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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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The Streetlight Effect: When People Look Within The System For Solutions To The System

The Streetlight Effect: When People Look Within The System For Solutions To The System

A policeman sees a drunk man crawling around on his hands and knees at night and asks what the problem is. The drunk man says he’s trying to find his keys, so the officer gets down and starts searching with him. For a few minutes they crawl around hunting for the missing key ring by the light of the street lamp before the policeman stands up frustrated.

“Are you sure this is where you lost them?” he asks.

“This isn’t where I lost them,” replies the drunk.

“Then why are we searching here??”

“It’s where the light is.”

This old joke is the source of the name for the streetlight effect, one of the many, many glitches in human cognition which cause us to tend toward misperception of our world and the way it’s happening. This one describes our tendency to only look for things where it’s easy to look for them, and it distorts our understanding of subjects from science to big data analysis to history to spirituality.

It’s like the scene from the children’s animated movie The Land Before Time where one of the young dinosaurs knows the way to the Great Valley but the others vote to travel a different direction to search for it, not because they have any reason to believe it’s the right way, but because it is easier. One dinosaur says “I’m going the easy way!” while the other yells out in exasperation “But it’s the wrong way!”

It’s also like the way people keep trying to fight oppressive political systems by working within those systems, arguing that it will be much easier to defeat the oppression machine using the tools the machine gave them.

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As The Perfect Storm Approaches, Most Americans Are Partying Instead Of Preparing

As The Perfect Storm Approaches, Most Americans Are Partying Instead Of Preparing

I can’t think of a time when Americans were more apathetic about getting prepared, and yet this is exactly the time when the urgency to get prepared should be at the highest.  Earlier today, my wife Meranda and I were discussing the fact that every single element of “the perfect storm” is coming together just as we had anticipated.  One by one, the pieces are all falling into place, and I share the most recent things that my research has uncovered with all of you on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, most Americans are absolutely convinced that there is no reason to get prepared for hard times because everything is going to be just great.  In America today, most people either believe that the future is going to be totally wonderful or that the future will be totally wonderful once we get rid of Trump.  Because so many of us have adopted one of these false narratives, most Americans are partying instead of preparing, and that is going to mean big trouble when things really start going haywire.

Are you familiar with “the rule of three”?  I just looked it up on Google, and this is how it is defined…

“You can survive for 3 Minutes without air (oxygen) or in icy water. You can survive for 3 Hours without shelter in a harsh environment (unless in icy water) You can survive for 3 Days without water (if sheltered from a harsh environment) You can survive for 3 Weeks without food (if you have water and shelter)”

Of course these numbers are not exact.  For example, many have gone without food for more than 3 weeks without serious problems.  But in general, this is a pretty good guideline for survival.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Taste of Another’s Thoughts

The Taste of Another’s Thoughts

We’ve taken a somewhat rambling route in our discussion of how each of us can haul ourselves up out of the swamp of abstractions in which modern industrial society is sinking fast, and find our way to the solid ground of things that actually matter. I know some of my readers have been baffled or irritated by the vagaries of that route, but that can’t be helped. Our sense of where to look for straightforward solutions is exactly what’s led us into this swamp; raised in an era of abstraction, we instinctively try to solve problems caused by too much abstraction by piling on more abstraction, or swapping out one set of abstractions for their opposites.

As Einstein pointed out, you can’t solve a problem by using more of the thinking that created it. What’s more, the solutions to really intransigent problems usually have to be found by asking questions about the most basic assumptions that undergird the thinking that created them. One of Einstein’s odder contemporaries, the irrepressible Charles Fort, put it this way: “It is by thinking things that schoolboys know better than to think that discoveries are made.”

For most of two thousand years, to cite a useful example, astronomers across the western half of Eurasia had tried to make sense of the motions of the planets under the assumption that the sun, moon, and planets moved in circles. The result, as observations piled up, was a vast creaking mechanism of epicycles, eccentrics, and equants—geometrical gimmicks intended to force circles into copying the simple and elegant motions of the heavens. It took a mystical astrologer named Johannes Kepler, who’d brooded over Renaissance sacred geometry for decades, to see through the clutter, realize that the planets moved in ellipses rather than circles, and send the whole lumbering mass of fudge factors into history’s compost heap.

