Reconsidering Darwinian evolution

I liked reading Giving Up Darwin: A fond farewell to a brilliant and beautiful theory, by David Gelertner, because it’s the most thought-provoking article I’ve read in a long time. As I read it, I really wondered if he was going to come out as a believer in Intelligent Design, because he says that theory makes some important points about Darwinian evolution, but that’s not where he goes. He doesn’t reveal this until the end, where he pokes holes in ID, as well. Really what he says is we need a new theory. Some aspects of Darwin’s theory of evolution still hold, but some need reconsideration, because accumulating evidence falsifies them.

I’d think to a scientist, this is an exciting prospect, because it means there’s something significant to discover about the morphogenesis of the species we see in the fossil record.

Why the computer revolution hasn’t happened yet

I consider this a follow-up to another post I wrote called Reviving programming as literacy. I wrote the following answer in 2020 to a question on Quora, asking What happened in the past 80 years that produced a much cruder world than the rich one that science, engineering, math, tinkering, and systems-thinking experts in the ARPA-IPTO/PARC community predicted? I got my first upvote from Alan Kay for it, which I take as a “seal of approval” that it must’ve been a pretty good account of what’s happened, or that it at least has a good insight or two. I thought I’d share it here.

I think the short answer is the world proceeded with its own momentum, despite what ARPA/PARC offered. Nothing “happened,” which is to say that nothing in society was fundamentally changed by it. Many would ask how one could say that, since the claim would be made that the computer, and some of what was invented at PARC, was “transformative” to our society, but what this is really talking about is optimization of existing processes and goals, not changing fundamental assumptions about what’s possible, given what computing represents, as a promising opportunity to explore ideas about system processes. It’s true that optimization opens up possibilities that would be difficult to achieve otherwise, but my point is that what ARPA/PARC anticipated was that computing would help us to think as no humans have thought before, not just do as no humans have done before. These are not by any means the same transformations. The former was what ARPA/PARC was after, and my understanding is this is what many of the researchers experienced. That experience, though, didn’t get much outside of “the lab,” and while this experience has expanded into the sciences, becoming a fundamentally important tool for scientists to do their work, it still is “in the lab.”

What Alan Kay, one of the ARPA/PARC researchers, realized was that there was more work to be done to lay the groundwork for it. He, Seymour Papert, Jerome Bruner, and others, tried to bootstrap some processes in society, which Kay thought would do that. Their efforts failed, though. They either didn’t last long, or the intent was “lost in translation,” lasted for many years, doing something that ended up being unproductive, and ended in failure later.

The buzzsaw they ran into was the expectations and understandings of parents and educators re. what education was about. A complaint I’ve heard from Kay is that educators tend to not have a good grasp of what math and science are, even if they teach those subjects. So, with the approach that was being used by Kay and others, it was impossible to get the fundamental point across in a way that would scale.

I remember listening to a small presentation Kay gave 11 years ago, where he talked about a study on education reform that was done in the UK years earlier. It was found that in order for any order-of-magnitude improvement in the curriculum to take hold successfully in the study groups, a change in the curriculum must also involve the parents, as well as the children and teachers, because parents fundamentally want to be able to help their kids with their homework. If parents can’t understand what the curriculum is going after, why the change is being made, understand the material being given to their kids, and buy into the benefits of it, they resist it intensely, and the reform effort fails. So, any improvement in education really requires educating the community in and around schools. Just treating the school system as the authority, and the teachers as transmitters of knowledge to children, without involving the parents, did not work.

A natural tendency among parents and educators is to transmit the culture in which they were raised to the children, thus providing continuity. This includes what and how they were taught in school. This is not to say that any change from that is good, but there is resistance to anything but that. To “live in the future,” and help students get there, requires acquiring some mental tools to realize that you are in a context, and that other contexts, some of them more powerful, are possible.

A warning about our current state

I have been paying a lot of attention to a growing ideology in our country for the past couple years, almost to the exclusion of my CS study. It’s not something I enjoy, but I cannot avoid a train that’s coming down the track at me.

It’s an ideology that masquerades as a truth teller, revealing the “true nature” of our country; revealing it as an oppressor of anyone who lacks “whiteness,” as a clear and present threat to such people. It’s been setting up an alienating war focus against the society we all inhabit. Looking at history, it’s a trend that should really worry us. The cultural markers described here have led to societal suicide in countries around the world, when they are allowed to metastasize. There’s growing awareness of it in my country, but I’m not sure if it’s enough yet.

One perspective on it, in its immediate form, is described in a segment on Tucker Carlson Tonight, from January 19, 2021.

James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, and Helen Pluckrose have done a lot to analyze the history of this ideology, which uses postmodernism as a basis. It’s commonly called by various names, intersectionality, critical race theory, etc. It has gained power in our society, and these three researchers have tried to expose the shortcomings of this belief system, which had its genesis inside our academic institutions.

Lindsay founded New Discourses to talk about his findings, and to help educate about them.

The first video I’ve put here from New Discourses gives a heads-up about what will be a driving force in government policy, and in many quarters, corporate policy, and why it’s happening. It dovetails with what Carlson described above.

Another video by Lindsay, below, gives background on all this, and why a knowledge of history should cause alarm about the rise of this trend: It’s the kind of thing that’s led to oppression of out groups, and mass death. In this case, the out group that is being set up for recriminations is anyone who displays “whiteness,” or “white supremacy,” and the interesting thing is it’s not really about race at all. It’s about an outlook on life. What’s being targeted is other belief systems than the one I’m talking about here.

In this ideology, the very idea of discrimination has been so twisted out of shape that it doesn’t mean what it used to, which is judging someone solely based on things they can’t change (as if you could tell all about them just from looking at them). That was the sin that our society used to know. Now, “whiteness” or “white supremacy” just means something like doing well in school, or on the job. Though, white people in particular are suspect by default, in this ideology. However, it doesn’t even matter if your skin color is white. If you’re not, and you display qualities like diligence, a work ethic, etc., you’re charged with “internalizing whiteness.” This actually has a long history. I can remember twenty years ago hearing about certain blacks being characterized as “acting white,” just because they did well in school, for example. It was used as a smear then, too.

As described in the videos above, there are people in power now who want to weaponize this ideology. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen this for years, with people losing work over this stuff.

I’m not posting this to be a voice of doom. I’m putting this here to spread the message, so that people of good will can do their part to stop this early, and peacefully. Perhaps there is still time.

This ideology is not going to solve discrimination, though it markets itself as the solution. It is only going to enhance racial divides; the dehumanizing of certain people, which if allowed to reach its logical conclusion, will lead to the worst horror.

