If you are dissatisfied with the world or struggling with your own life, you may be interested in the plan that I have been alluding to for the past few articles. Please bear with me while I explain why this sort of plan is the only one that could work before explaining what the plan actually is.
In this world, the vast majority of people at one point or another get stuck in a particular mindset or in certain desires or fears. These states of being stuck lead to insecurity. Merely knowing about how people get stuck does not confer immunity to it (and I know from experience), because most people lack opportunities to learn and practice new mindsets to solve problems that threaten their desires. Alternatively, they cannot tolerate their desires inevitably being now and then subverted or their fears occasionally becoming reality. In their struggle to deal with what they cannot understand or accept, they turn away from good and towards evil.
If you’re perceptive you’re probably thinking, “Great, now we need to functionally define good and evil.” Fear not! These definitions should be useful even outside this blog:
Good and Evil (and Neutral)
- “Good” describes sacrificing some of the pleasantness of one’s own individual experience in order to improve the individual experience of another person or group of people. The more good (or “better” or “more benevolent,” if you prefer) a person is, the more they are confident with sacrificing in order to help others achieve a stable point in their lives.
- “Evil” is the opposite of good, and describes actions or people that make other people’s experiences significantly unpleasant in order to achieve one’s own goals, especially when alternative paths to those goals exist that don’t involve hurting people. The more evil a person is, the less excuse they need to take from others.
- “Neutral” means not spending much effort to affect other people either way, unless it is paying back others’ behavior in kind, such as returning favors or getting revenge.
Of course, the personal cost used for these definitions is subjective, so it is difficult to compare the goodness of people with any precision, if it’s not already obvious. Giving up a dollar not only has a different marginal impact on people with different incomes, but it also means different things depending on whether a person had an alternative option for that dollar: an opportunity cost that they are paying by giving it away. Even two people with the same opportunity cost could have wanted it with different degrees of intensity, which is incredibly subjective and hard to measure. People handle disappointment differently, so who’s to say who wanted it more?
Besides, where a person’s character is concerned, it doesn’t matter where you are so much as where you’re going. Good people, if they’re serious and perceptive about it, will try to develop and strengthen their power to help others and lower the personal cost of doing so, so they can accomplish more with the sacrifice they can tolerate. (I’m just clawing my way out of neutral myself.)
Note that being good doesn’t mean being skilled at doing good; it only means you’re willing to make a sacrifice to do what you think will help people. If you’re wrong about what will help people, then what you do may be tragically misguided, but not evil.
Needless to say, tragically misguided is not good enough (no pun intended… this time). The world needs as many skilled good people as we can get. Evil people will not only break laws to get what they want, but also will trick neutral and misguided good people into creating laws that favor the evil people’s parasitism. Neutral people may be persuaded to band together to create institutions that commit evil on their behalf, without even realizing it. This practice explains why merely raising votes for the least terrible political candidates isn’t sufficient for changing the system.
Unfortunately, we can’t just change the political system to something inherently more effective (e.g., adopting a ranked voting system) and leave it at that. The restrictions and mandates of any legal or political system cannot solve all problems in advance or protect everyone from everything, and some people happen to be powerless in ways the system cannot predict or cannot standardize a way to help. A government is a system of order, of rules, of musts and must nots. It can only deal with known problems, because to deal with an unknown problem requires creativity, initiative, and other chaotic skills that cannot be specified in laws or judged by fixed criteria.
Any legal structure can be manipulated by evil people unless good people use their judgment and power to stop it. There is no possible form of government, no way of structuring laws or institutions, that can survive for any significant length of time if the people it is meant to guide, the same people that sustain and legitimize it, are afraid to be proactively, skillfully good rather than merely neutral or outright evil.
Those most likely to be afraid are the powerless people, those denied opportunities or the nurturing necessary for most people to develop self-sufficiency. The powerless may turn to evil out of desperation or dissatisfaction with their lives. The neutral people will not stick their necks out to help the powerless because neutral people are averse to the sacrifice and fear it would disrupt the lives they are used to. They would rather keep to themselves and their peers. Only good people would aid those who would otherwise slip through the cracks, taking the initiative to help them get what they want without attempting to steal from or deceive others, even when the good people get no tangible compensation. Some things that we need cannot be required, but must be inspired.
What’s important to realize is that in order to consistently do good, you need to be powerful. If the cost of a given good deed goes up, a person will eventually become unable to tolerate making that sacrifice, for whatever reason. They may fear that if they put too much effort into helping others, they or someone close to them will not survive. As the person’s situation becomes increasingly dire, the only options they consider acceptable might be evil ones.
