Guy Debord’s (1931–1994) best-known work, La société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle) (1967), is a polemical and prescient indictment of our image-saturated consumer culture. The book examines the “Spectacle,” Debord’s term for the everyday manifestation of capitalist-driven phenomena; advertising, television, film, and celebrity.
Debord defines the spectacle as the “autocratic reign of the market economy.” Though the term “mass media” is often used to describe the spectacle’s form, Debord derides its neutrality. “Rather than talk of the spectacle, people often prefer to use the term ‘media,’” he writes, “and by this they mean to describe a mere instrument, a kind of public service.” Instead, Debord describes the spectacle as capitalism’s instrument for distracting and pacifying the masses. The spectacle takes on many more forms today than it did during Debord’s lifetime. It can be found on every screen that you look at. It is the advertisements plastered on the subway and the pop-up ads that appear in your browser. It is the listicle telling you “10 things you need to know about ‘x.’” The spectacle reduces reality to an endless supply of commodifiable fragments, while encouraging us to focus on appearances. For Debord, this constituted an unacceptable “degradation” of our lives.
Debord was a founding member of the Situationist International (1957–1972), a group of avant-garde artists and political theorists united by their opposition to advanced capitalism. At varying points the group’s members included the writers Raoul Vaneigem and Michèle Bernstein, the artist Asger Jorn, and the art historian T.J. Clark. Inspired primarily by Dadaism, Surrealism, and Marxist philosophy, the SI rose to public prominence during the May 1968 demonstrations during which members of the group participated in student-led occupations and protests. Though the extent of its influence is disputed, there is little doubt that the SI played an active intellectual role during the year’s events. Graffiti daubed around Paris paraphrased the SI’s ideas and in some cases directly quoted from texts such as The Society of the Spectacle and Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967).
The first English translation of Debord’s text was published in 1970 by Black and Red Books. The book’s cover features J.R. Eyerman’s iconic photograph of the premiere of Bwana Devil (1952), the first 3D color film. Originally reproduced in LIFE magazine, the image captures the film’s audience gazing passively at the screen with the use of anaglyph glasses. In the foreground, a besuited, heavy-set gentleman watches the screen intently, his mouth agape. Eyerman’s photograph reduces the audience members to uniform rows of spectacled spectators. Although the image encapsulates Debord’s contempt for consumer culture, it reductively implies that his work was mediaphobic (Debord later adapted The Society of the Spectacle into his first feature-length film by utilizing footage from advertisements, newsreels, and other movies). If we were to judge The Society of the Spectacle by Black and Red’s cover, we might assume that the book is a straightforward critique of media-driven conformity. Debord’s insights however, were far more profound.
The Society of the Spectacle consists of 221 short theses divided across nine chapters. The first thesis reworks the opening line of Karl Marx’s Das Capital (1867):
Marx: The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities.
Debord: In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into representation.
By paraphrasing Marx, Debord immediately establishes a connection between the spectacle and the economy. The book essentially reworks the Marxist concepts of commodity fetishism and alienation for the film, advertising, and television age.Continue
It probably wasn't a coincidence that, to the astonishment of listeners, Trump began his speech about the United States' military might. The USA will spend 700 billion dollars on the military; never before has it been stronger. UN General Secretary Guterres was probably quietly calculating with a sob how many lives, how much future, how much hope, how much happiness his United Nations could provide for the world with 700 billion dollars.
When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.
The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn't very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind.
To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.
Here applies the French proverb plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose—the more it changes, the more it's the same thing. Change is in some sense an illusion, for we are always at the point where any future can take us! If the human race develops an electronic nervous system, outside the bodies of individual people, thus giving us all one mind and one global body, this is almost precisely what has happened in the organization of cells which compose our own bodies. We have already done it.
The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. … For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence–on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day. It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations. Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed.
In governance, sortition (also known as allotment or demarchy) selects political officials as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates. The logic behind the sortition process originates from the idea that “power corrupts.” For that reason, when the time came to choose individuals to be assigned to empowering positions, the ancient Athenians resorted to choosing by lot. In ancient Athenian democracy, sortition was therefore the traditional and primary method for appointing political officials, and its use was regarded as a principal characteristic of true democracy.
How has my perspective of humans changed? It's an interesting question, because you really have time to reflect when you're so far from home. You know, there are six of us on board and we are completely separate from the other six and a half billion of the rest of us. So you feel that physical separation. But—it may be surprising to you—but in fact I feel closer to everyone, I think, as a result. When you live in your house and your street, and your town and your province and your country, you tend to identify those things almost like layers of a fortress around yourself. You know, I'm from this place, and all those things are barriers between you and everybody else. And even travel tends to break that down. But to be in a position where you can go around the world in 92 minutes and see every place over and over and over again, those barriers fade. And of course I still see the strife and the stupid things we do, like what happened yesterday in Boston, and then the suffering we have to put through like the enormous earthquake in Iran today; things still happen, and some people still horribly misbehave. But the vast majority of people are good. And people are just trying to find joy and raise their children well and find grace in life. And for me up here, I found partway through the flight, I just feel like I just refer to everybody as just “us.” It's all of us together in this, and so I think it's a perspective that some people get naturally and that some people will never get, but I know it's a perspective, that having the chance to see the world the way that I've been trying to show it in the pictures I've been sending back, it's a perspective that you definitely get when you live on board a space station.
When something was new and untested it was done in the field of artificial intelligence, because it was seen as something that requires intelligence in some way, a new way of modeling things. intelligence can be understood to a very large degree as the ability to model new systems, to model new problems.
And so it's natural that even narrow artificial intelligence is about making models of the world. For instance, our current generation of deep-learning systems are already modeling things. They're not modeling things quite in the same way with the same power as human minds can do it—they're mostly classifiers, not simulators of complete worlds. But they're slowly getting there, and by making these models we are, of course, digitizing things. We are making things accessible in data domains. We are making these models accesible to each other by computers and by artificial intelligence systems.
And artificial intelligence systems provide extensions to all our minds. Already now, Google is something like my exo-cortex. It's something that allows me to act as vast resources of information that get in the way I think and extend my abilities. If I forget how to use a certain command in a programming language, it's there at my fingertips, and I entirely rely on this like every other programmre on this planet. This is something that is incredibly powerful, and was not possible when we started out programming, when we had to store everything in our own brains.
I think consciousness is a very difficult concept to understand because we mostly know it by reference. We can point at it, but it's very hard for us to understand what it actually is. And I think at this point the best model that I've come up with—what we mean by consciousness—it is a model of a model of a model.
That is: our new cortex makes a model of our interactions with the environment. And part of our new cortex makes a model of that model, that is, it tries to find out how we interact with the environment so we can take this into account when we interact with the environment. And then you have a model of this model of our model which means we have something that represents the features of that model, and we call this the Self.
And the Self is integrated with something like an intentional protocol. So we have a model of the things that we attended to, the things that we became aware of: why we process things and why we interact with the environment. And this protocol, this memory of what we attended to is what we typically associate with consciousness. So in some sense we are not conscious in acutality in the here and now, because that's not really possible for a process that needs to do many things over time in order to retrieve items from memory and process them and do something with them.
