Book Review: A Billion Wicked Thoughts

A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire by Ogi Ogas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I loved this book. I’ve got this problem when I love books too much, I’ll wait to review them so I can let everything percolate and get my thoughts in order. Problem is, much like when you don’t write down a dream right after waking up, you lose details. I finished this one over a week ago and I’ve been turning it over in my head ever since, but it was so convoluted that I’m worried I’ve lost some of the plot.

Here we go. The Largest Experiment wasn’t an experiment, but a comparative, blind meta-analysis of porn searches across gender, age, and orientation variables. The results wind up falling in lockstep alignment with the narrative pushed by evolutionary psychology since its inception in the 50s, which is why there’s so much high-pitched keening from all these other reviewers. Evolutionary biology and its appendages have decidedly not been asked to the prom in 2021.

The beauty of this non-experiment is all the data is naturalistic observation, beamed in directly from the crusty consoles of these degenerate perverts without their knowledge. Seems unethical, doesn’t it? That’s what makes it so hot.

The somewhat antiquated conclusions drawn from this ironically voyeuristic analysis of internet voyeurism is that men are cocked, locked, and ready to rock at virtually all times, assuming normal amygdal function and dopamine sensitization, because men tend to be attracted to individual parts. Not like in an Ed Gein way, normally. But men can do just fine looking at a super zoom-in of tiddies, because their brains are typically wired to respond to visual cues.

As contrasted to the average woman, where the arousal process tends to be much more psychological and convoluted. The odious comparison they draw in the book is with someone named Miss Marple, who I am too young and cool to know about, but by context clues deduce that she’s some sort of horny, geriatric detective. Women need a sequence of different things for arousal – very few of them can just look supercuts of big ol’ donguses and be ready to go – and the usual suspects tend to include things like status, attention, emotional connection, power, safety vs danger (which operates on a sort of sliding scale, both with their moistening potential), and actual physical attractiveness across several domains, all added somewhere in the mix. You don’t need all of them, but you need at least a couple.

Another fascinating little quirk of female arousal discussed in the book is there’s often such a significant disconnect that the brain doesn’t realize that the body’s aroused. In a neat little experiment they gauged the physiological, sexual readiness of both men and women when exposed to pictures of straight porn, gay porn, lesbian porn, neutral stimuli, and monkeys having sex, then asked the participants to rate how aroused they were by each stimulus in the moment.

Men had a direct 1:1 correlation. If they were gay, gay porn did it for them; if they were straight, straight and lesbian porn did it for them, and their self-report arousal matched what it said on the pressure cuff around their ding-a-ling.

Women’s results were all over the place. In most participants, physiological arousal was triggered by every sexually charged image, including – INCLUDING! – the monkeybang, whereas self-report of arousal varied widely between women, but generally across categories you’d expect (straight women generally preferring straight and gay images, lesbians preferring lesbian images, though by no means with the same numerical frequency or intensity as happened for the men). The take-home is that lady parts were pretty much always ready to go when sex as a concept was present, but were so often vetoed by the frontal lobes, and so quickly, that the woman herself wasn’t even aware of it, or of her own physiological arousal.

Because of the differences, the book tried to make the comparison that porn is to men as romance novels (or smutty fanfiction) are to women. It seems counterintuitive from whichever side of the road you’ve been assigned, but when you look at the data they compiled, especially subscription rates to these paysites across gender lines and their, ahem, use… it tracks. Especially when you consider that both of these things are peddling an unrealistic fantasy.

In porn, women are rendered objects. There’s no emotion or personality in the mix, unless some kink requires it, because the end-all is that these digitized dreamgirls are the sum of secondary sex characteristics. Sex objects in the purest conceptualization, and distillates of these visual, sexual cues, breasts and butt and legs and hips and, if you can spare one, a half-decent face. The fantasy sold to habitually porn-consuming men (Coomers, in the parlance) is of compliant sex robots frankensteined together from all the best parts for rapid, goal-oriented, emotionally vacant sex. If the woman speaks, it is to insist that her life is changed by the present sexual experience taking place, and upon completion (as defined by male orgasm, of course) there is an immediate decoupling and everyone goes their separate ways, no muss, no fuss, no further words spoken.

