Refactorings Roundup 11/13/18 – 12/08/18

We have 8 featured posts from friends of ribbonfarm, 19 selections from elsewhere around the internet, and a few short takes this roundup. We also have a new addition to our friends-of-ribbonfarm blogsphere dragnet: foolproof.ink.

I just realized my approach to curation is basically the same as my approach to reading to fuel writing. You could call it Postel Curation: Be liberal in what you read, conservative in what you write (after Postel’s Law). I’ve unconsciously been trying to include at least 2x as many selections in the “Stuff We Read” bucket as opposed to the New Posts (== “Stuff We Wrote” bucket).

This roundup is a human-filtered subset of links and short takes aggregated by the Feed Fox bot authored by Zach Faddis, and running on the refactorcamp.org Mastodon instance. You can follow the bot directly if you want the unfiltered firehose.

New Posts

  1. The power of explanation ht Foolproof Ink. Link. ht @vgr
  2. War like posture and other metaphors by zenpundit. Link
  3. The problem with Lindy by @msweet. Link
  4. Redecentralize (event report) by @bkam. Link
  5. thematic tension by thesublemon. Link
  6. Goodbye and hello by @msweet. Link
  7. Playing Politics by srconstantin. Link
  8. Rupetta pre-read w/ Charlotte Geater: Folk tales & feminist histories (audio). by @adrianryan. Link

Comment on this post with your blog link if you want it monitored by Feed Fox for potential inclusion, along with your mastodon (preferred) or twitter handle. 

Stuff we Read

  1. Whale ear wax and oceanic history .Link. ht @vgr
  2. Flash dance in support of euthanesia (video). Link. ht @machado
  3. The brain has 2 clocks, one for rhythms, one for experiences. Link. ht @vgr
  4. The predatory small-business lending industry .Link. ht @vgr
  5. The new Opportunity Zone tax laws allow for a lot of tax-minimization for the rich investor. Link. ht @Harry_Pottash
  6. 250 years later, benefits of education near Jesuit missions. Link. ht @dereklh
  7. Creative beefs. Link. ht @vgr
  8. Gandhi’s reputation is undergoing complexification. Link. ht @vgr
  9. On the origins of “Odinnic” sacrifice. Link. ht @msweet
  10. The African Middle Ages. Link. ht @dereklh
  11. The open office and the spirit of capitalism. Link. ht @dereklh
  12. Sweden’s Decades-Long Failure to Integrate. Link. ht @Elmkast
  13. Could poetry both freely create and rationally assert? Bonnefoy’s poetry. Link. ht @vgr
  14. Can toroid planets exist? Link. ht @nindokag
  15. Genetic error led humans to evolve bigger, but more vulnerable, brains. Link. ht @vgr
  16. Regenerative capitalism (paper). Link. ht @alec
  17. Environmentally mediated social dilemmas. Link. ht @makiaea
  18. Four laws of success and status. Link. ht @dereklh
  19. New Thomas Sowell interview. Link. ht @vgr

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag links #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up by Feed Fox.

Short Takes

  1. The apotheosis of NIMBYism would involve radical life extension. — @dereklh
  2. Opportunities for meaning are abundant. It’s sincerity of belief that is hard to come by. — @msweet
  3. The more you want to go against the flow, the more baggage you have to carry — @vgr
  4. Technology is human existence compounded. — @msweet
  5. The difference between a grand narrative and a narrative is that the former is where surplus middle-class attention preferentially flows — @vgr
  6. People think they have 20/20 hindsight. Actually most hindsight conclusions are just another theory that hasn’t been tested against reality yet. — @Harry_Pottash

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag short takes #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up by Feed Fox.

“Something Runs Through The Whole Thread”

The first zoom was the probably the sound of a train.

The various online dictionaries all give slightly different dates for the earliest use of the word zoom: a few confidently say 1892 (with no citation), others say 1886 (also no source), one gives a range 1885-1890 (same), and another is more circumspect with “late nineteenth century.” They all agree, however, that the word “zoom” originated as onomatopoeia: the sound of something traveling fast. Anything zooming by in the late nineteenth century would have been powered by steam. Perhaps it was a train, or a steam-powered automobile.

So zoom is the sound of speed – not the old speed of horses, but the new speed, vibrating and mechanical, exciting and high-tech. In the twentieth century, different aspects of “zoom” were then taken up by two emerging technological domains: photography and filmmaking on the one hand, and aviation on the other.

