Inexpansive Diplomacy

A review floated across my smartphone’s News feed recently lauding the hard realism of the television series The Expanse, based on the novels of James S. A. Covey.  I’m enjoying the series immensely, but probably only because it is vastly superior to most of the SciFi fare served up on TV or even the movies.  But this blog post is to keep things realer.

If you watch any of the diplomatic scenes you should notice the same old nasty stereotypes of politicians.  Anyone who has been close to politics in real life knows that the snarky insults and jibes seen in these movie scripts is nothing like real life.  (My father was an MP and CEO, I know a bit about what goes on in boardrooms and back-rooms and select committee’s and UN conferences.)  Sure, there are always the rotten apples, the evil politicians who either have their own personal agendas or who move and shake at the behest of private donors or corporate interests, but in real politics, at least outside the USA, Russia and China, and a few banana republics, such people are rare.  Lord knows why those three super powers are infested with corrupt politicians, maybe the riches available coupled with the imperfect electoral processes combine to float the crud to the top of the political bowl.

The Earth literally cannot sustain such crud at the leadership top for too long, and I do mean “literally”, this is clear if you witness the almost existential threats we face from climate change to nuclear conflict (once thought a threat of the past, but now renewed thanks to corruption in US politics).  It is likely we will not have to wait too many decades for things to change though, either the Earth will force our politics to get more civilised and scientific, or a few countries will wake up and lead the way, through innovation and economic growth unrivalled by the corrupt countries, the corruption will be self-defeating.  Those are two likely scenarios in my view, and I think the most likely of a few other generic futures for world politics.  (A highly unlikely scenario is some benevolent dictator emerges, unlikely because social media will probably not allow such a figure to emerge, and dictatorship rarely correlates with acceptable benevolence.  Another is a gradually maturation, unlikely because of the rapid changes in the environment and technology field.)

Which brings me to The Expanse.  The diplomacy scenes do move the plot along a bit, but at the gross expense of a nuanced realism that could, I think, only enhance the prestige of the series.  My sense is that by the time frame of The Expanse technology, near 2100 to 2200, I think a more peaceful empirical, consultative world politics will have been either accepted and demanded by the general public, at least in democracies, or it will have been forced upon society out of need for collective action at highly coordinated government scientific levels to control many existential threats facing humanity and a vast proportion of the Earth’s biota and habitats, and not the least the expected and justifiably increasing demands and voice of the worlds poor, who cannot be for long suppressed in the combined weight of their voices, once the minimum poverty level reaches a state where the poor all have a means of living that afford some scant time in pursuit of justice and then eventually maybe some leisure.  Some of these things are just so inevitable they are almost laws of sociology.  The uncertainty, based on extrapolation form history, is just how long these changes will take, and whether the rise of the power of the worlds poorest will lag too much or be fast enough to reach a synergistic confluence with the worlds’ environmental problems.

scifi_TheExpanse_ShohrehA_UN_undersecrataryShohreh Aghdashloo as Chrisjen Avasarala, UN Assistant Undersecretary in the SciFI series The Expanse

      .

Her character is a “relatively good” politician, but the type who commits vile torture on non-Earthers.

One thing that really irked me was the supposedly principled and good character, Secretary Avasarala, is depicted committing torture to the point of death on a prisoner.  You’d hope in our future no politician would even need to do such a  thing.  At the worst, you’d imagine brain scanning or drugs would do the job of information extraction.  But you’d hope they would not even need to resort to such invasions of a persons mind, just talk to them, treat them well, and certainly do not imprison them because that’s against not only their interest but your interests as well!  Enlightened psychologists know that torture and duress solicit less useful information, and make information harder to discover.

So damn!  I would love to watch an intelligent, gnarly, hard scifi series that does the diplomacy seriously and sanely, without the trashy stereotytpes.  Here’s a glimpse of what I imagine:  around the Earth-Mars diplomatic table, the participants know each other well, they do not take nasty spiteful jabs at each other, they care about their planets, they realise making peace is not only more pleasant, but economically far more sensible as well, they realise warfare is a waste, they have no nuclear weapons because no one will ever use them.  They are working to solve a new existential threat posed by the proto-molecule.  The tension is based not around Earth-Mars-Belter hostility, but based around the uncertainty about the proto-molecule and fears that insane lunatic rebels will exploit the foreign material to wipe out most of Solar civilization.  I think such a pot would be much more gripping, and certainly not as boring as watching grossly and frankly pathetically sterotyped “politicians” and “diplomats” try to stumble towards solar system warfare.

