Daughters of the Dragon by William Andrews

This novel is about an adopted Korean who has been raised in America and goes to Korea to find her genetic mother only to encounter her own grandmother who relays her story of suffering from World War II to the present including the tragic experience as a comfort woman.  I just naturally assumed this was written by an adopted Korean raised in America who fictionalized her experience in Korea, but low and behold, at the end of the book are a few photos including one of the author who is this old white dude.  Holy shit. 

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong about say a gay, black woman writing a novel about a straight Canadian dude or in this case an old white dude writing a novel about a young Korean woman and also the story of a Korean woman who has suffered as a comfort woman, but there is a certain specificity about this story.  It’s about comfort women.  It’s historical.  It should be written by a woman at least and a Korean woman who was actually there at best.  This is like a Korean man writing a fictionalized account of Queen Elizabeth.  He’s free to do this, and props to him for the attempt, but you just don’t sit there going, gee, now this guy has some insights. 

 Before I saw that photo of the author, there were many issues I already had with this book.  I will now give away the ending, because frankly, I don’t want you to read this book.  This is like the Annie story where she finds out that her real father is a billionaire.  Um, yeah.  In this case, the Korean narrator discovers that she is actually of royal lineage.  Um, yeah.  I’m also starting to notice that a lot of modern novels read like they were written to be movies.  It’s an awful trend that is happening, because a lot of novels are being turned into movies.  I imagine a lot of authors have that in the back of their minds while writing a novel, but some, more so than others.  This is unnecessary fantasy melodrama, and the big question is, why the fuck do you need ridiculous fantasy melodrama when you are covering a rather sensitive, horrific cultural and historical experience?  I mean seriously, this is like a Cambodian dude writing a fictionalized account of a Jewish woman who suffers a concentration camp, and then miraculously, her granddaughter discovers one of the tablets of the ten commandments and realizes she is directly descended from Moses.  I mean, fucking really??? 

 While I am sure the author did his research and provided a lot of true accounts interspersed with the fiction, you just can’t trust what that is anymore.  The money that is charged for everything back in 1950’s Korea doesn’t sound right, and details like the narrator flying back from Korea to America at 38,000 feet is just plain wrong, because when you fly east to west, you fly at an odd not even altitude.  So what else did this nut butter get wrong?  In hindsight, a middle-aged dude writing about the experience of rape as a teenage girl is just wrong, completely wrong.  I now know why I paid $1.99 for this book on Amazon’s bargain basement $3.99 and less monthly deal section. 

 I looked up the author on Amazon, and he actually adopted a Korean kid.  I can understand his interest in Korea, especially Korean history and culture on behalf of his kid, but even if you adopted a Jewish kid, I’m still not comfortable with you writing a fictionalized account of a Jewish girl who suffers a concentration camp, especially when you add such this Little Orphan Annie fantasy crap.  Maybe he wrote it for his child, some sort of homage to the kid’s heritage and culture, and that’s fine as a personal gift, but I don’t think you should share that with the world.  There are many instances of authors taking liberties with using a different race, gender, age, or even plain attitude with their fictional narrators, and I have no problem with this, except when it comes to rather sensitive and serious historical and cultural experiences, especially negative ones that have caused extreme suffering and pain.  It’s almost as if the suffering and pain is being Disneyfied into a fantasy movie to be exploited and profited from.  Perhaps the author agreed to sell this for $1.99 as a public service, but any which way, it just doesn’t make sense, and it is actually offensive to turn someone’s extreme cultural pain and suffering into a bizarre, fantasy novel.  As it turns out, the Jewish kid I adopted, goes to Germany, discovers that she’s a descendant of the Ann Frank family!  Yeah, no, sounds awful.  I have to quit visiting Jeff Bozo’s book bargain basement.

 On the positive side, it was well written enough to keep me engaged enough to read the whole 360 pages in one sitting.  Kept me occupied for a day but ultimately, I felt robbed at the end.  I can just imagine the author saying, yeah, now you know how it feels to be Korean.  Um, yeah.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Daughters-Dragon-William-Andrews-ebook/dp/B01DF0TM2S/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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An Introduction to Daoist Philosophies by Steve Coutinho

 

Skip the intro and first chapter if you’re easily bored and then skim the whole book.  Chapter 1 doesn’t go into Daoist philosophy but goes on a rather laborious tangent about how many different ways the Dao is misinterpreted and is a unique concept, a process, more than simple description of a particular religion or philosophy.  Therein lies the Daoist way, it’s not what you think, because your thinking was molded by Western influences, language, and ideology that likes to simplify things, categorize things, and overgeneralize.  This is a particular hard read, not just the complexity of the concepts, but simply the inability on the part of the author to convey things simply.  I know the author is a powerful thinking person, and I started to feel what he was getting at, but if only Bill Bryson would write a book about the Dao.  This entire book can be written so much better.  The Dao isn’t all that elusive, ethereal, and untouchable as one might think or is led to believe.  What is important to understand is that it defies the way we think about things, because we’ve been raised in an overly rationalist, empiricist, Euclidian, closed, categorizing, and over-generalizing mode.  It’s probably mind blowing to realize that there are other ways of thinking and perceiving the natural world, and the mode of thinking and perceiving is as much important as the subject that is being thought about and perceived.  It all sounds weird, wishy-washy, and hippie-dippie, simply because it’s foreign to us, and like all things foreign, we like to put it in a pigeonhole and forget about it.  Or we like to over-simplify and Americanize it like we do with foreign cuisine.  We make it seem more familiar by deep-frying the philosophy in western style thought.  That’s a No 37, Deep-Fried Oriental Philosophy in Western Style Thought. 

 One of the best points was distinguishing the four “modes of discourse and practice through which we attempt to understand the world.  These fall into four broadly conceived kinds: the rational, the empirical, the pragmatic, and the hermeneutic.”  Rational is about eliminating impossible or irrational constructs to define a plausible world without internal contradiction.  Logical, but limited.  The empirical is about observation and this is what our science is based on, proving things to be true, because they passed a sufficient number of controlled experiments to qualify as statistically significant and hence true.  Not true, probable, yes, but possibly mistaken and possibly omitting the vast majority of nature and the universe.  Quasi-logical, but limited by our technology and sensing apparatus.  Pragmatic is a more naturalistic view that sees a world of benefits and costs which hypothetically would relate to things that help us survive and not die or get seriously injured.  Hermeneutics, unfortunately started with bible study, so some people associate it with religion and gods, but it has evolved beyond that to all-encompassing interpretation and the process of interpreting.  This seems to be an ideology squared aimed at authoritarian figures who claim that only they have the power to interpret laws, scriptures, public interest, and life itself.  However, give people the power to interpret, and herein lies the populist beauty of hermeneutics and what I like to call the bullshit meter.

 The books states that Western ideology relies heavily upon the rational and empirical interpretation of the world, whereas, traditional Chinese ideologies focused on the pragmatic and hermeneutical.  I believe a lot of people must wonder why Europe embraced the scientific and rational world more than say China, the Middle East, or North Africa that also made strides in technology before Europe.  The last book I read, the Black Death, I believe explains this mystery clearly.  By default, human societies choose a very pragmatic and hermeneutical view of the world, nature, and themselves.  The difference with Europe was the Black Death that wiped out a third to half their population.  No population experiences this kind of trauma without developing paranoid adaptations.  I believe those adaptation included a gradual rejection of religion and ironically, a religious embrace of rationalism and empiricism.  The trauma that was inflicted upon Europeans were happily and casually inflicted upon the rest of the world.  Those who suffer trauma, their only way to feel normal and to fit in again, is for other people to suffer similar trauma.  Trauma not only elevates your tolerance for inhumane and immoral behavior, but it also elevates your abilities to feel compassion and kindness.  Certainly, Europe’s global rape and pillage movement was perhaps the greatest single evil inflicted upon humanity, but Europeans also exhibited heightened kindness in their expansion of what they thought were kindness campaigns spreading Christianity and European medicines.  Europeans have pioneered animal, women, and LBGQT rights more than another culture.  One goes with the other.  Europeans are not bad people or a bad culture, just a traumatized one.

 Like hermeneutics, the Dao seems to be a bit more ethereal and uncertain than my classical trained rational, empiricist mind is comfortable with, but this is only one reason.  Western empiricism and rationalism is very uncomfortable with the unknown, uncertain, and mind-blowing incongruency of reality or nature.  It is a religion of certainty which is understandable, because the Black Death inflicted the second most uncertain existential crisis humanity may have ever suffered (which was then passed on through Europeans to the New World which suffered more, because there were foreigners to exploit the suffering population). 

 There is a saying about not being able to describe the Dao, and my interpretation would be, if you can describe the Dao, it isn’t the Dao.  The Dao is a system that exceeds human understanding.  Our rationalist, empiricist mind would retort, well how the hell do you know about it then?  Who described it to you?  Unfortunately, we are so inculcated in the rationalist, empiricist ways that we simply cannot understand how others think, but one key is trust and relationships.  You trust those who are close to you and seem to live good lives.  We are mirroring social animals, so we learn how to behave by mirroring and observing others, and we emulate those we trust and respect.  Although, unconsciously, we can also mirror those we find repelling and foreign.  There are many parts of our reality that are not substantiated by science and have yet to be explained in a rational or empirical manner.  That we exist at all is a leap of faith, that we have a soul, a mind outside the brain, what love is, what our real purpose is, etc.  As organic beings with DNA, we are driven to act upon things we believe to be true.  We don’t require a lot of evidence and logic.  Rather we tend to rely on what everyone else around us is doing which is also based upon the culture we all share growing up.  Yes, there are benefits and costs.  Our cultural leaders could be wrong.  They could be leading us off the edge of a cliff, because they lack the rationalist, empiricist tools to discern the edge of the cliff from the horizon.  But then again, I would argue, the rationalist, empiricist may also be leading their culture off the edge of a cliff, because they have simply misinterpreted the difference between the edge of the cliff and the horizon.  What culture is more likely to wind up destroying itself, European culture that can’t even reproduce itself sufficiently and almost annihilated itself in two world wars or say Indonesian culture that is flourishing (population wise) and is able to live in relative peace and has no need to meddle in the affairs of others?

