Book Review: Pathways of Bliss

Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation by Joseph Campbell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Joseph Campbell’s work is always best consumed through audiobook. He’s a dry writer. Unfortunately, he’s an even drier speaker, as career academics usually are, so you’ve really gotta hunt for the audiobooks where they hired professional narrators to read it, instead of the recordings of his university lectures that they try to pass off as books.

The ideas contained in the work are gold, especially if you’re a Jungian or some other kind of witch. Human beings think in terms of the mythological. These archetypes help us understand aspects of ourselves, and we call on them the way that voodoo practitioners let the loa ride them, or how ancient Greeks invoked the protection of situational gods, color-coded for easy reference

The main idea of pathway to bliss is We Live in a Society and we lost the plot, which is why we have such a hard time figuring out what makes us happy. The first step is initiation, the transformation from the comfort and protection of childhood to suddenly having all the responsibility of adulthood thrust on us. In many cultures, this is a highly ritualized process. In American culture, it’s not, which is why there are so many cringy “adulting” jokes. Women get menstruation, which serves as a pretty undeniable threshold, but men just kind of stumble along and eventually segue into what their interpretation of proper adulthood and conduct is.

The other function of initiation is to unite the mentalities of the tribe with regard to what the values of the tribe are, and to provide a clear, concise set of rules for the aspiring initiated to follow and uphold. A code. We don’t have a code anymore. Instead, we have a selection of half-ass codes that we spend all our time arguing about, because as mythologically-minded creatures, we want the meaning and purpose provided by a unanimous code.

There’s a vague blueprint, though. You graduate. You get a job. You marry. You produce 2.3 offspring. You provide for them. You keep all those plates spinning until the kids grow up and launch along their own ill-defined trajectories, and then you retire, and thenโ€ฆ

And then?

Campbell talks about how it’s at that point you’re free to pursue your bliss, even though time has almost run out. You spend your whole life working toward the golden years where you’ll finally be able to fish in peace, and once you’ve squared away the rest of your requirements and you have your lifetime boxed up nice and tidy, you get in your little boat and row out. And sometimes, after a week, you realize that fishing is boring, and holy shit, I wasted my entire life.

There is no formalized initiation. There is no clearly defined rule set. We have interpretations of the expectations foisted on us, but interpretations are all they are, since our culture is without a true moral compass. The main message of the book is that we don’t need to put our bliss off until we’re almost dead. In fact, it’s the worst move we can make. Our lives belong to us foremost, and we contain all the archetypes, and maybe some would resonate with us better than others if we gave ourselves the chance to explore those sides of ourselves.

Maybe you weren’t meant to be a fisherman. You thought you were, but you waited and scrimped and saved for 50 years, and now you’re out there, and fishing is boring. Maybe your true passion is base jumping. Well, you’re 70, so you’re not going to go base jumping. Not more than once, anyway. It’s tragic to deny yourself the best life you could have had, and the best you that you could have been, because instead of pursuing some ridiculous bliss dream off the beaten path, you followed what you thought was expected of you — but which was never really expected of you in the first place!

Go on out there, chase your bliss. The Gonzo kids would say “Let your freak flag fly”. Do that, if it makes you feel better. It’s your life. You’re the protagonist of the story, and I think that the real and deep-down origin of neuroticism is the cognitive dissonance that comes from knowing yourself to be the hero of your personal mythology while observing yourself constantly acting unheroic.



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Book Review: The Forever Peace

Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


It was a decent enough throwaway sci fi book, but it didn’t even approach capturing the spirit of the original. The characters were not especially interesting, and neither was their plight. The plot held enough weight to support the narrative, but just barely, and I spent much of the book waiting for it to be over.

Not all of it, though. It spiked back into readability right at the end with the introduction of the unrepentantly repentant sociopath assassin Gabriella, and Julian’s transformation into the sort of sin eater surrogate who retains the ability to pull the trigger while the rest of the world undergoes mandatory indoctrination into pacifist libleftdom.

