Lessons Learned

I’m waiting for the page views to drop before writing anything. A few remarks: first, I’m now going to be suffering from elevated expectations whenever I write something here, meaning I’m going to be (subconsciously) trying to come up with another topic that goes viral and brings in gazillions of readers. I like readers! But that makes for bad writing, and I apologize in advance; I’ll try to keep my narcissism under control. Secondly, and relatedly, I’m going to leave myself out of these posts in the future. Too many discussions, both in the comments here and on pages that linked to this blog, centered around me, and what my career or chances were, and a few people even worried about where I live. I started to get drawn in to defending myself, but would that make any difference? I didn’t collect the data. We have this thing called the internet.

Third, I was gratified that the response didn’t degenerate (much) into the sort of blather one sees on reddit, where any time something bad happens to a poor person, there are immediately chains of trolls explaining how that person made bad decisions and everything is their fault. I don’t claim this was written about bad things happening to good people who did everything right- on the contrary, it was written about bad things happening to good people who do some things wrong, like everyone else (you never drank a beer before your 21st birthday? I’m exempting Muslims and Mormons from this bit of snark, of course). Or, as I said in a comment, good people who never had a right thing to do. I’m not going to pretend I can sit here on the internet and determine what someone who overdosed should have done, but I’m pretty sure “not heroin” is going to be on the list. And suicide is obviously a choice, albeit one informed by circumstances and, almost always, depression. That doesn’t make any of it- or the statistical prevalence or either form of death- less of a tragedy.

Another observation: the Unnecessariat post was as popular on the right as on the left. Initially that surprised me, since like everyone else I’m accustomed to the internet being my private bubble, but honestly it makes sense. Rural America is overwhelmingly conservative, so these are the people the right should pay attention to, and more than that, this is something the right is good at talking about. When people have lost their sense of participation in or meaning relative to anything larger than the day-to-day, I have no problem calling that a spiritual crisis, even if the roots can be found in hard economic and political realities. The right, unlike the left, can talk about spiritual crises. When the left tries, it quickly runs out of language and gets tangled up, swerving widely between churches, participatory social capital, metaphysics, and shopworn self-help promo blather. This is not to say that everybody needs god (which one(s)?) but that there are needs beyond the material, which can’t be forthrightly addressed if one is afraid to dance too close to the axiomatic assumption that secularism is going to win out in the war of ideas.

18 thoughts on “Lessons Learned

  1. Ahh, I hope you’ll reconsider your intent to “leave yourself out” of your writings; I feel like this kind of personalization makes for some of the best kinds of political/philosophical writings, and one that is increasingly rare. At least, most of my own favorite pieces of writing are those that combine more rigorous data and empirics with personal experience and observations and feelings.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m admittedly a new follower, one of the many brought here by your super-star re-posted-post, but yours is the first blog I’ve ever subscribed to specifically because I find your style and insight quite refreshing and profound. Keep it up!

    Regarding metaphysics…
    I think you are dead-on in your thoughts about the inability of many people to handle spiritual crises. I’ve written and thought about this in great depth myself.

    I’ve come to believe that the biggest fallacy, the one that drives all of the grandstanding, moralizing, and constant judging is at the core of our personas we absolutely must believe we are intrinsically good people. Infinite methods of justification exists for whenever that goodness is challenged. This is the original cognitive dissonance and the absurdity of believing in our innate goodness seems no less ridiculous than believing in a man in the clouds.

    We find many that are eager to reject religion and God out of hand, why not, it is pretty ridiculous to believe that a magical deity sitting above us is watching over our every action (unless, of course this reality is a simulation, then it goes without saying that someone is watching). Theology wouldn’t matter if people were fully-realized beings, but we’re not and eliminating fallacy is not the same as replacing it with truth. Removing God doesn’t eliminate the need for gestalt. There is a vacuum instead of a third-eye and it is quickly, and by necessity, filled with other things: celebrity worship, technophilia, doom and prep, drugs, video games, television, sex, Internet based anonymous commentary, etc. As much as religion is a messed-up, mass hallucination, it’s also a short-circuit, shunting the sinner straight to ground as the corrupt, backward, and flawed creatures we ultimately are. It’s a method to see our imperfections and not just the imperfections of those around us,it’s the seed of compassion.

