How do you write a story when the world is being murdered?



BxPe7oOIgAAH5QvHow do you write a story when the world is being murdered? If reality was a narrative what lessons could we pick up from the narrative arc? There really does seem to be a building up of dramatic tension as the systems that dominate the world increasingly undermine everything that they are premised on. Maybe we are in a story. But it seems to be a story in which we all feel helpless to change the rules of the game precisely when changing the rules is the only thing that can save us. Maybe there are plucky bands of young adults right now trying to figure out what it means to take responsibility even if it’s not your fault because that’s what you have to do to beat the bad guys, or in this case survive. Rome wasn’t built in a day. People don’t create masterpieces on canvass or in literature over night. It is the consistent expression of a life over time.

In many stories the protagonist is given an undeniable call to action. “You’re a wizard, Harry.” Is that what people are waiting for? How convenient a storytelling pattern and how unhelpful a model for the most crucial transitions of our lives. Do we need to be personally called upon to save the world? What if no one asks us? Are we going to just watch it die in slow motion? Is this another, more intricate, dimension of dramatic tension? Who will hear the call to action? Who will choose, without being personally asked, to make a primary if not daily habit of expressing their life through what some are trying to call “The Revolution”? Change seems impossible and then tipping points are reached and everything is different. I don’t think there is a more moral use of my time than working toward this tipping point in some small way every day.


Morality is objective and conditional

Morality is objective and conditional because humans have needs, are capable of suffering, and have some meaningful degrees of agency, both conscious and not. So if you’re a human and you care then there really are objectively correct and incorrect ways to go about the project of caring for yourself and others. You really should do some things and you really shouldn’t do other things. If you care.

The starting place for almost everyone, with limited exceptions for people like psychopaths, is one of emotional investment. This is a function of our numerous interdependencies, evolutionary, political, social, psychological, physiological etc.

Saying that morality can’t be objective because we can’t justify why investment/care is our starting place, is like saying that the practice of medicine can’t be objective because we don’t have a justification for why we should care to save anyone’s life. It’s a premise. It’s conditional, a condition that we all generally meet, and then the practice is objective.

There are plenty of ways to talk about it and even disagree in how we talk about it while still agreeing in practice about the sense in which the relationship between our behavior and the existence of suffering already matters and is consequential.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like to use the moral language of “right” and “wrong” because there aren’t any verifiable/reliable measures of moral behavior from outside of life and thus consider most moral language unfounded, as long as you prefer to avoid unnecessary suffering we are allies in this human project.

Of course I would disagree that categorizing moral sentiment as fundamentally aesthetic means that there are no ways to prioritize or settle disputes between competing moral sentiments. We aren’t so scientifically ignorant of what humans individually and collectively are that we can’t rule out plenty of prescriptions handed down to us from our various religious and spiritual traditions, handed down to us by “God,” as being unjustifiable. We really do know better than to think stoning to death adulterers and those who break the Sabbath etc. is any longer morally or aesthetically preferable or justifiable.

This common human starting point also means that the notion that many raised within religions have that either there is some external metaphysical measure or without it everything is permitted is actually a false dichotomy. It does mean that we can’t rationally/socially expect metaphysical justice, but we do have a foundation for temporal justice.

Of course we can all still have our own individual or group metaphysical intuitions but we can’t expect everyone to share them and we don’t need to.


As if

What are we collectively trying to do?

Governments are supposed to be the platform for our collective will. It isn’t anymore. Now what?

Everyone seems to think they know more than they do. The sheer diversity of opinion alongside the strength with which these opinions are generally held should give us all pause. Can we really justify our own beliefs? What does it even mean to “believe”?

How do we operate together without requiring identical belief structures?

Bracketing is required. Our beliefs, values, and actions are mutually reinforcing and interdependent.

We don’t seem to generally be capable of not believing something/anything even when we have insufficient evidence.