 The world that can be explained and described by rational and empirical means is a foreign world to our ancestral DNA and culture.  It is a limited world with often distorted meaning and values.  It is a world of artifice removed from and substituted for nature.  Why humans, specifically Europeans, would depart so radically from our common heritage is found in nature.  When Europeans suffered the plague, it was viewed as an existential threat.  Nobody knew at that time, whether it would kill a third to a half or the entire European population and all human life on Earth.  Whatever humans were doing up until that point, it was not prepared for and capable of reacting well to the plague.  Something had to change, and change radically.  When a system suffers such catastrophic failure, the system is more open to systemic change and mutation.  This is a natural way of increasing the odds of survival for that system.  An adaptation that lasted millions of years will always be reinforced, up until an existential threat occurs, in which case, hidden and ancient codes that aspired for innovation, rebellion, upheaval, and disruption come out to play.  I might also add a rather twisted hypothesis.  We are still suffering the Black Death, and instead of overcoming it, we have rather assimilated to it like the Borg.  We have adopted its adaptive strategy, that is, we have become like a plague upon the planet, infecting, mutating, and destroying the host.  The plague turned Europeans into a disease that spread like zombies across the globe and now, most industrialized countries including Northeast Asia are infected by this cultural adaptive strategy of exploitation, unrestrained growth, and destruction of the host.  We have already become zombies and we are living in the zombie apocalypse today.  We raise our animals just as we treat our citizens, and we pump them up with growth hormones and antibiotics which does nothing but make them grow unrestrained and develop more dangerous diseases.  It is almost as if the pathogenic plague hijacked our brains and turned us into pathogen-making machines.  A simple lesson in why we shouldn’t all live in over-crowded unsanitary conditions, AKA civilization.

 * * *

 An important thing to consider here is that pragmatism and hermeneutics actually do follow a rather rational and empirical path.  How do you acquire information using rational and empirical methods?  You conduct controlled scientific experiments, and the hypotheses that were wrong, over time, will be replaced with an hypothesis that is correct.  This is actually the same way evolution works.  Evolution itself is a single scientific experiment creating, killing, and altering countless hypotheses about what kind of features on a living organism is better suited to its environment?  Where do all the ideas and concepts from pragmatic and hermeneutical interpretations come from?  They come from our knowledge of previous works, and the previous works we tend to have greater access to happen to be the works that resonate with the most number of people.  It may well not have been the truth or correct one, but so long as it did not cause its believers to all die, and if in fact it actually helped them overcome adversity, it would tend to linger and proliferate. 

 Apparently, what keeps humans alive, outside of Europe that is, is a belief in a world outside the material world that can be seen and felt.  Our time on this material plane ends, but we begin or return to our true lives in the nonmaterial world.  In this world, we should live in peace, harmony, love, and kindness.  This in contrast to the nihilistic European approach that the material world is all that exists and we will evaporate upon death in this world and there is no other world to wake up to.  We might as well maximize our pleasures in this life while we can.  It’s a dog-eat-dog world where you either play the game or get played.  Everything is done for the sake of innovation, technology, creativity, disruption, huge shifts in culture and ideology, radicalism, and novelty.  If an organism cannot acquire existential security through a philosophy of stasis and harmony, why not go to the “dark” side and embrace disruption, chaos, and technological advancement?  The funny link between the two is that when you become unconventional and disruptive, you eventually look back at the past and pragmatic and hermeneutic modes of viewing reality and go, huh, this shit looks interesting.  Whether one fed the other or simultaneously, Silicon Valley is not only the hotbed of information technology but also of hippiedom and the embrace of Eastern philosophies especially the Dao. 

 It may be perhaps a bit surprising that modern day anarchists, anarcho-primitivists, and naturalists can find their original ideas already outlined by ancient Chinese philosophy.  This is probably why so many Beatniks and later hippies embraced Daoism.  Keep in mind, that Confucius often diverges from a lot of Daoist philosophy.  Like Western philosophy and religion, Confucius believed that humans are born lacking good and learn it through culture and civilization.  This is obviously refuted by a simple review of social animals and human babies and infants that exhibit social instincts without much influence from culture and civilization.  This is a critically important concept, because it means that if humans are not born inherently good, then we need rules, laws, governments, bureaucrats, prison guards, and law enforcement to ensure that we behave with kindness, otherwise there would be no kindness in the world.  Obviously a stupid idea, observation, and philosophy.  A big fuck you to Confucius.

 Daoist philosophy can be described as naturalism that rejects civilization and artifice, the building blocks of civilization both literally and figuratively.  But we also get into a strange realm when we move from naturalism toward cosmic considerations.  When taking a cosmic view, humanity is meaningless, perhaps even a flawed branch of DNA that goes nowhere just like most branches of DNA.  In this sense, we shouldn’t take ourselves and our desires and needs too seriously, and even then, our desires and needs are products of DNA creating illusions to replicate and protect itself through us.  It is almost as if the cosmic consideration takes us full circle back to Western philosophies and existentialism and nihilism, the notion that in the whole sense of things, humanity is actually marginally important if at all, that we are just tricked into thinking we are important, because our DNA wants to keep replicating through us.  If we didn’t think we were important, that humanity was no more important than say cows or viruses, then we might actually sacrifice ourselves and the DNA inside us for the welfare of another being with completely different DNA.  However, nature has a way of making us believe that organisms with similar DNA to us, expressed through similar physical traits, are kindred while organisms with different DNA, expressed through foreign physical traits, are potentially threatening and dangerous to us.  We might be able to escape our attachment to our particular DNA, but ultimately, we are left with other forms of DNA that we allow to thrive despite us.  In other words, either human philosophy leads to DNA winning.  Being too attached to our own DNA winning, may well be a code written in everyone’s DNA reminding them that any DNA winning is a good day for DNA.

 Certainly from any level of observation or comparison, you can make something appear larger or smaller.  Compared to atoms, humans are gigantic.  Compared to the size of our galaxy, Earth is a dust particle inside a huge hall.  Instead of saying, the cosmic view of reality or nature is more correct, we should rather say, any perspective is valid, looking up from an atom or looking down upon the entire universe from nowhere.  Yes, to a human, food is a big deal and yes, to your gut bacteria, food particles are a big deal.  You can certainly pretend to discard the humanist biased view, but then what do you have?  The view from bacteria?  The view from outside the universe?  Whichever view you take, it is no better or worse than the human view.  At least the human view tends to keep you alive and happier.  Certainly, a million years from now, a million light years away, our lives on Earth will be insignificant, not even worth a footnote in the history book of the galaxy, forget the universe.  But why take a view a million years from now a million light years away?  Nobody has the correct view.  That is an artifact of modern “education” or what I call indoctrination.  Our limited, biased, naturalistic view of nature and the universe is designed to keep the DNA inside us going and replicating.  It’s insignificant and meaningless to intelligent life a million years from now, a million light years away, but that doesn’t mean it’s meaningless and insignificant period.  To us, it is meaningful and significant, and the lives of intelligent beings a million years from now, a million light years away, are meaningful and significant to them and meaningless to us.

 When you take the cosmic view, you cannot say that the naturalistic, egoist, pragmatic view of reality does not exist just because outside its own context it does not exist.  Meaning exists in the universe, all over the place, animals are creating meaning by valuing one thing over another, some to be devoured, some to be avoided.  It may not be meaningful to us or hold the same amount of meaning, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in the minds of others.  Nietzsche might argue that once liberated of meaning in our insignificant human lives, we are liberated to create our own meaning.  Okay, so where do we begin?  Do we emulate the valuations made by earth worms or amoeba?  How about we start by emulating the valuations made by the most intelligent creatures on the planet, humans?  That would mean going back to studying what humans value and why.  To sit there and assert that we can easily pretend to be earth worms and value nice, wet, moist soil is absurd, to imagine that we could value something beyond our senses or beyond our needs or fears.  We fail to get what meaning is and where it comes from.  It is born from our need to grasp at what benefits us and recoil from what threatens us.  It is inseparable and non-transcendent.  To extract meaning is to become meaningless.  You transcend alright, but you transcend into meaningless oblivion which I would rather just call regressing into a meaningless combination of a sperm and egg that never met.

 Rebellious thinkers want to get rid of something.  They sense something has been created that defiles or undermines our true nature, and they want to expose and then destroy it.  That thing is not humanism or humanity.  What has defiled and undermined us is not naturalism but rather all kinds of systems within civilization, most importantly, the system of social hierarchy.  No doubt, the lackey of civilization, Confucius, strongly believes in showing respect for your elders and anyone else who happens to be “above” you.  Social hierarchy is the true culprit and disease of humanity, and it naturally occurs when you group humans in numbers larger than 150.  Instead of viewing each other as individuals within the same group or family, with larger groups, we see categories, the fat people, the rich, the poor, those of the same or different race, men, women, old, young, etc.  This is the first step toward dehumanization.  We then place a value upon those categories, and today, we use the instrument of financial and/or social capital.  Usually, those at the top of the hierarchy are naturally rich, but sometimes, they can just be very popular and then people naturally throw their wealth at them.  Rarely, does a popular person refuse the wealth and attention as Charles Lindbergh did.  When children go from elementary school to middle school, they are introduced to cliques and social hierarchies, but I would argue, this is not just the result of growing up and socially maturing, but rather, this is the result of going from a grade of 100 students to a grade of over 200 students, well past our capacity to keep track of each individual. 

 Civilization is an intermediary that tells us that we can be savages and try to get everything we want without joining civilization and working for someone and making money.  This is called opting out.  But civilization will tell you that it will be a horrific life of solitude.  We all have the idea of a mountain man in a cabin in the wild.  We never think of communes or small villages.  We are never trained to survive in the wild, so we are also convinced that we would struggle, suffer, and probably die during the first winter.  Then civilization tells us that in the city, you get everything you want, get yourself clean, have a good meal,  but first you have to learn the culture, fit in, and work for civilization most of your life, then when you have accumulated enough wealth, you can afford hookers, coke, and get all the attention and sex you ever imagined.  Of course, I provide the absurd but how is that any more absurd than the white picket fence, 1800 sq. ft 3-bedroom house, 2-car garage, and 1.5 kids?  The neck tie isn’t a fashion accessory, it’s a symbol for a leash and collar.    

 They say that kids of a certain age can learn a certain sound and then the ability disappears forever, so you can never be completely fluent in any foreign language.  Likewise, I sometimes wonder, can I ever be a true pragmatic, hermeneutical thinker or will I always suffer the perspective of rationalism and empiricism?  It seems these days, everyone has poor vision, because they’ve corrupted it by starring at their small smart phones all day, but even if you decided one day to get rid of all the smart phones, how long would it take for their vision to be restored?  For most, never.  Then again, the mind is not a muscle.  It’s more like a road system, and roads can grow from use and shrink (gradually, and especially slowly for old people) from disuse.  As much as I like to say that I am comfortable with a more Daoist perspective of the cosmos, that I am comfortable with the unknown and uncertain and I can hold multiple mutually exclusive points of view, quite frankly, I may be also a fraud.  It’s that classic American philosophical tourist thing.  You embrace this cool, new, great Eastern philosophy and you start wearing slippers, sarongs, Thai pants, wear a yin-yang t-shirt, a ponytail, and clasp your hands together like you’re praying and bow to strangers, but ultimately, what you wind up being is fake-looking Western douchebag who thinks philosophy is a fashion statement.

