culadasa and full enlightenment (curated scratch post with tldr)

[…] I’ve written some stuff on Culadasa and “full enlightenment”:

tl;dr:
1) Culadasa’s method causes tremendous self-suppression, along with a decent amount of successful de-conditioning. He method is not sufficient to yield comprehensive de-conditioning (and in fact entrenches self-suppression, in the limit).
2) Full enlightenment is “total de-conditioning” or having no backlog of triggerable reactivity, which is the same as having no epistemic backlog, no rumination backlog, autonomic harmony, wellbeing, effortless action, etc. Deep insight into emptiness and no-self are relatively incidental things that happen along the way to total de-conditioning.
2b) Ah, with respect to morality, deconditioning is precondition for moral action but does not guarantee it. One needs to have teaching experiences along a relevant moral dimension, that are metabolized/processed, and then yield successively more moral action along that dimension. Deconditioning causes someone to seek out those teaching experiences more and more proactively and skillfully and constructively.

epistemic processing stack (scratch post)

something I haven’t written much yet about are people’s general “conditions for updating” or the idiosyncratic, sparse, high-dimensional slices of sensory data that people use to arrive at decisive [and hopefully/ideally provisional and not-entrenched] conclusions.

word choice, body language, clothing, a bit of corroborating evidence, choice of font, a little bit of processing (or pretty immediately) and we believe/“believe”

(“belief” is a very problematic concept. latent and actualized bodily anticipation is a bit better, sometimes…) it’s less about what you say, less about even what you think, and more about how everything preflectively seems, and what you do, what you’re already doing, before you even realize it. changes in seeming bubble up from the prereflective, as one acts and experiences, though the boundaries of prereflective and reflective are malleable:

the process by which things bubble up into consciousness can be comprehensively modified. and the processing that happens along the way can be comprehensively modified.

and, so, through meditation, the “epistemic processing stack” gets refactored, refined, made more efficient, progressively, asymptotically, nonmonotonically error-corrected, over time.

and part of that is a lot of refactoring of metaphysics, causality, etc.

time, space, distance, what can affect you, and how, and when…

the dynamics of the co-arising of self and world and how all that works and what experiences mean and how to avoid tigers, how to get food, shelter, intimacy, friendship, information, how to read a book, how to read a research paper, how to read a room… chop wood, carry water, mountains become mountains again

***

  • […]
  • believe truly
  • believe lightly
  • believe sensitively
  • believe responsively
  • believe patiently
  • believe carefully
  • […]
  • /
  • […]
  • anticipate truly
  • anticipate lightly
  • anticipate sensitively
  • anticipate responsively
  • anticipate patiently
  • anticipate carefully
  • […]

good now good later wellbeing suffering paradox (1300 words)

All things being equal, human beings are ridiculously ANTI-wireheading.

“I can’t feel ok, now. My life is shit, or falling apart, and/or my life has no meaning or purpose.”

We balk at seeming tradeoffs between something like “feeling good, now” and “good later.” The latter is something like the OPPOSITE of, “a tiger is behind that tree; and/or I’m going to get fired from my job and end up homeless; and/or the physical laws and the universal constants of this universe mean that human activity is a zero-sum game, and I’ll never be safe unless I destroy myself trying to be safe and not even then.”

So, we’ll sacrifice “feeling good, now” for “good later,” if we feel like we have to, to the point of sort coming to seemingly believe that “feeling good, now” is useless, pointless, or a dangerous distraction.

But there’s the weird thing where our physical body and mind, right here and now, is what enables the pursuit of the “good later.” Bodily homeostasis is sort of the attractor from which straying too far is disastrous.

Some people intuitively or intellectually recognize the importance of homeostasis or bodily health, while also feeling that tension of “feeling good, now” versus “good later.” And, they push homeostasis as far as they can, sacrificing sleep, using stimulants, eating problematic convenience foods, or even explicitly banking on future advances in healthcare to repair damage done now.

Some people aren’t thinking about health or homeostasis at all, and they come at it from “the other side” (granting that interoceptive wellbeing informs on the status of homeostasis). They’ve generalized to the point that “feeling good is bad,” and they strategically avoid feeling good as such: “I’m going to AVOID feeling good, because feeling good, in spirit or actuality, is the same as twenty hours straight of videogames and total loss of momentum and no progress on this work project.”

