❤️ Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy – The Ethical Slut

At burning man last year, I attended a wedding. There is some sweet 360 footage in a recent post about burning man.

The bride and groom gave unusual vows, promising to respect and never try to change one-another rather than the traditional vow of forsaking all others. And there were other differences from the traditional model.

I have long been consciously aware that monogamy is an unnatural cultural construct, and an artifact of the influence of bronze-age Abrahamic religion on modern culture. But as someone who has only ever practiced monogamy as a default, I was fascinated and talked at some length with each of the newlyweds over the course of the week. They and many others recommended I read this book to get a better understanding of what non-monogamy is and how it works, and the deeper fulfillment and satisfaction it can offer as a more natural and healthy alternative to monogamy.

I prefer audiobooks, and this one was very easy to find online, and read by the authors themselves.

It is a very intense read, and packed with information and concepts that need some reflecting and unpacking. It took me over a year to finish reading. I set it down to reflect and experiment at least a dozen times, and each time I started over at the beginning. This is my own unusual method and the only way I feel like I can really absorb all the content from something as intense and broad-reaching as this.

It doesn’t necessarily advocate for polyamory. It is more an exploration of what it means to be monogamous or to be polyamorous, and how to make rational choices about the kind of person you want to be, and then how to be that person well.

I decided to change almost every part of myself after reading this book.

I recommend also checking out this interview which I found closely related to this topic and helped me to parse much of the content.

 

The Ethical Slut

💩 Chris Guillebeau – The $100 Startup

This book is a great primer on bootstrapping what it calls a “micro-business,” or a one-person business. There are lots of great tips about how to build the first relationships and focus on creating value for your product or service. There is also some focus on how to identify the business that will fit well with your passions and talents.

If I had read this book during highschool, I think it would have been a huge help to me, but at this point in my entrepreneurship career, I was able to easily identify examples where I have already done basically everything in here.

I really didn’t enjoy the writing style, and I don’t feel like I learned anything from this book. I won’t be reading it again, but I think it would be helpful for people who are just getting started and have no idea what direction to go while getting started.

I will certainly recommend it to the many wantrepreneurs I encounter.

Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged

I first read this book in 2010. It was a gift from the senior development engineer at Build.com during a series of interviews I had there. It is the kind of book that gives you a lot more questions than answers.

There is a knife’s edge today which I feel myself balancing on. On one side, there are people like Peter Thiel who have amazing ideas about business growth and the future, alongside a casual disregard for altruism and social responsibility. On the other side are people who spend all their time and energy on helping others, with a casual disregard for the business growth that could elevate their ideas to having a real impact on the future.

In the same way, politically, there are socialists like Bernie who want to feed the hungry and educate the masses, but casually disregard fiscal responsibility. Opposite him, Ron Paul and the libertarian austerity crowd want to let the hungry starve and close the schools in order to balance budgets. Both relegate themselves from accomplishing their goals by ignoring the valid points on the other side.

In the middle, there are a few impact entrepreneurs who accomplish change and improve the world by building businesses that create change as a product or service. Tesla and Solar City are easy examples, but there are many others. These people balance their budgets while building products that have a huge impact on real problems facing the world today.

I think it takes honestly understanding both sides and thinking both ways to see the narrow  path between them.

Far From The Middle

Atlas Shrugged is a long way from that path of effectiveness through the center of the issues, and it informs a great many people today. This book is an important part of understanding the way the world is today and how one side thinks.

Rand does a great job of creating a vision of what John McCaskey calls, “an exciting moral enterprise.” She shows a world with two sides, the bums and mooches on one side and the heroic “Prime Movers” who lead industry, build products, and make things happen in the world. She calls her philosophy Objectivism, assuming the denotation of an unbiased and unarguable validity. It is worth pointing out that this philosophy is contradicted by a huge number of examples from her life, and its foundational arguments are based within a drastically simplified world.

In an early metaphor in the book, she describes a large oak tree which had been seen as a symbol of power and strength by one character. It is split by lightning and shatters. The character looks inside and sees that the tree’s heart had long since rotted away, and all that was left was its shell, “The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it”

Her characters set out to convince all the Prime Movers to abandon the world and retreat to a remote and secret mountain valley where they can wait for the world to collapse, only to re-emerge and rebuild it in their image once the mooches have realized the error of their ways.

It is a very convincing story, and it really makes you want to become someone she would consider a Prime Mover, and to avoid doing anything she might think of as “Moochy.”

The problem is that the vast majority of the world is full of people who don’t fit into her molds, and people who don’t want to lead or make things. And there is nothing wrong with that.

I found myself constantly thinking back to Buckminster Fuller‘s famous quote, “We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

Probably for that one in ten-thousand person Fuller is talking about, this book is great. As a very driven and ambitious person, it is easy to get distracted and discouraged by the lack of drive, direction and ambition most people have, and this book really taps into that. In this world, those mooches and bums are cattle to be dehumanised with pejorative titles. This makes it easy to ignore them and focus on creating and fulfilling her grand vision of being what she calls a Heroic Being, a Prime Mover.

