Lead a Life That Confuses the Archaeologists

If you want to lead a good life, a good rule of thumb is to live a life that is not merely the product of your age. Your life shouldn’t be reducible to the dominant forces and trends of your surrounding culture.

In other words, your life’s footprint shouldn’t be easy for the archaeologists and anthropologists of the future to understand.

Nonconformity is a lifelong task. But there are simple ways to bootstrap uniqueness, break out of your culture’s “zeitgeist”, and make some future historian’s job exceptionally hard.

Listen to music, watch movies, and read books from different ages and people and perspectives. If you have a cultural palate (say for music) that ranges from swing and bossa nova to bluegrass from several different decades, you’re going to be harder to stereotype (when you’re dead) and harder to manipulate (when you’re alive).

Integrate into your life the best customs and manners of the centuries and the cultures of the world. If you’re hosting dinner parties and corresponding via letter in 2019, it’s going to be much harder to place you. You’re also going to have much more interesting interactions and relationships with people.

Live with the best values of the many ages and places of humankind. Embody the heroism of the Norsemen, the hospitality of the Arabs, and the independence of the Americans. Live with the social liberalism of the 21st century and the devoutness of the 11th.

In short, use your mind to follow the best that all of time and human culture has to give you. Find the things that give life.

By absorbing and remixing all of these different influences, you’re going to find yourself making original connections and having more original thoughts. And while this may confuse the historians of the future, it certainly will interest them.

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Science + Politics = Crap

I like to listen to scientific lectures. Unfortunately, it’s becoming rare to be able to listen to an entire lecture without hearing an awkward jab at the anti-science mindset of the Republican Party. I don’t disagree, but it’s still the pot calling the kettle “black”.

The Democratic Party is just as anti-science; they just differ in the parts of science they don’t like.

Years ago, the Republican anti-science condemned by the science lecturers was usually centered on biology/evolution. Now the irony is that it’s much more likely to be about “climate change“– a topic the Democrats are decidedly anti-science about. Occasionally it is anti-gun bigotry or genderism that inspires the complaint against Republicans, but those are a lot rarer in science lectures than the “climate change” stuff. And sometimes the reason isn’t even specified, it’s just stated as axiomatic that “GOP = anti-science“. I’ve even heard libertarians included with Republicans a time or two.

Basically, what they are implying is that if you aren’t a Left-Statist you are backwards and ignorant. Everyone but their team needs to be scolded and corrected like a naughty, stupid child.

When you try to mix a little politics in with your science, you have abandoned science for religion– the religion of Statism. It doesn’t matter what variety of politics you mix in, either. Politics has no place in science. None.

Really, politics has no place in society… or in life.

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CPI Bias and Happiness

Our nominal income rises every year.  But what about our real income – our “standard of living”?  In order to answer that question, we have to accurately measure inflation.  If we understate inflation, we’re getting richer at a slower pace than we think.  If we overstate inflation, we’re getting richer at a faster pace than we think.

Most economists, sadly, just forget about the issue and pretend that standard measures of inflation are solid.  Most specialists, however, have long believed that the standard CPI does indeed overstate inflation- and this consensus keeps getting stronger.  CPI Bias is alive and well, so we’re materially much better off than we think.  “There is no Great Stagnation” – say it non-ironically, as you should.

On reflection, however, there is a shocking implication.  Happiness researchers – yes, even Justin Wolfers! – have almost uniformly found little effect of income on happiness.  If official statistics understate real income growth, what should we conclude?

Simple: Income’s effect on happiness is even smaller than it looks! According to Winship, for example, U.S. real income from 1969-2012 plausibly rose not by 16% (the standard estimate) but 45%.  Yet our happiness still barely budged.

How is this possible?  The leading possibilities:

1. Hedonic adaptation.  As Epicurus would predict, human beings quickly psychologically adapt to greater riches.  The more you have, the more you take for granted.

2. Relative income.  Another possibility is that human beings mostly care about how much they have compared to others.  So it doesn’t really matter if the price index says we’re 45% richer or 16% richer; either way, what we really want is to be in the top 1%.

