Mo Bitar

@mo

Notes to self. Working on Standard Notes, a simple and private notes app.

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Notice

March 28, 2018

You're more likely to notice the bad things around you, than you are the good things. This is easy to notice. I have around me right now innumerable good things. I'm sheltered in a warm room, and have an endless supply of coffee. That's pretty good. My dog is snuggling cozily next to me, I'm not tired, I have food to eat, my bills are paid. Great, great things. But, it would be silly if that's all I thought about.

No, better to think about the bad things. So I can fix them.

Which proves, it doesn't matter what you have or don't have. Everyone is the same in that, when you have something, it's no longer on the fore of your consciousness. When you don't have something, it's all you can think about.

No one is better off. That we look to the future acquisition of some material as the next step in our journey towards contentedness is a trick our mind plays on us to compel us to act, not necessarily for our own good, but the collective good.

Ambiance Monetizer

March 24, 2018

I was at a coffee shop today and overheard someone talk about a book they purchased on Amazon.

Upon hearing that word, a bit immediately flipped in my brain and reminded me of a few things I’ve been meaning to order.

So I went and made a purchase.

I thought it would be funny if at some point Amazon introduces a device shops can place to monetize their ambiance, which at random times during the hour has no other purpose than to scream “Amazon!” as obnoxiously as possible.

Not open to suggestion

March 16, 2018

I recently took a trip with a friend, and noticed myself behaving extrinsically, rather than intrinsically, and felt dirty about it. That is, rather than drinking coffee when I felt like drinking coffee, my friend might awake earlier than me and say "Hey, I'm making coffee, want some?" To which I might reply, sure, why not!

I thought this was harmless, but carried on to other elements of life, you start living a life of suggestion.

"Hey, I'm taking a walk, want to join?" Sure, why not! When really, maybe I wanted to walk an hour from now.

That I was open to suggestion at first appears to be a trait of open-mindedness, but later manifested itself as: I don't feel that good. I drank coffee when I usually wouldn't have. I took walks when I usually wouldn't have. I ate this generously offered candy bar when I usually wouldn't have.

So the next day, I told my friend, I'm not open to suggestion today. He said, I'm making some coffee—want some? I said no, sorry, not open to suggestion today. I drank coffee about 45 minutes later when it felt right within me to do so. My friend said, hey, it's nice out, want to go on a hike? I said no, sorry, you go ahead. I'm not open to suggestion today. I took a hike about an hour later, when it felt right within me to do so. I applied this pattern throughout the entire day, and felt thoroughly better.

When I returned home, I felt myself unable to shed this mentality. I started becoming ultra sensitive to everything that was suggesting me to do something I didn't necessarily want to do. Everything in the artificial life is designed to influence you, and when you perform activities not because they feel right, but because there is either "nothing else to do", or because it's a certain time of day, you're living a life of suggestion.

The most flagrant belligerent?

The huge television in my living room. How else is one supposed to design a living room other than a square arrangement of sofas facing a huge flat screen TV? We certainly didn't know any better.

I found however that when I entered my home, tired and wanting of rest, and definitely without the thought of watching TV having crossed my mind—when I enter and sit on the couch, the huge TV is practically begging me to use it. The entire living room design is centered around the suggestion of watching TV. So, in many cases, you end up watching TV, or playing video games, not because it was inherently what you wanted to do, but because the design of your life is centered around oppressive suggestions that can be difficult to detect and resist.

We are constantly being suggested to—how we should feel, what we should be talking about, what activities we should do. When you open Twitter.com, there is a list of trending topics, which suggests that you too should be apprised of these events, and perhaps contribute to the conversation. You see your follower count, which suggests how you should feel, relative to others. Advertisements on TV are flagrantly suggestive, almost as to be entirely offensive. When I returned from my trip, I couldn't believe that flagrantly suggestive advertisements ("Cool, healthy, and fulfilled people drink Diet Coke.") are even societally acceptable. But what can we do.

