Oct 082017
 

I didn’t want to go see Blade Runner 2049.

I saw it has Harrison Ford in it, and it shouldn’t. There’s always been a large contingent of people who are adamant that Deckard is a replicant, and that this is what makes the first Blade Runner so good. Which is also why one shouldn’t watch the Theatrical Release, because that has a voice-over which basically asserts “He’s totally human.”

I don’t think it matters if Deckard is a human or a replicant, but I despise the Theatrical Release if it does assert things one way or the other (haven’t actually seen it, myself). The implication that he could be is what is important. It works so well because it doesn’t matter if he is or isn’t… even if he’s not a replicant, he might as well be. Social isolation and official mediation of experience have brought him to the point where he only exists as far as the system says he does. Reality is out of his control. Which goes hand in hand with Phillip K Dick’s general philosophy and is a theme in a number of his works. So, yeah, a version which steamrolls that to say “NOPE, DEFINITELY HUMAN!” is kinda missing the whole point.

And then I saw that an old Harrison Ford is in Blade Runner 2049. Bleh. So I simply wasn’t going to watch it. The original Blade Runner is one of the best movies ever made, IMO. We’re approaching an infinite number of forgettable sequels and remakes that should simply be considered non-canon by anyone who cares about artistic integrity. This would be just another one of those, and I’d treat it as such. Bite me, Hollywood.

And then I kept hearing how amazing BR2049 is. /sigh. Fine. Went to see it. Still had some reservations, but also some hope.

Visually it is stunning. Literally worth it to go see it for the visuals alone. And the music accompaniment is perfect. This movie has atmosphere and style galore. So very beautiful.

BR2049’s biggest failing is the villain. I *love* fiction where I find the villain sympathetic. Where I honestly can say that if I was in the villains position, I would do exactly what they had done. Roy Batty is a fucking masterpiece, and I love him, and I kinda wish he’d won Blade Runner, except then it wouldn’t be a tragedy, would it? The villain in 2049 is ridiculously one-dimensional and stupid. Like, so, soooo stupid. “Allow me to put you in an easily escapable situation while I leave you unwatched, Mr. Bond” levels of stupid. So, that kinda annoyed me.

The story’s alright. It tries hard. And it provides a good framework for the beautiful visuals. It feels a lot like late-90s anime actually. Come to think of it, I think that’s a fantastic analogy. Gorgeous, a plot that is earnest if flawed, and one glaring bad note.

All in all, BR2049 is one of the best animes I’ve seen. It’s no Blade Runner, but then again, what is? Totally worth 3 hours of my life, I like it.

Oct 072017
 

I was recently selected as a winner of the 2017 Writers of the Future contest (2Q, 3rd place)! In addition to a nice cash prize and future publication, this is a fairly well-regarded award for new SF writers, because the organization hires well-known SF authors to act as the final judges. The combination of these two factors leads SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) to count it as a qualifying professional market.

After Asimov’s and Analog, that makes my third sale to a pro market. Which means… I’m now a member of SFWA, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America!! :D This has been a dream of mine for ages, I count SFWA membership as my personal mark of “being legit.” Woooo!!!

Sep 112017
 

I don’t know what I was expecting from Burning Man, but what I got really surprised me. At about hour 12 of driving home–physically and emotionally exhausted, and feeling a bit light-headed from constant heat, minor sleep deprivation, and overwhelming gratitude–I realized why they say that the drive in/out is part of the Burning Man experience.

Burning Man isn’t just an event. It can be a pilgrimage. It was for me. And an important part of a pilgrimage is the road back home, where you mentally distance yourself from the strange dream-land where everything is different, and return to the solidity of the real world. A tried-and-true way of doing that involves actually putting physical distance between yourself and the dream-land. It allows you time to ruminate, and differentiates the two places.

As it stands, Burning Man isn’t remotely sustainable. The society is optimized for human social flourishing, rather than creating wealth. Trying to do work in such an environment would be extremely inefficient, if not impossible. One burns through previously-stored up wealth to enjoy Burning Man. The only way this could possibly persist is in a literal post-scarcity society, where all wealth is created by autonomous non-sapient robots and distributed to humans to enjoy.

Burning Man is also uncomfortable. This is a feature, not a bug. You no longer take anything for granted when you have nothing and the desert is trying to kill you. Even getting cold water or a brief shower feels immensely satisfying. Everything is more intense.

But pilgrimages aren’t supposed to be comfortable, or sustainable. They are supposed to be different worlds, set aside from the rest of reality. Burning Man achieves this in spades.

It feels weird to see so much effort and labor, so many resources, being put into creating a city in the desert… knowing that it’s designed to be destroyed. After a few weeks a fair bit of wealth will be intentionally destroyed in rituals of fire-sacrifice, and everything else will be disassembled and taken away again. But this extreme impermanence, the embrace of temporariness, is much of the driving force of the Burning Man ethos. It is worth the cost, to create this dreamtime for a week each year. To be in a different place, and to get a taste of what a post-scarcity future society could look like.