    Clearly, not everyone needs religion to clobber them with their own short-comings on a weekly basis and furthermore, it’s clear that many people pull the wrong conclusions, believing themselves above their athiest brothers and sisters. But, as you said, people raised in a tradition of religion are generally more easily able to deal with crises of the spirit. This disintegrates with fundamentalism, an interpretation of religion that has had all of the humanity blotted from the texts. I highly encourage reading “Under the Banner of Heaven” by Jon Krakauer as a great investigation into the damaging illness of fundamentalist interpretations of religious texts.

    In my most humble opinion, if you aren’t able to bind yourself to a philosophy of compassion, forgiveness and love, you’ll end up alone and empty. Empty vessels need to be filled and they will be filled with the thoughts and whims of others often for destructive and cynical ends.

    Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Huh. My sense of religion, as both a non-believer and a non-member (these are different things) is that it is an attachment relationship with the universe. Sort of like your “attachment style” is completely independent of how good your parents actually are at parenting, I don’t think there actually needs to be a god for people to find great comfort in faith. I think it provides a sense of order, that there is meaning, even if it isn’t apparent. And, as you say, it offers a scaffolding for improving yourself as a person, a guide to right and wrong.

      (I really liked Banner of Heaven. I actually have this weird fascination with the Mormons overall, not because I believe in their faith, but because they are the first really large and successful religion- Wiccans, Oomoto and Bahai’i please forgive me- to vault over the pidgin generation into a creole with the cameras, so to speak, rolling)

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think we need more of Roger Williams’ attitudes towards individual freedom of conscience. Williams is one of the most admirable people in American history, but sadly very few Americans know about him. Williams was devoutly Christian, and left no doubts that he believed that Christianity was the way to salvation. But he believed just as strongly that each person had the right to choose, and he would vigorously defend what he would see as your right to make the wrong choice. Both the I’m-morally-superior-because-I-believe religious types and the I’m-intellectually-superior-because-I-don’t-believe atheists need a time out. If religious faith gives your life purpose and meaning, good for you. If you would rather know than believe, and you find purpose through other avenues, good for you.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I really like this comment, setinthebox! (And the blog, obviously!)

      I am definitely a misotheist (I actually BLAME “God” whatever that means for how messed up we are) and I do hang out on “atheistic” sites. One of the sites I follow, Godless in Dixie, overemphasizes this inherenet goodness meme. While I also agree with his point that the constant Calvinist focus on how nasty we are as a race of semi-evolved violent primates, I can’t follow him there as to the inherent goodness of man. I mean, just look around!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As a conservative who enjoyed your piece, and one who lives outside of the United States, I think the appeal to us is greater than you might think (i.e. goes beyond appealing to those regions discussed). I imagine you have read the blogger (now on seemingly permanent hiatus) “The Last Psychiatrist”. He had a rather conservative leaning yet shared the same concerns: he just pressed your insight further: “If you even think about it for a minute, it becomes obvious: what if Sanders (or your political savior of choice) had won? Would that fix the Ohio river valley?” The liberal default is: perhaps no one, but revolution gives us a chance; the conservative default is: certainly not government, and if it is to be fixed at all it must be by those living there.

    I think there is obvious bitterness in liberals, conservatives, and pirates regarding the varieties of corruption throughout your country – from business to government and back. I think liberals think: “we are so wealthy, surely there is enough to redistribute.” Conservatives, on the other hand, think, “we are not so wealthy, this is a debt-driven disaster.” Both realize the corrupt will, in most cases, evade the consequences of their actions. The pirates, as the “enemy of all”, flip doubloons and sip rum from afar, sharpening their knives.


    • Huh. I want to reply to a lot of what you’re saying in fairly particulate detail, but I recognize that isn’t the point. While I fall into your “liberal” category with regards to debt financing (as long as the US is the reserve currency of the world, the rules don’t apply to us- which is absolutely insane but mechanistically legit) I actually would actually take the conservative bitterness a bit farther. I’ve been personally working over my understanding of what “corruption” actually is, and I’m not sure its even a definable thing.