 

 

 

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“It Hurts my Brain” — Wrong! Thinking is Not Hard, Thinking is Beautiful

Can we all please get beyond the myth that “thinking is hard”! This guy from Veritasium means well, but regurgitates the myth: How Should We Teach Science? (2veritasium, March 2017) Thinking is not hard because of the brain energy it takes. That is utter crap. What is likely more realistic psychologically is that people do not take time and quiet space to reflect and meditate. Deep thinking is more like meditation, and it is energizing and relaxing. So this old myth needs replacing I think. Thinking deeply while distracting yourself with trivia is really hard, because of the cognitive load on working memory. It seems hard because when your working memory gets overloaded you cannot retain ideas, and it appears like you get stupid and this leads to frustration and anxiety, and that does have physiological effects that mimic a type of mental pain.

But humans have invented ways to get around this. One is called WRITING. You sit down meditate, allow thoughts to flood your working memory, and when you get an insight or an overload you write them down, then later review, organize and structure your thoughts. In this way deep thinking is easy and enjoyable. Making thinking hard so that it seems to hurt your brain is a choice. You have chosen to buy into the myth when you try to concentrate on deep thinking while allowing yourself to be distracted by life’s trivia and absurdities. Unfortunately, few schools teach the proper art of thinking.

Doing the Left Thing

I really enjoyed Soo and Lulu’s story aired on RadioLab What’s Left When You’re Right?  (radiolab podcast: 2014-02-25 ).  Have a listen, what do you think of it? Is there a resolution to the personality types? Or are they both two extremes on the same positive axis of some kind of empathy spectrum?

It’s heart-rending when Lulu recounts her new-found respect for her friend Su, especially when they were moments prior on the verge of splitting up as close friends. But it made me wonder …

Is there a super-character possible in-between the type of warm caring fuzzy avoid-controversy type of Lulu and the harsh argumentative just and stand-up-on principle even if it is dangerous and confrontational character type of Soo?

Can You Escape Personality Typecasting

Maybe I over-think things too much. But in this case I thought “yes”. But they are rare individuals — those gems who have such brilliantly good personality in multiple modes. I have known one or two souls who had the peaceful temperament of Soo combined with the righteous outrage and justice-seeking traits of Soo.

There are other polarities in character, each end being good in some way, but which are often hard to find united in a single person. At least hard to find them united in action in a given circumstance. But here’s the thing which interests me: psychology so often deals with extremes, and ignores unity. We hear about personality disorders and polar opposites and these famed “character types”. But who is ever truly “of a type”? Aren’t we all somewhat fluid and adaptive?

Well, no, apparently not. But why not? This is the key thing!  We tend not to be fluid in character (like, “haha ironic”, the extreme case of Zelig, in the Woody Allen film, the “human chameleon”, funny cute movie) but I think this is because people settle in to their type and are not conscious enough to be more adaptive. But I believe adaptation in psychological traits is a “superpower” which we all possess. We just fail often to use it!

Subvert the Psychologists

Use your superpowers is the beautiful plea I am making here! Be adaptive. Think adaptive. Do not rest with who you think you are or who society expects you to be. Make some change for yourself and do something courageous when the opportunity arises, whether that is standing down from an argument or sticking up for a just cause.

Psychologists tell us these character types are kinda’ hard-wired in us. But I do not accept that. The rare combination character types tell me that multi-modal good character, the best from diverse types, can be acquired with effort. Lulu can learn to be stronger and deal with conflict and not shy away from it, and Soo can learn to tone down her righteous indignation for the sake of friendship, when absolute justice is not critically important. (I’m not saying she should, just that she could.) What is absolute justice anyway? When I wrote the previous sentence I felt uneasy.

And that got me thinking further…

Absolute justice is surely always critical and important. Why should a character like Soo “tone down” her sense of righteousness? I don’t think she should, and to live in a world where people wish she would “tone down” is unfair. But I also think Lulu’s character is good. She avoids confrontation. Here’s the thing: it is possible to both avoid confrontation and assert your sense of justice. How?

The key is to adopt a point of view which is a little belligerent and does not accept that good moral or ethical sensibilities should ever need to be opposed. Not in principle and also not in practice. So you have to think a bit when faced with a situation that has potential for conflict when justice is demanded. You just have to tell yourself that the two can be reconciled, you can have a non-confrontational assertion of justice. But how? What about the story told by Lulu of the crazy dude and Soo?

Well, that story is a good example. Initially Soo was confrontational, but in the end she befriended the weird dude. So you need to look ahead to the end of a situation, to see how maybe some initial confrontation will be temporary. There is also another point: Soo was aggressive in her initial confrontation, but she did not have to be so, she could have confronted the craziness of the “dude” in a calmer more peaceful way.

The way RadioLab reported Lulu’s story made it sound as though Soo was initially too aggressive, bordering on dangerous (it could have inflamed the psychotic side of the dude.) But listening the to audio segment Lulu had recorded of the incident, I felt Soo was actually not all that aggressive. I think she was misperceived as aggressive, while in fact she displayed a serious assertiveness and no more. I might be reading it wrongly, but I took the story as a good example of how justice can be served without necessary conflict.