This type of sex is possible, of course. Through Allah, all things are possible. But it’s the exception, and not the rule. And if you’re cranking your hog to porn a few times a week (or a few times a day, in the case of the addicted), the expectation of that fantasy encroaches on your understanding of reality, and supplants it. That’s a tall order for your average woman, who has never even watched porn.

Because she’s busy reading The Baron’s Secret Mistress and getting… maybe not equivalently hot and bothered by it, but comparably. The sex is sort of an afterthought in lady smut, because the sex isn’t the point so much as is the emotions surrounding the sex because, as established, female arousal is a psychosexual Rube Goldberg machine.

The love interest in these works trend to type, too. They are dark, brooding, strong, dangerous. Mention will be made of their chiseled jaws, and perhaps of their powerful thighs. They are sought after, and unfailingly rakish. They are powerful. They occupy a high strata in whatever society they’re in – if he is a Viking he will be a chieftain, if he is a pirate he will be the captain, if he is a brigand he will be a sort of jacked, smirking Robin Hood, never a Little John or a Friar Tuck.

They will be rich. There isn’t much of a market for “The Long-Haul Trucker’s Concubine” or “The Forbidden Doublewide Trailer”, for some reason.

They will be heartbreakers. They will sometimes even be rapists; that’s an alarmingly popular trope in this kind of fiction.

And then, over time, the hypermasculine caricature that is the love interest will realize, often after a chance encounter with the protagonist’s magic hoo-hoo (operant definition provided by Ogi Ogas), that his life of freedom and philandering has been a sham leading up to the moment that he met the heroine, and he has been able to think of nothing else since. This culminates in a climactic, over-the-top declaration of love, “It’s you, it’s always been you” style, which the heroine will magnanimously accept, resulting in happily ever after.

In the same way the average woman cannot do that thing you want her to do from porn because she can’t hold her breath for four minutes, the average man will never become unhinged in his obsession with your “beautiful and unique you-ness” (ill-defined as that may be even in the novels) and ejaculate the innermost workings of his heart aloud to you on some windswept Scottish crag during a pounding storm, the rain plastering your hair to your head, his muscled chest heaving, his eyes, previously so commanding, now desperate, pleading for your answer.

The average man will, however, play Call of Duty for hours, and fart into the couch.

The book spent more time on porn than on romance novels, presumably because the data was much more direct and much more available. It drew some peculiar conclusions about popular trends in pornography, and in the sociosexual landscape of our age in general. I could pontificate about it for hours, but I’ve got things to do, and I’m sure you do too. I’ll try to make it brief.

Age was the most sought-after category and one of the most significant cues for men, but that could be due to how it was factored in. “Teen”, “mature”, “milf”, “stepmom”, etc. all got swept into the same category, whereas something like “nurse” had less wiggle room. The early chapters comparing different categories of porn and their popularities were eye-opening.

Ogas’ postulation on the growing popularity of cuckoldry was especially fascinating, since it seems like such a counterintuitive thing, with our main evolutionary drive as men being certainty of paternity. The suggestion is that’s exactly the point. Evo bio has a grody old chestnut that says the scoop shape of the penis and the presence of specialized cells in semen that are only there to kill other, foreign sperm suggest that the sexual encounters of early sapiens could get somewhat… crowded. From a perspective of natural selection, seeing another male potentially impregnating the female on whom you called impregnatin’ dibs could serve to arouse you (the cuckold) because it is critical to the survival of your genes that you get in there NOW and undo what he just did!

Which was a possible explanation for why men are so obsessed with wieners. The female eye tends to gloss right over them, taking them in as part of the totality, but the studies suggest that males, regardless of sexual orientation, find them train-wreck fascinating. And that sensitivity to the penis as a sexual cue was then used as a potential explanation for why transsexual porn is overwhelmingly consumed by heterosexual men; gays rarely found it to be very interesting.

Another peculiarity was the establishment of gay men being attracted to traditional markers of masculinity, and so much of gay porn is “about” straight men. I’m a cishet shitlord so I’m trying to step carefully in my paraphrasing, but the take-home was that, although the stereotype of flamboyance serves as a sort of marker to identify other gays in the wild, the overwhelming majority of gay men are more attracted to stubble-and-calluses machismo.