      For instance, if you go to a country, and the police pull you over and demand twenty bucks not to arrest you, that’s corrupt. If they smash your taillight and tell you to get a replacement, and the only garage in town is owned by the policeman’s brother, that’s corrupt. No problem.

      However, I had this bizarre idea two weeks ago: there is a chance that my state will legalize, or at least expand the production of, industrial hemp. Maybe. I realized I could set up a processing plant for kenaf (which will grow here, though not well) and a co-op to help farmers buy seeds and harvesting equipment, and theoretically I could do it all with investment money from a few of the local bigwigs, including some with political connections. The market for kenaf fiber isn’t very big, but it would bring in some income and, if industrial hemp were ever legalized, the equipment- from the co-op to the harvesters to the fiber processing- would require only a few adjustments to be usable for hemp, for which there is an enormous and lucrative market. My first thought was that having local bigwigs as investors would help get the required DEA licensure etc, but actually depending on who they were, it might actually tilt the table towards legalizing hemp in the first place.

      Is that corrupt? It seems so, but its also basic business practice, no? In fact, this is essentially *how* the system seems to work, all the way down to getting the local distribution franchise for a given seed company. A truly non-corrupt economy wouldn’t include the idea of “its who you know” or even “networking”- is that even likely?

      That’s how bitter I am. And no kenaf processing plant for me, either. Feel free to take my idea and make a zillion dollars 🙂



      • To play with the reserve (& fiat) currency idea: before the various crashes of the last few decades, where I live the choice between private employment and government employment had the following dynamic: if you worked for the private industry you would be paid more and have less security ; if you worked for the government you would be paid less but have more security. Post-crashes, the dynamic is: if you work for the private industry you are likely paid less and have less security, and if you work for the government you are likely paid more and have more security. The only way in the United States that this is able to continue is because government employees are immune EVEN from the variations in tax revenue because of the fiat reserve currency. This cannot continue in, say, Greece.

        The bitterness of conservatives comes when these government employees – who are JUST AS UNNECESSARY AS THEM, IF NOT MORE – are not only immune from the vast forces laying waste to their prospects, but hold them hostage for raises despite failing at their jobs. As you said, surveillance states are not even able to govern well: teachers’ unions come to the fore as an example. Then there is the vast apparatus of professional unnecessariats who depend on knowledge of INFINITE, ARBITRARY regulations (and a doctrine of Ignorantia juris non excusat) to survive (lawyers, accountants, etc.). I am an accountant at an SEC-regulated company: I am employed by the grace of arbitrary papers, not by serving any client.

        The point, before I am led astray: the unnecessariat you speak of is only the unemployed rural segment of a wider unnecessariat who OUGHT TO BE UNEMPLOYED. They serve NO ONE. They are unaccountable to TAXPAYERS, to whom, as civil SERVANTS they SHOULD be at the mercy.

        There used to be, if not status, then at least honour in living independently. Now, as you said, they are told: “The bottom line, repeated just below the surface of every speech, is this: those people are in the way, and its all their fault.” Yet they are told this by those who ought to also be unemployed.

        Relevant Last Psychiatrist quote here:

        “Before that article in Salon, this mother was allowed to believe that her staying off the dole had some honor in itself– some validation of her identity– and it allowed her to survive her hardships. Now she is forced to swallow that these people are not merely as good as her, but more valuable– they get an article, they get defenders like you, they are praised for their intrinsic human value, and all she gets is mocked, belittled, “she’s too stupid to know what’s good for her!”– all she can do is comment on their life– and her small act of rebellion is to at least use the space to tell the world she exists. Rage is her defense that keeps her intact while the world seemingly ignores her. “[http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2012/11/hipsters_on_food_stamps_part_2.html]

        Anyway. Conservatives see the system as rigged, and their myriad critics as merely unknowing beneficiaries of this rigging. Unlike liberals, they are unconvinced that Sanders would solve this, as our present wealth is the result of a reserve fiat currency. In other words, much of our wealth is a fraudulent (think the housing fetish but on a greater, more pervasive scale).

        [My uses of liberal/ conservative/ pirate are, of course, shorthand caricatures and despite being at opposite ends I think opposites would probably get along well since we converge on agrarianism.] [Goals of economy: GPD, employment, wealth, or what? How is value reckoned? In rabbits? In platinum? More on this later.]