“Zooming” in aviation is a straightforward application of the original use. A pilot builds up a great deal of speed traveling parallel to the plane of the earth, then uses the build-up kinetic energy to fling the plane straight up into the sky, faster than it could go using just its thrusters. It’s easy to imagine what the ground looks like during this maneuver: rapidly shrinking as it gets further away and less detailed.

[Read more…]

The Digital Maginot Line

There is a war happening. We are immersed in an evolving, ongoing conflict: an Information World War in which state actors, terrorists, and ideological extremists leverage the social infrastructure underpinning everyday life to sow discord and erode shared reality. The conflict is still being processed as a series of individual skirmishes – a collection of disparate, localized, truth-in-narrative problems – but these battles are connected. The campaigns are often perceived as organic online chaos driven by emergent, bottom-up amateur actions when a substantial amount is, in fact, helped along or instigated by systematic, top-down institutional and state actions. This is a kind of warm war; not the active, declared, open conflict of a hot war, but beyond the shadowboxing of a cold one.

Section of the Maginot Line, 1940 (Public Domain)

We experience this as a state of continuous partial conflict. The theatre opportunistically shifts as geopolitical events and cultural moments present themselves, but there is no sign of abatement — only tactical evolution as the digital platforms that serve as the battlespaces introduce small amounts of friction via new security checks and feature tweaks. As governments become increasingly aware of the problem, they each pursue responses tailored to the tactics of the last specific battle that manifested in their own digital territory; in the United States, for example, we remain focused on Election 2016 and its Russian bots. As a result, we are investing in a set of inappropriate and ineffective responses: a digital Maginot Line constructed on one part of the battlefield as a deterrent against one set of tactics, while new tactics manifest elsewhere in real time.

Like the original Maginot Line, this approach is about as effective a defense as a minor speed bump.

[Read more…]

The Age of Early Divinity

If you’re the sort of person who reads this blog, you’re probably the sort of person who wastes time wondering what we should name the age we are living in, instead of being out there doering things. Is it the Information Age? Digital Age? Eternal Millennial September? Avocado Toast Age? Anthropocene? Terminal Hobbesian Age? Post-industrial? Post-capitalist? Post-authentic? Post-reality? Post-post-modernist?

Are there quality long-arc candidates, good for at least a couple of centuries, that are not a depressingly negatively defined, backward looking post-something, with reasonable supporting logic? Allow me to offer a new candidate: Early Divinity. Here’s a table illustrating the logic of the name, which I’m fairly confident (p < 0.05), is a good one.

The name is inspired by the line Stewart Brand stole from anthropologist Edward Leach for the inaugural Whole Earth Catalog: We are as gods, and might as well get good at it.

Early divinity, simply defined, is an age, or more technically, aeon (a period presided over by a particular incarnation of Aion, the eternalist personification of time in Greek mythology), when we are as gods but aren’t yet good at it. In fact we suck at it. It is an aeon marked by the taking-on of civilizational challenges worthy of gods, and getting really mediocre or failing grades at it. One day, we might get good at this god game, but it’s going to be a while. So settle in and enjoy the Mediocre Civilizational Universe of Early Divinity, MCU-ED.

Periodization, of course, is something of a parlor game for amateur historians like you and me. Real historians are going to hate this anyway, so we might as well have fun with it. Here’s my meta-theory of Aionic periodization that yielded this label for our age, and a preview of what godly things are in our near future.

[Read more…]

Refactorings Roundup 10/07/18 — 11/12/18

One of the interesting realizations I’ve had curating these links from a crowdsourced firehose is that the web looks subtly different from the perspective of a weakly interacting read/write crowd with a semi-permeable boundary, like a Mastodon instance fed by a hyperlocal blogosphere neighborhood. It is neither as incoherent as Twitter, nor as echo-chambery as a Facebook group, nor as aesthetically uniform as a single-curator feed. An open crowd mind seems to have certain harmonies and rhythms in the things it reading/writing/talking about. I like to think an ancient Silk Road bazaar would have had a feel something like this. Polyglot persistence of a network of human minds or something.

Straight Shot. Sculpture by Perri Lynch, Magnusson Park, Seattle

I have a month’s worth of curated links in this post. Ten new posts by friends of ribbonfarm, 27 assorted links from elsewhere.

This roundup is a human-filtered subset of links and short takes aggregated by the Feed Fox bot authored by Zach Faddis, and running on the refactorcamp.org Mastodon instance. You can follow the bot directly if you want the unfiltered firehose.

