Clever title here
Followed by intriguing sub-heading
Personal status: dissatisfied with the Rarely Certain project.
Post status: discursive, rambling, stream of consciousness.
Everyone who was in on something when it began gets to enjoy the cachet of casually referring back to a 'golden age' of that thing. You were in the know before the hoi polloi turned up to ruin whatever it was. I've leveraged this lots of times, mostly with music.
<Delete two paragraphs of examples>
If this doesn't make sense, congratulations. It means you're probably a lot less narcissistic than me and care less than I do about being (creating or consuming) at some sort of cultural cutting edge.
P tells me all the time that I'm a 'massive narcissist' and she does have a point. I talk about things like how I wish I'd been into blogging when it was cool and there were genuinely original perspectives being aired at last, thanks to the absence of fusty elite gatekeepers and she says 'god you're such a narcissist' and then we laugh because she's right.
Always wanting to be the cool kid. The outlier. Because that's my self-image. As an objective it has the least cool of all possible origins too, which is funny. It's because Daddy constantly advised little Mike 'be your own man' and 'don't follow the crowd' and little Mike just went ahead with internalising that advice without examining it first and now it’s too late and I can’t help it.
While we're at it, Mummy had a lot to do with some of my perspectives too, by being neurotic and controlling. I internalised this also, but in reverse.
This means that I experience anything driven by neuroticism and a desire for control as loathsome and to be resisted at all costs. Hello, Leftish Liberal Credentialists who think they should call the shots on everything. I don't disdain your world view just because of its intellectual and moral shortcomings (although solid cases are easily made for those). It's also because Mum got annoyed whenever little Mike had any thoughts that weren't hers first.
[It was a rule in our house that my parents were called Mummy and Daddy, mostly because they thought it sounded more middle class and it kept me little, thus deferring the day of confronting the possibility that I'd grow up and do all the things they never did when they were young. All of which I made a special point of doing, eventually, mostly when I was much older than the other people who do them.
What's funny about it is that it was little Mike's Mummy and Daddy who saw to it that decades later bigger Mike would be annoyed that he was coming too late to a blog from the golden age of blogging that I would love to say lots of original things about now.
'Oh yeah, The Last Psychiatrist. I read it all the time'.
That sort of statement is closed to me forever.
In the event, I didn't hear of 'Edward Teach' and The Last Psychiatrist until this year and it sort of hurts. First came Rob Henderson's review of Teach's book 'Sadly, Porn' and I thought why am I only finding out about this now?
Not just ah, this is interesting.
No, I felt that there had been a scene that I should have been part of and now the chance to be able to casually say yeah, The Last Psychiatrist in an offhand kind of way to other people who were also in the know was gone forever.
Then, last week, Scott Alexander published his review of Rene Girard's ‘I See Satan Fall Like Lightning’ and part of me was instantly ruminating on how if I'd been a lot cooler 20 years ago I could have been writing about the fascinating crossovers between Edward Teach's ideas and Girard's and how they might gel to explain this that and the other.
This is where some of the dissatisfaction with Rarely Certain emanates from. Narcissistic fantasy.
Scott also writes a fascinating piece about Sadly, Porn and suggests that it's intentionally designed to subvert understanding (this is known as an 'antimeme' <which I had to look up> and all I can think is why don't I have sophisticated thoughts about things like Scott always does?).
Internal monologues like this are common. Right? Just say yes.
And he links to two other reviews that he says he had intentionally not read beforehand, so as to avoid ‘information cascades’.
I have to look up information cascades and once I learn that it's a posh phrase for the thing where someone reports x and then everyone else bases their own reports about x on that original report. Kind of reverse Chinese Whispers, but with the original interpretation incorrectly preserved rather than wildly distorted.
Boom. I'm instantly going to write a piece about information cascades and how you should be aware of them. I tell this to P on a walk. She hasn’t heard the phrase before, either.
I've got a great example from the news and everything. The one where the bogus story about an Israeli missile killing 500 people at a hospital started out as a short video interview clip on Al Jazeera and ended up being repeated as fact by the New York Times and then everyone else.
Chances are, you'd have liked that piece. But all I would have been saying was the bleeding obvious fact that there isn't much original news in today's 'information ecosystem' and that's because everyone is copying everyone else, which means there's a constant thing happening where one mistake becomes The Story by dint of repetition.
