Ni hao! Welcome to this week's digest. This is a very special "Boston" edition, because I visited last weekend and OH MY GOODNESS it is so beautiful, even at the dawn of winter. I lived in Boston from 2012 - 2014 during the finance / PE days, so much of my original exploration and adventuring was fueled by anxiety and a need to let off EBITDA-generated steam. It'd been over four years since last visiting, and seeing friends in neighborhoods like Back Bay, South End, Allston, and Cambridge brought back floods of delightful nostalgia. Special thanks to Rob for indulging my live music fixation and coming to The Sinclair for overly moshy punk rock (but WHAT a drummer).

This week's topics include cynical essays about everything, government-sponsored social ratings, and classic comedy from beyond the grave. Enjoy!

Source: Giphy

Did you miss a recent digest? Read recent digests 60, 59 (or dive into the full archive).

"Beautiful nature is beautiful for men and women because it strips our life to essentials, reflects us, dismisses us, and smashes our idols and objets d’art." ~ Mark Greif
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (AKA I have a lot to learn from you)

Patrick, replying to Groundhog Day
: Isn’t the point of that movie (which I think you agree with given the preceding paragraphs and your one sentence takeaway) that even if you were stuck in the same day over and over again, what you do definitely can matter? Like you said, it’s the stoic lesson that you have power over yourself versus power over others and that if you want the world to be a better place, you have to make yourself better which is exactly what happens in this movie. I’m not great at explaining it, I don’t have the exact Marcus Aurelius quotes on command, but I think I’m probably preaching to the choir so it’s okay to give just the general idea: Self-mastery and improvement is ultimately the thing that matters most which is why the newsletter is good and why everyone’s effort matters!

*Nodding and smiling* And if we can focus that self-mastery and improvement on being there for others, even better!


BOOK - Against Everything: Essays by Mark Greif (My full Kindle Notes) - A collection of long essays on wide ranging topics including health, wealth redistribution, philosophies for living, music, and reality TV. It reminded me a lot of Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. Mark, like Chuck, has a gift for seeing the ordinary in novel ways. This meant that by the end of each essay, I was armed with fundamental new ways of thinking about that subject. Find the topics you enjoy and dive in head first!

One-Sentence Takeaway: There are plenty of other perspectives from which to view the world, enabling expanding comprehension and increasingly accurate mental maps.

Answering The Drucker Question: Pick a favorite topic of personal expertise, and think back to how your views on that topic evolved over time. Were there points in time when you were sure that you knew everything, but then learned more later and changed your mind? What would you need to learn now to change your mind and update your beliefs?

My highlights:
  • ...we spend our time desperately. Upon the desperate materialist gratifications of a hedonic society, commanding immediate comfort and happiness, we engraft the desperate economics of health, and chase a longer span of happinesses deferred, and comforts delayed, by disposing of the better portion of our lives in life preservation.
  • Whenever utopians present the substance of their wishes and fight to make them actual, a fair number of their dreams will come true, often because the triumphant ideas have won less philanthropic allies. The best hopes for humanity will be used to pick the pockets of mankind.
  • The problem is experience; specifically, a concept of experience that gives us the feeling we are really living, but makes us unsatisfied with whatever life we obtain. Our acceptable philosophy is eudaemonistic hedonism. It says: we act, and choose, and react, by an insatiable hunger for pleasure, and this is to be adjusted, very reasonably, by an educated taste for happiness.
  • Experience, pursued, creates certain paradoxes... In filling a cabinet with treasures, you feel, for the first time, your true poverty. You amass experiences, and inevitably learn they’re not enough, and never will be enough. You dwell on the album of your past, and are dissatisfied... The concept of experience makes you fear you didn’t grab enough in the short time you were in the candy store. So you refuse to leave...
  • Radiohead belongs to “rock,” and if rock has a characteristic subject, as country music’s is small pleasures in hard times (getting by), and rap’s is success in competition (getting over), that subject must be freedom from constraint (getting free). Yet the first notable quality of their music is that even though their topic may still be freedom, their technique involves the evocation, not of the feeling of freedom, but of unending low-level fear.
  • Each group must be helped. That means not only ending poverty, but ending absurd wealth. Obscene poverty doesn’t motivate the poor or please the rest of us; it makes the poor desperate, criminal, and unhappy. Absurd wealth doesn’t help the rich or motivate the rest of us, it makes the rich (for the most part good, decent, hardworking, and talented people) into selfish guilty parties, responsible for social evil.
  • The threat from those who oppose this line of thought is that, without “incentives,” people will stop working. The worst-case scenario is that tens of thousands of people who hold jobs in finance, corporate management, and the professions (not to mention professional sports and acting) will quit their jobs and end their careers because they did not truly want to be bankers, lawyers, CEOs, actors, ballplayers, et cetera. They were only doing it for the money! Actually they wanted to be high-school teachers, social workers, general practitioners, stay-at-home parents, or criminals and layabouts. Far from this being a tragedy, this would be the greatest single triumph of human emancipation in a century... It’s just not a life, to do work you don’t want to do when you have other choices, and can think of something better...
  • Thoreau passionately adores the pond and the woods, to be sure, and wildness, and nature, but not because they are adornment, or refreshment, or comfort to human lives. They are, for human life, brute lessons. Beautiful nature is beautiful for men and women because it strips our life to essentials, reflects us, dismisses us, and smashes our idols and objets d’art.