I strongly recommend that everyone go at least once in their lifetime. Obviously for some people it’s just not their thing, and I imagine those people already know who they are. But for everyone else, consider this some evidence strengthening your “I should try this” intuition. If you somehow get a ticket but don’t know anyone else going and are at a loss for what to do next, contact me and I’ll do what I can to provide guidance. :)

Sep 102017
 

A few things that didn’t fit elsewhere:

I.

The first night there, I watched the Opening Ceremonies, which included a cool performative dance around The Man involving a long, red silk banner. Like, a couple yards across and at least thirty yards long. The dancers swirled and swished it through the air. As the dance wound down, the lead dancer performed a solo piece at each of the four entrances to The Man’s pagoda (this year there was a structure built around Him). The entrance I was watching from (viewing space was VERY limited, I was outside the pagoda with a number of others, peering in through this entrance) was the last of the four, and the dancer slowly sashayed out into the watch crowd. We made way for her and once she broke free of us she yelled “Follow me!” and kept going, holding one end of the silk banner overhead.

I decided I wanted in on this, and this sound like an invitation, and dammit, the end of the banner was dragging on the ground, and that is not appropriate for a ceremonial artifact! So I grabbed one corner and followed. About 8-10 other people followed suit, and soon we were marching out into the Playa, banner stretched out to it’s full length and lifted overhead. None of us knew were we were going, but it was a ways. I began talking to one of my neighbors after a while, and made an exploration-friend for the night. Eventually we reached The Temple, were we concluded the Opening Ceremony by delivering the banner to it’s entrance (only the dancer and two helpers were allowed in the perimeter, it was still under construction).

And that’s how I became one of a handful of people that was a part of the Opening Ceremonies. All it took was luck, and openness to jumping into something new. It set the tone for my week, and it’s a great encapsulation of the ethos that makes Burning Man what it is.

II.

When anyone asks me what’s the most powerful thing at Burning Man, I always answer “The Temple.” I went to visit it on my third day. I did not know what it was. I thought it was just another art installation (albeit a gigantic one). I did not except to find what I did, right in the middle of this gigantic celebration of art and joy and partying. The fact that I didn’t know what I was walking into amplified the impact of the place, so I won’t say much about it, or post pictures. It was intense. I had to eventually just walk away, because I realized I would not come to grips with anything for as long as I stayed there. I will go back every year, but I will only go once per year. I encourage everyone to visit it at least once if/when they attend, preferably after it’s been open for a couple days.

III.

Our camp gathered to watch the climactic burning of The Man as a group. Afterwards, we trekked to just outside The Temple for a camp tradition, which I guess one could call a mini-ritual. Basically it consisted of gathering around a campfire and briefly speaking about what we’re grateful for. It was joyous and felt very intimate, and was the second-best event of the week for me (behind my initial visit to The Temple detailed above).

IV.

cw: this next part addresses a death at Burning Man

This isn’t a highlight, but I guess it has to be addressed somewhere. I did see the guy who ran into the fire. At first I thought he was just a streaker that broke through the perimeter. But he ran almost directly toward the flames, ducking and weaving past the emergency personnel that attempted to stop him. I think I realized when he was a few paces away what was going to happen, and I saw him flop right into the fire. They say he “dived in”, and I guess that’s true, but it was really more of an arms-outstretched full-frontal flop. As soon as he went down I figured he was gone. The fire is INSANELY hot. It was (mildly) painful even from the perimeter a hundred yards away. I can’t imagine anyone surviving for even a few seconds in that blaze.

I guess a lot of people took this hard, but I dunno. It was at a distance of a hundred yards, and it was all in silhouette. And to run into that hot of a fire takes serious determination. I want everyone to live as long as they’d like, even if that’s infinitely long (I hope to be around for thousands of years, at least). And with that comes the acceptance that some people will want to stop going on at some point, and they have the right to end their lives when they want. It’s a basic human right. I can understand wanting to go out in such a glorious way. So I didn’t have any negative emotional repercussions from this myself.

I’m close to someone who’s served in a warzone, and has seen friends involuntarily blown into multiple pieces. I’ve watched bloody depictions of death in Hollywood full-color close-ups. This just didn’t compare. I fervently hope that that man actually made an informed, rational decision, rather than losing control of his emotions while under the influence of too many unfamiliar drugs. But in terms of emotional hurt, this didn’t remotely compare to the ocean of grief that drowned me when I visited The Temple.

I feel sorry for that man’s family, especially if he didn’t warn them what he planned. And I’m upset that emergency personnel were injured pulling him from the fire. But I think only extraordinarily delicate people would have been traumatized by witnessing this. Or I dunno, maybe I’m just callous.

V.