You could tell the book wanted to play around with the philosophical implications of declawing the human race, but it never quite got around to it.




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Book Review: The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity by Ryan Holiday

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A one-a-day stoicism situation that mostly tells you to think about how you’re going to die soon. Marcy Marcus and the whole funky bunch are accounted for; Rufus, Seneca, Epictetus. It’s a real star-studded affair, and since they’re broken down into these easily digestible daily affirmations (although that doesn’t feel like the right word, given the grim content), you really get a good idea of the contrast between the different Stoic thinkers. For example, Marcus Aurelius? Deeply dour dude. The misery just seeps right out of his aphorisms.

Seneca, on the other hand? A certified chiller. Much more upbeat. Epictetus’s philosophical style is closer to bullying than anything, and Rufus could have passed for a hire-off-the-street orator.

After 365 days, I am positive that I’m going to die soon. And you know what? 2020 was the right year to read this, because at no point did I feel like soiling myself over the Fungus. Mortality is the price of living. Like Marc said, this life is on loan. And like I said, something’s got to kill me.

I just googled it and none of the stoics are quoted as having said “something’s got to kill me”. That’s a BT original. Maybe that’ll be my Stoic legacy, once I succumb to the Fungus or get cut down in a hail of police gunfire. I wouldn’t care for a headstone, as even things carved in stone aren’t carved in stone, but if I had to get one, “Something had to kill me. And did.” wouldn’t be the worst I could do.




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Book Review: The Case Against Reality

The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes by Donald D. Hoffman

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


“If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody hears it, did it fall?”

Now take that sentence and stretch it out into an agonizing, 400 page self-congratulation penned by an uncharming Frasier using the biggest words and most circular arguments he can muster. Sprinkle in a fart-sniffing reference to his own research every three paragraphs or so, and you’ve assembled this horror.

If you want the same content but to spare yourself the trauma of trying to trudge through the masturbatory jargon, find a white guy with dreads outside of a music festival and promise him ketamine if he can summarize an Intro to Evolutionary Biology textbook.



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Book Review: Dark Ecology

Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence by Timothy Morton

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


Gibberish. The book is a stack of loose connections that never get paid off. Morton invents more complex phrasings for concepts that already exist (spare me the “hyperobjects”, everything an English professor is going to grapple with exists in discernible units of time) then relay-races back and forth between them in an effort to make an argument, such as it is, look less like a collection of Burning Mad doodle book scratchings.

It’s an emperor’s new clothes situation, and has little to do with either ecology or darkness. Skip it.



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Book Review: The Player of Games

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Imagine, if you will, a world where gamers were not the most oppressed minority. Imagine instead that they were respected as world-class academics, if academics were worthy of respect. Further imagine that they live in a fully automated luxury gay space communism where every facet of their life is provided for by sassy robot nannies.

This is the Culture. And the best gamer in the galaxy, the Jocker himself, is named Jernau Morat Gurgeh.

Gurgeh only plays real time strategy games. He is the best. He writes dissertations and research papers on how to most effectively perform a zerg rush, or proper tower defense positionings. The Culture eats that shit up. Gurgeh is a rock star, sponsored by both Space Doritos and Future Dew. The androgynous men want to be him, the androgynous women want to be with him, and vice versa.

One day, Gurgeh is pitted against a literal little girl and he realizes he can beat her so bad that he might be able to perform “the perfect web”, which is when you absolutely dunk on a 9-year-old girl in Civilization IV on national television. An insane battle droid named Mawhrin-Skel who was rejected from the battle droids for being insane tells Gurgeh that he’s already run the numbers, and he can show Gurgeh how to do the perfect web. It’s only kind of cheating. Don’t be a wuss. Gurgeh agrees because he’s an asshole.

Not only does the insane battle droid’s strategy not secure him the perfect web, the robot then blackmails him with a recording of Gurgeh’s agreement to cheat in order to trounce this “prodigy” (still very much a 9-year-old girl). Mawhrin-Skel wants to get back into the battle droids, and he wants Gurgeh to do that, somehow.