The world at the scale of the individual human is to a fair extent fairly easily verifiable with our own senses and checked with the senses of our friends and neighbors. The further any topic strays from this scale, the more difficult it is to verify.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly this entails a situation in which our largest concepts are almost universally unverifiable; these include our worldview and sense of self.

Given our predicament, it seems prudent to admit, since despite our preferred metaphysics and individual lived experience that our individual worldviews are fundamentally speculative, especially to each other, regardless how real it feels to us.

If we are capable of this then we might be capable of coming to a more rational and mutually beneficial collective arrangement by finding a way of individually recognizing that despite our personal beliefs we can choose to behave as if we are all in this together. As if every one of us individually and collectively matters. As if we share something irrevocably in common despite our differences and that our lives might very well depend on it.

I’m not sure if anything can beat the cold, calculating cheesiness of maximizing positive sum gains for Earthlings. That’s what we call a win-win.


How to Read for Grad School

Miriam E. Sweeney


In graduate school the work load increases and students will find that they are expected to master two to three times the material that they were used to as an undergraduate.  This can be intimidating to the point of overwhelming a student into paralysis.  Following these tips should help you master your readings instead of allowing the readings to master you!

1.     Read Strategically, Not Linearly. Reading for graduate school is different than reading a book for pleasure.  When we read for pleasure we often start at the beginning of the book, reading carefully in a linear fashion.  If you do this with your academic material, it will take twice as long and it is likely you won’t retain the right kind of information from the reading.  Instead of reading linearly, read strategically.  As an academic reader your job is to mine the text you are reading for information. …

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The Day After: James Galbraith on Brexit

Radical Political Economy


By James Galbraith,

The groundwork for the Brexit debacle was laid last July when Europe crushed the last progressive pro-European government the EU is likely to see – the SYRIZA government elected in Greece in January 2015. Most Britons were not directly engaged with the Greek trauma. Many surely looked askance at the Greek leaders. But they must have noticed how Europe talked down to Greece, how it scolded its officials, how it dictated terms and how it made rebellious country into an example, so that no one else would ever be tempted to follow the same path.

If the destruction of Greece helped set the tone, Leave won by turning the British referendum into an ugly expression of English nativism, feeding on the frustrations of a deeply unequal nation, ironically divided by the very forces of reaction and austerity that will now come fully to power. The political effect…

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I have some questions

What kind of tools do we need in order to begin going about giving a thorough and well reasoned answer to the question, “What the fuck are we doing?”

What kind of ideological and/or social models do we have? What are their respective predictive accuracies and in what dimensions? What is the human species doing collectively, as a species? Are we a distributed network of consciousness? How intertwined are human limbic systems/other parts of the subconscious? What would it mean to use a better understanding of the science of human nature to intentionally model social organization on successful biological systems? Brains? Is “money is the blood of the social body” a useful metaphor? How well can we answer any of these questions in particular without answering other questions – in this set?/ not in this set? To what extent is strife a function of our inability to agree to what our symbols mean and what reality is? Are humans the platform for a battle of memes/ social software that determines the organization and hence patterns of energy flow of society through human agency? Should game design play a larger role in public policy? Should public policy be determined and executed more organically? Is the current centralization of power a threat to the survival of the human species? Why aren’t public policies generally required to be tested before they are implemented? Is it possible to have a governing social software system that optimizes social experimentation? Are there enough values that enough humans agree on to make conscious collective progress as a team despite our differences? What would it be like to all feel like we’re on the same team in some important sense? How does each of us as an individual relate to society? How much of our interactions are dominated by bureaucratic and monetary interests? How well mapped are other ways of organizing human collective action? How do we maximize human psychological healing? What questions do we think are the most important to pursue? If contexts determine which traits are selected for, what responsibility do we have to the manner in which our contexts are created? How does a social system that causes mass extinction maintain legitimacy? Why do I find it so difficult to live my life intentionally?