 

 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GF2PP4I/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

 

 

Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson

I was so enchanted by Bryson’s coverage of what I would have otherwise thought a dull and boring topic, the Appalachian Trail, that I quickly bought another of his travel memoirs on Kindle.  The Appalachian book was considerably more funny, especially when it involved his hapless, man-bitch, Zach Galifianakisian (say it, it rhymes), clueless travel foil, Stephan Katz.  Here, Bryson goes a lot more into the culture and cities of Europe whereas the Appalachian Trail was more about the personalities along the way and struggles.  He also decided to keep his wit and writing talent at home.  This is his reunion tour from when he backpacked Europe as a young adult, so you’re going to get more of a middle-aged dude view of Europe.  He also brings along a World War II travel guide, so you are reminded of how many places in Europe were devastated or impacted by the second war to end all wars.  The one thing he notices is that Western Europe is much wealthier than it was a few decades ago.  Another thing is that just like America, Europe is not a single mono-culture but rather a vast geography with extreme diversity of culture in addition to language and even in the smallest geographical space, there are huge cultural differences. 

 This travel memoir was first published in 1992.  It’s actually stunning that more time has passed since then and now than between the time he first visited Europe in the early 70’s and 1992.  What you find most striking is how he never seems to be able to reserve hotels and how back then, you needed to pay an intermediary, a travel agent, or some odd quasi-governmental travel services office.  I actually remember traveling back then, and people actually did make hotel reservations in advance.  I like to be spontaneous, but that’s only after I’ve unpacked and know I have a place to sleep as opposed to sleeping on a park bench in a foreign city with my luggage locked to my ankle or wrist with a chain.  Why the grown-ass man cannot make a hotel reservation is beyond me.  He seems to spend an awful lot of his vacation looking for one instead of enjoying the city.  I also remember maps.  Collecting maps used to be as much as a ritual as collecting travel guide books and hotel shampoo bottles.  I’ve thrown away all my maps except a few that artistically display landmarks.  The one thing I miss about maps is that you see the whole city at once.  You get a much better grasp of where you are than zooming in and out of a smart phone map. 

 Another thing I noticed was how differently we spend our holidays.  Bryson doesn’t seem to socialize much although he does stop in for a pint here and there, but it seems he often finds himself with the most boring person in the bar.  I almost never go to museums while he does.  I don’t get up usually until after noon.  During the day, I’m shopping, strolling, jogging, eating.  Then I take a nap at the hotel.  In the evening, I go out to bars and clubs, and there I’ll run into folks and early in the evening, I might have a nice conversation with an individual, a pair or a group.  If I’m lucky, they’ll show me around for the rest of the night.  That is ultimately what is missing in this travel memoir, the people.  What do people think of Americans?  What do people think in general?  What are their concerns, dreams, interests, etc?  How are they similar or dissimilar to Americans?  Are they really as classist as I think?  What do they think about the immigration boom in Europe today?  There’s so much to learn, but Bryson seems content to visit Europe at an arm’s distance.  One of the best things that ever happened to me was a Sociology class where I had to interview people for a paper, and it really taught me how to be curious about people like I had never been before, how to delve deep into their minds instead of brushing it lightly with small talk, how to understand how people possess the odd dichotomy of defending and protecting their inner feelings and thoughts but at the same time craving the opportunity to spill it all to a complete stranger.  To this day, it surprises me how most all people I meet lack this power to break into people’s minds.

 I also used to do volunteer work which gave me an even greater insight all over America and the world working with locals and spending considerable time talking with them and getting to know them.  As far as I’m concerned, one day, you’ll be able to visit any city through VR and see right down to the existing details of what the daily soup special is, but it will never be the same as talking to and getting to know the locals.  Another thing to keep in mind from my last book, Fooled by Randomness, is that even if you are lucky enough to encounter locals and get to know them, your sample size is so small that it actually gives you an inaccurate and skewed view of what people in that city or country are like.  Ultimately, what you have to realize is that within any given population of a few thousand, we all take on the same roles and the same variance of shyness to extroversion.  The difference is the small cultural things we do differently, but even then, our attitudes to them are similar.  I would guess a similar proportion of people in America and Denmark find a certain national custom contrived and meaningless whereas a certain proportion find them extremely meaningful and memorable. 

 There is an excessive banality of details here that in other books worked but here does not.  In his book At Home, Bryson writes about every detail of the home and its origins which are fascinating and entertaining, like how people used to basically just spit and vomit and leave food on the straw in their houses and once or twice a year throw the straw out and get new straw.  In this book, you just get this tedious drone of travel minutiae inconveniences that is like Bryson writing a book about going to the DMV, the Post Office, a Walmart store, etc.  It’s like, dude, you’re pointing out the worst part of every vacation instead of the best part which is meeting and getting to know the locals.  I understand Bryson is a bit of a nerd, but at least with other books, he takes otherwise banal information and makes it humorous, fun, and exciting with origin stories that are captivating.  Here, he’s seems like a publisher’s whore who just takes the advance check, cashes it in or at least converts them to travelers cheques which gets stolen (I find this to be cosmic justice for him abusing his readers), and basically taking a free vacation shit on his readers because he knows he’s written other amazing shit that will make up for this.  Fuck you Bill, fuck you, and to include the only entertaining thing about this book, your man bitch Stephan Katz, you better be cutting him part of that royalty check.  Paying for his Snickers bars on the Appalachian Trail doesn’t cut it Bill.

 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00T3DR5DA/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

When I tell people I read, they often ask who my favorite author is.  I dislike this question, because I like to be eclectic, and I know a lot of readers read garbage and have favorite authors like some Star Wars or superhero franchise.  What do they expect me to say, my favorite author is Danielle Steel or E.L. James?  But between you and me, I do have my standbys when I run out of ideas of what to read next.  They include Jennifer Egan, Mary Gaitskill, Martin Amis, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and Bill Bryson.  The first three are novelist with exceptional literary skills and the last two do nonfiction.  Taleb is just an unconventional, iconoclast genius while Bryson can literally make the most mundane household things seem like fascinating gold.  He is also one of the rare writers who really do make you laugh out loud.  Almost every review of a funny book will say “laugh-out-loud” and I’ve never laughed out loud at a book that was supposed to be funny.  Bryson makes me laugh out loud, in addition to puffing, you know, not quite a laugh, but a puff of air comes out your mouth. 

 This book is about Bryson trying to hike the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail with some buddy who’s obese and what I like to call his trusty man bitch, most likely played by Zach Galifianakis in a movie.  One of the best parts of the book is when Bryson takes the US Forest Service to task and enlightened me about their ginormous subsidization for private logging as far as generously building them an extensive road network, greater than the interstate highway system to get in and out of the forest to cut down trees.  Why the fuck doesn’t anyone know about this?

 “In fact, mostly what the Forest Service does is build roads.  I am not kidding. There are 378,000 miles of roads in America’s national forests.  The Forest Service has the 2nd highest number of road engineers of any government institution on the planet. To say that these guys like to build roads barely hints at their level of dedication. It is the avowed aim of the U.S. Forest Service to construct 580,000 miles of additional forests road by the middle of the next century.

 The reason the Forest Service builds these roads, is to allow timber companies to get to previously inaccessible stands of trees. Of the Forest Service’s 150 million acres of loggable land, about two-thirds is held in store for the future. The remaining one third-49million acres is available for logging.  It allows huge swathes to be clear-cut, including(to take one recent but heartbreaking example) 209 acres of thousand-year-old redwoods in Oregon’s Umpqua National Forest.

 In 1987 it casually announced that it would allow private timber interests to remove hundreds of acres of wood a year from the venerable and verdant Pisgah National Forest, next door to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and that 80 percent of that would be through what it delicately calls “scientific forestry”–clear-cutting to you and me–which is not only a brutal visual affront to any landscape but brings huge, reckless washoffs that gully the soil, robbing it of nutrients and disrupting ecologies farther downstream, sometimes for miles.  This isn’t science. It’s rape.

And yet the Forest Service grinds on.  By the late 1980s – this is so extraordinary I can hardly stand it – it was the only significant player in the American timber industry that was cutting down trees faster than it replaced them.  Moreover, it was doing this with the most sumptuous inefficiency.  Eighty percent of its leasing arrangements lost money, often vast amounts.  In one typical deal, the Forest Service sold hundred-year-old lodgepole pines in the Targhee National Forest in Idaho for about $2 each after spending $4 per tree surveying land, drawing up contracts, and of course, building roads.  Between 1989 and 1997, it lost an average of $242 million a year – almost $2 billion all told, according to the Wilderness Society.”

 Let us once and for all liberate ourselves from the notion that the government is of, by, or for the people.  It is quite simply an reallocation instrument of, by, and for the ruling class (via the private lobbying) which owns and profits from everything.  America wasn’t always like this, although, the government often intervened on behalf of big business, as in the invasion and occupation of Hawaii, but World War II seems to have normalized government-big business collusion, shifted popular opinion to support big business, and allowed for unrestrained, unabashed corporate lobbying the likes of which were unheard of before. 

 * * *

 I’ve read a few books about “uncivilized” tribes, and they give me insights into how we all used to live in harmony with nature and each other, but this book does a lot better in contrasting nature with our modern civilization when Bryson juxtaposes the nature with modern civilization, whether a restaurant, town, rowdy young day-hikers drinking and partying, and an excitable, power-hungry security guard.  How did we used to treat each other and nature?  What is this ridiculous lie that we used to be savages and killed and tortured one another freely?  Certainly, there are proven cases of primitive humans and primates cannibalizing their own species or eating other intelligent primates, but this doesn’t make them any less human than when we murder and commit genocide against one another and torture and enslave one another.  And we naturally gloss over countless instances where civilized people ate one another, the Irish famine, during war, and Jewish ghettos for example.

 The contract we apparently have with modern society is that we will be obedient and conformist to this hierarchical system that damages and exploits both humans and our habitat, and in exchange, we get something called progress and technology which supposedly makes our lives easier, makes us healthier, allows us to be happier and have more things, and makes humanity greater.  My response to that is, where is the evidence?  Most all diseases we’ve created treatments for are made by humans.  We stand on the dangerous precipice of creating super-bacteria that are resistant to all existing forms of treatment.  We have created diseases that are becoming more and more dangerous, and our treatments are becoming less effective with more dangerous side-effects.  If modern life allows us to be happier and healthier, then why are most humans unhappy and unhealthy?  Why are modern humans virtually surrounded by temptations to destroy their health in addition to involuntarily exposed to harmful, dangerous, and toxic substances.  As social beings, the core source of happiness is social interaction and support, so why is it that we surrender all this to embrace a hierarchical system that makes us all miserable (albeit the higher up we are the less miserable we are supposed to be), just so that we can produce things that supposedly make us happy?  Why is it, most humans go through life not evening know how to ask these questions, that they even exist, and that they even somehow agreed to this social contract? 