In the country, on my trip, avoiding suggestion was extremely easy. It was a mostly natural environment. Back in the city life, everything about your environment is unconsciously designed to influence you. I avoided any thought or desire of watching TV or playing video games on my trip, but as soon as I returned home, my environment sucked me back in. Slowly at first, and now my grip is relinquishing entirely. Something needs to change.

I'm tempted to scrap my living room all together of any suggestion. If you want to watch TV, go on into that other room where the TV is. As for the living room, it should be a basecamp from where you launch your activities, based on internal impulses and not external influence. I would have done this in a heartbeat, but, obviously, "real life" has certain conditions. The in-between solution my wife and I agreed on was that we could cover the TV when it's not in use, perhaps either with a pull down curtain, or some sort of shutters. Why should a huge ass TV constantly insist on itself, even when you are not using it, or have no intention of using it?

I'm finding it harder and harder to resist suggestion in the artificial world. You can't just change yourself. There is no you. There is just the environment that makes you. It's why bad habits always come crawling back. It's not enough to just change yourself.

I'm still fighting hard to resist suggestion. I haven't checked any feed of any sort since my trip, including a Twitter feed, a news feed, or any other news-based feed. My rule is, you can tweet out if you want to, but, no feeding.

I also don't mind checking Twitter notifications if I have any, but again, the timeline is off limits. It's an endless feed of suggestion. "Don't know how you should feel right now? Here is a list of suggestions based on what other people are feeling." It's not a way to live.

My hope is to be intentional. To do something because it's inherently what I want to do. This isn't a blanket assault on consumption. It's an assault on unguided, unintentioned consumption. You can play video games, but only if you had it in your mind that you wanted to play video games prior to sitting down on the couch. You can watch TV, but only if you had it in your mind that you wanted to watch TV prior to seeing your TV. But when you are completely empty, and at the mercy of "what are my options?", you'll never quite feel at ease. You will always be at the mercy of suggestion, very far away from your internal state, which—make no mistake about it—has the ability to be at reasonable peace.

It's not your fault

March 11, 2018

Several years ago, I went vegan for six months, because I wanted to be conscientious. I was fortunate enough to exit that unfortunately ascetic lifestyle after realizing:

It’s not your fault you like meat.

Humans have been eating meat long before I was ever born. Long before any of us were ever born. We’ve been eating meat for millions of years.

If I crave it, it’s not my fault. Sure, I can try to fight it. I can resist my hardware. But if I give in, it’s not my fault.

It's not your fault the entire premise of biological existence is feeding on other biological beings.

It’s not your fault you’re confused living in a strange and artificial world.

It’s not your fault you like sweet and salty foods, even if to an excessive degree.

It’s not your fault you’re sexually forageous, even in a relationship. Your body doesn’t know.

It's not your fault you've been conditioned to seek external sources of pleasure under the rule of consumerism. We are impressionable beings, and you were born into a world where small-minded humans before you have already strictly defined all the things, and how too you should see it.

It’s not your fault, during the endless dregs of your day, you flick ceaselessly through Twitter/Instagram/Facebook searching for something new.

It’s not your fault you're tired, sad, helpless, misshaped, sick, lost, fatigued, confused.

Because there is no you. There is no human individual. What we know as human is topological; is emergent. It’s the interconnected network of many of us. That's what makes you. One human individual is an alien concept altogether—one which is thoroughly unexplored, and ultimately undefined.

It’s not your fault you’re the result of history before you; that your thoughts, ideas, principles, fantasies, and desires are sometimes, maybe even often, culturally out of line.

It’s not your fault you’re trapped in a world you didn’t design.

The Artificial Life

March 11, 2018

There was a story some years ago about living circumstances for the 1.3 million employees of Foxconn in China, the company that builds Apple’s products. It’s a problem of scale, no doubt, but these workers lived in crammed boxes stacked atop one another high into the sky. In between the buildings, there was a net.