The recipient of justice will often feel aggrieved, or guilty, or angry, or defensive, or even violent, or any number of negative emotions, but this should not stop s from seeking justice. Perhaps there is a smart way to seek justice and a dumb way, the dumb way is the way of overt confrontation, the smart way is through calm peaceful dialogue to try to help the people concerned see the error of their ways. It takes longer to resolve the smart way, but perhaps that is partly why it is smart. You know the old adage: “good things take time”. It is not always true, but it is true more often than not when seeking justice.

Combat Leftism

The last story in that RadioLab podcast is good listening too, but somewhat more academic. Lefties are 10% in the human population, and there are many evolutionary theories about why — why left-handed is an advantage even though it correlates with a long list of weaknesses. One strength of lefties is in sport and combat!  And athletes tend to be good reproducers! But why is there 90/10 right/left bias in humans? Many think it goes back to brain asymmetry with developed with human languae. Language became (accidentally) left0brain dominant, and motor control goes in opposite ways, the left brain controls the right side of the body, the right brain controls the left. It’s not that lefties are bad with language, just that their neurology is a bit right-biased, by genes it seems.

The moral and spiritual dimension is far more fascinating with the Soo and Lulu story, and that woman Soo is something special, you have to admit. But there is also a moral component to the Lefties story too, which is that left-handed people are often victimized or treated unfairly in society, and yet most people are not even consciously aware of this. So be sensitive, OK!? Look of for left-handedness in children and do not discourage it, don’t force them to be right-handed. Please. My special plea to the world for today.

I am aware pleas like this are muttered every day, but you have to spend the time on them. A little goes a long way when repeated, people forget little things too easily. But being treated poorly for being left-handed can be a big bad deal for a leftie, especially a child.

http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/facts-and-stats-about-lefties

Courtesy: http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/facts-and-stats-about-lefties

 

 

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Probability of Hope

One of my favourite film directors of recent years, Alfonso Cuarón, directed a documentary film called “The Possibility of Hope” (2007), which was released on a special edition DVD of his brilliant “Children of Men” (2006) (based on P.D. James’ novel).  (I feel sorry for film buffs who still think “Metropolis” (1927) is the better SciFi movie.  I feel now is the golden age of cinema, not back then, that was merely the formative age, we just don’t appreciate this because spectacular cinema has become almost taken for granted, and maybe some of the story-telling is lacking because we are in the age of explosive over-the-top special effects.)

Children_of_Men_poster

In The Possibility of Hope scientist James Lovelock (the inventor of the Gaia Hypothesis — the Earth as a system much like a living being) talks and warns about the coming of a new “dark age” where global warming will cause humans with strong survival instincts to flee to places like Iceland and set themselves up as the new ruling elite, while many of the worlds people will hopelessly stay put and just … die.

I do not know from what lunacy of intellect these dire warnings spring.  I think, in the very real and pure motivation to urge people into positive action there is a tendency for some to grossly exaggerate future calamitous possibilities.  Lovelock even goes as far as claiming that it is a very real threat that in the not so distant future (this century?) the world could become ruled by war lords who will control water and crops and hold the rest of humanity to ransom.

There are many good reasons to suppose such a threat is real.  Our past shows that in countries torn by drought and famine, warlords will arise who will make themselves kings of deserts, and hoard resources around themselves to build a tiny oases where only their favoured can survive.

But those were in bordered regions, not globally.  Global warlords have never existed, and are highly unlikely ever to flourish.  Yet you can easily look at how wealthy Americans and Europeans are right now hoarding wealth and resources, claiming land in gated communities, driving around in expensive unnecessary SUV’s and fortressing themselves against the oppression of the poor and dispossessed.  It’s madness.  (Friggin’ SUV’s aye!!!  Not the most ridiculous and unnecessary inventions of the Twentieth century though, not by a long way.)  These sorts of people are the worst warlords the Earth will ever face.  Worst because they are so pitiful, they will not even see themselves as wasters of the planet.

As Lovelock also says he doesn’t think humans will go extinct, we are, he notes, “one of the toughest of all animals”.  What he fears more from global warming and runaway greenhouse effect, is the warlord scenario.

So ok, I think this is a fair warning, but it is not realistic.  We already know who the warlords are, and they are people who are more scared than the rest of us.  They do not believe in the possibility of hope for all, and they will fight hard to preserve their own families and will be just too scared to do anything more.  They’ll migrate to more polar latitudes, and live in fear of invasion across their new borders.  They will try to preserve their way of life at the cost of other human lives.  Like I said, the worst kind of petty warlords.

What’s more likely to happen though?  I ask you before giving you my thoughts (since I’m no prophet nor expert, just a free thinking average Joe.)  Be honest, what is really the most likely scenario if catastrophic global warming hits us within 50 to 100 years?

