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Monthly Archives: November 2017

Our furtive, rationalized embrace of the gluttonous weirdos is now front-and-center.  §

There are spelling errors in previous posts that I really ought to fix before I post anything new. And frankly I’m supposed to be in bed.

But here I am up and thinking about Al Franken and Garrison Keillor and Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose and Harvey Weinstein so on and so forth. I don’t have any evidence for myself whether each individual accusation is true, but there are enough of them that one has to presume that at least some of them are true, and there is a troubling pattern to all of the accusations.

That pattern—forgive me for sounding square here—is that they all describe and/or reveal utter weirdos who have no business being allowed out into public, much less being put in charge of things in an actually functioning society.

I mean—WTF? In what world is this sniveling, pre-pubescent, gutless behavior erotic in any way? And saying that it’s about power—well I suppose so, but it’s about the most emasculated, embarrassing version of power one can imagine. It is “power” for those who have no backbone, no steel at their core. It is a kind of power that is powerless and hollow in the extreme. With endless resources at their fingertips, do they better society? No, they parade around nude, uninvited, in front of total strangers, in private—or some onanistic worse thing—hoping to be admired or at the very least indulged. So small. So petty. So ridiculous.

And yet at the same time, these are the wealthy. The ruling elite. The educated. The adored. The rewarded.

It speaks to a hole right in the middle of our culture and our society’s understanding of masculinity that these psychological profiles, of all the possible psychological profiles in dispersion throughout our civilization, are the ones that percolate to the top, to the very positions in which they can do such infantile, pointless, impotent things with relative impunity.

I come from a long line of men—all of the men in my life, really—that would be similarly baffled. And of course each and every one of them was a nobody living in (at best) modest circumstances or (at worst) penury, much like myself.

Sure, I suppose a discussion of masculinity is in order, but I don’t think that gets to the heart of the problem. The heart of the problem is the question of why we are promoting germinal, puerile, mentally pre-pubescent—well—losers and giving these people, of all people, the hire-and-fire purse strings, the big offices with locking doors, the big travel budgets with big hotel rooms, the headlines and the footnotes in the history books. Why are we setting these imbeciles up as inevitable role models?

Yes, sure, examine masculinity, but the problem won’t be solved until we examine values. Somehow we have decided to let the Trumps and the Clintons rule while burying the stoics, the self-sacrificers, the strong-and-silent under piles of disdain. The marketing-led culture of capitalism seems to have given us a ruling class of gluttonous self-promoters who were utterly failed as children and who have utterly failed to mature into workable superegos, simply because they demand and take and nobody stops them (indeed, the opposite), while their noumenal betters quietly demure and are allowed—shockingly and regrettably—to be forgotten to time.

Let’s fix that. Let’s stop promoting the people who aren’t mortified to demand it all—the climbers, the hucksters, the loudmouths, the gourmands—and start suspecting the marketing of the shameless self-marketers—rather than applauding self-marketing and “staying hungry” as some sort of essential virtue. Being hungry when there’s food about is stupid, and counterproductive, and harmful, and fundamentally maladjusted.

How about we return to an ideal of restraint and discretion, rewarding those who quietly chop wood and carry water without complaint or imposition? And who aren’t just fucking weird at the end of the day?

I mean, seriously.

Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. For a long time.  §

It’s been a brutal few months. Absolutely brutal. So brutal that right now, the fact that I have a left hand throbbing in pain and swollen to double its size with an infection feels as though life finally cut me a break—because I was sure it was broken instead.

Things are not going well. And this week, though it’s had its highlights with the Thanksgiving holiday and lots of time spent with the kids, has been particularly brutal. Nearly everything that could go wrong…did go wrong.

Happily, at least the car is still running and everyone is still alive and kicking. Those two things are, at least, something. And we did manage to visit the ballet and talk to Santa. That’s good, too.

But I am desperately clinging to the status quo now, swollen hand and all. I need for there to be a moratorium on shit events and bad luck happenings for a day or three. Please. I am hoping that 2018 is going to be better. I have no faith that it will be; that would be completely unjustified. I expect things to be, in fact, far, far worse.

But I do have hope. And I am trying to combat fear and the deep navy blues with everything I have.

Middle class kids get horrifying career advice.  §

I’m a pretty hardened sort these days. After all these years, failed relationships, graduate degrees, a divorce, life with kids, etc. there’s not a lot that causes me to tear up.

And yet every time I take a kids to a live performance, I do just that. I find it to be emotionally overpowering. Today as we were sitting in a Ballet West holiday performance of The Nutcracker, I was asking myself why.

I think it comes down to being touched by pure moments. These are people who love something, who have dedicated their life to something, who have a calling—and who fulfill that calling, who do what they do very, very well. They are at one with their work, and their work is beautiful. They operate without a net, in a kind of a pure social situation, unmediated by technology, without second chances. They do it for us.

Someone who is called, who has a purpose, does something rare and difficult and does it very well—just for us. And we are present, we attend for them, to acknowledge that they do it and to appreciate that they do it.

There’s so much in that that is both everything that I always dreamed of as a young person and also that is everything that I’ve lost—everything that was once my future, but isn’t any longer.

It’s both the the same love that I’ve always had of a very particular dynamic—tears of appreciation—and the sense of loss that comes with knowing that this will never be me—tears of loss—along with the rare experience of shared social space, of a real interaction, of people being present to one another consciously, to a accomplish something beautiful as a social body—tears of collective effervescence.

— § —

On a different but related note, the worst possible education and career advice to young people is the usual middle class advice, which goes something like this:

  • Don’t just live your life or choose your path for money, because there’s more to life than money and this will leave you miserable and unfulfilled.
  • Don’t just live your life for your dreams, because if they don’t work out, you’re going to need some money.
  • So chase your dreams but always have a “Plan B” or a “fallback” in case you need it.

This is terrible advice, absolutely terrible.

By splitting your attention between two different paths—let’s call them the “dream path” and the “fallback money path”—you dedicate only 50 percent of your resources to either of them and basically ensure that you will fail utterly at both in a hypercompetitive world.

To succeed in either, you must choose it and it alone and sacrifice deeply and with dedication for it. You must be single-minded in your pursuit.

