Cooking and the Nature of Societies

Builds Upon: Submitting Requests To Your Committee

As a nomadic twenty something I had to teach myself to cook.
As a male, no one ever taught me the arts of the kitchen, nor as a male child had I any interest.

Yet I repeatedly found the necessity of preparing my food staring right at me. I was often poor and when I had money my income came with very little security.
It didn’t make sense to blow a few hundred bucks a month on low quality freezer food that would make me sick. I understood that buying ingredients would make for much better eating for much cheaper.

I started out doing what the lonely guy in romantic comedies always does. He pulls out a book and starts trying to make recipes.
And most people in the Modern West never move beyond this initial n00b step.
They just don’t know any better and think that’s all there is to cooking.

Following recipes exactly is a slow and painful process and that’s why even people who know how to cook do it mostly for visiting friends and on a few holidays.
Cooking is a decorative parlor trick they perform but it’s not really a part of their lifestyle.

When you actually cook(from ingredients) every day, the process inevitably changes. First there’s a couple of frequent dishes for which you need the recipe book less and less. The training wheels start to come off.
Within several months one has probably lost the training wheels for all their favorite dishes.
Beyond that, like any other skill it becomes an increasingly easy intuitive process.
From knowing a repertoire of specific recipes, you come to innately grasp the logic behind types of recipes.

Any more, it’s rare that I ever use a recipe. I know what spices work together with what foods in what proportions. I look up recipes for inspiration, but I never write them down. I can look at the ingredients list and understand what the chef is trying to do.
If there’s one thing on the list missing I don’t have a middle class style anxiety attack and make a special trip to the grocery store for that one hard to find ‘ethnic’ ingredient.
Once you cook for yourself for awhile you’ve worked with lots of different types of ingredients and you know what can be substituted, which are actually important in the recipe, and which play a minor role or are mostly decorative.

Once upon a time, a set of measuring spoons and cups were among my most frequently used possessions. I wrote down my own recipes and made micro-adjustments each time to arrive at a happy medium.
Over time, I found myself needing this stuff less and less. My brain adjusted to the point where I could eyeball all my spices pretty accurately as I added them. For further adjustments, all I needed to do was taste it periodically and everything was fine.

After a few years of making my own food, the idea of a fixed recipe was mostly obsolete. I mostly improvised to fit my mood based on what was in the fridge and pantry at a given time. If no two days were exactly the same and my body never in exactly the same state twice, there was no reason to ever make the same dish in exactly the same way.
Every meal was an adventure in recombinance…

Increasingly, the things I did in the kitchen helped shape my thoughts on systemic design.

I’d taught myself most things about cooking by accident, but gradually I started to deliberately use the kitchen as a lab for testing my ideas.

At one time, I was thinking about the practical necessity of compulsion as the foundation of agricultural society.

If tasks aren’t made urgent for people through threats and coercion, nothing gets done. Another group that is more effective at blackmailing its people wins. And here we’ve just explained the ‘why’ of mass societies in a couple of sentences.

I imagined a child who never forgets their birthday but frequently forgets to clean their room.
The child doesn’t mean to forget clean-up time, but they do anyway because it’s not fun. Because the task is mildly unpleasant the subconscious lets the matter drop. Without the threat of parental punishment the task never gets done.

And this is how civilization works from the family all the way up to the rulers. And the rulers in turn must helplessly react to a perpetual prisoner’s dilemma as they compete with their exalted equals. All of society drifts according to the whims of nature with no one weak or strong with any real control.

If any of this were ever to change I could think of only one possible way out: people would have to approach the subconscious and the intuition in a much more deliberate way…

I started leaving the kitchen whenever I had something cooking. And I wouldn’t go back to check on it. In another room I’d start doing something else to distract my conscious mind. I left it up to my subconscious intuitive mind to warn me when the time was right. If it failed, dinner would be burnt.
I ended up burning things a few times, a necessary part of the process. I was teaching myself on a sub-rational, visceral level the consequences of failure.

Pretty soon, if my nose detected the slightest hint of burning or if the exact expected amount of time had passed, my conscious mind would get yanked away from whatever it was doing. (I had especially wanted smell to figure into this trial because it is the most immediate and visceral of the senses.)

The same principle that had allowed me to estimate amounts of spices without measuring spoons could be harnessed and deliberately used on myself.

Through all my life, every training system I’d ever encountered was all about rewarding the people who screw up the least when new material is introduced.

My little mental experiment in the kitchen led me to imagine formal training systems wherein playful and often destructive experimentation with new information is not penalized or perhaps even encouraged.
Or perhaps one might take some inspiration from military drill instructors by creating near impossible situations for the trainees just to watch them all fail. Let them fail repeatedly. Then with the consequences of failure seared into their pre-conscious minds, let them succeed. Repeat the process for each new skill or body of information. (I do not suggest a crass, coercive boot camp. Rather an environment where these effective methods could be applied constructively, without threats and bullying from screaming authority figures.)

“Book learning” is a term in Western culture that describes a purely explicit understanding without any of the intuitive, pre-conscious programming that makes it useful in application.

Our Enlightenment-inspired gatekeeper training systems are designed to let through the rock stars of explicit mastery.
Ironically, these people tend to be blinded by the sheer dominance of their explicit thinking to the glories of the intuition. The training systems they breezed through allowed them to avoid exactly the sort of creative trial and error that develops a fine tuned intuitive mastery!

These are the people who go on to conduct all our research, make our policies, and teach the next generation of trainees! These are the arch coercers whose decisions roll down the pyramid steps until they finally reach us!


2 responses to “Cooking and the Nature of Societies

  1. Correct Fundamentals – What are the unchanging principles of your skill?
    Concentration – Concentrate on your work to increase performance
    Consistency – Do it until you get it right, then make it your mission to make it right everytime
    Accuracy – You’re hitting it on target everytime
    Speed – The last thing you learn. Speed impresses, accuracy kills

    Of course, inevitably you will hit on something that shatters the model of correct fundamentals, in which case you have to alter the entire thing. Innovation, in other words.

    The easy way to judge teachers is to look at how much power or knowledge they’ve pushed to their students over the course of a year or two. Are they hitting what the student came here to learn? If it’s a practical skill, is it hitting things they will deal with on a day-to-day basis? Is it capable of surviving a reality check or is it merely internally consistent? How many political types had to sign off on this lesson plan before it was executed?

    Though curiosity isn’t one of the largest drivers of human behavior in many cases. And humans like to move away from pain towards pleasure, though if women have taught me one thing it’s that we can have very unique definitions of what really hurts and what really feels good.

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