Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sweating to the Oldies

Like Kanye West I'm a proud non-reader of books, maybe too proud. In fact... almost certainly too proud. But I have my workaround - and that workaround is called Audiobooks. I actually am a member of Audible.com and receive a credit every month in exchange for $$$. But though it may be a workaround, I still have so little interest in books that I'm now in the habit of allowing my credits accumulate until they can no longer be rolled over before I'll actually put any thought or effort into acquiring new books to listen to.

And it's hard in a world where there is often more to be learned about the world we live in by watching back episodes of cooking reality contests than there is listening to *respectable* news. Scarily listening to fake-news might actually become more informative. 

Anyway, in the month that followed the US election, there was a huge gaping behemoth sized whole in my life which was where to get information from. Currently I'm plugging that hole with the Roman Empire. Specifically Marcus Aurelius and his merry meditations. 

I tried googling for the exact quote and it didn't come up and I can't be bothered digging up my copy of 'The Bed of Procrustes' and finding where in it the aphorism I had in mind came from but it goes something like 'to get a true sense of progress consider that in 2000 years we've gone from Cicero to Sarah Palin in our standard of politicians. If you really want to scare yourself, extrapolate that trend out into the future.' and as a matter of interest this was written while President Trump was a completely unforeseen future.

Now I was told (via book, by I think Peter Drucker) that the entire administration of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt fit in one building (probably the west wing) where as it has to be acknowledged, that there are just a fuckload more politicians and bueracrats and what not now than the entirety of everyone to serve in the senate of the Roman Republic/Empire. There's enough politicians in the world that we have politicians that smoke crack. So to some extent you'd just expect that the present day will always produce worse politicians than history ever did because the probabilities always increase that an unlikely candidate will come into office somewhere and get our attention through some act of stupidity.

But, I notice, we are also not living in an era that seems to routinely produce the best politicians history has ever seen, even though in the sheer numbers game - the best leaders in the world have more avenue than ever to get into public service. One explanation could be that that the private sector is in fact the fragmented but real world power and that's the darwinian jungle people worth their mettle go into, rather than public service. 

Whatever, the world is very complicated, and that complicated world is largely complicated noise. So after watching Trump get elected, and concluding that I really didn't know anything about the world even though I had more warning than others on top of global trends that should have made the result much less surprising than it was to stupid old me. I decided to go listen to some old dudes.

And the first old dude was Marcus Aurelius. And from listening to it, here is what I have to say. The world has changed very little in 2000 years. Case in point, the first book of meditations is a long list of people Marcus feels he has learned virtues from like "Of Alexander the Platonic, not often nor without great necessity to say, or to write to any man in a letter, 'I am not at leisure'; nor in this manner still to put off those duties, which we owe to our friends and acquaintances (to every one in his kind) under pretence of urgent affairs." which is to say, his friend Alexander is great because he isn't one of those cunts that constantly tells people 'I'm busy' and puts off meaningful interaction. That's advice well suited to my social environment in every direction, yet this was clearly an excuse people used in 160 BC. The unfairness of the comparison from now to then being that far more people in 160 BC probably had to work to actually survive. And I don't mean pay the bills or mortgage but literally had to work the fields in order to live through the winter and shit. Very few people are required to produce food for themselves and everyone else these days.

This is a digression though, consider this, if you were to acquire two nuclear warheads, as portable and independently/self-sufficiently launching warheads and a time machine and went back and handed one warhead to the Romans and one to the Visegoths or Egyptians or Persians or whoever who cares, you would probably see the two newly minted nuclear world powers basically handling their policy and diplomacy in the exact same way that modern minds have. 

I feel a good place to start looking at how government and governance works then it's Machiavelli's 'The Prince' but I read that a long time ago. After reading the degustation of governance that is Niccilo's menu, I'm now of the mind (clearly) that you want to walk upstream, get the story from the horses mouth and listen to the successful rulers of history.

There's huge advantages to doing so - firstly, history has judged these rulers now. Probably thousands of times over. There consensus to say, this person drove good policy, people's welfare increased, the state became more secure blah blah blah. And in the case of the '5 good emperor's' much fewer of them tended to be stabbed to death by the disaffected. The 5 good emperor's didn't really even use security to protect them from assassination. 

So they got to sit down and write books or letters being 'this is how I think it should be done'. Obviously they are going to be as prone as any other successful person as downplaying the role of luck in their lives. But they are not, like modern day leaders going to wildly speculate as to the role of social media and how it's changed politics.

So I have Marcy Marcus' meditations to finish, then about 30 hours of Seneca to get through. I'm looking forward to some stoic drawing sessions ahead. Let me know how reading progressive blogs about the alt-right phenomena works out for you.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Things of interest

I'm struggling to find time between vices and obligations to actually write here. Thus allow me to present an unsatisfying degustation/taster menu of the concepts I find interesting at the moment and why, without actually exploring them to any level of satisfaction:

boredom - I'm fascinated by it, clearly a negative emotional state - but what exactly? What do evolutionary psychologists have to say about it? And why does it seem to increase in my case in proportion to my access to entertainment? Why are we almost never bored in the presence of a mirror but I'm often easily bored by the internet? Does anyone else find the major internet media players obsession with tayloring content via algorithms something that has made the internet much less interesting than a decade ago? Do people with more routine, simpler lives find they experience less boredom rather than the intuitive expectation they would experience more? Since practicing mindfulness I've also experienced that boredom is seemingly an entirely optional emotional experience. I also wonder if boredom relates to guilt? How related is it to procrastination? When historically did boredom emerge as a concept?


Infantilization - Has been on the plate for a while, but not while enough for the touted concept to become a recognised word by google spell-check. I imagine there'd be two ways of looking at it not necessarily mutually exclusive, the first being a regression by adults to childhood, the second being an extention of the duration of an infancy period. However the phenomena is certainly readily observable in my social environment and even on my travels. There's the easily identified economic/demographic footprint of infantilization everywhere as well - staying in school longer and/or returning to tertiary education, later marriage ages, later reproduction, later moving out of the parents house etc. And beyond socio-economic factors that explain the more mundance elements - mortgage inflation exceeding property rental inflation exceeding wage inflation vs return on personal investment in education ever diminishing - there's the generational aspect as well, in terms of Baby Boomers holding most management and leadership positions for 40 or 50 years. Then there's the consumption by adults of entertainment and products previously stigmatized as childish. I'm not a big believer in widespread cultural phenomena like that being 'designed' and when you don't believe in the illuminati convincing us to be spoon-fed babies in order to control us...profits! Then such phenomena becomes actually interesting.


The redundant channels of progress - Is something that has been lingering literally for years but I've never actually written about it. The catalyst being when I used to sit and listen to petty semantic arguments between members of an organisation I used to be involved with at board meetings when patently, the organisation at the time was not really achieving much. (Since those days I've become less involved and the organisation more successful. Coincidence?) Sitting in those meetings though, I observed a lot of proclamations that people were all after the same thing, but borderline insane acts of organisational sabotage. It occurred to me (and I recognized in myself) that I was witnessing not just a desire to 'fix the problem' but the desire for 'me to fix the problem' in terms of, it wasn't good enough for the problem to be fixed, intrinsic in the thought process was that 'we' needed to be the ones to fix it. If you will, it was not important that somebody climbed Everest, I need to climb Everest and everyone needed to know that I did.
So I wonder broadly what this attitude of needing to be the one, costs us in terms of common achievement. For arguments sake, do Oxfam and The Salvation Army need to both exist? I'm sure there are meaningful and important differences between them, but lets just pretend they both are charity organizations that aim to alleviate the suffering of the poor. Why do I have choices between multiple organizations often addressing the same causes? How much waste and inefficiency between them? And as an economist, what is optimal for progress redundancy and competition, or monopolies spared having to compete between fickle donars. Or is there some optimal coopetition that the market is already achieving?

which leads me to

Capitalisation - in the sense Malcolm Gladwell is obsessed with. Again this has been long simmering on the hob, but recently the question has become fascinating again because I've started to doubt the conclusion I took for granted. I think about it often because I work in a call center, one of the most diverse work places I've ever experienced. It attracts ungraduated university students, recovering addicts and artists and other deadbeats. I imagine one could pick through the resumes of the employees on the books and even briefly conduct some interviews and create a 'skillbank' of all the various skills and knowledge my employer actually sits on. The brains trust of the call center staff. Then the question becomes 'is this the most valuable thing we can do with this collection of talent?'
A separate anecdote that relates was one from my old work mentor - he asked us if we knew what the most recent developed piece of tech was in the first working Television. The answer I was told was the cathode ray tube (why TV's are/were refered to as 'the tube') which were invented aprrox 50 years before the first Television sets. The point being that sometimes the components for something are all already there we just need to figure out the right configuration.
So when you have a diverse team of 100 people, is the best thing those people can achieve for the wages paid them by the company, what they actually do, routinely with little variation? I used to think the obvious answer was 'no' there are far more valuable things (even in the strict capitalist-monetary sense) than cold calling. Now I am not so sure. Chiefly because figuring out the right way to configure all those diverse skills to maximise return is some kind of nightmare.
I'm fascinated with questions of capitalization because I suspect the better world we imagine we want to live in is perhaps often a logistical nightmare. Consider the distribution of wealth and questions of fairness. If it the following premises are true a) we don't need everyone to work to generate our current GDP and b) we don't want all the wealth to concentrate in two small a population, then how do you go about distributing income? This scenario kind of featured in a trailer for a documentary I never watched 'Hypernormalization' where the v/o suggested that many of us work in fake jobs while our real job was to shop. Something in my intuition tells me it is not so easy to dispense with the fake jobs, and at the same time, nobody wants an economic system where the minority of people who do all the actual productive work are the only ones with income. Hence we insist people at least make a show of working in order to be distributed the income necessary for them to fulfill there basic needs and some of their wants. That's fucking tricky to devise an alternative yo.

