Sunday Scaries (03/14/21)

Scenius, Retrofuturism, A World Split Apart

Hi everyone,

Writing to you from Big Bear, CA.

There’s something special about night skiing. It reminds me of high school — sneaking out before the bell to get time on the mountain. I spent the weekend enjoying spring riding conditions at Big Bear. I’m coming up on twenty days this season. This isn’t many by some standards, but for me, it’s been one of my most active winters to date.

To me, snowboarding is the perfect way to unplug. It’s physically demanding and requires concentration, which means I’m thinking about the activity, not whatever is on my mind. I find that this helps my subconscious work through any problems I’m experiencing. Whenever I come back from a trip I’m able to pick up where I left off, often with a more open and creative mindset.


What’s new from me

  1. Notes on education and the 117th U.S. Congress: In honor of my data being used to create an interactive website, I decided to do a deep dive on the educational background of our legislative branch.

    Despite the increasingly important role of science and technology in our economy, surprisingly few of our elected officials have any formal technical training. In the words of Richard Feynman:

    What I cannot create, I do not understand.


In this week’s edition

Scenius

A scenius is a highly creative group of people that is capable of producing ideas beyond the capabilities of any individual member of the group. From the inventor of the word, Kevin Kelly:

Individuals immersed in a productive scenius will blossom and produce their best work. When buoyed by scenius, you act like genius. Your like-minded peers, and the entire environment inspire you.

It’s hard to create a scenius. Yet, if you can find one, you should consider yourself among a fortunate few.

Although many have tried many times, it is not really possible to command scenius into being. Every start up company, or university would like their offices to be an example of scenius. The number of cities in the world hoping to recreate the scenius of Silicon Valley is endless, but very few have achieved anything close. Innumerable art scenes begin and vanish quickly. The serendipitous ingredients for scenius are hard to control. They depend on the presence of the right early pioneers. A place that is open, but not too open. A buffer that is tolerant of outlaws.  And some flash of excitement to kick off the virtuous circle.  You just can’t order this.

Lindy score: 2034

Retrofuturism

Good science fiction has the power to inspire. Lately, I’ve been digging the aesthetic vibe of retrofuturism — ideas from the past about the future. Here are some of my favorites:

Lindy score: 2071

A World Split Apart (1978)

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born in Russia in 1918. Although he acted as a commander in the Soviet military during World War II, he was sentenced to eight years in a labor camp after criticizing Stalin in a private letter. Later, he emigrated to America and lived in rural Vermont.

Solzhenitsyn gave the following address to the Harvard graduating class of 1978. In it, he warns of the weaknesses of Western institutions in the face of the growing Communist threat. This essay is an astute criticism of democracy, delivered by someone whose well-being depends on democracy succeeding. After living in a Communist regime, Solzhenitsyn was uniquely suited to exposing the flaws in democratic societies.

Even biology knows that habitual extreme safety and well-being are not advantageous for a living organism. Today, well-being in the life of Western society has begun to reveal its pernicious mask.

In today's Western society, the inequality has been revealed between the freedom to do good and the freedom to do evil. A statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly; there are thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics around him, parliament and press keep rebuffing him. As he moves ahead, he has to prove that each single step of his is well-founded and absolutely flawless. Actually, an outstanding and particularly gifted person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind hardly gets a chance to assert himself; from the very beginning, traps will be set out all around him. Thus mediocrity triumphs, with the excuse of restrictions imposed by democracy.

If you want to learn more about his writings, start with this page from The Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Center.

Lindy score: 2064

Have a great week,

Phil