The problem with trying to address problems like this is it may not be evident to you. It may seem like a small problem now, if you’ve even heard of it, or seen someone negatively affected by it. All too often, if I hear people talk about it, they say they choose to keep quiet. They’re hoping to avoid the negative consequences of stepping out of line, like running away from a grizzly bear, thinking it will eat the slower ones first. A problem with that strategy is this ideology is not static. It changes who and what it targets, always looking to take someone else down.

What should be clear by now is that this is not going to just blow over. The more we stay out of its way, the more it grows. The time to confront it is now, however you think best to do it, if it is in your midst.

I want to be clear. This is not a call for people to separate from the rest of society and “find friends” in racial identity groups of their own. I think that would be one of the worst things. Though, that could very well happen, as a result of this ideology putting people of certain races down at every turn. What I’m calling for is for people to assert America’s civic virtues of tolerance, and equal rights. Both are anathema to this ideology, which sees them through a cynical eye, saying it’s all a cover for oppression, using disparity stats to make the point. Equal outcomes are what’s demanded by this ideology. Its promoters believe that lowering standards will accomplish the desired goal, since lower standards are easier for more people to meet. They don’t say that directly, but they have various ways of accomplishing this goal, calling it by various names, such as “diversity,” “equity,” “positive discrimination,” “anti-racism,” etc. Any deviation from this strategy is seen as discriminatory, and therefor wrong. The problem is this lowering of standards for the sake of equal outcomes squashes all other priorities that make an advanced society like ours function.

Edit 2/1/2021: Bari Weiss wrote a great article with some more suggestions for reversing this trend, in 10 ways to fight back against woke culture.

One could chalk up what I’m describing as the malaise of a self-loathing society, but every time I’ve looked at it, what’s really at root is laziness; the unwillingness to do the hard work of improving ourselves, and the society around us. This results in us “pressing the ‘easy’ button” on hard problems, which results in lots of misperceptions about each other, and our world. It makes for a worse future.

Here’s a description of that from Benjamin Boyce.

Another “culprit,” if you will, is a fundamental belief that all people are owed all good things that society has to offer, because we all are equal, and we should all have a say. This is conflating things that don’t go together well, but democratic societies throughout history have shown a proclivity to believe this. Such societies need institutions that work against this tendency, so that they can continue to function. Right now, the only one that really does is private enterprise.

This next video is about Lindsay’s article Psychopathy and the Origins of Totalitarianism. The important take-away from this is to understand the distinction between reality and pseudo-reality, and the social dynamics that enforce pseudo-realities, and enable them to spread far and wide. Being conscious of this enables us to be aware of when a pseudo-reality is being put into effect, and opens opportunities to stop it. This relates intimately to Lindsay’s first video here.

Edit 3/22/2021: Re, Lindsay’s point that Very Smart People are the useful idiots, I thought I’d illustrate. 🙂 The following is the battle of wits from the movie, “The Princess Bride.”

Related articles:

The result of capitalizing on peak envy

Our political pathology and its consequences

Trying to arrive at clarity on the state of higher education

Explaining the landscape of the internet

After having some conversations about what’s transpired with social media, I’ve been prompted to write this, because it seems like there’s confusion about who has access to what, and where.

There’s much gnashing of teeth (and celebrating) over social media banning people, and technology companies banning access to certain apps. I have less worry about that, because I’ve been on the internet since 1989. I have some understanding of how these things work. Though, perhaps I should worry about the negative social effects of these bans, as many keep warning. What I hope to do with this post is educate people about what’s really going on, from a technical perspective, and to reassure people who want to continue getting the content they want, regardless of what the lords and ladies of social media and technology think and do.

First of all, social media and (specific) technology companies are not the internet.

This has been obvious to me, since I knew the internet way before these companies had anything to do with it. So, when I started hearing complaints about bans on social media and app stores, it didn’t seem like a big deal to me. I could just find the people I followed, and services I connected to through social media, through the web, if I wanted. If they are big enough personalities, they often have their own websites.

However, after talking to some tech-connected, but less tech-savvy people, I’ve come to the uncomfortable conclusion that a lot of people don’t know this. They think that people are being banned off the internet, so that nobody can hear them. These bans are disruptive, in the sense that it takes work to move what people have shared to another platform. The move is disruptive to our social networks (the people with whom we feel connected emotionally), and takes time for people to catch on to where others went. It’s a setback, but in reality, it’s not a death blow.

Each social media platform is in fact a closed, proprietary network that uses the internet as the way for people to reach them. To some extent, these social media networks allow pathways out of their network to the internet, or to other social networks. What the most popular social media platforms have been doing is controlling those entry and exit points, and also exercising control over the relative visibility of what remains on their platform. The complaints really boil down to the fact that these services don’t operate by any discernable rules. Their decisions and punishments are arbitrary and capricious.

The app. stores also exercise some control, if you use apps. from them, because, as we’ve seen, those stores will say they don’t want to carry certain ones. Some of the apps. that have “gotten into trouble” access social media, and exclusively allow access to those platforms.

My sense has been that when people think they’re being denied access to someone online, or some service, because social media has suspended or banned them, it’s because the complainers are using phone/tablet apps., which access specific services on the internet. It seems like people have preferred these apps. to using a web browser (maybe because they think that’s old hat). They feel like the apps. make accessing these services easier. The downside (if you consider it a downside) is if that’s all you use, that strengthens the control those services exercise over what you can see, because those apps. don’t allow you to see anything outside of their services. (You have to switch apps. to switch to another service.)

If you want pretty much free sharing with potentially large numbers of others, you should consider using services like Parler, MeWe, and if you’re into video, something like BitChute. My understanding is they’re committed to free expression, free speech, with minimal restrictions. Facebook, Twitter, and to some extent, YouTube, are not what they used to be. They’re increasingly curated, using minders to watch what is posted, so that nobody “gets any ideas” (like they’d know what those are).

To get out of the limitations I’ve described, I’d really recommend going somewhat “old school”; using a web browser, using a search engine to find the content you want (probably something like duckduckgo, rather than Google, since Google uses many of the same tactics as Facebook, Twitter, etc.). I’d also recommend using e-mail to stay in contact with people, at least as a backup, rather than relying so much on social media groups, and private/direct messaging. A problem with this, though, is a lot of people may have e-mail addresses, but don’t use them. So, staying in touch with individuals or groups via. e-mail can be a challenge.

I’m writing this primarily for an American audience. Though, what I’m saying applies to some other parts of the world, as well.

The internet is still a free place (while it lasts). If you want free access to information and people, spend some time on the web, as well as on social media. Get used to both. Get outside the closed networks.

Update: News arrived shortly after I posted this that Parler may go offline for a while, if not permanently. Amazon’s cloud service pulled the plug on them today. Unfortunately, Parler put all its eggs in one basket. This is something I was worried about with cloud services many years ago, when they were starting to become popular. Not that I expected service would be pulled over politics, but rather for any reason.

