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Depressive capitalist realism

I recently received an email challenging some of my past comments on depression and public political theorizing. Here is the main gist of the email and beneath it is my response.

I'm a pretty recent listener of Other Life and I was interested to hear your most recent release about your book project Based Deleuze… I think I agree with you about the cultural left's refusal to be unrelentingly "real" with itself… I was a bit taken aback, though, by the whole notion that 'depressives shouldn't be forwarding political ideas/norms,' or whatever point you made to that effect. (Forgive me if that's a mischaracterization or unfair reduction…) I'm interested to hear more about why you hold this position, or maybe why you come off as so unrelenting in it… I’m not sure of your position on thinkers that circulate alongside people like Mark Fisher…

I probably can come off as too harsh, and I don’t want to, so that’s unfortunate and I would like to work on that. I have no interest in being a dick for edge-lord points, but I guess it is a real temptation in this new model I’m working. It’s weird. So first of all I appreciate push back here, it will keep me honest and based.

I do not mean that someone with depression necessarily has wrong political views, or should not speak in public, etc. I really don’t. Of course I speak so loosely and brashly that I am sure I have occasionally been over the top about it...

What I’m really trying to say is that many people on the internet, Twitter and FB in particular, present themselves as knowledgeable and convincing and powerful and charismatic, grinding sometimes atrocious political axes, but if anyone could see the current state of their mind/lifestyle/relationships — one would become way more mistrustful of their opinions. I really think this is a massive thing going on, and a lot of really bonkers people are affecting the opinions and judgments of other people who would be much better off if they discounted the ramblings of these types of people. So I think that’s a fair and not inhumane concern of mine. I’m sure I express it stupidly and like an asshole, so sorry about that and I’ll work on it…

The more delicate issue has to do with people like Mark Fisher. He was my friend, and of course I’m glad he wrote everything he wrote, like I would never for a minute want to stop or prevent his writings from having come into the world… That said, I do think there is something very difficult here, which is almost never talked about.

The truth is that depressive people can and very often do project things onto other people and the world. And it really can and often does pull other people into their depression. I have a dear family member who struggles with periods of anxiety and depression, and I know perfectly well that when they get low, they sometimes cannot help themselves from describing things to me in catastrophic and morbid ways. And it can pull me in, it can change how I see the world and convert me to a depressed mood. Especially if they are smart and articulate.

It might sound cruel, and I can work on being less cruel, but I really really do think a non-trivial portion of the fashionable rad-left intellectuals are actually very confused and sad individuals whose personal lives are quite bad (blame it on capitalism, sure, fair enough — but nonetheless) and a lot of their intellectualized outputs are depressive projections that produce real, depressogenic effects on others. I mean, there is a whole cottage industry of Left-theory “against wellness” for example lol. I get the critique, OK, but things like meditation and diet and CBT and exercise etc., these really can and do have transformative positive effects for many, many people. I’m sorry but I really think there is some evil beneath intellectuals who write whole books systematically turning people off to something like “wellness.” This is just one example. Anti-natalism is another example.

Many of these cottage industries are based on something they alternatively deny and glorify: that the authors are often quite miserable people with many significant personal shortcomings and resentments and projections. I do think more readers should take this information into account when evaluating fashionable ideas. It doesn’t mean depressed people shouldn’t write what they think, if that’s what they want to do. I just think the depressive nature of a particular author should be discussed openly, and I think readers should discount for authorial depression much more consciously — kind of like how food manufacturers have to tell consumers how much sugar they’re packing, and healthy people will avoid foods with a lot of sugar…

Not making progress or losing motivation?

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I was recently hired on a monthly retainer to do some intellectual consulting. Basically, a very smart person just needed to some help getting a project off the ground — what they needed was a combination of substantive feedback, informal support, tactical guidance, and tips and tricks on the social and technological practicalities of undertaking long-term intellectual projects in today’s day and age. I’ve also been doing some advising and mentoring for a few different people by the hour, since I've opened up my calendar to anyone who wants to hire my time. I wrote a few weeks ago that I would condense some of my recurring insights/suggestions for posting here.

