Epistemic Sta­tus: Refer­ence post. Strong be­liefs strongly held af­ter much thought, but hard to ex­plain well. In­ten­tion­ally ab­stract.

Disam­bigua­tion: This does not re­fer to any phys­i­cal good, app or piece of soft­ware.

Fur­ther Re­search (book, recom­mended but not at all re­quired, take se­ri­ously but not liter­ally): The Book of the Subgenius

Re­lated (from sam[ ]zdat, recom­mended but not re­quired, take se­ri­ously and also liter­ally, en­tire very long se­ries also recom­mended): The Uruk Machine

Fur­ther Read­ing (book): Scarcity: Why Hav­ing Too Lit­tle Means So Much

Pre­vi­ously here (not re­quired): Play in Hard Mode, Play in Easy Mode, Out to Get You

Leads to (I’ve been scooped! Some­what…): Sab­bath Hard and Go Home

An illus­tra­tive lit­tle game: Carpe Diem: The Prob­lem of Scarcity and Abundance

Slack is hard to pre­cisely define, but I think this comes close:

Defi­ni­tion: Slack. The ab­sence of bind­ing con­straints on be­hav­ior.

Poor is the per­son with­out Slack. Lack of Slack com­pounds and traps.

Slack means mar­gin for er­ror. You can re­lax.

Slack al­lows pur­su­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. You can ex­plore. You can trade.

Slack pre­vents des­per­a­tion. You can avoid bad trades and wait for bet­ter spots. You can be effi­cient.

Slack per­mits plan­ning for the long term. You can in­vest.

Slack en­ables do­ing things for your own amuse­ment. You can play games. You can have fun.

Slack en­ables do­ing the right thing. Stand by your friends. Re­ward the wor­thy. Pu­n­ish the wicked. You can have a code.

Slack pre­sents things as they are with­out con­cern for how things look or what oth­ers think. You can be hon­est.

You can do some of these things, and choose not to do oth­ers. Be­cause you don’t have to.

Only with slack can one be a righ­teous dude.

Slack is life.

Re­lated Slackness

Slack in pro­ject man­age­ment is the time a task can be de­layed with­out caus­ing a de­lay to ei­ther sub­se­quent tasks or pro­ject com­ple­tion time. The amount of time be­fore a con­straint binds.

Slack the app was likely named in refer­ence to a promise of Slack in the pro­ject sense.

Slacks as trousers are pants that are ac­tual pants, but do not bind or con­strain.

Slack­ness refers to vul­gar­ity in West In­dian cul­ture, be­hav­ior and mu­sic. It also refers to a sub­genre of dance­hall mu­sic with straight­for­ward sex­ual lyrics. Again, slack­ness refers to the ab­sence of a bind­ing con­straint. In this case, com­mon de­cency or po­lite­ness.

A slacker is one who has a lazy work ethic or oth­er­wise does not ex­ert max­i­mum effort. They slack off. They re­fuse to be bound by what oth­ers view as hard con­straints.

Out to Get You and the At­tack on Slack

Many things in this world are Out to Get You. Often they are Out to Get You for a lot, usu­ally but not always your time, at­ten­tion and money.

If you Get Got for com­pact amounts too of­ten, it will add up and the con­straints will bind.

If you Get Got even once for a non-com­pact amount, the cost ex­pands un­til the you have no Slack left. The con­straints bind you.

You might spend ev­ery spare minute and/​or dol­lar on poli­tics, ad­vo­cacy or char­ity. You might think of ev­ery dol­lar as a frac­tion of a third-world life saved. Rac­ing to find a cure for your daugh­ter’s can­cer, you already work around the clock. You could have an all-con­sum­ing job or be a sol­dier march­ing off to war. It could be a quest for re­venge, for glory, for love. Or you might spend ev­ery spare minute mind­lessly check­ing Face­book or ob­sessed with your fan­tasy foot­ball league.

You can­not re­lax. Your life is not your own.

