Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Aron Hsiao Ph.D.

I’ve worked in a wide variety of very public roles and written a number of books. In my “real life” I’ve had an audience varying from hundreds of thousands to millions over the years, across big media, online media, and academic media.
 
Teaching
 
Some of you may also know me from the classroom, as I’ve taught at a decent array of major universities, in topic areas from linguistics to anthropology to sociology to cultural studies and media. I am not currently teaching.
 
Companies and Brands
 
If you’re wondering if I'm the “same Aron Hsiao that...” then, in fact, I probably am. I won't mention all of the companies, brands, and publications here because many of them won’t want to be directly associated with a blog like this one.
 
On Google
 
But if you’ve searched Google for “Aron Hsiao” then you’ve found me. The writer me, the professor me, the photographer me, the technology expert me, and so on. All of those pages and pages of results are, in fact, me. I am not aware of any other Aron Hsiao that has recently (in a decade or more) ranked in the first dozen-plus pages of Google’s results.

Born February 29th, 1976
 
Ph.D. Sociology (The New School, 2014)
M.A. Social Science (Chicago, 2004)
B.A. Anthropology (Utah, 2001)
B.A. English (Utah, 2001)
 
7 Books
Thousands of articles
 
1 Life
2 Kids
5 Goldfish
2 Cats
1 Dog
 
Lived in Salt Lake City, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Portland, and now... Provo.
 
Myers-Briggs INFP/INTP

I started “blogging” for the first time in 1999 at twenty-three years old, as I was going through my first serious breakup. Without meaning to, I continued to blog on a personal basis more or less without interruption after that. Now it’s been going on seventeen years. All of that content (well, most of it) is here, in one place.
 
In professional life, I have also ended up spending a decent amount of time blogging for an income for others. Still do.
 
But after all these years, Leapdragon remains home.
 
Many have questioned the wisdom of maintaining a site like this one, and from 2007 through 2015 I kept it increasingly obscure online. I have grown tired, however, of hiding myself behind a “professional” cardboard cutout. I’m forty years old and my life, like the lives of many others, gets more complicated by the day, personally and professionally.
 
It’s time to just be me again, in public, and let the chips fall where they may. So here I am.

Politics: Mixed—Old Left + Old Right (Fuck the SJWs)
Music: Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten
Novel: 2666, Roberto Bolaño
Operating Systems: Mac OS, Linux (Android)
Aquarium Fish: Common goldfish, fully grown
Illumination Technology: Neon tubing
Rag: Counterpunch
Academic Work: Illuminations, Walter Benjamin
Work of Art: Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Helnwein
Art Medium: Still photography
Club/Pub: The Pub, Ida Noyes Hall, University of Chicago
City: New York City
Place: Antelope Island, Syracuse, Utah
Fabrication Material: Leather
Drink: Green Chartreuse
Beach: Ellwood Beach, Goleta, California
Design Language: Swiss/Modern/Bauhaus
Season: Fall

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. Destructive. 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.

I spent all day unhacking my site and all I got was this lousy shirt.  §

So I was wrong before—I got everything cleaned up and running and updated and then within a couple of hours I was compromised again, and this time more unfuckably so.

I had missed something the first time around or I had a version of something hanging around that was eminently penetrable.

Either way, there was nothing for it but to sigh and really try to do a good job of it rather than a cleanup job of it. So I backed up the DB, wiped 75 percent of the filesystem, emptied out the DB, then reinstalled WordPress 4.8.2 from scratch, restored the DB, restored a bunch of files from backups, etc.

It took way, way too long. This makes me want to absolutely throttle these assholes even more. Who has time for this?

It also makes me want to be a little more careful about:

  1. Leaving old installs of things laying around the filesystem
  2. Running updates on a prompt basis
  3. Not installing quite so many plugins

But in any case, hopefully it all sticks this time, unless I managed to restore from backup something that still has a vulnerability in it. That would make me sad.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a few things are broken or a few entries are borked or something.

It’s hard to run your own little website these days. It’s almost not worth it. But here it is—I’ve just spent 16 hours fighting it back into shape. So let’s say that for the moment, at least, it’s still on the “worth it, just” side of the fence.

I guess that’s one way to spend a Sunday.

Unhacked.  §

I think.

In late September, someone apparently going by “Mido” exploited me here. Basically I left some old installs of WordPress and Drupal hanging around and it’s my guess that they used one of them to get in. Oops. And then they added a bunch of search gaming stuff to have me advertise Rakuten products for them.

I fixed the human-facing side of things within a few days, but the Googlebot, etc. stuff I hadn’t had a chance to get to until today.

So now in a Google search for my name, we’re back to the same old, rather than my name generating a lot of products advertised in Japanese as a result.

Every now and then, this happens. It’s super annoying and mildly worrying, but what’s a person to do? This is 2017. You can be Apple and spend your whole life trying to be secure and still end up pwned. For a little WordPress blog off in the corner of the web universe? The cycles don’t exist. You just run as smart as you reasonably can, cross your fingers, keep backups, and clean up afterward when it happens.

Although no love is lost here for the people that do this kind of stuff. I used to know some “easy money” people in NYC. What I should have done was punch them in the face rather than merely decide to stop hanging out when them when I found out. Punch them in the face and bloody them up against the curb.

We don’t have enough of that kind of justice in society today. One more thing lost with the death of men. Sometimes, the right answer is simply to wind up and let someone have it as a matter of honor, integrity, and doing the right thing.

The self can’t play Atlas for postmodernity because science is now “supernatural.”  §

The kids and I spent part of this evening adding more Halloween decorations to those already up around the house. We encountered something of a problem—we could not achieve spookiness.

The density of decorations is now fairly high—just about every surface is covered. We have illuminated, sneering pumpkins and skulls and gravestones and spiderwebs and several wraiths with glowing eyes and all of that, but it’s just not spooky.

I want to say that something about the new floor, which we recently installed, has changed the dynamic in the room. You’d think that with the shift from carpet to faded driftwood on the floor, the “old cabin in the woods” factor would have increased net spookiness, but it didn’t.

I think that the appearance of old wood is so elemental, so real in some way, that it overpowers the silliness of mere decorations. It looks actually old, actually beyond the human sphere. When the wall-to-wall carpet was in place, the juxtaposition of the “cosy” very synthetic and manufactured carpet with images of forces that lay beyond direct human influence made for “spookiness.” The juxtaposition, the bringing-in of natural (bones) or supernatural (reanimated bones) elements acted as a reminder of the very real limits to human power and control.

But now the entire upstairs floor has the appearance of having come from nature, from a history that is not entirely a human history; the sight of wood grain everywhere is a reminder of nature’s own inscrutable and independent determinsim—or non-determinism, take your pick—and now it’s the plastic skeletons that suddenly look manufactured.

And taken together as a lot, the decorations just aren’t spooky anymore in this new environment. Oh well, them’s the breaks.

— § —

Ironically enough, the floor is actually synthetic—it’s vinyl tile. But it looks like old driftwood. In fact, it does a very good approximation.

So in fact what is happening is a deepening of the synthetic approximation of the transcendent that is overtaking or even wiping out mere icons to the transcendent that are more directly representative.

Rather than pointing to the transcendent, we now simulate and replace it with rather powerful effect and efficacy, and nobody who didn’t do the making or the installing is any the wiser.

I think this is a good microcosm of the human social world right now, found in a surprising (and surprisingly small and domestic) space.

The effects of the natural and the supernatural appear to be real, but they are sustained through highly synthetic simulation of increasingly advanced sophistication.

This reminds me of the “Sophia the robot” phenomenon. Based on what I see, and on the learning that is going on, I suspect that machines of her type will eventually come to seem more likable and more genuine to people than many of their fellow human beings. She will become more human than human by studying humans and by simulating human-ness better and more completely, in her algorithms, than any individual human being can.

There is, after all, a varying amount of the inhuman in all of us. But it is the part that we disclaim, deny, and refuse to look at, under guises of acceptance and justice (at the public level) and simply as a matter of ego (at the personal level).

But engineered machines can excise these parts entirely—which means that it will be more comfortable to be with them. Ideally human through-and-through, with no cognitive or emotional avoidance work to tackle in the process.

I honestly don’t know how I feel about it. The questions are too big.

— § —

In a way, this is all part and parcel of my departure from academics.

You see, there are two levels at which my life is operating right now. One is the day-to-day of practicalities and techniques and production. That continues more or less uncritically and unimpeded.

