Riffing on some things
Loose ends that didn't make whole pieces
Doom and, indeed, gloom
I'm addicted to porn.
Specifically 'crisis porn'.
I love all that proselytising on how everything is heading to hell in a handcart.
Substack is great for this and most of my favourite writers are in this niche.
Having too nice a day? Read a couple of articles around here and you'll soon be reminded that things are actually so bad that a denouement is inevitable.
Depending on your political intuitions, this is typically along the lines of full-bore White Supremacist Nazification and total liquidation of all 'minorities', enslavement by a World Government led by George Soros, civil war in the US or the transformation of Homo sapiens into bloodless androids identifying as a different gender every five minutes, all watched over by AIs of boundlessly controlling cold love. That’s if we haven’t all been turned into squiggles.
Read the subscriber comments under these articles and they never change. This is always the moment when 'everyone' apparently realises what's 'really' going on and 'something' big is about to occur.
Of course, something big never does occur, because this is just life. We never seem to notice this, in the grip of our crisis porn sources of choice.
It reminds me of a meta version of this observation from’s newsletter.
Deferred Happiness Syndrome:
The common feeling that your life hasn't begun, that your present reality is a mere prelude to some idyllic future. This idyll is a mirage that'll fade as you approach, revealing that the prelude you rushed through was in fact the one to your death.
There are more where that came from, in the full piece.
In the case of doom porn the mirage is the denouement or the 'tipping point'.
I've been reminding myself lately that all of this crisis porn is just a niche. There certainly are trends and worries but if you look around, the majority of people are just getting on with things and probably not believing that everything is as terrible as the rest of us insist.
The question that always arises is would I rather be alive now or at some previous point in history? This is how I ground myself, because the answer is always today. And I am extremely sceptical about the direction of western liberal culture.
I take with a pinch of salt all references to 'we', when commentary refers to people as if we are a bloc.
'We' seems really to refer to those people who write, read and comment on a lot of stuff concerning the popular preoccupations of people who write, read and comment on a lot of stuff, especially in the online world.
The same goes for sweeping statements about 'society'. Because what that word necessarily encompasses is not just the troubled souls who obviously struggle, but all the people who aren't experiencing an existential crisis and are just getting on with their lives.
I do get where this impulse comes from, though.
It's always tempting to think that we live in a special moment. And it's kind of exciting to imagine that we are on the cusp of a Bronze Age Collapse situation, heralding the dawn of a new Axial Age. But this seems to be more of a conceit or a kind of my lifetime is unique chauvinism.
I am also aware of personal vulnerability to the seductive power of a good online intellectual subculture.
Recently a piece landed, from a thinker who reliably gets right under my skin (in a good way) with his deep explorations of swirling sociopolitical currents.
In 'Meme To Vibe: A Philosophical Report' Peter Limberg talks about changes he detects in the cultural vibe. It's a fascinating piece which you are likely to enjoy as much as I did.
I consumed this piece with a kind of cognitive breathlessness before reflecting on the fact that he's describing a very online thing. This is not to diminish Limberg's brilliance and perspicacity, his enviable skill at pulling together threads to create a coherent hypothesis, but that's all he's really talking about.
Some cool intellectual online subculture stuff.
The test for this is always whether or not you could discuss it with your less online friends.
It's not that these trends aren't real. But the sense I have is that they are not really very much more than fun goggles through which to see the world.
These subcultures do give me hope, though. They tell me that it's hard to impose rules of conformity on everyone.
I love the insubordinate and transgressive minds of young thinkers, like Fiona Fairbairn, with her 'Bimbo Manifesto'. She makes me smile, imagining dour, scolding feminists trying to parse her 'Bimbofication' rules like focusing always on your looks and maintaining an empty head.
This stuff is the new punk and I'm refreshed and heartened by it.
But it's still online intellectual subculture stuff.
Nothing is really changing.
The denouement is not coming.
Wait, though, some things are bad and quite big things are happening - right?
Yes. Yes they are.
This piece isn't about those, for a change.
Why paying attention to the actual world is actually more interesting than looking at screens
I'm cursed with a habit of self-monitoring.
How do I feel in this moment? Is it a good moment? Do I need to change something about it to make it a better moment, like that one yesterday when I was looking at how the evening sun landed on that tree and a huge buzzard flew down the lane straight at me and I was so filled with awe that I forgot all my petty worries for about five seconds.
I think about this often. Monitoring for self-monitoring.
It's a sort of obsession with subjective wellbeing, which I understand to be the occupation of (albeit transient) states in which you would not choose to change a single aspect. I seem to have a lot of these, but still I often feel restless. Because there's always a more tapping at the window.
That more looks to me like a point.
I'll be dead in two or three decades - and that's if I'm lucky! - and I still don't know what the point of my life is, beyond extracting as many periods of wellbeing from it as I can. The ‘point’ still seems elusive. (Yes, I could devote my life to doing 'good', but I'm not sure what good that would really achieve, apart from making me feel more righteous, which I don't currently feel a need to feel.)