      • After getting a number of hits from TheLastPsychiatrist’s reddit group I went and read that exact essay a while ago. I thought it was an interesting insight, and a refreshing reconsideration of the “oh no, poor people eating decent food!” panic (either poor people are using food stamps to buy good food, which they shouldn’t because the taxpayers are funding it and the poor only deserve trashy food, or else poor people are using food stamps to buy trashy food, which they shouldn’t because taxpayers will end up paying for the health effects- you just can’t win).

        How do you feel about a UBI? When I wrote the Unnecessariat essay that was the remedy most suggested by respondents. I have my concerns about whether it could ever happen (mostly, it’s too tempting for governments to ration out goods and services, maintaining power, than to hand out money and let individuals make their own decisions about how to spend it. Put more bluntly, a UBI fails the minute the nutjobs realize a black guy could spend it on ammunition) (let me be clear, I have no problem with anybody buying ammunition, whether they’re black or white, whether they’re a target shooter or just armed- but you know that in this political climate this would never fly). However, it gets a bit to what you’re saying- people are being kept “employed” for no reason (see also, David Graeber on bullshit jobs) but punishing them with starvation simply because jobs that actually need to be done are too scarce on the ground seems… well, stupid.

        And I do want to differentiate between people who are effectively “unnecessary” in that their work isn’t particularly beneficial, and people who are determined by the power structure to be “unnecessary” and are being pushed towards the exits as discreetly as possible. I doubt government workers will ever be permitted to die off en masse without comment.



      • Ah. I’ll give it another shot. First, though, for your last sentence in the post itself on “secularism will win in war of ideas”, you might like Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new series of posts: https://medium.com/@nntaleb , specifically: https://medium.com/@nntaleb/the-most-intolerant-wins-the-dictatorship-of-the-small-minority-3f1f83ce4e15

        [In hindsight, I think I tried to HTML code italics into my last attempt, so I will use quotes instead even if it makes me sound a little schizophrenic].

        Anyway. UBI. My first shot at a response said something to the effect of, “If we could compromise on guaranteed UBI in exchange for firing half of the civil service then despite my misgivings I would assent to UBI”. I am tired of the divide and conquer of the gov’t which makes citizens resent/ loath/ hold contempt for each other.

        From Joyce’s Kaleidoscope: An Invitation to Finnegans Wake (Oxford , 2007. p. 121) by Philip Kitcher: “Lost in their quarrel, a quarrel she sees as pointless, they – and she – lose much more. Both Mookse and Gripes become narrowed and sterile […] There are dangers for both conformist and rebel – both can be diverted from what is genuinely valuable in their lives by their preoccupation with the other.”

        Thus: if UBI would let us move past this quarrel that makes us narrowed and sterile, then so be it.

        However: you mention the concern for blacks buying guns. I’m not concerned so much about that as I am with the fact that if they do, they will still be dependant because you cannot eat a gun. I am not American so my historical knowledge is sketchy, but a few acres and a mule sound like a better deal. I’d rather have a class of subsistence farmer (I do this on weekends: what was the point of labour winning so much free time if we only use it to consume?) who are given enough cash to purchase whenever they cannot at least inefficiently make themselves than just give them cash to burn on anything but a sustainable future.

        From Tsarstvo Antikhrista, by Dmitri Myerezhkovski (Munich: Dreimasken-Verlag, 1919. p. 231) : “Not on account of their own strength are the Bolsheviks powerful but only thanks to your weakness. They know what they want, but you do not know what you want. They all want the same thing: among you everybody wants something else.”

        From “A Season in Hell” (1873) by Arthur Rimbaud: “I am well aware that I have always been of an inferior race. I cannot understand revolt. My race has never risen, except to plunder: to devour like wolves a beast they did not kill.”

        My concern is that rather than knowing what they want – rather than going through the truly challenging work of deciding what your Lacanian “Objet petit a” is and what mode of life you wish to lead, many “liberals” ONLY see the trappings of wealth of around them and just want those things. They are then promised them by gov’t but given a hollowed out, fetishized version. I.e., education, health, or homes: those things that cannot be bought with money, but only time and sweat: education, talents, and health, and whatever they are given will not be “real” because they did not have to earn it. It’s easier to daydream about what you would do if you had what rich people have, I guess, but daydreaming takes time, time is finite, and only consuming dreams surely becomes repetitively numbing.