Gurgeh has no formal rank. He has no sway in the galactic government, and no control over where drones are deployed. His job title is “gamer”. But, rock and a hard place. What’s a gamer to do? He says he’ll try.

A ways down the line, a government droid comes from the government to invite Gurgeh to play a new, incredibly complex game in the empire of Azad. Gurgeh agrees, contingent on the government droid returning Mawhrin-Skel’s previous position to him. The government droid says he probably can’t but he’ll try.

Gurgeh is loaded onto a spaceship and spends two years learning to play the game, which is also called Azad. Azad permeates every facet of life for the warlike, totalitarian empire of Azad, and their stupid fascist children are taught it from the moment they hatch or crawl out of the Apexes or whatever. There are three genders on Azad: males (boring, vanilla, essentially worker drones), Apexes (the ruling illuminati elite, reversible vagina and ovum), and females (uterus and retrovirus for slight modification of the egg once implanted by Apexes). Only the Apexes are allowed to do anything. The other two genders are beaten down from beginning to end of book.

Gurgeh isn’t as effected as he probably should be by the horrors of the empire, their cultural domination/sadism boner, or the torturous slavery lived in by the overwhelming majority of the species, and all the species they’ve conquered and subjugated. You’d think he’d be doubly effected, being from Bernie Sanders’ Starfleet utopia. Gurgeh doesn’t care about anything but gaming. He’s here for one reason: to play Magic the Gathering.

Thing is, Magic the Gathering isn’t just a game on Azad. The species themselves, the whole of the empire, are an obvious stand-in for a theoretical future in which Germany won WWII. They’re a pure fascism, they have propagandists and a gestapo, the whole of their society is held together by pursuit of further conquest and elevation of the ruling elite Apexes. Most things are illegal, but those illegal things are still purchasable, and more sought after for it. There are three layers of taboo pornography permeating the planet, communicated through secret channels and only for those who can pay:

Level 1 is generic smut, banging for banging’s sake.
Level 2 is humiliation porn, where the banging is secondary to the domination of the passive party/parties.
Level 3 is torture and snuff porn.

Gurgeh is exposed to this by a chiding shrew of a robot named Flere-Imsaho, sent to help grease the political wheels and avoid an intergalactic incident. Ostensibly, Gurgeh is supposed to play the game lose quickly, and demonstrate to the roving space viking Azad empire that the Culture is a joke unworthy of their time and warships.

But Gurgeh breaks out his Blue control deck and starts stacking those Ws. Victory royale after victory royale, there’s no stopping the boy. The Azadis recognize that things are going less than ideally and attempt to assassinate him a few times, but he is saved by his human contact on the planet, Culture ambassador and drunken HST analogue Shohobohaum Za.

Za is the best character in the book.

Gurgeh knows that the stakes are for real, and that the way Azad’s political system works is governed entirely by success in this game, which takes a lifetime to learn. The emperor is chosen based on who wins the planet wide tournament. Gurgeh, who has learned this game in two years, is absolutely spanking his way through all of the established pro-Azad players in the empire: priests, judges, bureaucrats, high-ranking politicians; even when they conspire together against him, they wind up activating his Trap card. Gurgeh sweeps the boards and sets up a head-to-head against Emperor Nikasar himself.

Once it becomes apparent that he also whooped Nikisar, and all of the space-Nazi dullards are also able to see it, they break for the day and Nikisar comes to visit him in his chambers. Gurgeh is like “golly, this is such a pretty and fun game we’re playing, and a good time between friends.” Nikisar beats the shit out of him and leaves.

Gurgeh goes into the next day’s session all lumped up and proceeds to noscope Nikisar in front of the entire galaxy. Right before he administers the killing blow, Nikisar has his foot soldiers sweep in and start murdering everyone in the room. Nikisar himself tries to kill Gurgeh with a sword. Gurgeh calls upon all of the combat training he never had because he lives in paradise to kangaroo-kick the Nazi emperor in the tummy, fall on the ground, then skitter across the burning wreckage until Flere-Imsaho shows up, activates his Deus Ex Machina protocol, and creates a mirror shield around Gurgeh, deflecting Nikisar’s laser pistol shot right back into his own domepiece and toppling the entirety of the Nazi space hierarchy.