A common thread in those periods of wellbeing is forgetting myself. Kind of ceasing to exist. It happened yesterday afternoon. A moment in which the boundary between the self and the things going on around me blurred.
The bird activity is wild around mine this spring and I've grown accustomed to a ceaseless cacophony of outside sound. But, sitting in the sun, surrounded by shouty birds I suddenly realised that all this sound had resolved into fully discrete calls and 'songs'.
Actually, the moment of 'realisation' was the moment the spell broke. My brain was cranking up again to interrogate the moment and I was thinking about what was happening, instead of just attending to what was happening.
But it had been a remarkable experience that went beyond just feeling good in some way.
Maybe this is what psychedelics do, when they alter your perceptions in ways that people report as kind of life-changing. Like really seeing something for the first time. I've had it happen a few times (without ingesting any substances) and it does make you realise stuff that's hard to articulate, but seems significant.
I didn't go seeking this moment. There was no trying to do anything involved. It just happened, I suppose because I was paying attention. Full attention. This seems incredibly rare and if you've never experienced it, none of this will resonate at all.
But it made me think about the value of attention and how readily we yield ours to people who give zero fucks for anything but holding our attention. The asymmetric relationship between the real value of our attention and the snippets of 'content' that are served to us in return for it. That seems a raw deal to me.
In my regular scrolling days (Twitter was my poison) I never experienced a moment that paid the return on my attention that the experience of really hearing the birds did, yesterday.
None of this is a surprise. But it's easy to forget how shit a life of submitting attention to pixel arrangements is, compared to the real thing.
I’ve thought about this before and see nothing to update about it.
Maybe the point of life is just to experience it directly.
Not mediated by someone else's limbic hijacking techniques.
Maybe scrolling on a screen is just a way of avoiding life.
Closing random thoughts and a recommendation
On being 'reactionary'
This seemed amusing because I see it as becoming ordinary. No longer a dutifully effaced agent serving a crowd that demands obeisance to wan aphorisms and memes about being nice and embracing the things prescribed to us by 'activist' types.
Nor does becoming reactionary mean I shifted to the right, even if I do joke about this. It really means I stayed put. It was nothing more than a reaction (or resistance) to the wandering off of the leftish - where I once felt a sense of missionary belonging - into a la-la land of identity proliferation, religious fervour & disdain for the normaltons who didn't keep up with the new codes.
In essence, I have de-radicalised.
And perhaps found a more youthful personal vibe, is what it sometimes feels like.
You can't get more 'conservative' than following establishment rules and canon.
Wokeism now feels 'fusty' and uptight, which is what the establishment always is.
Kids are apparently less woke than older millennials and younger boomers at this point. Certainly in Europe but also in the US now.
It's funny how this has happened, but not surprising.
Not much ever really changes. Just the labels.
As long as being somewhat rebellious vis a vis the establishment doesn't end up involving performative racism, I'm all for this.
A life of inconsequential choices feels meaningless
A genuine insight from a guy called Peter Wang, who is a physicist, philosopher and a big noise in the Python community (a computery thing).
I heard this first on the (always worth my finite attention) Jim Rutt Show, but on the episode in question he's recapitulating a theory he first offered on the Lex Fridman Podcast. Go here to find both and here to see the transcript, if you prefer reading to listening.
In short, Wang thinks that life meaning stems from facing and making consequential choices and that such choices are rare in the lives of most of us.
A consequential choice is one which cannot be easily undone. One that takes balls because - like a 'live' performance - it might go badly wrong.
He observes that we are overwhelmed with apparent choices to make (hundreds of types of shampoo, for example) all the time, but that these do not really involve us as agential beings.
"...a choice is not simply a preference, a choice in this case, quite specifically, something that induces an irreversible change. So, if you can make a choice and then you can control Z and undo it, it’s not really making a choice. A choice is something that creates this irreversible. There’s a fork in the road, and you take the road less traveled by or the road more traveled by. Whichever you do, you take that road and you’re going down that road."
(That's from the transcript, which is why the language is slightly clunky)
His idea that this is what makes us really alive seems persuasive to me.
And who doesn't really want to live?
Why I don't care what people think, but love them anyway
I'm reading philosopher Matthew Crawford's book 'The World Beyond Your Head' and this passage helps coalesce some thoughts around why questioning 'liberal culture' as I have over the past few years led to a fierce personal desire to individuate. To become more humanly and humanely connected. Because liberalism's confusion over how supposedly sovereign individuals must all sing to the same centrally prescribed tune, while reining in their own realities, to have value to one another bothers me a great deal.
Crawford describes it thus:
"... the appeal of viewing oneself, as well as others, as representatives of something general. There is then no complementarity between us, no differentiation and dependence, but instead a “colorless cohesion” of interchangeable, autonomous subjects. This is a de-eroticized sort of gaze to direct at one another. The ecology of attention that prevails among persons in a liberal public culture is one of polite separation."
I'm getting a lot from this book, so find out more here, if you're interested.
Thank you for your precious attention. While you were reading this you weren't doing something else. Don't think I don't know that.