free minds need new ideas

the goal, eliyahu goldratt

A clear narrative explication of some of the counter-intuitive ideas behind toyota / just-in-time production methods. Not clearly applicable to individual idea work, except by a strained metaphor where productive time is the production bottleneck. Following that metaphor, this book emphasizes how useful it is to reorganize all other areas of your life to maximize productive time, a topic dealt with directly in other texts.

hillbilly elegy, j.d. vance

An adequately-written portrait of red-state family drama and dysfunction that lucked into being published at a time where media figures hunger for tales of white poverty. Like seemingly everything else, does a decent job identifying and describing social problems and fails to suggest plausible cures. Description is much easier than prescription, but less useful for anything besides pleasure reading and cocktail party discussion.

a little book on the human shadow, robert bly

I have a thick book of Jung that I’ve been meaning to read. This thin volume has convinced me that the shadow may be a very helpful tool for understanding my personality and directing my personal growth.

evicted, matthew desmond

Poverty limits agency; bad choices (steak with food stamps) are an attempt to recover it. Poverty imposes enormous costs - incredibly frequent moves consume time and money, make holding a job more difficult.

Our bifurcating society is creating a vicious cycle - raising rents in order to price out (undesirable | high time preference) people pushes those on the border into the poverty trap and makes it harder to climb out.

ghettoside, jill leovy

A portrait of broken windows policing gone/done wrong. The LAPD’s focus on quality of life crimes combined with reducing resources available to murder investigations turns police force into occupiers, making life much worse for both cops and residents.

twilight of the elites, chris hayes

A culture of unaccountability has allowed incompetents to remain in positions of power. A functioning meritocracy must instill noblesse oblige in its elites, and prevent failures from being rewarded; our kakistocracy does not.

More historical perspective would be nice; while the Iraq war and financial crisis demonstrate the incompetence of our current ruling class and various recent election results show that voters are noticing it, it’s not clear whether this state of things is new and scary or something we’ve been muddling through forever.

secondhand time, svetlana alexievich

An engaging series of interviews with people who lived through the fall of the USSR. I felt a lot of resonance with the current American climate while reading this around the time of the Inauguration.

Symbols have great importance: blue jeans and salami loom large for both pro- and anti-Soviet interviewees. For a great many people, being part of a great project was more important than material comfort. Nobody seems to deny that the Soviet era was a time of deprivation and repression; many deny that these outweigh the grand vision.

the cowshed, ji xianlin

A first-person account of an academic living through the Cultural Revolution.

Anyone commenting on recent events at (Middlebury | Berkeley | Claremont | Evergreen) should read this book. Empowering illiberal youth movements can go very wrong, and I am concerned by the explicit Maoist tendencies in current campus movements.

benedict and the archipelago

A variety of non-mainstream commenters have proposed similar systems for governing a post-centralized world. Though the details of archipelago, patchwork, anarchocapitalism with private law, and other similar ideas vary, they have in common the idea that people should choose their government from among a variety of competing options. Competition would force governments to do well by their citizens, and the availability of options would let people choose a government that fits their values and priorities.

What would working towards archipelago look like? In the US, a top-down approach might focus on weakening the federal government and restoring power to the States. Efforts in this direction have been ineffective and unpopular.

A bottom-up approach would look like withdrawal from mainstream society, building up alternate, more ‘natural’ sources of authority for smaller communities. Religious communities are putting this into practice. The Benedict option is being pursued by Christians who fear persecution and secularization. By relocating to communities of people who share their values, they hope to preserve and pass them on. Similarly, in some Muslim communities voluntary conflict resolution processes based on sharia operate in parallel to official courts. Unfortunately, search results are heavily polluted by arguments around the idea of imposing sharia through official structures, so I don’t have a good link to share.

It’s important to note that these islands don’t see themselves as part of an archipelago. Outgroup homogeneity bias will make each new island in the archipelago appear to its inhabitants as a rebellion against a hostile mainstream culture (that is disappearing, or no longer really exists).

These religious islands are distinct from technolibertarian examples of corporations routing around formal state power, such as the widespread use of contracts that waive rights to trial in favor of private mediation or the endrun that sharing economy companies like Uber and AirBnB have made around entrenched regulatory structures. One difference is that they are authentic communities with specific ideas about the nature and sources of authority; another is that they will not be subsumed by the current formal structures of the authority monopoly. Early islands in the formation of an archipelago must be truly distinct from the mainland.

edit 10/12/2016: While writing a followup relating the current failure of the bipartisan political system (the degree to which the US more closely resembles two one-party states than one two-party states) and the piecewise transition towards archipelago to David Chapman’s countercultural and subcultural modes of meaningness, I found that he had already sketched out this idea and is currently elaborating it further. Highly recommended.


Birth rates are going down all over the world. Clearly many people are delaying or forgoing raising children in order to pursue other life goals. However, changes in moral thinking possibly play a part in this story. As the world has become more secular, consequentialism has displaced deontology as the dominant ethical system. Additionally, the sexual revolution led to increased emphasis on consent and decreased emphasis on duty in interpersonal relations. Both of these trends have come to bear on bearing children.


In positive utilitarianism, we have a moral obligation to maximize the value that people derive from life. Therefore, if life is net-negative (on average or for a specific potential person), it would be immoral to create a new person.

In negative utilitarianism, we have a moral obligation to minimize suffering. Therefore, if we expect a child’s life to contain suffering, it’s probably immoral to create it.

The ways that modern conditions have shifted incentives from the parents’ perspective probably has had more impact on actual behavior. However, there is enough writing on the alleged selfishness of the childfree lifestyle that I won’t rehash it here until I have a suitably cogent contribution.


Nobody can consent in advance to their creation. If we take seriously teenage anomie that says “I wish I had never been born!”, many parents have wronged their children by creating them. Beyond conception, if one believes consent must underlie all interactions raising children will be a struggle. As more people experience depression themselves, doubts about whether potential children assent to their own creation may become more widespread.

Children are unlikely to return to being assets to their parents. A society that values growth must find ways to provide meaning to the individuals that make it up, lest having children be ethically questionable.