When people say they’re not making progress, or they’re losing motivation, these “symptoms” often point to a common problem. It’s also a common problem one observes in undergraduate and graduate students alike. The problem is that the goal/purpose or research question is too broad or ambitious. In fact, this is possibly the single most common problem people run into when trying to setup a research agenda of any kind.

So here is some advice I recently gave to a client, on this problem. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the audio from the relevant part of our conversation. I’m posting it here on the expectation that at least a few others might find it useful.

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Your aspirations are probably too large for whatever you are trying to do. It's great to have huge aspirations for the long-run, but it's terrible to have huge aspirations for particular projects. I think this might explain a few different features of your current blockages because on the one hand, one problem with having a goal that's too big and too far out... well, there are a bunch of problems with that. One is everything you do is going to feel painfully inadequate. That's one major problem because the goal is so big and far off that you're not actually going to get satisfaction from any of the little problems you may actually be able to solve in your lifetime. So that's one major problem. And then, because you're not getting satisfaction from what you can solve, you don't even feel like working on what you can solve because the motivational equation isn't there because it doesn't satisfy you because the way you're thinking about your goal.

That's one thing I think. So the first thing I said is the motivational problem (that you're not satisfied by any particular problem you solve) but then there's also the substantive problem that you're actually not able to make heads or tails of very much because you're throwing your net too wide in other words.

So you're like, “I want [insert crazy big goal, i.e. to solve nuclear fusion] right now,” so I better get ready to advance eight different fields at once and you actually might not be making progress — not only for the motivational problem, but also maybe because the knowledge or the insight just isn't there yet. And you're not going to be able to fast forward through force of will, you know, no matter how intelligent or willful you are. You're not going to be able to force multiple fields to advance at a rate that they're just not able to advance, and so you're going to be trying to connect all these dots but you run the risk of not actually connecting any dots because you're just trying to connect them too widely.

It seems like this might be happening to you and if you're getting demoralized about it, I think that's about as much proof as you need, to think that something like this is going wrong. Something about the basic coordinates of how you were conceiving the larger puzzle and your particular goal in it all.

My sense is that something about your basic view of the problem and your potential contribution needs to be recalibrated in a way that is more practical, more possible, so that it fills you with a sense of concrete, achievable possibility. You want to feel on a daily basis, or maybe not daily basis, but at least weekly basis, you want to feel like you're making tangible progress. It should feel exciting… It should be hard work and there should be days of struggle with no progress, that's fine. But maybe only days of that. Maybe if you're unlucky, a week or two of getting absolutely nowhere and just scratching your head. But on most weeks, and even most days, you want to feel like at the very least you are advancing one tiny step by tiny step, in a way that you can feel and that should feel gratifying and motivating. If you’re not, just reframe the problem more modestly, break off increasingly small ways of chipping away at your grand vision.

You might feel like smaller questions or goals are lame, but first of all they’re not, and second of all the lamest thing ever is doing nothing, which is what you’re currently doing (because your goals are too big.) Humility and modesty are virtues; practice them until you’re on a track of daily work that at least makes sense to you. If you can achieve that by being more humble, then you’ll be proud of your incremental progress and then — ironically — you’ll feel more in touch with your big aspirations than you do now.

So to summarize, I would say tinker with your perception of the problem and your goal and tinker with how you see yourself fitting into it and keep tinkering with it until you get to a certain level of abstraction in which you feel like you're making constant progress, even if it's minuscule and struggling progress. Keep recalibrating until you get that feeling, because without that feeling you're probably never going to get anywhere. As long as you keep recalibrating, there is nothing that can stop you from eventually iterating onto a framing of the problem that suits you — a framing that interests you personally and of which you capable. There certainly exists some such framing for anyone genuinely dedicated to working on some big topic, so the only thing that could prevent you from completing a meaningful project is if you fixated on one particular framing that overwhelms you. Humility has always been a secret weapon of the great.