Edit 2/1/2021: I thought this interview with Jeff Brown of Brownstone Research would be interesting to readers. Part of what I think is good here is that he gets into some reasons that this censorship is happening. It ties into something I’ve suspected: There’s a large cultural component to this. These tech companies have in a sense been overrun with people with a monolithic ideology, both inside and outside them. From what he describes, these people are pushing their weight around, to force these companies into taking these actions.

What he describes is reminiscent of what happened with Brendan Eich at Mozilla several years ago, except it’s happening on a much larger scale. In that case, Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, was forced out by the illegal disclosure (doxxing) of a campaign contribution he made, something like 6 years earlier, and the development community around Mozilla, which threatened retributive actions against the company if he didn’t leave. That was it, as far as I know. (Though, that was bad enough.) In this case, people by the tens of thousands are being kicked out of these platforms for similar reasons. And, of course, as we know, Parler was taken down, seemingly because President Trump announced he was moving over to that platform, after being forcefully taken off Twitter.

Brown talked about part of what could be done about this culture of internet censorship, anticipating what might be down the road: Censorship of websites at the level of the internet service provider (commonly called ISP–your connection to the internet), and/or the Domain Name Service (commonly called DNS). Though, I don’t see that on the immediate horizon, partly because the courts would frown on it, in many cases, since many ISPs are already regulated as utilities, common carriers. They can’t just go around blocking content without exposing themselves to lawsuits; not yet, anyway.

For those not familiar with DNS, it acts as a “phone directory” for the internet. When you use a web browser, for example, and you give it the name of a website–any URL, your browser contacts the domain name service at your internet service provider. DNS returns what’s called the Internet Protocol address (commonly referred to as an “IP address”) for that URL, to your computer or device. This address is analogous to a phone number for a person or business, which your browser then uses to connect with, and talk to that service.

Brown talked about a solution that uses blockchain technology, called Handshake, which acts as a peer-to-peer replacement for DNS, and acts akin to a Virtual Private Network (commonly called a VPN). This a) makes your URL lookups independent of your ISP, and b) hides your internet connections from it, thus making ISP/DNS censorship more difficult to pull off.

The “bad news,” Brown said, is that it takes technical know-how to set Handshake up, right now. It hasn’t been fashioned into an easy-to-use package. He also said you use a special browser with it, which I guess makes sense, because your existing browser is set up only to use a domain name service that’s set up by your ISP.

This is not to say that if you went this route you’d need to use a different ISP. He’s saying you’d keep your existing internet connection, but a lot of your internet activity would be carried out independently of your ISP’s domain name service, and your connections to internet sites would be kept hidden. As an added benefit, this setup would also increase your online privacy.

It was encouraging to hear about this, since I’ve been anticipating for a few years that our presence online would move to a peer-to-peer model, rather than client-server, which we’ve been using for ages. More to the point, what I’ve been anticipating is that we’d get away from social media services altogether, by going to a peer-to-peer model for making social connections. This would allow us to share content independently of needing accounts on all sorts of platforms, which are controlled by people with agendas that might be different from what we want, individually.

We really should have that, because that’s more like real life! Think about it: When you meet people, or go to a community festival, or patronize a business, or do any of the innumerable things that people in a society do, do you have to sign up with a company to do each one of those activities? Why should we be doing that online? We should be able to make our own personal connections, form our own groups, make payments, without needing intermediaries. Sure, to do some things, you’d need to sign up with a service to go to conferences, make appointments, go to exclusive events, as a few examples, but so much of our digital presence should model what we’re able to do without it.

Perspective on disease and public policy

It has become apparent to me that just as Darwin’s theory of natural selection was once controversial in society, particularly as it applied to human origins, modern science continues to upset people. We also have this confusing thing going on where our society claims to own scientific knowledge, when science disagrees with what it’s doing, and so society fails to reach its stated goals, and we blame non-factors for the failure. We are acting quite superstitious. What doesn’t help is that we have people with the title of scientist who are espousing knowledge not based in science, but which is accepted as “official science” that everyone is expected to believe and follow. It’s not unusual, though. Thomas Sowell wrote about it in his book, “Intellectuals and Society,” saying that some politicians reverse the process of discovery. Rather than following the evidence, they hire experts who will massage the evidence to fit the politicians’ desired agenda, and basically rubber stamp it (without appearing publicly to do so). That doesn’t always happen, but it happens enough that it negatively affects our society. I’d like to share Dr. Morrissey’s contrasting account about his knowledge and experience on disease, and what is actually being enforced in government policy in various places around the world. It’s a tragic story, and I think it deserves to be highlighted, because it’s really a choice between knowledge and ignorance, and the joy and suffering that each brings.

The second topic that is not being addressed in our public discussions, because it seems verboten, is risk. What I see frequently is that too many in advanced societies are not mature enough to discuss it. It seems many are not experienced in taking risks, and what that means. They may only be experienced in the notion of tragedy, and any notion of taking a risk is disgusting to them. Though, in fact, they take risks all the time. I’ve seen an increasing trend since the 1990s of people who say that all risk must be eliminated. They are saying the equivalent that they demand the defeat of gravity. It can’t be done. What are we willing to sacrifice on the altar of this impossibility?

Alan Kay on goals in education

I wanted to repost Alan Kay’s answer from Quora to the question What needs to be done in order to improve Anki to reach the promise of the Dynabook’s “teacher for every learner”?, because I think it sums up so well his thinking on education, broadly, which dovetails with some thoughts I’ve had on it.

He responded to a question about an online learning site, called Anki, that’s designed to improve memorization techniques, asking if there was a way to improve it that would bring it in line with goals of Kay’s original conception of the Dynabook. For people who are not familiar with the Dynabook concept, I’ll point you to a post I wrote, part of which was on Xerox PARC’s research on networked personal computing, A history lesson on government R&D, Part 3 (If you go there, scroll down to the section on “Personal computing”).

There’s definitely a way to think of learning as ultimately being able to remember — and every culture has found a lot of things that need to be remembered, are able to get children to eventually remember them, and have some of their behaviors be in accordance with their memories.

But if we look at history, we find large changes in context of both what kinds of things to learn, and what it means to learn them. For example, the invention of writing brought not just a huge extension of oral knowledge, but an even more critical change of context: getting literate is a qualitative change, not just a quantitative one. A large goal of “learning to read and write” is to cross that qualitative threshold.

A change so large that it is hard to think of as an extension of the prevailing thinking patterns in the era of its birth, was the invention of “modern science” less than 500 years ago. It started with the return of accurate map making of all kinds and was catalyzed by the gradual realization that much of “the world was not as it seems” and by being able to make generalizations that could generate some of the maps. One of the most important larger perspectives on this has its 400th anniversary this year: Francis Bacon’s “A new organization for knowledge” (Novum Organum Scientia), in which he points out that we humans have “bad brain/minds” stemming from a number of sources, including our genetics, cultures, languages, and poor teaching. He proposed a “new science” that would be a set of approaches, methods and tools, that would act as heuristics to try to get around the biases and self generated noise from our “bad brains”.