and eternally fascinating

why are smart people so stupid/ineffective? - I'm constantly amazed in life how well informed everyone is. watch Russell Brands 'the Trews' and probably everything he says won't actually be news to you. Watch some New Age speakers and while suppressing your strong distaste for woowoo notice on how many issues you actually kind of agree. I mean that might differ between you and me, but while I feel notions like a 'source consciousness' are vapid containers of bullshit, as is talk of 'vibrations' and 'frequencies' in some inter-dimensional sense, I do basically agree that alienation is systemically being increased in our society and community needs to be reestablished to fix much of the problems of the world.
While I don't advocate joining any new-age movements, what I notice is a large echochamber of lucid arguments that have a consensus on what's up, and yet this body of intelligent people appear unable to actually change the world in any significant way. Myself included.
That is interesting to me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What I mean when I talk about Everyone?

I was relatively recently given feedback by my friend that I use 'Everyone does...' and 'But everyone thinks...' type arguments a bunch. This conversation was actually recorded, so I could go back and listen to it specifically but it's good feedback.

Firstly because 'Everyone' statements are much weaker arguments than 'I' statements. Even though our mathematical intuitions may be telling us that surely the argument 'Everybody thinks you're a joke' has got to weigh more than 'I think you are a joke.' But fact is, claims about what Everyone thinks, feels, says or does are almost never literally true - therefore easy to disprove, and when a handy exception is seized, the argument worded so strongly can be easily discarded. Whereas an argument about your internal subjective state is very hard to disprove by your adversary. Just please be honest when presenting statements of how you think, do and feel.

But what of everyone as some non-literal undefined term I nevertheless expect to have currency when I throw it lazily about in descriptions of the world I live in? What the fuck do I think I'm talking about? Who am I talking about?

I've given this some thought and though I don't really know exactly the context of use that I was pulled up on, I feel it worthwhile to describe who I think these Everyone are.

A few posts or so ago I titled a post Zombiecide in which I speculated as to why Zombie apocalypse where such a popular and sustained genre, even when zombies are pretty boring monsters in the Monster Hall of Fame.

When I talk about 'Everyone' I feel I'm referring to the fact that cities don't really exist. There's no community of 4 million people on Earth let alone Melbourne and to suggest a city like New York or Tokyo is a cohesive community of ascendingly vast populations is something I say fie to as well.

We all live in villages, and perhaps with all the synthetic community substitutes, we increasingly live on farmsteads in reality. We know at any given time about 30 people really well, and max out at about 150-200 people we know.

Which is to say, I may know about 1000 of the denizens of Melbourne, but not all live in my village. Furthermore technology has allowed my village to exist as a diaspora across the vastness of Melbourne instead of plots of land along a main road or in some mountain valley or clustered together on a lush plain.

Author China Mieville wrote this book the City and the City that if you're familiar with that story may help to think of. In that book two cities lived on top of each other and had strict laws against 'breaching' from one city into the other, the citizens of both cities trained into ignoring eachother's existence.

Old London may be a useful concept to think of as well. London is now a massive city, but it has actually engulfed small towns as the city expanded over years and incorporated these villages into areas now regarded as suburbs and subsequently parts of London.

I'm going to say we live in a social village, due to the limits of the part of our brain that can process social functions and physical cities.

When I talk about everyone, I'm talking about everyone I don't know. All those people that like the City & the City, are kind of out of focus in my life. I don't particularly care what they think, what they are doing and my eye is no more trained to really pick out individuals than it is to discern which fish is which in an aquarium contained school of sardines.

Rather I notice how they are the same, and Everyone begins to become an individual an individual that is the averaged stable behaviors of everyone I don't know. All the common patterns that not quite anyone actually possesses all of.

So Everyone uses their phone far too much, depends on it, is averse to risk, emotionally invested in the notion that hard work is rewarded and those rewards can be used to consume things that will make them happier, is ignorant on any given subject under the sun yet considers themselves informed enough to opine and act on their often second hand beliefs. Everyone is time poor, and obsessed with boasting of the fact in the guise of a complaint. Everyone is an addict, and often with slow acting but debilitating mental and physical issues. Everyone hates everyone.

That's who I'm talking to. Pluck a sardine from the school of Everyone and say 'Here's Everyone' it's going to say 'My name is Brandon.' or some shit. You've seen everyone around though. They can change over time. That's everyone's most redeeming feature.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Education Reform

Although I quickly became not a fan of TED talks, and there's nothing that ensures a lasting uncomfortable distance between myself and a new friend like sending me a link to the Eat Pray Love ladies TED talk. It's not like the success of TED came from nowhere, there's good content on there even if it is incredibly low yield.

And one talk that not-accidently everyone's seen and is now - despite very little progress - old news, is Sir Ken whatever's 'Thinks schools kill creativity' in which he observed and is true to my experience, that everybody is interested in education.

Which probably doesn't help reform, because if the education system is horribly flawed, a lot of people who were subsequently poorly educated will want to weigh in. Which may conjure up some image in your mind of the 'uneducated masses' however, I'm referring to people educated into functional stupidity - economists come to mind as a ready example. And consider the teaming masses of educated people who take pride in their mathematics performance and consider the arts a waste of time.

I don't intend to rehash Ken's speech and talk about the importance of dance and shit. I will rehash a conversation I had at a birthday dinner with an educator about school lunches who introduced me to the compelling idea that one function of education is 'to eliminate advantage' hence hencely one of the things a school can do is equalize the nutrition of the students ensuring that the kids endowed with nutrition conscious parents don't surge ahead of their more convenience parented peers.

It's an interesting idea, and in which case the first reform I'd like to see is the abolition of Private Schools. There may be some cross cultural confusion because I have a vague understanding that in England the Public/Private correlation to elitism is reversed. In Australia Private schools operate in the way I would feel is intuitive - they receive government funding (sometimes more than Public Schools) but also are free to charge tuition fees to parents - in country towns this can be thousands of dollars a year, in the big smoke tens of thousands.

The best argument for private schools is a laboratory - that is resourcing up a school system to experiment and break the molds of education - constant revolution. A school with resources can not just potentially design new and innovative trial programs but it can also double down should one of those programs fail so the test-subject students aren't penalized.

That's the best argument and it isn't a good one. Namely because private schools are run as business, and the main reason I believe them (opinion, not necessarily fact) to exist is that people of wealth/advantage would never abide that their children be judged on their actual merits all else being equal. Those parents are the customers of the private school business and my own personal experience, and secondary experience of my siblings for various reasons attending other private schools suggests that rather than discovering innovative new ways to enhance learning - private schools are actually evolving into gaming the tests that are used to distribute scarce Tertiary places. (Private primary schools exist but there isn't an argument for their existence at all, unless that argument is I want my children to never socialize in their formative years with children different to them.)

Lest you have no experience of private schools to speak of, when I say 'gaming' the VCE tests I'm not suggesting that anything shady and illegal has gone on. There is basic stuff like having the resources to hand every student a phone book sized selection of practice exams and past exam papers to learn by rote. There's also the well intentioned subject scaling system - a frank admission that not all subjects are equal under the sun, so more challenging subjects get scaled upwards so students aren't penalized for studying something difficult or rewarded for studying something easy. Except that students are, precisely because of scaling - so my brothers school offered Latin as a language for it's generous scaling, and both our schools encouraged their best mathematics students to do Further Mathematics in year 11 because it is easy to get a perfect score in and not penalized enough. (If you follow that link you'll see that often easy subjects scaled down will be adjusted at the top end of scores so the penalty is less to zilch).

So fuck private schools they are out, and I believe there's a dash of Hammurabi's laws in their as well, namely that those who are responsible for designing and maintaining the standard of education has no recourse but to apply that standard to their own children. What would indeed happen if politicians children had to attend the least resourced school in their electorate?

Then of course there's the inefficiencies like homework which world leader Finland ousted and even reduced the hours children attend school. Michael Moore's latest film covered that and I don't have anything of particular interest to add.