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Solutions Only Arise Outside the Status Quo

Solutions Only Arise Outside the Status Quo

Solutions are only possible outside these ossified, self-serving centralized hierarchies.

Correspondent Dan F. asked me to reprint some posts on solutions to the systemic problems I’ve outlined for years, most recently in How Much Longer Can We Get Away With It? and Checking In on the Four Intersecting Cycles. I appreciate the request, because it’s all too easy to dwell on what’s broken rather than on the difficult task of fixing what’s broken.

I’ve laid out a variety of solutions to structural problems in my many books, and I’ll attempt a brief synthesis in this post.

1. The dynamics of stagnation are built into the system. Centralized systems optimize specific solutions to a specific set of problems that prompted the development of the system.

In the U.S., the empire that resulted from the global effort to win World War II and the Cold War competition with the Soviet Union spawned centralized bureaucracies to manage the complexities and budgets of this new era.

In effect, the system was optimized to the circumstances of 1950 or perhaps 1960. Though circumstances have changed, the system remains essentially unchanged, except bureaucracies and budgets have ballooned in response to the dynamics of bureaucracies: the initial purpose erodes and is replaced with self-aggrandizement of insiders and bureaucratic bloat.

As the systems optimized for a bygone era start failing, due to the erosion of accountability and transparency as insiders mask their self-serving ineffectiveness, the organizational structure attempts to meet the challenges by doing more of what’s failing: since every layer of bureaucracy now has a constituency that will fight to the death to maintain its power, budget and perquisites, a ratchet effect is the dominant dynamic: budgets and power cannot decline due to resistance, but the path to increases in power and budget is well-greased.

Since the structures are optimized for a bygone era, the institutions are fundamentally incapable of responding effectively or reforming themselves.The universal solution to failing institutions and hierarchies is to throw more money at the failings in the doomed hope that doing more of what’s failed will magically solve the systemic problems.

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Issues, Problems, (Social) Media and the Manipulation Thereof


Back when I was knee high to a grasshopper the biggest issues I had were trying to avoid that jerk of a bully living across the street and making sure I returned home promptly when the street lights came on.

There was no wiggle room on the street light thing because a big bright street light had been placed by the town right outside the kitchen window, requested by mom…or so she claimed. Mom always knew when to expect the return of the wild ones and there would be hell to be paid if we were not home when expected.

Mom never believed us when we tried to explain not all street lights came on at the same time. With the twin benefits of hindsight and maturity I now realize she probably did, but knew if she allowed any wiggle room it would be instantly abused by the hellions. No self respecting dictator ever allows their authority to be questioned, especially by the serfs.

As I have now come to realize, thanks to Mrs. Cog teaching me her enlightened classification system, there are issues and there are problems. Both the terms and the ‘things’ are not interchangeable; not by a long shot.

Issues are always (relatively) minor and able to be resolved with the application of a little elbow grease and some determination. Most issues are often of our own making; therefore the solution is readily at hand.

Problems, on the other hand, are much more intractable and not as easily solved. If fact, problems are often deal breakers, bringing projects, negotiations and relationships to a full and complete stop.

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Are We Fiddling While Rome Burns?

Are We Fiddling While Rome Burns?