The net is an admission that suicide is embedded into the overall design of the arrangement, and short of a full-out global economic revolution, this was just the way it was going to be.

I thought of those people, and shook my head in pity. Those poor bastards.

In Sapiens, the author argues that the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago was the death of individual happiness. Systems that solve many of our problems do just that: they do the thing we were supposed to do. Millions of years of evolution have designed a human who feels at its most natural when performing certain actions which are in accordance with its instincts. In other words, it was by design that if you performed these actions, you would biologically feel good. That’s the whole premise.

In a few short years, and counting, we’ve managed to “solve" most of our yucky biological chores, like hunting and gathering, washing, cleaning, and today, cooking, traveling, and foraging (now called yelping).

It’s all taken care of by Uber for X.

What remains? What remains when all of our million-year-old chores are domesticated, and made ridiculously effortless—as easy as a few haptic taps on a surface? What do you call that existence, when you are completely absolved of biological chore?

Enter The Artificial Life.

The Artificial Life is not one of nature. It is a woefully unprescient conception designed by us, and mostly facilitated through the use of language. Our bodies, our minds, and the concert of their interactions are unable to fully appreciate the Artificial Life. It's still trying to do something else.

The Artificial Life is city living. Any city. If you can get food delivered to you in under an hour, you are living the Artificial Life, even if you don’t exercise that power frequently. In the Artificial Life, you do things that are abstract; that nothing in the natural world, including our bodies, can really make sense of. Watching Netflix on a rectangular TV hung up on your wall? That isn’t a real task. It’s not a real thing. It’s abstract pleasure for our unapologetically reward seeking mind. Our brain is tricked in a hundred which ways before watching Netflix is recognized as a real thing you’re doing. But our body doesn’t get it. It produces real chemicals when things happen on a fake display.

Here are things you might do in the natural world that evolution has recognized as fulfilling:

  • Hunt or gather food
  • Cook the food
  • Collect wood for a fire
  • Build a fire
  • Build a home
  • Explore the earth around you
  • Do nothing, after a tiring day’s work

Here are things you might do in the Artificial Life:

  • Have food delivered to you in 35 minutes
  • Set your Nest to 74 degrees
  • Turn on your digital fireplace
  • Build a home in Minecraft
  • Explore Twitter
  • Do nothing, after a tiring day’s work, and feel guilty for doing so

Is it any wonder why fulfillment is lacking in abundance in cities?

I spend a lot of time fine-tuning my artificial life to optimize for fulfillment and peace. I make progress, but it’s always fleeting. The wisdom which I might have gained a few weeks ago about being more present is today no longer cutting it. I need something new. So I go search, for the same thing, in a different package.

And this cycle repeats, and repeats, and repeats. I might just be ok realizing there is no fulfilling city life. Not until a bridge is built between the abstract and the physical. Not until our bodies understand where they are.

Presently, they haven't got a clue.

Imaginary

March 5, 2018

Sometimes, when I’m deep in it, I think that there are several billion people on the planet, all worrying after something. Each and every one has found some way to entertain their mind with the wonderfully wicked world of what if. And it must be, if each of us is worrying ceaselessly after something—it must be that our worlds aren’t as real as we think they are.

Sometimes, it helps to know that my problems are sort of...imaginary.


After reading the above to myself, I realize another aspect, which is perfectly contradicting.

Emergence is a wild phenomenon, and something that would by definition be impossible for the individual to recognize. Emergence, put simply, is the phenomenon whereby the sum of the parts exhibit behaviors not present in the constituents. Wikipedia:

Emergence is a phenomenon whereby larger entities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities such that the larger entities exhibit properties the smaller/simpler entities do not exhibit.

Perhaps our worrying is a great contribution we make to the collective entity that is Human Emergent? I'm accustomed to viewing worrying as a bug, not a feature; a vestigial trait. But, I don't even have to contemplate the bigger picture aloud: it's clear something's up. This level of advancement, while infinitely underwhelming, appears to be unheard of.

