Nothing to Learn, Here

“As one of my friends from a not-rich part of East Asia says: “Students from my country come to the U.S. these days. They see dirty cities, lousy infrastructure, and the political clown show on TV, and an insular people clinging to their guns and their gods who boast about how they are the greatest people in the world without knowing anything about what is going on outside. They come back and tell me: ‘We have nothing to learn from those people! Why did you send me there?'”

—J. Bradford DeLong, “Is America in Decline?” Pairagraph. September 10, 2020.

To Make Friends

Be able to talk and shut up. Listen well, particularly for the voice that is hard to hear in yourself and in others. Remember: there is little difference between being shut out and being shut in.

Everything is Everywhere

Everything is everywhere, but the [local] environment selects.

-Lourens Baas Becking

The environment can be an anything, e.g., an individual, an activity, or a society. But selection happens everywhere which is why everything isn’t there.

Some People are Toxic Avoid Them

“You can only work for people you like…

Some people are toxic avoid them. This is a subtext [to working for people you like]. There was in the sixties a man named Fritz Perls who was a gestalt therapist. gestalt therapy derives from art history, it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. it doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energized or less energized. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. if you are more tired then you have been poisoned. if you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and i suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.”

-Milton Glaser, “Ten Things I’ve Learned.” Milton Glaser.com.

See also Hoodoos, Sucking Black Holes, Psychic Vampires, and The Unhappy & The Unlucky. The lesson in all of these is to be very careful about who you spend your time with.

Shut Out or Shut In

“Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.”

—C.G. Jung

People like to tell the same stories, over and over again. The truth of those stories is changed, imperceptibly, in each telling. Our identities are a lacquer, painted on by the stories we tell ourselves and others.

Identity accrual and world building are our principal occupations. I’m this and that, signaling to society my tribe and allegiances. One thing that seems less common is people capable of admitting that they were wrong or made a mistake. It’s partly because doing so means we are open to change. Or, our connections with the rest of the world are open to reconfiguration. And people really don’t want that from themselves, or from others.

People want consistency. They want to be right. It’s difficult to be these things in a world that is always changing and where we make decisions with imperfect information.

Easier to misremember that we were right all the time, adding on another layer of our identity. Brittle, but bright.

The Primary Human Problem

Note: This is why I published the Zuihitsu post yesterday. Trying to pack these ideas into a coherent essay is something I’m going to have to work on before it takes on a useful shape.

At the center of human problems are two facts:

  1. Most people are good.
  2. Most people are also self-centered, lazy and stubborn.

It’s difficult to think. It’s difficult to do the right thing, when it isn’t obvious. It’s difficult to be anything, when there is nothing to strive for.

What the world lacks in meaning, it makes up for in alienation. What cannot be understood is cursed with incomprehension. The incomprehensible is invisible, nonexistent. Our thoughts are abbreviated versions of the totality of our being.

But, our thoughts both rarely change and are constantly changing. Cycling through the well-worn pathways, but the routes are static, unchanging. Societies break these chains, evolve only as a function of generational replacement. New ideas gain currency as they are embraced by new generations creating new pathways. But, the new isn’t necessarily worse than the old. It’s just that no one is worse than the people we were yesterday, or the generation before.

No one wants advice. They want corraboration. Advice is useless. The wise won’t need it, and fools won’t heed it. And, even for the wise, when under stress, everyone will regress. Easier to judge, since changing patterns of thinking is difficult, and in the wrong light anyone can look like a villian. And, in the wrong environment, anyone can be the villian.

Look at the miscalculation. Mistakes are often as revealing as the answers. They reveal the limits and heirarchies of our social environment and of our vision, of what was and what could of been. But, who’s to blame?

If you are looking for absolution, you are going to have to forgive yourself. No one can do it for you. Sometimes, it’s impossible. There are some arenas so corrupt that the only good act is to burn them to the ground. Some problems require surgery. People are gods of ruins and disfigurement.

