0642 – callie’s world

So what do I know so far. We have Calliope, Talia. A peer of Callie who’s very different from her. And some sort of Tony Stark/Handsome Jack/Elon Musk type character, not sure if he’s the big bad. He runs some corporation that’s presumably exploitative… this corporation will probably be a proxy for Google, Amazon, Tesla, Shinra, Hyperion. This corporation needs to be different from the rest in order for the story to be interesting. It needs to do good things, it needs to be legitimately improving the world in some way. Maybe having just one corporation would be a little too simplistic.
 
Also need to think about the government. Natural resources. Religion. What do people believe? How are resources allocated? How developed is AI/magic? Maybe I need to learn from the corporation in Enders Game.
 
So Calliope starts out in some sort of boring suburban sort of setting, but something happens that makes her leave it. I don’t think I can kill her parents off; that would be too lazy. Maybe she’s raised by grandparents? Or if she’s raised by her parents… what are their expectations for her? What is the cultural raga she inherits?
 
Think about Final Fantasy. Cloud’s dad is never mentioned. He leaves his small town to join the army and become a SOLDIER. What happens to the protagonist from Lost Illusions? He borrows money from a friend, has a shitty relationship with his dad who low-key exploits him. But then he exploits his friend (brother in law?).
 
Terrangima- no mention of parents. Luke Skywalker’s adopted parents die in a town razing. Terra’s father was an Esper, her mother…? Died at childbirth? Died when the worlds got rifted apart?
 
What if the people in this world believed that God was a software engineer, or some sort of AI or programmer? “In the beginning there was the command line”… ah, Google says its Cryptonomicon. I should probably get around to reading that, so I don’t waste too much time trying to reinvent things that I can just adapt and remix.
 
What would be the name of the Musk character? Shall we give him a biblical name? That sounds fun. Bible character names for the evil folk. Solomon? David? Joshua? I’m thinking Solomon. There’s something semi-likeable about that name. I’ll probably also include folks like Elisha or Elijah, Jedediah, Obadiah, stuff like that. Maybe. We’ll see.
 
What else do I want to think about. Okay, so I have Callie, Talia, Solomon. Solomon might maybe have an annoying partner, associate or lackey named Saul.
 
What else? What about their respective families? And what about the peer of Callie that I haven’t figured out yet? I’m guessing that Callie generally has this sense of uncertainty, nervousness, doubt… somewhat Hamlet-ish in that regard. And so Callies friend would have to be someone oddly peaceful, oddly serene, seemingly a little naive, happy to ‘walk by faith and not by sight’. What would this person’s name be? I’d like a name that’s bordering on Muslim. In Ender’s Game, this character might’ve been Alai. Scrolling through a list of names, I quite like Afra. Maybe Ofra. Or Nawal, or Nawar. Salwa. Something a little bit subtle like that. But the character can’t be precisely Muslim, that would be a little too on the nose. They’re a little continental – I’m hearing words like Sufi and Rumi, even though I don’t really know those things / people very well.
 
Okay, we have a bunch of characters. What are the possible conflicts? Very often in stories the conflict is something that rises quite dramatically. Even in Harry Potter, in the first book, Voldemort has technically returned. There was an age of darkness before the start of the book, and we’re returning to it. In Mass Effect, it’s a routine mission and you find out that the end of the galaxy is pending. Something similar with Ender’s Game and the Contact wars. Star Trek was a series, and so we had a character just sort of… show up.
 
Okay, pause. I don’t actually need to get around to writing some major conflict driven novel from the get go. It’s tempting to go, oh yeah, this is my first novel, all done! But it would be much, much more sensible to write short stories. And short stories can be “star trek like”, or anime like – they don’t need to follow some epic existential risk type scenario; they can be filler episodes. And yeah maybe I should think about this like I’m writing for a TV show, or a weekly Medium series or something like that… something like Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles maybe? The Callie Chronicles? I don’t have to write everything around these same few characters. But I could start with one for each of them, and then see what crops up in each of those short stories. Or chapters, rather. A book is made up of chapters, and each chapter is supposed to be a near-standalone reading experience.
 
It’s very tempting to sort of sit down and write elaborate biographies for each character… but I’m pretty sure that that would be a bad idea, somehow. Rather I need to think of interesting situations to put them into. What would they be good at? What would they be bad at? What are they happy about, proud of, embarrassed by? And is there a different set of questions I should be asking each character? This is the interesting part where I get to figure out what my process is for making these characters more precise. They’re already sort of ‘in the ether’, having perhaps coalesced from the source material in my mind. And now I have to get to know them. I might be able to ask one to introduce herself to me, I might have to interrogate another. I might have to spy on one. I might have to chat up another. Each character will probably have a preferred context, a natural element. And it will be interesting to throw them out of it. I should apply the Pixar Storytelling rules / filter to come up with something interesting.p

 

0640 + 0641 – Calliope

Fiction.

Preamble:

I’ve known for a more-than-reasonable amount of time now that I want to be a writer. Writing is something that I’m pretty good at, and it’s something I can see myself working on for the rest of my life, thanklessly, for minimal reward and recognition. So that much is settled in my head. I’ve written over 600,000 words on this project alone, and I’d do it over and over again for the rest of my life for its own sake. I have clarity on this.

But now, moving forward. I know that I need to start writing works, rather than just verbalising my thoughts. This is an amusingly difficult transition for me, because I’ve spent so much time in my headvoice. It’s actually quite exhausting, and I have a feeling that once I’m able to make the switch, I will feel incredibly relieved.

Okay – so what I’m going to try to do moving forward – at least with this vomit and the next few, as far as I can tell – is to start sketching out characters, settings, contexts, plots. I need to remind myself strongly that none of this needs to be coherent, none of this needs to make sense. It can be everything all at once in all directions    . I just need to keep going until I catch something. So… this is it. This is where we dive in, like Ark in Terranigma jumping through the portal from the Underworld. This project transforms here, at 640.

There once was a girl. A lady. A woman. All and none of the above. Let’s call her Calliope.

World

Calliope was born to a boring family in a boring city on a boring planet.

This is a world that is most ways similar to Earth, but is presumably different in some ways that we don’t know yet. For one thing, the continents are different, and the nations and religions are different. If you’ve got myopia and you’re not wearing your glasses, it roughly looks the same.

