reality is weirder than you think

Tag: systems

Petty Authoritarianism

I used to be afraid of becoming a “petty bureaucrat.” You know them–those people who staff the customer services windows at the DMV or who horde secrets at work, forcing you to jump through their inane little hoops before giving you what you want. Not all people are like this, but enough are.

Now that I’ve had more experience with these types of people, I know that it’s unlikely I would go down that path. I hate telling people what to do and what everybody to make their own choices and forge their own path.

Yes, people need to follow the rules–but we also want to do things like “be ethical” and “follow the law.”

There’s a huge difference between the law and someone’s personal authoritarian tendencies.

Shepard Fairey is one of those people that I agree with on the WRONGNESS of things but not on the cause of that wrongness.

Lately it seems like the authoritarian left has become increasingly prominent and increasingly baldfaced about their strategy and tactics.  Everywhere you look, there are examples of the modern leftist ideal of central planning, the hubris of any human being thinking that they are far-seeing enough to dictate the outcomes of any sort of endeavor.

Maybe I’m just seeing it more clearly now.

  • PowerPoint presentations that project song lyrics in church instead of printing words in the bulletin or using hymnals. Doing it this way strips the congregation of the ability to orient themselves in the song and demands that they submit to the authority of the worship musicians (who inevitably is LARPing as an indie band) and the PowerPoint person.
  • The trend in higher education to dictate learning outcomes for each course and even each lesson. No matter if a certain class is ill prepared and won’t ever get there, or if certain people already know the “knowledge” that will be imparted to them and instead get a lesson in outsmarting the teacher or how to navigate the politicized classroom. It’s ludicrous to think that you could dictate the exact outcomes of a teaching/learning session–especially when you think about the fact that most worthy discoveries come when you’re not expecting them.
  • Obligatory bullet point on preferred pronouns.
  • Going to the doctor and having your entire visit, from questioning to treatment plans, dictated by the coding practices for the insurance companies.

These are more systematic than one-off user implementations, but you can see that every day there are little situations that are designed (?) to make us submit to an arbitrary authority.

No wonder we are losing our will to fight.


I’m intrigued: Elliott Jaques

Add another name to the “controversial Canadian” category (I’m listening to a conversation between Jordan Peterson and Stefan Molyneux as I type this): Elliott Jaques.

As a Millennial whose overly-earnest side is still libertarian, I’ve never been a huge fan of the bureaucracy. As I’ve spent time in medium and large university bureaucracies, I’ve come to despise them even more. When they grow dehumanizing, they grow evil.

Enter Elliott Jaques, a man who wrote a book called A General Theory of Bureaucracy. You’d think he would be a pallid, cardboard fragilista….but I’m not sure that’s the case.

So far, he has the hallmarks of being a truth-teller–polarizing and mostly despised in his field, and what I’ve read of his works so far has broadened my understanding of the universe rather than muddling it. He also cites entropy, much like Steve Keen in his forthcoming book on economics.

He’s also written a book that cites “social justice,” although to be fair he wrote it before the SJW cancer started to grow. We’ll see.

What I like about his thinking so far is how he has brought in the concept of TIME to hierarchies, and has drawn up a Platonic form of hierarchy. In addition to a worker’s ability to complete tasks, the different levels of jobs are defined by the time of their longest project.

Stratum I: These jobs might include shop floor operator, salesclerk, or general police officer; most work is routine, and supervision is commonplace for new tasks. Such jobs are good fits for “level one” people, who can cope with thinking about a time horizon of one day to three months.

Stratum II: First-line managers, shop-floor supervisors, foremen, proprietors of some small businesses, and police lieutenant positions have a felt-fair pay level of one-and-one-half times what a Stratum I employee might get. This job fits people with a three-month to one-year time horizon (who can handle assignments that take that long to fulfill).

Stratum III: Department heads, workshop managers, owners of multistore franchises, and police captains would make felt-fair pay that was three times that of a Stratum I employee. Stratum III managers typically know personally all the people below them in a hierarchy. Many professionals with high technical skill levels operate at this level, managing just a few people. People with a time horizon of one to two years can handle this.

