|burn||Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.|
|mock||This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.|
|don't||Don't read this book.|
|desert||If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.|
|fan||If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.|
|worth||This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.|
|strongly||I strongly recommend this book|
|amazing||OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.|
I really loved this book. I mean, I was expecting to like it, but I wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Probably helps that Alan Alda was my favorite actor when I was growing up. God, I hope he doesn't Kevin Spacey that opinion. Anyway.
This book was about Alda's journey into his improving scientific communication with "the masses" (my word, not his). He's been excited about science, and wanted to convey that enthusiasm. Here's how, including the scientific basis for some of the techniques he used. Here's how, including how improv can help one become a better communicator. Here's how, including practicing empathy. it was just such a great book.
I wish I had read it with the Caltech Book Club, mostly so that I would have someone to talk with about this book. I know that Tech offers improv classes, and the Book Club organized an online class for the members to take. I love the idea of an improv class, while being simultaneously overwhelmingly nervous about them. I can talk tech to a room of 1500 people, but improv with a group of 10 people? YIKES!
I recommend the book. If you're in science and/or tech and want to improve your communication skills, I strongly recommend this book. Good stuff.
It’s being so aware of the other person that, even if you have your back to them, you’re observing them. It’s letting everything about them affect you; not just their words, but also their tone of voice, their body language, even subtle things like where they’re standing in the room or how they occupy a chair. Relating is letting all that seep into you and have an effect on how you respond to the other person.
I so loved this idea—that on the stage the other actor has to be able to affect you if a scene is to take place—that I came to the conclusion that, even in life, unless I’m responding with my whole self—unless, in fact, I’m willing to be changed by you—I’m probably not really listening. But if I do listen—openly, naïvely, and innocently—there’s a chance, possibly the only chance, that a true dialogue and real communication will take place between us.
Ignorance was my ally as long as it was backed up by curiosity. Ignorance without curiosity is not so good, but with curiosity it was the clear water through which I could see the coins at the bottom of the fountain.
His letter has come to be known as Jefferson’s dialogue between Head and Heart.
In fact, it’s not until about the age of four or five that it even occurs to children that deception is possible. There’s no point in lying if everybody knows what you’re thinking!
I coach from the side and explain that it’s his responsibility to help the mirror, his partner, keep up with him. This is the students’ first glimmer of the basic idea: The person who’s communicating something is responsible for how well the other person follows him.
If I’m trying to explain something and you don’t follow me, it’s not simply your job to catch up. It’s my job to slow down.
In other studies, simply tapping in sync, like tapping on a table, produced the same results. After they had spent some time tapping in sync, the subjects paid more attention to the good of the group, and they made fewer selfish choices.
One thing she’ll learn from this is that there are many different ways to express the same thought, depending on whom you’re talking with.
What could predict it, though, were three factors: the ability of the members of the group to freely take part in discussions, members’ scores on a standardized test of empathy, and, surprisingly, the presence of women in the group.
If you get the sense that the rest of the group is aware of your feelings and won’t punish you for speaking up, you might be more inclined to offer an idea.
Whether face-to-face or online, they reported, “some teams consistently worked smarter than others.” And the reasons they worked smarter were the same: They had “members who communicated a lot, participated equally, and possessed good emotion-reading skills.”
He struck a chord when he wrote about the pitfalls of assuming students are totally responsible for their own motivation, noting that “this can lead researchers to blame group members for their lack of motivation.” Instead, he feels that it’s up to the leader of the group to motivate the students, or else things can break down. This is the very thing that happens in the mirror exercise when the leader doesn’t take responsibility for helping the other person to follow. They lose the connection that could keep them in sync. It happens when a teacher blames the student or a speaker blames the audience for not understanding what they have to say.
The responsibility really belongs to the person speaking, not the person listening.
“The goal,” he was saying, “is to provide people with the conditions that enhance their natural self-motivated behavior.”
Some of my limited experience as a boss has included the unpleasant task of firing people who, it suddenly turned out, were wrong for the job—that remarkable transformation where someone you thought was perfect has turned into a werewolf. They haven’t actually become something else, of course. They’re the same perfectly fine people they were months earlier. But with all my supposed sensitivity and mind-reading ability, I hadn’t picked up on who they really were when I hired them.
I could have avoided all the mind reading I needed in firing them humanely if I had been better at it when I was hiring them.
He seems aware that good communication is the responsibility of the person delivering the information, not the person receiving
we teach scientists that it’s not necessary to tell the audience everything you know in one gulp. Sometimes, telling us just enough to make us want to know more is exactly the right amount. We gag on force-feeding.
Leek says, “It’s people’s nature where if they don’t understand something, they tend to say, ‘No.’
When I can’t open a hard plastic “clamshell” container with scissors or a knife, or even a hammer, I wonder, Has the president of the company ever personally tried to open this thing?
Social awareness became one of the key attributes of emotional intelligence as described in the work of Daniel Goleman. Goleman has refined the notion of social awareness to three separate steps: first, having an instantaneous, primal awareness of another’s inner state (empathy); then, grasping their feelings and thoughts (Theory of Mind); and, finally, understanding—or, as he says, “getting complicated social situations.” Goleman has described social awareness as “the ability to identify a client’s or customer’s often unstated needs and concerns and then match them to products or services.” He adds that “this empathic strategy distinguishes star sales performers from average ones.”
You’re vulnerable when you laugh. You let the other person in.
What’s the story? Where are you in the story?…
He asks himself the same kind of questions we suggest our scientists ask: “Who is receiving it? Who are you? Why are you listening to this? Why would you care? Should you care?… I think,”
I asked them to make imaginary objects out of space and pass them around in a circle, just as I would if I were working with scientists. Next, they tossed balls made of nothing to one another, but the kids had to make sure the ball they caught was the same size and weight as the one that was thrown to them. As always, the better they got at that, the more you believed you could see the ball passing from one person to another. The kids were delighted to see imaginary objects coming into existence simply because they were observing one another and responding—making contact. Then I asked them to toss not a ball, but an emotion around the circle. That was hard to grasp at first. It was confusing enough to toss around a ball that didn’t really exist; now I was asking them to pass around a feeling. To get them started, I made a sound and a gesture that I hoped conveyed a sense of joy and tossed it to the girl standing next to me. Her job was to catch it, the same way she had caught the imaginary ball, then mimic the emotion and pass it on to someone else. The emotion made its way around the circle, and soon the natural expressiveness of musicians took over and they were tossing passions to one another.
You accept what you get from the other person, and then let it grow into something else. You keep moving things forward.
Life, of course, is an improvisation. You don’t know what’s coming next.
Self-regulation has to take place: You know what the other person is going through because you recognize their emotion in yourself, but you don’t have to act out that emotion. You take responsibility for regulating your own feelings.
Training in improv and acting in general both lead to improvement on standardized tests designed to measure a person’s ability to connect with the state of mind of another person.
The Three Rules of Three 1. When I talk to an audience, I try to make no more than three points. (They can’t remember more than three, and neither can I.) In fact, restricting myself to one big point is even better. But three is the limit. 2. I try to explain difficult ideas three different ways. Some people can’t understand something the first couple of ways I say it, but can if I say it another way. This lets them triangulate their way to understanding. 3. I try to find a subtle way to make an important point three times. It sticks a little better. But even
I stopped practicing empathy for a while; it was exhausting.
I began to look at people’s faces not only to guess what they were feeling, but to actually name it. I would mentally attach a word to what I thought was their emotion. Labeling it meant that I wasn’t just observing them; I was making a conscious effort to settle on the exact word that described what I saw.
But what emotion are they going through? Identifying it doesn’t make me more sympathetic, but it does give me a chance to respond more appropriately. It kind of heads off impatience.
He briefly outlined a method where he could give people an app for their smartphones that they could tap every time they read someone’s emotion and named it. They could do this for a week, and he could use standardized tools for testing empathy before and after a run. He thought for a moment and said, “I’d love to do that study.”
In fact, I’d be happy to report on a failure, I thought. I have a lot of respect for failed experiments. It’s how scientists know what doesn’t work. I wish more so-called failures in research got attention. It would save others from going down the same dead-end alleys. It could be helpful to report on this if it didn’t pan out.
He reminded me that the study was still going on and told me he was being very careful about not committing the error of peeking at the results before all the data were in.
Matt mentioned that the harder it is for someone to read their own emotions, the harder it is for them to read the emotions of others. Maybe I should have been working on becoming better aware of my own emotions.
Reading the Mind in the Eyes test.
The first time I took it, I scored 33 out of 36. This time I got 36 out of 36. This proves nothing at all, of course, and ranks on a scale of reliable evidence just above wishing. But I was delighted anyway.
Even when we think of empathy as a tool for good, it might not be a good idea to oversell its strengths, and we should remember that there will always be people who will use it against others for their own benefit.
For Bloom, empathy is harder to achieve than we realize, and it doesn’t lead to moral behavior or good policy as much as rationality does.
There are times we know what the rational action should be, but don’t take it until we consider what the other person is feeling. I know, in my own life, I sometimes respond to a question with an answer that isn’t really helpful.
George Gopen wrote with Judith Swan, called “The Science of Scientific Writing,”
As Gopen says, “Readers expect [a sentence] to be a story about whoever shows up first.”
Richard Feynman told the story of a boy who taunted him when he was young, challenging him to name a bird they’d just seen. When he couldn’t, the boy said, “It’s a brown-throated thrush. Your father doesn’t teach you anything!” But his father already had taught him something that was more important than the name of a thing. He’d said to him, “See that bird? It’s a Spencer’s warbler.” Feynman could tell his father had made up the name. Then he started to give Richard fictitious names of the same bird in several languages. “You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world,” he said, “but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird…. so let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing—that’s what counts.”
And we believe that the body’s stress-hormone response acts to enhance memory.”
So, emotion helps us remember. That was clear. But this was new to me: that a bit of stress can help make that memory stick and feel more important than other memories.
And there was no deodorant in my suitcase. I have a pathological fear of smelling bad, especially in front of twenty-eight hundred people.
Laughter, he’s found, is far better than anger. And not just as an aid to memory, but as a way to connect.
If we’re looking for a way to bring emotion to someone, a story is the perfect vehicle. We can’t resist stories. We crave them.
As Mike has written: “Though the left hemisphere had no clue, it would not be satisfied to state it did not know. It would guess, prevaricate, rationalize, and look for a cause and effect, but it would always come up with an answer that fit the circumstances.”
As Steve Strogatz told me, the trouble with a lecture is that it answers questions that haven’t been asked.
So, what is a story? Aristotle is often quoted as saying that a story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
We can identify with someone who has a goal, but we root for someone with both a goal and an obstacle.
Having a goal in the first place is crucially important. What does the hero or heroine want? What has she set out to achieve that is, at this moment, the most important thing in her life?
I’ve often thought there ought to be a sign in the wings that says, “No one permitted beyond this point unless you know what you want with all your heart, and you know how you’re going to get it.”
Here’s where the importance of the middle comes in. If an obstacle complicates the story and puts everything in doubt, then we have suspense and at the height of that suspense there’s going to be a turning point, where things are either going to get a lot better or a lot worse. There’s something very engaging about this because it’s difficult not to be caught up in someone’s struggle to achieve something.
For me, the acknowledgment of an opposing thought is one of the things that makes science such a dramatic thing to watch.
The more commonality between the storyteller and the listener, the more an MRI will show their brains in sync.
Communication works only in cases when you understand something about what I’m going to say to you.”
But even though any single study is seldom the final answer to anything, it can point you in a direction that’s worth exploring.
And an awareness of similarity seems to be worth exploring, because it’s helpful in figuring out what the other person is thinking.
There’s something appealing about a private language. It can be intoxicating. Jargon is like that, and the more rarefied it is—the fewer people who understand it besides you—the more it resembles the common hydrofloxia. It has a seductive aroma. You can get drunk on it.
The three computer scientists at MIT who created SCIgen had shown how easily jargon gone amok can open the door to fraudulent research papers: nonsense leading to non-science.
“Automatic SBIR Proposal Generator”
Speaking jargon to the right person can save time and it can also lead to fewer errors.
Their shocking conclusion was that very often extra knowledge is a disadvantage. At first it seems nonsensical that knowledge could be a burden, and even a curse. The problem, of course, is not in the knowledge itself. The problem is when you can’t imagine what it’s like not to have that knowledge.
There’s something about having knowledge that makes it difficult to take the beginner’s view, to be able to think the way you did before you had that knowledge. And unless you’re aware that you actually know something the other person doesn’t know, you can be at a disadvantage.
It’s like the line from a poem by Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Scientists fail better when they’re looking for more truth rather than some absolute true-for-all-time truth.
This is one of those books that sits with you for a long while after you have finished reading it. If you don't know the circumstances happening at the time of the writing, or about the author, Maximilien Robespierre, himself, then the book might not linger.
If you recognize that the earlier works of Robespierre are what you want to hear from a leader, someone who is actively championing the underdog, the little guy, the poor, who believes in basic human rights for everyone, who actively fights against slavery; and then realize that the same man led the new government that overthrew the previous government and subsequently started murdering anyone who opposed the new government (or who was even suspected of opposing the new government), then you begin to recognize why the book is sticking with you for so long.
Yes, we want things to be fair. Yes, we want to be rewarded for our hard work. Yes, it would be great if everyone had an equal chance at opportunities. Yes, we want justice and equality.
But here we have a man who was against the death penalty, but argued strongly for the right of a government to execute, murder, anyone who opposed said government. You will have your Liberty by force, dammit.
Much of the justification he uses, yeah, I agree with. Some of it, not so much. This isn't a period in history that I paid strong attention to, though I wish I had, but from these kinds of writings. You can read about history, and yes, it reads like a story book. Then you read some of these works, you hear the words, you feel the emotions, and realize it wasn't a story, it happened, these were people. Suddenly, history becomes this absolutely fascinating saga about human nature. You can see how Robespierre played people, how our motivations are the same, how influence works, and how neuroscience has helped us understand many of these things.
We're still confusing creatures, but we have patterns. This book shows just how much they haven't changed.
I strongly recommend this book. It is a slow read.
Unformatted quotes that caught my attention:
The further crucial point to bear in mind is that, for Robespierre, revolutionary terror is the very opposite of war: Robespierre was a pacifist, not out of hypocrisy or humanitarian sensitivity, but because he was well aware that war among nations as a rule serves as the means to obfuscate revolutionary struggle within each nation.
And this is what Robespierre aims at in his famous accusation to the moderates that what they really want is a ‘revolution without a revolution’: they want a revolution deprived of the excess in which democracy and terror coincide, a revolution respecting social rules, subordinated to pre-existing norms, a revolution in which violence is deprived of the ‘divine’ dimension and thus reduced to a strategic intervention serving precise and limited goals: Citizens, did you want a revolution without a revolution? What is this spirit of persecution that has come to revise, so to speak, the one that broke our chains? But what sure judgement can one make of the effects that can follow these great commotions? Who can mark, after the event, the exact point at which the waves of popular insurrection should break? At that price, what people could ever have shaken off the yoke of despotism? For while it is true that a great nation cannot rise in a simultaneous movement, and that tyranny can only be hit by the portion of citizens that is closest to it, how would these ever dare to attack it if, after the victory, delegates from remote parts could hold them responsible for the duration or violence of the political torment that had saved the homeland? They ought to be regarded as justified by tacit proxy for the whole of society. The French, friends of liberty, meeting in Paris last August, acted in that role, in the name of all the departments. They should either be approved or repudiated entirely. To make them criminally responsible for a few apparent or real disorders, inseparable from so great a shock, would be to punish them for their devotion.
The best way to approach it is via Freud’s reluctance to endorse the injunction ‘Love thy neighbour!’ –the temptation to be resisted here is the ethical domestication of the neighbour –for example, what Emmanuel Levinas did with his notion of the neighbour as the abyssal point from which the call of ethical responsibility emanates.
Robespierre, in a true master stroke, assumes full subjectivization –waiting a little bit for the ominous effect of his words to take place, he then continues in the first-person singular: ‘I say that anyone who trembles at this moment is guilty; for innocence never fears public scrutiny.’ 16
there are no innocent bystanders in the crucial moments of revolutionary decision, because, in such moments, innocence itself –exempting oneself from the decision, going on as if the struggle I am witnessing does not really concern me –is the highest treason.
This is how Yamamoto Jocho, a Zen priest, described the proper attitude of a warrior: every day without fail one should consider oneself as dead. There is a saying of the elders that goes, ‘Step from under the eaves and you’re a dead man. Leave the gate and the enemy is waiting.’ This is not a matter of being careful. It is to consider oneself as dead beforehand. 18
Every legal order (or every order of explicit normativity) has to rely on a complex ‘reflexive’ network of informal rules which tells us how are we to relate to the explicit norms, how are we to apply them: to what extent are we to take them literally, how and when are we allowed, solicited even, to disregard them, etc. –and this is the domain of habit. To know the habits of a society is to know the metarules of how to apply its explicit norms: when to use them or not use them; when to violate them; when not to use a choice which is offered; when we are effectively obliged to do something, but have to pretend that we are doing it as a free choice (as in the case of potlatch).
Recall the polite offer-meant-to-be-refused: it is a ‘habit’ to refuse such an offer, and anyone who accepts such an offer commits a vulgar blunder. The same goes for many political situations in which a choice is given on condition that we make the right choice: we are solemnly reminded that we can say no –but we are expected to reject this offer and enthusiastically say yes.
To cast off the yoke of habit means: if all men are equal, then all men are to be effectively treated as equal; if blacks are also human, they should be immediately treated as such.
Of course, radical bourgeois revolutionaries are aware of this limitation; however, the way they try to amend it is through a direct ‘terrorist’ imposition of more and more de facto equality (equal wages, equal health treatment …), which can only be imposed through new forms of formal inequality (different sorts of preferential treatments of the under-privileged).
How are we to reinvent the Jacobin terror?
Actually, what IS jacobian terror?
Kant’s well-known thesis that Reason without Intuition is empty, while Intuition without Reason is blind: is not its political counterpart Robespierre’s dictum according to which Virtue without Terror is impotent, while Terror without Virtue is lethal, striking blindly?
It is only such a radical stance that allows us to break with today’s predominant mode of politics, post-political biopolitics, which is a politics of fear, formulated as a defence against a potential victimization or harassment. Therein resides the true line of separation between radical emancipatory politics and the politics of the status quo: it is not the difference between two different positive visions, sets of axioms, but, rather, the difference between the politics based on a set of universal axioms and the politics which renounces the very constitutive dimension of the political, since it resorts to fear as its ultimate mobilizing principle: fear of immigrants, fear of crime, fear of godless sexual depravity, fear of the excessive state itself (with its burdensome taxation), fear of ecological catastrophes –such a (post) politics always amounts to a frightening rallying of frightened men.
liberty consists in obeying laws voluntarily adopted, and servitude in being forced to submit to an outside will.
All men born and domiciled in France are members of the political society called the French nation, in other words French citizens. That is what they are by the nature of things and by the main principles of the law of nations. The rights attached to this title depend neither on the fortune each individual possesses, nor on the amount of taxation to which he is subject, because it is not tax that makes us citizens; the quality of citizen only obliges him to contribute to the common expenditure of the state, according to his abilities. Now you can give laws to the citizens, but you cannot annihilate them.
I ought only to answer with a word or two: the people, that multitude of men whose cause I am defending, have rights that come from the same origin as your own. Who gave you the power to take them away? General practicality,
There is more: unless you do everything for liberty, you have done nothing. There are no two ways of being free: one must be entirely free, or become a slave once more. The least resource left to despotism will soon restore its power.
The law, the public authority: is it not established to protect weakness against injustice and oppression? It is thus an offence to all social principles to place it entirely in the hands of the rich.
Do you really believe in all honesty that a hard and laborious life produces more faults than softness, luxury and ambition? And
Abuses are the work and the domain of the rich, they are the scourges of the people: the interest of the people is the general interest, that of the rich is a particular interest;
It gives the citizens this astonishing lesson: ‘Be rich, whatever the cost, or you will be nothing.’
To make laws to restore and establish the rights of your constituents. It is thus not possible for you to strip them of those same rights.
It falls only to the essentially infallible Being to be immutable; to change is not just a right but a duty for any human will that has faltered. Men who decide the fate of other men are less exempt than anyone from this common obligation.
it is necessary for surveillance by honest people to stand against the forces of ambitious and corrupt intriguers.
It is in the nature of things that the march of reason should be slow and gradual.
The most depraved government finds powerful support in the prejudices, the habits, the education of peoples.
In a sort of despair, they want to hurl themselves into a foreign war, as if they hoped that the mere change brought about by war would bring us to life, or that order and liberty would eventually emerge from the general confusion.
There are in revolutions movements contrary to liberty and movements that favour it, as in illnesses there are salutary crises and mortal ones. The favourable movements are those aimed directly against tyrants, like the Americans’ insurrection, or that of 14 July. But war on the outside, provoked, directed by the government in the circumstances we are in now, is a movement in the wrong direction, a crisis that could lead to the death of the body politic. Such a war can only send public opinion off on a false scent, divert the nation’s well-founded anxieties, and forestall the favourable crisis that attacks by enemies of liberty might have brought on.
During a foreign war the people, as I said, distracted by military events from political deliberations affecting the essential foundations of its liberty, is less inclined to take seriously the underhand manoeuvres of plotters who are undermining it and the executive government which is knocking it about, and pay less attention to the weakness or corruption of representatives who are failing to defend it.
The sort of man who would look with horror on the betrayal of the homeland can still be led by adroit officers to run its best citizens through with steel;
I am enlightening it; to enlighten free men is to awaken their courage, to prevent that courage itself from becoming a stumbling-block to their liberty;
I neither deny them nor believe them; for I have heard too many calumnies to believe denunciations that come from the same source and that all bear the imprint of bias or passion.
Might you not also reproach us for having illegally smashed the mercenary scribblers, whose profession was to propagate fraud and blaspheme against liberty?
Who can mark, after the event, the exact point at which the waves of popular insurrection should break? At that price, what people could ever have shaken off the yoke of despotism?
For while it is true that a great nation cannot rise in a simultaneous movement, and that tyranny can only be hit by the portion of citizens that is closest to it, how would these ever dare to attack it if, after the victory, delegates from remote parts could hold them responsible for the duration or violence of the political torment that had saved the homeland? They ought to be regarded as justified by tacit proxy for the whole of society.
M. Louvet himself generalized, in a very vague way, the accusation directed earlier against me personally; from this it seems certain that calumny had been doing its work in the shadows.
To form an accurate idea of these events, the truth should be sought, not in the writings or slanderous speeches that have misrepresented them, but in the history of the recent revolution.
So you only talk about dictatorship in order to exercise it yourself without any restraint; you only talk about proscriptions and tyranny because you want to proscribe and tyrannize.
I renounce the just vengeance I would have a right to pursue against the slanderers; I ask that that vengeance be nothing more than the return of peace and the triumph of liberty.
In every country where nature provides for the needs of men with prodigality, scarcity can only be imputed to defects of administration or of the laws themselves; bad laws and bad administration have their origins in false principles and bad morals.
You need at least to subject to severe examination all the laws made under royal despotism and under the auspices of noble, ecclesiastical or bourgeois aristocracy; and so far you have no others at all.
freedom of trade is necessary up to the point where homicidal greed starts to abuse it;
Common sense indicates, for example, the truth that foodstuffs that are in no way essential to life can be left to untrammelled speculation by the merchant; any momentary scarcity that might be felt is always a bearable inconvenience; and it is acceptable in general that the unlimited freedom of such a market should turn to the greater profit of the state and some individuals; but the lives of men cannot be subjected to the same uncertainty. It is not necessary that I be able to purchase brilliant fabrics; but I do need to be rich enough to buy bread, for myself and my children. The merchant is welcome to retain goods coveted by wealth and vanity in his shops, until he finds the moment to sell them at the highest possible price; but no man has the right to amass piles of wheat, when his neighbour is dying of hunger.
What is the first object of society? It is to maintain the imprescriptible rights of man. What is the first of those rights? The right to life.
The first social law is therefore the one that guarantees all members of society the means to live; all the others are subordinate to that one; property was only instituted and guaranteed to consolidate it; it is primarily to live that people have property.
No doubt if all men were just and virtuous; if cupidity were never tempted to devour the people’s substance; if the rich, receptive to the voices of reason and nature, regarded themselves as the bursars of society, or as brothers to the poor, it might be possible to recognize no law but the most unlimited freedom;
Let the circulation of goods be protected throughout the whole Republic; but let the necessary measures be taken to ensure that circulation takes place. It is precisely the lack of circulation that I am complaining about. For the scourge of the people, the source of scarcity, is the obstacles placed in the way of circulation, under the pretext of rendering it unlimited. Does public subsistence circulate when greedy speculators are keeping it piled in their granaries? Does it circulate, when it is accumulated in the hands of a small number of millionaires who withhold it from the market, to make it more valuable and rare; who coldly calculate how many families must perish before the commodity reaches the release date fixed by their atrocious avarice?
