I’m re-reading Distraction by Bruce Sterling. Published in 1998, it is/was frighteningly prescient.  Here are a few of my favorite excerpts (does that first one remind you of anyone?).

“He’s like a not very bright child who can be deceived and managed, but not reasoned with.”

“The American national character realty wasn’t suited for global police duties. It never had been. Tidy and meticulous people such as the Swiss and Swedes were the types who made good cops. America was far better suited to be the World’s Movie Star. The world’s tequila-addled pro-league bowler. The world’s acerbic, bipolar stand-up comedian. Anything but a somber and tedious nation of socially responsible centurions.”

“It always offended him to hear his fellow Americans discussing the vagaries of “white people.” There was simply no such thing as “white people. That stereotype was an artificial construct, like the ridiculous term “Hispanic.” In all the rest of the world, a Peruvian was a Peruvian and a Brazilian was a Brazilian— it was only in America that people somehow became this multilingual, multinational entity called a “Hispanic.”

“Political reality in modern America was the stark fact that electronic networks had eaten the guts out of the old order, while never finding any native order of their own. The horrific speed of digital communication, the consonant flattening of hierarchies, the rise of net-based civil society, and the decline of the industrial base had simply been too much for the American government to cope with and successfully legitimize.”

“Knowledge is inherently precious even if you can’t sell it. Even if you can’t use it. Knowledge is an absolute good. The search for truth is vital. It’s central to civilization. You need knowledge even when your economy and government are absolutely shot to hell.”


“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”

― Ellen Goodman

The Tao of Zen: Emptying

taoofzenIn The Tao of Zen, author Ray Grigg devotes 170 pages to tracing the historical roots of Buddhism, Taoism and Zen. I find it tough sledding every time. The rest of the book explores the philosophical similarities between Taosim and Zen. Chapters on: Wordlessness, Selflessness, Softness, Oneness, Emptiness, Nothingness, Balance, Paradox, Non-doing, Spontaneity, Ordinariness, Playfulness, Suchness.

After three readings, my copy of this book has so many underlines, margin notes and highlighter, it’s getting hard to read. Here are few ideas from the final chapter:

In Taoism and Zen, suchness is accommodated by emptying. This is the process of clearing away the attitudes, the judgements, the roles, and all the conditioned patterns of thinking and feeling that shape ordinary experience. This means no questions, no answers, no explanations, no justifications, no rationalizations, no utilitarianism. It also means no moralizing, no personifying, no empathizing.

“Our existence is nothing but a succession of moments perceived through the senses.” — Jean Jacques Rousseau

(In Taoism and Zen) self is a soft and flexible persona worn for the practical purpose of identification. This was Alan Watts’ point when he said that he was not really Alan Watts, he was only called Alan Watts.

“I don’t have faith. I have experience.” — Joseph Campbell

The Way of Taoism and Zen comes of itself. “It” happens when “It” is ready.

Cease to cherish opinions

I first came across the following quote (from a poem by Seng-ts’an) back in 2009:

“Do not seek the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.”

I don’t think old Seng-ts’an was saying you shouldn’t have opinions. Just don’t love them too much. As for “do not seek the truth”… well, that’s harder for me. From the same blog post:

“Get comfortable with the emptiness of no beliefs, no ideas, no concepts, no knowing, no desires, no anticipation, no system, and no future.”

What does that leave? Direct experience. And about the only thing we can be certain of, based on direct experience is: I am. I exist. I find this ever so comforting (when I can remember it). The stress and anxiety of the last year is (for me) the result of beliefs and ideas and concepts and desires and anticipation and what’s gonna happen in the future.

Emptiness. It’s an important concept in most (all?) Eastern philosophies. It doesn’t mean the same thing it does in Western thought. Just saying the word makes me feel lighter. Calmer.

The Inevitable

inevitable“Thousands of years from now, when historians review the past, our ancient time here at the beginning of the third millennium will be seen as an amazing moment. This is the time when inhabitants of this planet first linked themselves together into one very large thing. Later the very large thing would become even larger, but you and I are alive at the moment when it first awoke. Future people will envy us, wishing they could have witnessed the birth we saw.”

“This very large thing (the net) provides a new way of thinking (perfect search, total recall, planetary scope) and a new mind for an old species. It is the Beginning. […] At its core 7 billion humans, soon to be 9 billion, are quickly cloaking themselves with an always-on layer of connectivity that comes close to directly linking their brains to each other. […] By the year 2025 every person alive — that is, 100 percent of the planet’s inhabitants — will have access to this platform via some almost-free device. Everyone will be on it. Or in it. Or, simply, everyone will be it.”

While reading Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable, I underlined passages so I could post them here for future reference. I do this with each book I read. I’m not going to do that for this book because my highlights filled 11 pages but you can find them here.

Eternal Now


“The days and nights of Brahman are spread out in time in rather the same way as a ball of thread an inch in diameter is unrolled to the length of a hundred yards. Its real state resembles the ball but to be presented to the human mind it has to be unrolled. For our idea of time is spatial; it has length, which is a spatial dimension. But eternity has no length, and the nearest thing to it in our experience is what we call the present moment. It cannot be measured, but it is always here.” [More excerpts]

— Become What You Are (Alan Watts)


“Then he explained in a whisper that the plan was composed entirely of awesome. It was made and designed by the House of Awesome, from materials found in the deep awesome mines of Awesometania and it would be recorded in the Annals of Awesome—and nowhere else, because any other book would catch fire and explode from the awesome—and by its awesomeness it would be known from now until the crack of doom.”

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway