Gists VIII




“Women will always seek to end unwanted pregnancies, as they have throughout history, and throughout the world, regardless of what the law says.”

“Regret is a dubious basis for policy. People regret all kinds of decisions, large and small, but we don’t proactively deprive them of their decision-making agency.”


Work: A Deep History

“For the first 290,000 years of our 300,000-year history, we didn’t work nearly as hard as we do now.”

“The folly of clinging to ideas about the necessity of work forged at the anvil of scarcity when we live in an era of unprecedented abundance.”

Guns, cont.

“As institutions crumble and people lose faith in traditional sources of security, the citizen-protector sees themselves as even more essential to maintaining order. No wonder, then, that Americans responded to a year marked by pandemic, protest, and election uncertainty by buying guns in record numbers.”

Latter Day Church of Christ

US Dollar

North Sentinel Island


“Know things. Want things. Use what you know to get what you want.”

“By continually updating probabilities, you inch closer to a more useful account of reality.”

American Revolution

Reign of Terror

Genetics and IQ

“Genetic diversity is mankind’s most precious resource, not a regrettable deviation from an ideal state of monotonous sameness.” — Theodosius Dobzhansky

On the Internet, We’re Always Famous


In “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” from 1985, Neil Postman argues that, for its first hundred and fifty years, the U.S. was a culture of readers and writers, and that the print medium — in the form of pamphlets, broadsheets, newspapers, and written speeches and sermons — structured not only public discourse but also modes of thought and the institutions of democracy itself. According to Postman, TV destroyed all that, replacing our written culture with a culture of images that was, in a very literal sense, meaningless. “Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other,” he writes. “They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.”

That’s not what happened. To oversimplify, here’s where we ended up. The Internet really did bring new voices into a national discourse that, for too long, had been controlled by far too narrow a group. But it did not return our democratic culture and modes of thinking to pre-TV logocentrism. The brief renaissance of long blog arguments was short-lived (and, honestly, it was a bit insufferable while it was happening). The writing got shorter and the images and video more plentiful until the Internet birthed a new form of discourse that was a combination of word and image: meme culture. A meme can be clever, even revelatory, but it is not discourse in the mode that Postman pined for.

In 2007, George Saunders wrote an essay about the bleating idiocy of American mass media in the era after 9/11 and the run-up to the Iraq War. Imagine, he says, being at a party, with the normal give and take of conversation between generally genial, informed people. And then “a guy walks in with a megaphone. He’s not the smartest person at the party, or the most experienced, or the most articulate. But he’s got that megaphone.

Well, rather than take that one dumb guy’s megaphone away, we added a bunch of megaphones to the party. Not only that: the people screaming the loudest still get the most attention, partly because they stand out against the backdrop of a pendulating wall of sound that is now the room tone of our collective mental lives. Suffice it to say: the end result was not really a better party, nor the conversation of equals that many of us had hoped for.

It’s possible to get inside the head of just about anyone who has a presence on the social Web, because chances are they are broadcasting their emotional states in real time to the entire world.

The Western intellectual tradition spent millennia maintaining a conceptual boundary between public and private — embedding it in law and politics, norms and etiquette, theorizing and reinscribing it. With the help of a few tech firms, we basically tore it down in about a decade.

A clever TikTok video can end up with forty million views. With the possibility of this level of exposure so proximate, it’s not surprising that poll after poll over the past decade indicates that fame is increasingly a prime objective of people twenty-five and younger. Fame itself, in the older, more enduring sense of the term, is still elusive, but the possibility of a brush with it functions as a kind of pyramid scheme.

Understanding the centrality of the desire for recognition is quite helpful in understanding the power and ubiquity of social media. We have developed a technology that can create a synthetic version of our most fundamental desire. Why do any of us post anything? Because we want other humans to see us, to recognize us.

The Star seeks recognition from the Fan, but the Fan is a stranger, who cannot be known by the Star. Because the Star cannot recognize the Fan, the Fan’s recognition of the Star doesn’t satisfy the core existential desire. There is no way to bridge the inherent asymmetry of the relationship, short of actual friendship and correspondence, but that, of course, cannot be undertaken at the same scale. And so the Star seeks recognition and gets, instead, attention. The Star and the Fan are prototypes, and the Internet allows us to be both in different contexts. In fact this is the core, transformative innovation of social media, the ability to be both at once.

In the Internet age, the psychologically destabilizing experience of fame is coming for everyone. Everyone is losing their minds online because the combination of mass fame and mass surveillance increasingly channels our most basic impulses — toward loving and being loved, caring for and being cared for, getting the people we know to laugh at our jokes — into the project of impressing strangers, a project that cannot, by definition, sate our desires but feels close enough to real human connection that we cannot but pursue it in ever more compulsive ways.


Chinese Philosophy

“Learning is a waste if you don’t reflect on the larger meaning and significance of what you learn.” — Confucian Analects

Web 3.0


The human condition tends towards recentralization.



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