Daily Life and Higher Ideas

An effective society unites the details of everyday life with higher ideas.

If our daily actions bear no relation to our intangible founding principles, the higher ideas become mere platitudes.

Higher ideas not corroborated by the mundane experience become hypocrisy.

The mundane unguided by higher ideas becomes pointless and mechanical.

In successful social systems, daily life and idealism feed off of each other and their energy multiplies.

Islam, perhaps better than any other creed, understands the paramount importance of uniting the high and the mundane.
And so long as they are the best at doing this, their formula will prevail wherever in the world they go

Prayer time 5 times a day is one of the masterpieces of Islam. Ordinary people are never allowed the slightest chance to forget the role of abstract guiding principles in their daily lives. The reminders never cease.

Towering minarets that publicly announce the primacy of the faith, whether or not people of different creeds are present make the ultimate statement of dominance.
People, like most social animals, respond well to dominance and perceive anything else as weakness.
People ally with the memes that are strongest. They instinctively choose those that seem most likely to augment their ability to survive and reproduce.

I have long noted that we may know more about someone not by what they say they believe but by how they shop at the grocery store.
Unless our daily habits are consistent with our professed beliefs, we can have no true allegiance to immaterial things.

Western Misunderstandings of ‘Individual Choice’

Builds Upon: Driving Lessons For the Vehicle of Consciousness

Western Enlightenment culture idolizes the conscious human will.

Our entire culture is based on the assumption that every human is a conscious rational decision maker.

This is a deeply flawed understanding of what people really are.

The conscious is a junior partner to the subconscious and traditional peoples have always known this.
Most things people do are determined through instinct as it relates to survival and reproduction. Most conscious things we do are mere reactions to forces over which we have no control. Mystics such as Gurdjieff have repeatedly pointed out:

We don’t really do anything at all!

The naïve Western understanding of human nature creates a social environment in which advertisers have little responsibility for the memes they spread. Corporations can run rampant while following the letter of literal-minded laws.

Social movements driven by well-meaning idealism set up those they ‘help’ for even worse disaster because they don’t understand what people are. If only people are given the chance to exercise ‘free choice’ they tell themselves, the world can change!

They do not understand that human will is a weak and delicate thing that must be carefully cultivated and protected. Without special effort and training, we are just monkeys fighting over sex and bananas.
There is nothing self evident about will or rights. For the most part, these are unique, radical ideas that sprouted from Western Christianity.
If we go back and read the Bible, it doesn’t take long to figure out that Jesus’ ideas are totally new and confusing to nearly everyone he meets. If we examine the vast majority of people on Earth today, they have far more in common with typical Judeans of Jesus’ time than with naive educated Westerners.

Any traditional culture has mechanisms to protect their people from predatory influences whether through religion or animistic magical practices.
Without these mechanisms, Western civilizations malfunction on a massive scale.

We choose what to do, but we don’t choose what we want to do. “Attraction is not a choice” as it is formulated by pick up artists or anyone selling anything.

A strong society grounded in right ideas protects its people from those who would ‘hack’ their wills and parasitize them. Especially proles or women, most of whom are at best marginally capable of thinking for themselves.

Societies like our own that refuse to understand what people are inevitably stumble and falter.

The champions of capitalism relentlessly criticize communists for misunderstanding the basics of human nature, but barely 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the victors at the end of history find themselves little better off.
They too failed to understand what humans are.

The Importance of Magic in Social Structures

Builds Upon: The Most Precious Resource: Legitimacy

In our modern way of thought, few things can be more contemptible than superstition. Words like ‘magic’ and ‘witchcraft’ are taken to be synonymous with everything dark and barbaric.

Yet every pre-industrial society and plenty of post-industrial societies include magic as a regular part of daily life.

Whether magic is ‘true’ or not is of little relevance. We can divine that societies with belief in magic had a competitive advantage over those that did not.

If we really look at what magic is, we find that its function is pretty consistent and straightforward. It’s a means of influencing the human subconscious.

Let’s look at a typical shamanic strategy: Tell the family that the sick person is inhabited by a demon and that it can only be driven away if the family members are totally devoted in their hearts to recovery.

