#20: Digging Deeper

Future of Text, cultures of thankfulness, rationality & religion...

Happy Sunday & welcome to Issue 20!

I hope everyone enjoyed their holiday weekend. I feel like we've been talking about how unusual Thanksgiving was going to be since the pandemic began, but it was still a bummer not having all of our extended family around. The meal was still great, though!

I've mentioned a few times in this newsletter how inconsistency is one of my biggest weaknesses. I'm beginning to realize that saying that is an excuse for me to be lazy. Case in point, this 30-day writing challenge (and to some extent the revival of this newsletter) has managed to prove me wrong.

Today is Day 14, and the challenge has easily been one of my most rewarding projects of 2020. The hard part is generating ideas. Once that's decided on, I've been knocking 250 words out in about 15 minutes, give or take.

I like the idea of publishing something every day, but I need to transfer this consistency over to longer-form work. It's difficult to flesh out an idea in 15 minutes, so committing to sitting down for 1 hour 2-3 times a week to write will be an interesting challenge.

All of these experiments have been really fun, though, and writing has been an extremely rewarding process.

Here's my favorite thing that I wrote this week: a mini-essay on why we should be more productive... but not in the way you're thinking.

And without further ado...

Book of the Week: "The Future of Text"

There are so many things to love about this project. I'm only going to highlight a few, but I encourage you to dive in if you have the time.

The Future Text Initiative was founded "to stimulate community dialogue and implementation of forward looking text interactions to augment how we think, learn and communicate by enabling and fostering a deeper literacy."

If you're not familiar with the organization, it's worth reading the brief manifesto on their website.

This past week, the organization published a book by the same name. The book is a collection of essays about the future of writing, of mediums through which we deliver text, and of our consumption of text as media. Here's the description:

The book is a collection of dreams for how we want text to evolve as well as how we understand our current textual infrastructures, how we view the history of writing, and much more. The aim is to make it inspire a powerfully rich future of text in a multitude of ways today and to still have value in a thousand years and beyond. It should serve as a record for how we saw the medium of text and how it relates to our world, our problems and each other in the early twenty first century.

I'm currently making my way through the essays. Some will be more interesting than others depending on where your interests lay, but you're sure to find something that catches your eye. Across the board, the quality of thought has been top notch.

Some of my favorite creators, including Anne-Laure Le Cunff and Tiago Forte, are featured essayists.

Must Clicks

🦃 An incredible thread by Jawad Mian on cultures of thankfulness. "Am I alone in detecting in people—myself included—an unappealing sense of ingratitude, the conceit of those blessed but whose heads swing in frustration because they fail to see their good fortune?"

🛠️ It's Time to Build for Good. Investor Marc Andreessen wrote a blockbuster essay entitled IT’S TIME TO BUILD earlier this year. While the underlying thesis was solid, the messaging of the piece rubbed me the wrong way. In the middle of April, at the peak of our COVID fears, it seemed to me that Andreessen's calls to focus on "building the future" were tone deaf. Yale student Isaac Wilks's response, It's Time to Build for Good, was a much more refreshing take on the strong thesis, and I'm happy to have discovered it.

🙏🏼 In Praise of the gods. Simon Sarris is one of the most fascinating writers I follow. This essay explores a lot of ideas, but I was specifically intrigued by his view of religion through the lens of critiquing rationalism:

There is this tendency to think that you must understand everything, or that a thing must be proven, to enjoy it or derive serious meaning from it. This mistake is at the heart of the disembodied rationalist worldview. Rituals are the beginning of acknowledging embodied experience. To respect their power is to share in it, and they help you to begin to have values beyond the rationalistic, economic view of the world. We all have these values already, we know this because the most cherished things in this world (art, talent, family, monuments, achievements, etc) are those that we call extraordinary, not rational, and the extraordinary is always the standard of greatness.