It was interesting watching how humans act in an environment where there is almost nothing to fear, no resources to fight over, and no material wants. I realize this is just one small aspect of how people will choose to act once free of fear and want. But it gives me a lot of hope for how well we’ll handle a post-scarcity future. I no longer fear that we’ll degenerate into ennui and nihilism. As Cory Doctorow said, Burning Man is a trial-run for a post-scarcity society. And it is glorious, and fun, and I think humanity will love it. I am, for the first time, earnestly looking forward to it. :)

Sep 092017
 

I.

Before I left to Burning Man, I expected most of the people there to be hippies and stoners, with some party girls/boys mixed in. And to be fair, there’s certainly a fair share of those people. But I was surprised just how many very accomplished and respectable people attend!

In hindsight, I’m a bit ashamed of this prejudice. First, there’s no reason accomplished, successful people wouldn’t enjoy Burning Man. The perpetual group-flow-state of the entire festival is enjoyable regardless of one’s background. The excitement of temporary deprivation is probably more appealing to people who usually have plenty. And there are a great many highly intelligent people who consider psychedelics to be a useful tool for self-knowledge and various mental tasks (Sam Harris comes to mind immediately as a strong proponent).

Furthermore, I probably should have expected this, because Burning Man isn’t exactly cheap. The total cost of going for someone going extremely low-end (like I did) is about $1000. It just goes up from there. Even low-income tickets only help a bit, because the ticket was a bit less than half of my cost. Plus most people in lower-income jobs can’t just take eight days off of work. So yeah, someone really dedicated could save up and go, and I met several starving-artist types who did exactly that. But most of the people were professionals of some sort. And getting to meet them was an absolute treat. Here’s a sampling:

I met a rocket scientist who’d worked for NORAD. He related the tale of how his participation in a system-wide WWIII-simulation scenario caused him to reevaluate his life.

I met a scientist that’s recently made waves with his hypothesis of land-based origins of life on Earth. He’s a member of the groups advising/pitching NASA on where to land the next Mars rover. He let me hold a rock he brought that is 3.5 billion years old, and contains fossilized traces of the proto-life on earth!

I stood within arm’s reach of a professional opera singer as she performed a brief, beautiful piece for me and eight other people in our camp. You don’t really get any more intimate of a venue than that. :)

It wasn’t all great – I met a shamanistic healing guru who traveled the world spreading woo. At one point he expressed delight at what had happened in Houston, because that city had “toxic energy” and this would help everyone who lived there to get in touch with their spiritual lives. I was playing host at the tea house, so I couldn’t be too confrontational, but I let him know that glee at human misery is wrong. Also the culture of togetherness and understanding made it very hard to be contradictory. I should have pushed back sooner. I wish I had been more forceful. A thing to remember for next time.

Overall, though, lots of positive experiences with meeting people. Between the Art and the People, this is an awesome experience for those of us going straight-edge. :)

II.

The Playa is the term for the Burning Man grounds (spanish for “beach”). At night it transforms into a completely different place. First, ALL the lights come out. There is no public lighting, so it’s your civic duty to keep yourself lit up so people on bikes or art-cars don’t crash into you. And this is a place of art and beauty, so everyone is encouraged to light up in pretty colors and patterns. The effect is DAZZLING. I took a few pictures, but I really cannot do the effect justice, so I won’t post them. Maybe an actual photographer can capture it. Imagine a sea of neon-glowing life criss-crossing the dessert and congregating in clumps.

The sea analogy actually isn’t bad. Some of the sound cars start near the city at sundown and then slowly drive out to Deep Playa where they can blast music a great volume. The weave back and forth slowly, like an angler fish luring prey. Great numbers of humans in lit-up bikes swarm along side them, pulsing in and out like a school of minnows keeping pace. It’s mesmerizing to watch.

The inner-most road of the city is Burning Man’s main strip. It is the boardwalk. The camps that get these high-profile spots always put great effort into creating amazing frontage, full of lights and music, often several stories tall. Not only do they glow and gleam, but every one of them has true heart and emotion in their creation.

All these lights and sights and sounds make one feel like you are living in a post-human cyber-paradise. The Playa at night makes Las Vegas look like a pile of shit. And I realize that’s not hard to do, what with Vegas being kinda shitty anyway. But man, I don’t know how to put into words the neon-electric awesome.

The city has a heartbeat at night. There is music pulsing from all over, and across a distance the bass all melds into a low-level thruming rush. The land itself feels alive.

Much of the music is basic-as-fuck House, unfortunately. I understand why, it’s easy as hell for anyone to dance to. I said earlier that Burning Man is what you make of it, and I’m sure if I went looking I could have found music more to my taste. There was at least one Jazz camp, and one Goth/Industrial camp. But that wasn’t really what I was there for this year, so I didn’t seek it out and I was mostly inundated with boring House. Could be worse. I could be stuck in a dust-bowl desert. :)

Sep 082017
 

In my post on luck, I stressed the importance of openness. But openness invites vulnerability, so people are generally unwilling to be very open unless they first feel safe. This is part of what makes Burning Man one of the luckiest places on earth – the entire event is one of the safest places I’ve been. This is achieved entirely through the culture.

Firstly, with a few extremely narrow exceptions, nothing can be bought or sold at Burning Man. Everything is given away as a gift without obligation. This decommodification of everything removes the status of having things. Almost all the value at Burning Man is found in interaction with other people, and you can’t really steal that. Also, everyone is living in faux-poverty anyway, there isn’t anything valuable around to take! And even if you did take it, what would you do with it? Pile it up next to your tent?

Secondly, because it is such a harsh environment, people are always looking out for one another. No one has to worry overly much about going hungry or thirsty, because there will always be someone giving away food or water, or happy to share what they have. Passing around snacks is a common activity in lines. When someone’s bike jammed near my tent, I gave them all the lube they needed to get going again. I saw one lady having a bad skin reaction in a dust storm, her hands were getting very chapped. A fellow Burner gave her moderately-fancy gloves with lights in the fingers, to protect her skin. The lady protested, but the Burner said “Take them, you need them more than I do.” This sort of thing happens regularly. In the desert everyone helps each other constantly.

This leads to a feeling of safety. You know that no matter what should happen, there are people around you that have your well-being as a priority. The sense of safety allows you to talk to new people easily, and explore things without worry. It, paradoxically, leads to the rallying cry of “Safety Third!”, which is a bit of an exhortation to try things that may scare you for not being perfectly safe – such as jumping between the slabs in the Temple of Gravity. There is an understanding that even if you get hurt, the people around you will immediately come to your aid. It’s what makes people comfortable stripping off all their clothes and having a naked dance/shower party.

I regularly saw women walking alone in the dark of night without any worry. That’s the kind of place this is.

When my bike popped a tire, it was repaired for free in a jiffy. When I was hungry, I was given food.

This openness extends to the interpersonal. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a very hard time speaking with people I don’t yet know. All my life I’ve felt basically unwanted. Yet at Burning Man, when I showed up at a random fire-spinning event alone, the people next to me struck up a conversation. They made me feel welcome, we had a good talk, and later that evening we met up to dance. As a single dorky male, I’ve never in my life felt like people wanted me to approach them. Dancing in the desert, the pretty young thing from the fire-spinning was delighted to see me, and afterwards thanked me. I still can’t entirely believe it. I was valued just for being me. It was bizarre, and wonderful.

This care-for-others thing is super-charged at your home camp. I camped with a group of 30-40 people, two of whom I’d met for less than five hours previous to this, and the rest strangers. Yet everyone treated me incredibly warmly. The standard greeting to Burning Man virgins (possibly everyone?) is “Welcome Home.” It sounds weird at first, but quickly you understand it. Your camp WILL take care of you. They will show you around and take you places. They’ll sit and chat with you when you need to rest, and they’ll give you food or water if you need it.

Of course nothing is completely without obligation. I learned my first night out that one doesn’t simply show up at a bar and ask for food or alcohol. Well, one can ask for food or water if in need, of course. But in the normal course of events, one is expected to make the provider’s day a little better in thanks, and that is done by socializing with them. When you first reach the counter, you do not just slap down a cup or a plate. You chat first. Recount what new or exciting thing you saw today, or what you’re looking forward to, or what interests you in life. Did you recently take a trip to Russia? Lets talk about that! Are you working on a new song or story? Tell me! You’re a Burning Man virgin? How does it compare to what you were expecting? etc.

At Burning Man, no one is a part of an economic transfer process, simply there to facilitate the exchange of currency. Everyone is a person, a full human being, and the only way to acknowledge that and be present in the community is to treat them as a person rather than an economic unit. And that means creating a relationship, however fleeting. It means socializing with them.

A note – while this is beautiful and very fulfilling, it’s also inefficient. Imagine going to Starbucks and having to chat with your barista for four or five minutes each time you go. If there’s a line of four people in front of you, you’ll be there for twenty minutes before you even get to order. So… not workable if you have other things to do. While you’re in Burning Man, chat and art is why you are here, so it’s fine. Delightful, even. But for modern-day efficiency, dehumanization of human labor inputs seems necessary.

This also means there’s lines for most things at Burning Man. They aren’t too long, because there’s people giving away alcohol or other stuff EVERYWHERE. But they exist. Fortunately, the people standing next to you in line are just as interesting as the servers! Everywhere you go you’ll be striking up conversations with the people beside you in line. You’ll talk about gender, or their camp theme, or dozens of other things. You may share snacks or gifts. It will be a good time. This is not like the lines in the grocery store, or Disneyland, where people are silent and can’t wait to leave, and the waiting is awful and hateful. This is just another place to discover the coolness and intricacy of the human beings around you. Take advantage of it!