And just as importantly, either is entirely acceptable and likely to make you happy. In fact, they are both likely to be the same thing in the end. Follow your dreams with abandon and you will achieve success in a specialized area. Money will follow—the money that only follows for those that embrace and fulfill their calling. Meanwhile, pursue money with clarity and ruthlessness and you will have every resource that you need to (a) eventually have free time and ready resources in your life and (b) use these to fill that free time by following your dreams.

The middle-class advice, borne of risk-aversion and a kind of psychological trauma of precarity, basically ensures that people will fail. You don’t directly follow your dreams enough to compete now, and you also will never have even close to enough money to follow them later. It’s what keeps the bright middle class kid trapped in the middle class for his entire life, no matter the fact that he was top of his class and went to an Ivy League school, etc.

No, middle class kids. Here is the advice that you want.

Choose one of these and pursue it to the exclusion of everything else in life until you are thirty years old:

  • Money, for the sake of money
  • Your dreams, without any thought of money

If you’re bright, and you choose one—and only one—of these options and make it the core of your being until you’re thirty, you’ll find that when you’re forty—unlike all of the other middle-class kids from the neighborhood who all “knew there was more to life than money” but also had “backup plans,” you:

  • Have more money than you know what to do with
  • Are able to successfully follow your dreams

Those people that place a particular culture and frame of mind at the center of what it means to belong to a particular class are right. Class is, more than anything else, a particular way of thinking.

All the other trappings of class proceed from it.

Camera. Typewriter. Wristwatch. A project begins?  §

Three technologies fascinate me and have always fascinated me. Three technologies continue to find their ways into my life and continue to inspire me to pursue them, collect them, and use them.

For a long time I’ve though it might be useful to sit down and try to figure out what they have in common, married as they seem to be to one another in my experience if being in the world.

Camera

It’s not the optics, or the seeing. I know the history of the camera obscura and so on; I was exposed to it in a fair bit of depth in graduate school. I’ve taught about it in university courses. A lot of the intelligencia are fascinated by the image, the inversion of seeing, its reflective nature, the “seconding” of reality, and so on.

Not me.

I only seem to be interested in it once we arrive at plates and prints; once the images are “captured” by the camera and stored, indelibly in some solid material.

I become most fascinated once there is a shutter and a shutter actuator.

Typewriter

Far more than in the output—the essay, the book, the article—I have always been fascinated by the pressing of the keys. By the gesture through which a finger presses a button moves a lever imprints on paper, etc.

I keep these things around in dozens of ways, in modern formats. Desktop computer. Laptop computer. Alphasmart Neo. Alphasmart Dana. Apple Newton. iPad and phone keyboards. Not to mention the old 50-pound Royal typewriter on the table in the living room.

And I use them. Anyone that knows me or that has noted the existence and presence of this blog knows that I am frequently compelled to type, even if I have nothing in particular to say and no idea what I will “say” in the end.

The compulsion is to use the keyboard. To make letters. Whether the letters are good letters or bad letters, useful letters or not useful letters. It’s been this way for decades now.

Wristwatch

There are a lot of guys that own wristwatches and that collect wristwatches. But I have a particular tic in my wristwatches; I can’t bring myself to be interested in quartz watches—the electronic ones. No matter how high end. No matter Swiss Ronda movements in $5,000 watches with beautiful logos and lines and sapphire crystals and heavy bracelets.

I just don’t and can’t care about quartz. Not interested. Even if someone haded me a Tag Heuer or Omega brand new tomorrow, if it was quartz I wouldn’t wear it—ever—and I just wouldn’t care.

But mechanical wristwatches I am mesmerized by. I want them on my wrist. I want them everywhere around me. I sit and watch the movements. I am tempted by each one that I see. I’d sell a kidney for an average 24-jewel NH35A movement. Luckily I don’t have to, since they’re cheap as dirt.

They’re less accurate than quartz. The last less long that quartz. They’re heavier than quartz. They’re old-fashioned technology. And yet—

and yet.

— § —

So what do they have in common? Here’s what they have in common.

Cameras that fascinate me, that I use, have a shutter—a shutter that stops time. A mechanical contrivance for quickly and cleanly and completely capturing one moment and not another. They’re not continuously “on” like the early camera obscura. That’s boring. Instead, they are used for the opposite purpose—not to slide along with time, conveying light, but rather the opposite. To trap time and freeze it forever.

Typewriters and all of their analogs do something very similar. Every keypress is a captured fragment of time. At that moment, the moment of the keypress, a conduit opens between mind and its ever flowing conscious and subconscious river, and something that was somewhere in that mind for that moment is imprinted—like that—indelibly. Every single character I’ve ever typed here, or in any of my papers, or in any of my articles, or in any of my books, is one moment of time in my mind, caught forever and preserved. A frozen record of what—even if just for a moment—once was.

And mechanical watches, the things that fascinate me perhaps most of all, are at their core an escapement. In the watch on my wrist right now, it is a little piece of technology that measures time—if time is what is evident in the hands of a watch—literally by stopping it entirely and starting it again six times per second. This is magic beyond magic, neither good nor bad but wild; transcendental. And it is not like quartz because quartz has initiative; it’s natural state is one of rest. Quartz watches take an action once every second. If they do not take the action, their time does not move. But an escapement—an escapement puts the brakes on time; an escapement is pressed, pressed ever-forward by a mainspring whose pressure is steady, unyielding, continuous, relentless. The escapement takes the natural flow of things—like the camera, and like the typewriter—and stops this flow dead in its tracks against all odds, many times every second.

The Nub of Things

So they do have something in common. One thing that lies at the core of everything that I am fascinated with in the world.

Each of these technologies is a technology of mortal-immortality, of death-life; they are monadic; they embody the basic contradiction in human being.

The camera freezes and preserves forever in matter a live moment as a dead thing, stopping time in its tracks and turning it into beyond-time, anti-time. The typewrite freezes and preserves forever in matter a live thought as a dead thing, once again stopping time in is tracks and turning it into beyond-time, anti-time. And a mechanical wristwatch measures and sustains the flow time precisely by stopping it in its tracks, bringing its little universe to an impassable end over and over and over again, forever. It is the thing in which time can never and does never flow, despite endless pressure to do so, and it is in the prevention of this flow, the endless interruption, that it somehow ultimately flows and flows smoothly.