Consicousness is actually a memory. It's a construct that is reinvented in our brain several times a minute. When we think about being conscious of something it means that we have a model of that thing that makes it operable, that we can use. You are not really aware of what the world is like. The world out there is some weird [viewed?] quantum graph. It's something that we cannot possibly really understand—first of all because we, as observers, cannot really measure it. We don't have access to the full vector of the universe.Continue
I imagine the spaghetti monster sitting somewhere up there banging his head on his desk for centuries on end as we dig coal, suck oil, try and catch sun rays, while all the time he is moaning, “I gave the cretins a big white power plant in the sky that mystically moves all the water to and fro day after day, and all they do is surf on it.”
Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold. And all of them were caught in something larger than themselves. Some of them hated the mathematics that drove them, and some were afraid, and some worshiped the mathematics because it provided a refuge from thought and from feeling. If a bank or a finance company owned the land, the owner man said, The Bank—or the Company—needs—wants—insists—must have—as though the Bank or the Company were a monster, with thought and feeling, which had ensnared them. These last would take no responsibility for the banks or the companies because they were men and slaves, while the banks were machines and masters all at the same time. Some of the owner men were a little proud to be slaves to such cold and powerful masters. The owner men sat in the cars and explained. You know the land is poor. You've scrabbled at it long enough, God knows…
When faced with a radical crisis, when the old way of being in the world, of interacting with each other and with the realm of nature doesn’t work anymore, when survival is threatened by seemingly insurmountable problems, an individual life form—or a species—will either die or become extinct or rise above the limitations of its condition through an evolutionary leap.
It is believed that the lifeforms on this planet first evolved in the sea. When there were no animals yet to be found on land, the sea was already teeming with life. Then at some point, one of the sea creatures must have started to venture onto dry land. It would perhaps crawl a few inches at first, then exhausted by the enormous gravitational pull of the planet, it would return to the water, where gravity is almost nonexistent and where it could live with much greater ease. And then it tried again and again and again, and much later would adapt to life on land, grow feet instead of fins, develop lungs instead of gills. It seems unlikely that a species would venture into such an alien environment and undergo an evolutionary transformation unless it was compelled to do so by some crisis situation. There may have been a large sea area that got cut off from the main ocean where the water gradually receded over thousands of years, forcing fish to leave their habitat and evolve.
Responding to a radical crisis that threatens our very survival—this is humanity’s challenge now. The dysfunction of the egoic human mind, recognized already more than 2,500 years ago by the ancient wisdom teachers and now magnified through science and technology, is for the first time threatening the survival of the planet. Until very recently, the transformation of human consciousness—also pointed to by the ancient teachers—was no more than a possibility, realized by a few rare individuals here and there, irrespective of cultural or religious background. A widespread flowering of human consciousness did not happen because it was not yet imperative.
A significant portion of the earth’s population will soon recognize, if they haven’t already done so, that humanity is now faced with a stark choice: Evolve or die. A still relatively small but rapidly growing percentage of humanity is already experiencing within themselves the breakup of the old egoic mind patterns and the emergence of a new dimension of consciousness.
What is arising now is not a new belief system, a new religion, spiritual ideology, or mythology. We are coming to the end not only of mythologies but also of ideologies and belief systems. The change goes deeper than the content of your mind, deeper than your thoughts. In fact, at the heart of the new consciousness is the transcendence of thought, the newfound ability of rising above thought, of realizing a dimension within yourself that is infinitely more vast than thought. You then no longer derive your identity, your sense of who you are, from the incessant stream of thinking that in the old consciousness you take to be yourself. What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that. The awareness that is prior to thought, the space in which the thought—or the emotion, or sense perception—happens.
As a rule, people aren't prepared for death; they just vigorously avoid the issue. You feel like Buddhism is preparing you for death. That is your vague thinking (not feeling). If you're not clear on the aim of Buddhism, why not find out instead of going on excursions based on vague opinion?
Preparation for death is a human issue, not just a Buddhist one. The actuality is that nearly all humans live as if in a dream. We think and act as if we will live forever, but that is not at all true. So we are very divorced from reality. We don't live with awareness. Our days are very dreamlike without that perspective, and therefore our days are without the meaning that the perspective brings.
Without knowing in your heart (not just as a distant concept) life's end, you lack awareness of life's beauty and preciousness. You lack awareness of the preciousness of these real days, these common events, these ordinary relationships. Because there is the underlying belief that you will always have access to them.
Without awareness of death, you lack meaning. To the degree that you are aware of death, the meaningfulness of everyday events is present for you.
There was a great scene from The Hurt Locker, where the main character, James, finally comes home from the insane, hellish stress of war and finds himself in a grocery store which seems to be hellish in its bleakness. Although violent and senseless, the imminence of death on the battlefield did bring forth a sense of vitality, of being extremely alive. Our task is to connect with the vitality and meaning brought by awareness of death, without requiring the insanity of pursuing death.
When death does come to us, surprisingly and contrary to all common sense most of us are shocked, aghast, bewildered… as if the most unexpected tragedy had befallen us; even though, since as far back as the prehistoric reach of human memory, the certainty of death has been evident all around us.
But we avoid it, don't we? We shut ourselves away from our tribes, and we hide the dead and dying from sight. Even in our spiritual pursuits, we talk in lofty terms about eternal life, avoiding the more pressing and personal fact of certain death. First know impermanence deeply; then you can reasonably connect with your undying nature.
A great many people die very poorly, in extreme mental torture because throughout their lives they have denied and avoided the fact of their vulnerability and impermanence. People rail and wail and curse the heavens when a family member or loved one dies; and how much more so when they themselves (we) receive a terminal diagnosis or otherwise head toward the end.
Armchair philosophers (you?) keep the issue of death at a distance, as if it is merely a theoretical event. Do you imagine that your death will go as smoothly and comfortably as slipping into a warm bed and falling asleep? It may happen violently. It may happen decades before you expect it to happen. It may happen before you ‘get it all together.’
Your aging may involve great loss or suffering. You may be sick for long periods; you may lose the use of your limbs, or your eyes, or your brain… or all three. You may not be able to digest food for years; or you may not be able to pass urine. Pain and debility may increase in your body for ten, twenty, thirty years—if you are fortunate enough to live long enough. Or you may quickly hurtle toward death, ravaged by cancer or heart disease or some influenza or new viral strain. You may think “If only I could live another year, I would gladly bear the pain,” or you may think “Oh, God, let me die quickly to end the pain.” Or you may have both prayers turning within you at the same time.
So many people and their families are horribly unprepared for death, caught off guard by their helplessness and by the certainty of their end. They can't help themselves, and they can't deal with the reality of their situation. If you actually spend time with those who are dying, you will find that it is actually a bit rare for someone to be able to die with grace and contentment. The rule is generally that the habits built up during life are continued when the pressure rises: more avoidance, more self-distraction, more ominous pressure without knowing what to do with it. More denial, more clamoring for control. Dullness, anxiety, confusion….