If there's anything I can help you with, feel free to Perhaps I can tell you something useful in a post like this one, or a video like this. If you're working on your own project and would like direct support from me and others, you might consider joining my monthly seminar — it's exactly what you get from a graduate-school seminar, except that you can afford it, and you don't get a degree!

Can you do a PhD if you have ADHD?

I received this question recently from a reader. Here is how I replied. I also made this video if you’d prefer to hear my thoughts that way. This post and the video are not exactly the same.

First of all, I'm only slightly “on the spectrum,” if that’s even a thing in this context. I don’t pretend to know anything about clinical psychology. For instance, I’m not even sure if ADHD is maybe one of those made-up conditions that just medicalizes common difficulties, and then everyone seeks a diagnosis for it. I’m sure Scott Alexander has a post on it somewhere, but I haven’t looked because I’m too lazy and would not want to lose an opportunity to opine (how’s that for an epistemic status?). So if ADHD is just another one of these dubious fabrications of the DSM, then what follows will just be my answer to the question “Can you do a PhD if you are easily distracted and/or struggle to do what you’re told and/or procrastinate badly?” I have struggled with enough ADHD symptoms to know at least a thing or two about them — i.e., I follow the ADHD subreddit and frequently recognize myself in it — but I must admit they’ve never been a major debilitating problem for me… So if you have it bad, then I would not expect my input to help you necessarily. It should be obvious none of this is clinical advice. These are just some personal reflections based on my experience.

I think I've learned to hack my rhythms pretty well. Within a big hard goal (getting a PhD), if you find things that make you enthusiastic, you can trick yourself into being really productive by not doing the things you're supposed to, but doing what makes you enthusiastic instead. I have no idea if this makes sense clinically, but that's the best way I can summarize my method. So in grad school I was constantly slacking on my assignments and required readings, and instead I allowed myself to read and work on whatever I felt like — and the reason this worked (none of my profs would remember me as ever slacking on assignments or readings) was that, since I felt like I was fucking off on my responsibilities, it felt fun. Therefore, I could do like probably 5x more and/or better than what the other students could do by just obeying orders. The trick is cultivating interests and enthusiasms that are just proximate enough to what you’re supposed to be doing, that something within the 5x output of your boondoggles can be wrangled into an impressive completion of the assignment or comment on the assigned readings. (I went to a good but mid-tier public research university; at elite schools this hyperactivity quotient will not be as impressive, relatively, because the median student works way harder than at middle-tier universities; so my strategy might be uniquely effective at mid-tier schools, where there is a big gap between median student performance and what the Ivy-trained profs would like to see). If you can do this strategy, you also have a good chance of cultivating a particularly original trajectory, for obvious reasons. You also benefit from the informal social powers that come from being genuinely interested in your work; you seem more authentically engaged, you’ll speak more energetically, and seem more intense and sophisticated than the other students just obeying orders. Of course, it’s risky, because if you go too far out into orbit, you might just become a crank who all the profs and students roll their eyes at. Which one of these two types was I? Which one am I? The jury is still out on that one, but I was one of the only students in my cohort to get a permanent research-based academic appointment. So I did something right.

In short, you allow the ADHD tendencies to do whatever work they will let you do, and then just fake everything else. But as you go, you organize all your fragmented ADHD enthusiasms into a larger narrative that makes sense out of the work you have been doing. Given that the big challenge of a PhD is precisely this — crafting an original narrative about who you are and what you are working on, why it’s important and why someone should hire you, etc. — I actually think think this hacked ADHD strategy can be a strange advantage. Because you are forced to get good at spinning your absurd distractions into an impressive finished project, from the very beginning, whereas the more conscientious students don’t have to work that muscle until they get ready for the job market. Your very first term paper will already be an audacious feat of self-serving dissimulation, as you’ll be forced to furnish a display of coherent intelligence with nothing more at your disposal than a few months’ worth of chaotic digressions. By the time you’re done with the PhD, you’ll probably have way more practice than the other students.