One of the first things to note is that humans had better do something about migrating crops before migrating themselves.  Crops in newly arid regions will fail and humans will be the only entities on the planet capable of moving crop species vast distances to replant.  Vegetation is the slackest of living movers.  And although global warming will be a slow thing, it’ll take decades to really warm up catastrophically, and generations of humans will live through it and witness the slow impacts of climate change.  But that’s in human time frame.  Plants and sedentary animals cannot so rapidly adapt.  For a start they are not scientists, and so cannot make the predictions that humans can make.  And plants cannot pick themselves up and move to cooler and rainier climates, even if they did have science.

So humans will save the worlds crops and farm animals.  We will be finding room on the planet for them.  And in a few places in deserts we will set up solar farms, where the Sun’s rays will power air-conditioners and seawater desalinators and purifiers.  This technology already exists.  And provided we do not darken the skies, there will be abundant solar power for life to continue to exist in the hottest regions.

It is not everyone’s favourite scenario to have half the Earth covered with human-made structures which produce artificial oases.  It’s more romantic and beautiful to live more at one with nature.  But in the coming century or two or three, if we do not limit our greenhouse emissions and turn to more renewable energy resources, then we will force our civilisation into becoming the Earth’s artificial protector.  Enlightened self-interest of course, since we’d be doing it to save ourselves as much as the rest of life.

And yes, I suppose the greedy corporations and multinationals will hoard resources and technology.  But take a look around yourself, especially on the internet.  You can get designs and build a 3D printer/fabricator for yourself these days.  You have vast resources at your fingertips every time you access the web.  If only you knew!  Or rather, I suspect you do know, but feel overwhelmed, and over-worked to do much with all the information at your fingertips.  And fair enough.  Just realise the potential is there, and when called upon to build a homebrew 3D fabricator, or $10 raw cost small scale seawater desalinator, or a $60 raw cost internet-ready laptop computer, or a humble backyard self-powered greenhouse garden, or scores of other actually useful appliances and high-tech, low cost tools, the information will be there, guaranteed.

All you need to do is stop spending all your time on YouTube or Facebook.  (If you’re reading this, likely “you” aren’t who I’m referring to of course!)

Technology has forever been like this, at once a cause of misery and a cause of advancement.  It’s all a matter of how you use it.  If nothing else beneficial comes from global warming at least it will force our youth (and our child adults) to stop wasting time on Facebook and Twitter, and start using the social networks for good, for cooperation, for saving the planet.

Human civilisation already has massive life changing power.  We just do not use it very efficiently right now.

This is not the place for me to launch into a statistical analysis, and I’m not a futurologist (a dubious science at best, and at worst just plain ridiculous). However, using a very rough bunch of estimates I will hesitantly suggest the chances of a global warlord society in a post-climate runaway world is less than 5%.  I really would like to say less than 1%, but my numbers do not support such optimism!

I have to use Bayesian inference, and use the prior probability of warlord civilisation.  This is  a small number.  In history there have been comparatively few warlord systems, and especially as a fraction of total historical time. Then there is the probability that such a state would exist globally, and that is very small too, because no dictatorship of any kind, has ever gone global.  There are too many rebellious free-thinking people for such a state to remain stable for long periods.  Benevolent dictatorships have persisted over large territories for many years, even decades, and if you count monarchies as a kind of benevolent dictatorship, then one can say over centuries of time.  But these were never global, not even Queen Victoria’s empire, and were nothing in character like Lovelock’s dire warnings of economic warlords.

Other factors include the difference between nation and regional dictatorships and global dictatorship.  Dictatorships arise when there is civil and political unrest, not environmental disaster.  Environmental disaster can ignite civic rebellion, but in those conditions the rebellion is more likely one that is overthrowing a dictatorship or an unjust phony democracy.

The probabilities add up to greater hope than despair.  The balance is actually largely in favour of hope.  However, painful living conditions are not part of those estimates.  Frankly, I do not have the ability to estimate anything about how harsh the world will become for life.  It might not be as horrible as scientists like James Lovelock predict, and it might be worse.  There is too much uncertainty in all of this for any reasonable analysis.  It would be foolish and vain to make any predictions, even with large error bounds.  I imagine someone will try though, and I’d be very interested to read their account.

But I would predict greater things.  I imagine a global climate catastrophe will be slow enough that everyone will gradually feel the pinch of it, and we will adapt.  People will stop waging war on one another because it will be seen as wasteful and pointless.  What point is a war when the spoils are a desert of dust?

And I suspect that instead of a rise of global resource-hoarding warlords, our species will gather together and help each other, and we will be drawn together as a human family like no other time in history.  Children will grow up thinking of themselves as citizens of the world.  Space agencies and private companies might even get together and start the grand centuries long project of making dome colonies on Mars temporarily habitable for adventurous humans.  And if we can see humans can live there, then who can doubt that we can repair the Earth too?