And even if a person can muster the courage and presence to be with their situation, in so many cases their family and society won't allow them to die in clarity and dignity. Others around them, caught in the same habitual denial, will often impose small talk and distraction at times when the dying person wants and needs to feel and communicate deeply. Family and friends often bring their noise and busy-mindedness and emotional clinging at a time when the dying person needs space and freedom. And even those who are supposed to be serving the dying—the doctors, nurses, and other health professionals involved—obscure the truth or almost cynically impose bureaucracy and technology as if they are battling a video-game opponent rather than caring for a human being.
If you actually spend time with the dying, this won't be a distant theoretical issue for you—something you can make opinions about from the comfort of your living room. And if you have the illusion that you are already prepared for death, just consider how easily you can let go of things right now: can you give up your opinions freely; can you avoid being triggered by insults; can you be happy in situations that aren't your favorite (like, say, living with the smell of feces and urine on a daily basis)? Is it easy for you to give away money and possessions? Can you gladly live without your favorite food for a year? Are you unmoved by the desire for praise and fame (to be well-thought-of)? Can you give up your favorite activities, no problem? No addictions, no attachments? How openhandedly do you give up friendships or romantic relationships? How harmonious is your mind when you lose your job?
Most of us get upset enough about not getting the last piece of cake! We have a long, long, long way to go to achieve the contentedness that can face death without suffering.
Because all of these and more will have to be given up when you die. So: are you ready for that?
Factor in the shock and terror of it—the dreaded finality—as all the things that you relied on previously are stripped away: no friend or family or loved one can help you; no status can help you; no social or professional standing can help you; no knowledge can help you; no memory can help you; no possession can help you. You lose your strength, your ability to move, your ability to communicate, your power to assimilate food and water, your senses, your brain activity…. Everything you previously depended on will go away. So how will you do?
This is not just Buddhist. Every being faces this.
The field of bright spirit is an ancient wilderness that does not change. With boundless eagerness wander around this immaculate wide plain. The drifting clouds embrace the mountain; the family wind is relaxed and simple. The autumn waters display the moon in its pure brightness. Directly arriving here you will be able to recognize the mind ground dharma field that is the root source of the ten thousand forms germinating with unwithered fertility.
Vast and far-reaching without boundary, secluded and pure, manifesting light, this spirit is without obstruction. Its brightness does not shine out but can be called empty and inherently radiant. Its brightness, inherently purifying, transcends causal conditions beyond subject and object. Subtle but preserved, illumined and vast, also it cannot be spoken of as being or nonbeing, or discussed with images and calculations. Right here the central pivot turns, the gateway opens. You accord and respond without hindrance. Everywhere turn around freely, not following conditions, not falling into classifications. Facing everything, let go and attain stability. Stay with that just as that. Stay with this just as this.
The practice of true reality is simply to sit serenely in silent introspection. When you have fathomed this you cannot be turned around by external causes and conditions. This empty, wide open mind is subtly and correctly illuminating. Spacious and content, without confusion from inner thoughts of grasping, effectively overcome habitual behaviour and realize the self that is not possessed by emotions.
You tremble at the thought of asking for what you want. “I’m not ready yet, I’m not qualified, I’m not experienced!” Or maybe you don’t even say any of that. Maybe it’s more subtle and it actually sounds good and reasonable. “I’m going to focus on my craft for a while longer so when I do feel ready, I’ll be confident in the work I push forward.” You want to be so good so bad… that you never even start.
But here is the kicker: All of your favorites are winging it. The ones you look up to; whom you consider “ready, qualified, experienced, and better than you” are in different ranges: 50% winging whatever their craft is and 50% having fun with it.
Don’t you notice the people who are really, really good at what they do have a quiet confidence about themselves no matter what marches their way? Because they are winging it. They aren’t knocked out of step because they aren’t following any steps. Sure, you can never get caught off guard if you’re always on guard—but that’s no fun. Your favorites are willing to be playful. They are willing to be so open and present to the moment. They are willing.
Become a scientist. Be willing to experiment and take note of what worked and didn’t work.
That is not to say there isn’t a level of preparation and basic fundamental knowledge that allows them to wing it. The point is that you have your fundamentals down, but you’re creating this imaginary wall between yourself and where you want to be due to a perceived lack of experience. Go out there and
fucking get the damn experience!
There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better. I want to be clear. These are not things I wish will happen; these are things I think probably will happen. And if my assessment is correct and they probably will happen, then we have to think about what are we going to do about it? I think some kind of universal basic income is going to be necessary. The output of goods and services will be extremely high. With automation there will come abundance. Almost everything will get very cheap. I think we'll end up doing universal basic income. It's going to be necessary. The much harder challenge is, how are people going to have meaning? A lot of people derive their meaning from their employment. So if there's no need for your labor, what's your meaning? Do you feel useless? That's a much harder problem to deal with.
This concept of evil, even the very word ‘evil,’ can be problematic. As we have discussed before, it seems like in the West sometimes there is a tendency to see things in absolute terms, to see things as black or white, all or nothing. On top of that, under the influence of mental states such as anger, this tendency becomes even stronger. A kind of distortion of one’s thinking, one’s perception, takes place. So, as I mentioned, when you think of such events, you immediately seek a target, looking for an individual or group to blame, something concrete that you can direct all your anger and outrage at. And in that state you see things in terms of all good or all bad, see people as good or evil. So from that perspective, you might view a person as purely evil.
But from a Buddhist perspective, we have no concept of absolute evil, in the sense of evil as something which exists independently—something that is not caused by other factors, that cannot be affected by other factors, and cannot be changed or modified by other conditions. ‘Absolute’ evil has a sense of permanence. So, we do not accept the idea of evil people, in the sense that a particular person’s intrinsic nature is one hundred percent evil, and they will remain that way because it is their fundamental unchanging nature.
Now, within the Buddhist perspective we do have the concept of a person acting in an evil way, doing evil things, under the influence of negative emotions and bad motivation and so on—but we see this evil behavior arising as a result of certain causes and conditions. We feel such events can be explainable without invoking a metaphysical force like evil.
So, basically, if a person commits a very destructive act, you can say that act is evil. No question. And you should always oppose that act, as an evil act. You must take a very strong stand. And let’s say that the person’s motivation for the act was hatred. Then you can say that both the motivation, and the action that it leads to, are evil because of their destructive nature. But we still cannot view that individual as “an evil person,” intrinsically and permanently evil, because there is always the potential or possibility that a new set of conditions will come into play and that very same person may no longer engage in the evil behavior.
In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a massive stroke that left him paralyzed and speechless, with only the ability to blink his left eyelid. Using just that eye, he silently dictated his memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, later adapted into a film.
Bauby suffered from “locked-in syndrome,” in which patients are completely paralyzed except for some eye movement. Some patients eventually lose even the ability to blink, cutting off all contact with the world and raising questions of whether they are still fully conscious and, if so, whether they still wish to live.