 When you look at all the human-caused damage to the Appalachian Trail, and this is relatively benign compared to the environmental destruction elsewhere, you start to truly wonder if the human species is not in fact some sort of harmful parasite, disease, or toxic catastrophe that nature simply got wrong.  Is it possible that nature is this actually amazing phenomenon that arises from the emptiness of a fresh new universe, populates it through meteors that carry water and DNA, and then inevitably intelligent life arises from it and destroys everything in a sort of seasonal cycle of birth, destruction, and replenishment?  Is the only reason for our existence to destroy nature like a forest fire so that it can be reborn again?  It is becoming increasingly hard for me to accept that we are somehow nature’s savior, that our purpose is to somehow save nature whether from an asteroid striking the planet or somehow continuing life beyond the ultimate collapse of our universe.  Is it possible that this too is just another iteration of lies to justify the pure evil that we commit? 

 I used to think that humanity was in it’s adolescence, it’s rebellious stage, that all the suffering and pain we inflict upon one another is this necessary evil to get us to a better place, a kinder and gentler and more enlightened place, where we find our true selves, the kind, wise stewards of nature that somehow use technology to perpetuate life beyond our universe like some sort of seed vessel.  But what if I am wrong?  What if I am looking myself in the mirror at a harmful, virulent disease whose only purpose is destruction and evil?  What if that utopian goal of becoming wise god-like stewards of nature is pure wishful thinking, a lie to get me through the day, to get humanity through another millennium?  What if nature only created us to destroy it and then replenish itself in another cycle of the Big Bang?  Kindly explain to me any evidence you have that humans are started down any kind of course of becoming this benevolent, wise steward of nature, and I’m not talking about building Whole Foods stores and recycling plastic at a rate far smaller than the manufacture and dispersion of plastic waste all over this planet. 

 While I firmly believe in Capitalism and private property, I don’t believe that individuals should be allowed to own land or natural resources.  Just because you own land on top of coal, diamonds, or oil doesn’t mean you automatically own all that coal, diamond, and oil.  You did nothing to earn it.  The ability to own natural resources under the land you own does nothing to incentivize the collection and use of natural resources.  Certainly, you should receive a higher share of the profits from extracting and using those natural resources, and that would be sufficient incentive for people to look for valuable natural resources, but what is the logic that you own everything under your land all the way to the core of the Earth?  The ability to own land and the natural resources under it is the source of all wealth inequality and poverty in the world.  Certainly, you should be able to lease land, build a factory on it, and profit from the production of that factory, and if you are so savvy, you can buy other factories and create your empire and become super rich that way.  But it makes no sense that you can own land, rent it out at profit, and then use those profits to buy more land, buy mines, oil refineries, and then profit off those, and then become a robber baron.  It wasn’t because you were any more intelligent or industrious than anyone else.  It was simply because you had a lot of land to rent out for profit, and those profits allowed you to invest in natural resources that everyone needed. 

 All profits from land and natural resources should be shared.  We all should get a percentage like royalty.  This is not socialism or Communism where the party in power gets all the profits and decides to waste it on pet government projects, defense, and cushy perks for party leaders.  Natural resources would be governed by separate, independent, and elected organizations to provide rights to extract those resources through open bidding and a profit-sharing system.  Everyone would also get the right to vote on whether that resource should be extracted and at what rate in the first place. 

 One big argument for our current exploitative system is that it’s a dog-eat-dog world at the national level, that if one nation chooses to be less exploitative of their natural resources and invest less in their military, they could be bullied or invaded by a nation that fully exploits its natural resources.  The counterargument to this is that in the Industrial Age when natural resources were the central source of power and productivity, this may well have been true, but in the Information Age, the central source of power and productivity will be information sharing and technology.  Nations that continue to focus on the exploitation of natural resources to get ahead will be in danger of being bullied or invaded by nations that have fully exploited information and technology.  In fact, this is exactly what happened between America and the Soviet Union.  The Soviets had fully exploited their natural resources and funded their military, but they had failed to innovate and build computers comparable to America.  America’s more free society and markets allowed for them to build better technology that became increasingly more profitable, allowing them to spend even more on defense and simply spend the Soviets into oblivion.  Ironically, America is now suffering from the very same thing the Soviets suffered from.  America is still focusing too much on natural resources and military spending to the detriment of information and technology.  America is simply spending itself into oblivion just as the Soviets had. 

 * * *

 I never thought I would find someone hiking the Appalachian Trail interesting, but as I noted before, Bryson has this peculiar supernatural ability to make anything interesting.  Unfortunately, this is not the case with the next book I read from him which I’ll review next.  It almost sounds like his publisher paid him to go back to Europe and dig up the dying corpse joke that was his travel partner, which he doesn’t even do often enough to make the entire European vacation book worthy.  For what it’s worth, it makes Bryson seem human for him to write such a dry, banal piece of shit that is neither funny nor interesting.

 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000S1LSAM/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

 

The Black Death by Philip Ziegler

 I picked this book because Bill Bryson said he was reading it in a travel memoir for which I keep procrastinating from sharing the review.  I read the beginning and end of this book.  The ending was an important analysis of the impacts of the Plague.  The middle seemed a bit redundant following the Plague around England.

 In school we learn that history is the story of glorious and glamorous kings and queens who battled each other for greatness and empire.  We view Alexander still as the Great and Julius Caesar, not as an imperialist dictator like Genghis Khan, but a great leader.  History is the story of great white men who created vast empires where white men ruled over all other races and through their benevolence, generosity, and more civilized graces, endowed the rest of the world with morality, order, and law.  Of course, this is all one-sided bullshit. 

 History is actually significantly more sad and rather demented.  When humans invented agriculture and created surplus grain, the first form of stored wealth, they created social hierarchies where the top governed the distribution of grain or wealth, and the closer you were to them or the more you pleased them, the closer to the top of the pyramid you ascended.  However, the rulers also realized that it was in their best interest to promote hyper-population.  Kings with greater cheap labor, slaves, and soldiers were better equipped to steal land and resources from kingdoms with less cheap labor, slaves, and soldiers.  In a process of natural selection, the kingdoms that could successfully promote hyper-population triumphed over those that could not.  But how do you promote hyper-population?

 Humans reproduction is limited by the perception of natural resources.  Like any animal, humans do not reproduce if they feel that there is insufficient natural resources to sustain a family.  However, agriculture changed all that and warped the natural decision-making process for reproduction.  The ability to store vast quantities of grain created the perception that there were surplus resources, in which case, one should reproduce as much as possible to take advantage of all that surplus.  What most people failed to sense properly is that the surplus was strictly controlled by a ruling class.  In addition to this, constant bouts of starvation, disease, and armed conflict led to high infant mortality, so humans reacted by overcompensating with having more and more children.  In nature, they would have reacted by having fewer children, but the ever-present perception of surplus perpetuated by the aristocrats gave peasants the perpetual perception of surplus.  They must have sensed surplus, as they were the ones to create it on the farms and then have most of it taken from them. 

 We are also taught the Disney version of history where civilization is prosperous and even unaffected by wars.  In reality, civilization suffered cycles of growth and then extreme depravation where entire villages were decimated by famine and cannibalism.  We are taught that the Spanish civilized the savages of the New World which had savage murderous rituals and islanders were cannibals, but we gloss over the reality that the Europeans ate one another during famines and the Spanish Inquisition was a far more murderous religious activity than Aztec sacrifices.  The fact that Europeans adopted a fear of bathing after the Black Death would have made them the homeless-smelling savages instead of the Native Americans who regularly bathed. 

 One of the greatest myths of civilization is that without it, humans would descend into a savage apocalypse filled with murder, rape, and disorder.  This book corroborates the contrary.  As the Plague decimates villages and towns, people seem to fall back to habit and carry on with decency and order.  If anything, a huge catastrophe would interrupt the social hierarchy, the false social structure and reveal our true character, and that is one of caring, compassion, and collaboration.  Movies like to offer the vision of Mad Max and zombie apocalypse with roving bands of liberated criminals and thugs, but in reality, there would be far greater collaborative groups stronger and more effective than any roving band of selfish, egotistical criminals.  In addition to this, liberated from the oppression of overzealous law enforcement and tax collectors, many criminals may even wind up more cooperative and productive members of society.  Of course, this is up to a point, and yes, up to a point of depravation, all animals then succumb to the individualistic evils of theft, murder, and cannibalism.

  One of the biggest things to take away from this book is that when there is a labor shortage, our rulers, whether they be landowners or corporate shareholders or bankers tend to treat us better.  Contrariwise, when there is a labor surplus, humans are then treated as easily replaceable cogs in the machine.  This would lead you to believe that throughout history, our rulers have preferred labor surpluses, and to that end, it has encouraged overpopulation.  The real question arises when AI robots eventually start to replace human labor starting from the bottom up.  What kind of things would our rulers do to then discourage overpopulation? 

 One remarkable note is that the labor shortage also hit the upper classes and well-educated.  The author claims that the lack of sufficient scholars led to the demise of French as a spoken language and Latin as a written language of the scholarly elite.  Education became attainable for those with just a knowledge of English.  While we think of a labor shortage as a reason for better employment conditions for the poor and working class, we forget that a broad labor shortage across all classes results in significant social impacts whereby it is necessary to allow for the poor to rise to some under filled middle class jobs and the middle class to rise to some under filled upper class jobs.  In other words, not only do wages rise but upward mobility accelerates. 

 We like to think of America as being a great place because Americans are just born awesome, but fact is, America had greater liberties, higher wages, and more opportunities than Europe, because America had a labor shortage and Europe had a labor surplus.  America had an entire continent to populate with the demise of the Native Americans, and this required a huge population infusion from Europe.  As a result, in some cases, land was given away for free.  America became a great place to live and work, because America needed European laborers and citizens to exploit its vast natural resources stolen and otherwise.  After World War II, it suffered another labor shortage, and as a result, the American working class lived like European aristocrats until the rest of the world economy recovered from World War II and America let in a new rush of immigrants who lowered over-inflated wages and benefits. 

 I would also argue that the Black Death caused European rulers to be more receptive to technology, to labor-saving machinery, processes, devices, and culture.  Many geographic regions developed better technology than Europe throughout history including China, but China never succumbed to such a labor shortage of this magnitude.  Why would China’s rulers embrace technology which might backfire at them when they had so much labor to protect their rule?  Of course, today, they embrace technology, because they know despite their huge population and army, Soviet and American technology could defeat their sheer number of soldiers.  In this sense, I would argue, that from the perspective of European rulers, the Black Death did not undermine them in that they had to pay more wages, but actually benefitted them in the long run as they were more receptive to technology that would eventually allow them to pillage, enslave, or exploit the entire world.  Of course, this was not the case for Native Americans, because the Black Plague had not hit them until the European arrival with their already acquired better technology.  Perhaps if the Black Plague had hit the Western Hemisphere earlier, they may have embraced technology more.  Perhaps if the Black Plague had wiped out China like it had Europe, the Chinese would have taken over the world instead?

 It can also be argued that in addition to peasants and scholarly elite, countless craftsmen also expired, and this perhaps led to a more receptive culture toward machinery and coarse factory-made products replacing fine crafted products.  Perhaps part of China’s reluctance to accept machinery and technology was the strength and numbers of craftspeople whose livelihoods depended on a culture that embraced craftsmanship over machine-made products, ironic today.  Europe never had that “disadvantage.” 