Ha! what sort of good citizen can complain of being obliged to act with probity and in broad daylight?
I am well aware that when we examine the circumstances of some particular riot, aroused by the real or imagined scarcity of wheat, we sometimes recognize the influence of an outside cause. Ambition and intrigue need to start trouble: sometimes it is those same men who stir up the people, to find the pretext to slaughter it and to make liberty itself seem terrible in the eyes of weak and selfish individuals. But it is no less true that the people is naturally upright and peaceable; it is always guided by a pure intention; the malevolent can only stir it up by presenting a motive that is powerful and legitimate in its eyes.
the greatest service the legislator can perform for men is to force them to be honest folk.
do not forget that the source of order is justice; that the surest guarantor of public peace is the well-being of the citizens,
It does not even occur to us that most are inevitably still connected with the prejudices on which despotism fed us.
When a nation has been forced to resort to the right of insurrection, it returns to the state of nature in relation to the tyrant. How can the tyrant invoke the social pact? He has annihilated it. The nation can still keep it, if it thinks fit, for everything concerning relations between citizens; but the effect of tyranny and insurrection is to break it entirely where the tyrant is concerned; it places them reciprocally in a state of war. Courts and legal proceedings are only for members of the same side.
Peoples do not judge in the same way as courts of law; they do not hand down sentences, they throw thunderbolts; they do not condemn kings, they drop them back into the void; and this justice is worth just as much as that of the courts.
It is less a question of enlightenment than of avoiding voluntary blindness.
Why is it that what seems clear to us at one time seems obscure at another?
There was no need for a revolution, surely, to teach the universe that extreme disproportion between fortunes is the source of many ills and many crimes, but we are nevertheless convinced that equality of possessions is a chimera.
Now, where public contributions are concerned, is there any principle more obviously derived from the nature of things and from eternal justice, than one that obliges the citizens to contribute to public expenditure progressively, in accordance with the size of their fortune, in other words in accordance with the advantages they draw from society?
XIX. In any free state, the law above all should defend public and individual liberty against abuse of authority by those who govern. Any institution that does not assume the people to be good, and the magistrate corruptible, is itself depraved.
XXXI. In both these cases, subjecting resistance against oppression to legal forms is the ultimate refinement of tyranny.
XXXIII. Offences committed by people’s representatives should be severely and promptly punished. No one has the right to claim to be more inviolable than other citizens.
The truth is that under the old empress, as under all women who hold the sceptre, it is men who govern.
That country combines the ferocity of savage hordes with the vices of civilized peoples.
Force can overthrow a throne; only wisdom can found a Republic.
They say their authority is its work. No: God created tigers; but kings are the masterpieces of human corruption.
Successes send weak souls to sleep; they spur strong souls on. Let
If revolutionary government should be more active in its working and freer in its movements than ordinary government, does that make it less just and less legitimate? No. It is supported by the holiest of all laws: the salvation of the people; by the most indisputable of all entitlements: necessity.
Yes! If it is accepted that there are moderates and cowards of good faith, why should there not be patriots of good faith, who are sometimes carried away by a praiseworthy sentiment to go too far?
By sketching the duties of revolutionary government, we have marked the pitfalls that threaten it. The greater its power, the more free and rapid its action, the more it should be directed by good faith. On
Let us raise our souls to the height of republican virtues and examples from antiquity. Themistocles7 had more genius than the Lacedaemonian general commanding the Greek fleet: however, when the general answered a much-needed piece of advice meant to save the country by raising his baton to strike him, Themistocles merely said ‘Strike then, but listen’, and Greece triumphed over the Asian tyrant.
Punishing a hundred obscure and subordinate culprits is less useful to liberty than executing the head of a conspiracy.
commerce the source of public wealth and not just the monstrous opulence of a few houses.
We want in our country to substitute morality for egoism, probity for honour, principles for practices, duties for proprieties, the rule of reason for the tyranny of fashion, contempt of vice for contempt of misfortune, pride for insolence, greatness of soul for vanity, love of glory for love of money, good people for good company, merit for intrigue, genius for fine wit, truth for brilliance, the charm of happiness for the boredom of luxury, the greatness of man for the pettiness of great men, a magnanimous, powerful, happy people for an amiable, frivolous and miserable people; in short all the virtues and miracles of the Republic for all the vices and absurdities of monarchy.
A democracy is not a state in which the people, continually assembled, manages all public business for itself, still less one in which a hundred thousand fractions of the people, through isolated, precipitate and contradictory measures, would decide the fate of the whole society: no such government has ever existed, and it could only exist to take the people back to despotism. Democracy is a state in which the sovereign people, guided by laws which are its own work, does for itself all that it can do properly, and through delegates all that it cannot do for itself.
Thus, anything that tends to arouse love of the homeland, to purify morals, to elevate souls, to direct the passions of the human heart towards the public interest, should be adopted or established by you. Anything that tends to concentrate them on the abjectness of the personal self, to arouse crazes for small things and contempt for great ones, should be rejected or repressed by you.
A nation is really corrupted when, having lost by slow degrees its character and its liberty, it moves from democracy to aristocracy or monarchy; that is the death of the body politic through decrepitude.
From all of this we should deduce a great truth: that the character of popular government is to be trusting towards the people and severe with itself.
If the mainspring of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the mainspring of popular government in revolution is virtue and terror both: virtue, without which terror is disastrous; terror, without which virtue is powerless.
Nature’s law is that any physical and moral entity must provide for its own preservation;
he would rather wear out a hundred red caps than perform one good act.
Do we need to assert the rights of the people oppressed by the government? They speak only of respect for the law and obedience to the constituted authorities.
The wish to forestall evil is always to them a reason for augmenting it. In the North the poultry were killed, depriving us of eggs, under the pretext that poultry eat grain. In the Midi, people wanted to uproot mulberry and orange trees, on the pretext that silk is a luxury product, and oranges unnecessary.
Would you believe that in the areas where superstition has had most influence, not content with loading the operations concerning religion with all the forms most calculated to render them odious, they spread terror among the people by starting a rumour that all children under ten and all old people over seventy were going to be killed? That this rumour was spread particularly in former Brittany and in the departments of Rhine and Moselle?
In perfidious hands all the remedies for our ills become poisons; whatever you can do, whatever you can say, they will turn it against you, even the truths we have just been developing.
Thus, for example, after having planted the seeds of civil war everywhere, with the violent attack on religious prejudices, they will seek to arm fanaticism and aristocracy with the very measures that sound policy recommended to you in favour of freedom of religion.
Democracy perishes through two excesses, the aristocracy of those who govern, or the people’s contempt for the authorities it has itself established, a contempt that results in each coterie, each individual appropriating public power, and brings the people, through excess of disorder, to annihilation or rule by a single individual.
There are two powers on earth, reason and tyranny; wherever one is predominant, the other is banned. Those who denounce the moral strength of reason as a crime are therefore seeking to revive tyranny.
Which is the more guilty, one who threatens its security through violence, or one who undermines its justice through seduction and perfidy? To mislead it is to betray it; to push it into acts contrary to its intentions and principles is to risk its destruction; for its power is based on virtue itself and on the confidence of the nation.
Why do those who used to say: I declare to you that we are walking on volcanoes, believe today that they are walking on nothing but roses?
Think about the end of the campaign; be afraid of internal factions; be afraid of the intrigues favoured by absence in a foreign land.
There should be no question of hobbling the people’s justice through new forms; penal law ought necessarily to have something vague about it because, the current character of the conspirators being one of dissimulation and hypocrisy, justice needs to be able to grasp them in all forms.
So the safeguard of patriotism lies not in the slowness or weakness of national law, but in the principles and integrity of those entrusted with it, in the good faith of the government, in the open protection it gives to patriots, and the energy with which it represses the aristocracy; in the public mind, and in certain moral and political institutions that, without hampering the workings of the law, offer a safeguard to good citizens and repress bad ones, through their influence on public opinion and on the direction of the revolutionary march; these will be proposed to you as soon as the most immediate conspiracies allow the friends of liberty time to draw breath.
Let us not be mistaken: establishing an immense Republic on foundations of reason and equality, holding all the parts of this immense empire together with vigorous bonds, is not an enterprise that can be completed thoughtlessly: it is the masterpiece of virtue and human reason. A host of factions springs up inside a great revolution; how can they be repressed, if you do not subject all the passions to constant justice? Your only guarantor of liberty is rigorous observation of the principles and the universal morality you have proclaimed. If reason does not reign, then crime and ambition must reign; without it, victory is just an instrument of ambition and a danger to liberty, a lethal pretext misused by intrigue to lull patriotism to sleep on the edge of the precipice; without it, what is the very meaning of victory?
know that every friend of liberty will always be trapped between a duty and a calumny; that those who cannot be accused of betrayal will be accused of ambition; that the influence of probity and principle will be likened to the strength of tyranny and the violence of factions; that your trust and your esteem will be certificates of proscription for all your friends; that the cries of oppressed patriotism will be called cries of sedition, and that, not daring to attack you in the mass, they will proscribe you singly in the persons of all good citizens, until the ambitious have organized their tyranny.
I actively did not like this book.
I was expecting the book to be a Japanese flavor of Stoicism, told in an interesting way.
Instead, it is an Adlerian philosophy lesson wrapped up in a conversation. The conversation part isn't the part that annoys me, so much as the Adler philosophy.
1. You act or feel a certain way because you chose to and you use your past or other circumstances to justify the behavior.
2. All problems are interpersonal relationship problems
3. All relationships should be horizontal, treat everyone as equals.
The second rule manifests itself in the Stoic philosophy of control, mostly that just about everything except how you react is outside of your control. Adler says don't take on other people's "life tasks." You can’t control what other people think of you, so why worry about it? This is pretty much the only part I agreed with.
The first rule is the one that completely annoyed me. it puts the blame on the individual for systemic prejudices against her, and says it's her fault for feeling angry or frustrated or annoyed or mad. Hey, are you upset that you're told no you can't go to a conference, but your male coworker can go, that's your problem you feel angry at that unfairness. Hey, are you mad that you and two other women were all "laid-off" because of "budget concerns" because you thought Cowboy was irresponsible and called him on it, well that's your problem you've been fired, not the boys club we had here at work, you didn't bow down fast enough.
I am pretty sure that anyone who says Adler's philosophy is great is at the top of his (yes, male gendered noun on purpose) power landscape.
Did not like this book. Do not like Adler's philosophy, mock anyone who you see reading this book.
PHILOSOPHER: There is no change in what I say. The world is simple and life is simple, too.
YOUTH: How? Anyone can see that it’s a chaotic mass of contradictions.
PHILOSOPHER: That is not because the world is complicated. It’s because you are making the world complicated.
PHILOSOPHER: None of us live in an objective world, but instead in a subjective world that we ourselves have given meaning to. The world you see is different from the one I see, and it’s impossible to share your world with anyone else.
There is no escape from your own subjectivity. At present, the world seems complicated and mysterious to you, but if you change, the world will appear more simple. The issue is not about how the world is, but about how you are.
It’s as if you see the world through dark glasses, so naturally everything seems dark. But if that is the case, instead of lamenting about the world’s darkness, you could just remove the glasses. Perhaps the world will appear terribly bright to you then and you will involuntarily shut your eyes. Maybe you’ll want the glasses back on, but can you even take them off in the first place?
But why does everyone feel they want to change? There’s only one answer: because they cannot change. If it were easy for people to change, they wouldn’t spend so much time wishing they could.
He is not pretending to be sick. The anxiety and fear your friend is feeling are real. On occasion, he might also suffer from migraines and violent stomach cramps. However, these too are symptoms that he has created in order to achieve the goal of not going out.
But Adler, in denial of the trauma argument, states the following: “No experience is in itself a cause of our success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences—the so-called trauma—but instead we make out of them whatever suits our purposes. We are not determined by our experiences, but the meaning we give them is self-determining.”
So, Stoicism. Gotcha
We determine our own lives according to the meaning we give to those past experiences. Your life is not something that someone gives you, but something you choose yourself, and you are the one who decides how you live.
Every criminal has an internal justification for getting involved in crime. A dispute over money leads someone to engage in murder, for instance. To the perpetrator, it is something for which there is a justification and which can be restated as an accomplishment of “good.” Of course, this is not good in a moral sense, but good in the sense of being “of benefit to oneself.”
The Greek word for “good” (agathon) does not have a moral meaning. It just means “beneficial.” Conversely, the word for “evil” (kakon) means “not beneficial.” Our world is rife with injustices and misdeeds of all kinds, yet there is not one person who desires evil in the purest sense of the word, that is to say something “not beneficial.”
PHILOSOPHER: People are constantly selecting their lifestyles. Right now, while we are having this tête-à-tête, we are selecting ours. You describe yourself as an unhappy person. You say that you want to change right this minute. You even claim that you want to be reborn as a different person. After all that, then why are you still unable to change? It is because you are making the persistent decision not to change your lifestyle.
What you should do now is make a decision to stop your current lifestyle. For instance, earlier you said, “If only I could be someone like Y, I’d be happy.” As long as you live that way, in the realm of the possibility of “If only such and such were the case,” you will never be able to change. Because saying “If only I could be like Y” is an excuse to yourself for not changing.
He wants to live inside that realm of possibilities, where he can say that he could do it if he only had the time, or that he could write if he just had the proper environment, and that he really does have the talent for it.
Adler’s teleology tells us, “No matter what has occurred in your life up to this point, it should have no bearing at all on how you live from now on.” That you, living in the here and now, are the one who determines your own life.
PHILOSOPHER: Her story certainly isn’t unusual. Students preparing for their exams think, If I pass, life will be rosy. Company workers think, If I get transferred, everything will go well. But even when those wishes are fulfilled, in many cases nothing about their situations changes at all. YOUTH: Indeed.
Why do you dislike yourself? Why do you focus only on your shortcomings, and why have you decided to not start liking yourself? It’s because you are overly afraid of being disliked by other people and getting hurt in your interpersonal relationships.
But don’t forget, it’s basically impossible to not get hurt in your relations with other people. When you enter into interpersonal relationships, it is inevitable that to a greater or lesser extent you will get hurt, and you will hurt someone, too.
YOUTH: In other words, the feelings of inferiority we’re suffering from are subjective interpretations rather than objective facts?
PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. We cannot alter objective facts. But subjective interpretations can be altered as much as one likes. And we are inhabitants of a subjective world.
PHILOSOPHER: This is the other aspect of the inferiority complex. Those who manifest their inferiority complexes in words or attitudes, who say that “A is the situation, so B cannot be done,” are implying that if only it were not for A, they’d be capable and have value.
As Adler points out, no one is capable of putting up with having feelings of inferiority for a long period of time. Feelings of inferiority are something that everyone has, but staying in that condition is too heavy to endure forever.
The healthiest way is to try to compensate through striving and growth. For instance, it could be by applying oneself to one’s studies, engaging in constant training, or being diligent in one’s work. However, people who aren’t equipped with that courage end up stepping into an inferiority complex. Again, it’s thinking, I’m not well educated, so I can’t succeed. And
PHILOSOPHER: A healthy feeling of inferiority is not something that comes from comparing oneself to others; it comes from one’s comparison with one’s ideal self.
YOUTH: Does that mean you dropped out of competition? That you somehow accepted defeat? PHILOSOPHER: No. I withdrew from places that are preoccupied with winning and losing. When one is trying to be oneself, competition will inevitably get in the way.
PHILOSOPHER: This is what is so terrifying about competition. Even if you’re not a loser, even if you’re someone who keeps on winning, if you are someone who has placed himself in competition, you will never have a moment’s peace. You don’t want to be a loser. And you always have to keep on winning if you don’t want to be a loser. You can’t trust other people. The reason so many people don’t really feel happy while they’re building up their success in the eyes of society is that they are living in competition. Because to them, the world is a perilous place that is overflowing with enemies.
PHILOSOPHER: Certainly, there are times when I feel indignation with regard to social problems. But I would say that rather than a sudden burst of emotion, it is indignation based on logic. There is a difference between personal anger (personal grudge) and indignation with regard to society’s contradictions and injustices (righteous indignation). Personal anger soon cools. Righteous indignation, on the other hand, lasts for a long time. Anger as an expression of a personal grudge is nothing but a tool for making others submit to you.
PHILOSOPHER: If someone were to abuse me to my face, I would think about the person’s hidden goal. Even if you are not directly abusive, when you feel genuinely angry due to another person’s words or behavior, please consider that the person is challenging you to a power struggle.
PHILOSOPHER: The first thing that I want you to understand here is the fact that anger is a form of communication, and that communication is nevertheless possible without using anger. We can convey our thoughts and intentions and be accepted without any need for anger.
PHILOSOPHER: The moment one is convinced that “I am right” in an interpersonal relationship, one has already stepped into a power struggle.
PHILOSOPHER: In the first place, the rightness of one’s assertions has nothing to do with winning or losing. If you think you are right, regardless of what other people’s opinions might be, the matter should be closed then and there. However, many people will rush into a power struggle and try to make others submit to them. And that is why they think of “admitting a mistake” as “admitting defeat.”
PHILOSOPHER: Because of one’s mind-set of not wanting to lose, one is unable to admit one’s mistake, the result being that one ends up choosing the wrong path. Admitting mistakes, conveying words of apology, and stepping down from power struggles—none of these things is defeat. The pursuit of superiority is not something that is carried out through competition with other people.
Adler does not accept restricting one’s partner. If the person seems to be happy, one can frankly celebrate that condition. That is love. Relationships in which people restrict each other eventually fall apart.
The kind of relationship that feels somehow oppressive and strained when the two people are together cannot be called love, even if there is passion.
As Adler says, “Children who have not been taught to confront challenges will try to avoid all challenges.”
PHILOSOPHER: Maybe it is easier to live in such a way as to satisfy other people’s expectations. Because one is entrusting one’s own life to them. For example, one runs along the tracks that one’s parents have laid out. Even if there are a lot of things one might object to, one will not lose one’s way as long as one stays on those rails. But if one is deciding one’s path oneself, it’s only natural that one will get lost at times. One comes up against the wall of “how one should live.”
And, in that case, one has no choice but to discipline oneself on the basis that other people are watching. To aspire to be recognized by others and live an honest life. Other people’s eyes are my guide. PHILOSOPHER: Does one choose recognition from others, or does one choose a path of freedom without recognition? It’s an important question—let’s think about it together. To live one’s life trying to gauge other people’s feelings and being worried about how they look at you. To live in such a way that others’ wishes are granted. There may indeed be signposts to guide you this way, but it is a very unfree way to live.
Unless one is unconcerned by other people’s judgments, has no fear of being disliked by other people, and pays the cost that one might never be recognized, one will never be able to follow through in one’s own way of living. That is to say, one will not be able to be
The courage to be happy also includes the courage to be disliked.
Though this might be termed a “you and I” relationship, if it is one that can break down just because you raise an objection, then it is not the sort of relationship you need to get into in the first place. It is fine to just let go of it. Living in fear of one’s relationships falling apart is an unfree way to live, in which one is living for other people.
Do not cling to the small community right in front of you. There will always be more “you and I,” and more “everyone,” and larger communities that exist.
One wishes to be praised by someone. Or conversely, one decides to give praise to someone. This is proof that one is seeing all interpersonal relationships as “vertical relationships.”
Even if you do derive joy from being praised, it is the same as being dependent on vertical relationships and acknowledging that you have no ability. Because giving praise is a judgment that is passed by a person of ability onto a person without ability.
When receiving praise becomes one’s goal, one is choosing a way of living that is in line with another person’s system of values.
It is about having concern for others, building horizontal relationships, and taking the approach of encouragement.
Adler goes so far as to warn that those who sacrifice their own lives for others are people who have conformed to society too much.
PHILOSOPHER: Do not treat it as a line. Think of life as a series of dots. If you look through a magnifying glass at a solid line drawn with chalk, you will discover that what you thought was a line is actually a series of small dots. Seemingly linear existence is actually a series of dots; in other words, life is a series of moments. YOUTH: A series of moments? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. It is a series of moments called “now.” We can live only in the here and now. Our lives exist only in moments.
PHILOSOPHER: And Adler, having stated that “life in general has no meaning,” then continues, “Whatever meaning life has must be assigned to it by the individual.”
This is one of those books that was not what I was expecting, but was still fascinating to read. It made me wish I had a project that I was working on, so that I could apply the wisdom of the book to said project.
The unfortunate part of the book is that it is not a "here's how to do this thing you want to do so well that you have a hit, and as such, you can spend the rest of your life satisfied with that knowledge that 'you done good'." But really, if such a book did exist, it would be said hit, and then everything would be amazing, and we'd be back to the point where when everything's amazing, nothing is.
So, what is the fortunate part of the book? Eh.... it says, 'If you have a good idea and work really hard at it, and focus on it, ignoring all the distractions," you'll be successful (not necessarily financially or famously successful, but successful for some definition of successful).
At that point, promote the hell out of the work.
And here's how to do that.
Again, I really wish I had a project I could apply this book to. Honestly, I'm likely to come back to this book when I do. Worth reading if you have a project / product that you're willing to embrace the long-tail on, and not some flash in the pan, fleeting, POS thing that modern society seems to thrive on these days.
People claim to want to do something that matters, yet they measure themselves against things that don’t, and track their progress not in years but in microseconds.
Promotion is not how things are made great—only how they’re heard about.
To be great, one must make great work, and making great work is incredibly hard. It must be our primary focus.
Phil Libin, the cofounder of Evernote, has a quote I like to share with clients: “People [who are] thinking about things other than making the best product never make the best product.”
When we look to great works of history as our example, we see one thing: that powerful work is a struggle and that it requires great sacrifice. The desire for lasting greatness makes the struggle survivable, the sacrifice worth it.
I’ve met with no shortage of smart, accomplished people who, I’ve realized, don’t actually want to write a book despite what they say. They want to have a book.
To make something great, what’s required is need. As in, I need to do this. I have to. I can’t not.
Every project must begin with the right intent. It might also need luck and timing and a thousand other things, but the right intent is nonnegotiable—and, thankfully, intent is very much in your control.
willingness to trade off something—time, comfort, easy money, recognition—lies at the heart of every great work. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always a significant sacrifice that needs to happen. If it didn’t, everyone would do it.
“If you focus on near-term growth above everything else,” he has written, “you miss the most important question you should be asking: Will this business still be around a decade from now?”
Doing so is not simple, however. It can mean tough choices, saying no when everyone wants you to say yes—sometimes even the people closest to you who are counting on you.
Frank Darabont, the director and writer of The Shawshank Redemption, was offered $ 2.5 million to sell the rights so that Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise could be cast as the stars.
As Hemingway supposedly said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library has some forty-seven alternative endings for Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. He rewrote the first part of the book, by his own count, more than fifty times. He wrote all of them, trying them like pieces of a puzzle until one finally fit.
On the other end of the creative spectrum, the brilliant military strategist John Boyd utilized what he called “drawdown periods.” After a one a.m. breakthrough, he’d spend weeks just looking at an idea, testing whether others had already come up with it, identifying possible problems with it. Only after this period ended would he begin the real work on the project.
Creative people naturally produce false positives. Ideas that they think are good but aren’t. Ideas that other people have already had. Mediocre ideas that contain buried within them the seeds of much better ideas. The key is to catch them early. And the only way to do that is by doing the work at least partly in front of an audience.
These conflicting, contradictory notes can be simultaneously ego-boosting or soul-crushing if you’re not careful. The proper approach is to have a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish, so you can parse the constructive criticism you need from the notes you need to ignore.
Creating is often a solitary experience. Yet work made entirely in isolation is usually doomed to remain lonely.
You don’t have to be a genius to make genius—you just have to have small moments of brilliance and edit out the boring stuff.
Ask questions. How can I give people a sample of what I’m thinking? How does the idea resonate in conversation? What does an online audience think of it? What does a poll of your friends reveal?
Instead, it’s about finding the germ of a good idea and then making it a great product through feedback and hard work. Forget going off into some cave.
There is no question that planning is really important, but it’s seductive to get lost in that planning—to hope that the perfect project simply floats your way instead of deciding that it’s on you to make it.
An audience isn’t a target that you happen to bump into; instead, it must be explicitly scoped and sighted in. It must be chosen.
For any project, you must know what you are doing—and what you are not doing. You must also know who you are doing it for—and who you are not doing it for—to be able to say: THIS and for THESE PEOPLE.
