The Grim Knight

One cannot fully appreciate Christmas; to do so is to fully appreciate Christ, and that is a work not completed in this life.

All Christmas commentary is therefore incomplete and fractured.  But here I will present the aspects my thoughts linger on at the moment, and hope they are of some use to someone—for cheer, comfort, gratitude, reverence, resolve—whatever is needful.

 

Victory, Power, Superiority

Perhaps for fear of scaring both others and ourselves, I fear we often understate the God-ness of Christ.  The babe in the manger was the same Jehovah of the Old Testament that parted the Red Sea, ordered and sealed the conquests of Moses and Joshua, and wiped  Sodom and Gomorrah off the planet.  He is the Lord of Hosts—that is, of armies.  Other notable members of that category include: Genghis Khan, Shaka Zulu, Julius Caesar, and Alexander the Great.  Winners.  Rulers.  Conquerors.  Cities trembled, and rightly so.  Christ just wins.  You and I, losers born, hope that no one sees through our facades to the loser within.  But Christ is the real thing, a Winner—with all the confidence, authority, and ruthlessness that implies.

This is a good thing.  To us, flawed and foolish weaklings that we are, it is unsettling because we know that we are not of the same stuff; that we are unworthy on our own merits, and we fear what we cannot control, having no leverage.  But Winning, and Power, are good things, and they do not cease being so just because they might scare us when we don’t have them.  We should seek after them, in their place.  The alternatives, after all, are Losing and Helplessness.

Mercy, Invitation, Condescension

The above can create connotations of cold, will-to-power, adversarial situations.  And those situations exist, and are real.  But one of the great messages from He Who Wins is that it doesn’t have to be that way.  Winning means surplus—and surplus means an opportunity for generosity.

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Why all this striver-sounding hullaballoo about winning, ruthlessness, and success?  To be their master, rather than to be mastered by them.  For kindness, peace, love, and joy.

 

My hope is to keep this sense of Christmas with me all year long—to be grim and stone-faced, that I may be able to be kind and understanding when it is needed, that I can afford it.

 

 

“Here is the grim knight, cutting capers on his horse.”

How to Do Abundance

No one ever explained this to me, or if they did, it was in a stupid hand-wavy way.  On figuring it out, I felt somewhat like Scott Alexander:

 I’ve had to listen to so many people talk about how “we must respect native people’s different ways of knowing” and “native agriculturalists have a profound respect for the earth that goes beyond logocentric Western ideals” and nobody had ever bothered to tell me before that they actually produced more crops per acre, at least some of the time. That would have put all of the other stuff in a pretty different light.

Here’s how abundance works.  It’s just a pairing of:

  1.  Contrary to the marketing (“Give everything away!  Expect more to come through magic!”), being very frugal and conservative in spending resources, so as to maintain a reserve or surplus
  2. Investing in ways that will have illegible returns—unpredictable, or in different forms than can be predicted.

EXAMPLE:  Nassim Taleb’s investment strategy of regular purchase of options, most of which expire worthless.  This may seem spendthrift, but it is actually quite “frugal” in  that the loss is bounded.  The returns come when some sort of “Black Swan” event happens, and will make the fund $UNKNOWN amount of money.  It’s what happens when, in order to make money, you’re willing to sacrifice knowing when or how you will do so.

EXAMPLE:  Helping your neighbor move in.  Later, your water main breaks and he helps you clean it up.

EXAMPLE:  Most learning, actually.  Intrinsic to learning is that you don’t really know exactly what you’re going to learn—if you did, you wouldn’t need to learn it!  So you’re spending time for an unpredictable reward.  Academia makes it much more predictable, but often at the heavy cost in overhead and boredom.

EXAMPLE:  Placing a little free library in your neighborhood.  Just like countries benefit (mostly) from an educated populace, streets benefit from having books available—in a million little ways that add up, combine, and multiply.

ANTI-EXAMPLE:  Polluting.  What will happen as a result of pollution?  a)a cost (waste disposal) will be reduced by a known amount, and the world will be worse in a bunch of ways, mostly small, but some unpredictably big.

 

Whereas most financial decisions are two-sided, i.e. investment and return, decisions made in an abundance paradigm are more one-sided, as the return is by definition incalculable.  The chief question is: “Will this put me in the poorhouse/make other concerns fail from lack of resources?”  The second question is: “Ballparking this, is this likely to lead to “good” returns, where “good” is basically defined by my gut, and “returns” are not well defined?”

