On socialism and sex

For all the crushing repression under a political system like that of the former East Germany, women in those countries enjoyed certain freedoms, both material and existential, that were and remain largely unavailable, or even unimaginable, to women in liberal democracies.

Because men in the East could not depend upon wealth or economic success to win over a mate, they had to rely upon other attributes, including, Ghodsee argues, a greater sensitivity to the needs of women.

Why time management is ruining our lives

Personal productivity presents itself as an antidote to busyness when it might better be understood as yet another form of busyness. And as such, it serves the same psychological role that busyness has always served: to keep us sufficiently distracted that we don’t have to ask ourselves potentially terrifying questions about how we are spending our days

Then there’s the matter of self-consciousness: virtually every time management expert’s first piece of advice is to keep a detailed log of your time use, but doing so just heightens your awareness of the minutes ticking by, then lost for ever. As for focusing on your long-term goals: the more you do that, the more of your daily life you spend feeling vaguely despondent that you have not yet achieved them. Should you manage to achieve one, the satisfaction is strikingly brief – then it’s time to set a new long-term goal. The supposed cure just makes the problem worse.

As the doctrine of efficiency grew entrenched – as the ethos of the market spread to more and more aspects of society, and life became more individualistic – we internalised it. In Taylor’s day, efficiency had been primarily a way to persuade (or bully) other people to do more work in the same amount of time; now it is a regimen that we impose on ourselves.

The cult of productivity masks a more fundamental problem: that we are becoming more unwilling and more unable to ask hard questions about why we’re here, and what we’re going to do with the brief time allotted to us.

Your brain doesn’t contain memories. It is memories.

Human memories—even the most precious—begin at a very granular scale. Your mother’s face began as a barrage of photons on your retina, which sent a signal to your visual cortex. You hear her voice, and your auditory cortex transforms the sound waves into electrical signals. Hormones layer the experience with with context—this person makes you feel good. These and a virtually infinite number of other inputs cascade across your brain. Kukushkin says your neurons, their attendant molecules, and resultant synapses encode all these related perturbations in terms of the relative time they occurred. More, they package the whole experience within a so-called time window.

But it would be a mistake to believe that those molecules, or even the synapses they control, are memories. “When you dig into molecules, and the states of ion channels, enzymes, transcription programs, cells, synapses, and whole networks of neurons, you come to realize that there is no one place in the brain where memories are stored,” says Kukushkin. This is because of a property called plasticity, the feature of neurons that memorize. The memory is the system itself.

The Rise and Demise of RSS

Though of course some people really do still rely on RSS readers, stubbornly adding an RSS feed to your blog, even in 2019, is a political statement. That little tangerine bubble has become a wistful symbol of defiance against a centralized web increasingly controlled by a handful of corporations, a web that hardly resembles the syndicated web of Werbach’s imagining.

So if we are asking ourselves why RSS is no longer popular, a good first-order explanation is that social networks supplanted it. If we ask ourselves why social networks were able to supplant it, then the answer may be that the people trying to make RSS succeed faced a problem much harder than, say, building Facebook. As Dornfest wrote to the Syndication mailing list at one point, “currently it’s the politics far more than the serialization that’s far from simple.”

Motherboard has an excellent history of RSS, and the drama that unfolded as its creators fought for the right to define the protocol and map out its future.

Has any of us wept?

It is a landscape often written off as a “wasteland” that is inherently “hostile”—without recognition that it has, in fact, been made to be hostile. Violence does not grow organically in our deserts or at our borders. It has arrived there through policy.

Meissner’s damning admission—that the loss of hundreds of lives on America’s doorstep each year was not enough to cause the government to reevaluate its policy—reveals the extent to which the desert has been weaponized against migrants, and lays bare the fact that the hundreds who continue to die there every year are losing their lives by design.

When the Border Patrol demands recognition for saving lives, it’s as if firefighters were asking to be thanked for putting out a blaze started by their own chief. To characterize the Border Patrol as a rescue operation is to gloss over a pervasive culture of callousness and destruction: while I indeed worked alongside some deeply compassionate and honorable agents, I also witnessed coworkers scatter migrant groups in remote areas and destroy their water supplies, knowing they’d never be held to account.