If you don’t know who you’re writing for or who you’re making for, how will you know if you’re doing it right? How will you know if you’ve done it? You are unlikely to hit a target you haven’t aimed for. Hope is not helpful here; having something and someone to measure against is.
A critical test of any product: Does it have a purpose? Does it add value to the world? How will it improve the lives of the people who buy it?
People need to socialize, they need a job, and a place to live, and more.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten as a creator was from a successful writer who told me that the key to success in nonfiction was that the work should be either “very entertaining” or “extremely practical.”
You want what you’re making to do something for people, to help them do something—and have that be why they will talk about it and tell other people about it.
The bigger and more painful the problem you solve, the better its cultural hook, and the more important and more lucrative your attempt to address it can be.
So the creator of any project should try to answer some variant of these questions: What does this teach? What does this solve? How am I entertaining? What am I giving? What are we offering? What are we sharing?
They can’t seem to understand that most customers won’t get excited about a moderate improvement—because most people don’t even care. I’m always wary of any description that resembles “It’s like ______ but with ______.” I’m wary of it not only because it’s inherently unoriginal, but also because, again, it forces the creators to compete with the very dominant entity they are supposedly improving on.
The higher and more exciting standard for every project should force you to ask questions like this: What sacred cows am I slaying? What dominant institution am I displacing? What groups am I disrupting? What people am I pissing off?
The point is that you cannot violate every single convention simultaneously, nor should you do it simply for its own sake.
Great books of timeless wisdom offer the same joys. Pick them up and open them at random—something will call out to you and help alleviate your suffering, even if you’ve already read the book a dozen times.
If the first step in the process is coming to terms with the fact that no one is coming to save you—there’s no one to take this thing off your hands and champion it the rest of the way home—then the second is realizing that the person who is going to need to step up is you.
Adults create perennial sellers—and adults take responsibility for themselves. Children expect opportunities to be handed to them; maturity is understanding you have to go out and make them.
This is the most counterintuitive part of any creative process—just when you think you’re “done,” you’ll often find you’re not even close to being finished.
Here is another famous Hemingway line on writing: “The first draft of anything is shit.”
Imagine if every author or creator were given carte blanche to make whatever he or she wanted—a world in which no one ever challenged others’ work and green-lighted it sight unseen. As appealing as this might seem to creators, the result would be an avalanche of terrible first drafts released as final products.
The fact is, most people are so terrified of what an outside voice might say that they forgo opportunities to improve what they are making.
Nobody creates flawless first drafts. And nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention of someone else. Nobody.
For that reason, Amazon actually requires managers who are launching a new product to write a press release about it before the idea is even given the green light.
For creators, it’s typically easier to reach the smaller, better-defined group. If you reach the smaller group and wow them, there will be many opportunities to spread outward and upward.
For books, the superagent and publishing entrepreneur Shawn Coyne (Robert McKee, Jon Krakauer, Michael Connelly) likes to use ten thousand readers as his benchmark. That’s what it takes, in his experience, for a book to successfully break through and for the ideas in it to take hold.
You must create room for the audience to inhabit and relate to the work. You must avoid the trap of making this about you—because, remember, you won’t be the one buying it.
The democratization of production was great news—it empowered people like you and me. The bad news is that it empowered millions of other people too.
Three critical variables determine whether that will happen: the Positioning, the Packaging and the Pitch. Positioning is what your project is and who it is for. Packaging is what it looks like and what it’s called. The Pitch is the sell—how the project is described and what it offers to the audience. Each is essential.
That saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover”? It’s total nonsense. Of course you can judge a book by its cover—that’s why books have covers.
Consider how someone would describe your book, movie, restaurant, campaign, candidacy—whatever—at a party. Consider someone trying to tell someone else about it in just 140 characters. What would they say? Will they feel stupid saying it? It’s a ______ that does ______ for ______. Have you made filling in those blanks as easy and exciting as possible? Have you done the hard work for them?
That is: What’s your sell for this thing? How do you tell people what it is and why they should care?
At some point in the near future (the third section of this book), you’re going to have to describe to other human beings what this project is in an exciting and compelling way. You’re going to need to explain to reporters, prospective buyers or investors, publishers, and your own fans: Who this is for Who this is not for Why it is special What it will do for them Why anyone should care The one sentence and one paragraph can be taken and tweaked for public consumption. It’s creating a literal elevator pitch: You’ve got fifteen seconds to catch an important person’s attention.
The answer should be clear by now: I am making a ______ that does ______ for ______ because ______. The “why” doesn’t need to be public—but if you can’t define your goal for yourself, how will you know if you’ve achieved it? How will you know how to make decisions in situations where that goal is threatened or jeopardized?
Once that has occurred, there is one last thing you must do. You must deliberately forsake all other missions.
Nothing has sunk more creators and caused more unhappiness than this: our inherently human tendency to pursue a strategy aimed at accomplishing one goal while simultaneously expecting to achieve other goals entirely unrelated.
Only crazy people would compare themselves to people on totally different tracks.
The fashion designer Marc Ecko has good advice: We can’t prioritize the gatekeepers (the media) over the goalkeepers (the audience). To do so is foolishly shortsighted.
Herb Cohen, considered one of the world’s greatest negotiators, famously said, “You’re better off with a great salesman and a mediocre product than with a masterpiece and a moron to sell it.”
The idea that you won’t have to work to sell your product is more than entitled. “‘ If you build it they will come’ can happen, but to count on that is naive,”
I always prefer to start from a place of reality, not from my own projections and preferences. Humility is clearer-eyed than ego—and that’s important because humility always works harder than ego.
The mark of a future perennial seller is a creator who doesn’t believe he is God’s gift to the world, but instead thinks he has created something of value and is excited and dedicated to get it out there. Guess what? A sense of entitlement is not how you’re going to reach them. Hunger and humility make the difference.
Our marketing efforts, then, should be catalysts for word of mouth. We are trying to create the spark that leads to a fire.
no one gets coverage for thinking about maybe doing something. You get coverage for taking a stand, for risking something, for going out there and creating news where there wasn’t any before. You don’t get coverage for what you feel or what you believe. Only what you do with those beliefs or feelings.
And that’s a useful standard for good advertising: is it about your ego or is it about doing something of value? The fact is, humor and levity will probably do more for your brand over the long term than trying to beat people over the head with brilliantly effective advertising copy. So if you are going to advertise—if you have determined that it is wiser to spend a dollar there than on anything else you might do—then at least make sure you have a good time and that your audience has one too.
The best strategy is to try everything and see what works for your project—because it’s going to be different for every single project. When you find something, stick with it. Marketing is the art of allocating resources—sending more power to the wheels that are getting traction, sending it away from the ones that are spinning. And investing in each strategy until the results stop working. Then find the next one!
Everyone wants a platform when they need one. People want to have a big list—they just don’t want to lay the groundwork for one beforehand. They think a robust platform is their God-given right for being so smart and talented. Or they think that since they’ve been successful in the past, obviously everyone is going to line up to buy whatever they’re doing now. Sorry—not how it works.
It’s hard to be an artist when a middleman gets to decide which pieces of your art make it to viewers.
They’re afraid of carving their own path and finding nothing at the end of it. They’re overly concerned with the vanity and status consciousness of fans who are comfortable in the traditional system.
Mainstream media is learning the hard way what happens when you outsource audience engagement to search engines or social media.
Eight-and nine-figure social media metrics can be very intoxicating, but we should be wary of overinvesting in social platforms, because they come and go—ask all the folks who had large Myspace followings—and it’s entirely outside our control. Their policies can change; they can get acquired or go bankrupt. They can suddenly start charging you money for services that you once expected would be free.
The best way to create a list is to provide incredible amounts of value. Here are some strategies to help you do that: Give something away for free as an incentive. (Maybe it’s a guide, an article, an excerpt from your book, a coupon for a discount, etc.) Create a gate. (There used to be a Facebook tool that allowed musicians to give away a free song in exchange for a Facebook like or share—that’s a gate. BitTorrent does the same thing with its Bundles—some of the content is free, and if you want the rest of it, you’ve got to fork over an email address.) Use pop-ups. (You’re browsing a site and liking what you see and BOOM a little window pops up and asks if you want to subscribe. I put such pop-ups at the back of all my books.) Do things by hand. (I once saw an author pass around a clipboard and a sign-up sheet at the end of a talk. It was old-school, but it worked. Also, at the back of my books I tell people to email me if they want to sign up, and then I sign them up by hand.) Run sweepstakes or contests. (Why do you think the lunch place by your office has a fishbowl for business cards? Those cards have phone numbers and email addresses. They give away a sandwich once a week and get hundreds of subscribers in return.) Do a swap. (One person with a list recommends that their readers sign up for yours; you email your fans for theirs.) Promise a service. (The last one is the simplest and most important. What does your list do for people? Promise something worth subscribing to and you’ll have great success.) Lists vary in size and quality, but they all have one thing in common—they start at zero. I
To get your first one hundred subscribers, Noah recommends doing this: Put a link in your email signature. How many emails do you send a day? See which social networks allow you to export your followers and send them a note asking them to join. Post online once a week asking your friends/ family/ coworkers to join your mailing list. Ask one group you are active in to join your newsletter. Create a physical form you can give out at events. That’s a pretty decent start, requiring very little effort.
Some of Tim’s strategies: Never dismiss anyone—You never know who might help you one day with your work.
Play the long game—It’s not about finding someone who can help you right this second. It’s about establishing a relationship that can one day benefit both of you. Focus on “pre-VIPs”—The people who aren’t well known but should be and will be.
Be generous, do favors, help other people with their products.
The comedian Marc Maron perfectly encapsulates how we feel when we see a peer or competitor snag some big opportunity or score a big break. In such moments of jealousy and envy, we say, “How did you get that?” The emphasis there on “you” is important, as in, “It should have been me,” and the “that,” as in, “You don’t deserve something so great.” We’re mad that others were more successful than us, that somehow everything seemed to break their way, perhaps bitter that people opened doors for them and not for us. This is not only a miserable way to live, but it also misses the point. No one is entitled to relationships only because their work is genius. Relationships have to be earned, and maintained.
As I see it, not everyone who publishes a book is an author. He or she is just someone who has published a book. The best way to become an author is to write more books, just as a true entrepreneur starts more than one business. The best way to become a true comedian, filmmaker, designer, or entrepreneur is to never stop, to keep going. Obviously there are exceptions to this—there are plenty of brilliant creators who have made only one thing. They are still entrepreneurs just as Harper Lee is clearly an author.
As Goethe’s maxim goes, “The greatest respect an author can have for his public is never to produce what is expected but what he himself considers right and useful for whatever stage of intellectual development has been reached by himself and others.” This is true for any type of creative person.
There’s another reality of creative businesses that we need to consider: Most of the real money isn’t in the royalties or the sales. For authors, the real money comes from speaking, teaching, or consulting.
Luck is polarizing. The successful like to pretend it does not exist. The unsuccessful or the jaded pretend that it is everything. Both explanations are wrong. No matter what we have heard from our parents and internalized as part of the American Dream, hard work does not trump all. At the very, very top, the world is not a simple meritocracy, and it never has been.
I started reading this book and thought, very quickly, hey, I know this stuff already. This feels very familiar.
And a few pages into the book, I realized why when my first highlight appeared: I'd read this book before.
I don't recall when I'd read the book before, as it isn't in my notes for the last 4 years, but I had read it before. After debating for a bit on whether to reread it or put it down in favor of a new book, I figured I could give it a read, and read it quickly. Was not disappointed in myself.
The brain does a lot. We are oblivious to pretty much all of it. We can, however, be aware of some of that blindness, be aware of how we are going to react even when we expect and want to react differently, be aware of how small changes can improve our lives, and be gentle with ourselves when we are strange.
This book is seven years old. While we have more research, more theories, and more data about the brain, the fundamentals are the same, which makes this a great second read, too. I'd be interested in a follow up book with curation of the latest research.
Anyway, definitely worth reading, even recommended.
As far as anyone can tell, we’re the only system on the planet so complex that we’ve thrown ourselves headlong into the game of deciphering our own programming language. Imagine that your desktop computer began to control its own peripheral devices, removed its own cover, and pointed its webcam at its own circuitry. That’s us.
Alterations to the brain change the kinds of thoughts we can think. In a state of deep sleep, there are no thoughts. When the brain transitions into dream sleep, there are unbidden, bizarre thoughts.
The first thing we learn from studying our own circuitry is a simple lesson: most of what we do and think and feel is not under our conscious control.
The men were consistently more attracted to the women with dilated eyes.
This might explain a few things for me.
Instead, they simply felt more drawn toward some women than others, for reasons they couldn’t quite put a finger on.
In the largely inaccessible workings of the brain, something knew that a woman’s dilated eyes correlates with sexual excitement and readiness.
How is it possible to get angry at yourself: who, exactly, is mad at whom?
It is interesting to consider that the majority of human beings live their whole lives unaware that they are only seeing a limited cone of vision at any moment.
One of the most pervasive mistakes is to believe that our visual system gives a faithful representation of what is “out there” in the same way that a movie camera would.
As Mariotte delved more deeply into this issue, he realized that there is a hole in our vision—what has come to be known as the “blind spot” in each eye. To demonstrate this to yourself, close your left eye and keep your right eye fixed on the plus sign. Slowly move the page closer
My blind spot caused me all sorts of grief after I started having migraines at nine years old. I couldn't tell migraine spots from my blind spot and had to see a few doctors to figure out what the blindness was.
But more significantly, no one had noticed because the brain “fills in” the missing information from the blind spot.
When the dot disappears, you do not perceive a hole of whiteness or blackness in its place; instead your brain invents a patch of the background pattern.
Unless you're having a migraine with auras, then all bets are off.
He discovered that outfielders use an unconscious program that tells them not where to end up but simply how to keep running. They move in such a way that the parabolic path of the ball always progresses in a straight line from their point of view. If the ball’s path looks like its deviating from a straight line, they modify their running path.
Your brain is in the dark but your mind constructs light.
Consider the way you are reading the letters on this page. Your eyes flick effortlessly over the ornate shapes without any awareness that you are translating them: the meaning of the words simply comes to you. You perceive the language, not the low-level details of the graphemes.
The second is that the people experiencing the hallucinations are discomfited by the knowledge that their visual scene is at least partially the counterfeit coinage of their brains.
Though, if you grew up with migraines, you kinda learn early on not to trust absolutely what you see, and always take a second look.
In this way, the brain refines its model of the world by paying attention to its mistakes.
It will come as no surprise to you that the mere exposure effect is part of the magic behind product branding, celebrity building, and political campaigning: with repeated exposure to a product or face, you come to prefer it more. The mere exposure effect is why people in the public spotlight are not always as disturbed as one might expect by negative press.
Another real-world manifestation of implicit memory is known as the illusion-of-truth effect: you are more likely to believe that a statement is true if you have heard it before—whether or not it is actually true.
Nothing is inherently tasty or repulsive—it depends on your needs. Deliciousness is simply an index of usefulness.
Each organism has its own umwelt, which it presumably assumes to be the entire objective reality “out there.”
Easy things are hard: most of what we take for granted is neurally complex.
Researchers (as well as purveyors of pornography) have been able to discern a surprisingly narrow range for the female proportions that males find most attractive: the perfect ratio between the waist and hips usually resides between 0.67 and 0.8. The waist-to-hip ratios of Playboy centerfolds has remained at about 0.7 over time, even as their average weight has decreased. 22 Women with a ratio in this range are not only judged by males as more attractive, but are also presumed to be more healthy, humorous, and intelligent.
When men ranked the beauty of women’s faces, they found the women with dilated eyes more attractive, because dilated eyes signal sexual interest.
The Babylonian Talmud contains a passage in the same spirit: “In came wine, out went a secret.”
It later advises, “In three things is a man revealed: in his wine goblet, in his purse, and in his wrath.”
Many people prefer a view of human nature that includes a true side and a false side—in other words, humans have a single genuine aim and the rest is decoration, evasion, or cover-up. That’s intuitive, but it’s incomplete.
Your brain, as well, interprets your body’s actions and builds a story around them. Psychologists have found that if you hold a pencil between your teeth while you read something, you’ll think the material is funnier; that’s because the interpretation is influenced by the smile on your face. If you sit up straight instead of slouching, you’ll feel happier. The brain assumes that if the mouth and spine are doing that, it must be because of cheerfulness.
Minds seek patterns. In a term introduced by science writer Michael Shermer, they are driven toward “patternicity”—the attempt to find structure in meaningless data.
Evolution favors pattern seeking, because it allows the possibility of reducing mysteries to fast and efficient programs in the neural circuitry.
A popular model in the neuroscience literature suggests that dream plots are stitched together from essentially random activity: discharges of neural populations in the midbrain. These signals tickle into existence the simulation of a scene in a shopping mall, or a glimpse of recognition of a loved one, or a feeling of falling, or a sense of epiphany. All these moments are dynamically woven into a story, and this is why after a night of random activity you wake up, roll over to your partner, and feel as though you have a bizarre plot to relate.
Consider the concept of a secret. The main thing known about secrets is that keeping them is unhealthy for the brain.
After years of study, Pennebaker concluded that “the act of not discussing or confiding the event with another may be more damaging than having experienced the event per se.”
He and his team discovered that when subjects confessed or wrote about their deeply held secrets, their health improved, their number of doctor visits went down, and there were measurable decreases in their stress hormone levels.
The main reason not to reveal a secret is aversion to the long-term consequences. A friend might think ill of you, or a lover might be hurt, or a community might ostracize you. This concern about the outcome is evidenced by the fact that people are more likely to tell their secrets to total strangers; with someone you don’t know, the neural conflict can be dissipated with none of the costs.
If we hope to invent robots that think, our challenge is not simply to devise a subagent to cleverly solve each problem but instead to ceaselessly reinvent subagents, each with overlapping solutions, and then to pit them against one another. Overlapping factions offer protection against degradation (think of cognitive reserve) as well as clever problem solving by unexpected approaches.
Some people are constitutionally incapable of keeping a secret, and this balance may tell us something about the battles going on inside them and which way they tip. Good spies and secret agents are those people whose battle always tips toward long-term decision making rather than the thrill of telling.
When your biology changes, so can your decision making, your appetites, and your desires. The drives you take for granted (“ I’m a hetero/ homosexual,” “I’m attracted to children/ adults,” “I’m aggressive/ not aggressive,” and so on) depend on the intricate details of your neural machinery.
Many of us like to believe that all adults possess the same capacity to make sound choices.
It’s a nice idea, but it’s wrong.
As far as we can tell, all activity in the brain is driven by other activity in the brain, in a vastly complex, interconnected network. For better or worse, this seems to leave no room for anything other than neural activity—that is, no room for a ghost in the machine. To consider this from the other direction, if free will is to have any effect on the actions of the body, it needs to influence the ongoing brain activity. And to do that, it needs to be physically connected to at least some of the neurons. But we don’t find any spot in the brain that is not itself driven by other parts of the network. Instead, every part of the brain is densely interconnected with—and driven by—other brain parts. And that suggests that no part is independent and therefore “free.” So in our current understanding of science, we can’t find the physical gap in which to slip free will—the uncaused causer—because there seems to be no part of the machinery that does not follow in a causal relationship from the other parts.
However, at this point, no one can see a clear way around the problem of a nonphysical entity (free will) interacting with a physical entity (the stuff of the brain).
To help a citizen reintegrate into society, the ethical goal is to change him as little as possible to allow his behavior to come into line with society’s needs.
Poor impulse control is a hallmark characteristic of the majority of criminals in the prison system.
If it seems difficult to empathize with people who have poor impulse control, just think of all the things you succumb to that you don’t want to. Snacks? Alcohol? Chocolate cake? Television? One doesn’t have to look far to find poor impulse control pervading our own landscape of decision making. It’s not that we don’t know what’s best for us, it’s simply that the frontal lobe circuits representing the long-term considerations can’t win the elections when the temptation is present. It’s like trying to elect a party of moderates in the middle of war and economic meltdown.
Recall the patients with frontotemporal dementia who shoplift, expose themselves, urinate in public, and burst out into song at inappropriate times. Those zombie systems have been lurking under the surface the whole time, but they’ve been masked by a normally functioning frontal lobe.
The same goes for the mentally retarded or schizophrenic; punitive action may slake bloodlust for some, but there is no point in it for society more broadly.
Biological explanation will not exculpate criminals. Brain science will improve the legal system, not impede its function. 36 For the smooth operation of society, we will still remove from the streets those criminals who prove themselves to be over-aggressive, under-empathetic, and poor at controlling their impulses. They will still be taken into the care of the government. But the important change will be in the way we punish the vast range of criminal acts—in terms of rational sentencing and new ideas for rehabilitation. The emphasis will shift from punishment to recognizing problems (both neural and social) and meaningfully addressing them.
Effective law requires effective behavioral models: understanding not just how we would like people to behave, but how they actually behave.
Visual illusions reveal a deeper concept: that our thoughts are generated by machinery to which we have no direct access.
The dethronement led to a richer, deeper understanding, and what we lost in egocentrism was counterbalanced in surprise and wonder.
(It is also the case that a virtuous actor can have minimal temptations and therefore no requirement for good brakes, but one could suggest that the more virtuous person is he who has fought a stronger battle to resist temptation rather than he who was never enticed.)
All of this leads to a key question: do we possess a soul that is separate from our physical biology—or are we simply an enormously complex biological network that mechanically produces our hopes, aspirations, dreams, desires, humor, and passions? 7 The majority of people on the planet vote for the extrabiological soul, while the majority of neuroscientists vote for the latter: an essence that is a natural property that emerges from a vast physical system, and nothing more besides.
As soon as your drink is spiked, your sandwich is sneezed upon, or your genome picks up a mutation, your ship moves in a different direction. Try as you might to make it otherwise, the changes in your machinery lead to changes in you. Given these facts on the ground, it is far from clear that we hold the option of “choosing” who we would like to be.
Who you turn out to be depends on such a vast network of factors that it will presumably remain impossible to make a one-to-one mapping between molecules and behavior (more on that in the moment).
If there’s something like a soul, it is at minimum tangled irreversibly with the microscopic details.
In other words, a lower level of social acceptance into the majority correlates with a higher chance of a schizophrenic break. In ways not currently understood, it appears that repeated social rejection perturbs the normal functioning of the dopamine systems.
In my view, the argument from parsimony is really no argument at all—it typically functions only to shut down more interesting discussion. If history is any guide, it’s never a good idea to assume that a scientific problem is cornered.
Keep in mind that every single generation before us has worked under the assumption that they possessed all the major tools for understanding the universe, and they were all wrong, without exception.
“Vision after early blindness.”
eagleman.com/ incognito for interactive demonstrations of how little we perceive of the world. For excellent reviews on change blindness, see Rensink, O’Regan, and Clark, “To see or not to see”; Simons, “Current approaches to change
Okay, I really have no idea why I picked up this book. It was on some list, it sounded interesting, so I picked it up.
This is not a guide to political revolution.
This is a Bernie Sanders Manifesto, along with resources to work within the system.
The book is a long iteration of his platform, is beliefs, what he stands for. The book says, "Here is a problem. Here is how I think this problem could be solved." Not, "Here's how to solve this problem, and the data to prove it will work." Not, "Here's the legislation I have introduced." Not, "Here is the cultural problem that contributes to this social problem and do these actions to fix it."
Revolution is painful, the callouts in this book to "get involved" are not. Yes, they are time consuming, but revolution means an overhaul of the system, not an evolution of the system.
One can appreciate what Sanders is trying to do to make the country better. A complete upheaval might be the way to go. This is not the guidebook for that revolution. Better to look at The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for a guide, even if I disagree with that book's actual politics.
The book is worth a read to understand what Sanders stands for. For that part, it was worth the read. I don't disagree with much of his platform, I just don't see the pilot programs, the supporting data, or the means to implement.
In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, a basic principle of American economic life should be that if you work forty hours or more a week, you do not live in poverty.
Increasing the minimum wage is good for businesses as well as workers because it reduces employee turnover. When workers earn a living wage, they are more likely to stay with their company.
And spend money.
Public assistance given to low-wage workers is essentially subsidizing the profits of the companies paying the low wages.
Which is bullshit.
Walmart makes profits by paying wages so low that the workers not only qualify for but also need public assistance just to get by.
I do not believe that the government should burden taxpayers with the financial support of profitable corporations owned by some of the wealthiest people in this country. That’s absurd.
If we are serious about reversing the decline of the middle class, we need a major federal jobs program that puts millions of Americans to work at decent-paying jobs. We need workers to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure—our roads, bridges, water systems, wastewater plants, airports, railways, levees, and dams.
Our tax code essentially legalizes tax dodging for large corporations.
America is not broke. The very wealthy and huge, profitable corporations just aren’t paying the taxes that, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. more than a century ago, “are what we pay for a civilized society.”