3. False consciousness.  If you keep falsely telling people their income is stagnant, they’ll believe you and feel disappointed.

Where, though, does the truth lie?

The overwhelming factor, in my view, is hedonic adaptation.  Materially, Americans are far better off than they were during my childhood in the 1980s.  Yet hardly anyone appreciates the wonderful new and improved products they’ve received.*

The relative income story, in contrast, is frail indeed.  Why?  Because income has little effect on happiness even at a single point in time.  As I explained in my discussion with Wolfers, his results imply that raising happiness by one standard deviation requires an increase in annual income of over $800,000.  So stop conflating indifference with envy.

What about false consciousness?  I doubt it’s a huge factor, because most of us lack the patience to heed so-called “opinion-makers.”  The people too pragmatic, and the pundits are too boring.  Still, I can easily believe that doomsayers make us feel 10% poorer than we really are.  And in a well-functioning culture, I can easily believe that honest recognition of our good fortune could multiply this effect by negative one.  In other words, a shift from our pessimistic narrative to an optimistic one would make us feel about 20% richer than we currently do.  (Remember, though, how small a change in happiness that implies!)

At this point, I can picture Tyler Cowen remarking, “You’re a bigger pessimist than I am.  According to you, we’re richer than we think, but riches don’t matter much for happiness, so who cares?”  The whole point of optimism, though, is to say, “You may not be happy, but you should be.”  If you want to meme that as, “Optimism is pessimism about the dangers of pessimism,” so be it.

* Aside: Thank you, oh great producers, for the wonderful new and improved products I have received at your hands.  For verily you have redeemed my adulthood from the gray bleakness of my youth, and blessed me with vibrant abundance.

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Planned Retrogression

Nobody asked but …

I have been teaching computer literacy since the last millennium (since 1997 in layman’s terms), and I am amazed at the volume of innovation that we have seen in those 2+ decades.  I am amazed in two ways:  1) at the progress, and 2) at the lack of progress.  I will not belabor you with a discussion of the progress, since it is all around you.  But I will try to explain my contention that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I had to do some electrical repairs at the house this weekend.  There are many weekends in which I have to make electrical repairs, although not due to the age of our infrastructure.  Our house was finished, and wired, in 2008.  The failure of components is more due to sloppy manufacturing, overstretched distribution, and ignorance of consumer needs (which are, after all, human needs).  In plainer words, the big box stores relied excessively on third-world production to meet price points.  As a wit said, “I can get you goods or services, cheap, fast, good — choose any 2.”  By that filter, as Theodore Sturgeon said, “Ninety percent of everything is crud.”  Cheap and fast are chosen thousands of times more than cheap and good or fast and good.  As our attention spans shorten, the problem compounds.

Why do we still have the QWERTY keyboard, or any type of keyboard?  Why do we still have the mouse (51 years and counting)?

To me, the most telling example is my tractor, a Kubota.  The definition of good seems to dwell on the specifics of mechanized farming at the beginning of the industrial revolution.  If a male (not a female) can muster the strength to hook up an implement, such as a bush hog, then that is “good enough.”  Subliminally, men in the supply chain do not want to see any change.

Another example comes from the electrical system referred to above.  I am a septuagenarian who has seen no change in basic electrical hardware in 60 years, and I am fairly positive that there was no preceding fundamental change in the century since Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla were quarreling about the architecture.

Institutions (industrial complexes) have ways of embedding themselves so that expensive, slow, and no good become the choices.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Trump and Netanyahu: “Mutual Defense” or Just Mutual Political Back-Scratching?

On September 14, US president Donald Trump tweeted (of course) the suggestion of a US-Israel “Mutual Defense Treaty,” citing a call with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hopefully there’s less going on here than meets the eye: The tweet may just be another mutual publicity back-scratch of the type Trump and Netanyahu frequently exchange when they find themselves in political pickles. And Netanyahu is likely in the biggest such pickle of his career.

