Bitchun’ or Die?

I just finished reading Homo Deus, the second book from Yuval Noah Harari.  I loved his first book so my expectations were high.  It didn’t exactly disappoint, but it didn’t leave me as excited as Sapiens. His first book was a look back and this one is a look forward. The basic thesis is that humanism / liberalism has sown the seeds of its own destruction by enabling the creation of ideas and technologies that destroy the fundamental assumptions that they are based on.  It seems an echo of Nietzsche’s idea that Catholicism created the necessary conditions for the enlightenment and the scientific revolution, two forces which weakened the church.

The book left me a little flat since it seemed to meander around – making a lot of interesting points, but no seeming big point. Maybe it was the overall mood that put me off. It was more than a little bit gloomy.  Harari doesn’t give us humans much of a chance over the next few centuries mostly due to the inevitable emergence of intelligence independent of consciousness, i..e AI, and the resulting devaluing of all things uniquely human. To be fair, it may be harder to construct a coherent projection of the future than it is a coherent explanation of the past and he does conclude with some interesting discussion questions.

One theme that I have carried with me has been this idea of the choice we have in the matter. Do we plug in or do we stay in the real world?  It’s some what related to the last post I made to share and comment on the article from MIT Tech Review: what do we gain and what do we loose when we choose to tune in, turn on and drop out? Harari says that those that choose to plugin are (unconsciously perhaps) shifting the arbiter of the meaning of their actions from their own internal perspective to their “network”. It’s the shares and likes that matter, not the subjective value of the experience.

This seems like a bad deal to me, but then I can’t help but think of one of the sub-themes from Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I re-read it over the beach part of my summer vacation and one sideline story that happens before the book starts is the emergence of the Bitchun’ society. It’s never exactly defined in the book, but according to the Wikipedia page it is:

the dominant Earth culture in which rejuvenation and body-enhancement have made death obsolete, material goods are no longer scarce, and everyone is granted basic rights that in our present age are mostly considered luxuries.

The main characters talk about in the past tense the Luddites that clung to the ways of appearing the age you were, living day to day without a backup and a retinal overlay and dying only once.  It’s that last choice that was their downfall. Those that decided to do those things simply outlived those who didn’t. It wasn’t a matter of trying to convince people through reason, logic or evidence it was just a

I’ve been tempted to jump on the quantified life train with the release of the newest apple watch, but the idea that all of my health data gets streamed off to some remote server that I don’t have control over gives me pause. To be fair, I’m not sure that any of that’s true, it may be that everything is encrypted, secure and only available to me, so maybe it’s just the idea that it could be is why I haven’t. I do wonder though if I am living through the emergence of some form of the Bitchun’ society. Those that choose to live a quantified life are likely to live longer than those that don’t, so maybe they don’t have to convince us all – they can just wait us out.

Putting a finger on something I have been sensing

HT to Tim Ferris and his weekly email 5 bullet Friday for pointing out this recent essay from David Byrne on MIT Tech review.  I’ve been sensing this for a while now, resulting in more time journaling, meditating and going out in the world to be with other people and spending less time on my phone, blogging more than facebooking and being more conscientious about taking what seems to be the path of least resistance doing things online.

Here is one of the key quotes:

When interaction becomes a strange and unfamiliar thing, then we will have changed who and what we are as a species. Often our rational thinking convinces us that much of our interaction can be reduced to a series of logical decisions—but we are not even aware of many of the layers and subtleties of those interactions. As behavioral economists will tell us, we don’t behave rationally, even though we think we do. And Bayesians will tell us that interaction is how we revise our picture of what is going on and what will happen next.

I’d argue there is a danger to democracy as well. Less interaction, even casual interaction, means one can live in a tribal bubble—and we know where that leads.

via Eliminating the Human

It seems to me we (the royal we = the human race) have to figure out how to have a better conversation about the costs in addition to the benefits of all these new technologies.

Until we meet again

It's been quite a week since we got home from some amazing experiences, first on the AT through SNP and then in Charleston.  When we got home late Saturday something wasn't quite right with our dog, which lead us to the emergency vet early Sunday morning which then lead to a week long stay at our regular vet.  Final diagnosis is pancreatitis.  He's home now and getting better each day, but still not out of the woods.

We weren't quite recovered from the roller coaster ride of having to decide each day whether a long time friend should live or die, when we went up to the barn yesterday to find my horse, Levi, dead in his stall.  No warning, no sickness and no sign of exactly what happened.  Just dead on the stall floor, having kicked out about half of the wall (unclear whether he did that before, during or after experiencing whatever it was that did him in).

I've been a bit numb for the last 24 hours.  I think that is just a natural defense to so much.  But I've started to process some of it and this is an attempt to work out for myself, what it all means.  We humans after all are nothing more than story telling monkeys, so until I can tell a cohesive story about all of it, it will just be unprocessed mess.  What follows is a jumble of ideas, thoughts and emotions I have had over the preceding day.  Putting it down here is, as always, my attempt to work it out for myself.

I have such a wide mix of emotions about Levi dying.  I'm sad, of course, that he clearly suffered before he died.  I'm morning the little bit of my identity that has died with him.  I am no longer a cowboy / horseman.  Sure I still have horses on property, but none of them are "mine".  I have no doubt that I could borrow any of my family's horses whenever I wanted, but it's not the same.  I'm not sure that I will ever have another horse that's "mine" so that part of me may be relegated to the past forever.

I regret not riding him more,  taking it for granted that there would always be time "mañana".  There was always some chore to do, some dinner to eat, some movie to watch.  My only hope is that Levi was happy without a job.  It seems to me Levi had a pretty good life – he had good pasture, was leader of his herd, was put in at night and had vet care when he needed it.  I hope that not getting to work didn't bother him too much.

