Skip to content

Instantly share code, notes, and snippets.

@ivan
Last active March 9, 2024 00:47
Show Gist options
  • Star 4 You must be signed in to star a gist
  • Fork 0 You must be signed in to fork a gist
  • Save ivan/5095670735ba941a6090a69fce4183df to your computer and use it in GitHub Desktop.
Save ivan/5095670735ba941a6090a69fce4183df to your computer and use it in GitHub Desktop.
2023 reading list

[This page is best viewed with https://github.com/ludios/expand-everything, which will load all the comnents below.]

Wherein I try to prioritize reading for the limited amount of time I have this year, and to remind myself to read more than just comments on the Internet. Because of problems of time and shifting interests, I will consider this a success if I read a third of the list. I'll reflect on the reading and deviations from the plan in Jan 2024.

{+} = added after initial planning






  • Albert Camus - The Fall/ audio
  • {+} John Kennedy Toole - A Confederacy of Dunces/ audio, go to 6m44s to skip past the introduction spoilers
  • {+} pirate aba - The Wandering Inn/ audio
  • William Olaf Stapledon - Star Maker/ audio, go to 12m35s to skip past the introduction spoilers

  • Tae Kim - A Guide to Japanese Grammar
  • Noboru Akuzawa - Japanese Sentence Patterns Training Book for JLPT N5
  • Noboru Akuzawa - Japanese Sentence Patterns Training Book for JLPT N4
  • Jay Rubin - Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don't Tell You/ the romaji is miserable; may have useful grammar insights
  • struggle through Japanese Wikipedia for some topics I know about
  • Daniele Minnone - A learning handbook for Joyo Kanji/ the first third, pg. 1 - 98

(my initial source for learning Japanese is https://cijapanese.com/ and not any of the reading.)


Lectures


maybe in 2024? not sure

  • {+} Paul Bourke - Fractals, Chaos, Self-Similarity
  • {+} Alex Komoroske - The Compendium / after I convert the Firebase export in code/websites/compendium-cards-data/db.json to a single HTML page
  • {+} James Betker - Non_Interactive
  • {+} Denny Britz’s Blog
  • {+} Robert Root-Bernstein - Discovering: Inventing and Solving Problems at the Frontiers of Scientific Knowledge
  • {+} Steven H. Strogatz - Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe
  • {+} Lexi Mattick & Hack Club - Putting the “You” in CPU
  • Lou Keep - The Uruk Series
  • Knut Schmidt-Nielsen - How Animals Work (via)
  • Edward O. Wilson - The Diversity of Life
  • James L. Gould, Carol Grant Gould - The Animal Mind (via)
  • Symbols and mental programs: a hypothesis about human singularity/ printed
  • Robert Yarham - How to Read the Landscape
  • Richard Powers - The Overstory/ audio
  • Rigdzin Shikpo - Openness Clarity Sensitivity/ printed
  • Michael R. Canfield (editor) - Field Notes on Science & Nature (via)
  • Sabine Hossenfelder - Existential Physics
  • George Soros - The Alchemy of Finance/ printed
  • Eric Gill - An Essay on Typography/ printed; I know he's bad
  • {+} Richard Hamming - The Art of Doing Science and Engineering

unplanned cool things read


unplanned and abandoned

  • Chuck Klosterman - The Nineties/ audio
  • Rick Rubin - The Creative Act/ audio
  • Mike Rinder - A Billion Years: My Escape From a Life in the Highest Ranks of Scientology/ audio
  • Sarah Steel - Do As I Say: How Cults Control, Why We Join Them, and What They Teach Us About Bullying, Abuse and Coercion/ audio
  • Benjamín Labatut - When We Cease to Understand the World/ audio
  • Kathryn Petras, Ross Petras - Awkword Moments: A Lively Guide to the 100 Terms Smart People Should Know/ audio
  • Adam Galinsky, Maurice Schweitzer - Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both/ audio
  • Han Kang - The White Book/ audio
  • Niccolò Machiavelli - The Prince/ audio
  • Anthony Bourdain - Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly/ audio
  • Kristie Macrakis - Espionage/ audio
  • Christopher Winn - Legal Daisy Spacing (via)
  • Justin E. H. Smith - The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is/ audio
  • Alice Schroeder - The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life/ audio (~77% in)
  • Morgan Housel - Same as Ever/ audio
  • Amanda Montell - Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism/ audio
@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 29, 2023

“Well, I must go. I hope we shall meet again. I will give you some free advice, though.”

“Will it cost me anything?”

“What? I just said it was free!” said Miss Tick.

“Yes, but my father said that free advice often turns out to be expensive,” said Tiffany.

Miss Tick sniffed. “You could say this advice is priceless,” she said. “Are you listening?”

“Yes,” said Tiffany.

“Good. Now…if you trust in yourself…”

“Yes?”

“…and believe in your dreams…”

“Yes?”

“…and follow your star…” Miss Tick went on.

“Yes?”

“…you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Good-bye.”

Terry Pratchett - The Wee Free Men (via)

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 29, 2023

You're competing against people in a state of flow, people who are truly committed, people who care deeply about the outcome. You can't merely wing it and expect to keep up with them. Setting aside all the safety valves and pleasant distractions is the first way to send yourself the message that you're playing for keeps.

https://seths.blog/2011/01/texting-while-working/

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 30, 2023

Language severely under-describes conceptual space, and conceptual space severely under-describes actual possibility space.

[...]

In every aspect of our lives, a million choices go unrecognized because we are trapped within the limited conceptual frames that steer us; human life is lived on autopilot and in accordance with inherited cultural scripts or default physiological functions to a far greater degree than most people understand.

[...]

Whether we know it or not, our trajectories are currently determined by the way that the space of possible futures we can conceive of is narrowed by our conceptual baggage and limitations. Being told that we have other choices isn’t sufficient to change this. The person with judgmental friends was likely told many times to get better friends, long before something shifted enough for them to internalize the realization themselves. Being given more material options alone isn’t sufficient either—that person may have likewise been surrounded for years by kind people willing to befriend them, whose overtures went unnoticed in the subconscious pursuit of more actively withheld approval.

[...]

we are constantly surrounded by options and opportunities that we are conceptually blind to.

[...]

The natural process of human psychological development is a process of models and functions observing other models and functions. For example, someone who compulsively seeks attention by interrupting others’ conversations may notice that this bothers people, and feel ashamed; the compulsion is one function, the shame is another. The latter function is formed in observation and judgment of the former, and attempts to modify or control it.

https://www.palladiummag.com/2023/11/10/benevolent-ai-is-a-bad-idea/

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 30, 2023

If we employ the same neural machinery for remembering the past as we do for projecting into the future, then foresight is trying to remember something that hasn’t happened yet.

https://bessstillman.substack.com/p/remembering-things-that-havent-happened

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

how do you get over the dread of starting to work on something you've put off that is overdue?

@rntz vary my approaches: 1) break esp starting steps into super micro simple steps that can be done mechanically 2) no distractions sit and "be with" in a meditative sense the physical sensation of dread, not focusing on the narrative aspects but just "savouring" the feeling, noticing if it changes. Usually at some point I get a spontaneous urge to just start working but I don't force this 3) classic Pomodoro technique where I just grit my teeth through the pain, knowing a break is coming

https://mastodon.social/@takeoutweight/111660083427466626

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

You know it’s a real weakness to want to be liked, a real weakness. I do not have that.

https://twitter.com/RMac18/status/1730316954932740535

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

Charnel grounds, as you might expect, are associated with a certain amount of horror in the Indian imagination, but as you probably don’t expect, also with morality tales, philosophy, and contemplation. The famous Betaal-Pachisi cycle of stories, which I blogged about in 2009, has a frame story that involves King Vikram repeatedly returning to a charnel ground to recapture an underworld creature known as a betaal, for complicated reasons. The stories within the frame story are a series of non-horror, often even comedic, moral dilemmas that the betaal poses to the king; a sort of allegory of his moral development through the 25 stories, as he solves each dilemma. His ultimate escape from the cycle of repeatedly returning to recapture the betaal from the charnel ground can be understood as a sort of enlightenment allegory about escaping the karmic cycle.

https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2023/12/21/charnel-vision/

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

To be more specific: there are clearly at least some limited senses in which we have goals.  We: (1) tell ourselves and others stories of how we’re aiming for various “goals”; (2) search out modes of activity that are consistent with the role, and goal-seeking, that we see ourselves as doing (“learning math”; “becoming a comedian”; “being a good parent”); and sometimes even (3) feel glad or disappointed when we do/don’t achieve our “goals”.

But there are clearly also heuristics that would be useful to goal-achievement (or that would be part of what it means to “have goals” at all) that we do not automatically carry out.  We do not automatically:

  • (a) Ask ourselves what we’re trying to achieve;
  • (b) Ask ourselves how we could tell if we achieved it (“what does it look like to be a good comedian?”) and how we can track progress;
  • (c) Find ourselves strongly, intrinsically curious about information that would help us achieve our goal;
  • (d) Gather that information (e.g., by asking as how folks commonly achieve our goal, or similar goals, or by tallying which strategies have and haven’t worked for us in the past);
  • (e) Systematically test many different conjectures for how to achieve the goals, including methods that aren’t habitual for us, while tracking which ones do and don’t work;
  • (f) Focus most of the energy that *isn’t* going into systematic exploration, on the methods that work best;
  • (g) Make sure that our "goal" is really our goal, that we coherently want it and are not constrained by fears or by uncertainty as to whether it is worth the effort, and that we have thought through any questions and decisions in advance so they won't continually sap our energies;
  • (h) Use environmental cues and social contexts to bolster our motivation, so we can keep working effectively in the face of intermittent frustrations, or temptations based in hyperbolic discounting;

[...]

Our verbal, conversational systems are much better at abstract reasoning than are the motivational systems that pull our behavior.

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/PBRWb2Em5SNeWYwwB/humans-are-not-automatically-strategic

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

the right combination of calmness and urgency

[...]

Inspiration is perishable and life goes by fast. Inaction is a particularly insidious type of risk.

https://blog.samaltman.com/what-i-wish-someone-had-told-me

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

At its shining moment, Twitter was like the Tower of Babel before it fell.

https://www.wired.com/story/del-harvey-twitter-trust-and-safety-breaks-her-silence/

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

“a seamless web of deserved trust” in which a company deals fairly with employees, customers, competitors and other constituencies

https://archive.is/kPK8a / https://www.wsj.com/finance/investing/charlie-munger-life-money-ae3853ad

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

flavours of excellence

[...]

