Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Philosophy as Strength

I have been sick for the past few days, and since I prefer to act like a pansy when I get sick, I've spent most of the last two days laying in bed. My sickness isn't too bad, just a sore throat that has since become a stuffed-up nose and a headache. My body temperature seems to be fluctuating a bit, my hands were ice cold a few hours ago and are now rather warm to someone else's touch but chilly from my perspective. I'm drained and using it as an excuse to be lazy.

Unfortunately, a side effect of this is that my mind has not been in a place for me to do any meaningful writing, so I've just spent the last two days doing some light reading. Clicking StumbleUpon set to philosophy to find interesting articles to read when I'm feeling better, browsing blog traffic exchange sites to find smaller philosophy blogs I could start perusing, and things of that sort. As I did this last night, though, I began to feel my mood shifting. It was when I was reading a brief overview of modern positions in the philosophy of mind; the more the positions differed from my own, the more I could feel a certain anxiety in my chest. Nothing intense, mind you, just a slight sickness of the emotions.

I finished the article and moved on to look at other things, but the anxiety persisted. This happens to me rather frequently, in fact, almost whenever I read anything that differs too greatly from what I would consider comfortable ground. It's not even that I necessarily find it persuasive, simply that there are people out there who believe what they believe and, presumably, have some reason for believing it; as well as the fact that I am always aware that no matter how horrible a worldview might seem, it is a worldview that I could one day adopt. Today I had some time to sit and think about this anxiety I feel.

Up until now, I'd always taken it as a sign of mental weakness. For one, it always seems to indicate a lack of conviction. If every new idea I encounter strikes me as a threat to my current worldview and as a possible worldview I might accidentally be persuaded to follow, it implies that I am secretly aware of all the vulnerabilities of my present philosophy and do not really believe that it could hold its own in a battle of evidence and reason. For two, it always seemed to indicate that I could not approach someone's idea without, however momentarily, adopting it as my own for a time. Not being able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

I still consider this mostly true, and even though I consider it a weakness, I no longer consider it a harm. I realized that the main reason why I write anything at all and the reason I am interested in philosophy in the first place is because ideas can be painful to me. When I encounter an idea, I am acutely aware that I am encountering something that can completely undermine my identity and the way I view my relationship with the world. I am aware of this, because it has happened, my deconversion being the most prominent example; as well as the fact that nearly every belief I hold was, when I first encountered it, a belief I found painful or frightening. It is because I approach ideas in this way that I am interested in philosophy, because I want to know what other ideas are available, how ideas come into conflict, and how to defend my identity against the threat of external ideas while also being able to recognize when I must let an idea, however loathsome, win.

Philosophy, as I approach it, is a kind of strength. It is the expansion of territory in which we are familiar, and it is the ability to see how to defend the territory we call our own. It is the increase of knowledge and ability to use reason, for the sake of being able to make sense of where my ideas stand in relation to other ideas.

That anxiety in the pit of my chest that appears when I read things that I disagree with, that's what spurs me on to keep learning. The only way I feel healthy is when I'm actively thinking through ideas and writing out my own. If I were to ever stop, I fear that I would be overrun by all those ideas I haven't yet explored, and may even come to have an identity I could no longer recognize.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Life as a Mundane War as an Agent of Order in a Universe of Chaos; or, How You're Going to Spend Most of your Life Cleaning up After Yourself

Every so often I get in a particularly restless, philosophical mood. That occurred this morning, when I spent the better part of the morning contemplating whether or not humanity's prevailing opinions are determined by increased understanding of the available evidence or by shifts in desires and interests (but I just posted about bingo because at some point I grew very angry about the fact that I've only ever won one game). I am also in the middle of moving into a new house and moving my possessions from my last place to this one. When I woke up this morning, the rest of my day was spent straightening and cleaning.

Move things from one room into another. Situate things into more space-efficient arrangements. Bring things back into the room. Vacuum the floor. Throw away the trash that didn't seem worth throwing away when it first became trash. Make the clutter look like something that surrounds a living human being.

