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July 2011

Post image for The Revolver – “Look Closer” Edition

At the beginning of American Beauty, just as Lester Burnham is beginning his spectacular breakdown, the movie’s tagline can be seen behind him, pinned to the wall of his cubicle. A little white sticker reads, “Look closer.”

It’s the peak of summer for most of you, and a long weekend for my Canadian friends. It goes fast, don’t forget to look around while it happens. The moment you think about what’s happening, it becomes “happened.”

Have a good weekend, and I’m not just saying that.


An End to Endings?

A great article about how social media is rapidly transforming the way in which our life stories are told to each other. Traditional media used to organize life into coherent stories, but now human lives no longer appear to us in meaningful narratives, but in SMS-sized fragments that are too small and separate to represent a whole human life. Instead of absorbing a few close personailties in great depth over many years, we absorb thousands daily in the most superficial bits possible.

At the end of every magazine article, before the “■,” is the quote from the general in Afghanistan that ties everything together. The evening news segment concludes by showing the secretary of State getting back onto her helicopter. There’s the kiss, the kicker, the snappy comeback, the defused bomb. [Traditional media] transmits them all. It promises that things are orderly. It insists that life makes sense, that there is an underlying logic.


Letters From Johns

A surprisingly articulate collection of anonymous letters from men describing their encounters with prostitutes. Value judgments aside, these are fascinating accounts that give us a bit of insight into an ancient aspect of human culture. The Johns come in every sort, from bored widowers to 40-year old virgins to sheltered Christians, and their reasons for paying for sex are not as simple as you might have thought.


Why I am No Longer a Christian

Not the atheistic rant I thought it would be, not at all. With genuine respect, an amateur filmmaker describes his gradual, inevitable transition from devoted Christian to “agnostic atheist.” It’s a simple film that manages to be thorough without getting dry. Most of you probably aren’t fencesitters when it comes to religion, but no matter what camp you’re in, if you’re interested in where Christianity came from you’ll learn quite about about the other side, and your own.



Ralph Waldo Emerson’s flagship essay on why almost everyone in society is a thoughtless, timid fool. Except you, clever reader. If there was ever a difficult read worth slowing down and tiptoeing through, this is it.


Photo by senscience

Post image for What is Wrong with the World?

The back end of this website shows what phrases people entered in Google to get here, and they fascinate me.

Some phrases are more common than others, and many have nothing to do with what I write about here. An increasing number are about rap. The secret to making a rap, how to rap with attitude, even “how to make a trillion dollars with rap.”

I’m not sure if these people found what they came for. I don’t know anything about these seekers, except the words that came to their mind when they realized they were looking for something.

Some are touching:

how to tell someone they are amazing with a song your day is full of little tiny awesomes

Some are a bit disturbing:

how to frustrate someone i don’t want my life anymore, do I?

And some are funny:

roaches are aliens that once had their own planet swimming ymca naked i’m not alcoholic i’m athletic

And these are all just yesterday and today.

Quite often the phrase appears to be not a regular appeal for information, but an emotional plea of some kind.

A good proportion of people who end up here enter something along the lines of “what’s wrong with people”, “society is sick”, or “I hate civilization.” Read More

Post image for The Revolver

The internet allows us to share a brain, sort of. You have an idea, or an understanding, and now it can be anyone’s, with no need to get a  publisher to agree that it’s worth sharing. If that idea changes the way someone lives, that change can change the way someone else lives, and that’s all culture is. Twenty years ago this medium wasn’t a part of our lives, and now we’re influencing each other at an astonishing rate. This is evolution.

Quite often I’ll find something out there that’s worth talking about and that I know many of you would appreciate. But I don’t really want to dedicate a post to discussing someone else’s content. I just want to point it out and send you on your way, and if you want to come back to talk about it in the comments, I’ll be here and so will a lot of other readers.

Ideas, if they’re valued and worked into our lives, can make the rounds and leave the world changed. So I want to take some of them and give them a good spin, and see what comes back. I want to know what you think about these ideas, and I want you to pass them around.

The Revolver will be a regular installment, two to four Saturdays a month. In it I’ll share just a few very worthwhile links that hint at where humanity and its members might be headed.