Is there really a demon causing the disease? Who cares? The shaman has inspired a sense of urgency in the family and caused them to really take the situation seriously. Attitude influences action and the shaman has gotten their attitude in the right place so that the right actions follow.

It’s a pretty straightforward chain of causation that almost unanimously escapes ‘rational’ modern thinkers.
In fact the relationship between the shaman and his patient is pretty similar that between worker and boss. Begin with incentives(worker gets fired if they screw up), then watch for results(worker knows on a visceral level they can’t screw up).

Magic has already been discovered by science.

The proof is a cure that often proves the equal of the best technology has to offer. Medical science calls it a ‘placebo’ a totally useless pill that actually works if you just add belief.

Yet Enlightenment thought in its worship of the Absolute Explicit still tries to tell us the placebo doesn’t work. People just think it works. Therefore if people are cured by the placebo effect they are irrational and deluded. They’ve been tricked.

Some shamans might agree with scientists that they ‘trick’ people but the connotations and implications of this word would be understood very differently.

To the ‘rational’ thinker the effects of a placebo treatment actually do not exist because the treatment itself was not explicit or measurable. To them the shaman is a primitive lout and a charlatan.

If any word hits a nerve with Enlightenment thinkers, it is ‘witchcraft.’

Today’s thinkers have never evolved beyond the 16-18th century rebels who were actually persecuted and pursued by the church, the state, the entire establishment.
The cultural memory of witch hunts by the church or by the king remains fresh in their minds as if Galileo or Voltaire still walked the earth.

In their eyes, witchcraft has become symbolic of the stupid, benighted things people did before Enlightenment.

Yet every traditional society and plenty of modern ones believe in witchcraft.
In fact, I had a roommate in college who was a Kikuyu from the Kenyan highlands. He was an intelligent and rational person who absolutely believed in witchcraft. And he quite frankly told me that witches were still stoned to death where he lived.

Why would every traditional group in the world unanimously come up with remarkably similar ideas of witchcraft and be willing to take extreme measures to prevent it?

As best as I can figure, witchcraft is the opposite of magic used for healing.

That is, a witch uses rituals to program the subconscious to achieve destructive and selfish aims.
All the nonsensical ingredients, the dolls, the rituals are a means of influencing the visceral self. To adjust one’s attitude and then passively let actions follow from the attitude. Or to adjust their environment in a way that would precipitate negative consequences…

I suppose that if I wanted to be a modern Western witch, I might go out at night and start breaking windows in strategic, visible places.
Our modern studies tell us that when people see lapses in order such as broken windows, they instinctively perceive weakness in the ruling order and more readily act on their immediate desires.
With a simple mental ‘trick’, I could influence the attitudes and therefore the actions of hundreds of people.

Pre-modern societies are in many ways founded on a much sounder understanding of human nature. Tribes founded on wishful nonsense have long since been stamped out of existence.

In our own literal-minded society, I could be punished for breaking windows, but no law we have on our books would address the far worse damage I had caused the community by influencing people. I might pay fines and do some community service or jail for vandalism, but that’s about it.

More ‘primitive’ people don’t need studies to tell them that the integrity and morale of the group must be protected at all costs.

Cohesive, pre-industrial societies would have had little patience for my mind games; the exertion of my magical powers over the populace.
Sooner or later, people would have intuitively perceived my malicious intent. Though they might not understand exactly what I was doing, I would eventually be accused of witchcraft and executed.
The society would be better off without me. It would be more fit to compete against rival societies.
While ‘irrational’ on the level of individuals, executing a witch becomes the lowest sort of pragmatism when considered on the level of the group.
A coach who cuts an underperforming or disruptive player from the team does much the same thing.

Cooking and the Nature of Societies

Builds Upon: Submitting Requests To Your Committee

As a nomadic twenty something I had to teach myself to cook.
As a male, no one ever taught me the arts of the kitchen, nor as a male child had I any interest.

Yet I repeatedly found the necessity of preparing my food staring right at me. I was often poor and when I had money my income came with very little security.
It didn’t make sense to blow a few hundred bucks a month on low quality freezer food that would make me sick. I understood that buying ingredients would make for much better eating for much cheaper.