Which would also serve to explain their general disinterest in tgirls. It seems circular, I know, but I’m leaving out hundreds of citations and data points. If you want to be convinced, read the book.

In fact, if anything of this struck you as interesting, (and it should if you have a pulse), read the book. Draw your own conclusions. It might make you mad, it might make you disgusted, but it’ll certainly make you think.





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Book Review: The Furious Method

The Furious Method: Transform your Mind, Body and Goals by Tyson Fury

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Hands down, the best depression book I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot of depression books. Especially for being such a happy-go-lucky fella.

I picked this up expecting it to be a diet book. Tyson Fury lost 10 stone, which means 140 lbs in units used by real people. He mentioned in interviews he did so via “Dirty Keto” which meant a bunch of eggs, sausage, and Diet Coke, for some reason. Health and wellness book, written by a pro athlete who had just lost a manlet worth of weight in preparation for a championship match, it’s reasonable to assume the book would be about nutrition and exercise.

And in a way, it was, but only as a vehicle to battle depression. The Furious Method is the best compendium of practical coping skills I’ve found. It’s part self-help instruction manual, part mental health confessional, part autobiography, but the whole thing is done with a directness, an honesty, and a compassion I found totally disarming.

I didn’t know a lot about Tyson Fury before picking up this book. I knew he was a 270 lb British heavyweight champion who looked like an ogre but didn’t fight like one. I knew he stressed fundamentals and finesse. And I know he goes by “Gypsy King”, which I don’t think I’m even allowed to say, but I also know it’s a title earned by beating up all challengers within the traveller community. Yeah, you go ahead and tell him he’s cancelled.

So I naturally assumed this lumpy monolith was going to be a braying oaf. I was mistaken. He’s down-to-earth, eloquent, and a hell of a writer. The book is a forthright account of his struggle with bipolar depression and addiction, and exactly what was going through his mind at his highest highs and lowest lows. It’s a book that needed to be written, and a powerful blow against the stigma surrounding mental illness. There’s this lingering Puritanical boomer belief that if you got the depresso you suck it up and tough it out and you don’t talk about it. Don’t be a pussy. Well, Tyson Fury is the heavyweight champion of the world, and he’s a real piss-and-vinegar fighter, none of that slick cherrypicked Mayweather trash. If he struggles with mental illness, then it’s not strictly the purview of pussies, huh?

The advice is salt-of-the-earth, direct, and clinically accurate. Exercise. Eat well. Sleep enough. Get outside. Push yourself to do it. Reach out and get help. It’s the stuff we all know, but nobody really takes seriously, like mom telling you to make sure you wear a coat. Yeah, yeah.

Well, it’s fuckin cold out. Wear the coat.

If you’ve ever dealt with depression, I urge you to read this book, and do what it says. You can probably skip the My First Warmup sections of every chapter, but replace them with some other kind of functional cardiovascular exercise, because that is deadass THE way to beat depression. The studies have demonstrated, conclusively, that it works as well as or better than all those magic pills they keep heaving into our collective mouths like the Big Bertha arcade game.

Great book. Great fighter. Great dude. Yeah, okay, so he’s British. We all have our shortcomings.




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Book Review: The Wim Hof Method

The Wim Hof Method: Own Your Mind, Master Your Biology, and Activate Your Full Human Potential by Wim Hof

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Here’s the thing. The method is sound. Wim Hof unlocked a bizarre neo-yogic biohacking technique that allows him to manually override functions of his autonomic nervous system. All you have to do is breathe in an incredibly unnatural way for twenty minutes and boom, you’re immune to external temperature changes for a while. The same concept can also be applied to pain.

And if this book were just a how-to manual on how to hotwire the meat shell that limits us all, I would have given it five stars. Unfortunately, it’s also an autobiography of Wim Hof, who seems like a deeply unlikable man.

That’s not to say he’s an unpleasant man. He really leans into that 60s throwback peace and love shit you get from every white dreadlocked ketamine dealer who lives in a van, and they can be decent conversationalists, in small doses and accompanied with doses. What rankled me is how he kept using the hippie-dippie shtick as a means of justifying his lifelong, jubilant parasitism.