Any power granted through affiliation with a person or institution is borrowed power. This is not necessarily bad and is often incredibly useful. But operate with the wariness that it is not truly yours.

[...]

building things that last: long-standing relationships, capability, and intuition

[...]

11. Tactile, manual labor is good for you

There was a multi-week period where I would spend 14 hours a day at my laptop. My body was just a vessel to send code/words to us-west-2. I picked up some machining work to counter this and felt better.

[...]

Getting sunlight first thing in the morning has been helpful to keep my sleep schedule on track. It’s also a good excuse to start the day with a walk.

https://anson.substack.com/p/look-what-the-cat-brought-in

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

my 2024 intent: to be stupidly brave

https://twitter.com/visakanv/status/1741058281517490357

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

Living in India is high cognitive load on the system.

It’s just too much people management

https://twitter.com/cubanheat/status/1740954153315422344

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

don't let me catch you having opinions about Wittgenstein before you hit $50M ARR

[...]

do not confuse academic curiosity in successful founders as anything other than a cute affectation.

https://twitter.com/zhayitong/status/1740593401052193118

it's not what people want to hear, but if you want to create a generational company, have to put most hobbies away, which makes you temporarily uninteresting

https://twitter.com/lsukernik/status/1740708565957152816

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

do you get a distinct sense when someone is "managing" you?

what's it like? what gives it away?

surface-level attentiveness to my concerns while consistently being unable to/refusing to pass my ITT and integrate my POV into the shared POV we use together

https://twitter.com/quotidiania/status/1740798348876234941

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

Did anybody else like to lean on the window of the bus as a kid and let the vibrations violently shake your skull and brain?

https://twitter.com/saltydkdan/status/1739831825701171605

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

Personally, I suspect he likes the idea of radical change because he's an intensely intelligent man who is easily bored by the everyday world. He finds it impossible to believe that it makes sense to continue, as human beings, in our exact same form. "Do we really want more of what we have now?" he asks, sounding incredulous. "More millennia of the same old human soap opera? Surely we have played out most of the interesting scenarios already in terms of human relationships in a trivial framework. What I'm talking about transcends all that. There'll be far more interesting stories. And what is life but a set of stories?"

https://www.wired.com/1995/10/moravec/#extinction
via https://twitter.com/gwern/status/1700958056228483404

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

YouTube Shorts is freaking scary. Apparently I do not have the self control to handle Shorts and every 30 days I tell YouTube to hide them. If that feature goes away I think I just need to cancel my YouTube Premium subscription and block the site.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=38783195

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

tempo is the most important thing when you’re building something new & big

https://twitter.com/fkasummer/status/1739013538385957370

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Dec 31, 2023

tfw ur decades-long incredibly fascinating career of early post-Cartesian embodied AI research and novel synthesis of minor householder tantra with critique of rationalism is completely overshadowed by your discovery that 600W of LED light on your face feels nice in the winter

https://twitter.com/meekaale/status/1739027086042345681

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

[Duolingo] figured out how to deliver just the right amount of dopamine to keep users on paid subscriptions while slowing the actual pace of learning to an absolute crawl

if users learn their target language quickly, duolingo makes less money.

https://twitter.com/AlexBerish/status/1738381781320028515

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

Underrated quality of HIIT classes is they force you to tolerate significant pain and suffering.

When we're almost never made to do so in any other aspect of cushy modern life.

Feels like a worthwhile thing to be exposed to 1-2x a week. A little reminder of struggle.

https://twitter.com/Mappletons/status/1738523523696439633

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

its important to set aside some time every day for looking at distant objects

https://twitter.com/chromalisque/status/1057038258721513474

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

That’s why I think charnel vision is a healthy thing. A world that desperately celebrates optimism and medicates pessimism is a world that is not truly willing to look at itself and contemplate the death and decay that must necessarily accompany life and growth.

https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2023/12/21/charnel-vision/

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

FINDING A FUTURE: SELF-NARRATIVE AND SELF-TRUST

The facility for viewing one’s life as a narrative may be what’s missing in addiction. And the loss of an accessible self-narrative corresponds with clues that the dorsolateral PFC becomes partially disconnected from the motivational core, both in episodes of now appeal and over the long-term course of addiction. My focus on the left dorsolateral PFC, although partly speculative, can help make sense of what goes wrong when people seem unable to quit. Not only are memories and ambitions difficult to access, but the sense of time as a linear dimension, connecting now to later, is replaced by a sense of time as cyclical—the right hemisphere’s proclivity. Instead of a future stretching out ahead, addicts can only imagine the reiteration of the present. If this is an accurate picture, then reconnecting the left dorsolateral PFC with the motivational core would allow desire and perspective to work together, and that might be the best way, in fact the only way, to build a road from the present to the future.

Addicts experience something breathtaking when they can stretch their vision of themselves from the immediate present back to the past that shaped them and forward to a future that’s attainable and satisfying. It feels like shifting from momentary blobs of experience to the coherence of being a whole person. It feels like being the author and advocate of one’s own life. It feels like being real.

Now imagine what that means for the capacity to trust one’s own judgements, values, instincts, and attainments. From making choices that are obviously self-destructive, there is a shift to making choices that are self-enhancing and self-sustaining. The value of this transformation cannot be overstated. Addicts can live for years without experiencing a kernel of self-trust. Why trust that you will actually be different when the evidence suggests that you’ll go on being the same? Why believe that you can pursue what’s beneficial rather than what’s immediately available, when you’ve bypassed that junction a thousand times?

To experience a sense of continuity between me now, me then, and me in the future is precious. But when it’s been missing for a while, perhaps for one’s whole life, it’s not easy to find. It requires a perspective that can only be obtained by addressing the future in the context of the past. And it requires one other thing, one fundamental resource: desire itself. There’s no way to reach forward with determination and hope unless you want badly to get there.

Marc Lewis - The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

do you ever think about how for a decade or so we could just make weird little animations and games and things in flash with almost no prior knowledge, like you could just have a bad idea and work on it that same day and share it online. and now we don't have that at all

https://twitter.com/innesmck/status/1736866727634616532

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

My own theory with "Right Way Guys" is that some people have been able to find a lot of success by leveraging the knowledge that's stored in the hivemind of society. They don't really know what they're doing when you consider what's going on inside their skull. But they have successfully copied success up till now. The plus side is that they're able to inherit successful methodologies that have survived over time without having to do all the hard work themselves. The down side is that they literally don't understand when they're in a scenario where it will lead to failure.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=38709586

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

Balmer took 8% equity [in Microsoft] to cancel the profit share

Most of that came from Gates’s end

Then Balmer just never sold

https://twitter.com/patrick_oshag/status/1737233878429966666

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

I've talked about this before as has @therobotjames - your positions should always be driven by the exposures you want to have, not primarily driven by what the market gives you. Even if your conviction doesn't change, you sometimes need to adjust your exposures in response to the market to avoid taking outsized risk in a small number of names - particularly important in a volatile market (like crypto ... but also single-name equities!)

https://twitter.com/macrocephalopod/status/1741826679310303519

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

What separates the top 3-5 firms from the tier 2 firms after them?" - a thread by my colleague

I've carried out a lot of #quant research interviews & ran a fund. I've noticed that junior candidates tend to obsess over vanity metrics like alpha, latency, AUM, Sharpe, etc. These are important, but here's 3 things that are probably more predictive of a firm's success.

When you look at tier 1 and 2 firms in any niche, they all have strong QRs and engineers, pedigree, similar tech, capital, shared knowledge of microstructure tricks. So you can't explain what sets them apart by simple vanity metrics—maybe you could have prior to 2012—but not now.

Instead, most of the differentiation is explained by 3 things:

1. Production cycle. How often do they miss the market open after a major change like a protocol update? What happens between code review and deployment for a new feature/strategy/signal?

How fast is it to port over a strategy inspired at an old job? From Python scripts and notebooks to production? What's the marginal work to add the next symbol? The next market? The next data center? The next asset class?

2. Operational efficiency. Asymptotically, a trading firm is like a glorified recruiting business. A lot of success is explained by how you incentivize employees, attract talent, ensure smooth succession, set compensation.

The top firms are very good at making you want to stay on just another year because the bonus was just good enough to retain you. Also, are they at the pareto frontier for buy-vs-build?

How concentrated is the firm on key persons for the final go-ahead on a strategy or deployment? Good resource sharing between teams? How efficient is the colo/data procurement process in supporting the sequence of new market rollout?

3. Scale. Market access, fees, connectivity, regulatory capture. People to do the less glorious grunt work like data preprocessing, CI/CD, BOD/EOD pipelines, exchange relationship management, config management, etc. Do they have a good market simulator?

There's a selection bias for these 3 things. Meaning, it's tempting to chalk this up to competence ex post of a firm's success. But there's a surprising amount of luck involved. e.g. Hiring 1-2 right persons at the right time. Chancing upon the right infrastructure decisions.

So if you're interviewing with a firm that's trying to break into tier 1, these are things I would ask about.

https://twitter.com/christinaqi/status/1736791355232596316

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

One thing I really love about seedy anime websites and YouTube mp3 converters is like. They actually do what they say they’re doing. But they WILL try to trick you into downloading a virus. Like it’s almost just a greeting at this point. I try to extract a song from a YouTube video and it says free VPN installer tonight perhaps? Free VPN installer tonight queen? And I say YouTube-mp3 converter you sly dog, you know what I’m here for. Show me the goods. And YouTube-mp3 converter says ahhh you got me, no getting one over on you. Thought it was worth a try tho. Here you go king x

https://boykisses.tumblr.com/post/736546102329950208/one-thing-i-really-love-about-seedy-anime-websites (via)

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 1, 2024

there's a lot of money in being dumb enough to not understand the externalities of your behavior until you've harvested the fruits

https://twitter.com/alicemazzy/status/1736587660091646034

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 2, 2024

if i might be so boring, i think websites should look like websites, not posters or billboards

https://twitter.com/joodalooped/status/1741511560374222863

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 2, 2024

my most elitist opinion is that design by non-technical people is often a mistake

if you do not know the true constraints, you will make up your own

https://twitter.com/joodalooped/status/1740299413170618511

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 2, 2024

To make sure I understand the situation, and so I can do more of it, what exactly makes me weird?

https://twitter.com/bryan_johnson/status/1739415803697435082

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 2, 2024

Do you need to read all of these [books]? Only if you want to know the things inside, I guess.

https://nick-black.com/dankwiki/index.php/Book_list_for_streetfighting_computer_scientists

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 7, 2024

Rather than being a case of mass narcissism, the concern with one’s self-image and profile reflects first and foremost the social proliferation of second-order observation. It has taken hold in all social systems, including the “intimacy system” of personal relations. To perceive that one is seen, and how one is seen, is only rational in a society where second-order observation prevails. In fact, it represents an advanced mode of perception that is more complex, more socially attuned, and therefore more mature than clinging to the problematic notion of some authentic appearance, or personal identity, which is supposed to exist independently of being seen.