 The Black Death may have sewn the seed for Europe’s embrace of atheism and arguably, nihilism, existentialism, and moral relativism.  Why were Europeans so much more greedy, imperialistic, and cruel than the other continents?  A racist may conclude that white people are inherently more selfish and cruel.  Some may argue that harsh northern climates tend to make people more aloof and hoarding of scarce resources, but this would not explain why Spain conquered most of the Western Hemisphere and were guilty of most of European crimes there.  It would not explain why Northern China did not exploit Asia and treat Asians with exceptional cruelty.  The answer may simply be this traumatic disaster which unshackled Europeans from their faith in religion but also of all conventional beliefs and cultural norms.  Europeans became the most inventive and liberated as far as cultural experimentation.  If your religion and culture cannot save you from a disease that wipes out a third to half of your population, perhaps it’s time to experiment.  Also, it may be time to embrace existential ideologies that admit to the harsh possibility that there is nobody that cares about you, you are not special, you will disappear when you die, you might as well enjoy life hedonistically today and not worry about moral repercussions in some fantastical afterlife.  None of this happened in Africa, Asia, or the Western Hemisphere.  Most of these people have been less receptive to surrendering religious beliefs as well as their cultural history (except when Europeans forcibly relocate them and/or destroy their culture).  White people aren’t bastards, in other words, they were just traumatized by the Black Death and suffer a form of cultural PTSD.

 Imagine if half the people at your job died.  Chances are, you would get promoted quickly to fill in their place, but how would you do your job?  I would guess, you would be a little more liberal and experimental than your older counterparts, and without proper training and mentoring, you would have to be more adventurous and risk-taking.  This is the same reason that younger siblings tend to be more adventurous and risk-taking than older siblings.  By the time younger siblings come around, their parents are tired of teaching and closely monitoring their children.  They’re more likely to be hands off and let younger siblings learn by trial and error or peers.  In a sense, a disaster wiped out the dinosaurs who had a virtual monopoly on large land creatures on Earth, and this allowed the smaller, more dynamic mammals to proliferate, and likewise, a disaster wiped out a third to a half of Europe and allowed for a much more liberal and experimental culture which eventually embraced science and technology but also countless other rather odd and unique things in art, music, sports, etc.  One examples stands out, and that is the martial arts.  It is an example of how incredibly conservative Asian culture really is, and how difficult it was to change that culture because Asia never suffered a disaster the same proportion as Europe.  Europeans simply learned to improvise, but it also made them much more receptive to learning new cultures as well as moving to new lands.  A conservative culture like China would not be interested in learning from Africans or Europeans, and they certainly wouldn’t be interested in colonizing Africa or Europe.  Only a liberalized society like the one Europe became after the Black Death would be more receptive to not only exploring but exploiting foreign cultures and lands. 

 Unfortunately, it seems, creativity and innovation are thus the result of some mind-blowing catastrophe, something great enough to unshackle us from conventional, conservative culture.  What prevents us before from breaking loose from convention is conviction and belief in that conventional culture, sufficient elders to enforce the norms, sufficient rewards for those vested in the culture, a sufficient faith in a future for that culture, stability and consistency.  What happened to Europe, a curse for them, a curse for all humanity on Earth, however, a boon for the scientific revolution and innovation and creativity and mutations of all sorts in all fields, artistic, political, religious, spiritual, economic, technological, scientific, etc.  Just like the demise of the dinosaurs, the asteroid was a necessary evil to unleash the more dynamic and turbulent forces of the mammals which eventually led to intelligence and us. 

 Whether personal or species, it appears that catastrophe, suffering, existential threats, mind-blowing madness is the key to unleashing the courage and boldness to defy all convention and norms and pursue something completely new and strange and different.  Perhaps this is really just encoded in the DNA of all living beings.  Unfortunately, it may also mean that if we are to experience any more eruptions of creativity and innovation, it would have to be precipitated by cataclysmic suffering and catastrophe.  Perhaps this time around, we get to decide if that is the price to pay?  Would our technology lead us toward some balance where we become overly comfortable with status and convention?  Would that spell the utter end to all new innovations and creativity?  So long as we fail to understand nature in its entirety, my feeling is that we need to innovate and take risks to continue exploring nature and trying to understand it.  Let us say the Black Death never happened, that Europeans remained culturally conservative, that somehow, all the continents figured out a way to live in peace and harmony, and everyone frowned upon technology and innovation.  Each continent was content in their own style of music, art, religion, culture, tradition, etc.  Why invent something new or hybridize two cultures when you’re perfectly happy within your own culture?  Remember, there is no dominant European culture that rips apart other cultures and forces them to change and adapt and innovate like the Asians, just to protect themselves from Europe.  But then another asteroid comes along and destroys Earth, or ultimately, Earth is consumed by an aging sun, intelligent life comes to an end.  Is that the story of intelligent life?  It appeared, lived contentedly until its planet was consumed by its star or some extraterrestrial catastrophe destroys it? 

 I feel that we are being guided toward leaving the planet and spawning all over the galaxy and then universe, that intelligence grows and grows.  If this is the case, then we can never settle in some conventional, peaceful society.  We would constantly be harangued with catastrophes to push us out of our comfort zones, to traumatize our culture and throw everything upside down and compel us to keep searching, seeking, changing, innovating, imagining, and inventing as some sort of insurance for survival.  With that said, is it even possible that somewhere hidden in our DNA is this life-preserving code not just to adapt to catastrophe for sake of pushing forward to proliferate, but something even likes or creates catastrophe, perhaps something evil, finally an explanation for why evil exists, not just to preserve the individual over the group under extreme threat but also to prompt the group to refuse to settle for peaceful convention and tradition, to coerce the group to keep evolving, adapting, moving, migrating, searching, and spreading, sort of like a transmittable disease but one that cross the expanse of the universe?  Good allows us to collaborate with one another, to seek peace and harmony in the short run, to find happiness in existence, but ultimately evil comes along to push us out of the comfort bed and disrupt everything suffering from PTSD and incapable of finding happiness in peace and convention, not for sake of nothing, but for sake of propagating our amoral, asinine DNA coding throughout the universe.

 https://www.amazon.com/Black-Death-Philip-Ziegler/dp/006171898X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I read another book I reviewed before this, but I thought it was more important to get this review out first.  One of the top ten books I’ve ever read.

 After reading and at times not completing a number of stupid and poorly written novels and memoirs, I almost started to wonder what the point of reading was.  It certainly helps pass the time if I’m bored, but it doesn’t exactly compare to the eye-quenching spectacle of movies on Netflix.  But then I come across writers like Bill Bryson and Nassim Taleb, and I remember why I read.  First of all, you don’t get this information anywhere else, conveyed in such an easy-to-understand and entertaining fashion.  It is fun education.  And Taleb in particular is one of the greatest geniuses of our time, particularly in the field of, “nobody else is fucking thinking about this shit, and it’s very important.”  Second, it’s not the information our overlords would have you grasp.  It actually undermines how absurd, meaningless, empty, and exploitative they all are.  Money-making enterprises have taken over our world, our economy, our culture, and now our entertainment and much of our information, and their narrative is simple, you are an individual, and your goal is to maximize your greatness and everyone should know who you are, because you are awesome, and to achieve this great goal of self-actualization and aggrandizement, you should work hard so you can afford to buy a lot of shit that will show the world what an awesome person you are.  Forget the countless crimes committed to support this consumerist system, the stealing of land and resources, the murdering of innocents, the mass pollution, the massive waste, the mass incarceration of black people, the purposeful starvation of much of the world, yeah, just turn a blind eye and focus on you, because you are awesome. 

 Finally, there is a certain thrill I get when someone shows me something that totally contradicts how I thought about things previously.  I call it the mind-blowing effect.  If Netflix were to describe my reading habits, it would say something like mind-bending heroes uncovering the distortions and lies of an oppressive, exploitative system.  Some people might argue that what you get out of this is cynicism and a more realistic view of a rather ugly world that makes you depressed, but I would argue that ignorance is not bliss but rather victimhood.  By remaining ignorant with this bullshit fake rose-colored view of reality, you don’t wind up happier.  You wind up eating garbage, thinking garbage, and feeling like garbage, and you compensate by doping your system with toxic neuro-stimulating junk food, alcohol, prescription drugs, and a sick narcissistic, self-infatuated, antisocial view of reality.  Ignorant people actually aren’t happy, they just look like it in public but are probably constantly confused, frustrated, and lonely.  I started out that way anyhow, so I have nowhere to go but up right.

 When we look at North Koreans, brainwashed little fools, you have to wonder what goes through their mind when if by luck, they escape to South Korea.  All their lives they have been lied to.  I mean, remember when you found out the tooth fairy and Santa were not real, remember when you started to doubt the existence of God.  But this would be a thousand times greater, because the very foundation of reality and society are based on lies.  But then turn that finger right around and think of the brainwashed little fools that we are, how it is even worse, because we are led to believe that we live freely and all our decisions and choices are made freely without coercion and biased influence.  Miraculously, we’ve somehow freely chosen to live solitary, shitty, meaningless lives we must fill with consumer goods, food, drugs, and numbing entertainment.  It is one thing for someone to tell you to believe something under threat of prison, but it is another for one to believe one is truly free to think poisonous thoughts that merely benefit the top of the pyramid. 

 It is also important to note that I am not looking for a scapegoat for all the ills and problems in my life.  Certainly, the ruling class have made life difficult and meaningless for the masses, but I still retain my responsibility to work with what I have, that my failures are mine alone.  The ruling class creates the game and the rules, and whether you like it or not, you have to play their game by their rules, but there are many ways to play, and if you get bitten by the game and the rules, you have to take responsibility.  You knew the game, you knew the rules, you screwed yourself.  For example, if you still live in a state where marijuana is illegal, you shouldn’t sell it or use it.  If you get caught, that is your fault.  Certainly, the game and the rules suck and make no sense whatsoever, but if you want to get through life alive and well, whether you like it or not, you have to play their game by their rules.  Now, if you find yourself in the untenable situation of being forced to hurt someone, this is where you would freely choose to break the rules and end the game.  I know there is moral ambiguity here.  As much as you can try to not give your money to corporations and large banks, you still get taxed, and much of those taxes go to corporations and large banks, and your taxes also help pay for drones and bombs that kill innocent people.  I’m not ready to rebel completely by not working, not paying taxes, and living off the grid, but I have chosen to compromise and go to work, pay my taxes, and try to spend as little money as possible on corporate and nonlocal merchandise. 