Gurgeh returns home, where his girlfriend Yay tells him she transitioned to a dude for a couple years but now she’s transitioning back. They bang it out but Gurgeh is still melancholy because the horrible space empire collapsed and now he’ll never get to play Magic the Gathering again, which had become his favorite game.

In the end the narrator reveals itself to be the crazy battle droid, who disguised himself as Flere-Imsaho after manipulating Gurgeh into going to Azad in the first place for Special Circumstances, which is like the Culture’s version of the CIA.

I have a rule where if a book doesn’t have me hooked by 25% of the way in, I quit and never look back. This book very nearly missed the mark. It didn’t get good until after he went to Azad, around halfway through the book; the setup was sluggish, uninteresting, and droning. The first 100 pages could have just been the words “Gurgeh was very good at board games” and the story wouldn’t have suffered for it.

Four stars for that experience, but still an excellent read. I might make my way back into the Culture series, but not right this second.



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Book Review: Deep Work

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted WorldDeep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’m not a fickle man by nature, so I was surprised to look up the other Studyhacks plug vehicle I read and discover I’d given it five stars. That’s a four-star differential! If he had it, how did he lose it? How could he fall so far?

The problem with Deep Work is it featured more of the author as an individual, and less of his research. This was manifested by his constant, breathlessly verbose academic masturbation. Yeah, I think he’s a self-aggrandizing, circumlocutionary wad. Me. The guy who just used half a thesaurus to call him long-winded. I think that.

The author, as an individual, is unlikeable. Even putting aside his relentless boasting, his sloppy dual-hand shaft-massage of “innovative” CEOs and middle managers is equal parts embarrassing and grotesque.

Deep Work is a clunky propagandist how-to that attempts to convince you there is no life beyond your work, then gives helpful hints on how to drain all the vibrancy, adventure, and joy from your life in pursuit of more work, more promotions, more money so you finally make enough to consider yourself successful.

The motivational stories are harrowing. A dude who was working data-entry, getting like $60k a year, decides that he’s had it with that life and strikes out in pursuit of something more. He drops out of everything and obsessively teaches himself to code, working eight hours in his garage with fifteen different programming manuals over the course of a few months. When he wraps up this self-imposed asceticism, he enrolls in a master’s level accelerated course that “several doctorate students failed out of” and of course is the top of his class.

Ready for the payoff?

He gets certified and hired as a top-tier code monkey, making $100k a year, almost double. Newport states that he has, unequivocally, succeeded. He continues to work twelve-hour days, which begin at 5 AM, because he wants to focus his concentration and get his “deep work” in those essential four hours before everyone else arrives to disrupt his concentration.

Imagine that life. That successful life.

The book is replete with examples of these ubermensch “knowledge workers” (his term, and I cringed every time) reinventing paradigms by putting a lot of people in the same room at work, or isolating them in little cells, or whatever else. His description of the Facebook office is nothing short of sycophantic.

The book is filthy with business jargon and academic self-importance, and also business self-importance and academic jargon. It’s the worst of all conceivable worlds. I’ll give in an example, but I’ll summarize and paraphrase the lead-in; Lord knows somebody has to.

He talks about trying to classify daily work tasks into either deep or shallow work. Deep work requires sustained periods of deep concentration, pushing you to the limit of your abilities, often conjuring the flow state. Shallow work is answering e-mails and having meetings. Some things fall in between, and he attempts to establish a metric of “How long would it take a smart, recent university graduate to learn how to do this?”

Here comes the verbatim:
In the example editing a draft of an academic article that you will soon submit to a journal: Properly editing an academic paper requires that you understand the nuances of the work (so you can make sure it’s being described precisely) and the nuances of the broader literature (So you can make sure it’s being cited properly). These requirements require

— is that what those requirements do —

cutting-edge knowledge of an academic field – a task that in the age of specialization takes years of diligent study at the graduate level and beyond. When it comes to this example, the answer to our question would therefore be quite large, perhaps on the scale of fifty to seventy-five months.

