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The Shock is Almost Lethal

4 min

"One flips through the pages with mounting excitement: no sign of scholarship or servility, prose that burns like an ember in the void..."

Dear reader, I write you today with two interesting notes and one last-minute opportunity.

You'll learn about:

The Administrative Crisis

All large institutions today are dying under the weight of bureaucratic gridlock, which requires increasing degrees of dissemblance and double-speak because almost nothing works as it's supposed to.

The problem of political correctness or "wokeness" is really only a symptom of a much larger and more mundane problem so bad it's almost unspeakable.

The problem is largely technology-driven. The real economy of human activity changes too fast, nothing made out of bureaucracy can handle it. But the problem is so big and so bad, that most people feel like it's useless to critique—talking about it is just bad for the morale of millions of people, so just get on with it...

Even within the most flexible and fast-moving domains—e.g. startups—you see the same problem. Software-as-a-Service at first seemed like a clever solution: Let a million micro-services bloom, so organizations can plug into whatever specialized and automated apps they need to do their work efficiently. But over time, SaaS increasingly feels like a Byzantine prison with Manhattan rents:

From Rippling and the Return of Ambition by John Luttig

As Luttig points out:

“It’s not surprising that total factor productivity has stagnated, despite an explosion of productivity software tools promising the opposite. Not only do point solutions fail to accelerate productivity, their sprawl is actually slowing things down”

While companies like Rippling may succeed in tackling this problem, ultimately blockchains and integrated execution layers like Urbit really should solve this.

Blockchains aren't just "over-engineered databases," as one common quip goes. They're databases with incentive engines. You can solve the SaaS problem within a company using... one big enterprise SaaS database. But there's no way that a whole civilization could plug itself entirely into one big enterprise SaaS database (and if there was, we'd hate it). Only something like Bitcoin can provide a civilization-scale incentive logic that we can imagine inducing everyone into its "database."

The Shock is Almost Lethal: Nietzsche, Bataille, Land

I've been reading Nick Land's Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism and man—it goes hard.

This was Land's first academic book, mind you, published by an academic press while he was still a professor.

Land reads Bataille as a successor of Nietzsche—not controversial at all—but read how Land situates Bataille in the academic literature on Nietzsche.

"Academic prose has the remarkable capacity to plunge one into a sublime dystopian nightmare: is anything this appalling really possible? one asks. What happened to these people? Is it part of some elaborate joke perhaps? Or do they just hate books? There is a sense in which one can only admire their ability to make Nietzsche seem like a bank manager, Bataille like an occupational therapist, or Derrida world-historic, but in the end one vomits. Such writing is unparalleled as an introduction to despair: a universe in which it is possible condemns itself. (With trembling fingers one turns the pages: we have really come to this.) One only has to read genuine scholarship to be wracked by ardent dreams of incinerated cities." —Nick Land

Nietzsche, Bataille, and Land all represent a distinctly ungovernable lineage in late modern thought. Whereas many authors write books to establish a tidy and respectable claim to knowledge within an institutional order, a small number of authors decide to attack the foundational lies hiding beneath the institutional orders of their time.

All three had at least one foot within modern institutions of learning—at least early on—and all three eventually go off the reservation completely. What Land says of Bataille's book on Nietzsche could also be said of Land's book on Bataille:

"One flips through the pages with mounting excitement: no sign of scholarship or servility, prose that burns like an ember in the void, precision, profundity, esprit. The shock is almost lethal."

Triple your writing output starting this week

The third cohort of indiethinkers starts this Monday.

It's a 6-week group program for writers, philosophers, scientists, artists, and engineers building independent intellectual lives on the internet. It's a mix of education, strategy, networking, and a ton of group co-working sessions (4-hour blocks, 3x/week) to make you move faster (or get started) on that book, or blog, or whatever.

You'll create or optimize your platform, design a research agenda, connect with peers, and—most importantly—get to work.

We officially closed enrollment Friday, but we still have one seat left.

So if any of you want to take the last seat, you can just enroll directly.

I'm biased but if I must say so, the program really works. Many programs like this one go for several thousands of dollars. If writing is important to you, and you'd like to do it more, and you'd like to update your approach for the internet era, I am certain you'll find this program worth much more than the price.

A Summary Court in Perpetual Session

"Only our concept of time makes it possible for us to speak of the Day of Judgment by that name; in reality it is a summary court in perpetual session." —Kafka
On the Roads by Ivan Aivazovsky (1874)


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