Philosophy

Pages about slightly deeper thoughts. You know the ones. The meaning of life and all that.

2019-11-16 Boomers and Generation-X

Recently, I stumbled upon a thread by @troodon about the phrase OK Boomer (a disparaging reply to baby boomers, individuals born between 1946 and 1964) from the perspective of my generation (Generation X, people born between the mid 1960s and the mid 1980s).

honestly, given the reactions that the phrase “OK, Boomer” have been getting in the media, you’d think packs of teens have been systematically targeting elderly people for brutal street muggings or something. but, no... it’s just a phrase, and a mild one at that. why is it so upsetting?

because it’s not rebellious or confrontational, which are things older people are used to getting from younger people. it’s straight-up dismissive. and it’s not something we, GenX, the first-generation children of the Boomers, ever had the chance to express.

our rebellion was taken away, repackaged, and sold back to us when we were too young to know what it was for or why it could be powerful. we grew up feeling helpless and hopeless, trapped in a world where we had nothing meaningful to say and nothing useful to do because Doom was Nigh – the ozone layer, nuclear war, the Y2K bug, politicians that hated us sending us off to wars for blatant lies. Boomers got to have their Swinging 60s – we grew up under the specter of AIDS. we were isolated from each other, so we never realized that we weren’t alone. and when we were finally able to get our own voice out into the popular culture, we spoke obliquely of isolation, depression, inward-turned knives.

and when we did manage to rebel, it was seen as the usual childish rebellion against our parents. kids these days! it’s a phase, we’ll grow out of it and grow up to be just like the people who raised us.

but the kids these days... they have something magical: they have a voice, and the voice gives them power, and they know it.

their voices let them speak to each other about their world and the problems they see. it lets them look for solutions that aren’t reliant on their parents or grandparents, not even for advice, not even for opinions. and make no mistake, they’ve noticed the decade of fucking “Millennials Ruined [X]” thinkpieces written by annoyed Boomers, the endless, relentless victim-blaming of slapping down the Kids These Days for the crappy situations they have to deal with and that they had nothing to do with creating.

this is Boomers reaping what they’ve sown. because this is Millenials saying “OK, Boomer... you’ve said your piece. we’re aware of your opinion, we’ve heard your advice. now we’re going to do our own thing. and you can keep talking all you want, but we’re doing something. so why don’t you have a nice big cup of sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up for a god damn change.”

it hurts because it’s speaking truth to power. it hurts because Boomers have built a culture that looks to them as the wise ones, the gatekeepers, the elders with power, and the Kids These Days aren’t playing the game right. it’s not disrespectful or confrontational – it’s a swerve, a dodge, taking a pass on the whole packaged cycle of obedience and rebellion.

and that’s why it doesn’t hurt their parents, us GenXers. I have to admit, if somebody said “OK Gloomer” (heeee) to me I’d have to shake my head, laugh a little, and say “yeah, you got me.” we’re used to being disregarded and silenced. we love you, our kids... but we know better than to try and take away your voice. even if we wanted to, we know we can’t. we can give advice and support, and you can take it or leave it as you will. but you’re the ones who are leading the charge to change the world right now. drive us to a brighter, better future, or drive us off a cliff... either way, we’re proud of you.

OK, Millenials and Zoomers. you’ve got this. 💚

I’ve recently felt similarly uplifted by kids these days demonstrating and feeling uplifted by their optimism. When Fridays For Future started, I felt like laughing. Oh, suddenly people are going to take their concerns seriously? Of course not. I remembered when I was a young kid and nobody seemed to really care about smog in inner cities and the trees dying and acid rain. I was used to getting back the reply that the forests are still standing and where was my pollution now? And I looked at them and thought in my heart of hearts: fuck you and fuck your kids and all your descendants for seven generations you idiot. But I never said it.

I also felt that nobody cared about demonstrations. Did Bush stop the war in Iraq when we took to the streets? Of course not. Fools. I had decided for myself that the world was fucked and I didn’t know how to unfuck it and I would certainly not bring kids into this world to serve me when I’m old and have them stare into the abyss that we were digging for them.

It had never occurred to me that maybe it was simply a question of demographics. We were the first generation after the boomers and of course we would never outvote them! @troodon replied to somebody else in the same thread:

Xers never had the numbers to outvote the Boomers, and it felt like we were being bullied all our young adulthood – “stop hitting yourself!” while preventing us from doing anything about it. but now the numbers are on our side, and what we are watching right now is an Old World Order dying out and being replaced with something new. I hope it’ll be better, I truly believe it can and most likely will be better, but it will certainly be different, and that’s beautiful. 😀

Maybe the future will not be as gloomy as I had concluded all those years ago.

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2019-09-28 Disruption

@bgcarlisle wrote On techbros in healthcare and medical research about “disrupting an industry” and summarized it as follows:

For future reference, whenever a techbro talks about “disrupting an industry,” they mean: “replicating an already existing industry, but subsidizing it heavily with venture capital, and externalizing its costs at the expense of the public or potential workers by circumventing consumer-, worker- or public-protection laws in order to hopefully undercut the competition long enough to bring about regulatory capture.”

I mean, I don’t mind people taking venture capital again and again and finally failings. That’s ok. What I am troubled by is when they go so much venture capital that they get the power to hurt innocents. The medallion system for taxis might have been corrupt, but do we really need to drive all the taxi drivers out of business to make that point? To then get a monopoly and enjoy rentier capitalism? That is a failure state! This is not what I want.

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2019-09-14 Capitalism

I’m enjoying the read of Digital Socialism? by Evgeny Morozov. In criticizing books that try to tell us what is going to replace capitalism, he tells us more about capitalism. And I really should find a good summary of Capital by Karl Marx because even though I haven’t read much I see how it always comes up again. If only it weren’t that dense. Or me not as dense, perhaps. I’ll make another effort. And Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, too.

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2019-08-25 Creating

Recently, @22 recommended the blog post Consume less, create more. The author argues that there is no moral high grounds to be gained when substituting reading books for social media, when reading newspapers instead of Twitter. Being thoroughly informed is not a value per se. All you get is material for smalltalk.

Let’s talk about the first part, consuming less.

I tend to agree with the idea that most people don’t gain from reading those huge daily newspapers.

  • They don’t benefit spiritually. They aren’t happier.
  • They don’t benefit politically. They don’t vote better.
  • They don’t benefit epistemologically. Their knowledge doesn’t allow them to act better.

So, you need to know enough to be able to make the right decisions in the realm where you can make a difference. You need to know a bit about the climate catastrophe in order to vote green. Knowing all the details, however, isn’t necessary and will most likely bring you down.

You need to know enough to convince yourself that your are right, that your newspaper is good. You need to know what you are doing.

Everything else is entertainment. You might as well read a book, or scroll through Instagram.

I didn’t think I’d ever write something as anti-intellectual as this. But I think it’s important to know what the benefits of being an intellectual actually are.

  • Are you running for office?
  • Are you a policy maker?
  • Are you talking to policy makers?
  • Are you an activist, trying to sway public opinion?

If none of the above, and not planning to change, then chances are that our current system is simply information overload.

Perhaps you should read more as a teenager in order to know whether you want to be an activist and change the system. You probably should. It’s definitely worth changing (incrementally, hah).

I find the following works well enough for me:

  • I skim the international and national politics headlines in free newspapers full of ads that mostly just print what the big news agencies put out and skip all the stuff about music, people, holidays, pictures, and so on.
  • I read a small part of a leftist weakly newspaper, WOZ.
  • I read a small part of a leftist monthly newspaper, Monde Diplomatique.
  • I click on some links on social media from people I follow.

No TV.

But even this reduced diet is often overwhelming. Perhaps consuming less also makes me less suited for consuming what’s left.

