: “You know the score, pal. You’re not cop, you’re little people!” The original film cast the institutional structures of the United States as the villain, and it still feels relevant. It’s a popcorn movie, but there are ideas worth exploring in it.

It’s interesting how the subsequent films repurposed the character to work as an agent for the United States in Cold War conflict, where Cold War jingoism makes Russians into comic book villains with recognized tropes, such as the Husky Russkie and Torture Technician. But, this third film looks very different from when it first came out due to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan for almost 20 years after 9/11.

I don’t particularly buy this idea that Afghans are some kind of unbeatable enemy. The main difficulty is geography and the limited ability of conventional armies to project power within it. With the investment in the right infrastructure and troop size, probably on the scale of millions, it could be done. The question is: is it worth doing? And, no matter the time or place, it never is to imperial states.

That said, the quote above got me thinking about the American experience in Afghanistan and how it differs from the framing of Vietnam. In both cases, the outcome looks to be about the same. Vietnam has about 58,000 U.S. service members killed and 150,000 wounded. In the U.S. War in Afghanistan, it’s about 2,400 and 18,000 wounded. That figure doubles if you include contractors, which I suppose is the modern euphemism for mercenaries.

So, clearly the main difference is scale. Fewer people went to Afghanistan, so it weighs less on the national consciousness. Chances are that most Americans did not know anyone involved. And, I think that gets at one of the key ideas in the Rambo films, that beyond promoting the American nationalism and a token “thank you for your service”, veterans are mostly forgotten about, both during and after the wars they are asked to fight.

Rambo III is an exercise in cartoon violence. But, interestingly, it has become more relevant 30 years on. It’s not a great film, but it does provide some food for thought, given our collective experience of the War on Terror. It becomes much easier to draw the line from the first to the third film, and how American institutions are fundamentally correct, and perhaps have always been so since at least World War II.

Agree to Disagree or Fight

“‘I don’t believe in argument,” he said…

…’You don’t?’ Erens said, genuinely surprised. ‘Shit, and I thought I was the cynical one.”

‘It’s not cynicism,’ he said flatly. ‘I just think people overvalue argument because they like to hear themselves talk.’

‘Oh well, thank you.’

‘It’s comforting, I suppose.’ … ‘Most people are not prepared to have their minds changed,’ he said. ‘And I think they know that in their hearts that other people are the same, and one of the reasons that people become angry when they argue is that they realize just that, as they trot out their excuses.’

Excuses, eh? Well, if this ain’t cynicism, what is?’ Erens snorted.

‘Yes, excuses,’ he said, with what Erens thought might just have been a trace of bitterness. ‘I strongly suspect the things people believe in are usually just what they instinctively feel is right; the excuses, the justifications, the things you’re supposed to argue about, come later. They’re the least important part of belief. That’s why you can destroy them, win an argument, prove the other person wrong, and still they believe what they did in the first place.’ He looked at Erens. ‘You’ve attacked the wrong thing.’

‘So what do you suggest one does, Professor, if one is not to indulge in this futile … arguing stuff?’

‘Agree to disagree,’ he said. ‘Or fight.’

Fight?

He shrugged. ‘What else is left?’

‘Negotiate?’

‘Negotiation is a way to come to a conclusion; it’s the type of conclusion I’m talking about.’

‘Which basically is to disagree or fight?’

‘If it comes to it.’

-Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons. London: Orbit, 2008.

Three State Solution

“Major: If you’ve got a problem with the world, change yourself. If that’s a problem, close your eyes, shut your mouth, and live like a hermit. And if that’s a problem… [cocks gun and presses it against his head].

—Ghost in a Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Avoid politics and the multitude of irrelevant struggles designed to channel your energies into someone else’s agenda. Adapt, keep your head down, and/or die. Those are the realistic options for most people.