So get fucking nationalism out of schools, in all forms. There's a throwback to assumptions that probably predate the industrial revolution. Some progress was made - I believe my parents had pictures of the Queen in their classrooms. But I'm talking about having kids do projects on the Olympics or Commonwealth games in the classroom, singing the National Anthem at assemblies, learning that Australia Day commemorates the landing of the First Fleet (or whatever it commemorates) and everything and anything else that gives kids the notion that there is pride or shame in anything completely out of your individual control.

As one of my dismayed British friends posted to his facebook post-Brexit 'Nationalism teaches you to take pride in shit you've never done & hate people you've never met.' and there's not much more to it than that. I feel strongly though that nationalism being all around useless does not come in benign varieties as a result. I don't feel nationalist exercises in school can be defended by crying 'slippery slope' arguments.

The best argument for national pride curriculum is probably variety, as in it gives teachers an easy exercise in coming up with lesson plans in primary school etc. but that's not a strong argument, nor would its removal devastate uninspired teachers. The second best argument I can imagine is a vaccination/prisoners dilemma type argument - that is that we're acknowledging that nationalism is taught in other countries and this may result in some disadvantage when kids with no national pride go out into the world and are confronted with people with national pride. I'm not sure if that's even an argument, although there are circumstances where people with irrational beliefs can trump those with rational beliefs - like optimists are often bad at estimating actual odds which across populations (not necessarily individuals) can result in an advantage over a majority that actually estimates odds more accurately. But I'm not sure that would translate into any advantage with Nationalism, looking at the world mediascape, Nationalism appears to be a disadvantage.

I can't imagine an argument for nationalism that isn't the equivalent of a 'Yeah I won't turn my phone off I just won't look at it' argument, which is to say I'd be biased listening to a pro-nationalism (or patriotism or whatever other euphemism for nationalism) argument because I don't believe it to come from any other place but 'I don't want to believe my national pride is irrational.'

As for adding curriculum in? I'd like to see more soft skills or transferable skills - I feel everything in my own education overemphasised hard skills. Which isn't so bad, at some point one needs to acquire specialist knowledge. But specialist knowledge applies mostly to the specifics of a job, and I believe most jobs can generally afford to do the fine tuning on the job - with notable exceptions like medicine, but even surgery is study undertaken by working doctors post-graduate. More valuable pound-for-pound would be inculcating transferable skills like search skills - the ability to seek out and inform oneself - or critical thinking, logic, fallacies.

Most importantly, the ability to bet and gamble. Not mathematical probability (which does get covered) but the more generally applicable in life. Since publishing my previous post on Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares I've laid awake feeling I neglected to mention the major flaw of the show's format (particularly the US series) which is that it rewards negligence and incompetent owners - investing money in businesses unlikely to succeed and often faced with crippling debts. But such a show can serve a greater good in creating an educational research on how to detect fire from smoke. That's something every kid should learn - the ability to detect bullshit, to recognize woo woo.

I firmly believe the simplicity and value of educating people to recognize and categorize the major ways people avoid taking responsibility should be basic curriculum. Every last person society wide should be able to count off '1. Denial 2. Excuses 3. Blaming. 4. Deflection' so such behaviors are easy to call out and you create a culture of accountability. I can see parents growing uncomfortable that their headstrong teenagers can suddenly out manouvre them in arguments, that's a danger, but you could also teach kids the donning-kruger effect rather than preaching values of humility in religious instruction.

Speaking of which we live in an age where I believe there to be actual expertise on what contributes to quality of life, what doesn't and what detracts from it. For example, we know that increasing income hits a threshold after which it doesn't increase people's happiness and life satisfaction can actually decrease as income increases.

I believe educational institutions can teach values, and with more license than religious institutions. A lot of people feel squeemish about teaching values because it can seem like indoctrination. However it's already happening in the aforementioned nationalism - take the outrageous claim that Australian's believe in 'a fair go' not only is there contrary evidence available that we don't, whether it be in sporting scandels, economic policies or even immigration, but a belief in fairness is not unique to Australians. It's not like the people of Iran teach their kids that Iranians believe in 'getting yours at anyone's expense'. But a kid can grow up believing that their nationality has them being so fair minded, even when they aren't.

Dr Gordon Livingston wrote a book called 'How To Love' about values to avoid and those to seek out in partners. Indeed, who we partner with and how we partner with people probably has a bigger impact on quality of life than the careers we choose. To take it full circle to the 'eliminating advantage' my friend Sez once pointed out that as it stands, we basically rely on kids having not fucked up parents to model the skills of partner selection. Attachment theory bares that out.

That should be valued, in proportion to its ability to make citizens enjoy their sole shot at life. Warren Buffet in turn addressed a graduating class of MBAs and asked them to look around their class and ask who among their fellow graduates they would invest a 10% ownership stake in the future of, and furthermore who among them they would sell a 10% ownershup stake of their future (predicted) losses. He observed there that it was unlikely to be the students with the best grades - something that endears me to Buffet, as an investor particularly where his competition often confuse the map for the ground.

You could probably abolish grading, I might go too far their, but I wouldn't mind it if we basically forced the next stage institutions to simply go through the effort of interviewing candidates face to face. Both tertiary education institutions and employers. I personally feel from what I've observed that neither academic grades, resumes or references are reliable predictors of best candidates and that the face to face meeting is indispensable.

Malcolm Gladwell is obsessed with the problems of education and he and other thinkers all make better points and better arguments than I can. I've tried to touch on those and particularly the ones I don't hear enter the discussion as often.

I expect most educational reform will in practice address the over-inflated impact of technology and attempting to bridge a digital divide that actually probably works counter to our perceptions of it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

10 People You Should Stop Listening To!

I'm being facetious of course. I actually don't have a list of 10 people to stop listening to simply and this isn't a command imperitive 'stop listening' like an edict issued by a cult to stop associating with non-believers because I strongly believe there is nothing wrong with indulging in some morbid curiosity from time to time. If you have a memetic immunity strong enough you can listen to anything you like.

Of course 'memetic immunity' is a made up concept, and those who can recall that brief period of 30 years where 'memes' were a concept of Richard Dawkin's that basically meant thought-genes or reproducing ideas and not shitty jokes clogging up your feeds, you can probably piece together that a memetic immunity is the ability to resist certain ideas. And of course, you may dismiss such a concept as redundant given that people demonstrate a resilience to ideas all the time - a relatively well known concept called confirmation bias. But pause.

Take a breath.

And consider it might be valuable to have some resilience to ideas you want to believe are true, a resistance to your own confirmation bias - one such resistance is the empirical method a process that works against our assumptions as we try to disprove our hypothesis to advance our knowledge.

With all that preamble though, I'm basically saying here are some behaviors to be wary of, so lets start with the list populaters.

Fun fact, I don't know anything about Liza Koshy. But the internet is full of content organized into lists of 3, 5, 8, 10, 15 and multiples of 5 onwards. Conan has an irregular segment called 'Buzzfeed is running out of lists...' and for the very reason list populaters are problematic, clicking on that link may send you spiraling into distraction - though technically it isn't list based content.

There was a time way back that I can't be bothered digging up, where I myself was seduced by the idea of writing lists as blog posts - and wary of my nemesis' caution that nobody likes a meta-blog I'll keep it brief and just say that what is problematic about lists I learned is that they are lazy and mechanical.

The reason the internet swarms with '5 reasons to...' and '3 warning signs...' and '10 telltale signs...' headlines is because a list is an easy framework through which to generate content. Furthermore if I were to set you the assignment of writing an essay '3 reasons suicide squad sucked' and '10 reasons suicide squad sucked' you would probably not find the second essay 3x harder than the first. This indicates that the number of items on any given list is often arbitrary.

I've sat and looked at organisational strategic plans and realised that the 5 action items for the forthcoming year aren't there because they've been carefully selected as the optimal uses of limited resources - but because the planners managed to come up with 5 ideas.

From my own direct experience the number in the title of a post is going to be arrived at in 2 ways. The author a) writes the article/script then b) counts up the number of points they've made and then titles the post/video accordingly OR the author sets themselves an arbitrary goal of things to say about a given topic (assume 10) then attempts to write on that topic and starts a) struggling at a lower number or b) bloats out to a higher number, then they rename the post accordingly.

List-headlines suggest or imply some comprehensive checklist, particularly when it pertains to advice - but rarely is this the case, simply because so many of them come out they are anything but comprehensive well considered reductions of any particular issue down to its essential core-components. So I feel it healthy to be skeptical about content organised into lists even from reputable or more serious sites than those that publish videos involving the words 'guys' and 'girls'. For the same reason a lot of smart people are aware that the 24 hour news channels have resulted in lower quality journalism, Cracked.com publishing a new 5 reasons blah blah blah are secretly terrifying video 3 times a week is not the best dedication of your attention. (yet the same smart people seemingly can't break their addiction to news content).