New Posts

  1. A Natural History of Beauty by Kevin Simler. Link
  2. Incipit as Infrastructure by Drew Austin. Link
  3. Things I Learned From Working With A Marketing Advisor by Sarah Constantin. Link
  4. The Algorithmic Bonus Mindset by @vgr. Link
  5. The Clock, Parts 1 and 2 by @bkam. Link Link
  6. Mandatory Obsessions by putanumonit. Link
  7. The floor and the canopy by @msweet. Link
  8. The Conflict by omniorthogonal. Link
  9. What poetry has to say about “the mob at the gate” by zenpundit. Link
  10. Towards Burja Mapping. Link. ht @tasshin

Comment on this post with your blog link if you want it monitored by Feed Fox for potential inclusion, along with your mastodon (preferred) or twitter handle. 

Stuff We Read

  1. Godzilla constellation. Link. ht @vgr
  2. Rewilding in Autumn. Link. ht @jayantkalawar
  3. Contrarian view on NIMBYism. Link. ht @machado
  4. Cats are good at hunting mice, but not at hunting city rats. Link. ht @vgr
  5. Left vs right = forager vs farmers? Hanson and Alexander’s take. Link. ht @steve
  6. Origins of Impersonal Markets. Link. ht @steve
  7. Algebra versus geometry views of the world. Link. ht @steve
  8. Sugihara’s list. Link. ht @vgr
  9. A Framework for Intelligence and Cortical Function Based on Grid Cells in the Neocortex. Link. ht @dereklh
  10. The Big Blockchain Lie. Link. ht @Elmkast
  11. Why fighter jets can’t just fly away from storms. Link. ht @vgr
  12. “Where were they radicalized?” Link. ht @britt
  13. Are gestures universal? Link. ht @vgr
  14. Reality has a surprising amount of detail. Link. ht @vgr
  15. Neat map of history of western philosophy. Link. ht @vgr
  16. Deadly vs. Holy theater is a useful lens for viewing politics in America right now. Link. ht @britt
  17. How to tell the temperature with cellular biology, I mean, crickets. Link. ht @britt
  18. Agreeableness linked to longer life in male chimps. Link. ht @dereklh
  19. Reading books and digital streams necessitates a “biliterate mind” Link. ht @dereklh
  20. A greypill manifesto. Link. ht @britt
  21. Doctors hate computers. Link. ht @vgr
  22. Gerrymandering is fragile. Link. Link. ht @vgr
  23. The kilogram is being redefined. Link. ht @vgr
  24. Why do we bother wearing bicycle helmets? Link. ht @vgr
  25. Nice deep profile of Bruno Latour. Link. ht @vgr
  26. Hayao Miyazaki makes films about what it means to live ethically in a cursed world. Link. ht @britt
  27. Schizophrenics can tickle themselves. Link. ht @vgr

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag links #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up by Feed Fox.

No short takes this time.

If you are on the refactorcamp mastodon instance, you can tag short takes #heyfeedfox so they’re picked up by Feed Fox.

May You Live in Epic Times

At most times, in most places, history is busy rhyming with itself. The same holds true of the future: at most times, in most places, the future is busy rhyming with itself. There are always golden and dark ages in the past. There are always utopias and dystopias just beyond the horizon.

The fact that histories and futures rhyme so much, or as I like to think of it, are in rerun mode so much, allows us to inhabit escaped realities that are effectively outside of time. The sort of timeless time that the Greeks associated with their least-known third god of time: Aion. Unlike the better-known Chronos and Kairos, Aion personifies neither objective time, nor subjective time, but timelessness. Aion is the god of the nontemporal eternities, utopian and dystopian, golden and dark. He is the god of cyclicalities and finite games, symbolized by the ouroboros, a serpent biting its own tail. Asian time, arguably, is entirely the ahistorical shadow of an Aionic world. Karma is Aion in disguise.

When Aion is ascendant, you can choose to escape reality and live inside the rhymes of the past and future, inhabiting time via Fourier transform, rather than living in the present. In fact, when Aion is strongest, your escapes can be so complete, you even lose awareness of their being escapes. Because there’s nothing new in the present and everything can be found in the rhymes. You can check out completely.

Most humans spend much of their lives living in the commodity non-time of  the Aionic realms, inhabiting escaped realities. Time is something that happens to other people.

But when the future is not like the past, the present becomes unique, and you must actually live in it. At least for a while.