I’m not claiming this is inevitable, nor that it would be utopian.  It would, in all probability, more likely, be a unifying of humanity under the harshest of circumstances.  People will suffer I guess. And some will act unforgivably rapaciously.  But the vast majority of humanity will refuse to capitulate to any incipient warlords and ruling multinational corporations.

The reason is simple.  No one will be able to blame any single person or group or country or agency.  We, or our parents and their parents, will be the only people to blame for the fate of the planet.  And you cannot go to war against yourself.  Well, not easily.

And when you look for someone to blame, and only find yourself and your parents and the generations before them who failed to act in time, then the only way to fight will be to do the opposite, and to wage peace, and to form partnerships and cooperatives and work damn hard to migrate those crops and animals and save the planet in every way humanly possible.

We will do it.  None of us can know how hard and painful it will be.  If you want to play a positive role in it all you’ll need to do is sacrifice some of your luxuries.  No one will die from that.  The parasites will feed, but there are more of us than them.  The world wide web has nearly democratized information, and in our society information is power.  Thus it is only a matter of decades, I suspect, not centuries, until information and numbers of good ordinary people overwhelm the transitory power held by money.

When you can virtually give someone, someone half-way across the world, credits for purchasing food and medicine, at the click of a mouse, then money ceases to be an obstacle to happiness and becomes something amazing and simple like water, fluid and life-giving.  And it makes greed look like debasement, and it will make corruption and conspicuous consumption look like a child’s tantrums.  It will make people who invest solely to make more money on paper look like a neanderthal species of self-serving masturbators.

Also, I doubt we will be moving into a temporary civilizational art and literature hiatus.  People will still be creating wonderful art and cinema or whatever sensory-immersion media the next generation of story-telling has in store for us.  Entertainment is not a human right, it is a privilege, but I imagine civilisation has moved beyond the point where art can be suppressed, even by global environmental hardships.  Human beings are essentially a species of lovers.  We love to love.  We love to be entertained, and so we will always make it possible for artists to entertain us.  We will make the sacrifices necessary to give artists their freedom to create.

No necessary utopia remember.  I’m just phrasing the future scenario in optimistic but realistic terms.  What will become real is up to us.  No one person makes reality.  No one ideology has rights on owning the future.  Although many will try, and we (our entire species) will forgive them.  Our civilisation is better than we dare to dream I think, even someone like me.  It is more varied in thought than I can imagine, and diversified in interests, and more complex and dangerous and interesting and potentially more peaceful.

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Myth of the Ultimate Anti Page Turner (Part 3)

My cousin had passed from the Valley of Search through the valley’s of Love and Knowledge, probably by-passed the Valley of Unity, and had proceeded, with some kind of spiritual pass ticket, on to the Valley of Wonderment.  Or so it seemed to me.  After reading her last email

From:     "Kari Fairbairn" <flaming.sweetcheeks@gmail.com>
Sent:     Thursday, July 14, 2011 3:22 PM
To:       "Bijou Smith" <one.over.epsilon@gmail.com>
Subject:  RE: ghost drive in Palm Springs