Sep 072017
 

For the most part I’m going to talk about my Burning Man experience in terms of themes, rather than enumerating the days. However I will start with the Arrival.

They tell you that Burning Man begins when you leave home, that the drive in is part of the experience. At the time that seemed a bit bullshitty to me, but there’s some truth to it, as I came to realize on my drive back home. I will say that the border area between Utah and Nevada doesn’t seem real. There is a long section that simply doesn’t change for miles and miles. It is a great salt-waste stretching to the horizon on all sides, bisected by the highway you’re on.

You drive and drive, and nothing outside your window changes. After five minutes you make some jokes with your carmates that you feel like you’re in a cheap cartoon that reuses stock background on a loop. Five minutes after that you comment how long this is. At 15 minutes you joke about a conveyor belt on the road under your wheels keeping you stationary. At 20 minutes with nothing changing you begin to silently worry that you’ve wandered into a section of the world that’s like those old video game areas that would simply repeat over and over if you kept walking in one direction, and the puzzle was to discover what series of movements would allow you to pass to the next area (I’m looking at you, NES Legend of Zelda forest maze!). At 25 minutes you begin to seriously worry that this is some sort of joke. This is absurd. This can’t be real, right? Nothing goes on forever.

Fortunately reality eventually reasserts itself and you can enter into Nevada.

 

Burning Man is what you make of it. I was told by someone a few days before leaving that it’s basically a giant sex and drugs party that lasts a full week. And if you want that, sure, that’s available. But there are so many things to see and do at Burning Man that you can have an amazing time no matter what you’re into. I spent much of my time visiting the many art installation.

To start with, there is a LOT of art at Burning Man. I suppose if you spent all your time just going to see all of it, you could probably see everything over the full week. But there are many things to do, so even if you spent most of your time visiting art, you are still almost assuredly NOT going to see all of it, so it’s a fool’s errand to try.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the art changes. An art piece seen the first day, while the area is relatively empty of people, looks very different from the same art piece seen a few days later when you bring a friend or date back there, because the presence of more people changes the art itself. This piece was waaaaaaaay out at the edge of Deep Playa. When I came to it the first day, it was basically abandoned. It felt like finding a random encounter in the middle of a Fallout game. The isolation was part of the experience. When I returned several days later and a dozen+ people were also there, it changed the feel of the piece.

The weather also shapes the art. A fresh piece looks different from a piece blasted after a dust storm. Many of the works are interactive, and will change based on what people are doing, or have done. The Temple of Gravity (left) looks one way as you’re walking up to these 7-ton slabs of granite, and seeing them swaying slightly in the breeze. As Edward said, there is something awe-inspiring about seeing so much potential energy suspended before you. It’s still powerful while it supports all the little humans crawling over it. yet it changes subtly when people are leaping from stone to stone, or lying directly beneath them, looking up.

Almost every piece changes at night. Fire or light is a major component of many of them. The Tree of Tenere is a vibrant, green point of life in the day, but at night it comes alive. The leaves shine, cycling through colors. Even more variation comes from the fact that the leaves’ colors change in glorious sweeps that matches nearby music. If you come when a performer is playing The Rite of Spring it looks very different from when a nearby Sound Car is blasting The Wubs.

All of this is very much part of the temporal, fleeting philosophy of Burning Man. Don’t try to do everything and experience everything, because many of the experiences depend on serendipity. On being at the right place at the right time, and they won’t repeat. You’ll miss great things, and hear about them from others. But you’ll also get lucky sometimes, and come by at just the right time. I came across The Messenger (no pic), an iron-cast statue of a burning angel. There’s a gash through it’s chest, and when I came to it someone was working a pyrotechnics shift. The gash was filled with flame, and I was told this was an interactive piece. Slips of paper and pencils are provided, as well as tongs. One can write a message and lift it into the flame, to be consumed by The Messenger.

It was my alone night, and I had been thinking a lot about my exwife that night. The whole trip, to be honest. I realized during my trip that I wasn’t over my ex, or my divorce, at all. I’d been burying a lot, but it was still there. I realized this because at every turn I kept thinking “Melissa should be here.” She would love this. This is exactly her scene.

And she could have been there. If only she’d valued our continued friendship more then a few tens of thousands of dollars. Maybe she didn’t want my friendship anymore. Maybe that was an easy choice for her. I hope she’s OK with her choice. I still have a hard time with it.

I wrote her a message and consigned it to the flames.

Sep 062017
 

A friend discovered I had scored tickets to Burning Man the day before I left, and commented appreciatively on my good fortune by saying “Lucky!” They then quickly modified that to “not lucky, he actually probably worked hard for that shit.”

Which, ya know, is appreciated. It’s a pretty common sentiment nowadays, and I like it. But it downplays the importance of creating luck in your life, which I think is pretty important. As Lefty Gomez said, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” And creating luck can take a lot of work.

