Friday, December 14, 2018

THE RURAL FUTURE?

"We are in danger of making our cities places where business goes on but where life, in its real sense, is lost."
--Hubert Humphrey

I went downtown a while back to do some Christmas shopping and hit my bank to turn in a check.  The place was a ghost town, it was scary how few people were out in stores.  Maybe I was out too early in the day to see the crowds, or there before the Christmas wave really hit, I don't know.  But it got me thinking and a chain resulted in some future speculation.

Currently, we're still in a system of economics and social structures that has been in place for thousands of years.  Even when people lived in huts and walked to work, towns were built around economic activity.

TOWNBUILDING
The way it works is this.  People need goods and services.  They offer their services and goods to others, in exchange for the goods and services of those other people.  This original system was barter, and it works okay on a small level.  The more established this becomes, the more you end up with markets, where people bring all their stuff and offer their services in a convenient, central location.

This location is so convenient that some of these people set up shop permanently and build homes there.  When the market meets, they're already set up and always ready to go.  They get supplies from others and offer them at these fixed shops.  As time goes on, more and more people start using this model, and a town begins to form.  The town then starts offering goods and services to take advantage of the fixed shops: blacksmiths, bakeries, clothiers, etc.

Certain businesses which develop cannot work in the farm-to-market model, such as factories.  They need to gather all the goods used to make something more complicated in a central location.  The existence of towns and an economic hub makes that kind of thing possible, so things become increasingly more sophisticated over time as a result.

The convenience of having everything in one location cuts down on labor and travel time, resulting in... leisure.  Which when you're living hand-to-mouth sun up to sun down just to eat and survive you have little to none of.  And leisure means people want something to do, so entertainment arises: plays, paintings, music, parks, movies, games, etc.

And while barter works between a few farmers out in the field, in a town it becomes a bit awkward to trade your cloth for chickens when what you need is firewood, but the firewood guy only really wants liquor from the supplier who needs honey... well you get the idea.  It starts to become one of those really obnoxious time-wasting quests in a computer game.

So money was invented.  All money is, is a representation of barter.  We're all still bartering, we're just using these coupons that represent our goods and services, or time spent at labor.  That dollar has virtually no intrinsic value, and even it did, the clothier needs firewood, not strips of cloth with a president's face on it (or even silver coins).  The value is that everyone has agreed upon it representing a certain amount of barter, so instead of trading cloth for firewood, we trade money for firewood, as a universal barter coupon.

As time goes on, these towns get bigger and bigger, as more people are attracted to the money and potential the town offers, and more people set up shop to serve these people.  Joe works in the restaurant to earn money to buy paintings from Fred, who uses that money to buy clothes from Jane, who uses her money to buy... well you see how it works.  Its all an interconnected, self-supporting system.

THE AMAZON REVOLUTION
Now, let us propose that a system arises which allows everyone to connect remotely to a network of exchange which allows them to purchase what they want from that central network and have it delivered to their home.  And let us suppose that nearly everything you used to buy at the market/town you now can do from the comfort of your La-Z-Boy on your phone and have sent right to your door.  Down to food and groceries, and some of it just delivered directly to your device like entertainment.

What happens to the towns, when people stop going to stores, and buy everything from central delivery services?  Well some stuff its best to buy in person such as a car or clothing (although not always).  And people still like shopping in stores, so culturally some momentum will keep the shops open at least seasonally.  And let's be honest, its good to get out of the house once in a while, no matter what a shut in kind of introvert you might be.

However, after a while that cultural momentum may slow and end, with the culture being instead isolationist, with everyone in their safe space getting what they want and shunning everything else.  But here's the thing: why live in a town, then?  If the shops close down, where are you gonna work?  When you don't buy shoes from the Shoe store, but instead Shoez.com, then the shop closes down for lack of sales -- or closes its store front and just ships shoes out online.  And when they're gone, the support network for them goes too.  Restaurants can't stay open if nobody working nearby eats there any more.

Online work is the only reasonable alternative -- that and either government work or laboring at BigDelivery.Com's warehouses and fulfillment centers.  You can deliver stuff, so that you earn enough to get them delivered to you as well.

