March 11th, 2021

📝 Stakes and the World's Worth

What attachments make us care about the future?

Venkatesh Rao wrote a Thread on Stakes and Costs.

The stakes have never been lower. People get confused because they see high costs everywhere (climate action etc). Stakes are not costs. Stakes are why you care. Costs are what you pay. *

A stake is a reason for caring about the world. A stake is not just an investment but the whole process of being invested in the investment, so to speak.

Camus claimed that "deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy." A stake is not a philosophical answer but an active concern that makes the question laughable.

A stake is not just a project. Finishing this post today doesn't constitute a stake for me. I have to look up the value hierarchy. A stake might be the whole process of reading and writing as a way of life that brings me in touch with humanity and discloses the world in its infinite richness.

Venkatesh says:

I don’t think kids are a solution tbf. They are as much of a metaphysical punt as belief in an afterlife. They don’t actually work very well as stakes. They only supply acute meaning when they’re in danger. Normal times, parents seem no more fulfilled. Possibly less. *

We see the child as stake for example in R.D. Laing's 📰 The Politics of Experience:

Yet if nothing else, each time a new baby is born there is a possibility of reprieve. Each child is a new being, a potential prophet, a new spiritual prince, a new spark of light, precipitated into the outer darkness. Who are we to decide that it is hopeless? *

I think Venkatesh is saying that most parents don't actually live as if their children charge the far future with deep teleological significance.

Instead children tend to become absorbed into the daily humdrum of the 📰 Domestic Cozy interior, a provincial kind of stake without the moral capacity to sacrifice its own convenience for the sake of "external" world.

An icon of this tragedy is Greta Thunberg, a child who stands up and cries out for the older generation in power to treat the world as if it mattered.

Venkatesh continues:

But there’s something there. The minimum viable stakes seem to have indefinite reproductive potential. Stakes tend to be Turing-complete things like kids, robots, and other gene-meme things that might live forever in some sense. *
Things that work as stakes have a fractal ability to conjure eternity in their universal potentiality. “To hold infinity in the palm of your hand, eternity in an hour” sorts thing. Turing-complete grains of sand. *

This seems like a very interesting perspective on Teleology, and a suggestive one for doing what I called Teleological Archeology:

One way to navigate this ocean of confusion is to engage in Teleological Archeology, trying to brush off and uncover some stable structure hidden beneath the arid sand dunes of non-culture. *

The suggestion would be that the crucial structures to brush off and uncover are the "Turing-complete" ones, the ones where, in the translated words of Tomas Tranströmer, vault opens behind vault endlessly.

Venkatesh also provides a path for thinking about the question that seems to haunt every project and ambition: if I'm not directly addressing global warming, what's the point of anything?

Believe it or not, the value of something like Twitter is that it raises the stakes, making saving the works from climate disaster a bit more worth it. It does this via a cousin of the having-children kind of stakes. It is mutual involvement stakes. *

Any kind of fun on earth is a reason to fight for earth. If you're not allowed to have fun, you won't care. So the question of stakes is a crucial question for the climate.

It is “how do you make reality worth caring about enough to pay the cost of something like climate action to save it?” *

This is why Timothy Morton tries to reverse the sadness of ecological discourse:

Talk of efficiency and sustainability are simply artifacts of the relentless use of fossil fuels. In a solar economy, you could have a disco in every single room of your house and way fewer lifeforms would suffer, perhaps vanishingly few, compared to the act of simply turning on the lights in an oil economy. You could have strobes and decks and lasers all day and night to your heart’s content. *

Joy, pleasure, and desire aren't costs to minimize but stakes to intensify. An ugly hopeless world will kill itself.

We seem to be on the first stepping stones of what Christopher Alexander called 📰 The Long Path that Leads from the Making of Our World to God.

Venkatesh returns to the image of driving a stake into the ground:

The physical metaphor of a stake — a spike driven into the ground to claim a part of the universe besides yourself is great. A declaration of a non-minimal life. Its meaning or lack thereof can be set aside. It’s your point of positive involvement with reality. *

I like to imagine Vincent Van Gogh standing out in a fields, bringing the world alive on his canvas despite the cold wind, as he describes in a letter to his brother:

My easel was fixed in the ground with iron pegs, a method I recommend to you. You push the legs of the easel deep into the ground, then drive iron pegs fifty centimetres long into the ground beside them. You tie the whole lot together with rope. This way you can work in the wind. *

I'll end with another quote from his letters:

It is good to love as many things as one can, for therein lies true strength, and those who love much, do much and accomplish much, and whatever is done with love is done well. *

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