This website was archived on July 21, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.

Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

Maybe Software Can Really Eat Anything

Venkatesh Rao wrote a very long personal reflection called “King Ruinous and the City of Darkness”, which sprawls over both ancient and modern stretches of Indian history. The text is difficult to summarize in a couple of sentences, because it’s an expansive overview of how Rao came to think in the way that he does. But here are two quotes that jumped out at me:

“There are no real reasons and motivations in Indian politics. As with the rest of the world, politics in India is the art and science of the possible. You do what you can do. You spin the story whichever way you can spin it. The perception problem and the action problem need have no relation to each other, so long as you have solutions to both.”

“One does not simply exit the caste system, but one can sure as hell scramble it beyond recognition and render it unusable by having software and urban modernity eat it. This, incidentally, has been the single most positive development I’ve witnessed in my life. If software can eat the Indian caste system, it can eat anything.”

Financial Objects

Sidewalk chalk drawing of money. Photo by Brendan Riley.
Photo by Brendan Riley.

“To the hunter-gatherer tools and sometimes warm clothes were necessary for survival. Many of the items were highly valued collectibles that insured against starvation, purchased mates, and could substitute for massacre or starvation in event of war and defeat. The ability to transfer the capital of survival to one’s descendants was another advantage homo sapiens sapiens had over previous animals. Furthermore, the skilled tribesman or clan could accumulate a surplus of wealth from the occasional, but cumulative over a lifetime, trade of surplus consumables for durable wealth, especially collectibles. A temporary fitness advantage could be translated into a more durable fitness advantage for one’s descendants. […]

Flints were quite likely the first collectibles, preceding special-purpose collectibles like jewelry. Indeed, the first flint collectibles would have been made for their cutting utility. Their added value as a medium of wealth transfer was a fortuitous side effect that enabled the institutions described in this article to blossom. These institutions, in turn, would have motivated the manufacture of special-purpose collectibles, at first flints that need have no actual use as cutting tools, then the wide variety of other kinds of collectibles that were developed by homo sapiens sapiens.”

Excerpt from “Shelling Out” by Nick Szabo, an essay on the origins of money.

Voting Your Identity

“When politics becomes fundamentally unreal, the nature of political decision-making changes. Everything is fiction, so voters can only choose the fiction that best suits their taste and aligns with their self-image. Thus politics becomes devoured entirely by personal aesthetics. […] Without any sort of fixed reality, we have no shared reference point we can use for political deliberation; and when my policy preferences are rooted entirely in what I conceive of as my self, there is no room for compromise.” — Ned Resnikoff after the presidential candidates’ first debate in 2016

Making Stuff versus Looking at Stuff

“I guess the true problem here [is] the sharp contrast between platforms for people who make stuff and platforms for people who look at stuff. (Most of us are some blend of both, of course — all the more reason that the separation sucks.) Twitter is made for looking and sharing, so it’s used by everyone but sucks for creators; something like Flickr is made for making, so it has a lot of relevant tools but isn’t very heavily frequented. The result is that work gets clumsily cross-posted all over the place, and it’s left to individual creators to come up with their own ad-hoc rituals for disseminating new work.” — Eevee

Casual Narcissism

“Despite the label’s clinical connotations, identifying a narcissist remains a fundamentally subjective and intimate act. […] Fixating on any demon necessitates a deep familiarity with it, and today my fear of narcissism derives from intimate acquaintance with the many evolving ways a person can bend her life into a flattering mirror online.” — Jia Tolentino

Sign up for my newsletter to stay abreast of my new writing and projects.

I am a member of the Amazon Associates program. If you click on an Amazon link from this site and subsequently buy something, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).