Another thing I should mention is that my PhD was in the social sciences, and my strategic advice would presumably apply way less in the hard sciences. To be fair, I was trained in the harder wings of the social sciences, by hard social scientists. But still. A Phd in the social sciences or humanities is not rocket science. You have to read tons, or at least be able to talk about books you're supposed to have read, and you need to ultimately write a ~150-400 paged thing with a beginning, middle, and an end. But the truth is, it really doesn't have to be very good, and nobody will ever read it. Mind you, I have supervised PhD students as well. Of course, succeeding in academia is a whole different game than simply completing a PhD; getting an academic job is much, much harder, but doing a PhD in the social science is not very hard so long as you basically like to read anything and can force yourself to write anything in a semi-disciplined way for a few months in a row, a few separate times. This point is crucial for understanding the viability of my strategy. Nobody really cares what your dissertation is about, so long as you can produce a long document that makes decent sense and cites certain people. So as long as you can convert your distracted enthusiasms into text, there will exist some way for you to rearrange that text into a passable dissertation.

I suppose I have many more dubious bits of highly conditional advice on grad school and academia questions, if you want to try me.

Get Fired or Resign? — Ruling the Void — Lacan, Charlatan? — How to Pick a Major (Livestream Q&A)

This livestream took place the day after my hearing for "gross misconduct" was scheduled. On being fired vs. resigning — on ruling the void and the work of social scientists such as Peter Mair and Wolfgang Streeck — is Lacan a charlatan? — and how to pick a major. More below... The blog post corresponding to this podcast is: Evaluating Exit Modes: Resign or Be Fired? (How Academia Got Pwned 11)

This was first recorded on February 14, 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.

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 keep this running.

Click here to download this episode.

Explaining Who Gets to Speak at Universities

I recently received the following question from a journalist (paraphrased): "Universities host many Islamist extremists as speakers, but they order comedians performing on campus to not offend transgender sensibilities. Could you comment on this double standard in light of your own experience?"

Here is what I wrote in response. I don't have precise research or data to back up every claim here, to be clear, but this is how I currently see the matter.

People imagine there is some sophisticated explanation for all of this, but the best explanation is probably the most simple and classic one, to be honest. I think it's almost all about money, specifically liability. Right-wingers criticize academic administrators for being “cultural Marxists,” but this gives administrators way too much credit. Academic administrators have no principles, they are just untrained business people trying to keep government money flowing into their glorified real estate businesses (which happen to have some classrooms tacked on). Islamic extremists are allowed to talk because they’re afraid of the financial implications of getting labeled racist; comedians are not allowed to joke about gender because they’re afraid of getting labeled sexist. Meanwhile, academics have to focus on customer satisfaction — that is, placating students — because results on the National Student Survey affect the university’s income in the following year.

To be perfectly frank, right now higher education in the UK is suffering from multiple, severe crises: Appallingly low morale across academic staff (too nervous to express it publicly); criminally overpaid and outright incompetent Vice-Chancellors; the suffocation of intellectual
life by extraordinary quantities of meaningless paperwork and performance metrics; increasing awareness that teaching does not actually work; Soviet-Union-levels of collective delusion in the form of polite euphemisms to describe every obviously unsustainable problem. And all of this at a time when digital technologies are replacing nearly all traditional institutions with sleek, cheap, easy-to-use platforms? There is an unspeakable but widespread sense that the higher education system cannot last much longer, but people want to keep their jobs. So many administrators will just say and do whatever is going to keep the money flowing until tomorrow.

People get confused about the weird academic politics of who is, or is not, allowed to speak, but that’s because people assume there is some social or political principle at work. If you think there is any principle other than money, you’re going to be really confused for a long time, because the reality is that academic administrators are just straws in the wind. They’ll allow today what they’ll ban tomorrow, and vice versa, depending on whatever they think will protect their financial interests.

On that note, are you a current or former academic with a personal story on this front? I have a new little experiment called AcademiaLeaks, where anyone can anonymously submit their craziest stories from the ivory tower. You might not be able to tell them, but I can! Submit a story here.