I started out doing what the lonely guy in romantic comedies always does. He pulls out a book and starts trying to make recipes.
And most people in the Modern West never move beyond this initial n00b step.
They just don’t know any better and think that’s all there is to cooking.

Following recipes exactly is a slow and painful process and that’s why even people who know how to cook do it mostly for visiting friends and on a few holidays.
Cooking is a decorative parlor trick they perform but it’s not really a part of their lifestyle.

When you actually cook(from ingredients) every day, the process inevitably changes. First there’s a couple of frequent dishes for which you need the recipe book less and less. The training wheels start to come off.
Within several months one has probably lost the training wheels for all their favorite dishes.
Beyond that, like any other skill it becomes an increasingly easy intuitive process.
From knowing a repertoire of specific recipes, you come to innately grasp the logic behind types of recipes.

Any more, it’s rare that I ever use a recipe. I know what spices work together with what foods in what proportions. I look up recipes for inspiration, but I never write them down. I can look at the ingredients list and understand what the chef is trying to do.
If there’s one thing on the list missing I don’t have a middle class style anxiety attack and make a special trip to the grocery store for that one hard to find ‘ethnic’ ingredient.
Once you cook for yourself for awhile you’ve worked with lots of different types of ingredients and you know what can be substituted, which are actually important in the recipe, and which play a minor role or are mostly decorative.

Once upon a time, a set of measuring spoons and cups were among my most frequently used possessions. I wrote down my own recipes and made micro-adjustments each time to arrive at a happy medium.
Over time, I found myself needing this stuff less and less. My brain adjusted to the point where I could eyeball all my spices pretty accurately as I added them. For further adjustments, all I needed to do was taste it periodically and everything was fine.

After a few years of making my own food, the idea of a fixed recipe was mostly obsolete. I mostly improvised to fit my mood based on what was in the fridge and pantry at a given time. If no two days were exactly the same and my body never in exactly the same state twice, there was no reason to ever make the same dish in exactly the same way.
Every meal was an adventure in recombinance…

Increasingly, the things I did in the kitchen helped shape my thoughts on systemic design.

I’d taught myself most things about cooking by accident, but gradually I started to deliberately use the kitchen as a lab for testing my ideas.

At one time, I was thinking about the practical necessity of compulsion as the foundation of agricultural society.

If tasks aren’t made urgent for people through threats and coercion, nothing gets done. Another group that is more effective at blackmailing its people wins. And here we’ve just explained the ‘why’ of mass societies in a couple of sentences.

I imagined a child who never forgets their birthday but frequently forgets to clean their room.
The child doesn’t mean to forget clean-up time, but they do anyway because it’s not fun. Because the task is mildly unpleasant the subconscious lets the matter drop. Without the threat of parental punishment the task never gets done.

And this is how civilization works from the family all the way up to the rulers. And the rulers in turn must helplessly react to a perpetual prisoner’s dilemma as they compete with their exalted equals. All of society drifts according to the whims of nature with no one weak or strong with any real control.

If any of this were ever to change I could think of only one possible way out: people would have to approach the subconscious and the intuition in a much more deliberate way…

I started leaving the kitchen whenever I had something cooking. And I wouldn’t go back to check on it. In another room I’d start doing something else to distract my conscious mind. I left it up to my subconscious intuitive mind to warn me when the time was right. If it failed, dinner would be burnt.
I ended up burning things a few times, a necessary part of the process. I was teaching myself on a sub-rational, visceral level the consequences of failure.

Pretty soon, if my nose detected the slightest hint of burning or if the exact expected amount of time had passed, my conscious mind would get yanked away from whatever it was doing. (I had especially wanted smell to figure into this trial because it is the most immediate and visceral of the senses.)

The same principle that had allowed me to estimate amounts of spices without measuring spoons could be harnessed and deliberately used on myself.

Through all my life, every training system I’d ever encountered was all about rewarding the people who screw up the least when new material is introduced.