There are really great and valuable things in this book, and it is always a very inspiring read, but I worry about those who consider it a kind of religious text. There is so much wrong with it and the kind of world it would like to create.

[Documentary] Adam Curtis – HyperNormalisation

Adam Curtis is an amazing documentarian and this is his best work yet.

HyperNormalisation focuses on the culture in the USSR at the end. Curtis describes the meaning behind the title, “…everyone knew that the system in place wasn’t working and that the politicians didn’t believe it any longer. Yet at the same time, because they didn’t have any alternative, everyone just accepted it as normal even though they knew it was abnormal.”

There are so many parallels to America today, and he explores them in depth. This came out before Trump became president, but interestingly it largely follows his bizarre life and career as a hypernormalisationist.

Trump is a special example, “over the past 40 years, politicians, financiers and technological utopians, rather than face up to the real complexities of the world, retreated. Instead, they constructed a simpler version of the world in order to hang on to power. And as this fake world grew, all of us went along with it, because the simplicity was reassuring. Even those who thought they were attacking the system – the radicals, the artists, the musicians, and our whole counterculture – actually became part of the trickery, because they, too, had retreated into the make-believe world, which is why their opposition has no effect and nothing ever changes.”

Through this lens, the theatrical insanity of Trump makes a lot more sense. He is a constant geyser spewing out the kind of world he wants. Nobody knows how to react to him because it breaks the metaphor of our hypernormalised world.

[Documentary] Adam Curtis – All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace

Years ago, I came across this documentary series and was struck by its intense and unusual style. Adam Curtis has become one of my favorite documentarians. Luckily for me, he is prolific. His new documentary Hypernormalisation is one of his best.

All of his work is about the interplay between power and economics and politics. All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace focuses largely on the idealism of Ayn Rand and her followers and how they built the “New Economy” on top of new information technologies.

Curtis is very critical of Rand and her ideas and the way that most of it did not work out how they wanted. As a tech entrepreneur who aspires to climb echelons and maximize my impact, this topic was close to my heart. I found myself feeling very conflicted about both sides of this argument.

After watching this series, I was compelled to read Atlas Shrugged twice. Both have given me many questions and few answers, but I feel like they are the right questions.

Neil Strauss – The Game

This is a book about a group of terrible people.

A few months ago, I was sitting in a cafe drinking some coffee, when I noticed an odd-looking man reading this book. I Googled the title, and found that it was a New York Times nonfiction best seller about an investigative journalist infiltrating the pickup artist community, and relating the strategies he learned which allowed him to make-out with a woman just minutes after meeting her.  He even became roommates with Courtney Love in the process and succeeded in seducing Britney Spears to some degree.

I had not previously heard of such a community, and found it fascinating. Almost everything I read about the book paints it in a very negative and puerile light. This is probably a well-earned reputation. The people in the story work together to refine manipulation tactics in order to seduce women into having sex with them. Many of these tactics are trivially easy to employ and left me feeling worried for the unwitting targets of this community who likely do not stand a chance of resisting.

I’m not sure I can disagree with their actions morally, they never do anything without consent. But they certainly objectify women and suffer some consequences of their purely shallow lives. Their many one-night stands and transactional interpersonal relationships leave them feeling incomplete and lacking for basic human connections; one of the main characters suffers several mental and emotional breakdowns.

The characters often relate their “scores” or the number of women they have slept with. These are one of their main success metrics. As a gay man who frequents bathhouses and sex clubs, I found their high scores of 10-20 to be hilarious and adorable. There are definitely cultural differences between gay and straight culture around sex and promiscuity, and apparently several orders of magnitude of difference in volume.

There are a few topics I think everyone should read books on: real estate law, investment strategy, business. Maybe this topic should fall in that list. Everyone is sure to encounter these tactics being used against them at some point, either by a practiced expert, or a casual neophyte. When these tactics are used on me now, I will see through them and be less likely to succumb to them if I am not so inclined.

Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises

In July of last year, I listened to Brett McKay’s Art of Manliness podcast Episode #219: The Real Life Story of Hemingway and The Sun Also Rises.

McKay likes interviewing biographers who are writing about figures who are the actual subject of his interviews. In this episode, he talks with author Lesley Blume about her new book which goes into the back-story and inspiration of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

The podcast is a great listen, and a great preface to the book. In it, the author tells what may be a true story of how he went on a trip with some fellow expatriates from Paris to see bullfighting in Spain. It is a great story with an interesting style.

I found that Hemingway left me wanting to talk like him.

He likes to say the minimum possible, and leave you to fill in the blanks.

 

That said, the story breaks the traditional plot form, and does not end with a resolution. It is told in the first person from the perspective of the author. He is even a writer in the story.