Disrobed Academics, Crimethinc Anarchism, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Thanks to some good questions in last night's livestream, I managed to give a relatively concentrated hour of talking, with a surprisingly high signal/noise ratio (relative to my average, which isn't saying much). With more than one machine-learning tool and a couple hours of editing, it's now searchable for future purposes. I took my liberties with it, because why not, but only here and there. It's very verbose, sorry. I've limited and committed myself to a one-hour livestream every Thursday at 9pm UK / 4pm Eastern / 1pm Pacific. If you want to talk about any of these things, feel free to follow up with me then/there.

"Why are you not naked?"

That is a very, very good question now that being naked is very righteous and quite normal thing to do for professors trying to make a point they believe in. I don't know why I'm not naked. Well, actually, I do, because, as soon as I saw that lecture — there was recently a Cambridge lecturer, a passionate Remainer in the Brexit debate, she's very troubled by the prospect of Brexit and she gave a public lecture or performance let's say: yeah performance is the right word, to show the world why Brexit is a risky bad idea and she was butt-ass naked. I honestly think it's fantastic, I think it's so great.

The first thing I thought when I watched that is, I should totally do something naked. Why would I not? I've actually always had a passion for doing things naked, like passion is maybe too significant of a word, but I've always had a tendency to get naked, when I was younger. At pool parties and stuff like that, I was always the guy skinny-dipping and shit, it's just fun right? And when I saw her I was like, this is social license. I could totally do this, and no one could say anything to me if I were to do a lecture naked or make some kind of video naked. I could write whatever political message I want on me. That was definitely the immediate thought that entered my mind and actually I started getting really excited. This shows that this is an honorable, righteous thing that is lauded and impressive for an academic to do. I immediately thought to do it, and I mean who knows what the future holds, but the reason I didn't do it, like today — like right when I got that idea, because usually when I get crazy ideas, I do them right when I get them or else It's not gonna happen, but who knows what will happen? — the reason I didn't do it is because here's the thing: nobody wants to see a man naked. I'm not that old yet and I'm in shape and I'm fit, so I think I'm relatively good-looking naked. However, I'm still a 32 year old man and just nobody wants to see even a fairly good-looking and svelte 32-year-old man naked. Of course, there's a small number of people who maybe do, but on the whole, when you see a man naked on The Internet, it's just... It's just horrifying, whereas when you see a naked woman on a stage, it's just not that crazy. Not even that shocking. I mean, you open up Instagram and you see it all over the place. If you look at Tumblr or Instagram, it's naked women all over the place. It's actually quite normal to the average person, even if you have no interest in porn or don't sign up for any type of, you know, sexual types of things...

What's interesting is that academia is now entering trash-tier media spectacle. I think that's hilarious and awesome. Fast forward ten years, neo-China arrives from the future, and the average academic is a young woman who gets half of her academic salary from thirst-trapping on Instagram or something like this. This [Cambridge woman] is basically like the avant-garde that's heading towards that. I think it's started. It all starts with a fifty-year old senior fellow at Cambridge! You wait and see the deluge of sexualized academics, especially academic women, coming out in the next several years. Mark my words. This will be one of my predictions. I don't make a lot of predictions because I think generally predicting the future is a fool's errand, but I definitely think that there is a long-term dynamic — nowadays, that means like a couple decades, but — I think there's a more or less long-term dynamic in which the prestige institutions and fields are, basically due to ineluctable market pressures... The prestige fields that, once upon a time prided themselves on their anti-vulgarity are basically being torn asunder by competitive necessities to make themselves increasingly vulgar. You know, it's just like cursing in the classroom. I can remember when I first started teaching as a PhD student, it was still pretty edgy. I was like that. I was like the edgy young lecturer to sometimes say a curse word. Nowadays, it's so normal, just drop a little curse word here and there, because it's like everyone wants to connect with the youth, who seem to care less and less about their classes. Market realities of living in a contemporary hyper-digital, hyper-capitalist society are forcing the anti-vulgarity traditions to start trafficking in vulgarity. If my other intuitions are right, that academia will be increasingly chopped up into, well, what is basically the gig economy... A lot of stuff I'm experimenting with is kind of that. Just breaking things up into their component parts and selling them directly to people on large, open marketplaces. Basically, if my intuition is right, then it would follow that the kind of sexual marketing component that is always available in any domain would also find its own little specialization...