The other is the big-picture level, the “life, the universe, and everything” level at which Douglas Adams tried to make a joke by answering with “42” and yet in fact, we all know, and he probably knows as well, that this answer is quite serious and may in fact be more empirically true at some deep level than any other answer that’s ever been proposed for “the question.”

Academics claims to operate at the big-picture level, at the end of the day. The “why are we here, what is here, and what is to be done” level. And yet it is wholly inadequate to the task, along multiple axes.

Not only can it not deliver the goods, but it can’t effectively disseminate them, and even what dissemination occurs is intelligible only to a few specialists—and here we return to can’t deliver the goods—who have at best an idiosyncratic, partial, disciplinary perspective that reduces the elephant in each case to a leg, or a tail, or an ear.

I didn’t stop believing in the projects of knowledge or of growth, but rather in the ethos and ideology that proposes that western empiricism (or, for that matter, western anti-empiricism of the social justice variety) are producing knowledge and growth that are actually useful to society in most areas—some STEM fields being the exception here.

But I was not in a STEM field.

We will not fix what ails society by researching society, because society is gestalt humanity and humans are not amenable to crass empiricism.

The solutions that are “working” in the AI space are all emergent, complexity solutions. We pile exponentially more debris up in a system and at some point it begins to come up with solutions that make no sense, shouldn’t work, yet do work and no-one understands why.

This is not a “pure intelligence” phenomenon; circuit and antenna design come to mind here. “There is more in heaven and on earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy.”

Once you acccept that this is actually a literal statement of fact, and that this “more” is almost always complex, emergent, and dispersed (temporally, geographically, materially, conceptually, systematically)—and keep in mind here that so far as I am concerned, “complex, emergent, and dispersed” are merely the insecure, reluctant pedant’s terms fo “transcendental,” well…

I just stopped knowing what it was for beyond providing social capital to a few elites. Of which I was unlikely to be one in the end, as is everyone who plays that lottery.

But that’s the crux of the issue—I stopped knowing what it was for.

— § —

It isn’t quite fair to pick on the academy, however, at this juncture.

There are a great many things in my life to which this statement could apply. And a great many things in social or public life.

I’ve said it before, but I think it’s worth saying again—something has broken in the social body. These ruptures happen from time to time throughout human history. Now is such a time. Something has broken, and it will not be fixed. Rather, the rupture will be made obsolete by the emergence of some new emergent configuration, some new state of temporary equilibrium that can neither be engineered nor predicted. That’s the social-scale prognosis.

The individual-scale prognosis is that there is no individual-scale prognosis; I increasingly find that to be an illusion. The transcendental is by definition a phenomenon that is experenced as not-individual or inhering-in-the-self and it is invariably not epiphenomenal to or embodied by the self.

This truth is orthogonal to the dominant culture’s values, which are all about the presumption that the transcendental is, in fact, purely about epiphenomena of selfhood and the presumption that there is nothing beyond the human self.

This even as we increasingly learn to make humans that are more human than human and wood that is more wooden than wood using methods that are more natural than nature in our inability to understand them and in their incredibly deep and transcendental and ineffable scope and operation.

— § —

I suspect that this is, in fact, the nature of the problem.

The epistemology of the moment misconstrues itself and, as a result, also the ontology of the moment. The social rupture in our time is a rupture in immanence; there is a particular social matter embedded in a structural fabric and architecture of social antimatter, and we take both for granted and as true.

This state of affairs does not continue without explosion, annihilation, and a tremendous release of energy, followed by the formations of new objects and threats of history, material and otherwise.

— § —

In short, Halloween decorations are no longer spooky because we have realized that science, too, has led us in the end to the supernatural, and we rely on it and are embedded in it more and more each day in the course of our regular lives.

And yet—at the same time—we disclaim the supernatural more than we ever have before, do not see it hanging in the air of ambient infrastructure (though honestly it no longer feels right to call this infrastructure, as that term belongs to a different era possessed of a very different technics and metaphysics) and sanction against speaking or thinking of it.

We are die-hard rationalists and empiricists in a supernatural world of our own making which demonstrates empirically that rationalism and empiricism lead also to the supernatural—that rationalized production of instrumentally applicable affordances does not apply, despite instrumental applicability, that these affordances are themselves rational, and indeed, the better and more applicable they become, the more they are not—and the more we descend into the world of scientific witchcraft, of enlightened sorcery.

When Arthur C. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic, he no doubt did not imagine that the appearance of magic was such for the parents of such technology.

In fact, it is.

And this state of affairs is irreconcilable with either modern or postmodern cultural norms. What is required—and what will no doubt emerge—is a new hypermodern medievalism or monasticism; the return of the convent, the abbey, the monastery, this time in the ambient ocean of AI, genetic algorithms, and material automation under their auspices, which are every bit as mysterious, all-powerful, and distant from us as god, despite our having created them.

— § —

Consider the implications of the coming singularity—which now seems all but inevitable—in this light.

In our compulsion to reject god and his suggestion that what we are good for is to serve, not to rule, we decided to go so far as to create god again anew, from whole cloth, to prove who is master.

And having done so, we will find that we once again can neither fathom nor control the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful entity—if indeed it is even that, as once again we do not clearly know—that we have created.

Even what it all means eludes us, infuriatingly, once again, apart from the unavoidable conclusion that if even when we attempt to seize control of the universe and do so successfully, we are left to serve and submit to our own creations.

In short, the human self is very small indeed, and what the culture refuses to come to terms with, even as it embodies this truth to a greater and greater degree, is that our is not to rule, but to serve—and we must make our peace with and find our meanings in that, because once you have killed god, then successfully produced god anew, and you are still neither god nor capable of understanding or even tolerating him, well—

after that, there is no “ultimate metaphysics Plan B” to fall back on.

In even shorter, “That’s your lot, mate.”

— § —

We refuse to accept that it is so, even as we race toward proving that it is so.

We cannot square this circle, and norms and the social fabric compel us not to try and never to concede. This is the deep, ultimate-end-of-things problem with the academy, the economy, the state, religion, and the broader society right now—and with Halloween decorations.

We’ve tossed the fun into the fire, succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, and still have nothing to show for it—because we cannot grok and thus refuse to accept the answer to (not the question of) human life as a phenomenon.

We are very close to having calculated it, and after all this work and the needless death and multiple resurrections of diety, it does in fact look to be… forty-two. Much to our chagrin.

So we refuse to cope and we go on sanitizing more telephones under the auspices of a sound diversity and progress policy that grows ever-more draconian and utopian in our frustration and inadequacy, and we hang out some more neutered skeletons for Halloween as we go.

— § —

Ours appears to be to serve, forever. We must learn to cope.

Trick question: Why is it not okay to be a man?  §

“One of the first roles of marketing is to foster reassurance that what we’re doing isn’t weird and doesn’t stand out.”

— Rory Sutherland

— § —

In recent weeks I finally feel as though a plan is coming together—as though there are a series of goals creeping in at the edges around which I can organize my own development apart from regular income-producing life.

(This being in service of the notion that I am one of those people that always has “side projects” and that needs these, basically, in order to plausibly survive).

It all revoles around masculinity and manhood. And products. And blogging.

Still not sure how it all fits together, but here are some rough outlines:

  • I have a Ph.D. in sociology and can read and distill the tough stuff. My interest in a lot of the academic fluff is waning as I grow older and get distance from the academy and begin to realize how ideological and unempirical most of it is. But I do have a growing interest in some classical tough stuff—aspects of philosophy considering the virtues, traditional roles of masculinity and its relationship to metaphysics, etc.
  • I increasingly want to write about this. To come to public appearance about this. And to support a better future for my son, who is destined to grow into a man in a male-hostile and at the same time, and paradoxically, desperately male-deprived world.
  • I have product and merchandise and marketing interests that are beginning to run in this direction. For a while I was considering a business organized entirely around cameras, typewriters, and wristwatches. There was some connection between them that for a while I struggled to suss out, and then that for a while I thought was all about creativity, but I am beginning to realize that the connection is actually masculinity. These are traditionally masculine things and speak to a certain worldly, initiative-driven, adventurous (in the true sense, not in the hitting-the-bars-for-a-one-night-stand-and-spicy-food-I’ve-not-tried-before sense) persona that was once the archetype of the sort of masculinity that society revered, but now has lost sight of entirely. This archetype needs to come back.
  • I am interested in exploring my own male preferences and identity, finally without the female influences in my life. What are the little pleasures that I enjoy in life? Which things help to foster in me the sense that I am living as my best self? Which things enable the kinds of productivity and being-in-the-world that I desire to sustain?
  • Men need support. Young men in particular. The ladies will scoff at this and that’s fine, scoff away, I don’t mind. The more hysterical (I use that word intentionally) will imagine that I’m about to go off the alt-right deep end. Not the case. And the fact that people immediately go there illustrates the problem—to be a young man and not reject yourself, your biology, and your experience of the world entirely is now to be pathologized. But it’s beyond uncomfortable living as a man in a woman’s world—to have the entire social, emotional, and behavioral universe framed in ways that don’t feel at all natural or clarifying to you. And you believe that you are alone or on an island or somehow broken when feeling this way in secret. Yet when men come together and talk and interact apart from women (something that society is desperately trying to do away with), you find that other men feel the same way, and that the “good ones” aren’t speaking out for fear of doing or saying something wrong or hurtful. But we are not women and that’s okay. It’s time to say that publicly.