I’m not quite sure if it’s a modern-technology world or if it’s a fantasy world yet. But either way – if it’s fantasy, the elements of magic are effectively a ‘metaphor’ for technology. The point is, the reader lives in a world with all sorts of cool technology, and I want to explore that. I want Calliope to grapple with making sense of her reality in its fragmentation, all the ways in which it trips through time. So I don’t think it’s going to be a Western, Wild West, frontier type situation. Calliope is going to have to deal with the fact that she basically lives in this world that claims it has a ton of freedom, but in reality it doesn’t really. There are glimpses of both Orwell and Huxley in this world, but it’s not quite as simple as either. Humanity has been domesticating itself in fits and starts.

What do I know about Calliope’s world? I know that it has a slightly grungy, cyberpunk element to it. But it can’t literally be cyberpunk, that would be boring. What would a cyberpunk fantasy world be like? Or rather, if something that was fundamentally cyberpunk in nature was written in fantasy, what would it be like? This is an interesting thing to explore perhaps in a separate vomit. What if we took some popular stories and then put them in very different settings? Star Wars is effectively The Hero’s Journey in Space. What would Game of Thrones be like if it were set in space? What would Ender’s Game be like if it were set in Magic?

Considerations:

Media – what’s the media like?

Food, eating habits, rituals

Education / child-rearing – what sort of childhood experience did Calliope have? Have we reformed schools yet? No, not quite. Standardised testing is still a thing. But by this point, most kids know that school is pretty much daycare. We can have a conversation about this. Lots of kids are running side-businesses, lots of girls are Instagram starlets.

Power – what does the world run on? Are we in the driverless electric car future yet? I think we can incorporate that, yeah. It’ll be nice to force people to read a world that’s slightly in the future. Something like 2050s future. Mostly clean power? Or is there some sort of underlying energy conspiracy? I think Calliope doesn’t need to worry about this…. but I should figure it out for the context of the story.

There will be messaging between people – texting. I don’t think we’ll have the neural interfaces yet. I don’t want this to get all Black-Mirror-y – the tech isn’t meant to be super noticeable. It’s got to be just slightly more futuristic than we’re used to. Will I use phrases like Uber, Google, etc? Maybe, but preferably not.

Calliope

Let’s figure out what makes her interesting.

What is it that makes a character interesting? The same thing that makes all things interesting: conflict.

I haven’t yet decided if she’s going to be The Protagonist. I think I’m just using this character as a starting point here to start building out a setting, a set of characters.

What is Calliope’s conflict?

She has desire in a world that doesn’t quite accept it. For a life of her own choosing. But she can’t have it.

Why not? Well obviously she lives in a man’s world, with men’s expectations and men’s desires. And what are those? Most simply- they want to fuck her. To possess her. To control her. To use her.

What are the not-so-obvious things about her conflict?

Calliope has an idiot father. An idiot brother. She went to idiot school and is expected to work for Idiots Inc. Yawn. A boring life.

To have an interesting life Calliope needs power. Primarily over herself and her immediate surroundings. This is a tremendous challenge.

What about Calliope’s personal curiosities and impulses? How would she live if she had absolute freedom?

What does Calliope want?

I think the main thing is that she feels listless and disconnected, like she was born in the wrong place or the wrong time, like she fell off some wagon she didn’t know about. This is a classic Ugly Duckling type trope, and the starting point of every angsty teen / YA thing. I’m not averse to starting with the trope, I just want to go somewhere differently.

The “Ordinary Day”

What is the thing that Calliope really wants, before the world smashed into her? (How does it smash into her?)

I can work with what I’m familiar with. Music, arts. But I think her wanting to be an artist might be a little too predictable. I think I’ll have her wanting to be a technologist. I had a glimpse of that myself when I was a child and I’d like to explore that through Calliope.

Things I know about Calliope

She’s experienced sexism, as all women invariably do.

She hasn’t experienced outright sexual assault – that would be a bit of a cliché for me to work with, and it’s not something I’m super good at. Rather, she has witnessed assault. She has had friends and peers that she enjoyed who suffered tremendously.

She’s funny. I don’t want her to be this brooding quiet type, like Bella or Anastasia. And she can’t be awfully serious. I think she has a sense of humour and gets in trouble for it. I’m thinking there’s a little bit of Fred/George in her.

At some point she’s going to comment about The Cool Girl, and the meta-problem to that.

She needs people to have conversations with, that’s how she thinks and figures stuff out.

She can’t understand people who feel strongly about things one way or another. This means that I’m going to have to introduce a character who feels very strongly about something, and they’re going to become some sort of interest / foil to her.

The Friend

Friendship – Calliope was bored and frustrated for most of her young life without quite having the vocabulary to articulate it. At some point she encountered someone else that she really admired. An older girl who seemed very much womanly. Brash, vulgar, cigarettes and alcohol. No tattoos though, because that would be too much of a stereotype. Crazy hair maybe. Some sort of Razorgirl. It would be interesting to contrast how Calliope’s friend gets portrayed compared to how Razorgirls are typically portrayed (Trinity from the Matrix, the silver-eyed girl from Neuromancer…).

For the time being maybe let’s use the name Thalia. Thalia was the goddess of festivity. I could spend a lot of time exploring the relationship between Calliope and Thalia. And I think my position here is that… the reader won’t know a lot about Thalia except through Calliope’s eyes. And through Calliope’s eyes, Thalia seemed like this wonderfully seductive escape from the drudgery of everyday life. Thalia was expressive, fun, larger than life. Bold. Confident. Aggressive. She seemed to know who she was, and she was probably the first person who treated Calliope like someone worthy of respect.

So Calliope would grow to idolize Thalia – not in a ridiculous, overblown, hero-worship way, but she’d just tag along. She was smart enough to know that she shouldn’t simply try to be like Thalia, but to be herself.

But eventually they ended up in conflict. There were times where Calliope would get on Thalia’s bad side, and Thalia could get really angry, really venomous. Maybe later on we’ll learn that Thalia had had a hard life, that she was some sort of oppressed minority maybe, subject to some sort of persecution – and so she became this slightly manic-depressive sort of person – very severe, very larger than life, capable of both incredibly kindness, softness, gentleness, and incredible cruelty. I really want the reader to appreciate that Thalia does things for Calliope that nobody else does, that Thalia does seem to provide care for Calliope that nobody else seems able to provide – at least in the Sector 7 Slum that Calliope lives in…

Huh. So that just introduced something about the setting. The sectors, of course, are from Final Fantasy 7. The city’s name was Midgard. If I’m going to be using names like Calliope and Thalia, then the Midgard equivalent should be Greek. Anyway I can figure out names later, I just need to move faster to kick up all the things that I want to kick up. It would be interesting to try and figure out why I thought about Sector 7. The point is that Calliope doesn’t have the support system that she needs in order to live her full life, to be her full person. I’m trying to think about what I’m trying to squeeze in here. I haven’t actually lived the street kid life, so I’m not sure if I can really do justice to Calliope being a street kid. Maybe Thalia is the street kid, and Calliope sort of comes from somewhere a little bit relatively sheltered but not too sheltered.

