Truth = Joy = Power: Spinoza's Galaxy Brain

We live in a bourgeois culture where people hate intellectuals, the truth is. So, yes, of course there are stupid people on the internet who are really pretentious and think they're really smart. However, there are also really smart people on the internet who are very interesting and independent, and I think real intellectuals actually know this type of exploding galaxy brain moment, and it's one of the things that we live for as thinkers, I think. And I think the fact that the galaxy brain meme was a thing, and that it's generally a kind of resentful, negative meme — it's usually used to make fun of someone else or to object to them or to belittle them — is really just a representation or an emblem of bourgeois anti-intellectualism really, and a kind of resentful nay-saying...

A univocal ontology prohibits us from false distinctions, and it forces us to rely on these qualitative differences, which I think Spinoza and Deleuze want to say are the real differences. And they are real in part because they are immanent. When I encounter someone and I feel joy, I feel my power is increasing, right? (Puissance, not pouvoir.) Remember the galaxy brain meme. This is why I introduced that. You feel like a galaxy brain when you're talking with someone that you really get along well with. You can just feel immanently, intuitively, that this person is somehow increasing your power. It's increasing your capacities and that is associated with the emotion known as joy. That's all happening immanently, automatically. It's happening from within what is already going on. You're not calculating, you're not strategizing, you're not creating a model. It's an automatic kind of pre-conscious process. And I think Deleuze wants to say that that is what's real. Those differences are real. We're all one substance, but those differences are real.

Univocity: Lecture 3 on Based Deleuze

Not everyone needs to be heard

One of the worst mistakes I made as a younger man was believing that everyone just “needs to be heard.” Some do. I don't relinquish at all my conviction that exhaustive, collective, emotional unloading — what the feminist tradition once called "consciousness raising" — is a veritable form of revolutionary politics with real effects. Nonetheless, there exist individuals who wish to perform a kind of intellectualized temper tantrum, which is not an honest disclosure or unconcealing, but a kind of instrumental technique — where the listener is the object of manipulation. My former inability to discern the characteristic differences between these two modes was perhaps the single greatest error of my twenties, in terms of resource wastage (time and effort, mostly). Practical resources that could increase such discernment for others would be extremely valuable, especially today, as the need for them appears to be increasing...

An Effort Allocator for Content Creators
Get the spreadsheet

If you're trying to build a long-term intellectual life on the internet, one of the biggest problems you'll face is figuring out how to allocate your effort. There is no template for doing this successfully — yet — and it's a doozy of an optimization problem. If you don't spend a lot of time producing original, high-value work, then obviously you'll never accomplish anything meaningful. But if you don't spend a decent chunk of effort building and improving your distribution systems, then your probability of having impact or making money is way lower. Other vexing questions include whether you should use result-based goals (e.g., "3 blog posts per week" or time-based goals (e.g., "3 hours of writing per day"); and what exactly should be your "north star metric." Audience size? Money? Subjective insight intensity?

Since "going pro" on the internet 8 months ago, I've been forced to tackle these problems head-on. I'm not sure how much my solutions will generalize, so I'm not even going to defend or promote them, but I figured I will at least start to share them.

Here's how I've solved the puzzle of effort allocation, for myself.

First of all, I decided that what I'm really optimizing for is having a good life or what the Greeks called eudaimonia. This means I need to make a decent bit of money, but I don't need tons — so I’m certainly not maximizing that. It means I need to spend most of my time working hard on what I am personally most called to do; in my case, that means focused, original, creative intellectual work. And it means I cannot do either of these things so intensely that it causes me to be unhealthy or neglect my most important relationships. If this whole adventure makes me more stressed and joyless than academia, then it would be a failure.

The way I've operationalized this perspective is to assign percentages to the various priorities of my intellectual work system (not to exceed 100%). Then I formalize how many hours per week I want to work in total, and the batching frequency I consider best for each task.

I then feed these personal decisions into a spreadsheet that converts them to blocks of time I must schedule on my calendar. The idea is to input numbers that reflect my ideal, properly ordered work life (percentages out of 100%) and output specific, concrete requirements. If you use this system, and you have the discipline to execute what is blocked out on your calendar, then you can be confident you're not doing too much or too little of the various tasks in your system. Whether you've assigned your priorities optimally is a whole separate question, which no spreadsheet can solve, but at least you can see what your priorities really look like in practice. And you can more easily tweak them iteratively, as necessary.

Feel free to copy mine and use it yourself. You decide on the values in yellow: How many days per week can you work on your intellectual system? How many hours in those days? And how much do you want to focus on original creative work vs. distribution, video vs. audio, etc. Then just block out your calendar according to the values in green.