Bijou my fav cuz! It's gonna blow-your-mind.  I just know it will.  :-) I can't help myself though, so here goes: Man!  I'd forgotten all about why I had found GHost Drive.  Haha!  Guess the library wasn't full of page-clonkers after all.  But Bij... I don't want to finish this one!  It's too beautiful.  If I finish it I'll die.  I'm not bleedin' kidding cuz! LOL! Started scannigna few pages, but it was taking forever, the hotel made me pay per page, etc.  grrrr!   PLenty of time to finish the scanning when I get home tho'.  No worries.  Just too excited, so hav to tell you a few things.  Promise no spoilers, ok.  Be patient (i know u will.)  :-))) First of all, there's no doubt this manuscript is inspired.  Don't ask me how or why, it just IS ok?  A wouldn't say a genius wrote it - you told me once that your beloved Dick Feynman was called "No Ordinary Genius"?   You can say something similar about whoever wrote this.  But I gathered Feynman was not too humble either... this Ghost Drive author is truly humble, everything is written so that YOU feel like the genius.  THere are questions.  Soul-searing, soul-searching, uplifting and wonderful and bemusing questions.  It's like the words in the page come to life every time I read it.  I guess a deep thinker can always find good questions to ask.  But it's the answers Bij.  They aren't ordinary.  THe answers are personal, deeply subjective, and the style it's written in Bij....is astounding, just astounding.  Every page (almost, not exactly exaggerating... well maybe a little) has hidden questions that probe your own existence and concpet of self and identity and the whole phreakin' meaning of life.  I bullshit you not!!!  BUt I think this is very subjective. Here's the thing: I suppose someone could read this and not take away much from it.  You have to (I say "you" but I mean "me", but I'm sure it'd be the same for you) be prepared to question yourself.  SO it's like an ACTIVE book.  I got this very soon after absorbing the introduction.  (And yeah, I mean "absorb" almost literally. It feels like an absorption....of ideas, u know?) THe incredible thing is that when you read it this way, actively, then the next paragrpahs or sections will begin to answer the questions you've just asked of yourself, or of life, of the universe, of whatever is beyond.  THat's the freaky thing too.  There is no obvious didactic purpse.  Everything is implied and you have to be a proactive reader, or it'll seem like too much encoded information to grok all at once.  Sigh... not that I can get it all at once.  I have to keep going back and re-reading large portions.  :-)  It's like the ultimate banquet of delights:  a buffet banquet you can eat as much as you want, but there is alwys more left, and when you've finished a plate you feel energized and you crave more, and like magic all the weight of that first course disappears, and so you feel starved again almost immediately, and you have to go back for more, and it never adds fat, it's a paradoxical meal that strengthens and invigorates and makes your mind lean.  (Again, apologies for using "you"... i just want to share this with someone Bij!  haha, I don't like eating alone LOL!) That's the thing!  It's making me lean and fit in mind.  I feel that so much rubbish I've read or learned in the past is just so much candyfloss that can be forgotten.  It's sooo beautiful because the Ghost Drive allows the reader to discover so much for themselves.  Not like those awful "self-help" genre books.  THis is not about help or care or recovery or inspiration.  It's way more than that.  It reveals the hidden stitches in the universe, your whole "fabric of reality" you always go on about, and then, at a turn, the minute stitches and fabric involute, everything inverts, turns inside-out, and the small becomes large, the large becomes small, and so you can see everything, the entire cosmos seems to come into view and then recede away into nothingness.  It's the most exhilarating thing I could possibly read or experience internally without collapsing from mental exhaustion.  Do u know what I'm getting at?  Like the whole universe is revealed to your eyes, but you cannot comprehend it all, you'd expire in smallness and ignorance if it was held before your gaze for too long, the astonishment would shock you into perpetual bewilderment and you'd never recover your senses, and you'd explode like a billion supernovae if an infinitesimal fraction of it all tried to fit itself into your brain, and so, mercifully, it recedes, like a beneficent beautiful Siren who knows she is drawing you into the rocks of your own ignorance and stupidity, and so, from the kindness in her heart, she retreats and leaves you with only the echo of her song to remind you of what you could not bear to fully hear, and you are left with a peaceful void, a place that allows my mind rest and which seems alive with raw potential, unseen untouched potential, like I'd imagine the pre-eternal Big Bang, before time, before space, before the flickering of the first quantum fields. Honestly Bij, I feel a bit fraudulent writing to you like this, because I cannot do it justice.  It's too surreal as well.  I'm getting a bit (in a good way) anxious about it.  I'm serious now about never wanting to finish this ... this epic, humble, fantastical book.  There's too much in it and I worry I am not capable of using it wisely.  It's alreayd changed my life, but I haven't taken any meaningful action yet. Still reading.  Still thinking.  I wnat you to share this with me, and promise me you will stop me from going all looney and evangelical with it all, since tht's not the spirit it was written in I think.  It is deeply subjective, a personal quality to it, so intimate and lonely at times, but so captivating and enlarging and all-encompassing at other times.  ANd the same paragraphs can leave me with a completely different feel each time I return to them. Sometimes I'm right down in the quantum foam level seeing things in their barest essence and then at other times I'm taking in many worlds at once, totally expanded in consciousness for a moment, and then blissed out in dreams.  It's very scientifically flavoured too... you'll love that.  But it was written to a lover I am sure, so it is heart-wrenching and tearfully beautiful in expanse and questioning. The curiosity of all-souls came to manifest life and wrote this manuscript before a lost lover tossed their ego into the flames and burned up their attachment to material things and stopped them from writing forever for fear the pages would cause the reader to want to give up this life for an escape into the greater consciousness that can only be attained by physical death.  I know that sounds melodramatic, but it resonates with something similar I have read before.  DO you remember the one?  The letters we came across which read like a divine revelation of some sort, how'd it go?  "We have revealed only a dewdrop out of this fathomless ocean as a mercy unto the people."  THere's something like this, like if I could comprehend every layer of meaning I would go mad from the sheer over-load, I would not be free of ego enough to cope with it all. THhe need to be humble and detached would send me insane.  But you see, I think one can hope to slowly reach such a  point of all-comprehension. And then realsie there is no all-comprehension, and what we just thought was everything is only a fragment of a dream of some eternal infinite mind.   I really would like to write so much more but I think you'll appreciate it more if i just hurry back to NZ and let you see for yourself.  We can do so much with this.  Not a question of letting it take over my life.  THere is too much action I think I need to get involved with.  Not be so introverted anymore, or at least not in the bad way.  You know even if I never find out who wrote it, I'm going to track down the librarian who likely shelved it and thank them for not withdrawing it or something worse! (Can guess what u r thinking -- Kuz has gone off the deep end and bought into a self-help guru thing... but u r soooo wrong.  It's not so didactic and shallow as that, it's so deep, so seep, u wouldn't believe no matter how much I describe in my own words.  So that's why i've gotta just fly back home quick.)  actually, I trust you weren't thinking that at all... you trust me right? Conference is over tomorrow.  Flying back on ANZ Saturday, long trip, but, hehe, I have the best entertainment possible! Take care cuz, dont do anything dopey till I get home, CuzKari.