I don't deal in certainties, and prefer heuristics and as such tempting though it is to bridge a small gap of boredom with some list based curiosity, I'm betting against the credibility of the author precisely because they are probably shitting out content for contents sake. Few list shitters then I suspect treat like a 'drawing a day' challenge of artist to build up the discipline of drawing daily, or to warm up before going onto a more serious piece or to develop new skills and competences but instead to build up followers and try and train an audience that you are a ready source of distraction.

Another far more speculative thing to be leery of with lists is that they are easy to digest. A concession perhaps as to the scarcity of attention. Instead of reading a rambling length of prose like this they are giving you individually wrapped slices of processed thought for you. Almost like someone is giving you a 30 second cram prep to make a speech. I don't know how true it is or if anyone's looked at this aspect but it perhaps contributes to the worldwide phenomena of conversations becoming far more homogenous, simply because the content is delivered in a way to discourage behavior like 'active listening' which I'm not good at but generally involves rephrasing what you've just been told by somebody and clarifying whether that is what they are saying. Why do that if you just have 5 reasons 9-11 was an inside job? You just have to remember 5 things and you can regurgitate the case right up for whoever is willing to listen.

I don't want to present no possible solutions, so here are some to plug the gap that list based articles may leave on your touchscreen phone as you sit on the can at work on an unofficial break - mindfulness of course eliminates the phenomena of boredom in your life and is kind of a blanket solution for all media-consumption related problems. If you can't be bothered meditating though what I much prefer doing is looking up a specific concept:
Notice how there's an actual exhaustive list for the subject you are interested in. Look for specific concept rather than distraction. You could also try looking up the etymology of words, that often works for me as an insightful distraction.

Anyway, although this isn't a formal list, someone else you should probably stop listening to is Jon Oliver. And of course Jon Oliver is a pariah in this sense because he simply sits atop the heirarchy of people characterized as 'progressive' 'social justice warriors' 'PC liberals' etc. Of these I like 'progressive' the best because it is the most descriptive of the behavior. And I should clarify, I am not a conservative myself. I most often agree with the positions Jon Oliver takes, what I disagree with is the effectiveness of his methodology albeit he's more effective than most of his progressive fans.

The reason I like progressive as the prefered term is because it intuitively captures the naivete of such arguments. Basically it goes like this 'the reason this is bad is simply because you don't know it is bad, I'm telling you it's bad so now you know - now if you keep doing the bad thing you are bad and unless you want to be bad you must not do the bad thing anymore in order to be good.' Which is embarrassingly naive and almost universally tempting.

While doctors often suffer from ignorance of the domain specific nature of their learnedness (they are I'm told, notoriously bad investors) one thing I'm sure many of them do learn in their rookie years is that problems are rarely solved simply through informing. Smokers are not ignorant of the health risks cigarettes pose, or the addictive nature of nicotene just as overweight patients are not ignorant that eating healthy and exercising will reduce a lot of their needs for medical attention. I doubt you would lack the experience of knowing not to procrastinate on an assignment or not to buy some piece of shit and then doing it anyway for emotional reasons.

These are all straightforward easy to understand examples when compared with the sort of things Jon Oliver advocates with righteous indignation. Transgender issues are quite complicated, often counter-intuitive and largely irrelevant to most people's lives. It's not to say that they should be ignored because that's precisely what allows minorities to be oppressed consistently over time, but nor should it be a crusade to punish anyone that caves to quite common emotions and intuitions on the subject - furthermore for all the digging I've done on gender (it is fascinating) where I stand is incredibly vague making it an easy example to identify and pick as problematic.

More problematic though, is that however comprehensive Oliver's research is Last Week Tonight is not so much a satirical news program as a news program. And it isn't so much a news program as an etiquette mill. What's an etiquette mill? It's a place that introduces etiquette to a mass - this is how to behave if you want membership to a group. I'm sure I've written on the distinction between etiquette and manners quite recently, but for self-containment I'll reiterate - manners are a community building set of behavior because they particularly focus on establishing behaviors regarding the treatment of strangers. Etiquette is a community dividing set of behaviors because they focus on identifying members of an in-group.

Last-week-tonight could be a really great program, it seemed to be initially given that it only came out once a week (a contrarian approach to the 24 hours newstainment channels) and that they seemed to deliberately avoid being topical - a newsprogram that was truly investigative and seemed to have as its mission finding stories that were important rather than simply recent. To a greater extent than not, this holds up. What to be wary of, and failing an ability to be guarded perhaps to simply avoid, is checking in with Jon Oliver because you think he is smart and to learn what smart people think because that is what you should think because you are smart and you certainly aren't dumb like all those dumb people who don't understand Trans-rights, net nuetrality, the Indian election, the infrastructure crisis, football stadium contracts, state lottery ad nauseum.

Be concerned if you want to be an elite thinker, rather than a mythical and actual elite - the people who somehow do have an impact on the world but don't agree with you for some reason we never really think about. I mean be empirical, Oliver isn't the only one, Colbert and Seth Myers invested many many hours, much more than Oliver into ridiculing Trump and also Brexit. Yet nothing about making sure their audiences understood just how wrong these things were allowed both President Trump or Brexit to be avoided. You could be forgiven for saying that Brexit empirically doesn't prove shit, because these are all American commentators that did most of their commenting after the fact. But post November 2nd you have to conclude that all the information you absorbed, all that knowledge didn't ripple out and stop what you knew to be wrong from winning out.

I've looked at this myself, and here's what I feel might be a good approach to enacting meaningful change - if 5 months ago someone simply asked me 'Trump or Clinton' and I said 'Clinton' I didn't need any more information from the media to know how I felt. But I did, I watched with voyeuristic glee monologue after monologue of the entertaining things Trump did every day. Which in hindsight tells me I wasn't getting armed and equipped with effective knowledge - know how that I could use to effect something somehow. I was hunkering down in a shelter and hoping the storm would blow over.

I find myself skewered by my own need for personal consistency - I can't hold my head in sympathetic embarrassment for all those certified fools known commonly as economists and financiers who couldn't admit that the GFC debunked neoclassical economics and gaussian based risk management, They are almost a decade on doing the same shit and teaching the same shit.

It isn't like progressives aren't informative. They are people with a hard on for the frontiers of knowledge. By keeping up to speed with the forefront of human thought they are emotionally invested in a simple recipe for navigating life, and frustrated by life's inability to conform with an assumed universally applicable informational advantage. Frustrated but seldom defeated.

Be mindful firstly that it's impossible to tell if you are incompetent. Mark Twain had this beautiful caution that reaches across a century now -  'The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.' So if you think you are smart pick an easy target for folly like a 9-11 truther or vaccine skeptic and consider that whatever fragments of information they find sufficient to convince themselves of their position in the face of contrary evidence suspect that you may too have been easily persuaded to take a stance on some/any topic that you actually know next to nothing about.

Then get empirical, as you applaud the Canadian Prime Minister for remarking that it's 2016 so equal cabinet positions for women, remind yourself that it is 2016 and their are people walking the earth who haven't foresaken hunter-gathering lifestyles yet (and are possibly/probably recruiting) It's 2016 and young people are discovering Led Zeppelin and Seinfeld every day, and Jesus' admonition to first remove the log from thine own eye is still up-to-the-second-relevant appreciate the irony of calling someone out for reducing gender to a binary when you yourself fail to recognize 'progress' as a spectrum.

So apart from accepting that informed etiquette doesn't work, what else to plug the Jon hole that remains? Finding an in group that appeals to your sense of alienation within your own community can be hard to go cold turkey on - may I suggest just watering your beverage of choice down? Seth Myer's closer look segment is more frequent and quite similar to Last Week Tonight in Sentiment but with less emphasis on finding neglected news stories. It does come with one advantage though - Seth himself is less charismatic than Jon and as such you are less likely to put a halo around him and second guess when he tells you how it is.

I also recommend looking for listeners as well. Much better to listen to a listener than a teller. Malcolm Gladwell is great, he feels passionate about his topics and has that rare ability to not be emotionally invested in any of the solutions or findings he has sought out. He's a genuinely curious person, his indignation seems sincere rather than a reliable comedy shtick to wack like Oliver's more righteous breed of indignation. Dave McCraney's podcast/blog series is great because it deals with bias' fallacies and irrationality - a perfect antidote for those frustrated by the limits of reason to reach emotional people.

Lastly, it almost goes without saying that you should stop listening to the news. And by news I'm tempted to say 'actual news' but it feels inappropriate. I was watching old footage of Jon Stewart appearing on something (not his own show) some years ago so I am not going to bother digging up the clip but he dropped a very curious but important concept in the interview. He mentioned that Fox News viewers were consistently found to be the most misinformed. It occured to me then and there that you can actually objectively measure a lot of the time - how informed or misinformed someone is.

Climate change makes for an easy example, because it is a hard science. That means indisputable facts are known - so you can just like administering a test on algebra - determine what someone knows and doesn't know. It would be tedious to constantly test the population in this way, but less so to actually objectively grade news sources on whether they are informative or anti-informative.