The Roundtable also wants to raise the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare to seventy, and to cut cost-of-living adjustments for seniors and disabled veterans. These CEOs callously promote the idea that increasing their corporate proﬁts is more important than their fellow Americans receiving the beneﬁts they have earned by working or by serving in the military.
We have been losing millions of jobs as a direct result of our disastrous trade policies. This is a major contributor to the decline of the middle class, rising poverty, and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else. We must do everything possible to stop companies from outsourcing American jobs.
Americans see that there are different rules for the rich and powerful than for everyone else. They see kids arrested and sometimes even jailed for possessing marijuana or for other minor crimes. But when it comes to Wall Street executives, whose illegal behavior hurts millions of Americans, they see that there are no arrests, no police records, and no jail time.
There is something fundamentally wrong with our criminal justice system when not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for causing the near collapse of our entire economy in 2008.
“Equal Justice Under Law” cannot just be words engraved over the doors of the Supreme Court.
￼ To create an economy that works for all americans and not just a handful of billionaires, we have to address the ever-increasing size of the megabanks.
￼ We must end, once and for all, the scheme that is nothing more than a free insurance policy for wall street: “too big to fail.”
￼ We need a banking system that is part of a productive economy—making loans at affordable rates to small and medium-sized businesses—so we can create a growing economy with decent-paying jobs.
￼ We need a banking system that encourages homeownership by offering affordable mortgage products that are designed to work for both the lender and the borrower.
￼ We need a banking system that is transparent and accountable and that adheres to the highest ethical standards as well as to the spirit and the letter of the law.
One might have thought that as part of the bailout, these huge banks would have been reduced in size to make certain that we never experience a recurrence of what happened in 2008. In fact, the very opposite occurred. Today, three of the four largest financial institutions—JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo—are about 80 percent bigger than they were before we bailed them out.
No financial institution should have holdings so extensive that its failure would send the world economy into crisis.
If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.
Today, commercial banks still have over $ 177.46 trillion of derivatives contracts on their books. That is insane.
All derivatives trading should be done in an open, transparent exchange similar to the stock market, without exceptions. As
Needless to say, this game of high-speed speculation adds absolutely nothing to a productive economy.
We have to discourage reckless gambling on Wall Street and encourage productive investments in a job-creating economy.
we need to turn for-profit credit-rating agencies into transparent nonprofit institutions that are independent from Wall Street and accountable to a board of directors that represents the public interest.
The decisions that the Federal Reserve made during the 2008 crisis sent a very clear message: while the rich and powerful are “too big to fail” and are worthy of an endless supply of cheap credit, ordinary Americans must fend for themselves. This was a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for everyone else.
We must require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a full and independent audit of the Fed every year.
Health care should be a right, not a perk of being employed.
it has never made sense to me that our health care system is primarily designed to make huge profits for multibillion-dollar insurance companies, drug companies, hospitals, and medical equipment suppliers.
The details of the national health systems vary in each of these countries, but all of them guarantee health care for all their citizens, and none of them allow private health insurance companies to profit off human illness.
Think about the extraordinary impact it would have on our economy if all Americans had the freedom to follow their dreams and not worry about whether the family had health insurance.
The pharmaceutical industry, because of its great power, rarely loses legislative fights. It has effectively purchased the Congress, and there are Republican and Democratic leaders who support its every effort.
There was a time, forty or fifty years ago, when many people could graduate from high school and move right into a decent-paying job with good benefits. Strong unions offered apprenticeships, and a large manufacturing sector provided opportunities for those without an advanced degree.
Exactly how much do students benefit by having, in some cases, dozens of vice presidents of this or that, each earning hundreds of thousands of dollars or more?
Another reason college educations are becoming so expensive is that colleges are increasingly being run as businesses competing for market share.
In fact, it is much easier for a big bank or corporation to declare insolvency and be forgiven for outstanding debts than it is for an individual going through personal bankruptcy to be discharged from a student loan.
America rightfully outlawed debtors’ prisons in the mid-nineteenth century, but some cities and states are issuing contempt-of-court warrants that get around those rules.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, of which I have long been a member, found that these for-profit schools spend, on average, about 30 percent more per student on marketing and recruiting than on actual instruction.
Not everybody wants to go to college, and not everybody needs to go to college. This country needs carpenters, plumbers, welders, bricklayers, ironworkers, mechanics, and many other professions that pay workers, especially those in unions, good wages for doing very important, skilled work.
In today’s world, that’s not quite the way it works. In opposition to science and what the people want are enormously powerful forces who want to maintain the status quo. They are more interested in short-term profits for fossil fuel companies than in the future of the planet.
Forty percent of energy used in this country goes to heat, cool, and light buildings and run electricity through them.
The great irony of climate change is that American taxpayers are subsidizing the most profitable industry in history, whose products are quite literally killing us, to the tune of more than $ 20.5 billion every single year.
For every dollar of taxpayer funds invested in renewable energy over the past fifteen years, fossil fuels have received eighty dollars!
We should also end all new federal leases for oil, gas, or coal extraction on public lands and waters. Public lands and waters are for the public to enjoy for generations to come—not for the oil companies to exploit for profit in the short term.
The hypocrisy of those who argue that solar and wind tax credits are too expensive or are no longer needed because the industries should be able to stand on their own is stunning. Taxpayers have been subsidizing fossil fuel companies through tax credits for more than one hundred years, and Congress long ago made those incentives permanent features of the federal tax code.
Police officers must be held accountable. In a society based on law, nobody can be above the law, especially those who are charged with enforcing it.
African Americans and Latinos together comprised 57 percent of all prisoners in 2015, even though neither of these two groups makes up even one-quarter of the U.S. population.
The time is long overdue for this country to understand that we cannot jail our way out of health problems like mental illness and drug addiction.
We have around 4 percent of the world’s population, yet we have more than 20 percent of all prisoners.
And we spend $ 80 billion a year in federal, state, and local taxpayer dollars to lock them up.
Private corporations should not be making profits off of the incarceration of human beings.
No one, in my view, should be allowed to profit from putting more people behind bars.
Every effort should be made to have police forces reflect the diversity of the communities they work in. And that must include in positions of leadership and training departments.
We must demilitarize our police forces so they don’t look and act like invading armies. Police departments must be part of the community they serve and be trusted by the community.
We should federally fund and require body cameras for law enforcement officers to make it easier to hold everyone accountable, while also establishing standards to protect the privacy of innocent people.
When policing becomes a source of revenue, officers are often pressured to meet quotas that can lead to unnecessary or unlawful traffic stops and citations. And civil asset forfeiture laws allow police to take property from people even before they are charged with a crime.
Undocumented immigrants are woven into the fabric of our society and our economy. They work in some of the hardest and lowest-paid jobs.
Moreover, the institute estimates that they pay an average of 8 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes—which, by the way, is 48 percent more than the 5.4 percent paid by the top 1 percent of taxpayers.
All too often, farmworkers are paid horrendously low wages, exposed to pesticides, and deprived of the most basic decent living conditions.
When employers report that they need to bring in foreign labor because there is no one in this country able to do their jobs, what is really going on is that there is no one here willing to do the job for the low wages being offered.
To my mind, the U.S. government should not be in the painful and inhumane business of locking up families who have fled violence.
Immigration reform must allow individuals to apply for relief, even if convicted of nonviolent offenses.
Binding workers to a specific employer or not allowing their family members to work creates a situation rife with abuse and exacerbates an already unequal relationship between the employer and the employee.
Immigration reform means making sure our borders are modern and secure, especially in this era when terrorism can come from anywhere.
The word “government” refers to the way people organize authority to perform essential functions. It usually describes who does what, who has what power, and who is responsible for what. When there is no organized authority, there is no government, and that is called anarchy.
The gist of this book is "Social media is making us assholes. Don't be an asshole, stop playing the social media game."
There is merit to this. Social media comes at us uncurated and at ungodly speeds. We are easily manipulated (see 2016 elections and Twitter Outrage du Jour). Having a larger view of life, of issues, of the crisis, is very, very difficult in the moment, and lashing out to destroy is far, far easier than reaching out to build.
Lanier gives many compelling arguments: SM companies mine data about your without your knowledge and sell it, SM is addictive, SM turns us all into assholes.
If I hadn't already cut back on social media for other reasons, I suspect I'd be going through withdrawal trying to be less active on social media. As it is, I have my journals, and this site, and, yeah, I'm pretty okay with that.
This book is worth reading for everyone. Unfortunately, the people who are most likely to listen and agree with Lanier are the people you WANT on social media, because they care, because they are trying NOT to be assholes, because they want social media to be a good place to be. Alas, the sucky people will be the ones to stay. Fortunately, we don't have to stay with them.
The core process that allows social media to make money and that also does the damage to society is behavior modification. Behavior modification entails methodical techniques that change behavioral patterns in animals and people. It can be used to treat addictions, but it can also be used to create them.
The addict gradually loses touch with the real world and real people. When many people are addicted to manipulative schemes, the world gets dark and crazy.
We know that relevant companies take in an astounding amount of money and that they don’t always know who their customers are. Therefore, there are likely to be actors manipulating us—manipulating you—who have not been revealed.
To free yourself, to be more authentic, to be less addicted, to be less manipulated, to be less paranoid … for all these marvelous reasons, delete your accounts.
The problem occurs when all the phenomena I’ve just described are driven by a business model in which the incentive is to find customers ready to pay to modify someone else’s behavior. Remember, with old-fashioned advertising, you could measure whether a product did better after an ad was run, but now companies are measuring whether individuals changed their behaviors, and the feeds for each person are constantly tweaked to get individual behavior to change. Your specific behavior change has been turned into a product.
As explained in the first argument, the scheme I am describing amplifies negative emotions more than positive ones, so it’s more efficient at harming society than at improving it: creepier customers get more bang for their buck.
If we could just get rid of the deleterious business model, then the underlying technology might not be so bad.
How about “Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent”? BUMMER.
BUMMER is a machine, a statistical machine that lives in the computing clouds. To review, phenomena that are statistical and fuzzy are nevertheless real. Even at their best, BUMMER algorithms can only calculate the chances that a person will act in a particular way. But what might be only a chance for each person approaches being a certainty on the average for large numbers of people.
One of the secrets of present-day Silicon Valley is that some people seem to be better than others at getting machine learning schemes to work, and no one understands why.
To avoid being left out, journalists had to create stories that emphasized clickbait and were detachable from context.
I don’t want to be an asshole. Or a fake-nice person. I want to be authentically nice, and certain online designs seem to fight against that with magical force.
In the early days, before everyone was doing it, the air was clearer and it was easier to notice how bizarre it is when your inner troll starts talking. It’s like an ugly alien living inside you that you long ago forgot about. Don’t let your inner troll take control! If it happens when you’re in a particular situation, avoid that situation! It doesn’t matter if it’s an online platform, a relationship, or a job. Your character is like your health, more valuable than anything you can buy. Don’t throw it away.
The pattern is found whenever people form into groups. Street gangs perceive only pack concepts such as territory and revenge, even as they destroy their lives, families, and neighborhoods. The Pack setting of the switch makes you pay so much attention to your peers and enemies in the world of packs that you can become blind to what’s happening right in front of your face. When the Solitary/ Pack switch is set to Pack, we become obsessed with and controlled by a pecking order. We pounce on those below us, lest we be demoted, and we do our best to flatter and snipe at those above us at the same time.
collective processes make the best sense when participants are acting as individuals.
Full disclosure: I have a professional connection to LinkedIn that might impair my objectivity (even though I don’t have an account on the site). You should not accept what I say without thinking about it critically, and my disclosure of a conflict of interest is a great starting point to do that. Think for yourself!
most people will choose to be something other than an asshole, given the choice. A
If, when you participate in online platforms, you notice a nasty thing inside yourself, an insecurity, a sense of low self-esteem, a yearning to lash out, to swat someone down, then leave that platform. Simple.
Your character is the most precious thing about you. Don’t let it degrade.
Truth, meaning a claim that can be tested or events that are honestly documented—the stuff that all people can hold in common—
Leaving aside explicitly fake people like Alexa, Cortana, and Siri, you might think that you’ve never interacted with a fake person online, but you have, and with loads of them. You decided to buy something because it had a lot of good reviews, but many of those reviews were from artificial people. You found a doctor by using a search engine, but the reason that doctor showed up high in the search results was that a load of fake people linked to her office. You looked at a video or read a story because so many other people had, but most of them were fake. You became aware of tweets because they were retweeted first by armies of bots.
Whatever you can do, bots can do a million times while you blink. Fake people are a cultural denial-of-service attack.
You might think I’m being elitist when I am more appalled that “educated” parents, who are more likely to be affluent, foment dangerous nonsense, but isn’t the whole point of education supposed to be that it diminishes people’s susceptibility to dangerous nonsense?
People are clustered into paranoia peer groups because then they can be more easily and predictably swayed.
The ability of humans to enjoy our modern luxuries, such as a diminution of deadly epidemics, while even temporarily rejecting the benefits of hard-won truths is a testament to how far we’ve come as a technological species.
Public health measures and modern medicine have doubled our life spans. Doubled! The unintended result is that now some of us can believe nonsense and not pay for that belief with our lives. At least for a while.
What you say isn’t meaningful without context.
The advertisers are the true customers, so they have a voice.
The most common extreme examples, however, might arise when women and girls who attempt to express themselves online find that their words and images are sexualized or incorporated into a violent or manipulative framework.
These extreme examples occur only because the rules of the game in BUMMER are that you don’t know the context in which you are expressing anything and you have no reliable way of knowing how it will be presented to someone else.
We have given up our connection to context.
Speaking through social media isn’t really speaking at all. Context is applied to what you say after you say it, for someone else’s purposes and profit.
To become a number is to be explicitly subservient to a system. A number is a public verification of reduced freedom, status, and personhood.
A news source will keep tweaking what it does until further tweaks no longer yield better results. After that, repetition. That’s why so much clickbait is so similar. There’s only this one weird trick to optimize clickbait. 6
Feedback is a good thing, but overemphasizing immediate feedback within an artificially limited online environment leads to ridiculous outcomes.
What if deeply reaching a small number of people matters more than reaching everybody with nothing?
But when everyone is on their phone, you have less of a feeling for what’s going on with them. Their experiences are curated by faraway algorithms. You and they can’t build unmolested commonality unless the phones are put away.
The ability to theorize about what someone else experiences as part of understanding that person is called having a theory of mind. To have a theory of mind is to build a story in your head about what’s going on in someone else’s head. Theory of mind is at the core of any sense of respect or empathy, and it’s a prerequisite to any hope of intelligent cooperation, civility, or helpful politics. It’s why stories exist.
When you can only see how someone else behaves, but not the experiences that influenced their behavior, it becomes harder to have a theory of mind about that person. If you see someone hit someone else, for instance, but you did not see that they did it in defense of a child, you might misinterpret what you see.
What’s really going on is that we see less than ever before of what others are seeing, so we have less opportunity to understand each other.
Yes, of course it’s great that people can be connected, 12 but why must they accept manipulation by a third party as the price of that connection? What if the manipulation, not the connection, is the real problem? 13
Since the core strategy of the BUMMER business model is to let the system adapt automatically to engage you as much as possible, and since negative emotions can be utilized more readily, of course such a system is going to tend to find a way to make you feel bad. It will dole out sparse charms14 in between the doldrums as well, since the autopilot that tugs at your emotions will discover that the contrast between treats and punishment is more effective than either treats or punishment alone. Addiction is associated with anhedonia, the lessened ability to take pleasure from life apart from whatever one is addicted to, and social media addicts appear to be prone to long-term anhedonia. 15
An insecurity, a feeling of not making the grade, a fear of rejection, out of nowhere.
This feeling was coincident with discovering my inner troll, which I described in the argument about assholes, but it could also be felt distinctly. I took an experimental approach to myself. If I felt bad after using an internet design, what were its qualities? How was it different from designs that left me happy?
More and more people rely on the gig economy, which makes it hard to plan one’s life. Gig economy workers rarely achieve financial security, even after years of work. To put it another way, the level of risk in their financial lives seems to never decline, no matter how much they’ve achieved. In the United States, where the social safety net is meager, this means that even skilled, hardworking people may be made homeless by medical bills, even after years of dedicated service to their profession.
I hate raining on dreams, but if you think you are about to make a living as an influencer or similar, the statistics are voraciously against you, no matter how deserving you are and no matter how many get-rich-quick stories you’ve been fed.
The problem is that BUMMER economics allow for almost no remunerative roles for near-stars. In a genuine, deep economy, there are many roles. You might not become a pro football player, but you might get into management, sports media, or a world of other related professions. But there are vanishingly few economic roles adjacent to a star influencer. Have a backup plan.
Before the BUMMER era, the general thinking was that once a country went democratic, it not only stayed that way but would become ever more democratic, because its people would demand that. Unfortunately, that stopped being true, and only recently. 2 Something is drawing young people away from democracy.
What social media did at that time, and what it always does, is create illusions: that you can improve society by wishes alone; that the sanest people will be favored in cutting contests; and that somehow material well-being will just take care of itself. What actually happens, always, is that the illusions fall apart when it is too late, and the world is inherited by the crudest, most selfish, and least informed people. Anyone who isn’t an asshole gets hurt the most.
A year after the election, the truth started to trickle out. It turns out that some prominent “black” activist accounts were actually fake fronts for Russian information warfare. Component F. The Russian purpose was apparently to irritate black activists enough to lower enthusiasm for voting for Hillary. To suppress the vote, statistically.
Most of what happened was probably the “redlined” promotion of cynicism, a dismissive attitude, and a sense of hopelessness (“ redlining” refers to a sneaky way that U.S. banks historically biased creditworthiness algorithms to disfavor black neighborhoods). I
(As it happens, the individuals who work at BUMMER companies tend to be liberal and are probably mostly sympathetic to black activism, but that’s utterly irrelevant to their effect upon the world so long as they adhere to the mass manipulation business model.)
BUMMER is a shit machine. It transforms sincere organizing into cynical disruption. It’s inherently a cruel con game.
One activist reportedly said, “They are using our pain for their gain. I’m profoundly disgusted.” That is an informed, reasonable statement, and a brave one, for it is not easy to accept that one has been tricked.
Each of the arguments for deleting your accounts is at first glance about a practical issue, such as trust, but on closer inspection, the arguments confront the deepest and most tender concerns about what it means to be a person.
So BUMMER intrinsically enacts a structural, rather than an ontological, change in the nature of free will. It will continue to exist, if under a barrage of insults. The important change is that you now have less free will, and a few people whom you don’t know have more of it. Some of your free will has been transferred to them. Free will has become like money in a gilded age.
Believing something only because you learned it through a system is a way of giving your cognitive power over to that system.
The Enlightenment emphasized ways of learning that weren’t subservient to human power hierarchies. Instead, Enlightenment thinking celebrates evidence-based scientific method and reasoning.
Here are some tough truths: We currently don’t have a scientific description of a thought or a conversation. We don’t know how ideas are represented in a brain. We don’t know what an idea is, from a scientific point of view. That doesn’t mean we never will understand these things scientifically, just that we don’t yet understand them.
The foundation of the search for truth must be the ability to notice one’s own ignorance. Acknowledging ignorance is a beautiful feature that science and spirituality hold in common. BUMMER rejects it.
The purpose of life, according to BUMMER, is to optimize.
Facebook has pulled ahead: A recent revision in its statement of purpose includes directives like assuring that “every single person has a sense of purpose and community.” 5 A single company is going to see to it that every single person has a purpose, because it presumes that was lacking before. If that is not a new religion, I don’t know what is.
The best way you can help is not to attack those who would manipulate you from afar, but simply to free yourself.
You can even still watch YouTube videos, for now at least, without a Google account. Watching without an account and with some privacy plugins will give you access to a much less manipulative experience.
You can’t use the internet well until you’ve confronted it on your own terms, at least for a while. This is for your integrity, not just for saving the world.
However, unless and until you know yourself, even you won’t have standing to argue about what’s right for you.
You need to make sure your own brain, and your own life, isn’t in a rut. Maybe you can go explore wilderness or learn a new skill. Take risks. But whatever form your self-exploration takes, do at least one thing: detach from the behavior-modification empires for a while—six months, say? Note that I didn’t name this book Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now and Keeping Them Deleted Forever. After you experiment, you’ll know yourself better. Then decide.
Okay, anyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of Classic Stoicism, which is a far cry from Modern Stoicism which is essentially, "Grin, shut the f--- up, bear it," as best represented by the character Spock. Classic Stoicism is more about accepting reality as it is, being neither really happy nor really sad, knowing that pretty much everything but ourselves is outside of our control, recognizing fortune is fickle, and that we are all going to f'ing die so accept it already. There are elements of acceptance in Stoicism, but the acceptance is of things outside of our control, not for things inside of our control nor for things we can affect. As someone with a strong sense of fair play and a large amount of frustration with the lack of fairness in the world, I find Stoicism to be a way to endure the crappiness of being human.
Which is to say, I've been looking for a book that I can hand to people who are curious about Classic Stoicism, without suggesting they read a dozen books to gather the different parts into one cohesive unit, much as I would hand over a copy of Mindfulness in Plain English if asked for a book about mindfulness.
I think this book might be that book, that I recommend for Stoicism. Maybe. It's hard to beat Meditations and many of Seneca's works. I'll reread it at the end of the year and see if it holds up.
Yet, I do strongly recommend this book.
Although public criticism of religion (or of any idea) is the staple of a healthy democratic society, people don’t respond very well to being belittled and insulted.
Seneca connected this test to the rest of our existence on earth: “A man cannot live well if he knows not how to die well.”
Of course, Stoicism is a philosophy, not a type of therapy. The difference is crucial: a therapy is intended to be a short-term approach to helping people overcome specific problems of a psychological nature; it doesn’t necessarily provide a general picture, or philosophy, of life. A philosophy of life is something we all need, however, and something we all develop, consciously or not.
One of the first things he learned from his new teacher was to practice not being ashamed of things of which there is nothing to be ashamed.
Like Socrates before them—and unlike a number of other philosophers then and since—they were not interested in theory for theory’s sake. If philosophy was not useful to human life, then it wasn’t useful at all.
There are three departments in which a man who is to be good and noble must be trained. The first concerns the will to get and will to avoid; he must be trained not to fail to get what he wills to get nor fall into what he wills to avoid. The second is concerned with impulse to act and not to act, and, in a word, the sphere of what is fitting: that we should act in order, with due consideration, and with proper care. The object of the third is that we may not be deceived, and may not judge at random, and generally it is concerned with assent.
Moreover, biologists have systematically been finding that a long list of allegedly unique human traits are actually not unique to us at all. We are not the only animals to live in cooperatively social groups, nor the only ones to use tools. Nor are we the only species with complex communication abilities, nor even the only ones displaying what we would call moral behavior (which can be seen among bonobos and other primates).
In the end, it seems that neither biological variation nor cultural diversity can be reasonably deployed to reject what the ancients thought was obvious: we are a very different species from anything else that planet Earth has produced over billions of years of evolution, both for better (our stunning cultural and technological achievements) and for worse (the environmental destruction and the pain and suffering we have imposed on other species as well as on our own).
When we consult the belly, or our passions, when our actions are random or dirty or inconsiderate, are we not falling away to the state of sheep? What do we destroy? The faculty of reason.
The Stoics perfected this idea of ethical development and called it oikeiôsis, which is often translated as “familiarization with” or “appropriation of” other people’s concerns as if they were our own.
First, it is a forceful reminder that they were interested in practice, not just theory: their aphorisms were meant to benefit the prokoptôn, that is, to help the student of Stoicism make progress. Unlike modern bumper stickers, T-shirt slogans, and so forth, which primarily signal membership in a particular group and tend to be used as a metaphorical club with which to beat those who are not like-minded, Stoic stock phrases were employed by practitioners as personal reminders, as aids for daily meditation, or as a guide to behavior when they were in doubt.
Being vegetarian, in and of itself, is no proof of superior moral quality, but it is a good thing to do if other considerations do not outweigh that choice.
We live in far too intricate social environments to be able to always do the right thing, or even to do the right thing often enough to know with sufficient confidence what the right thing is to begin with. Most of the different demands made on us have an ethical dimension (animal suffering, environmental damage, the treatment of waiters), but some are also more practical (I need to eat, but where is my food coming from? I need to bank, but which bank am I supporting?).
Stoicism is about developing the tools to deal as effectively as humanly possible with the ensuing conflicts, does not demand perfection, and does not provide specific answers: those are for fools (Epictetus’s word) who think the world is black and white, good versus evil, where it is always possible to clearly tell the good guys from the bad guys. That is not the world we live in, and to pretend otherwise is more than a bit dangerous and not at all wise.