Perhaps our sadness, worry, and anxiety is a uniquely delicious nutrient for Human Emergent?


This Kurzgesagt video delivers a quick mind-blow on the topic:
Emergence – How Stupid Things Become Smart Together

Chaos Theory

March 1, 2018

Not writing yesterday felt so good. And, now that I'm off the hook to produce on a fixed schedule, I can write flexibly whenever I want, in between tasks, like right now, at 2pm. I am no longer my own boss.

I came across a really good quote the other day, which describes a theory of life in surprisingly succinct terms, in a way I hadn't encountered before.

The quote comes from, of all places, a movie on Netflix called When We First Met, which was actually pretty good.

Down on luck person:

I thought things were supposed to happen for a reason.

Other, chill person:

That's what strippers and idiots say. Things happen..randomly. For no reason at all. But they create opportunities. And you learn from those opportunities, even the missed ones. The question is, can you recognize that next opportunity, when it matters the most?

Random shit flies every which way -> creates opportunities -> rewards distributed to those who recognize and work towards the opportunities.

What I like about this is it puts the onus on the individual to be keen and perceptive. It's a finding game. We never stopped being hunter-gatherers.

Masterless

February 28, 2018

Honestly, I wanted “Time is patient” to be my last post for a while. Because it so perfectly captured what I wanted to spend my time on. To live presently, and to not be in constant thought, focus, and anxiety.

Writing every day has many benefits, but it has also produced some strange effects. One is, I express myself so vividly here, that I do not feel the need to express myself any further, in real life. It sort of gives me my social fix. I was already reserved before this; now, it's intensified. Besides, I usually like talking to people as a way of deceitfully working out my own problems, disguised as genuine conversation. When I write every day, my problems are worked out on paper.

Which is good. But also exhausting.

I’m not defeated. I’m not sad. Today was actually a nice day. Fair weathered and fair tempered. A cool 56 degrees. I went on a nice walk with only a sweater, and not my thick winter jacket. It was a preview of the spring to come, which winter always teases us with before descending back into arctic temperatures, then easing all at once into spring. It's a coming which I so look forward to every year.

The thought of toning down the frequency of writing is scary. It’s been a tremendously useful habit, but, I am obliged to it. I am not free in a given day until I finish my daily writing. My friends know this. My wife knows this. It’s shackled me as a merciful master. But a master nonetheless.

I want to explore the patience of time. To live slowly, in the moment; unquestioning and unassuming. To tone down my analytics.

Perhaps it would be amusing to explore different writing formats and frequencies? Once a week? A month? Perhaps that will give me more time to incubate my thoughts, and discover their depth.

Who knows. Maybe I’ll write again tomorrow. But this is me flirting with you, to absolve me of my social contract. I want to be free.

A world awaits

February 27, 2018

What I like most about vacations is the difficulty with which I come to a decision in going, and the ease at which I feel when I return. Even bad trips invigorate me in some way. It’s escaping your circumstances just a little bit; separating you from them, and seeing yourself behave in a different habitat. It’s almost shocking what part of my mood is directly tied to the routine I’ve managed to sink into.

Sinking into is another phrase for complacency, and I think of all the horrible acts we helplessly inflict on ourselves, complacency is the real silent killer. Sitting on the couch is at once the most glorious moment of any day, and the most painful. The further I sink into it, the more my body takes on that shape, and struggles in defining what a normal posture is anymore.

I think it’s the same with routines. They dig deeper into themselves, solidifying their neural weight with every unattested day. Vacations have in every case reset my weights, and unshaped the memory foam of my last several months, allowing me to form a different, and oftentimes more nuanced, pattern.

The logistics of traveling, I loathe, and is enough to deter me from it altogether. It’s planning, choosing, and deciding. The rest is always freeing. I think it would not be totally foolish to say by now, that behind every inconvenience, lies a world of subtle opportunity.

Time is patient

February 26, 2018

One year is really long.

