Mulling Over

More only-vaguely-connected notes on things I’ve done and things I’ve considered.

I’m kind of wandering in the desert right now, I expect to find a direction again soon. This one may be especially incoherent or especially uninteresting, I could certainly see that complaint.

 

I. (Notes and Lists)

I scribble notes. In college my desk was stuffed with post-it notes of half-thoughts, most of which are lost shortly after birth. I have ancient, barely-cogent notes on the backs of yellowed receipt paper because it was what was there when I had the idea. Virtually none of them are worth a god damn but I still do it. Sometimes they fuel good conversation.
The Pleasures of Merely Circulating

My New Year’s Resolution last January was to make more lists. I didn’t bother getting more specific because the act of list-making was really what I was looking for. I just wanted to create data about myself to look at and build from. Maybe a list has one more dimension than a note and in some stupid abstract way I wanted more out of my compulsion to scribble.I wrote lists about what I ate, on-and-off for months. I began seriously recording my dreams. I began more consciously compiling links to stories I found interesting.
I think for the next year I’m going to intensify that effort. Again, it’s not a big new habitual thing, but it’s a small activity I think I can keep up with and build towards something.
What You Do Today is Not Essential

So far, writing has been easy for me. I hope to make it harder for myself and maybe write something more worth reading someday. Part of the reason it’s easy is because I haven’t constrained myself to a strict topic (although I do return to the same kind of themes here). (Other reasons why it’s easy: I hardly edit, I have no pressure to write, I don’t have much to say). I have a Pearltree where I’d organized many of the related links I’ve referenced here, constructed months before I started blogging here. I have a workflowy that I develop loose strands of stuff that link together things I’ve read across the internet. I’m also really happy with my social network streams and the material that gets shared with me. So a lot of post topics get triggered by a new link or book but I already had a jumble of related stuff in mind that I can draw a line through and call a plot.
I particularly like this one: “What Is Your Water Talent?

II. (Usefulness of Untrue Things)

On TypeAnalyzer (http://www.typealyzer.com/) my blog’s [fogbanking.com/blog] “personality” is said to be INTJ. I am myself a consistent INTP. I wonder what about my blog persona is distinct from my default persona.

Now, I don’t think MBTI is true in an objective sense, but is instead a useful mental toy if approached with caution. It’s an approach that I’m especially careful with in person, as I don’t want to confuse my tribe (secular, committed rational skeptics) into believing that I’m lapsing into believing mysticism. Still, I do think that even inconsistent/vague artifacts (for example, the I Ching) or insane/useless artifacts can still yield great grist for the cognitive mill. The reader(s) probably provide a bunch of the coherence and meaning, the thing is not the point. From the Aeon link:

Meaning nothing, the seethe of images — dragons and hoarfrost, migratory geese and ice — nevertheless contains the seeds of innumerable possible meanings. It is like a ring doughnut: empty in the middle, but with the meaning around the outside. But, of course, there cannot be a ring doughnut without a hole — or to paraphrase the passage in the ancient Chinese text the Laozi, it is thanks to the hole at the hub that the wheel turns.

This idea of an untrue thing being useful to toy with is one of those strange things that different people will hear/read differently. For some people, the idea of using these concepts to generate ideas is obvious, what else are they for? But until recently I didn’t really come from a mental space that would see these kinds of allowances as productive. And on the other side, I know a great many people who would see it as productive but also literally true, which isn’t at all tenable to me. None of those attitudes are interesting to me. You can entertain things that aren’t Truths without exploding. Maybe I’m not making sense anymore today. Moving on.

 

 III. (A Congressional History)

From a post on Google+, via Jordan Peacock:

Of course, this is an artifact of language.

The structure of our government, where I was shocked to see agreement with Scalia, is that Congress, not the President, wields nearly all power in theory. Congress, not the President, can essentially rewrite America on a whim. While it cannot appoint public ministers, it is free to convene whatever drumhead trials it deems desirable and remove every officer of government on any trumped up charge it deems fit. The executive would not long survive a determined legislature and its most powerful tools can be overcome by one. Even the judiciary can see its power stripped, driven from Washington, the burning remains of their rulings cast after them.

When we say “under President Obama” we’re speaking as if we lived in a monarchy or dictatorship where power vests in one man. We should properly say “under the 111th through 113th Congresses”.

Seeking out a “Congressional History” or even a generally more institutional history of the United States in some way might be a fun and interesting exercise. I imagine that a Supreme Court History would be much easier to find. As some of the links I’ve provided in this post sort of echo the Oakeshottian view of slow development without decisive events or agents. Quoting myself from Notes on Historiography:

Oakeshott apparently believed that “reputable political behavior is not dependent upon sound or even coherent philosophy.” Institutions are the “product of innumerable human choices, over long stretches of time, but not of any human design.”