Side benefits to this approach are at least threefold:

  1. A mandate to give forces discipline on the rest of the budget.  If you’re giving 10% away, you will be all the more careful managing the 90%.  And it’s the care, not the amount
  2. It also stimulates the search for other sources of income/resources.
  3. Keeping a reserve acts as a hedge against random disaster.  The rarity of this scenario is matched only by its importance.

A Cruel Dialogue

“I really admire and appreciate you.”

Really?  Then why aren’t you hotter?”

 

Notes:

 

  1.  This can happen two ways, with a man in the first role and a woman in the second, or vice versa.
  2.  No one ever says the second line out loud, nor do they think it clearly.  But I think they should think it explicitly, because if they are thinking it, they might as well know that they are thinking it.  It should be a motivation to either (or both) work to improve themselves to attract better mates, or to realize they’re on a hedonic treadmill and need to check their pride.  Generally men should lean more towards the first, and women towards the second, but neither gender gets a free pass on either.
  3. It is useful to keep this couplet in mind when seeking to express appreciation.

Without a Word

I went on a date today.  The young woman in question was smart, pretty, and ambitious—stupidly ambitious, the way I was when I was her age.

Finally, I understood how my father felt all those years ago, dealing with me.  He, too, was ambitious when he was young.

The reader must know: I basically idolize my father.  I have repeated his sins, if they are sins, in terms of career overreach.  He is smart, and I am smart—but neither of us as much as we thought we were.  Hubris is in our blood—fitting that I come up against it behind a pretty face.

I like to think I’ve gained some wisdom from my journeys on the internet, the world, and work.  Some of this I dispensed today over lunch.

It was like talking into a vacuum cleaner.  I just kept talking.  Not in some socially awkward way—at Secret NRX Bootcamp the first lesson is “how to not be a frikkin’ weirdo”—but because who doesn’t like a pretty girl hanging on their words?  In some ways I stimulated the growth of what I hate—knowledge without understanding

But it comes to naught.   A man does not wish to be an encyclopedia or a self-help book, particularly to a woman.  He wants his words to be valued and respected, certainly, but he himself does not want to be valued because of his words—in fact he must not, because if he is only valued for his words, what when he must say things that are hard to bear?

Coherence

Consider this something of a reading list, all based on a theme:

 

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom… If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise”  — in which Bruce Charlton delves into this concept.  In fact, a choice quote, w/which I strongly empathize:

If I have any virtue in a higher than usual degree it probably is exactly this – that I persist in my folly, with honesty, until its falsehood becomes evident and unavoidable;

Another, more central to the point of this post:

Error is self-correcting IF we stick by it honestly, and follow it through to conclusion…This created world has ultimate coherence, since it is the product of one God. Therefore, all error will reveal itself in incoherence.

Similar, from the Junior Ganymede:

There are a few phrases that are so true that they have the force of incantations and bywords. They come to mind now:

The only way out is through.

You can’t go home again.

No man can step in the same river twice.

The deep meaning of the Atonement is that you can never escape history. You can only embrace it so fully that you master it. That, it turns out, is also the deep meaning of the creation story.

Today our Sunday School lesson was on David and Bathsheba, the adulterers who begat Solomon, and Christ.

And, here, some thoughts of my own, heavily inspired by Venkatesh Rao’s Breaking Smart (note to NRX would-be conquerors of the world:  that whole series is required reading):

 

Simple solutions that solve the problem you want solved, and fit the way the problem is framed in your mind are easy to come up with and think about.  But that rules out a very large set of solutions that don’t fit those criteria, but fit others that you might care about a lot if you stopped to think about them.

An example that springs to mind are Douglas fir trees.  Douglas firs grow very tall—taller than their root structure should allow.  They should fall down.  But they don’t, because they intertwine their roots with each other, such that each tree is supporting a number of other trees, which are supporting it in turn.

I first heard about Douglas firs as a sort of morality tale on the “value of supporting one another.”  And that is all well and good.  But what I think is unexplored is that you cannot meaningfully answer the question of “Which tree is holding up the others?”  Well, they kind of all are, even as they are all held up in turn.  What is true is the root structure is very efficient—each connection serves both to receive support, and to give it, depending on circumstance.  When I think of this, the words “elegant” and “beautiful” come to mind, the way a mathematician uses them.

 

And finally:  pretty much anything from The Last Psychiatrist, who is merciless in the spotlighting of incoherence, and lies to oneself.