Stratum IV: A plant manager, editor of a large media operation, lab manager, or any line leader with responsibility for diverse constituencies would earn felt-fair pay six times that of Stratum I. Appropriate time horizon: two to five years.

Stratum V: Positions at this level include large-company divisional executives, business-unit heads (at the vice presidential level), production directors, and CEOs of 5,000-employee organizations. Most “zealot” jobs are probably Stratum V positions. Felt-fair pay: 12 times Stratum I. Time horizon: five to 10 years.

Stratum VI: From here on out, the air gets rarefied. Positions include CEOs of companies with 20,000 people, or executive vice presidents and business-unit leaders of larger companies. Felt-fair pay: 24 times Stratum I. Time horizon: 10 to 20 years.

Stratum VII: Positions include CEOs of most Fortune 500 companies, high-level civil servants (like the Sir Humphrey character in “Yes Minister”), and other leaders whose decisions might (or should) be sweeping enough to take decades to fully realize. Felt-fair pay: 48 times Stratum I. Time horizon: 20 to 50 years.

Stratum VIII: The CEOs of General Electric Company, the General Motors Corporation, and other super-corporations have Stratum VIII jobs, with a felt-fair pay level 96 times that of Stratum I. If you are chosen for such a job, you’d better be one of those rare people (like Jack Welch) with an innate time horizon of 50 to 100 years, or your corporation will probably decline.

Stratum IX and higher: Now we move beyond the mere CEO level, to the geniuses who operate on behalf of society’s far future, or whose work embodies extraordinary complexity … for example, Christ, Buddha, Confucius, Mozart, Galileo, Einstein, Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and a few business leaders like Konosuke Matsushita and Alfred Sloan, who graduate from running Stratum VIII companies to looking out for society’s development. Most of us cannot count a single Stratum IX person among our acquaintances. And their felt-fair pay? Well, James Joyce spent his life in poverty.


I have so many questions about the influence of this guy. Is he the source of the time-preference theory that so many in the alt-right have applied to sociology instead of individual capacity? Has Donald Trump read him? How would he and Nassim Nicholas Taleb get along?

Or…is he just full of crap?

I’m reading one of his books. We’ll find out.

Why you should literally never use the word “literally”

I’m not even going to try to write this post like a sales letter. I’m not trying to sell anything, just trying to start every sentence with “I’m” and hash out my thoughts on things.

I’ve had more “random” thoughts lately, which means that I’m finally settling into my new environment (even though I don’t get keys to my new apartment until tomorrow). It helps that I’ve set up a new configuration for my bullet journal-style planner which is much more conducive to my way of operating. In practical terms, it means that I have a “notes” section where I can jot down random thoughts instead of putting them on random pieces of paper or forgetting them or letting them fester until they’re just weird vapors spun from the rationalization hamster.

Anyhow. One of the things that I’ve recently been able to see and identify is this ability for people (who are not strategic thinkers) to skip directly from a high-level/strategy/overview way of thinking down into this middle domain that is characterized by rumor, innuendo, words meaning things, what other people think, and lots of other stuff that is ultimately irrelevant to strategically accomplishing a goal.

In other words, something like this:

Level Characterized by
High Strategy, long-term, vision, ideas in their bare form
Middle Social, “what will other people think,” sophistry, rhetoric
Low On-the-ground details, data, facts, reality

I suspect this is heavily influenced by (and maybe inadvertently copied from) Nassim Taleb’s ideas about asymmetry and “barbell theory.” I’d check, but my copy of Antifragile is packed right now.

I believe that the best way of thinking is with the vision of the high-level strategy, and the practicality of the low-level data. Anything else just gets in the way of clear thinking (unless you have to take account of it to successfully navigate your projects–politics are a real thing).

Lots of people who can’t or won’t stay with the high-level thinking (not totally sure why, if it’s just laziness or if they legitimately aren’t intellectually capable of it) will skip down to the middle and wallow around in it.