Ok I have to get to bed so let’s start listing out some questions that we’ll need to answer…

How is Calliope’s community organised? What role does race play in all of this? Because I think race is almost definitely going to come up. The fact that I’ve picked Greek names… I’m probably going to introduce characters of other races and religions. I might call it something else. The Greek name kids are the weirdos, the outcasts, at least slightly maybe. I’m just running with it here. There will be kids with Muslim-sounding names, there will be kids with Indian sounding names… I’ll try to avoid giving anybody traditional white names.

What is the world order? What is the maximum scale of everything? I probably shouldn’t try to force a limit… I won’t go beyond galactic, that’s for sure. Whatever happens, it happens within a single galaxy. Or does it? Lol. Let’s start with a human story on one planet, and if we want to get bigger and beyond that, we can later on, but not yet. This is like, say, Shepard’s backstory. I suppose I could do a “Calliope Shepard” fan fiction piece just to fiddle around and figure stuff out. But I don’t think Calliope is going to be a military figure. I don’t think she’s going to be working with guns or swords or things like that… is she? Is violence going to feature in this story? Yes, obviously. But what’s the law and order situation? How safe are people?

It’ll be impossible not to at least comment tangentially about the current state of Earth in 2017 – international relations, people being sheep and so on. I want my characters to be smart, like the characters in Ender’s Game. They have to make the best decisions they can, or at least try to.

[1] I specifically want to avoid a Star Wars type situation, where it’s obviously a Hero’s Journey, and it can’t be called ‘true sci-fi’ because the science doesn’t actually make much of a difference.  Perhaps I should list out my intended influences? Nope – that would be forcing it. I should just do what I’ve been doing – I wasn’t expecting Midgar to show up, but it did. So I should just keep going.

 

0639 – beware articulate misdiagnoses and the illusion of knowledge

I want to reflect on an exchange of comments that I had on Hacker News.

Here’s the context:

  1. Snap is about to IPO, and they’ve committed $2B over 5 years to paying for Google cloud infrastructure.
  2. The top comment on HN about this is that this is a really bad idea, and that Snap should build their own infrastructure instead. [1]
  3. Someone replied saying: “I love HN where a random person can tell a company their $2 billion plan on infrastructure is “a really bad move” with authority”
  4. A response to that was “to be fair, that company is run by these same ‘random persons’ that are commenting here.” It’s a subtle logical fallacy – just because people who run companies post in forums doesn’t mean that people who post in forums are qualified to comment about how to run a company.
  5. A response to my followup was, “the playing field is quite level, so we shouldn’t judge a comment on whether we recognize their username, but rather on quality of content.”
  6. My response to that comment (which I’ll basically expand on in the rest of this vomit)

The “I love HN” comment is ambiguous – you can interpret it in at least two ways. Reading it straight, it might say, “HN has really high-functioning random people who can speak with authority on $2b issues”. But I don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is – it’s funny how everyday people feel highly qualified to talk about things that probably involve far more complexity than they appreciate. [2]   It’s funny because they can feel qualified, look and sound qualified, but actually be utterly unqualified – and yet get all the upvotes, positive responses, write books on the subject, etc. etc.

I’ve been joking about this with my wife recently – for instance how so many men (and for some reason it’s almost always men) feel completely qualified to comment on sports. There was a particularly funny comment on YouTube somewhere, where a guy criticized an eagle (literally, the bird of prey) for making a bad decision. The response to that was, “Crazy? You’re the one criticizing a bird on the internet”. In this case it’s obviously funny – the guy is a guy, not an eagle, and he has obviously never done any eagle-ing himself, and the eagle obviously will never care about his opinion.

When it comes to sports, its a little less clear. Could an average person with a job in an unrelated field actually have an opinion on how to run a top tier football club better than its manager? Can football journalists, for that matter? Most broadly, can any person – let’s say highly motivated, good-intentioned, highly intelligent, etc – ever have any meaningful input on how some game should be played, if they don’t play it themselves?

Let’s use the example of a food critic. Let’s say she’s a really good home cook, so she knows her food. And maybe she’s run a moderately successful little restaurant of her own at some point. She’s also visited lots and lots of restaurants of all sizes, perhaps even more than the number of restaurants visited by the people running a bigger restaurant. Can she possibly have anything meaningful to say about how to run a Michelin-starred restaurant?

That’s a lopsided question. She could totally have some very good things to say. She might ask some of the most insightful questions, that most people don’t think about asking. If you’re a Michelin-starred restauranteur, you might enjoy reading what she has to say.

But here’s the catch – there’s a gap between what she knows (from having achieved herself, by operating in the space that she’s operated in), and what she thinks she knows (based on what she’s inferred from talking to people, from making observations, and so on). She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. And while she might be right 9 out of 10 times when talking about Michelin restaurants, there are going to be times where she’s completely, egregiously wrong without knowing it. And casual readers aren’t going to know. Mid-sized restauranteurs aren’t going to know. The only person who’s going to recognize that she’s wrong are the Michelin restauranteurs, and they’re probably too busy running their restaurants to sit down and write an articulate response about what she’s wrong about. [3]

Let me return to my point about the top comment criticizing Snap’s decision. I don’t know if Snap should or shouldn’t commit $2B to Google cloud infrastructure. But I think can be quite certain that anybody who hasn’t run a billion dollar tech company who has a strong opinion on why they should or shouldn’t… is probably misjudging the situation. [4]

What’s my conclusion here? How do I sum up all of this, what is my takeaway?

I think the first thing is recognizing that a person’s opinion can sound very persuasive but still be fundamentally misguided. “Armchairing decisions” can teach you to be very persuasive and win you a lot of likes, but it doesn’t actually mean that you know what you’re talking about. Beware the illusion of knowledge.

[1] In the responses, it’s interesting to learn that Netflix depends on AWS, Snap depends on Google, and FB and Google have their own data centers.

[2] I’m reminded of the response to when Drew Houston first shared Dropbox with HN – the 2nd highest comment said, “you can build it yourself quite trivially“. That comment was relatively nice. What about Newsweek claiming that the Internet was a short-lived fad? Newsweek is now Internet-only. What about the media claiming that Apple was going to fail in the 80s or 90s?

[3] Convoluting this even further is the fact that a Michelin restauranteur might not be particularly good at communicating his thoughts. He’ll probably be better than the average person, because anybody in a leadership role needs to get good at communicating, but his prose might not be as compelling and impressive as a food critic who’s spent decades getting good at writing.