Seventy-five months to be worthy of proofreading your academic paper? Are you high?

As you can see from that logorrhea, he’s absolutely unreadable.

It wasn’t a total wash, or I wouldn’t have finished reading it, though my iron resolve just kept on flagging. He name-drops Neal Stephenson several times, since he only had maybe ten examples of successful deep workers throughout the book (and one was Mark Twain, so maybe not firsthand report). Here’s what Neal had to say.

If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time-chunks, I can write novels. [If I get interrupted a lot] what replaces it? Instead of a novel that will be around for a long time… there is a bunch of e-mail messages that I have sent out to individual persons.

Well, that’s certainly true. But if the best line of your book is someone else’s, it might benefit you to gather up a “work block” for some self-reflection.

Another Geneva Convention-caliber violation is the concept of “productive meditation”. I’m a shrink by trade, so allow me to be your matador and draw your attention to the biggest, reddest flag: meditation is already productive. That’s why you do meditation. It defrags your brain and strengthens the orbitoprefontal cortex, improves your capacity for stress management, lowers your blood pressure, deepens sleep, enhances creativity, the whole nine yards. It makes you a better human being across every domain.

So the initial suggestion that Newport has discovered another, more productive means of meditation that has eluded the bodhisattvas for the past two millennia is opaque megalomania. He goes on to suggest that whenever you have “extra time”, such as when you’re walking somewhere, or showering, or eating, you should decide and hyperfocus on a specific “professional problem”, and think about nothing else for the duration of your activity.

Let’s see his own words again:
Fortunately, finding time for this strategy is easy, as it takes advantage of periods that would otherwise be wasted (such as walking the dog or commuting to work), and if done right, can actually increase your professional productivity instead of taking time away from your work.

Walking the dog isn’t a waste of your time, you fucking automaton. It’s a daily opportunity to connect with an animal that considers you its entire world.

It’s hard to slog through 300 pages of this and not interpret it as an attack on the human spirit. Your performance algorithm doesn’t allow for freedom, Cal. You’re running yourself into the ground and clocking 2 hours a night with your family because you’ve sold your soul to an outmoded notion of success, and these papers, these books that you turn out so assiduously are private little shrines and idols, designed not only to convert those who haven’t yet seen the light, but to prove to the skeptics, and to yourself, that it was worth it.

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Book Review: The Courage to be Disliked

The Courage to Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change your Life and Achieve Real HappinessThe Courage to Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change your Life and Achieve Real Happiness by Ichiro Kishimi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’d call it a masterpiece. Why not? Kishimi breathes new life into the uncle that foundational psychology keeps in its basement, Alfred Adler, in the form of a dialogue between a whiny-ass college student and a supercilious old Zen Stoic master.

The kid rails on about the injustice of the world and how terrible and evil it is to everyone, but him specifically, as 20something My First Nihilists are wont to do. The old man is smug, Socratic, and avuncularly pedantic over the next 300 pages as he gently explains why the kid’s worldview sucks.

Psychology was founded by three deeply disturbed Eastern European physicians. You’ve heard of Freud, inventor of Yo Mama jokes. You’ve probably heard of Jung, who was functionally a witch. Odds are you haven’t heard much about Adler, considering I did two degrees worth of psychology and the extent of my exposure was two PowerPoint slides about his birth order theory.

Adler pushed individual psychology, so called because the individual was the smallest component a mind could be reduced to. None of that “id ego superego” horseshit here. Adler wasn’t a big believer in the subconscious as a separate entity, like some frothy little anxiety-inducing daemon rubbing his shady little claws together. Trauma wasn’t real relevant either, which is about as far from psychodynamic theory as you can get.