Ideally, good writing would combine “directional truth” (as Scott Adams would say) of the detail-free salesy version (which I sometimes think of as the “metaphorical understanding”), or you get the super duper uber detailed version, with the charts and graphs and raw data and alllllll the analyses.

The stuff in the middle fails to communicate either the endgame, or the reality. It writes phrases like “substantially all” and favors the insufferable passive voice. This is where the fifty-cent words come into play.

Hence why you should never use the word “literally.” It’s a dead tell for middle-level (OMG DID I JUST PRETEND THAT I INVENTED THE TERM “MIDDLEBROW”?!?) writing.

Dirty adverbs:

  • Virtually
  • Substantially
  • Literally

I used to wonder why some websites that check your writing’s grade level issue a warning for adverbs.

Now I know.

Go big or go home, folks.

The bigger they are…

…the more they’re crumbling inside.

That’s my experience.

As I’ve climbed from institution to higher ed institution, I’ve noticed that the functionality of internal systems exists inversely to the fame of the school.

Perhaps it was that the very much not-prestigious little guy was willing to get in bed with Google, and thereby run internal emails and documentation on the Gmail/Google Docs platform.

Maybe it’s the ramshackle engine that could that’s figured out how to shoehorn and jimmy solutions and wrap its systems together with duct tape and bubble gum, because there’s no other way.

It’s the behemoth R1 that truly has no support. I’ve never felt less supported in my job. With systems, with people, even with my job description.

From the outside, it looks like these institutions have all the resources in the world. All the money. All the data. All the brightest minds at work.

It’s all lies.

What you really get is home-grown legacy systems from the 80s, and a bunch of baby boomers who have been camping on their jobs for the last three decades.

Try to move that boulder up the hill, bitch.

Enjoy the view as it rolls back down.

Meandering goals

Five years ago, I was on a high-powered biologic drug called Remicade. Remicade is extremely effective at blocking TNF-alpha, part of the signalling mechanism that causes inflammation. It’s also extremely, extremely expensive. The only way I could afford it (even with really good health insurance) was through a subsidization program run by the big pharma company that makes it. It was also magic for my chronic illness.

I had a dream that someday, maybe I could stop taking Remicade.

I thought that I was crazy for dreaming that dream. Seriously, it was difficult for me to fathom a way of living and managing my disease that would create a future where Remicade was unnecessary. Still, I had a goal.

It was a soft goal, not a SMART goal. I didn’t keep it in mind every single day, and it didn’t drive every decision that I made. Yet the idea of being free provided the fuel to move forward with exploring different options to take care of my health.

My specific goal wasn’t to get off Remicade, but I did want to explore the effect that diet had on my health.

My specific goal wasn’t to get off Remicade, but I did research and align myself with doctors who would be receptive to that kind of change in my treatment plan.

My specific goal wasn’t to get off Remicade, but I did pursue alternate theories to why my disease exists in the first place…

…which led me to discovering and treating Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth…

…which led to me getting off Remicade.

Rather than setting myself up against a specific objective with a deadline (which would have stressed me out, thereby triggering my illness and nullifying any attempt to be free of drugs #Catch22), I chose the path of obliquity.

This was completely inadvertent on my part, but it worked.

I have some goals now, new ones. Goals that seem absolutely, crazily unachievable. Goals that I’m not quite ready to speak in public.

Sometimes I wonder if they’ll ever happen.

Then I look back at my journey off Remicade, and realize that I’ve done it before. I can do it again. I just need to make the direction of the goal a priority, and pursue it doggedly.


A well-stocked pantry

Today we’re continuing my observations from The Perfectly Imperfect Home. This passage I like because it highlights Deborah Needleman’s quirky writing style AND it reveals the secrets of the Ina Gartens and Martha Stewarts of the world. I don’t aspire to be like either of those women materially, but I do appreciate the work ethic, organization, and sense of ease that they both exude.