        From TLP: http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2011/09/finding_existential_solace_in.html

        Though narcissism demands the right to self-identify, narcissists are often unable to do so because they don’t know what it is they want to be. Who am I? What are the rules of my identity? So people look for shortcuts, like modeling oneself after another existing character. But the considerably more regressive maneuver is to define yourself in opposition to things. “I can’t tell you what I want for dinner,” says the toddler, “but I am certain I don’t want that. Or that. Or that. And if you put that slop in front of me I swear to God you will wear it.”

        Now you can go through life floating, letting hate, the Dark Side Of The Force, the easy path, guide your reactions. It seems certain that you have a fully formed identity because of the magnitude of your passions, emotions, and responses, but you can only operate in response, never first, never with commitment or vision. I know the young lady with the mace in her eyes thinks she is driven by love, but that doesn’t really come through here, does it? Her hate defines her. “I’m anti-establishment.” We get it.

        What do the protestors want? Can they articulate it meaningfully, not in platitudes or “people over profits” or “more fair income redistribution” soundbites? They can’t tell you because they don’t know. They can, however, yell at you what they don’t like, and the louder they yell it the more they hear it themselves.


        Thus: I would assent to UBI if I thought it would cease the rampant dependency of people, were partially funded by civil-service layoffs, and if there was a focus on EXACTLY what commodities one wishes to chronically consume in one’s mode of life, and education on how to create those things.

        I think there is a grave, chronic conflation of freedom and independence which leads liberals (sorry for broad brushstrokes) to at once joyfully declare “God is Dead” but consider “Caveat emptor” to be the locus of evil which must be defended against by the government. The whole point of freedom is that you can fail. The whole footnote of capitalism is that even this freedom to fail, when not mutilated by crony capitalism and gov’t intervention, tends to create a floor or lower-bound on of the misery of failure that is still, at least materially, higher than elsewhere (re: Singapore vs. its neighbours).


        Now for a long quotation on acreage:

        From The Education of Lev Navrozov (New York: Harper & Row, 1975. p. 417-418):

        “Before 1917, and indeed as early as the close of the nineteenth century, great Lenin discovered that while about half of the Russian peasants had much land, abut half of them were real paupers in this respect: they had only 13.23 acres per household on the average.

        Today’s Great Soviet Encyclopaedia says about those paupers of old:

        ‘This pauper’s plot of land… doomed the millions of the peasantry to hunger.’

        However, among these paupers, great Lenin discovered super-paupers: about three million poorest households who owned only 8.37 acres of land apiece.

        Today the personal plot is no bigger than one-eighth of the superpauper’s plot. Yet for forty years this one-eighth of the superpauper’s plot of tsarist Russia has been a source of agony to the superlandlords: the serf would pay too much attention to it at the expense of corvee, and it is very difficult to make sure that a metayage levy on his personal plot stripped him down to the ideal norm.”


        “For four decades before 1917, all the revolutionaries, including great Lenin, of course, kept assuring the Russian farmers that they could not live off the pauper’s, not to mention the superpauper’s, plot of land, and must take land by force from those who owned more of it, or they would starve to death. And for four decades since the early thirties, not only all the farmers, but many city dwells as well, have been living of the one-eights of the superpauper’s plot of tsarist Russia.”


        (Vague apologies for quoting at length, wavings of hand in air)

        http://cafehayek.com/2010/12/whats-wrong-with-keynes.html “So money is a veil. It hides the underlying reality that what I can consume depends on what I can produce. And what I can produce depends on the people I can exchange with and cooperate with economically.”

        Money is a veil which hides the underlying reality that it is a midwife for exchanging goods. Rather than UBI, I think it would be better to figure out what exactly it is people want, because unless you define it, per Lacan, it will always just be “more”.


      • Nope, here it is.