The second part of the blog post is about creating more.

I often feel bad about not reading enough. I used to be a voracious reader. These days, I skim so much fragmented social media, headlines and abstracts, articles and introductions, it’s hard to focus on reading long articles, let alone books.

The terrible truth is that I am often bored when I read. As soon as I read something interesting, I want to write about it. Post a link. Write a comment. Or I start thinking about role-playing games and programming. Creating things is more rewarding, these days. And it takes me so little effort it’s ridiculous. I feel like some people must feel like when they’re knitting: flow.

Anyway, I was reminded of an older blog post I had read, Productivity Rules. It’s about reducing your exposure to social media. It’s also about reading more books. Ah, I don’t know about reading more books. It’s also about creativity and being more “productive.”

I wonder. I want to know enough to be able to make the appropriate political decisions, but not so much that it crushes my soul. I often feel crushed and think I’m a fool for it. I often close the newspaper and think to myself: ugh, enough! But this is taking us back to what I wrote above. I guess many books these days simply bore me and that’s that. There are no excuses.

But this talk about being “productive” is weird. I refuse to see my free time in terms of productivity. That’s late stage capitalism talking. I don’t need to improve myself, I don’t need to get ahead in my free time.

Or perhaps we are applying the word to something different? @PresGas suggested “fruitfulness.” Interesting association: fecundity.

I guess the measure I’d have is: on my death bed, what would I say about my life?

  • I was lucky beyond belief in love and life
  • I didn’t work too hard and didn’t suffer any hardship, ever
  • I guess I’m sorry I’m taking down the planet with me?

Even in this respect I don’t think I would say: I wish my blog had been more popular. I wish I had been able to sell role-playing games. I don’t wish to have produced more. I don’t want consumers for my products. I want to meet and play games with my peers.

Thus, the audience is small, and I’m mainly doing it for myself. I think that’s how we keep our sanity: by making things for ourselves. Sometimes, incidentally, some free software project or a book or a track turns out to be a big hit, or a money making machine – but mostly they don’t and we need to be happy with that. And it’s still better than consuming a ton and never making a thing.

At least that’s how I explain it to myself. 😅

I think that’s how I keep my sanity.

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Comments on 2019-08-25 Creating

And a day later, @meta links to Sin-eaters: journalists devour the sins of others but to what end? It’s a long litany of terrible things that happened on a particular day, enraging and numbing at the same time, and there you have it: it changes nothing.

I wonder if there’s a better way to live without abstaining from the feed entirely? What exactly is it we’re doing, those of us who scroll through our newsfeed endlessly like an addict lifelessly pulling the lever on a slot machine waiting for information and sadness to spill out?

Indeed, where to find that sweet, sweet balance.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-26 15:11 UTC

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2019-08-14 Achievements in the Anthropocene

@Miredly was musing about life and work:

I’m wasting my life, time is slipping away and the world is ending. I’ll never achieve the things I want to achieve.

I fear this is related to the winner-takes-all job situation some of us find themselves in. In other words, wherever there are rockstars this happens. No matter how well we can sing or dance or program, we are not Michael Jackson or Linus Torvalds. Jobs that don’t scale don’t have this problem: the butcher, carpenter, gardener – they don’t feel like losing at the job because there are no rockstars as far as I know. So the self-worth we derive from our job depends on the rockstariness.

Then again, time is slipping away, life is short and then we die, and apparently the world is ending because we didn’t just fail as individuals but as a culture. I spoke about work because that is where we can do something for our own mental health: look away. Focus on the private life, the achievements of living, of going for a walk, of good food, of beautiful sunsets, of seeing plants and animals and the sky.

The general malaise of being human in the anthropocene and late stage capitalism can only be handled by distraction, I fear. We run and dance in order not to see.

Facing the truth of our insignificance is unnecessary, most of the time. Realize it, ponder it, and then put it aside.