Now researchers in Europe say they’ve found out the answer after using a brain-computer interface to communicate with four people completely locked in after losing all voluntary movement due to Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
In response to the statement “I love to live” three of the four replied yes. They also said yes when asked “Are you happy?” The fourth patient, a 23-year-old woman, wasn’t asked open-ended questions because her parents feared she was in a fragile emotional state.
Designed by neuroscientist Niels Birbaumer, now at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, the brain-computer interface fits on a person’s head like a swimming cap and measures changes in electrical waves emanating from the brain and also blood flow using a technique known as near-infrared spectroscopy.
To verify the four could communicate, Birbaumer’s team asked patients, over the course of about 10 days of testing, to respond yes or no to statements such as “You were born in Berlin” or “Paris is the capital of Germany” by modulating their thoughts and altering the blood-flow pattern. The answers relayed through the system were consistent about 70 percent of the time, substantially better than chance.Continue
If you stay attached to “dominating” people you’ll never feel love and compassion for them because you’ll be too obsessed with always winning. This “survival of the fittest” philosophy is really harmful.
Really think about all of the things you need to survive and where you actually get them from and you’ll see that you depend on society for almost everything you do on a daily basis. You live in cooperation with everyone and you enjoy the benefits of the tribe. That’s how we evolved, no one person is ever above the collective.
Try looking at things more like that and you won’t find such a contradiction. You give to society and you take. You don’t dominate anyone and nor should you. You need push back from other people and you need to not get your way sometimes. That’s how people become mature adults, and it’s why children who get everything handed to them end up spoiled.
What price do we pay for civilization? For Walter Scheidel, a professor of history and classics at Stanford, civilization has come at the cost of glaring economic inequality since the Stone Age. The sole exception, in his account, is widespread violence—wars, pandemics, civil unrest; only violent shocks like these have substantially reduced inequality over the millennia.
“It is almost universally true that violence has been necessary to ensure the redistribution of wealth at any point in time,” said Scheidel, summarizing the thesis of The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century, his newly published book. Surveying long stretches of human history, Scheidel said that “the big equalizing moments in history may not have always had the same cause, but they shared one common root: massive and violent disruptions of the established order.”
This idea is connected to Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), a New York Times bestseller Scheidel admires. Piketty found that “inequality does not go down by itself because we have economic development,” Scheidel said. “His book covers only 200 years and argues that only violent intervention can make that happen.”
But Scheidel, who has taught a freshman seminar on long-term inequality, wanted to know if this insight can be applied to all of history. He enlisted the help of Andrew Granato, a senior majoring in economics, to compile a bibliography of more than 1,000 titles. The result is a sweeping narrative about the link between inequality and peace that harkens back to the beginning of human civilization.
Formulating such a narrative is no simple task. The Great Leveler primarily relies on the published works of other historians—a challenge, in Scheidel’s view, of trying “to synthesize highly fragmented and specialized scholarship and create a single narrative.” As an expert on ancient Rome, however, Scheidel is well aware that pre-modern sources are limited and some are invalid. His familiarity with scant ancient sources prepared him to grapple with an abundance of more reliable modern records. “Looking at the distant past would have been more difficult for a modernist economist or historian,” said Scheidel, for whom it is “generally easier to deal with modern evidence because it is more familiar and thoroughly studied.”
Scheidel acknowledges his pessimism about resolving inequality. “Reversing the trend toward greater concentrations of income, in the United States and across the world, might be, in fact, nearly impossible,” he said. Among the wide variety of catastrophes that level societies, Scheidel identifies what he calls “four horsemen”: mass mobilization or state warfare, transformative revolution, state collapse and plague.
A textbook example of mass mobilization is World War II, a conflict that embroiled many developed countries and, key for Scheidel, “uniformly hugely reduced inequality.” As with Europe and Japan, he said, “in the U.S. there were massive tax increases, state intervention in the economy to support the war effort and increase output, which triggered a redistribution of resources, benefiting workers and harming the interests of the top 1 percent.”
Another “horseman” was the outbreak of the bubonic plague in 14th-century Eurasia. While war wreaks havoc on everything, a pandemic of this magnitude “kills a third of the population, but does not damage the physical infrastructure,” Scheidel said. “As a result, labor becomes scarce, wages grow and the gap between the rich and the poor narrows.”Continue
Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance. As I write, the number one video cassette rental in America is the movie Dumb and Dumber. Beavis and Butthead remains popular (and influential) with young TV viewers. The plain lesson is that study and learning—not just of science, but of anything—are avoidable, even undesirable.
We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements—transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting—profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
A Candle in the Dark is the title of a courageous, largely Biblically based, book by Thomas Ady, published in London in 1656, attacking the witch-hunts then in progress as a scam ‘to delude the people’. Any illness or storm, anything out of the ordinary, was popularly attributed to witchcraft. Witches must exist, Ady quoted the ‘witchmongers’ as arguing, ‘else how should these things be, or come to pass?’ For much of our history, we were so fearful of the outside world, with its unpredictable dangers, that we gladly embraced anything that promised to soften or explain away the terror. Science is an attempt, largely successful, to understand the world, to get a grip on things, to get hold of ourselves, to steer a safe course. Microbiology and meteorology now explain what only a few centuries ago was considered sufficient cause to burn women to death.
Ady also warned of the danger that ‘the Nations [will] perish for lack of knowledge’. Avoidable human misery is more often caused not so much by stupidity as by ignorance, particularly our ignorance about ourselves. I worry that, especially as the millennium edges nearer, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us—then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls.
The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.
Public health officials from Nevada are reporting on a case of a woman who died in Reno in September from an incurable infection. Testing showed the superbug that had spread throughout her system could fend off 26 different antibiotics. “It was tested against everything that’s available in the United States [...] and was not effective,” said Dr. Alexander Kallen, a medical officer in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division of health care quality promotion.
Although this isn’t the first time someone in the US has been infected with pan-resistant bacteria, at this point, it is not common. It is, however, alarming. “I think this is the harbinger of future badness to come,” said Dr. James Johnson, a professor of infectious diseases medicine at the University of Minnesota and a specialist at the Minnesota VA Medical Center.
Other scientists are saying this case is yet another sign that researchers and governments need to take antibiotic resistance seriously. It was reported Thursday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a journal published by the CDC. The authors of the report note this case underscores the need for hospitals to ask incoming patients about foreign travel and also about whether they had recently been hospitalized elsewhere.
The case involved a woman who had spent considerable time in India, where multi-drug-resistant bacteria are more common than they are in the US. She had broken her right femur—the big bone in the thigh—while in India a couple of years back. She later developed a bone infection in her femur and her hip and was hospitalized a number of times in India in the two years that followed. Her last admission to a hospital in India was in June of last year. The unnamed woman—described as a resident of Washoe County who was in her 70s—went into hospital in Reno for care in mid-August, where it was discovered she was infected with what is called a CRE—carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae. That’s a general name to describe bacteria that commonly live in the gut that have developed resistance to the class of antibiotics called carbapenems—an important last-line of defense used when other antibiotics fail. CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden has called CREs “nightmare bacteria” because of the danger they pose for spreading antibiotic resistance. In the woman’s case, the specific bacteria attacking her was called Klebsiella pneumoniae, a bug that often causes of urinary tract infections.