So is it possible that towns as we know them begin to just melt away, leaving only the municipal structures of government and infrastructure, and big delivery hubs?  You don't need the library, book store, art gallery, playhouse, clothing shop, grocery store, etc any longer.  Just places to deliver those things to you at home or in your hand to your device.  And the people living nearby there who work at the delivery places and for the government

So how rural would it get, if the towns aren't towns any more but rather are big corporate hubs with a government protecting them?  And what happens to the economic structures we know and are familiar with if everything is overturned like that?  Since at latest Akkadia, humans have been living in clustered communities, sometimes with walls to keep out the barbarians.  But without barbarians and without the pressure of religion or economy to keep people close by each other, will people spread out more?

Particularly as technology advances, delivery may become less dependent on huge infrastructures like roads and railways.  Older technology such as Airships make landing areas less significant while carrying huge loads, and newer technology such as drones which right now are little more than toys, could be able to some day actually deliver goods directly to homes rather than just the publicity stunts Amazon engages in.

GETTING MEDIEVAL
Except for the very poor.  Unable to afford to get many deliveries and heavily dependent on the largess of the government, the poor would cluster near municipal centers for handouts and sustenance, in slums that spread out around the area.  These would be people who don't have the skills or ability (or desire) to work in the big delivery places or infrastructure like fire and police.  And they'd simply survive based on how many goodies the government hubs give them, like bread from Caesar.

This sort of feels like Medieval times, with the lord in his castle surrounded by peasants that he protects and allegedly cares for like children, taking from them what he desires to survive with.  Feudalism never really has gone away, but its been modified with the times; people still cluster around cities to live off the government's handouts and pay heavy taxes to the state in exchange for protection and goodies.

I don't know if any of this is reasonable or not.  It just seems like a plausible future where the entire structure of human civilization is overturned by the information highway.  People talk about how the internet is the next big thing like the steam engine or the industrial revolution but... it could be even bigger, changing civilization entirely.  Changing what we even know and understand about society and structures such as cities and towns, even nations.

Time will tell but one thing is for certain: time moves a lot faster than it used to.  Big cultural shifts like this used to take generations.  Its taking years now, not decades.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

READ ANOTHER BOOK


"We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided"
--The Goblet of Fire

There is an interesting trend in pop culture these days which grew to full form in the Obama years.  Books, music, movies, and so on started in the Clinton years showing the future as bleak, miserable, and scary.  For the first time, major films depicting a fictional president as a bad person, even criminal murderer, began to come out.

Dystopian futures have become quite popular in popular culture; a future where things have gone wrong, where tyranny, oppression, sadness, lack, and even disaster are the main themes.  Zombie apocalypses, post-nuclear holocaust, economic collapse, and so on. 

And in the middle of this, young people have been fed a steady diet of dystopian novels such as Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent, even Harry Potter (whose books go from somewhat sad to miserable and bleak by the seventh novel).

Running through these books is a constant theme of the weak and lowly becoming powerful; of someone who is chosen or special or uniquely gifted taking on the powerful and wealthy and triumphing over the dystopia to reshape their world.  Young snowflakes raised by helicopter parents to face no hardship or difficulty, challenges, or failure are raised on these stories of sadness and rebellion defeating the Big Evil.

For some time now, I've pondered what effect this has on psychology and how it may explain a lot of the attitudes and behavior of young people today. How being raised to never face difficulty but having your head filled with tales and psychology of misery which the few good ones overcome to triumph in a new age of wonder and light affects young minds.

 And recently a pair of Cambridge political scientists examined how dystopian novels are affecting growing young people.
Given that the fictional narratives found in novels, movies, and television shows enjoy wide public consumption, memorably convey information, minimize counter-arguing, and often emphasize politically-relevant themes, we argue that greater scholarly attention must be paid to theorizing and measuring how fiction affects political attitudes. We argue for a genre-based approach for studying fiction effects, and apply it to the popular dystopian genre. Results across three experiments are striking: we find consistent evidence that dystopian narratives enhance the willingness to justify radical—especially violent—forms of political action. Yet we find no evidence for the conventional wisdom that they reduce political trust and efficacy, illustrating that fiction’s effects may not be what they seem and underscoring the need for political scientists to take fiction seriously.
What they're saying here is what those in other disciplines have long known: the stories we grow up on shape our worldview and understanding not only of ourselves, but of the world around us.  They help mold our psychology and outlook to a profound degree.  If you grow up on a steady diet of cheerful hopeful, positive, and encouraging stories, you will tend to be more of that sort of person.  

And if you look about you, it is pretty clear that young people raised on these stories of Vampires and freedom fighters and wizards forced to live under the stairs have taken these stories to heart.  They don't face difficulty or sadness; their lives are enormously blessed with riches, health, comfort, and ease.  But they have been raised to expect hardship and darkness and look for it around them.