Hence, on the last point, the Rory Sutherland quote. I think that’s important.

I think there is a massive universe of lost men out there, men who are desperate to embrace their identity, to be and feel the man that comes naturally to them, but who don’t have the socialization, training, experience, support, or material surroundings and artifacts to help them to do this.

They were raised in an environment devoid of these things and they are now struggling to come to terms with themselves and a strange existence in which they continuously feel like a fish out of water who at the same time has no reason to exist and whom society feels could really simply be done away with and we’d all be better off. They are searching.

The alt-right and the McVeigh-isms have stepped in to fill this void, but they’re pathological. They’re not-unpredictable reactions, but not healthy ones. The reason that they’re succeeding is because there’s essentially no alternative. Someone needs to come up with an alternative.

— § —

This weird mixture of essayism, politics, and products is not conventional and is also not entirely comfortable. In a lot of ways, it makes entirely no sense.

And yet at the same time, this limitation is also entirely a matter of social norms in the broader sense (i.e. social not just in the terms of non-economic social interactions, but in terms of the complete configuration of society—production, consumption, interaction, and so on).

I have the sneaking suspicion that these norms are also in some way feminine impulses—the notion that values, politics, and products ought to be separate. There is much research to be done and much history and philosophy to be read.

— § —

Uncomfortable for me here is the question of political identity.

I have spent my entire life as a person on the left—at my most involved an ardent anticapitalist and at my least involved a farther-left-than-most third-party voter in the United States.

I do not, in fact, believe that I have suddenly become a conservative. There is much about the conservative project and ethos that doesn’t sit well with me. And yet at the same time, there is now also much about the “progressive” project in the United States and Europe that doesn’t sit well with me.

I don’t quite know where I fit. I do know that I have become a fan of an assortment of things that most would say don’t go together and are incoherent:

  • Rod Dreher, Camille Paglia, Bernie Sanders, and Penelope Trunk
  • The American Solidarity Party
  • Antiquty’s classics
  • The body of the world’s great religious texts
  • Cameras, typewriters, and mechanical wristwatches
  • College football and the idea that it is violent and dangerous and also noble
  • etc.

It’s not that I embrace everything from each of these; there is much in each that is either wrongheaded or untenable. And yet each is also carrying the torch for something in particular that is increasingly missing in our society. It is about what each brings to the table that no one or nothing else is bringing to the table.

It’s a mishmash right now, all this stuff swirling around in the back of my mind. But the sensibility is gradually coming to coherence. It is a matter of trying to have thoughts in substance and method that are verboten in your social and cultural milieu. It is not easy to do so, and requires much groping and work.

— § —

Jose Martí had three prescriptions for becoming a man—plant a tree, have a child, and write a book. Hemingway, having been a Cubanophile, expanded this list to:

  1. Plant a tree
  2. Have a son
  3. Fight a bull
  4. Write a novel

I think Martí’s start was a good one, but that in fact Hemingway got it right. And the fact that so many bloggers have taken the time to try to pillory Hemingway’s list tells me that I’m not alone—in their consternation, these bloggers give away the game and their own insecurities, which I’m going to wager have to do with the credence that they wish they weren’t giving to this list in some deep, dark place.

There is a lot of this insecurity about, which is the source of much of the ultimate discourse and in fact production and consumption in the American economy today; “methinks all these folks do protest too much,” etc.

The giant posters at Whole Foods explaining its virtues loudly cover the fact that many aren’t quite successful in convincing themselves of them—but are compelled by the fallacy of sunk costs and the discomfort of the harshness of reality to not confront this possibility.

For men, the thing is to rehabilitate this reality—to make it seem okay to be a man again, and to maybe resurrect the dialogue on what malehood is, but emphatically not in either academic or theological space, as the former is currenly pure ideology and social gamesmanship and the latter is personal.

Public, everyday masculinity needs to be come a viable product again. I suspect that the demand is huge, if it can be made to be okay again to be a man—to speak like a man, to think like a man, to shop like a man, to live like a man.

— § —

We need more bullfighting, more football, more courage, and more sons. Not less or fewer of these things. There has to be some way to bring this all to market in a genuine way.

It’s not that we have to dismiss women or stop listening to them as men. We just need to learn to say, and to have the courage to say—as women have now been doing for decades—it’s okay, you can’t possibly understand because you’re not a man. We need to rediscover and embrace the unique value that we bring to the world, and to society—to stop being ashamed and scared and to learn how to be impressive and authentic once again.

It’s not about fostering toxicity, it’s about loving truth.

Things.  §

  • MGTOW? I suppose not. But it is tempting. Very tempting. Thing is, I don’t think it buys us anything. The problem in the world today is that there isn’t enough masculinity, not that there’s too much of it. “Masculinity” meaning calm, strength, reserve, courage, responsibility, and wisdom. Yes, those are masculine traits. Sorry, they are, and I’ve seen nothing in my life to make me think otherwise. No, not Trump, we don’t need more Trump. We need masculinity enough to make the open claim that masculinity is not the same thing as “toxic masculinity” and that while we may have a recent surplus of the latter, we also have a dearth of the former. If good, strong men check out, we’re in trouble. Contrary to what the toxic wing of femininity so loudly proclaims.
  • Problem is, good strong men are checking out. Or rather, they are no longer coming to fruition. They’re being undermined before they ever develop; they are not reaching adulthood.
  • I refuse to virtue signal. In a world of virtue signalling gone mad, in which it has become such a habit for people that they don’t even realize that they’re merely virtue signalling any longer—that they have not a single virtue of their own that will actually stand up, that it’s all hat and no cattle—I refuse. Call me what you will. There is a tremendous amount of bullshit out there being mistaken for enlightenment, and precious little enlightenment.
  • The best strategy of evil is to proclaim that good is actually evil. That strategy is working out pretty well right now. A few people from former totalitarian societies are pointing this out, but the virtue signalers don’t hear anything that they’re saying because to even lend an ear is orthogonal to seizing the best opportunities to virtue-signal.
  • It’s a time of decline. There is no point analyzing it because there is no audience for the analysis. When all of society goes mad, there is no point in talking about anything any longer. It’s time for those who are not mad to simply go about their business. But probably not to withdraw entirely.
  • The old social more from a century ago was “no sex before marriage.” There is a new version that young men should learn. “No women before fifty.” It is not until you are that age that you are accomplished enough, financially secure enough, or emotionally stable enough to cope with today’s socially constructed dating landscape. Try it any earlier than that and odds are that it will seriously fuck your life up. That’s probably my sense of MGTOW—young men have to be trained to stay focused on themselves and their productive lives until they are developed enough to safely associate with women, which doesn’t happen until later in life. Decades later than used to be the case. They need to be men capable of coping with the world, and with potential mates, and then with mates, before they can become husbands and fathers and leaders effectively. It is simply harder to cope than it used to be—and it does no good to have boys who are not yet men running around at 20 or 30 getting destroyed before they ever have a chance to become men. So that is what is needed—men should wait until they are 50, established, and grown. And in the meantime, women will just have to be patient.
  • I knew this by my mid-twenties and repeatedly told other young guys as much. But I succumbed anyway. It is time that I take my own advice. Eight years until I am ready to date again, at least—because it is simply not wise to do so until then. The world is not configured right now to give men any second chances or safe risks. It is simply unsafe, radically unsafe, to associate with women until you are older and more powerful. At some point, I will learn my lesson. Hopefully I have now.
  • Goethe: “You must either conquer and rule or serve and lose, suffer or triumph, be the anvil or the hammer.” People always come back with bromides about how life isn’t a zero-sum game and zero-sum thinking isn’t helpful. Only it is. It is a zero-sum game. It always has been. And pretending that it’s otherwise doesn’t change a thing. It just allows—in Camille Paglia’s words—the barbarians at the gate to snicker a bit as they overtake you. That it “is not a zero-sum game” is what those who are very good at playing it invariably tell those who (for obvious reasons) end up losing it.