When I visit a beautifully run home (usually belonging to a fancy decorator or a rich person), I am as fascinated by what’s hidden away as by what’s on display. A little snooping almost always reveals an orderly pantry with entertaining supplies lined up like patient soldiers waiting to serve. It’s not just the sheer volume of linens and vases and platters and the ready supplies of candles, tea lights, and votives that impress. Although they do. It’s how beautifully they’re organized. Here are a couple of secrets I’ve stolen: use a label maker to ID the front of each shelf with what goes where. (This is to keep the staff from mixing things up, but it works equally well when you are your staff.) And toss the broken, ripped, stained, and chipped, plus those things you never use but think you will someday. They are making it hard to find what you need, and therefore planning is that much more difficult.

If you take the time to arrange items neatly, press linens before you need them, and order supplies like candles in bulk, you will be rewarded with a wave of domestic satisfaction every time you see them.

Like the boy scout motto: be prepared.

But looking at this book has me convinced that keeping a good house (or home, even) requires putting energy into both the design and the upkeep that’s past baseline. Maybe not overachieving efforts — nothing in the book is about keeping a perfectly spotless home — but certainly enough effort that you push past the ordinary.

No effort results in an unorganized mess. Minimal work results in marginally dusty clutter. Normal work gets you a clean, tidy home. But that extra effort (“that extra half inch,” to quote Victoria Beckham) is what makes the difference from an ordinary home to, well, a perfectly imperfect one. It’s not the perfection, it’s the energy and thought and care that matter.

That’s what creates the glamour, sparkle, and satisfaction.


Ways I can prove to myself that I can be my own boss

I feel like there’s a new genre of writing that has taken off in the past few years. It’s nonfiction, and yet the reward it provides is almost the same as a fairy tale.

I’m talking about all the self-employed, entrepreneur-ish books. I read a lot of them. You probably do too. Tim Ferriss. James Altucher. Tony Robbins. Even smaller names like Mike Cernovich.

It’s not even books–this type of content pops up on social media and youtube as well. All the vloggers and youtubers who support themselves off of their youtube income streams, or who showcase how they run their own lives through freelance work, direct sales, and youtube or patreon revenue. I’m thinking about the Casey Neistats and Frannerds of the world here–not just people who support themselves on youtube, but people who vlog about supporting themselves on youtube.

The subtext of all of these things is: you can too!

And maybe you can. Probably you can. You and I have just as much potential as most of these people. They’ve taken risks and figured out how to leverage the internets in a way that works for them (instead of destructive ways like crippling youtube addictions).

At the end of the day, though, these people make money selling the dream to you and me. They show us how they live the lives that they live. On the one hand, hey–it’s an instruction manual or guidebook or map or whatever. Showing us the way.

On the other, it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of voyeurism, of sitting back and watching these people out on the playing field. Maybe we should start a fantasy entrepreneur tournament.

I say “these people” like a pejorative, but I don’t mean it that way. I admire them, and envy them a little bit, and know that I could potentially maybe be one of them, but also equally know that the way I’m living my life right now will never get me there.

AJA Cortes reminded me of that tonight on twitter, with some cut-to-the-bone truth. He put into words a lot of my own feelings of being “stuck” along with exactly what I’ve done that’s gotten me to this place: lack of risk, seeking comfort, choosing a college degree that feels good and hoping that everything will work out.

Hope is NEVER a plan,

Assuming things will “just work out” is NOT a plan

“Something will come along” is NOT a plan

This is loser talk

The reliance on happenstance and fate and destiny somehow swinging in your favor,

Total bullshit.

Fortune favors PLANNING

Your degree is not a fucking plan,

“I’m sure it will work out” isn’t a plan

“I’ve got a good feeling about it” is NOT a plan

Why aren’t these things plans?

Because you are not taking ACTION on ANYTHING

Where’s the momentum? Where is the forward drive to create?

Hell, where’s the hustle and grind and all that cliched shit?

What’s the big picture you are actually working to create every day?

There isn’t one?

You’re relying on half luck and half mediocre skill and wishful thinking?

Stop bullshitting yourself.

I’ve reached the point where I can’t bullshit myself anymore. I am all too aware of the situation that I’ve gotten myself into (complacent job, no marriage prospects, very little creativity in my life, etc etc etc). This is not the life I dreamed for myself when I was a starry-eyed 12 year old.

