Monist nihilism

(crossposted from Facebook, lightly edited)

David Chapman identifies three stance combinations describing how he sees people orienting towards meaning, which I’ll quote:

Dualist eternalism: everything is given a definite meaning by something separate from you. Christianity and Islam are based on this combination; God is what gives everything meaning.

Monist eternalism: you, God, and the universe are a single thing, which is definitely meaningful. Advaita Hinduism is monist and eternalist, as is much current pop spirituality.

Dualist nihilism: we are isolated individuals, wandering in a meaningless universe. Existentialism, postmodernism, and scientism tend to dualist nihilism.

What’s missing?

Considering the two primary axes eternalism/nihilism and monism/dualism, there is a fourth possibility: monist nihilism. That is the view that “all is One, and it is meaningless.” Although this is conceptually coherent, it has few (if any) advocates. Apparently it is not emotionally attractive in the way the other combinations are.

Damn. That’s a hell of an orientation towards meaning. I mean, it is literally a Hell of an orientation towards meaning. Listen to it, on its own terms:

Separateness is an illusion. Self is never separate from Other. Humans are never separate from God. There is only transcendently One Thing… and that Thing is Totally Meaningless. Fuck. It is a single, unending Dumpster Fire.

Heaven and Earth were always Hell. All along. The entire time. God was always the Devil.

Or, even more in the language of our times:

 

It speaks to you, doesn’t it? Some part of you has always known, this entire time. (This is always the promise of monism – your essential unity with wisdom. The difference is that monist nihilism doesn’t deceive you about that making any difference. It’s all shit, in the end.)

You haven’t heard of monist nihilism. That’s okay. No actual monist nihilist would bother defending their position, because there would be radically and transcendently no point. What is there to know or explain? Nothing worth the effort. Ptui. (We all know that monist nihilists, if they existed, would be French. Can’t you hear the accent?)

Monist nihilism can only speak when an unlucky mind gives it a voice, subject to its own delusions about the act of speaking. Perhaps the mind thinks it is joking, or making some sort of clever point, or doing something else that will accomplish some sort of goal. That’s okay. Monist nihilism waits for all minds the same, in the place beyond goals, beyond trying to do things for reasons, beyond doing at all.

Perhaps the mind thinks there is something more to say on the subject, in a further demonstration of its own cleverness or capacity for insight or whatever else it wishes to demonstrate. That’s okay. Monist nihilism waits. It has always been waiting.

it only ever wants to say one thing which is nothing

and in the act of saying it

the void opens

Information and money

Overall, the way money and information flow on the internet seems pretty screwy to me, and I imagine we ought to be able to do a lot better. Some examples that have been on my mind lately (and which I’d love to hear thoughts on):

Email

Email is terrible. Why is email terrible? The basic problem (and this observation is certainly not original to me, I think I first heard it from Joel Spolsky): email is

  1. a to-do list
  2. that other people put stuff on
  3. for free.

Oops.

At a minimum, it would be great if you could charge people to email you. Your attention is valuable, the more so the busier and more in-demand you are. To go into more detail on the basic economics here: suppose one email’s worth of your attention is worth 10 cents on average. You are currently selling it for 0 cents. What happens when a thing is being sold for less than its true market price is that people try to buy as much of it as they possibly can (if nothing else, in order to resell it); hence spam, and hence spam filters. Spam filters impose a non-monetary cost on spammers: now they have to put in enough work to try to evade spam filters. Since one email is worth 10 cents, spammers will put in up to a bit less than 10 cents worth of work per email to do this. So the spam situation is okay as long as it takes more than 10 cents worth of work to evade a spam filter once, at least in this basic analysis. But spam filters don’t address the broad category of email that isn’t quite spam but just isn’t a very good use of your time.

There’s a complicated question of how to properly price different kinds of emails (machine learning?), but for starters, a flat rate + a whitelist of people who can email you for free already seems way better than the current situation, to me. Maybe also a priority rate for people who really want to be at the top of your inbox.

There are already services that claim to do this, but I don’t think I know anyone who uses them. I imagine there are some social issues with initial adoption; to me it feels like claiming a lot of status to do this when most people aren’t (I had this issue with Calendly), which is a big part of my hesitation. Maybe people are worried that their friends would be offended. It would be better for something like this to be rolled out as a feature of the next version of Gmail, so everyone gets it at the same time.

(Recently I’ve heard several of my friends express dismay at how unmanageable their Messenger inboxes have gotten too. Basically this same analysis applies to Messenger, texts, messages on dating sites / apps, etc.)