Is this yet mythic in proportions?  You cannot tell right?  You haven’t seen the manuscript.

This particular myth is fated to be private.  I don’t know if this automatically disqualifies it as a myth.  Myths are supposed to be communal right?  But I think this one will be semi-communal, a myth revered only between myself and my readers.  Some myths never make it through the mists of time.  But the wider arc of the idea of an ultimate anti page turning book can be kept alive in each one of you.  Because, after-all, what inspires you to keep flipping the pages of a great book is central to your personality, and when you find a book so wonderful that you never finish reading it because each page is so rich it lasts for a small eternity, and the thought of finishing the book frightens your nerves, because you do not know if you will ever find such a love again, and you do not wish to ever relinquish this lover, then the myth of the ultimate anti page turner can live through you.

*        *        *

At 3PM NZT on Saturday July 16 2011, I picked up the phone and heard the news from my uncle Daniel, Kari’s dad.  It had happened on a country road a few minutes out from Palm Springs.  Kari had been driving back from an end-of-conference conference trip to a publishing magnate’s private residence.  I’m sure she would have thought it quite amusing, to be mingling with obscenely wealth while her mind was utterly focused on more spiritual ideas and swimming in seas of the infinite.  She could do that — spend an entire party just day-dreaming and making polite conversation, while all the time  being in a completely different realm, and yet never making anyone feel like she was being aloof or impolite.

The shock was nothing like what I would have expected upon hearing such news.  It was deep and biting, sharp like diamond blades slicing every tender nerve, it cut me into emotional ribbons, and I wasn’t sure how I’d sew myself back together.   I could not walk straight after the brief tearful phone call.  I went to my room and cried into my bed sheets.

After my self-pity had subsided I knew what I had to do.  Sparing no expense (and costing a small fortune, at least for me) I booked tickets to California and made my way to Palm Springs, and did what Kari might have wanted me to do.  Find her book, and return it to the library so anyone could loan it and read it.  But not before I’d finished scanning every last page.

There was no trace of a manuscript at the crash site, the power pylon the drunk had smashed my cousin into as she swerved to avoid the head-on high speed impact was  still standing.  Had the wind swept away the Ghost Drive Manual?  The coroner’s office had similarly bleak nothing.  No one at the hotel knew.  The acquaintances she had befriended at the conference were still recovering from the tragedy, no one who had known Kari, even if only momentarily over a conference tea and coffee break, would be immune from the sadness, but they knew nothing of a thick innocuous technical looking manuscript called The Ghost Drive Manual.  I looked everywhere I could.  All I have are my cousins emails.

My cousin had found her way to peace.  I believe that.  She did not have time in this life to turn her inspirations into lasting actions.  But I know that a truly great idea cannot be bought and sold, cannot be suppressed, and will eventually always find light.  It is not for everyone at the same time.  How can it be?

And what her emails had told me was that true peace, the kind that never fades, the wonderment that never ceases to amaze, and the delight that comes from asking the right questions and finding within oneself the greatest answers.  You have to be prepared and ready though, it’s a condition on finding happiness.  What you find in the valley of contentment that precedes ultimate wonder is for you and not for others, and to visit that place you cannot take with you any possessions, and you leave the ones you love behind, at least in this world of time.

Do I wish Kari had survived and showed me her final literary lover?  Am I trying to over-magnify the importance of her discovery?  Am I injecting more meaning into her loss than is warranted?  Yes, all of this perhaps.  I need to.  I need to magnify the truth because my vision is so dim.

Maybe the last thing I have learned from her, since that weekend in July, is that the ghosts are not the departed spirits of our ancestors.  We are the ghosts compared to the rest of infinite existence.  There are just too many ways that beauty can be known to be able to hold within your mind for long the conceit that we are substance and truth and beauty are insubstantial abstractions.  It all exists somewhere, and always has, and always will, and we cannot grasp it because our hands, our brains, our minds, are just ghostly quantities compared to the Absolute Infinite.

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The Angles on Angels

Please reblog this one to infinity. Not my post, but the ideas in it.  Please write vigorously of them in your own words.  Spread the peace bro’.  People need to know this, because whether you own life is surrounded by elegant opulence or decrepit refuse, in whatever state you live, you can derive hope on the order of a hundred-obamas (a quantum unit of hope).