As a kid I was looking at what Alexander the Great had accomplished at my age. But then came the day when I realized I had survived the butcher and I realized that maybe simply being alive is enough. It doesn’t always help, though.

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2019-07-28 Mindfulness

@emacsen recently posted a link to The problem of mindfulness.

To me, mindfulness always felt a bit like a cop out. Yes, you might need it in times of trouble. But then you need to change your life, work on your situation, make it less likely for these problems to reoccur. Otherwise, mindfulness just makes you better adapted to the shit show that is our lives, our politics, our work culture.

At least that’s when I need to remind myself that everything is fleeting: when surgery looms, when disease threatens our loved ones, when people are desperate, when we slave away our lives and get no respite, when we lose ourselves in work and obligations. But what we really want is change! We want both adaptation to the circumstances we cannot change and at the same time, we want actual change to the circumstances we find ourselves in. When mindfulness and meditation make us unwilling to pursue change, that’s where I have a problem.

Maybe that’s also why I lost my interest in zen buddhism. I didn’t want to read more about this or that school, riddle, teacher or whatever. Reading is not the way. I don’t believe in detachment from life, from love, from our existence. To me, it’s not all suffering. I don’t want to go to nirvana. We’ve made a lot of progress and life is very good for many of us. Therefore, we should work on that. Make life better for us and for our neighbors, for new arrivals, for everybody. Detachment and aestheticism lets us abscond from the responsibility for our lot and makes us apolitical, turns us into sheeple. I do. It agree with that.

And like the author of that mindfulness essay, I think we need to be able to feel anger and we need to know that we don’t agree with this or that because not to feel and not to know is not the answer. It’s the exit.

If I were a tyrant in power, a boss trying to exploit my workers, an owner trying to squeeze every last drop out of the people that owe me, then I’d tell them about mindfulness. Like Christianity in the old days, any opiate will do as long as it keeps the masses down, as long as it keeps the revolutionaries distracted and happy. Mindful, but ineffectual.

Then again, if your in a dead end right now, helpless, crushed by capitalism, and mindfulness helps you bear the cross, then do it. Help yourself. Self care is essential. And then, when you get some respite, get some help. Make those changes, if you can.

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2019-07-01 Orcs

So... Hex Describe has plenty of orcs. I like orcs. I really like the Skyrim orcs. They’re good at making weapon. They have villages, families, run mines, you can friends with them. I played as an orc and always enjoyed visiting them.

When I run a game, orcs are sometimes evil, sometimes they’re not. I try to avoid simple good vs. evil morality questions because they’re so easy to answer. If the players are good, the answer is obvious. If the players are evil, I don’t want to play with them. Therefore, moral questions are always in the grey area where the decisions made at the table matter. With regards to orcs, in one campaign I remember orc tribes moving through the wilderness, threatening the construction site of the party’s castle. The players had to fight them off. Later in the game, there was an orc tribe living in a cave near some thieves. The players were expecting trouble, but the reaction roll went well and their leader had an evil, magic Orcus mace that kept insulting everybody and trying to incite violence – just like one of the players! They both had a silly Orcus weapon. Soon the players talked about setting up a trading post and more. Many sessions later, when they met again, some evil elves they had met before and some beholder-worshipping dwarves with their beholder showed up as well and there was a big fight. I think the thieves also showed up. In any case the party remained loyal to the orcs and so the orcs upheld their side of the bargain as well. Good times all around.

Right, so where am I going with this? I recently read two excellent essays by James Mendez Hodes:

  1. Orcs, Britons, and the Martial Race Myth, Part I: A Species Built for Racial Terror
  2. Orcs, Britons, and the Martial Race Myth, Part II: They're Not Human

And I guess it’s white fragility time, haha. OK, but I also want to do better. So I think what I need to do is look through the entries generating orc settlements in Hex Describe to see whether the orcs (and other societies) it generates are treated with respect.

