Strange oaths

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles
and by the hinds of the fields

— Song of Songs 2:7

By the fig and the olive,
and by Mount Sinai,
and by this secure city

— Qur’an 95:1-3

What’s up with this? Are the authors just swearing to emphasize/enshrine these particular mundane images, or is swearing by such things a classical Near Eastern convention? Curious to know if there are similar examples out there (Hebrew, Islamic, Hurrian, Hittite, or otherwise…)

Dealing with violence, laying down our mood affiliations

Las Vegas: no words. I don’t know why he did it, and I don’t know what the solution is. More importantly, I have no dog in the fight. I just don’t want to see more people killed.

Rather than trying to frame a narrative around the who and why, to the end of arguing that x kind of violence is preventable and y kind isn’t, or that z kind of discourse about kind of violence only serves z people, let’s lay down our tribal histrionics and agree on this: America has a violence problem.

Before we get caught up in secondary issues—the religious and racial background of the assailant, the motive (stated or unstated), or the degree to which policy can prevent such attacks—let us also agree: we must try our best to combat violence, whatever form it takes.

It turns out that this neutral formulation is too much to ask. Because people don’t see “violence” (I would bet that mothers do a better job at this than others)—they see “gun nut violence”, “jihadi violence”, “black inner city violence”, “white nationalist violence”, “police violence”, and “misogynistic domestic violence”, and exercise selective concern.

I would forgive this if people were selectively concerned out of self-interest—but that doesn’t seem to be the case. We’re not designed to weigh contemporary probabilities of harm with much accuracy.

Instead, selective concern about violence seems to be a matter of tribal mood affiliation: e.g. “I am a conservative; we conservatives see mass shootings by white men as the price of freedom” or “I am a liberal; we liberals see talk about black-on-black violence as a racist smokescreen”.

Let’s be sincerely concerned about mass shootings. I don’t know if stricter gun laws will help thwart them, but let’s consider the possibility and do what it takes to keep people safe, without lurching into authoritarianism.

Let’s be sincerely concerned about police brutality. I don’t know if post-Ferguson reforms will make a difference, but let’s consider the possibility and do what it takes to keep people safe, without depriving police of the ability to do their job.

Let’s be sincerely concerned about Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. I don’t know if global war on terror measures or naming and shaming of Islamic fundamentalists, but let’s consider the possibility and do what it takes to keep people safe, without running roughshod over civil liberties.

Let’s be sincerely concerned about the violence in inner cities that disproportionately claims the lives of young black men. I don’t know if stricter gun laws and smarter policing will help mitigate it, but let’s consider the possibility and do what it takes to keep people safe, without encouraging racist policing.

Let’s be sincerely concerned about white nationalist terrorism. I don’t know if stricter monitoring, naming and shaming, or stricter gun control will make a difference, but let’s consider the possibility and do what it takes to keep people safe, without policing nonviolent speech.

Let’s be sincerely concerned about misogynistic violence at home and on the street. I don’t know if arming women, disarming men, or stricter policing of domestic violence complaints will change the game, but let’s consider the possibility and do what it takes to keep people safe, without eliminating the burden of proof.

It is hard, even unnatural, to conceive of all forms of violence as “one thing”. But it’s our best hope. When we pick and choose which forms of violence to freak out about and which to bury, we open the door to others doing the exact opposite. And then nothing gets solved.

Nihilism, serotonin, and sacrament

Only in 2017 could a conservative mag run a thoughtful Burning Man decompression essay—that it’s The American Conservative is no surprise.

Robert Mariani’s lead claim—Burning Man staves off nihilism, if only temporarily—is a biting jab that happy-go-lucky San Franciscans would do well to take. He highlights all the usual pros and cons of the Burn with an older, conservative audience in mind—and in a few cases does it quite tenderly.

But to the point of how effective Burning Man is at staving off nihilism, he misses one huge factor.

While you’d think the high churchies at TAC (I say this affectionately) would be the first to acknowledge the power of sacrament, Mariani completely leaves the Playa’s serotonergic host out of his account. This is like talking about The Beatles without mentioning that their entire post-1964 oeuvre was directly shaped by psychedelic molecules. Which serious people do all the time.

Ritual, community, aesthetics, and alcoholic drink all have the bittersweet effect of staving off nihilism until they leave the bloodstream—moving the needle incrementally, at best. Psychedelics are a different story. Not a panacea, but a reliable, indelible means of getting enchanted. Of allowing meaning itself to get up in your face.

Psychedelics (and their cousins, empathogen/entactogens) are the sacrament that animates much of Burning Man’s post-post-modern, transparently “made-up” ritual and spirituality.

Except that unlike wafers and sweet wine, psychedelics are neurochemically guaranteed to get you somewhere. Where you take it from there is largely up to you.

This is not to say I’ve found the cure for secular, post-postmodern nihilism. But I’m less pessimistic than Mariani.

The work of restoring meaning and duende for this age—in the form of what David Chapman calls “the fluid mode“—starts on the level of the brain’s serotonin system, something everyone has. By some crazy grace, we have the tools to probe it.

The Kinks > Bollywood > The Black Eyed Peas

It’s a well-documented fact that The Black Eyed Peas’ 2005 earworm “Don’t Phunk With My Heart” is based on the swinging 70s Bollywood schlager “Aye Naujawan Hai Sab Kuchh Yahan“.

But did Kalyanji—Anandji, the duo that composed “Aye Naujawan”, get their signature hook (the part of “Don’t Phunk” that goes Don’t you worry about a thing, baby) from The Kinks’ “Victoria” (1969)?

Skip to 1:42—Land of hope and gloria (terrible lyric, and an odd refrain for such a driving song).

Do you hear it?

Just a stray thought. I’d never heard “Victoria” before.

Metaphysical musings from the Playa

Suffice to say that under qualia formalism both the feelings of oneness and separateness come from the properties of the mathematical object isomorphic to the phenomenology of one’s experience. In particular, the topology of such an object (and its orientability) may determine the degree to which one feels a self-other barrier. This is highly speculative, of course.

Analogous to the planetary habitable zone (neither too close to a star and thus burning nor too far and thus freezing), there might be a psychologically tolerable range for how much you believe in universal oneness. That is, it’s best to feel neither completely merged nor completely separate. Close enough that one can relate to others and not feel separate, but not so close that one’s existence feels redundant and cosmic loneliness sets in. Incidentally, this seems to be roughly the place at which Burners see themselves relative to other humans.

This from Qualia Computing, a true powerhouse of Whitmanic dynamism.

Complexity and the magical thinking boom

As societies became literate (and then hyperliterate), “as if” thinking jumped out of its box, and useful fictions proliferated. Only the old forms of “as if” thinking, the shameful remnants of an ignorant past that we think of as “magical thinking,” were tabooed.

Magical thinking “confuses” the relationship between symbol and referent, between mind and world. Our modern world, to confuse matters even more, is mostly made of minds. As societies became literate (and then hyperliterate), “as if” thinking jumped out of its box, and useful fictions proliferated. Only the old forms of “as if” thinking, the shameful remnants of an ignorant past that we think of as “magical thinking,” were tabooed.

This from Sarah Perry at Ribbonfarm.

Rules for “taking the wheel”

1. Leave irony and cynicism at the door.
2. Allow for maximum human enquiry.
3. Exit as first priority.
4. Rhizomatic conservatism.
5. Don’t be pathetic.

This from Meta-Nomad—a site with which I’m unfamiliar, but which I’ll need to start following. Sincerity and (meta)system-building are underrated these days.