The Long Now, Pt. 1 – Tick-Tock

Last year I wrote a series of notes called Things Fall Apart, focused on the transformation of our most important social institutions – small-l liberal institutions like free markets and free elections – from cooperation-allowing games to competition-requiring games. That sounds bloodless and small, but it’s not. It’s literally how society self-destructs in a Widening Gyre of mistrust and defection.

Today I’m starting a new series of notes called The Long Now, focused on the further transformation of our social institutions into political utilities … into smiley-face Panopticons of self-censorship where our marrow of autonomy and free will is sucked dry by the Nudging State and the Nudging Oligarchy.

Our money, too. Yes, this will be “actionable”, just maybe not in the way you’re used to.

The Long Now is everything we pull into the present from our future selves and our children.

The Long Now is the constant stimulus that Management applies to our economy and the constant fear that Management applies to our politics.

The Long Now is the Fiat World of reality by declaration, where we are TOLD that inflation does not exist, where we are TOLD that wealth inequality and meager productivity and negative savings rates just “happen”, where we are TOLD we must vote for ridiculous candidates to be a good Republican or a good Democrat, where we are TOLD that we must buy ridiculous securities to be a good investor, where we are TOLD we must borrow ridiculous sums to be a good parent or a good spouse or a good child.

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  1. And thank you for sharing the story about your father. Thankfully that is a day I have not yet had to fully experience; I cannot imagine how painful it will be.

  2. Avatar for fvc fvc says:

    Provoking piece. Thanks Ben and kudos to your personal courage in sharing the story about your father.

    Brought a tear to my eye. My father has also gone early and as a late-starting dad there is lots of missed conversations I can no longer have about raising my little cubs.


  3. Amen! Your story moved me…my Dad is struggling with his health and asking for time. Time which I haven’t been giving.


    Here is one of my favorite clips…the tag line is “Get busy living or get busy dying”. The now is for living.

  4. Avatar for robh robh says:

    My Mom passed away almost 20 years ago. I was going to visit her in the hospital that night, but that I-banking pitch book wasn’t going to make itself. Still regret it. Priorities.

  5. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Yep. I know EXACTLY how you feel, Rob.

  6. Thanks Ben. In the summer of 2004, I was home from university and my dad had a mini-stroke. To see this cornell-educated-hyper-active self-employed, self-righteous man reduced to a leg-dragging, half-word mumbling flesh suit in a matter of minutes was… a life altering taste of the “threat of the future”. My ripe, young 21 y.o. heart remembers the constiction in my central nervous system as I waited in the E.R.

    He survived. I’m 35 now, and not nearly far along enough as I would have been if he had passed. You took his death and decided you were gonna leave your mark on this world. Thank you for that, and thank you for not folding. Many would have in that situation.

  7. I would go clamming every Sat with my late father-in-law until the day he passed when I decided to watch college football with a friend in the city. Wondered for a long time if he wouldn’t have had a massive heart attack if I had carried the clams up to the barn. Years later, we came to find that it was actually agent orange disease that got him. I live in Europe now and have been unable to see my own father in a year. The ‘$600 ticket’ is now the CV19 risk (to him and me) and quarantine. Can I afford it? Strange times indeed…

    BTW - I am an ET Premium member but can’t download the Long Now - need to be Pro rather than Premium? oh I’ll just scroll…

  8. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    I know exactly what you mean about CV19 risk as the new “$600 ticket”. Well put.

    On the download, you should absolutely be able to access this PDF. Sometimes won’t work on mobile devices, though. Email us at [email protected] and we’ll figure it out.

  9. The threat of the future revealed itself to me in 1996 with the death of my father and the birth of my child. One day the threat of the future will reveal itself to you, if it hasn’t already. When it does, you will be CONSUMED by thoughts of the future. You will FEEL the pressure of time more keenly than the younger you could ever imagine.

    I keep revisiting that note every few months and of course the birth of our child has, as you mention here, gotten the point more across than anything ever before. Another canceled holiday, another canceled family gathering.

    Neither of our parents have met the baby. In summer it will be three years since I last saw my grandmother who raised me. She’s 82 this year and thousands of miles away just like the rest of our families. COVID travel restrictions. Traveling with an unvaccinated baby. At first, I was patient, but now I feel like I’m running out of time, moment by moment. Tick tock.

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