I am also a bit freaked out.  After coming off the trail a few weeks ago, I had started to think seriously about transitioning off the farm and getting into a setup that would allow us to travel more often and more freely.  No, I don't believe in the "The Secret" or anything like that, but it did make me start to think more carefully about the intentions I am putting out there is the world.

But (and this is probably where the story telling starts), I am also grateful.  I am grateful that he didn't die when we were on vacation – that would have been horrible for the person watching the house, dogs and horses.  I am grateful that I didn't have to make a decision.  I had reached the point of life/death decision making fatigue earlier in the week with my dog, so that would have been just too much. I get that it's just pets, but unlike humans, they can't tell you what they are feeling or what they want. This gratitude makes me feel a bit guilty too…still processing that.

As odd as it may sound, I am grateful for the chance to deal with death so directly.  For those of you that have never had to bury a 1+ ton animal, I won't go into details, but suffice to say that you appreciate the body for what it is and pretty quickly realize that there has got to be more to horses (and by extension people) that the meat suits that we ride around in.  In our highly sanitized, medicalized and funeralized society we don't get to deal with death so directly anymore.  It's not fun, but it is a teacher.

I'm grateful for the kick in the ass this has given me to be more mindful about my choices.  When we moved to our farm more than a decade ago it was to be with our horses and by extension use them more.  That hasn't worked out as planned and with some life transitions coming up in the next two to six years, I realize that now is the time to start envisioning and, most importantly, experimenting to figure out what we really like and what we really will do (as opposed to what we think / say we will do).  This is hopefully a useful outcome from the regret of not riding more.  I can't change what I haven't done in the past, but I can make more mindful choices in the future.

Lastly, I am grateful for the too few times we rode together.  Levi was a great teacher.  I am not by any stretch of the imagination a great horseman.  Levi was always patient and helped me get better.  It wasn't nearly often enough, but every time we did get to ride I came away feeling relaxed, accomplished and connected.

Happy trails, Levi, until we meet again.


The blessings of busyness

The last few months had been a whirlwind. The day job has ramped up to a new high both in terms of number of simultaneous big projects, hours worked per week and travel, much of it international. At the same time we’ve doubled down on the time we’ve spend working with Mason on homeschool. It’s also Kendall’s senior year with all of the typical pomp, circumstance and drama that comes with the end of something and the start of something new. Oh, and I also was elected to a position at my church.  There’s probably a few things I’m forgetting. 

I can’t say that it was a slow ramp. I wasn’t the proverbial frog in the hot pot. But still I was taken by surprise.and for the last few weeks I’ve been struggling to keep ahead of it all, living in a relatively constant state of thinking I’m forgetting something despite my ninja monk GTD practice.  

I think I heard it first on Tim Ferris that busyness is laziness. When I first heard it I thought it was for other people. That I could be the special one to figure out a way to fit it all in. The blessing of this sustained period of failure has taught me a lot about my own limitations. Everything is a teacher. This extended period of busyness has taught me to not be lazy when considering what to say yes to. 

Say hello to my little friend

This article from the Federalist has been bouncing around the interwebs for nearly a month now, but I just had a chance to read it. I think it makes a pretty compelling narrative argument for the central claim that Trump has an innate sense of how to rev up outrage against his opponents using their own post-modernist tricks against them, although it does cherry pick a few rather extreme examples of PC turned SJW to supportquestion question it leaves unanswered however is: to what end? I’m always curious as to why would want to be anyone president, but in this case the answer seems to me to be critical as it will determine whether our anti-hero president is from the mold of Batman or Scarface. 

Label me this, Batman.

I had a rather unique day yesterday.  I spent the morning until early afternoon running and competing in a local IDPA pistol shooting match.  Lot’s of SJW jokes and general cheeriness about the results of the recent election.  I spent the evening participating in a live podcast from a community contemplative center that among other things teaches people how to protest for social just causes.  Lots of libertation theology and dreariness for the results from the recent elections.

So my days go.  I seem to bounce back and forth between these two groups, generally enjoying the company of both while at the same time cringing (inside at least) when some things are said out loud by either.  Being accepted by both but not completely self-identifying with either.  Life just seems much more complicated, or perhaps taking a positive spin, more nuanced than those labels to me.

One thing I have observed is that while each of those groups are quick to label the other, they are subconsciously just as quick to label themselves.  They see all the bad in the other label and all of the good in their own.  The probelm with these labels is that they are a shortcut and one I think we would do well to dispose of, but it will come at a cost.

We would be better without the left / right labels (and their near synonyms) because it would force us to ask questions of each other and of ourselves.  Questions about what we really believe and more importantly why.  Questions about issues instead of identity.  Questions of values and principles instead of who did what to whom.

The cost we have to pay if we are going to drop these labels seems high.  We have to be willing to spend a lot of our only true commodity: time.  Time with ourselves to figure out what we really think (and again, why we think that).  It’s far easier to select the number 5 combo meal on the left and the number 4 combo meal of the right than come up with something on our own for our own reasons.  We have to be willing to spend time with others to listen without judgement about what they think and why.  It’s far easier to not engage and stick with our own tribe in the eternal echo chamber.  We have to be accepting of the small death that comes with accepting the fact that we might have been wrong about something and the rebirth of establishing a better model of the world in our minds through dialog.

Us and them is easy.  “What do you think about…?” followed by authentic listening is hard.

I live between what you both perceive as different worlds and I can tell you that they aren’t nearly as different as you think.  Reach out to them and find out for yourself.  The clock is ticking.