Find nourishment where you can. Tell the truth, without shame, with heart. Focus on nourishment over poison. Live on the precipice. You can still love something and see its flaws. You cannot dichotomize things that are deeply connected, and often, the flawed part is what makes love possible. It provides the vulnerability that leads to intimacy.

We are all here for our own reasons. What’s important is that we came.

Marginalization and Being Weird

“One thing I think this illustrates is how non-transferable experiences of marginalisation are. bell hooks obviously has more experience of marginalisation than I do – she is a black woman in the US, while I am in most regards a fairly privileged white man. But I am also a queer neurodivergent person, and the experience of small towns for people like me is literally the worst.

If you’re sufficiently “weird” and live or go to school in a small town, chances are pretty good you know almost nobody like you, and it’s awful. In a large city you may still struggle to find people like you, but those people are at least there and once you’ve found a few you will find more through them. It is possible to build a community of people like you, and to build a love ethic within that community, in a way that I don’t think people like me are ever going to really find in a small town.”

-David R. MacIver, “The conditional love of a small town.” DRMacIver’s Notebook. April 27, 2020.

Recommend David’s blog in general. Personally, I find I agree with much of what he says. I’ve been “weird” to other people my whole life, but I’ve never identified as being “neurodivergent”, a term I’ve only come to know in the last few years. However, it is a useful way to understand being out of step with the world and helps bring a sense of normality to being different.

The Church of Interruption

“‘There are two conversational dogmas. They’re self-consistent, you can subscribe to either one, and if you do, you will be able to happily converse with anyone else in your church. They are the Church of Interruption –’

‘That’s mine, isn’t it? It doesn’t sound complimentary.'”

-Sam Bleckley, “The Church of Interruption.” SamBleckley.com. November 22, 2011.

Yeah, my church too.

Neil Postman’s Advice on How to Live the Rest of Your Life

7. Establish as many regular routines as possible.
In order to position yourself well to cope with constant change, you should
establish as many predictable structures and routines as possible. The point is
to reduce the number of decisions you have to make about trivial matters. Save
your energy for major questions that arise in our technological society. Regularize the trivial to cope with the significant…

Nystrom’s Nugget #1
Reserve the word ‘friend’ for someone who knew you when you still wore
braces on your teeth, who has on at least one occasion spent the night with you
in a hospital emergency room or police station, and who will without hesitation
commit perjury for you in a court of law. Other people may rightly be called
‘acquaintances.’

13. Read’s Law: Do not trust any group larger than a squad, that is, about
a dozen.

All bureaucracies are alike, their principal characteristic being their wish to
satisfy the rules of the system. Bureaucracies are by nature hostile to individual
differences. Although we pretend institutions care, institutions do not have loyalty, compassion, or feelings, which are human traits…

16. Weingartner’s Law: 95% of everything is nonsense.
Do not allow yourself to become grim about anything. Above all, do not be-
come an ist: a socialist, a feminist, a capitalist, etc. This will help you avoid
hardenings of the categories and help you keep your sense of humor…

19. Divest yourself of your belief in the magical powers of numbers.
Quantification has a very limited effectiveness. Any attempt to apply quantifi-
cation to human affairs represents pure superstition of a medieval kind. Never-theless, modern America is based on counting. We try to redefine non-quantifiable concepts into objective quantities: for example, take the numerical scores given for intelligence tests or for contestants in beauty pageants. This passion for numbers and quantification must be discarded…

Nystrom’s Nugget #5
Do not place too high a value on honesty and plain speaking. You are not wise
enough to know what is the truth, and what seems plain to you may only bring
pain to others.

Postman’s Addendum to Nugget #5: Of all the virtues, the most overrated is
honesty. Honesty is the first refuge of the scoundrel. According to Irish writer
Oliver Goldsmith, the main use of language is to conceal your thoughts, not to
reveal them. In some sense, by suggesting that speaking your mind can be up-
setting, Nugget #5 offers an anti-ventilation theory.

-Janet Sternberg, “Neil Postman’s Advice on How to Live the Rest of Your Life.” Academia.edu. December 8, 2005

h/t Austin Kleon.