Some people go so far as to confusedly think that “good later” is the only “actual good,” some distant, improper reification which demands great sacrifices.

***

I want to invent a new word, “teleohomeostasis.” We don’t really need a new word, because people know that homeostasis can involve future-oriented and goal-oriented cognition and behavior. (And “telos” can be naturalized in various ways in a mechanistic universe.) See Derek Denton, Terrence Deacon, Karl Friston, Robert Rosen, Anatol Feldman, Alicia Juarrero, etc.

But, I want a new word because “diachronic is synchronic” (as the above authors say or allude to in various ways):

Any system’s “representation” of the future is somehow encoded or latent in its present structure.

Depending on how that “representation” interacts with “felt wellbeing,” there ideally shouldn’t be a felt paradox between “good now” and “good later;” there shouldn’t be a paradoxical dissonance or a paradoxical suffering.

Maybe this paradoxical suffering is just our evolved, hardwired human nature, until we start messing with it, with nth-generation CRISPR and Neuralink.

But there are these weird hints that maybe it’s not hardwired at all. We “doth protest too much,” maybe, in that ANTI-wireheading of, “I don’t want JUST/MERELY FEEL GOOD (unless maybe I’m transiently utterly dysregulated and desperate and despairing); I want things to ACTUALLY BE GOOD.”

And when things tick towards being ACTUALLY GOOD, our FEELING GOOD is often only a few hundred milliseconds behind. (Sometimes it’s a slow dawning.) And note again that interoceptive feeling/wellbeing is intimately tied to (teleo)homeostasis. Hmm.

(Note that that “tick towards actually being good” can be because you realized a problem wasn’t actually a problem, and so was DISSOLVED (from inference on prior data or new incoming information) or you figured out a clean solution (or were handed one), and so was SOLVED (from chewing on available solution pieces/capacities, or friend/family/ally/deus ex machina). Both SOLVE and DISSOLVE will work, importantly.)

So, anyway, there’s both this seeming paradox between feeling good and having things be good. And, also, there are these strange links between things being actually good (or getting better) and feeling good.

I’m going to state some principles, now, mostly without justification, which resolve this paradox. I’m partly not giving justification because I’m still working out some palatable/credible/true/”true” reasoning. And I’m partly not giving justification because these principles are self-discovered in meditation. Stay tuned for perhaps more details in future blog posts.

  • (1) Suffering is not a hardwired, fundamental motivator. It’s actually a stopgap, emergent motivator. There’s no (intrinsic) suffering “at the bottom.”
  • (2) Peak wellbeing is not only compatible with peak performance, peak vigilance, and peak contingency planning, but peak wellbeing is coreferential(?), coextensive(?), perfectly-co-something with peak performance, peak vigilance, and peak contingency planning.
    • wellbeing/well-being ~= the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. (google)
  • (3) The Human Handledness is Already Success Principle (Human HAS Princple or just “HAS” Principle):
    • (handled ~= stably controlled, managed, dealt with)
    • In terms of felt wellbeing, the bodymind doesn’t differentiate between:
      • (a) “already/currently have stably got it”
      • (b) “going to definitely stably get it”
      • (c) “utterly self-believed utterly already perfectly DOING MY BEST to get it, given truly all that is known, that accounts for literally the whole universe, everything, up to true-event-horizon-bleeding-edge-of-disclosure of previously-genuine-unknown-unknowns”
    • Put another way, if the bodymind believes it’s acting on the best plan to get something (everything), where “best” includes fully error-checked and fully meta-error-checked, this already feels like total success (with no wire-heading-flavored guilt/dissonance).
    • One elaboration is that the hardest most bleak situations can potentially feel like a (seemingly paradoxical, if one hasn’t experienced it) “real-stakes-vacation-adventure.”

Something like the HAS principle can maybe be used to explain some things (though plenty of objections could be raised, and additional pieces would be needed to make it airtight):

(a) People put themselves in danger, like free-climbing, to incline towards artificially actualizing the HAS principle. (One would need to be much more precise and elaborated about my anti-wire-heading statements above, to nail something, in here, with respect to  potentially outside-view-pathological environmental simplifications and stakes-raising.) And/or, “best plan” can be clarified to explicitly include self-ignorance and mental contingencies under personal “unknown unknowns.”)

