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Heidegger, Ecstatic Time, and the Community of Mortals with Johannes Niederhauser

Johannes Niederhauser recently completed his PhD at Warwick University for a dissertation entitled, "Heidegger on Death and Being." Check out his Youtube channel here.

Johannes says his dissertation is on Heidegger's entire philosophy but death is the key to his thought. I hung out with Johannes in London recently and his takes on Heidegger are very germane to my own interests, so it was a no-brainer to invite him on the show. We will discuss what Heidegger's philosophy & problematic life have to teach us about the critique of linear time, an alternative conception of ecstatic time, Exit as the thinking of concealment, replacing "resistance" with "releasement," and the construction of true and authentic communities.

If you'd like to discuss this podcast with me and others, suggest future guests, or read/watch/listen to more content on these themes, request an invitation here.

Big thanks to all the patrons who help me keep the lights on.

This conversation was first recorded on April 6, 2019 as a livestream on Youtube. To receive notifications when future livestreams begin, subscribe to my channel with one click, then click the little bell. 

Click here to download this episode.

An automated system for delivering high volumes of exclusive content to patrons

This took a lot of tinkering, but I think I've finally figured out the best currently available way to manage and deliver a wide variety of exclusive items to patrons.

Optimizing and automating the links between research, production, and dissemination will probably be one of the main edges that internet intellectuals have over institutionalized intellectuals — so I am working hard to maximize this edge.

I shared this with patrons a few weeks ago, now I’m sharing it here in case other internet producers find it useful.

What wasn’t working

Periodically uploading stuff to a Dropbox and giving patrons a link — as I had been doing — was not great. It wasn't easily or effectively searchable, and patrons didn't have any way of knowing if something new was posted.

I was going to give patrons access to my Evernote archive — I got this idea from Gwern, who seems to live near the cutting edge of internet production efficiency. In fact, I became a patron of his just to get access to his Evernote, to see how he does it... With ~50,000 notes, his archive was almost completely impenetrable for me (I do have a 2013 MacBook Air, admittedly, but it's still lightning quick for pretty much everything I do.) The web version was unable to load or scroll or search fully, and when I tried importing his shared notebook to my desktop Evernote app, the app was unusable for a whole day (stopping sync and exiting and logging in and out wasn't even enough to fix it; I figured it out later.).

I’ve also been trying to figure out how to give my patrons advanced access to podcasts as well. Patreon has a facility to provide patrons with an RSS feed for podcasts, but they don't have a posting API so it would become yet another manual task for me. It might sound like no big deal, but I need to be ruthless about minimizing manual tasks, or I'll never get any serious work done.

What I finally decided on

Patrons at $5/month now receive one exclusive, searchable archive of pretty much everything I’m working on, before any of it gets published: Not-yet-published writings, all my reading highlights as I clip them, pre-release podcasts and transcripts, pre-release videos, raw materials with no destination yet, cut material with no destination yet. Plus 3 separate RSS feeds to help them follow along in a way that works for them.

1.) There is one master, high-volume RSS feed of any and all new updates to the drive. That one is a bit messy since it reflects a wide variety of new items. Subscribe and follow along to see what's brewing, but I can't promise this will be particularly pleasurable reading on a daily basis.

2.) A separate, clean, always-readable RSS feed of web reading highlights from the news and blogs I read (and whatever pre-1923 books I’m reading from web archives).

3.) And then a separate audio RSS feed for all of my podcasts before they publish, and any other miscellaneous audio content I might be working on or playing with. This one can be added to podcast apps.

An extra benefit: Unedited podcast transcripts are also included, and they're searchable. These will not be edited for the foreseeable future, so they won't be usefully or enjoyably readable. But if you heard something cool in one of my old podcasts, and you can't remember what it was, or which one it was, a search of the hard drive has a decent chance of turning it up. The day might come when it will be feasible for me to have these edited, but that's not on the development roadmap at present.

If you're not already a patron, you could join just to get the links, and then peace out. Or ask around. I don't really care, I'm generally pro-pirating.

I want to create a system, a community, and such great work that those who can spare the cash want to do so — even if it's easily pirated. And if people honestly can't afford to pay for things, then I want them to have it.

How I set it up

The system is not terribly sophisticated. I just wired a few web services together. Below I’ll just describe the setup generically. If you’d like to see exactly how I set this stuff up, let me know. I could do a post on it, but won’t waste my time if nobody’s too interested in this stuff.