Now, had I already been in a brainless mood, this would have just seemed like mundane work that has to be done sometimes. I was not, though. I was thinking about cosmological arguments, epistemic justification, the possibility of faith being made sensible, and the challenge that ethical nihilism poses to the idea of rationality. But I wasn't doing anything about any of those thoughts. I was arranging furniture and trying to decide if my elephant lamp looked better next to the monkey butler lamp or across the room from it as a counterpoint. I was concerned about the fact that the depths of thought that the human species has already plumbed meant that it was unlikely that a person would be a meaningfully innovative thinker without also being specialized to such an intense degree that he could only be an authority in a very narrow sphere. But I was trying to get a stubborn shred of paper to go up into the vacuum. So when my mind finally took notice of what I was actually putting my effort toward, I had to find some pretentious way into making what I was doing seem like part of a grand cosmic effort instead of just being a routine part of moving.

I spent most of my life living with someone who spent her entire day cleaning. She did yard work as well, she cooked meals, but her life was essentially spent maintaining a house. A tiny spot of land that she devoted her life toward protecting from chaos and clutter. She always left an impression on me. It seemed to me so easy to fall into that kind of life, the kind of life that feels like it is making progress because it sees immediate results, but that is ultimately futile because it does not go anywhere beyond trying to maintain a status quo of general tidiness.

It wasn't until recently that I discovered that, unless you devote a significant portion of every week to it, chaos will overwhelm you before you even realize it. Organization is easily assassinated. If you are not constantly and consistently doing some kind of maintenance, then your world is falling apart. For the most part, I don't mind the world falling apart as long as I have what matters to me handy. And yet, I find that the things that matter most to me are themselves influenced by how I keep my little sliver of the world. Organization is how we make sense of our possessions.

It's mundane, and in a strange way, it's one of the highest expressions of humanity. You have a concept of order, and you're going to expend your energy trying to make some part of the universe operate according to your concept of order. Lamps sit on tables. Food is served on plates. Objects belong on top of raised platforms, not on the carpet. Beds are to be covered in additional fabric that make them softer and keep you warm. Walls have working outlets.

And every time the universe proceeds in its natural course and some part of your order is violated, it's up to you to restore it. Expend more energy. Spend more time. Bring things back in line. Fight the chaos. Wage war against clutter.

You could end up spending your whole life fighting that war.

And yet, even though it seems like, from the point of view of the death bed, that the whole endeavor was a waste of time and effort, you can't really recommend not doing it either. People don't want to live in chaos, it's our natural inclination to impose our order on our surroundings. Even if you don't want to get so abstract, it's obvious that people prefer clean floors to stubbed toes and creative walks. We organize because failure to do so reduces our quality of life.

Also, you could end up with dead cats under your couch.

I suppose no one wants to see a picture that's more relevant to that last sentence....

I don't really have a conclusion for this one. It seems obvious to recommend a middle path or a golden mean between wasting your life and living in filth, but that doesn't seem practical to me, given the sort of people I've met in my life. Perhaps I just haven't met the right kind of people, but it seems to me that middle ground is hard to occupy on this topic. People either wind up preferring free time to order or preferring order to free time (or perhaps they just hate the chaos?). It seems to me that the reasonable thing here is not to occupy the middle ground, but to try to cling to someone who balances you out. If you're going to spend an excessive amount of time cleaning anyway, why not clean for someone who is doing work that you consider interesting or beneficial? And if you're not going to spend your time cleaning, why not find someone who is inclined to clean anyway and is willing to clean up after you?

And as soon as I contemplate such an arrangement, I see the immediate problem. Those who spend much time cleaning will inevitably resent those who don't. Soldiers fighting the mundane war will hold those occupying their time with more interesting matters in contempt. It would not be possible for people to cling together in this way, the cleaner person has nothing to gain from the arrangement.

So, either you find a middle way, or you deal with the downside of your disposition. As for me, I'll continue in my slobbery. But maybe I'll be a slob with an aesthetically pleasing arrangement of animal lamps in my room.

Or just creepy as hell

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I Think Bingo is Nice

Occasionally, despite being in my early twenties, I like bingo. I like the little thrill when you only need one more number and you're just waiting for it to be called so you can collect your winnings. It's fun if you're lucky enough.

And yet, it occurs to me that the game is completely unnecessary. When you buy into bingo, you have the exact same chance of winning that everyone else does. The only way to increase your odds is to buy in multiple times. There's no way of improving your chances of winning apart from buying more cards, even being particularly attentive only improves your odds if you're more attentive than the people around you. Assuming that most bingo players are able to competently daub their cards, then being attentive just ensures that you don't diminish your chances.