(b) Valued stories maybe exemplify the actualized HAS principle. A protagonist-environment fit that, nearing the climax, narrows down to an utterly clear best plan and glory, whether success or failure (though success is preferred).

***

So self-discovering and self-aligning with the principles above, and I’ve said things like this a bunch of times, is like a circa 10,000-hour Tower-of-Hanoi, constrained-evolving-state-space problem, involving arranging and rearranging millions of Tetris tetraminoes and LEGO bricks the size of quarks, or whatever.

(I’m not done with all this, and “done” probably fluctuates because one keeps acquiring new capacities (which raise the bar for what the “best plan” is), identifying new challenges/unhandledness via those new capacities (which also raises the bar), and also previously-truly-unknown-unknowns [relative to one’s local knowledge and all meta-meta-proactiveness] keep disclosing from the other side of the “event horizon.” But, take this blog post for what it’s worth!)

So like the only shitty things, as I’ve said before, are that meditation is a privilege and luxury that requires some minimum amount of resources (some combination of time, money, food, shelter, relationships). And, the journey can be pretty terrible and seem like it’s taken everything from you, to the point of hopelessness, despair, and confusedly impulsive and risky/destrucive behavior. And there are physical health risks, too. And things feel sometimes/often hard and sad in the meantime; life is hard and sometimes/often sad. And, it’s worth acknowledging, as always, as an aside, that not everyone wants to or “should want” to meditate–life is pretty good for a lot of people, and/or they’re doing the right thing for them that might not look like meditation.

Anyway, we humans have a low-dimensional projection/representation of literally the entire universe, the entire Kosmos, inside of us. And meditators go over that with a fine-toothed comb, anyway. So let’s make meditation more accessible as part of that error-checked and meta-error-checked WORLD-WIDE-HUMAN-COLLECTIVE best plan, not to mention world peace; post-scarcity technological and health/longevity miracles; humane, millenia-long moon-shots, light-cone shots; and like VR Netflix or something.

intuition-based nutrition

[A friend asked about what to do if they’ve been doing rule-following nutrition for most of their life and they want to do a more intuitive thing. I wrote this out really fast, and I might be missing things! Please comment! I was going to make it a twitter thread but it got unwieldy. So this is sort of twitter thread level of quality/info/grammar not main post level of quality.]

[I am not a licensed healthcare/dietary/nutrition professional and this is not health/nutrition/dietary advice!]

***

(0)

For intuition-based nutrition, the principle is sort of to intellectually get yourself in the ballpark, make sure feedback loops aren’t being interfered with, and then go by thought experiment, imaginative desire and taste. Also maybe get blood tests every six to eighteen months, to see what’s going on.

As we’ll see, maybe ironically, intuition-based nutrition works best when one has really good mental models of nutritional fundamentals.

By the way, I have a rule:

First I go through something like the numbered sections below. If I make it all the way through the checklist, and I can’t figure out what I’m missing, for which I could eat something healthy, in a way my body agrees with, then I just eat what I want.

So, if I’m craving chocolate cookies, maybe I want some saturated fat, iron, or magnesium or something. But if nothing that’s high in any of those seems desirable, and I have good-faith gone through some kind of list, then something weird is going on, and I just eat the cookies. Said a different way, if I can’t imaginatively substitute something that I already have at home, or I thought I could, but then it doesn’t taste good or the craving remains after eating it, then that means my intellectual models are wrong or my body is confused. But my body gets priority.

(1)

If you feel like something’s missing, you should try to guess the nutrient! And then eat something that’s high in that nutrient but not too high in things you’re already getting more than enough of! It’s sort of a puzzle game because different foods will have different nutrients in varying amounts. Go by taste/desire, but try to help out your taste by making educated guesses.

Here’s what the body is made out of, with emphasis on molecules that the body can’t make from smaller building blocks. Note that the first link is in descending order by mass (relative amount):

http://whfoods.com/ is excellent for looking at what the primary nutrients are in particular foods. If I’m trying to figure out what the heck I’m craving, and why, I go here. Or, if I have a guess about what I’m missing, I go here to try to imagine if I want particular things that are high in that, or I use it to generate experiments. You can search by food or nutrient, and it’ll tell you what nutrients are high in a particular food or what foods are high in a particular nutrient.