If our understanding of violence and death along the border can become something visceral, then we may begin to feel, deep within ourselves, no matter how far we live from the border, that what happens there is profoundly unnatural. By collapsing the distance that separates us from the border, we might push back against the idea of its inherent violence, against the unceasing negation of its culture and people, against its continual transformation into a hellscape designed to repel migrants.

The real roots of American rage

When we scrutinize the sources of our anger, we should see clearly that our rage is often being stoked not for our benefit but for someone else’s. If we can stop and see the anger merchants’ self-serving motives, we can perhaps start to loosen their grip on us.

Though anger and the desire for revenge can feel intertwined, they are two distinct emotions. Simply becoming angry doesn’t prompt a revenge impulse.

Anger, Averill concluded, is one of the densest forms of communication. It conveys more information, more quickly, than almost any other type of emotion. And it does an excellent job of forcing us to listen to and confront problems we might otherwise avoid.

Charles Duhigg on the boiling cauldron of anger that, once it began to overflow, led to the current political and social landscape.

Misogyny runs deep in monotheism

However radical the changes that Jesus and his disciples made to Old Testament theology, they did little to modify or improve the patriarchs’ most neurotic anxieties and destructive biases against women.

The Taliban’s demonic and demonizing attitude toward women represents merely the most current extreme manifestation of the grotesque misogyny fostered throughout history by religion and patriarchal tribal culture.

What man wouldn’t have more confidence moving through the world with a submissive wife or wives shuffling like ducklings behind him? Conversely, any indication that the woman is catching up to walk alongside or, worse yet, ahead, inspires even in decent men a frenzy of maddened, injurious activity, as if one’s own masculinity and the fragile social structure that masculinity has created will survive or shatter depending on whether or not a man continues to win that race. Such fears must feed the perpetual worry that one is sharing his bed with an enemy, an inferior, a repellent but necessary specimen of an alien species. And how useful religion is in helping us sort all that out!

Kill a man, and you are an assassin. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill everyone, and you are a god.
—Jean Rostand, 1939

A turning point for the war for attention

I think there is precious little that is new under the sun, judging, just for instance, by how much of one’s modern self can be found in Plato, Ecclesiastes, or the caves at Lascaux. We’re sitting here, in these humming, combusting wonders of modern tech, scrolling like trapped, clawing cats at the stifling silence that humans have been fighting for centuries. Blaise Pascal said in the seventeenth century that most of the world’s problems were due to man’s inability to sit quietly in a room. The fourth-century monk Evagrius Ponticus, and many monks beside him, spoke of a vice called acedia, a wanton restlessness, a quiet gripping terror that this place, this self, are bad, and better things are waiting elsewhere, available but ungrasped. So we dash around in our minds, and touch them in any way we can. Ponticus writes: “The demon of acedia — also called the noonday demon — is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all…. He makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and…. he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself.”

A happy self might be able to get by on the scenery outside the window. A sad, restless self needs stronger medicine, and will dash to get it, even if it means taking silly, stupid peeks at our phones while piloting a car at 65 miles an hour.

Ian Marcus Corbin on whether this is the moment that forces drastically needed collective reflection—and action—on the growing threat of the digital monopolies.

The book of the future

Folks like Ben Thompson are effectively writing books. Take a year of his essays, edit them for brevity and clarity, and you’d have a brilliant edition of This Year in Tech. And so in a strange way, Stratechery in paid newsletter form is as much a Future Book as a bounded Kindle edition.

This proliferation of new technology and services has altered author economics. Almost half of author earnings now come from independently published books. Independent books don’t outsell big-five books, but they offer higher royalty rates—roughly 70 percent versus 25 percent. For the first time—perhaps since the invention of the printing press—authors and small presses have viable independent options beyond the “traditional” publishing path with its gatekeepers.

Craig Mod argues that the future book is already here. We just missed it.

Foucault and social media: life in a virtual panopticon

Conscious and permanent visibility’…’ Apparantly this is what Mark Zuckerberg thinks social media is all about. By making our actions and shares visible to a crowd, social media exposes us to a kind of virtual Panopticon. This is not just because our activities are monitored and recorded by the social media service for the purposes of producing market analysis or generating targeted advertising. For the most part, we can and do ignore this kind of data harvesting. The surveillance that directly affects us and impacts on our behaviour comes from the people with whom we share.

Tim Rayner likens (via Foucault) social media to a virtual panopticon—a circular prison with a guard occupying the center, from which the behavior of all prisoners is visible.