Testing at the hospital showed resistance to 14 drugs—all the drug options the hospital had, said Lei Chen, a senior epidemiologist with Washoe County Health District and an author of the report. “It was my first time to see a [resistance] pattern in our area,” she said.Continue
If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. [...] The next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good middle class jobs obsolete. And so we’re going to have to forge a new social compact to guarantee all our kids the education they need, to give workers the power to unionize for better wages, to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now, and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and the individuals who reap the most from this new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their very success possible.
One facet of this argument that goes largely undiscussed is that it is bad for an imperfect government to be able to predict all crime. Some of the greatest steps forward in human history were only made possible by people being able to hide information from their government. If the church had access to Galileo's research journals and notes we could be hundreds of years behind in our scientific growth. If the government had unlimited access to the networks of civil dissidents, then African Americans may have never fought off Jim Crow. If King George would have had perfect information America would never have been a country. There is no government on Earth that is perfect, and therefore there is no government on Earth that can act responsibly with unlimited access to information. A government is unlikely to be able to distinguish between a negative and positive disruption to its social order and laws, and it therefore follows that an unlimited spying program can only hinder the next great social step forward. Don't fear the surveillance state because you might have or be doing something illegal, fear the surveillance state because it is a tremendous institutional barrier to meaningful societal progress.
Throughout history, societies have existed with far less coercion than ours, and while these societies have had far less consumer goods and what modernity calls “efficiency,” they also have had far less mental illness. This reality has been buried, not surprisingly, by uncritical champions of modernity and mainstream psychiatry. Coercion—the use of physical, legal, chemical, psychological, financial, and other forces to gain compliance—is intrinsic to our society’s employment, schooling, and parenting. However, coercion results in fear and resentment, which are fuels for miserable marriages, unhappy families, and what we today call mental illness.
Shortly after returning from the horrors of World War I and before they wrote Mutiny on the Bounty (1932), Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall were given a commission by Harper’s Magazine to write nonfiction travel articles about life in the South Pacific. Their reports about the islands of Paumoto, Society, and the Hervey group were first serialized in Harper’s and then published in the book Faery Lands of the South Seas (1921). Nordhoff and Hall were stuck by how little coercion occurred in these island cultures compared to their own society, and they were enchanted by the kind of children that such noncoercive parenting produced:
“There is a fascination in watching these youngsters, brought up without clothes and without restraint... Once they are weaned from their mothers’ breasts—which often does not occur until they have reached an age of two and a half or three—the children of the islands are left practically to shift for themselves; there is food in the house, a place to sleep, and a scrap of clothing if the weather be cool—that is the extent of parental responsibility. The child eats when it pleases, sleeps when and where it will, amuses itself with no other resources than its own. As it grows older certain light duties are expected of it—gathering fruit, lending a hand in fishing, cleaning the ground about the house—but the command to work is casually given and casually obeyed. Punishment is scarcely known... [Yet] the brown youngster flourishes with astonishingly little friction—sweet tempered, cheerful, never bored, and seldom quarrelsome.”
For many indigenous peoples, even the majority rule that most Americans call democracy is problematically coercive, as it results in the minority feeling resentful. Roland Chrisjohn, member of the Oneida Nation of the Confederacy of the Haudenausaunee (Iroquois) and author of The Circle Game, points out that for his people, it is deemed valuable to spend whatever time necessary to achieve consensus so as to prevent such resentment. By the standards of Western civilization, this is highly inefficient. “Achieving consensus could take forever!” exclaimed an attendee of a talk that I heard given by Chrisjohn, who responded, “What else is there more important to do?”
Among indigenous societies, there are many accounts of a lack of mental illness, a minimum of coercion, and wisdom that coercion creates resentment which fractures relationships. The 1916 book The Institutional Care of the Insane of the United States and Canada reports, “Dr. Lillybridge of Virginia, who was employed by the government to superintend the removal of Cherokee Indians in 1827-8-9, and who saw more than 20,000 Indians and inquired much about their diseases, informs us he never saw or heard of a case of insanity among them.” Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, in his 1980 book Schizophrenia and Civilization, states, “Schizophrenia appears to be a disease of civilization.”
In 1973, Torrey conducted research in New Guinea, which he called “an unusually good country in which to do epidemiologic research because census records for even most remote villages are remarkably good.” Examining these records, he found, “There was over a twentyfold difference in schizophrenia prevalence among districts; those with a higher prevalence were, in general, those with the most contact with Western civilization.” In reviewing others’ research, Torrey concluded:
“Between 1828 and 1960, almost all observers who looked for psychosis or schizophrenia in technologically undeveloped areas of the world agreed that it was uncommon… The striking feature… is the remarkable consensus that insanity (in the early studies) and schizophrenia (in later studies) were comparatively uncommon prior to contact with European-American civilization… But around 1950 an interesting thing happened… the idea became current in psychiatric literature that schizophrenia occurs in about the same prevalence in all cultures and is not a disease of civilization.”Continue
This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
Howard, I can’t believe you said I have never held a job. I served twenty-three years in the United States Marine Corps. I served through two wars. I flew 149 missions. My plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire on twelve different occasions. I was in the space program. It wasn't my checkbook; it was my life on the line.
It was not a nine-to-five job where I took time off to take the daily cash receipts to the bank. I ask you to go with me, as I went the other day, to a Veterans Hospital and look those men, with their mangled bodies, in the eye and tell them they didn't hold a job.
You go with me to any gold-star mother and you look her in the eye and tell her that her son did not hold a job.
You go with me to the space program, and go as I have gone to the widows and orphans of Ed White and Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee, and you look those kids in the eye and tell them that their Dad didn't hold a job.
You go with me on Memorial Day coming up and you stand in Arlington National Cemetery, where I have more friends than I'd like to remember, and you watch those waving flags. You stand there, and you think about this nation, and you tell me that those people didn't have a job.
I'll tell you, Howard Metzenbaum, you should be on your knees every day of your life thanking God that there were some men – some men - who held a job. And they required a dedication to purpose and a love of country and a dedication to duty that was more important than life itself. And their self-sacrifice is what made this country possible.
I have held a job, Howard!
John Glenn’s ending rebuttal statement delivered during a debate with Howard Metzenbaum at the Cleveland City Club. At the time of the debate, Glenn and Metzenbaum were running against each other in the Ohio Democratic Primary for U.S. Senator. In a speech given a few weeks prior to the debate Metzenbaum stated that Glenn had never held a real job.
We all count on experts, but should we trust them? Turns out, the more certain their pronouncements, the more likely they are to be wrong. The Trouble with Experts reminds us: we are all addicted to experts. They tell us what to eat, how to vote, raise our kids, fix our homes, buy our wines, interpret political events and, until recently, choose the right stocks. They're all over the media telling us what to think, because there's just too much information for us to sort out ourselves. So we often cede our own opinions to “them” because, well … they're experts, so they know better than us. Or do they?