You could totally imagine, for instance, if there's an academic thats, let's say, every way comparable to me in my terms of my research output, my level in academia whatever, but she's an attractive woman? Like if I was an attractive woman, and I wanted to make this kind of transition out of academia that I'm currently making, while wanting to maintain a serious intellectual life and a long-term research agenda, but I have to come up with different ways to make an income? Hell yeah I would do basically different types of thirst-trapping — more or less like soft sex work... If I were to do 'gay for pay' to sustain my intellectual life, that would be seriously looked down upon. Even people who accept me and love me, you know they would really feel like, "Damn Justin, that's really low, damn." If you're a woman and you do that, there's still some stigma for sure, I'm not denying that, but people immediately get it, there are now very soft, normalized ways of doing it that don't strike people as scandalous. Even just the "influencer economy," and all of that, it's the really low level of whoring yourself out, even just being a model is whoring yourself out and there's always been a tradition for that that's always kind of accepted and normalized and, in fact, admired. So yeah if I was a woman academic and I was hot, I would totally. I'm surprised you don't see more of it, but I think you will, especially after people like this Cambridge lecturer, when people with a lot of cultural capital at esteemed institutions start breaking down the vulgarity barriers...

Brenton says I am basically describing Aella. I do not know Aella, but I have seen her around. She seems cool. I do remember looking at her blog. She seems smart and legit and has written interesting stuff... I guess what Brenton is getting at is she's also attractive. I guess her idea is that... Well, any woman who's attractive, it's just part of the the value proposition that they're offering the world, and this is true for men too. It's almost inescapable yeah, so all the power to her. She's probably out ahead of something that you're gonna see more and more of. Resistance is futile, never resist things, "never object" says Deleuze, never object. That doesn't necessarily mean you should throw yourself headlong into any trend uncritically and unethically, though, not at all.

"What long-form articles do I have planned?"

The big candidate on that list that I'm starting to focus on now is all of my code for data analysis stuff, specifically R code for political science. I'm addicted to exploratory data analyses. Just random stuff like "I wonder if the relationship between leftism and abortion support is changing since 1976?" What I've often known over the past five years as an academic, you never have enough fucking time. If you get carried away, you might spend two hours on something random and you have all these analyses on a topic of interest, but to turn that into a published research article takes a very, very long time. Like months really. Even just to turn it into a blog post, let's say to do it right, make everything look nice and write it up, let's say that takes 4 hours. Well, that's a long fucking time that you can't really justify when you're doing a serious career like academia and there are certain things you have to prioritize... So I've done all of these exploratory analyses. I have all of this code and all these graphs and different types of half-baked looks at things, and it's just sitting there on my computer. I can give you one script and then you open it up on your computer and it will download some random political science data set. Let's say like the General Social Survey or something, it'll download it for you, clean all of the variables, then make a bunch of graphs and run some models and extract results, like all of that is embedded in the code so there are a lot of people who don't actually know how to do that, and they don't even need to learn how to do that. But if they're just good enough to use computers, I can basically make all of that code and value available to people. So I don't know what I'm gonna do with it, but that's just one example. I'll also be able to get blog posts out of that and write stuff up and and and remember all the stuff I've looked into, trying to make sense out of it all.