You can’t explain Adler by outlining what he wasn’t, which Kishimi understood, and that’s probably why he presented this in the form of a dialogue. The format is something like this:

Kid: Bitches incessantly.
Old Guy: Presents contradiction gleefully.
Kid: Overreacts to what he perceives as a slight.
Old Guy: Tells kid to calm down, presents Adlerian concept in matter-of-fact way.
Kid: Presents contradiction. Angrily.
Old Guy: Further explains Adlerian concept, provides some examples, says more nice things to kid.
Kid: “I see. How interesting.”

This allowed Kishimi to address all of the points of argument that would be raised by anyone versed in Freudian (or, to a much lesser extent, Jungian) psychological perspectives.

Adlerian psychology is complex in that it has a lot of simple concepts that interlock. The first point introduced by Kishimi is that you can’t care about praise or conditional positive regard from others. Everybody likes it, but it’s not a guarantee and it doesn’t last. No matter what you do, in a crowd of ten people, at least a couple will always hate you. Nature of the beast. That’s their task, and trying to live to “correct” that in them and sucker them into liking you is a con that sacrifices your own freedom. Disloyalty to the self at the expense of free will is ultimately not worth the price of admission.

The reason you’ll never get everybody to love you is called “separation of tasks”. You get to decide what you do, but you can’t decide what other people do. How other people feel about you is their task. Your task is acting with honesty and integrity. If they don’t like it, okay. Cool. None of my business. Not my pig, not my farm, hoss.

This is not to say we’re incapable of adjusting things we don’t like about ourselves. No pulpy determinism here; in fact, this is about as far from callow reductionist self-excusing that you can get in early psychology, or even modern psychology. If you don’t like something about yourself, stop actively deciding to behave in a way that supports that trait every moment of every day. It falls away without its base and makes room for your next incarnation, no less a “real you” than the current one, but a you that didn’t have an opportunity to thrive, choked as it was by the thorns of your miserable old habits.

Throughout the book, the oldo says “decide to be happy” and the kid responds with high-pitched Lemongrab screeching, for obvious reasons. That doesn’t mean anything! “Happy” is something you aim for, like sanity, but it has no standardized definition outside of self-report, and even there it’s chosen only by the obnoxiously religious. How the hell?

Adler suggests a formula for happiness, or at least for a general sense of contentment that will move you beyond the realm of the big fat sweaty depressive. There’s only two steps.
1. Rely on yourself.
2. Live in harmony with society.

The obvious issue here, especially for anybody who follows my own brand of green-and-black Magic deck doomsaying, is that society is an absolute mess and living in harmony with it makes you complicit. And that’s true, within the paradigm that defines society as “7 billion people drawing invisible lines then drone striking across them”. Living in full-on harmony with our quotidian calamities, ranging from casual Skull & Bones war crime right on down to the antinature of a 40-hour workweek sitting in front of an LED screen, could only make you more miserable, more depressed, possibly even sweatier.

When Adler or Kishimi talk about a society, or a community, their definitions are more flexible and require more input on your part. You choose your own communities, and your communities become your society. If you decide “my community is my school”, that’s too many people, too much data to try to parse, and you’ll retreat from it. If your community is your circle of friends, co-workers you see every day, maybe some local chapter of a club devoted to a shared hobby, that’s manageable. You could live in harmony with these fellas, just as the human animal was programmed to live in harmony with their tribe. (Based on modern hunter-gatherer models, a tribe probably consisted of twentyish roving “bands”, each band consisting of around 25 people, which means you’d have 500 people to choose from but would probably only deal with a maximum of 150, which gives us Dunbar’s number. Neat.)

I’ve tried to adopt this way of thinking in how I spend my money, especially in light of the Coronavirus’s wholesale slaughter of small businesses. Living in the city, you’re surrounded by people you don’t know and businesses that you might not care for, all of which technically make up your neighborhood community. With an Adlerian approach, nope! Target might be closer to my house than Doggie Style Pet Supplies, but that doesn’t mean I accept Target as part of my community. They both carry chew toys. Doggie Style might be slightly pricier, but I’m no longer subsisting off canned tuna and Burger King tacos (who remember?) as I did in my wasted youth, and I’d rather pick and choose what I allow into my definition of community. This is, after all, my task.