In other words, by all means go ahead and avoid pain and experience joy in your life—but not when doing so imperils your integrity. Better to endure pain in an honorable manner than to seek joy in a shameful one.
I would be intellectually dishonest, however, if I did not put forth my own opinion, just as I did during my friendly chat with Epictetus. This is what good philosophers—and reasonable people in general—are supposed to do: listen to each other’s arguments, learn and reflect, and go out for a beer to talk it over some more.
Hume’s point is subtle but crucial: he is basically saying that arguments from analogies, of which the one from design is an example, are notoriously problematic because analogies are always imperfect, and in some cases downright misleading.
The only difference between human beings and other animals is that we are capable of the highest attribute of God/ Universe: reason. That is why the proper way to live our lives is by using reason to tackle our problems.
Seneca aptly put it, “That which is true is mine,” meaning that a reasonable person makes truth her own, regardless of whether it comes from friends or foes.
One of the things that attracted me to it from the get-go is precisely what others may consider one of its weaknesses: given the Stoic ambiguity over how to interpret the Logos, Stoics can build a very large tent indeed, welcoming everyone from atheists to agnostics, from pantheists and panentheists to theists, as long as none of these guests impose their own metaphysical views on the others.
‘And I am bound to say what seems right to me.’ ‘But, if you say it, I shall kill you.’ ‘When did I tell you that I was immortal? You will do your part, and I mine. It is yours to kill, mine to die without quailing: yours to banish, mine to go into exile without groaning.’
Conservatives tend to talk a lot about both character and virtue, even when they do not actually practice the latter, while liberals reflexively treat their valorization as thinly disguised tools of oppression.
The reason why wisdom is the “chief good,” according to Socrates, is rather simple: it is the only human ability that is good under every and all circumstances.
To be sure, being wealthy is better than being poor, being healthy is better than being sick, and being educated is better than being ignorant (standard pairs of preferred and dispreferred indifferents).
The Stoics adopted Socrates’s classification of four aspects of virtue, which they thought of as four tightly interlinked character traits: (practical) wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. Practical wisdom allows us to make decisions that improve our eudaimonia, the (ethically) good life. Courage can be physical, but more broadly refers to the moral aspect—for instance, the ability to act well under challenging circumstances, as Priscus and Malala did. Temperance makes it possible for us to control our desires and actions so that we don’t yield to excesses. Justice, for Socrates and the Stoics, refers not to an abstract theory of how society should be run, but rather to the practice of treating other human beings with dignity and fairness.
Basically, Aquinas kept the four Stoic virtues and added three peculiarly Christian ones, originally proposed by Paul of Tarsus: faith, hope, and charity.
a set of six “core” virtues: Courage: Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal; examples include bravery, perseverance, and authenticity (honesty). Justice: Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life; examples include fairness, leadership, and citizenship or teamwork. Humanity: Interpersonal strengths that involve “tending and befriending” others; examples include love and kindness. Temperance: Strengths that protect against excess; examples include forgiveness, humility, prudence, and self-control. Wisdom: Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge; examples include creativity, curiosity, judgment, and perspective (providing counsel to others). Transcendence: Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and thereby provide meaning; examples include gratitude, hope, and spirituality.
at the center of the Cynic-Stoic concept of cosmopolitanism: the idea that we ought to extend the sympathy we have for kin to our friends, acquaintances, fellow countrymen, and beyond to humanity at large (and even, some Stoics hinted, to the suffering of sentient animals).
conservatives insisting that we should go back to emphasizing character in schools, families, and the country at large, and liberals rejecting such talk as a not-so-subtle attempt to maintain white male privilege, patriarchy, and the like.
In other words, your character is your best calling card, and if you interact with good judges of character, that’s all you’ll need.
Indeed, what will be needed are exactly the fundamental virtues: the courage to do the right thing under difficult circumstances, the temperance to rein in excesses, a sense of justice in considering how people are going to be affected by his decisions, and of course the practical wisdom that will allow him to negotiate treacherous and always-changing waters.
Epictetus used an apt seafaring metaphor to make a related point: For the helmsman to wreck his vessel, he does not need the same resources, as he needs to save it: if he turn it but a little too far to the wind, he is lost; yes, and if he do it not deliberately but from mere want of attention, he is lost all the same. It is very much the same in life: if you doze but a little, all that you have amassed up till now leaves you. Keep awake then and watch your impressions: it is no trifle you have in keeping, but self-respect, honor, constancy, a quiet mind, untouched by distress, or fear, or agitation—in a word, freedom. What are you going to sell all this for? Look and see what your purchase is worth.
And above all, we need to be cognizant of what our integrity is worth: if we decide to sell it, it shouldn’t be for cheap.
One of the intriguing characteristics of the piece is that it can be (and has been) read either as a tale of misogyny and xenophobia (Medea is a woman and a barbarian) or as a proto-feminist story of a woman’s struggle in a patriarchal society.
‘Suppose I am in error, my father, and ignorant of what is fitting and proper for me. If, then, this cannot be taught or learnt, why do you reproach me? If it can be taught, teach me, and, if you cannot, let me learn from those who say that they know.
The point is that nobody errs on purpose. Whatever we do, we think it is the right thing to do, according to whatever criterion we have developed or adopted to establish right action.
Part of the controversy hinged on the idea Arendt developed that “evil” is often the result of lack of thought, meaning that people usually don’t want to do evil, and certainly don’t think of themselves as evildoers. But they also tend to follow the general opinion without critical analysis, and indeed—as in Eichmann’s case—they are often convinced that they are doing a good job.
There’s simply the reluctance ever to imagine what the other person is experiencing, correct?
If what we are doing is simply labeling a particularly nasty type of bad behavior, then there is little problem. But not infrequently, when we talk of evil, we slide into a fallacy known as “reification” (literally, making a thing), which means speaking of a concept as if it has some kind of mind-independent existence, as if it is in some sense “out there.”
It has no metaphysical consistency: it is simply a shorthand for the really, really bad stuff that people do, or for the really, really bad character that leads people to do said stuff.
“A-gnoia means literally ‘not-knowing’; a-mathia means literally ‘not-learning.’ In addition to the type of amathia that is an inability to learn, there is another form that is an unwillingness to learn.… Robert Musil in an essay called On Stupidity, distinguished between two forms of stupidity, one he called ‘an honorable kind’ due to a lack of natural ability and another, much more sinister kind, that he called ‘intelligent stupidity.’”
Medea knew it was wrong to make her children suffer to punish Jason, but emotion (vengeance), not reason, drove her to act as she did. Epictetus
That is, Medea did not wish to err, but was simply convinced that she was doing the right thing.
Cognitive dissonance is a very uncomfortable psychological state that occurs when someone becomes aware of the conflict between two judgments that he holds to be equally true. People do not want to experience cognitive dissonance, just as Epictetus said that people do not want to knowingly be in error.
The uncomfortable truth is, again, that people suffering from cognitive dissonance are neither stupid nor ignorant.
As the writer Michael Shermer has observed, the more clever people are, the better they are at rationalizing away the sources of their cognitive dissonance.
As far as the rest of us are concerned, remembering that people do bad things out of lack of wisdom is not only a reminder to be compassionate toward others, it also constantly tells us just how important it is to develop wisdom.
I had moved to the United States from Rome a couple of years earlier, and the whole idea of televised debates as “infotainment” was very new to me.
When he was asked in an interview who didn’t make it out of the Hanoi Hilton, Stockdale replied: Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh,
Stockdale understood an important truth about war that applies to life in general: holding the moral high ground and maintaining self-respect is more important than the facts on the ground, be they the weaponry on each side (in the case of war) or the circumstances of our ordinary lives.
The results were striking: those who had spent less than two years in confinement said that torture was the worst; those who had spent more than two years in isolation said that the latter experience trumped even torture.
Stockdale interpreted Rutledge’s finding in the light of Epictetus’s teachings—that it is shame, not physical pain, that truly brings down a human being.
Observing and imitating role models, then, is one powerful way to work on our own virtue.
The problem nowadays is that, by and large, we do a pretty bad job of picking role models. We glorify actors, singers, athletes, and generic “celebrities,”
A similar problem arises with the contemporary, highly inflated use of the word “hero,” especially in the United States. Some brave people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the common good truly deserve that appellative (though they don’t have to be almost exclusively drawn from the ranks of the military or the police). But someone who dies, say, as a result of a terrorist attack is not a hero—he is a victim. He probably did not display courage and other-regard; he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We should most certainly mourn him, but labeling him a “hero” does not do justice to what actually happened, and it does a great injustice to actual heroes, confusing people about the very meaning of the term.
The other thing to remember about role models—and the Stoics understood this very well—is that they are not perfect human beings, for the simple reason that there is no such thing. Moreover, making perfection an integral part of our concept of role model means that we are setting a standard that is impossibly high.
For Christians, the model of universally good behavior is Jesus, but that’s a tough role model to actually attempt to emulate, since believers are literally trying to be like gods. Bound to fail, we have to accept the divinity’s mercy as our path to salvation.
For instance, in 72 bce, he volunteered to fight against the rebel slave Spartacus, clearly not having paused to consider that the revolt might have been a reaction to extreme injustice.
But that would be exactly the wrong way to look at him, because it would be an attempt to make him a godlike figure capable of doing what no human being can do: completely transcend his own upbringing.
“Alea iacta est” (The die is cast).
by hearing about great deeds that we not only become inspired by what human beings at their best can do, but also are implicitly reminded of just how much easier most of our lives actually are.
Larry’s first point is to realize the importance of agency. It has been crucial for him to feel like an agent in the world, not a patient.
After you have reclaimed your agency, Larry points out, you are in the same position as everyone else: you have to become good at being an agent. This, he says, requires lining up the following elements: values, preferences, goals, deliberations, decisions, and actions. If these are incoherent, incomplete, or weak, then you are paralyzed no matter what your physical condition happens to be. You can also be paralyzed by indecision, because you are not committed to a particular course of action and wish to keep multiple possibilities open. Facing too many choices on the menu, or too many cars on the dealer’s lot, isn’t a good thing, as modern cognitive science clearly shows. To complicate things, there is the fact that the world itself changes, requiring constant adjustments to our goals, decisions, and actions. In other words, we need to learn how to maintain agency under changing circumstances.
Knowing our physical and psychological abilities includes knowing our limits. Ignorance, or worse, self-deception about our own abilities can be very dangerous. We need to keep an up-to-date, accurate account of what is possible for us.
Larry also counsels us to train ourselves to recognize when we have lost a good fit between our abilities and our activities. We must develop what he calls an internal alarm system, which will tell us when it’s time to stop suffering and begin (or resume) taking charge.
Rather, Larry suggests making a habit of reflecting on what is important to us and on the best way to achieve it, and also to continuously revise our life plan, according to our changing abilities and circumstances. Our dynamic plan should be coherent, ambitious, achievable, revisable, and—ideally—compatible with a generally rising level of life satisfaction.
Lastly, Larry cautions us to beware of brick walls. We need to recognize them when we hit them; even better is to see them coming before we hit them hard. The
To begin with, he says that one of the crucial things for people affected by depression is to constantly monitor themselves and their mental condition. If there is anything that Stoicism trains people to do it is to monitor their own reactions and reflect critically on how they perceive and interpret the world.
suffering from a depression that stemmed in part from the gulf he had gradually realized existed between his expectations about his life and the world, on the one hand, and his life and the world as they were, on the other hand.
“Depressed people are rather self-aware; in fact, they are too self-aware, and too negatively so, often deriding themselves for small infractions of their own idealized standards, putting themselves down for not being perfect even in a world they recognize as being full of imperfections and human capital squandered.
For one thing, I have become a collector of insults: On being insulted, I analyze and categorize the insult. For another thing, I look forward to being insulted inasmuch as it affords me the opportunity to perfect my ‘insult game.’
Think of Irvine’s “insult game”: what someone says to us is his opinion, which may or may not be grounded in fact. Whether we perceive someone else’s remark as an insult or not is entirely up to us, quite regardless of the intention of our interlocutor.
Well, is it true? At one time in my life it was. In which case, why get offended? What does it even mean to feel insulted by a fact? Conversely, is it not true? Then the fellow who hurled the insult is both childish in his behavior and factually wrong. How is that going to injure me? If anything, he is the one who loses in the confrontation.
The basic idea, again adopted by modern cognitive behavioral therapy and similar approaches, is to regularly focus on potentially bad scenarios, repeating to yourself that they are not in fact as bad as they may seem, because you have the inner resources to deal with them.
Now, why would anyone, let alone someone who is depressed, want to imagine the worst on purpose? Well, for one thing there is the empirical observation that it actually works: visualizing negative happenings decreases our fear of them and mentally prepares us to deal with the crisis when and if it ensues. But there is a flip side to visualizing the negative: we gain a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation for all the times when bad things do not happen to us, when we leisurely drive down the road on a beautiful day or enjoy the presence of our loved ones because they are very much alive and well.
Seneca wrote about self-knowledge and suggested that sometimes we are the worst obstacles to our own improvement: we see where we should go, which is where we want to go, and yet somehow we can’t pick ourselves up and begin the journey.
all the major Stoic authors insist that it is crucial that we reflect on our condition and truly make an effort to see things in a different light, one that is both more rational and more compassionate.
The second point Epictetus makes is crucial: we are so distraught about the prospect of our own death precisely because, unlike wheat and most other species on earth presumably, we are capable of contemplating that thought. And yet, knowing something does not change the nature of the thing of course—it just changes our attitude about it.
the fundamental Stoic idea of the dichotomy of control: death itself is not under our control (it will happen one way or another), but how we think about death most definitely is under our control.
“Will you realize once for all that it is not death that is the source of all man’s evils, and of a mean and cowardly spirit, but rather the fear of death?
Those around us cannot cure our illness or save us from death, but they can accompany us part of the way, comforting us before we get there.
“What do you mean by ‘die’?” Epictetus corrected me. “Do not use fine words, but state the facts as they are. Now is the time for your material part to be restored to the elements of which it was composed. What is there dreadful in that?
If so, how would an already diseased planet sustain the thirst for natural resources of a population that grows so relentlessly and manage its ever-escalating production of waste products?
Others must come into being, even as you did, and being born must have room and dwellings and necessaries. But if the first comers do not retire, what is left for them?
Just as, for the Stoics, death itself is what gives urgent meaning to life, the possibility of leaving life voluntarily gives us the courage to do what is right under otherwise unbearable circumstances.
It is, in other words, our own judgment that tells us whether it is time to walk through the open door or whether we should stay and fight another day.
he was a flawed man (as he himself repeatedly wrote) who tried his best under nearly impossible circumstances. Seneca succeeded in guiding Nero and containing the damage for the first five years of his reign, even if he eventually lost control of the increasingly unhinged emperor.
Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther
It is not in our power to make thievery disappear from the world, but it is in our power to engage in a battle of attention with thieves, if we think that’s worth our efforts and time.
And Seneca explicitly advised taking a deep breath and going for a walk around the block upon first feeling the uncontrollable rise of rage, which he considered a type of temporary madness.
The APA tells us to change standard phrases like “this is terrible!” to something along the lines of “I’d rather not have to deal with this, but I can manage it, and getting angry isn’t going to help me at all.”
Epictetus—reminds us: “Logic defeats anger, because anger, even when it’s justified, can quickly become irrational. So use cold hard logic on yourself.”
we need to realize that—contra common cultural belief—it just isn’t the case that every problem has a solution. We therefore need to cut ourselves some slack for not being able to solve everything, so long as we have done all we can reasonably do under the circumstances.
Additional suggestions from professional psychologists include changing your environment, for instance, by taking a physical break from the problematic situation; shifting the timing of your interaction with another person if the present moment seems not to be the best time to handle the problem, but being sure to set an alternative time for coming back to it in order to send the signal that you are not dodging it; practicing avoidance by not exposing yourself, if possible, to the cause of your distress; and finding alternative ways of doing what you need to do that may reduce the opportunity for conflict while still allowing you to accomplish your goals.
Killeen distinguishes loneliness from similar, yet separate, related concepts, such as alienation (which may be the result, or in some cases the cause, of depression) and solitude (which actually has a positive connotation, more akin to my own behavior).
The Killeen paper provides a handy summary diagram identifying a series of causes related to our situations and our characters that lead to loneliness, including bereavement, psychological vulnerability, reduced social network, depression, and radical life changes.
As Killeen says: there is no reason to be embarrassed because (some degree of) loneliness is a natural condition for humanity, and Stoics reject the whole idea of embarrassment, especially with respect to societal expectations, because we have no influence over other people’s judgments, only over our own behavior.
We may have little or no control over the external circumstances that force us into being alone at some times in our lives. But (save for pathological conditions, for which one needs to seek medical help), it is our choice, our own attitude, that turns solitude into loneliness. We may be alone, but we do not consequently need to feel helpless.
The point, rather, is that human affection needs to be guided—trained even—by a sound assessment of whatever situation triggers our feelings.
true friendship, like true love, is revealed when the going gets tough, not when things are nice and easy.
friendship of the good is that rare phenomenon when two people enjoy each other for their own sake because they find in each other an affinity of character that does not require externalities like a business exchange or a hobby. In those cases, our friends become, as Aristotle famously put it, mirrors to our souls, helping us grow and become better persons just because they care about us.
Each day reread Epictetus’s words several times, whenever you have a minute, and focus on putting into practice that day a specific piece of advice.
four Stoic virtues: (Practical) wisdom: Navigating complex situations in the best available fashion Courage: Doing the right thing, both physically and morally, under all circumstances Justice: Treating every human being—regardless of his or her stature in life—with fairness and kindness Temperance: Exercising moderation and self-control in all spheres of life
1. Examine your impressions.
stepping back to make room for rational deliberation, avoiding rash emotional reactions, and asking whether whatever is being thrown at us is under our control (in which case we should act on it) or isn’t (in which case we should regard it as not of our concern).
2. Remind yourself of the impermanence of things.
we should constantly remind ourselves of just how precious our loved ones are precisely because they may soon be gone. Anyone
“Memento homo” (Remember, you are only a man).
I always regretted the way I responded to my father’s illness—until Stoicism taught me that regret is about things we can no longer change and the right attitude is to learn from our experiences, not dwell on decisions that we are not in a position to alter. Which
None of this made the experience any less hard, since Stoicism isn’t a magic wand. But I tried my best to be present in the hic et nunc, the here and now, as the Romans used to say.
he is advising us to care and appreciate very much what we now have, precisely because Fate may snatch it from us tomorrow.
3. The reserve clause.
I love the “which is impossible if I go all to pieces whenever anything bad happens” bit. It conjures an image of people who are too fragile to withstand even minor challenges in life because they let themselves be fragile. They always assume that of course things will go well, since bad things only happen to other people (possibly because they somehow deserve them). Instead, as Stoics, we should bring the reserve clause to anything we do, and even use it as a personal mantra: Fate permitting.
There is a nice analogy in Stoic lore meant to explain the point. It is attributed to Chrysippus—the third head of the original Stoa of Athens—and was allegedly recounted in one of Epictetus’s lost volumes of the Discourses. Imagine a dog who is leashed to a cart. The cart begins to move forward, in whatever direction the driver, but certainly not the dog, chooses. Now, the leash is long enough that the dog has two options: either he can gingerly follow the general direction of the cart, over which he has no control, and thereby enjoy the ride and even have time to explore his surroundings and attend to some of his own business, or he can stubbornly resist the cart with all his might and end up being dragged, kicking and screaming, for the rest of the trip, accumulating much pain and frustration and wasting his time in a futile and decidedly unpleasant effort. We humans are, of course, the dog: the universe keeps churning according to God’s will (if you have religious inclinations) or cosmic cause and effect (if your taste is more secular).
Rather, it is to deploy the wisdom that sometimes things will not go our way even if we do our best, and regardless of whether we deserved to win the match or get the promotion.
4. How can I use virtue here and now? “For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to cope with it.
you cannot control disease and pain, and it will happen at some point or another in your life. But you can manage it, not just with medications (there is certainly nothing in Stoic doctrine that precludes the use of medicine when appropriate), but also by way of your own mental attitude.
5. Pause and take a deep breath. “Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.
Naturally, it is far easier to maintain equanimity (which, again, is not to be confused with emotional impassivity!) when little inconveniences, or even disasters, happen to others rather than to ourselves.
Accidents, injuries, disease, and death are unavoidable, and while it is understandable to be distraught over them
we can take comfort in knowing that they are in the normal order of things. The universe isn’t after anyone—or at least, it isn’t after any one of us in particular!
7. Speak little and well. “Let silence be your goal
Why should we care at all about what the Kardashians (or any other celebrities of the moment) are doing? To say that an interest in such matters is the hallmark of a rather shallow mind sounds elitist of course, and therefore distasteful to our modern sensibilities, but only because we have been conditioned to think that “serious” talk is boring and at any rate requires more background knowledge and attention than most of us associate with good conversation.
8. Choose your company well.
people who are interested in following virtue and cultivating their character.
Even more generally, this is simply the sound advice that our life is short, temptation and waste are always lurking, and so we need to pay attention to what we are doing and who our companions are.
we want to be with friends who are better than ourselves, so that we can learn from them. At the very least, we want our friends to be the sort of people who can hold up a mirror to our soul, so that we can look into it frankly and gain a better idea of just how much work needs to be done on it
9. Respond to insults with humor.
“If you learn that someone is speaking ill of you, don’t try to defend yourself against the rumors; respond instead with, ‘Yes, and he doesn’t know the half of it, because he could have said more.’”
I have begun to internalize the concept that an insult works, not because it is intended as such by the person who delivers it, but because the target allows it to become an insult.
The more you train yourself to endure insults the stronger you feel psychologically, and therefore the more you can react appropriately and effectively, and vice versa: taking a stance against bullying enables you to see it for the infantile attitude that it really is (even, or especially, when engaged in by “adults”), and this insight then leads to the fostering of greater resilience.
Is this person a friend or someone you look up to? If yes, then it is more likely that she is just offering advice, perhaps in a somewhat pointed fashion, but with good intentions nonetheless.
10. Don’t speak too much about yourself.
It feels good because, as we have seen with a number of the other exercises—and indeed as the Stoics themselves clearly recognized—there is a peculiar pleasure in being able to exercise some self-control.
gym. I don’t know about you, but when I get to my local gym and someone from behind the reception desk smiles and greets me with a loud and cheerful, “Enjoy your workout!” the first thought that comes to my mind is: Who on earth enjoys working out? Yes, I know, some people actually do enjoy it, but most of us don’t. And yet, it is the sort of thing we do because we have reflected on the benefits of doing it and decided that the gain is worth the pain, as they say. But it is also the case that once we get to the end of the workout and head to the shower, we feel a peculiar sort of satisfaction, not only from the physiological benefits of the exercise but also from being able to pat ourselves on the back and say: it was hard, we didn’t really want to do it, but we did it!
11. Speak without judging.
The idea is to distinguish between matters of fact—to which we can assent if we find them justified by observation—and judgments, from which we generally ought to abstain, since we usually don’t have sufficient information.
12. Reflect on your day.
“Admit not sleep into your tender eyelids till you have reckoned up each deed of the day—How have I erred, what done or left undone? So start, and so review your acts, and then for vile deeds chide yourself, for good be glad.”
conceal nothing from myself, and omit nothing: for why should I be afraid of any of my shortcomings, when it is in my power to say, “I pardon you this time: see that you never do that anymore”?…
I would argue that this book is less a how to book on aging and more a plea for those who have not yet aged to the point of infirmary or elderly or even somewhat slowing down to be more considerate of those who are aged.
"Aged" has so many different meanings these days. Used to be old was 50, now it's when you stop living, when you give up, when the years of treating your physical and mental health for shit and said years come rumbling back on top of you. If you're still active, if you're still learning, if you move and think and moderate, then the sagging skin doesn't sag as much, the white hair doesn't matter as much, and the joys of living are larger than the accumulated pains of living.
Sadly, I don't know that I'd have been positively influenced in any meaningful way if I had read this book when young. Currently being in the middle, not young, not old, I'd have to say I see the wall of old age that I'm going to crash into, but it won't be head first. I'm going feet first with the intent of jumping off it.
Growing old means "still alive" and what a "privilege" (the book's word) that would be!
This book is worth reading, as many of the School of Life books are, I recommend it.
It sees ageing as a lifelong process, not something confined to its latter stages, and an opportunity to develop –indeed an intrinsic part of life itself.
A long life signals that we’re privileged, either through genetic serendipity, affluence or sheer luck.
This acknowledgement of ageing involves mourning, because there are inevitable losses associated with getting older, whether in function
or the death of friends and family, or the recognition of one’s own mortality.
Gina’s fear of ageing is directed at some amorphous, creeping, malign change, which prevents her from appreciating the benefits that she has already derived from the ageing process.