And they think they've found it.  Remember, the teens of 1995 are now in their 30s and 40s.  They're the ones running the news room, the Hollywood studios, the Television programming.  They're the ones who are directly and most significantly impacting popular culture.  And these are the driving force behind "The Resistance" a misnamed movement if there ever was one.

Having grown up believing that the chosen one can rise up to overcome the great evil, that the future holds only bleak sadness and difficulty that the few can defeat, they are hungry for just such a world and think they found it with President Trump.  Older, cynical politicians are eager to exploit this viewpoint as well.

There's a reason that these people continually refer to events and people in terms of the books they grew up with and loved: Harry Potter most prominently.  Its not just because that's what everyone does (previous generations used to refer to the Bible, to great works of literature, to ancient myths and legends, and faerie tales).  Its because they have been raised to see the world through that lens.

Consider, in the past, stories people grew up with as compared to now.  Robin Hood is somewhat like these tales, but always from the perspective of heroism and joyful exuberance vs a single evil antagonist, not an overwhelming, crushing miserable culture of dystopian darkness.  The Bible is the story of redemption and hope.  Faerie tales are stories of wonderful things happening to help people overcome trouble.  Myths and legends tell of great deeds of power and glory.

In the past, the stories were about heroism and goodness against bad.  Now its stories of special people defeating a world of darkness.  Lord of the Rings deliberately had the protagonist the weakest and least -- the anti-Chosen One -- to fight against the rising darkness.  These new tales are always some bullied nobody, someone unknown who is mocked... that turns out to be The Greatest Of All Time, specially gifted beyond all those around them.

Older stories were about heroism, these new ones are about being owed great things.  You're not just a guy trying to make his way, Harry.  You're a Wizard surrounded by mundane nobodies who are stupid and mean.  You're the best archer ever.  You're the one character who can defeat the enemy, not out of your courage and heroism, not due to honor and hard work but innately you're just special.

Every generation has their stories they grew up on and were shaped by; this generation has a combination of a super protected upbringing, a lack of moral compass, and dystopian tales resulting in Trigglypuff and angry professors calling for "muscle" to remove a journalist. 

Remember President Obama's campaign?  "We are the ones we've been waiting for."  You are special, you will save the world, you will be the future you want to see and everything will be wonderful once all those stupid old poeple die.  Maybe we should help them along.

Never before in my lifetime has a generation so privileged and well treated acted as if they were the most put upon and miserable people of all time.  Facing a reality that isn't their snowflake upbringing, these younger people wail in despair at how unfair it is they have to pay their college loans back and that somehow an election was lost.

Even the Russia Russia Russia narrative is part of this.  We didn't really lose, a sinister evil cabal stole it from us!  There's a bad guy out there we have to as the special chosen ones, defeat and bring about a new era!

Ultimately this is a sad reminder of what we as the older generation failed in: raising children properly with moral guidance, good teaching, and challenges that force them to grow into the adults who can face the real world.  They're sad and deluded, mistaken and wrong, but they are that way because we failed them.  

Not everyone of the younger generations is a mess like this, no more so than everyone of older generations avoided these failures.  There are plenty of people in my generation and older who are part of this pathetic Resistance nonsense, singing the same songs about how they'll overcome the great Hitler of their time.  I mean Trump, not Bush, who was Hitler before him and now is considered not such a bad dude.  But this time he really is, honest!

How we turn this around I have no answers for.  It may simply take some grand failure or disaster that forces people to face the world as it is instead of how they wish it or believe it to be.  911 did that for a short time.  Reality shows like Survivor plunged in popularity, for example.  People were suddenly not very interested in faked challenges when forced to look at the real challenges of life.

Barring that, I don't think there's any way to reach these people.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A PAUSE TO CONSIDER

I'm sitting here with my laptop looking at the familiar Blogger interface which I've been using for over a decade to write on this blog.  According to the site, I've posted over 8000 posts and have had over a million visitors, most of whom are spammers and search engine spiders.

And each time I struggle with "what's the point?" to even post anything.  Its not that I'm depressed about the number of hits, I am not even sure how many people come to the site daily any longer since I shut off the counter a couple years ago.

It comes down to impact.  I started this blog with the concept of sharing great comments people made on other sites around the internet, hunting down insights and funny lines and great posts made in the comment sections, since they're so often amazing yet overlooked.  That was a passion and interest which I was pretty much the only person interested in.  When I dumped that format, my hits went up steadily until I was averaging around 200 a day.

