Far right politics

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that for 99% of the people that will read this post (and frankly, of all people that I associate with), they will not have read any intelligently composed defense or rationale for the behavior of the right wing (particularly Tea Party) recently. Have you considered that such things exist and they have some basis in fact? Do you really think that they are simply crazy, stupid, or ignorant? To me that’s not even the main issue. Is anyone else worried by the fact that such an us vs. them mentality has overtaken the public (and you only see it in congress because they reflect that public opinion)? What are the precedents for this, the Vietnam war and slavery?

Communication dopamine spikes

When you check on your phone and you see a new message/email/tweet or whatever, or better yet it checks on you with a short vibration in your pocket, note the feeling. I think most of that can be isolated to a dopamine spike; assuming it’s a message that you wanted to get, your brain is rewarding itself. It’s probably fair to compare this to the sensation people used to get when receiving a call from a friend (before caller id), or before that a letter. Due to the lower frequency, and probably greater content, of those communication forms I wonder how much more the pleasure was amplified. Nevertheless, the frequency that many of us experience it now is much higher. And the impact is large enough that many develop an involuntary urge to check their device; this is the addiction mechanism at work obviously.

I don’t know if it’s fair to classify this as truly an addiction or whether all addictions can be considered Bad. I do conjecture that the described state of mind is likely not a desirable one, when you step back and consider it objectively. The benefits one receives from having the device handy are likely overshadowed by the side effects on the rest of their life, which may not be obvious until cutting out the behavior. Not everyone is equally susceptible to the effect but for those that are particularly sensitive, for whatever reason (I am included I believe), they should consider cutting out such devices from their lives.

Aging as disease

In Utopia it appears Thomas More alludes to his views on aging; specifically that it could be considered a disease. Seems like a pretty novel viewpoint for the time (16th century), I wonder if there are notable earlier mentions of similar ideas.

None are suffered to put away their wives against their wills, from any great calamity that may have fallen on their persons; for they look on it as the height of cruelty and treachery to abandon either of the married persons when they need most the tender care of their comfort, and that chiefly in the case of old age, which as it carries many diseases along with it, so it is a disease of itself.

The idea of old age as a disease has not taken on mainstream acceptance yet, and in all fairness it remains to be seen whether this is a correct frame, but the concept is quite powerful and has already captured many of today’s thinkers (especially some wealthy ones).

Ultimate punishment

I find it tough to accept modern views that truly severe crimes can potentially be punishable by death, but certainly not by slavery. In all fairness the death penalty is primarily an American institution at this point (other countries have moved on), but I’m willing to go as far as to say severe incarceration (like solitary confinement) is still morally worse than enslaving someone — forcing them to labor for the public good under reasonable living conditions. It seems like the idea of slavery, at least in comparison to an out-of-sight imposition of mentally ravaging solitary confinement, would be far more publicly noticeable and likely trigger some form of repugnance. Thomas More appears to agree (from Utopia), although back then the repugnance was sought out:

For the most part, slavery is the punishment even of the greatest crimes; for as that is no less terrible to the criminals themselves than death, so they think the preserving them in a state of servitude is more for the interest of the commonwealth than killing them; since as their labor is a greater benefit to the public than their death could be, so the sight of their misery is a more lasting terror to other men that that which would be given by their death.

Review

Why does one experience so much akrasia in trying to revisit past insights? Maybe it’s something only I experience, but I doubt it.

When reading I try to mark, comment, flag, etc. deep/interesting insights. While consuming them my brain is releasing quite a bit of positive feedback, and its enjoyable just from that standpoint.

Why is it then so hard to pick up an old book and look at the 3 pages out of 500 that I have marked as truly insightful? Yes it is possible that a lot of the information has already been internalized and incorporated into myself. And yes I will likely remember the insight upon rereading and it will not be quite as enjoyable. Yet on average, per unit of time spent, I am likely to experience far more pleasure, insight, etc. from reviewing past finds than plowing through new, unrefined, ore.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

A thought provoking documentary series and I agree with a lot of the underlying ideas.

I think they’ve missed the main point though. Humans, societies, just like animals and the ecosystem, are inherently very dynamic and unstable systems. Left alone, nature is very good at adapting to gradual change but in the process will exhibit extreme instability. The result is a tough life for individual components (wild animals, plants, cells) but the persistence and success of the system (living creatures on planet earth) over a very long time, billions of years, and a very diverse environmental landscape. They got this part right. What’s left is to realize that human civilization has continually tried to fight and calm this instability, primarily driven by those with power/wealth that wish to protect status quos. The result appears to be long periods of stability followed by large conflicts and economic disasters. The conclusion should not be to throw up our hands and say we can’t handle the challenge, but to try to understand it better.

Left to their own devices, humans and societies of humans will behave in the same way as any natural system because fundamentally the former is a subset of the latter. The turbulence of civilizations is the natural state of our system. This instability should also be visible in our economic systems, which has certainly been the case as far as recorded data is available. We need to consider some of the contradictions between some of our moral/ethical ideals and the behavior of self-stabilizing (in the long run) natural systems. Modern liberal democracies seem to have accomplished a utopia where individuals feel like they have freedom and control but rather have allowed themselves to be hijacked by political and corporate power centers. This is not a coincidence, we as a species are simply not intelligent enough to be able to successfully self regulate a large network from the inside.

The problem arises from the feeling that humans have of being special. We hold the individual as sacrosanct, we defend with our lives the ideals of individual freedom and equality. At appears to me that, at least with current technology and knowledge, there exists direct trade-off between the worship of the individual and our ability as a species to adapt and continue improving, to thrive in the long run.