The best service for hosting a patron-only hard drive turned out to be Google Drive. Its API seems more flexible than Dropbox and its various Docs and Sheets and so on allow me to slot my various items into the Drive in a way that's efficient and tidy. Finally, it has fast and reliable search across the whole shared drive. It seems that the search function even covers words inside of images (such as screenshots), thanks presumably to Google's built-in OCR. So patrons are given a shared link to this master drive. As I said above, I’m not worried about policing the link.

Then I used Zapier to create a few automations that route my everyday reading and working activities into the Google Drive, sending different types of media into a few different folders. The final RSS feeds themselves are generated by Zapier, too. The RSS feeds are linked to particular subdirectories in the drive, and they leverage some filters, which is how I can ensure that the reading highlights RSS and the audio RSS will only contain the correct content types.

For all the news and blogs and web pages I read, I’ve always used Feedly. Any web page I decide to read gets sent to Read Later on Feedly, via the Feedly browser extension for Chrome. Feedly has nice highlighting with an API, so everything I highlight gets automatically logged into a spreadsheet in the Google Drive. That logs the URL and the date. Then the highlighted text gets sent to the reading highlights RSS. (If the snippet is less than ~200 characters, it also gets tweeted with the URL).

I read epubs and Kindle books and PDFs on my iPad. For text highlights I use some scripts to generate tidy PDFs of my highlights into the Drive when I’m done with something.

A Tidy PDF of Book Highlights (Example)

A Tidy PDF of Book Highlights (Example)

A Tidy PDF of My Personal Highlights From a Book (Example) — get one here.

For graphs or tables or anything that’s not highlightable, I take a screenshot and send it to the Drive. That’s robust and snappy via the iOS share menu. Non-standard stuff like screenshots will get picked up in the master RSS feed. Screenshots actually display nicely. Patrons last week could have followed along with all the graphs I clipped from Norris and Inglehart’s new Cultural Backlash. See, for instance, how this screenshotted graph would appear in your RSS reader (in this case, Feedly):

For my one-man podcast operation, I use Auphonic for automated editing. Auphonic lets you export to multiple destinations at once. In addition to exporting to Libsyn, where I will schedule podcast releases into the future (to spread them out), I set Auphonic to post every new edited podcast into the Google Drive. These automatically get pushed to the exclusive podcast feed immediately, so as soon as something is edited then patrons can hear it.

Also, anything added to Evernote gets pushed to the Drive as well. The benefit of this is that Evernote has the best web clipper I know of, and integrates with nearly everything. The drawback is that Evernote itself is slow and clunky, and when Zapier exports Evernotes into my Google Drive, they are somewhat unpredictable and not always very good looking or ideally formatted. But it works and the exported content shows up in Goole Drive search, which is the main point. (Nobody will be going into the Drive to enjoy or use anything there, but to find and take it.)

For anything else, I just have to drag and drop into the Google Drive web page. But that manual task is much easier than posting anything whatsoever into Patreon’s website. And no doubt I’ll figure out ways to automate more processes.

As I made clear to my patrons, this system is still in “beta.” I’m sure there are some bugs, and I’ve asked patrons to let me know of them. But I did test this system rather extensively, and it seems to be the richest possible system for patrons to observe and explore what I’m brewing — while decreasing, rather than increasing, the amount of time it takes me to share work-in-progress with them.

Why no depiction of Hitler is evil enough

Robin Hanson thinks it the result of a signaling spiral, "wherein people strive to show how moral they are by thinking... even more lowly of standard exemplars of bad..." Certainly possible, and plausible.

But there is an alternative explanation: Hitler is the Devil — for Protestant atheists (secular progressives, in the cladistics of Mencius Moldbug). And why Hitler, of all the terrible people who could be elevated to Devil? (Note Hanson's theory does not explain this.)

The theory of Protestant atheism has more explanatory traction here. Democracy and industrialism are arguably the two major dimensions of Modernity, and Modernity is a bargain with the actual Devil. Hitler is perhaps the purest, the least alloyed product of industrialism and democracy, before Modernity evolved its outer armor involving several layers of confusion and obfuscation. Hitler may be a uniquely dramatic embodiment of everything that is wrong with Modernity, but there is no way to say so without endorsing an essentially Christian eschatology. The problem is that people don't want to be Christian; it's pretty much mutually-exclusive with cosmopolitan success via symbol-manipulating careers. However, they still want to say that bad things are bad, and that some things are so bad that they're... really bad. So they must, ultimately, generate a symbol of the Devil. That is, they must eventually believe in the existence of the Devil. And what symbol will they converge on, if not the explicitly theological one that's been on offer for ages? Well, whatever is too much themselves, whatever dramatizes their own bargain too clearly.