On Days of War, Nights of Love: Crimethinc for Beginners (2002)

I wanted to tell you a little bit about this book because a lot of people would not think that this is in my library and I think a lot of people look down on this kind of tradition or lineage or tendency. I was flipping through it and I was like, there are some good lines in here... I think it's somewhat underrated. It's basically radical left, very anarchist... I think you'd call it insurrectionary anarchist. That's what I would call it anyway, definitely with communist undertones, strong egalitarianism, of course, but really the defining characteristic of this insurrectionary anarchism here is, it's romantic, vitalistic. You know the kind of bourgeois ideology of "live in the moment?". It's kind of like the militant anarchist version of that. Listen to your body. You know that the current organization of society is bad - you just know it - you feel it. Everyone hates their jobs, and everyone knows it, and they're all these lies that society is built on, and everyone knows it so just, fuck it man! If you want to steal from a grocery store, you're not stealing from a grocery store, you're liberating those products from the grocery store. Finding the inner truth of your uncaged animal being, and this is true and good, and morality is just a bourgeois system that's been evolved to keep the masses down. It's very DIY culture, zine culture, like fuck copyright! You get a hint of Guy Debord and the Situationists. People watch too much TV and they're on screens too much. They were kind of saying this before it was cool.

This is what the insurrectionary anarchist tradition gets right. Most currently existing capitalist and bureaucratic institutions, they have in fact evolved to keep you compliant and to suck the life out of you for their own profit to reproduce themselves. Anything that says that, and forcefully reminds you of that, is good. Put your experiences and your immediate affect and energies as a kind of primary and initial data point for building out theories of the world and especially making decisions about what you should or should not do. This is different from naïve sheepish automatism of constant System 1 reactiveness, by the way.

Where I tend to part ways with this it's often in a very secular-atheistic "God is dead" kind of way. Like all of morality is bullshit, there are no rules, there's only the small band of revolutionaries shoplifting and living in communes and stuff. I got a lot of love for that... I think a lot of these people just assume that norms and ethics will emerge and that a small community living radically and romantically in this kind of anti-capitalist, communistic fashion will just self-organize or self-enforce norms and an ethics but that generally tends not to happen and that's a major problem, and there are reasons for that. But that's not really sexy, you don't write gripping manifestos with that stuff and to me that's where religion comes in. I believe capitalism is fundamentally an unjust, lying, exploitative set of institutions and you do have to say fuck this, I'm gonna break whatever rules I need to perform fully and express fully the vital processes that you know damn well are being tortured. It's not a contradiction to also say there are deep and long-standing truths and structures that it would behoove us to respect because they're true and because they are there, whether we like them or not. I think you're you really fuck yourself over if you throw out the baby of religion with the bathwater of all the fake bullshit rules of contingent human affairs.

"Do you believe that, on the third day, Christ rose again, in accordance with the scriptures?"

That is a really good question, and I told you that I'm open to questions here and I'm not going to dodge them. This is the kind of question I struggle with the most right now: the parts of the Christian catechism that explicitly state something that, to a rational scientific person, you simply can't believe. I'm a social scientist, I'm well trained in scientific method. Rationality is the only tool we have for making correct inferences about the empirical world. There's no proof that resurrections have ever happened, or ever could happen. If you're a rational scientific person, you simply can't believe that such a thing happened.

The other half is this... I am not convinced that the Christian person has to affirm belief in such events in this naïve empirical sense. I affirm rationality is the only tool for making inferences about the empirical world, and that's absolute, but making inferences about the empirical world does not exhaust what language can do. And that is an undeniable empirical reality in its own right. You have to understand that all of these ideas we have today about the empirical reality of an event and the way that we can separate empirical "real-world" events from our desires and longings and hopes and artistic invention and our interests in the social community, etc., is all very new. We have this capacity to put empirical statements in a particular way and with certain criteria: the criteria of scientific rationality, but back then they didn't have that! So what it means to write in a book that "Jesus rose from the dead" is just simply not an empirical statement in the sense that we think of empirical statements. I mean that's just undeniable. They didn't have the conceptual tools and the the mental routines that we have! That's really, really important.

