All posts for March 2018

No More Heroes, Pt. 2

Don't have heroes, just emulate behaviors.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/27 08:00

In a conversation that followed from the thoughts I had the other day about heroes and role models, I came up with a refinement on my earlier line of discussion: Don't have heroes, just emulate behaviors.

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Tags: celebrity  role models 

I Am (Not) An Entertainer

"I'm an entertainer." -- Alan Watts. "I am not an entertainer." -- William S. Burroughs. Discuss.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/26 08:00

Two quotes, two viewpoints:

I want to make one thing absolutely clear. I am not a Zen Buddhist, I am not advocating Zen Buddhism, I am not trying to convert anyone to it. I have nothing to sell. I'm an entertainer. That is to say, in the same sense, that when you go to a concert and you listen to someone play Mozart, he has nothing to sell except the sound of the music. He doesn’t want to convert you to anything. He doesn’t want you to join an organization in favor of Mozart's music as opposed to, say, Beethoven's. And I approach you in the same spirit as a musician with his piano or a violinist with his violin. I just want you to enjoy a point of view that I enjoy.

— Alan Watts

There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing... I am a recording instrument... I do not presume to impose “story” “plot” “continuity”... Insofar as I succeed in Direct recording of certain areas of psychic process I may have limited function... I am not an entertainer.

— William S. Burroughs

Emphases mine. I like chockablocking these two quotes together despite how they ultimately address different things and to different ends. They also represent the two sides of a dichotomy I find myself in more often than not.

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Tags: entertainment 

The Unsubmissive

"The world will be saved, if it can be, only by the unsubmissive."

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/25 17:00

The world will be saved, if it can be, only by the unsubmissive. Without them it would be all up with our civilization, our culture, what we loved, and what gave to our presence on earth a secret justification. Those unsubmissive ones are the "salt of the earth" and responsible for God. For I am convinced that God is not yet and that we must achieve him. Could there be a nobler, more admirable role, and more worthy of our efforts?

— André Gide

There's a part of me that's always nervous about quotes like this, because of the way any good and high-minded sentiment can be pinched by the bad guys. But that doesn't mean it's wrong, and that doesn't mean it isn't worth repeating.

Tags: André Gide 

From The Shoulders Of Giants, The View Is Lovely Indeed

"The negation of a [scientific] theory is not a new theory."

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/23 17:00

Here is an essay by Brett Hall about what the philosophy of science is and what it tries to achieve. It makes several claims that I think would be great starting points for building any future syllabus for science education. Chief among them is the idea that science's mission "is not to 'support'  theories with evidence.... The truth is that science is about correcting errors in our explanations." (Emphasis by the original author.)

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Tags: philosophy  physics  quantum mechanics  science 

The Problem With The Rat Race Is That Even If You Win, You're Still A Rat

On media both social and antisocial.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/23 08:00

Steven Savage just posted about experimenting with using Facebook and Twitter less. I think it's a laudable experiment, and it seems he encountered several of the big takeaways I've been clear about for a couple of years now: that depending on these things is a bad idea (not least of all because you don't and can't own them), and that they can become self-perpetuating, self-justifying timesinks.

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Tags: Steven Savage Dialogues  blogging  social media  technology 

The Reason They Export Molson Is Because Canadians Are Too Smart To Drink That Bilge

I was going to say something about Jordan Peterson, but this article beat me to it.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/21 08:00

I was going to say something about Jordan Peterson being a bonkwitted gasbag, but this article beat me to it. I checked off so many boxes on my Intellectual Crank Bingo card, I had to go print up another one. In the words of the article that linked me to it originally, "Nickelback jokes were tired anyway, so here’s your go-to if you need a stock joke about bad Canadian exports."

Peterson is popular partly because he criticizes social justice activists in a way many people find satisfying, and some of those criticisms have merit. He is popular partly because he offers adrift young men a sense of heroic purpose, and offers angry young men rationalizations for their hatreds. And he is popular partly because academia and the left have failed spectacularly at helping make the world intelligible to ordinary people, and giving them a clear and compelling political vision.

... If Jordan Peterson is the most influential intellectual in the Western world, the Western world has lost its damn mind. And since Jordan Peterson does indeed have a good claim to being the most influential intellectual in the Western world, we need to think seriously about what has gone wrong. What have we done to end up with this man? His success is our failure, and while it’s easy to scoff at him, it’s more important to inquire into how we got to this point. He is a symptom. He shows a culture bereft of ideas, a politics without inspiration or principle. Jordan Peterson may not be the intellectual we want. But he is probably the intellectual we deserve.

Emphasis mine. I'm reminded of another major public, political figure of recent renown about whom the same thing could be said, and for many of the same reasons.

Addendum: Another good article on Peterson. Peterson's enlightened and intellectual response to it was to hop on Twitter and verbally abuse the author with a choice array of four-letter words.

Tags: Jordan Peterson  comedy gold  philosophy 

The Unthinkable Lightness Of Being

On how Zen and Buddhism are not anti-intellectual, but non-intellectual. Big diff there.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/20 17:00

Purchase on AmazonBefore I started practicing Zen seriously, I read approximately five-and-a-half metric butt-tons of books on Buddhism generally and Zen specifically. The book that kicked off my practice in earnest was Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen, which confronted me in language I couldn't help but pay attention to that the only thing that mattered was one's own practice. Since then, I've read other books on Zen of one kind or another, and apart from Brad's other books, the one that had the most impact was a book that for many people in the West — for instance, John Cage — served as an introduction to Zen generally: John Blofeld's translation of The Zen Teachings Of Huang Po.