His proposed “new science” is what today we call “science”. Before this, “science” meant “a gathering of knowledge” and “to gather it”. After this, it meant to move from knowledge to context and method and tools — and to new behaviors. This has led to not just a lot of new knowledge, but very different knowledge: qualitatively different knowledge in qualitatively different contexts.

A trap here is that the use of ordinary language for discussing these three contexts — oral, literate, scientific — is that things can be said and heard whether or not the discussants also have these contexts (this was one of Bacon’s four main “bad brain” traits).

E.g. people who can read but have not taken on the scientific world-view can think they understand what science is, and can learn and memorize many sentences “about” science, without actually touching what they actually mean.

Just as interesting, is the difficulty — for those who have gotten literate — of touching what is really going on — especially the feelings — in oral traditional societies. Music and poetry are bridges, but important parts of the innocence and id-ness are hard to get to. “Ecstatic music” can sometimes dominate one’s literate thought — especially when performing it.

To make an analogy here: in our society, there are courses in “music appreciation” that mostly use “sentences” about “sounds”, “relationships, “composers”, etc., in which most testing can be (and is) done via checking “the memory” of these “sentences”.

By contrast in “real deal music”, real music teachers treat their students as “growing musicians” and play with them as a large part of the guidance to help them “get larger”, to “make Technique be the servant of Art, not the master”, etc. It’s primarily an emotive art form …

A nice quote — which has many web pages — is:

“Talking about Music is like Dancing about Architecture”

(attributed to many people from Stravinsky to Frank Zappa). If you *do* music, you can barely talk about it just a little. The further away from inhabiting music, the less the words can map. (And: note that the quote brilliantly achieves a meta way to do a bit of what it says is difficult …)

The Dynabook idea — “a personal computer for children of all ages” — was primarily about aiding “growth in contexts”* and my initial ideas about it were partly about asking questions such as:

“If we make an analogy to writing/reading/printing-press, what are the qualitatively new kinds of thinking that a personal computer could help to grow?”

I got started along these lines via Seymour Papert’s ideas regarding children, mathematics and computing (my mind was blown forever). I added in ideas from McLuhan, Bruner, Montessori, etc., and … Bacon … to start thinking about how a personal computer for children could help them take on the large world-view of science as “real science learning” (not “science appreciation).

(Via Papert), the dynamic math part of quite a bit of science can be nicely handled by inventing special programming languages for children. But science is not math — math is a way to map ideas about phenomena — so an additional and important part of learning science requires actually touching the world around us in ways that are more elemental than “sentences” — even the “consistent sentences” of maths.

In an ideal world, this would be aided by adults and older children. In the world we live in, most children never get this kind of help from older children, parents, or teachers (this is crazy, but humanity is basically “crazy”).

Another way to look at this is that — as far as science goes — it almost doesn’t matter what part of the world you are born into and grow up in: the chances of getting to touch the real thing are low everywhere.

Several of Montessori’s many deep ideas were key for me.

One is that children learn their world-view not in class but by living in that world. She said the problem was that the calendar said 20th century but their homes were 10th century. So she decided to have her school *be* the 20th century, to embody it in all the ways she could think of in the environment itself.

Another deep idea is that what is actually important is for children to do their learning by actively thinking and doing — and with verve and deep interests. She cared much more about children concentrating like crazy on something that interested them than about what that thing was. She invented “toys” that were “interesting” and let the children choose those that appealed to them (she wanted them to learn what deep concentration without interruptions was like, and that teachers were there to help and not hinder).

In other words, she wanted to help as many children as possible become much more autodidactic.

(Note that this has much in common with getting to be a deep reader or musician — it doesn’t much matter in the beginning what the titles are, what matters is learning how to stay with something difficult because you want to learn it — if the environment has been well seeded, then all will work out well. More directed choices can and will be done later. And note this is even the case with learning to speak!)

After doing many systems and interfaces over quite a few years (~25) we finally got a system that was like the Montessori toys part of her school (Etoys), and then, in a Montessori/Bruner type of school (the Open Magnet School in LA), we got to see what could be done with children, the right kinds of teachers, and a great environment to play in and with.

What never got done, was to handle the needs of children who don’t have the needed kind of peers, teachers or parents around to help them. This help is not just to answer questions but to provide a kind of “community of motivation” and “culture” that is what human beings need to be human. (The by-chance forms of this tend to be very much reverted to oral society practices because of our genetics — and much of this will be anti-modern, and even anti-civilization. This is a very difficult set of designs to pull off, especially ca. where we are now.)

To answer your question: the spirit of Anki is not close to what the Dynabook was all about. It could possibly be a technical aid for some kinds of patterning, but it seems to miss what “contexts” are all about.

Here’s another way to think of some of this stuff, and in a “crazier” fashion.

There have been a number of excellent books over the years about the idea that the “invention of prose via writing killed off ‘the gods’ ”. These are worth finding and pondering.*

The two main problems are (a) we need “the gods”; and (b) “the gods” can be very good or bad for us (“they” don’t care).

It’s worth pondering that from the perspective of science, a metaphor is a lie, but from the perspective of “the gods”, a metaphor is true.

The dilemma of our species — and ourselves — is that we have both of these processes in our brain/minds, we need them both, and we need to learn how to allow both to work**.

Learning something really deeply and fluently goes way beyond (and *before*) conscious thought — important parts of the learning are taken to where “the gods” still lurk.

And, just as you don’t make up reasons for breathing (which “the gods” also handle for you), the reasons for doing these deep things move from “reasoning” to “seasoning” — for life itself.

“Artists are people who can’t not do their Art”.

It doesn’t have to do with talent or opinion … This is a critical perspective for thinking about we humans, and what one of the facets of “identity” could mean … Consider the relationship between the quote above and children …

When you are fluent in music, much of the real-time action is being done “by ‘the gods’ “, whether playing, improvising, composing etc. You are not the same person you were when you were just getting started. Music can get pedantic and over-analyzed, but this can be banished by experiencing some of it that is so overwhelming that it can’t really be analyzed in the midst of the experience (this is not just certain “classical” pieces, but some of “pop” music can really get there as well). This produces the “oceanic feeling” that Romain Rolland asked Freud about.

“Goosebumps are a kind of ‘basic ground’ for ‘humanity’ ”

It’s interesting and important that “the gods” can be found at the grounding of very new contexts such as modern science, and that the two can be made to go together.***

To use this weirder way to look at things:

“Education has to lift us from our genetic prisons, while keeping ‘the gods’ alive and reachable”.