NEWS - Bloomberg: Beijing to Judge Every Resident Based on Behavior by End of 2020 - I don't often talk about news in this digest (Searching my archives for "news" yields only one result, a blog post called Why You Should Stop Reading News... 'nuff said). One of the main reasons I don't love the news is their incentives to create fear and uncertainty in order to keep you tuned in. Well, this news story just feels fundamentally different and worth sharing. Apparently local municipalities across China are installing social rating systems, conferring rewards and punishments on citizens based on their scores.

In one sense, this is not news; societies across the world already do versions of this - credit ratings; tax loopholes encouraging specific behaviors; failing to follow rule of law can restrict your freedoms in civil society (e.g., sex crimes). In another sense, humanity just sentenced itself to the gulag, preying upon our worst human instincts towards desire of karmic justice. These ratings systems are now technologically feasible, and my limited imagination just cannot picture a version of this turning out well as the systems get more sophisticated (Singapore could be a positive example, I guess?).

Two general elements stand out to me as particularly pernicious: (1) Government entities dictating 'correct' social norms. (2) Rewards / punishments involving core 'human rights' like freedom of movement (e.g., access to rail passes, flights, etc.). And this is *before* we get into the worse issue of a government using these systems to enforce and enable their totalitarian regime. Anyway, sorry for the downer, but this one felt important to share.

One-Sentence Takeaway: The age of governments rating and controlling their citizens is nigh upon us.

Answering The Drucker Question: Pick three freedoms you have that others in the world do not have (today or historically), and spend a few minutes in a mindset of gratitude and appreciation.

Complement with the Nosedive episode of Black Mirror (S3, E1).

My highlights:
  • China’s plan to judge each of its 1.3 billion people based on their social behavior is moving a step closer to reality, with Beijing set to adopt a lifelong points program by 2021 that assigns personalized ratings for each resident.
  • The Beijing project will improve blacklist systems so that those deemed untrustworthy will be “unable to move even a single step,” according to the government’s plan.
  • Beijing’s efforts represent the most ambitious yet among more than a dozen cities that are moving ahead with similar programs.
  • The tracking of individual behavior in China has become easier as economic life moves online, with apps such as Tencent’s WeChat and Ant Financial’s Alipay a central node for making payments, getting loans and organizing transport. Accounts are generally linked to mobile phone numbers, which in turn require government IDs.


- Live at the Met by Robin Williams - This stand-up comedy special was first introduced to me in middle school by my friend Reid (along with Eddie Murphy's Raw & Delirious specials, and Bill Cosby's Himself). It was one of the first comedy experiences that I ever consumed. As a pre-teen, this stuff blew my mind! Especially the content on alcohol and drugs (Robin struggled with alcohol and cocaine), that was just a whole new world to me. As I've grown older and consumed more alcohol and marijuana, in 'healthy' and 'unhealthy' ways, Robin's jokes help me reflect more deeply on where these vices add vs. detract from my life. Robin is now dead, but his comedy and ability to put huge smiles on our faces live on with vehicles like this.

One-Sentence Takeaway: Our work can continue to inspire others long after we are gone.

Answering The Drucker Question: Think about a vice in your life. Ask yourself when the desire for this vice arises, and what need it serves for you in those moments. Consider drawing a line for yourself separating when consuming this vice adds to your life, vs. when it detracts.

My highlights:
  • Here's a little warning sign that you have a cocaine problem: Number 1, if you come home to your house and there is no furniture and your cat's going, "I'm out of here, prick," WARNING! Number 2, if you have this dream, where you're doing cocaine in your sleep, and you can't fall asleep and you're doing cocaine in your sleep and you can't fall asleep and you wake up and you're doing cocaine - BINGO! Number 3, if on your tax return, it says "50,000 dollars for snacks," MAYDAY!
  • Then there are your friends that smoke marijuana going, "Man, alcohol's a crutch." Really, Captain Herbal Life? You just macramed your ass into the couch and you're giving me shit? ... These are people so stoned they can be eating kitty litter and go, "Wow, this is really crunchy, man." These are the same people who get their pets stoned just to make themselves feel better. This is not a good idea! It's not bad enough you proved that Darwin was wrong, you want to take the whole family with you! Your dog is not that high up on the food chain to begin with. He barely just learned to lick his own genitals, leave him alone!
  • There's also something called freebasing. It's not free, it costs you a house! It should be called "homebasing"!
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