Today no article, but rather, four links I want to discuss.
Interesting story about Jordan Peterson and his daughter and their “beef only diet”. The title says meat, but if you read closer, they only eat beef. I consider vegan diets risky, but all-meat diets appear insane to me. The reason Jordan Peterson resonates so strongly with young reasonably intelligent white men is because he clearly suffers from the same existential distress most of us suffer. As the above article lucidly explains, the crazy diet he adheres to is linked to the stress he must be under. This pattern of severe dietary restriction has been seen throughout history.
I consider Jordan Peterson a modern day prophet, for people born into the winter stage of Western civilization. Spengler gives the best model when it comes to the decline of civilization. In Spengler’s perspective, civilizations are cyclical. They’re born in spring, mature in summer, ripen in autumn and die in winter. Spengler’s perspective on the cycle of civilization is perhaps best summarized by the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran: Civilizations are born in myth and die in doubt.
The people born into this era are left confused and without direction. If you notice that the philosophies of late Classical civilization tend to remind you of self-help books and modern manifestos, that’s no coincidence. Stoicism is known to us today as “Effective Altruism”, the secular religion for Sillicon Valley tech moguls. The Cynicism of Antisthenes and Diogenes is radical environmentalism in its various forms. At the height of their empire, the Romans had Cynics begging on every streetcorner.
Jordan Peterson appeals to the same crowd, of people who seek direction and a bigger picture in life, which can no longer be found in religion these days. Any reasonably intelligent critical thinker today can comprehend that there is no organized religion around today that delivers us an absolute truth. As a simple example: The Catholic church lobbies against laws that allow abortion for teenage girls who were raped and women whose fetuses suffer birth defects.
If you have a child with Edwards syndrome (1 in 5000 births), there’s a 90% chance the baby will die before reaching its first birthday, because the child is born with numerous painful birth defects. We can easily diagnose this disease in the first trimester of pregnancy, but based on some inherited ignorant dogmatism, the Catholic church insists that women should be traumatized by giving birth to such children and watch them slowly die a painful death, as medical professionals waste their time on a child who could never live a happy life. I consider this evil and can’t imagine associating myself with philosophies that endorse such stupidity, but this is the only religious tradition I have inherited. There are numerous young people like me who understand this issue and thus grow up with a spiritual void.
Time for something very bleak that needs to be discussed:
The story is about a twelve year old boy from a good neighborhood, who tried to kill himself by jumping off a bridge into traffic. He survived, but the driver he hit died. The victim was a 22 year old girl, busy earning her master’s degree in clinical mental-health counseling to become a child psychologist. If you wrote a story like this down in a novel people would complain that it’s unrealistic, but those are the kind of cruel jokes the universe tends to pull on us.
Anyway, the article goes on to describe how the boy’s suicide attempt was essentially covered up. The story became that the child tried to grab his phone and fell while doing so, the parents refuse to allow anyone to interview the child. The question that remains is: Are the parents afraid for repercussions for their child, or are they living in denial about the fact that the boy tried to kill himself?
My conviction is that the parents are living in denial. I’ve noticed many times that parents have a tendency to slip in denial when something is terribly wrong with their child. It’s probably an evolutionary leftover, a useful irrationality that helps you pass on your genes. Note how parents of terrorists never seem to see it coming, or how parents can’t believe their son raped someone. Depression and suicide in children are even harder to acknowledge for parents it seems. To recognize such a thing would require you to acknowledge that you spent years of your life devoted to someone who doesn’t want to live.
If we have a habit as a society of denying suicides, we’re faced with a much greater problem that we currently understand. I think that a large part of the opioid overdose epidemic can be traced back to people who want to kill themselves. Opioids are the most accessible means to them, leave behind a clean body and allow them and their families to deny for as long as they wish that the (attempted) death was unintentional. Dutch death statistics are also showing signs of manipulation: Although sucide rates are rising, there has been an even faster increase in “accidental falls” and other suspicious causes of death.
I favor legalized euthanasia, but currently only for very sick people, because I realize that a lot of people would otherwise choose to die who can in fact be helped. Most of the people I really love have considered suicide at some point in their lives. If we had legalized euthanasia today, a lot of people would choose to commit suicide who can be helped through effective therapies that we’re currently not using. As an example, psilocybe mushrooms are a very effective method of treating severe depression, but they’re not being used for that purpose on any significant scale.
The suicide rate for teenagers has skyrocketed in recent years. People blame social media, but there’s a bigger issue that’s not being considered: The insane pressure that parents place on children to succeed academically. Adults have created a society where your choice is between a good degree and flipping burgers for the rest of your life, so teenagers are pushed to achieve high test scores to get into a good university. This is largely a consequence of meritocracy: If anyone can accomplish anything provided you take enough effort, nobody can still be content with not being on top. Rather than pushing their children to get high grades until they want to jump off a bridge, adults need to look for ways to allow their children to have a dignified existence without having to jump through endless hoops.
For any teenagers here who are reading along and considering suicide, my advice would be not to go through with it. Families don’t tend to recover from a suicide. A suicide ends life for one person, but ruins it for others. Although it’s true that people are selfish and in denial, most people are genuinely not aware of the suffering they impose upon teenagers and expect you to carry. We don’t torture a cat after we saw it torturing mice, because the cat genuinely can’t comprehend what he’s doing.
My advice would be to consider that things that seem impossible to overcome now will be a vague memory in your future. I’m in my late twenties now, so I’ve been through most of the shit you’re dealing with now and can see it in perspective. I remember a girl back in high school who had some video leaked of her playing with a banana. Boys just respond by masturbating until their dick is about to fall off, because they’re not at an age where they’re genuinely capable of comprehending the suffering they cause. Today she’s a young married mom, it doesn’t really influence her life anymore.
