Utopia for Realists

That’s the title of Rutger Bregman’s new book.  It’s not just optimism; it’s full of fresh thinking that challenges the picture in which we have been schooled.

  • Open borders, allowing people to live where they please, would double the world’s economic product.
  • Radicals attract more votes than centrists.
  • Most people can be trusted to work productively toward worthwhile ends if they have the freedom to choose.
  • Capitalism, by contrast, forces the great majority of people into unproductive work—“bullshit jobs”, he calls them.
  • Countries that wage war for access to resources on foreign soil become poorer.
  • Countries that give away a large portion of their productive output in foreign aid become richer.

“People are always yearning for a bigger story to be part of, it’s not enough to live our own private lives. If you offer people ideals, they’ll rise to meet them.”

We’re already richer, healthier, and safer than at any time in human history.  If many of us are still miserable, it’s because our perspectives have lagged behind the reality.  When perspective gets ahead of reality, it’s called “imagination”.



Book review in the New Statesman
60-min video summary




Longevity and Community Connections

Many of us are interested in self-care to optimize our personal health and extend our lives.  But the best thing we can do for ourselves isn’t focused on self—it’s connection to family and community.

Here are two TED talks [Susan Pinker, Amy Yotopoulos] on the subject.  I’ve made this point in my own aging blog [one, two].  (You can read the evidence from diverse original sources linked from my blog.)  Social connections have a bigger effect on your longevity than smoking or obesity.

AMAZING 7 GENERATIONS IN THE NICOYA BLUE ZONE!  This photo of 107-year old and the generations between her and her great, great, great, great granddaughter, Angeli.  --by way of our great friend Jorge Vindas

It’s useful information, yes.  And—if we absorb the deep message—it also changes the way we think.

  • Our health is very closely linked to the people around us.  Is this through hormones and mirror neurons?  Is there a transpersonal component.  Scientific studies have tried to debunk the idea that you can heal someone through prayer, and they keep tripping on embarrassing positive results.  Can the good will of people around us contribute directly to our health?
  • It underscores the ways in which the American culture (rugged individualism, libertarian emphasis on self-will, weakening family ties and pushing us into isolated lives) has undermined our health and wellbeing.
  • This is evidence against the prevailing evolutionary view that competition individual-vs-individual is the only significant force of natural selection.  (Perhaps this is too esoteric and heady for this space—please forgive me—it’s a focus of my personal research mission.)

A lot of us need help and encouragement to reach out through discouraging social norms, risk rejection, and make contact.  Others have no trouble being social, but get embarrassed if sharing becomes too intimate.  And so many, many of us whose leadership in the community would be most wise and powerful have shied away from leadership because … mostly because there are others so willing to do it badly.

February 21, 1954

Many are convinced that on this day in 1954, President Eisenhower was whisked away by his aides for a meeting with visitors from the Pleiades, and at the meeting, he signed a treaty with The Greys.

Others say he had emergency dental surgery. There was a news report that day that he had died.

President Dwight Eisenhower held a secret meeting with extraterrestrial visitors during the early hours of February 21, 1954, while on a “vacation” to Palm Springs in California, according to UFO and alien conspiracy theorists.

He went “missing” after he was whisked away secretly to Edwards Air Force Base and was not seen until he appeared at a church service in Los Angeles the next Sunday morning.

The official explanation of his mysterious “disappearance” was that he had to undergo an emergency dental surgery.

The abrupt disappearance of the president was so unusual that it fueled speculation about an illness or death in the media. The speculation became so intense that the rumors had to be dispelled by the president’s press secretary, James Haggerty, who told incredulous reporters at a press conference that Eisenhower had damaged a tooth cap while eating fried chicken and had to undergo emergency surgery.

A letter from Gerald Light claims he witnessed the event personally.

Surrealist Manifesto (1924)

Nous vivons encore sous le règne de la logique, voilà, bien entendu, à quoi je voulais en venir. Mais les procédés logiques, de nos jours, ne s’appliquent plus qu’à la résolution de problèmes d’intérêt secondaire. Le rationalisme absolu qui reste de mode ne permet de considérer que des faits relevant étroitement de notre expérience. Les fins logiques, par contre, nous échappent. Inutile d’ajouter que l’expérience même s’est vu assigner des limites. Elle tourne dans une cage d’où il est de plus en plus difficile de la faire sortir. Elle s’appuie, elle aussi, sur l’utilité immédiate, et elle est gardée par le bon sens.