Ten is an era.

A hundred is a lifetime.

A thousand is a millennia.

Ten thousand is incomprehensible.

A hundred thousand years—unimaginably vast.

Yet two million years.

Two million years is the amount of time, give or take, that nature has been thoroughly employed with this side project.

The human species is a project that seems fresh, new, and cutting-edge. Yet it has been a work in progress for countless millions of years, if not billions.

We like to fancy ourselves the apex of nature's technical ability. We are the latest. We believe we are indispensable. Our mission is too important.

But time is patient. If humanity were to wipe its own existence, time will be unfazed and unmoved. What's another two million years raising up a new species, when it has the patience for billions?

If humans destroy themselves fully tomorrow, I do not believe nature would mind spending another five billion years on the problem.

Maybe ten billion. Or twenty.

Or maybe another hundred billion years?

Time is patient.


This understanding has grown recently within me, in response to my utter impatience towards the growth of my work and self.

For the last uncountable number of years, I've constantly told myself, what you're looking for—it's right around the corner. It's so close. You need to hurry.

I've told myself, my story is conclusive. It has a beginning, middle, and end. And I need to race through the pages.

In reality, the story is never ending. The book's pages never stop turning. Racing through it will drive you mad. And sure enough, madness ensued.

The current page of your story, of the whole collective human story, is special and sentimental only in that we are a part of it. On the grand scale of a story which began infinitely many years ago and will continue uninterrupted for another infinite number of years, our pages become not so permanent. They fade. The future is no doubt influenced by the past, but the contents of the past fade, given some eventual number of millions of years.

In some sense, this understanding has freed me from obligations to my legend. I look back on my footprints, and make sure they are neat and tidy. But it need not be so serious. Even if the universe has set for you some specific task, to fill some particular niche—it does not utterly depend on you. Even if it takes another hundred thousand years. The job will eventually be done.

The patience of time is mesmerizing and beautiful. There were humans who struggled about daily life, loved, and suffered two million years ago. And the project continues. Improvements are imperceptible on the daily, monthly, or even yearly scale. It measures progress on the order of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years.

Nature puts on profound displays of patience, yet I for some reason feel the need to measure myself after every task; to constantly see how far I've come, and how much further I have. It's madness.

Twenty years.

That's the outlook I want. I want to give what I'm working on twenty years, before measuring. Before being expectant. Before contemplating tectonic shifts.

And what's the rush? You're one of infinite characters in a never ending story. Time is forgiving. Live slowly, patiently, presently; you need not reserve all your happiness and adventurousness for some future date when circumstances will be perfectly lukewarm and idyllic. When the story never ends, every point is as good as the next.

Visitors

February 25, 2018

We are content to the great gods—
Characters,
of a never ending story.

Bye bye

February 24, 2018

I'm taking a spontaneous, much-needed road trip to some remote cabin in Wisconsin with the wife and dog. The indoor atmosphere here has grown noxious from my ceaseless huffing and puffing. I should leave a window open to air the place out.

I'm leaving..right now actually. Coming back Sunday.

Vacations are a great way to test the resolve of your daily routines.

If I stop writing..ah, who cares.

Lethargy

February 23, 2018

This winter's been long. It's gotten me trapped indoors. My dog and I yearn for freedom. Change is afoot. I just..need to..snap from..this haze..

Because title, here's a dump of some unexpounded thoughts:

Every day, we choose when to resign.

Life is impossible to fill. It’s just too big.

“It has solved a lot of problems, but it's also created a whole new set of problems” is probably the best deal you’ll get in life.

Growth doesn’t operate on the same timescale as consciousness

You can’t skip quality. Nothing is more effective than confidence in your own product.

The natural course of a public company is to Amazonify.

What if Elon Musk's flamethrower is a way to slowly begin desensitizing us to the prospect of SpaceX selling weapons?

You won’t like someone you never met.

Say what you will about it, Twitter excels at delivering the basic function of a social network. Have you ever felt this undetachably connected before?