[...]

Second-order observers are highly critical. Once we realize that we do not watch the world directly but as it is presented to us, we are in a position to question how and why it is presented in the way it is being presented. This is not really possible in the mode of first-order observation where the world appears as a matter of fact. In second-order observation, facts are replaced by presentations of facts. This difference is crucial. In second-order observation we are aware, for instance, that a photo has been staged, edited, and displayed for a specific purpose. We learn to judge if this presentation is accurate, or in accordance with expectations or norms.

[...]

Negatively speaking, second-order observation fractures the world and makes it impossible to reduce it to one binding perspective, or rationality, or type of reason. Every second-order observation establishes its own rationales, but it does so in relation and in response to other perspectives.

[...]

Under conditions of profilicity, the criteria of validity for serving as a peer change rather drastically. When the point is no longer to be seen but rather to be seen as being seen, then the actual presence of a peer becomes less important. It is taken for granted that my immediate peers see me anyway. My public profiles are not really addressed to them, so they do not really count as relevant observers.

[...]

In a discussion on the news website Axios, Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, revealed the “thought process” behind the construction of this major social media platform. Parker said that he and the other creators of Facebook were trying to find a way to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible.” In other words, they wanted to construct a medium that would get people addicted—at least this is what Parker suggested when he continued to explain: “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while.” The addictiveness should be as widespread and mainstream as possible, and not be built on something illicit or morally questionable such as pornography or gambling. As Parker candidly stresses, the idea was about finding and “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” Parker, however, is not a social scientist or philosopher, and it is therefore unsurprising that he fails to mention other important dimensions of his pursuit. More appropriately, he should have said that he and his colleagues were looking to exploit not only a psychological but also a sociological and existential vulnerability. Ultimately, the “vulnerability” they homed in on was the human need to build identity—and to do so under postsincere and postauthentic conditions. This is what Facebook set out to do: provide a global online forum for everyone in the world to perform their profilic identity work.

[...]

This is why the addiction is so strong, and far more than merely physiological. It is possible to continue to be oneself without the next nicotine, alcohol, or even heroin fix. Indeed, one may even seem to be more oneself without these. But it is much harder to continue being oneself without validation of one’s identity, especially since we continuously form our identities precisely through such validation.

[...]

Social media users’ identity work consists in a feedback loop of posting, liking, commenting, or “whatever,” to paraphrase Parker. It is simultaneously work on one’s self-image and work for the general peer. By commenting on someone else’s profile, we contribute both to the validation of that profile and to the projection of our own. Every comment can draw further comments. On social media, every “user” (interestingly enough, the term “user” is also a reference for drug addicts) is both a profilic self-presenter and a constituent of the general peer. This makes social media strikingly different from traditional mass media like books, TV, or movies. There, the roles of presenter and audience are separate. Social media, to the contrary, is “interactive.” It achieves a higher level of personal involvement and provides a more intense forum for identity work.

[...]

It is crucial to stress: information, in this sense, does not simply indicate an item of “meaning.” I can look at the same picture of a cat again and it still makes sense in the same way, but it has lost its information value because I have seen it before. Precisely because of this split between “sense value” and “information value,” mass media and social media work unlike many other systems, such as law or academia. This is also what makes them so hungry. Information immediately destructs itself and needs to be replaced by new information. And so many websites are now feeds.

[...]

Our profilic self-portraits demand more intense attention than ever before. In sincerity and authenticity, identity needs to be maintained and developed, but it is not subjected to the same feeding frenzy as in profilicity. Profilic identity, on and off the web, is to a large extent constituted by information, not simply by meaning. It needs to be constantly updated. A publication list that has no recent publications is worthless. A résumé that is blank for the past year will not get you a job. A new trip, a new activity, a new feeling are crucial to maintaining an active and presentable personal profile.

[...]

Formilan and Stark use a highly pertinent word to describe the kind of identity work that goes into constructing and presenting personas. Personas are “curated.” Under conditions of profilicity (Formilan and Stark call it “projected identity”), a persona is “intended as a test put out into the society and continuously revised, updated, refined. Out of this process, identity develops as a curatorship”.

[...]

Maybe, given the social and technological developments of recent decades, it no longer makes much sense to speak of human beings as “autonomous individuals”; and maybe we must realize that we exist in a highly complex society and are embedded deeply in its social networks. Therein control, especially by the single individual, is limited. How we look and what we think and feel are highly contingent upon the lifeworld we inhabit, and it seems much of these aspects of life are simply not up to us. Maybe they never were.

[...]

The functioning of surveillance society cannot really be understood if it is measured against the ideal of authenticity. Instead, the rise of surveillance society should be seen in connection with the rise of a different identity technology. For better or worse, surveillance is applied so widely and functions so efficiently today, not because it impedes authenticity but because it works so well along with profilicity.

[...]

Profilicity allows for a rather different understanding of privacy than authenticity. From an authenticity perspective, surveillance is aimed at peeping into the private sphere of an individual, or into the core self, in order to discipline or manipulate it. But algorithms are not interested in authentic individuals; they do not want to know who one really is, beneath what their actions reveal about them. They are interested in specific behavioral patterns, in preferences and performances in various areas.

[...]

Profiles are transparent. This is what they are made for. Our academic publications can be looked up anytime and anywhere on our Google Scholar profiles. These profiles make transparent how others academically see us. However, by knowing the totality of our scholarly profile, you still do not know us privately.

Profiles and profilic identity do not invade privacy; to the contrary, they establish a public identity beyond and largely detached from privacy. We identify with our public profiles and, where we can, curate them to establish and express images of ourselves, but these profiles do not, and are not meant to, represent all that we think and feel. And there is no key to unlock a “core self” within them.

[...]

Moral speech has always been highly important for achieving moral identity, but it can also rouse suspicion. Confucius already pointed this out more than two thousand years ago:

There was a time, when in my dealings with others, on hearing what they had to say, I believed they would live up to it. Nowadays in my dealings with others, on hearing what they have to say, I then watch what they do.

Under conditions of sincerity, virtuous speech was not regarded as good enough. To the contrary, on its own it tended to be seen as dubious. Others might easily doubt the sincerity of someone who continuously stressed her morality. Is this person just bragging? Moral speech and virtue signaling needed validation by moral conduct. In profilicity, this is somewhat different.

Today, people are still expected to walk the walk, not just talk the talk—but we often have no way to actually “watch what they do,” as Confucius did. Most of the people Confucius dealt with were in one way or another present to him, so he could see how they acted in daily life. Today, this is not always so. We are not in a position to judge what Taylor Swift, the person, really thinks when her profilic persona posts something on the internet. We are also unable to judge what she really does—because all that we know about her is what mass and social media tell us. We know her profile, and we know that we only know the profile.

We have no hope, no need, and perhaps no wish to get to know her privately.

[...]

This is why moral communication is so crucial today. The general peer cannot observe that we actually act virtuously, because it is not present. It sees only that our speech acts are seen as virtuous or not. Virtue is displayed to the general peer in form of virtue speech. We display our virtue by making virtuous observations, by displaying moral speech, by communicating ethics. What is now often called “virtue signaling,” or, more crudely, “political correctness,” is a form of moral communication where, by making moral observations, we exhibit ourselves for further moral observation. We inscribe our own moral profile into profilic moral validation feedback loops.

[...]

Rather recently, moral self-profiling has become part of the regular employment and promotion processes in the academic system as well. Many universities in the United States now require people applying for a job or for tenure to write a so-called diversity statement. In analogy to a “teaching statement,” it is expected to outline an academic’s views on how to professionally promote the morally charged value of diversity (regarding especially race, gender, and sexual orientation). As the office of Graduate Studies at the University of Nebraska states: “You can safely assume that any university that requests [a diversity statement] is very committed to inclusivity and supporting their diverse population so they are looking for someone who would be supportive of that mission.” This only states the obvious: academics are not expected here to question the value of diversity. They are expected, instead, to express their support of it. No candidate who is interested in getting or keeping a job at a university that demands such a statement would dare to disclose any potential disagreement with this value. Therefore the function of the statement cannot really be to find out how sincerely or authentically committed someone is to diversity.

Diversity statements need to be understood in the context of profilicity rather than sincerity or authenticity. The official requirement of such statements is itself an act of virtue speech. A university uses this requirement to signal very clearly—to the applicant, to itself (its employees, students, stake holders), and to the public—its moral stance on diversity. It thus feeds its moral profile. Job applicants, correspondingly, are forced to engage in a practical virtue speech exercise signaling profilic alignment with the institution they hope to join. While their sincere or authentic commitment to diversity cannot be tested, their competence in casting themselves as diversity supporters is indeed tested. Whether this fosters sincere dedication to or an authentic pursuit of diversity in the applicant or by the institution is irrelevant for the procedure. It is relevant only to see if those who write such statements are willing and able to produce virtue speech and incorporate it into their professional profiles.

[...]

“One can only become the leader if he is capable of manipulating how he is observed,” says Niklas Luhmann (2013, 119; translation modified) in explaining how politics work under conditions of second-order observation, especially in democracies where elections are political popularity contests.

[...]

In the economy, profiles make money. In politics, they grant power. In academia, they establish “truth,” or at least credibility.

High-profile academics find it easy to publish. They get invited as keynote speakers to major conferences where hundreds or thousands listen to them. Afterward, these hundreds or thousands of lower-profile scholars split up into tiny panels listening to one another’s exegeses of high-profile academics.

This is one of the major frustrations that come with profilicity: only a few can be high profile. The rest must remain low profile and find a way to cope with their situation. In sincerity, everyone can be sincere. You need only your immediate peers—your family members, for instance—to confirm your sincerity to you. In authenticity, one way of feeling especially unique is to self-identify as the genius unrecognized by the masses. One can feel content living authentically only if a few people realize authenticity; after all, everyone else is fake. These strategies don’t really work in profilicity. Your family members’ likes don’t really count, and the unseen profile is all but worthless. Just as in the capitalist economy, the profilicity lottery only increases the gap between those who are really successful and those who are not.

[...]

