Thursday, December 07, 2017

Community: The Final Chapter

If you filter out from the common, mainstream uses of the word “community” all of the obviously non-community-related ones, such as “international community” (a lame euphemism) or “community relations” (a synonym for “public relations”) or “community center” (a synonym for “neighborhood center”) pretty much all that remains is “retirement community.” There are well over two thousand of them just in the US, with close to a million residents.

In comparison, “intentional communities,” including ecovillages, monasteries, communes, survivalist retreats, kibbutzim, ashrams and so on are rather boutique, being mainly aspirational and ideological rather than practical in nature. But added together they present more or less the entire landscape of “communities” within the developed world. And all of them are degenerate cases.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Cryptomania!

There is a lot of attention currently being paid to cryptocurrencies. On the one hand there are those who claim that their rise in value is actually a symptom that conventional, fiat currencies are crashing. This begs the question as to why precious metals aren’t skyrocketing, and the usual answer is that their prices are being manipulated using the futures market that keeps “paper” gold cheap while “physical” gold is growing scarce; at some point these manipulations will stop working and gold will shoot up to $10,000 an ounce. (Sounds good to me!) This also begs the question as to why, if fiat currencies are crashing, there isn’t much inflation at all. Even in countries that have been plagued with high inflation for decades, such as Russia, this is no longer a problem; there, inflation is now under 3%. There isn’t much inflation in the US either, provided you exclude from it all of the local extortion rackets: real estate, health care and education. (Armed robbery usually isn’t part of the basket of products and services used to compute inflation.) Hyperinflation is not hard to find (in Venezuela) but this is not commonly seen as a worldwide, systemic problem.

On the other hand there are those who think that cryptocurrencies are another type of tulip mania or South Sea bubble: just another irrationally exuberant event that will end with a resounding crash. The standard retorts are “Bah, humbug!” and “This time, it’s different!” A more thoughtful retort is that Bitcoin (and other cryptos) are works of genius, based on the innovation of the blockchain (a sort of distributed ledger where every anonymous participant gets to verify every transaction) and the “proof of work” principle by which Bitcoin is “mined” using computers. In essence, instead of putting their trust in governments (which print money) and central banks (which really print money), Bitcoin users put their trust in algorithms, which are open source and defended through lack of public acceptance of any modification that might compromise them.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Eating One's Young

It is somewhat disconcerting when you try and try and nothing seems to work. People look at you and wonder what’s wrong with you: why can’t you be any less bloody-minded and stop pushing the same rock up the same hill every day? If you think you are right but nothing is working, then someone must be wrong. Is it you, then, or is it the rest of the universe? Or is it just bad luck? And does temporal, worldly success actually matter? After all, a failure is often far more illuminating and instructive than a success, and some people manage to play a perfectly productive role in society by serving as a failure unto others. And any experimentalist will tell you that an experiment that reliably ends in failure is in general far more repeatable than one that ends in success. And showing how something doesn’t work is often a good way of pointing toward something that might. And the process of failing can be perfectly enjoyable—provided you don’t aim to high—because how painful a failure happens to be is mostly a question of scale. Being a failure can even make you popular, because most people are more ready to gloat than to admire, admiration having limited potential if one’s goal is to feel smug, all-knowing and generally superior.

Take me as an example.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Why Kremlin Trolls Always Win

A most interesting book has recently come out: Phil Butler’s Putin's Praetorians: Confessions of the Top Kremlin Trolls. It’s a good book to read for all those who wish to peer behind the crazy funhouse mirror set up by Western media. It includes contributions from people who have been active in opposing the barrage of counterfactual press coverage emanating from “fake news” factories such as the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN.