Sous couleur de civilisation, sous prétexte de progrès, on est parvenu à bannir de l’esprit tout ce qui se peut taxer à tort ou à raison de superstition, de chimère, à proscrire tout mode de recherche de la vérité qui n’est pas conforme à l’usage. C’est par le plus grand hasard, en apparence, qu’a été récemment rendue à la lumière une partie du monde intellectuel, et à mon sens de beaucoup la plus importante, dont on affectait de ne plus se soucier. Il faut en rendre grâce aux découvertes de Freud. Sur la foi de ces découvertes, un courant d’opinion se dessine enfin, à la faveur duquel l’explorateur humain pourra pousser plus loin ses investigations, autorisé qu’il sera à ne plus seulement tenir compte des réalités sommaires. L’imagination est peut-être sur le point de reprendre ses droits. Si les profondeurs de notre esprit recèlent d’étranges forces capables d’augmenter celles de la surface, ou de lutter victorieusement contre elles, il y a tout intérêt à les capter, à les capter d’abord, pour les soumettre ensuite, s’il y a lieu, au contrôle de notre raison. Les analystes eux-mêmes n’ont qu’à y gagner. Mais il importe d’observer qu’aucun moyen n’est désigné a priori pour la conduite de cette entreprise, que jusqu’à nouvel ordre elle peut passer pour être aussi bien du ressort des poètes que des savants et que son succès ne dépend pas des voies plus ou moins capricieuses qui seront suivies.

We are still living under the reign of logic: this, of course, is what I have been driving at. But in this day and age logical methods are applicable only to solving problems of secondary interest. The absolute rationalism that is still in vogue allows us to consider only facts relating directly to our experience. The ends toward which our logic is directed are elusive. It is pointless to add that experience itself has found itself increasingly circumscribed. It paces back and forth in a cage from which it is more and more difficult for it to emerge. It leans for support on what is immediately expedient, and it is protected by the sentinels of common sense from reaching for effective change.

Under the banner of civilization, under the pretext of progress, we have applied the label “superstition” to banish all challenges to our quotidien reality; we have denied our own experience as chimera; we have proscribed every mode of seeking truth that is not conventionally empirical. It is only fortuitously that the world of our dreams and fancies has gained the acknowledgment of the intellectuals. Thanks only to the discoveries of Sigmund Freud, the imagination may be about to regain its rights. If the depths of our minds harbor strange forces capable of augmenting those of the surface, or of struggling victoriously against them, there is every interest in capturing these, perhaps even subordinating our logic to our intuitions.  This is necessary, to hold our reason to account, to keep it in check. There is as yet no prescribed methodology for this enterprise, no map of the terrain. So it is to be the responsibility of poets and scientists alike to assure its success.

André Breton, born this day in 1896
(JJM takes responsibility for liberties in translation)

It’s been 140 years—Are we ready yet?

“You ask when it will come to pass; it will come to pass, but first we have to go through the period of isolation.”

“What do you mean by isolation?” I asked him.


“Why, the isolation that prevails everywhere, above all in our age—it has not fully developed, it has not reached its limit yet. For every one strives to keep his individuality as apart as possible, wishes to secure the greatest possible fullness of life for himself; but meantime all his efforts result not in attaining fullness of life but self-destruction, for instead of self-realization he ends by arriving at complete solitude. All mankind in our age have split up into units, they all keep apart, each in his own groove; each one holds aloof, hides himself and hides what he has, from the rest, and he ends by being repelled by others and repelling them. He heaps up riches by himself and thinks, ‘How strong I am now and how secure,’ and in his madness he does not understand that the more he heaps up, the more he sinks into self-destructive impotence. For he is accustomed to rely upon himself alone and to cut himself off from the whole; he has trained himself not to believe in the help of others, in men and in humanity, and only trembles for fear he should lose his money and the privileges that he has won for himself.


Everywhere in these days men have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort. But this terrible individualism must inevitably have an end, and all will suddenly understand how unnaturally they are separated from one another. It will be the spirit of the time, and people will marvel that they have sat so long in darkness without seeing the light. And then the sign of the Son of Man will be seen in the heavens…. But, until then, we must keep the banner flying. Sometimes even if he has to do it alone, and his conduct seems to be crazy, a man must set an example, and so draw men’s souls out of their solitude, and spur them to some act of brotherly love, that the great idea may not die.”

— Dostoyevsky (Last words of the Elder, from The Brothers Karamazov)

And the core of the lunar new year tradition is…

Visit your family.  Travel to spend a week with them.  Call up friends you haven’t seen in years.  Drop in on people across town and tell them you love them and you miss them.  Connect and reconnect.  Only connect.

We live in crazy times when it’s normal to be isolated and lonely.  We live in the most pathologically individualistic culture in the history of the world. We must take initiative to break through expectations and share our lives with others.  We must do this for ourselves, and each time we do, we do it for someone else as well.

A Short Ride in a Fast Machine

Short-rideThe minimalist movement in music began in the 1970s as a much-needed response to a complexity that had long ago come to sound like randomness to any but the most gifted and highly-trained musical ears.

The problem with early minimalism is that it didn’t fully reward our attention. It was good for background music. A little too close to elevator music.

Enter John Adams, the maximal minimalist. Don’t worry about boring!

Listen to A Short Ride in a Fast Machine

John Adams is 71 years old today.

Want an encore? Try Lollapalooza