In short, I am fascinated by the reconciliation of animation and death, of movement and stillness, of eternity and ephemerality; of mortality and immortality. These things embody the basic paradox of social being for me and for that reason, I am compelled to keep them around and to operate them, over and over and over again compulsively.

Masculinity

It also bears mentioning that I somehow conceive of these as essentially masculine tools and technologies; even when and if women use them, I still see them as male. Why this is I don’t know, exactly.

Maybe it has to do with the deep archetype of woman as life-giver, life-producer, which is more about the source of time than its interruption. Men have, rather, always been the world’s murderers and soliers, those charged with effecting the trascendental stoppage of time as embodied in the stoppage of a life.

If these are devices that in some sense kill time, foreshorten it unexpectedly, interrupt and savage it repeatedly, then they are akin to the men of history in a history made of men—killing, foreshortening, interrupting, and savaging individuals and historical narrative(s) in the singular, the plural, and the gestalt.

Perhaps in some way my fascination with these things is an attempt to understand, in some deep way, the nature of my being as man operating in the world. Not the everyday, instrumental purpose and function, but the transcendental one.

Maybe these things offer a cloudy window into the meaning of my life as an individual human man in a world that asks men to be more like women. What is the fundamental power that is ours, as opposed to theirs? What does it do and what has it traditionally done? What are the deep, biological compulsions that I feel and have always felt? What is that feeling in men that causes them to appeal to and to be fascinated by the arc of abstract history and their place(s) in it, rather than the individual, the personal, the nurturing, and the life-giving?

I daresay that these things are all of a cloth.

So that’s that.

When you can’t confront things, they confront you.  §

I’m not usually the right person for the “my heart goes out to them” stuff. But every now and then, my heart goes out to someone.

Tonight’s like that. You know who you are, and—for the little it’s worth, I’m with you in spirit.

— § —

I’ve been having a crisis of meaning in life for maybe two years, maybe longer.

The best way to become your own worst enemy is not to have any idea what your life goals are any longer.

Once, I was an academic. Then I realized that nobody cares. The public doesn’t care about what the professoriat finds in their research. Policymakers are far too political to care; they have other values. And even academics don’t care, beyond STEM fields where patents are a thing. They’re wrapped up in their own kinds of politics and ideological games.

It’s all work done for no particular purpose, interpretive dance alone in the kitchen.

After that—not sure what. Family couldn’t be my mission, because family was falling apart and of course now has long fallen apart entirely.

It seems to be a combination of “get the kids to school on time” and “make more money.” There’s something to these goals, but the first isn’t urgent enough to lead to a life well-lived; the second can’t be sustained on its own terms.

— § —

But why isn’t the first enough? It seems so insane; it should be everything. Everything. The kids should be everything.

And yet in the tragedy of life and society it’s precisely because they are everything that they can’t be everything. Taking-care and caring-for can’t be accomplished unless there is more to you than that; a life lived to care for others isn’t permitted; society will not feed you so that you can feed them.

Rather, if you can’t feed you, if you don’t have some other purpose besides feeding them, it will take them away and give them to someone else who does.

And so it becomes important to be something more than a parent.

That “something more” for me is missing. “Make more money” isn’t a goal; it’s an outcome. What’s missing in my life is the goal whose happy side-effect it is.

And the gravity of it all is beginning to weigh on me like a ton of granite.

Yet even in the midst of this—my inability to mow the lawn, attach images to my blog, do the laundry, etc. in a timely fashion because I don’t know why I do what I do or what I ought to do instead—I am comfortable.

— § —

We tell kids, “there’s always tomorrow.”

We know that we’re lying, but we can’t bring ourselves to say, “hopefully there’s a tomorrow.”

And we’re even less able to come to terms with the notion that there is no case, no circumstance, no thing, no person… that will not eventually run out of tomorrows.

“All things must end” is the most profound reality in the human canon. It is also the hardest to confront on any given day, because it brings the entire universe to a grinding halt. And if you’re going to feed the kids, the universe cannot grind to a halt.

Rather, you’re spending all of your time trying to jump-start it. The truth is nothing if not completely counterproductive to that effort.

— § —

In any case, nothing is killing me.

I know what that feels like, and it is infinitely worse. Hollow and compressed is in no way the same thing as utterly crushed.

Empty is not the same thing as suffering.

So my heart goes out tonight to those who suffer.

And my empty space waits for something that matters to seize me and restore lost clarity.

Liberalism will fail because it is orthogonal to human nature.  §

In the purest sense, freedom and meaning cannot coexist.

Meaning is by its very nature unfree. For “meaning” to exist, a thing must be one thing and not another thing. The nature of meaning, at every level, beginning with simple lexical denotation, is one of circumscription and control. Meaning is that by which the miasma of free-ness is domesticated and turned into a sphere of control.

And humans live by meaning.

They do not live, despite what they think, by freedom.

Sometimes you find home where you’ve never been—and you dwell where you aren’t.  §

Last year our refrigerator failed over the course of several long months.

At first it wasn’t clear that this was happening; things seemed ever-so-slightly undercooled, but this is a house with kids in it. There are a lot of fridge openings-and-closings, and we were in a warmish part of the year. It seemed like “tell the kids to close the fridge” territory.

Eventually, however, it started to become clear that we couldn’t actually keep anything frozen any longer. Anything from the freezer section at the grocery store was destined to melt before it could be used. First, we had a few days from purchase until melt. Then, we had a day from purchase until melt.

Then, at some point, there was no freezer. And then, at some point after that, the freezer became the place where we put the lettuce and the drinks, because if we didn’t put them in the freezer, they wouldn’t actually stay any cooler than room temperature.

It was at this point that I started buying and replacing parts, which I did for about a month. Nothing helped. The coils would get cold and freeze up, but it wouldn’t actually cool the interior. I replaced all sorts of things—fans and sensors and thermistors and relays and heaters and so on.