[4] Here’s where it gets even more convoluted. Their reasoning could be wrong, but they might get lucky and make the right prediction. And even a person who’s actually run a billion dollar tech company might get it wrong by being overly fixated on his own experience. It begins to dawn on you that when it comes to the really difficult, gritty things about life, it’s tough for anybody to be right about anything!

Also:

1. A person can misjudge something, and yet incidentally achieve their desired end-state.
 
2. If there’s a substantial payday attached to that outcome, the human environment surrounding the person will celebrate them.
 
3. This means you really can’t trust most of what you read, including any of this. You have to really work carefully from first principles and be very rigorous about falsification.
 

0638 – seek a vision greater than your imagination can hold

I was going through my todo list and I saw an item that said “a vision for my life greater than my imagination can hold”. It was a phrase that I heard Oprah say when collecting some award, and it stuck with me for two reasons.

The first reason: It reminded me of a conversation that I had with the boss many months ago. I was reflecting on the idea that “everything is vague to a degree you do not realize until you attempt to make it precise”, and how there are two sides to that. The first side is painful – everything that you’re trying to do is more difficult than you realize, more painful than you realize, involves more steps than you realize, and so on.

The other side of the coin is that you don’t quite know the potential upside of things, either. Which brings me to the second reason.

The second reason: I have a post-it on my wall somewhere saying something along the lines of – the main reason I’m not living my life with great urgency is that I’m not able to sufficiently imagine all of the good that is NOT happening because of my lack of action. For example, there are people alive on this planet – and people who aren’t even alive yet – who I would absolutely love to be friends with. But I don’t know who they are. And they don’t know who I am. And one of the best ways to change that is to do work that I really love, to do work that I really admire. If I do the work, they will be the ones who encounter it. And my life would be enriched.

So the reason I’m not doing the work that I should be doing, with the intensity that I should be doing it, is a failure of imagination on my part. And this brings me back to Oprah’s words – “a vision for my life greater than my imagination can hold”. She framed it in religious terms. She said that she was talking to God, and asking that he use her as he saw fit, to make the best possible use of her life, for all the people who could benefit from it.

I want to feel the same way. I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of a sort of self-loathing, self-frustration, self-annoyance, self- self- self-… and then it doesn’t seem like a big deal. It doesn’t really matter.

I’m thinking now of a bit from a Bill Burr standup routine – most of it was kind of blah, but the part that stuck with me was – he did a show in India, and at some point he saw a street child taking a shit between two parked cars, and then walking into the crowd. And street kids are a reality of this planet. Sex slavery and trafficking, and all sorts of hideous manners of abuse and destruction and damage and pain. Most of the time we block that stuff out and try not to think about it. I mean, every time I go to work I see all the foreign laborers in my country, men who are younger than me, men who made the decision my grandfather made – to seek a better life for themselves and for their descendants. I benefit from the decision that my grandfather made, which is why I’m here writing a blogpost on a wireless Magic keyboard rather than toiling in the rain. (It’s raining like a motherfucker right now, and I am safe in the home that I am paying for.)

And the point Bill Burr made was that so many of our problems are so trivial when you contrast it against the plight of street kids. And yet we get so self-obsessed, so self-focused, self-fixated, that our problems are the biggest and most pressing problems we can conceive of.

I’m thinking now I think of a PAP MP who said, when you help other people with their troubles, you actually become happier, because you realize that your troubles aren’t all that bad. Maybe I need more of that. I should probably volunteer more of my time. Here now I’m thinking of a blogpost – Adulthood is a Scary Horse – which said, if you don’t value your time, fine, but there’s someone else who would value your time more than you. So volunteer it. Offer it. It will lighten you.

I want to do more with my life. The core of that desire is selfish – I don’t want to live this small life that I’ve inherited, even though I know that millions – billions – would kill to swap places with me. I want to do more. I want to be more. A part of me wants recognition, wants validation. That part of things I think I can sort of meditate to deal with. Another part of me wants real significance – to do work that really matters. And of course in the grandest scheme of things nothing matters; I’m talking about within the context of a human life. I still go to bed every night thinking that my life isn’t quite what it ought to be, isn’t quite what it should be. I could be helping more people. I could be making more of a difference. I don’t think I desire obscene amounts of material wealth; but I’d like to unshackle myself from debt, and I’d like to be able to avoid the frustration of a daily commute. But I’m not entitled to that. I have to earn it. Yes, there are people out there who didn’t have to earn that freedom, but as I’ve seen for myself – there are children of billionaires who seem pretty damn miserable, at least some of the time.

I want to embody a vision that is greater than my imagination can hold. I know that for me this will involve some amount of working with the written word. Which is why I’m writing this word vomit. But that’s just a little bit of the picture. There’s a much bigger picture that, as I’ve said, I can’t even imagine. And it would make my life a marvellous adventure, rather than an ordeal.

I’m done with this vomit. I need to do at least 1 a day in order to meet my goal of finishing this project by the end of the year. It would be great if I could finish it sooner than that. On to the next task.

 

0637 – YOLO

For DC: “how can one best fulfill the saying live as if you might die tomorrow?”

I’m a very naughty fellow, so whenever anybody gives me some sort of directive I tend to quickly think of the most mischievous way to interpret it. And here it is for this one:

If I knew I were going to die tomorrow, I think the first thing I would do is probably get myself some drugs. I mean, you’re going to die, right? Some people say that using heroin is like lying to rest in the lap of God. Wouldn’t that be a nice way to go? The main thing keeping me from trying (apart from the fact that it is very, very illegal) is the knowledge that it’s very addictive / habit-forming, and that I had a tough enough time with cigarettes. [1] But an addiction is meaningless if you’re not going to wake up to see tomorrow.

Anyway – to answer the question directly. I don’t know. I think a lot of people throw the sentence around because it sounds really enlightened. It’s the sort of thing you’d say at a commencement speech at a prestigious university – Steve Jobs said something similar, and I’m sure like at least 30% of speakers say the same thing.

That said, I can think of a few instances in my life where I found myself thinking, “You know what, if I died now, I’d be alright with it.” Looking back, I realise I tend to think this when looking at good views, or when taking a long, leisurely walk. So maybe the answer is to take more walks.

There’s a lot of things that I still want to do before I die. And I know that I realistically won’t do them all. I won’t become a hotshot author AND a popular musician AND learn to code and build a killer app AND travel to all the cool countries in the world AND… you know it. I have to prioritise. And accept that most of the things just aren’t going to happen. Right now I’m thinking the thing that I really want to try is to put in as many points as I can into the “Author” skill tree. And that means writing as much as I can. A day when I write is better than a day when I don’t write. And there IS always a really satisfying feeling at the end of having written something, even if I know that as a whole what I wrote was pretty crappy. This particular vomit is maybe about 40-50% crap. But that’s okay, that happens, I just gotta keep going. Prolific is better than perfect.