[I will probably still write something about information cascades at some point, because how information is poorly-weighted or distorted in the processing and sharing of it occupies daily headspace]
So then I read the other reviews of Sadly, Porn that Scott shared, with a view to maybe reading it myself.
In passing I register a gnawing self-doubt around my credibility, in that I hadn't chosen a cooler-sounding name for my blogging persona. Compared to Mike Hind, Resident Contrarian and Zero HP Lovecraft are sexy as fuck names that make me want to read them. They also suggest people who hung out in cooler intellectual online places years before I even knew such places existed. Like Slate Star Codex and LessWrong.
If you don't get this on a visceral level we can't be friends. You just aren't enough of a dick.
Thanks to Resident Contrarian and Zero HP Lovecraft I decide not to read over one thousand impenetrable pages of Sadly, Porn and instead settle for theirs, Scott's and Rob Henderson's interpretations as sufficient insight into The Last Psychiatrist's magnum opus. (It's already taken me about 4 hours to read ZHPL's piece and that really has been enough. Yes, there will be a bibliography at the end here and you'll be able to try all this out for yourself).
What I'm doing is called relying on secondary sources and for a while I think about writing something around that instead of information cascades or antimemes. Because all you're doing when you rely on secondary sources is contribute to information cascades and those are bad, right?
You think I'm joking. A bit. And I am. A bit.
But I also feel markedly uncomfortable with the idea of being a secondary source kind of guy and asking people to permit me access to their inbox (or even their hard-earned) in return, on the basis of just recycling information everyone already has fingertip access to.
It would have all been so different had I started blogging when blogging was cool and everyone who reads blogs now didn't already know everything they read in the blogs. Then I could have made a name for myself with brilliant essays about the connections I was making between The Last Psychiatrist and Mimetic Theory.
Here's one I could have turned into at least 2,000 words, because I find it fascinating.
Teach says we do not have desires. Literally. We are unable to desire anything.
Girard says our desires only flow from seeing what other people want. We are largely unable to form our own desires.
Teach says that we are mostly motivated, when we think we want something, by the opportunity of depriving someone else of it. Which creates conflict.
Girard says that because we all desire only what's modelled for desiring by other people, this creates intense competition for everything. Which creates conflict.
But all I'm doing here is regurgitating some snippets and thoughts from secondary sources, because I haven't read Teach or Girard. I've only read about them.
I did have a weird thought, though, which was discomfiting. It's about Teach (from what I've gleaned from other people reading him, not me remember) who apparently suggests that when we aren't playing to an external audience we're playing to an internal one.
This sets me thinking about how I play with Youna when it's the last thing I sometimes feel like doing. We'll come back from a longish walk and she'll proffer a ball when all I really want is to sit down, pick up my phone and drift on a warm ocean of endless content. But invariably I'll play with her instead and the audience in my head will applaud and say bravo, you're extending yourself for someone you really love.
[Yes. Youna is someone in this family. Not just an appendage known as The Dog]
A sense I have is that whenever we do things from a sense of duty or obligation and no one else saw it, we are playing to that intra-psychic crowd. Although I'm also willing to accept that I may just be a horrible, cynical person too. Being low on the measure of agreeability, acknowledging this very real possibility comes at little cost. As long as Youna does the requisite growling at my futile attempts to wrest the ball from her jaws and as long as she catches the ball on the first bounce, wagging her tail furiously at my applauding this feat, and as long as she then deposits the ball on the ground then turns her back to me so that I'll give her thigh muscles a 'sports massage', rub her tummy and flanks and squeeze her neck muscles so that she contentedly extends her muzzle toward the sky, it's all good. As long as she's happy and I don't feel guilty, it's all good.
[She has just climbed onto the sofa here and is jabbing her nose into my right wrist, which mak9es accuprate typing quite trickly. Bless heur]
It's the not feeling guilty part that makes me think that Teach might be right. It's fine. I'm not worried about it or anything. I always find it hard to put myself first until I've first put someone else first.
These are the sorts of under-the-radar things that I could have been exploring as part of the Last Psychiatrist 'community' of cool blog people, under a mysterious name like 'Person 0.1' (which I just made up as a suitable golden age of blogging pseudonym) instead of here's what I think about this thing that’s now quite mainstream and everyone is talking about.