The title is a facetious one: the people in question are not trolls, and the trolls in question do not exist. “Kremlin trolls” is a fake meme that is consistently deployed to cover up one’s own failure but play no role in one’s successes.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

What Doesn't Work

Back in the days when I was still trying to do the corporate thing, I regularly found myself in a bit of a tight spot simply by failing to keep my mouth shut. I seem to carry some sort of gene that makes me naturally irrepressible. I can keep my mouth shut for only so long before I have to blurt out what I really think, and in a corporate setting, where thinking isn’t really allowed, this causes no end of trouble. It didn’t matter that I often turned out to be right. It didn’t matter what I thought; it only mattered that I thought.

Of all the thoughts you aren’t allowed to think, perhaps the most offensive one is adequately expressed by a single short phrase: “That’s not gonna work.” Suppose there is a meeting to unveil a great new initiative, with PowerPoint presentations complete with fancy graphics, org charts, timelines, proposed budgets, yadda-yadda, and everything is going great until this curmudgeonly Russian opens his mouth and says “That’s not gonna work.” And when it is patiently explained to him (doing one’s best to hide one’s extreme irritation) that it absolutely has to work because Senior Management would like it to, that furthermore it is his job to make it work and that failure is not an option, he opens his mouth again and says “That’s not gonna work either.” And then it’s time to avoid acting flustered while ignoring him and to think up some face-saving excuse to adjourn the meeting early and regroup.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The New Subnormal

I just published Stan Goff’s new antiwar novel Smitten Gate. Although it is made of pulp, weighs less than a pound and flies only as fast as you can throw it, its payload is guaranteed to penetrate even the thickest action-hero-wannabe skull. Please order a copy.

After a four-week period which I mostly spent heads-down on getting this book into print I looked up and noticed that the world has changed. The trick of looking away, then looking back is often a good one if you are interested in how situations evolve. And here I looked back at what has been happening in the US, specifically, over the past few weeks, and thought, Which interesting new stage of collapse is this?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Great American Antiwar Novel

Smitten Gate
A few weeks ago an amazing project fell into my lap: an author contacted me to let me know that he is releasing his first novel on Kindle, unedited, having given up on finding a publisher for it. I took a look at his manuscript and discovered that it was a diamond in the rough. The prose was choppy, with major and minor affronts to English grammar, and following no particular style guide at all—but it had plenty of potential! And so I took on the project of transforming it into a polished literary gem and getting it into print.

It is an American antiwar novel. It is written by someone who had a long career in the US military, knows it extremely well and is remarkably able to set the scene and paint the characters. Amazingly for someone who has so far only written nonfiction, he suffers from none of the pathologies that afflict nonfiction authors who foray into fiction. He does not explain or describe—he portrays and he channels. Not only do his dialogues ring true—there was hardly a false note anywhere—but he also reads minds, telepathically inviting the reader into the minds of his characters.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The October Revolution and You

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1917. It caused a lot of death and destruction, which I won’t go into because you can read all about it elsewhere. It also caused a great outpouring of new art, literature, architecture and culture in general, putting the previously somewhat stodgy Russia securely in the world’s avant-garde. It also resulted in a tremendous surge of industrialization, rapidly transforming a previously mostly agrarian, though gradually industrializing nation into a global industrial powerhouse (at great human cost). But perhaps most importantly, the revolution destroyed all of the previously dominant institutions of privilege based on heredity, class and wealth and replaced them with an egalitarian social model centered on the working class.

And it demonstrated (as much through propaganda as by actual example) how this new model was more competitive: while the West wallowed in the Great Depression, the USSR surged ahead both economically and socially. For all of its many failings, the USSR did serve as a shining city on the hill to the downtrodden millions around the world, including in the USA, fomenting rebellion, so that even there the one-percent ownership class eventually had to stop and think. Reluctantly, they decided to stop trying to destroy organized labor movements, introduced state old-age pensions (misnamed “Social Security”) and declared a euphemistic “war on poverty.” And with that a “middle class” was created—so called because it was literally in the middle, having risen out of poverty but still safely walled off from the one-percent ownership class. But as we shall see this effect was temporary.