That said, I also find it helpful to reflect on the people in my life who have already died. There was this kid from VS who died right after finishing his O levels, back when I was in JC. We dedicated a song to him at VS’s evening of music and drama. I knew a guy from TPJC named Daniel S, who had a heart condition. I think the fella always knew that his mortality was much more fragile than the rest of us. I didn’t know him that well, but I think he did seem more chill than most people, and he also did more random things – travel, etc. Maybe he knew that he didn’t have a lot of time, and so he didn’t care for stupid shit. Wayne Thunder died 10 freaking years ago. At the time he seemed like this wise, mature older guy. But how old was he then? Probably about 10 years older than me. So I’m now the age Wayne was when he died. I could die tomorrow. Who knows? Life is crazy like that.

Going back to the question again – is it actually possible to live like you’re going to die tomorrow, if you know you’re probably going to live at least 10, 20, 30 more years? I think there’s a part of our subconscious that knows the truth, and doesn’t really buy our bullshit when we try to bullshit ourselves. We will never be able to engage our lives with the same urgency as when we know we’re about to die. That’s just like, the physics of life.

What we CAN do, though, I think, is contemplate periodically. I think about once a month is a good tempo for this. At the end of every month, consider the fact that your ‘month-self’ has died. Whatever you had hoped to achieve, see, experience – if you fell short, you fell short, and you have to be okay with that. Have a little mental funeral for January self, and then look forward to February. I’m trying to do this, I think it’s helping. And by helping I mean – it’s helping me live a more intentional, present life.

Oh, out of sync but I just remembered a quote from reddit. Someone asked his boss how his boss was so chill all the time. And his boss said, I paraphrase, “Son, one day you’re going to receive a phone call that the most important person in your life is dying or dead. And in that moment you’re going to realise how little anything else matters.” I try to reflect on that fairly regularly.

So to recap – take long slow walks, reflect on the fallen, reflect on your own mortality.

Another mental image comes to mind – you know that scene in Toy Story 3, where all the toys are in the incinerator, panicking at their impending doom – and then they hold hands? We’re all in the incinerator, right now. Reach out to your loved ones. Hold hands.

[1] I was just thinking earlier today – I like cigarettes. I’ve stopped smoking for months on end multiple times. I think my longest stretch was about 9 months. In that time I felt well and truly free of cigarettes, and didn’t need them. After a while I didn’t even think about them. But there’s something beautiful and poignant about cigarettes, to me. Whenever I hear someone say something like, oh I used to smoke but you’re just poisoning yourself, it’s just ugly and terrible, why do you hate yourself, -insert ton of negative rhetoric here-, I get the point, but I also get suspicious. I just tune out a little whenever I hear anybody feeling too strongly about one thing or another. Like people talking about only the good or only the bad about something – say, their ex. Assuming they weren’t in some sort of abusive, manipulative situation – what does it say about their judgement? You know what I mean.

 

0636 – the human game, pt 1

Essay WIP.

I find myself thinking about an Alan Watts lecture, that you can find on YouTube titled The Human Game. And he talks about how when people are born into the world, we don’t tell them, “Hello, welcome to the world, we’re playing a bunch of games here, and here are the rules,” and so on. We take it very seriously.

I was reflecting about something related to this when I walked out of the shower yesterday afternoon, I think, and I looked out of the window and I saw all the buildings in the distance. I live in Singapore, in a HDB flat, which is a sort of box of boxes, stacks of apartments, a lot like containers stacked on a container ship. And I found myself thinking about the forces that made this happen – “this” meaning me, being in a home, in a housing estate in Singapore. What went into the building itself? What about the ecosystem that the building is a part of? What about the laws and regulations and housing policies and so on? What about the Singapore government? What about my parents, my ancestors (from India, and from earlier than that)?

It all started with the big bang, and then the sun, and the Earth,  and then at some point life (either on Earth itself, or visited from a meteor or comet or something), and then life evolved over time from single-celled organisms to birds and reptiles and mammals… and eventually we had bipedal creatures; monkeys, apes, nomadic bands of humans.

At this point the game is still pretty easy. You’re in a small-ish group of people, you spend almost all of your time looking for food, avoiding danger, and having sex. This is what our minds are optimized for, and we haven’t yet adapted fully to the much more complex games that we play today. We fought, we killed, we fucked, we scavenged, we hunted, we ate. We groomed one another, comforted one another, mourned our dead – all of this we can see in our monkey cousins today. We may have had some primitive sort of religions. This was the “Paleolithic” era – 99% of human history. People used stone tools.

At some point things got more complicated. We learned to manipulate things in our hands. We made tools, we made up language, we sang songs, we danced. We learned to make fire, we learned to control it, we learned to cook. We began to shape the environment. And here things start to get a lot more complicated. This is at the beginning of civilization, roughly about 10,000-12,000 years ago. Once we had a food surplus, we could afford to spend less time looking for food and more time doing other things. Little tribes of families would emerge. Hierarchies. Over time these would get consolidated to become hamlets, villages, towns, cities. (There were people who lived outside of cities – bands of barbarians – and we know unfortunately little about them.)

With the age of cities came all sorts of complexity – legal systems, laws, systems of government, taxes, diplomatic relations with other cities, trade, economies. We learned to write, keep records. The birth of the bureaucrat. We domesticated animals, built houses and structures, cathedrals, aqueducts, sewer systems. Schools. Marketplaces. People would start to specialize, becoming craftsmen, and consolidated into guilds. We started having fashion and social classes. Capitalism. Technology began to develop. We had philosophers and intellectuals, people figured out maths and science, physics and chemistry.  Cities were “civilizing” – life was brutish outside of them, and bureaucratic inside of them. At some point we punished people by banishing them, exiling them, casting them out. And then at some point we started having jails and prisons.

At some point empires became a thing – cities with imperial ambitions would conquer and vanquish other cities, and consolidate them into greater empires. Colonization, slavery. Persian empire, Roman empire. Interestingly we seldom use the phrase “Chinese Empire” even though there have been many Emperors. We tend to say Dynasties instead – why is that? China today is called a Republic…

Anyway so over time people developed in-groups and loyalties… what about religion? And language? Broadly I find myself thinking that there are the eastern religions and the western ones. The eastern ones are more ‘continental’ – in fact when we say ‘religion’, that word itself makes me think of a church or a mosque – which are civilization constructs, very abrahamic. Cathedrals. We don’t think so much about pagans, witches, Sun worship, nature worship, ancestor worship. Tribal circles, shamanistic wilderness religions – going into the jungle, into the desert and so on. Buddhism and Taoism and so on might be philosophies or systems of principles etc rather than religions in the common sense.

