Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

The experience machine & the world for upload

I bet the format of Instagram stories got so popular, because life only looks good on pictures. In Sartre’s ‘Nausea’ the female protagonist was preoccupied with collecting ‘perfect moments’, but some externalities were always there to ruin it. And that’s how indeed it is. Can you breath, can you see things clearly in the burning sun? The oxygen intake is scarce, the airflow tight, focus of eyes never precise. The eyes become watery, the skin feels too sticky. The air is full of dusty particles that settle on epidermis, mixing with fluids, resulting in an oily dirty coverage you have to subsist under. It might be a symptom of sensory oversensitivity, but living in a body is binding. Although through pictures you may transcend the feeling. The landscape becomes perfect regardless of weather contingencies, the food on a plate becomes pure aesthetics, the Platonic ideal of food on a plate, as if the restaurant was not too hectic, hot or too loud. The thirst, the temperatures. I don’t even want to start with the temperatures. Only a narrow range of degrees makes existence not pain-provoking, suffering-inducing, deeming only a tiny part of the annual cycle liveable.

What stands behind the words ‘life is beautiful’ and ‘enjoy beauty of the moment’: do people mean it as a metaphor, a hyperbole, or do they find their perception flawless (highly doubtful). They have to exaggerate, nothing makes sense otherwise. The beauty of life exists only in poems that were written specifically for the purpose of distilling and perhaps even constructing it. The empirical realm has nothing to do with this Platonic image of what life is supposed to feel like. That’s why we tend to get fascinated with camera outputs, films and photos of moments and places. But life is not a movie of Richard Linklater or photos of Paolo Raeli. These topographies are noumena, unreachable from the trivial reality of phenomena. ‘In the end, the perfect moment wasn’t anywhere, not on either side of the footlights, it didn’t exist; and yet everybody thought about it.’

Capitalism and happiness

Capitalism is not bad. Free-market economy is obviously not perfect, but we can work with it. What we know for sure is that capitalism provides the most prosperity and freedom to societies that adopt it, and seems to be on track of making the production so efficient that soon we’ll witness the very death of work and the workplace.

Even though the slogan ‘Arbeit macht frei’ is discredited by Nazis, it bears truth: labor indeed has an emancipatory value. Despite the claims of Rousseau, the natural state is far from pleasant: it comes with natural cataclysms, famine, and disease. Through the creative transformation of nature and the centuries of hard work, the humankind has luckily eliminated most of that misery. The mandatory labor is obviously unpleasant. Perhaps only the Protestant ethics managed to present it in positive light. Unfortunately, we don’t live in the century where the full freedom from labor is achieved yet, but I’m sure it’s inevitable. Even Marx envisaged it (assigning it to the wrong methods), saying that a future man would ‘hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, and criticize after dinner’.

How to use this freedom is another question though. Under the current state of capitalism, humans essentially find some of their desires unsatisfied, and start criticizing the system itself for not providing the ultimate happiness (once again, that’s the genesis of communism). Other people embrace capitalism to the fullest, and assume it can satisfy all their wants. Some use corporate career as an outlet for thymotic pursuits (the desire for recognition). The modern version of Calvinist work ethics has replaced God with the Self, portraying work as something to fulfill that Self: though professional development, personal growth, and self-realization through career. Some find it satisfactory to be a VP in a multinational corporation (mainly those who love competitiveness and don’t have many outside interests). Others feel that something is lacking. Depending on who they blame for not feeling happy, themselves or others, antidepressants and communism are the most common remedies.

How to live (according to WHO)

It seems a big deficiency to me that life doesn’t come with a clear set of instructions. At least when it comes to nutrition and physical activity. The lack of defined guidelines results in abundance of weird speculations and recommendations spreading though the Internet. Some couches advise going to the gym 6 times per week and eating 10 meals per day. Other experts recommend renouncing sugars (even fruits) and embracing diets consisting of pure fats. Luckily, there’s no need to rely on questionable experts from social networks. The instructions for living actually exist. WHO has them prepared. Here and here.

Why listening to WHO? The Nobel prize laureate Herbert Simon has shown that if each of us aimed at optimizing every single task in life, it would require paramount time and infinite energy expenditures. Human rationality is essentially bounded by its limited capacity. Historically, labor specialization proved to be the most beneficial strategy when it comes to improving efficiency. Therefore outsourcing basic concerns over physical activity and nutrition to a group of specialists whose full-time job is to research this exact area is clearly more productive than conducting experiments on your own.

At the same time, it’s absolutely crucial to remember that, just like Hannah Arendt postulated, life maintenance activities are essentially secondary to human nature. They’re barely worth any extra cognitive effort. That’s why people whose main hobby is exercising and optimizing dieting and nutrition have always seemed suspicious to me. Since human cognitive power has a limited capacity, it’s a bit wasteful to spend it on activities the only aim of which is to maintain body functioning, when you could spend your limited time on intellectual and creative pursuits.

How to tackle climate change (realistically)

I agree with Michael Shellenberger and Bjorn Lomborg that climate change is a problem, but the scale of this problem is not large enough to cause the Apocalypse. The chance that global warming in extent of a few degrees will lead to the end of the world has probability comparable to an asteroid hitting the Earth, or a super-volcano suddenly erupting and erasing half of the continents – none of these scenarios could theoretically be ruled out. Global warming is not going to stop the Gulfstream, and melt the ice caps of Greenland over a course of a month (it might still happen, but over a more realistic horizon of approximately… 700 years).

However, even if climate change is not likely to cause the end of the world, it’s still a big problem. Therefore we should address global warming by introducing smarter policies and investing in more progressive technologies: transition to cleaner energy, better waste management, optimizing urban mobility, etc. Below is the list of measures that in my opinion can effectively, and most importantly – realistically, help us to become more ecological in a short to medium-term.

Michelin man from the caramel industry

Let me share with you a curious discovery of an Austrian brand called Kirstein and its flagman product ‘Blockmalz’ – caramels made out of barley malt that are traditionally used as a medicine against cough (if you haven’t tried them, just be aware that it’s the best-tasting caramel in the world, or… at least on the territory of the ex-Austro-Hungary).

But it’s not the most important thing about the brand. The mascot of Kirstein is an equivalent of a creepy Michelin tyre man, just made out of… caramel blocks (which instantly reminds us of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition with its protagonist suffering from a Michelin man phobia – a fear totally justified!).

Now brace yourself for the pictures.

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