A parable on the difference between motives and ecological niches. Continue reading
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?
Nature is not good, only proto-good.
Epistemic status: literally a dream
I am in the desert, alone.
I see the ribcage of a long-since-dead animal. I see a long row of such bones, twisted in a way that reminds me of - but is definitely not - the double helix.
I know what this means.
Evolution, on the margin, always eats free energy, to make more energy-eaters. It is a race with no upper bound, and there will be no victory. Instead, the cosmic commons will be exhausted by resource-claimers with no plan to do anything with the resources. Not that there will be anything left when the race is over.
If I do not take the next step in the dance of life, my line ends. I am just a corpse along the way.
If I do take the next step in the dance of life, then I do no better than life.
And if not now ...
Then I look again. Instead of bones I see a railroad. For longitudinal bones, metal tracks laid by the hand of industrial humanity, stretching in a straight line towards infinity. For ribs, the crossties that allow the uneven ground to support those even rails.
I know what this means.
The economic logic of global capitalism. Another race towards infinity, leaving nothing. Quarterly returns. Goodhart's law. Accountability and automation replacing judgment wherever they can, culminating in a Disneyland with no children. The symbol of this, the train, no natural place for the line of tracks to end, stations but no terminals, stretching on forever.
I look again. I see a road.
I awaken. Continue reading
An Italian nobleman and a French nobleman were accustomed to vacation together. In order that their servants might also have the opportunity to enjoy leisure while away from home, they arranged that their entourages would wait on both of them, on alternating days, so that if the Italian servants waited on the two noblemen one day, those same servants would vacation on the following day, while the French servants took their turn waiting on the two noblemen.
One of the French servants wished to make an assignation on a day when he would otherwise have been required to serve, and persuaded one of the Italian servants to change places with him.
On that very day, the two noblemen wished to dine on an Italian flatbread, topped with tomatoes, cheese, and basil, and called for this savory pie to be brought to them. To their surprise, the servant who delivered the pie wore the colors, not of the Frenchman's noble house, but of the house of the Italian nobleman!
The Frenchman said, "what is the meaning of this? Why are you dressed in this fashion?"
"This servant is terribly sorry if he has misworn some article of clothing, and humbly entreats his lordship to instruct his humble servant how to correct the error," said the servant.
The Italian clarified: "It is not the uniform, but the day."
Hint for those who haven't watched much TV in the last decade.
A lady is cursed by a bad fairy to turn into a loathsome serpent every Saturday. She meets a man, and they fall in love, and she says, "you can marry me, but don't visit me on Saturday, no matter what."
He responds, "Sure, sure, anything," and leaves her alone on Saturdays.
But his friends rag him about this. "What's up with your wife, what is she UP to on Saturdays?"
So he sneaks into her bathroom one Saturday and sees a giant snake in the bathtub, and runs away in disgust and abandons her.
Moral of the story: nobody can actually handle the snake. Nobody can be allowed to see the snake.
Of course that has to be the primary form of the story that is told, because it is a direct version of this basic fear, that if we are known, we will be reviled. But like Kierkegaard, I see other stories to unfold out of this one, that we might better comprehend its nature.
I’m in Portland, OR right now. I came here to try to absorb by some osmotic process the local culture of self-cultivation, people engaging in projects not because the projects are useful or justified, but because they want to. People living out their aesthetic vision for their lives. But when I got here, I found that it is not Rivendell, where lonely Elf-friends can heal their wounds, but the Shire. You can visit and be welcome, but you won’t really be a part of it. It’s not Elfsongs and stories and public feasts, but people living out their private lives in communities. You can visit a person in Portland, but you can’t really visit Portland.
When Cincin saw the huge fallen tree in the road, he stopped short. By force of habit, his mind probed for the hungry tendrils of the firestone - but no. The firestone was gone. He crouched down with his hands on his knees, to wait out the wave of nausea that passed through him. With a firestone, this log would have been no obstacle. He’d have summoned his full strength, more than he usually could, and pushed the obstacle off the road. Or he’d have used the other members of his party like extensions of himself to coordinate, and get the tree off the road somehow. Or come up with some clever plan to do it. He had to get the firestone back. He needed its power. He could persuade the group to turn around, raise a peasant army in the surrounding towns, and storm the city, to take back his firestone by force. Or he could go back alone, and shamelessly beg his friends in the Senate - or the people of the city - for just one more use of it. Or figure out some other key thing his city needed. Or make them need him.
But no. He’d given up the firestone freely. He let the sense of loss pulsate through his soul. He was alone now - he had his traveling companions, but he had no firestone. And it had never helped him do anything he couldn’t have done himself, if he had been just a little cleverer, more determined. And - he forced his thoughts onto this track now, out of the well-worn rut reaching out towards the firestone - this wave of loss was just a sign of weak places where he could become strong. He had to learn to do without - but he could mimic the patterns the firestone had taught him.
"You can't kill me," growled Bruce. He had been stupid enough to allow himself to be captured - and he would have to resort to desperate measures to avert permanent failure.
"I'm not going to kill you," said his nemesis, pointing to the terrified, unwilling participant standing next to Bruce on the bridge. "But he might."
Bruce could hear the trolley coming closer. If he didn't do something soon, one of two things would happen. Either the five people on the tracks would die, or Bruce would be pushed off the bridge to stop the trolley with his body. Neither was acceptable. If he died, he would protect these innocents - maybe - but others would doubtless die in future experiments. If he did not stop the trolley, then five people who had not signed consent forms or waivers of liability would be killed, in an unauthorized experiment. Continue reading
Dr. John Kinyago had first noticed the problem when one of his research assistants had spilled her coffee on a test subject. After recovering from the unpleasant surprise, the subject had looked at her with clear suspicion. “I'm sorry, it was an accident!”, the research assistant said, truly but unconvincingly.
He worked the makeup remover over his face, wiping away the mask he carefully composed each morning to bring his vitiligo-altered skin back to some semblance of normality. He had tried more permanent treatments, but the result had unsettling effects. Michael Jackson could make money off his strange appearance; Jack Kinyago had to look impeccably conventional, conforming to expectations, unimpeachably serious. Except now.