On the other hand, to demand that a person sacrifice their own life or happiness for equivalent happiness of another would be unfair, and in most cases pointless. Indeed, if everyone practiced complete self-abnegation, nobody would allow themselves to enjoy anything. As a society, would will fail. If we have no competition for fear of injuring those who try and fail, we will not learn from the efforts of those who succeed. Promoting goodness in society requires that people learn balance, so they can accept failure but remain undeterred from pursuing success. We must show respect for those who strive and are defeated, but it is still good to celebrate the victors.
Nuance is hard, though, so how can we promote goodness? First, we need to make sure that people are free to solve problems. They need to be powerful enough to be free. The world will not survive if people are not free to be good, and people will not survive freedom if they are not mature and responsible.
As defined here, freedom is the lack of restrictions, whether artificially imposed by others (laws) or naturally present (physical limitations and needs). Because freedom defies restrictions, it is by definition a form of chaos. To exercise freedom requires the power to bypass limits, and “power” is conceptually related to “potential,” implying possibilities, another connection to chaos.
To say a person is free means we cannot say for certain what they can or will do. Like order, chaos has pros and cons. Freedom allows evil people to hurt others, but it also opens the doors to allow good people to offer help in ways that mere rules would only interfere with. Exactly like power, freedom calls for responsibility. To become responsible and good, we must learn how to take the best parts of chaos and order, so we can develop the power to achieve what we want the most. This learning process requires that we advance our consciousness. To do this, we need to be able to overcome not only outside restrictions but also our own limitations of thought, that can intimidate us and dissuade us from doing good.
Therefore, a plan to change the world in a meaningful way must involve not merely electing the right people, nor merely changing the political system. It must help all people expand their options and become more confident in dealing with problems.
The plan is based on growth mindset. It is the fundamental antithesis of being stuck. It is not a magical solution that will grant your wishes. What the plan is intended to do is map out paths to becoming a person who has the skill and strength to begin solving some of your own problems, and helping others with theirs.
First, there are some concepts we need to go over in order to put the world in perspective. To give you and others the power to do good, we must understand desires and meta-skills.
In Beginning from Basics, we went over the ideas of experience (one’s state of consciousness being part of the effect of an event) and control (being part of an event’s cause). Events which you can experience are part of your field of awareness, and events which you can control are part of your field of influence.
The motivations that you can pursue in this world have to do with experience and control, with what you want to do with your fields of awareness and influence. You can attempt to move more things into them and keep them, to move things out and keep them out, to impose order and limitations that cannot be resisted, or to break limitations and seek out new possibilities.
You don’t necessarily want these things for yourself. A good, unselfish person may want to help someone else, or to create a better world for all, but we are the only reference frame we have to make normative judgments like “better.” Ultimately what makes the action “help” or the world “better” is that someone is more likely to get what they want, and what they want is encompassed by these concepts.
The Eight Sins
Below are defined, as far as I can tell, the eight fundamental desires or motivations of conscious beings. With these definitions, in theory, you can characterize the innermost motivations of anyone. These basic desires do not include the desire to do good, not because goodness doesn’t exist (see above), but because the desire to do good can only be fulfilled by furthering the desires of another person, so including it among the basic desires would be redundant. Goodness can be described as the inclusion of others as part of one’s sense of self, to the point that the fulfillment of their personal desires and development becomes a priority. Likewise, any ideals that a person supports can be traced back to something they want or something that they think someone else wants.
By way of preemptive clarification, that these motivations represent why people do something, not what they do. Two people can have the same goal for different reasons. A person’s major driving motivations will become clearer as you look at more of their goals. Also note that none of these are mutually exclusive, even the ones which are opposites. A person can be motivated by any and all of these.
With that in mind, are the basic motivations of conscious beings:
- Greed/Ambition: the desire to bring more of a certain type of thing into one’s field of influence; asserting control over a larger scope, be it over a wider range or over more important subjects. Fame, which represents influence over more people’s minds and feelings, can also represent greed.
- Sloth/Relaxation: the desire to shunt things out of one’s field of influence so one doesn’t have to pay attention to them; asserting control over a diminishing scope, or avoiding any control that one bears responsibility for. This desire doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding any effort, but rather avoiding certain efforts that are stressful or have important consequences. Some slothful people may create automated systems or siphon the efforts of others in order to achieve results without directly controlling things. Others may simply stop taking anything seriously.