My getting the ticket was very lucky. “Edward” had recently started listening to the HPMoR podcast, and happened to be binging on it while driving cross country. He was going through Denver, so he emailed me to ask if I’d like to grab dinner while he was there. I said sure, and we hit it off quite well. A couple months later he found himself with an extra ticket, and all the mutual friends him and his SO had asked to attended either couldn’t make it or weren’t interested. They said “Hey, that Eneasz guy seemed pretty cool, lets invite him.” Being between jobs, I was in a perfect position to accept, and I jumped on that.

So basically – tons of luck. Yet a lot of work went into creating those conditions. The podcast was over 1000 hours of labor across 4.5 years. I have my real name, city I live in, and email address all publicly available, and I agreed to meet a stranger. Socializing is energy-consuming for me, and the process of getting enough social skills to actually be likable has been a 10-year-long project itself.

And of the work listed, none of it was goal-oriented tasks. I didn’t decide I wanted to go to Burning Man, and then pursued a rational strategy to accomplish that. So stumbling into a ticket was luck. But each decision along the way helped to build a structure that is conducive to luck. I put out a podcast into the world because I wanted it to exist, which created many opportunities for people to find out about me. I said Yes to things that could be unpleasant, on the chance that they might be interesting. I got better at interfacing with others, which allowed me to form more productive connections.

Notice also that I couldn’t have done this alone – much of the work was on Edward’s side. He remembered where I lived as he drove across the country. He looked up my email address while on the road. He reached out, risking an unpleasant evening with a stranger, on the chance I might be interesting. He has also put effort into social skills. He took a chance that someone he barely knew wouldn’t be awful to camp with for eight days in the desert.

There is much luck that is just plain random. I’m lucky to have been born a white male in a time and location where white men are held in high esteem. I’m lucky to be reasonably tall and healthy. But lots of other luck is a direct result of effort by people to keep their lives as lucky as possible.

To maximize luck, I would strongly recommend the following:

A. Do things for others. ESPECIALLY things that interest you, or that you already like. I love HPMoR. Making the podcast wasn’t a chore. I enjoy cleaning. When a friend is recovering from surgery, I sometimes go help them clean their house. It’s ridiculous the amount of goodwill you receive for a few hours of socialization and doing a small chore that you already kinda enjoy. I actually feel guilty about it. Do you play an instrument? Do that for people for free, sometimes. Any skill you have can be shared.

B. Say Yes often. Be open to new experiences. Embrace the unusual or uncomfortable. Yes, we all have our limits, so don’t exceed them. Remember to say no sometimes, to rest, or when you don’t feel safe. But make it a habit to say Yes unless you have a compelling reason not to, as opposed to the other way around.

C. Stay sociable. You don’t have to be a charming socialite! Just be a Hufflepuff. (Hufflepuffs are great finders because they’re so damn lucky. :) ) You don’t even have to go to parties, often one-on-one dinners/events are better. But you do have to reach out to humans. The root of luck is other people. To cut away vast swaths of people is akin to cutting away all your chances for luck.

These things together create a lot of opportunities for coincidence, and every now and then one of them will snag something. And you think “Holy shit, that was really lucky!” And it was. But you created the edifice that made that luck possible. Stay open. Stay excited. Keep doing neat stuff without expectations, and you’ll be surprised what you can stumble into.

 

I had planned to write this post before I left for Burning Man, but I ran out of time, which is why it’s being posted now. However I do have an addendum, now that I’m back. Burning Man is an INCREDIBLY lucky place. It is possible that it is The Luckiest Place on Earth, and I say that without exaggeration.

This is not an accident. The entire event is designed to maximize every factor that leads to luck. The openness there is off the scale. Everything is given freely, and people are constantly doing things for others without expectation of reciprocation or reward. Everyone is incredibly open to everything, all the time. Part of the ethos is to go and try and do anything that strikes your fancy. People will not shut you down, or judge you. Generally they encourage you. Everyone is constantly happy to meet everyone else and speak with them in very friendly terms. All of this leads to a non-stop constant explosion of luck everywhere you turn. It’s fascinating.

Since this blog is kinda a personal diary anyway, over the next several days I plan to write about my Burning Man experience in a greater level of detail. Spoiler alert – I think everyone should go to at least one Burning Man event in their lifetime, it’s a very strange and unique experience. You don’t even have to have crazy sex or do any drugs! I didn’t!

Aug 182017
 

In Durham, crowds stood in line to turn themselves in for the crime of tearing down a Confederate statue.

This is fantastic. This is an entire community coming out to show they are united and willing to accept whatever punishment the law has to hand down for an act they viewed as necessary. I admire the living hell out of everyone who did this. THIS is how to protest!

This is the kind of arrest warrant you proudly hang on your wall for your entire life. Maybe even put on your resume.