Then, needing the ability to actually preserve food, I gave up. We hit the local classifieds and scored a rather nice fridge for a decent price. The old fridge went to the driveway, where it stayed.

For a long time.

— § —

Also something like a year ago, maybe a touch longer, I spent a couple of days installing Fedora 25 on my Macbook Pro.

It had been years since I’d maintained a Linux installation. The last was probably in 2010, shortly after switching to Mac OS.

Now this was not a small switch for me. I was an early Linux adopter, having come from the world of Unix, and before that, from OS-9. Modular, multiuser, file-as-input-output operating systems were second nature to me always, from the very beginning. I was not weaned on the desktop metaphor, and it was always foreign to me, so in 1993 it was only natural that when Linux became a viable operating system in its own right, and a free one at that, that I’d end up using it.

And for sixteen years I did. I wrote six books and thousands of articles about Linux. I spoke publicly about it. I helped organizations transition to it. I helped individuals to adopt it. I evangelized. I coded. I knew it inside and out.

And, in 2009, I was tired of it.

Mobile computing was happening, desktop Linux had failed due to the general incompatibility between the social model of OSS and the stable ABI, API, and UI/UX needs of commercial developers. More importantly, what did exist of desktop Linux seemed to be coming apart at the seams, with KDE and GNOME, the two major Linux desktop environments, throwing basically their entire codebases out and starting again from scratch—on environments, in KDE 4 and GNOME 3, that I found to be unusable.

At least quarterly, running a series of updates via the system package manager ended up breaking my personal system entirely, and I’d spend the better part of a day Googling, searching through (and let’s face it, often for) manual pages for ever-changing infrastructure to figure out how to restore boot, graphics, networking, suspend and resume, audio, and other things.

It was endless work to keep a Linux desktop running and updated, the desktop itself was regressing badly in user experience terms, and the payoff for all of that was not being able to watch online video from any major provider and not being able to buy hardware or software from any major manufacturer.

I’d had enough. I tried out Mac OS. Within a month, I switched to Mac OS and spent hundreds on commodity hardware and software in a kind of orgy. I could finally buy real stuff for my computer and expect it to work as advertised. And by god, I was going to do it.

After all those years on Linux, all that time in the public eye, all those words written, in the space of a few short weeks Mac OS became my home and Linux was written out of my life entirely.

Until last year sometime just before the fridge episode began, when I decided that it might be amusing to have a Linux installation around again. More to the point, I just wanted to see the state of things. So I set out to adjust the partitioning on my Macbook Pro and install Fedora 25.

— § —

But I was also telling a fridge story.

As of last week it had been the better part of a year with a fridge sitting on my driveway, and I was getting tired of seeing it there. And I had a play date coming up with parents who probably wouldn’t appreciate bringing their kids to the sort of household that allows an accumulation of broken major appliances to build up in front of the house.

So I finally got my stuff together and rented a U-Haul to clear out a whole bunch of things that had begun to accumulate on the driveway and on the patio—fridge, replaced wall-to-wall carpets, broken furniture, and so on.

Yes, this is what had accumulated on the driveway and on the patio. Let’s not get into that discussion just now.

Anyway—I spent all of last Saturday stuffing this U-Haul truck full of every last bit of old stuff, yard stuff, household waste, and whatever else I could fit into it, to do my own run to the dump. Yes, that is something that frequently happens in this area.

No, I did not make a recycle pile. Let’s not get into that discussion just now.

After loading the truck to the gills, I punched up the local dump transfer station on my phone (I’d forgotten where it was located) and, after 10 minutes driving in circles as Google Maps tried to unfuck itself and its directions, I was finally on my way in a coherent direction.

The route took me along a back road that I was only vaguely aware existed and had only ever driven on maybe once before.

And as I drove, I passed—on the east side of the road—what at first glance looked like an undeveloped wooded area inaccessible to passers-by, but at second glance appeared to actually be a small, off-the-beaten path park, dense with trees, complete with pond, crossed by a river, full of ducks and geese, and devoid of people or cars by virtue of being set back from the road, in a little valley, nearly invisible unless you are looking for it.

— § —

If you’re anything like me, there are places in your mind that you inhabit without ever having been to them. I don’t mean “places” like “the dark place” and “the happy place,” but rather physical, geographical places.

Stretches of beachfront, urban boros, back country roads and bergs that you visit over and over and over again not because you’ve been to them in real life but in fact because you haven’t and for various reasons can’t, the largest of these reasons generally being that you can’t afford, economically, to arrange your life in such a way as to arrive for a while and spend time anywhere other than where you already are, the smallest of these reasons generally being the fact that they don’t actually exist anyway and are conceptual metonymies of all the places in the world that are immensely lovely and that you’ll never visit or live in anyway.

And if you’re like me, you’ll also know that every now and then—on incredibly rare, precious occasions—you’ll spot a place in passing that freezes you in your tracks, that paralyzes you with a kind of transcendental humming—because the place that you’ve spotted is in fact a place that you’ve previously inhabited in your mind, without any previous or possible reference to its actuality.

This little park was such a place. And as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to visit it at the first opportunity—and take the kids there with me.

— § —

It took me the better part of two days to install Fedora 25. It wasn’t at all easy, and a great deal of Googling, reading, and console hacking was required just to get visuals on boot. I had to write a bunch of bytes to a few registers to get the Macbook Pro to select the right GPU and turn off kernel modesetting and so on.

Finally, though, I managed to get the distribution installed and a boot manager in place and a working desktop up.

I tried the current versions of KDE and GNOME and couldn’t decide between them—they’re both equally bad—so I left them both in place.

As is typical for Linux, lots of things only half work. In particular, CPU and GPU clock and thermal management don’t work, so the machine runs hot as hell while in Linux, something that makes you wince with every passing moment when it’s happening on an expensive Macbook Pro. Audio is iffy, trackpad support is, too (even with the acceleration multiplier set at zero, pointer movement is so rapid and drastic as to make the desktop almost impossible to use), and everything just feels haphazard after years on Mac OS.

But more than half a decade of zero Linux, I could tell myself that I at least hadn’t lost touch with the system in its evolution and with the skills and experience I’d nurtured for so many years. I was able to solve a bunch of problems, bang on a bunch of dotfiles and bits of hardware interfaces, and get a system up and running.