In tight-knit communities, social roles dominate, and one is expected to live as an onion. Where this happens, pressure to conform can become immense. Role-related beliefs about how one should behave, think, and feel are thick enough, sufficiently extensive in their reach, and held by enough of one’s peers that people can drown in a sea of external expectations—a veritable regime of sincerity. Whenever sincerity becomes such a regime, for instance, in the form of an oppressive Confucian ideology or a strict Puritan ethos, social expectations rooted in role-based standards can easily become harmful to individuals and societies. Suicides in rural China provide a contemporary example of how the demands of sincerity can become unbearable.

Until about two decades ago, China had one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and suicide was particularly common in rural areas. Along with rapid modernization, economic growth, and urbanization, the suicide rate fell spectacularly. Still, China stands out in one respect: It “is one of the few countries in the world that has a higher suicide rate by women over men.”

As empirical research suggests, both the prevalence of female over male suicide and the prevalence of rural over urban suicide can be related to a continued regime of sincerity in a pre-industrialized setting where women, given their subordinated status, suffer even more from role pressures than men. Such factors seem to outweigh mental illness as a decisive suicide trigger. Introducing an extensive collection of case studies on suicide in China, Wu Fei points out:

In [Chinese] stories of suicide, some psychological factors certainly play important roles, but we would be greatly oversimplifying them if we were to define them with current psychiatric terminologies. . . . Because people who suffer domestic injustice are likely to become depressed and commit suicide, of course psychiatry will play an important role in the control of suicide; but people do not merely want to be mentally healthy. They also want to be happy and lucky, and this is already beyond the reach of psychiatry. After a long period of fieldwork on suicide, I have come to understand suicide [in China] from the perspective of justice.

Wu’s notions of “justice” and “injustice” are directly tied to social roles and relationships, as the stories of suicide he recounts demonstrate. “Justice” indicates for Wu treatment in accordance with a role identity that enables a person to assume their proper social position and to be “happy.” Those who suffer “injustice” feel that they have been treated in a way that fundamentally undermines their role identity and prevents them from engaging in proper relationships. They cannot be “happy.”

Many of the suicide motives that Wu mentioned might astonish Western readers, but they make perfect sense in the context of a Confucianism-informed regime of sincerity: “There was no egg in his soup while everyone else had it”; “His daughter-in-law hid steamed buns from him”; “His sons mistreated him”; “Her husband blamed her for the mistreatment of her grandmother”; “His father blamed him for not carrying water”; “As a prostitute she could not marry her lover.” In each case, a person has been denied recognition of their role identity within their community. Not to receive one’s proper food is considered expulsion from the family; to be mistreated by one’s sons is considered the destruction of one’s status as father. Blame for not having fulfilled one’s role obligations (serving one’s grandmother, carrying water) is perceived as de facto ejection from one’s kinship group. The inability to marry prevents one from achieving central role-identity characteristics, and such a situation can be highly precarious, especially for those who are already at the bottom of the role hierarchy. If identity can be found only in successful role fulfillment and community relationships, then a denial of role recognition is perceived as catastrophic. Since the onion has no pit, there is no “personal core” that one can retreat to.

Under a harsh regime of sincerity, it is impossible to achieve identity if one’s role enactment is thoroughly frustrated. In such cases the only way out, it may seem, is to let the onion, that is, one’s network of relationships, crumble. Without a “pit,” proactive agency is difficult to establish on one’s own, so suicide, as a radical form of “passive aggression,” becomes an option. By killing oneself, the subject who is denied personhood within the family brings severe disrepute to that family and thereby shames and socially punishes it. If someone feels that they have “lost face”—that is, their identity—at the hands of their family, they can in turn make the whole family lose face by committing suicide. The family is publicly exposed as dysfunctional and violating proper role enactment. The act of suicide serves as an act of revenge for the injustice received—the denial of role identity—and is intended to bring the perceived perpetrators to justice by harming their reputation and status within the local community.

[...]

Systemic role incompatibilities under a regime of sincerity are the norm, not the exception—and they reveal the underlying paradox of sincerity. Typically, a sincerity ethos will claim that roles within social organizations—the family is the prime example—are not “socially constructed” but grounded in natural or divine law. The Catholic Church, for instance, maintains that marriage can mean a lifelong partnership only between one man and one woman and considers any alternative to this both unnatural and against God’s will. Similarly, Confucians will emphasize that lifelong affectionate submission to one’s parents has little to do with social conventions but is an inborn human trait as exemplified by semidivine role models. Any deviation from such submission can be considered wrong and “perverse.”

In addition to family structures, both the Christian and the Confucian traditions also justified various feudal political structures as reflecting the same natural or divine order.

The counterfactual logic of sincerity suggests that one can build a coherent personality through various social roles because they are manifestations of an overarching divine plan, a moral order, or (human) nature.

[...]

The transition from sincerity to authenticity is linked with modernization. Francis Fukuyama, in his book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, makes up a simple story to show how someone who grows up under the conditions of sincerity might shift to value authenticity:

Consider the situation of a young peasant, Hans, who grows up in a small village in Saxony. Hans’s life in the little village is fixed: he is living in the same house as his parents and grandparents; he is engaged to a girl whom his parents found acceptable; he was baptized by the local priest; and he plans to continue working the same plot of land as his father. It doesn’t occur to Hans to ask “Who am I?” . . . However, he hears that big opportunities are opening up in the rapidly industrializing Ruhr valley, so he travels to Düsseldorf to get a job in a steel factory there. . . . He is no longer under the thumb of his parents and local priest and finds people with different religious affiliations than those in his village. He is still committed to marrying his fiancée but tempted by some of the local women he has met, and he feels a bracing sense of freedom in his personal life. . . . For the first time in his life, Hans can make choices about how to live his life, but he wonders who he really is and what he would like to be. The question of identity, which would never have been a problem back in his village, now becomes central.

The predictability of Hans’s life in his village was so encompassing that he never thought about his own identity. In Düsseldorf everything changes. Fukuyama says that Hans “can” make choices. More accurately, Hans has to make choices. And he does not just “wonder” about who he is. The question of identity demands an answer. (Just remember your own teenage struggles to figure out who you are.) Identity as authenticity came to characterize modern life in a way previously unknown. The old sincerity has survived in certain areas of life, but its dominance is gone. Only on the fringes of society, such as among the Amish perhaps, does it still strongly pervade entire communities.

When authenticity grew out from philosophical inquiry, past religious and artistic experiences, and beyond Hans’s basic question of identity, it contributed to reshaping the political landscape, uprooting hierarchies, overturning monarchs, and developing democracies. The individual’s claim to be recognized as such gained more and more currency. Although early attempts to grant individual rights were not greatly inclusive, over time people of color, women, and homosexuals fought for and acquired many of the same rights as straight white men. In the wake of these developments, a new sociopolitical attitude became increasingly popular. More nuanced characteristics of individual personality were announced inherently important and in need of sociopolitical recognition. Identity politics was born, eventually also inspiring a revival of the sincerity ethos, but in a new form. This development left what may be called a postauthentic “political new sincerity” in its wake.

According to Fukuyama, identity politics arose out of the modern idea that there is an “authentic self buried deep inside us” and the fear that “society doesn’t give it adequate recognition.” Thus “the problem is not how do you bring the individual into compliance with society, the problem becomes how do you change the society. Society is wrong and the inner self is right” (Ezra Klein Show). This view, in turn, can foster the divisive feeling that “the authentic people in my group are the good people and everyone else is bad” (Commonwealth Club). Fukuyama suggests that the social divisions created by identity politics may be addressed by revitalizing the conception of a “national identity”—which is supposed to replace the primacy of the authentic identity paradigm.

[...]

One case in point is Francis Fukuyama’s rather striking (mis-)assessment of Donald Trump. Here profilicity is mistaken as authenticity.

Fukuyama writes: “Trump was the perfect practitioner of the ethics of authenticity that defines our age: he may be mendacious, malicious, bigoted, and unpresidential, but at least he says what he thinks.” Trump’s Twitter posts are cited as illustrative examples of his “authenticity.” They suggest, according to Fukuyama, that Trump is saying what he really thinks and feels. Unlike the tweets of George Bush or Barack Obama, which were obviously vetted for political incorrectness and intended to garner appeal, Trump is harsh, offensive, and downright nasty, but precisely therein he is judged to be authentic.

However, this so-called perfect practitioner of the ethics of authenticity is actually a self-made mass media project through and through. He is well-known for his prior successes and failures in branding, in projects ranging from steaks to hotels. And, as is widely acknowledged, his electoral victory was to a large extent due to his and his team’s social media savvy. The obviously curated nature of Trump’s public image and persona is hardly an expression of a core inner self, and thus it is difficult to consider the former host of The Apprentice a model of authenticity. Trump’s “inauthenticity” is, moreover, not masked. The president is, as Vox put it, “weirdly honest about his lying.” His account of the creation of his core electoral catchphrase “Drain the swamp” is a paradigmatic example: “Funny how that term caught on, isn’t it? I tell everyone: I hated it! Somebody said, “Drain the swamp.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s so hokey. That is so terrible.’ I said, ‘All right. I’ll try it.’ So like a month ago, I said, ‘Drain the swamp.’ The place went crazy. I said, ‘Whoa. Watch this.’ Then I said it again. Then I started saying it like I meant it, right? And then I said it, I started loving it.” Trump represents neither the sincere statesman-like father of the nation nor the rugged individual whose every utterance reveals his authentic inner self and convictions. Instead, he embodies a political triumph of profilicity. He says what he says because it furthers his profilicity-based popularity, not because it is authentic. His audience doesn’t care that he uses phrases only to please them—they are still pleased! Many of his followers do not take him as authentic but love his staged public persona and the way he mocks his political opponents’ increasingly unconvincing attempts to be authentic. While profilicity appears from the perspective of authenticity as a “weirdly honest” lie, authenticity appears from the perspective of profilicity as a weirdly dishonest truthfulness.

[...]