[Note: the home page of whfoods is… lol, but the info pages are well designed and much more chill.]

If you have a craving, or you’re still hungry after a meal, or you’re not hungry but you’re still kind of restless and wondering about food, then you might be either eating too much of something or too little of a particular nutrient.

Many things come in competitive pairs. If you eat too much of one, it starts to compete out the other one. Usually, though not always, one won’t get too much of something unless one is taking supplements. So, one’s first guess is that one is getting too little of something.

This is a very, very incomplete list, but some pairs that I’ve bumped into are:

copper/zinc

vitamins k1/k2

muscle protein (white meat, red meat) / collagen protein (skin, organ meat, etc.)

omega-6/omega-3

[methylation]

There are a bunch more!

(2)

It’s helpful to think in terms of whole/slow carbs versus fast carbs. Whole/slow carbs are thinghs like non-instant/non-quick-cook oats, brown rice, beans, sweet potato, white potato*. A medium carb is white rice. Fast carbs are breads. Really fast carbs are crackers and chips. And the fastest carbs have sugar or only white flour in them.

Slow carbs tend to have more nutrients and also have a lower insulin response. This causes less hunger between meals, going longer between meals, higher energy after eating, more stable energy after eating, more weight loss, faster healing, and better nutrient absorption.

It can be good to be a meat, dairy, or egg eater, if one is also eating oats and brown rice, to balance their phytic acid antinutrient. I don’t recommend white potatoes because even fresh, peeled potatoes have significant amounts of an anticholinergic that many people are quite sensitive to.

(3)

It’s helpful to think of short fatty acids and long fatty acids. Short and medium fatty acids are good for thinking (So, butyric acid from butter and vegetables, and MCT oil from coconuts). Longer fatty acids (saturated fat) can sometimes make one a little sluggish but can provide stable physical energy for hours and hours, especially when paired with a slow carb.

(4)

Muscle meat should be balanced with eggs and dairy, and, even better skin, organ meats, or high quality collagen supplements. Apparently, indigenous cultures ate much less muscle protein and much more of other types of protein.

(5)

It can be helpful to get a multivitamin that is *not* “one per day,” because then one day’s worth might be two to even eight pills, and then one can take a fractional dose. Every three to five days, I get the urge to take a little bit of a multivitamin, and I do so.

Update: I play with chewable multivitamins of different brands/formulations, now, because they have strong, distinctive tastes, even if “engineered,” that help my body learn to want it when it might be helpful (still e.g. like 0.5 daily dose every couple of days, with variance depending on activity level and other things).

(6)

It can be helpful to think about electrolytes:

Electrolytes are magnesium, potassium, sodium, calcium, and chloride. Table salt is sodium and chloride. Depending on diet, many people don’t get enough magnesium, calcium, and potassium.

If someone is eating healthily, they usually need more salt than they would expect. Salt to taste.

One can also get bulk potassium citrate as well as supplemental magnesium and calcium—one can tap out some powder or open up capsules, don’t accidentally inhale any airborn powder, and see if they taste good on any particular day. You can touch your tongue to some powder, little by little, until you don’t want anymore. Discard what you don’t use.

If someone is eating a ton of oats, green vegetables, etc., then potassium and magnesium are less of a concern. Cramps in the calves, or weird cravings, or tiredness or fogginess can indicate a deficiency.

Orange juice is good for potassium in a pinch and doesn’t really behave exactly like a fast carb. (I drink a lot of orange juice, even though it’s kind of a weird, processed food, unless fresh squeezed.)

(7)

It can be helpful to think about polyunsaturated acids (including essential fatty acids omega-6 and omega-3). If someone is eating unhealthy foods, they’re probably getting too much omega-6. If someone is eating healthy foods, they might not be getting enough polyunsaturated fatty acids, in general. Fish has omega-3. Flax seed has a good omega-3/omega-6 ratio.

There has been a concern that most people don’t get enough omega-3 and it was believed only fish has enough (or supplements). It was originally thought that people can’t convert enough ALA into other omega-3 fatty acids. But, some research has maybe shown that this pathway can ramp up over time. I used to eat more fish and I also took some fish oil, as per what I felt like my body wanted. Now, by taste/desire, I mostly rely on fresh or frozen flax seed meal.