But truth be told, I had no idea what else to do with it. I played with it for a couple of days and then I basically never booted into it again. I left it there on my SSD to take up space and act as an invisible monument to the life I once led.

— § —

The kids have had fevers this weekend, but I was not about to allow these fevers to prevent me from visiting my park. Yes, “my.” As in, I’d been there so many times I felt as though it was like a second home to me, even though I’d never been there before.

So at about 2:00 in the afternoon, I loaded the kids into the car along with the younger of the dogs and told them that we were going to a new park I’d discovered.

I didn’ t try to explain to them that the place was already special to me and that I’d inhabited it in my dreams for years, spent many a troubled afternoon leaning back in an office chair doing the exhausted surrender cobra, eyes closed, while strolling along the banks of the little pond in its middle. Metaphysics and sentimentality are lost on five- and seven-year olds, and that’s for the best. We have to grant them at least a little innocence, for at least a little while.

We arrived and I realized that I could see no driveway and no parking lot; it was unclear where to position cars for a visit to this park, so we parked on the side of the road, crossed over, and stumbled down and into a grove of trees (the park sits perhaps 20-30 feet lower than road height, and one has to descend a hill and walk through a kind of forested area to enter).

Then, we played.

Between the trees that we walked through as we entered, fallen leaves lay three to four feet deep in every direction, and the rustling that they made as the kids and the dog played in them, bounded through them, and swam beneath them mixed with the sounds of moving water, gabbing ducks, and complaining geese just a little off to the east.

Sunlight split itself into trunk-shaped stripes, making patters of bright yellow and dark shadow everywhere, as though it weren’t early afternoon but in fact near evening.

The kids ran through flocks of trundling birds, laughing at the purity of the moment as the birds grudgingly hop-hopped forward, then flew away en-masse in a swirling storm of wings and complaints. Molly, the younger of our dogs, was beside herself with fascination and dog-joy.

We walked around the edge of the pond, played on a leaf-scattered wooden bridge stretching over a shallow river, dug with sticks, climbed trees.

It was a pure moment for me, too. Though this won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t lived something similar, it was not unlike arriving in New York for the first time.

Anyone who doesn’t think it possible to come home to a place you’ve never been before has missed one of life’s great joys and deep secrets.

— § —

I’m writing this in Linux tonight.

For no particular reason, at 2:00 in the morning as I felt the urge to write, I also felt the urge to boot into Linux first. So here I am, laying on the living room floor, the kids having a “living room camp-out” beside me, fire burning in the fireplace, Macbook Pro overheating under the weight of the general project-flow incompetence of the OSS community.

I’m surprised I’ve managed to get this far, actually. As seems to be par for the course in Linux, there had been dry rot for no reason I can fathom since I last booted. Scrolling in GNOME 3 stopped working since my last visit, so it’s annoying to try to start apps, given that doing it via GUI generally requires being able to scroll through the app grid. In KDE, the window manager failed to start, chucking out a bunch of errors about bad drawables. I Googled it, set some environment variable or other, restarted the window manager from the console, and all—well, most—was well.

Apart from the fact that applications keep punting on me and I keep getting notifications on the lower right that such-and-such has encountered an error, etc., just after a window disappears on me for no particular reason.

But this window hasn’t yet punted on me, though I can’t actually try save my work or it will (learned that the hard way). And I’m nearly done typing.

In another window, running Konsole, I have over 1,000 packages downloaded and sitting there waiting to be upgraded after starting a dnf distribution sync.

So in short, I’ve logged in after a year to run the updates. Must mean something. Heidegger talked about dwelling being about building and maintaining, as against (in a way) entropy, though he didn’t use that term.

I take this to mean that in some way I still dwell, at least a little bit, in Linux, too, an environment that I spend virtually no time in and haven’t done for something that increasingly approaches a decade.

What’s it like to be back?

Hard to say. I suppose it’s like going back to your college campus and old department building years after you earned your degree. It all seems familiar, yet also quaint somehow. It’s both yours and not yours, as though you both belong and don’t belong all at once.

And you notice a kind of shabbiness that is by turns cozy and sad, and you wonder whether it was always that way. Did you simply not notice because you were young and enthusiastic and dazzled by the university experience, or has time taken its toll in your absence?

Entropy, after all, is a fierce and unwavering—even if often subterranean—force.

In any case, I prefer the font handling and screen real estate strategies of Linux. I like the way in which it feels generally snappier and somehow “deeper,” as though there are nearly infinite stores of power and resources somewhere below the surface—something that I never feel in Mac OS.

Yes, it’s familiar. In some odd ways, here I sit typing and looking at Plasma and it’s as though I never left.

Well, except for the oven-hot air shooting out the back of my poor, ailing Macbook Pro.

— § —

Inhabiting and dwelling are such forgotten, unappreciated things.

I mean, they’re the substrate, the fundamental medium of life, at least for me. They color and inform everything; they are the stuff that each of the five senses and memory itself are made of.

I don’t think about them nearly enough, even though I sometimes think I think about them far too much.

Maybe what that means is that I think about them entirely in the wrong way when I do manage to think about them. Maybe “thinking” rather than “dwelling” is the problem in the first instance.

In any case, I’ve now done my first “actual work” in Linux since 2009. I suppose I’ll nurse it all along and come back and do a bit more in another eight or nine years.

Meanwhile, the driveway is now spotless and clean and it feels uncanny every time I drive back up it toward the house. Where is all the stuff? Who has taken my clutter and room-temperature icebox and replaced them with a scene from the suburbs?

As for the park, I’ve promised the kids that we can go back tomorrow.

Our values lead to a million and one forms of suffering and injustice.  §

Our two churches, Hollywood and Christianity, are erupting in sex scandals that nonetheless leave most of the perpetrators working, rich, and powerful and the victims obscured. Trump is president and is likely to win a second term. The Wall Street masters of the universe crashed the global economy, got off entirely free, and are now richer than ever. The most vicious side in any court battle wins the day, ethics be damned. Vacuous, totalitarian social justice warriors are destroying our colleges and free speech. Nazis march in the streets, Antifa pelts them with molotov cocktails and bricks to incite the race war that the Nazis want to bring, and the police shoot willy-nilly at everyone. Meanwhile, anyone who feels disempowered plans a mass shooting for Friday while eight-year-old kids in record numbers want to lop off their genitals.