The capacity to be surprised, curious and engaged isn’t the prerogative of young people
and indeed it can intensify as we age.
The man-child holds on tightly to his video games and comics, and refuses to change. He equates being grown up with joylessness.
But perhaps it’s less about having a mortgage or a pension and more about learning to take responsibility for your spending; about being able to defer gratification instead of insisting ‘I want it now’; about not saying the first thing that comes into your head and thinking about other people as well as yourself?
similarly, we can try to foster in ourselves qualities that deepen and enrich over the years. These qualities differ for each of us, but for most people they include finding enduring sources of meaning –in work, or through relationships, interests or making a social contribution; getting to know themselves; making genuine contact with other people; and developing the capacity to love –whether people, ideas or experiences.
But the ability to laugh, like any other emotional facility, develops through use, and finding oneself convulsed with laughter, decades after childhood when it’s so common, is sweet indeed.
It’s much easier to adopt this outlook if we don’t take a long lifespan for granted, but recognize instead that it isn’t given to the majority of people in the world, especially the developing world: that to age is in fact to be blessed.
Those who age best are those who travel lightest, who can jettison the prescriptive ideas they’ve cleaved to at one stage of their lives when they find them ill-suited to another. A certain suppleness of spirit is needed.
Letting go of old narratives can be an extremely painful business: it involves mourning what never happened as well as what did, and admitting failure, wrong-headedness and poor decisions. Most unforgivably, it demands that we recognize that life unfurls beyond our control.
For to age is to live and to live is to age, and being anti-age (as so many products proudly proclaim themselves) is tantamount to being anti-life.
By embracing age we embrace the life process itself, with all its pain, joy and difficulty. If
metaphors). We’re no longer at risk of an invasion of triffids or Martians but of old people –invariably portrayed as a major social problem and a drain on resources, rather than as a resource themselves.
What they don’t realize is that they’re banking disgust that they’ll have to draw on themselves –ourselves.
this unique feature of ageism: that it’s prejudice against one’s future self.
It’s fuelled, as we’ll see, by a refusal to admit that we too will age –by a profound dis-identification with old people.
people. Clare Temple in Norah Hoult’s remarkable 1944 novel, There Were No Windows, is a woman aware of her creeping dementia:
Older people are rarely referred for psychotherapy
because depression is seen as just another inevitable aspect of old age.
since third-agers like Sara and Clive have convinced themselves that, with enough discipline and self-control, the body can always be transcended. But it can’t. Perhaps
For the truth is that we all have to go into that good night eventually, gently or otherwise –to deny this is nothing more than magic thinking.
They encourage you to deal with the prejudice against old people not by challenging it but by trying not to look old.
It’s all very well intoning ‘use it or lose it’, but this doesn’t allow for the possibility that you may still lose it despite using it.
each time we see an older person, we need to imagine them as our future self, and, rather than recoil from their wrinkles or infirmities, applaud their resilience. We need to rehumanize older people, to attribute to them the same rich internal world, set of passions and network of complex human relationships that we assume exist in younger people and in ourselves.
At some point or other, age resistance becomes frankly futile –you’ll either die or start to look old –but the energy you use to accept the fact of ageing but refuse its stereotypes will serve you well for the rest of your life.
Although it might seem paradoxical, mourning is an essential part of ageing with gusto, because it helps you say goodbye to some features of life, freeing you to welcome in new ones.
We’ve learnt to assume that age will bring radical discontinuities to our lives, whether at 4 or 40. But it doesn’t. Perhaps this is one of the truths about ageing that we find hardest to learn.
Perhaps the greatest calumny committed against old people –and the one that most frightens the not-yet-old –is the belief that ageing causes us to leech vitality.
Cicero clocked this. People, said the Roman orator in De Senectute, his treatise on old age, ‘who have no resources in themselves for securing a good and happy life find every age burdensome.’
As Barbara Strauch, author of The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, observes, for years most research into ageing was conducted in nursing homes, where bodies and brains are rarely stimulated, and this shaped beliefs about what it means to get old.
Research at the University of Cambridge challenges the idea of cognitive ageing as a monolithic process of universal, inexorable, progressive decline.
One was that they’d never retire –it would be tantamount to retiring from life. Another was that they were highly satisfied with their lives. This suggests that physical activity, work or an absorbing interest of some kind, as well as consciously maintaining social networks, both enrich the ageing process.
Lighter can mean not spreading oneself so thinly, monotasking rather than multitasking, learning to say no. Yet in order to do this we may have to let go of a lifetime’s obsessions and grievances.
It reminds us that, ultimately, pain can be modified by optimism and love. Why is this so hard to remember?
A 100-year-old woman, when she was interviewed on radio, was asked if she had any regrets. ‘If I’d known I’d live to be 100’, she replied, ‘I’d have taken up the violin at 40. By now I could have been playing for 60 years!’
It’s not just older people who are scared of ‘getting left behind’ –all of us are having to learn to live with long-term precariousness; we’re all only as good as our last project.
This line of thought pits Us against Them and sees public policy as a zero-sum game: whatever They get leaves less for Us.
Interestingly, too, the countries that have the fewest inequalities between generations also have the fewest inequalities within them.
We’ve age-cleansed our society. Under the banner of welfare we’ve corralled old people into day-care centres and homes; removed them from families, schools, universities, workplaces, general-hospital wards and sports centres, creating age ghettoes. It might soon be perfectly possible to go through life without meeting an old person until you become one. No wonder the prospect of ageing is terrifying.
Indeed young people’s lack of contact with old people not only encourages them to believe that they’ll never get old, but also to treat old people as if they’d never been young.
Age segregation denies the fact that interests and preoccupations cross the ages: you can love reggae or oppose the renewal of Trident whatever your age –instead of age dividing us, passions can unite us.
Homeshare programmes around the world introduce older homeowners who’d value company and assistance to younger people threatened with homelessness. In the USA ‘cyber-grandparents’, aged 60 to 105, are supplied by the Elder Wisdom Circle to provide anonymous advice to people in their twenties and thirties.
A skincare company which surveyed a large number of them found that they become anxious about ‘losing their looks’ at around 28.
Clive always thought his own lines and greying hair made him look ‘distinguished’, but he’s noticed a growing number of his colleagues of the same age resorting to the chemical and surgical procedures they’d always dismissed as women’s territory.
And will the sexual older man ever lose the prefix ‘dirty’? The arrival of Viagra has only reinforced this description, confirming them as unreconstructed priapics and libertines. Though what it really demonstrates is precisely the opposite: that male sexuality can be a fragile thing.
It’s easy to understand why we feel flattered when told that we don’t look our age. But basking in compliments like these brings only short-term relief. In the long term they’re dangerous: they only allow us to defer our discomfort until the time when we do look our age.
The classicist Mary Beard, whenever she appears on television, has her appearance savaged on social media by trolls. Retorts Beard, ‘Grey is my hair colour. I really can’t see why I should change it. There clearly is a view of female normative behaviour but more women of 58 do look like me than like Victoria Beckham.’
Whenever grievances about the invisibility of older women are voiced, paradoxically they reveal how older women are becoming culturally more prominent. They’re speaking out because they aren’t prepared to withdraw from public life and debate purely on grounds of their age and gender.
When someone asked the German Princess Palatine in the eighteenth century at what age sexual desire disappeared, she replied, ‘How should I know? I’m only 80.’
Some are resourceful. Jane Juska put an ad in the New York Review of Books that read ‘Before I turn 67, next March, I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works fine.’
There is no template for ageing, or ageing well. The best way is one’s own way.
The first British Older Women’s Cohousing project, set to open in 2015, is a creative new way of maintaining independence while also combating isolation: its first residents, currently aged between 50 and 84, will own or rent their own flat but also have communal areas and will look out for each other.
As with history, so with gender: the more we’re able to understand how ageist assumptions shape our thoughts and behaviour, the less hold they’ll have over us. If you recognize, for example, how far women are judged by their appearance and men by their vigour, you’ll find it easier, as you leave your teens and twenties, to situate and challenge those stereotypes of the woman who’s losing her looks and the man whose vigour is ebbing away.
Since 1951 no one in the USA has died of old age. This was the year old age was deleted as a cause of death from death certificates; from then on you could only die of a disease.
Severing any link between ageing and death is another manifestation of our denial of death –death has to go underground, and not just literally.
Along with gerontophobia, our culture suffers from thanatophobia, an overwhelming fear of death.
more people now die in hospital or a nursing home than in their own home. Such is the taboo against death that children are often excluded from the funerals of relatives on the grounds that ‘it will upset them’, though they often later express regret that they had no opportunity to say goodbye.
In highly individualistic cultures death seems like a personal affront, a narcissistic wound, an attack on our individual subjectivity.
researchers have found, for example, that nursing staff with high levels of ‘death anxiety’ have significantly more negative attitudes to older people.
Death, when it approaches, ought not to take one by surprise. It should be part of the full expectancy of life.
At ‘Death Cafe’ events, people come together in a relaxed and safe setting to discuss death, drink tea and eat cake.
Maggie Kuhn used to encourage people to compile a life line or life review from their birth. When she urged them to also put in the year they thought they’d die, people always gasped. She maintained, though, that this helped raise their consciousness of their own death. For once you start to really take on board the fact that you’re going to die, old age becomes a lot less terrifying: it means you’re not dead yet.
‘Symmetry’, a TV ad for Marie Curie Cancer Care, attracted almost universal praise when it was launched in 2013.
People who live their earlier lives as if they’re never going to age often find retirement and the loss of a professional identity particularly traumatic: they’ve failed to cultivate those qualities that can endure, and without the containing structure imposed by work, even if they complained about it at the time, they’re at a loss.
In addition, researchers at King’s College London have found that twenty-two molecules already present when we’re born are linked to our health in old age.
In a slim cowritten volume called Aging: The Fulfillment of Life, first
Germany is now ‘exporting’ –some call it ‘deporting’ –thousands of old and sick Germans to retirement and rehabilitation centres in Eastern Europe and Asia because it’s cheaper. This is ‘disowning’ old people literally.
Powerlessness is perhaps the hardest state for us to tolerate today.
We say that we cannot be human all by ourselves; we need each other.
Psychotherapist Marie de Hennezel has observed many older people entrusting their body to other people’s care with grace, and without embarrassment or humiliation. It’s as if they help their carers look after them.
Yet at every stage of life some attachments need to be given up for others to develop, in order to move forward.
Mourning creates a space in which a sense of gratitude can develop –gratitude for what remains, or for what unfolds in place of what’s been lost.
Maggie Kuhn saw older people in precisely the opposite way. In the vanguard of social change, they’re society’s futurists –testing out new instruments, technologies, ideas and styles of living.
The ones who fare best not only care about what they leave behind for the next generation, but are also able to keep learning from people both older and younger than themselves.
Those who urge us to fight ageing are, in effect, inviting us to stop growing and developing. In so doing, they’re depriving us of the opportunity to carry out and successfully complete the task of being alive and human.
Gina is also coming to realize that growing older is a privilege which, instead of fearing, she might do better to hope for. (Hope I age –what a slogan this would be!) In short, she has started to understand that ageing is a process, and not a crisis.
Or the right for old people to remain embodied: as much as younger people, older people need to touch and be touched; to taste good food; to stretch, move and dance.
Acknowledging death graces us with a sense of perspective: it reminds us that we have only a finite number of breaths; it makes us ask ourselves ‘How will I feel when I get to the end of my life having done/ without having done this?’
For the novelist Edith Wharton it was being ‘unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.’ The cellist Pablo Casals, when asked by one of his pupils why, at the age of 91, he continued to practise, replied, ‘Because I am making progress.’
I was trying to finish this book before the end of last year, as January is going to be a non-fiction only month for me.
I didn't make it, so this is the first book of the new year that I have finished!
I picked up this book because "by Claire North" and, let's be real, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was a fun read. This was also on NPR's recommended list, so I figured I'd read it.
While I believe I understand the message of the book (that when you put a price tag on people's lives, the system is incentivized to profit off of everything people do, to the detriment of the system), I didn't really enjoy this book. The format of past to present to past was good story-telling, I liked that aspect.
North (a pseudonym) has a number of other books, so I'll likely try another of hers. This book has good reviews from others, so maybe just me?
The man whose name was sometimes Theo Miller had been twenty-two years old when they abolished human rights. The government insisted it was necessary to counter terrorism and bring stable leadership to the country.
They wavered, avoiding each other’s gaze. Finally Theo mumbled, looking at some place a few hundred miles above and a little to the left of her forehead, “Are you …”
Love this description, "few hundred miles above."
If you’re rich enough, you get to pay less tax if you turn yourself into a company, and if you’re a company you can buy a parole.
But as the years went by, anger had faded.
Most things faded, given time.
Good rate of return that, decent interest on time spent, I respect that, I understand that, not my language but it’s my song.
[D]reams were for children and she was a grown-up now. Grown-ups just dealt with things. They carried on—that’s what being grown-up meant.
Beyond, the world carries on.
Vagrants could be Tasered on sight in this part of the city—they caused emotional distress, and emotional distress was basically assault.
By night Mala Choudhary practised Muay Thai. She won most of her fights but found those she lost more exciting.
He used to see them sometimes in the snarling boys who liked it when their dogs growled at passing strangers, because the dogs made people scared, and if people were scared of you then you were powerful, and if you were powerful, you mattered. Even if you didn’t know what mattering was good for.
The queen says this country is a slave state. That there aren’t any chains on our feet or beatings on our backs because there don’t need to be. Cos if you don’t play along with what the Company wants, you die. You die cos you can’t pay for the doctor to treat you. You die cos the police won’t come without insurance. Cos the fire brigade doesn’t cover your area, cos you can’t get a job, cos you can’t buy the food, cos the water stopped, cos there was no light at night and if that’s not slavery, if that’s not the world gone mad if that’s not … … but we got used to it. Just the way things are.
I don’t think it matters. We got taught not to care. It’ll pass. It’ll pass.
“Loneliness is a state of mind. You have to want something, to be lonely. You have to need some sort of reassurance, someone to tell you that this is who you are. I’m not lonely. I don’t want anything."
"Our lives exist in many different, contradictory states, all at once. I am a liar. I am a killer. I am honest. I am fighting for a good cause. I am burning the world. We want things simple, and safe, and when they aren’t, when the truth is something complicated, something hard, or scary, we stop. The words run out. Everything becomes …”
“It’s how it happens, of course. The worst of it. Not ‘My neighbour has been taken to be burned alive, their house stolen, their children dead and I am so, so scared to speak of it.’ Just ‘They went away. Just—away.’ And we smile. And everyone else is as scared as we are, and knows what that smile means. Is grateful that you didn’t make the terror real. Thankful that you haven’t caused a stink. Because it would hurt … someone. Someone who isn’t a stranger would get hurt, if we ever managed to speak the truth of things. If we ever had the courage to say what we really think, even if it destroyed who we want the world to think we are. Who it is we think we should be. There would be too much pain. So we say nothing. Things just … trail away into a smile, which everyone understands and doesn’t have to mean a thing. We are grateful for that silence, for the thing that can’t be expressed. To fill it would be a terrible thing.”
There was probably a bit of love left, somewhere. It simply hadn’t been a priority for either of them.
"Then I started screaming too, just screaming, and it felt good. I’d never done nothing like that before but I was crying after, I screamed and then there was nothing left and I just cried and it was the best thing it was … They don’t bother me now. They’ve got this guy, this boss bloke, he goes to the sea every morning and rages at it. Just rages at it, cos of how he was born into this shit, and he didn’t ever find no way to make his life good, and he rages at the sky cos it never helped him, and at the earth cos it never carried him somewhere else, and his raging it’s … it’s sorta good, you know? It’s like going to church, only different like. Sometimes I scream, it’s like praying, but different."
"Is she dead?” An afterthought, a thing which was probable but which the girl hadn’t wanted to ask.
The sea the sky the earth they never carried me I hate them for letting me be born for making me breathe I hate them I hate—but she gotta love ’em. If she’s your daughter you gotta find her, you gotta help her be something which isn’t … you know.
Even thin ice can puncture the hull, can sink a narrowboat. They drown as they sleep they wake the water rushing down their noses it is.
Indecision. Martyrdom. Suspension of all things, a failure to act, the need to look at things from a new perspective, a willing victim a … Neila doesn’t like the word “victim.” If you’re “willing” then how are you a “victim”? Victim is the denial of choice …
Or maybe … maybe that’s unfair. Maybe they care. But caring isn’t the same as doing something, and doing something is hard. It’s very, very hard.
Simon is a shit. I’m not saying this to excuse my son. My son is also a shit. But Simon was the shit that blocked the toilet, if you’ll pardon my saying so. Naturally he assumes he isn’t. Most people assume they aren’t shits. It’s just good business. That’s what it amounts to. Business is good. Good is business it is
I think he hits her sometimes, but she always says … when it’s good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad, he always says sorry afterwards and that’s how she knows he loves her. I always thought I’d tell her to run away. It’s a very easy thing to say, much easier than anything that matters—but I never mustered the courage.
When my daughter died I spent so long trying to make it my fault, because if it was my fault it wasn’t just luck. It was the action of man, it was fate, it was God,
If you call him terrible you have to ask yourself why, you have to blame yourself and no one wants to do that. It’s the hardest thing in the world to say ‘I am a bad mother, and he is a bad father,’ it is impossible, it is devastating it is … because if I am a bad mother then I am … there is nothing worse.
And she said, “My brother had depression, he had depression and we all told him to get over it, we told him to just try and see the good side of things I mean, the good side it was just …”
“You ask people, when they tell you something terrible, you ask them ‘Are you okay?’ Of course they’re not fucking okay but what else are you meant to say. ‘Oh you must be feeling shit you must be so shit you must be …’”
The Hanged Man is the crossroads, is suspension, a choice that holds you back or will send you forward, a moment where all things stand on the edge.
Sometimes I catch myself making stories from the things that happened in my life, making stories of who I will be, and in these stories I’m always the hero or the villain because that way I made a choice, I made a choice and I chose to be here and there wasn’t ever anything which I couldn’t control, there wasn’t a part of me that is …”
“Do you regret?” she asked. “Do you look back, do you look at—when you think about the time you’ve had and the things—do you regret? Is that what you feel?” Theo thought about it. “I think I would,” he said at last. “If there wasn’t something more important to do.”
“Half the people we ask don’t even know if the queen is real, they can’t imagine it, anything changing. But the idea makes them feel better. That maybe they can do this really small thing, like this up yours to the world and maybe it’ll make a difference, maybe they count.
Rob was reading this book, so I jumped in to start reading it, too. In it, Kelly posits twelve inevitable (hence the title) technological forces / trends / changes that will shape our future. He gives them odd names, so that they are all gerunds:
Becoming: everything's upgrading, so we'll always forever be newbies
Cognifying: I suspect a made up word, basically AI everywhere, even dumb ai
Flowing: everything is real-time and instant access becomes more instanter (yes, I did make up that word)
Screening: everything becomes a screen, hate this idea
Accessing: no one owns much, so the corps own the big stuff, we just rent
Sharing: no one owns much, so the corps own the big stuff, we just rent, and share it
Filtering: everything is curated, unfortunately, likely by the AI
Remixing: everyone steals from everyone else and makes a meme out of it, or at least makes things better, pretty much humankind forever
Interacting: AR / VR
Tracking: total surveillance nominally "for the benefit of citizens and consumers" but in reality to an authoritarian state
I think Kelly started reaching on these, but there's also:
Questioning: the idea that good questions are far more valuable than good answers (except that too many people don't question, don't think)
Beginning: going global
There were parts of the book that I really wanted to scream NO NO NO at. Except Kelly isn't saying "here's what I propose," he's saying, "here's what I see." Screaming "No!" at a wall of water doesn't stop the flood, building a seawall stops the worst of it. Which might have been a reason for writing and reading this book.
Worth reading. Maybe reading twice.
Our greatest invention in the past 200 years was not a particular gadget or tool but the invention of the scientific process itself.
Get the ongoing process right and it will keep generating ongoing benefits. In our new era, processes trump products.
You may not want to upgrade, but you must because everyone else is. It’s an upgrade arms race. I used to upgrade my gear begrudgingly (why upgrade if it still works?) and at the last possible moment. You know how it goes: Upgrade this and suddenly you need to upgrade that, which triggers upgrades everywhere. I would put it off for years because I had the experiences of one “tiny” upgrade of a minor part disrupting my entire working life.
[D]elaying upgrading is even more disruptive. If you neglect ongoing minor upgrades, the change backs up so much that the eventual big upgrade reaches traumatic proportions.
I can confirm this statement.
Technological life in the future will be a series of endless upgrades.
No matter how long you have been using a tool, endless upgrades make you into a newbie—the new user often seen as clueless. In this era of “becoming,” everyone becomes a newbie. Worse, we will be newbies forever. That should keep us humble. That bears repeating. All of us—every one of us—will be endless newbies in the future simply trying to keep up.
Second, because the new technology requires endless upgrades, you will remain in the newbie state. Third, because the cycle of obsolescence is accelerating (the average lifespan of a phone app is a mere 30 days!), you won’t have time to master anything before it is displaced, so you will remain in the newbie mode forever. Endless Newbie is the new default for everyone, no matter your age or experience.
We keep inventing new things that make new longings, new holes that must be filled. Some people are furious that our hearts are pierced this way by the things we make. They see this ever-neediness as a debasement, a lowering of human nobility, the source of our continual discontentment.
This discontent is the trigger for our ingenuity and growth. We cannot expand our self, and our collective self, without making holes in our heart.
A world without discomfort is utopia. But it is also stagnant.
None of us have to worry about these utopia paradoxes, because utopias never work. Every utopian scenario contains self-corrupting flaws.
The flaw in most dystopian narratives is that they are not sustainable. Shutting down civilization is actually hard.
Nature finds away. Especially when said nature contains people.
The problems of today were caused by yesterday’s technological successes, and the technological solutions to today’s problems will cause the problems of tomorrow.
The problem with constant becoming (especially in a protopian crawl) is that unceasing change can blind us to its incremental changes. In constant motion we no longer notice the motion.
The disruption ABC could not imagine was that this “internet stuff” enabled the formerly dismissed passive consumers to become active creators.
The total number of web pages, including those that are dynamically created upon request, exceeds 60 trillion. That’s almost 10,000 pages per person alive.
What we all failed to see was how much of this brave new online world would be manufactured by users, not big institutions.
The audience was a confirmed collective couch potato, as the ABC honchos assumed. Everyone knew writing and reading were dead; music was too much trouble to make when you could sit back and listen; video production was simply out of reach of amateurs in terms of cost and expertise.
One study a few years ago found that only 40 percent of the web is commercially manufactured. The rest is fueled by duty or passion.
In fact, the business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. Find something that can be made better by adding online smartness to it.
The list of Xs is endless. The more unlikely the field, the more powerful adding AI will be.
When you type “Easter Bunny” into the image search bar and then click on the most Easter Bunny–looking image, you are teaching the AI what an Easter Bunny looks like.
My prediction: By 2026, Google’s main product will not be search but AI.
Cloud computing empowers the law of increasing returns, sometimes called the network effect, which holds that the value of a network increases much faster as it grows bigger. The bigger the network, the more attractive it is to new users, which makes it even bigger and thus more attractive, and so on. A cloud that serves AI will obey the same law. The more people who use an AI, the smarter it gets.
As a result, our AI future is likely to be ruled by an oligarchy of two or three large, general-purpose cloud-based commercial intelligences.
Because of a quirk in our evolutionary history, we are cruising as the only self-conscious species on our planet, leaving us with the incorrect idea that human intelligence is singular.
One of the advantages of having AIs drive our cars is that they won’t drive like humans, with our easily distracted minds.
Imagine we land on an alien planet. How would we measure the level of the intelligences we encounter there? This is an extremely difficult question because we have no real definition of our own intelligence, in part because until now we didn’t need one.
Our most important mechanical inventions are not machines that do what humans do better, but machines that can do things we can’t do at all. Our most important thinking machines will not be machines that can think what we think faster, better, but those that think what we can’t think.
Today, many scientific discoveries require hundreds of human minds to solve, but in the near future there may be classes of problems so deep that they require hundreds of different species of minds to solve. This will take us to a cultural edge because it won’t be easy to accept the answers from an alien intelligence. We already see that reluctance in our difficulty in approving mathematical proofs done by computer.
We’ll spend the next three decades—indeed, perhaps the next century—in a permanent identity crisis, continually asking ourselves what humans are good for. If we aren’t unique toolmakers, or artists, or moral ethicists, then what, if anything, makes us special?
We aren’t giving “good jobs” to robots. Most of the time we are giving them jobs we could never do. Without them, these jobs would remain undone.