Democrats wanted strongman rule way more than Republicans — until Trump arrived

Democrats wanted strongman rule until Trump arrived

That graph is from the new book by political scientists Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart (2019), Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism.

Just finishing the book now. I'd call it a rigorous validation of the conventional wisdom of the moment.  Certainly required reading for anyone with weirder theories about the culture wars. This will probably serve as the baseline model for some time.

Our theory argues that a cultural silent revolution has heightened polarization over cultural issues in the electorate, provoking an authoritarian backlash among social conservatives. We hypothesize that socially liberal values are spreading through intergenerational population replacement and demographic shifts, causing traditionalists (concentrated among the less-educated and older birth cohorts) to feel threatened, perceiving that respect for their core values and social mores is rapidly eroding. These developments have cumulated over time to reach a tipping point in high-income Western societies…

If you read between the lines there are some more tantalizing insights, such as the one dramatized in the graph above. I would like to write a longer review, but we'll see.

Patrons may have noticed this in my hard drive a week or two ago.

How I'm Successfully Digitizing Another Professorial Function: Paid Intellectual Consulting

As loyal readers will know, I'm on a mission to transition all of my traditional professorial functions into their digital equivalents — to constitute a financially successful and radically independent model of the intellectual life outside of all currently existing institutions.

I am occasionally asked for advice on different types of intellectual projects. Sometimes it's: "Can you read this and give me your thoughts?" Sometimes I'm asked about how to succeed in academia/grad school, and sometimes people ask me practical stuff about blogging and workflows, etc. I've always been happy to help, but when I was a career academic it would take me several weeks at best before I could respond to anyone. Ironically, now that I'm not a career academic, these kinds of requests have been increasing — I suppose because I seem more available or closer to the ground or something. Anyway, now I really do have time to help, advise, or collaborate on different things, except now I have to hustle to build a financially sustainable model.

The obvious solution is to invite payment for various types of requests. I initially had no idea how this would work out — I was quite prepared for people to say “no nevermind, and screw you, exploitative asshole.” In fact, the opposite happened. People have seemed relieved to receive the offer: I think people feel guilty asking for dedicated attention from someone they don't know, and for that reason they don't ask for everything they would like to. Every time I've invited payment so far, almost everyone was immediately warm to the idea. Of course some people don't follow through, but that's the case in all things. Nobody got upset or or objected or anything like that. And a few people have taken me up on it, so now I’m happy to report that I have a small handful of... I don’t even know what to call them. I guess I could call some of them digital students. Others are similar to me in age and intelligence, so I would never call them students. "Intellectual consulting clients" is clunky, but gets the point across.

Suddenly, this work is earning me an income roughly equal to what I'm getting from Patreon. I was not anticipating this, but it's an interesting and satisfying kind of work, so I'm quite open to developing it further. It's forcing me to make explicit a lot of my experiences and observations about intellectual processes and internet production processes. Without realizing it, in the past two years, I have probably rushed my way into the upper percentiles of knowledge about a whole new niche, which in some sense doesn't even exist yet (hence my difficulty naming it above). I'm not going to bother coining some fancy phrase right now, because I don't want or need to — this would feel like taking the bait of going the self-help-guru route, promoting myself with some kind of trademarked self-improvement concept. I'm not interested in doing any of that, but I am interested in developing the knowledge and sharing it and helping people, if people ask me for it. If you want to book time with me, there's now a way to do that. Feel free.

One of my ultimate goals is to break historical ground by achieving a new kind of model: a model for a serious, independent, disinterested, financially sustainable, and life-long intellectual career. Many before me have achieved a few of these things outside of academia, but nobody has yet achieved them all in such a way as to establish and leave behind a self-conscious and reproducible model. But to truly achieve this goal, in a way that is different and better and truly groundbreaking, relative to all the people who have already made decent little fortunes selling information products — my value proposition cannot be yet another variation on "I will teach you how I made $1 million on the Internet," (namely, by promising others they can make $1 million on the Internet, by promising others...). Most of the people who come closest to succeeding as full-time internet intellectuals are typically trafficking in something with the structure of a multilevel marketing scheme. I'm not even knocking that hustle necessarily, but it's not a true intellectual life, and it can't be, because the insights and energies of the author are subordinated to an instrumental objective that stands over and above their thinking and speaking, which they are never ultimately honest about.