In the recent stock meltdown, we discovered that some of our most important experts—our financial gurus—didn't know much at all. So what about all the other experts out there? Does having expertise actually mean you make better decisions than regular people? Or are they just part of a new cult of expertise, an ever-growing “expert industry” that's become our latest new religion?
“We all want wise men to give us the secret truth, the real low-down, the inside dope about things—someone who knows more than we mere mortals know,” says writer/director Josh Freed. But the reality is that many so-called experts don't know any more than you or me. In fact, a 20-year study of experts shows they're only right about half the time.
There are similar findings from other “experts on experts” we meet in the film, like Berkeley Psychology Professor Phillip Tetlock, Christopher Cerf (co-founder of the Institute of Expertology) and New Yorker science writer David Freedman (who's authored a new book called WRONG). Among their findings—the more famous the forecaster, the more overblown the forecasts, the more wrong they are.
The documentary features some astonishing stories of experts in the wrong. We meet Dutch artist John Myatt who used house paint and KY jelly to forge the works of Great Masters. He managed to fool top art critics and museums for 8 years before he was finally caught. Then there are the wine experts who can't even distinguish white wine from red and political experts whose predictions were only a tiny bit better than random guesses - the equivalent of a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board.
Appearing on TV makes experts even more wrong, say Philip Tetlock and Christopher Cerf. “Show producers don't want us to sit there listening to an expert thinking, ‘I could have said that myself.’ They want certainty, clarity and drama and they call on ‘experts’ who see things in black and white—or are happy to exaggerate their positions to sound more certain and entertaining. Adds Tetlock: “The experts who are most often accurate in our studies are cautious, quiet and somewhat more boring. Try selling that to a TV producer.”
So how do you become an expert anyway?Continue
You may make about as much as your parents combined at the height of their income, but everything is four times as expensive unless it's information technology. There's nothing wrong with the boomers, and nothing wrong with millennials. They're just playing their part at a different phase of the wave. The internalized faux boomer criticisms of millennials are really just misdirected criticisms of capitalism.
In 30-40 years, millennials will be demanding $4 million for their tinderboxes, and a McMansion will be $10+ million. Celebrities will be living in upper two to lower three-digit million-dollar homes. Your grandkids will get some fancy robot or space job paying $140k, and marry someone earning similar. And you'll go, "Goddamn! They make well over $250k combined! These lil'
fuckers are rich!" But they'll be like, "My mortgage is over $11,000..."
"You two make $16,000 a month!" you'll say, as the walls update their pattern to reflect ads for realtors and pre-approved refinancing offers. You ignore them. You've gotten used to it by now.
Anthropocenic depression should be an official term. Watching your own race systematically destroy everything that exists only to create and further the empty shell of consumerism, to poison the minds of the poor and rich to perpetuate this behavior; to ravage the land in search of every possible resource, only to waste it (water and soil), or to create absolutely unnecessary artifacts; to have them cause suffering and death for billions of other living and sentient beings, only to devour them in a constant lust for pleasure; finally, watching this
fucking beautiful piece of rock in the middle of the galaxy being burnt to the ground and knowing that no matter how hard you try to change—to be better, to be less of a disease’it simply won’t be enough; that nothing is, in fact, is the most daunting thought of all, and it would wreak havoc on any sane individuals mind.
I ask everyone here, is there a reason to be happy? The middle class and above owes their leisure time, their banal pursuits of self-realization, to the poorest of the poor: to the slaves that pay tribute to the first world nations with their blood and sweat and ecosystems. The richest ones dedicate their lives to hide these facts and everyone just concedes their freedom for the illusion of independence, of comfort, of family, of God. Once you take any of those goggles off, you watch a grey, sterile wound growing at exponential rates, predating everything that once mattered, and replacing it with something trivial, then they teach you to enjoy it or else you’ll be rejected. I see no reason at all to be anywhere remotely close to content. I live everyday in shame, really, and I cannot wait for this
fucking nightmare to end.
Most of us can recognize an object after seeing it once or twice. But the algorithms that power computer vision and voice recognition need thousands of examples to become familiar with each new image or word. Researchers at Google DeepMind now have a way around this. They made a few clever tweaks to a deep-learning algorithm that allows it to recognize objects in images and other things from a single example—something known as "one-shot learning." The team demonstrated the trick on a large database of tagged images, as well as on handwriting and language.
The best algorithms can recognize things reliably, but their need for data makes building them time-consuming and expensive. An algorithm trained to spot cars on the road, for instance, needs to ingest many thousands of examples to work reliably in a driverless car. Gathering so much data is often impractical—a robot that needs to navigate an unfamiliar home, for instance, can’t spend countless hours wandering around learning.
Oriol Vinyals, a research scientist at Google DeepMind, a U.K.-based subsidiary of Alphabet that’s focused on artificial intelligence, added a memory component to a deep-learning system—a type of large neural network that’s trained to recognize things by adjusting the sensitivity of many layers of interconnected components roughly analogous to the neurons in a brain. Such systems need to see lots of images to fine-tune the connections between these virtual neurons.
The team demonstrated the capabilities of the system on a database of labeled photographs called ImageNet. The software still needs to analyze several hundred categories of images, but after that it can learn to recognize new objects—say, a dog—from just one picture. It effectively learns to recognize the characteristics in images that make them unique. The algorithm was able to recognize images of dogs with an accuracy close to that of a conventional data-hungry system after seeing just one example.Continue
The country into which young voters have recently been born finds itself in a state of depravity. Forty-two million Americans, including 14 million children, do not have enough food. Despite gains made under the rapidly disintegrating Affordable Care Act, nearly 30 million Americans do not have health insurance. Neither of these facts results from lack of food or medicine, as 50 years spent pumping chickens and cows with our copious reserves of penicillin and tetracycline have brought about a glut of environmentally unsustainable farm animals and a world on the precipice of antibiotic-resistant infections.
Black Americans, 50 years after Jim Crow, remain precarious in their claim to citizenry, subject to daily harassment and theft routinely punctuated by outright murder at the hands of the state. Over 2 million Americans are in prison. Those fortunate enough to graduate college have a debt load virtually impossible to discharge by almost any legal avenue while prospects for employment remain scarce. Those fortunate enough to be employed have not seen their wages correspond to productivity in 40 years. The economy—insufficiently terrorized by the 2008 collapse, in part because the perpetrators of that collapse remain effectively in control of their own regulators—is haunted by the possibility of another shock. Who is doing well? Silicon Valley libertarians, promising to disrupt us back to 19th-century labor relations, cheered on by members of the notionally liberal party.
In September, atmospheric measurements confirmed that industrial output, driven in large part by the United States, has lurched the world past 400-parts-per-million atmospheric carbon dioxide. At least 2 degrees Celsius of global warming and its attendant catastrophes are nearly inevitable.