How should religions be conceived? Religion seems to be… ways of making sense of the world. I think maybe it makes sense to think of “city religions”… systems of beliefs, patterns of control, rituals, sacrifice…

(I’ve been fascinated by the idea of how the metaphor for God or the Creator changes over time – the Christian god is described as a sculptor, who sculpted Man from Earth and breathed life into his nostrils – a sort of cosmic Geppeto. So whoever came up with that story was already familiar with sculpting, pottery, etc – and presumably that must have been a rather high-status job at the time. Before that we have older religions that use more pre-agrarian metaphors – a female god giving birth to the world. The greeks do this – Gaia giving birth to Uranus (the sky), and so on. The nordic religions have Yggdrasil, the world tree.)

Let’s pause for a moment to consider how the game would’ve been different for a human born at a different point in time.

If you’re born during the Paleolithic era, you pretty much have the same game as a monkey does.

If you’re born after 12,000 BCE, you’re probably born into a more complicated game. You’re part of a tribe, city, settlement, and you have a leader. You start playing more complex status games, maybe. You have a craft to practice.

When does this next change? For most of the time you’re ‘plugged into the Matrix’ of your particular circumstances – if you’re born into the Persian Empire, you don’t really have a choice about Zoroastrianism being your religion.

Kingdoms, nation-states… I find myself now thinking “Century of the Self…” – I guess we’ll continue there, somewhere.

 

0635 – think about your contribution

I want to spend this vomit thinking about the contributions I want to make. I’m approaching the two-thirds mark (666 word vomits), so I think I need to start thinking about ‘life after the vomits’.

One thing I’ve been feeling strongly about quite recently is that I need to own a blog that’s focused on a niche that I care about, that isn’t based on my primary domain name (visakanv.com). I’ve already bought a domain, but I’m not going to talk about it directly on this blog right now until I’ve made something of it. I have some goals – I want to publish about 100 posts, do some promotion, build some relationships anonymously, get the backlinks and so on. This actually feels like some weight off my shoulders, because I can simplify what I do on my primary site.

I’m going to simplify visakanv.com – I want to make it very easy for anybody Googling for me to get a simple, clear picture of who I am and what I do, and get links to my absolute best work. I also have a memoir project that I want to do.

I’m going to take everything Singapore related and move it to visakanv.com/sg/. Over there I’m going to split things according to topical iss ues. National Service. The education system and the pressure-cooker atmosphere around it. The issue of censorship, especially how mindlessly it’s done. Addressing things like how sterile and stodgy the country supposedly is. I find myself thinking about what the news has been like in the past decade that I’ve been observing it, and how there are all these recurring patterns. I find myself thinking about what I saw on slatestarcodex – a joke about having a schedule for arguments – in January we’ll argue about this, in February we’ll argue about that, and so on. I find myself thinking… maybe that might be something worth doing? Yes, actually. I think I’ll that. It’s already halfway through January… but let’s just go for it anyway.

What else? I also have many book reviews that I want to get through, and TV show reviews, movie reviews, product reviews. So how do I prioritize? Which goes first? Should I put one of the projects (reviews vs SG) on the backburner, or should I try to do both? And I also have the project I talked about earlier on. And I have this word vomit project as well. Typing all this out, it becomes pretty clear that I have a little too many things to do all at once – I also have to work on my job – which is not just a time-pass for me; it’s important to me that I get my work done well and continue to develop myself in my career. That’s a lot of things to do. How am I going to do all of it? What’s my top priority? Right now, my top priority is to publish this word vomit. After that, my next top priority is work – I’m getting paid for it, and my professional reputation is tied up in it, but I think most importantly I feel gratitude to and affection for my team, and I want to contribute in that way so that I can do more for that.

Oh yeah, pause – and I have my marketing blog too, which is an overlap between what I do at work and what I want to talk about in public about marketing, advertising and so on. Let’s list these out again for clarity’s sake–

  • visakanv.com – the nexus from which everything else comes out of; a list of my best and favorite essays
  • visakanv.com/blog/ – I’m going to have content about storytelling, about writing, about book reviews, product reviews and so on.
  • visakanv.com/sg/ – to write things that contribute to discourse in Singapore, encouraging people to think more critically, to try and transcend above us-vs-them dynamics and think about what’s best for Singapore in the long term
  • visakanv.com/marketing/ – to share my experience, insights and learnings as a SaaS content marketer over the past 4 years
  • visakanv.com/1000/ – the writing project that I’m working on here. Lots of the content here will be repurposed for other sites
  • ???.com [to be revealed later] – a blog about productivity, GTD, procrastination, fitness, health

That’s a lot of stuff. It seems like a lot of stuff. I will have to prioritize. I think my biggest priority actually is still going to be the /1000/ project – I want to finish this and get it out of my system. I guess I’m going to write on the wall… okay. I just took a few minutes to write down all of the above on postits that go on my whiteboard in the study so that I can look at them every day. [1]

[1] Which got me thinking now – what else should go on my whiteboard? What should come down from it? I have a few reminders to self that I could turn into blogposts – I think it’s important to make sure that the entire whiteboard is constantly updated. Everything should be completely wiped off every so often, so that there’s an opportunity to start over from scratch. Otherwise I fall into the trap of having things just become a little too familiar, and I don’t really pay attention to them. This is not good. This is not what I want. I want things to get addressed, taken care of. I want them to be resolved. I want things to go from my Whiteboard (which is where things are played around with in an experimental, generative sort of stage) to my Things (mac app – where I come up with physical next-action tasks to follow up on). And things should then either get done or Next’d or Someday’d, and I should just keep kicking butt at whatever’s on my list. And every week or so I should step back and go, is this helping me get to where I want to go? Do I need to revise where I want to go? I’m going to be a beast this year. I’m going to contribute like mad. Let’s do this.

 

0634 – be sensitive, smart and strong

I wrote a tweetstorm a while ago (two years ago, wow) saying that “a man should be sensitive (to inputs from reality), smart (at making sense of reality) and strong (to effect reality)”. I rediscovered it at some point and I found myself rubbing my chin at it. It seems like quite a full picture, and I’m wondering how I measure up to that statement.

I like to think that I’m smart (at making sense of reality), but I’m not very sensitive and I’m not very strong. Those are my constraints, my bottlenecks. [1] They limit the impact of my smarts. Of the two, which is the bigger constraint?