It is a safe bet that the highest-earning professions in the year 2050 will depend on automations and machines that have not been invented yet. That is, we can’t see these jobs from here, because we can’t yet see the machines and technologies that will make them possible. Robots create jobs that we did not even know we wanted done.
The one thing humans can do that robots can’t (at least for a long while) is to decide what it is that humans want to do. This is not a trivial semantic trick; our desires are inspired by our previous inventions, making this a circular question.
This is not a race against the machines. If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines.
It is inevitable. Let the robots take our jobs, and let them help us dream up new work that matters.
We can’t stop massive indiscriminate copying. Not only would that sabotage the engine of wealth if we could, but it would halt the internet itself.
The initial age of computing borrowed from the industrial age. As Marshall McLuhan observed, the first version of a new medium imitates the medium it replaces. The first commercial computers employed the metaphor of the office.
Then, in the second age, along came the web, and very quickly we expected everything the same day.
Our cycle time jumped from batch mode to daily mode. This was a big deal.
Now in the third age, we’ve moved from daily mode to real time.
In predigital days I bought printed books long before I intended to read them. If I spied an enticing book in a bookstore, I bought it.
Over the years, I have bought Kris a number of baseball-related books. Some have been peripherally baseball related, sorta like the movie For the Love of the Game is a baseball movie (for the record, it is not, it is a romance movie with baseball elements, it is not a baseball movie). Some were definitely baseball related.
This one, however, is the first baseball book Kris recommended back to me.
That's right, I bought baseball books for him, but hadn't actually read them.
So, on his recommendation, I read this one.
I didn't know Ankiel's story. In a few sentences: he was a baseball phenomenon, likely to be better than Sandy Koufax, who, depending on how your stats rank your pitchers, is considered the greatest pitcher of all time. Then he threw a wild pitch that got into his head, and he couldn't get it out. He tried, he failed, he left baseball, he came back a hitter and an outfielder instead. He had a good career.
This book is his autobiography of that career. Many parts of the book read like the inner dialog of a person talking with himself, trying to psych himself up, convince himself that he can do this next thing, that the last thing wasn't so bad.
A result of the style of inner chatter writing and not knowing Ankiel's story is that I was really confused in the first two chapters. of the book. By chapter five, Ankiel had written enough of his story that I understood the why of this book, and was engrossed in the story.
I really enjoyed this book. If you like biographies, baseball, or stories about the hero's journey, this I strongly recommend this book. It isn't one where the hero triumphs, but it is a tale of continuing to do the work, to try, to succeed in a different way, and, in the end, to accept that the life you have isn't the one you wanted, but it can still be a good one.
I would stand behind him when he needed a push, before him when he needed a shield, beside him when he did not.
Denise, my mom, wished she’d had the sense to leave Richard. Right then. The bruises generally healed while my father was away.
I understand this wish.
She couldn’t shake the notion that a boy should have a father nearby. She couldn’t not believe in having a family, even if it were all fouled up and volatile and hurtful.
Another problem was that Dad was a bully, and Mom, because she so wanted to believe the nightmare would end and didn’t want to be threatened again and also didn’t want to lie in a puddle of her own blood on the kitchen floor, was afraid. She had nowhere to go.
I was too small, and then I was too afraid, and even when I grew up there remained the notion that to challenge one’s father was to call out the whole universe into the middle of the street to decide who was the better man. And how long would that have lasted? A punch or two? And what would that have cost my mother in bruises?
An acquaintance of mine has this deep-seated belief that victims can alway speak, that they can always walk away or continue to fight. He never quite understands that sometimes the victim cannot do those things, because the victim understands the consequences of those actions can sometimes be worse than the abuse. My acquaintance does not understand that.a
My mother didn’t deserve the life she got, and I would not — could not — choose the same. I was going to chase something better. I was going to let myself dream and go after that.
Though I’d worn a facsimile of the uniform briefly the fall before, the first day in a real clubhouse — a spring training clubhouse, but still, surrounded by real major leaguers — buttoning that bright jersey and curling the brim of that new cap felt meaningful.
"... curling the brim ..." Hee!
The way to nine months of every single day was an hour at a time, a minute at a time even. Try not to look back. Definitely do not look forward, because the destination is tiny in the distance, and to chase that would be a reasonable path to exhaustion.
No, just hit the next mark in the routine. Do that, and when that is done the next mark will appear. Hit them all, and at the end of the day you’re fed and rested and healthy and strong and clear-headed and confident.
Miss one, then another, and that day gets wobbly, and the next is too full trying to cover for the previous one, and the next is messier, and this is how sore elbows and bad Aprils and doubt and stomachaches are born.
Your brain quit on you. Unless, and this was something to think about, your brain knew best, and it really was protecting you. You don’t want to throw this pitch, it’s not going to end well, so I won’t let you throw it.
It’s a spark of fear, of humiliation, of regret before the fact.
“The yips,” he said, “can be explained in both psychological and neuromuscular terms, and it’s extremely complicated. It’s very difficult to treat and very difficult to understand.… What it boils down to, a mistake is made, ultimate trust is eroded, pressure interferes with the lack of trust, and that compounds the problem. Now there’s anxiety, and a vicious cycle ensues.”
Along come the obsessive thoughts, Dr. Oakley said, the failure, the pursuit of perfection now fouled by anxiety and more failure and more anxiety. “This,” he added, “is a phenomenon on steroids.”
“When a person’s really distressed, they’re overwhelmed by that,” Dr. Oakley said.
“Turn it on its head. Instead of curtailing that moment, bring it on. Experience that. Spend more time with it.
“Most people, of course, don’t want to spend time with it. It’s not a pleasant thing. So what I do, and it goes along with treating anxiety disorders, I try prolonged exposure to it. You actually need more time with it, what my friend Ken Ravizza calls ‘getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.’”
We knew that wouldn’t last forever, but twenty-one years old or even thirty-one years old hardly seemed a time to stop believing in tomorrow. Our arms were strong. Our hearts were set to the rhythms of the game. So we’d run our laps and take the ball and try to throw it past hitters. That was the plan.
In some ways, I told him, the Thing is not unlike cancer. A lot of people who get cancer did nothing to attract it. They are not flawed people. They did not abuse themselves. It’s not as though they stood too close to someone who already had cancer. So they, perhaps, can wonder why they were chosen, but they cannot blame themselves. “It’s not your fault,” I said, repeating a line I heard often.
Here's one of the things our the modern American culture: unfortunate random things happen to people and said people are blamed for being morally bankrupt and deserving the unfortunate random thing.
Which is, in reality, total bullshit.
In Lincoln's day, a clinically depressed person was supported by his community and had a chance to heal. Today, a clinically depressed person is thrown (likely non-effective) drugs and told to walk it off. Depression doesn't work that way. Sames as other random things like the yips. Or some cancers.
And if I couldn’t bury the monster, I would drown it. “Hey,” I said to Darryl Kile, “think you could get me a bottle of vodka?”
It was humiliating. He returned with a full bottle. Something cheap. No judgment. I shrugged. “Do what you gotta do, kid,” he said. “I understand.”
“Do what you have to do, Ank,” Harvey said, just like Darryl had said, maybe amused at the tactic and definitely concerned for the consequences. “Just know it’s not real.”
“Real,” I told Harvey, “and the rest of it is getting a little blurry right now. I have to pitch. This is how I can.”
“Ank,” he said, “it’s still there. You’re not winning. You’re stalling.”
I made three starts. They went like this: 4 1/ 3 innings, 3 hits, 17 walks, 12 wild pitches, a 20.77 ERA. That’s a lot to happen over 13 outs.
In rookie ball, yes. Against a bunch of kids whose best stories were about high school.
I have a couple friends like this.
But I also didn’t have to pretend I was fine when I wasn’t. I could walk around between starts and not feel the weight of the last start and the next start.
“Real” tasted better chased by Bud Lights. It slept better with Xanax. It looked better after one last round and a boozy promise that tomorrow would be happier.
Darryl had been good to me for no reason but to be good to me, and I wanted more than anything in that moment to be his teammate again.
I quit drinking, a special point for Harvey, who for years had seen me hose down bad days with alcohol — and sometimes pills — and celebrate good days with the same.
Harvey’s point, that I must feel the pain in order to treat the pain, was that I’d require clarity to cope with whatever came next. To beat whatever came next. Or, perhaps, to live with whatever came next.
Every ballpark could be a test of past failures and buried memories, some new way to summon the anxiety that was only too eager to return.
But I’d become pretty skilled at keeping the bad thoughts out, holding off what before had felt — and surely was — the inevitable wave of panic.
By then, I was less afraid. Not unafraid,
I liked dawn for the way I remembered it smelling, that being before the accident and the concussion, which jostled just enough in my head to kill my sense of smell. I was thirteen then, being towed on a skateboard behind a go-cart, an event that concluded predictably with a crash, a trip to the emergency room, and my being down one sense.
Dislike mornings. Understand the lack of the sense of smell.
I liked dawn because of its coolness, how it foretold — demanded, even — a fresh start, a ball’s-stuck-in-the-tree do-over.
“Today’s the day,” I said. “I’m going to do it.”
“OK, Ank. You go do it. We’ll talk later. You good?”
Ballplayers didn’t walk away. They were shoved, forcibly removed from the premises at the end of a cattle prod, railing against the injustices of age and declining skills and the idiots who decided who was too old and unskilled.
I. Can’t. Do. It. Anymore. Every word a hammer strike, loud and final. Each report echoing in my head as my old life vanished, my old dreams with it, dying of self-inflicted chaos.
I’d invited him out of obligation. I sat in a dark bus out of obligation. Those years were hard on him too, he said, and I listened out of obligation, for what I didn’t know. Maybe I was still hoping I was wrong about him, the evidence notwithstanding.
Obligation can be an ugly thing.
In this case, Ankiel tells it as this being a gift to his future wife, to try one more time. He tried, it didn't work out. Kudos to him for trying.
I don’t miss him. I miss the notion of a father, though.
[W]hen I rose to the top step to say thank you to those who were kind enough to remember me, I felt no pain. What I felt was strength. Power. Energy. The game was good again. And I was good at it again. My heart was smiling. And I wanted everyone to see.
"Yes, a very tough set of circumstances growing up, but not making excuses, not being a bum on the street, and here he is a father of two, so I love him. I just will never quit hoping that he had a good quality of life.’”
What happens to all of us. How a grown man who has performed a single act his entire life, an act that is so simple or has become so simple, finds that it becomes not simple and, beyond that, in a lot of ways, incapacitating.
[Harvey]’d tell me it wasn’t my fault. I was not responsible for who — more precisely, what — my father was, or what he’d done to my mother and me, or what I should have done about it.
What happened happened. Now what?
I’ve told my friends, “You ever find me hanging from the garage rafters, I was murdered.”
Harvey showed me how, sometimes simply by asking, “OK, what the fuck you gonna do about it?” Emphasis on the profanity, hard like that, as if to say, It’s a big-boy world out there, Ank, and bad stuff happens, and then you decide: I’m in or I’m out.
It’s what they called the guy who knew too well the doubts swimming in Domenick’s heart and head. Where they’d send him. How they’d probably never leave. But you fight. You find a way through it or around it. You ask for help. They send me in. And we go to breakfast.
We start there. So very few people actually got it. Fewer still knew how to help. And there was only one Harvey. We didn’t slay the monster together, but we stood shoulder to shoulder and tried. Then we bandaged up and got on our feet and tried again. Some days, we had our pick of monsters.
How many I’d told there was no trick to beating this thing, and hell, there might be no beating it at all, but there was no shame in trying. Trying was the only way to find out. Trying required courage. Trying meant allowing for failure. Trying was hard and lonely. So yeah, I recommended trying. I thought about Harvey. What would Harvey say? “Go on, Ank, what the fuck”? Or, maybe, “What’s the point, Ank? What do you have left to prove? Don’t do it for the money. Don’t do it for any reason except that you want to.”
This is book 6 of the Peter Grant series.
I really enjoyed this book. I'm unsure why I enjoyed this one more than the others, and I enjoyed the others. Maybe the plot was more action, less internal thinking? Unsure.
This one has Peter tracking down the drugs involved in the death of a teen in an expensive, and empty, unit of One Hyde Park. A child of a river is involved, which said river would prefer not disclosed (doesn't happen). We also learn of another pocket of leftover magic pracitioners, passed down from mother to daughter for generations.
And there's search of the Third Principia, Newton's tome on magic. Oh, and the introduction of Guleed, a female Muslim cop who does just fine.
I will probably read the book again in a few years, and realize why I like this one more than the others. In the meantime, this is a "if you're reading the series, keep reading, this is a fun one."
I recommend the series in general. Start with Midnight Riot.
I waited about a minute, just so I could claim I’d waited five, and then headed back up the garden.
Olivia glanced at the picture, then sideways at her mother, and I saw her make the wrong decision. But, before I could say anything, she opened her mouth and stuck her future in it.
Guleed always knew how to keep her mouth shut, and had this mad way of just fading into the background whenever she wanted to. Well, we all have our ways of dealing with difficulties — mine is to ask stupid questions.
Because, for police officers, “close relative” frequently rhymes with “prime suspect,”
He spoke with that deliberately toned down posh accent that, before they allowed regional dialects on the radio, used to be known as BBC standard.
Did not know.
Useful or not, it still had to be written up because a) empirically speaking a negative result is still a result, b) someone cleverer than you might make a connection you missed and c) in the event of a case review it’s sensible to at least look like you’re being competent.
Yay, scientific method!
That’s the trouble with community policing — strangely, people start expecting you to be part of the community.
Melanie who was one of those round perky people who give the impression that it’s only a great effort of will stopping them from bouncing around the room.
Beverley said that she found that people stuck the first vaguely appropriate label on, whether it fit the facts or not.
“I know it’s hard, Peter,” she’d said. “But if you could contain your erudition and ready wit for just a little while we’d be most grateful.”
“Am I allowed to be cheeky?” I’d asked.
“No you’re fucking not,” said Seawoll.
That, as they say, is fighting talk. But, as Nightingale once told me during boxing practice, the best blow is the one your opponent doesn’t even notice until he keels over.
The word “bollocks” is one of the most beautiful and flexible in the English language. It can be used to express emotional states ranging from ecstatic surprise to weary resignation in the face of inevitable disaster.
Either the management were paying them way over the odds, or their HR department had been outsourced to Stepford, Connecticut.
I love references like these.
I'm pretty sure I've missed over half of them, too.
Generally when you’re interviewing somebody and they seem remarkably calm about one crime, it’s because they’re relieved you haven’t found out about something else.
You see, even the clever ones can’t resist being clever and the next move, if you want them to stay being clever, is to play dumb.
“Women carried on “practicing”,” said Lady Helena, “just as they carried on composing, painting and all the other professions from which history has erased them. Mother taught daughter, who passed on the skills through the generations — just as women have always had to do."
The media always calls this sort of thing senseless, but the motive made sense — it was just stupid, is what it was.
This one was a white woman with slate gray eyes which she narrowed at me when I introduced myself.
Slate gray eyes... hmmmmmm....
“My father was somebody important right up to the day he was nobody at all,” she said. “Power in the material world is fleeting.”
So, back to Mayfair where the constant flow of money keeps the streets clean and free of unsightly poor people.
This was off the books — I was not here, this never happened — the spice must flow.
“La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain,” said Nightingale later when we were preparing our case notes.
Which is French for “Them that has, gets.”
Which was totally not my fault, I might add, although I probably shouldn’t have used the word Krynoid in my official report.
Though, I have to admit the Doctor Who reference was entertaining in and of itself to me, based on my ongoing and lifelong fascination with crinoids.
Every spare centimeter of the wall space had been covered with shelves, all of which were stuffed with books.
The previous summer I’d done the exact same thing while being chased by an invisible unicorn — so at least I had form.
How not to be seen, lesson number one: Don’t stand up.
Because the alternative is you, I wanted to shout back. But the second lesson on how not to be seen is: Don’t answer back.
Sometimes courage is easy, and sometimes you have to scream at your own body to act in its own bloody best interest, and sometimes it refuses the call altogether. And the pisser is that you never know which one it’s going to be until you try.
Mercifully it must have been quite late on because it wasn’t the featureless box so favored by the American modernists, and the architect had actually made an attempt to fit it in with the rest of street.
“But we are not always the sons our fathers dream of — as you should know.” As I did know, and all the things sons do to make their fathers proud until you learn to choose your own life for your own reasons.
Hyde Park Corner is what happens when a bunch of urban planners take one look at the grinding circle of gridlock that surrounds the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and think — that’s what we want for our town.
It was full night by the time I crossed the street and the Portland stone of the Arch was bleached white by spotlights, the bronze on top lit up in blue.
Once more into the breach, I thought.
“If it’s all the same to you, sir, I think I’m going to have to see this through,” she said. “Inshallah.” As God wills it.
“Good show,” said Nightingale.
This is it, I thought. We’re all going to die.
“When you’re married you get used to each other — you really only see the person you expect to see.”
I picked up this book not because I was excited about the new series that Connelly (of Harry Bosch writing fame) was writing, but rather because book two of this series is a Harry Bosch book, and it made sense to read book one before reading book two.
My prediction before reading the book, once I realized the main character, Renee Ballard is a cop, was "Okay, murder, tunnels, and bad cops did it." I was not disappointed, but there was only two of those three.
The book follows a week or so of Ballard's time in the night shift of being a cop in the Hollywood Police Department. A large amount of Los Angeles, ala Bosch, which I enjoyed.
A couple of the timelines just didn't work for me. Some events happened way too fast, people do not heal as fast as they do in this book. Bureaucracy does not move as fast as they do in this book. Recovery from traumatic events does not occur as fast as it does in this book. The compressed timeline pulled me out of the book.
Which is fine. I enjoyed the book. I'm looking forward to the next Bosch book, which is out, but has a 3 month wait at the library. If you're a Bosch fan, this is a good one to read (the Bosch step-brother ones, eh, less so).
Ballard had been in the Dancers and knew the club got its name from a club in the great L.A. novel The Long Goodbye. She also knew it had a whole menu of specialty drinks with L.A. literary titles, like the Black Dahlia, Blonde Lightning, and Indigo Slam.
Well, time to look up more books...
The only problem was that outside of his cases his moral compass didn’t always point true north. He made choices based on political and bureaucratic expediency, not right and wrong.
Some of the notes revealed more about the personality of the officer than it did about Ramone.
One wrong input in the search parameters could easily result in a “no records found” response, even if there was a closely matching case somewhere in the data.
Sounds like Machine Learning™ needs to come to law enforcement.
... that would require a warrant and a commitment of time and money from the department’s Commercial Crimes Division that outweighed the importance of the case.
“Somebody who totally fucked me over died today,” she said.
“Then why are you sad?” he asked. “I mean, fuck him. If it was a him.”
“I don’t know. I guess because it means what he did can never be changed. His death makes it permanent.”
“I think I get that.”
There were eight [surf]boards arranged in slots according to size: her life’s collection so far. She never traded in boards. There were too many memories attached to them.
I kinda feel this way about my cars, and regret selling every one.
Most people were trying to get out of L.A. Ballard was trying to get in. She steadily goosed her rented Ford Taurus through heavy rush-hour traffic on the 101 freeway toward downtown.
Okay, when J. K. Rowling writes, she uses a lot of words. This has been happening since book four of the Harry Potter series, and it carried over into this series.
Except, in this book, I didn't feel like it had too many words. So either I've become used to too-many-words, or Rowling's editor managed to convince her to trim the excess with this book.
I enjoyed this book. It isn't a short book, taking most people 11 hours to read, it took me a couple hours less, but that's still a lot of words.
The book starts off pretty much where the last one ended, Robin's wedding, and does a number of flashbacks and fast-forwards to tell the story of that day, week, month. The first part had a number of miscommunications and interfering people and George Costanza awkwardness that I almost stopped reading it. I kept going, and enjoyed the book.
There are a couple mysteries in the book, with the bulk following an unhinged Billy as he deals with memories of childhood violence that may or may not have happened, and a separate investigation of the blackmailing of a government official. I will admit to having spent most of the book trying to figure out what would have been legal six years before, and is no longer legal, and why that would be blackmailable. I suspect this was part of the delight of the mystery.
The Cormoran / Ellacott partnership works well professionally, but both of them long for the other in the book, which leads to a stressed professional relationship. I guess this makes for good tension in a mystery book? Maybe?
Anyway, if you're reading the series, keep going. If you haven't started, start at the first one and make it through the second one. These last two have been fun. Not Harry Potter books 1-3 fun, but adult action-mystery fun.
Matthew had sought to deny her the thing that might save her, the thing for which she had cried in the small hours of the night when everybody else was asleep: the restoration of her self-respect, of the job that had meant everything to her, of the friendship she had not known was one of the prizes of her life until it was torn away from her.
Matthew had lied and kept lying. He had smiled and laughed as she dragged herself through the days before the wedding trying to pretend that she was happy that she had lost a life she had loved. Had she fooled him? Did he believe that she was truly glad her life with Strike was over? If he did, she had married a man who did not know her at all, and if he didn’t…
“You don’t get to make those decisions for me!” she yelled.
“You see,” Robin had continued with the speech she had prepared, “my life is pretty much wall to wall with people who think they know what’s best for me.”
“Well, yes,” said the therapist, in a manner that Robin felt would have been considered condescending beyond the clinic walls, “we’ve discussed — ”
“ — and…” Robin was by nature conciliatory and polite. On the other hand, she had been urged repeatedly by the therapist to speak the unvarnished truth in this dingy little room with the spider plant in its dull green pot and the man-sized tissues on the low pine table. “… and to be honest,” she said, “you feel like just another one of them.”
“We can’t throw it all away, can we?” he had asked her hoarsely from the bed where the doctor had insisted he stay. “All these years?”
His personality filled the room like the first bar of a hit song. Strike knew him from those few words as the kind of man who, in the army, was either outstandingly useful or an insubordinate bastard.
“No,” lied Strike, because he knew what it felt like to have your personal details strewn across the newspapers. It was kindest, if at all credible, to pretend you hadn’t read it all, politest to let people tell their own story.
“De mortuis nil nisi bonum?” asked Strike.
He had wanted to believe her when she had told him how glorious it was to have her flat to herself and her freedom restored, yet lately he had felt tiny spots of displeasure when he had told her he had to work weekends, like the first heavy drops of rain that presage a storm.
There was, after all, little pleasure to compare with that given by a woman who really wanted you, he thought
From a distance of two years, he saw himself trying to hold tight to some part of his past as everything else slipped away.
Strike had learned many tricks and secrets, become adept ferreting in even the darkest corners of the internet, but often the most innocent social media sites held untold wealth, a minor amount of cross-referencing all that was necessary to compile detailed private histories that their careless owners had never meant to share with the world.
In Strike’s experience, those who disdained the use of representation in court were either unbalanced or so arrogant that it came to the same thing.
Robin had dwelled at length on her need to discern where the real Matthew ended and her illusions about him began. “People change in ten years,” the therapist had responded. “Why does it have to be a question of you being mistaken in Matthew? Perhaps it’s simply that you’ve both changed?”
“D’you believe in redemption?”
And sometimes, she knew, the kindness of a stranger, or even a casual acquaintance, could be transformative, something to cling to while those closest to you dragged you under in their efforts to help.
For the first time ever, Robin had sex with Matthew that night purely because she could not face the row that would ensue if she refused.
Only love could have justified the havoc they had lived together, or the many times he had resumed the relationship, even while he knew in his soul that it couldn’t work. Love, to Strike, was pain and grief sought, accepted, endured.
Lorelei’s willingness to accept the casualness of their current arrangement did not stem from a shared sense of disengagement, but from a desperation to keep him on almost any terms.
“People always say that,” he grunted. “It is the money, and it isn’t. Because what is money? Freedom, security, pleasure, a fresh chance…"
“You wanted things I couldn’t give you. Every single fucking time, you hated the poverty.”
“I acted like a spoiled bitch,” she said, “I know I did, then I married Jago and I got all those things I thought I deserved and I want to fucking die.”
“It goes beyond holidays and jewelry, Charlotte. You wanted to break me.” Her expression became rigid, as it so often had before the worst outbursts, the truly horrifying scenes. “You wanted to stop me wanting anything that wasn’t you. That’d be the proof I loved you, if I gave up the army, the agency, Dave Polworth, every-bloody-thing that made me who I am.”
"I gave you the best I had to give, and it was never enough,” he said. “There comes a point where you stop trying to save the person who’s determined to drag you down with them.”
"He came from a background that finds anything that deviates from its own conventions and norms to be suspect, unnatural, even dangerous. He was a rich white Conservative male, Mr. Strike, and he felt the corridors of power were best populated exclusively by rich white Conservative males. He sought, in everything, to restore a status quo he remembered in his youth."
“Yet she stayed with him. Of course, people do stay, even when they’re treated abominably."