“Since we cannot reliably extricate orcs from racial associations, we must characterize them with the same compassion, respect, and attention to stereotype we extend to people of color.” – James Mendez Hodes

Currently, the entries generated for mountain orcs are not so bad. I like the mountain orc product table, and the orc feature resulting in their leader being a famous sword smith in some sort of orcish tradition. I need more of these!

I was surprised to find that White Fragility is not just a book by Robin DiAngelo but also a paper with full text available. Very cool! Click on the link above.

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Comments on 2019-07-01 Orcs

Plains

The Orcs of this [evil tribe](?) have been goaded/threatened/fooled into trying their hand at a sedentary agricultural lifestyle by the nearby Dragon/Warlocks as part of a wicked social experiment.

1)Their farms are shoddy and rough, their [mountain animal]s have proven ineffective at pulling ploughs 2)They would like to ask the humans of the nearby village for advice, but they aren’t welcome there at all. 3) This sudden change of things - Orcs are supposed to be evil mountain raiders after all - is threatening to the nearby elves or they engineered the change to stave off boredom or they were planning to expand the forest on the orcish farmland over the next few centuries and are sabotaging the harvest to keep the population and the settlement small

Plains/forests/swamp

These orcs have taken over a human keep. They killed the soldiers and officers but left the accountants and administrators alive. Hoping to hold on to their new home, they continue the regular operations of the fortification (Garrison/Toll Station) in order to please the human overlord and regularly send any earnings to them, be they from robbing travelers or collecting tolls. The Lord is happy/angry with the new arrangement

1) But he lacks the troops and funds for a full siege 2) There are bigger threats such as the nearby Robber camp/(Hob)Goblin infestation in the region anyway 3) He did not like the previous commander of the fort one bit (maybe a threatening relative? An uncle or brother? incompetent cousin?). The Orcs did him a favor

Currently I’m thinking about more flavor for your mountain orcs, if you would have it.

– Flavio 2019-11-05 15:02 UTC


Yes please! Thank you.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-11-05 17:31 UTC

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2019-05-26 The Quality of Capitalism

I want to continue down the line I started following after reading and reacting to the Tyranny of Excellence.

I think my main take is the fundamental nature of human interests in the good, how we learn of the good, and how that is the foundation of capitalism, and how struggling against it all is also about struggling against capitalism.

Let’s start slowly. What is good? Something we enjoy in both the longterm and in the short term. How do we learn about something that is good? By experiencing it, by seeing it, or by hearing about it. As communication improves, hearing about things turns out to trump all the other ways of learning about the good.

This is how we arrive at marketing, and effectively at some form of capitalism, for if you have capital, you can market your product, which helps more people learn about it, which makes people buy it, so you can market it more. Those that have more shall receive even more.

This is true even if all products are equally good!

It is important to note what feeds this loop:

  • Better communication. This includes reviews, recommendations, jumping on the hype train, and so on.
  • Better capitalization also helps: Kickstarter and Patreon and all the others.

The sad part is that I must assume that many more products are as good as the commercially successful ones, they just aren’t as well capitalized. Or maybe they aren’t as polished and they aren’t as well illustrated. Money makes the world go round. It mobilizes editors and layout people and artists and guest writers. Things get done. This is the blessing of capitalism.

But I think it is important to ask the question about the good again. If a product is successful on the market and it is good, is this the best possible outcome? What if we knew about more products, less polished, but still good? I’m assuming that these products are out there. We just don’t know about them because they never get mentioned. We can’t hear about the good because nobody else has heard about it.

Or, and here I am undermining my own argument, perhaps without capital they don’t get made. Perhaps the polish I have partially dismissed above is all we are prepared to pay for.

I want to return to the question of capitalism. What if there are things that are good enough, but not as polished, not as illustrated, and we wouldn’t want to pay for them: might this not still be good?

How could we help bring about this alternative?