Still, the desire to move back from, or beyond, authenticity and individualism is rather limited today. Jordan Peterson, whose quasi-commonsensical, anti-PC, no-bs commentary on current issues has gained even more fame than the “man-up” self-help philosophy on which it is founded, audaciously states:

The fundamental assumptions of Western civilization are valid! How about that? You think it’s an accident? Here’s how you find out, ok. Which countries do people want to move away from? Hey, not ours! Which countries do people want to move to? Ours! Guess what, they work better. And it’s not because we went around the world stealing everything we could get our hands on. It’s because we got certain fundamental assumptions right, thank God for that! After thousands and thousands of years of trying. And because of that we’ve managed to establish a set of civilizations that are shining lights in the world. . . . [We aren’t that great] but nonetheless, you know, we’re as good as it’s got. And unless we can come up with something better, we should be very careful about messing around with that. So why don’t we start with the assumption that we are doing something right? One of the things we are doing right, for example, is that we actually value the individual, right? The individual has intrinsic value in Western societies. Do you know how long it took for people to formulate that as an idea? And how unlikely that idea is that poor you, you know, useless powerless you, with all your damn faults, you’re actually worth something! You’re worth something to the point that the law has to respect you. God! We don’t want to abandon that for some half-witted collectivism, which we’re doing as rapidly as possible. Because one of the things that characterizes the radical Left types is, they don’t give a damn about you as an individual, or about individuals at all. You’re black or you’re white, you’re Latino, or you’re transsexual or you’re homosexual, whatever. You’re a group, you’re a member of a group, and the only thing that matters is the group. Well I can tell you, if the only thing that matters is the group, you bloody well don’t matter very much!

The “group” Peterson criticizes is not the premodern tribe Junger idealizes. But still, Peterson’s defense of individualism, and his general attitude in his lectures and texts, gives little credence to old-fashioned sincerity (despite his own personal life). It took thousands of years for Western societies to shed themselves of stringent collectivist, role-based identity, and Peterson hopes we never go back. Although many thinkers are less enthusiastic about this development, most share Peterson’s historical depiction of progress.

[...]

THE PARADOXES OF AUTHENTICITY

The Iranian American journalist and Catholic convert Sohrab Ahmari describes his own childhood difficulties with the inward turn of authenticity. Growing up in Iran, he was, like his parents, rebelling against institutionalized Islam. Ahmari did, however, feel a strong need for some type of guidance: “I longed for some cosmic and moral absolutes. Yet the only absolute command that my father handed down to me was: ‘Be yourself.’ It was maddening. Who was this ‘self’ dwelling inside me, to whom I owed such fidelity? My father wouldn’t say.”

More than simply difficult, however, this dictum is fundamentally paradoxical. Ahmari’s father wasn’t letting his son “be himself,” he was commanding it. Ahmari first had to learn that he should “be himself ” and then figure out, through the examples of others, what “being yourself ” meant: “Hadn’t my father urged me to be myself to cut my own path across life’s thicket of choices? Well, I would do just that. It didn’t occur to me at the time that, in the name of independence and originality, I was, in fact, adopting someone else’s persona, a prefabricated cultural type”. Idealizing comic book heroes, writers, artists, and film directors, Ahmari chronicles his early teenage attempts at “being himself.” As with anyone else, his authenticity was all about trying on other people’s costumes and seeing which ones were comfortable for a time. He could only “discover” himself by imitating models, and his models were, predictably enough, Nietzsche, then French “Existentialists,” then Marxism, and finally Christianity.

[...]

Posner tries to be unique by rejecting other people’s expectations of him. But he eventually realizes that the rejection of other people’s expectations is, paradoxically, also a reaction to their expectations—it is not doing simply one’s own thing and being authentic. Under a regime of authenticity, everyone feels obliged to be authentic. Individuality is a demand enforced by a crowd. By countering the expectations of society and trying to be special, I fulfill society’s expectation to be special. Or, as Elena Esposito puts it, “nothing is as unoriginal as the desire to be original.”

Today, the discovery of the inauthenticity of authenticity, as in Posner’s case, is a common experience. Suspicion hangs like a dark cloud over authenticity. It is increasingly railed against by those who see the promise of pure, stark, awe-inspiring, and unconquerable authenticity as not only paradoxical but ultimately unfulfillable. Before authenticity became the norm, however, in the transitional period from sincerity to authenticity, its discovery could still be perceived as a marvelous revelation, full of promises of grandeur and originality. One prime example is Jean Jacques Rousseau’s (1813/1953) autobiographical celebration of his own authenticity in the Confessions. He sees himself in opposition to convention and brazenly claims to be completely one-of-a-kind: “I know my own heart and understand my fellow man. But I am made unlike any one I have ever met; I will even venture to say that I am like no one in the whole world. I may be no better, but at least I am different. Whether Nature did well or ill in breaking the mold in which she formed me, is a question which can only be resolved after the reading of my book”.

[...]

Identity is constantly negotiated and renegotiated on both a personal and a social level. While, by definition, identity is that which is regarded as constant about us as particular subjects, it turns out to be subject to ongoing transformations. Identity is, somewhat absurdly, nonidentical to itself. It is, nevertheless, necessary.

Identity is needed: psychologically for individuals to be able to function but also politically for shaping communities and forming social organizations. Yet there is no core dimension of identity that can firmly ground it; one’s particular race or ethical commitments do not fully identify that person. Therefore technologies of identity are needed to make identity, against all odds, plausible. This is what sincerity, authenticity, and profilicity do. None of them is perfect, or necessarily better than the others; all serve the purpose of integrating various incongruent levels and dimensions of identity.

The main function of identity is to establish and uphold stability of personhood; identity merges the different aspects of a person into a whole. It promises reliability and recognizability on which trust and (self-)confidence can be built, and to which pride and value, including economic and political value, can be attached. From time to time, however, cracks between different dimensions of personhood come to the fore, and what we normally must take to be a coherent and congruent identity falls apart. Identity is a counterfactual but necessary postulate that allows us to reduce overwhelming human complexity to manage-able simplicity—so that human complexity can further evolve.

[...]

Unlike what Knodt’s expression “hermeneutic despair” might suggest, however, the gaps between the systemic dimensions body, mind, and social persona are by no means a depressing flaw of the human condition. Quite to the contrary, these gaps open up space for evolving complexity and development. They make possible biological, mental, and social flexibility, productivity, creativity, diversity, and “freedom.” Humans are different from artificial intelligence precisely because the human body (including the brain) does not mechanically program what exactly we think and how we feel. Our thoughts and feelings take shape within a highly dynamic environment, most crucially constituted by our body and our social surroundings. Because of this systemic multiplicity, each systemic realm—mind, society, and body—can emerge in its own autopoietic way. Yes, we cannot really be sure what someone, including ourselves, really means when they say something. But precisely because of the systemic separation between communication and minds, the need for interpretation ensues, and thus we can have, for instance, psychology, philosophy, and literature. And, probably more important, precisely therefore we can also have love as we know it, namely, as a very complex and dynamic form of human interrelationship involving all kinds of social, psychological, and bodily bonds, exchanges, and interpretations. If, indeed, we would fully understand one another, like two connected computers having complete access to each other’s data, love might not make sense.

[...]

That our body does not determine our mind and social persona is by no means a terrifying insight, and particularly not so if this body happens to be female or black. Modifying Hegel’s famous dictum that freedom consists in the insight into necessity, it could be said (in line with Hegel’s intentions, as we believe) that, more precisely speaking, freedom actually consists in the insight into the contingency of what was presumed to be necessary. In other words, identity is free once we realize that there is no need to overinternalize it.

THE PROBLEM OF IDENTITY

Such freedom is a lot of work—and that this is so is another insight we can derive from Hegel. The toilsome nature of freedom also comes to the fore in identity. It certainly took a lot of effort and courage to make the once highly controversial claim that feminine identity is nothing natural. Moreover, if we do not regard identity as given by birth, then we are posed with the potentially arduous task of somehow achieving it. An advantage of premodern necessity- and congruity-based models of identity, manifesting themselves in regimes of sincerity, is that one does not have to question who one is. If this question does not arise, there is no need for a concept of “identity” in the contemporary sense to begin with.

[...]

Reflecting Kellner’s so-called anthropological folklore, Mead outlines a shift toward a more individual and complex form of identity in what he calls “civilized society.” Identity in civilized society departs from the conventionally prescribed role-identity that prevailed in “primitive society”:

In primitive society, to a far greater extent than in civilized society, individuality is constituted by the more or less perfect achievement of a given social type—a type already given, indicated, or exemplified in the organized pattern of social conduct, in the integrated relational structure of the social process of experience and behavior which the given social group exhibits and is carrying on; in civilized society individuality is constituted rather by the individual’s departure from, or modified realization of, any given social type than by his conformity, and tends to be something much more distinctive and singular and peculiar than it is in primitive human society.

[...]

Erving Goffman already explained the emergence of self and society in a similar way. His analysis of human interaction and the Zhuangzi’s understanding of identity are both conceptions of genuine pretending.

Genuine pretending is not an ideal to follow. It is not an existential model one can chose or not. It is the mode of human existence that gives rise to the formation of identity and society.

Everyone is genuinely pretending all the time. Mothers sincerely committing to their roles are genuinely pretending, just as artists when expressing their authenticity, or YouTubers when curating their profiles. There is nothing wrong with this—and there is no alternative to it. Sanity, at least from our perspective, is best maintained by realizing that personal and social identity can only be genuinely pretended—that one can be a sincere mother or an authentic artist or a profilic YouTuber while at the same time not regarding these identities as binding, essential, or ideal. Truly, they are fluid, temporary, and contingent. Identity participates in the transformation of things. Sanity is challenged when people are either unable to achieve identity at all or when they become identity fundamentalists, disregarding the transformation of identity along with everything else, and overcommitting to supposedly “true” roles, selves, or profiles.

[...]

The most significant Daoist term for social and psychological ease is you 游 (pronounced “yo”). It is used more than one hundred times in the Zhuangzi in different variations and meanings. The term is related to the words for “swimming” and “journey,” and the written character contains the radical “water,” associating it loosely with “flow.” It expresses the idea of a rather effortless, playful, and not goal-oriented motion. “Rambling around without destination” is how A. C. Graham (2001) translated the title of the first chapter of the Zhuangzi: the three-character expression xiaoyao you that ends with you. This expression alludes to the movement of children, or animals, like fish.

[...]

PRESSURES OF PROFILICITY

It is the “slave” in the blood of the vain person . . . that tries to seduce him to good opinions of himself; and it is likewise the slave who straightway kneels down before these opinions, as if he himself were not the one who had called them forth.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

[...]

The affirmation of genuine pretending is, to speak with Nietzsche, the attitude of the “noble person” who finds the vanity of those who first “try to elicit a good opinion about themselves . . . and who then themselves nevertheless believe this good opinion” quite tasteless. The identity mechanism Nietzsche describes here is the same in all identity technologies. In sincerity, one may eventually believe that one is the devoted role bearer that one wanted to be praised as. In authenticity, one may eventually believe in one’s uniqueness and originality; and in profilicity, one may in fact “kneel down before” the success of one’s profile, “as if he himself were not the one who had called it forth.”