Remember too that even this tenuous arrangement of a nation is maintained only by a grinding, ambient violence, the occupation, torture and incineration of the citizens of no fewer than six sovereign nations at present, a world kept at bay by the 23,000 bombs dropped by the American military annually and a world that that, for all this effort, does not appear content to remain at bay much longer. We are closer than we have been in a generation to the real possibility of nuclear war.Continue
In this article, Newsweek incorrectly predicted Hillary Clinton as the winner of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The concept that no thing—including human existence—has ultimate substantiality, which in turn means that no thing is permanent and no thing is totally independent of everything else. In other words, everything in this world is interconnected and in constant flux. A deep appreciation of this idea of emptiness thus saves us from the suffering caused by our egos, our attachments, and our resistance to change and loss.
Artificial neural networks are remarkably adept at sensory processing, sequence learning and reinforcement learning, but are limited in their ability to represent variables and data structures and to store data over long timescales, owing to the lack of an external memory. Here we introduce a machine learning model called a differentiable neural computer (DNC), which consists of a neural network that can read from and write to an external memory matrix, analogous to the random-access memory in a conventional computer. Like a conventional computer, it can use its memory to represent and manipulate complex data structures, but, like a neural network, it can learn to do so from data. When trained with supervised learning, we demonstrate that a DNC can successfully answer synthetic questions designed to emulate reasoning and inference problems in natural language. We show that it can learn tasks such as finding the shortest path between specified points and inferring the missing links in randomly generated graphs, and then generalize these tasks to specific graphs such as transport networks and family trees. When trained with reinforcement learning, a DNC can complete a moving blocks puzzle in which changing goals are specified by sequences of symbols. Taken together, our results demonstrate that DNCs have the capacity to solve complex, structured tasks that are inaccessible to neural networks without external read–write memory.
Right now billions of people are living in a rat race. Everything comes down to money, and people will do any old
shit for money. China sends millions of tons of crap to the West every year. Crap toys, crap electronics, crap that people use a few times and then throw in the garbage.
No one questions this. We are just running around doing stuff, without thinking about whether we should be doing it at all. Because we need the money.
We have to break away from this precarious system of financial growth if we want to save the environment. We have to accept that there won’t be a new iPhone every year. We have to learn how to fix things instead of buying new every single time. New stuff has to justify itself, and the majority of the stuff we buy doesn’t justify itself; it’s just more crap.
And we have to encourage people to leave the economic system by giving them money to exist in a carbon-neutral way. The less crap people produce, the better, but under the current system, people are forced to take part and make things worse.
We have to get a grip on this, because we’re
fucked if we don’t.
In spying-and-hiding transactions, worry leads to more worry and suspicion leads to more suspicion. The very act of participating, however unwillingly, in the secret police game—even as victim, or citizen being monitored—will eventually produce all the classic symptoms of clinical paranoia.
The agent knows who he is spying on, but he never knows who is spying on him. Could it be his wife, his mistress, his secretary, the newsboy, the Good Humor man?
If there is a secret police at all, in any nation, every branch and department of government, and institutions which are not even admitted to be parts of government, becomes suspect in the eves of cautious and intelligent people as a possible front for, or tunnel to, the secret police. That is, the more shrewd will recognize that something bearing the label of HEW or even International Silicon and Pencil might actually be the CIA or NSA in disguise.
In such a deception network, conspiracy theories proliferate. Rumor is necessary, it has been found, when people cannot find “official” news sources that can be trusted to tell them what is really going on. The present author, having worked in the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the legalize-pot movement and other dissident causes, has repeatedly been approached by friend A with dire warnings that friend B is almost certainly a secret police agent, only to be told later and independently by friend C that friend A is a secret police agent. It requires delicate neurological know-how to keep one's sense of humor in the secret police matrix.
The more omnipresent the secret police, the more likely it is that intelligent men and women will regard the government with fear and loathing.
The government, on discovering that growing numbers of citizens regard it with fear and loathing, will increase the size and powers of the secret police, to protect itself.
The infinite regress again appears.
Consciousness itself is fundamental to all our virtual realities. Consciousness is the media through which all our cultures, religions, civilizations, thoughts, and reality tunnels play out. So although what we have created can be regarded as virtual realities, consciousness itself doesn’t necessary fit that criterion. Consciousness is real, ‘Canada’ and ‘Canadian’ is imaginary, is virtual. Consciousness plays within the framework of ‘Canada’ and ‘Canadian’ but it isn’t those constructs on a fundamental level. Consciousness is not virtual reality, though it uses virtual realities to operate in.
What are we without our virtual realities? We are alive and indeed life itself. We are the end result [I'd disagree with the notion of ‘end result’ - Ed.] of billions of years of cosmological evolution. And we are consciousness. One of the all-time best comments for underscoring the insidious depth of this virtual reality projecting faculty of the mind is found in a kōan popularized by non-dualist author Adyashanti: “At the end of the day a real Buddhist realizes that there is no such thing as a real Buddhist.” So it is not as Morpheus says; “As long as the Matrix exists the human race will never be free.” We will always be building a Matrix to see, move, and operate through. Instead it is that as long as the Matrix exists and remains deeply unacknowledged as a Matrix and ever-indulged as “true” the human race will never be free. Consequently, nor will the global ecosystem likely survive; for as long as it remains a mere supporting character—or worse, has no role whatsoever—in our reality tunnels, the prominence it deserves in our decisions cannot be realized.
The pain you feel is capitalism falling apart. The pain you feel is the weight of 7.5 billion people living off the combustion of a one-time endowment of ancient carbon energy; from the factory-farmed produce you eat to the petroleum-based medical supplies that keep you alive. What we call “renewable energies” are nothing more than ‘fossil fuel extenders’ still wedded to fossil-fueled extraction processes for the production and maintenance of these technologies. It's a shell game of sorts. Industrialized countries will say their carbon footprint has gone down without telling you they've moved their dirty industrial operations to Third World countries. Developing countries will make promises of “green growth” while their state-owned banks and companies expand fossil fuel production overseas. We've been fooling ourselves for a very long time about what is truly sustainable and will continue to do so as the system falls apart, geoengineering fixes are applied, interstellar space colonization fantasies are dreamed up, and wars are fought for what remains. Humans have constructed a reality incompatible with the well-being of the natural world and the stability of the biosphere, but we won't be able to escape the rules of physics, chemistry, and biology. Time is not on our side.
Intellectual hubris is a bitch. You are no more awakened than a bird; they are no more asleep than a bird. You're cooking the fish you've caught, and you're doing it while judging those ‘stuck fishing’. “Why are they still fishing? Why haven't they caught anything?” Eat your fish and shut up—and if you've got any sense within you, share your good fortune :)
It is not possible that this unity of knowledge, feeling and choice which you call your own should have sprung into being from nothingness at a given moment not so long ago; rather this knowledge, feeling and choice are essentially eternal and unchangeable and numerically one in all men, nay in all sensitive beings. But not in this sense—that you are a part, a piece, of an eternal, infinite being, an aspect or modification of it, as in Spinoza's pantheism. For we should have the same baffling question: which part, which aspect are you? What, objectively, differentiates it from the others? No, but inconceivable as it seems to ordinary reason, you—and all other conscious beings as such—are all in all. Hence this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance.