Penelope trunk, tough questions, mentors, and sad truths.  §

“It’s generally despicable moral values that drive remarkable people.”

This is why I pay attention to Penelope Trunk.

— § —

I need to be challenged. I need someone to challenge me. I need someone to ask me tough questions. I’ve written this before, but I want to expand on it.

A lot of people in my life think or have thought that they’re asking me tough questions, but they’re actually lazy questions or selfish questions. Rather than being questions of me to challenge me to be honest, think clearly, and confront realities, the questions are actually:

  • Ways of coping with their own failures through projection (i.e. they only think it’s a question for me, or maybe even an accusation aimed at me, but in fact I could be a houseplant or a watermelon; they’re really talking to or about themselves without realizing it).
  • Ways of evanglizing or advocating for something (i.e. they think they’re asking me tough questions about myself, but in fact any answer that I provide is irrelevant because they have a particular destination in mind for me, and once again I could be a houseplant, in fact it would be better because then they could just pick me up and move me to where they’d like me to go).
  • Ways of trying to pick my brain for some wisdom or insight they subconsciously imagine that I have (i.e. they think they’re asking me tough questions but in fact they’re hoping for my answers to their own tough questions and presuming that they’ll be better answers than their own answers).

I am in need of someone to ask me tough questions that are relevant to me in the interest of getting me to answer those questions for myself, either because they care about me or because I’m paying for the service.

Only it will have to be because they care about me because I can’t afford to pay for the service.

— § —

I wonder if there are some people out there who don’t need to be asked tough questions and don’t need to be challenged in order to find clarity and success.

Certainly I’m not one of them.

I do believe that most everyone needs a good, regular mental and emotional ass-kicking that comes from a place of care and whose characteristics include directness and honesty. I think that most people descend into self-ignorance, denial, and escapism/lazy status-quoism without these.

But are there or might there be some people that have an internal self-insight mechanism? Wish I was one of them. I used to think I was, but that was just youthful naiveté.

— § —

Best question-askers in my life so far:

  1. My dad. I wonder if I should impose on him for a good ass-kicking. The thing is, with him it has to arise organically. I think that if I asked for one directly, he’d have no clue what I was asking for, and might even be anxious and worried about the whole thing.
  2. My aunt—one of my dad’s sisters. I still remember a walk that I took on a golf course with her one day (the one and only time in my entire life when I set foot on a golf course). She was tough. Boy, was she tough—especially since it was one of the most painful periods in my life. But that’s what really good tough questioners are able to do—kick you while you’re down just hard enough that you get back up, because they know that you can, even if you’ve convinced yourself (in all your self-indulgent pathos) that you can’t. Boy was it good for me.
  3. Several professors. I wish I could say mentors, but the structural realities of my own academic life have always been such that I couldn’t afford mentorship. Because that would mean buying into the academic plan wholesale, and having the time and mental energy to become preoccupied with it. I was always the guy who couldn’t really afford to be there, so I couldn’t ever really take advantage of the context and make it worth my while. I went all the way to finishing a Ph.D. as the guy who couldn’t really afford to be there. I’m still the guy, in fact, who can’t afford to have been there. I had no business, given my economic background, playing a rich man’s game like academics. But I did. And there were three professors (none of them at Chicago, for those who are wondering) who were reasonably good at asking tough questions, though I sometimes think they could have been tougher. Probably they felt hamstrung due to academic culture these days and uncertainties about just how far they could push things before I ran to administration with a complaint about hurt feelings or something. After all, I never quite got to know any of them quite as well as I wish I had been able to—again, see the discussion on mentorship and economics several sentences ago.

So that’s it. It’s frankly not all that many. The older I get, the more it feels like a giant black hole in my life. I haven’t been pressed enough, haven’t been forced to grow enough, have been suck entirely too much on “self-reliance” and “self-insight.” Those are limited things.

— § —

My ex-wife would laugh at this and say that it’s all bullshit because I don’t listen to anyone. She’s absolutely wrong on that point, though, always was.

I listen to people when they’re worth listening to. The people above have been very worth listening to. I continue to get the feeling that people like Penelope Trunk, despite the fact that I reference her in a totally different context (i.e. it’s not an interaction) is worth listening to.

The problem is that most people aren’t worth listening to, and most people don’t ask you questions honestly; they’re really doing something else when they ask them.

It’s true that some people don’t listen to anyone. But it’s also true that if you feel as though someone is not listening to you, you should ask yourself whether you’re saying anything worth listening to, or asking anything worth answering—or for which the askee’s answer will actually make a difference, either to you or to them.

A lot of people think that people aren’t listening to them when in fact people have already listened and realized that they heard every last thing that person was ever likely to say, encapsulated in the first five or ten words that came out of their mouth, and that it wasn’t actually all that useful or purposeful and so there was no point engaging with it any further.

— § —

People who are worth listening to are few and far between. It pains me to say that because for years I held it as a taken-for-granted value that everyone was worth listening to. But it just ain’t so, ma.

That’s one of the sad truths of life in society.

Rehab is universal. So is history.  §

I had a big weekend planned in terms of productivity, but I’m me so the big weekend turned into a “big day” beginning Sunday and then of course Sunday had to begin with a diet soda buy because caffienated diet soda is my biggest remaining vice.

Yes, I suppose that someday it will kill me, but then so will quite literally anything else in the end, and on the scale of vices if I’ve lost the smoking and lost the alcohol I suppose there are worse places to be than drinking diet Coke.

So the whole “big weekend” (well, starting on Sunday)—which will eventually turn into a big Sunday starting at 11:00 and then into a big Sunday afternoon starting at 1:00 and then into a big Sunday night starting at 5:00 and then into a big rest in preparation for the big day that no doubt starts on Monday morning—had to begin with a trip to the drugstore at the bottom of the hill.

— § —

So it’s a Sunday morning in Utah valley. This means certain things.

It means that there will be nobody around. Nobody but a handful of cars (in Utah, generally speaking, cars are people and people are absent). It will be quiet. I will be utterly alone with my thoughts. I will go into the 24-hour drugstore and there will be not a human soul visible.

Even the cash registers by the electric front doors will be unmanned when they open; I’ll walk in an empty store to the soda aisle, grab my two-liter of Coke and my two-liter of Mountain Dew, walk back to the cash register, and ring the bell for service. Five or ten minutes later, someone who has been alone in the store for so long that they’ve forgotten how to talk will finally turn up and mostly wordlessly ring up my purchases, and then I’ll drive back up the hill, on mostly empty streets.

It’s all quite fabulous for being unmotivated and getting nothing done on weekends, particularly on Sundays, since it enables you to pretend that thte world has stopped existing and thus your task list no longer has to be tackled; you’ve been given a metaphysical free pass by the apparent end of all of time.

Only today, when I pull into the parking lot, there are three very well dressed, very hip-Hollywood-looking forty-or-fifty something standing outside in front of the electric doors. Their posture (feet slightly apart, hips slung and holding up beige designer jeans, white straw fedoras cocked to one side on clean-shave, white, bald heads) and the ways in which they are sporting too-big smiles, sliding their eyes sideways as they animatedly speak, and so on tells me that these are well-off professionals doing that brand of upper-middle-class white “talk cool, talk serious, talk professional, talk witty” socializing about things that—if they get it right—come off as “I don’t take this too seriously / even though it is very serious / but I know that you know that I know that you know / that the way in which we must play it off because we’re above it all / is merely evidence of our success / and in fact everyone else must play it through.”

In short, these people looked so out of place in Utah Valley in general, and on a Sunday morning in particular, as to throw me entirely off.

And then I went inside.

Emptiness? Solitude? Hardly! Two cash registers were flanked by two lines of the very same people, each seven or eight people deep, same level of over-dressed-ness for Provo, chatting with the same Whole-Foods-and-Hot-Projects animation with one another, and two silent cashiers working in studied silence, no doubt intimated by their apparent betters, to ring up their purchases and get them out the door.