I will only succeed in truly breaking ground if I'm able to achieve financial sustainability and long-term cultural impact through my capacities and commitments to transparent, disinterested research and expression. That's perhaps the key criteria dividing authentic independent intellectuals from self-help gurus.

If it happens that anyone sees me as a valuable or reliable personal guide or support of any kind, then of course I am happy to make this one item in my portfolio of efforts. It is essentially just the ancient teaching function, which has always been rightfully linked with the research function.

If I'm being honest, I guess through trial and error and strategizing, I really have learned a lot over the past few years about how to win competitive institutional games while also sustaining a radically uncompromised voice; how to not mind mobs of haters; how to game institutional and public perceptions; how to use a variety of web technologies for the optimization of intellectual production; how to convert previously institutionalized academic functions into stuff that people want to pay for; and how to automate most of it. It's only now that people are asking me for advice on these various things, which is actually teaching me how much I know, and how little of it is currently available anywhere. It's a privilege really, to be asked for advice, so I'm reflecting a lot, and archiving my reflections as I go. I will probably share some of these reflections here and there, moving forward.

Anyway, for now, this stuff is not my primary focus, so I'm not investing a lot of energy thinking about how to brand or package or offer this kind of stuff.

I am more or less working on a "pay what you want" model, within reason of course. On the low end, I have an undergraduate student with severe mental health challenges who has asked for some dedicated guidance. I've agreed to give them 30 minute sessions here and there for just 15 bucks a pop. On the higher end, I'm working with one person who has a high-paying job but really wants to make serious intellectual contributions. To them I give regularly structured support and feedback, reading all their work, and we have multiple calls a month, typically on advanced topics, so we have iterated toward a more intensive retainer model for $500 a month.

Frankly, I would only need a couple more clients on the higher-end to fully replace my former income as an academic. I'm only in my first few months with my higher-end client and he seems quite happy. And I'm delighted to learn for myself that I'm quite good at providing this kind of support.

My monthly seminar is kind of a distributed, social way of providing the same kind of support but to larger numbers of people, on a much cheaper basis — just 25 bucks a month, per person. With two-hour sessions, and the 6-person-per-session cap I've set, that turns out to be $75 an hour for me (though not accounting for the costs of acquisition, etc.)

I just wanted to set down these reflections now, while all of this is still new to me.

If you think there's something I can help you with, there's no harm in just . My current method for doing this is just to consider the idea, or request and I'll bounce back to you a proposal for some way of doing it that is worth my time and that you can afford. There may or may not exist an equilibrium there, and if not then no hard feelings either way!

Sometime in the next few months, I'll try to post some of the common questions I receive, and some of the general answers I tend to give, in these consulting sessions.

Life update from the Sunshine State

It's been about three months since I set sail from all currently existing institutions. After finalizing our business in the UK, saying goodbyes, and flying back to the United States, it's now been a little more than two months in the United States. It's been a mix of better than I expected, and harder than I expected.

I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly some paid work fell into my lap. I was confident I'd find some work sooner or later, to hold me over while I build my grand, unified vision of a financially stable intellectual life on the internet, but I prepared mentally for it to take a long time. I was almost immediately offered handsomly-paid remote work conducting web survey experiments for a business client. This greatly eased my anxieties about the financial implications of leaving academia, but it also threw a temporary wrench into my intellectual workflows. I have zero experience communicating with business clients, and zero experience working on a remote team business-style. I allowed the Slack work style to colonize my consciousness way too much on too many days, even though the total count of hours itself has not been bad at all.