Unquestioned identity work leads to pretended genuineness, or worse. Rather than finding the identity of oneself and others, including profilic identity, good or bad, or right or wrong, the “noble person” will understand how and why identity is achieved. She will be critical, but not judgmental.

Hans-Georg Moeller, Paul J. D'Ambrosio - You and Your Profile: Identity After Authenticity

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 10, 2024

The frivolity and boredom which unsettle the established order, the vague foreboding of something unknown, these are the heralds of approaching change. The gradual crumbling that left unaltered the face of the whole is cut short by a sunburst which, in one flash, illuminates the features of the new world.

G. W. F. Hegel, A. V. Miller (translator) - Phenomenology of Spirit

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 10, 2024

If you have that opportunity [to travel], take it. [...] Going into a different environment really opened up the brain. It really, really forces you to stretch yourself in a way that always living in the same environment doesn't allow you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHWwq5--nEw&t=21m8s 'Luca Maestri, CFO of Apple'

I've learned that you can spend your life working on your strengths, or you can spend your life working on your weaknesses. And I think it's much more productive at some point just to work on your strengths, because the multiplier is much higher.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHWwq5--nEw&t=36m 'Luca Maestri, CFO of Apple'

I tell my guys in finance: I don't want you guys to ever benchmark anybody else, because you can only get bad ideas. We run the finances of Apple with about half the size of some of the companies that I worked for before, that were like a tenth the size of Apple. I have an investor relations group of 2 (two people). I have the group that manages $230B of cash [with] seven [people]. I know when I look at my counterparts in other large companies, they've got multiples of those resources. But we really believe that if we have the right people, we don't need a lot of them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHWwq5--nEw&t=3150s 'Luca Maestri, CFO of Apple'

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 10, 2024

The actual moment of my decision to break with the Eastern bloc could be understood, from the psychological point of view, in more ways than one. From outside, it is easy to think of such a decision as an elementary consequence of one's hatred of tyranny. But in fact, it may spring from a number of motives, not all of them equally high-minded. My own decision proceeded, not from the functioning of the reasoning mind, but from a revolt of the stomach. A man may persuade himself, by the most logical reasoning, that he will greatly benefit his health by swallowing live frogs; and, thus rationally convinced, he may swallow a first frog, then the second; but at the third his stomach will revolt. In the same way, the growing influence of the doctrine on my way of thinking came up against the resistance of my whole nature.

[...]

The Void

The society portrayed by Witkiewicz is distinguished by the fact that in it religion has ceased to exist as a force. And it is true that religion long ago lost its hold on men's minds not only in the people's democracies, but elsewhere as well. As long as a society's best minds were occupied by theological questions, it was possible to speak of a given religion as the way of thinking of the whole social organism. All the matters which most actively concerned the people were referred to it and discussed in its terms. But that belongs to a dying era. We have come by easy stages to a lack of a common system of thought that could unite the peasant cutting his hay, the student poring over formal logic, and the mechanic working in an automobile factory. Out of this lack arises the painful sense of detachment or abstraction that oppresses the "creators of culture." Religion has been replaced by philosophy which, however, has strayed into spheres increasingly less accessible to the layman. The discussions of Husserl by Witkiewicz's heroes can scarcely interest a reader of even better-than-average education; whereas the peasants remained bound to the Church, be it only emotionally and traditionally. Music, painting, and poetry became something completely foreign to the great majority of people. A theory developed that art should become a substitute for religion: "Metaphysical feelings" were to be expressed in the "compression of pure form"; and so form soon came to dominate content.

Czesław Miłosz - The Captive Mind

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 19, 2024

👎 books written for money
🤩 books written only for the sake of their subject
👎 mediocre writers trying to sound smart
🤩 intelligence
👎 information
🤩 insight
👎 specialists
🤩 generalists
👎 reading too much (👽 thoughts in your 🧠)
🤩 thinking for oneself, developing a coherent whole
👎 history of politics
🤩 history of literature and art
👎 the masses
🤩 discernment, recognizing genuine merit
👎 work easily appreciated by contemporaries
🤩 work appreciated after death, across time
👎 sensual pleasures or childish amusements
🤩 intellectual power
👎 "men who are not men"
🤩 men of genius


There are, first of all, two kinds of authors: those who write for the subject's sake, and those who write for writing's sake. While the one have had thoughts or experiences which seem to them worth communicating, the others want money; and so they write, for money. Their thinking is part of the business of writing. They may be recognized by the way in which they spin out their thoughts to the greatest possible length; then, too, by the very nature of their thoughts, which are only half-true, perverse, forced, vacillating; again, by the aversion they generally show to saying anything straight out, so that they may seem other than they are. Hence their writing is deficient in clearness and definiteness, and it is not long before they betray that their only object in writing at all is to cover paper. This sometimes happens with the best authors; now and then, for example, with Lessing in his Dramaturgie, and even in many of Jean Paul's romances. As soon as the reader perceives this, let him throw the book away; for time is precious. The truth is that when an author begins to write for the sake of covering paper, he is cheating the reader; because he writes under the pretext that he has something to say.

Writing for money and reservation of copyright are, at bottom, the ruin of literature. No one writes anything that is worth writing, unless he writes entirely for the sake of his subject. What an inestimable boon it would be, if in every branch of literature there were only a few books, but those excellent! This can never happen, as long as money is to be made by writing. It seems as though the money lay under a curse; for every author degenerates as soon as he begins to put pen to paper in any way for the sake of gain. The best works of the greatest men all come from the time when they had to write for nothing or for very little. And here, too, that Spanish proverb holds good, which declares that honor and money are not to be found in the same purse—honora y provecho no caben en un saco. The reason why Literature is in such a bad plight nowadays is simply and solely that people write books to make money. A man who is in want sits down and writes a book, and the public is stupid enough to buy it. The secondary effect of this is the ruin of language.

[...]

Unless an author takes the material on which he writes out of his own head, that is to say, from his own observation, he is not worth reading.

[...]

Style is the physiognomy of the mind, and a safer index to character than the face. To imitate another man's style is like wearing a mask, which, be it never so fine, is not long in arousing disgust and abhorrence, because it is lifeless; so that even the ugliest living face is better.

[...]

Every mediocre writer tries to mask his own natural style, because in his heart he knows the truth of what I am saying. He is thus forced, at the outset, to give up any attempt at being frank or naïve—a privilege which is thereby reserved for superior minds, conscious of their own worth, and therefore sure of themselves. What I mean is that these everyday writers are absolutely unable to resolve upon writing just as they think; because they have a notion that, were they to do so, their work might possibly look very childish and simple. For all that, it would not be without its value. If they would only go honestly to work, and say, quite simply, the things they have really thought, and just as they have thought them, these writers would be readable and, within their own proper sphere, even instructive.

But instead of that, they try to make the reader believe that their thoughts have gone much further and deeper than is really the case. They say what they have to say in long sentences that wind about in a forced and unnatural way; they coin new words and write prolix periods which go round and round the thought and wrap it up in a sort of disguise. They tremble between the two separate aims of communicating what they want to say and of concealing it. Their object is to dress it up so that it may look learned or deep, in order to give people the impression that there is very much more in it than for the moment meets the eye. They either jot down their thoughts bit by bit, in short, ambiguous, and paradoxical sentences, which apparently mean much more than they say,—of this kind of writing Schelling's treatises on natural philosophy are a splendid instance; or else they hold forth with a deluge of words and the most intolerable diffusiveness, as though no end of fuss were necessary to make the reader understand the deep meaning of their sentences, whereas it is some quite simple if not actually trivial idea [...]

[...]

And what is at the bottom of all this? Nothing but the untiring effort to sell words for thoughts; a mode of merchandise that is always trying to make fresh openings for itself, and by means of odd expressions, turns of phrase, and combinations of every sort, whether new or used in a new sense, to produce the appearance of intellect in order to make up for the very painfully felt lack of it.

[...]

Horace's maxim that good sense is the source and origin of good style:

Scribendi recte sapere est et principium et fons.

[...]

since it is always the case that if a man affects anything, whatever it may be, it is just there that he is deficient.

[...]

On the other hand, an intelligent author really speaks to us when he writes, and that is why he is able to rouse our interest and commune with us. It is the intelligent author alone who puts individual words together with a full consciousness of their meaning, and chooses them with deliberate design.

[...]

In learning a language, the chief difficulty consists in making acquaintance with every idea which it expresses, even though it should use words for which there is no exact equivalent in the mother tongue; and this often happens. In learning a new language a man has, as it were, to mark out in his mind the boundaries of quite new spheres of ideas, with the result that spheres of ideas arise where none were before. Thus he not only learns words, he gains ideas too.

This is nowhere so much the case as in learning ancient languages, for the differences they present in their mode of expression as compared with modern languages is greater than can be found amongst modern languages as compared with one another. This is shown by the fact that in translating into Latin, recourse must be had to quite other turns of phrase than are used in the original. The thought that is to be translated has to be melted down and recast; in other words, it must be analyzed and then recomposed. It is just this process which makes the study of the ancient languages contribute so much to the education of the mind.

[...]

Students, and learned persons of all sorts and every age, aim as a rule at acquiring information rather than insight. They pique themselves upon knowing about everything—stones, plants, battles, experiments, and all the books in existence. It never occurs to them that information is only a means of insight, and in itself of little or no value; that it is his way of thinking that makes a man a philosopher. When I hear of these portents of learning and their imposing erudition, I sometimes say to myself: Ah, how little they must have had to think about, to have been able to read so much! And when I actually find it reported of the elder Pliny that he was continually reading or being read to, at table, on a journey, or in his bath, the question forces itself upon my mind, whether the man was so very lacking in thought of his own that he had to have alien thought incessantly instilled into him; as though he were a consumptive patient taking jellies to keep himself alive. And neither his undiscerning credulity nor his inexpressibly repulsive and barely intelligible style—which seems like of a man taking notes, and very economical of paper—is of a kind to give me a high opinion of his power of independent thought.

[...]

An exclusive specialist of this kind stands on a par with a workman in a factory, whose whole life is spent in making one particular kind of screw, or catch, or handle, for some particular instrument or machine, in which, indeed, he attains incredible dexterity. The specialist may also be likened to a man who lives in his own house and never leaves it. There he is perfectly familiar with everything, every little step, corner, or board; much as Quasimodo in Victor Hugo's Nôtre Dame knows the cathedral; but outside it, all is strange and unknown.