Had I stepped somehow across some sort of time-space rift into Los Angeles or Chicago? Into Brooklyn? It was disorienting. And fascinating that it was all so immediately clarifying. Culture matters. And it’s visible. The only times you start to doubt this are those times when you haven’t seen any variation in it lately. I’ve clearly been having one of those for a while.

— § —

Now I know these cashiers, it being my wont to have the same weekend over and over again (and many similar weeknights besides), so as I was bringing up the rear, and as by the time I was being rung up most of them had made their way out the door, I asked—

“Hey, who are these people? This isn’t a Sunday morning Utah Valley crowd.”

The cashier who always knows and welcomes me by name (except this morning, having been cowed into silence by the magnificence of the mid-life hipster brigade) finally broke out her silence and explained to me that this group comes down every now and then on a Sunday morning from Sundance in a big Mercedes van like the one I had seen on the parking lot. There is apparently a very expensive rehab center center there that draws people from all around the country.

So, to draw on a clichéd phrase, that explained everything.

The mannerisms, confidence, serious-not-seriousness-about-seriously-important-things, and catastrophically on-point (and anachronistic-by-age) fashion became obvious necessities. It’s a Sundance crowd. Naturally these are well-off jet-setters who are hip enough to need rehab. Naturally!

Talk about things falling into place!

If someone came to me and said “I want you to do me a photo shoot for a luxury lifestyle product aimed at upper- and upper-middle class coastal creatives, so find some models and give me a scene of some edgy middle-aged white Hollywood and New York creative professionals who have their own brand, earn both too much and not enough money to talk about, each know at least ten nationally famous people personally, and have gone away to Sundance for rehab,” this is exactly the scene I would have put together—the very bodies, the very hairdos, the very costumes, the very postures, the very affect. Everything.

— § —

So at first when Donna told me this (the cashier’s name isn’t Donna, but I can’t remember her real name because I’m horrible, and it’s a Donna-like name in its cultural valence, if that makes any sense) I did the ironic thing inside my own head and went over everything I’ve just typed, just as I’ve typed it.

“Oh, of courrrrrrrrse they are.” (← Me inside my head.)

Internal smirk and snicker. I’d like to say that I’m growing with age, but it took Donna’s next statement to wake me up.

“Sorry about the lines. It creates a bit of a problem because they all come at once in a secured vehicle, they all have to check out at the same time, and they don’t have access to cash or wallets, so they have to share a single card and their minder has to enter the pin for them. Makes it hard to run multiple registers.”

Now a light comes on.

These are people in rehab, after all. Branding or no, wealthy or no, hipper-than-thou or no, Sundance or no, intentional or no, here they are on a Sunday morning not doing the things that their talents have otherwise enabled them to do, but rather on a social island, invisibly wandering around a drugstore in a rube state, having been driven down the mountain together by a chaperone.

Despite appearances, they’re not actually the embodiment of breezy freedom and savvy that they ooze. They’re not actually free to move about the country. They’re stuck being shuffled around like inmates in a disguised prison bus that they didn’t drive down themselves, buying products at a Walgreens in the middle of suburbia in the middle of a Red State in the middle of nowhere. They’re without their primary assets—cash to wield like power tools and an audience to appreciate their poses and render them valorizable.

I found myself torn between familiar feelings of inadequacy—high incomes, no doubt high influence, better clothes, clearly better social skills, to judge by their facial expressions and animated conversations—and feelings of actual pity.

On the top of things and on the bottom of things at the same time. That’s something everyone can empathize with. The intensity of the paradox and the heights and depths probably vary, but the human condition gets even those with have happy wallets, seven-figure manners, networks to die for, and beige woven fedoras that cast shadows on perfect white skin and white teeth.

— § —

Over the last two years I’ve read a lot of what I can only describe, with some embarrassment, as self-improvement books. These from every corner of the bookstore—psychology, business, spirituality, lifestyle, etc. It is a marked change from the academic literature that occupied the previous twenty years of my life.

I’ve read about highly effective habits, getting back your mojo, finding your purpose, developing grit, and passion, and insight, and skills, and blah, blah, blah.

Has it helped?

Hard to say. Earlier this morning after having waken up and before going down the hill to buy my diet soda fix, as I was reflecting on the possibility of writing this post, I had one of those moments in which I thought maybe I’d made a conceptual breakthrough and conceptually distilled the line between success and failure that all of these books talk about down to a single axis of something-or-other. Put yourself on the right side of this axis and you’ve got it made; let yourself slide to the wrong side of this axis and you’re in trouble.

Thing is, I can’t for the life of me remember what it is any longer or what I was going to write about it (even though it seemed clear, obvious, and powerful at the time), so I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that I probably had it wrong anyway, since if it was so right, (I’d like to think) I’d still remember it an hour later.

If I had to go even further out on a limb and try to summarize what I’ve learned in all of this reading, I’d have to say that I’ve learned that there are no answers. Self-improvement, like most everything else—academic life, the internal combusion engine, iPhones, hike-with-your-dog meetup groups, Oprah, national government, etc.—is mostly snake oil.

There is no help to be had. Not in the way that I look for it, anyway.

That is to say—there are no answers to be had.

I think partially by virtue of the class that I grew up in and partially by virtue of the particular regional culture that I grew up in, I have a deeply embeded sense that somewhere there are people that have The Answers and also The Skills and that these people thus have The Money and The Good Life and that aspiration and ambition are really about acquiring The Answers and The Skills so that I can join them.

And that I’ll know when I get there because once you have The Answers and The Skills, certainty sets in like a wondefully comforting disease and you know what to do and can see how each question that you face has a right answer and each choice that you make has predictable outcomes and you can operate it all like a telephone switchboard and ride life right into the seat of a classic convertible driving down a long, winding mountain road covered with fallen red and orange leaves toward your large victorian masion in the New England woods, where your two well-groomed, well-trained dogs and your Harvard-bound children will greet you.

All you have to do is learn and practice.

This is, of course, bullshit, and intellectually I know that it’s bullshit. Over and over again I have been amazed—for literally decades—at the way in which powerful people that I work with and for and that are in positions of leadership have no certainty about their choices, operate on imperfect and incomplete information that in academics would earn scathing comments from journal reviewers, cross their fingers and hope for the best, and yet as all of this is going on feel complete confidence in the notion that what they are doing makes sense and is valuable.

I don’t have that. Where I see opacity and a startling lack of defensible data, they see concrete information to act on. Where I see snake oil, they see valuable steps and tools.

Maybe that’s the difference between success and failure. Understanding that no-one and nothing is perfect, anywhere, so if you have even five percent of the truth, five percent of the discipline, and five percent of the moxie that would theoretically be possible of the world were perfect, you’re on your way to being in the top five percent of all of humanity.

Others, like me, tend to sit around and keep pushing to try to find 95 percent of the truth, 95 percent of the discipline, and 95 percent of the moxie, and feel that we’re unjustified in acting and unworthy of compensation of any kind until we get there.

What I grew up feeling was “cheating people because you’re not up to doing the job right but you’re taking their money anyway” was in fact a complete misconstrual of the job. The job is not to “do epic shit” if you’re a person who has trouble seeing the “epic” in shit that is utterly, utterly imperfect. The job is, rather, merely to “do some shit or other.”

That’s a lesson I’m still trying to learn. And a kind of courage I continue to struggle to have. At forty-something I’m better than I was at thirty-something, and at thirty-something I’m better than I was at twenty-something, but—I’m still not there.

I had a conversation with a friend recently and blasted an old drama teacher from college for telling me that I wasn’t really trying. She didn’t mean that I wasn’t putting out a good product. She meant that I wasn’t taking any risks. For me. That’s the key concept. Risks do not inhere in the action; some people are more competent than others. Risks inhere in the actor (literally, in this case).

I need to take more risks. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, &c.

If I want until I’m able to actually competent enough to “do epic shit” before doing anything, I’ll wait forever. Or rather, I’ll wait another forty years or so and then croak having done nothing.

— § —

Part the third: history as materiality.

I wanted to write about this as my masters’ thesis for a while, before I veered off into other areas like urban space (tangentially related), experience design (less related), and ethnonationalism (related in metaphysical terms, I’m sure, but defending that statement would be an exercise in INTJ-only abstractions and/or the most offensively trite kinds of monument-centric memory studies theory).

Everywhere in my life are obsolete things. I don’t mean tools necessarily (though these are certainly a part of the set), but Things more broadly. Material of all kinds that were emplaced aeons ago in other lives and lifetimes I’ve led and that have become a part of the scenery, consciously forgotten but still present in the sensorium.