Simon also published this gem this week:

🎒 Embedded Education. "Perhaps most importantly, Embedded Education can contribute to a more equitable and effective distribution of knowledge, skills, and information. [...] By creating real platform-native encounters rather than broadcasting information, embedded education is a more effective way to change behaviors. By shortening the feedback loop from theory to practice, it engages people to more deeply internalize what they’ve just learned."

That’s all for this week…

I’m thankful for everyone who read this on a weekly basis :) please share with a friend you think would be interested!

— Jihad

#19: New Schools & Writing Challenges

I've been publishing 250 words a day, but I didn't forget about PALACED :)

Happy Monday & welcome to Issue 19!

As mentioned last week, I’ve been participating in a 30 day writing challenge! Each day, I publish around 250 words on something vaguely related to post-capitalism. It has been super fun and has definitely sparked a lot of great ideas.

You can read all of them (currently 7) on my writing page, but here’s a quick sample:

23 more to write! Hopefully I can keep the momentum going. Shoot me an email if you have any thoughts.

Without further ado…

Organization of the Week: Logic Magazine

Last week I introduced Kai Brach, the creator of Offscreen Magazine. Today, we’re sticking with the magazine highlights.

Logic Magazine seeks to answer a lot of the same questions that I’m exploring with PALACED:

Logic Magazine believes that we are living in times of great peril and possibility. We want to ask the right questions. How do the tools work? Who finances and builds them, and how are they used? Whom do they enrich, and whom do they impoverish? What futures do they make feasible, and which ones do they foreclose?

While the writing is incredible, so are the initiatives that have sprouted from it.

This past week, the magazine launched Logic School:

Logic School is an online, experimental school for tech workers produced by Logic Magazine… Our curriculum draws from the worlds of activism, design, and software engineering. Our program cultivates critical thinking about technology and its impact.

Organizing tech workers? Count me in. Initiatives like this one are slowly popping up nationwide as more people come around to the idea that tech will not solve the problems of the future (or the present) without the right philosophy backing it.

Must Clicks

Pando: Income Pooling for Communities: Pando is a startup I discovered this week that gives small groups of friends/coworkers the infrastructure to pool their future incomes. For example, imagine a group of college football players who aren’t slated to get drafted in the early rounds. Odds are, one of them will get a solid contract, but we aren’t sure who.

The group uses Pando to say: “Each of us will take the first $100k we make. After that, the rest of our earnings will go into a pool that will be split equally among us.” If someone in the group is successful, everyone benefits. It’s an interesting model for community wealth that I’m excited to see play out in new ways.

Adaptor: Restructuring Society's Engines: (this is a video) “There is a new focus on the inequalities that exist in our various internet platforms whose models seem to be: extract billions in value from their users and make it nearly impossible for them to leave. As humanity moves toward a new equitable future, so must economies. Is the ownership economy model the way forward?”

Using NBA Metrics to Scout Superstar Startups: A fun piece about basketball statistics and startups. If you’re interested in either one, it’s worth the read. If you’re interested in both, inhale this. I’m a sucker for finding ways that ideas from one field can be applied to a totally different one, and this is no exception.

That’s all for this week! Really excited for you all to read next week’s essay, which will hopefully be wrapped up over Thanksgiving Break.

If you enjoyed, please share, like, and send thoughts :)

— Jihad

#18: A Human Voice

"The One Man Magazine" + the road ahead

Happy Sunday & welcome to Issue 18!

After getting some feedback, I settled on a new format that I think accomplishes all of my goals for the newsletter. I needed something that 1) encouraged conversation, 2) required minimal thought to organize, and 3) incentivized me to dig into some tertiary goals. I landed on the following:

  1. Introduction (this)

  2. Original essay (either mine or a guest’s)

  3. X of the Week (a person, organization, and/or book to highlight)

  4. Must Reads (my favorite articles, podcasts, and other content of the week)

I’m pretty excited about this. I hope it encourages some new thoughts, conversation, and consistency along the way.