For true culture in the humanities it is absolutely necessary that a man should be many-sided and take large views; and for a man of learning in the higher sense of the word, an extensive acquaintance with history is needful. He, however, who wishes to be a complete philosopher, must gather into his head the remotest ends of human knowledge: for where else could they ever come together?

It is precisely minds of the first order that will never be specialists. For their very nature is to make the whole of existence their problem; and this is a subject upon which they will every one of them in some form provide mankind with a new revelation. For he alone can deserve the name of genius who takes the All, the Essential, the Universal, for the theme of his achievements; not he who spends his life in explaining some special relation of things one to another.

[...]

ON THINKING FOR ONESELF.

A library may be very large; but if it is in disorder, it is not so useful as one that is small but well arranged. In the same way, a man may have a great mass of knowledge, but if he has not worked it up by thinking it over for himself, it has much less value than a far smaller amount which he has thoroughly pondered. For it is only when a man looks at his knowledge from all sides, and combines the things he knows by comparing truth with truth, that he obtains a complete hold over it and gets it into his power. A man cannot turn over anything in his mind unless he knows it; he should, therefore, learn something; but it is only when he has turned it over that he can be said to know it.

Reading and learning are things that anyone can do of his own free will; but not so thinking. Thinking must be kindled, like a fire by a draught; it must be sustained by some interest in the matter in hand. This interest may be of purely objective kind, or merely subjective. The latter comes into play only in things that concern us personally. Objective interest is confined to heads that think by nature; to whom thinking is as natural as breathing; and they are very rare. This is why most men of learning show so little of it.

It is incredible what a different effect is produced upon the mind by thinking for oneself, as compared with reading. It carries on and intensifies that original difference in the nature of two minds which leads the one to think and the other to read. What I mean is that reading forces alien thoughts upon the mind—thoughts which are as foreign to the drift and temper in which it may be for the moment, as the seal is to the wax on which it stamps its imprint. The mind is thus entirely under compulsion from without; it is driven to think this or that, though for the moment it may not have the slightest impulse or inclination to do so.

But when a man thinks for himself, he follows the impulse of his own mind, which is determined for him at the time, either by his environment or some particular recollection. The visible world of a man's surroundings does not, as reading does, impress a single definite thought upon his mind, but merely gives the matter and occasion which lead him to think what is appropriate to his nature and present temper. So it is, that much reading deprives the mind of all elasticity; it is like keeping a spring continually under pressure. The safest way of having no thoughts of one's own is to take up a book every moment one has nothing else to do. It is this practice which explains why erudition makes most men more stupid and silly than they are by nature, and prevents their writings obtaining any measure of success. They remain, in Pope's words:

For ever reading, never to be read!

[...]

Reading is thinking with some one else's head instead of one's own. To think with one's own head is always to aim at developing a coherent whole—a system, even though it be not a strictly complete one; and nothing hinders this so much as too strong a current of others' thoughts, such as comes of continual reading. These thoughts, springing every one of them from different minds, belonging to different systems, and tinged with different colors, never of themselves flow together into an intellectual whole; they never form a unity of knowledge, or insight, or conviction; but, rather, fill the head with a Babylonian confusion of tongues. The mind that is over-loaded with alien thought is thus deprived of all clear insight, and is well-nigh disorganized. This is a state of things observable in many men of learning; and it makes them inferior in sound sense, correct judgment and practical tact, to many illiterate persons, who, after obtaining a little knowledge from without, by means of experience, intercourse with others, and a small amount of reading, have always subordinated it to, and embodied it with, their own thought.

The really scientific thinker does the same thing as these illiterate persons, but on a larger scale. Although he has need of much knowledge, and so must read a great deal, his mind is nevertheless strong enough to master it all, to assimilate and incorporate it with the system of his thoughts, and so to make it fit in with the organic unity of his insight, which, though vast, is always growing. And in the process, his own thought, like the bass in an organ, always dominates everything and is never drowned by other tones, as happens with minds which are full of mere antiquarian lore; where shreds of music, as it were, in every key, mingle confusedly, and no fundamental note is heard at all.

[...]

History, which I like to think of as the contrary of poetry [Greek: istoroumenon—pepoiaemenon], is for time what geography is for space; and it is no more to be called a science, in any strict sense of the word, than is geography, because it does not deal with universal truths, but only with particular details. History has always been the favorite study of those who wish to learn something, without having to face the effort demanded by any branch of real knowledge, which taxes the intelligence. In our time history is a favorite pursuit; as witness the numerous books upon the subject which appear every year.

[...]

There are two kinds of history; the history of politics and the history of literature and art. The one is the history of the will; the other, that of the intellect. The first is a tale of woe, even of terror: it is a record of agony, struggle, fraud, and horrible murder en masse. The second is everywhere pleasing and serene, like the intellect when left to itself, even though its path be one of error. Its chief branch is the history of philosophy. This is, in fact, its fundamental bass, and the notes of it are heard even in the other kind of history. These deep tones guide the formation of opinion, and opinion rules the world. Hence philosophy, rightly understood, is a material force of the most powerful kind, though very slow in its working. The philosophy of a period is thus the fundamental bass of its history.

The NEWSPAPER, is the second-hand in the clock of history; and it is not only made of baser metal than those which point to the minute and the hour, but it seldom goes right.

The so-called leading article is the chorus to the drama of passing events.

Exaggeration of every kind is as essential to journalism as it is to the dramatic art; for the object of journalism is to make events go as far as possible. Thus it is that all journalists are, in the very nature of their calling, alarmists; and this is their way of giving interest to what they write. Herein they are like little dogs; if anything stirs, they immediately set up a shrill bark.

[...]

The disastrous thing for intellectual merit is that it must wait for those to praise the good who have themselves produced nothing but what is bad; nay, it is a primary misfortune that it has to receive its crown at the hands of the critical power of mankind—a quality of which most men possess only the weak and impotent semblance, so that the reality may be numbered amongst the rarest gifts of nature. Hence La Bruyère's remark is, unhappily, as true as it is neat. Après l'esprit de discernement, he says, ce qu'il y a au monde de plus rare, ce sont les diamans et les perles ("After the spirit of discernment," he says, "what is rarer in the world than diamonds and pearls?"). The spirit of discernment! the critical faculty! it is these that are lacking. Men do not know how to distinguish the genuine from the false, the corn from the chaff, gold from copper; or to perceive the wide gulf that separates a genius from an ordinary man. Thus we have that bad state of things described in an old-fashioned verse, which gives it as the lot of the great ones here on earth to be recognized only when they are gone:

Es ist nun das Geschick der Grossen fiier auf Erden, Erst wann sie nicht mehr sind; von uns erkannt zu werden.

When any genuine and excellent work makes its appearance, the chief difficulty in its way is the amount of bad work it finds already in possession of the field, and accepted as though it were good. And then if, after a long time, the new comer really succeeds, by a hard struggle, in vindicating his place for himself and winning reputation, he will soon encounter fresh difficulty from some affected, dull, awkward imitator, whom people drag in, with the object of calmly setting him up on the altar beside the genius; not seeing the difference and really thinking that here they have to do with another great man. This is what Yriarte means by the first lines of his twenty-eighth Fable, where he declares that the ignorant rabble always sets equal value on the good and the bad:

Siempre acostumbra hacer el vulgo necio De lo bueno y lo malo igual aprecio.

So even Shakespeare's dramas had, immediately after his death, to give place to those of Ben Jonson, Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher, and to yield the supremacy for a hundred years. So Kant's serious philosophy was crowded out by the nonsense of Fichte, Schelling, Jacobi, Hegel. And even in a sphere accessible to all, we have seen unworthy imitators quickly diverting public attention from the incomparable Walter Scott. For, say what you will, the public has no sense for excellence, and therefore no notion how very rare it is to find men really capable of doing anything great in poetry, philosophy, or art, or that their works are alone worthy of exclusive attention.

[...]

This lack of critical insight is also shown by the fact that, while in every century the excellent work of earlier time is held in honor, that of its own is misunderstood, and the attention which is its due is given to bad work, such as every decade carries with it only to be the sport of the next. That men are slow to recognize genuine merit when it appears in their own age, also proves that they do not understand or enjoy or really value the long-acknowledged works of genius, which they honor only on the score of authority.

[...]

The credit you allow to another man engaged in work similar to your own or akin to it, must at bottom be withdrawn from yourself; and you can praise him only at the expense of your own claims.

Accordingly, mankind is in itself not at all inclined to award praise and reputation; it is more disposed to blame and find fault, whereby it indirectly praises itself. If, notwithstanding this, praise is won from mankind, some extraneous motive must prevail.

[...]

Further, it is a suspicious sign if a reputation comes quickly; for an application of the laws of homogeneity will show that such a reputation is nothing but the direct applause of the multitude. What this means may be seen by a remark once made by Phocion, when he was interrupted in a speech by the loud cheers of the mob. Turning to his friends who were standing close by, he asked: Have I made a mistake and said something stupid?

[...]

My remarks are, as I have said, confined to achievements that are not of any material use. Work that serves some practical end, or ministers directly to some pleasure of the senses, will never have any difficulty in being duly appreciated. No first-rate pastry-cook could long remain obscure in any town, to say nothing of having to appeal to posterity.

Under fame of rapid growth is also to be reckoned fame of a false and artificial kind; where, for instance, a book is worked into a reputation by means of unjust praise, the help of friends, corrupt criticism, prompting from above and collusion from below. All this tells upon the multitude, which is rightly presumed to have no power of judging for itself. This sort of fame is like a swimming bladder, by its aid a heavy body may keep afloat. It bears up for a certain time, long or short according as the bladder is well sewed up and blown; but still the air comes out gradually, and the body sinks. This is the inevitable fate of all works which are famous by reason of something outside of themselves. False praise dies away; collusion comes to an end; critics declare the reputation ungrounded; it vanishes, and is replaced by so much the greater contempt. Contrarily, a genuine work, which, having the source of its fame in itself, can kindle admiration afresh in every age, resembles a body of low specific gravity, which always keeps up of its own accord, and so goes floating down the stream of time.

Men of great genius, whether their work be in poetry, philosophy or art, stand in all ages like isolated heroes, keeping up single-handed a desperate struggling against the onslaught of an army of opponents.[1] Is not this characteristic of the miserable nature of mankind? The dullness, grossness, perversity, silliness and brutality of by far the greater part of the race, are always an obstacle to the efforts of the genius, whatever be the method of his art; they so form that hostile army to which at last he has to succumb. Let the isolated champion achieve what he may: it is slow to be acknowledged; it is late in being appreciated, and then only on the score of authority; it may easily fall into neglect again, at any rate for a while. Ever afresh it finds itself opposed by false, shallow, and insipid ideas, which are better suited to that large majority, that so generally hold the field. Though the critic may step forth and say, like Hamlet when he held up the two portraits to his wretched mother, Have you eyes? Have you eyes? alas! they have none. [...]