I myself was persuaded long before Jon Stewart, that one can actually increase they're level of informedness by reducing their intake of information. I was persuaded by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his 'narrative fallacy' is worth looking into. I was convinced though on the uselessness of news by reflecting on the most usefull piece of news I'd ever known to have been broadcast. It is documented in Eli Wiesal's autobiography 'Night' recounting his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

If ever there was news anyone could use, it was what Shlomo offered his fellow Jews one evening when he ran into town and informed them that German's were rounding up Jews, deporting them and killing them. And they ignored this most useful piece of news ever, and hence we have the book 'Night'. Which above and beyond having news services that deny the severity and origins of climate change, we need to keep stock that we aren't particularly good at hearing news we don't want to be true. So why then, devote so much time to watching the news and 'getting informed'?

It's really a mystery to me. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Emotional Investment

I'm of two minds bout watching stuff while I draw/am supposed to be drawing. On the one hand I know for a matter of fact that I draw better when not distracted by anything, (same goes for writing) but on the other I find I don't draw at all if I can't find something to persuade me to actually sit still that long.

This requires a carefully balanced solution - you want some background noise that is entertaining but not engrossing. Something formulaic and repetitive strikes a pretty good balance and hopefully in sufficient quantity that you don't have to emerge and search for other well-balanced solutions.

So lately my background entertainment has been Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares. Now I suspect it is a common inclination to poo-poo the show as pure theatre, and perhaps dismiss it's content for the reasons fairly accurately parodied here:

And I got to say, I came in with the Dale Carnegie critique of Ramsey's approach being mostly not helpful - namely kicking over the beehive to gather honey. I would hope it's a strong intuition that losing your shit with people is a good way to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

But here's the benefit of watching a formulaic show (especially once Kitchen Nightmares moved to the US) back to back to back to back to back to back. And the benefit is that patterns emerge. And I have to say, in the special circumstances of Kitchen Nightmares I'm coming around to Ramsey's kicking over the beehive.

Turns out there aren't too many different ways restaurants fail. It reminds me of Gabor Mate's correction of Tolstoy - namely that unhappy families are all alike, and not unique as Tolstoy claims in the opening of Anna Keranina. And again, as per Mitchell and Webb, there's shit that crops up regularly when Gordon Ramsey visits - The restaurant's menu is too long, the restaurant uses frozen bulk bought ingredients instead of fresh local produce etc. But what Mitchell and Webb couldn't capture as a common recurring theme was restaurant owners and/or head chefs emotionally invested in failing.

And Ramsey may be reputed for cussing like a sailor, but the words he really throws around liberally are 'you're in denial' and often, he is right.

Kitchen Nightmare's is a rich source of this common human failing. Just glancing back I see 'failing' repeated two times in the last three sentences, so let me get to the 'balls' of the matter as Ramsey would unironically diagnose. Basically whatever is running the business into the ground is always within the managements control, which means it is actually always the management that is running the business into the ground. Incompetence can come into play, which is what you would expect, except that from watching a bunch of episodes it is more than mere incompetence. Between the owner and the head chef (often the same person) one has an emotional investment in the way they are doing things, and the way they are doing things is failing but to admit this is not so simple because that is to accept the identity that they are a failure.

Thus often these wannabe's require intervention because they must be living in some state of cognitive dissonance. Understanding the realities of their business failing, but not able to recognize any opportunities to change anything without tacitly admitting to their own incompetence/stupidity etc. Even the most 'business minded' owners featured fail to be empirical about their own practice and they have no fucking passion for food. They have purchased a business that was successful or inherited it and then driven away it's customers and often simultaneously increased it's expenses and then enter the downward spiral.

I've been curious for a while now about why empirical thinking, despite it's track record is not actually commonplace but rare among the general population. Even among highly educated people. I myself am an over-educated underachiever, aware of concepts like emotional investment, rationalization, projection, group think, bystander effect etc. and I myself have spent years before I gathered enough data to realize pursuing a non-starter relationship was never going to go anywhere. The amount of people persisting in failing relationships, and crucially relationships failing due to fundamental mismatches, also stands testimony to emotional investment.

Emotional investment remains a mystery to me, so please lower expectations of any coherent exploration on the topic. Now fully disclaimed, I want to compare it to financial investment - a much easier concept to grasp. Being financially invested means that you've actually purchased with dollars some claim. A financial investment can generally be resold, which is to say you can convert your cash to an investment and then convert your investment back into cash. The trick is that the prices fluctuate on your capital, so for example you can invest $10,000 into a business and then a year later find that the sale price could be $20,000 (that's good) or $1,000 (that's bad) or hold steady with a 4% inflation $10,400 (that's actually breaking even).

But for all y'all that got your finance education from baby boomer parents urging you to save up for real estate, what makes something an 'investment' is not the resale value of your capital, but the income that capital generates. To be an investment something has to earn money aka pay dividends. And theoretically the sale price of your investment is meant to be based on that dividend payments - something that has not been true of house prices in the Australian Market for years.

Thus leaping back into emotional investments, the worth of an emotional investment must be based on some kind of emotional income - how you feel based on what you are emotionally invested in. What is troublesome is that there's no market for emotional investment. I can't do a stellar job of my lifelong values and then trade those values for some of the happiness of some incredibly happy person walking around, like I can with a financial investment.

There are a bunch of terms to describe the dividends of an emotional investment, economists tried 'utility' and even units of 'utils' which remains vague, other economists have used the term 'psychic income' and I myself just prefer the clinical psychologists' hueristic of asking yourself 'how does this make me feel?' because emotions probably need to remain unintelligible to preserve their value.

Here emotional investment gets really fuzzy for me, and its something I observe easier in anxious people around me (there's plenty, hopefully not because of me) is like there's one prickle or thorn between stepping from cold shadows into warm sunlight and choosing to stay in the cold rather than just stepping on that thorn to warmth and sunshine. And for some reason, brief sharp pain trumps constant misery.

So what's confusing is when emotional investment and financial investment intertwine - in finance circles there's the concept of 'escalation of commitment' captured in sayings like 'throwing good money after bad' and captured in behaviors by naive investors. I recall a PBS News Hour story about investor behavior that described common intuitions and emotional decision making. The investor holds (for simplicity) two shares, at the end of the year - one has doubled in value and the other is halved in value. Rationally speaking, the investor should sell the under-performing share and hold the performing share. But because selling a share that has dropped in value crystalizes the loss, it is an admission of failure which in turn makes the investor feel bad. So instead investors often do the opposite and sell the performing share to feel good and hang onto the dud share. Hoping it will turn around.

Which isn't the way to bet, and it was relatively recently pointed out to me - when discussing my trolling habit of changing my position mid-argument, that to some extent I at least hold a value of not being too emotionally invested in a position - to perhaps avoid the handicap of having my ego attached to my argument. That's pretty domain specific though - arguing politics, religion and other bullshit.

But most of us sooner defend our ego than our argument, above and beyond any rational limit as to how much we should care whether we are pro-small government or not. That's a common enough behavior I hope it speaks to your direct experience, that somewhere in our lives all of us have had that salient moment where we throw our hands up and ask why we care so much about the argument we've been having.

I observe a rarer behavior I simply label 'unacceptable solutions' and it's hard not to be judgmental in this regard because I haven't had a mirror crop up to let me see it in myself clearly. That absence of evidence though is not evidence of absence. So you may or may not have heard of the Norwegian Prison system, noted for it's humane treatment of prisoners to the extent that many hearing of the treatment have a visceral reaction to the notion that Norway sends its prisoners to a 5 star resort.

Yet Norway has one of the lowest rates of incarceration among its population, and a much lower rate of recidivism than nations where prison could be regarded as so truly unpleasant as to deter people from commiting crimes.

So it turns out that having prison loom large as a horrible place you never want to go works (or more accurately, doesn't work) much worse than having prison sit squarely as a healing institution where you have to go to get your life back together.

Looking at the numbers, the hard data every nation in the world should be embracing the Norwegian system and perhaps even religious institutions weighing up how much emphasis they give fire and brimstone. I hope there's a slow revolution taking place world wide to move towards the Norwegian philosophy but I imagine if you go poll the voting populaces of the world - whether it works or not the mere suggestion that you might improve the lives of someone anti-social is seen as rewarding bad behavior and thus an 'unacceptable solution'.

More broadly 'unacceptable solutions' are things that contradict people's views of how things should be. Emotional images of how management is done, or what marriage is all about, or how to raise your kids or even which smart phone is best. My marketing training taught me that you should never campaign against 'what everybody knows' eg. saying RCA are better than IBM but instead find your niche. But in marketing you don't have autonomy over what people think. In management and your personal lives you often do have autonomy - namely to make different decisions.

So in my life I've come across my share of managers that 'know' as 'everybody knows' that management consists of spending no money, driving your staff hard and charging as much as possible. I've reduced their beliefs into their essence to illustrate how easily modest versions of these beliefs can become a disaster cocktail when stacked together and repeated. I also see people invested in the belief that the higher up an organisational chart a person is, the smarter they must be and hence who talks and who listens must always go in the same direction.