Every night at 11pm, I want to sleep more than I want a billion dollars.

...

An old friend

February 22, 2018

As predicted, the big project is complete, and now I’m impatiently trying to figure out what’s next. Do I code more? Do I do more marketing, whatever that is? Do I live off daily maintenance chores? These things should be easy. Why is this stuff not easy? Ahhhh. It should just be automatic. I figure at every "next" point my compass will automatically recalibrate. Instead, it seems to shatter completely, forcing me to assemble a new one from some unknown materials.

It’s frustrating how non-responsive life can be at times. By this point I am probably irreversibly trained to respond to positive events in realtime. Everything on the internet is realtime. Everything in the non-digital world moves much more slowly. This confuses my brain, especially as it pertains to the topic of notifications, or analytics, or any form of measuring. In the real world, measuring cannot be done every time you pull-to-refresh. It's more on the order of months and years. But when you introduce speed-of-light into the equation, the brain grows befogged.

I’ve disabled realtime measuring of my progress, but, without a concrete next step, it’s just listless idling.

Let me struggle with this for a couple days/months.

God damn it.

Resourceful

February 21, 2018

I’ve moved on to the third of the Dan Brown reading series, and at this point have grown just a little bit tired of the same plot-and-twist. But, his writing is instructional, so I'm attempting to stick it out. This book is Inferno, and—it may just be me—but it lacks the same profundity of topic as the others (The Da Vinci Code and Origin). I did however encounter one subtle passage that caught me meandering:

Vayentha swallowed hard, scarcely daring to imagine the possibility. Has Langdon eluded Brüder as well? It seemed unthinkable; the chances of escape had been near zero. Then again, Langdon was not working alone, and Vayentha had experienced firsthand how resourceful the blond woman could be.

The word resourceful at the end sounds humble and unassuming, but, as demonstrated in this military-level scenario, is deceptively capable of outwitting even the most formidable opponents. Resourceful is defined as: having the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulty.

Wow.

Finds quick and clever ways to overcome difficulty. I want to be that strain of algorithm. And, said about someone else, I can think of no more worthy a compliment. It says—have away with your intelligence, charm, and confidence; if I shall find a way to dance just once with the pure form of this trait, then I will have died a happy, accomplished man.

Hardcoded

February 20, 2018

There is one recurring aspect of my life that always shackles me. My dependence on external activity. Notifications.

Notifications of themselves carry no meaning and have no inherent value. I had been in one very particular setting so uncontrollably enamored by the interfacial beauty of a notification, that I glorified and fell weak at all the powers it had on me. Is it the font color? The way it says that word? No, it’s the dopameaning we’ve ascribed to that particular shape on a screen.

I don’t have to go into detail about which nature of notifications have me personally enslaved. It’s arbitrary. But we all know the sort. Some days, I live wholly notification-to-notification. I smoke them more habitually than a stone-hooked three-pack-a-day smoker. In between, it’s that scratching anxiety. When will I have the next one? How about..now!

Of course, it’s all glory and self-ejaculation until you flip your phone and…nothing. A sour punch in the face. Really?

Any reasonable person observing this behavior in themselves would immediately be appalled at its inelegance and correct it at once. But, I never notice it. I never notice it’s happening, until precisely all the damage has been done. Knocked out, misshapen, and heavily inclined to the ground, I start to figure something must be wrong.

And it’s painfully glaring once you notice it.

Earlier today, I took steps to cull the notifications that make it to the fore of my attention. I don’t need to know everything the second it happens. It can wait. I’ve replaced my real-time reports of business activity with daily reports that email me once in the morning everything I need to know. I figure this way, you can only be insulted once.

I’ve even hardcoded positive messages like “you had #{num_signups} yesterday, which is fantastic” and “your recurring revenue total is #{total}, which is excellent, and means you can continue doing this for a long time to come.” I've even made a weekly report with a postscript that reminds me something I so easily forget: "Keep doing what you're doing. This is it. You're already here. Just do the best work you can, every day."