So, really, every game of bingo is, from the point of view of your odds of winning, the equivalent of giving everyone in the room their own randomly chosen number and then calling out a randomly chosen number. One could even, occasionally, hand out duplicate numbers to simulate the occasional bingo tie (at my last game, in a room of thirty people, there was a six way tie on one game). The entire game, as far as the gambling aspect is concerned, could be over in less than a minute.

And you know what? I like that. I like the fact that bingo is a purposely inefficient method of gambling. You could be cynical and say that it's inefficient to get more people to throw their money away on it, but I don't really think that's the case. When I play, anyway, I never get the feeling that anyone is there to profit. They just play for the fun of the game. The money is just there to give the victory weight, to make it more exciting when you get close to a bingo, almost no one who plays regularly wins back what they pay out anyway (I would say that no one does, but, I know of at least one person currently who has won more than they've paid. Give it a few weeks, though). From a financial point of view, bingo is completely irrational. From a gambling point of view, bingo is completely inefficient. Really, the only reason it exists is because it's kind of fun.

And I think that's nice.

Also, some superstitious part of me hopes that the bingo gods will read this and look upon me favorably next Thursday, because I'm getting real fucking sick of losing every goddamn week.

That's Moloch, by the way
If the blog doesn't work, then it's time for some old fashioned infant sacrifices

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Universe, Existence, and the Ineffable

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

The universe is the sum total of all existence. If something exists then it is, by definition, a part of the universe. Consequently everything that does not exist is not a part of the universe, and everything that is not a part of the universe does not exist.

God is said to be the creator of the universe. Creators always precede their creations. God, therefore, was not in the universe by virtue of having created it. Consequently, God did not exist.

Further, although Christians may point to the person Jesus Christ as a example of God being in the universe, it is generally held among theists that God transcends the universe. If God transcends the universe, then God does not exist.

Presumably, if you believe in God, you suppose that I've tried to play a trick on you through my use of definitions. I remember a similar argument being presented to me back in my theist days, and I rejected it because I saw no reason to accept the given definition of “exist.” What, then, does the word “exist” mean? To exist is to be. I am means I exist. X is means X exists.

Language developed so that we can express thoughts. We wanted to express what was in our heads (or perhaps you say that what is in our heads is already in its own kind of language, it does not matter for this particular matter). What, though, was in our heads to express? We were surrounded by natural phenomena. We were surrounded by the universe. Our brains were reflecting, sometimes darkly, the natural world around us. When we said that something existed, we meant that we could encounter it in the world. Later on, with the rise of theology and the idea of God's transcendence, we began using the word “exist” to mean that it is but that it is not in the world.

This, I say, was an error on our part, a confusion of language. What the word was meant to express was simply being a part of the universe. By expanding the definition to include things outside of the universe, we made the word incomprehensible. What is communicated when we say that God exists? We mean to say that He is, however, we do not say that he is to be found in the world. He does not exist in the same sense that, say, rocks or people exist. When we say a rock exists, we mean to say that it can be found in the world. We might imagine that when we say “God exists” we are speaking as in an analogy, maybe we mean that God exists in His world as a rock exists in our world. That, though, presupposes that God's world is like our world, with space and time, and who really presupposes that when confronted with the idea laid out plainly?

Earlier I wrote, “We mean to say that He is, however, we do not say that he is to be found in the world.” The word “is” is just another word that means “exists,” though. By trying to say that “God exists, but is not in the world” we have made a confusion of language. Existence reduces to the state of in-the-world-ness. It would be like saying ice is cold, but does not have a low temperature.

You still suppose, I imagine, that I'm just playing semantic games. Let me then ask, what does it mean to not exist? When we say, for example, that leprechauns do not exist, we are saying that you can search the whole world and not find a single leprechaun. All leprechauns are things that are not in the world. This is not all, though. There is an unspoken connotation with this sentence. That connotation is what I want to draw out.

Let us suppose a theist says, like I have said, that the universe is the totality of existence and that God precedes it and therefore is not a part of existence. The theist has essentially said that God does not exist. Now let us suppose than an atheist says that same series of words. He too says that God does not exist. There is a difference here, though. And it is this difference that has me writing at 2:13 in the morning.