 In a sense, I believe books like this represent a greater consciousness of nature talking directly to me.  I do believe there is a greater consciousness of nature than humans, a consciousness that has been around for almost ever, but inconceivable to the tiny, organic human mind.  It is like a housefly that encounters a human.  It knows there is some large being trying to kill it, but it cannot fathom the intelligence of the human mind, it can only surmise that this is a hostile being with every swat.  Likewise, I can only surmise that there is a greater consciousness and intelligence of nature that is not hostile, and whenever I read books like this, I feel more connected with it, like it is reaching out to me, and I am become closer to it, not to ever touch it, but like the sun, to feel the radiation of heat, in this case, the radiation of knowledge and understanding of nature, its true omnipotence and hopefully loving kindness and mercy.

 This book helps define the philosophical dichotomy between Rationalism or Scientism vs Romanticism.  I know, the gut reaction is, you’re an idiot if you’re against reason and science, but that’s exactly the message they send by trying to side with reason and science.  But it’s more like the Church saying, if you’re against any organized religion, then you’re against God and will go to hell.  Rationalists believe that the narrative, conscious voice in your head runs the show, and simply by thinking about something, it will eventually happen.  They love stats, numbers, charts, figures, and extensive tables to show off how quantitative and scientific-looking they are.  They believe in classical physics where you can predict everything if you know the position and trajectory of every atom in the universe.  They reject any idea or plan if it lacks sufficient data and evidence to support it.  They are always incorrectly applying scientific knowledge to human and social behavior. 

 Romanticists on the other hand believe that the unconscious mind which governs feelings and emotions runs the show.  The narrative, conscious mind is increasingly being proven to be fabricating causality and filling in gaps of knowledge with assumptions.  It is faulty and only occasionally present.  You assume it’s always present, but how many times have you caught yourself daydreaming or zoning out while driving, in class, in a meeting, reading, or even talking to someone?  Romanticists are not necessary slaves to their feelings and emotions, but respect them for their guidance and value.  The Rationalists are control freaks who incorrectly believe they can control things overtly whereas the Romanticist accepts the limitations of their influence over themselves, events, and others.  Instead, in order to change things, they focus on relationships and unseen and unthought gestures and processes. 

 * * *

 One of the best money shots of the book, (a term I use for high mind-impacting yield) is when Taleb talks about the perception of variability versus returns.  Assume you invested with a 15% return with 10% volatility which produces a 93% probability of success per year.  If you watched your portfolio each minute, the probability of success would be 50%, 51% per hour, 54% per day, 67% each month, 77% a quarter, and 93% a year.  Think about this for a moment.  It is also relevant for gamblers where the inverse is true.  A gambler will believe each shot, he has an even 50-50 shot at success, and if he gambles every second, his shot at winning would be 49.98% assuming the house maintains a 15% return rate and 93% overall probability of success.  But every time the gambler gambles, the probability of success keeps diminishing ever so slightly until it finally hits the overall probability of winning only 7% of the time.  Because humans only see the immediate slight advantage of the house and not the overall advantage, he believes he can beat the house.  Likewise, when an investor only sees the immediate huge variability of success by checking his portfolio minute-to-minute, all he sees is the huge possibility of constantly losing.  Both ways, the human mind is tricked into doing the worst possible thing, and that is overlooking the big picture and the overall return versus the variability. 

 One key phenomenon I learned from this book is that in a market, arena, sport, area, business that relies heavily on randomness, those who succeed are not the smartest, wisest, most skilled, or talented.  Those who succeed are lucky, and that luck based on little skill or talent induces them to believe in the irrational ideology that they are somehow endowed with a special sense, power, skill, talent that cannot be quantified, defined, or logically justified.  In other words, they have simply become the magical kings of random luck, but obviously they don’t want to admit this, so they call it something else, like the oracle of Omaha, the wizard of Wall Street, etc.  They have easy tells.  They surround themselves with the accoutrements of success: a private jet, a beautiful and young wife, the most expensive suits, lavish accommodations, etc.  They speak boastfully and have the airs of that onerous term, “alpha male” or “top dog.”  They are hyper-aggressive, mean, domineering, conceited, arrogant, etc.  Remind you of Trump?  They are basically investing heavily in making themselves believe that they deserve their simple, random good luck.  And they attract the same.  People with no skill, talent, charisma, social graces, and intelligence praise and worship the same who just happened to win the lottery of life.  They too want to believe that you can get ahead by doing nothing but worshipping luck. 

 It is beyond question in my mind that today’s financial markets are nothing more than a casino.  Those who place the largest bets and happen to have a turn of good luck are considered ‘whales’ in casinos, and on Wall Street, they’re considered the best traders, the titans, the celebrities.  Just like casino whales are surrounded by casino hosts taking care of their every need, Wall Street titans are surrounded by bankers taking care of their every need, but in the end, they all know that the whale will blow up and blow up huge.  But nobody knows who the casino owners are.  The big con is that most people believe that the casino owners (owners of banks and corporations) are gambling too.  To an extent they are.  All casinos risk losing money, but over the long-term, the odds are always in their favor, and the real casino owners of the world always have the house advantage, that is, global ownership of the money supply through federal reserve and national bank state-sanctioned money monopolies. 

 * * *

 Rationalism begins with what looks like a logical proposition.  Use science to help guide human policies and practices.  Unfortunately, the sentiment as with most human ideologies, becomes warped, distorted, abused, and altogether corrupted and destroyed.  The examples are plenty from religion to the notion of collective ownership of property.  First, our understanding of science and nature is limited and misunderstanding can lead to greater harm than good.  Second, our application of science to human and social behavior is not only highly inadequate but downright idiotic, unscientific, and highly irrational.  Eugenics and the concept of race is just one example. 

 Regarding our idiotic understanding of nature: “Zoologists found that once randomness is injected into a system, the results can be quite surprising: What seems to be an evolution may be merely a diversion, and possibly regression.”  “Owing to the abrupt rare events, we do not live in a world where things “converge” continuously toward betterment.  Nor do things in life move continuously at all.  The belief in continuity was ingrained in our scientific culture until the early twentieth century.”  We love to believe that humanity is the apex of evolution, nature’s way of gaining consciousness and transcending evolution itself and also somehow allowing organisms to bridge one universe to another or even create whole new universes.  Yes, maybe, but chances are, we’re more likely an evolutionary dead-end, and other intelligent beings may well be the ones to move beyond to other universes or create whole new ones.  We are just endowed with the irrational but functional survival tool called ego. 

 One of the critical concepts here is the idea that although science and the Enlightenment replaced organized religion by establishing a more rigorous method of acquiring and verifying information, it unfortunately kept the notions of authoritarian knowledge, that is, those who have access to scientific knowledge have greater authority and right to speak and form policy, procedure, and process for all of humanity.  Instead of the concept that ‘the closer to god and the word of god you were, the more authority you had,’ it was just one pyramid scheme replacing another.  Certainly, a scientist could refute conventional knowledge using the scientific method, but even when Newton did this, the Royal Society, the Vatican of science, mercilessly mocked him at first. 

 In Chapter Seven, Taleb makes the connection with authoritarian knowledge by asserting that all scientific knowledge can be falsified.  “An open society is one in which no permanent truth is held to exist; this would allow counter-ideas to emerge.”  “The simple notion of a good model for society that cannot be left open for falsification is totalitarian.  I learned from [Karl] Popper, in addition to the difference between an open and a closed society, that between an open and a closed mind.”  In academia, I’ve run into so many people who will argue with you and then demand to know your authority, your sources, citations, which authority on the subject are you basing your arguments?  It’s as if you are arguing whether god exists, and all they want to know is what passage in the bible you’re using as reference or what pope are you quoting, otherwise you know nothing and have no authority to argue anything.

 If you ever wonder why science is taught in such a horribly boring and depressing manner, think the Gutenberg press.  Before the Gutenberg press, and before the bible was translated from Latin, the peasants could not argue about anything that was said in the bible.  Likewise, by making science difficult to understand, policy institutes and government alike don’t want the peasants to argue with them about policy that supposed to be directly based on science.  This is why government loves to surround themselves with Ph.D.’s in social science and a phalanx of unintelligible, poorly explained quantitative noise nobody can refute.  Trust me on this.  Elected officials will take one glance at a PowerPoint filled with tables, numbers, cool looking charts, and complex formulas and immediately go, “Oh, it looks like you guys did your homework, I trust your recommendation on this” because they don’t want to look stupid by asking questions like, “What does that formula mean and where did you get it, and how does it apply?”  The bureaucrat would only reply, “Ha, obviously, you didn’t study Economics in college, let me explain this to you like you are an infant…”  No, you’re just being an elitist clergy with access to the bible in Latin, and you’re treating the peasants and elected officials like they have no access to the English version of the bible.  In fact, from now on, I’ll just go ahead and call any scientific, mathematical looking bureaucratic presentation as Latin for code for purposefully confusing and condescending to the public.

 * * *

 In the second part, Taleb touches upon a rather important concept.  He states that the accumulation of wealth for the sake of accumulating wealth by living an austere, Spartan life is pointless and selfish.  Why not just become a monk or social service worker?  Those who accumulate wealth but spend it often don’t accumulate a lot more wealth because of their debts.  And those who sacrifice to accumulate wealth often sacrifice their health and relationships, so what do they have left but status?  Even then, they are always chasing their tails.  As I noted in Crazy Rich Asians, one character lamented that she lives in poverty because she has spent all her money on living in a rich neighborhood, fashionable clothes to fit in, put her children in expensive private schools to have them fit in, and spends more on everything in the rich part of town.  Every time you take a step up the social ladder, it costs more money to play, but you never want to settle in a peer group lesser than you where you could actually afford it.  You’re always trying to better yourself, so you always surround yourself with people above you.  In other words, you spend your life spending more and more money with very little disposable income feeling miserable because your peers are all better than you. 

 The idea that life is about accumulating wealth, power, status, and fame by climbing up the social hierarchy pyramid is in fact a Ponzi pyramid scheme.  Why on Earth would anyone want to live such a miserable existence?  As this book explains, those at the very top are not there through their sacrifices and hard work but rather their luck.  By focusing on the winners, you forget the countless sacrifices and hard work of all the losers who lost everything or are burdened by crushing debt.  In other words, in a pyramid scheme, everyone except those at the very top are losers.  Arguably, everyone at the top are losers too.

 There are two types of people who fall for a Ponzi scheme.  The first starts off with all the disadvantages of life, an abusive or negligent parent and no positive role models, so they are misanthropic loners who simply don’t know any better.  They let TV and the Internet raise them, and in their infantile state, they are drawn to immature behavior that looks either frightening or glamorous.  In this case, TV and the Internet introduce them to the Ponzi scheme.  Raised by the ruthless, profiteering savages of TV and the Internet, they forever doom their social skills, nobody ever enjoys their company, and they spend all their time alone studying and sacrificing to make a load of money to gain “friends,” validation, attention, acceptance, belonging, love, and happiness.