* For example: Eric Havelock’s “Preface To Plato”, and especially Julian Jaynes’ “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” (my vote for the most thought provoking book that is perhaps a bit off).

** See Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking: Fast and Slow”, and ponder his “System 1”

*** See Hadamard’s “The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field”, and Koestler’s “Act of Creation”.

What are examples of “good” and “better” in regards to Alan Kay’s “Sweet Spot”?

I’m re-posting a couple answers, mine and Alan Kay’s, to the question What are examples of “good” and “better” in regards to Alan Kay’s “Sweet Spot”?, since I think it’s relevant to readers of this blog.

I’m repeating the use of a video I posted here a while back (Alan Kay: Rethinking CS education), but I’ve cued it up to the relevant spot.

A line of dialogue from “Star Trek IV” ran through my head as I read this question, and reflected on the fact that I was asked to answer it: Spock said he had to make a guess. Kirk was astonished. Spock expresses doubts about their prospects with him guessing, and McCoy tells him, “He [Kirk] means that he feels safer with your guesses than most other people’s facts,” to which Spock replies, “Ah. Then, I will make the best guess I can.”

I’ve seen Alan Kay talk about this a few times. You can as well, watching his recent presentations on internet video. I mean, you can watch him talk about it right here (it’s worth watching the rest of it).

The “sweet spot” you’re referring to is what Kay calls, “The MacCready sweet spot,” after Paul MacCready, who created human-powered flight, and flew across the English Channel in the Gossamer Albatross.

In Kay’s conception, “Better” seems to be a colloquialism for what most people consider “progress,” which he uses as an illustration for how people miss the boat on qualitative improvement. They’re delighted in seeing upticks in whatever they’re pursuing, but the reality is they’re not really improving anything. They’re meandering through the same ditch—up and down, up and down… Sometimes they go through herculean reform efforts to try to reach an improvement goal, but since it’s just using, or optimizing old ideas, it doesn’t reach the “sweet spot.” This ends up, at some point, in a failure, or a “deflation” of the goal, discrediting research efforts in the same area, because returns on investment were expected in the below-threshold effort, which directed capital and energy toward unproductive efforts for long periods of time. People get tired of the subject area, as a result. That’s why he calls “Better” a disaster. It dispirits the community toward looking at the area into which so much money and energy was directed.

It’s not a matter of quantity of effort. It’s a matter of where you’re directing your efforts, consciously coming to realize what you’re doing, and how you’re thinking, and criticizing it with the aim of finding new ideas that when tested are qualitative improvements.

An example for “better” that he used was reading scores in our school system. And to illustrate how futile the efforts have been, he talked about NAEP reading scores for four-year college graduates (and he said NAEP isn’t even a very good literacy standard), using the fact that those scores have been declining for decades. To give an idea of the deterioration, he said in 1992, 42% of four-year college graduates were proficient to the standard, or better. In 2003, 31% of graduates were proficient or better. These scores have continued to decline since.

What people miss is the ditch (or as Kay calls it, the “erosion gully”) represents part of the problem that needs to be overcome. There can be instances where the gully is so big, so cavernous, that it can be difficult to see anything outside of it. It can be difficult to notice that that’s what you’re in. It can seem like your whole world. It can seem like reality. People can be strongly focused in it, and committed to it without examination, and so find it impossible to see outside of it (he speaks of this tendency to intensely focus on a goal in one direction as “the monkey trap”). He talks about “problem finding,” and my sense of this is, “finding out that you’re in a gully,” what its boundaries and contours are, and how it’s directing your thinking, and consciously trying to step outside of it for a while, to try to find some new ideas.

What people tend to miss is that the real “silver” that is in “them thar hills” is in the thresholds (the truly new, not just “new and improved” in the common everyday sense of the term, but “new” in terms of what’s been discovered (or rather, not been discovered) by researchers). This represents the “sweet spot,” a truly new idea, something heretofore undiscovered, unthought.

I don’t remember Kay explaining his metaphor for “Perfect” much. He almost gets to explaining it in the above video, but then diverts onto another topic.

This may be totally off, but what’s coming to mind is that he’s used “Perfect” as a reference point to talk about the risk-aversion of funders of research, that they want researchers to define the end results they expect before they even start looking. This seems to match, because one can imagine that if what was expected is found, one would regard that as “perfect.”

However, it’s more like looking for the car keys under a streetlight. You may not find the keys, but you can say, “We think we’ll find some mortar in the sidewalk, and since we can see that the style of construction is from the 1990s, we think we will find these components in it, since we know that’s what was typically used.”

To understand this point, I think having an understanding of what “perfection” really means is important. Due to our human limitations and frailties, perfection requires a criteria. It requires a narrowing of scope to something that’s pretty small, in relative terms. I’ll also add that it’s a very brittle path to take, because any error, any deviation destroys it. The goal is so narrow and strict that it takes all the fun out of pursuing it. (Maybe the “fun” is in the end-goal, not the “journey,” when it comes to this.)

As you’ll notice, if you look at the video, the “sweet spot” is between “better” and “perfect.” This is to say that the “sweet spot” is an order of magnitude better than “better,” but it’s not “perfection,” because when you’re venturing into the unknown, trying to find “the problem you’re inside of,” or trying to explore, once you’ve found a problem, is that you “wander,” with some practices for finding new and interesting problems and goals. You start by going in a particular direction, but you may end up getting off that, and going into things that are totally different for a while, and then returning to what you you did earlier. Along the way, you’ll most likely find that the path you thought you were going to take to find the “new” is not that great a goal, and instead another goal presents itself that shows a truly new way to solve the problem. And the reason you found it was you were “looking and learning” along the way, eliminating weaker ideas that weren’t going to solve your problem in a felicitous way.

In short, you weren’t looking for what you ultimately found. This doesn’t fit with perfection, but then perfection isn’t the goal. You didn’t even know what you found was there when you started out. That’s the whole point of research. You don’t research to find what you’re looking for! You research to venture beyond what you know, to find what you didn’t know earlier.

Here was Alan Kay’s answer:

Mark Miller’s answer nicely captures much of what I was trying to communicate in the aphorism “Better and Perfect are the enemies of ‘What is Actually Needed’”.

The one thing I might add is that one of several useful ways to think about the “MacCready” sweet spot — what is actually needed — is as the lowest thing that is *qualitatively beyond* “better”.

As Paul said when he started thinking about man-powered flight, which the best people in the world had failed at for more than 50 years despite several large prizes: “The problem is that we don’t understand the problem”.

This got him to drastically change goals (I tell this story in a number of talks which have found their way to YouTube).

He essentially told his crew to forget about man-powered flight but to create an air-frame that could withstand “10 crashes a day” — by being fixable with tape and wire.