The theist, in my example, presumably does not say that God precedes existence ironically. The atheist only says that God precedes existence in an ironic way; he does not think that God precedes existence, he only says it to take what the theist believes to advance his argument. The theist sincerely believes it, though, he does not take God's nonexistence to harm his faith.

I would like to pause for a moment to clear up a possible misconception. My hypothetical theist here is not one of those who wishes to rescue Christianity from belief or something like that. He really places his faith in God. He simply agrees that existence refers to the universe and that God cannot, therefore, exist. One possible objection to my hypothetical theist is that all theists, by definition, believe that God exists. In that case, I am using the term “theist” in a technical sense to refer to people who place their faith in God rather than people who believe that God would fall in the existence circle of a Venn diagram.

Now, with my hypothetical theist and atheist saying the same words, I say that there is a difference in their meanings, a difference which makes all the difference in the world. The atheist, in saying that God does not exist, says that God is lower than existence. God is beneath the universe. The totality of the universe's facts transcend God the way they transcend unicorns or vampires. The theist, on the other hand, is saying that God transcends the universe. God is not a part of the universe because God sits higher.

This can be a confusing matter. Let me make it clear that the difference in these two meanings is not a value judgment. I do not mean that the atheist reviles God and the theist worships God. That is not what I mean by higher and lower. What I mean is that when people say that Superman does not exist, they mean that you cannot find him in reality, reality is too real for Superman, Superman has a kind of inferiority. On the other hand, when a theist says that God transcends the universe, they mean that the universe is in some way inferior. When the theist and the atheist argue about God's existence, what they are really arguing is whether God is superior or inferior to existence. Or, more properly, they are arguing whether the universe is superior or inferior to God.

It has been said that the term “supernatural” is an oxymoron. Nature encompasses everything, so to go beyond that is impossible. Nature is also a word used to refer to our universe and all of its natural workings. This second definition is what is meant in the word “supernatural.” Of course, many would say that the second definition is also in use in the phrase “nature encompasses everything,” but that's not the point of this yet. If we have a concept of the supernatural, I think that we also have an often unmentioned concept of the subnatural, which is where we would place married bachelors, wolpertingers, and the Lorax.

The crisis of those of us who live in the universe (in other words, all of us), is that we cannot really comment on the supernatural or the subnatural in any meaningful way. All we can say is that something is non-natural, or, not part of the universe. Whether that means that it transcends our reality or is transcended by our reality cannot be determined by us. God and the minotaur are both outside of the universe, that is all we know. We cannot even know that our universe is transcended by anything, it may be that our universe is on top and anything not found within it is properly subnatural.

I call all of that outside of our universe the Ineffable. I started this with that last statement in Wittgenstein's Tractatus, “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” All we can talk about is our universe, our world. That is what our minds evolved in, that is the origin of the thoughts we want to express in words. God is not in the universe, so whether sub- or supernatural (which is actually a statement about the universe), He is ineffable.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Defined by Advertising; Killed by a Culling Song

If you ever want to make someone angry at philosophy, science, critical thought, or just yourself as a human being, talk to them about determinism. Tell them that they have no free will. Tell them that everything they are going to do was predetermined by the arrangement of particles at the Big Bang. Tell them that they are just as much matter-in-motion as the rest of the universe, and tell them that their thoughts and desires are just as much a result of the motion of particles as the rest of the universe. Told to the right kind of personality, it's not inconceivable that you might ruin their life.

As I've indicated before, the nature of who we are and if it can even be said that there is an I is one that fascinates me. There is something that should be taken into account here, I think, and that is modern society's dependence upon advertisement. Ask yourself what the purpose of advertising is: a less cynical man will say that it serves merely to raise awareness of a product or service being offered to the public, a more realistic man would say that it serves to create a need. Watch a series of commercials and ask yourself, are these meant to tell people who are already in the market for X good or service where they can find satisfaction or is it meant to draw more people into the market?

Then ask yourself the following question: would advertising be an over $100 billion dollar industry if it didn't work?

When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Apollo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love. Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy them, but now they call this free will.

-Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

In Chuck Palahniuk's Lullaby, the protagonist Carl Streator repeatedly muses that the world is full of quiet-ophobics (or some variation of that idea). In between constructing models of various examples of western architecture and then stomping said models to pieces with an increasingly injured and infected bare foot, Streator cynically says that society and the media-Big Brother he says-is filling us up with so many distractions that our imagination withers and our own thoughts are forced out by all of the outside information pumped into our heads. Such an arrangement is threatened by the culling song, an African poem that kills anyone who hears it. Streator comments that this could be a plague unique to the information age, a series of words that could kill you, to protect ourselves we would have to shelter ourselves from all mass media lest an advertising jingle accidentally carry a series of words that would trigger death.

Despite his complaints about our noise-oholic society, Streator does not really want the world to come to such a fate, so he travels to find every written copy of the culling song and destroy them. While Lullaby was an enjoyable read, it does not really explore the possibility of a world that had reason to fear information. The culling song does not become common knowledge, a new dark age is not ushered in, the fiber optic cables are not cut by men with axes.

But what if it was?

What if you could die by watching a commercial? What if a flash ad on a website could keep you from ever waking up the next day? What if advertising became clearly hazardous to your health? What if you had clear reason to avoid ever being told you needed some product?

What kind of world would we live in?

Our Dependence Upon Advertising for Shaping Ourselves

I happen to have the privilege of living without television. There are TVs in the house, but they are not used except to watch the movies or TV shows we already own. It's amazing how rarely you crave the Colonel when you don't see juicy, golden fried chicken torn apart in front of you. In fact you tend to remember that for every delicious moment that the crispy chicken is in your mouth is ten moments of feeling like you've been lubricated throat-to-anus via chicken grease. You remember it because no one is trying to convince you that you would enjoy yourself if you ate some Kentucky Fried Chicken.

I don't listen to the radio too often, so I don't have too many new songs written with pop hooks getting caught in my head.

Of course I'm bombarded by online advertising. It hasn't affected me too much, except for the time I spent over a year spending hours upon hours playing a browser game called Erepublik that literally could have taken me less than three minutes daily to remain competitive. I found an ad for it on Cracked.com.

Speaking of Cracked.com, I've been a faithful reader of theirs since 2008. I was linked to David Wong's 10 Things Christians and Atheists Can (and Must) Agree On, and one day spent a few hours laughing hysterically at article after article. One of my favorite books is John Dies at the End, check out who the author is, bet you can't guess how I found it.

One of my favorite articles of clothing is my black fedora. I wanted a fedora for a long time before I finally got that one. Why did I want a fedora? Because for a few months I was a big fan of slasher flicks and Freddy Krueger had one. I just happen to prefer black to brown.

My favorite graphic novel, and one of my favorite works in general, is Watchmen. Apart from Batman and in my earlier days Venom, I never really followed comic books. Of course, you're on the internet if you're reading this. You've heard about Watchmen too.

What's my point here? Not all of these were even genuine examples of advertising. I found Cracked through word of mouth, I found JDatE by looking up a Cracked writer I liked, and Freddy Krueger was hardly trying to sell anyone an article of clothing. My point here is that I was not looking for any of these things when I stumbled upon them. I wasn't trying to find a website that I could read every day for the next three years, I just found one. JDatE was just a free book online that I fell in love with, I didn't typically like paranormal stories until I stumbled across it. I certainly wasn't looking for a timesink that would one day become one of my greatest regrets, but Erepublik paid good advertising money to make sure I had ample opportunity to find theirs. These are all things that became influential in my life, things that helped define who I am, what I like, and how I see the world, and I did not find any of them because I was looking for them.

Advertising is the art of trying to get people to stumble across something that is profitable for you if they stumble across it. All the same, most of the things in your life that make you who you are were probably put there by someone else. Without advertising, think of all the things you might miss out on that could change your life.

Not that I'm endorsing advertising, mind you. It is clearly an exploitative art, it is trying to make things appear attractive whether or not they are, it is trying to shape the very minds of the populace in a way that is advantageous to the advertiser. But if it doesn't shape our minds and our desires, then what will?

If the Culling Song Went Viral

The culling song would be a plague unique to the Information Age. Imagine a world where people shun the television, the radio, movies, the Internet, magazines and newspapers. People have to wear earplugs the way they wear condoms and rubber gloves. In the past, nobody worried too much about sex with strangers. Or before that, bites from fleas. Or untreated drinking water. Mosquitoes. Asbestos.