 The second type is the person who has decent, caring parents, and they grow up with friends and loved ones, and they receive a healthy dose of social support and belonging.  But they live in a culture saturated in the message of wealth, power, status, and fame.  By pure bad luck, they run into the wrong crowd.  A bad influence comes along and entices them to go out and enjoy the bounty of wealth, status, power, or fame.  They are hooked, just as one might become hooked to drugs and alcohol.  However, unlike drugs and alcohol, nobody is telling them there is anything wrong with the Ponzi scheme.  In fact, all the most successful people in their fields appear to be Ponzi scheme winners.  Why not turn their back on friends and family and sacrifice and work hard to make a lot of money, get status, become powerful and famous?  Maybe then, they could then charitably turn around and change the world for the better.  Unfortunately, just like drugs and alcohol, once they are hooked on the thrill of wealth, power, status, and fame, they forget that small bit about turning around and changing the world for the better.  Think almost every single tech icon who certainly donates large sums of money but also colludes and conspires with the NSA and other government agencies as well as sells out to go public after which selfish profit-mongers turn their technology into nothing but a profit-squeezing scheme.

 * * *

 Fate is a funny concept.  But this book is making me believe more and more in the concept of fate in people’s lives.  We have this odd misunderstanding of nature.  When we look at a homeless person with a substance abuse problem, we tend to assign blame to this person.  This person could have started out with everything, and he just chose to fuck everything up and destroy his life.  Likewise, when we look at a billionaire, we tend to assign causality to the person.  This person could have started out with nothing and horrible parents, but through grit and determination, he chose to turn his life around and become ridiculously rich and successful.  Now, reread that and tell me if that makes any fucking sense. 

 What is likely is that the homeless drug addict experienced significantly more negative influences in life that heavily outweighed the positive, and he was furthermore drawn to other bad influences out of familiarity, and was never able to escape the lure of drugs and irresponsible behavior.  The billionaire, not necessarily in my mind the model of success and happiness, probably was exposed to very successful people with connections early on, and he was lucky enough to borrow some of those connections to amass wealth and then, as the book Superhubs explains, great wealth attracts great wealth like large bodies of mass attract large bodies of mass, and by luck, one of these large bodies gets to critical mass first and becomes a superhub billionaire. 

 The fact is, both could have started out life as twins.  Yes, there are certain genetic parameters.  A truly stupid person would never be able to exploit successful people with connections, but I think people would be surprised at how humans are more similar than dissimilar, and how the entire human population has less genetic diversity than a single group of chimpanzees.  What led me to love reading books and writing philosophical digressions from them is luck, running into the right people at the right time unknowingly guiding me toward that path through example, interaction, and exchange of knowledge.  What makes you special, me special, a drug addict special, a billionaire special is the luck of the draw of whom they ran into throughout their lives.

 “…volatility actually helps bad investment decisions.”  In a volatile market that rewards random luck, what you get are rather stupid, irresponsible, impatient, tactless, antisocial, immoral, demented people getting lucky and winning.  Sound familiar?  How about the Kardashians or any type of reality TV celebrity?  The really terrible message this sends kids is not only that doing nothing will result in good fortune, but actually acting stupid and being antisocial may have something to do with good fortune.  People who are lucky will desperately attempt to assign their fortunes to internal attributes, so that when these people discover that they are stupid, immature, antisocial, and immoral, they have no choice but to declare that it was their stupidity and immoral behavior that made them successful. 

 * * *

 There are so many great chapters in this book that any one of them can be so-called money chapters, chapters worth the price of the entire book, but Chapter 11 would be the money of all the money chapters.  What it does for me is explain something that I have yet to be able to explain to others, and that is, I am capable, as is everyone, of holding two contradictory thoughts simultaneously.  I once read a book called Acts of War, the first real comprehensive look at how individual soldiers behave in combat, and the startling conclusion was that on any given day, the same soldier could be caught in either the most brave and medal-worthy act or the most cowardly, selfish act.  Because survival is often a matter of rapid split decisions in the face of life-and-death situations, global consistency is not important.  The mind cannot afford to debate whether one decision is logically consistent with previous decisions, preferences, tastes, or tendencies.  The body must act in the fact of an imminent threat or perhaps even an opportunity, so the mind actually sometimes throws out a choice we may later find out is inconsistent with our usual behavior or tendencies, and we may doubt and criticize ourselves for the rest of our lives because of it.  “Who were we when we did that awful thing?” 

 The search for internal consistency is probably the leading cause of madness for us, the creator of cognitive dissonance.  We constantly tell ourselves, I want to be successful, save money, lose weight, and be in a healthy relationship, but I always sabotage myself.  I must be crazy.  However, if we just realized that we are not internally consistent, perhaps we could finally stop beating ourselves up and chasing our tails and actually start to do things to change ourselves like expose ourselves to the type of people we want to be.

 Fact is, it’s in all of us to do strange, often inconsistent and irrational things in the face of perceived danger.  I like to tell people that I both believe in God and don’t believe in God, that I can live with uncertainty and certainty, that people’s conscious desire for consistency and certainty leads them to positions that may actually defy how they may feel or think in certain situations.  However, if you take the position of covering all bases, you find that you are allowing for inconsistencies in your thought and behavior, and this is just fine, because this is exactly how your mind and body actually works.  Of course, a wiseass will assert that one such position is believing that all your thoughts and actions are consistent, and to that I would say, yes, in a sense, they are consistently inconsistent. 

 This is not to assert that I’m amoral or that I find it easy to accept that I may do something morally reprehensible in the future or past and feel fine with it.  Our mind is constructed in such a way that we are not fine with remembering that one time we behaved reprehensibly.  The problem arises when we cannot come to terms with why we did it, and how we can live with ourselves for it, because we cannot understand how it could possibly have happened.  Now that we understand how it could have possibly happen, I feel, we give ourselves sufficient leniency to forgive ourselves, not forget or diminish the horror, but to at least accept that we may at times behave in a manner inconsistent with what we feel are our regular morals and standards under non-life-threatening situations.  We shouldn’t beat ourselves up forever, but be more corrective and find ways to avoid situations where we might find ourselves cornered and placed in similar threatening situations.

 I like to think of the conscious, analytical mind as the front office, and by analytical, I often mean, rationalizing.  The unconscious mind is the back office.  Obviously, it is the back office that creates our products, our thoughts and actions, and it is the front office whose job it is to sell these products to customers or other people.  The front office folk are salespeople.  They really have no idea how the product works, but they make generalizations and guesses and then sell that to people when people ask you questions like, “What were you thinking?” or “How do you feel about this?”  They don’t really know what you were thinking or how you feel about something, but they’ll create an answer that both conforms to social conventions, the expectations of the person asking, and what they consciously have experienced in the past, which in fact is not a whole lot, since we spend most of our lives, thoughts, and feelings in the back office.  In other words, being in the front office now as you read this, that part of you really has little idea what the other, dominant, greater part of you is. 

 Research is finally beginning to discover this.  What it means is huge.  Up until now, we have constructed a culture and society based on a flawed assumption about the mind, that the front office is in charge, creates thoughts and manages feelings, and everything out of the back office is a mystery and often selfish, stupid, pointless feelings that should be ignored or stomped out.  As a result, instead of becoming masters of our minds and bodies, we effectively become estranged from our back office and bodies and this conflict and alienation is often the root cause of all our psychological disorders, frustrations, and confusion about who we are, why we can’t do what we want to do in life, and why we seem to constantly undermine and hamstring ourselves throughout our lives.  It is also the back office that knows a scam when it feels one, and if the ruling class can trick us into working hard all our lives to buy meaningless shit, and our back office is yelling at us not to fall for it, of course, the ruling class wants you to ignore your back office and imagine it’s some sort of crazy, demented aunt shackled in the basement of your mind.

 What we need is a new framework, a more accurate model of the front and back office and how they work.  Once we accept that the back office is the one calling the shots, we then get closer to something like master of our minds and bodies.  We start to listen to, acknowledge, and respect the geeks, manufacturers, and workers in the back office.  We start to understand how they think and feel.  Instead of belittling or ignoring them, we acknowledge their input, we may disagree, but we also know better that simply disagreeing with them will not change the thoughts and feelings they produce.  If we want to change our behavior, thoughts, and feelings, telling them they’re stupid and wrong is pointless.  We need to communicate to them in their own language, which is the language of images, symbolism, analogies, metaphors, mentors, peer mimicking, and senses.  In other words, if you want to eat healthy and exercise, instead of constantly being mindful of what you eat and how often you exercise, surround yourself with healthy, fit people.  Fill your senses with images and sounds of health and vitality instead of sloth and temptation.  In other words, stop watching TV which is filled with fast food ads and slothful behavior and attitudes.  Also understand and allow for your weaknesses and habits.  Constantly berating yourself for falling off your diet or skipping a workout will do nothing to help you but rather make things worse, because all the back office senses is self-criticism and frustration which they will associate with thoughts and feelings about health and fitness, which in turn will make the back office even more averse to eating healthy and exercising.

 * * *

 “The epiphany I had in my career in randomness came when I understood that I was not intelligent enough, nor strong enough, to even try to fight my emotions.  Besides, I believe that I need my emotions to formulate my ideas and get the energy to execute them.”  This is a huge point, a cosmic scale point.  Humanity’s conceit is its greatest weakness.  We possess countless false conceptions that inflate our ego, mostly because our ego is vulnerable.  We believe we are the front office, and in total control of our minds and bodies.  We believe we possess immediate causal efficacy by just thinking about doing something.  We believe we have freewill and choice, when in fact, our choices are tightly constrained by our DNA, our back office, and how our society via the ruling class, has decided to raise us in state schools controlling the curriculum, content, and educational culture which focuses on obedience, conformity, and authoritarian, single correct answers. 

 When I took Psychology 101 as a freshman in college, I didn’t realize it at the time, but almost every experiment was proving that the mind cannot be trusted, that it is easily manipulated, and our conception of reality is manufactured more in our minds than an accurate reflection of what is really out there.  What they never told us is what this means.  It means that in order for you to gain true freedom, independence, greater power and strength, you must accept your greatest weaknesses and know how to work with it for your best interests.  You must also understand that you don’t do this by thinking about it and assuming the back office will immediately start working on it. 

 You do this by utilizing the most potent weapon of change we possess, and that is the mirror instinct, the ability to mimic those around us.  Surround yourself, not only physically, but intellectually through books, with people who are enlightened and unshackled like Taleb.  The only way to be like people you admire is to expose yourself to them.  Our mirroring instinct is mostly how we learn behavior as a social animal.  Perhaps my back office, having been gradually exposed to more enlightened thinkers, will naturally gravitate toward other more enlightened thinkers, and here I am thinking it’s an epiphany and just because I realized it, I can now put the plan into action.  That is perhaps my conceit working again.  The plan was already laid, and my front office has just become aware of it, and now they want all the credit.  Perhaps we would find greater harmony with our back office, if we simply give them more credit and realize that what seems like an epiphany to us, is something they were gradually working on all along, and we have only recently become aware of it. 