With this, in a few weeks they were able to make more test flights (and crashes) than everyone else in history over many decades, and got a much stronger sense of the problem. Once understood, this turned out to be relatively easy to solve, and in about 6 months from the time Paul started thinking about doing man-powerful flight, they won the first of the prizes, and shortly thereafter, the big prize for a man-powered flight across the English Channel.

When asked by British journalists why this was possible compared to everyone else, he said “They were trying to make an airplane, we were trying to do man-powered flight”.

Another way to understand this idea is to notice that the learning process frequently really requires going away from what was thought to be the goal. This is hard for us primates! But if it is really new, it can’t be characterized in the existing context, and a new context has to be created to hold the new idea.

I’ve told this story many times to try to help people understand why Parc and the ARPA-IPTO before it were so effective compared to most other efforts at hardware and software design. The key was that ARPA was very happy to fund “problem finding” — not just the “problem solving” that wrongly-named “rational organizations” wanted. By the time Parc started, ARPA had done 8 years of “finding the good problems” and also creating the researchers who would go to Parc and complete the finding process with deep solutions.

Almost all the projects we chose at Parc were at that special sweet spot where they were just barely doable, but also above the qualitative threshold, so that just barely doing them opened whole new worlds.

I should say something about “Perfect”. Picasso said “A work of art is never finished, just abandoned”, and this captures some of the snares of “Perfect”. Human beings tend to be a lot more pragmatic than idealistic, so “Better” is a bigger problem for most. But there are those — I will include myself here — who hear the siren’s song of perfection.

For these, Picasso’s “abandoning” is good to learn. One way to do it on large projects is to associate with colleagues whose strongest urges are to “complete”, and to just let them do this as they see fit, as one gets entranced by beautiful new unreachables.

— Mark Miller,

What are some techniques for problem-finding?

I’m re-posting an answer I wrote on Quora re.What are some techniques for problem finding?, since I thought it would be relevant to readers of my blog re. a process of research in computer science.

I’m reusing a video that I referred to a while back (in Alan Kay: Rethinking CS education), though I’ve cued it up to the relevant part.

I don’t have enough experience with this to give a really good answer, but I think it’s embedded in what Alan Kay illustrated at the end of this presentation.

I also wrote some about it in a “snapshot” of what I was doing, in a blog post, On improving a computing model. In my case, I have the goal of redesigning an operating system, using a modeling mindset for exploring the design.

Basically, you start out with an exploratory goal, looking at a process. It could be anything. As Kay said in the above presentation (earlier than where I have it cued up), you could look at how information is presented in a gathering of people. Maybe the way it’s done is not as good as it could be. Next, try to find a way to model the dynamics of the process. Keep the limitations of your own cognition in mind as you do this. If the model is getting too complex, look for developed expression and semantics that will intrinsically deal with some of the complexity for you, and try using it to see if it helps make the model easier to understand. You may have to “back up” from your goal several times to arrive at this, but the idea is to keep the goal in mind.

Once you have it modeled, you can start trying out some changes, see how the model reacts, make some predictions from it, and then do some trials to see how the actual process reacts. The differences will suggest that you need to change your model, and then the problem becomes understanding how to do that to make it more accurate.

Going off of what Kay said, at some point in the process, you may realize how to “fly,” (find a much more efficient way to get to the goal) by using a completely different strategy structure than what you started out using. I can only assume at this point that this is discovered in the process of doing the above.

The “backing up” I’ve described above is what I’ve identified as “problem finding,” but I’m still early in the process.

— Mark Miller

The result of capitalizing on peak envy

I consider this a worthy follow-up to my post, Our political pathology and its consequences, because it’s looking at a related, pernicious phenomenon that is spreading through organizations of all stripes. The most important thing to get about this is it’s a deliberate strategy of organizational takeover. As these guys discussed, it sounds unbelievable to the uninitiated, but it’s true. If you pay enough attention to what is happening to organizations that are being hit with this, you can see it.

This is from Aug. 9, 2019:

What James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian described is a takeover of administrative positions, using the cudgel of some kind of “justice.” What ensues is the attraction of followers that believe in this particular ideology, and then the “middle” of the organization, which it needs to survive, leaves, because they find the environment uninteresting, and threatening. Then comes either organizational death, or it becomes a client of some wealthy funder that keeps it on life support, and pays the salaries of the people who feed on the carcass, and continue spreading this ideology elsewhere.

The people who promote this have found a formula that works to achieve their aims, and they do it over and over again. What seems to feed it is a) envy of the target organization, and b) the target’s lack of faith in itself. All it needs is some shoving, and it collapses from within. As these people discuss in the above video, this dynamic creates social isolation, though the dream of those who are pursuing this strategy is to create a unified vision in all of the world’s inhabitants. They are utopians. If no one disagrees about anything, the thinking is conflict will end, which will have manifold social benefits. Their strategy is to destroy everything that is not in line with this ideology of “equity,” so it will be the only choice to fulfill people’s needs and desires.

As one can surmise, individual thought and action is sacrificed. Reason, logic, truth, beauty, and all that goes with them, are also sacrificed; no philosophy, no religion, no art, no mathematics, no science, no engineering–with one carve-out: The only moral imperative, the only belief allowed is in malignant indiscriminate neutrality. Applying reason or logic, in any form, in any forum, is to be deemed a hate crime. What’s often added to this is a carve-out for a single identity group, that the privileged identity is the only thing that can’t be criticized. This is an incarnation of identity politics, typically found in organizations colonized by the ideology of intersectionality.

This is being phased in over time. The idea is to eventually dissolve all faith in any system of belief, save this notion of “equity.”

What is being pursued is not achievable. No utopian dream is, though as the panel in the video describes, valuable institutions for our society are being destroyed in the pursuit.

I have sometimes wondered if the reason they are being destroyed is precisely because they are already weak. If this form of destruction did not come for them, then some other would. All of it is avoidable. All I think it really requires is a clarity of understanding what one believes, and why one believes it, and being stubborn enough to say no to what opposes it, and possibly “die on that hill.” Part of what this means is being able to categorize things accurately, and insisting on arguing within strong contexts, which means understanding and valuing those contexts for what they achieve. What I see, though, is this knowledge is very isolated. At best, it’s only in the single digits, percentage-wise, in our population.

The following is from Tim Pool, from August 28, 2019, talking about the cultish nature of this:

Edit 6/22/2020: I decided to add in this video, a conversation with Karlyn Borysenko and Kari Smith, because these are two women who were part of this ideology for many years, and found their way out of it. I thought it was a good talk. If you don’t have time for this, there’s a good (much shorter) excerpt of the same conversation at A former social justice warrior explains why social justice is a toxic, evil ideology. It’s from June 10, 2020.

The following is a conversation between Benjamin Boyce and Simon Chen from 2019. Chen and his parents experienced the Cultural Revolution in China. He sees a very similar pattern of social behavior emerging here.

The following video is from Ben Boyce from May 9, 2018.