That said, #2 is going to be delayed for the week. I began writing a piece called “Think, but Think for Yourself,” focusing on how capitalism encourages ideological thinking, why that’s bad, and how a post-capitalist society would require first-principles thinking.

It’s taking me a lot longer than I thought and I don’t want to rush it, so I’m going to hold off until next week. If you’d like to read a draft, shoot me an email — would love to get some early eyeballs on it.

Without further ado…

Person of the Week: Kai Brach

Kai Brach runs two of my favorite publications, and he does it all on his own.

The first is Offscreen Magazine, a beautifully designed print magazine offering “a humane perspective on technology and the web.” The second is Dense Discovery, a similarly aesthetic digital newsletter, the quality of which I aspire to reach.

Kai reaches a worldwide audience from his home in Melbourne, Australia. I’ve been digging deep into his work, writing, and advice over the last few months, and I wanted to share a bit here:

The workflow behind Offscreen Magazine is outlined in detail on Kai’s blog. He prides himself on transparency, and he certainly walks the talk. Everything from design to printing to shipping to marketing is covered in this post, plus a lot more. All that said, Kai has become a major advocate for indie publications in general, and highlights them in his newsletter on a regular basis. Offscreen itself is a “One Man Magazine.”

Dense Discovery is intentionally designed and written to achieve Kai’s goals. In full transparency, I stole the “Book/Org/Person of the Week” segments from the newsletter directly from Kai. He isn’t the only — or the first — person to implement those types of segments, but I admire how they are direct products of his philosophy behind his publications. He highlights other indie magazines, other voices in responsible tech, other organizations that share his mission. I hope to do the same.

Design is front-and-center in Kai’s publications. Kai began his career as a web designer, and that experience very clearly carries over into all of his work. It’s a refreshing change from the white label, formulaic designs that most publications (including mine) follow.

If you enjoy the topics I cover in this newsletter, I highly recommend that you check out Kai’s work.

Must Reads

The Twilight of the Ethical Consumer. The author makes the argument that individual “ethical consumption” is not enough to force companies to make substantial, positive change. The ideas here aren’t new, but she cited a Zephyr Teachout book, and this quote really resonated:

“When progressives do fight private power, we often do so on the terms set by the right, in which one’s role as a consumer is more centrally important than one’s role as a citizen.” Teachout points out the reflexive guilt that liberals feel when we use Uber or Amazon or give our money to other “bad companies,” and notes our highly privatized response to corporate malfeasance. Our instinct is to delete our social media account instead of demanding that the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice stop mergers, hold social media companies liable for what gets posted, and break up Big Tech.

How to be an Idea Person: I’ve always been a bit too much of an “idea person,” so this essay was an interesting read. A pretty pessimistic outlook, but a productive one nonetheless:

The condition also creates a voracious appetite for a very unhealthy kind of intellectual diet: heavy on concepts, a little lighter on facts (favoring  qualitative and historical rather than quantitative and current) and rather light on how, or skills/procedural knowledge (though we are quick skill-learners as a breed, we rarely get beyond ‘amateurish’ at anything). That’s like having a congenital inclination to overeat fats and simple carbs with too little complex carbs and protein, and no exercise to integrate the protein into muscle and maintain it. Again, sufferers don’t choose that mix of cravings.

That’s all for this week! Really excited for you all to read next week’s essay. I’m also kicking off a 30 Day Writing Challenge with a couple of friends, so expect a bit more original content in the coming weeks.

If you enjoyed, please share, like, and send thoughts :)

— Jihad

What if I titled these like YouTube videos?

PALACED #17: Identity, Dual Power, and Attention to Detail

Good morning!

I spent a lot of time this week getting my life re-organized. It seems like every few months I'll get a sudden kick to do everything I say I'm going to do: exercise, read, journal, cut social media, etc. For about two weeks, I'll feel great. I'll genuinely have my life together in every way. And then the momentum dies.

I'm not even sure what kills the streak. I can't tell you that I'm more likely to get back into that groove when I'm more/less stressed than usual or because I have more/less time. It's just a sudden, random burst of energy.