        My concern is not that black people would buy guns (so what?) but that the spectre of black people buying guns would scare the heck out of the (yes, racist) people in power and they’d make sure that a UBI had substantial restrictions on what was an “allowable” use for taxpayer money. Even on the fire department we can’t so much as buy a hose fitting without someone arguing that its taxpayer money we’re spending; heck, FEMA’s procurement brochure suggests you ask whether you could justify a purchase to the taxpayers who funded it.

        (Nobody cares what I think of what the supermarket does with the money I give them, and I have about as much say in the running of this country as I do in the operation of the local supermarket… but I digress)

        So the end result of even a brief public debate over a UBI would quickly fall apart as everyone suggested their pet restrictions on who shouldn’t be allowed to buy what (homeless people buying wine coolers? Truck owners buying programmers to “roll coal”? Teenagers buying obscure molecules on whatever the latest iteration of silk road is called?) and I almost feel like it isn’t worth talking about. We have a system that allocates to the very poor small quantities of food, shelter, and medical care, and nobody has the stomach to argue for more. UBI won’t happen.

        This is an American problem. Obviously other countries have managed to expand their definition of “public welfare” to include things like public spaces, language classes, transportation, higher ed, etc.

        Also, my irrepressible reflexes demand I mention that while guns do not make you any more or less dependent, fewer than one quarter of black americans receive direct federal subsidies. The number is higher than for white americans, but not by much.

        But the other problem that a UBI addresses, which I was trying to get at in a separate comment response I wrote in the entrepreneurship post, is that the (constructed) necessity of exchange value or your life. You have to do something people want. The basic needs you mention are pretty much inelastic after a point, so if you;ve been made unnecessary you have to come up with a way to make people want the stuff you can offer. That tilts the playing field towards those who can successfully manipulate people (or straight-out coerce them) to get them to buy what you’re selling. Because there’s a lot of struggling people, this means that even for everyone else life is essentially an obstacle course between different manipulative or coercive pitches trying to convince you that you can’t live without mobile coverage, or pay cash for your phone bill. A UBI would reduce this pressure because if it turns out that nobody actually needs digital parking meters, you can stop trying to sell them and still have money for dinner.

        Sorry, can’t really write much more now.



      • The lengthy comment disappeared again! Ah. Lo. I give up.

        From Joyce’s Kaleidoscope: An Invitation to Finnegans Wake (Oxford , 2007. p. 121) by Philip Kitcher: “Lost in their quarrel, a quarrel she sees as pointless, they – and she – lose much more. Both Mookse and Gripes become narrowed and sterile […] There are dangers for both conformist and rebel – both can be diverted from what is genuinely valuable in their lives by their preoccupation with the other.”

        From Tsarstvo Antikhrista, by Dmitri Myerezhkovski (Munich: Dreimasken-Verlag, 1919. p. 231) : “Not on account of their own strength are the Bolsheviks powerful but only thanks to your weakness. They know what they want, but you do not know what you want. They all want the same thing: among you everybody wants something else.”

        From “A Season in Hell” (1873) by Arthur Rimbaud: “I am well aware that I have always been of an inferior race. I cannot understand revolt. My race has never risen, except to plunder: to devour like wolves a beast they did not kill.”


      • I think we should go further with your point on the necessity of exchange value, but think this might need to wait for another post or something. However, I don’t want to influence your topic choice so I’ll dubiously take up that mantle and try to write one myself. We’re on the same side: hopefully you see my point (although given the mass of quotes I’d understand if it was missed) as to the emphasis on independence versus freedom: one can be inefficient yet independent, or efficient yet wholly dependant. It’s a golden cage, as they say.

        As always, a TLP quote:


        “It’s very difficult/impossible to raise a kid to be in the system, yet teach him also to fight against that system ‘sometimes.’ That was one of the problems with OWS, you can’t shut down Wall Street if you have two credit cards in your back pocket. The only way to do this is if you try, on purpose, to raise your kid to be a little bit sociopathic. I realize that this seems like strange advice coming from a psychiatrist, but I’m not a very good psychiatrist. Also, I drink.”


  4. ^ I swear my first attempt was more lucid. Grammar aside, hopefully you can figure out what I was trying to say. In hindsight, I shall say to focus on the quotes from Finnegans Wake and A Season in Hell.


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