The part at the beginning is not what concerns me, but rather the former professor’s message in response to his firing over it. Though it is delivered in the context of a university’s mission, what this professor speaks to is the heart of what is being grappled with here: Civilizational suicide. It has happened before, particularly in the first half of the 20th century, in certain countries in Europe. It can happen here. The only thing that’s missing from this picture is a viable military invader, or paramilitary force, to complete the deed, and effect a military takeover, leading either to dictatorship, or a puppet government. Though, perhaps I’m missing the potential military battlefield.

Our political pathology and its consequences

This is a post I’ve been sitting on for a couple years. The main reason being that the source I use, a YouTuber named Aaron Clarey, makes a prognosis for our society that I wasn’t too sure about, and I don’t like very much. I think we have enough evidence, though, that it’s accurate for the foreseeable future. So, I’m going ahead with it.

This is something I’d been trying to put my finger on for a long time. I feel as though the quality of our political dialogue has fallen off a cliff in the last 14 or so years. What I mean is it’s largely vacuous, cynical, and spiteful, and I can remember a time when it wasn’t like this. I’ve feared that this decline in our dialogue will lead to our society repeating the horrors that have occurred in authoritarian regimes, inside the United States, not necessarily in racial terms (though that could happen), but the same horrors nonetheless. I’ve seen some of the symptoms of this pathology, but I didn’t put the pieces together. The following videos, put together by Aaron Clarey in 2010, seem to paint a coherent picture of this. They cut a bit below the surface, to get at the inner lives of the people who influence our politics, and set government and corporate policies. It is just a hypothesis, but it matches with the symptoms I’ve seen. It is not a clinical study of these influencers. I nevertheless find it compelling.

The topic is on “crusaderism.” Clarey’s introduction was a bit disingenuous, because he said he was going to talk about the problem, “and what can be done about it.” As I get to below, he doesn’t really talk about what can be done about it. I mean, he ticks off some remedies that I strongly agree with, but you can tell his attitude is, “You can do this, but it’s likely going to be for naught. So, don’t bother.” There is reason to believe he was right about that.

He mostly covered the political Left, but he said a similar dynamic has been happening on the Right. His criticism of the Right seemed to match what I’ve seen with people who say they are conservatives, but who can’t justify their positions, or articulate anything about policy.

The short of Clarey’s hypothesis was that there are people who come from wealthy families, and are not willing to struggle, to get their hands dirty, to make a contribution to society. They go to college, get “easy A” degrees, and because they come to realize they can’t add anything of worth to society with what they’ve learned, through some sort of productive occupation, they feel the need to validate their ego. So they enter politics. They look for a cause. It doesn’t matter what it is, and they latch onto it like a dog with a bone. They advocate on behalf of the cause, but it’s really advocacy for themselves. They don’t care about the cause in the sense of trying to help society ameliorate a social or technical problem. The cause is a proxy for their life’s meaning. It’s not for something truly moral, where they’d care if their efforts resulted in some societal improvement. They don’t believe any of what they’re saying, in furtherance of their “cause.” The cause is meaningless. They advocate for it because being active in something that has an effect on society gives their life some meaning. They find purpose in having power over other people, and they use a guise of helpfulness as a shield against the pushback they get. Clarey said they find validation for their ego by being a destroyer of what other people have worked to build, because after all, it’s easier to destroy than create, and it’s affecting something beyond their home life. As I’ll get to later, I think this particular bit of analysis might skim over an underlying cause for “the destructive principle” that Clarey talked about.

His thesis is that this pathology has come to dominate our politics. One reason for this is the activity is well-funded. In some cases, their “causes” serve as paid jobs for them, funded by non-profits, and organizations like the United Nations. In the other cases, they’re “trust fund babies,” and create a “bonfire of their vanity,” using their own money, promoting their “cause.”

Before I continue, I feel it necessary to put a couple disclaimers here:

First, please excuse the typographical errors in Aaron’s presentation.

Second, I don’t agree with a couple of his assertions:

In Part 6, he talked about stats in useful vs. useless college degrees, and claimed that most undergraduates are getting useless degrees. He justified this with a chart, showing degrees in some categories, like arts and humanities vs. engineering. In the stats I’ve looked at, the useful degrees students have been getting outnumber the useless ones (though this may depend on what he and I consider “useful”), though I was looking at these stats several years after he made this. So, they may have changed.

In Part 7, he made a statement about “raising taxes to pay for increased spending.” I would strongly encourage people to look into the analysis that economist Art Laffer did on tax revenue as a percentage of GDP. The results are surprising, and worth looking at.

I looked up the Bob Geldof quote Clarey used in the third video, “We must do something, even if it doesn’t work,” because I was sure readers would find it so nonsensical that they would want to know if he really said it. I found the quote, attributed to Geldof, in a 2014 article, “How Charity Can be Selfish: Father Sirico on bad almsgiving.” from, though the wording is a bit different,

We need to do something, even if it doesn’t work or help.

It’s from a collection of short documentary films called “PovertyCure.”

The subject matter that Sirico and Jerry Bowyer talked about in the article, when discussing Geldof, sounds like it would relate to William Easterly’s book, “The Tyranny of Experts,” where Easterly describes the dysfunctional nature of our foreign aid efforts.

A note about Al Gore, since Clarey talked about him. Gore also “tried” with respect to the internet. He sponsored a bill in the late ’80s that ultimately led to the broadband version of the internet that we all eventually came to enjoy. A forward-looking move, though admittedly, he did not work on building the broadband internet. He did not manage the process of building it out, or of actually installing it. Other people at the NSF, various government agencies, and at universities around the country did that, several years before the internet was privatized.

In the segment below, Clarey made some connections between the obtaining of useless degrees and non-productive careers people enter, and the government policies that are enacted, which dampen economic activity. This results in declining wealth in society. Nevertheless, people try to live beyond their means, because they’re not willing to accept a decline in their standard of living. This results in increasing private and public debt. He also explained that this is why we see the rent-seeking that political interests have instituted in government policy. It’s a way of not producing value for society, but getting an income, anyway. This is why if a problem appears to be solved, these people find a new cause to champion. For they must have something to occupy themselves, and give their existence purpose. “The problem” can never really be solved. Otherwise, what would they do with their lives?

It could be easy to dismiss this part of his presentation, but I think if one looks at financial indicators on a societal level, his analysis stands up. There are some critical fiscal problems that are not being addressed at all. As this continues, there will be negative consequences to our economy. That is a sure thing. It’s just a matter of time.

Just a correction to what Clarey said at about 6:15 in the above video. He talked about average annual hours worked per capita, by country, and showed that in the U.S. we’d gone from about 2,000 down to “8,000.” What he meant was “about 1,800,” though by the chart he shows, I’d take it to between 1,700 and 1,800.

