Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Please Read

This link is undoubtedly the best article I have read on the Internet this year.  It may be the best article I have read on the Internet ever.  It's too far-ranging to summarize easily.  Ostensibly its topic is "Consumer Buddhism," but it is replete with insights on class, religion, and ethics.  It's impossible to excerpt it in a way that does justice to its brilliance but I'll give it a shot.

Please read.  The insights about the differences between middle class and upper-middle class--they come about 2/3 through--are particularly notable.

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In economics and in evolutionary biology, “saying what sort of person you are” is called signaling.
People differ; and so we discriminate. We’d rather marry someone generous and considerate than someone selfish and oblivious. We prefer doctors who are knowledgeable and attentive to ones who are incompetent and arrogant. We don’t want to sleep with someone who “forgets” to mention they are married and have active herpes, or buy a used car from an acquaintance who has turned the odometer back.
In short, we would rather collaborate with good people than bad people. However, the people we want to collaborate with are more likely to cooperate if they think we’re good people. So everyone goes around saying “I’m good! I’m good!” a million times a day.
Except that it’s really easy to say “I’m good!” even if you aren’t. Bad people go around saying “I’m good!” all day too. How do you know who is telling the truth?
This is such a difficult and important problem that much of everyone’s day consists of trying to figure out whether other people are good, and trying to convince them that you are. How?
Someone saying “I’m good!” is not credible because it’s cheap and easy. (So no one says that literally.) You are more likely to be persuaded if you see them writing a check to a charitable organization, or if they spend a weekend volunteering with you at a homeless shelter. Those are costly signals—one in money, one in time.
Religion is a costly signal. Going to church every Sunday wastes much of your leisure time, and they want ten percent of your income. Meditation retreats take a whole weekend at least; they’re excruciatingly boring, physically painful, the food is usually awful, and you aren’t supposed to get high or or play video games. In both religions you have to sit through tiresome morality lectures and pretend to be nice to everyone. These are credible signals. If you know someone is religious, you know for sure something about them; no one would do those things unless they had a compelling reason. But what is religion signaling?
Partly—this should be obvious now—religiosity signals that you are ethical. That is mainly what Consensus “Buddhist ethics” was invented for. But why does it work? Why would you believe that someone who wastes a lot of time and money on religion is ethical, rather than stupid or crazy?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Though We Touched and Went Our Separate Ways

Anyone I meet, there are two bands where, if they don't like them, I can't really take them seriously, as humans.  Def Leppard and Journey.  If you don't like at least 1/3 of the songs produced by those two bands then you are, essentially, a bad person.  I'm sorry to be reductive, but there it is.

If I were dating some woman and they told me that they hated Journey? I don't know what I would do.  But clearly I couldn't be involved with that kind of anti-American criminal.  I just couldn't.

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The two artists I'm listening to right now, almost exclusively, are The Jam and James McMurtry.  One is the quintessence of Britain.  The other, the quintessence of America.  How did that come to be?

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An idea: KickStopper.  Where many people give money to PREVENT something from happening.  For example, Jonathan Franzen announces plans to write another novel.  Immediately, Kickstopper swings into action.  10 Million dollars are raised.  And Franzen desists.

We all win!

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I've gotten to a point, with Birdman, where if I meet people who truly value it, artistically, I mentally check them off my list, of people I can spend time with.  They're just too stupid.

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Been reading Greek Tragedy.  Also, rereading Barthelme's Flying To America, all his previously unpublished work.  Also, My Struggle, volume II.  Which deals so far exclusively with the burdens of raising small children.  It's not making me want to be a father.  No it is not.

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Spent an entertaining weekend with my brother's family at Disneyland.  Lots of interesting interactions with my (five year old) niece.

Sample dialogue:
ME: asks why she has elected to dress as SpiderMan for Halloween, given that she's never seen a single SpiderMan movie, tv show, or cartoon
HER: He is really brave and I am really brave so I decided to be him.
ME: Well, ok.  Good answer.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

What's Up?

What's Up round here you ask? Not much. Books and movies and gin and tonics. Usual stuff. I'm going through a 'let's reread Dicken' phase. Just finishing up on Great Expectations. Before that was Dombey and Son. Before that was David Copperfield. The first half of David Copperfield is up there with the best stuff Dickens ever did. Great Expectations doesn't hold up as well as I thought it would. Dickens doesn't do well with novels that are too focused. He needs room to digress and wander. Great Expectations reminds me a bit of Tale of Two Cities; both focus intently on small handful of narratives.  Their cast of characters stays small (for Dickens).  I think they suffer as a result.  His greatest books, to me: Bleak House, Pickwick Papers, Our Mutual Friend. All the rest tend to have at least one or two great characters--Captain Cuttle alone makes Dombey and Son worth reading--but can't maintain consistent greatness throughout.

Just saw Boyhood, which I found really excellent.  My brother and one of his friends told me it was overrated.  I didn't think so--I thought it was properly rated.  I've been thinking of it ever since I saw it.  Especially the last half, as Mason hits high school--a moving and often profound work, I thought.

Anything else?  I read a bunch of other stuff.  Ronald Firbank, Wolf Hall (fantastic), Trollope's Palliser series, some other odds and ends.

We're going to Spain and France in two weeks, so I'll try to write some entries while there.