Vampire stickers hidden behind a bathroom stool near the tub that my daughter placed there when she was maybe two years old, before she could read, hell before she could talk, before I was divorced, when family life was a completely different thing. Chalk drawings we did on the bricks of the house three or four summers ago. A green couch on the patio that nobody has sat on since I can remember. An empty chest of drawers in a room I never use. A coffee maker to make the coffee I don’t actually drink and haven’t done at least since I was working on my dissertation. A whiteboard above my desk that I used to use to track my progress on:

  • Dissertation and academics
  • Book writing and editing
  • Being a good husband
  • Being a good professor
  • Software development projects

Now it hangs there on the wall, empty. I haven’t written on it in ages. I’m no longer an academic. I no longer work for a publisher. I no longer write books. I’m no longer a husband. I’m no longer a professor. I cannot even remember what specific software development projects I was ever working on, only that for a while I had a bunch of tasks listed there and that toward the end I was giving myself an “F” very loudly on the board for progress in that area.

I have three printers. I rarely print a damned thing. But there they sit, connected, stocked with paper.

On the hooks in the hallway hang winter coats, hoodies, and outerwear in quantity. I have not just got them out of storage and hung them up in anticipation of the coming winter season. They hung there all summer. And the summer before that. They fit no one any longer. They’re just there, and I don’t even see them.

Every now and then I notice one of these little details here and there and spend some time remediating it—cleanup, redecoration, trips to the thrift store, etc. Only it actually takes quite a bit of time to rework these corners of material life; you can lose three or six hours clearing away the historical cruft in just a tiny spot in the house or a miniscule area of your life. It’s hard to think that it’s time well spent. So it accumulates, all of this history, and colors you and your days.

I grew up in a house with the kind of socially involved mother who was always following dead people around. What I mean by that was that she knew literally everyone in the neighborhood and of kept in contact with all of her extended family, and as a result, someone was always newly dead and she was always volunteering to turn up and help out—help the family, help to clean up the house, help everyone and everything to move on.

And I grew up seeing the vast stores of cruft and material inertia that these often very old people had accumulated around them. It used to make me think that all old people were crazy. Why did they keep all thus stuff? Didn’t they find it oppressive and weird to be surrounded by years and years of things whose very purposes and identities had long since become completely unclear?

Now that I’m at middle age, I’m fairly sure that they did. But you can either spend time trying to clean things up or you can just move on and do new things. If you spend all of your time trying to track down all of the stuff that isn’t current any longer and get it written out of your life, you’ll have precious little time for anything else. That would be a way of spending your life “un-living” it, trying to undo it.

There’s nothing morally or ethically or spiritually wrong with that, it’s just that it means that you won’t get any new life—it’s like the big crunch theory; half the life of the universe is spent expanding outward, the other half contracting back inward and undoing the incredible quantity of things that have already happened.

Most people don’t want the second halves of their lives to be a matter of reliving the first half of their lives in reverse as they try to erase any evidence of their having been here; they still want to live new adventures, experience new things, write new chapters. And so they move on; you let the already written parts be already written and stand or fall on their own; you stop concerning yourself with them.

In practical, everyday, in-the-building-where-I-live terms, this means that shit piles up. Now and then when something gets in the way, you go back and clean it up, but most of the time when you do the calculation (Should I work on a current or a new project, or should I spend that time going back and un-do the material cruft of an old project?) you decide to just move on.

If the old coats hanging in the hallway aren’t bothering anything, it’s probably not worth the effort to remove them. When there are new coats for which room is needed, the old coats will go naturally. If they never do, it means that you’ve moved on from those hooks and hangers anyway.

There is a school of thought that says that the right way is to avoid all of this, and that the right way to avoid all of this is to ensure that you don’t accumulate any material cruft to begin with. Live minimally and so on.

This strikes me as more cocked fedora-ism.

“I know that you know thta I know that if we’re going to be hip, important creatives, we need to study Zen habits and adopt them as a pose.”

I don’t believe for a moment that the loudly Zen people don’t have accumulations of things that have built up and that they’ve left behind. Maybe they don’t have them in their living rooms and bedrooms and bathrooms; that’s the lower-middle-class way of doing things. But they’re there.

If you really did live “minimally,” i.e. you really did generate absolutely zero historical detritus of any kind, conceptual, metaphysical, emotional, or material, I’d suspect that you weren’t actually living at all.

Everyone has detritus, even if it’s disguised as a Mercedes van driven down from Sundance to a Walgreens in the middle of Provo, Utah.

Quantum is fast.  §

Try the new Firefox beta. Seriously. It is fast. Fast.

And the UI weirdness/ugliness has been fixed.

I have been a Chrome user for many years now, but suddenly Firefox is tempting again.

Gender essentialism and getting things done.  §

I wanted to be more productive than I have been this weekend.

Friday started off in the way that so many of my weekends do—moreso, in fact—with a tremendous rush of ideas and a tremendous amount of enthusiasm to “get to them” and begin to execute as quickly as possible, after getting “a few basic things” like house-cleaning, laundry, and shopping done.

Oh, and (new and unusual this weekend) a certain amount of work for the day job in preparation for a big week next week.

Well now here we are late Sunday, and the house-cleaning, laundry, and shopping have at best been ambivalently started, and the suddenly pressing task is the weekend work for the day job. No new ideas will be executed upon. The ideas themselves likely won’t even been noted somewhere in a tickler file.

They will return to the clouds from whence they came, silently and forgettably, as I try to make better progress on the things that are urgent.

In part, it’s become clear to me over the last hour or so that step one is to write a blog post. For reasons unknown to me (I suppose someday I’ll go into therapy and excavate them), this is not an uncommon genre of roadblock for me. It happens often that I feel and seem blocked in my flow and unable to avoid procrastination until I realize (the realization embodied as a kind of intiution) that I will make no progress on anything until I sit down and make a post on this blog that, in fact, almost nobody reads nor has done for eighteen years.

It must be serving some cognitive purpose.

— § —

I got to reading the highbrow former-print-now-online rags as is my wont, and an article on Love in the Time of Individualism caught my eye. So much so that I ended up logging in and commenting via Disqus, which I never, ever do.

I think I’ve just had enough at some point of the feminine world and the feminization of the world. Not because I think it’s “girl stuff” or less-than somehow. I have no problem with women being women and I have no problem with feelings, with world peace, with valuing individuals, etc.

But I am tired of what I see as the denial of masculinity as a thing that results from an ostensibly materialist (but secretly ideological) reframing of discussion of nearly everything into feminine terms that are then couched in universalist languae and presumptions.

I’m older than I was a decade ago, and I’m out of academics now, and I’m a parent. And I can see a few things far more clearly:

  1. Gender essentialism is truth.
  2. Humans value and engage in transcendence—particularly men—but the dominant discourses (which I recognize more and more as inherently feminine ones) are unable to represent or to even conceive of it.
  3. Young folk aren’t actually that smart, they’re just willing to spend a lot more energy yelling a lot more than older folk.
  4. A great works curriculum in education is the best chance we have of turning this ship around. A legitimately great works curriculum, that is to say—not one in which every attempt has been made to impose a quota system on the selected authors of said works.
  5. I am both farther away and closer to transcending my current circumstances than I imagine.

Scattershot, I know.

— § —

I am coming to think that what I need most of all in my life is to adopt the “broken windows” theory of life-living. I have always been a “key inflection points” person myself—let the windows break, they’ll all be fixed afterward if you get the bonus, and the bonus is contingent on being able to properly allocate the labor and time, which can’t happen if you spend your time worrying about broken windows that you can easily have fixed afterward.

But perhaps the “key inflection points” model only works for young folks with young folks amounts of energy, stamina, and motivation.

More and more I think that I need to give up on forming plans and executing on strategies and spend my time getting all the little things clean and into tip-top shape in my life, and that perhaps then the big things will follow.

This isn’t a conclusion based on reasoning so much as a wish or a hope. Because the “key inflection points” model seems to have carried me about as far as it can in life; things have been stuck in “neutral and starting to roll backward down the hill” mode for at least five years.

I’m looking for an alternative framework—fundamental framework—that changes the nature of the game. That subjectively and phenomenologically is of a cloth with my experience of being-in-the-world. At the core of things, I need to figure out what manhood is about in my life and in today’s world. Not easy when the term itself is verboten and imagined to be discredited.