- Wrath/Boldness: the desire to remove limits on one’s control, to do things which are novel, unprecedented, impossible, or forbidden. In short, this is the desire to break or overcome rules of some kind, be they laws, etiquette, or physical barriers or limitations. It is not necessarily associated with anger, but anger often leads to this desire.
- Hubris/Domination: the desire to impose limits on one’s control, so that the control becomes more exclusive and absolute, without resistance. Entities in one’s field of influence will have less freedom. Perfectionists and control freaks are defined by this desire.
- Gluttony/Celebration: the desire to move more of a certain type of experience into one’s field of awareness, for an experience to increase in frequency, duration, intensity, or some other metric. It can manifest as reveling in a sensation and seeking it constantly, or as becoming jaded and seeking more intense stimulation. As long as it’s the same basic experience being sought, it falls under this motivation.
- Cowardice/Prudence: the desire to move a certain type of experience out of one’s field of awareness and keep it out; to avoid it. This avoidance often originates rationally because an experience is unpleasant or because it implies a threat to another desire, but the avoidance takes on a life of its own, as habits are prone to do.
- Lust/Curiosity: the desire to remove limits on one’s experiences, to experience things which are novel, unprecedented, impossible, or forbidden. Repeating similar experiences will likely cause boredom if a person is primarily responsive to this desire.
- Envy/Specification: the desire to impose limits on one’s experiences, i.e. an obsession with a particular outcome to the point of developing tunnel vision, rejecting partial successes and ignoring alternative goals. People responsive to this motivation may pursue a dream until their world is exactly as they envision it, and may feel bitter if they cannot succeed, especially if they see someone else has already attained the goal.
You might have noticed that these are themed on the concept of seven deadly vices, or “sins” (with one added, because it completes the symmetry). The concept of catalogued sins inspired the effort to catalog these motivations, but the concepts (hopefully) stand on their own.
As for “sin”, the most useful definition of the word I can come up with is “anything you can get addicted to”, which if you’re not careful could be literally anything. Depending on what sorts of experience or control you’re prone to getting addicted to, anything could be a sin for you. That definition is consistent with the popular belief that conscious entities are inherently sinful*, with the idea that sin is dangerous and often should be avoided, and with the use of the word “sin” that people have embraced as something edgy and fun.
You don’t have to avoid everything, though. That’s not the point. The point is to be careful not to develop an addiction, because addictions (styled as “Demons”) not only limit your conscious thought and decisions by causing you to develop mental blind spots, but they also lead you to do things that subvert your own long-term desires, and may even cause you to become desperate enough to do evil things in your pursuit of them. That’s why being able to overcome one’s personal motivations on others’ behalf is important for society. But in and of themselves, these motivations don’t offer a path to make things better. That’s why we need problem-solving mindsets.
*(The idea that people are inherently afflicted by desires is not limited to Western religion; Buddhism holds that life is fundamentally characterized by suffering brought on by desire, wanting that which we lack or which we can lose. However, instead of working to expand one’s abilities to help oneself and others attain these desires and seek out new ones, most forms of Buddhism advocate the abnegation of the desires and thereby the self, which I admit is very useful in small doses.)
Below are defined eight fundamental mindsets for dealing with different types of problems and situations, though there are many more that you can use by combining them. The most powerful mindsets emerge when you combine opposing ones. These are the meta-skills which you learn and develop as part of the process of becoming a capable and confident individual.
- Analysis/”Ice”: differentiating ideas; exploring limitations by noticing patterns, tracking likely relationships of cause and effect, and logically isolating different aspects of concepts. Opposite of synthesis.
- Synthesis/”Fire”: blending ideas; exploring possibilities by combining aspects of different experiences as inspiration; imagining what could be. Opposite of analysis.
- Organization/”Electricity”: distributing attention; keeping many details in mind in order to prioritize goals and optimize the use of available resources to achieve those goals; allocating assets efficiently. Opposite of operation.
- Operation/”Water”: focusing attention; developing an intuition for a type of situation through practice; moving and performing gracefully by unifying experience with knowledge and intent with control; entering the “flow state”. Opposite of organization.
- Strategy/”Earth”: fortifying paths; allocating resources to address contingencies and weak points in order to create robust plans and structures; foresight. Combination of analysis and organization; opposite of tactics.
- Tactics/”Wind”: twisting paths; combining and applying resources to access their potential in creative ways, to overcome perceived limitations and accomplish goals either never considered or simply assumed to be impossible; cleverness. Combination of synthesis and organization; opposite of strategy.