Even at that height, though, I wasn't having any real impact.  Its not like I was changing minds or informing or bringing people information that helped them.  I didn't enlighten anyone or cause positive impact in any way.  And if I'm not doing anything good, all this ends up being is a sort of mental masturbation, an ego stroking exercise where I post things because darn I'm so smart and people who already agree with me say "attaboy" and pat my back.

I have plenty of stuff to write about.  In my drafts I have pieces like these:
Insanity of Progressivism, which abandons reality for what they prefer to see, but even more significantly, attack the symptoms and problems we face but not the causes.  They reject the very possibility of the causes, instead coming up with endless solutions to make each problem go away one by one, no matter how contradictory they may be

The Difference We Love, about men and women and a basic approach to life, inspired by comedian Owen Benjamin who came up with a bit showing the music playing in a woman's head constantly (warning sounds, danger, that bit in soap operas when something isn't quite right) and mens (circus music whee!!) and what its like for women to live in a world filled with brutes a foot taller and 50 pounds more muscled at all times

The way the Collective sacrifices the individual, and the utter meaningless of each person in the collective toward the goal which serves no one, and hence cannot serve everyone.

A series of posts on vices, to follow up on my years-ago post on virtues

A disgruntled Gognard's complaint that geek culture is being normalized and hence removing its special nature and abusing its charm -- while missing the point of it all along the way

The religious nature of science today, with its overwhelming impact on everyone's worldview the way the Roman Catholic Church did in the medieval period

The death of vows, showing how all oaths and vows are utterly meaningless, how they are betrayed constantly without fear or concern and have no purpose whatsoever

The unwritten rules, how in society and all gatherings there are certain assumed, shared rules we used to follow, and how the power hungry, cruel, and abusive break those rules forcing them to be written down -- inspired by Acosta's tantrum and ridiculous antics in the White House Press Room


Lots of ideas.  But honestly, why?  Some of it might be amusing, some of it might be comforting -- you're not alone out there.  But in the end, its a lot of work and energy which I have less and less to spare of each year, and what's the point?

That's where I am now.  Sorry to be depressing.  Its just hard to find a reason to keep posting.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

SHE NOSE

"Sweat is the cologne of accomplishment."
--Heywood Hale Broun

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about men's scents that was published on the Washington Examiner's website and it got some positive response over the years.  My main thesis was that men's scents don't smell manly or masculine at all:
You can't go into Wicks&Sticks or Bed Bath and Beyond and find anything remotely masculine. For a guy its like going into enemy territory, an intimidating and dizzying array of feminine goods with a cloud of scents so overpowering men stagger out looking for oxygen. What's needed is a bit of masculinity in some of these products. Why not leather and sawdust scented shampoo? How about motor oil and tobacco? Newly mown grass and freshly turned soil? Where's the man's side of things, with scents designed to make them smell more manly rather than slightly less feminine than the really girly smells?
Would it really kill a perfumer to come up with a man's scent that's more like sawdust, pipe tobacco, or straw?  Scents that are more associated with manliness and work than a fruity French noble strutting the halls of Versailles?  Apparently so, but I don't suppose perfumers are big on traditionally masculine labor and exploits, really.

That said, there is some effort along those lines, with some men's scents being a bit less floral and sweet.  The problem is that these days you pretty much have to be in a rural setting to even meet a woman who associates the smells I suggested with men.  A city girl -- most of the female population, since populations contain the bulk of humans -- will be more likely to associate beard oil, candy-flavored coffee floats, and plastic with men than anything traditionally manly.  

And let's be honest, its the women that men are trying to attract with this stuff.  In a study done a while back, women blind tested though that baby powder was the sexiest smell in the world (although chocolate, lavender, and pumpkin pie ranked high), possibly from association with procreation and comfort.  With that kind of inclination, perhaps men should be going for the smell of the ponce, rather than the smell of the worker -- in a club, at least.

With that in mind, recently a comment from a blog called Beauty Pert dropped into that old post on scents from 2011 because they had taken hundreds of colognes and tested them for scent, price, and durability (how long the smell lasts), coming up with a top 10.  And while most of the scents are fruity, sweet, and not exactly bursting with masculinity, all got high marks in female approval; well from urban females, at least.

So if you're curious what might work best for you in the club or on the subway, this is something to look at and consider.  I'll stick to maybe once in a while some aftershave myself.