(8)

It can be helpful to think about vitamin D3. Most people don’t get enough vitamin D. If you’re getting plenty of sunlight, you don’t need it. Otherwise, it can be good to take a supplement.

(9)

It can be helpful to think about cortisol dynamics. Cortisol makes one feel energetic, bright, and clear. Too much cortisol can make it hard to sleep. Too much cortisol can also tire out the kidneys.

More red meat raises cortisol. More carbs dampen cortisol.

There’s a “cortisol set point lag,” so dietary changes should be given about three days to see if it was a good change. If you feel crappy after a meal, it can be good to wait three days to see if you get used to the dietary change. If you feel excellent after a meal, maybe it was a one-off for topping up a nutrient, but you shouldn’t eat that way every day.

Generally one should feel “even” before and after a meal. Ideally, it’s “eh, I could eat sometimes in the next three hours” and then you feel good and calm after eating and you can go right back to whatever you were doing.

(10)

Overall, if one follows general principles then the body is mostly doing the right thing and one can just pay attention to what tastes good. Fast carbs and sugar mess up feedback loops. Not enough exercise messes up feedback loops. (Good exercise includes all four of walking, jogging, sprinting, and weightlifting.)

If energy is low or there’s a craving that’s hard to place, then one can go down the list of essential stuff, find foods that are high in the thing, and then see if you imagine them tasting good and you can eat them for real to see if they taste good. And then you can figure out your patterns of deficiencies and start swapping in different combinations to see what stably works. It’s a bit like playing Tetris.

There can also be learning lags for new foods or new combinations of foods. The bodymind is constantly doing inference on what foods contain what nutrients, which eventually cashes out in continuously modulated desire and tastiness. (The body is also doing continuous tweaking of immune system sensitivities, based on deltas of what’s passing across our mucous membranes plus compared with what ends up in our intestines, versus foreign stuff that didn’t take that route, and this can be facilitated by meditation.)

If I meal tastes heavenly, you were probably a little low on something. If a meal that usually tastes delicious tastes slightly less good, then you might be getting everything you need via some recent dietary change.

Eventually one will sort of stabilize on fueling/depletion curves, and you’ll look forward to meals but will have stable energy and won’t have urgent hunger.

***

Update: I now think of “minimum viable energy hormesis” as “an essential nutrient.” Most people should be taking (at least!) a brisk walk (or equivalent) for 30-90 minutes, five times per week. Otherwise, the body “forgets” how to burn fat for fuel, and a bunch of other stuff.

sketching alternatives to straw realism (international and group relations) [draft!][2500 words]

[This is a really compressed draft. Some stuff is introduced or “marked” really abruptly and isn’t given time to breath.]

I’m just pulling a bunch of this stuff off of wikipedia, quick first-pass, and indiscriminately mixing in… other stuff. If you’re a Great Power, don’t take advice from me about international relations. (<– Yes, this is a joke. –>) Just saying.

So let’s consider (my hasty conception of) a straw realist. Jumping right in, you may have to re-read this or click some links, and I’m mixing wikipedia-grade international relations with crackpot psychology, the straw realist seeks to be the stably uncontested leader of a hegemon, because being the leader of a hegemon is the greatest personal/familial/tribal protection against (totalizing?) subjugation or annihilation.

It’s probably a good idea to highlight the distinction between (a) the straw realist and (b) the straw hegemon. A hegemon can change leaders while remaining a hegemon. And, there’s at least two perspectives one could take when abstractly conceiving a straw hegemon. First, one could simplify things by conceiving of a (perfect/ideal/abstract/straw) hegemon as having a unified will/intention. But one could also profitably conceive of a hegemon as “fractal power relations all the way down to the level of straw realists.” That is, one could conceive of a hegemon as being composed of straw realists vying for total power. In this latter case, in some sense, this “hegemon” is maybe technically no longer a (perfect/ideal/abstract/straw) hegemon. The left hand might not know what the right hand is doing. The “entity conceived as such” may act against itself at times or just kind of blob out, in a lot of wasted time/money/energy/trust/something, because everybody is sort of fearfully, myopically striving for total power. (Again, this is a straw conception.)

So, now let’s unpack and critique the “straw realist.”