And reading books about how “You can too!” doesn’t help the fact. Until I take action, it’s just more bullshit.

Right now, I know that I cannot work for myself or be my own boss or choose myself or anything like that. I know this because I know how lazy I am on my own, away from an employer with expectations of me. If I want to move toward any sort of second income stream or self-employment or freelance work or publishing my own novel, I need to learn how to manage myself.

So I’ve decided to draft a list of things I can do (ACTION) to prove to myself that I’m ready to strike out on my own.

  • Set up a (big) project, plan it out, and complete it within a deadline
  • Clean my room, Jordan B Peterson style
  • Address my resentment of tracking time, and start using time to my advantage
  • Stick to a consistent sleep time and wake time
  • Continue to publish a blog post every day until we hit a year
  • Work out consistently
  • Get out of bed immediately upon rising, instead of languishing in the half-asleep/half-awake stage that I love so much (this will legit be a sacrifice)
  • Design a daily schedule for myself that incorporates all the projects that I plan to complete, along with the self-care that my chronic illness demands, and stick to it
  • Finish the Self-Authoring suite
  • Complete a plan for my future, with action steps and deadlines
  • Sell a product online that people buy on a consistent basis while still employed full time by someone else
  • Tackle the reading list that I’ve had in my mind for years
  • Define what success means to me

Now, all of these things will not happen overnight. Tackling this list will take time, and self-discipline. A plan. Some of the very same things on this list that I feel I lack already. However, the things on this list create compound interest–once I’ve completed and/or maintain a substantial amount of them, I imagine that I’ll already be on the road to being more antifragile and self-sufficient.

The thing is, I must begin. Take action. DO IT.

I take comfort in the fact that doing it badly is better than doing it not at all. Doing it badly is the first step toward doing it well. Doing it badly is, frankly, still DOING.

One day at a time. One step at a time. One minute at a time.

Forward, into a brighter future.

The dark side of “systems not goals”

@fortelabs posted quite a good tweetstorm on twitter today.

He goes on:

It involves generating lots of “non-negotiable” requirements that you “must” do before you can do what you want to do. As in, “Before I do X everybody knows I have to do A, B,C,D, E, F, G, etc.” It’s clever because it sets up an unlosable game. If you fail, you can blame immediate steps for putting the goal out of reach. If you reach X but it took too long, you’re justified because you “followed the correct process.”

There’s more–and I highly recommend clicking through and reading the whole thing–but this sums up the basic premise.

I recognize myself in it. Like, way too much.

“Before I start writing Batfort I need to hone my writing skills and learn how to be disciplined to do something every day and get a real camera and sketch out a whole editorial and business plan and and and”

“Before I can get a car I need to get a new job that pays better and live in a place where parking doesn’t suck and and and”

“Before I can be healthy I need to stop eating carbs and sleep 8 hours a night and stop worrying so much and exercise more regularly and and and”

“Before I can date that attractive man, I need to get a car…”

You get the drill.

It is SO EASY to use the guise of “building a plan” and “doing your research” as an excuse to do nothing of consequence. Yes, plans and research are necessary, but they are not DOING THE WORK. It’s frittering away time and creative energy on small-potatoes things that feel just productive enough that we don’t realize that all of the sudden we ate an entire bag of chips for dinner.

Do that enough times in a row, and you’re going to feel sick.

With all respect to Scott Adams, I have a negative reaction to his “systems, not goals” approach to life. For the longest time I could never figure out why, exactly, but I think this is it.

If you bury yourself in systems, even good ones like going to the gym every day, without having a goal that you’re pushing yourself toward, it’s really easy to settle into the groove of the system. The system becomes your end product, instead of what you designed this system to move you toward.

You work your muscles, but don’t get stronger or build out some sweet pecs.

Sure, goals don’t always work out. There are things that are beyond our control. That’s life.

The resilient pick up, dust off, and keep going. The antifragile incorporate those lessons into their next attempt.

You set a new goal, and move on.

A system alone won’t work: you need something to work toward.

Goals alone won’t work either: you need daily practices to propel you toward them.

Get you a plan that can do both.

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