The Khan Academy

A charismatic investment banker from New Orleans is reinventing education using short, concise videos. Sal Khan understands where traditional education is failing and has taken it upon himself to find a better way.

He articulates the absurdity of the current system:

…I give you a lecture [on cycling] ahead of time, and I give you a bicycle for two weeks, and then I come back after two weeks, and I say “Well, you’re having trouble taking left turns and you can’t quite stop. You’re an 80% bicyclist.” So I put a ‘C’ stamp on your forehead, and then I say, ‘Here’s a unicycle.'”

The link above is to his TED talk explaining the Khan Academy, which has become a vast repository of videos and exercises that can be learned one by one at any pace. A student who doesn’t get something the first time around can review it easily before moving on to a concept that builds on it.

The most impressive aspect of these videos is that they’re fun. They’re simple and presented in plain, human language. Don’t understand the cause of the housing crisis? The French Revolution? How compound interest works? Take twenty minutes and get a much better idea.


The Primacy of Consciousness

I discovered this while writing last Monday’s conscious universe post, and boy does Peter Russell ever say it better than I do. If there was anything about that post that made you think about life a bit differently, this will turn you inside-out. I’ve talked about the idea that science and religion are not necessarily at odds, unless you misunderstand at least one of them. Russell presents a thorough, sensible case for this reconciliation, yet he stays funny and likable.



I don’t think there’s a simpler way of articulating the philosophy of unconditional acceptance. The Stoics had it down over two thousand years ago, but even they never put it so elegantly.


How to be socially graceful

A long time ago a reader linked to this in a comment. It’s just a casual post on Reddit that was popular for a day or two, but I think it’s hugely useful for anyone who sees themselves as socially awkward to some degree, which seems to be most people.

The author didn’t say so, but its usefulness extends way beyond socialization. The key to grace, as he says it, is to — beforehand — agree that you will not let your body or mouth react to anything that happens until you’ve taken a second to consciously assess it, knowing that that will give you the best possible chance to respond intelligently. This is the holy grail of living with grace, as far as I’m concerned, and its social application is just one small part of the picture.


Robert Newman’s The History of Oil

A pretty funny stand-up routine with a pretty dire message. Whether or not you’re a believer in what some call “peak oil”, there is a crucial takeaway point here: wars have always been started and fought for economic reasons, seldom for freedom or justice or any of the cosmeticked reasons given to drum up support for them. World War One began with an invasion of Iraq and had little to do with its official scapegoat, the assassination of indie rock band Franz Ferdinand.


I want to hear what you think about these ideas. Please let us know below. And don’t forget to share the ones you like.

Photo by David Cain

Post image for Of Course the Universe is Conscious

A smart person once told me while I was looking up at some stars, to “please be aware that you are seeing.”

I’ve heard that and said it a few times since, and the initial reaction to that remark is typically something like, “Well, no shit.” It was mine, for a moment.

But it is really something profound, if you stick with that thought longer than a moment.

We are aware, to some degree, almost all the time. Awareness isn’t just a big part of life, it comprises life as we know it. So it rarely occurs to us that it needn’t necessarily be this way.

Yet we are aware. If we know nothing else, we know that is true. I mean, if there’s anything we take for granted, it’s this astonishing fact that we are aware of stuff. And it’s the coolest, most empowering fact of all.

If you can look down and see your legs, then I guess you could say you’re aware of yourself. Again, duh. But which part of you is aware of your legs? You’d probably say your brain, and while I’m not convinced that’s entirely correct, let’s say it is. Already we have something interesting happening. One part of something is aware of its other aspects.

Or at least some of its other aspects. I doubt anybody would be aware they had a liver if nobody told them, or if they did not deduce it somehow by becoming aware of other livers in other people. So your self-awareness is not complete, meaning you’re not aware of every single thing going on in your body. But we don’t need to have every possible bit of information about ourselves in order to be aware of ourselves or to know ourselves.

You are a part of the universe, I’m going to presume. So when you’re out late on a long weekend, leaning back on the hood of a ’76 Vista Cruiser looking up at the stars from some campsite here on earth, one part of the universe is suddenly acutely aware of another part of it.

It’s fair to say then, that at least in that moment, the universe is conscious of itself. Read More

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