Good people are nowhere to be found in public because public life is a warzone. Good people are, in fact, being erased from private life as well.

How did we get here?

We got here by making primordial values out of:

  • Being an individual
  • Expressing your inner self loud and proud
  • Always thinking outside the box
  • Preferring to break the rules
  • Being the squeaky wheel
  • Refusing to be be silent and demanding to be heard
  • Passionate activism
  • Winning at any cost
  • Daring to be different
  • Always standing out from the pack
  • Rejecting conventional wisdom
  • Refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer
  • Calling all compromise ‘complicity’ from the start

Don’t give me bullshit about the list above. These are our deepest-held, most-dearly-embraced values. They are also the core being of narcissistic assholes, the personality disordered, the resentful, past-bound broken, and the wiltingly, longingly wishful. They are in some sense a reflection of capitalism and open society, but they are pathological, a solarized-posterized, Andy Warhol version of this combination.

So long as this is what we tell young people to aspire to, and so long as this is what we most admire and reward in others, this is the society we will get, and this is who will rise to the top.

Marx’s critique is done for. Social and economic Marxians are lost.  §

There have been so many schools of thought trying to dissect things in recent years. Hyperreality, post-industrialism, new media, actor-network theory, informationalism, and so on.

They’re all slightly different ways of saying the same thing: Marx has now become obsolete.

His basic social critique was that of the commodity fetish—people inordinately value the commodity objects, valorizing the relationships between commodity objects which, in reality, mask and stand in for the much more real relationships between social subjects and their much more real subjectivities. The commodity object and object relations are epiphenomenal to human society.

We are now in the era of the subject fetish—people inordinately value the social subject, valorizing the relationships between people which, in reality, mask and stand in for the much more real relationships between commodity objects and their much more real objectivities. Human society and subject relations are epiphenomenal to the commodity ecosystem.

Yes, this has already been said, probably most effectively by Baurdillard and Latour, but at times like these, with the vast, epiphenomenal ideological superstructure of identity politics flowering around us, it bears repeating in the simplest possible terms.

The humans are the false consciousness. The autonomous things, and the relations amongst them, are real and are now the subject of history.

The Amazon free-for-all reveals the selfish myopia of the investor class.  §

The educated class is busy bemoaning the way in which Amazon is taking over the economy and destroying retail and cutting through competitive markets like a buzzsaw and a bunch of other phrases that indicate general panic about The State of Things[TM].

They’re not speaking hyperbolically—Amazon is wildly successful and is growing apace. It is putting anyone and everyone else out of business and gobbling up ever-larger chunks of the spending landscape. Woe is us! Amazon is a ravenous monster!

They’re also tut-tutting about the current shitshow that involves dozens and dozens of localities basically committing tax base seppuku to try to get Amazon to come to their neighborhoods. Three billion in offers here, seven billion in offers there, money that they can’t afford in hopes that Amazon will come and bring jobs. The well-off talkers point out that this money will go toward helping an already gigantic behemoth of the worldwide economy to grow and profit even more, rather than being used to invest in cities and neighborhoods in any badly-needed number of ways. Tut. Very tut. And so on.

Thing is, this very same class, many of them in the upper echelons of the productive economy, is busy investing in companies that are quarterly-bottom-line focused and opting to live in areas that are the most financially advantageous for themselves in the meantime, all in the ruthless service of expanding their already exponentially-more-handsome-than-average retirement plans.

The thing that none of them bother to mention is that Amazon stands almost entirely alone in today’s economy as a company that refuses to offer lavish dividends, engage in stock buybacks, and so on, or even take profits and revel in them. Instead, Amazon does what the localities won’t, what the tut-tutting class won’t, and what the businesses that the tut-tutting class won’t: it turns around and invests heavily, almost to a fault, in its future.

Amazon rolls pretty much everything it earns right back into the business. It’s not as successful as it is because of some force of nature or dark quirk of fate. It’s in the position that it’s in because it can afford to invest in itself, and it does, which creates a virtuous circle in which this investment improves its position ever more, allowing via resulting profits for ever more investment.

And then everyone else in the pundit-and-policy class that’s already well off and generally exploiting the other 95 percent of the population for their creature comforts while running economies into the ground… complains about Amazon.

You people refusing to invest in your own communities or in companies that invest—whether you are well-off pundit or well-off policymaker—and then bemoaning either Amazon’s heady growth in countless column-inches or telling your citizens that it’s sad but this is how the game is played in a ruthless economy…

We can see your self-serving hypocrisy. Amazon isn’t the problem. Amazon should be the example, and it’s only as dominant as it is because instead of following that example, those privileged enough to be in positions to do something about it are busy serving themselves at the public trough.

So how about instead of doing something about Amazon, we do something about the way the rest of the economy is run, about your own selfish and greedy investment practices, and about how tax dollars are used when Amazon isn’t coming to town?

Money does buy happiness. And love. And family. Make no mistake.  §

I was raised to understand that money isn’t everything—that was much more to life, and beyond some bare minimum, you shouldn’t care about money much. Instead, you should focus on love, family, helping others, being a good person, etc.

I grew up looking down on people who were “money-hungry,” who placed the pursuit of money ahead of most other things, as though they were somehow morally deficient.

This was, of course, entirely wrong.

Money is everything. I so wish I’d been taught this, rather than having to learn it myself over four decades of life. Money . is . everything.

Love? You cannot have it unless you have money. In the absence of money, love cannot be sustained.

Family? You want to feed your kids? Clothe your kids? Give them a safe home to live in? Give them some semblance of a childhood? Have any time to spend with them? You’d better have a lot of money.

Helping others? Give me a break! Unless you have surplus money, you have neither surplus time nor surplus resources to help anyone. You are the one needing all the help you can get.