It might even be the right choice! Espe­cially for brief pe­ri­ods. When about to be run over by a truck or evicted from your house, Slack is a lux­ury you can­not af­ford. Ex­traor­di­nary times call for ex­traor­di­nary effort.

Most times are or­di­nary. Make an or­di­nary effort.

You Can Afford It

No, you can’t. This is the most fa­mous at­tack on Slack. Few words make me an­grier.

The per­son who says “You Can Afford It” is say­ing to ig­nore con­straints that do not bind you. If you do, all con­straints soon bind you.

Those who do not value Slack soon lose it. Slack mat­ters. Fight to keep yours!

Ask not whether you can af­ford it. Ask if it is Worth It.

Un­less you can’t af­ford it. Afford­abil­ity is in­valuable nega­tive se­lec­tion. Never pos­i­tive se­lec­tion.

The You Can Afford It tax on Slack quickly ap­proaches 100% if unchecked.

If those with ex­tra re­sources are asked to share the whole sur­plus, all are poor or hide their wealth. Wealth is a bur­den and makes you a tar­get. Those visi­bly flush rush to spend their bounty.

Where those with free time are given ex­tra work, all are busy or look busy. Those with co­pi­ous free time seek out rel­a­tively painless time sinks they can point to.

When look­ing happy means you deal with ev­ery­thing un­pleas­ant, no one looks happy for long.

The Slack­less Like of Maya Millennial

Things are bad enough when those with Slack are ex­pected to sac­ri­fice for oth­ers. Things are much worse when the pres­ence of Slack is viewed as a defec­tion.

An ex­am­ple of this effect is Maya Millen­nial (of The Premium Me­diocre Life of Maya Millen­nial). She has no Slack.

Con­straints bind her ev­ery ac­tion. Her job in life is putting up a front of the per­son she wants to show peo­ple that she wants to be. If her con­straints no­tice­ably failed to bind the illu­sion would fail.

Every ac­tion is be­ing watched. If no one is around to watch her, the job falls to her. She must post all to Face­book, to Snapchat, to In­sta­gram. Each ac­tion and choice sig­nals who she is and her loy­alty to the sys­tem. Not do­ing that this time could mean miss­ing her one chance to make it big.

Maya never has free time. There is sig­nal­ing to do! At a min­i­mum, she must spend such time on alert and on her phone lest she miss some­thing.

Maya never has spare cash. All must be spent to ad­vance and fit her pro­file.

Maya lacks free speech, free as­so­ci­a­tion, free taste and free thought. All must serve.

Maya is in a world where she must sig­nal she has no Slack. Slack means in­suffi­cient ded­i­ca­tion and loy­alty. Slack can­not be trusted. Slack now means slack later, which means failure. Fu­ture failure means no op­por­tu­nity.

This is more com­mon than one might think.

“Give Me Slack or Kill Me” – J.R. “Bob” Dobbs

The aim of this post was to in­tro­duce Slack and give an in­tu­itive pic­ture of its im­por­tance.

The short-term prac­ti­cal take­aways are:

Make sure that un­der nor­mal con­di­tions you have Slack. Value it. Guard it. Spend it only when Worth It. If you lose it, fight to get it back. This pro­vides mo­ti­va­tion for fight­ing things Out To Get You, lest you let them eat your Slack.

Make sure to run a di­ag­nos­tic test ev­ery so of­ten to make sure you’re not run­ning dan­ger­ously low, and to en­g­ineer your situ­a­tion to force your­self to have Slack. I recom­mend Sab­bath Hard and Go Home with my take to fol­low soon.

Also re­spect the Slack of oth­ers. Help them value and guard it. Do not spend it lightly.

A Fi­nal Note

I kept this short rather than add de­tailed jus­tifi­ca­tions. Hope­fully the logic is in­tu­itive and builds on what came be­fore. I hope to ex­pand on the de­tails and mod­els later. For a very good book-length ex­pla­na­tion of why lack­ing Slack is awful, see Scarcity: Why Hav­ing Too Lit­tle Means So Much.