Solutions abound, but they require the retirement of obsolete systems that defend entrenched interests and soul-crushing inequalities.
It turns out Nero wasn’t fiddling as Rome burned–he was 60 km away at the time. Did Nero Really Fiddle While Rome Burned?
The story has become short-hand for making light of a catastrophe, either out of self-interest (one theory had Nero clearing a site he desired for a palace with the fire) or out of a mad detachment from reality.
Are we fiddling while Rome burns? I would say yes–because we’re not solving any of the structural problems that are dooming the status quo. Instead, we’re allowing a corrupt, corporate mainstream media to distract us with fake “Russians hacked our election” hysteria, false “cultural war” mania, and a laughably Orwellian frenzy over fake news which magically avoids mentioning the propaganda narrativespushed 24/7 by the mainstream media–narratives that are the acme of fake news.
The media is only half the problem, of course; the audience doesn’t want to hear about structural problems that can only be fixed by disrupting the status quo. If we don’t accept that the financial system we inhabit is imploding, maybe all the problems will go away.
The system is coughing up blood and we still want to believe it is “recovering” from a cold.
Here’s a short list of structural problems we should be tackling:
1. Soaring inequality and the institutionalization of economic privilege.Systemic economic privilege doesn’t exist in a vacuum–it’s enforced by a centralized hierarchy, a dynamic I describe in my book Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege. Systemic inequality doesn’t just undermine the economy–it also undermines the social and political orders.
2. The central state (government) has one default setting: endless expansion into every nook and cranny of daily life. There are no mechanisms for contraction and no institutional memory of government reducing its control of every aspect of life.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Don’t Think the Status Quo Will Save You

Don’t Think the Status Quo Will Save You

Here’s a chart that shows how the Status Quo “fixes” every problem: it transfers more debt and more losses to the taxpayers.

Many hold a touchingly naive faith that the Status Quo will save them even as the current system unravels. Why is this faith naive?

Let’s start with this key question: does the Status Quo strike you as being even remotely competent?

If you answer “yes,” we have to ask: what planet are you on? Mars? Here on Earth, no one that isn’t a bought-and-paid for-shill of the Status Quo would even make the risible claim of Status Quo competence, except as a bitter joke.

The Status Quo assumes we can’t deal with the truth like adults, and so it sugar-coats every unsolvable problem with lies and false assurances. The Status Quo assumption is the Great Unwashed 90% will shoot the messenger, i.e. toss out our public leadership should they be foolish enough to tell us the truth: the promises issued to you cannot possibly be fulfilled.

Not because of an evil cabal, but because the demographics and financial realities render the promises impossible to keep, regardless of who’s in office.

I’m going to get my Social Security, right? I wuz promised! Don’t be a chump, man. You’ll get something that’s called Social Security, but it will either be taxed to the point it only buys a loaf of bread or will only be worth a loaf of bread. So yes, you’ll get Social Security, but not the one you were promised or the one you’re imagining.

I’m going to get my Medicare, right? I wuz promised! Sure, you are, pal. Just not the Medicare you’re imagining, you know, the one that pays for everything.

The stock market will never crash, right?

Does this look like a stock market that will never crash again, or a stock market that’s poised to crash again? Your answer is a measure of your gullibility and faith in the Status Quo’s false assurances.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Progress in an Uncertain World

Progress in an Uncertain World

Strong Towns is often accused of offering doom-and-gloom diagnoses of problems but being light on solutions. “You don’t tell us what we can actually DO to fix our insolvent cities,” goes the response. “You’re just so negative all the time.” This is not true, but I also don’t think it’s true that these criticisms are made in bad faith.

Rather, I think we have articulated a vision of what should be done to build Strong Towns, and done so in great detail. But that vision is heavy on experimentation and small-scale risk-taking (with potentially great rewards). It is heavy on civic engagement and grassroots action. And it is notably light on technocratic policy interventions: to the extent we talk about policy, it’s often about what policy makers should NOT do, not what they should.

There is a good reason for this, and those with a technocratic mindset (i.e. that the problems of cities will be fixed by top-down, data-driven policy tinkering) would do well to consider it.

The City as Ecosystem

Chuck occasionally has called mathematician and risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb the “patron saint of Strong Towns thinking.” I strongly urge anyone who has not read Taleb to pick up his books—Antifragile if you’re only going to read one, but also Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness. They are deeply intellectual and cross-disciplinary, but not overly wonky: accessible and entertaining for non-academic readers.

The central thesis of Taleb’s work is that complex systems are inherently unpredictable and prone to “Black Swan” events: unforeseeable and unprecedented cataclysmic changes. It’s not that we haven’t figured out yet how to completely predict their behavior; it’s that it is far from even mathematically possible for us to do so. Think of a natural ecosystem. Global weather patterns. The stock market. The human body. A city.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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