Again, the straw realist single mindedly seeks total power because they believe it’s the best plan for being safe. Note that the straw realist is a fearful pessimist and doesn’t believe they’ll ever actually be safe. They are resigned to deep-down, terrified paranoia, forever. But, even given that resignation, seeking total power is still the best plan under a tiniest sliver of hope for safety. The fear of a straw realist is perhaps a fear of psychological, social, and/or bodily annihilation, with no hope of salvation.

But! What if!

  • Sender criteria:
    • a person (or group) could sufficiently competently enact nonviolent/peaceful/collaborative intentions
    • a person (or group) could sufficiently credibly, sincerely signal ability, willingness, and desire to sufficiently competently enact nonviolent/peaceful/collaborative intentions
  • Receiver criteria:
    • a person (or group) could sufficiently recognize signs and signals of ability, willingness, and desire to sufficiently competently enact nonviolent/peaceful/collaborative intentions
    • a person (or group) could sufficiently accurately, confidently evaluate whether sufficient sincerity and competence underlie apparent signs and signals of ability, willingness, and desire to enact nonviolent/peaceful/collaborative intentions (including accounting for coincidental or disendorsed apparent countersigns and countersignals)
    • a person (or group) could sufficiently metabolize or recover from imperfect or partially harmful nonviolent/peaceful/collaborative intentions

Let’s call a person (or group) that has all of both the sender criteria and the receiver criteria a “straw enlightened person” (or group).

So! What if!

What if all people and thus all groups were straw enlightened? Then there would be nonviolent/peaceful/collaborative synergy! We could then solve suffering, health, coercion, energy, mortality, and existential risk! (Oops, circularities abound!)

“Ah ha!” says the straw realist! “But there is no button to push to have that! One way or another, we ended up with warlords and tribes, and then we ended up with global competition and great powers! Anarchy yields global competition and great powers! And I, the straw realist, will even admit that no one necessarily wants this! I might even admit that our very actions cause it! But, there is no other way, because people are not naturally altruistic beyond family or tribe. Even ‘self-interested altruism,’ strategic generosity, grace, magnanimousness, isn’t really ‘intrinsic,’ isn’t really ‘sincere,’ and is unstable. And so we have the world today. At the bottom of everything is threat of violence and fear of suffering and death. That is what power is, threat or actualization of violent coercion, and it’s the only thing that matters.”

There’s a lot of circularity and confirmation bias in the straw realist position directly above, but it’s good enough, for our purposes. (Heh.)

International relations theory has of course thought about all this stuff (and more thoroughly and completely than I have, that could go without saying). This blog post isn’t even a survey; there’s a gazillion concepts and buzzwords (and shibboleths) that I haven’t mentioned. Somewhat relevantly, here, there’s ideas like “decentralization” and “nonpolarity.” These terms can be used very precisely within a particular paradigm, but decentralization might be something like spreading out power inside of group. And nonpolarity might be something like power spread out between groups, to the point that no single group has particularly dominating power, along maybe a single dimension or net across all relevant dimensions. Decentralization and nonpolarity are critiqued in a straw realist paradigm, maybe using straw liberalism as the containing foil.

Anyway, so, as we look at the world, at the time of this writing, we arguably don’t see hot wars (arguably, because proxy battles/wars are a thing, if you know where/how to look). And, arguably, we do see, maybe, cold wars, depending on how the term “cold war” is defined. But… like… maybe things are chilling out, overall? Proxy stuff aside (and that’s a big aside), I think it’s at least (contentiously) argued that democracies don’t go to war with each other? And, roughly speaking, with some dips, poverty is being alleviated to a greater degree with each passing year?

So maybe things are “fine,” modulo continued human suffering, and getting reliably “more fine,” with each passing year?

The straw realist might say that all the “fine” and “getting more fine” is a veneer or at least very fragile: “At the bottom is fear, threat, and selfishness or tribalism, and everything is held together, barely, by bluff or commitment to credible violence, nuclear weapons, domestic police or peace officers, or otherwise: USA/Russia/China/whoever, these visions of the world are different–goodness and especially safety LOOK DIFFERENT to different powers, and irreconcilably so. Heck, deep-down, some people think the best way to ‘save’ the world is to ‘destroy’ it, first! So trust is naive. Nuclear weapons, space weapons, and unstoppable, undetectable micro-drone assassinations, that look like naturally caused death are all there is. [non-straw-realist/editor’s note: As far as I know, the latter micro-drones don’t currently exist and maybe can’t practically exist or be worthwhile.] And global warming, pandemics, fast global travel, and globe-spanning weaponry are only making things more fragile.”