We are living a lie. I agree with Clarey that this lie cannot continue, but he said that even as our economic system collapses in the future, it’s unlikely that our society will acknowledge the lie. He talked about an economic model that I think is worth listening to and pondering, not in the sense of advocating for it, but understanding what’s really happening, called “the carrion economy.” Like scavengers, rather than producing wealth, we increasingly feed on the “carcass,” until there’s nothing left. This is not what we should want, but it’s what we as a society have been creating.

This next part got to some hard things to face: What do we do about this? He presented some things you can do, which he called, “The path of most resistance,” because if you do any of these things, you’re going to be swimming against the prevailing tide in our society. However, you can do these things knowing that you are at least promoting the well-being of the next generation. Whether the next generation ends up being better off than the previous one is another matter. These things cannot work to improve our standard of living in isolation.

The other hard part is facing the fact that the odds are against these efforts improving much of anything. So, he closed with what he recommended, which is “do nothing.” Don’t waste your time on a futile effort. Go Galt. He published a book called, “Enjoy The Decline,” where he talked about what’s coming, and what you can do to maximize your enjoyment of life while society grinds itself into the dirt. Of course, this sounds like a terribly immoral course of action. I am resistant to accepting it myself, but he considered it the most likely, and practical.

The reason being that the irony of history is that as a society grows wealthier, it creates this effect he described, in which the elite of society lose their virtue, because the social and economic conditions don’t demand that they maintain it in order for them to gain what they want. They don’t need to work to produce something of value, and so their motivations turn toward the useless, ignorant, and counter-productive. As a consequence of their lazy thought, they become resentful, and attack the very society that has given them all they have. I’ve heard this from multiple sources who are knowledgeable about history. In fact, one historian, Thomas West, reviewed the political theory the Founders had for the United States in his book, “The Political Theory of the American Founding.” He said that many of them pondered in their private writings, “What if our republic succeeds? What do we do then?”, because history had shown that too much wealth in a society leads to its downfall. This was one of their great unanswered questions. What they hoped for was that our society’s cultural institutions would keep us on the right track morally, maintaining our society’s essential character, but it was a vague hope. They really didn’t know what to do about it, since history provided no guidance, only repeated cycles of societal ascension and decline.

Many years ago, I sat through a presentation given by Mike Rosen, who presented a lot of evidence from government statistics, and he concluded the same thing as Clarey did: Our entitlement programs are unsustainable, and they are going to collapse, but not before they collapse our economy, because instead of making them sustainable, which would require some measures the majority of us are not going to like, we’re going to squeeze these programs, until the money runs out, but not before draconian economic measures are exhausted to maintain them. He gave the presentation not to give solutions that might give us hope, because in his view, we passed by our chances to do anything about this. His message instead was, “Prepare for the worst.” Rosen has a background in corporate finance, and I give his analysis credence. Indeed, the die is cast.

The decline is going to take time. We won’t likely see obvious signs of societal decay for a while, perhaps for many years, but as I’ve watched the political decisions our society has made in light of structural problems that I’ve seen unaddressed for decades, I’ve seen us be incapable of having some critical discussions, and making critical decisions, which must be had, and made, if we are to maintain and advance our society into the distant future.

We are a reactionary society. We only deal with crises when they arise, not before. That makes us freak out in the midst of crises, but it’s what we prefer. Arguing for addressing looming crises ahead of time doesn’t go anywhere, because too many people don’t want to focus on it. It doesn’t serve our short-term interests, and it’s too easily dismissed as alarmism promoted by demagogues who are seeking attention, and/or power. So, as I said above, there’s a strong argument for just preparing for the crap to hit the fan, because you can pretty well predict that’s what’s going to happen, no matter what you try to do to avert it.

Getting to a point I made at the beginning about Clarey’s analysis, Stephen Hicks gave a speech covering what Nietzsche saw as an envy dynamic that he predicted would arise in the future (from the perspective of someone in the 19th century). It gets to something that I don’t think Clarey explained that well: Why do our elite attack things that work well in our society, which promote the very things they say they support? Clarey just said that they attack big, obvious targets. Hicks said that there’s a deeper motivation: Envy, due to their sense of weakness. It fits with what Clarey said: They come to realize they can’t do anything that our society values. Yet, they have the expectation of power and prestige, to be someone whom people look up to. The fact that they don’t have anything society values makes them feel worthless. It gnaws at them, and hatred grows within them, because they feel entitled to be given a certain value in society. Nietzsche said, though, that they can’t live with themselves just hating their circumstances, and the society in which they live. They form their own morality that justifies their weakness. Secondly, because of their hatred of the society that does not value them, they attack its strengths, attempting to discredit its worth among as many as they can. As Clarey would say, they don’t care about society. It’s all about them, and their validation.

A YouTuber named Benjamin Boyce I think best summarized the mentality that Aaron Clarey talked about in his video, “Revenge of the Talentless.” He contrasted this with what developing a talent means. I like how he presented it, because it’s basic, true, and approachable; something for which those without a talent can aspire.

A couple of guys on YouTube, calling themselves A Dormant Dynasty, produced the video below, based on an article on “biological Leninism” by a different author, simply named “spandrell”. I’m including it here, because it adds another dimension to the discussion, of the political relationship between the elites that Clarey talked about, and the dependents who support them. A common trait that the elite class described here shares psychologically with the dependent class, in this analysis, is that the dependent class also feels that society does not value them. This elite approaches the dependent, and promises to give them their worth, so long as they grant them their loyalty. What transpires is that the dependent class feels that they only gain their value in society from this association. Without it, they feel worthless and powerless. This creates a powerful coalition structure that is united against the people who know that they have value to society; who seek to increase their standard of living by trading that value for a share of society’s wealth.

One thing I take exception to is these guys don’t always pick the best graphics for presenting their ideas. They have some cleverness, which keeps it entertaining, but at times I think they go over the line into cynicism that detracts from what they’re trying to get across. In this video, they use a graphic that uses the term “unfit” to describe the dependent class. I don’t agree with this terminology, as it makes them seem irredeemable. I’d rather think of them as “unpurposed.”

What I kind of like about the above video is that these guys take a long view with this analysis, that societies go through cycles of growth and decline (on one axis), and cycle through systems of social organization (on another axis), from the feudal, to the totalitarian, to the more liberal (not necessarily in that order).

This is a theory of the cycles of history, given by the same duo, which I think is worth contemplating, given what we are seeing. It’s a grim prognosis for the foreseeable future. I’m not fatalistic about this, but it may be something to prepare for, in whatever way you see fit.

This video covers some background before getting to that. I’ve skipped over most of it, to get to the point. If you want to see more of it, move the slider back to the beginning.

Related posts:

Psychic elephants and evolutionary psychology

Coming to grips with a frustrating truth

—Mark Miller,