He begins by talking about his sustained joblessness, give or take a paper route. He brags about squatting in an abandoned punk house for ten years, which really helped him center his chi, do yoga, and play guitar. For ten years. He eventually met a wife in his punk house – the fact that she was also a career squatted could serve as a sort of Chekov’s gun for her emotional stability – and pumped her full of a veritable fleet of welfare babies. Fortunately, Hof continues to boast, the Netherlands has among the most comprehensive and developed social programs in the world. He fails to mention the Dutch tax rate is around 50%, but that’s probably because he’s never paid them.

But he explains to the foolish wagie reader that this multigenerational mooching was imperative to his development of the Wim Hof method of controlled hyperventilation. He also demonstrates its efficacy by setting arbitrary world records whenever he gets into an argument with someone, if his anecdotes are any indication.

“And to prove it’s okay to drink beer, I am going to go outside in the winter and hold a martial arts horse stance… for three hours!”

Okay. That’s cool. I’d be much more impressed if you held something like a job, to support your five children.

Of course, he has money now, and his kids all work with him at the Wim Hof Foundation for Cold Showers and Goofy Breathing. In pursuit of peace, love, and the circus, of course. He has only ever wanted to give back his endless, beautiful, shining, perfect cascade of love back to all of humanity to bring us closer and unite us as one, etc.

He talks like a cultist. Much of the book is hard to get through because he goes off on these peacenik rambles about the connectedness of human beings, and how all you need is love.

But for as much as I dislike this person conceptually, I’m glad he stumbled on this method, and I’d like to see it get more clinical traction. Early trials have demonstrated that the Wim Hof method can be used to combat and, in some cases, eradicate certain chronic diseases, including intractable autoimmune and gastric diseases like fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, IBS, a whole mess of them. Diseases that are typically treatment and medication resistant.

The thing is, these diseases often have a pronounced psychological component that nobody likes to talk about because so many people conflate psychogenic symptoms with malingering. And since the Wim Hof method does, by his own admission (and unbearable blustering) operate on a personal and emotional level, grounding the practitioner and allowing them not only to become acquainted with themselves but also to learn physically active coping skills that recalibrate the CNS and sort of speed-meditate… it’s possible that the physiological benefits of the method, with regard to chronic pain, only become physiological by patching the leaks in the psyche.

For the record, I think he’s nuttier than squirrel shit, but less of a quack than many actual doctors. Cold showers, deep breathing, and outdoor exercise do attune you with your nature, which does improve every aspect of your physical and mental well-being. His little toolkit can be used to do impossible things, like climb Mt Everest in a day without altitude sickness. He has done things that should have killed him, and they didn’t, and he has taught other people to do them, and they didn’t die either. That’s proof enough.

But don’t buy the cult of personality hype. Wooks is wooks, and you can pursue an agenda of universal holism and be responsible enough to hold a job at the same time, no matter what they tell you.



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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 then…

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: Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


It’s an excellent and insightful book on the topic of trauma therapy. The gold standard of current PTSD treatment is the acknowledgement that the body keeps the score. That’s why PTSD flashbacks are so visceral. The refrain is, “It’s like I’m back there, in that moment”, and as far as the body is concerned, you are. The evolutionary perspective justifies this both in the understanding that we are animals operating on primitive mammalian hardware, and in the body’s reasoning that whatever it was we did the first time we were in that traumatic (read: perceived as life-threatening) situation, we survived it, or we wouldn’t be here to have the flashback. It becomes maladaptive when falling back on whatever that response was damages the way we live our lives.

Levine breaks up sympathetic nervous response into fight, flight, or freeze, and the main thrust of his argument is people who deal with PTSD are trapped in the freeze response. Animals who survive life-threatening encounters tend to take minute to literally shake it off before going about their days, but these same animals tend not to have enough cortical folding to develop an obsessive fixation on the traumatic event (and future avoidance thereof). They don’t have the brain power to get stuck in the trauma, and they probably don’t have the computing power to have flashbacks, because flashbacks require memory and imagination.