 

I haven’t posted much about this week before today, because I was at a loss of things to say. Neo-nazis and white supremacists follow a vile ideology. Anyone committing acts of terror is horrific and disgusting, and every person injured and every person killed is an inexcusable atrocity. There were no words.

But I was told not too long ago that its important to sometimes publicly denounce the evil, even when it is blindingly obvious as evil. People who only know me from my online presence may not know my actual political beliefs, and so if they only see posts defending freedom of speech they may think I’m a secret alt-righter or something. So, I endorse and throw my heart behind the words of Argumate, who succinctly said:

exactly how much of a dickhead would you have to be to decide that the best way to boost white ethnic pride in the public sphere is to tie it to Nazis, the one group that every non-dickhead agrees were total fuckups.

can there be anything more antithetical to the supposed virtues of western civilization than this ignorant mishmash of the worst traditionalist buffoonery combined with the stupidest excesses of modernity into a giant shit sandwich of tedious fuckery that shoots its own dick off every time as a warning to others?

the punishment for this vile mediocrity should involve being tied to a chair in front of a simulated Samuel L. Jackson screaming “you dense motherfucker!” on loop for 19 hours until you internalise it and rethink your life.

to be a Nazi in 2k17 is to be so far up your own arse that your internal topology begins to resemble a klein bottle.

it is to be a failure in every possible way: morally, intellectually, strategically, tactically, aesthetically, historically.

if life was a video game then you fucked up on the first level, the tutorial that no one ever fucks up on, because no one else is dumb enough to be a Nazi; you’re the speedrun of failures.

the shitheads and the fucksticks of the world can look at your stupid face and say hey at least I’m not a fuckin’ Nazi, like this stupid wanker, and they’ll be right.

This goes for traitors and slavers as well. Tear down every monument to Confederate generals, rename every street, rededicated every building. No worship of inhumanity.
(no vigilantism though. Seriously, use due process, its far more powerful)

 

A Southern friend said:

The civil war isn’t my heritage. The traitor flag isn’t a banner that represents me, nor should it.

It’s a mark of shame. We shouldn’t tear the monuments down, we should move them to a museum to remind us of our collective shame as a nation.

The south has many more amazing traditions than slavery.

The south has much more to offer than monuments to war criminals.

And this friend later pointed out that most of these monuments were not erected after the US Civil War. They were put up significantly later, often funded by the KKK and other white supremacist groups, in order to protest anti-segregation laws and the civil rights movement.

Argumate later says:

despite all the punching discourse, my preferred way to deal with Nazi rallies in public spaces is still to outnumber them ten to one by peaceful locals who keep chanting “Nazis go home” until the Nazis do indeed go home.

this forms a highly visible demonstration to everyone involved that they have no base of support, and are just a bunch of whackjobs who can’t claim to represent the interests of the broader community.

good policing keeps the Nazis separated from the much larger crowd, which prevents any violent clashes between hotheads and reinforces the impression of them as a coddled bunch of morons incapable of defending themselves either physically or rhetorically.

this is actually a really withering experience to go through! once surrounded by crowd and cops they have ceded the initiative and are essentially at the mercy of the community which despises them, a community made up of people of all ages and all walks of life, secure in their safety of numbers.

it plays beautifully live and on TV, it respects the rule of law while still conveying a very clear message, and it makes it impossible for any politicians to waffle about “both sides” of the dispute.

the absolute worst approach is to have two similarly sized groups of hotheads engaged in shoving matches that allows people to “condemn the violence” and visually suggests that 90% of the community doesn’t have a stake in the fight.

 

And by god, it’s working! Confederate Monuments Are Coming Down Across the US. Trump, after refusing to denounce the racists, has lost two of his business advisory committees, his arts & humanities committee, and a number of businesses are removing themselves from his hotels and properties. Basically every Republican lawmaker is distancing themselves from him, and even Steve Bannon has quit. It’s a backlash like I haven’t seen in decades.

Of course, someone had to die to accomplish this. I hate that. I hate that we never seem to get anything done unless there’s an altar of bodies laying the foundation. It’s a bug that really needs to be removed from our code. But it does demonstrate what I’ve been trying to say to the antifa and other violent extremists — The way to get the bulk of the US populace behind you is to act peacefully and then have your opponents violently attack you. By driving his car into a group of peaceful protesters, that evil, disgusting excuse for a human managed to set off a political firestorm that’s reducing what was seen as a pro-Trump surge after the election to ashes.

 

I’m sad someone died. I would never trade a life for statues. But I’m glad to see how the country has responded. I feel enlivened and rejuvenated by this outpouring of human decency. I’m glad the monuments to terror and atrocity are finally being torn down. Good riddance. Let the white supremacists skitter back to their hateful little holes and websites as the world moves on without them.

Jul 292017
 

(epistemic status: brain dump)

It’s weird when you see something working the way it was intended to for the first time, and things click.