After failing to put together a ruling coalition in the wake of April’s general election, Netanyahu called another election for September 17.

Netanyahu also faces imminent indictment on three corruption charges, with a court hearing on the charges scheduled for early October. In June, his wife Sara took a plea deal and paid a fine for misusing state funds.

Netanyahu’s personal future may well depend on him having a political future. He’s pulling out all stops to change the April results, from approving new Israeli squats (“settlements”) in, and even promising to annex parts of, the occupied West Bank, to conducting military attacks in Syria and Iraq and along the Lebanese border.

Talk of a “Mutual Defense Treaty” with the US may well drive some badly needed votes his way, especially to the extent that such a treaty might be thought available only to Netanyahu and his Likud Party but not to Benny Gantz’s Blue and White alliance (the platform of which, by the way, bars indicted politicians from serving in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature).

So maybe Trump’s tweet is just politics. But if it’s for real, it’s a bad idea for the US, a bad idea for Israel, and a bad idea for world peace.

The US doesn’t need Israel’s assistance to defend itself. It already spends far more than any other state in the world on its military,  that amount is many multiples of any amount reasonably related to actual defense, and it faces no existential military threats other than attack with nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, which Israel couldn’t plausibly reduce.

Israel hasn’t faced a military threat to its existence since 1973, and given the web of US-influenced and US-financed relations it’s created with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, isn’t likely to face any such threat not of its own making for the foreseeable future .

As for peace in general, Trump proposes a “Mutual Defense” pact with a rogue nuclear garrison ethno-state in a tinderbox region. What could possibly go wrong?

A “Mutual Defense Treaty” with the US would only encourage further bad behavior and saber-rattling on the part of the Israelis toward e.g. Iran and Syria. That’s the kind of behavior bound to eventually CREATE a real military threat, resulting in the Israelis demanding US support pursuant to the treaty, on a claim of “Mom, he hit me back FIRST.”

It’s time for the US to start furling its post-World War Two “security umbrella” instead of inviting suspect new partners to join it beneath that umbrella. America’s future, if it is to have one, requires a non-interventionist foreign policy.

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Buddhist Anarchism and Nonviolent Communication

Here are some pieces that I wrote up for two episodes of the Anarchy Bang podcast. One episode was about buddhist anarchism and the other episode was about Nonviolent Communication & anarchism.

Buddhist Anarchism

It’s hard to really know where to begin with Buddhism, given that there are so many different ways that people relate to the thing. Buddhism can be seen as a religion, a philosophy, an approach to psychology, a personal practice or a culture. And then there are the infinite different sects, traditions, branches and sub-branches within Buddhism. It all can very quickly become very overwhelming and confusing.

That all being said, the way that I like to begin to make sense of Buddhism is by studying some of the renowned lists within Buddhism. What better way to organize one’s thoughts on something than to use lists? One list in particular stands out to me the most, it’s called “the three marks of existence”. Basically it lists the three qualities that mark life as we know it. The first quality is that change is constant and inevitable, that nothing lasts forever. The second is that everything is comprised of many different interacting components and forces acting on it, that nothing exists on it’s own, in and of itself. Basically, “anti-essentialism” is how I like to look at it. And the third is that suffering exists, it’s an experience that we all have.

This then goes into perhaps the most famous list within Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths. The first one is what I just mentioned, that whole “suffering” thing that we all have. The second is that there is a root cause to this suffering, and that is craving or clinging to our ideas of what we want. The third is that it is indeed possible to overcome this kind of attachment. And the fourth is the way to go about doing that, which is itself another list, the Noble Eightfold Path.

…And as much as I love the Noble Eightfold Path, I won’t go into that list here.

So what does this all have to do with anarchism? Well, as I see it, that whole “suffering” condition that we all experience makes us all crazy, it makes us all desperate and frantic, even if we are able to put up a good front and present ourselves as being mature capable thinkers. Our lack of dealing with our own suffering head-on deprives us of our own personal power.