His recommendation is trying to create some form of meaning aside from “I was a helpless victim”, not because it wasn’t necessarily true, but because for therapeutic purposes it’s not helpful in the long term. Sympathizing with your own victimhood is the willing lamb-on-the-altar sacrifice of your personal power and autonomy, deliberately sabotaging any efforts you (and to a lesser extent, your therapist) make to help you process the trauma and better understand the effect it has had on your perspective, your emotional response cycles, and the person you have become. You need that understanding to effect changes, and you need those changes to keep the PTSD from dominating your life. This is pragmatically indistinguishable from Levine’s “shaking it off”.

He wrote it for the layman and for survivors, so the language is accessible. It draws heavily on evolutionary biology and psychology which is usually conjecture cross-referenced with the fossil record, as you obviously can’t naturalistically observe human evolution, or replicate it in a lab.

That said, I am utterly baffled by some of the other reviews this book is getting, calling Levine condescending or unscientific. Blood from a stone here, fellas. If you want footnotes, we can tack a few APA citations from modern psychodynamic practitioners here, and although that technically qualifies as empirical, a real scientist would understand it’s about as scientific as reading tea leaves.

Psychologists are a bunch of bone shakers. All of the evidence we have comes from self-report, which can take a 180 degree turn based on whether the participant ate breakfast that day, and brain imaging, which is dudes in labcoats looking at a grainy photo and saying “that part seems to be… activated.” It’s the least scientific of all scientific disciplines, so to deride an active practitioner, a dude in the trenches of trauma therapy, putting his ass on the line every session and risking his own secondhand traumatization, for being unscientific… it’s like standing up at the “Speak now or forever hold your peace” part of a wedding and going: “This marriage is a sham, for God cannot be proven!”

Yeah, maybe. But you don’t gotta be such an asshole.



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Book Review: Play Together, Stay Together: Happy and Healthy Play Between People and Dogs

Play Together, Stay Together: Happy and Healthy Play Between People and Dogs by Karen B. London

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


First and foremost, all dogs are good, so jot that down.

Play Together, Stay Together rails against the now-defunct dominance theory where your dog is constantly trying to usurp you for pack leadership and your only recourse is to physically intimidate him. Instead, Ms. London suggests that the best way to bond with your dog is to fucking party all the time.

I’m hesitant to call it a book, since it’s like 90 pages. That’s more of a large pamphlet. The rest of the pamphlet lays out fun little games to teach your dog the power of friendship, as well as improving their recall and expanding their linguistic vocabulary with cool games like fetching specific objects and hide-and-seek.

Beefton and I have been practicing the game where he chases me around the park and I eventually give him a treat, and it’s his third favorite game. His second favorite game is Tug of War, and his first is Dog MMA. It’s improved his recall dramatically to the point where he’ll come when I call even if he doesn’t see me, so long as he’s not distracted by one of his first two favorite games. I’m also pretty sure he knows the name of most of the roommates.



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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: Industrial Society and Its Future

Industrial Society and Its FutureIndustrial Society and Its Future by Theodore J. Kaczynski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only thing Teddy hates more than civilization is the god damn liberals.

His rhetoric is by now archetypal of shrub-crouching anarchoprimitivists, and relies on the same general arguments appealing to nature and drawing attention to the absolute state of the place, and humanity’s psychological and “moral” decay since we really doubled down on agriculture.

Society, as we know it and jocker .gif live in it, was a mistake because it runs so contrary to what evolution programmed us for. We did just fine for two million years living in accord with the land, “in the hands of the gods” as Daniel Quinn succinctly put it, until about 10,000 years ago when we decided to start watchdogging plots of dirt that grew calorically dense but nutritionally vacant grasses that, truth told, we don’t digest so good. Finally given a reason to go to war, we started going to war. Progress marched on, technology continued to advance, and with every new jump it brought with it the promise of a better, more fulfilling, and easier life that ultimately culminated in actual slavery (before giving way to the modern, wage kind), war, murder, rape, animal abuse, all of it. Name a bad thing and you can eventually trace it back to the technological advances that brought us out of the shrub.