[...]

The effectiveness of an author turns chiefly upon his getting the reputation that he should be read. But by practicing various arts, by the operation of chance, and by certain natural affinities, this reputation is quickly won by a hundred worthless people: while a worthy writer may come by it very slowly and tardily. The former possess friends to help them; for the rabble is always a numerous body which holds well together. The latter has nothing but enemies; because intellectual superiority is everywhere and under all circumstances the most hateful thing in the world, and especially to bunglers in the same line of work, who want to pass for something themselves.

This being so, it is a prime condition for doing any great work—any work which is to outlive its own age, that a man pay no heed to his contemporaries, their views and opinions, and the praise or blame which they bestow. This condition is, however, fulfilled of itself when a man really does anything great, and it is fortunate that it is so. For if, in producing such a work, he were to look to the general opinion or the judgment of his colleagues, they would lead him astray at every step. Hence, if a man wants to go down to posterity, he must withdraw from the influence of his own age. This will, of course, generally mean that he must also renounce any influence upon it, and be ready to buy centuries of fame by foregoing the applause of his contemporaries.

For when any new and wide-reaching truth comes into the world—and if it is new, it must be paradoxical—an obstinate stand will be made against it as long as possible; nay, people will continue to deny it even after they slacken their opposition and are almost convinced of its truth. Meanwhile it goes on quietly working its way, and, like an acid, undermining everything around it. From time to time a crash is heard; the old error comes tottering to the ground, and suddenly the new fabric of thought stands revealed, as though it were a monument just uncovered. Everyone recognizes and admires it. To be sure, this all comes to pass for the most part very slowly. As a rule, people discover a man to be worth listening to only after he is gone; their hear, hear, resounds when the orator has left the platform.

Works of the ordinary type meet with a better fate. Arising as they do in the course of, and in connection with, the general advance in contemporary culture, they are in close alliance with the spirit of their age—in other words, just those opinions which happen to be prevalent at the time. They aim at suiting the needs of the moment. If they have any merit, it is soon recognized; and they gain currency as books which reflect the latest ideas. Justice, nay, more than justice, is done to them. They afford little scope for envy; since, as was said above, a man will praise a thing only so far as he hopes to be able to imitate it himself.

[...]

There is also some comfort to be found in reflecting upon all the whims and crotchets which had their day and have now utterly vanished. In style, in grammar, in spelling, there are false notions of this sort which last only three or four years. But when the errors are on a large scale, while we lament the brevity of human life, we shall in any case, do well to lag behind our own age when we see it on a downward path. For there are two ways of not keeping on a level with the times. A man may be below it; or he may be above it.

[...]

The brain may be likened to a parasite which is nourished as a part of the human frame without contributing directly to its inner economy; it is securely housed in the topmost story, and there leads a self-sufficient and independent life. In the same way it may be said that a man endowed with great mental gifts leads, apart from the individual life common to all, a second life, purely of the intellect. He devotes himself to the constant increase, rectification and extension, not of mere learning, but of real systematic knowledge and insight; and remains untouched by the fate that overtakes him personally, so long as it does not disturb him in his work. It is thus a life which raises a man and sets him above fate and its changes. Always thinking, learning, experimenting, practicing his knowledge, the man soon comes to look upon this second life as the chief mode of existence, and his merely personal life as something subordinate, serving only to advance ends higher than itself.

[...]

The difference between the genius and the ordinary man is, no doubt, a quantitative one, in so far as it is a difference of degree; but I am tempted to regard it also as qualitative, in view of the fact that ordinary minds, notwithstanding individual variation, have a certain tendency to think alike. Thus on similar occasions their thoughts at once all take a similar direction, and run on the same lines; and this explains why their judgments constantly agree—not, however, because they are based on truth. [...]

A genius is a man in whose mind the world is presented as an object is presented in a mirror, but with a degree more of clearness and a greater distinction of outline than is attained by ordinary people. It is from him that humanity may look for most instruction; for the deepest insight into the most important matters is to be acquired, not by an observant attention to detail, but by a close study of things as a whole. [...]

[...]

It is otherwise with ordinary people: for them leisure has no value in itself, nor is it, indeed, without its dangers, as these people seem to know. The technical work of our time, which is done to an unprecedented perfection, has, by increasing and multiplying objects of luxury, given the favorites of fortune a choice between more leisure and culture upon the one side, and additional luxury and good living, but with increased activity, upon the other; and, true to their character, they choose the latter, and prefer champagne to freedom. And they are consistent in their choice; for, to them, every exertion of the mind which does not serve the aims of the will is folly. Intellectual effort for its own sake, they call eccentricity. Therefore, persistence in the aims of the will and the belly will be concentricity; and, to be sure, the will is the centre, the kernel of the world.

But in general it is very seldom that any such alternative is presented. For as with money, most men have no superfluity, but only just enough for their needs, so with intelligence; they possess just what will suffice for the service of the will, that is, for the carrying on of their business. Having made their fortune, they are content to gape or to indulge in sensual pleasures or childish amusements, cards or dice; or they will talk in the dullest way, or dress up and make obeisance to one another. And how few are those who have even a little superfluity of intellectual power! Like the others they too make themselves a pleasure; but it is a pleasure of the intellect. Either they will pursue some liberal study which brings them in nothing, or they will practice some art; and in general, they will be capable of taking an objective interest in things, so that it will be possible to converse with them. But with the others it is better not to enter into any relations at all; for, except when they tell the results of their own experience or give an account of their special vocation, or at any rate impart what they have learned from some one else, their conversation will not be worth listening to; and if anything is said to them, they will rarely grasp or understand it aright, and it will in most cases be opposed to their own opinions. Balthazar Gracian describes them very strikingly as men who are not men—hombres che non lo son. And Giordano Bruno says the same thing: What a difference there is in having to do with men compared with those who are only made in their image and likeness![1] And how wonderfully this passage agrees with that remark in the Kurral: The common people look like men but I have never seen anything quite like them.

[...]

[Ariosto's simile:] Natura lo fece e poi ruppe lo stampo. After Nature stamps a man of genius, she breaks the die.

Arthur Schopenhauer, T. Bailey Saunders (translator) - The Art of Literature

@ivan
Copy link
Author

ivan commented Jan 20, 2024

"If you don't look, you won't find."

[...]

I would argue that in practical life, you want to succeed. You got to do two things. You got to have a certain amount of competence and you have to know what you know and what you don't know. You have to know the edge of your competency. And if you know the edge of your competency, you're a much safer thinker and a much safer investor than you are if you don't know it. And I constantly meet people, better to have an IQ of 160 and think it's 150 than an IQ of 160 and think it's 200. That guy's going to kill you because he doesn't know the edge of his own competency and he thinks he knows everything.

[...]

The reason capitalism works as well as it does is so much of it is win-win, but there are all kinds of people that are looking for ways to cheat people. We had a guy with us when I was in the military, everybody called him Honest John, and of course, they called him that because he was totally crooked. And if it wasn't dishonorable and crooked, he didn't make a sound. He wouldn't consider any proposition that wasn't sleazy and never really been crooked. He was trying to screw people out of money. But how much better if you have a voluntary transaction where both sides are happy on a win-win basis? That's perfect. And capitalism in such a system causes this flourishing civilization. Of course, that's the way to go.

[...]

That's the beauty of capitalism. It makes win-win transactions very easy and almost automatic. It's such a hugely important idea and people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both of whom I regard as quite talented in some ways, but they just don't get it.

[...]

And so we have to go to something else, and of course, that's harder. A lot of people have that problem, and yet they go to new systems and new ways. I've always liked the quote, "Capitalism is how we take care of people we don't know." It's utterly remarkable how it works.

[...]

Collison: It feels like a lot of the objections you have to, say, professional money managers or Wall Street or whatever can be summed up by people should be more cognizant of principal-agent problems. Is that fair?

Munger: You can hardly imagine a field more full of principal-agent [problems] more than wealth management. Of course the wealth managers take care of themselves. That includes the foundation manager. A foundation manager is basically - he wants to get $400,000 a year when a professor gets $110,000. He's got one way of picking money managers who get 3% off the top.

[...]

Collison: Is the secret of Berkshire's culture just the anti-bureaucracy bent? Could you sum it up in that way?

Munger: Berkshire's pretty extreme in culture. We are deeply aware of how bureaucracies tend to create their own internal dynamics so that everybody protects everybody else and nobody changes anything, ruffles any feathers. And the net result is that a lot of bureaucracies make some very stupid decisions, and we try and avoid that. But the way we've done it mostly is by not having anybody around. They can't be bureaucratic if they're not there. There is nobody in the head office. So we avoid the bureaucracy. We just don't want people to do it. Nobody else is as extreme as we are in that. A huge advantage to us. And another thing is we like very trustworthy people. I'd rather have a brief telephone [with] somebody I trust than I would have a 40-page contract prepared by the finest law firm in the world with somebody I don't trust. And so we like to deal with trustworthy people and to be able to count on their oral promises.

[...]

Poor Charlie's Almanac is a lot like the guy who created modern Singapore. And what he always said was, "Figure out what works and then do it. Figure out what works and then do it." And he just did that more relentlessly than anybody else and more intelligently. And he was probably the greatest nation builder that has ever existed in terms of quality of leadership. He's probably the greatest nation builder that ever existed, including Pericles and everybody in all history. And it's very much like Poor Charlie's Almanac, "Figure out what works and do it. Figure out what doesn't work and avoid it." And he just was relentless. That's all he did. And he started as a left-wing labor lawyer. And to start as a left-wing labor lawyer, he ended up creating modern Singapore just by, "Figure out what works and do it. And figure out what doesn't work and avoid it." Just keep doing that over and over again. So as far as I'm concerned, the politician who looks the most like Poor Charlie's Almanac is Lee Kuan Yew. And I'm not surprised that he got ahead better than any other nation builder that ever lived. That was all he did. It was pretty goddamn simple.

https://www.joincolossus.com/episodes/76168278/munger-a-conversation-with-charlie-munger-john-collison 'Charlie Munger - A Conversation with Charlie Munger & John Collison'

Sign up for free to join this conversation on GitHub. Already have an account? Sign in to comment