***

If one would like to gaze into the abyss, one can even dive into a deep well of fear and paranoia. One might even think they have only two choices, between (1) a “normal,” intimate, safe life. (A powerless life???????? An ignorant life?????????) And then (2) some sort of abyss-gazing thing that, extreme worst case, accidentally gets themselves “disappeared,” through maybe some impulse to act in the face of seeming-otherwise meaninglessness or feared-inconsequentiality.

And, so…

  • What is the world?
  • Is the world safe or unsafe?
  • Is the world good or bad?
  • What is a life?
  • Are you, personally, safe or unsafe?
  • Is your life good or bad?

How do these questions get answered?

On the one hand, we are products of our environment: tv, influential peers and elders, google filter bubbles, one’s personal propensity to google…

We practically don’t even ever know there’s ever even a there, there, unless, sort of, someone points it out, hopefully in a gentle or uncoercive way.

[Side note: And, it’s good to ask, how does the person who does that pointing-out benefit from doing that pointing out, and from doing the pointing-out in that way, with that framing, in that context? And, it’s also good to go another layer up–who else, besides ostensibly you and the person doing the pointing-out, benefits from that person doing that pointing-out… As in, what led to that person being someone who does that pointing out? Causal history, years, decades, centuries, millenia back, grounded in relatively accurate conceptions of synchronic human nature.]

On the other hand, through the grace of serendipity, imperfect friends and mentors, that crazy google search, the spontaneous, inherent nature of our mind and will, there’s this other sense in which we are not products of our environment; we are something discontinuously more than the products of our environment, ever always striving towards transcendence of contingency and limitation, towards safety and wellbeing, perhaps in some causally consistent sense.

***

The way it can kind of go, is that some people are living an actually, truly, really good (enough) life. The whole world, at the moment, breaks down without machinists, truck drivers, automators, programmers, lawyers, doctors, stockers, politicians, diplomats, soldiers, something. It’s not perfect, but, right here, right now, there are so many roles that are keeping the thing going. Sometimes it’s actually not that fragile, and sometimes it is. But all these roles are, at least in part, positively impacting other people, at least locally and partially. (And sometimes these roles are part of an actually, truly, really good (enough) life, and sometimes these roles are a part of life “led in quiet desperation.” When life is hard, it’s hard; And, it often is. It just depends.) And/but, with these roles being enacted, the world keeps going, with a chance of getting to a better thing.

And then, for some other people, lots of people, it’s not an actually, truly, really good (enough) life: something is bad, somewhere. Maybe they determine that badness is in themselves, the world, or both.

And, as a solution to that badness, maybe they seek to escape or alleviate that badness, through, say, or spiritual enlightenment, or worldly power, or all sorts of less extreme things.

And some people find peace or intimacy or security along the way.

And some people might fall into an abyss, trying to figure out how they work, or people work, or the world works: One might get stuck, at least for a time, thinking that the world can’t work or the truth is too terrible. And, they might inadvertently, circularly be confirming to themselves the very seeming badness they wish to solve.

Sometimes, maybe often, people mistake childhood hurt or misinterpretation as the way the entire world works, the way the entire world must work, without remainder or alternative. And this straw trauma survivor is the straw realist.

But, through therapy, journaling, meditation, long walks in nature, friendship, intimacy–bottleneck can become process-in-context. Therapy, meditation, etc.–these are privileges, to be sure. They require just enough health, just enough money, just enough space, just enough time, if not an abundance, of all of these, and these things are unevenly distributed, and hard choices might be needed to determinedly acquire them.

***

Whatever the world is, what ever a life is, safe or unsafe, good or bad, desperate or secure–the heart beats, the lungs breath, gravity and oxygen and warmth and atmosphere persist and nourish, in this moment, and the next, and the next. In some sense, we will only ever know this.

So how do we live, in this world good/bad/safe/unsafe world, that, in any case, carries us in each moment of our lives?

We do so, perhaps, by just living, and, perhaps, also, self-transforming as we have time and as makes sense.