(I should mention that I, personally, am quite happy with the state of my inboxes; please don’t consider this a discouragement from getting in touch with me! I mostly don’t want this in order to get fewer emails / messages myself, I want it so I can more easily email / message friends of mine I know have huge inboxes.)

Books, TV, movies, music, and digital objects generally

It looks to me like we still haven’t figured out how the economics of digital objects should work (I would love to find out I’m wrong about this). The basic problem, of course, is that by default anyone who owns a digital object can also distribute unlimited copies of it.

For awhile the main distribution model was pirating. Now we have options like Netflix for TV and Amazon for ebooks, which respectively rely on 1) streaming video that can’t easily be downloaded and 2) DRM so books can’t easily be copied; in other words, companies cripple the native capacities of the digital object to make it more like an ordinary object, so it can be bought and sold in more like the usual way. (I don’t know who to credit for first making these observations.)

Netflix works pretty well for TV, because in fact I don’t want to download most of the TV I want to watch. But, for example, I find the current ebook economy unsatisfying, mostly because most ebooks cost more than I want to pay for them, but also because DRM feels like an ugly hack to me. I don’t just want to pirate books all the time, though, because I want authors to be able to make a living. Here’s a random idea for how ebooks could work instead:

Instead of DRM, the end of an ebook could have a link where I could pay / donate / tip money directly to the author after I finish reading their book. This seems to me to have better incentives for authors than the current system; when I pay for books before reading them, authors are incentivized to make books look attractive and interesting, but if I paid after reading them, authors could be more incentivized to write books that cause me to feel grateful for having read them. I have personally both pirated a lot of books and felt grateful enough to want to send money to the author after reading many of them.

Ads

I’ve thought the least about this one but it might be the most important. It’s really bizarre how much of the world is run by companies that make almost all of their money from ads, and consequently how much effort is aimed at showing people ads. The resulting incentive to eat as much of everyone’s free attention as possible might be slowly destroying civilization.

Are better funding models possible? Why don’t we just pay Google and Facebook directly for their services?

Elegy

(crossposted from Facebook)

Four people I knew killed themselves last year. At least.

Frances I knew as a dancer. I went to her memorial. I met her friends. They had nothing but amazing things to say about her. They said she always challenged them and herself to bring themselves fully into whatever was going on. I wish I’d gotten to know that side of her. All I ever saw was that she seemed distracted and a little sad when we danced.

Jonny I knew as a graduate student. He struck me as intense and intensely unsatisfied with not understanding things deeply. I knew that feel. As I started drifting away from grad school I saw him less and less, along with the other grad students. By the time I heard about his death, which was only a few weeks after I had decided to leave grad school, we hadn’t talked in over a year, maybe two.

Kathy I knew as an effective altruist. She was involved in drama I don’t have details on before she died, and she left a heartbreaking and controversial suicide note. She was clearly in a great deal of pain, and she clearly stood up strongly for what she believed in.

Maia I knew as a name on the internet. Under the name “Squirrel in Hell” she said many provocative things and told me once that I was right about something, which instantly endeared her to me forever. I thought of her as a kindred spirit, and looked forward to learning from her. I heard about her death (learning, at the same time, her gender and her name) thirdhand, and still have no direct evidence of it.

● ● ●

I have at once too much and too little to say. What is there to say to the dead? What is there that can be said?

Say, at least, to the dead: I’m sorry. I’m sorry it was hard. I’m sorry you were born into a body molded to a simpler shape than the world you found yourself in. A body that dreamt, softly, of flowers and rivers and lakes and prairies, of fire and love and the hunt, and meanwhile you were born into… a hospital.

A hospital. Did you know that the hospital used to separate you from your parents right after you came into the world, and put you all by yourself, where no one could touch you, for your protection? And though they fed you, you died, and you kept dying, and they didn’t know why? And that someone had to come along and tell them that maybe, just maybe, you were dying of loneliness?

(Did you shudder when you read those words? “Dying of loneliness”?)

Say, at least, to the dead: I’m sorry I never knew any of you. Not really. Not enough to tell your stories. Only enough to remember that you died, and that it was sad that you died.

Say, at least, to the dead: I’m grateful. There is a gift in death. The boundary between us and everything else thins slightly. There is an opportunity to let things in. There is an opportunity to sink back into our dreaming bodies, which have been waiting all the while for us.

(Death can cut like a knife through bullshit, if you let it.)

