How do you say your name?
My first name rhymes with Dan, not Don. Think of the Flock of Seagulls song, not the Kurosawa film. And I pronounce my last name like it rhymes with "free-er," but the French pronunciation is cool too.
I've just discovered your site. What should I read first?
The blog archives. The essays have a lot of stuff I've changed my mind about.
I got my start by taking the most exciting and epic ideas, and squinting my perspective to make them sound true. Gradually I converted to the other side: actually trying to figure shit out.
I used to write as if I could influence public policy, and it's a bad habit I still fall into, but I try to write like a disinterested visitor making sense of the world.
It might seem like I stopped writing essays, but I think I just got better at being concise, and now I can say almost anything I need to say in six paragraphs.
I used to see collapse happening for physical reasons, like resources and climate. Now I see it happening for mainly psychological reasons: that the tasks necessary to keep the system going, are drifting too far from what we enjoy doing.
I used to be a doomer optimist, expecting the collapse of complex society to make a better world. Then I expected the big systems to muddle through the coming disasters and tried to figure out the details. I still think high tech will survive and get weirder, and Covid-19 has accelerated the inevitable economic collapse.
I used to think rural homesteading was a good idea. Then I noticed that almost everyone who tried it was unhappy and did way too much driving. Here's a nice essay about it by Toby Hemenway, Urban vs Rural Sustainability
I used to treat "civilization" as a monolithic idea, a simple black box that could just be plugged into ideological equations. Now I see it as a bunch of different things that have been linked in the past, but do not have to be linked. But here's a positive definition of "civilization": the increase in elegant complexity of human-made systems
, and we have all kinds of room to do better.
There are two motivations in primitivism, and I accidentally fed the wrong one: the desire to participate in radical change driven by moral judgments, which is what got us into this mess in the first place. The other motivation is to live like actual people in the best primitive tribes: have modest needs, zero coercion, and a nomadic mental state. These are not incompatible with high tech.
Can you condense your political ideas to under 100 words?
In a perfect society, no self-discipline is necessary, because what needs to be done, and what people feel like doing, are one and the same. In a good society, they're close enough that nobody cares if you don't do anything useful.
Telling stories to make people want to do things is unsustainable. Utopia must be constantly reinvented at the level of basic actions that people enjoy in no-mind
. We have a long way to go, but right now I support an unconditional basic income paid for by a financial transaction tax.
How about your philosophical ideas?
There is only one place, there is only one time, and there is only one mind. All the varieties of these things are just different ways of looking.
There is no third person reality -- it's all first person. Mind is hardware and matter is software. The brain is a user interface for a filter. Atoms and planets are desktop icons on an incomprehensible computer. Physics and astronomy are squinting at pixels that only fill themselves in when we look. Humans must be some kind of experiment in not knowing that the universe is alive.
What is the meaning of life?
Asking a philosopher "What is the meaning of life?" is like asking a librarian "What is the meaning of book?" Not only does every book have a different meaning, every sentence has a different meaning. The only large scale meaning of life is finding meaning on the small scale.
Everything we do will eventually come to nothing, but that's only a problem for an achievement-based culture, where we're always trying to accomplish something that's supposed to be valuable. If it all comes to nothing, we're free.
Where do you find all the links you post?
Mainly on Hacker News
, and a handful of subreddits.
Who is your biggest role model?
Paul Erdos, who was such a good mathematician that he traveled around staying with other mathematicians, and they would take care of all his practical needs while he just talked with them about math. Erdos said this when he took a month off from amphetamines: "Before, when I looked at a piece of blank paper my mind was filled with ideas. Now all I see is a blank piece of paper." That's how I feel about cannabis.
How much weed do you smoke?
I use a Silver Surfer vaporizer, which is extremely efficient, so only about a gram a month. Weed gives me creative superpowers, and raises my emotional intelligence to nearly normal. It makes me feel like I'm the POV of video watched by God.
Contrary to the popular cliche, when I'm sober I'm unmotivated, and when I'm high I'm a workaholic. Being high and not doing creative work is like being up in an airplane and not looking out the window.
But if I use it more than a couple days in a row, it just makes me feel numb. And at any level of use, it dehydrates me, gives me low-quality sleep, and generally wears out my body. So I do all kinds of self-experiments to figure out how to maximize benefits and minimize costs. Lately my rule is that for every calendar day when I don't use any, I earn one session.
What about other drugs?
I do LSD and mushrooms, not at the same time, two or three times a year. I've never hallucinated, but things look different. LSD is like the white keys on a piano, and mushrooms are like the black keys. LSD is like walking on the sun, and mushrooms are like walking on the moon. On LSD, nature is heaven and clouds of insects are angels. On mushrooms, nature is fairyland and trees are time-stretched aspects of superior beings. My last few mushroom trips have been totally lame, but it still seems to clean the cobwebs out of my brain.
What is your favorite long fiction?
In order of when I read them: Roadmarks
by Roger Zelazny, Wuthering Heights
by Emily Bronte, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou
by Hitoshi Ashinano, Little, Big
by John Crowley, A Splendid Conspiracy
by Albert Cossery.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Instead of fixating on goals, practice quickly noticing opportunities that are only there for a short time. Also, take really good care of your teeth, including rinsing your mouth after eating or drinking anything sweet.
Does your blog have an RSS feed?
Doing it myself would be too much work, but Patrick has written a script that creates a feed based on the way I format my entries. I've uploaded it to http://ranprieur.com/feed.php
. You might also try Page2RSS
Do you plan on publishing your old writing?
In 2011, a friend went on lulu.com and cranked out a book in a day. It's called How to Drop Out and Other Essays
. That link goes to the paperback, and here's the hardcover
. There's also a collection of my zines: paperback
. Nobody is making money on this, not even Lulu since they take a percentage of the author's profits. Some of the texts are also available as free pdf downloads. Thanks Alex!
I thought you lived on an off-grid homestead.
No, but you can read about those adventures in my old Landblog FAQ
or the landblog archives from 2004-2011.
What's your email address?
My name with no spaces at gmail.com.
I like it when people email me to say hi. You don't have to bring gifts. You can also post on the Ran Prieur subreddit
Jordan Mechano's documentary
about me, recorded summer of 2018.
Erik interviews me for Mini Truth
, recorded August of 2020.
James's Hermitix podcast
, recorded April 2020, and also on YouTube
In text, the BoingBoing
interview by Avi, and older interviews by by Tim Boucher
and Burn the Furniture
In audio, interviews by Paul Wheaton
(2011, 28 minutes), Aaron
(2006? 40 minutes), Ken Rose
(2011, 46 minutes), and Mark Haim at KOPN
(2009, 51 minutes).
And here are four videos, around 100 minutes total, of me being interviewed in October 2005 for What A Way To Go: Life at the End of Empire
: part 1
, part 2
, part 3
, part 4
Old Personal links
100 things about me
Frugal Early Retirement FAQ
Winter Tour FAQ
How I bought a house
I bought land
My July 2004 bike trip
is the most frequently updated page on this site other than the home page. Lately I've been making playlists.
Favorite Albums plus Hawkwind
Ecstasy and Doom
is my Big Blood fan page, and the main thing I worked on for more than a year around 2015.