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Tags: Brad Warner  Buddhism  Huang Po  John Blofeld  Stephen Jay Gould  Zen  intellectualism  science 

Maybe We Shouldn't Have 'Heroes'

Why this business of personal heroes may well be a bad idea.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/18 08:00

Someone I know in another venue posted in disgust about how he can no longer call Terry Gilliam a personal hero, because of the contortions Gilliam put himself through in defense of Harvey Weinstein. (It's something along the lines of how artists always have to be envelope-pushers; it's every bit as dumb as it sounds.) Who to call a hero in this embattled age?

I'm going to make a radical suggestion, one that I don't expect anyone to follow, but here goes: don't have "heroes".

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Tags: David Lynch  Guillerimo del Toro  Roman Polanski  Woody Allen  celebrity  role models 

'I Burned It All'

Take your story. Rip it up and start again. What's left?

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/14 08:00

This is one of my favorite stories.

In mid-1865, Fyodor Dostoevsky was preparing to work on a novella he had tentatively titled The Drunkards, about the way alcoholism destroyed families. Then he happened across the case of the self-styled criminal intellectual Pierre François Lacenaire, and the center of the work shifted — seismically so, you might say — to this new character. What emerged was nothing less than Crime And Punishment.

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Tags: Fyodor Dostoevsky  The Fall Of The Hammer  writing 

But Will It Play For The Over-21 Set?

How different a standard should we have for works aimed at younger audiences vs. those aimed at "all" audiences?

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/13 17:00

Last weekend I saw the 2018 movie adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time with my wife and her mother. We all liked the film, although I'm pretty strongly of the opinion that it is aimed at, and will be best received by, younger viewers. Adults may well find it too hokey and illogical, but then again the original book was criticized on exactly those grounds as well. Which got me thinking: how different a standard should we have for works aimed at younger audiences vs. those aimed at "all" audiences?

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Tags: A Wrinkle In Time  Studio Ghibli  Whisper Of The Heart  audiences  movies  young-adult fiction 

Philosophizing With A Megaphone

On Twitter as a case study in technical non-solutions to social problems.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/12 17:00

I made the mistake of browsing my Twitter feed the other day.

By and large I don't read Twitter. I maintain a presence there mainly as a way to keep others from squatting my name, and I have posts on this blog summarized and fed automatically into my Twitter account. But other than that, I do my best to not get sucked into it.

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Tags: Twitter  social media  technology 

Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned: Copyediting With A Machete

On avoiding the temptation to edit drastically, late in the game.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/12 08:00

A friend I trust is now in the process of reading Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned and providing me with last-stage feedback. This is on top of me doing one more slow-read pass on the text and catching a whole slew of little issues — grammar here, explanation there.

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Tags: Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned  editing  writing 

When You Didn't Know You Wanted This

What to do when you find yourself saying, "I didn't know I wanted this."

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/08 17:00

A friend of mine and I got to talking the other day about Netflix's new version of Lost In Space, itself a sci-fi version of Swiss Family Robinson. We were both bowled over by the sheer amount of money splashed across the screen, but also by the general tone of the whole thing — the renewed emphasis on survival and understanding their strange new world, all things that got lost the last time they (re)made this material.

What stood out most, though, was my friend's comment: "I didn't know I wanted this."

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Tags: creativity 

Getting Better All The Time

Why Steven Pinker's encomium to an improving world falls so flat.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/06 08:00

Steven Pinker has been garnering attention for his book Enlightenment Now, in some sense a spiritual sequel to his earlier book The Better Angels Of Our Nature. In the latter, earlier work, Pinker asserted that life is on the whole becoming less violent and more generally livable, despite whatever in-the-moment bad news we might see. Pinker's right, but the way he makes his case is a study in self-sabotage.

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Tags: Steven Pinker  politics  society  sociology 

Plug Me Into Something

To put things into perspective for yourself, lose "yourself" a little.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/05 08:00

There's a bunch of little things on my mind right now that have been gnawing at me — nothing that in the Big Scheme Of Things ultimately means anything, and I know it. But in the moment, all I feel is their little rat teeth pinching away.

I used to have a lot of contempt for the idea that one good way to deal with one's problems was to put them in the broadest possible perspective. E.g., if you worry about the state of your lawn, you put it into the perspective of the planet, and thus your lawn along with it, eventually becoming a cinder after the sun enters its red giant phase. Good for a mordant laugh, but not much of a balm.

Over time I found the real trick was to put your problems in the broadest possible perspective that you could connect to emotionally. Then over time, find a way to broaden what you can connect to emotionally in the first place.

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Paranoia The Destroyer

On how the conspiracy theory mindset stems from emotional torment.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/04 08:00

Hofstader's essay has never been more relevant, but this passage in particular caught my eye:

The Paranoid Style in American Politics | Harper's Magazine

... the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.

Emphasis mine.

Most people are not malicious or paranoid, but that also means they are not judiciously skeptical either. They are not in the habit of testing their own understandings of things, as a defense against the fact that (to slightly misquote Feynman) it's the easiest thing in the world to deceive yourself.

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Tags: conspiracy  politics  society  sociology 

The Drive To Create

In re Jarmusch's 'Paterson'.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/03/02 08:00
Buy at Amazon

The other night I watched Paterson, by Jim Jarmusch. In theory this movie ought to have been insufferably twee: it's about a Paterson, N.J. bus driver, named Paterson (as much in honor of the William Carlos Williams poetry as his residence, it seems), and played by Adam Driver (I'm not sure that was deliberate), who secretly writes poetry. But it's the kind of sweet, low-key moviemaking that I enjoy, if only because so much modern filmmaking is not in this vein, and also because one of the dilemmas in the film is close to my own heart. I will talk about that part of it here, so this is not so much a review as a reflection on a theme.

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Tags: Adam Driver  Jim Jarmusch  William Carlos Williams  creativity  creators  poetry 

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