Most of these green and black philosophers make vague allusions to how bad farming was, usually connecting it to being cast out from Eden (whether they mean to or not), and drop hints that something must be done, nudge nudge wink wink. Teddy makes his suggested solutions pretty obvious by, as Epictetus advised, embodying his philosophy. He also takes things a step further by suggesting all technology starts as a key and becomes its own lock. Every new bit of tech that guarantees simplification of life leads to greater reliance on that tech, and its providers, ultimately adding another layer of dependency, which takes its psychological toll.

The main thrust of Teddy’s argument is that man has an ingrained psychological need to be free, like every other animal, and wandering around the savanna scrounging out each day’s existence provided more freedom than does farming, sitting in a cubicle, or being a mathematics professor. The further we get from this freedom, the more we lean on the allowances and permissions granted us by the “masters”, the keyholder technocrats, the more miserable and neurotic we become.

Teddy believes the system benefits no one but the system, which is why we’re feeding children drugs to make them sit still in school, throughout the years where every comparable animal would be running, playing, and exploring, so they can grow up to become automatons of appropriate malleability. Obviously, no creature can distance itself from its nature so completely, so maintaining the status quo into adulthood many require further prescriptions, recreational chemicals like smonk and drink, and that good good Netflix, to maximize docility.

He suggests the power process (a psych term he seems to have invented for this manifesto) denied by modern life is sublimated into hobbies and work, so people pursue things like an academic career, collecting Magic the Gathering cards, or maximizing their body count (in either sex or homicide), providing them a sense of purpose that would otherwise be met with daily Darwinian attempts at survival and reproduction.

He also smashes libs unceremoniously and remorselessly. Here are a few occasions on which the lib status was adjusted to destroyed:

Those who are most sensitive about “politically incorrect” terminology are not the average black ghetto-dweller, Asian immigrant, abused woman, or disabled person, but a minority of activists, many of whom do not even belong to any “oppressed” group but come from privileged strata of society. Political correctness has its stronghold among university professors, who have secure employment with comfortable salaries, and the majority of whom are heterosexual white males from middle- to upper-middle-class families.

The language in this screed is a little dated, my dude, but I trust your judgment regarding university professors.

It is not the primitive man, who has used his body daily for practical purposes, who fears the deterioration of age, but the modern man, who has never had a practical use for his body beyond walking from his car to his house. It is the man whose need for the power process has been satisfied during his life who is best prepared to accept the end of that life.

In which the fear of death evaporates by a life well lived. Socratic.

The people who rise to positions of power in leftist movements tend to be leftist of the most power-hungry type because power-hungry people are those who strive hardest to get into positions of power. Once the power-hungry types have captured control of the movement, there are many leftists of a gentler breed who inwardly disapprove of many of the actions of the leaders, but cannot bring themselves to oppose them. They need their faith in the movement, and because they cannot give up this faith they go along with the leaders.

This comes tailing a hundred or so pages about how leftists are crippled by their personal insecurity and so enroll themselves in massive collectivists movements because it’s only through that union, through joining with this mob, that they can conceive of having personal power.

If our society had no social problems at all, the leftists would have to invent problems in order to provide themselves with an excuse for making a fuss.

He also argues that these libs, these despicable libs, tend to champion causes that are already part of the established status quo. Virtue signaling wasn’t a coined term when he wrote this, but it’s the same concept. I don’t have it marked, but let me paraphrase:

A leftist of this type will come out in staunch defense of something like racism being bad, which is a socially accepted perspective as it stands. The ones who argue that racism is good are social aberrants. Everyone agrees racism is bad. So when this leftist gets on the soapbox and bellows “racism is BAD you stupid FUCKERS! How many TIMES do I have to SAY IT?”, they’re not necessarily doing it to advance an anti-racist agenda, as the overwhelming majority of “the system’s” agenda is already vocally anti-racist.

Well, who could say? If Teddy was as smart as they claim, he wouldn’t be serving four consecutive life sentences plus 30 years right now. The philosophy makes sense in spots, but it’s predicated on a lot of assumptions that you need to be pretty disaffected to accept in the first place.

Four stars. It lost a star because I don’t want to be on any more watch lists than I already am.

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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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