My goal for the next couple of weeks is to work on maintaining it as much as possible. Specifically, I want to learn where the energy comes and where it gets lost, so that I know what to focus on and what to avoid.

Wish me luck — if history tells us anything, I'll need it :)

I wasn't sure what to write about this week, so this issue is going to be more of a quote-drop with some commentary.

Question for you all: what is your favorite format for the newsletter? Do you prefer the longform essay-style stuff? The list-of-links? The top links + commentary? Let me know!

On how identity guides our decisions.

Tim Ferriss sat down with Seth Godin for one of my favorite podcast episodes of the year. There wasn't really a central topic of conversation, but there were a ton of highlights. Here's a quote that I paused to jot down:

We decide that we're runners and runners go running every day. We decide that we're a blogger and bloggers blog every day, and that decision lightens the cognitive load so much because there's no time, no reason to negotiate with ourselves because we already had the meeting, we already decided. Now the question is not, "should we go or not?" The question is, "should we go left or right?" — Seth Godin

I've been reflecting on this a ton in the context of my "maintaining energy" bit from the intro. What Seth is saying makes perfect sense: I never think about whether I should do homework. I'm a student, and students do homework.

Yet, that feels a lot easier than saying "I'm a runner, and runners run" when I really don't feel like running.

I think the missing factor here is social pressure. If everyone knows you're a student and you fail, there's a stigma associated with that — being a student for a large chunk of your life is the expectation. Whereas, if I just stop running, nobody cares as much — the fact that I'm a runner is "bonus," not the baseline expectation.

That said, a better explanation might be that you're less likely to give up on the identity that others are most aware of. For example, everyone who knows I exist knows that I'm a student. Very few people, relatively speaking, know that I write a newsletter every week. Thus, it's much easier to foreclose on writing the newsletter.

(We've landed on the core argument for working in public.)

On dual power.

Socialist movements worldwide have long argued for the strategy of "dual power." From the DSA website:

Dual power is a strategy that builds liberated spaces and creates institutions grounded in direct democracy. Together these spaces and institutions expand into the ever widening formation of a new world “in the shell of the old.” As the movement grows more powerful, it can engage in ever larger confrontations with the ruling class—and ultimately a contest for legitimacy against the institutions of capitalist society.

In short, dual power is the strategy of building institutions that embody the world that you would like to see within the status quo, and then uniting these institutions to build power that counters the status quo.

Regardless of your economic philosophy, this is an extremely useful mental model. Rather than editing a system, build a new one within the old. As the new system gains power, editing becomes a more realistic way forward.

This is the bedrock for my hypothesis on post-capitalist entrepreneurship: entrepreneurs are uniquely situated to build organizations that lead us toward a new economic system because they are the ones currently upholding the old one.

Related: this is me trying my best to make my own mental models.

On storytelling and attention to detail.

I've been a long-time fan of creative non-fiction author Erik Larson. My first exposure was reading Devil in the White City in 9th grade, two parallel stories of serial killer H. H. Holmes and the development of the Chicago Worlds Fair. He's been one of my favorite authors ever since.

I'm currently reading The Splendid and the Vile, which is Larson's take on a Winston Churchill biography. A quote in his introduction stuck out:

“Although at times it may appear to be otherwise, this is a work of nonfiction. Anything between quotation marks comes from some form of historical document, be it a diary, letter, memoir, or other artifact; any reference to a gesture, gaze, or smile, or any other facial reaction, comes from an account by one who witnessed it. If some of what follows challenges what you have come to believe about Churchill and this era, may I just say that history is a lively abode, full of surprises.”

Larson's stories are so gripping because they read like fiction, but you know they are real. I don't mean this in the "historical fiction" sense where everything written could have happened — everything that Larson writes did happen. Yet even his most basic subplots seem far more interesting than anything we actually live out in our day-to-day lives.