Only we can decide whether dark terribleness, is in us or in the world, and only we can determine how it got there in the first place. The is epistemic agency and also well-being agency.

Is the world good or bad? Now or later? Is your life good or bad? Now or later? And do the answers ultimately depend on self or world?

In SOME nontrivial sense, maybe the only sense that ultimately matters, it’s up to you.

And what of international relations? Or inter-group relations? Escalations and security dilemmas? And impulsive, fear-driven violence that has already happened, tit-for-tat, an eye for an eye, over and over again, personal and generational histories of trauma?

Can we all be straw enlightened people or groups? Is it too late?

There’s maybe a piece left out of the criteria above. I know they’re phrased awkwardly, but I chose the words pretty carefully, single pass, if you’ll look at them again. I’ve copied them again, here, exactly:

  • Sender criteria:
    • a person (or group) could sufficiently competently enact nonviolent/peaceful/collaborative intentions
    • a person (or group) could sufficiently credibly, sincerely signal ability, willingness, and desire to sufficiently competently enact nonviolent/peaceful/collaborative intentions
  • Receiver criteria:
    • a person (or group) could sufficiently recognize signs and signals of ability, willingness, and desire to sufficiently competently enact nonviolent/peaceful/collaborative intentions
    • a person (or group) could sufficiently accurately, confidently evaluate whether sufficient sincerity and competence underlie apparent signs and signals of ability, willingness, and desire to enact nonviolent/peaceful/collaborative intentions (including accounting for coincidental or disendorsed apparent countersigns and countersignals)
    • a person (or group) could sufficiently metabolize or recover from imperfect or partially harmful nonviolent/peaceful/collaborative intentions

Ok, but then, one more time, the straw realist says, “Well, I hate people, and/or I think your culture is disgusting, and/or the world must be burned to the ground to save it. Or, if I don’t think that, someone else will. So what of your ideals or beautiful aspirations? Violent power is what matters; violent power is security. And then the whole thing is just waiting to blow up.”

So there’s maybe one more point to make, with the sender/receive criteria. (And, again, this is draft. There could be so many issues.)

The better one embodies the sender/receiver criteria, the safer it is to become recognizably and actually strong. You will be less likely triggered into doing impulsive, destructive things that are hard to take back, even if you have some capability to do so. You’ll be less likely to trigger other people into doing impulsive, destructive things that are hard to take back, even if they have some capability to do so. And actors with the propensity to lead with violence will think twice, because of credible capability or at least a carefully measured, adequate response. And, all the while, the sender/receiver criteria maximize the possibility for diplomacy, communication, synchronous de-escalation, collaboration.

The details matter, to be sure. Getting erroneously triggered doesn’t always feel like getting erroneously triggered. Seeing threat where there is or isn’t threat is deeply contingent and has to be meta managed by personal transformative practice or norms or formality, etc. Signs and signals are deeply contingent. Something that feels nonviolent to one party may initially feel very violent to another party (and actually be contingently violent). Something, somewhere, needs to be sensitive and responsive. Someone, somewhere will need to grow and change, and there can be strong initial disagreements about who/how/when/where. And the world is weird. There are dragons and surprises.

But there is always a way forward. You can have 200% responsibility, including making up for regrettable mistakes.

And, sometimes, the option space is very large and good, given enough time…

Some might find, through service or practice, the sense, compatible with materialism, physicalism, naturalism, in which humans are, deep-down, at the very bottom, spontaneously compassionate, kind, loving, while simultaneously being discerning and strong, in a way that allows them to interact closely and intensely with others, despite differences, in the service of valued mutual goals and live-and-let-live.

One might keep asking, what does the best safely reachable world look like? And, it might look very different from this one. And the way to get there might look very strange, while maybe necessarily being a path that is humane, non-authoritarian, and non-coercive, nonviolent while still self-recognizably requiring challenging growth and change for many. All the details matter; if you’ll permit me: we’re all paranoid, indignant humans, myself included. And there are real predators among us and within all of us, though they deserve compassion and a recognition of the sense in which this is not our true nature. And/but, while the stakes are real, in any case, so much is so good, now; and, in this exact very moment you are safe; and nothing is required of you; you have no duty, there is no judge; and that best safely reachable world might look very good, indeed…