He goes on an adventure with some friends which really doesn’t end well for anyone, and leads to far more questions than it answers.

Brett Mckay talked about how Hemingway was trying to reinvent masculinity. I can sort of see that in this story, but I think all of his gender roles are very unusual, and I think I will have to reread it several times before I can tell how I feel about any of the characters, and whether I relate to any of them.

There is so much between the lines, it’s easy to imagine a million different and entirely plausible interpretations of this story.

I recommend trying several different whiskeys with soda water while reading this, as it is a favorite of several of the characters and forms the centerpiece of many scenes. :]

Stephen King – On Writing

This book is required reading for a class I am taking at Sierra College, but I also feel that it may improve my blogging and writing in general. It is a short biopic piece by Stephen King about his journey learning to write.

 

I think King’s advice would be to just start writing and then look it over and rewrite revise it. At the same time though, I can almost hear his voice from the audiobook version of On Writing enumerating his many axioms of “good writers,” like for example, he thinks I should try to avoid clumsily squeezing in adverbs for length. At that, I can hear his chuckle coming through to highlight something he did which he thinks was particularly clever. I suppose with time and practice, his rules will become second nature, and focusing on them won’t distract as much from the “just write” portion of the execution.

As I craft these self-representative examples of some of his rules, I visualize each of these devices laying in the toolbox in the basement from his metaphor. More than instruction, his stories were an expectation on his part of how I ought to write. Maybe that’s why it feels harder to write this less complex paper; because I do so with all his expectations in mind, telling me how to do it.

When I was much younger, I found writing to be very challenging. It wasn’t the structure or the research that was hard, it was the elaboration. In speech, I have always been very deliberate and very concise, and it has been a hard habit to break on paper. I find terse arguments to be the most effective. As Thomas Jefferson said, “never use two words when one will do.” Or Eric Schmidt in his book How Google Works said, “every word matters, and useless prose doesn’t… leave out the parts people will skip.” You may notice from my ironic use of ellipses that I am treating Eric to a taste of his own medicine. As a highly technical and analytical person, I strive constantly to be as precise, deliberate, and brief as possible. This makes writing verbose, expository prose a challenging departure from my chosen default-mode, but a healthy one which makes me more appreciative of the brevity of my more typical communication style.

After completing this class and particularly after reading this book, I feel like I can develop and compose appropriately clear and effective college-level writing. (What a great learning objective!) This will be important as I write essays for other classes I take, especially considering my STEM focus, and the necessary ability to analyze and evaluate research material on topics like chemistry and biology. This class helped to polish and dust off the tools I will need to succeed at these tasks in the years to come.

On the less refulgent side, I found the peer-review portions of the class very frustrating and unhelpful. Perhaps some of my peers completed the work on time and were able to give fluent and thoughtful feedback on the quality of the work of others, but I was not able to find these peers. The feedback that I got during peer review was very “yea that’s great” and did not help me to develop or improve my writing.

Overall, this class was a great experience which I think will help me in the years to come. I will certainly recommend it and my professor. In my peers, I did not find King’s “Tabitha,” or “Ideal Reader” to bounce my writing off of, so I will need to keep a look out for such a person to provide more effective “door-open” peer-review–style feedback in the future.

Zero to One by Peter Thiel

After the Gawker case, earlier this year, I decided to start following Thiel’s career. He is a fascinating figure with his hands in lots of different businesses, many of which figure heavily into the larger theme of futurism that has become so important to me.

I have since watched dozens of his interviews on YouTube and with every line, I become more a fan of his ethos. I find that his ethos align quite closely with mine, and I am eager to absorb his conclusions.

Particularly, I agree passionately with his views on higher education and entrepreneurial strategy.

Zero to One makes the argument that there are fundamentally two kinds of businesses: ones that copy established businesses and have all their profits competed away; and monopolistic models which Thiel argues are the only businesses worth doing if profit is your goal.

I will need to process this for a few months and re-read it before I can really decide how I feel about it. I was initially inclined to agree wholeheartedly, but after talking recently with a public figure who I admire, I am compelled to question that inclination.

Expanse 6 – Babylon’s Ashes

I read this book in just a few days. As soon as it came out, it was impossible to put down.

Babylon's Ashes

This book could almost be the second-half of the book before it. The story begins with a mess and ends with another, but ends in a place where you can see the silver lining in the clouds and the light at the end of the tunnel.

Whereas Nemesis Games focused on Earth, this book focuses more on the expanse. ;P

 

SPOILERS BELOW

 

 

We still don’t know who killed the gate builders or where they went! Or what the thing was in the nerve center, or what Duarte is doing.

I also feel like the story is just beginning. The spacing guild and the fate of humanity have only just started to unfold. I can’t wait for the next book. I can’t wait for the  rest of the show, and I hope they do many spin-offs to expand the rest of the story!