Hi! My name is Michael. Welcome to Relentless Dawn.
I see hope for a really, really good future. That might seem counterintuitive, with things like climate change and fear of manipulation of American media and systemic racism and catastrophic risks from AI.
But the thing is, that’s a lot of why I see hope.
The human race is running out of options. This is becoming more and more obvious to more and more people. We can’t keep screaming at each other to do “the right thing” while we disagree about what that is. It hasn’t worked (and probably never will) to convince everyone of our point of view while they’re trying to convince us. It looks like we’re running out of time on several fronts: maybe we run out of food, maybe our homes get destroyed, maybe someone bio-engineers a pandemic, maybe we run out of cheap energy, and on and on….
It’s becoming increasingly hard to miss that what we’re doing is doomed.
And that’s really, really good. Because it means we can notice the need to do something different.
I see an option for life. The human race has a really beautiful and exciting opportunity to become more lucid, more aware, more kind and intelligent as a species. It’s a path that makes sense for individuals to take even when others around them don’t, and it results in a world that becomes more and more of a pleasure for all beings to be in.
My hope here is not to persuade anyone to live a certain way. I don’t aim to change whom you vote for or what you eat or how you talk. I’m much, much more interested in inviting you to notice why you make the choices you do, and to notice when there’s an opportunity to do things differently that are better for you. The thing is, what’s best for us is what’s best for everyone, which becomes more and more obvious the more closely we pay attention to our own lives.
I call this blog “Relentless Dawn” because I have a sense of the coming light being inevitable. There’s a lot of darkness in the world, and in each one of us. The pain from that will end. The only question is: Will we each choose to participate in making the world more conscious, or will we instead align with the pain that hides in the shadows that daybreak chases away?
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.Carl Jung
What to read
The bulk of what I’m writing right now (as of September 2019) is in the “Transition” category. I’m aiming to describe what I see the human race could pay attention to in order to create a wonderful world.
- If you’re familiar with the classic 7 chakras, “The Coming Age of Prayer” can offer a broad overview of my vision. It’s more poetic than descriptive of the vision itself though.
- The most immediately practical piece (in my opinion) is “Power makes a terrible gift”. I’ve seen this material make life-changing impacts in just a few minutes — although I don’t know if the essay has the same effect. A common critique of this essay is the way it zooms out at the end… but I stand by what it says anyway. The bigger picture is part of why the help individuals get from this stuff is important.
- The most relevant long-term advice is in the piece “There is no ‘away’”. Although the phrase comes from environmentalism and while I do touch on that in the essay, that’s not the main point. The core message is something more like, “Notice this particular way you’re taught to shoot yourself in the foot, and notice how that hurts you personally. I expect you’ll want to change what you’re doing once you pay attention to that.”
- Although it’s not really part of my writings, I recommend listening to “Utopia or Bust”, which is an Emerge podcast episode featuring Daniel Schmachtenberger. His thinking about our global predicament is very, very much in line with my own. We just break down the causes of civilizational problems a little bit differently.
I originally started this blog to share content I was calling “Yin”. The idea was to welcome emotional darkness into the light by feeling it fully. Most of the focus was on grief and letting go of resistance. I still think this is valuable and I might write more things in this vein, although I would express it a little differently now. A lot of people have been powerfully affected by “The art of grieving well”, especially while going through the pain of some kind of loss.
Finally, you can find some of my writing on a community blog known as “Less Wrong” under the username “Valentine”. (There’s a whole story behind the nickname. It’s based on Robert Heinlein’s main character from “Stranger in a Strange Land”.) I now feel like my time as a “rationalist” is like a past life. Quite a few of those essays were me trying to cram spiritual insights into a very narrow sense of what “real” can mean, all without noticing just how much fear was driving me in the background. I’ve done a lot of inner work since then. But I still use many of the ideas I articulated there. I just frame them differently now.
Here are a few highlights about me, in fast forward:
- When I was a kid, my family was really into both Objectivism and also Fortean stuff like parapsychology and out-of-body experiences. Yes, that’s a paradox. Culture doesn’t have an obvious archetype that fits my family.
- I’ve been signed up for cryonics since I was five years old. Until my early 30s I just assumed I would live forever.
- I hated math until I was 12. Then I met its immense beauty and fell in love with it. I was pissed that culture had basically lied to me about what it is and was numbing so many minds to it. So I got an MS in math and a Ph.D. in math education to work on fixing how math is taught.
- At the end of my Ph.D. program, I decided that math is taught badly for the same reason we can’t seem to coordinate about things like climate change and AI risk. So I co-founded the Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR) to solve the underlying problem.
- CFAR pivoted to focus almost entirely on AI risk. The idea is something like, if it can cause humanity to build a “friendly” AI, then the AI will solve all these other problems for us. I think this kind of thinking is why we have these problems in the first place. When it became clear that CFAR wasn’t interested in this point anymore, I left.
- I took stuff like the Law of Attraction, quantum mysticism, and Wiccan magick pretty seriously in my teens and early 20s. It sounded like a lot of people thought they could get results from magic, and if true then I really wanted to be able to do it. It seemed fun and beautiful and really important for understanding what’s real.
- In my early 30s I went the opposite direction. I did a breathwork ceremony and came out of it quite sure that beauty, meaning, love, and pretty much everything else of value were all illusions and that we live in a mechanical, uncaring universe. I lived in that dark state for about three years.
- I’ve done a fair bit of Authentic Relating and Circling. (Think heart-centered interpersonal meditations.) These were life-savers when I was… mmm, let’s say “philosophically depressed”.
- I had some kind of spiritual awakening in 2017. That shook me out of my “The universe is dead” funk. I’ve been prioritizing spiritual growth since then.
- 2019 has been a year of rest, meditation, and deep internal work for me. I’ve taken up yoga, took an online mettā retreat, traveled to Peru for Ayahuasca and Huachuma ceremonies, and joined a powerful men’s work program. I know I have something powerful and precious to offer the world, and I observe I haven’t been able to deliver it yet. So my focus is on fully, deeply becoming the version of myself that can offer my message in a way that can be gracefully received.
Thank you for reading. Welcome to Relentless Dawn!