My little mental experiment in the kitchen led me to imagine formal training systems wherein playful and often destructive experimentation with new information is not penalized or perhaps even encouraged.
Or perhaps one might take some inspiration from military drill instructors by creating near impossible situations for the trainees just to watch them all fail. Let them fail repeatedly. Then with the consequences of failure seared into their pre-conscious minds, let them succeed. Repeat the process for each new skill or body of information. (I do not suggest a crass, coercive boot camp. Rather an environment where these effective methods could be applied constructively, without threats and bullying from screaming authority figures.)

“Book learning” is a term in Western culture that describes a purely explicit understanding without any of the intuitive, pre-conscious programming that makes it useful in application.

Our Enlightenment-inspired gatekeeper training systems are designed to let through the rock stars of explicit mastery.
Ironically, these people tend to be blinded by the sheer dominance of their explicit thinking to the glories of the intuition. The training systems they breezed through allowed them to avoid exactly the sort of creative trial and error that develops a fine tuned intuitive mastery!

These are the people who go on to conduct all our research, make our policies, and teach the next generation of trainees! These are the arch coercers whose decisions roll down the pyramid steps until they finally reach us!

Reasoning From the Unknown

Builds Upon: Wine Tasting, Empiricism, Perception

A clever person understands the paltry limits of their own will and imagination and finds ways to work around them. They know they are a dullard, a mere survival machine compared to the creativity of the universe.

The default impulse of living things is to assert power to spread as far as possible. Left to our own devices we couldn’t have gotten far if the universe hadn’t spent thousands of years whispering its secrets in our ears.

The clever person understands that any formal system should allow us to anticipate and capitalize on accident and error. It should be open to the idea of arriving at a different destination than originally intended.
For folly is sometimes just the voice of the universe trying to tell us something important.

Penicillin would never have been discovered by a Correct-minded person. The culture containing the aberrant mold growth would have been destroyed without being given a second glance.
But as it happened, one of the scientists in the lab had a curious nature.
Fleming accomplished something great by approaching the universe with a playful attitude and rolling with ‘mistakes’ just to see what would happen next.
He intuitively knew how to reason from error, from the unknown.
It requires a certain wise sense of humility to do as he did. Fleming seems to have understood that human judgment can account for only a scant few of the possibilities.

Someone invested in the ascendancy of human reason cannot reason from the unknown. They have already enthroned direct rational inquiry as king of creation.
The literal-minded worship order in all things yet lapses in ‘order’ are how discoveries get made.
Seeing patterns in seeming chaos tells us more than does forcing ‘chaos’ into order.
Champions of Enlightened rationalism seek to conquer nature with pure reason while neglecting the far more sublime powers of the intuition.

In the oceans of his dream world, Kekule found the secret of the benzene molecule. Edison would deprive himself of sleep and doze off with ball bearings in his hand so that the crash of metal would wake him up in the moment he drifted off. It was his hope in that one instant when the rational and intuitive minds met that he would discover a piece of his answer.

The playful person cultivates these powers of the intuition
They understand the power of a recombinant system over explicit inquiries.
For the human will is a weak and narrow force by itself. The less of it one must use, perhaps the better.

The playful person might design a system intended to circumvent or regulate oneself; a concept inimical to those crusaders who try to overcome ‘irrationality’ or ‘darkness’ in a fantastic journey towards the Absolute Explicit.

Science has proven to be an effective philosophy of observation but it tells us little about the observer.
Science is a tool. Any sentient being could be scientific.
It doesn’t come with a user manual for human beings.

It does not tell us if we are asking the right questions for the right reasons.
It does not let tell us the important questions we’ve failed to ask or why we’ve failed.
For each inquiry there are an infinity we could have made. So how ought we to inquire and then use this tool most effectively?

Clearly, the very first step for a being to maximize its effective use of this tool is to understand itself and know its limits.
The ability of humans to recombine ideas in new ways has lots of weaknesses and blind spots.
With the aid of machines and computers, we might create models that augment recombinant powers of the imagination.

Effective use of the intuitive mind in conjunction with conscious reason is one such machine. So too could we create explicit thought systems designed to cover for mental weaknesses and maximize our strengths. And of course we would do best using computer programs to explore patterns to the fullest.

Imagine for instance choosing some musical patterns and then creating an algorithm with random elements to see how the unknown replies? Might the ‘answer’ give us ideas a human usually couldn’t have thought of?