My take: attention to and appreciation of detail in our own lives is important. It not only helps us tell our story, but also to feel more fulfilled while it's happening.

As usual, reach out if anything was interesting. Share with your friends. Press the like button on the top. And let me know what format you want to see in future newsletters!

Appreciate you all :) see ya next week.

— Jihad

Artificial Scarcity and Its Discontents

PALACED #16: apples vs. ideas

Happy Sunday!

Another benefit of this newsletter that I sort of recognized before, but that has become especially apparent now, is that it forces me to read. I love reading. Life, however, has a way of making it difficult to find time to do what we love.

Committing to the newsletter means committing to reading. If I don’t read, I’ll have nothing to write! Funny how that works.

Today’s issue is meant to help me start grappling with the definitions of words. If you’ve read this newsletter at all in the last year, you’ve seen me use the word “post-capitalism.” I’m sure it means something slightly different to all of us, but if I’m going to use a word, I should probably take the time to properly define it.

That’s not going to be done completely today, but I want to begin to dissect specific, concrete elements of what post-capitalism entails.

Today, we’re going to (briefly) define artificial scarcity.

What does it mean to be scarce?

Let’s start with the basis. To be “scarce” is to be limited. Crude oil is scarce — they are not infinitely available to us. For all practical purposes, air is not scarce — we can breathe it 24/7/365 and we won’t run out (note that I didn’t say clean air).

Classical economics tells us that we deal with scarcity by participating in a market. For example, the price of crude oil rises and falls based on changes in supply and demand.

This works because we are working with goods that are naturally scarce. There really is a finite amount of crude oil in the world. Thus, our economies assign value (i.e. price) to the good using a framework of scarcity.

But what happens when things aren’t scarce?

Trading Apples vs. Trading Ideas

Let’s say you and I each have one apple. We trade. We still each have one apple.

Let’s say you and I each have one idea. We trade. Now, we each have two ideas.

Ideas are not scarce. Information is not scarce. For all practical purposes, data is not scarce. And this is where capitalist models begin to break down.

Researcher Kevin Carson argues that “capitalism has, since the beginning, depended on artificial scarcities — and in particular on “intellectual property.” Intellectual property law is the means through which these seemingly abundant goods have been made monetizable under capitalism.

The scarcity of information is artificial. It is created purely as a means of extracting monetary value.

Questions To Consider

To the post-capitalist, artificial scarcity serves the capitalist class by building walls around goods that should be publicly (or more widely) available. Here are some questions to consider, some of which I have strong opinions on/answers to, and others I don’t. I’ll spend some time answering these in the coming weeks:

  1. What other forms of artificial scarcity exist (besides intellectual property)?

  2. If our current economic system is built on scarcity — artificial or otherwise — how would a system that actively opposes scarcity work (i.e. is positive sum)?

  3. Must I give up something of “scarce value” in order to prove that something is valuable to me?

Lots to think about. If any of these questions catches your eye, shoot me an email with your response! Would love to discuss.

Stray Links

Here are some things that caught my eye this week:

I’m currently reading Capital and Ideology by Thomas Piketty, the Nobel Prize-winning French economist. In it, Piketty outlines the development of capitalism and argues for a more “participatory” economy. I’m very excited to work through it and will probably be citing it a lot in the coming weeks.

I recently came across the works of Julian Shapiro. He’s a writer, but his writing is fundamentally different than anything else you’ll find online. He doesn’t write blog posts and he doesn’t publish on a regular basis. Instead, he’ll occasionally publish super in-depth “handbooks” that encompass virtually everything he knows about a topic. The writing process, for him, is a way to become an expert on topics and skills he cares about. I’m currently digging into his guide on writing well.

The title speaks for itself: Violence and the Sacred: College as an incubator of Girardian terror. I don’t agree with all of the takes, but it’s definitely an interesting lens in the “should you go to college” debate.

Reach out if anything was interesting. Share with your friends. Press the like button on the top. Appreciate you all :) see ya next week.

— Jihad

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