These beliefs can sweep aside a lot of empirical evidence to support business practices like 'value for money' 'team morale' 'low turnover' 'quantity' 'quality' 'customer relations' etc.

Here emotional investment can leave someone playing a role rather than being a person. Acting out the image you wish were true, and your emotions can then make a puppet of yourself. Here Ramsey's show is a goldmine for observing the behaviors spawned by emotional investment.

It bears some resemblance to rationalization, which as I was taught it - in terms of a process - is solving problems by starting with the solution you want and then working backwards. In the nightmare kitchen's though, it's more a negative screening process of rationalization, it's eliminating the problems you don't want to be true and then working backwards to generate solutions for problems you can handle.

Ramsey talks about denial a lot, but all the means of avoiding responsibility are aften paraded out - so denial may be 'our food is good' and excuses are 'the people around here don't like [insert cuisine] food, they aren't educated' to blaming 'my staff are lazy' and even diversion/telling a story crops up from time to time 'let me tell you about my farm project'. You get a Jungian stable of archetypal behavior as a result - you can't admit your food sucks so it must be that you aren't cooking the right dishes and the menus get too long. You can't admit you don't know what you're doing so you fire the staff or hamstring the staff that do. Or you ignore all criticism and then cut costs as the business shrinks claiming ignorance of where you are going wrong.

In this regard, people seem as prone to throwing good emotions after bad as they are doing the equivalent with money. The show highlights how easily with something like a restaurant you can set yourself into a spiral of self destruction all because you can't step on that one thorn to correct the course at the soonest opportunity.

What's to take away from all this cognition aside from an awareness of emotional investment as a problem? Let's look to critics of Ramsey and the naive dismissal of the show.

And the show is theater - particularly once it migrated to the US, involving makeovers and surprise new head-chefs and other stunts that make it feel more a game show than documentary. But the criticism is usually that walking into a place and telling people how fucking shit they are at everything disagrees with our intuition (dare I say, emotional investment) that speaking calmly and reasonably is more productive.

The thing is, people that are doing what they do for emotional reasons cannot be reasoned with. There probably are more diplomatic ways to work past that emotional guard and get people feeling vulnerable enough to accept change, but historically speaking - and across disciplines - battering down a defense with overwhelming force is also a legitimate tactic for achieving the same objective. Rest assured, I would caution people against attempting Ramsey style language with their boss, and generally speaking it is not a good idea to ever try and manage your boss. It works for Ramsey because he has both leverage and authority though it can get ludicrous how often a completely untrained chef will dismiss Ramsey as not knowing what he's talking about.

I can't believe how passionate I feel about defending a reality show hosted by Gordon Ramsey, and Gordon Ramsey himself. I mean you can google the success rate of the show. It appears to stand at 30% of the Kitchen Nightmares remained open as at 2012 - seemingly a not impressive result. In a 10 episode season, only 3 of those businesses got turned around by the Ramsey method.

Except we aren't talking about 10 restaurants Gordon Ramsey opened, picking location, menu, staff, decor, promotion etc. but businesses on the brink of failure with poor relationships and existing staff, contracts, leases and reputations. He has a week to run an intervention (although somewhat ironically the reality show 'intervention' has a 55% success rate as of September 2015 which is amazing when you talk about addiction).

And so the point is you really have to look at those numbers. The first thing being that these are restaurants. With a substance abuse problem - sobriety results in less work and more free resources than having to hussle to feed your addiction. So you have to discount the closures for natural attrition, and furthermore I'd even argue that you would expect many of the restaurateurs to actually offload their miserable business as soon as they got the reputation back up to having some resale value - which is to say some of the closures may have actually been successful extractions allowing people to actually retire or return to previous professions without being financially ruined by creditors.

The other big thing being that past performance is the best indicator of future performance. Thus the default expectation is that most of these restaurants would revert back to their failed states the next time the owners are faced with replacing key staff or perhaps a menu change. So by default you would expect a business that was failing to close, and thus 30% staying open is pretty phenomenal.

The big irony is, that our belief that people are rational and can be reasoned with is in itself a position that we are emotionally invested in, and ignore a lot of evidence to the contrary. If you are the kind of person that reads blog posts, semi-coherant blog posts right to the end, you may be afflicted with these emotions holding you back in life.

You may engage in arguments online about double standards with people who don't believe they exist and wonder how they can be so blind. You may wonder why the boss implemented the workers suggestion then actively sabotaged it, then concluded that they'd tried what was suggested and it didn't work. You may not want to try the Gordon Ramsey method, but perhaps it is worth suggesting that in the face of very stubborn and stalwart emotions, you might want to try something other than reason.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Court of Versailles

Pronounced 'Ver-psy' I believe.

Anyway, as New America recovers from the shock of discovering that their long neglected and ignored parents-Old America have decided to disinherit them and will their estate to a charismatic TV evangelist, I would like to say that for the record - I like every other tertiary educated Caucasian in the world was hoping for and expecting a Hillary win.

The corpse of the election will be picked over and it will be sorely tempting to commit a narrative fallacy where Trump's election seemed inevitable.

But fuck that noise, I want to keep it positive - and thus I wish to express some predictions and focus on one thing I have been looking forward to for 8 and a bit years. Because I expect the next 4 years to be a Bush presidency+. Under psychology 101 - the best predictor of future behavior is past relevant behavior and thus Trump is not going to be a great president even and (like Bush) especially, for his core voter base.

But what he isn't is an intellectual, which President Obama is. And I look forward to intellectualism going out of style, because it has made the last 8 years pretty painful for me, more painful than the preceding 8 of Bush where the zeitgeist was flavored by emboldened ignorance.

In terms of literal styles, I anticipate that an American Psycho-80s Business dress sense will be resurgent but I care less about material fashion than behavioral ones. And if you are already dizzy, what I'm alluding to is that who is President effects fashion trends and has been doing so since the House of Bourbon moved their summer court to Versailles. I mean the thought of red-neck racists being emboldened to spew hateful speech with abandon worries you, appreciate that Obama probably emboldened a bunch of psuedo-intellectuals to destroy people's lives with hateful internet based shaming casting people who were ignorant as willfully malicious.

The tendency for leader's behavioral styles to influence behavioral fashion trends was first expressed to me in a passage from Frank Herbert somewhere in his Dune novels. I don't have any copies on hand to find the exact quote, I suspect it was in the second book 'God-Emperor of Dune' where at the beginning of a chapter there's a note about how on the ascension of Paul Atredes to Emperor resulted in his fremen still-suits influencing an overall conservative trend in the fashions of the upper class.

To be honest, I was more curious about what effect Hillary would have had on global trends - could it possibly have removed the fucking neck-tie? itself a result of the Napoleonic court who was so appreciative of Croatian soldiers performance in battle he invited them to banquet and the neck tie caught on with the Parisian fashion crowd and now most white collar working males have to wear this expensive and useless piece of shit 5 days a week.

And I digress, because my consolation prize is that intellectualism will almost certainly go out of style... I mean to the extent that it has been an amplified main-stream phenomena, I suspect attempts to appear more intelligent than you actually are are as likely to vanish completely as attempts to be more beautiful than you actually are is ever likely to. Being perceived as beautiful and/or intelligent get you something in our society.

And I am not so physically beautiful as to be able to testify as to whether there is a behavioral phenomena of people aspiring to beauty - those that invest time, energy and money into their physical appearance in order to try and 'jump rank' - tend to sidle up to those who are beautiful by popular acclaim hoping to get some kind of validation that their efforts are paying off.

But I have for most of my life, been perceived as intelligent - even though 'intelligence' itself is a vague and fuzzy concept that I don't understand - and also despite me having little to show for the intelligence I'm often labelled with. I can definitely testify that there is a phenomena of the intellectually aspirant to sidle up to me and try and impress me or connect or bond in some way so as to validate their efforts.

Ironically, the smart thing to do if you want to look smart is avoid the company of intellectuals like the plague. Another great tip if you don't feel intelligent, but value intelligence comes from Mark Twain 'better to have everyone think you a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.' It takes discipline but being coyly silent is much more likely to win you an argument than engaging in an argument.

And I'll admit, in new situations there is some conscious part of me that likes to impress upon others my relative intellect. But this to me should be like silver back gorillas posturing to impress upon others that they are the dominant male, flexing my grey muscle, is more of a testosterone driven ego trip for me because as mentioned, being perceived as intelligent gets you things - for one thing you can wear shorts every day and get treated with the respect normally afforded to people who wear pants.

What's weird is that gorillas get tiny testicles because their posturing works to drive other male competitors away, I'm perplexed as to why demonstrating what intellect I have often attracts people to come try and flex their grey muscle at me.

And the last 8 years have been painful for this, and I blame Obama. People conflating 'knowledge' with 'intelligence' and thus trying to read their way into geniushood, adopting affectations of intellectualism - like complexity, big words, overvaluing the inaccessible, obsessively keeping up to date with current affairs and watching TED talks...