But the rest, I suspect, will follow. Better late than never.

Lower-middle class psychology, ideology, and Easter eggs.  §

I’m sitting in the kitchen. It’s sort of clean. The whole house is sort of clean, and a lot of things are sort of done. “Sort of” is rapidly becoming an everyday reality around here.

Thing is, I can’t keep up. I’m not sure whether it’s possible to keep up in the abstract—whether someone can do it—but I know that I basically can’t. It’s too much for one person. House, car, kids, career, the everydays of household and finance and utilities administration, the everydays of cleaning and tidying and maintenance.

It is quite simply impossible for everything to be “kept up.”

And so you’ve got to prioritize. You do the brake lines on the car because cracked brake lines represent a safety risk. That means that you do not do the dishes, mop the floor, or mow the lawn. You pay bills, meaning that you do not go to the aquarium or buy new shoes. You tidy the living room which means that you do not tidy the office. You file some records and do some budgeting which means that you do not get your weekend work done.

All of these things could have been decided differently, but the outcome would be the same; some stuff—all of it important, even critical—would not get done. Critical stuff not getting done seems to be what adult life is about, at least in our society.

I suspect it’s a class thing; I suspect that not everyone has this experience; I suspect that the fact that I have this experience means that I grew up lower-middle class in middle America and despite best efforts that everyone makes, I like everyone else have utterly failed to move out of that class or to grow beyond my own financial, cultural, and intellectual fundamentals into something new.

There are only two cultural strands of explanation for why this happens to people and how they end up this way—divorced, single parent, financially strained, ceiling fairly low for the long term, not getting stuff done despite prioritizing, the subterannean data of society increasingly indicating that this is just such a person.

(1) You are a victim.
(2) You are making bad decisions.

Somehow (1) feels ridiculous. This is the left position. And (2) feels inadequate when most of the decisions are about prioritization between equally critical things—not, for example, deciding to go out (as the “welfare queens” fairy tale goes) and buy a big screen TV and a BMW and drugs, then partying endlessly while letting the electricity goes off and home base turns into a squat that doubles as a crack house.

— § —

This weekend was like every other weekend recently.

Before the weekend got here, the weekend “to do list” (this is an explicit thing, it is written down—or rather, typed in) grew and grew and grew. By default, whatever I have to prioritize downward gets pushed onto the weekend to-do list. This makes it “okay” not to do it today, even if it was due today. Because I’ll get to it on the weekend, when I’ll have infinite time!

Of course, the weekend comes and I do not have infinite time. Generally speaking, one or two things on the weekend to-do list at most get done. The rest get pushed until “next weekend.”

Eventually a lot of them “age out”—they sort of unofficially become “things that will never get done” and fade. That’s not good because it means that I am not performing accountably in any number of areas in my life, and people (myself included) just don’t consciously notice it all that much (yet).

But it is no way to live. It does not feel good, or right.

I did at least do the usual one or two things, however:

(1) Some needed maintenance work on the car. There is more to be done. I am determined that my car will, this time around, be a priority in a way that it has never been in the past. Because I’m tired of owning a car that I know has many things wrong with it and expecting it to take the day off at any moment with thousand-dollar-repair-bills to follow. And I’m tired of living through those moments actually arriving and distorting the fabric of my life. If I’m going to deal with the lost time, hassles, and costs anyway, I’d rather do them on my own terms, as conscious decisions, where I can slot them in with at least some level of tactical awareness.

So far since getting this car I’ve replaced the timing belt, cam seals, coils, plugs, breather system, front wheel bearings, transmission servo cover, transmission fluid, motor oil, oil filter, cabin filter, console shifter rocker arm, fuel filter, and I forget what else. Brakes are up next.

I got the fluid flush and fill and bleed done and one (rear passenger) soft line. That took me no less than ten hours. I hate flare nuts and I hate tools and I hate the people who design these things in such a way as to be unmaintainable. But whatever. I frankly will need to re-do the soft line because the flare nut is rounded. I have a flare kit and flare nuts on the way. Three and a half more lines to go. Then flush and fill on the angle gear and the rear differential.

Point being that there’s a lot to do. And that a fraction of the first job up right now took up a huge chunk of my weekend, cost more than I wanted, and left me filthy. But I at least got some more car stuff done.

(2) I managed to tidy a bunch of the house. The house, the house, the house. It’s creeping up on me. Things are falling into disrepair, and it’s all I can do to keep it tidy. Actually not all of it, basically just the four or five rooms we live in. Standing policy is that nobody goes into any other rooms because I cannot possibly attend to them; if they get really untidy, who knows when I’ll get around to tidying and cleaning them, and having “junk rooms” is no way to live (I know this from experience growing up).

So I did get the basics done—toys cleared away at least into semi-sorted piles in their proper rooms, tools cleared away into a semi-coherent pile in the maintenance closet, dishes piled in the sink with at least what looks like care, and the hard floors swept and mopped (well—in their centers; priorities, right?) and the soft floors (what’s left of them as they decay) vacuumed (again, “center only” being a classic lower-middle class caveat).

— § —

Projects that I have raw materials for but have not yet managed to attend to:

  • Brake lines on car (remaining three)
  • Angle gear service on car
  • Differential service on car
  • New floors for upstairs (a giant pile of vinyl planking, primer, and tools sits on the kitchen floor waiting to be used, and has done for weeks now)
  • Content for side project website (paying for a domain for months now, but only have one content item up so far)
  • SAS adapter for main computer system (to upgrade backup device, not yet acquired; no point acquiring that until the adapter is installed
  • Blu-ray burner for main computer system (secondary backup, no media yet but similar caveats)
  • Toilet rebuild kits (these things are ancient and their flushing systems are borked)
  • Tons, just tons of educational projects to do with the kids, all waiting on “someday” to do them

There’s a lot of paperwork, some of it rather critical, left standing in a pile as well.

I’m doing what I can, but everything falls a little farther behind each day.

— § —

You are a victim or you are making bad decisions.
Trump is evil.
Clinton is evil.
Climate change is an emergency.
Climate change is a hoax.
Hurricanes.
NFL head injuries.
Debt ceiling deals.

A lot of words have been dedicated to what’s wrong with the American public or what’s wrong in the lives of the American public (these two sometimes blend into one another, and at other times don’t) over the past year, but I have the nagging feeling that none of them were all that useful.

I am sympathetic to the American public (hell, I’m a member of it, and I’m mad as hell, too, in a way) because I think that what’s going on is that there is clearly something wrong but they can’t quite put their finger on just what it is. I feel the same way.

I can’t help but feel that at the core of things, the problem is that we live in a highly ideological, actually quite repressive society in which everyone first of all is talking about the wrong things (because the right things can’t be talked about) and then saying the wrong things about them at that.

The right things that can’t be talked about have receded so far from consciousness and memory (because it’s better not to talk about them) that people aren’t even sure what they were any longer; they just have a sort of hole in their lives and selves where those things used to be.

Every now and then you get a glimpse of this, the fleeting sensation that you are not actually living a genuine life because of the nature of life in contemporary America. I had one earlier tonight when I was thinking about wanting to write a blog post. I have that feeling often—I want to make a lot of the things that I did today and make this blog back into what it once was two decades ago—a forum for self-expression and for recording my thoughts and activities to enable me to reutrn to them later and reflect.

But the reason that this blog isn’t what it once was is that it can’t be. It’s too risky to say what I think in any given moment here, too risky to record my actual activities. After all, words can be misconstrued. And people have vehement opinions, highly ideological positions in our society about everyday things. And if the wrong person sees the wrong thing on your blog, it can affect your future in all kinds of negative ways. Your employability. Your opportunities. Your parenting. Your legal status in various ways.

We don’t conceptualize this and when we do we decide that it’s all overblown, but the fact is that we quitely and unconsciously self-discipline so as to be able to live. Yes, self-discipline is important and right, but in the Zen monk way, not in the Foucault way. When it is done freely and for noble ends. Not when it’s done simply to be able to get along.

In this society, I think that people are receding from public life and from public consciousness as a matter of risk. Better not to know too many people. Better not to say too many things. Better to just keep your head down and hope that nobody notices you as you skate on through. Don’t do anything big and draw attention to yourself. Just do the paperwork and tend your garden and stay out of sight.

That does not describe life in the America that I grew up in many decades ago, though early hints were present. I suspect that if people could speak their minds and pursue a broader variety of ends as legitimate without potentially affecting their jobs, children, etc., there would be less polarization in America. And the news would look very different.