This contribution, monetary in this example, is how I give back to this aspect of community. I internalize that I’m able to pick and choose. That’s self-reliance. I give money to Capitol Beer and Sushi, rather than Applebee’s. That’s contribution. If you have self-reliance and contribution, you have all the ingredients for happiness.

Obviously, that’s writ on a detached, macro, somewhat ancap level. It’s less messy when applied to personal relationships, like with your family. You need to know you’re not helpless, and you need to contribute to your family in some way, even if its something as subtle as with positive presence. Otherwise, you’re going to feel bad. Them’s the breaks.

One of my favorite bits is Adler saying “all problems are interpersonal relationship problems”. A sort of shiny spin on Hell being other people. Without other people gumming up the works, our problems would pretty much just be getting food. A life without other people wouldn’t be much of a life, but they certainly bring with them their cost.

I could go on, but won’t. Read the book. Here are some of my favorite excerpts.

“No matter what has occurred in your life up until this point, it should have no bearing at all on how you live from now on.”
Your past trauma, however developmental, is irrelevant. Each moment of a choice you make to continue living the way you always have. If that way isn’t working, choose to live differently.

Trauma is powerful, but only because we empower it with the meaning we extract from it.
“What kind of meaning does one attribute to past events? This is the task that is given to ‘you now’.”

What happened, or happens, to us is beyond our control. The meaning we ascribe to it and how we proceed from that point decides how we will feel, and how our life will go.

As Adler says, “Children who have not been taught to confront challenges will try to avoid all challenges.”

And they become adults who won’t deviate from their comfort zone, and languish in prisons of their own design.

An adult, who has chosen an unfree way to live, on seeing a young person living freely here and now in this moment, criticizes the youth as being hedonistic. Of course, this is a life-lie that comes out so that the adult can accept his own unfree life. An adult who has chosen real freedom himself will not make such comments and will instead cheer on the will to be free.

They are just jealous of your righteous teen styles. Up tha punx.

If you are thinking of school as being everything to you, you will end up without a sense of belonging to anything. And then, you will escape within a smaller community, such as your home. You will shut yourself in, and maybe even turn to violence against members of your own family. And by doing such things, you will be attempting to gain a sense of belonging somehow.

There’s always going to be a larger community, and you need the refuge of people you can trust within it, whichever one you choose.

There are two objectives for behavior: to be self-reliant and to live in harmony with society. The two objectives for the psychology that supports these behaviors: the consciousness that I have the ability and the consciousness that people are my comrades. … In other words, “to be self-reliant” and “the consciousness that I have the ability” correspond to the discussion of self-acceptance. And then “to live in harmony with society” and “the consciousness that people are my comrades” connect to confidence in others and then to contribution to others.

You need to have faith in others to be able to feel good about contributing, otherwise you’re just going to feel like you’re allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. Faith is predicated on trust. Trust only comes with the belief that they’ve got your back, that your quid will be pro quo’d. Hard to apply to humanity at large, but necessary to apply to whatever your community is, if you don’t want to be nuts.

Life is simple, and the world is, too.

Life is a series of moments, which one lives as if one were dancing, right now, around and around each passing instant. And when one happens to survey one’s surroundings, one realizes, I guess I’ve made it this far. Among those who have danced the dance of the violin, there are people who stay the course and become professional musicians. Among those who have danced the dance of the bar examination, there are people who become lawyers. There are people who have danced the dance of writing and become authors. Of course, it also happens that people end up in entirely different places. But none of these lives came to an end “en route”. It is enough if one finds fulfillment in the here and now one is dancing.

An old chestnut, but a good one. The journey is the destination. Having goals is fine, but your life isn’t achieving those goals. It’s living to see them achieved. Or not. Maybe it’s changing your mind along the way. Deciding that is your task, and you get to, because you’re free.