My impulse is to say “it must be strength, I want to be stronger, I don’t feel strong enough.” But if I’m really paying careful attention, I think sensitivity is the greater constraint. [2]

I believe this to be true. I can think of more instances in which I got myself into unpleasant circumstances because of a lack of sensitivity, rather than because of a lack of strength. There are some situations in which having more strength would’ve allowed me to better handle said circumstances, but practically all of them could be averted with more sensitivity.

So – how do I become more sensitive to inputs from reality? How do I get better at knowing what is real and what’s not, what’s correct and what’s not? How do I get less quick at jumping to conclusions? I’m thinking now about @buster’s ‘thinking is hard‘ posts. I guess I just need to do all of the things that are listed in there. That’s all, no big deal 😛

Where do I start? How do I implement this? What I’ve learned personally is that you can’t do everything all at once, the way to do it is piecemeal. The way to do it is in a simplified, small, MVP sort of way. Little things that technically count in the grand scheme of things.

Where do I start, goddamnit? I think I’m making some progress just by writing a word vomit every day (or almost every day) – I’ve been doing this since the beginning of the year now. I’ve also been doing almost-daily self-reviews on Evernote, which I should then use to do weekly roundups and then monthly and quarterly roundups. It’s important to me that I get this done, because this would be the first time I’ve ever really properly done it in a consistent way.

I need to see more clearly that being more sensitive to myself and the people around me means that I’m going to become smarter and stronger in a practical sense. Which are all things that I want to be.

“Start with Why” – what’s my Why? I’m thinking now about my “boy and his puppies” short story that I once wrote. It’s silly, I’m not sure if I even have a copy lying around any more, but it drove me to tears when I wrote it while sitting at Starbucks in the central business district on a Saturday (so it was empty). I wrote it after reading a bit of Ray Bradbury’s Zen In The Art Of Writing, and something about something he said in there compelled me to just start writing something without overthinking it – and I ended up with the boy-and-puppies story. The puppies were a metaphor for my own mind – ego and id, conscious and subconscious, Me vs I, however you want to frame it.

The wolrd has disappointed me a lot in the past year and the past few years. But do I even have the right to say that? The world is simply being itself. I can only focus on myself. Have I disappointed myself? A little bit in some ways, but I have also surprised and challenged and inspired myself in other ways. I still have a lot to give, and I intend to give it. I’m thinking now about how inspired and excited I was when Obama was first elected President. The world seemed to have been just brimming with possibility and hope, that we were at the dawn of a new age, a more perfect union, and everything was going to be just dandy.

And I was of course going to be one of the benefactors of that. How nice it is, to be able to do nothing and yet enjoy all the benefits of other people’s labor – to be able to get new iPhones and Macbooks and wireless bluetooth earphones. What do I have to give in return for all of this? Just money, it seems – which I get for participating in the capitalist system that I was born into and had effectively nothing to do with.

At this point I find myself thinking – okay, so how can I give back? How can I create something? How can I do something that is useful and good? Writing is one thing that I do, but it seems woefully inadequate, at least at this juncture. But I also feel like I’m kind of ‘working blind” – I’m in a very narrow context, I’m not seeing all of the good that my work could be doing. I do believe that I have useful things to say. I just need to clean all of it up. This needs to happen in the next couple of months, and then I can publish, clean up, tidy up, freshen up, recalibrate, reorient, start over.

I just gotta be sensitive to everything.

_____

[1] Without sensitivity, you’re wasting your smarts processing contaminated data. Without strength, your smarts get stuck in elaborate loops and cycles – right now I find myself thinking about that guy who wrote a massive, sprawling book to justify why he was going to commit suicide as a sort of public spectacle.

[2] At this point I wanted to make the case that there are ‘strength cults’ and ‘smarts cults’ but no ‘sensitivity cults’, when I realized that there are – mindfulness / meditation junkies. It’s a strange-ish thing to contemplate, because can there be such a thing as too much meditation?

 

0633 – slow down when responding to people (ugh fields)

There’s something a little strange about me that is a sort of bug that I want to correct. It’s kind of like “an island in a lake in an island” situation.

I generally procrastinate quite a bit, on a lot of things.

At the same time, I have a habit of getting all panicky and rushed when responding to people. This is one of my ugh fields – one of the areas in which I behave in a way that’s very impulsive, very ‘jerky’.

When we’re asking the question “how do I improve my life”, there are many different possible answers, many of which contradict one another, some of which are conditional on things that are uncertain, unclear and so on.

But I’m thinking that confronting ugh fields is one of the best ways to do it. It’s improving one’s life by cleaning up the toxic spaces, in a sense. It doesn’t presume to know what’s the right thing to do, how to allocate resources in a globally optimally way or anything like that. It’s just about removing things that trip you up.

So – one ugh field I’m happy to have conquered was involving food. I used to be terrified of handling food, probably because of some childhood hangups around mealtime and food preparation. But after I became an adult, this was a sort of really outdated, silly hangup that I had that didn’t make sense any more. So I decided that I was going to learn to cook. I’ve since learned to make pasta with minced meat, pan-fried stakes and chicken breasts and so on. I can do a pretty decent job of feeding myself with ingredients bought at a supermarket. But more importantly, I now have a sort of context in which I can continue to get better at cooking. I’m curious about buying better tools (pans, cutlery).

I’ve done the same thing with my fear of squats. I used to be strangely afraid of doing squats – mainly, I think because I was too tall to use squat racks as they are typically configured in local gyms, and I was ashamed to squat with just the bar, and I was worried that the form would be all wrong… all of those things. I got around it by literally buying my own squat rack so that I can squat at home.

So now that I’ve done it with both fitness and with food, it’s time to progress on to other things. One of it is to do with schedules and daily tracking. Accountability to self. I grew up being frustrated and terrified of timetables, bills, todo lists and tasks and so on, and so very often I just ignore those things as much as possible. I know it’s weird, but that’s just the nature of ugh fields and I have to accept that. To get past it I need to make them a highly-visible feature of my environment, and I need to make them a part of my daily routine. I think it’s especially important to carve out a substantial part of the weekend for myself every week to go through this. The next level would be to set aside time every single DAY to go through my stuff – I’m not sure why I haven’t been able to do that effectively yet, but maybe that’s just the nature of ugh fields. You need to be very strategic about it. It’s like a game of Heroes or Civilization or Starcraft – you gotta marshall your resources carefully. You have to concentrate your efforts, focus on the most important thing and get it knocked down. Secure a beachhead, and then move on bit by bit. You can’t just scattershot at everything.