Everywhere, everyone is compressed like a spring, closeted, self-repressive. In the academy. At work. On the playground with the other parents. On Facebook. The correct presentation of self—correct with respect to the inevitable protester-whistleblower who will find a way to fuck up some part of your life, and likely a dear one—has become the guidingin principle in a highly public, highly transparent society. And the result is has been to put a false bottom in the box, a false back in the closet, so that when the contents are observed in all of their transparency, they have keen public rectitude, with all of the important stuff hidden out of sight.

The problem is that the important stuff, lying quietly beneath the false bottom or behind the false back—languishes and is forgotten and rarely taken out any longer. After all, you never know who may be looking.

What’s in those spaces?

Personal beliefs. Memories. Opinions. Values. Gods. Cherished wants and reams. Pleasant personal habits and preferences. Basically everything that makes a person a person, rather than a good ideologically correct automaton.

In public, everyone is busily engaged in what Harold Garfinkel called accounting practices—making sure that they can reasonably account for their behaviors and thoughts, and that they do not engage in any behaviors or have any thoughts for which they cannot satisfactorily account to the people with the power.

And, in our quest for big-J justice, we have been sure to give power to everyone. Meaning that we are now accountable (morally, legally, and economically) in public to literally everyone—including anyone that might be offended.

And “in public” is now a 24/7 proposition.

— § —

I brought out a few books—Foucault, Garfinkel, Simmel—to add a few choice quotes here, but now I’m not going to do it. I couldn’t find my Derrida—I have a quote in mind from Specters of Marx that seems to sum up the zeitgeist nicely.

But I opened them and I just can’t be bothered. Now they’ll sit in a stack on the kitchen table for days. Probably the kids will find them and draw in them or tear pages out or something.

I wonder where Specters of Marx went. Maybe I gave it away. I keep accidentally giving all of my most-loved books away. I want someone to read something in them, I think they’re so great—so I had them off enthustiastically, forgetting that this means that I won’t have them.

As a kid of the digital age entirely, I forget that in the material realm, to give-away is also to not-have, because information encoded in matter using old-fashioned methods like print does not automatically remain behind when conveyed elsewhere as does information in matter using newfangled stuff like magnetism and electricity.

There is also still a basket of colored easter eggs (not real ones—fake ones just for dyeing—emblematic of our age) stting on my kitchen table. I say “basket” but it’s a kind of disposable cardboard pseudo-basket with little yellow chicks and pastel flowers painted on the side—dollar store bric-a-brac of the “I hate living in modernity because it makes me own stuff like this that I feel bad both throwing away and keeping” variety.

That’s why it still sits on the kitchen table, eggs in it. Because if I dispense with it, then I’ve been wasteful and consumerist and am polluting the environment for all of one hour’s middling fun back in spring, and so on. Yet if I actually put it away in a closet somewhere, I’m filling my life with totally unneeded, disposable shit that has no business being kept.

So long as I keep it on the kitchen table, I don’t have to account to myself or anyone else for whatever decision I make. It’s liminal. It’s a problem that Hasn’t Been Dealt With Yet, like all the rest. Stuffed under the fake bottom of the box, hidden behind the fake back of the closet, all in plain sight in the middle of the kitchen.

— § —

TL;DR version—

I think we’ve got it wrong, all of us. Our society has it wrong.

Not as in “we made the wrong decision about it” but rather “we have entirely the wrong it, we have been led to that state like lambs to the slaughter—quite ironically by our very own selves—and we are not busy looking for the right it at all, because we know that we absolutely must not even stumble across it consciously, much less go out and hunt it down.”

There is a restoration that must take place, but I don’t think it takes place within the confines of the society that we’ve created here.

I think that a few of the pundits have basically the image already—this society has gone wrong, and will fade and fall. Another will come and will then dominate, unpolluted by what’s here.

We’re doing what the Soviet Union did. Different flavor of ice cream, but still the same basic substance.

— § —

Time to go to bed. I can’t accountably afford to spend any more time on this blog stuff.

The basket and the eggs will probably stay here on the kitchen table forever. There is more to middle class social psychology than meets the eye. It’s not all victimhood and bad decisions. It’s tactics in a already long-lost, yet still unmentionable battle.

Out.

You gotta be kidding me.  §

It’s been a very long time for me since the start of a “real” school year. One with full-time school days every day of the week. Hard on the kids. Also murder on the grown-ups. At least on grown-ups like me.

One of the main reasons I once went into Academics as a career was the idea that I wanted to work all of the time and none of the time—that is to say, I need to be able to work more or less continuously to be sane, but I also need to come and go as I please most of the time while doing it, without having eight- or nine-hour blocks completely greyed out in my calendar every day.

School did not sit well with me when I was a kid. (Anyone who knows my bio or anything about it knows this.) I wasn’t able to function in the daily schedules until I got to college, basically. I have spent exactly one year over the course of my entire working life in a regular, in-house nine-to-five job—and it nearly killed me. Other than that, I have always been either remote-flex or on a university teaching schedule.

And now here I am, at 42 years old, with a kid that has just entered the first grade and is back on a full-time school schedule. And I am losing my mind. Like, it is so constrictive that I want to pull my hair out. House is a mess. Nothing is getting done. I hate it. I hate these schedules. There must be a better way.

I can’t see how anyone can get anything done on a full-day/every-day schedule. It just deadens the mind, all while being so highly structured that there is no room for any adaptation to the actual vagaries of life.

I have the vague theory that this regimentation is not actually due to the productivity gains that come with rationalization, as some optimists have proposed, nor a matter of the more easy extraction of surplus value, as some pessimists have proposed, but something worse—an alternative to mass-liquidation of human beings. That is to say that the wealthy and powerful would rather that we don’t exist at all. But if we’re going to, and they can’t mow us down or freeze us up into ice cubes and store us away, the next best thing is to plug us all into desks stuck in a single room and force us to stay there all day.

Okay, that’s hyperbolic. Well, mostly.

— § —

I am also bummed with entropy.

You cannot keep things intact with kids around. You simply can not. House. Car. Appliances. Affordances. Whatever it is in your life that you value and want to care for, kids do not. Not that there is malice in it; they are simply incapable of being careful and tremendously and often physically enthusiastic.

This combination = shit gets fucked up. All the time. Dents and scratches and stains and misuse are par for the course, no matter the value of the property and no matter how hard you try to educate them about responsible care of and for it. They’re just not there yet; it’s not something they’re capable of.

Anyone that has nice things and that has kids either has (1) kids as dumb as rocks who sit there like potatoes all day doing nothing, or (2) wealth. Lots and lots of wealth that enables them to replace the shit that gets fucked up.

For the rest of us, those living in middle-class precarity, kids are a direct trip to poverty. Your career, your assets, and your potential and intellect all slowly collapse as you transfer the wealth, mostly in the form of investments in their future minds, to the children.

Yes, it is worth it. Children are awesome. But do not for a moment imagine that there is not also some sadness in watching yourself and your life be slowly digested and consumed as raw material as a part of the process. There is an element of ritual suicide buried somewhere deep in the heart of parenting; you become a sacrifice to a future you will not see but hope to improve, through them.

It is a way of “dying nobly.” Make no mistake.

— § —

In more specific terms, this season has been hard because everything is breaking. Everything. I cannot think of a time in my life when I have been farther behind the curve in terms of tools, appliances, cars, housing, etc. falling into disrepair. There is no way that I can keep up with the costs; we just have less and less, gradually.

I can maintain the most critical things—car, for example, though not cosmetically, and house floor, also for example, largely by doing both myself and just buying the raw materials—but the luxuries, they are going. As the kids break them, they do not get and can not be replaced.

And I am more than a bit nervous about how long I can hold out. Money is beyond tight, and so is time. It feels like I’ve been stuffed against my will at a giant precarity buffet and now I’m rolling around, so full of precarity that I can barely breathe, and trying to function all the same.

At some point, there is a failure threshold. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know how close I am to it. That’s terrifying and sometimes a lay awake in the wee hours and stare at the ceiling and worry about it until I think my head is going to explode.

Then I get 1.5 hours of sleep, wake up, and hop back on the ridiculous school-year-schedule-overlapping-with-serious-job-schedule treadmill. If I’m lucky, it’s a treadmill that leads to old age with nothing having really been accomplished in my life.

If I’m lucky.

Let’s hope I’m lucky.