Today we say, "If you're a Christian, then by definition you believe X, where X is also by definition something that every half-educated person knows to be empirically impossible." Thus religion gets defined as idiotic, but tautologies are also anathema to proper scientific method! That's a perfectly fine bit of algebra, but you can't test its mapping on the empirical world without a falsifiable hypothesis (which it is not). So this is just a little trap, with no scientific purchase on what you think or do with a religious tenet such as the resurrection. The meaning of that statement as it was written in the Bible, at the time it was written in the Bible, makes a lot of sense. You can say that, and you can also say everything I said about my scientific diagnosis, that I do not believe a physical resurrection has ever occurred in history. Empirical reality is something we only learned how to do after they wrote that shit down! So that's where I come down on it.

"So what did they mean by it?"

Well, first of all, I would say a lot of the scripture is really densely concentrated so it's a really efficient encoding of multiple things. It's like the first hyperlinked document, if you look at like Bible Hub. It's supposed to encode all of this stuff about life and how you should how you should think and behave and the history of the world, and it's relatively short for what it's trying to encode, so clearly in an evolutionary process where this stuff is iterated over time, it's gonna get increasingly dense and concentrated. So that's one thing, I don't think that's a cop-out. I think that's the truth of what this historical evolved document is.

I think they're definitely trying to say something about the weird, well, miraculous property of truth-telling as unstoppable. There were Ancient Cynics in the area around Jesus and it's quite likely that Jesus had some concrete exposure to Cynics in the lineage of someone like Diogenes. And if you go back to that time, you know Diogenes, a radically militant kind of truth-speaker who organizes his entire life around talking shit as aggressively as possible, basically... One way to read Christianity is that this Jesus guy and his cronies, they're learning from this.

One of the discoveries encoded in Christianity is that there is something very weird and peculiar about the truth, which is that nobody can stop it. You just can't, it's there and there's no amount of social conformity or political pressure or force that is going to stop the truth from becoming true producing its effects on the world. The resurrection encodes this. If you align yourself with the truth - and here I'm gonna start sounding like Jordan Peterson just because he's closer to this than anyone else right now — if you just try to say what you think is true at all times as fully as possible — and that's basically a Christian injunction — if you do that, you will win, you don't know exactly when or how and why you're gonna win and that's why it's kind of irrational and miraculous, that's what makes it religious.

In fact, rationally everything tends to look like telling the truth too extremely is doomed to lose. That is because our society really does run on lies; they might even kill you, they might even fucking crucify you, they might even literally kill you and yet, still, it's worth it, somehow. The truth that you try to live by is going to actually ripple out even more, the more they try to suppress you. I just think there is a basic truth in that. I'd even say that's amenable to empirical demonstration. If the truth is true, because it's something hard-coded into the nature of things, then it makes sense that reality would snap back no matter what we say. It makes sense that that would be unstoppable. In other words, the truth will always be resurrected. The person who aligns themselves with the truth will always be resurrected. The resurrection of Christ is an encoding of that. If your entire message, everything you stood for, everything you believed in... If they kill you, but everything you've ever said and done lives on? Is that not as legitimate and real and empirical a resurrection as if your physical body appeared in the air one day? Like, that's just dumb! [In caveman voice:] "So you mean like his body, like his skin, came out of the tomb and was in the air? Like I could touch his skin in the air? Whoa." Today we laugh at this straw-man of Christianity, but in fact we're truly stupid for interpreting the question in this way.

I don't think any smart Christians in human history ever really believed that the resurrection was a physical thing. You have to be an overeducated, hyper-scientific, modern person to be stupid enough to interpret the question in that way. There are many other things you can do with language, so I think the resurrection is a deep encoding of the seemingly miraculous property of the truth that makes it unstoppable, that makes it rise again, no matter what anyone tries to do to bury it. After Christ, there's this insane blossoming that takes over thousands and thousands of bodies across continents. In some non-trivial sense, like all of the Christian people, whose lives and attitudes and behaviors and are rooted in the Christ cult, that's a far more real and physical resurrection than having your body lifted in the air one fine day. It's literally a more empirical fulfillment of the statement than the naïve imputed notion. So sure, I do believe that on the third day Jesus was resurrected, I think it makes perfect sense and it's perfectly consistent with a modern, rational, educated scientific perspective on the world.

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