Cultural Recombinance

Builds Upon: Innovation As Exception To The Rules

We predictably see more languages, world views, art styles coming from heterogeneous peoples in the Caucasus divided by mountainous geography than we do from a river valley in China with a population many times greater.

A smaller population split into a hundred separate slivers generates a greater variety of ideas than a single population under one unified culture and language.

Yet forcing modern people to live in mountain valleys without internet access is a crude, inefficient, literal-minded method of achieving the overall principle: The promotion of cultural recombinance.

One of the major problems of mass culture is its potential to kill off heterogeneous elements of society.
In the 21st century many of the events around us can be explained as a struggle between emerging recombinant systems and established, fixed systems.

Thus far, social variation has been dependent on geographical accident and technological limitations in the spread of information.
If one were to visit even a culturally unified land such as Korea a couple centuries ago, one would surely not have found any two villages with the exact same customs, dialect, or kimchi recipe.

With the emergence of nationalism, central governments all over the world tried to spread the dialect and customs of the capital city to every corner of the nation. First through systems of mass education and later through mass media.
Today French and Italian people cling to their local culinary traditions in no small part because their other local distinctions were stamped out in the age of nationalism.

There is an obvious problem with a culturally fragmented population for the nationalist: it presents a huge obstacle to the mass unity necessary for the nation-state to defend itself from other nations and to engage in sustained conquest.
Yet forcing mass unity kills the domestic wellsprings of culture.

The symmetrical internet has been a huge step in the right direction.
Most previous forms of mass communication have been largely asymmetrical, tools that have allowed elites to control and hand down culture to the masses from above as never before.
While the internet gives rise to a mass culture with memes known to millions of users, one also sees the proliferation of countless subcultures.
In the internet community we have a glimpse of what a loosely united yet creative society might look like.

Open source is also an important step that challenges the inherent asymmetry of capitalistic production.
No matter how many corporations are competing to fulfill our desires, the variations they hand down to us pale in comparison to that which can arise from millions of individual users customizing tools to their needs.
Worse, companies must cater to the needs of a majority in a sort of democratic process. A frustrated minority can end up losing when they go shopping for mass produced goods.
The market as we know it succeeds in mapping out the general shape of coastlines, but it is incapable of accounting for the fractal intricacies.

For example, an ice cream parlor might double or triple the number of flavors it offers but any such increase in variation is puny next to the output of a recombinant system.
As soon as the ice cream parlor allows customers to combine flavors any way they like, an exponentially greater potential for variation emerges.
If the parlor offers 31 flavors we have 961 possible permutations for just two scoops and 29,791 permutations for three scoops.
If we further extend the principle and create a wiki ice cream parlor that has no flavors when it first opens and relies on its customers to choose what they’d like or even create their own flavors. Favorites would get upvoted.
One would see a different combination of flavors at every single location. The number of possible permutations would become astronomical.

Despite its advantages, a society that promotes cultural recombinance faces a major obstacle.
Such a society must be able to outcompete repressive but united neighbors who can bring the might of millions to bear in collective action. This is exactly why fixed, conformist social models have been dominant throughout history.

If a recombinant civilization realizes even a fraction of its power it has a commanding edge over its rivals.
Wherever in history a small state happens upon a formula that allows for a higher rate of recombinance it effortlessly produces new ideas and technologies that elude the best minds in neighboring empires.
For instance, both gunpowder and removable type had been known in East Asia for centuries but other civilizations were able to take the same ideas and keep recombining them and extending them to new applications.
It seems obvious to us in retrospect to make a wheel or written language.
Most number systems before the elegant Arabic numerals now seem clumsy and archaic. It seems moronic to us now that you’d have any more than 10 numbers for a decimal system.
A small example from our own time:
The real time strategy game has been essentially unchanged since its origins about 20 years ago. I recently downloaded the genre’s famous progenitor, Dune 2 from abandonia and found that aside from refinements such as multiple unit selection, rallying, and queuing, little has changed.
Without critical examination, a system sooner settles into a stable
orthodoxy which allows a single model to be refined but which actively blocks experimentation with new models.