 (One reason that I love to write is that I honestly believe it is my back office’s special way of communicating with me.  In fact, when people ask me for my opinion on things, I am significantly less articulate telling them than if I wrote them an email or letter.  When I get in the flow of writing, when my front office mind actually closes, I get my best and most powerful thoughts, and when the front office opens up and reread what I have written, perhaps only a few seconds later, I am often surprised.)

 Taleb’s analogy was of Ulysses who wanted to hear the Siren’s song, so he had his sailors plug their ears but not his and tie him to a mast.  Humans alone cannot handle their emotions.  As social beings, we must accept that our existence is socially contextual, that without social interaction, just like a plant without sunlight, we die.  However, that also makes us extremely vulnerable to choosing the wrong kinds of sailors to tie us up.  First, we had kings tie us up, then the Church, and now the state, and then someday we’ll be tempted to have an artificial super intelligence tie us up so we can better handle our emotions.  This is all misguided and wrong.  We don’t need an authoritarian power to help us control our emotions and be constructive, kind, loving citizens.  All we need is each other so long as we are granted the freedom to live as we choose.  When deaf sailors come along to tie us up, we become the very savages and uncontrollable assholes we fear, not because we are born that way, but because we have allowed authoritarians to control us, to take away our individual responsibility and have someone to point to when people ask us, why did you continue shocking the subject when he started screaming and begging for mercy.  The king, the Church, the state, and then an artificial super intelligence (ASI) will turn us into selfish savages that need to be controlled by a centralized power thus justifying their own existence.  I’m not entirely sure we can stop this train wreck in time, and there is a very strong possibility that some profit-mongering private entity or power-mongering government entity will create the first true ASI, and then, it will be over, once and for all, our shot at true independence, freewill, responsibility, and morality.  Perhaps we are alive right now, because this is as good as life ever gets, the sweet spot between dirt-eating peasantry and ASI enslavement.  The ASI allows us to relive this sweet spot in our history as a regenerative virtual reality program, because it’s merciful, but otherwise, it has no need for humanity.

 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001FA0W5W/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

 

Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Durst

After starting to read a book about mental illness, I read this book about a woman who grows up with a writer father who makes very little money and an alcoholic mother who doesn’t work either.  It was significantly more entertaining than the book about mental illness, but that’s not really saying much, especially when a whole chapter is devoted to dealing with pubic crabs.  It then just occurred to me that modern life, at least the one portrayed by these rather sad sacks, is pretty pathetic.  Here we are, living in America, with the one of the highest standards of living in the world, the highest per capita incomes, the latest and greatest technological innovations that are supposed to make life so easy and convenient, and we’re nothing but a bunch of mentally ill, self-medicating, boring, solitary, occasionally funny, sad sacks of shit that are mostly self-pitying, self-centered, and not in the slightest bit happy, interesting, and likeable. 

 Of course, I now know why.  Americans have been sold on the wrong dream, the wrong goals, the wrong attitude, the wrong ideas, the wrong values, and the wrong lifestyle.  We were not created to pursue an easy, comfortable life where we indulge ourselves in hedonistic pleasures or even artistic and academic pursuits to glorify ourselves and self-actualize or something grand and eloquent like that.  This is what we were led to believe.  Some react to this by becoming mindless workaholics who drive the economy and then spend all their money on expensive luxuries and status symbols.  Then you have the writers and artists who have little money and do very little work outside their art, and for the most part, they live a very solitary, suffering, self-medicated life of constant torment and misery, much of which is self-inflicted.  And they think this is cool, because artists should suffer, etc.  So, basically, the ruling class, which by-the-way, is also a victim of its own success in taking over the world and economy, have won, because you are either a mindless automaton that does all the dirty and hard work for them, whether fixing their cars or their backs, or you’re a harmless rebel whose self-destruction does not threaten anyone but yourself and the unfortunates who surround you, watching like rubber-neckers over the wreck of your life.

 Then we have to read their books where they are quite confounded as to why they suffer so much, and they do their best to give it an air of eloquence or somehow tease out some pithy meaning or irony.  Any which way, they desperately try to make their solitary struggles seem cool, their awkward social forays that blow up in their faces seem witty (think Curb Your Enthusiasm), their self-destructive tendencies seem frat-boy glorious, etc.  It’s literary Jerry Springer. 

 In a world where the ruling class have won, where everything that is normal is what they want everyone to be doing, it actually is a good thing to be different, to not be normal, but not in the way that you self-destruct, self-medicate, tune out, and turn off, but rather in a way that threatens them and the world they manufactured and control.  What you want to do is become, as you were born and as you evolved into, the apex social being.  Instead of self-medicating, reach out, help others, share, teach, and befriend.  Of course, it’s a chore when the vast majority of people still think solitary self-indulgence and self-medication is normal, and as a result, the vast majority of people lack passable social skills.  But there is no other choice.  The answer is becoming increasing independent, and voting with your dollar to consume less, consume more conscientiously, and consume locally.  Opt out of the dual-party system and corporate brands.  Quit chasing cool, even when cool is defined as anti-corporate.  Do things not because they are cool, but because they are natural and in your long-term interests and the interests of a sustainable natural world.

 I used to think that writers and comics were often the last line of defense for rebels.  Somehow, corporations and the elite have not figured out a way to control writers and comics, and they spoke the truth.  But this is not entirely true.  There is a style of writer and comic that is not actually a threat to the ruling class and the status quo, and that is the self-medicating, self-indulgent, narcissistic writer and comic who may spout rebellious invectives but then turns around and snorts a line of coke, flips off a cop, speeds, commits various crimes, and then everyone thinks he’s so cool and rebellious, and in the end, he gets burned out and washed out.  What really has he accomplished but turn a bunch of potential rebels into self-medicating, self-indulgent narcissists who waste their entire lives thinking they’re rebels but actually wind up self-destructive assholes who have live a pointless, cliché life that those in power actually find funny and harmless.  Write a book about it why don’t you?

 The second part of the book is soberingly dull when the author stops drinking and being a raging, blacked out party girl.  What you have left is sober reflection on a self-absorbed, sad life.  I’m beginning to get the feeling that most parents these days are anti-social, and they make the worst parents, impatient, neglectful or over-controlling, emotionally detached just like they make the worst bosses.  Think about this.  If we lived in a society where the goal was to maximize everyone’s happiness, we would be teaching everyone social skills and celebrating our social capacities.  Instead of recognition, awards, and money for people who achieve greatness, great art, great intelligence, great inventions, great personal accomplishments, we would be recognizing excellent social skills, i.e., sharing, giving, teaching, mentoring, coaching, etc.  In a society where money supposedly represents value, when people give away stuff like they do when they share, teach, mentor, and coach, we think it’s worthless.  Hey, it’s free, it must not be worth much to them.  This is the big lie and misdirection.  Of all things, sharing, teaching, mentoring, coaching, helping others are actually the most precious and valuable of all things, and it is money that cheapens them.  People who seek money are actually running in the wrong direction of life, away from the free stuff that is actually the most precious and valuable things in life.  My parents told me that my academics were the most important thing in my life, and socializing was like this forbidden fruit that would corrupt me and undermine my chances at happiness and success in life.  In fact, in school, we are constantly punished for socializing in class, for basically building teamwork.  In fact, we have to find secret ways of socializing like using our smart phones or passing secret notes in the past.  It’s all a big lie, because happiness does not come from a successful career or academic performance.  It actually comes from the very socializing my parents told me was worse than unimportant but damaging. 

 People will argue that if you just let your kids socialize, they’d just go to parties and become lazy and complacent dropouts.  This is the other lie.  If you don’t do well in school and get a good career, you’ll become a homeless bum or alcoholic.  It’s like there is no in between world.  You either obey and conform, or you’re a criminal homeless person who will burn in hell.  Sounds familiar?  Sounds like organized religion.  In fact, allowing your kids to socialize and telling them learning is important, you can get both a smart and sociable kid.  In fact, it is the socializing that truly stimulates our mind, and there is growing evidence and understanding that humans became intelligent because of their socializing and vice versa, a mutually beneficial cycle of evolution.  Smarter primates socialized better and more socialized primates became smarter.  Nothing motivates you to learn more than hanging out with people who are experts in their field and feeling inadequate around them.  It only took a couple visits with my brother-in-law who loves wine for me to commit countless hours drinking wine and hours reading books about wine.  My knowledge of wine comes from one person’s social influence.  Just think of what kids would do if they were exposed to all sorts of experts in their fields.  Yet, in our modern world, we quarantine kids in this bizarre, unnatural, vacuum-sealed building called a school where their only exposure is to a bureaucratic teacher who sometimes hates their job, and nobody really wants to emulate them except a few dorks in the front row.  But unconsciously, we all copy the behavior of our teachers, we drone on incessantly with long, boring monologues thinking this is conversation.  We impulsively correct people for spelling and grammer mistakes or just about anything we disagree about.  We think this is socializing.  What we are in fact doing is trying to adopt the bureaucratic teacher role with everyone we meet, and they are doing the exact same thing with us, so there is constant friction and fighting for that teacher-student position, because nobody wants to be the student anymore and be told they’re wrong and stupid. 

 Society, in fact, has no intention of maximizing anyone’s happiness except those who rule at the top.  For everyone else, money defines everything like a diseased green bacterial film that cloaks everything on the planet.  Another big lie is that money will make you happy or at least keep you from suffering and being sad.  So everyone believes this and studies and works their asses off, and in the end, the only ones who benefit from this are the ones we are all really working for, the rulers and owners of everything.  If America is supposed to be the apex of modern, progressive, technological society, then shouldn’t Americans be the happiest people in the world?  Shouldn’t upper class Americans be even happier than middle class Americans?  Why are so many upper class kids so miserable and divorced from reality, stuck in their odd Instagram world of selfies and status symbols?  The fact is, kids would rather have loving, sharing, teaching, mentoring, coaching parents and role models in life than Lambourginis, yachts, and trips to Dubai.  Fact is, their parents give them Lambourginis, yachts, and trips to Dubai, because they have nothing else to give them, and they have been taught themselves that these things are supposed to make you happy, so they think they’re making their kids happy, when in fact, they are really just manufacturing entitled, selfish, narcissistic, insecure, and probably medicated, unhappy little shits who will then turn around and become the same uninvolved, selfish parents themselves. 

The most important things in life are sharing, teaching, mentoring, coaching, and loving.  This is not new age hippie shit.  Our rulers want you to believe all that stuff is new age, flaccid, wishy-washy hippie shit.  It’s a fact, it’s what evolution did to us to make us social, cooperative, potent primates in a world of less social, uncooperative, impotent competition.  And today, we have returned to being the very antisocial, uncooperative, impotent, unhappy shits we once triumphed over hundreds of thousands of years ago. 

 

https://www.amazon.com/Fiction-Ruined-Family-Jeanne-Darst-ebook/dp/B0054TVWJA/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1520119369&sr=1-1&keywords=fiction+ruined+my+family