The book you must grok is The Better Angles of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and It’s Causes by Steven Pinker.  Pinker is like this MIT uber-geek.  But sort of scary rugged handsome with his wild curly greying hair.  He’s imposing when he speaks, but is usually very accurate in the way he interprets data and synthesizes information.  But don’t buy the book unless you enjoy slogging.

Better Angels (book)

It’s a rather intolerable book to read, it’ll give you bibliographical indigestion. But it won’t make you vomit.  I recommend searching Google or YouTube for any talk by Steven Pinker on his book, since there you’ll get all the information you need in 15 minutes without having to wade through his very dry and heavy book.   Seriously.  This is one important book that is a total bugger to read. (Mine, the soft-back, especially since the font is so small.)

Do you get title?  Violence has declined.  Declined do you hear!  The amazing thing about the statistics Pinker has compiled is the inevitable conclusions one cannot help drawing.  They are irrefutable.  Yet Pinker does his damnedest to beat us into submission with overwhelming evidence.  He needn’t have tried so hard, half his book is convincing enough for the most dour skeptic.  It’s like he need to convince himself first, so h goes to extremes.  But ultimately you have to love him for this.

It’s like he set out to prove that human civilization was about to erupt into an armageddon, but all the data he found only disproved his hypothesis and confirmed it’s antithesis.  Yes, he world is becoming a more peaceful place.  So much so that charts showing wars and death seem to die away to nothing in the late 20th century compared to all times earlier in history.

So why do people not realise this?  Why are most of us shocked by Pinker’s data and their obvious conclusions?  Pinker explains in the book, but the video lectures he gives are much more succinct.  Mainly it is modern media — newspapers, television, radio, blogs, Twitter — all of which report the worst in human affairs.

It’s little wonder Pinker’s book has not made huge waves.  A handful of philosophers and mystic in the latter half of the 19th century were saying similar things, and they were completely ignored. (And that was at a time where Pinker’s data says the world was about twice as dangerous and violent as it is now at the start of the second millennium.)  So are groups like the Bahá’í Faith.  utterly ignored.  What Pinker does is show us, with hard data, that these people have been right all along.  It’s something wonderful.  Yet when I tell people about this book and it’s main ideas, they say, “Oh, sounds like a good book.  Who’s the author again?”

It’s like they’re all blaisé about this read and want to know only if the author is New York Times best selling, or whatever.  The idea that is so stunning seems to just wash over my friends.  Maybe I do not have the best friends in the world?  At least my Bro’ understood (but then he’s a Bahá’í, so it was a bit anti-climatic telling him about it).

It’s a queer book too.  It made me cry to realise how beautiful humans are becoming. (OK, hyperbole, I admit.  I did not cry like a baby, but I did shed a few tears, the nice sort, when you feel all warm and astounded at the beauty of humanity despite all the horrific noise in the media.)  Yet there is nothing beautiful about Pinker’s writing.  It’s all hard data and facts.  I’m reading it and I’m, like, “Oh, come on dude!  Chill a bit will you, it’s ok to say that this is spiritually momentous, raw with peaceful tidings, glowing with brightness and hope!  You don’t have to pummel us with data.”

Then again, I think some people need the data.  Too many cynics in the world.  Some young teenagers grab a few semi-automatic weapons and launch a killing spree in their local school.  This is not the world Pinker seems to be living in.  That’s right.  It’s the hyperreality YOU are all living in, the one reported in the mainstream media.  That’s the unreal world.   These incredible acts of selfishness and violence are real enough, too real, but they are over-emphasised in the media.  Perhaps justly.  Without them being sensationalized people would be too forgiving of the pro-personal-weapons lobby groups, and the military, and the bullies everywhere who advocate violence as a solution to social problems. So maybe it’s not altogether bad to hype such horror stories in the media.  But human beings need balance and truth.  We also need hope.  We need to have a fair reflection of the world, especially with increasing globalisation.  Too much bad news is bad when it does not fairly reflect the morals and ethics of the vast majority of ordinary human beings.

So here is a selection of data.  First, we die less violently on average than at any time in history:

violent_deaths

Second, in our justice systems (despite the USA inflating the stats) we put people to death less often,

pinker_execution

Third, there is less rape and homocide, even going back thirty years the decline is precipitous. And this is one of those good times when precipitous decline was good.

rp_hmcd_decline

And of course, the statistics most people cannot believe, but it’s all true: the decline of war among humans, war is falling below detectability in our modern history, and will perhaps in one hundred years be thought of as a bizarre aberration in the process of human civilization. People will be amazed in a thousand years form now, how war could have lasted so long in history.

waning_war

So when you are next assaulted by reports of atrocities and inhuman cruelty in the media, just remember these statistics. Reality is not what it seems.   The hyperreality reported in the media and in movies and on the internet boosts the sensational and forgets the ordinary acts of kindness billions of humans engage in every day.

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