Being a good person? Meaning what, exactly? Being honest? Keeping your word? Avoiding conflict? Try doing these things in the absence of money. The more money you have, the more you are practically able to be honest, keep your word, and avoid conflict.

We live in an advanced, post-industrial, capitalist society. Money is the universal medium, and because of that, it is the most fundamental medium. There is one avenue toward any end. Any end at all, good or bad. That avenue is to have money.

The best thing you can do for your kids is to teach them that whatever their priorities in life—and they can learn this as they go along (if, and only if, they have enough money to enable the space for such self-reflection)—money is job number one. If you have money, you can do whatever it is that you believe is right, proper, and adds up to a good and well-lived life.

If you do not have money, you have—literally—nothing.

Nature’s “friendliness” is a romantic pre-teen’s naive dream.  §

I’m in the middle of combat against nature today. It is trying to destroy parts of the house. I am using (and trying to repair) various mechnical household contrivances that are used (and were invented) to keep nature at bay. It is hard and dirty and fraught work, and it could get expensive, but it must be done, because nature is relentless.

That needs to be said.

In the last several decades, and the last several years in particular, there has been this growing sentiment amongst members of a particular class (or would-be members that presume to adopt the veneer of their betters) that nature is a friend. That if only we could be nicer to nature, nature would be nicer to us. That at some point in the future, when we are all enlightened, we will commune with nature. &c.

Let me explain something.

This is the fevered romantic dream of the same pre-teen girl who thinks that the world can be divided into “safe” men and “dangerous men” and that all “safe” men are the ones that “express their feelings” and cry when they see an injured puppy and that if all the “safe” men “call out” the “dangerous men” that it will be safe to walk about after dark in the nude.

In fact, it’s the very same dream, but I digress.

Here’s the truth: Nature is not your friend. Nature will never be your friend. Yes, we are nature’s spawn. For that reason, we are also not each others’ friends, as is evidenced by many and varied wars and so on. And for the same reason, we are also not nature’s friend. You think it odd that nature would create that which is antagonistic toward nature and capable of quite a bit of destruction, as we are? (A) The amount of destruction that we are capable of is nothing in comparison to nature. Our puny H-bomb up against a black hole, a pulsar, even your average hurricane? Ha! and (B) This is the nature—of nature. Chaotic. Mercurial. Bizarre. Destructive and self-destructive. Again, that is the nature—of nature.

Try to remember: Nature wants to kill you. Eventually, it will succeed. It also wants to kill all of your offspring. And all of their offspring. In fact, nature wants to end human civilization as a whole, despite the fact that it created us, and eventually it will. Nature wants to kill everything that has ever existed and everything that is ever going to exist and eventually it will. There is no getting around this fact.

The only question is how long we can fend the attacks of nature off, both at an individual level, at the family level, and at the civilizational level. Nature is coming for you. And for me. And for all of us. And nature is pitiless. And ruthless. And immensely powerful. It will win.

Civilization is not some mistake that a couple wrongheaded idiots made way back when, before people were enlightened, and it’s been leading us to live miserable lives ever since, &c. Civilization is our attempt to fend nature off for just a little while so that we can—to the extent possible—find a bit of meaning amidst the miracle of our lives before nature snuffs us back out again without any regard for our feelings.

Anyone that has actually communed with nature knows that it is fraught and terrifying. It does not feel safe and warm and fuzzy and cocoonish. It feels as though you are operating in a theater of war without a safety net, as though every breath you take is a gift because at any moment nature is probably going to snuff you out. The forces of nature are nasty, brutish, and anything but short.

Those who imagine that they’ve had great experiences “communing” with nature are those that were actually observing nature at a practical distance from within the safe and enfolding arms of civilization. They buy a bunch of civilized mass-produced tools like tents and sleeping bags and solar flashlights and steel knives and so on and drive up for one or two days of “nature” in their cars, camping on a concrete pad never more than a mile away from the nearest ranger station and the human infantry of rescue helicopters and so on, most probably with their mobile phones on and GPS and a 4G signal at the ready.

Sure, that’s great. But nature wants to destroy all of that stuff. Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because nature seemed manageable when you had armies of millions of humans behind you that nature is now a safe bet—that nature won’t rape you at a moment’s notice.

What you were enjoying there was civilization, in fact poking nature in the nose with civilization, with its inability to kill you at that moment. But if you ever find yourself face-to-face in actual nature, many miles distant from the nearest human or human intervention, without your fabulous tools, without your communications machines and your maps and all the other artifacts of civilization… you will be terrified. And you will suffer. And if you make it back, you will feel grateful. Grateful that nature didn’t manage to take you yet, and grateful that civilization was still somewhere on the other side of the front lines once you managed to make your way furtively and fearfully back.

I’ve had this experience twice in my life—of being face-to-face with nature, without civilization or its trappings to support me, knowing that nobody was coming to save me, that I had to get to the other side of the front on my own. It was harrowing in each case. And I do feel lucky to be back.

But what would I have done if there had been no front line? If there was no territory held by civilization and its tools for keeping nature at bay? I would be dead. And so would you be.

The people who think that we ought to dismantle civilization in favor of nature are childish fools and must not be allowed out of the house after dark, lest they get themselves or someone else killed.

Sadly, we have an entire society of such people today—people who are made comfortable by all the trappings of industrial society, about six inches tall but emboldened to make what amount to boastful claims. The “nature is our friend” people are like the son of the Fortune 100 CEO who thinks he “earned” his trip to Yale, the ‘A’ grades he got there, the Mazerati he drives, and the position that he has as CFO.

You think nature is small because an infinite army of humans before you has given their lives fighting against it so that you could be comfortable.

Nature is not your friend. Nature is your bitter enemy. Nature is responsible for the workings of the A-bomb. Nature is responsible for the biological characteristics that lead to rape, to murder, to theft, and to war. Nature invented cancer. Nature invented AIDS. Nature gives us heroin and crack cocaine. Nature is responsible for entropy, which will eventually destroy the earth, the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe. Nature.

Nature is your friend? Are you serious?

Buddy up to civilization and work to preserve it with all your might.

You are a pre-pubescent child and you’re dreaming.