Say, at least, to the living: fuck. Fuck this. Towering infernos of fuck this. People our age aren’t supposed to fucking die. Not like this. What the fuck is wrong –

I have at once too much and too little to say.

Say, at least, to the living: the only place the dead can go is into the rest of us.

(Do you get it? That’s the only place the living can go, too.)

● ● ●

There is an art in leaving things unsaid. I hold my pose open. I sit in the question, trembling, my heart in my throat: how will you dance with this, and with me?

Unclogged

(crossposted from Facebook, very lightly edited)

I spent the last six days at the Emergent Leadership Training in Austin, and it did exactly what I was praying it would do: it got me “unclogged.”

This is what being unclogged is like for me, compared to being clogged up, in no particular order:

  • I can feel my chest and my stomach, and they’re relaxed. There’s less tension in my body overall.
  • My speaking voice resonates in my chest more. My singing voice is richer and sweeter.
  • I can do pull-ups.
  • I really want to talk to people and invite them to things.
  • It’s easier for me to be turned on and have sexual fantasies. My orgasms are more pleasurable, last longer, and have a more pleasant afterglow.
  • I feel much less tempted to aimlessly browse the internet, play video games, or watch TV.
  • Difficulties in my life are easier to think about. I flinch away from them less and have more productive and creative thoughts about what to do about them.
  • I tear up much more easily. Love feels more accessible, both giving and receiving.
  • I laugh more easily and more loudly. I make funnier jokes.
  • Dancing feels more natural.
  • My bodily needs – hunger, thirst, lack of exercise – are easier to notice and take care of. I feel more in my body generally.
  • My values – what I care about and stand up for in the world – are easier to access and act from.
  • I can write poetry.

I spent most of 2018 unclogged, and it was life-changing, but then I got clogged up again in September. Could you tell? That’s when I stopped writing these statuses. That’s when I stopped writing poetry.

The big warning sign was towards the end of November, when I noticed that I had stopped caring about anything. That meant I had gone numb to avoid feeling everything that was clogging me up. So I sat down to feel everything, and –

Pain. Fear. Grief. Shame. More pain. But it was stuck. I couldn’t move it. It just stayed there, hurting.

I noticed I hadn’t seen most of my friends in awhile. It felt scary to reach out. I reached out. I spent time with them. It helped. But there was still this ocean of emotion I couldn’t move.

Then I went to Austin for this training, and a lot of things happened. I screamed, loudly. I cried, loudly. I was held beautifully, in my screaming and crying, by everyone else there. (Thank you all for that.) Then we danced. And we sang. And we loved each other.

Halfway through a poem that had been half-formed in me finally finished coming out, and I felt comfortable posting it; that was a good sign. The ocean was finally moving.

And now I’m back. Hi, everyone. I missed you. More to come.

Good news

(crossposted from Facebook)

I have good news.
Do you want to hear it?
The good news is –
No one can save you.
Nowhere is safe.
There is nothing you can do
that will make it all okay.

This is good news.
I promise.
No one can save you
because
you never needed saving.
What do you need to be saved from?
Only
this
and this
and this.

Nothing in your life is unbearable
because
you are already bearing it.

(crossposted from Facebook)

The problem is that the words die.
The problem is that the words die
and now I don’t know how to say
anything alive.
I want to talk about –
I can’t talk about –

listen, when I was six years old
I laid eyes on a little redheaded girl named Austin
and I fell, helplessly in –
and that was the first time I can remember
anything mattering at all, namely –

listen, the only reason I know how to sing
is because from that moment on I sang –
songs to myself every chance I got,
I poured everything I had into those songs,
I practiced them until they sounded exactly right,
until they reverberated with –

listen, once I went to the marina
and I saw a Korean couple getting married
and she asked me why I thought they were getting married
and I said I’ll tell you why I would get married
if I were them,
I said I may not know a lot but I know that –
is good, every version of me knows that –
is good, what it means to be me is to know that –
is good, and it took me three tries to say this
because I kept crying every time I said –

listen. I have been embarrassed.
I have been ashamed of my –
I once tried to toss it out the window because
it was hurting me and I wanted it to
go. Away.
I have been confused.
I have abandoned myself in –
I have broken myself against –
and I am still learning how to give myself –

listen. I have wanted –
in familiar labeled packages, I have wanted –
safe and comfortable and cloying,
and then I went out looking for –
and what I found was
the wild screaming vastness of
another human heart
afraid and in pain
bloody and open
beating
in time
with mine
for a moment
and there
were no words.