The best immediate effect of using this tool is realizing how insanely unrealistic is your current mental picture of everything you vaguely hope to do over the next week, month, etc. It forces you to face the fact that you can't do everything you want to do, but at least you know that what you can do will amount to the best possible approximation of what you'd like to do.

WASP Microaggressions (MY #METOO MOMENT)

I've noticed I strongly favor words beginning with intense, brash sounds. Words which invite you to say them quickly and loudly. The paradigmatic example might be the greeting: "WHAaat's up, DUuude?" Only after returning from 6 years in England do I realize the quality-of-life cost of misalignment between natural diction and social environment. In England, people often greet each other by softly mumbling something under their breath vaguely in the direction of the person they're greeting. It's hard to communicate how genuinely difficult it was for me to behave this way. We're likely to underestimate the quality-of-life implications of tiny things that happen many times every day. Even after being back in the USA for 8 months, I still consciously experience some joy upon exclaiming phrases like "WHAaat's up, DUuude?"

This is my #metoo moment. Coming from a working-class Irish Catholic family in the Northeast of the USA, I am only now awakening to the severity of my oppression all these years...

More seriously, I really do think it's conceivable that working-class, off-white men (e.g. Irish, Italian) have heritable dispositions toward louder, wilder, more intense speech. And that American and British WASPs either have heritable dispositions toward meeker, more docile speech, or they have traits that better allow them to cultivate such speech — either of which creates a higher cognitive load for wild men, such as myself, who would seek to enter the WASP World Order. There are no laws or rules prohibiting me from entering and climbing the hierarchy of international academia, for instance, but compared to an otherwise-equal WASP, everything is going to be a little more painful for me. The satisfaction of it all will be weaker, and the little annoyances greater. I'm not complaining at all — ultimately I consider it much more blessing than curse to be temperamentally unsuited to the institutional order.

One piece of data consistent with this theory is that, throughout my life, I've had way more close Italian friends than you'd expect from chance alone. In high school and college you could arguably chalk it up to where I lived in NJ and Philly, although if you drill down into neighborhoods and social circles I honestly doubt I was disproportionately exposed to Italians. But in England too, two of my closest friends were Italian nationals, and now that I think about it we often lamented our WASP subjection, even if we didn't phrase it that way... One of my mother's closest friends is an Italian national who was our neighbor for a few years in NJ, but she was the only Italian in our neighborhood; it's not like my mom was surrounded by them. And my mom isn't very social.

I also think this would be consistent with life history theory, i.e. WASPs evolved a basket of traits that make sense for slower, safer reproductive strategies (meekly mumble whatever you can manage with your boss's dick in your mouth, proceed to enjoy a secure retirement); whereas off-white Catholics evolved a set of traits for faster, riskier strategies (talk shit, drive fast, and fuck mad hot bitches — then get stabbed dead in a pool hall!)

What do the WASPs do with men like me, who make it all the way to 33 without getting stabbed and still insist on driving fast and talking shit?

Left Egoism with Eliot Rosenstock

Eliot blogs at Mad Black Freud. He wrote the book Zizek in the Clinic. He came all the way from LA to visit me in person. I enjoyed hanging out with him and getting to know him better. You can also watch this talk on video.

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What is an "image of thought" for Deleuze?

From Lecture #3 in my video course for Based Deleuze:

What's really at stake here, I think, is the attack on representational thought... That's one of the core components of the Deleuzian project. Deleuze argued that any philosophy presents an image of thought and that this image of thought, it's not really explicit. It's never really demonstrated or proven. It's sort of a presupposition. Whenever a philosopher or any type of thinker or theologian or whatever presents a philosophy, there is in the background a certain image of what thought is and what thought should be, and what thought can be, and that's never really fully spelled out. It's never really justified.

It's essentially a kind of aesthetic. And there are different images of thought. This is something that Deleuze really wants to show to us… That we have a choice: an essential, irreducible kind of freedom or aesthetic decision to make about what type of thought we want to engage in.

In retrospect, "choice" is not the best word, because Deleuze wants to steer us away from any naive conception of free will. One is almost tempted to use an ugly deconstructionist term here, such as undecidability. The key point is that an 'image of thought' is extra-rational. It's never justified or formalized rationally, although it's implied in modes of justification or formalization. We might not "choose" our image of thought, exactly, although there is a kind of pre-rational selection process that sorts creators and their creations. Perhaps we could say that our 'image of thought' chooses us...

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