Buddhist practice is all about developing one’s own personal power, self-mastery, cultivating one’s ability to choose and act on one’s choices, rather that letting one’s own old habits, old beliefs and emotional reactivity dictate one’s life. It’s also about getting more peace and contentment in one’s life. You are not always going to get what you want, anarchists will always disappoint you, your dreams for an anarchist world will never happen, and if you do decide to embark on a Buddhist practice, you will probably fuck that up too. But the paradoxical beauty of Buddhism is that even with that all being the case, one can come to acceptance of all of that, and still keep on going. At least for as long as this life you are living now exists.

Nonviolent Communication & Anarchism

Nonviolent Communication (also known as “NVC” or “compassionate communication”) is a set of conceptual tools and a general worldview that a number of anarchists have found useful and at times have adopted. Some have found it to be a how-to guide for living without hierarchy and domination, whereas others have found it to be a series of tips for approaching conflict in ways that are hopefully more productive.

NVC can be used as a way to do conflict resolution, which is what it is best known for, but it can also be used for meeting facilitation, counseling & therapy, and some would say for social change work itself. The crux of NVC is developing one’s ability to make distinctions between objective observations vs. subjective interpretations, bodily-felt feelings vs. cognitive evaluations, and fundamental human needs vs. the infinite ways that needs can be met. The ultimate goal of NVC is for it’s practitioners to come to embody a way of being that the psychologist Carl Rogers said is most helpful in relationships: heartfelt authenticity, empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard. The idea is that through such qualities being present in a relationship, that relationship will eventually and inevitably become stronger, autonomy-respecting, collaborative and conducive to those involved realizing their own personal power. Anarchy, baby!

Some related readings

The Basics of Nonviolent Communication

Key Assumptions and Intentions of Nonviolent Communication

Compassionate Anarchism

Can the Social Order Be Transformed through Personal Practice? The Case of Nonviolent Communication

Person-centered Therapy


I will begin with a quote which has always been the touchstone for me and my anarchism, that famous quote from Gustav Landauer:

“The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another… We are the State and we shall continue to be the State until we have created the institutions that form a real community.”

With this in mind, I immediately ask: what are the different kinds of relationships that would comprise anarchy? What would these relationships look like?

The answers that I come up with is that these relationships would, generally-speaking, acknowledge and respect the autonomy of everybody involved while also enabling people to cooperate, collaborate and make decisions together as equals, with no one person or group of people bossing everyone else around. All of this stuff is easier said than done, which is why I eventually started to look for some guides and pointers for how to actually do this, practically-speaking.

This lead to me eventually discovering something called “Nonviolent Communication”, or “NVC” for short. NVC generally lives in the self-help/self-improvement world, and the demographic that is mainly drawn to NVC is middle-aged middle-class 1st world white women with liberal/progressive politics. In short, NVC is not at all something that originates from the anarchist scene, yet as soon as I started to study I immediately saw the connections and correlations with anarchism, and I got quite excited about that.

For about five years I was a zealous missionary for a kind of NVC-anarchist hybrid that I tried to develop and promote to anybody who would listen to me. For the next ten years after that I had more of a low-key involvement with NVC lasting until just last year when I decided to end my involvement with the NVC milieu altogether. My overall takeaway message from the whole thing is that while some maps, guides and conceptual schemas may be helpful for actualizing anarchy in the real-world, ultimately human beings with all of their complexities, foibles and psychoses go above and beyond anything that we can come up with.

To quote our anarchist daddy, Mikhail Bakunin: “No theory, no ready-made system, no book that has ever been written will save the world. I cleave to no system. I am a true seeker.”

This leaves me with a belief that Nonviolent Communication is something that can be useful and helpful for anarchists, if one cares to spend the time & energy to seriously consider it. I do not think that NVC is something that anybody “should” do, and in fact I think that the moment that one looks at it that way the whole thing becomes completely worthless and a waste of time. But if the sincere interest and desire to learn NVC is there, then the time spent can be worthwhile. So let’s talk about Nonviolent Communication.

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