The current paid project is almost done, so it was only a short shock to Other Life Systems. I haven't done a livestream in the past few weeks, for instance. This is also because I am becoming conscious that I need to focus more on high-value work; the weekly solo live streams were really just a way to keep thinking and sharing and staying touch with my readers and watchers while I was going through the unpredictable chaos of the departure from England. Now that I'm on the other side, I will divert effort away from random one-off things to higher value longer-term projects. As of now, I'm going to formally end the tradition of the past few months, where I was doing a solo livestream every Thursday night. That's off until further notice. I might very well bring those sessions back, but if I do then they'll be something more focused and serious. Maybe prepared lectures or something, I just want to avoid too much bullshitting. Mere chatting and joking is fun here and there, but it's too cheap and easy. Seems to be a decent business model, if you look at some popular podcasts, but I'm chasing something different. I will probably still carry on the livestream conversations, I think, when I get settled somewhere; they still feel valuable. When we land in New Mexico, I'm going to commit to some rigorous 6-month or 1-year plan and will let you know what kinds of outputs you can expect through that period.

I still have podcasts posting regularly, and that will continue without interruption, as I continue to archive all the old livestreams as podcasts.

My recent distractions with paid work might have been a blessing for my systems at this early stage, because they're forcing me to rationalize my processes all the more forcefully.

The other good news is that if you need someone to conduct experimental research designs to answer various attitudinal or behavioral questions — I now know my way around like 8 different crowdsourcing platforms, and I can design + field + analyze survey experiments for business purposes quite quickly and affordably. If you have some causal effects in need of testing, .

Although this work has consumed me much more than I would've liked for the past few weeks, remote research work — fit well to the higher end of my abilities — feels more synergistic with my larger intellectual life. It's making me more knowledgeable and nimble with designing, implementing, and analyzing concrete and tractable studies. Moving in and out of a work Slack and RStudio is much more complimentary to my personal intellectual work than moving in and out of... buildings where I'm supposed to be showered and do a zillion bureaucratic things. I'm honing skills that will come in handy for my own autonomous research work, and I am learning business perspectives that might come in handy later, too.

I got my driver's license, after about ten years of it being expired. Took me about a month — I failed the written test the first time around. My dad is something of a hoarder, and he offered us a 2000 Audi A4 which my mother and sister told us to not accept. My dad assured us that it would get us to New Mexico (our ultimate destination for now), and I personally put that probability somewhere around 50%. It was almost free for us, other than a few little things, and the registration, insurance, and a AAA package. So even if it were to die in the middle of our trip, it seemed worth trying. If we needed to buy a new car or fly from wherever it died, it would only put us back where we started. But if it held up, we'd save a lot of money.

Then, the night before we needed to hit the road, the back windshield shattered. My dad placed his eyeglasses on the sill of the trunk, where the trunk space meets the back windshield, while we were doing some last things with flashlights in the dark of night. He forgot he put them there, and we went to close the trunk... It's quite bizarre, the eyeglasses were fine but the pressure went through the back windshield. We had lodgings booked for the whole week, so we had to rent a car — surely the worst possible way to get where we were going, financially.

We drove down the East Coast, taking our time for about a week. We stopped in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley for a night in Waynesboro, VA. We walked the Appalachian trail — for like a mile. We had beers in a huge bar with families and babies everywhere. We drove to the area around Asheville, NC and checked out a few spots. We saw some remarkable wildlife we had never seen before, namely a good-looking couple in their 20s with three kids. I met up with Trad Queen. She was cool, very nice, intense, we didn't have too long, we discussed relationships and she told me to read Flannery O'connor. We drove to Raleigh and enjoyed a meet up with @nicholatian, @resonanceknight, and @cryptochamomile before driving to a beautiful salt-marsh town in southern Georgia. We finally arrived in Florida to spend some time with family there. We've been in Florida for almost two weeks now. There is currently a possibility of some kind of meetup in the next week or two, somewhere within the triangle of Daytona-Gainesville-Jacksonville. If you're anywhere around this area, .

Then we head to New Mexico, where we'll live with Geoffrey Miller and Diana Fleischman in Albuquerque for a few months — maybe more if it works well for everyone. I'm looking forward to the relative stability.

What else? I just met with an accountant for the first time in my life. Gotta know what to do with all these Patreobux...

After a lot of reflection about my different projects and experiments — what's working well and what's not, balancing the work I enjoy with the work that I believe is most important, balancing what gets public traction and what will matter in the long-run, balancing what might lead to money and what probably won't, balancing all these and other things — I think I'm pretty close to having decided a 6-month or 1-year plan for the Other Life project. I microdosed LSD the other day and a few things clicked into place regarding how I should prioritize and sequence the various projects I want to work on. I'll let you know the plan as soon as I firm it up.

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