In any case, Darwinian evolution on the level of individuals or of societies is driven by the selection of favorable mutations.
Thus a system that has exponentially greater rates of variation also has a much higher rate of mutations.
As the probability of favorable mutations rises, so do the chances of simultaneous mutations with the potential for synergistic interaction. Perhaps a critical mass of mutations is necessary for certain game-changing leaps to take place.
Ultimately, an exponentially recombinant system is the natural foundation of a post-Darwinian social order in which social structures are no longer left to accident of nature.

The Dimensions of Culture

A nation of a billion doesn’t necessarily produce more original thinkers than a society of 10 million.
All the people who ever lived in classical Greece would fit in a single dreary modern city or province.

More scientists are alive now than in all the rest of history combined and they are able to draw from the knowledge of all those who came before them.
Yet our society doesn’t necessarily produce thousands of Isaac Newtons.
The Europe of Isaac Newton’s time had a fraction of today’s population and a much smaller percentage of their number were scientists. These few scientists had far less wealth at their disposal and only a fledgling scientific tradition to draw upon.

In the modern USA, one can drive hundreds of miles and experience the same exact culture, same dialect, same architecture, same chain restaurants.
Though one travels a long distance geographically, one has not gone far in terms of culture.
Meanwhile in the English countryside, there are noticeable changes in people’s accent, physical appearance, and their local ales every 20 miles or so. There is more cultural variation in a 100 mile stretch of the geographically smaller UK or France than in 1000 miles of the United States.

When it comes to societal variation or creativity sheer numbers of people or money don’t seem to be the decisive element.
The ways that people are organized and categorized are far more important.

A ‘medium-sized’ town of 150,000 people in our own time produces little in way of ideas and culture.
Yet for several centuries Venice was a superpower with nearly the same population.
The classical Athenian city state only had about 300,000 inhabitants and most of its soldiers, statesmen, and thinkers came out a pool of 40,000 citizens.
Far later in history, London had a population less than 1 million until the 19th century.

Even the greatest megalopolises of ancient times numbered no more than 1-2 million people. In our own time, Tenochitlan, Rome, or Babylon might be big enough for a professional sports team or two but they’d otherwise be undistinguished from hundreds of other urban centers.

Now, it takes a city of 20 million to do what a city of 1 million people used to do.
A town of 150,000 once fit to be the capital of a superpower now does what a village of 7,500 people used to do.

As the number of people and amount of wealth grows, it becomes evident that additional size doesn’t change the proportions of the system itself.

In certain material ways, size does translate into increased proportions. A modern city of 20 million has far more, far larger buildings than its equivalent in the ancient world.
A city with 20 times the population might build 20 hanging gardens each 20 times the size of the original.
We might also consider that a wal-mart supercenter in a modern rural backwater would easily have been one of the great wonders of the ancient world.

Yet how does proportion work if we think in terms of culture and ideas?

If a cultural bloc is composed of 150,000 or 20 million people, how much does output of culture and ideas really change?
At the very least, we don’t see the exponential growth we’re used to seeing if we are looking at purely material criteria.

There is a key bottleneck here:
-Skyscrapers can be built ever larger and more numerously as a civilization expands.
-Yet the idea of building a skyscraper can only be come up with once no matter how many skyscrapers a civilization might build, no matter how large they are.

Furthermore, if material development outpaces everything else, might it actually hurt the growth of creativity and ideas by creating a social mono-culture in its wake?
After all, what invisible impact might there be on human creativity in aggregate when one can buy the same cup of coffee at the same exact coffee shop with the same floor plan across a swathe of thousands of miles?

If we make all the same basic assumptions about our world as our neighbor and share many of the exact same experiences in our daily lives, to what extent are we capable of producing anything different?
If the number of subcultures and cultural blocs remains constant with size—or even decreases, why would we expect any increase in cultural output?
Indeed, if 150,000 people were organized into 20 different subcultures, might we see more creativity than from a population of 20 million divided into only 10 subcultures?

Ultimately, we must ask ourselves: how might we engineer a human civilization to maximize human cultural and creative output?
In recent weeks I’ve received questions about the concept of a revolutionary ‘steam engine of the mind.’
As part of my ongoing reply: Imagine a civilization that combined modern size with ancient proportions in the realm of culture and ideas.