Imagine a plague you catch through your ears.

Sticks and stones will break your bones, but now words can kill, too.

The new death, this plague, can come from anywhere. A song. An overhead announcement. A news bulletin. A sermon. A street musician. You can catch death from a telemarketer. A teacher. An Internet file. A birthday card. A fortune cookie.

A million people might watch a television show, then be dead the next morning because of an advertising jingle.

Imagine the panic.

Imagine a new Dark Age. Exploration and trade routes brought the first plagues from
China to Europe. With mass media, we have so many new means of transmission.

-Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

Although Streator imagines the culling song ushering in a new dark age, the reality wouldn't be nearly so dramatic. Research, censorship, and regulation would follow. People would still watch TV, but the government would make sure it was safe to do so. The internet, however, would die out. Watching YouTube would be like shoving your dick into a glory hole in the bathroom of a building hosting an STD support group. For every two videos of an untalented teenager foolishly pursuing her dreams in full view of the world, there would be one asshole rickrolling you with a sudden reading of the culling song.

Maybe it wouldn't be that bad, but it would be safe either. Imagine every misanthrope with a computer suddenly having a means by which to end a few lives, you don't think a few would do it? YouTube would shut down. Facebook statuses could be lethal. You'd risk your life every time you clicked “StumbleUpon.”

With that kind of fear, people wouldn't trust media that hadn't been tested, filtered, and made safe for consumption. We would willingly ask someone to control what ideas and information we're exposed to.

When I sat down to write this, I imagined that at this point I would be speculating on what a quiet world would be like. We wouldn't go back to that, though. We're too used to having an expansive culture. We couldn't really handle going back to exclusively word-of-mouth information travel. You know, word-of-mouth with actual mouths. No, we would just make sure everything was filtered first.

We would hand some agency the right to determine what information is allowed to try to define us. What means are acceptable for turning us into markets. What jingles would get stuck in our heads and what brands of carbonated sugar water would be able to use to fill our guts. They would be the most powerful governing body humanity has ever allowed to guard them. They would decide what material would shape our wills.

Advertising, entertainment, and all that information that gets pumped into our head, all that stuff is who we are. It's what we want. Really, it's always been this way; imagine a man who lived his life in isolation, what kind of personality, thoughts, and desires would he have? How much of a man actually originates from the man himself? Scant, precious little. He would have his hunger, his preference for warmth as opposed to cold or heat, his need to relieve himself, an impulse to stick his penis into tight areas, all those immediate natural desires that make up every man's personality. But it would be scant, precious little in the way of a character.

If the culling song went viral, humanity would have three options: A) risk death and continue on as usual, which we will not do. B) isolate ourselves and degenerate as we refuse to share information and regress back to only those aspects of our personalities that derive from basic, biological needs, which we will not do. C) let someone make information safe for us, let someone determine what is acceptable for our consumption, this we will do.

A Prescriptive Statement

It has been said that the reason we believe we have free will is because there are so many stimuli we are sensitive to, so many variables in our behavior, and so many seemingly possible courses of action that it seems like someone must be deciding which course of action to take. I do not know the precise extent to which I agree with that, but it leads me to what I hope is an interesting idea.

Never allow any market to own you. Face it, living in this world, your will is going to be shaped, only in part of course, by all those commercials, product placements, and catchy jingles. Do you want to be a complex person? Then drown yourself in it, seek to be cultured by sampling influences wherever you can find them. Let lots of different sources compete for your heart. Fill yourself with stimuli, be a cultured man, then any company that would turn you into a market would have to do a damn good job of shouting over all the voices you have in your ears.

Or, perhaps you could go in the opposite direction. Choke yourself off from advertisements. Only allow yourself material that meets some particular standard. Perhaps restrict yourself only to information that you do not believe intends to sell you anything. Read books, mostly older books, from people who you reasonably believe did not write in such a way to maximize sales. You will be shaped by them, but at least you will be shaped by people who really believed in the influences they put out there. At least you will be shaped by dialogue instead of sales pitch.

And never, ever read poems from untested books to your family. And if your wife isn't moving, that doesn't mean she's just letting you take care of everything, they call that "postmortem sexual intercourse."