  • We can scale down our communications, at least as far as it concerns commercial offerings. I am prepared to include crowd funded or otherwise fancy and polished products in this downscaling.
  • Talk about the things that are not commercial. The things that are free, even if less polished.
  • Don’t compare these things to the polished things capital created. It’s free. Of course it has fewer editors, layout people and artists involved.
  • Don’t organize contests that follow the logic of capital. Don’t hand out money. Don’t focus on a small number of excellent, polished products.
  • Value the DIY, the punk. Talk about these values. Like I’m doing right now.

And finally, to bring it back to roleplaying games: anybody can run a game. Anybody can write an adventure. The game is about adventures and therefore polished and well illustrated adventures are unnecessary. Good ideas are harder to come by.

And if somebody talks like I do about DIY and then does a polished thing and sells it to you, then perhaps they’re no longer about DIY. Know that if I change my tune then I’m not to be trusted.

I think we should all cultivate a suspicion of all processes that reproduce aspects of the winner takes it all.

I want contests where everybody wins. I want to encourage more people to make more things, but rough things. I want unpolished things. Things I could have made. Things anybody could have made. DIY and punk.

Know that we are being coopted all the time and defend against it.

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Comments on 2019-05-26 The Quality of Capitalism

When I think about capitalism I think about the specific mechanism by which those who have it can invest it in order to make more. Making something and getting paid is not enough for there to be capitalism. Getting compensated is fair. But there’s the trouble with money: if you have a surplus that you can invest in marketing, things change. Most musicians are poor. Michael Jackson was extremely rich. How much better was he, though? On a scale from zero to many millions? That’s what I mean.

Or to put it back in the context of the tyranny of excellence: folk music is about grabbing an instrument and joining the performance even if you can hardly play. Just play this note. Just clap your hand. Just join in on the chorus. Simple stuff. And how unlike rockstars and stage performances. What do you want your hobby to be: grab some dice and start playing, or watch professionals write for you, play for you?

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-27 04:50 UTC


Music records, then Radio, TV and the Internet, led to an increasing and global winner takes it all effect. A 100 years ago, there used to be more than 10,000 professional pianists in New York City alone. Nowadays everyone can listen to the “world’s best pianists”, so their income gets a massive multiplier and all the other “mediocre” ones can barely live from their passion for music.

The bigger the Network effect, the more extreme is the distribution of incomes. Nassim Taleb’s “Fooled by Randomness” covers this topic well.

Same with sports, like football. All the kids in Switzerland are now wearing shirts of Barcelona, Liverpool et al. and their parents are watching Champions league matches, not of the local 2nd or 5th tier clubs like it used to be a 100 years ago.

The interesting thing about D&D: The multiplier effect may apply for the sale of products like adventures, here you have to compete with the “best in the world”. But it does not apply for the actual gaming experience, we can’t all game with Matt Mercer or other celebrity DMs.

D&D is totally anachronistic in that regard and at the same time a good antidote against all this consumerism and increasing loneliness or maybe insularity of experiences (everyone watching Netflix or Champions League matches alone at home instead of playing games, making music or going to the stadium together).

– Peter 2019-05-27 18:27 UTC


Yes! I forgot the network effect had a name, but this is exactly what I mean. Thanks for that story about the piano players.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-27 18:32 UTC

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2019-05-24 Rough Consensus

RFC 7282 abstract:

The IETF has had a long tradition of doing its technical work through a consensus process, taking into account the different views among IETF participants and coming to (at least rough) consensus on technical matters. In particular, the IETF is supposed not to be run by a “majority rule” philosophy. This is why we engage in rituals like “humming” instead of voting. However, more and more of our actions are now indistinguishable from voting, and quite often we are letting the majority win the day without consideration of minority concerns. This document explains some features of rough consensus, what is not rough consensus, how we have gotten away from it, how we might think about it differently, and the things we can do in order to really achieve rough consensus.

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2019-05-24 Radical Philosophy

Our time needs radical philosophy.

When will I find the time to read the issues of Radical Philosophy?

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