Thus you can throw yourself flat on the ground, stretched out upon Mother Earth, with the certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you. You are as firmly established, as invulnerable as she, indeed a thousand times firmer and more invulnerable. As surely as she will engulf you tomorrow, so surely will she bring you forth anew to new striving and suffering. And not merely ‘some day:’ now, today, every day she is bringing you forth, not once but thousands upon thousands of times, just as every day she engulfs you a thousand times over. For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.
The world cannot be analyzed correctly into distinct parts; instead, it must be regarded as an indivisible unit in which separate parts appear as valid approximations only in the classical (i.e., Newtonian) limit [...]. Thus, at the quantum level of accuracy, an object does not have any “intrinsic” properties (for instance, wave or particle) belonging to itself alone; instead, it shares all its properties mutually and indivisibly with the systems with which it interacts. Moreover, because a given object, such as an electron, interacts at different times with different systems that bring out different potentialities, it undergoes [...] continual transformation between the various forms (for instance, wave or particle form) in which it can manifest itself.
Although such fluidity and dependence of form on the environment have not been found, before the advent of quantum theory, at the level of elementary particles in physics, they are not uncommon [...] in fields, such as biology, which deal with complex systems. Thus, under suitable environmetnal conditions, a bacterium can develop into a spore stage, which is completely different in structure, and vice versa.
Finland is about to launch an experiment in which a randomly selected group of 2,000–3,000 citizens already on unemployment benefits will begin to receive a monthly basic income of 560 euros (approx. $600). That basic income will replace their existing benefits. The amount is the same as the current guaranteed minimum level of Finnish social security support. The pilot study, running for two years in 2017-2018, aims to assess whether basic income can help reduce poverty, social exclusion, and bureaucracy, while increasing the employment rate.
The Finnish government introduced its legislative bill for the experiment on 25 August. Originally, the scope of the basic income experiment was much more ambitious. Many experts have criticized the government’s experiment for its small sample size and for the setup of the trial, which will be performed within just one experimental condition. This implies that the experiment can provide insights on only one issue, namely whether the removal of the disincentives embedded in social security will encourage those now unemployed to return to the workforce or not.Continue
We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.
—Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller
The sole means now for the saving of the beings of the planet Earth would be to implant again into their presences a new organ, an organ like Kundabuffer, but this time of such properties that every one of these unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as the death of every one upon whom his eyes or attention rests.
Only such a sensation and such a cognizance can now destroy the egoism completely crystallized in them that has swallowed up the whole of their Essence and also that tendency to hate others which flows from it—the tendency, namely, which engenders all those mutual relationships existing there, which serve as the chief cause of all their abnormalities unbecoming to three-brained beings and maleficent for them themselves and for the whole of the Universe.
People who are dead now already thought up ways to produce a huge food surplus; enough to feed everyone. If you spend your thinking time worrying about what others are thinking, maybe you aren't being as productive as you could be if we just fed everyone and your well-fed brain worried about problems that haven't been solved yet?
You go to school, study hard, get a degree, and you’re pleased with yourself. But are you wiser? You get a job, achieve things at the job, gain responsibility, get paid more, move to a better company, gain even more responsibility, get paid even more, rent an apartment with a parking spot, stop doing your own laundry, and you buy one of those $9 juices where the stuff settles down to the bottom. But are you happier?
You do all kinds of life things—you buy groceries, read articles, get haircuts, chew things, take out the trash, buy a car, brush your teeth, shit, sneeze, shave, stretch, get drunk, put salt on things, have sex with someone, charge your laptop, jog, empty the dishwasher, walk the dog, buy a couch, close the curtains, button your shirt, wash your hands, zip your bag, set your alarm, fix your hair, order lunch, act friendly to someone, watch a movie, drink apple juice, and put a new paper towel roll on the thing.
But as you do these things day after day and year after year, are you improving as a human in a meaningful way?Continue
I can ask any American, “what happened in 1492?” They'll tell me, “well, Columbus sailed in 1492.” And that is correct; he did. But that's not the only thing that happened in 1492. In 1492, England and France signed a peace treaty. In 1492, the Borgias took over the papacy. In 1492, Lorenzo de Medici, the richest man in the world, died. A lot of things happened. If there had been newspapers in 1492—which there weren't, but if there had—those would have been the headlines, not this Italian weaver's son taking a bunch of ships and sailing off to nowhere.
But Columbus is what we remember, not the Borgias taking over the papacy. Five hundred years from now, people are not going to remember which faction came out on top in Iraq, or Syria, or whatever. And who was in, and who was out. They will remember what we do to make their civilization possible.
The only way to grow personally is through adversity. If nothing comes to challenge us, then there is nothing we need to develop to meet those challenges. Curling a 70-pound weight seems daunting; almost impossible—but through enough strain and adversity, the muscles become stronger and are able to lift more weight. The same applies for morality and personal inner strength. If there isn't anything challenging our morality or inner strength, then we don't become stronger.
The show Arrested Development is about a whole family who have lost touch with reality; they lack common moral precepts, and they often find themselves in ridiculous troubles because of their lack of development. And it's all because the parents of the show, who both lived adversity-free lives with all the money they needed, and provided the same for their children. Justin Bieber can be said to be in arrested development, as he was handed safely away from adversity at a young age. Crews of people tending to his whims, making sure he was adversity free, resulting in a degenerate of a person. Nelson Mandela faced a lot of adversity, and took his adversity as a means of growth, resulting in one of the greatest humanitarians ever.
Those privileged with the silver spoon, the trust fund, with the family connections, with a free ride through life, are under-privileged in the amount of adversity they receive, resulting in a degree of arrested development. Things like morality, character, humanity, compassion, humility, grace, and empathy, are lacking in those who have not been presented the conditions for growth. Those who have to face adversity are presented the conditions for personal development. They have the chance to become stronger, fortified, moralistic, compassionate, and their threshold for tolerance becomes much higher.
It gets to the point where the politician who lived a life in safety is the pragmatic sociopath, who cares solely about themselves. And the hard working farm boy, grows up to being a morally upstanding pillar of their community. Those who have faced adversity are superior to those who have not. It is an objective truth that most people are superior in every way to George W. Bush, to George Soros, to Hillary Clinton, to Bernie Madoff, or Dick Cheney. All these people are degenerates on the inside, professional on the outside, so the image they give off is a deception.
Adversity is a badge of honor, it pushes people past their threshold and pushes what they are capable of. Do not envy those without adversity, because it becomes clear that their lack of adversity has translated into a lack of personal development.
Now, don’t think you have me in a bind today. I’m not talking about communism. What I’m talking about is far beyond communism... I read Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital a long time ago, and I saw that maybe Marx didn’t follow Hegel enough. He took his dialectics, but he left out his idealism and his spiritualism. And he went over to a German philosopher by the name of Feuerbach, and took his materialism and made it into a system that he called dialectical materialism. I have to reject that.
What I’m saying to you this morning is communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social. And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.