Such times are interesting times. Such times are epic times. And depending on the part you’re called upon to play, they may be cursed times, or blessed times. [Read more…]

Treasure Hunting

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln nominated Orion Clemens to the post of Secretary of the Nevada Territory. Clemens’ brother, a Confederate deserter who would later be known as Mark Twain, went with him to Nevada as his assistant.

Roughing It is Mark Twain’s account of his time in the Nevada Territory, an epistemic potpourri of lies, jokes, exaggerations, folklore, and – occasionally – facts verifiable from other sources. It’s a mistake to try to read too much of Roughing It at once, because every story follows essentially the same pattern:

  1. The narrator is tempted into some adventure or other,
  2. about which the narrator is extremely ignorant,
  3. but he nonetheless constructs fantasies based on romantic or biased sources and his own imagining;
  4. his adventure does not accord with his credulous fantasies.

However, these are anything but morality tales about the importance of shrewd dealing and hard work. Mark Twain’s heroes, including his narrator in Roughing It, are defined by gullibility and laziness as their great virtues. A sensible man would not fantasize about the lure of the frontier, and if he did, he would certainly not actually set out for the frontier in a stagecoach at the first opportunity he got. A sensible man would be content being the assistant secretary of the Nevada Territory; he would not run off to prospect for gold, or to stake a timber claim. Therefore, a sensible man would not have so many interesting stories to tell. “Gullible” and “adventurous” are near-synonyms, but each emphasizes a different emotional valence of the characteristic. [Read more…]

The Speakeasy Imagineering Network

Today I learned that the term normalcy was popularized by Warren Harding, US President between 1921-23, over the then-accepted variant normality. His campaign slogan, return to normalcy, promised a return to a Pre-World War I condition.

Harding’s administration, however, also saw the beginning of the Prohibition era (1921-33). So presumably he meant a return to normalcy, but without the alcoholism, rampant domestic abuse, and corrupt saloon politics of the pre-War era. During the Roaring Twenties, to the extent it needed alcohol as fuel, the American romantic imagination (and here I mean the tumultuous Sturm und Drang of uninhibited subjectivity rather than the tepid nostalgia of pastoralism) either had to go abroad, to Europe, or hide in speakeasies.

I’ve been thinking about our own contemporary condition in light of the complicated relationship among cultural production, the romantic imagination, and Prohibition in the twenties, an era which rhymes in somewhat messy ways with our our own.

In particular, looking at the 2010s through the lens of the 1920s, I got to the interesting conclusion that what requires protection during times of overweening reactionary moral self-certainty is not the truth, but imagination.

The truth can take care of itself better than you might think, but without imagination, it cannot take care of you. And imagination, unlike truth, requires a degree of tender loving care, room for unconstrained expansive exploration, and yes, a reliable supply of Interesting Substances and safe spaces to consume them.

[Read more…]

Unflattening Hobbes

In political science, the idea of a Hobbesian state of nature, featuring an endemic war of all against all, is a notional initial condition from which civilization could plausibly emerge. A generous reading of the model is that it is not about evolutionary realism, but about the plausibility of a pristine peaceful order emerging from a primordial violent chaos, under unfavorable assumptions about human nature (selfish and innately violent). In the classical Hobbesian model, the layers of the civilizational stack are bootstrapped from conditions that constitute a “flat world” in a social sense. Peace and structure evolve in parallel from this violently chaotic flatness.

But consider a conceptual alternative to the traditional Hobbesian model: what happens when we discard the assumption that structural order and endemic conflict are mutually exclusive? Or that peace goes with order and violence with chaos? Do we necessarily run into a contradiction? Could order emerge from chaos and endure, without peace necessarily emerging from war and enduring in parallel?

What if a Hobbesian condition of endemic war of all against all does not require the world to be a materially devastated and socially flat one, populated by warring packs led by grim young men in Henleys? What if it just feels like today’s world, but gets steadily slightly worse, slouching towards dystopia without ever arriving or unraveling? A Hobbesian end to history rather than beginning?

[Read more…]

Seattle Drinks-and-Waterfront-Walk Meetup, Friday 19th

There will be a meetup on Friday the 19th, at 4:00 PM at Paddy Coyne’s by Pier 70. As with last time, we’ll hang out for a bit and get a drink to start, then go for a walk along the waterfront. Sunset is around 6:20 these days, so should be nice.

RSVP on this Facebook invite. Thanks to Weston Edwards for organizing.