- Semantics/”Light”: simplifying interactions; developing an intuition for the use of algorithms, labels, and lexicons in order to project a set of assumptions onto a situation, calculate what limits apply, and articulate the parameters for a solution; moving within paradigms. Combination of analysis and operation; opposite of empathy.
- Empathy/”Darkness”: individualizing interactions; using imagination and exploration to develop an intuition for systems that can change subtly and suddenly; forming bonds with systems and creating impressions to lead them to alter their behavior; moving between paradigms. Combination of synthesis and operation; opposite of semantics.
As you have no doubt picked up, these mindsets are themed on different elemental abilities. The element metaphors are to help people to remember the roles of the mindsets, what aspects of reality they deal with, what they can do, and how they work, and to better appreciate their use by others and themselves. No matter what physical capabilities a person has, these mindsets and their practice will always be relevant and a primary factor in assuring their success. The elemental metaphors also reflect the fact that I am a huge geek.
There are many more Elements, and each one has a full functional definition of what it does, how it works, and why its particular element theme is metaphorically appropriate. The above are the most fundamental and most important ones, though. Without basic proficiency in the above mindsets, a person will find their goals much more difficult, if not outright unattainable.
Any plan to change the world will require people (including you) to develop skill with these mindsets, because only then can you develop the power to find ways of fulfilling your desires without sacrificing others on your behalf, and to help others fulfill theirs without sacrificing more than you can spare.
How will we help people learn these mindsets and master their desires? The current version of the plan is as follows.
You may have noticed that most if not all lessons given to people fall under one of two categories: abstract, where a person is told about various helpful ideas and paradigms (e.g. this blog post), and concrete, where a person is taught a specific procedure or technique. The first often omits the way to implement the advice, or gives a starting point for practicing but doesn’t provide guidance or calibration. (To be fair, it often cannot, because an article or lecturer cannot give people individual feedback.) The second omits any way to learn similar techniques independently, and if a person does not happen to have the correct mindset for the technique, it does not work very well.
The most effective way to help people learn, it seems, would be to combine the concrete practice and calibration of a specific skill with the abstract principles of the mindset involved. Not only will they reinforce each other, but people will learn how to learn, and be better able to solve their own problems later by applying the mindset to learn more skills. Instead of having a subset of the teacher’s skills, they have the tools to surpass them, if they put the effort in. Instead of being given a fish, or even learning how to fish, they will become people who could have invented fishing. This process, then, is what we must develop for society.
Without further ado, here is the plan:
- Identify something a person is struggling with or some goal that they have and ask them if they would like help with that aspect of their life.
- If they accept help, identify the mindsets (Elements) that the person will need in order to make their goal work or to at least become more satisfied with that area of their life, and to sustain the success or satisfaction with their own power.
- Review with the person the basics of how those mindsets work.
- Do some research with the person on the specific knowledge the goal will require.
- Acquire some basic knowledge together, and work with the person to demonstrate how to apply the mindsets to the knowledge.
- Have the person continue the research and using the mindsets independently.
- Check in regularly with the person in order to listen to them explain what they’ve been learning (which helps them internalize it), to make sure they’re making good use of the mindset, to encourage them in their efforts and struggles, and to learn more about how the mindset can be used.
The expected result is that people will be more skilled and confident, enough so to help other people rather than feeling compelled to take from them. Each person who can generate more value than they take for themselves makes for a more harmonious world, especially if they can pass on what they learn.
However, because people don’t always have a specific goal in mind, you need a holding pattern. No institution or relationship can survive if it cannot withstand having nothing to react to. A good holding pattern to practice helping people is to listen to people talk about something that interests them, and learn about it while withholding judgment. If you don’t think what they do or how they think makes sense, try to understand it more, because even if you’re right, you will at least learn why they think it makes sense. Learning about the thought processes of other people is essential for making a difference in the world, which is why we need concepts like Sins, Elements, and many more that I have cataloged and will describe in future posts.
…Yes, the plan is to life coach the entire world. It may not be sufficient to change the world for the better, but it is absolutely necessary. The world cannot improve if people keep living in the same paradigms they’ve been using for millennia. As the famous quote attributed to Einstein goes, you can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it in the first place. Thinking errors cause most of the problems humans currently face, or prevent us from solving the ones they don’t cause, so they need to go before we can hope to accomplish anything constructive.
Since you stayed until the end, you are probably very interested in this goal. Are you interested enough to participate? You can dip a toe in by sharing this blog with everyone you know. If you’d like to do more, definitely contact me, and we can find ways for you to change the world.
*The keywords for the motivations of sloth, hubris, and envy in this article were updated from the old version on 10/24/19. You can view the change in the Changelog.