I figure, if we’re so gullible as to be furiously enthralled with a bubble on a screen, might as well spin the story and craft a nice little narrative around it. My petty brain will fall for shit like that any day of the week.

Uncertainly Free

February 18, 2018

In the definitions of freedom we’ve been exploring in the last few posts, we happened on the most suitable as the lack of dependence on arbitrary powers. And I had figured, since I don’t have a boss, that I’m pretty free, and should feel pretty good all the time.

But, I don’t always feel good. Sometimes, I feel as bad as I ever felt at a job. Of course, they’re different strands of pain. But pain nonetheless. And I think if we were to explore more deeply the definition of freedom we’ve been entertaining, we would ultimately arrive at the conclusion that it is impossible to free. You could remove all external dependencies from your life, such as a boss, a state, or an abusive spouse. And you would imagine, after all the limiters have been removed, that you’d feel free. But there is one thing you can never be free from.

You will always be dependent on effect. You may have freedom to be the cause, to perform an action, but ultimately, you are dependent on the outcome. The definition of freedom as stated is a lack of dependence on an arbitrary power that may act with impunity without tracking your consent. By that definition, that’s exactly what life is. It’ll rough you up without your permission and without ever looking back.

I’ve been on existential edge the last few days, highly prickly and sensitive. I am utterly at the mercy of the universe, and the fate it bestows on me. I, You are at the mercy of uncertainty. Of not knowing whether this day will be your last. Whether your loved ones will fall sick or suffer grave injuries. Whether any of the work you’re doing will matter or pay off. In that way, none of us are free, and all of us feel that same pain. We are all preyed upon equally by the ravenous fangs of the future.

Licenses are the death of freedom

February 17, 2018

I wrote yesterday how the definition of freedom can be stated as “the lack of dependence on an arbitrary power,” and that freedom is the sum of your “microliberties” as permeated across the subtleties of your life. Personally, I’ve never been able to handle lack of freedom well, in any situation. No one likes being told what to do. We want to do what we want to do. Freedom is the space to pursue that.

I will say that in the course of my life, government hasn’t been a large impediment to my freedom. College and employment, on the other hand. Really, permission-based environments, no matter how wonderful they seem at first, eventually become a prison. I’ll always reach a point where what I want to do is not what is wanted of me to do. The ticking starts then.

The only other area of my life where I have felt restricted upon is with licenses. “Permission to operate.” If you want to submit an app to the app store, first you need to seek permission from your local government to establish a corporation. They usually say yes, but nevertheless, have the arbitrary power to say no.

You then seek permission to join the Apple Developer Program. This requires you to have a “DUNS” number, which is a sort of business and address verification done by an external company. They usually don’t give you any trouble, but nonetheless, have the arbitrary power to say no.

After you are accepted into the program and spend a year developing the app of your dreams, you must seek permission to post your app on the app store. Here, anything goes. They might say yes. Or they might say no. I’ve been rejected for vague reasons many times. And every time, I fear my livelihood is at stake. In this regard, I am not free. I am a faithful servant to the Apple gods. Please, blessed Apple, do not cast upon me your wrath, and continue to shower me with the sweet nectar of your graciousness. Amen.

Licenses are also how markets are controlled. It’s easy to control supply and demand when any one who supplies needs permission to do so, and in many cases, the demander requires permission as well.

This isn’t a blanket assault on the mere concept of licenses, as it has been a useful construct. Rather, it’s an assessment of our circumstance as software developers producing goods for an entity that ultimately controls the supply of these goods. In that regard, while that entity may not frequently exercise its power of rejection, the mere presence of that arbitrary power, in the aforementioned definition, is deemed sufficient circumstances for a non-free existence.

A definition of freedom

February 17, 2018

I happened on a video lecture on the genealogy of liberty, posing the question: In most precise terms, what is the definition of freedom? Language is quite literally the architect of our reality, and a clear definition of freedom is of grave significance.

