Alright, gotta get this out of my system. I took this photo a few weeks ago when I went back up to Dahlonega, the small town in north Georgia where I was born and spent the first half of my life. This is the first house we lived in. And, take my word for it, this is a flattering photo. The place has… seen better days. I keep pulling up this picture so I can hate-look at it. I hope that one day, if I ever buy a house, I will remember that it might have been where someone else grew up. My memories are still in pristine condition, so no harm there. And I have no idea of the circumstances of the people who live there now. But part of me is like… come on. Ah well. Gotta let it go.

The Naked and the TED

And also:

Since any meaningful discussion of politics is off limits at TED, the solutions advocated by TED’s techno-humanitarians cannot go beyond the toolkit available to the scientist, the coder, and the engineer. This leaves Silicon Valley entrepreneurs positioned as TED’s preferred redeemers. In TED world, tech entrepreneurs are in the business of solving the world’s most pressing problems. This is what makes TED stand out from other globalist shindigs, and makes its intellectual performances increasingly irrelevant to genuine thought and serious action.

The Naked and the TED

There are cases were poetry creates itself. […] Let us take the title of one of the most famous books in the world, El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. […] “De la Mancha” – now this sounds noble and Castilian to us, but when Cervantes wrote it down he intended the word to sound perhaps as if he wrote “Don Quixote of Kansas City” […]. You see how those words have changed, how they have been ennobled.

Jorge Luis Borges in “The Riddle of Poetry” segment of his Norton Lectures. File under Borges.

stevenberlinjohnson.com: Go West, Middle-Aged Man

When you’re in your routine, frequenting the same old haunts, time seems to accelerate – was it just four years ago that our youngest son was born? But all the complexities of moving – figuring out where to live, getting there, and then navigating all the new realities of the changed environment – means that the minutes and hours that once passed as a kind of background process, the rote memory of knowing your place, suddenly are thrust into your conscious awareness. You have to figure it out, and figuring things out makes you aware of the passing days and months more acutely. You get disoriented, or at least you have to think for a while before you can be properly oriented again.

So that is why we are moving: for the natural beauty, yes, and the climate, and the Bay Area tech scene, and the many friends out there we haven’t seen enough of over the past twenty years. But more than anything, we’re moving to slow down time.

stevenberlinjohnson.com: Go West, Middle-Aged Man

SPIEGEL Interview with Umberto Eco

We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.

And also:

I was fascinated with Stendhal at 13 and with Thomas Mann at 15 and, at 16, I loved Chopin. Then I spent my life getting to know the rest. Right now, Chopin is at the very top once again. If you interact with things in your life, everything is constantly changing. And if nothing changes, you’re an idiot.

SPIEGEL Interview with Umberto Eco

The real risk is in not changing. I have to feel that I’m after something. If I make money, fine. But I’d rather be striving. It’s the striving, man, it’s that I want.

John Coltrane, quoted in Paul D. Zimmerman’s “Death of a Jazz Man”, Newsweek, July 31, 1967.

Nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

“The Birth Clock is a fragile glass object containing a digital clock that is not working; it is designed to help you to come to a decision when you’re stuck at a specific point in life. Smash the glass, and the clock will start to work, leaving you with the broken object as a reminder of your dramatic decision. Leave the object as it is, and you remain out of time, having the beautiful object as a reminder of your resistance to change.”
Cool idea. I can feel the anticipation just thinking about having one. Not sure what I’d use it for, though.

Making Memes

Tim Walker writes about meme entrepreneurship. I love it. Go read it. Unless I misunderstand the point, it seems like a lot of folks are already working in that vein—writers. Just glancing at my bookshelf, there’s Florida and his Creative Class, Friedman and his Flat World, Weinberger‘s Miscellany, Anderson‘s Long Tail.
I don’t mean that to sound flip, because I think these all occupy an interesting middle ground. The ideas aren’t quite as heady and broad as, let us say, praxeology (brilliant though it is). But they’re a step up from the mundanities of something like Six Sigma. For the most part, the far ends of that bell curve can be safely ignored, unless it happens to be your pet interest. But if you’re paying attention, strong arguments in that middle ground can force a conversation. That is what great memepreneurs do well.

Tim brings out a political example to contrast bad memes with fruitful memes. “Bush is stupid” vs. ‚ÄúBush pursues dangerous ideas—expensive dangerous ideas.‚Äù The latter is more effective because it comes across as not a simple couched argument or opinion, but an invitation to explore. Provocative, sure. Good memes usually are. But more than that, it’s actually a functional starting point. The best memes are forward-looking.1 That’s one reason I always liked political theory more than any other field of political science. I get to escape those messy details of policy and history and think about what could be.

I’ll let Tim close it out:

We need better memes in the world to counter all the stupid ones that drive so much of our behavior. I would say “that drive so much of our thinking,” but in fact the purpose of many of these memes is to relieve us from thinking, so that we reflexively reach for the products we’ve had marketed to us, or reflexively reach for the attitudes that favor certain special interests within the society. (Note that these special interests can be political, commercial, religious, or what have you. I take the broad view here.) But those of us who are awake to these tendencies can work to shape them in other, better directions.


1. Bureaucrats and pundits are not. Though I’m willfully ignorant talking-head culture, I’ve seen enough to convince me that they tend to be far more concerned with digging up old grievances and winning now than actually caring about the future. It’s the nature of the gig. See “Property Rights and Time Preference” [pdf]