"... it will go the way it always goes in the press when it all comes out: it will have been my fault, all of it! Because men’s crimes are always ours in the final analysis, aren’t they, Mr. Strike? Ultimate responsibility always lies with the woman, who should have stopped it, who should have acted, who must have known. Your failings are really our failings, aren’t they? Because the proper role of the woman is carer, and there’s nothing lower in this whole world than a bad mother.”
Life had taught him that a great and powerful love could be felt for the most apparently unworthy people, a circumstance that ought, after all, to give everybody consolation.
“You liked it, you liked me being stuck at home, why can’t you admit it?"
I think marriage is nearly always an unfathomable entity, even to the people inside it, Della Winn had said.
“You can bloody hate someone and still wish they gave a shit about you and hate yourself for wishing it.”
Robin took the tissue and, with one hearty blow of her nose, demolished it.
This is a collection of Harry Dresden short stories, collected into one volume. Usually the stories are part of a science-fiction-fantasy anthology written by many authors, of which a Dresden will be one of many in the book. I used to buy these anthologies for the Dresden story, until I realize if I wait long enough, a compendium of Dresden shorts will be assembled and published, and THAT was what I really wanted.
Though now that I'm using the library more, I could probably borrow the anthologies...
I had read many of these short stories before, mostly in the Big Foot collection. There were, however, a few I hadn't read. I enjoyed the Molly tales, especially the one where she earned her svartalf apartment. Molly's thinking voice, however, while a bit too male, and a lot too Dresden, is still quite enjoyable to read.
The book is a must for any Dresden fan, and would make little sense to anyone else.
And pretty sure I missed a bunch of my highlighted quotes, what, reading on a broken kindle and such.
Carlos squinted his eyes and studied the bartender, as if weighing the value of heeding her words versus the personal pleasure he would take in being contrary. Harry Dresden has had a horrible influence on far too many people, and has much to answer for.
“Knights of the Cross never have any missions they question?” Carlos asked.
“I think they get a different kind of question,” I said. “For Dad, it was always about saving everyone. Not just the victims. He had to try for the monsters, too.”
“Weird,” Carlos said.
“Not so weird,” I said. “Maybe if someone had offered a hand to the monsters, they wouldn’t have become monsters in the first place. You know?”
“Once we get these kids clear, I want to kiss you again.” My tummy did a little happy cartwheel, and my heart sped up to keep it company.
“I haven’t kept track,” I said. “Somewhere between zero and none. Should I have?”
“The more people who know about them and fear them, the more awake and more powerful they become,” he said. “That’s why the people who know about them don’t talk about them much.”
But, again, when casting a wizard as the central character, from a storytelling standpoint all of that power is a liability, not an asset. Protagonists have to be challenged, struggle, and grow, not just mow down everything that gets in their way with their Tenser’s Mystic Inflammable Bulldozer spell.
And yet, this is exactly what Butcher did to Dresden.
I didn’t think I’d had much out on the island, but it’s amazing how many boxes it takes to hold not much.
“The government isn’t the mob, Harry.”
“Aren’t they?” I asked. “Pay them money every year to protect you, and God help you if you don’t.”
I glanced at the clock as I filed out with the rest of the jury. Nine tomorrow morning. That gave me just under sixteen hours to do what wizards do best. I left, and began meddling.
“You want to help guys like this,” Patterson said. “But he doesn’t want to help himself. You know? You can’t save someone who don’t want to be saved.”
“Doesn’t mean we can’t try,” I said. “Where is he?”
“Ehyeh ašer ehyeh,”
“It’s just...” I said. “Killing is such a waste. What I did was necessary. But I’m not sure it was good.”
“Killing rarely is,” he said, “at least in my experience. Could you have done any differently?”
“Maybe?” I said. “I don’t know. With what I knew at the time... I don’t know.”
I really enjoyed this story, told three times in three parts from Dresden's, Maggie's, and Mouse's perspectives.
My instincts frequently roll their eyes at the decisions my brain makes.
That was what haunts did. They followed you, sometimes for days and days, and they stared and their empty eyes made you relive the bad things from your life. If they did it long enough, you’d just wind up in a ball on the ground — and when you got up, you’d have big black eyes and the haunt would be telling you what to do from then on. I thought about telling
He didn’t talk to me in a kid voice, like some grown-ups did. They sound different when they talk to children. My dad sounded like he did when he talked to anyone else.
Learned this one the hard way when I talked to Kim Wasson's girl, Ceili. Don't. Talk. Down. Talk with.
But feeling true isn’t the same as being true. In fact, feelings don’t have very much to do with the truth at all.
Nothing is truly safe in this world — and that being the case, why worry about threats that have not yet appeared?
That might be the saddest part of human heart-stupidity: how much happiness you simply leave aside so that you have enough time to worry.
"Depart this city. Do not come back.”
“Or else?” he asked.
“There is nothing else,” I replied calmly. “You will do these things. The only question is whether you will do them of your own will or if I must teach you how.”
Okay, while Mom and I were walking in Copenhagen (I love that I can say that), I mentioned how delighted I was with the previous Paul Cleave book I had read. She immediately and enthusiastically agreed with my delight, then tried to remember which of his other books she really liked.
Out came Libby and we scrolled through the list at the library, and this was on the list and this was the one she really liked. boom! onto my hold list it went.
I enjoyed the book. There was a small twist at the end, and a couple deux ex machina moments that were somewhat eyerolling, but I enjoyed the book. The timeline of things was completely unrealistic, no kid is going back to school after going from completely blind to revolutionary eye surgery to home in three weeks.
That a kid can go from no sight to depth recognition in moments was also a bit farfetched, too. And not having any infection after the craziness of the surgery bumbling? No.
But, hey, it's fiction. Found out it is Young Adult fiction, which made it fun. I wish I had known it was YA, as I would have approached it differently.
I enjoyed the book. Trust No One is better, but this was still a fun read. If you're a Cleave fan, definitely read it.
That’s the trick to this — keep moving forward fast enough to stop the bad news from catching up.
His dad once said that bad news for everybody else is big news for the media. He would often say, It’s human tragedy that keeps them employed.
"... your father fell from a great height. He would have died instantly. He wouldn’t have felt a thing.”
“Except he would have,” Joshua says. “He would have felt fear all the way down, and the higher he fell from, the longer he got to feel it.”
"You have to plan for how the world is now, not for how it might be. And of course you can hope. We can all hope.”
He is lonely. He is bored. He is sad.
“Because people who don’t like themselves are drawn to the idea of belittling others online.”
Neither of them excelled in school, neither of them went to university, both of them were concerned with current events but never willing to help make change. They didn’t vote, because they didn’t see a point, neither had had a relationship that lasted longer than a few months, and even then those relationships were few and far between.
This describes most other people, does it not?
Did everybody else in Simon’s life think so little of him that they actually believe he did those bad things? Of course, he did do them, but why aren’t people doubting that? They can’t know, not for sure, yet they’re quick to believe the worst.
The lift arrives. The door opens. She steps in and the guy steps in. He smiles at her and presses the button, then stands in one corner while she stands in the other. She wonders when everybody jumped on the unwritten rule that you couldn’t make conversation in a lift. People can chat in all sorts of situations, they’ll say hi as they pass by on the street, they’ll make chitchat buying groceries, or at a bar, or a sports game, or in a queue — but making small talk with a stranger in a lift is committing a cardinal sin...
I was laughing at this one.
I'm the person who stands the wrong way in an elevator so that I can see everyone, and then starts talking.
Hope strung out is still hope, but it feels like hell.
The exercise isn’t completely pointless — those who took and uploaded the pictures will all be charged, and hopefully it will send out a message to others willing to do the same stupid thing. Only she doesn’t think it will. The kind of person who takes a photograph of a dead teenage boy and puts it online isn’t the kind of person who understands how society should work.
Peterson is one of those guys who use their hands a lot when they talk.
Full-body talking. My specialty.
“Dad used to say the world was full of good people willing to do nothing.”
“Your dad is dead,
He tells her how normal it was, and in a way that made it more frightening — how can you find monsters when they can live like anybody?
I really wanted to like this book. I really enjoyed the first one, which made the second one worth reading. If this series were longer than three books, I would call this one the first of two bad books which would cause me to stop reading the series. The book isn't bad bad, but it is merely okay, which would be the first of two consecutive strikes needed for me to stop reading a series.
The book starts nine after the last one ended, with a dead robot left on Earth now working, Americans terrorizing everyone under the guise of "freedom," and our four intrepid heros returning from Esat Ekt. The storyline also folds back to immediately after our four Earth heros landed on Esat Ekt and are not allowed to leave, so we learn their history and why they left when when weren't really allowed to leave.
It's easy to see where Neuval was going with this particular book: he talks about us versus them and repressed populations and people being held against their will, stopped from leaving by a bureaucratic government and power-seeking people. The parallels to modern western culture and its direction are almost punched into the reader's face.
With Kara gone, however, the sass of the conversations are gone, too. Which makes the book less interesting. There isn't discovery and adventure, there's the tedium of life and the mundane. Both of which, sure, exist and are important, but not when I'm reading a young adult science fiction books about aliens and giant robots and the like.
And really, if it is so easy to recreate a person, memories, soul and all, why wasn't Kara xeroxed in this way and updated regularly?
If you're reading the series, read the book, finish the series. If you're not reading the series yet, read the first book at stop.
— One more for the good guys. Spreading freedom, one city at a time.
— I’m fairly certain they had freedom before.
— Well, now they have more.
I don’t care what happens to my “soul.” I don’t care if there’s still a me, but I really want for there to be a you. The world makes more sense if there’s a you.
Believe me, my standards as a single parent are about as low as they can be. She didn’t come with a manual, but if there is one, I’m pretty sure there’s a bit in it about not stranding your child on another planet, dying in front of her, letting her deal with your body.
What was that thing Wittgenstein said? Something about a man imprisoned in an unlocked room because it doesn’t occur to him to pull instead of pushing on the door.
Yep, looked up Wittgenstein.
— We can learn so much from these people, use the time we have to understand how their society works.
— What’s the point if we can’t tell anyone?
— Do you really mean that, Vincent? That doesn’t sound like you at all.
I wish they’d make the best of whatever time we have here. We all see the same things, but I wish they could see them as I do. I feel like I’m enjoying a movie no one else in the room is paying attention to.
You don’t wanna think about bad shit, so you pretend it doesn’t exist? Reality doesn’t give a crap whether you pay attention to it or not. It’s still there.
— Goddammit! Listen to what I’m saying! I don’t wanna be saved! I don’t want you to do anything because I don’t want their stupid cure.
— I’m not gonna let you die.
— I don’t need your permission, son. I’m a general. I’m tired of this place. I’m tired, period. I’m seventy-one years old. I’m allowed.
— What? You think I’m sorry to go? You think I have a bucket list I want to get through after all this?
— You don’t want to go home?
My hatred of "gonna" and "wanna" burns with the heat of a thousand suns.
There are ZERO WAYS a General of the Armed Forces of The F'ing Planet Earth is going to say, "gonna" and "wanna" instead of "going to" and "want to."
This was as bad as a Puero Rican girl raised by a South American general, a French Canadian scientist, and an American woman sounding like she is a Jewish girl from the Bronx, as the audio book does.
Couldn't listen to that shit.
— I’m sorry, sir.
— Sorry for what? Are you apologizing to me because you can’t cure cancer? Or because you can’t make the world the way I want it to be? Either way, never be sorry about things you have no control over. You’ll just give yourself ulcers.
How (classically) Stoic.
These people can’t even do racist right. I hate this world. People are small. They’re ignorant, and they’re happy to stay that way. They make an effort to. They’ll spend time and energy finding ways not to learn things just to feel comfortable with their beliefs.
Oh, is she back in the US?
Anyone who can beat up a cook can get out! But they’re not. They’re all staying here. Basically, they don’t need the fence or the guards. They can just tell people to stay, and they stay. Stay! There, good boy!
I asked him why people complained about politics all the time but did absolutely nothing about it. I couldn’t understand why people keep voting for the very people they loathe. They’ll protest a war, but the everyday stuff, small injustices, they just let them slide. Friends making a fortune off government contracts, paying a hundred dollars for a pencil, that type of thing, people complain about it, everyone does, but they won’t do a thing. I remember how floored I was when he told me that was a good thing, how we need a certain level of cynicism for society to function properly. If people thought they had real power to change things, if they truly believed in democracy, everyone would take to the streets, advocate, militate for everything. It happens from time to time.
If you see something wrong with the world, fix it. Fight. Resist. Don’t use cardboard.
Part Three: Road to Damascus
— What is it they say? No news is good news?
— Well, they do say that, but it’s bullshit. No news is just the absence of news.
— I wouldn’t know why I was doing it. I don’t see the point.
— Knowledge is the point. Why else do we do anything?
"On the planet? You can’t defeat terrorism on a whole planet, it’s not an army you can crush. That’s why it’s called terrorism. There’d always be one person left somewhere to blow up more things."
— I had a feeling you’d go back to old habits right away.
— Am I that predictable?
— Well, yes. Everyone is. I’d do the same thing. Old shoes, old shirt, a familiar meal. For a moment, the world makes sense again.
"You’re being too hard on people, just like you can be too hard on yourself. People got scared. Rightly so! What happened here nine years ago wasn’t anyone’s fault. It just happened. People have the right to be emotional, and irrational, from time to time."
Just not at the level of Cheetoh, btw.
"We’ve lost our collective mind! Scientists are ignoring their own findings. People are denying even the most basic scientific facts because it makes them feel better about hurting each other. Do you realize how horrifying that is? We’re talking about human beings making a conscious effort, going out of their way, to be ignorant. Willfully stupid. They’re proud of it. They take pride in idiocy. There’s not even an attempt to rationalize things anymore."
Oh, hey, the commentary isn't opaque AT ALL here.
You can’t expect babies to do the things adults do. You can’t expect anyone to do things they can’t do. If you ask me to lift five hundred pounds, I can’t. It doesn’t matter how much I want to, how much conviction I put into it. It’s just not something I can do.
— You’re right.
— I know I’m right! I wouldn’t say things if I thought they were wrong!
Our late friend once told me: “redefine alterity and you can erase boundaries.”
If you’re using bombs instead of words, that means you’re banking on people giving you what you want out of fear instead of reason. That’s never a good sign.
— Alex, are you ready for this?
— No. — Good. Overconfidence is bad.
— Then I’m doing great.
— That makes two of us.
This is another Caltech Bookclub read, I started reading it way behind the rest of the readers, so spent much of today reading to catch up. Aaaaaaaaaand, finished it in a day. I do like reading while treadmill walking.
Butler grew up in Pasadena, which is the connection to Caltech for the book club. Previous books were about Caltech scientists or Caltech research or by Techers. This one has a lot of Pasadena in it. It was neat to know where she was describing, even if the Pasadena and Altadena even I knew are as gone as hers.
Butler is known as a science-fiction author. While this book has unexplained time travel as a plot mechanism, no time is spent exploring the phenomenon, making this book not really science fiction in my categorization. It is, however, a seriously good commentary on human nature.
The main character, Dana, is transported back to early 1800s American South. As Dana is black, we read about the atrocities of slavery, as told from a modern person transported back to the brutality of the era. We see how we normalize horrible behaviours, often to survive. We see how we assume power, even when we are one of the powerless. We see how we don't see our own privilege, how seeing another's view is difficult, it not impossible.
I think what's lingering with me most, however, is the slow descent into acceptance that Butler weaves into the story. It reminds me a great deal what Mistakes We Made (but not by me) discusses about human nature: we are all frogs in the pot about to boil.
I appreciated the technological contrast between today and forty years ago in the difficulties that the characters experienced. The story told from 2018 would have been much different in the details. I suspect Dana of 2018 would not have lasted as long as Dana of 1976 did.
I've read other books by Butler, on the strong recommendation from Claire and Susan. So far, all of them have been worth reading. I strongly recommend this book, and reading it for the commentary on human nature.
There were free blacks. You could pose as one of them.”
“Free blacks had papers to prove they were free.”
“You could have papers too. We could forge something …”
“If we knew what to forge. I mean, a certificate of freedom is what we need, but I don’t know what they looked like. I’ve read about them, but I’ve never seen one.”
Here's an example of where 2018 Dana could Internet Search™ for an image of freedom papers, and be able to create copies.
Yet, how much would they really matter for a single black woman in the South? Tear them up and she's in the same place as she was without them.
“I’m even crazier than you,” he said. “After all I’m older than you. Old enough to recognize failure and stop dreaming, so I’m told.”
After all, how accepting would I be if I met a man who claimed to be from eighteen nineteen—or two thousand nineteen, for that matter.
The timing of this cracked me up. 2019! A month away!
“None of them say eighteen-anything either,” said Kevin. “But here.” He picked out a bicentennial quarter and handed it to Rufus.
“Seventeen seventy-six, nineteen seventy-six,” the boy read. “Two dates.”
I so love those quarters.
If you have one, send it to me!
I was the worst possible guardian for him—a black to watch over him in a society that considered blacks subhuman, a woman to watch over him in a society that considered women perennial children.
"Even here, not all children let themselves be molded into what their parents want them to be."
“Wait a minute,” he said. “I’m not minimizing the wrong that’s being done here. I just …”
“Yes you are. You don’t mean to be, but you are.”
White people. Privilege (such an overused, abused term these days). Explaining away the horrible actions of others as, "not that bad."
“The ease seemed so frightening,” I said. “Now I see why.”
“The ease. Us, the children … I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”
Down the slippery slope.
Or if I had to stay here, why couldn’t I just turn these two kids away, turn off my conscience, and be a coward, safe and comfortable?
When that time came, I could walk away from the agency not owing anybody.
My memory of my aunt and uncle told me that even people who loved me could demand more of me than I could give—and expect their demands to be met simply because I owed them.
The pain was a friend. Pain had never been a friend to me before, but now it kept me still.
The fire flared up and swallowed the dry paper, and I found my thoughts shifting to Nazi book burnings. Repressive societies always seemed to understand the danger of “wrong” ideas.
“What’s it going to get them?”
“It’ll get them the cowhide if they don’t,” she snapped. “I ain’t goin’ to take the blame for what they don’t do. Are you?”
“Well, no, but …”
“I work. You work. Don’t need somebody behind us all the time to make us work.”
The discussion was about why the slaves continue to work, and why some are more motivated that others to work.
“Don’t want to hear no more,” she repeated softly. “Things ain’t bad here. I can get along.” She had done the safe thing—had accepted a life of slavery because she was afraid.
Ignorant as I knew I was, I trusted myself more than I trusted her.
Don't we all.
Gotten possession of the woman without having to bother with her husband. Now, somehow, Alice would have to accept not only the loss of her husband, but her own enslavement. Rufus had caused her trouble, and now he had been rewarded for it. It made no sense. No matter how kindly he treated her now that he had destroyed her, it made no sense.
“My man used to. He’d tell me I was the only one he cared about. Then, next thing I knew, he’d say I was looking at some other man, and he’d go to hittin’.”
I went, annoyed, but silent. I thought he could have given me a decent estimate if he had wanted to. But it didn’t really matter. Kevin would receive the letter and he could come to get me. I couldn’t really doubt that Rufus had sent it. He didn’t want to lose my good will anymore than I wanted to lose his. And this was such a small thing.
Wow, doesn't this feel like the Princess Bride?
“Mama said she’d rather be dead than be a slave,” she said.
“Better to stay alive,” I said. “At least while there’s a chance to get free.”
I went out to the laundry yard to help Tess. I had come to almost welcome the hard work. It kept me from thinking.
Better than drinking, maybe.
"All I want you to do is fix it so I don’t have to beat her. You’re no friend of hers if you won’t do that much!"
This is totally the thinking of abusers blaming the victims, "You made me do it, you made me beat the holy hell out of you." Um... no.
When she hurt, she struck out to hurt others. But she had been hurting less as the days passed, and striking out less.
She went to him. She adjusted, became a quieter more subdued person. She didn’t kill, but she seemed to die a little.
Would I really try again? Could I? I moved, twisted myself somehow, from my stomach onto my side. I tried to get away from my thoughts, but they still came. See how easily slaves are made? they said.
But he wanted me around—someone to talk to, someone who would listen to him and care what he said, care about him. And I did. However little sense it made, I cared. I must have. I kept forgiving him for things.
I wondered whether he had been able to write during the five years, or rather, whether he had been able to publish. I was sure he had been writing. I couldn’t imagine either of us going for five years without writing. Maybe he’d kept a journal or something.
In other words, he was sorry. He was always sorry. He would have been amazed, uncomprehending if I refused to forgive him. I remembered suddenly the way he used to talk to his mother. If he couldn’t get what he wanted from her gently, he stopped being gentle. Why not? She always forgave him.
She decided to teach me to sew. I had an old Singer at home and I could sew well enough with it to take care of my needs and Kevin’s. But I thought sewing by hand, especially sewing for “pleasure” was slow torture.
Before the era of disposable clothing.
He just didn’t like working alone. Actually, he didn’t like working at all. But if he had to do it, he wanted company.
Sounds like a number of people I know.
“He’ll never let any of us go,” she said. “The more you give him, the more he wants.”
Sometimes I wrote things because I couldn’t say them, couldn’t sort out my feelings about them, couldn’t keep them bottled up inside me. It was a kind of writing I always destroyed afterward. It was for no one else.
He lay with his head on my shoulder, his left arm around me, his right hand still holding my hand, and slowly, I realized how easy it would be for me to continue to be still and forgive him even this.
So easy, in spite of all my talk.
From the reader's guide at the end of the book:
5. “I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.” Dana says this to Kevin when they have returned to the present and are discussing their experiences in the antebellum South. Do we also in the twenty-first century still have conditioned responses to slavery?
I added this book to my reading list some time after reading a ranking of Chandler's Marlowe books in order of "good," and this one wasn't first, but it is the first book of the series.
After checking this book out from the library, I found a nicely bound hardcover in a bookstore. Instead of reading the library version, I've been reading the paper version. Turns out, I've seen the movie, and recall much of it. The first 25% of the book matches the film well. We'll see if it stays that way, I'll be watching the movie again shortly.
I really enjoyed this book. Helps that I've lived in Los Angeles. While my residency was not in the late thirties, the world that Chandler describes is vivid enough, and based on real enough places, that I could visualize the story very well.
Unsurprisingly, most of the supporting characters are one-dimensional, Silver-Wig loves her man, until she realizes he's a killer, for example. Mars is a tough guy, willing to do most things for a dollar, and smart enough to have someone else do those things.
Marlowe, however, has more character. He's the hero of the story, we follow him around, we see more of his motivations, so unsurprisingly we understand him better. Seems reasonable that someone who wants to solve puzzles and understands a bit about human character would become a private investigator.
Unrelated, there is a lot of "kissing people you just met" in this book, but no actual sex. I didn't realize that people kissed so much in Los Angeles. I clearly did L.A. wrong.
I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed all the one-line and otherwise short zingers, and the snappy dialog. I'll likely continue reading the series.
"If I sound a little sinister as a parent, Mr. Marlowe, it is because my hold on life is too slight to include any Victorian hypocrisy."
“I need not add that a man who indulges in parenthood for the first time at the age of fifty-four deserves all he gets.”
Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.
"Sure you can’t help me on this?"
I liked his putting it that way. It let me say no without actually lying.
Not being bullet proof is an idea I had had to get used to.
He was afraid of the police, of course, being what he is, and he probably thought it a good idea to have the body hidden until he had removed his effects from the house.
"Being what he is," which would be gay. I appreciate the progress we have made as a culture, in many ways. We have further to go.
Cops get very large and emphatic when an outsider tries to hide anything, but they do the same things themselves every other day, to oblige their friends or anybody with a little pull.
"You’ll hear from him."
"Too late will be too soon," I said,
I read all three of the morning papers over my eggs and bacon the next morning. Their accounts of the affair came as close to the truth as newspaper stories usually come—as close as Mars is to Saturn.
“What makes you think I’m doing anything for him?”
I didn’t answer that.
Then my eyes adjusted themselves more to the darkness and I saw there was something across the floor in front of me that shouldn’t have been there. I backed, reached the wall switch with my thumb and flicked the light on.
The bed was down.
HUH. Marlowe has a Murphy bed, too!
I’m your friend. I won’t let you down—in spite of yourself.
I threw my cigarette on the floor and stamped on it.
A significantly different world. There are many references to cigar and cigarette ash being allowed to fall into the rug.
It seemed a little too pat. It had the austere simplicity of fiction rather than the tangled woof of fact.
There was a tarnished and well-missed spittoon on a gnawed rubber mat.
Again, different world.
“It’s very funny,” she said breathlessly. “Very funny, because, you see—I still love him. Women—” She began to laugh again.
What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.