Why the world is uglier and more boring than it needs to be.  §

So there’s a fundamental rule to good blogging and that’s to write for an audience. Initially, before you have one, it doesn’t matter which audience, so long as you have an audience in mind.

The worst thing to do, goes the conventional wisdom, is to write purely for yourself, i.e. to “navel-gaze.”

And who came up with this rule, precisely? And what assumptions are embedded in it? Dozens. Those assumptions are the stuff that boring, ugly, superficial, rational-instrumental societies are made of.

— § —

The world was made by and for SJs, essentially. Practical, step-by-step folk who make decisions and stand by them, taking for granted in each case that either they have all the facts and have made the right choice.

I do not like SJ types. They are usually wrong, but because there is a certain strength in numbers, they get to imagine that they are right and justified in what they do. They do not see the big picture. They do not see the little picture. They barely see the picture at all; they are largely stimulus-response machines, in my opinion.

They may be better-functioning or worse-functioning, but they do not muse on metaphysics or even on how long the floor will last. They do not muse on anything. They take inputs from authority sources (other SJs acting out their J, by and large), and provide the conventional (by their own socialization history) response to them.

— § —

I am laughing just a little inside—partially an amused laugh and partially a bitter laugh—because this entire post is the sort of thing that, when I was married, would have brought my ex-wife into my office, once she’d spotted it, to be angry with me.

For what, I was never sure, and I’m still not.

There was something in this sort of discussion that she found to be wrongheaded, threatening, and embarrassing, all in one.

She was an SJ type. That’s why we didn’t and don’t get along. At the end of the day, you cannot put an NF or an NT in a room with an SJ and achieve good results. You just can’t. The SJ will be infuriated by the NF or NT and by turns try to fix them and then feel outclassed by them in some subtle way that they can’t put their finger on.

Meanwhile, the NF or NT will feel like the SJ is trying to beat them with a stick.

— § —

It took me until middle age to understand that the reward and life arc models of society are essentially configured for SJs, and that for NF or NT types, they appear to be lies.

For a long time, I just thought it was all a scam. Society promises you things like a good career and a kind of ambient sense of meaning and purpose if you do certain things. Then you do those things (often making sacrifices or taking on risk along the way) and you receive none of what you were promised. Scam!

It only makes sense once you realize that the largest group in society by far are SJs, who have a conception of what constitutes a “good career” and what constitutes “meaning and purpose” that is of course very different from what these things mean for NF or NT types.

If “do X, Y, and Z and you will have a good career and a meaningful life” had instead been phrased as “do X, Y, and Z and you will have a career within a clear hierarchy with clear, practical, conventional, and well-understood responsibilities alongside no-nonsense, feet-on-the-ground, organized people who are milquetoast team players and virtue-signallers, and you will also find yourself with an orderly life of concrete effects and achievements that can be listed and numerically quantified as bullet points,” well…

I would never, ever have done X, Y, or Z. Because those are not “good careers” or “meaningful” things to NF or NT types.

Naturally when I was young, I applied my own assumptions and understood “do X, Y, and Z and you will have an entirely unique career that no-one else could have done justice to, surrounded by wildly inventive people doing things that aren’t as mundane as numbers and task check-offs, and you’ll ultimately achieve a life that changes and destablizes our understandings of the world, tilting them toward the importance of the metaphysical and eternal.”

Reading this of course makes SJ folks spit coffee at their screens in shock. Then, they call me an idiot for ever having thought that, and presume that I’m stupid and irresponsible.

Because they have strength in numbers, they never question this response; it is obviously and practically correct. Emphasis on the last item, because people like me would be better off if we thought practically. Which means in dollars and cents. In calendar days and daily tasks. In mass-produced chairs and tables and their respective warranty periods and percentage of recyclable materials. You know, the real inspiring stuff.

And Einstein and Jackson Pollock and Roberto Bolaño were fuck-ups who couldn’t keep track of their socks and it’s a mystery why they got anything done—and the stuff that they did get done is of relatively dubious value at the end of the day—none of it makes any coffee or mows any lawns—so thank goodness there aren’t more of these sorts of people wandering around dirtying things up and getting unjustifiably lucky and admired in confusing and irritating ways.

— § —

Maybe it’s the ethos of the times, but I am struggling not to see the world in tribes, however you slice them up. Tribes of culture, tribes of thought, tribes of personality.

No, I’m not so conerned about race, I think that’s irrelevant.

But the women against the men? Oh yes. The SJs against the non-SJs? Definitely. The introverts against the extroverts? Check. The legacy class against the would-be-up-and-comers? Yeah.

I know that I’m meant to have a Ph.D. in sociology and that all of this would be sneered at in those circles. Problem is, nobody listens to what is happening in those circles. If a monograph falls in the library and nobody reads it, does it make for relevant scholarship?

Survey says no.

More to the point, if all the truth was already known by the early 1980s and all that’s left to do is gather evidence to continue to more deeply emboss it on the faces of the present and future (read: do the political work that remains to be done to bring utopia to fruition)… then why do we need scholarship at all? What’s really needed in that case are foot soldiers.

And that’s secretly what the academy has been producing for some time now. Wake me up when professors stop fighting for justice with one hand and grant money (read: accolades for the most conventional performance) and start producing new and interesting data that’s framed in new and interesting ways instead.

Oh, and can we all kill Foucault and Lacan already?

— § —

Okay, I don’t know what this post is about.

Bloody-mindedness at 3:00 am, I suppose. I am rather proud to say that I don’t know who my audience is and I can’t imagine an audience that I will satisfy, rather than bother, with this post. (Tsk-tsk go the SJs at that line, as they deign to condescend.)

Laugh, I don’t care. I’ll see your SJ and raise you an NT, sucka. And mine is better looking than yours—and you don’t know it, can’t perceive it, and never will, because your vision is limited in ways that mine isn’t.

(Yes, yes, small comfort in an SJ world, but it’s the one I’ve got.)

Each sex is dangerous. Tension is inevitable. Here’s why.  §

This is perhaps the best discussion on sex, gender, and society that I’ve ever seen—from two thinkers who are personae non grata right now in polite society, but who have it exactly right. We need more of this. Much, much more of this. The discussion goes on for a very long time and is flooring.