The lecturer had presented various historical definitions of freedom, beginning with freedom as the power to pursue an option and the lack of external interference in doing so. This worked well enough for some time, until it became important to define “interference." Interference was then defined to be any of physical force, a bending of will, or coercion that render the pursuit of alternatives ineligible. That was fine for some time, until it became important to define coercion, and so on.

Further down the trace, he introduces self-interference as a form by which one can limit their freedom, including but not limited to passion, inauthenticity, and false consciousness. An alternate definition of freedom was then introduced as the freedom to self-realize, or, for one to have the ability to discover the essence of their nature, which I really liked.

The lecture culminated in a new definition of liberty proposed by the author himself, and this is where things began to get interesting.

He states: You are not a free man or woman if there is dependence on the arbitrary will or power of others. He says, the mere fact of dependence takes away freedom of action. And of course, as I was hoping he might, he lists “dependence on the arbitrary power of bosses.”

So, what is this distinction between the free and the slave? The answer given in the Roman law — and it’s extremely influential — is that it’s the mere fact of having a master that makes you unfree. The mere fact, that is, of living in a state of dependence on the arbitrary will of somebody else.

I think what’s interesting is the seeming evolution of freedom as something originally related to that of physical or coercive obstruction, usually executed by a governing state, to a sort of permeation of "microliberties" in everything we do, the sum of which is your net liberty. He makes it very clear that this definition of your dependence on arbitrary power is agnostic to the source. It could be a state, your boss, or your husband. He makes reference to the plight of women’s historical lack of liberty as due to their unrelenting dependence on men for economic stability.

The dependency that I'm talking about— and this is extremely important to me— is very specific. It is dependency upon a dominating power—it is a status relationship with dominance and dependence—that takes away freedom. So the power that generates the dependence that takes away freedom is an arbitrary power where that power is arbitrary if there is someone who can operate it with impunity, without tracking your interest. They don't have to track your interests. They might, but they don't have to. And if they don't, it's done with impunity.

The important aspect of the author's newly proposed definition is that it references not an active obstruction of liberty, like you might imagine from physical force or mental coercion, but a looming, distant one. You do not have freedom of action if you are at the mercy of a capricious boss, even if this boss has never chastised you before; the mere fact of a boss’s ability to decide your fate if he or she so chooses severely constricts your freedom.

This definition of liberty is one I can strongly relate to, as can probably many of you. It’s the reason employment can feel so excruciatingly painful at times. It seems, it’s no mistake. In the pure definition of it, it's slavery.

You can watch the full lecture here:
A Genealogy of Liberty: A Lecture by Quentin Skinner

A React Native tutorial

February 16, 2018

I wrote an article with a headline I won't apologize for on Medium some time ago about my experience with React Native. Since then, I still get the occasional comment or message asking the same question:

Do you have any tutorials you recommend?

This is a bizarre phenomenon that seems to emerge with large numbers, and I don’t quite get it. Find any article or tweet praising a framework, and you will invariably see comments of the same nature. Can you help me get started?

Better yet, when I said to one person that I don’t know of any resources other than the main website off the top of my head, he said “can you write one please?”

So here it is. Here is the definitive React Native tutorial that will allow you to build the cross-platform app of your dreams.

Step 1.

Clear your mind. Think about what it is you’re trying to accomplish. You want to build an app that runs on Android and iOS, and you want to write it in JavaScript. Great.

You should have also decided by now that this is important to you, and that you're going to do whatever it takes.

Step 2.

Open your favorite browser, and using your favorite search engine, type “react native”. Click the first result.

Step 3.

Click the button that says “Get Started”.

Congratulations! You’ve quite literally just taken the biggest step. There’s only one more, and, unfortunately, it's a steep one.

Step 4.

Commit yourself to these docs, reading, following along, crafting demos, every day for a few hours. Everything you need to build the app of your dreams is in here. You just need to put in the time.