Of course, the trouble with talking about how frustrating it is to see people trying to affect intelligence is the slippery nature of intelligence itself. It's impossible to perceive how intelligent you aren't, because it takes intelligence to recognise and evaluate intelligence. Regarding my own intelligence - I feel intelligent, but I'm skeptical that I'm an intellectual though. For example, I imagine if Noam Chomsky were to read this or any other blog post I'd written he'd be thoroughly unimpressed. Other clues I have are how long and verbose my posts are - I am not capable of writing like Orwell or Lincoln, which is to say, succinctly and in plain language, and most importantly evoking strong emotions.

And lest reading this feels like I'm taking a shit on you, I do know a lot of smart people. The trouble is that Obama's impact on the zeitgeist is that being smart got overvalued. People felt inadequately smart and sadly, often they were right. I used to play this quick and dirty intelligence test that was fairly reliable - it went 'Would you rather be not-quite-smart-enough OR dumb enough?' results conformed to my expectations to a surprising degree.

Most smart people I know though, struggle to be empirical and in that way should not be casting any stones at Trump voters. I know very few people who have employed their intellectual capacities to realise that pound-for-pound charisma gets you far more than intelligence does and I predict this revelation to remain elusive to my smart friends even in the face of a Trump Administration.

The election map was a good example of educating yourself into stupidity. You could see the brain drain of educated people moving to urban centers that reinforced their extant beliefs and also put their voting power into electorates where it didn't count for much. We also live in a media environment that had them looking through a prism of treating whether Ghostbusters can be female and Star Wars having Asians seemed important issues to devote energy to. Being on the one hand sensitive to small numbers of people with seemingly ever increasingly rarefied (but oppressed) identities took all the psychic energy away from considering large numbers of unexciting and un-glamorous people economically devastated (mostly by the candidates they are prone to elect, with no change expected) and isolated by structural unemployment (a historical non-investment in skilling up and retraining factory/rural workers with transferable job skills).

Trump is going to be painful, but hopefully both rapid and aggressive because the key resource that needs conservation is time. Before most of the votes were tallied I was already cringing at analysis talking about the surprise turn up of 'rural uneducated voters' which can lead 'educated' voters to think these people need protecting from themselves, or perhaps they need 'educating' aka being told by people they can't relate to how wrong they are.

And with that, I hope you can relate to me enough that some of these words sink in, and you can perhaps rest easy today about reading up on the most sophisticated analysis of what happened, given that it wont make you feel any more potent than how impotent you've been feeling the last 24 hours. You can maybe even skip attempting to recreate that analysis as your own wise opinion in a facebook status update, thus schooling your friends in just how schooled you are. Or whatever go for it, you got a few more weeks of Obama, intellectualism isn't so 2016 just yet.

Monday, November 07, 2016


Gonna try and experiment with keeping it brief today, which basically means it'll probably be a longer read than normal - as I don't have time to write a post, delete it once my thoughts are gathered, write it again - remember what was the interesting thing I thought I wanted to get down, then delete it again then write another lengthy post and decide I've spent enough time and it goes up.

So getting tired of post-apocalyptic zombie-apocalypse genres. Or are we? Do they tap into something all-too-human that means we can basically consume it endlessly like pornography? I think maybe so, and I think that thing is some kind of network-theory grounded fantasy.

What do I mean by that? Well one thing I will concede from direct experience as true for artists - is the ability to move freely and vertically through society - not in the sense that it is easy to move from poverty to wealth in the social mobility sense, but that an artist kind of has a backstage pass to anywhere - which lest I sidetrack too far, I have not yet had the opportunity to go to court.

But a martial artist did in the form of Yagyu Munenori and he managed to strike another savage blow for practitioners over academics - so I'll let him explain network theory some 400 years before Kevin Bacon cured cancer - "There are only a few people close to a ruler, perhaps five or ten. The majority of people are remote from rulers. When many people resent their ruler, they will express their feelings. Now, when those close to the ruler have all along been after their own interests, and not in consideration of the ruler, and therefore serve in such a way that people resent the ruler, when the time comes, those close to the ruler will be the first to set upon him."

There's some solid cautionary advice in there, but the real insight is that the social brain has not evolved much in 400 years and you'd probably be no more capable of being influential in the world travelling back in time as you and I are now. But this guy managed to observe that no mater how large your fiefdom, your territories, your barracks of loyal retainers - we only really spend time with around 5-10 people. I believe modern day scientists have bumped that estimate up to about 30 people, and that the max number of social contacts our minds can handle maintaining is about 150 people. Dave Mcraney on his You Are Not So Smart points again that the army - the bastion of practice over academia - was way ahead of this with Romans breaking up their army into an organisational system that basically compensates for the limits of our social brains.

The point being that Yagyu's advice was probably welcome to the lords that read it because there's something quite depersonalizing in the experience of being told you are the head of an army of 10,000 that reigns over 200,000 civilians and yet you count up the people you know and it's around 30. We all live this depersonalizing experience any time you look at your friend-count on facebook. I have 699 friends - if I had to take a pop-quiz on naming 699 people that I'm friends with I couldn't even comprehend and once or twice in the past I've gone through that list and it feels like some kind of magic trick to realize I can recall each and every one of those people.

Fact is we live in both large cities and small villages - with the possible exception of you living in a city. My city is 4 million people, you know how many I would miss? Probably less than 699 to be perfectly honest.

So if some disease ravaged it and I found myself protagonist of a pretty saturated genre, I'd suddenly be living something much more reflective of my every day emotional reality. Me interacting in some combination of the 15-30 people I do that satisfies my emotional needs, and they rest being shambolic people that are dead to me and little more than a shambling possible threat.

And when I think about it, Zombocalypse films tend to be about as plotless as porno's. Even the movies tend to be episodic, at best structured around the central characters falling in love and paring up and contemplating bringing children into an uncertain world...

The Zombie genre appeals to our desire for connection and community, exploiting the scarcity-abundance relationship - which is to say if you have an abundance of one thing it naturally will create a scarcity of whatever that abundance consumes. The internet created an abundance of information/entertainment and has resulted in a scarcity of attention for example.

In this case though, a scarcity of economic agents creates an abundance in resources. The zombie-fantasy is one in which you can achieve a sense of community given that you and yours now have an abundance of time and material resources and don't need to service the economy.

Except that they have that sense of drama - there hasn't been that clever indie film yet about being left behind in the rapture only to realise that earth is paradise with a bunch of people gone and perhaps the chosen are the ones left behind? Except maybe that exists, because clever or not I probably wouldn't see it anyway.

No though, it isn't just adam and steve wandering through the worldwide garden of eden. Fetching canned goods has to come with some dramatic sense of peril - the zombies that simply want to consume us - a simplification of the economic non-community role in our lives. Something that isolates us emotionally, drains us of personality and has us singularly minded with trying to consume others to feed ourselves.

Thus, Zombie-apocalypse movies are really a 'slice of life' genre about everyday people trying to live despite the pressures of the economy forcing them to merely survive. Less fantasy than 'reality tv' and I suspect I like... neither genre. Though without porn I'll probably be watching more Zombie shit in the future.


Wednesday, November 02, 2016


You'd probably be surprised at how much you could accomplish today if you just drew on your Goodwill. Now, today's my day off and I'm just doing a few sketch studies of bats, but I imagine that if I leaned on the goodwill of my social network I could probably borrow about $3k without even touching a financial institution. That's right, ambiguous due dates, 0 interest a bunch of calls/emails asking people for the max amount of money that doesn't bring about hesitation over my ability to pay...

And see, what I'm describing already sounds sinister, and chances are contemplating how much money you could borrow from friends and loved ones before you disappear might be an interesting thought experiment - unless you've ever had a substance abuse problem and actually lived that thought experiment or alternately if you've ever lent money to somebody with a substance abuse problem or even just no ability to manage finances.

I haven't really, and one of my most dubious achievements of recent years was getting repaid a loan of cash from someone notorious for bad debts. Even so, the experience of lending that friend money generated badwill, apparently not even a word - yet I'm sure an accountant could put a dollar value on badwill and include it as a liability line item on the balance sheet.

Because if I can achieve $3k in loans today, I'm sure I can't do that tomorrow, I might over the course of a month be able to double that figure but the fact is I'm going to exhaust my social contacts and furthermore the further I stray from people with whom I hold the most goodwill the smaller the amounts I can ask for. It's simply not sustainable, I can't fleece my income off my friends just yet.

At which point I invoke an apparent 40% rule, that I heard about 3rd hand from a Big Think video who came across a former navy seal during an ultra-marathon. Allegedly, the Navy Seals have this rule that when our minds think our bodies are at their limit, we are usually actually only at about 40% of true physical exhaustion. They train their minds to dig deeper and go farther, something somewhat repeated by Australian Sports Institute Science-type-guys in the ABC somewhat second rate program 'redesign my brain' (the creativity episodes are truly not worth watching).