Not that I'm disparaging Rarely Certain per se. I work hard to offer value in terms of not falling into line with the uniform perspective. And something is going right because the proportion of paying supporters to free readers hovers between 6 and 7%, which seems quite high compared to bigger blogs that share their metrics.
But it still needs to be more different than it is, for me to be happy with it.
Then there is the vulgar matter of money.
I also need it to eventually provide a modest income that I can just about live on, rather than paying mostly for luxuries as it does now. Lately, this hasn't been going brilliantly. In the last 30 days 3 paying subscribers signed out and 45 free ones signed in. If it carries on like this it won't be sustainable, because I'm doing worky work again and that makes writing, researching and thinking for Rarely Certain more of an opportunity cost.
So that's why I'm a bit dissatisfied with this project. It isn't growing and it is insufficiently original. (Yes, it's still sometimes pretty good and I'm often very happy reading pieces back, sometime later - but I'm talking directionally).
Substack gives writers a dashboard which shows you all kinds of details, including which posts do best for eyeballs and sign-ups. It's obvious from mine that more readers enjoy ones that describe my personal experience around a topic. Mea culpas, where I look back on when I thought things that now seem ridiculous, seem to go down especially well. Pointing out the hypocrisies and inconsistencies in ideologies (especially of the Wokeish variety) always went down well, but I mostly abandoned that field to people who do it all the time. The blogging equivalent of the 80s band revival tour. Let them wriggle on the hook of audience capture, I say. Cutting my nose off to spite my face. Starving for artistic purity. Not conforming. Etc.
Thanks for that, Dad.
I just read this back and it sounds a bit whiney. Does it sound whiney? Imagining what a supporting reader rather than just a casual one might think, my worry is that you'll feel somewhat discounted by me saying there aren't enough of you. It's in the same class of error as moaning about the traffic when you are the traffic. You, valued reader, are not enough. Layered onto this is an insecurity that - in contrast to more popular blogs - Rarely Certain has a supportership (paying subscribers) that seems intensely intelligent. The comment quality is stellar, so these are not people who want to read any old shit. This makes me question everything I produce.
My finger hovers over the Send to everyone now button longer each time before I'm sure something is worth sharing.
The secondary sources thing troubles me, which of course it shouldn't. How much do you already know about Accelerationism? Probably not much. Are you going to do the reading on it? Maybe, but also maybe not. I will, then I'll weave in my own ideas around the subject and you might find it a convenient primer on a thing you can then casually mention in social gatherings of cleverish friends.
Or maybe you'll know more than me but still enjoy the fact that someone else is interested.
Beating myself up for not having 20 years of blogging under my belt will get us nowhere, so I'll keep these thoughts to myself from here on.
Since it's Thanksgiving for most Rarely Certain readers I'll say that I'm thankful for you, dearest reader that actually opened this piece to read it. Apparently that's going to be about 42% of people who requested it. There will be around 3-400 or so who will read it without signing up, because they saw it shared somewhere. Thank you too.
<Insert clever pay-off>
Guest post by Person 0.1
Here's The Last Psychiatrist. It stops in 2014 because 'Edward Teach' was doxxed. I'm not sure whether to trust what I read about who produced it, but the online consensus seems to be that it was a Pennsylvania psychiatrist called Dr Christos Ballas. TLP is a rabbit hole from which you may not emerge for some time. I saw someone comparing him to David Foster Wallace reincarnated as a person who hates everyone and someone else react to a review of Sadly, Porn by saying Teach/Ballas is just a narcissist himself (meaning we should take no notice of him). I don't know. I say it usually takes one to know one. He's certainly cynical and misanthropic, though, which are both admirable qualities in a world that tells itself stupid incorrect stories most of the time. What I personally like most about it is that it doesn't recycle all the same old trite stereotypical tropes about human nature and instead makes you think.
Rob Henderson's review of Sadly, Porn.
Scott Alexander's review of I See Satan Fall Like Lightning.
Scott Alexander's review of Sadly, Porn (you'll find the reviews by Resident Contrarian and Zero HP Lovecraft linked at the end).
There’s a special offer on for Rarely Certain, which I’ve called ‘Winter fuel bills mitigation’ because mine have just gone up and it hurts. You’ll find it here.