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Book Review: The Happiness Hypothesis

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient WisdomThe Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Half autobiography, half psych 101 class. Haidt revisits all the psychology experiments you’ve already heard about and ties them together with snippets of philosophers, most of whom you’ve also already heard of, then talks about either being in college, teaching at college, or going to India (for research. for college.)

He’s a respectable social psychologist which is almost like being a scientist, and the book is written clearly and accessibly. There are conflicting schools of thought as to where happiness comes from. Obviously, money can’t buy it, or why would they keep saying “money can’t buy happiness” all the time? They must have gotten it from somewhere. Everybody wants it, nobody knows how to get it.

Haidt suggests it’s a sort of combination of coming from within and coming from without. You’ve got to cultivate your internal rock garden, if you’re Buddhist, or your inner citadel, if you’re more an Aurelius kind of guy. You’ve got to manage expectations and be grateful for what you’ve got. You’ve definitely got to drop that goddamn attitude, I’ll tell you that right now. Also, you’ve got to adopt a moral code and stick to it. You’ll feel better if you do. You’ll be living in accordance with your virtues, and in Current Year we don’t have codified morals or virtues, so nobody knows how to act and it makes them miserable and neurotic.

You’ve also got to stop working all the time and spend more of your time with family and friends. Family especially. You’ve got to make time for hobbies and live within your means, even if that requires you to adjust your stupid daydreams about Lamborghinis and cocaine to something a little cheaper, that could actually contribute to a sense of fulfillment. Waste your money on experiences, not things.

In theory, you follow these rules, as confirmed by both modern psychologists and long-dead Romans, and you should be able to land proper happiness for yourself. But remember. This is just a hypothesis.

See? Practically a scientist.

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Book Review: Future Primitive and Other Essays

Future Primitive: And Other EssaysFuture Primitive: And Other Essays by John Zerzan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The issue with reading anarchist literature is that they’re laboring under the delusion that if their argument is sufficiently complex, they’ll win hearts and minds. Thing is, your reader’s heart and mind is already won, by virtue of their voluntarily choosing to read your impenetrable wall of jargon-heavy anarchist philosophical rhetoric.

It was engaging enough, for what it was, and brief. Future Primitive was the by now familiar call to abandon civilization and return to the shrub because the internet makes you stupid and alienated, which it absolutely does.

Hey. Hey, look at me. It does. It’s making you worse, right now.

The Mass Psychology of Misery is Zerzan saying all therapists are cops, and ACAB. That might be an oversimplification, but someone had better. He says psychology as we know it and psychiatry in particular is a tool for trying to make people forget their misery, and the misery itself is brought on by the absurd, abnormal conditions of data overload and treadmill consumerism that are supposed to constitute modern life. In this way, shrinks are distractions, like drugs, both street and prescription, like Netflix, to make you forget that you’re living directly counter to the nature you’ve been programmed for. He keeps trying to argue with Freud despite the fact that Freud essentially agrees that civilization took perfectly good monkeys and fucked ’em all up, hence the eponymous discontents. But Freud is on psych’s side, for better or worse, and who better to champion tribalism than an advocate for a return to the tribe?

Tonality and the Totality was a screed in opposition of music that sounds good, as it sounds good for following a tonal pattern and the tonal pattern represents the interests of the elite. Or something adjacent to that. It sounded like a defense of bad punk music, but then he called out punk music right at the end for not being anarchist enough! There’s just no pleasing some people.

The Catastrophe of Post-Modernism is right on the money in saying postmodernists are a bunch of sketchy chameleon dickheads who play irritating language and symbol games in an effort to avoid confronting the reality of human emotion. It wasn’t hugely comprehensible, but you can’t write about postmodernism and be comprehensible, so I don’t hold that against him. He’s fighting the good fight, if only with the sticks and stones of his preferred collective.

The bits and pieces from the Nihilist’s Dictionary were a little too propagandistic for my tastes, but the effort, and any nod to Bierce, is always appreciated.

It was a good book, but the arguments felt kind of lateral, suggestive without directly suggesting anything. But then, if Zerzan was buds with Kaczynski, I guess that would make sense.

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