I thought about this a lot between the 30-40k mark of my marathon (the last 2km are okay) I ran a comfortable marathon this year but that 10k stretch was still fucking unpleasant. I have no idea how to dig deeper, but I imagine in principle it translates to exhausting the good will of your social capital. So while I assume I'm tapped out at $6k that could be just 40% of the actual value of my goodwill if I really dug deep and put my mind to it. Now I was never good at dividing numbers by percentages but if my shoddy maths is right, the 40% rule would mean that I could somehow borrow $15k from family and loved ones, probably not today but that's 3 times better than the gross revenue of my best art exhibition.

I'm never going to do this, but I might experiment with trying the 40% rule on deciding when one of my art pieces is finished. I don't believe the rule to be useless.

But even keeping it in the physical dimension, I believe it important to understand why such a thing would exist - physiologically. This rule wasn't invented but discovered, because it's how we've evolved and I think business and even individuals could learn a lot just by thinking about it.

So last year the marathon was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life - I went out way too hard, ran the best half marathon of my life followed by the worst half marathon of my life and would have dropped out at 34km had there not been a t-shirt at stake for finishing it. Suppose that complete utter defeat was actually only 40% of what I was capable of pushing my body through though? I could barely walk the next week, and by that I mean the whole of the next week at 40%. The cost in recovery time for doing 60% more than that must be immense. My body is not capable of pulling out a sub-3 hour marathon every day.

I'm sure because you're a clever biscuit the moment I suggested thinking about why we evolved the 40% rule was that it's not healthy to operate at the limits of your physical potential on a regular basis. It may be useful if you're a navy seal to train their brain to push past exhaustion points and maybe an elite professional athlete, but it's not a skill you would want for living day-to-day lifestyles. I'm not sure if it's easier or not to understand that we shouldn't live our day-to-day at the thresholds of our financial credit either.

I don't know much medicine, much biology but I assume that the kind of things our body can produce like adrenaline and lactic acid can help us perform certain tasks but also take their toll. So the good shit can easily transform into toxic shit, and in the same way goodwill is more likely to translate into badwill sooner than simply move to neutral.

And rather than talk about squeezing shit to it's absolute limits, lets talk about that transformation happening simply by creeping in slowly.

When I was a teenager I read a book called 'how to become CEO' I liked it so I picked up the author's other title 'How to become Rainmaker' a perhaps culturally insensitive Americanism for top performing sales person. There's only three really tangible lessons I recall from that book but I'm not an exceptional salesrep anyways. Of those only one is pertinent and that was 'make one more call'

It ran some numbers about how staying back an extra ten minutes and making one more sales call a shift resulted in x number of extra conversions a week meaning y number of extra dollars a year and some such. But really it's just the familiar 'digging deeper' thing. And it may work for a plucky ambitious young sales rep to impose on themselves.

The real reduction of this post on badwill is when you step it up to managing a team of sales reps. Initiative is all well and good, but if your job is assessed not on the sales you make but the sales of the team of sales reps you supervise, how do you apply a lesson like 'make one more call'?

You could impose it, and if not explicitly then perhaps tacitly - by applying pressure. Particularly if your sales team is paid on a casual basis and has no real job security. You probably can't make them stay back late, (unless you draw on the good-will of your team) or you could try to motivate them and keep them out of their comfort zone.

For example, say that making 1 sale an hour is average for your team and 2 per hour is a good night. You as manager could ratchet the expectations up to 2, so that your sales team no longer feels like they are on task with 1 sale an hour and chuffed with 2, but have them get the same psychic return for actually performing exceptionally.

And it can work, suddenly your reps don't breath easy if they luck out and get the first sale of the night quickly - they need to chase the next one the moment they hang up on that first one - because they now only have 50 minutes to do what they had an hour to accomplish on the old rates.

Of course, somebody in accounts figured out that your contract has you making a profit with 1 sale an hour, and probably break-even is actually down at 0.3 or something - necessary to actually keep the business reasonably viable. But not you, you drive your team hard. Some thrive under the pressure, other's crash and burn. And by thrive I mean your top performers don't notice a difference, except that they probably feel their performance is closer to the average now and less job security.

Thrilled with your success you ratchet the strategy up for the next quarter - there's talk of you being in line for a promotion. 2 per goes to 2.25 per hour - or perhaps 2.5 per hour.

And therein you are inspired by the teams innovations and creativity as they start looking over their shoulder and imitating the successful sales reps techniques to try and keep their jobs, or perhaps (since the rates don't reflect what the company can afford) just to keep their mental health in check.

Except they start cutting corners, being deliberately ambiguous in their pitches or even borderline misrepresenting themselves. They start using 'foot in door' techniques like asking people for 30 seconds for a quick chat (you have probably experienced this penalty for stopping to talk to a street charity rep) your reps start drawing down the societal goodwill of how we tacitly agree to treat strangers.

In fact, charity-muggers are a great example - as a phenomena they have retrained pedestrian society to avoid eye contact from smiling strangers and to ignore a handshake. I don't have access to the books of Telemarketers and Charity-muggers and every other badwill generating business, but I would bet what little I have is that they would support a business model that is essentially 'how much goodwill can we lean on today' and while sales companies are using a sort of 'goodwill of the commons' I can't conceive from what I've read how the fundraising strategy of street intercepts by high-turnover backpackers can cover the costs of the strategy and not damage the branding of the charities they represent.

What I do notice is that many of the first charities to adopt charity mugging like Amnesty international no longer do it.

I digress though, what I'm really talking about is sustainability vs growth at heart. Badwill is generated by short term thinking, growth for growths sake. I suspect such management strategies survive because most of us balk at exerting more energy at 40% of our capacity. Something in biology makes us prone to sustainable thinking.

Most of us for example have enough mathematical intuition to imagine that we cannot sustain doubling our productivity every day. (Though in my teen years, few enough of my friends realised that passing on chain-emails that claimed if you do not forward this to 20 people you will die or what not - should have witnessed the mass extinction of the human race by the time they recieve the email let alone forward it.) Maybe not enough of us realise we can't sustain doubling our productivity every year. The biggest gains come from moving from incompetence to mere-competence, returns diminish from that point.

Many of us live in business environments where we perhaps do not appreciate that the superstars of our office are often simply competent people. The status quo is wasteful. Even in a telemarketing job, the hypothetical one I designed, the status quo might be close to one sale every 3 hours despite the expected rates, and the star performers really average out to 1 an hour, they are just quiet about their off nights and loud about their hot streaks.

And the manager that gets the team to dig deeper, make that extra call? Incompetent, patting their own back for driving the sales rates up. This is bad writing but if they inspired the same levels of creativity running a restaurant, it would result in cooking cheaper meals with less staff and selling them at higher prices. Except in a restaurant the owner might stand a chance of walking in and seeing the ripped off and pissed off diners leaving the business with a sour look on their face.

In my experience no call center higher-ups ever look beyond the numbers, they don't call up someone who agreed to a sale and ask them 'did our representative properly identify themselves? Did the call take as long as they indicated? Were you aware it was a sales call in nature? etc.'

Strangely, the most recent time a charity mugger spoke to me, was while I was sitting in a public square sketching. I was semi-captive audience and she did the spiel and I tried to convey as honestly as possible that I didn't care. I actually recognised most of the sales techniques she used, they have names even though I'm sure most occur intuitively to people who try selling enough.

She embarked on attempting to make the sale (which is to say, commit to tithing my wages to a charity via direct debit) by saying she wanted my details for the purpose of her employers calling me to ask if she was professional and what not.

The one flaw in the system of collecting feedback, was that once I made it clear that I would not be donating any money, she crossed out the form and my details and chucked it.

These two industries are obvious examples of industries generating badwill, but I'm sure badwill is ubiquitous in a society that is consumed with doing more. My feeling is that at some point in the past 16 years the allegory (?) closest to most people's hearts is that of the two friends running from a bear, where one friend realises that they can't possibly outrun the bear and makes this point to their companion and the companion says 'I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.'

When I think about it, I can't recall the context in which I first heard that allegory, I imagine it was a business context - but I'm not sure what the point of it is.

Because it's real subtext is to think of life as a survival game (which it is) but also a zero-sum game (which it isn't) and furthermore that the concept of success is engulfed by survival.

But when I think about the economy, it is kind of now this bear that needs to be fed. Reluctance to address systemic problems like climate change, diabetes etc. because those systems feed the economy. Successful industries are simply outrunning those their industry effects, polluters outrunning polynesians and coastal settlements, food manufacturers outrunning the people they feed. Sales companies outrunning their customers, sales managers outrunning their sales reps and so on.

In practice though, few of our transactions are life and death on the individual basis. I don't know what anyone else's life is like, but every day I see a fellow human being trying to outrun me so I'll be fed to the bear. It's nothing personal but I still think fuck you, especially when sprinting that hard isn't necessary for anyone's survival.

It's badwill.