The other thing is to practice meditation. Meditation often seems dull, or stupid, or a waste of time – just sitting there doing nothing. But it’s really about zooming out and getting a more global sense of perspective. It’s about getting removed from whatever situation is troubling you, at least inside your mind, and then you can see better, decide better. But meditation hasn’t quite caught on for me yet.

And now we get to what I started with, which is talking about how I deal with other people. My ugh field with other people – when people start talking to me about something, I very easily look at it through some sort of foreboding or intimidating lens. I get nervous for every single meeting that I go to, even 1-1s with my boss who I really enjoy, even though we’ve been doing this for almost 4 years. And this is a sort of global paranoia and anxiety that I have. I was going to say “low level”, but I have no real idea about what the actual level is. I want to address and resolve this anxiety and really make it my bitch. I think that’s doable, it’s just going to take a lot of smart, intelligent effort – because we’re talking about rewiring a brain that’s been wired a certain way for 20 years. So it’s got to be a sort of keyhole surgery, a very hard and deliberate approach..

I particularly want to stop freezing up when talking to people. I want to be warm and open and slow. I want to be able to take my time. I’m reminded now of my wife telling me how she saw me almost panicking when anxiously trying to get money to pay a pizza guy once. It’s like I was worried that he was going to get angry and scold me. Which is silly, because why would a pizza delivery guy scold me in any scenario, let alone one where I’m bigger and older than him? So there’s some sort of deep rooted shit there, and I need to meditate on that every day in order to change my perspective, in order to approach it differently.

That’s what I want for myself in 2017. I want to eliminate all the ugh fields that I can conceive of right now. Cook a great meal, have people over and relax in their presence, and go to meetings well-prepared without any sort of anxiety whatsoever. That’s what I want for now.

 

0632 – most people want quiet, not justice for others

The world is large, and complicated, and there are all sorts of people in it.

This seems to be surprisingly hard for some people to grasp.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing this is because I saw something on Imgur about how it’s become socially acceptable to be racist towards white people.

Racism is complicated, man.

It’s tempting to say that everybody’s got their own problems, everybody faces some sort of discrimination. But is that really true? And if it were true, is it really a useful statement? What are we trying to achieve, here, what are we trying to do? A lot of the time I think a lot of people just want peace and quiet. If someone’s complaining, they want the complaints to stop. (Whoa, I just surprised myself a little bit there. I’m not sure why this particular perspective never quite occurred to me in this specific context.)

Not many people really want justice for all. What they really want is quiet. They might SAY they want peace, but if peace turns out to require a lengthy, drawn-out process of engagement and behavioral change, they’d much rather just insist on quiet.
 
This helps to explain something that’s always confused me: when someone says something like “why must you bring up race”, “why must you be so divisive”.
 
Every person who’s experienced racism or sexism or some form of prejudice would really much rather never have to bring it up. Bringing it up is uncomfortable, tedious and has unknowable social costs. We’d all rather make puns and dad jokes that everyone can enjoy (or cringe at). But we only bring it up because _it is a problem_.
 
Many people never quite relate to this. Here’s an insultingly silly analogy that hopefully gives a slight idea: it’s like interrupting an entire lecture to announce that you need to go and pee. Most people in that situation would much rather just hold it in. Until they can’t any more.
 
A parent/child analogy is probably problematic, but it keeps coming to me again and again: Getting frustrated with people speaking up about racism is like getting frustrated with a child for crying. You assume that she’s crying because she wants to annoy you, wants to spoil your day, wants to make a lot noise, likes the attention. It’s a lot harder to believe that she might actually be crying because she’s in pain, she’s hurt, she needs help.
 
It’s been quite well established by now that people have a tendency to literally seek out comforting beliefs. (This explains victim-blaming to some degree. Many people want to believe the comforting lie that the world is fair, that bad things don’t happen to good people, so if something bad happened to you, you must’ve done something to deserve it!)

I rewatched a video earlier by Cameron Russell, the swimwear model who gave a TED talk about beauty and body image. She was quick to say that she benefited from winning a genetic lottery, and from a legacy of beauty standards and so on. She gets a free pass on things because of how she looks. And yet despite being so close to what is considered to be physical perfection, she feels insecure about her body. And she says the same is true for any group of models, despite having the thinnest thighs and so on. So people with all the advantages can still be unhappy. Perhaps deeply, profoundly unhappy, in the depths of dark-night-of-the-soul despair.

I find myself thinking now about an article about the son of a wealthy Chinese family – I can’t remember the specifics, but I think he was saying something like, life is miserable when you’re rich. Nobody sympathizes with you, everybody assumes the worst of you, you can’t trust your friends because everybody wants your money. Your parents have very high expectations of you to run the family business, to get married to someone that is good for the family (rather than necessarily good for you), and so on.

Poorer folk might say, well if you don’t like all that stuff why don’t you just walk away? Why don’t you just quit? But is that ever really a fair thing to ask of somebody? You don’t like how your countrymen treat you, leave the country! Well it’s your country too, why should you have to leave? Exit decisions make tonnes of sense in nomadic situations, but it’s really drastic and costly within tightly-meshed civilization. Maybe things will continue to change in the coming years.

Time to start wrapping up. What am I trying to say here? Most people just want peace and quiet and aren’t quite aware of just how messy, complicated and difficult the world is, and how difficult other people’s lives can be. We are all intimately aware of all the things that are difficult and painful about our own lives, but it’s not so obvious that other people are suffering too, and probably worse. I mean, if you have internet access, you probably also have clean water, food and so on and you’re doing okay.

But then and again, are the comforts of civilization actually good for us? I’m thinking now about Sebastian Junger’s points about how people who experience great social trauma collectively end up rallying together and improving their relationships with one another, and suicide rates drop, murder rates drop, people just seem better and more whole and happier. And there are all those things about how people in villages have happier relationships, a better attitude towards life in general, they’re healthier in many ways… I guess the thing is that we shouldn’t be too quick to start getting all certain about whose life is better and whose life is worse. Some things might be objectively terrible – malaria is obviously a bad thing that ought to go away. Anyway – am I even very seriously interested in figuring that stuff out? That’s the thing I think I’m beginning to get at. I think eventually you shed your BS moral posturing and come closer to your personal truth about what you really care about. I’m sure I have some moral goodness in me somewhere, to the degree that I am a social animal and all social animals care about the broader group. And I am trying to do a bunch of signalling to the “Greater Human Tribe”, because I don’t quite feel like I belong in any Minor Human Tribe. Something to think about. That’s more interesting to me than “how to save the world from malaria”. So in that regard, I’m a selfish bastard, obviously. :-p