In my post, Marriage is a Hostile Act, I took exception with the fact that there exists in the US a standard contract that one is encouraged to sign which literally takes away a large percentage of your personhood. This is very much against everything I know of the spirit of the liberal ideal. Contracts which remove personhood are generally considered unconscionable and illegal. You cannot sell yourself into slavery, nor into indentured servitude. There are exceptions, but they are not entered into lightly and generally come with a lot of oversight.

I’ve come to realize lately that I never really understood what marriage is supposed to be about to a large part of the populace.

For most of my childhood, my family lived as exiles. We could have no contact with anyone back in the home country, as that was both nearly impossible practically, and would endanger my parents’ family members. I had no uncles/grandparents/in-laws/cousins/etc to model normal family life. My only real-life model was my parents marriage which, with all due respect to my parents, was massively dysfunctional.

My fall-back models were Hollywood/Disney. Which is basically the porn equivalent of marriage. As far as I could tell, marriage is what you did with someone that you had developed a strong emotional bond with. And I develop emotional bonds pretty easily.

This seemed reasonable, in fact. Friends live together all the time. Sometimes they have sex. It makes sense that they get a few legal protections to help each other out. That shit’s important when you’re incapacitated, and it’s good to have someone watching your back. If, over time, you drift apart or move on to the next phase of your life, you just dissolve the marriage and keep in touch.

Recently I read that the difference between economic and social ties is that social ties are longer term. (I don’t recall where, but probably at Samzdat?) In any economic transaction, it must be fair immediately, or nearly so. AND verifiable. I give you X for Y, and we’re both better off. In social transactions, one trusts they’ll even out in the long term. I see the dishes are scattered across the counter, so I put them away and turn on the dishwasher. I don’t expect anything in return, because I believe that when you (my partner) find yourself in a similar situation you will do the same for me. It’s a beautiful sort of acausal trade among instances of ourselves that we cannot verify, because we aren’t there, but we have faith they’re being executed because we know each other’s character.

You can’t have trade like that with strangers. (It’s probably one of the reasons that working for a corporation feels so empty and meaningless.) Acausal among humans trade takes bonds of family or deep brotherhood. The trust it both requires and engenders allows for all sorts of efficiencies that can’t be created otherwise. This is why throughout most of history the basic economic unit was the family.

There’s massive personal benefit beyond the efficiencies of trade as well. There’s immense psychological safety in knowing that even if everything I’m doing falls apart, I still have a home and a place. They will help me for the months or years it takes to get going again, because they love me, and they know I’d do the same for them.

And I guess marriage-relationships are like that, taken up to eleven. Back in the day there was a semi-tongue-in-cheek way to say “I love you” that ran something along the lines of “My utility function contains a term for the fulfillment of your utility function.” I think marriage is supposed to go beyond that though. The two utility functions are supposed to be merged and mangled to a point where its hard to distinguish them any more. It’s not just a commitment. It’s partially becoming the other person. It’s thinking of them instinctively in all situations. It’s not something that can be done in the course of a few weeks or months, and certainly not something that can be shown in a stupid 100-minute film.

And of course, after such a meshing of utility functions, one could never, EVER be replaced. It would be unthinkable. It would be like ripping out a limb and several organs. It’s not something you do unless the limb’s become gangrenous and it’s the only way to save someone’s life. Even then, the person will be diminished and lesser for a long time afterwards.

(Perhaps ironically, the first (and as far as I can recall, only) time I’ve seen this sort of thing modeled, it has been with a multiple-relationship polyamorous family, not a mono couple.)

This sort of thing is hardcore. And when it’s made official, it should be a big deal. It should be a long, elaborate magical ritual that taps into a culture’s mythology and the participant’s wibbly mystical instincts. It should require sacrifice of some sort. Maybe if the religion I’d been raised in had something like this it would’ve helped me “get it.” As it was, I was in an upstart sect less than a century old, there was nothing particularly interesting about the few weddings I attended.

The government, certainly, should have never gotten involved. Perhaps this was a tactic to grab power from the church. Perhaps it was an attempt to make marriages legible to the state. As usual, it fucked things up. Reducing a social ritual to an economic contract broke the core of what the ritual was about in the first place. When marriage means going to the DMV, signing a single-page contract, and paying a $15 fee, well, you don’t expect it to come with the same sorts of entanglements.

I don’t know if I’m OK with ever getting that deeply enmeshed with anyone. The closest I’ve come is a sort of hetro-life-partnership with a deep friend. I’m starting to trust my parents to this degree, though. So I guess I’m coming closer.

The marriage thing probably isn’t that big of a deal if both participants of a marriage are expecting the same thing. But if one party is expecting “Friends who care for each other, but remain separate people” and the other is expecting “life long soul-enmeshment,” and they fail to communicate properly, and then find out their partner expected the opposite of what they thought they were getting… Well. That can be a very hurtful shock.