Similarly, as politically incorrect as it might seem, the world doesn’t end if you get bad grades. Your parents want you to go to university and become a scientist of some sort, but the kind of people who are happy as scientists are the kind of people who get good grades without being pushed by their parents. If you spend every day in high school annoyed by the fact that you have to do homework, you wouldn’t like doing a Phd tract. Having a prestigious job means spending every day of your life involved in petty conflicts and power struggles between dipshits who have no life outside of their job and no genuine personality.
You’re going to be happiest doing a job with people who are similar to you in personality. I attended university and it made me miserable, because the people I got along with would drop out and I would be left in class with skinny blonde girls with wealthy daddies who get annoyed with me because I’m disorganized. Later in life I discovered that most of the people I get along with best never even managed to make it into university to begin with. A few weeks ago I brought up “Enter the Void” to a colleague and he told me he had seen the movie. How many skinny blonde girls with wealthy daddies and good grades do you think there are who have seen that movie?
Your number one responsibility in life is not to get good grades, to please your parents, to save the world, to obey God or to keep your legs closed, all of those are of secondary importance at best. The number one responsibility you have is to be happy. If you’re severely unhappy as a teenager it’s going to cause you issues later down the line, most parents don’t really understand this because they generally enter into denial when they think their child might be unhappy.
Unhappy teenagers are going to try drugs. If they don’t try drugs, they’re going to try something worse than drugs. Teenagers need to understand that not all drugs are the same. Alcohol won’t solve your problems for you, cannabis won’t solve your problems for you, nor will meth, cocaine, opioids or any of that stuff. There’s nothing wrong with trying magic mushrooms once in your life when you’re feeling severely depressed. Go out in nature, make sure you get the dose correct and ideally bring a sober friend.
People will consider it irresponsible for me to recommend magic mushrooms to depressed teenagers (because they forgot what it’s like to be a teenager), but the evidence we have overwhelmingly suggests that they significantly reduce suicide risk and carry no significant health risks. Any health risks they might cause that we don’t know about simply don’t weigh up to the reduction in suffering they would cause for depressed teenagers.
This reminds me of a study that found that bees can count to three. It’s hard for us to get a good estimate of how intelligent animals are. Brain size is a poor proxy, because whales are probably not more intelligent than us. Brain to body ratio is not a good proxy either, because small birds are not smarter than humans either. Encephalization quotient seems to be an improvement, until you realize that brain mass is a better measure of intelligence in primates than the encephalization quotient. In addition, the Encephalization quotient is somewhat arbitrary and difficult to apply on intelligent non-mammal animals, like the Octopus.
One heuristic that can generally be drawn from the evidence we have is that highly social animals tend to be more intelligent than asocial animals. There are numerous exceptions of course, like the octopus, who is intelligent because he needs to use a wide variety of different hunting tactics while evading predators, rather than understanding social complexities like dominance hierarchies. Can we use the amount of effort parents invest into their offspring then? Not really, because that’s hard to define. An Octopus can care for her eggs for years, but she has dozens simultaneously. It gets even more complex, when you consider that we can’t properly define intelligence. Is a good memory a sign of intelligence? In humans good memory predicts high intelligence, but chimpanzees will beat humans in a memory test.
How come I’m no longer a die-hard collapsitarian? Well, like I mentioned earlier, we underestimate the significance of the opportunities human beings have to respond to the threat we face. If you had looked at England in the late 18th century, you would be looking at a severely overpopulated nation that suffers from rampant deforestation and a growing inability to feed its population. Thomas Malthus concluded catastrophe would follow, by extrapolating the trends he witnessed. But then we began to exploit a new source of fuel: Coal. The coal started to increase atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, which increased temperatures and increased agricultural yields. Coal is starting to cause us problems now, but for the past two hundred years it has been of tremendous help to us.
You can’t make an adequate model of our future, without considering the opportunities ahead of us. Here’s an example for you: Ocean thermal enegy conversion. OTEC generates electricity by bringing cold water in the depth of the ocean to the surface and warm water at the surface down. In the process, carbon dioxide is sequestered, temperatures in the surface water are reduced and base-load electricity is generated. In addition, nutrients are recycled, leading to increased biomass. This method of electricity generation that can be used year-round would be of tremendous help for coral reefs suffering from extreme temperatures.
Why have you never heard of OTEC? Because we don’t live in a society where smart people can easily deliver an effective contribution to society. Our society is very poorly fitted to entrepreneurial activity, because of entrenched bureaucracies that aggressively seek to justify their own existence at the cost of society as a whole. Whether billions of people are going to die this century depends primarily on whether or not we allow smart innovative people to exploit their talents, or whether we turn them into cogs in the machine.
I’m not against countries agreeing to reign in their carbon emissions. However, I’m convinced that this is not going to work, because whenever people discover that reducing CO2 emissions will come at the cost of their own standard of living, they tend to revolt. Keep in mind: The amount of CO2 that India is expected to emit in the future is less than India allows itself to emit through its pledges! If India has no genuine carbon reduction obligations, while Europe and North America do, Europeans and North Americans will interpret what happens as a form of wealth redistribution away from their countries to the third world. My prediction: We will start seeing riots similar to those now seen in Paris across Western Europe in the years ahead.
Solutions that work will have to involve adaptation to the new climate we’re entering. If you expect that the Netherlands is going to emit 50% less CO2 in 2030 than it does now, you’re going to be faced with a disappointment. That’s just not how the world works.