Doubtless many of you are wondering how human events have come to this pass. Trump is the president-elect of the United States, and I’m surprised and disappointed, but not overwhelmingly so. Trump, as I have alluded to previously, lacks finesse, nuanced thought, humility, empathy, and many other important skills. These qualities are unfortunately rare, but are nevertheless vital in a government executive. I hope he will develop them in the course of endeavoring to perform the challenging job of president. Regardless, however, my plan to change the world will continue as before.
…Why was Trump elected in the first place, you ask? You have come to the right place. While I did not vote for Donald Trump or his (major) opponent, Hillary Clinton, I am practiced in the mindset of deconstruction, so I can unravel the human ideas and behaviors that led voters to create this outcome.
The first thing you need to understand is that this significant event did not, indeed could not, happen in isolation. It is the culmination of millions of small, boring events across millions of people over the course of years. Significant events are dictated by the repetition of smaller events (that often go unnoticed even by ourselves). Years of martial arts training become the ability to fight off a thug. Many nights of diligent study become the ability to get a coveted job. What we do in our boring moments dictates what we can do in the right place at the right time. How you think evolves into habits that influence the paths your life may take. This phenomenon is called “karma.” (The real karma that is; some people treat karma as a way of earning good luck or something. Luck, by definition, is chaos, and cannot be predicted or manipulated. Anyone who claims differently is just making things up to make themselves feel better. Not to say we can’t increase our control over the world, but then it ceases to be “luck”. But I digress…)
What then, caused the karma of the United States to result in the election of Trump?
People didn’t vote for Trump on a whim, based on how they were feeling that day. Regardless of Trump’s history as a celebrity, the presidential elections are not a reality show. The voters for Trump had personal and practical reasons, and if we want answers, we need to ask the right questions. We can determine how good these reasons are afterward.
What are these reasons, and where did they come from?
The reasons are numerous and diverse. Just to get it out of the way, it is very likely that some people voted for Trump because they are bigoted and think that Trump will serve the interests of their narrow demographic at the expense of others. That cannot possibly explain nearly fifty percent of the United States voting that way, however. The country could not function as it does if so many people were so hostile towards those who were different. What other reasons are there?
Fear and insecurity are a safe bet for explaining human actions. Some people see their role in the economy being usurped, whether by workers in other countries or by workers from other countries. They fear that with the skills they currently possess, they cannot earn enough favors from society to support their families because they are competing with others who have the same skills but ask fewer favors, and they either feel entitled to live the only way they know how, or fear they will be unable to learn how to earn favors some other way. It may very well be a combination of both. Their vote is a reaction to the receding status quo they face in life: they want someone to bring back the world they knew, where they knew all the steps and pitfalls in advance, before they had to race against the entire planet. Trump promises them respite, so they vote for him.
A second type of fear and insecurity takes hold when people feel their cultural values are being threatened. The theme here is the same as before: the world that people knew is becoming more complicated. The formulas people used to know by heart that told them what was expected of them and what they could expect of others no longer apply. If you’re a man, you go out and face the world and take back bounty. If you’re a woman, you maintain a household, a protected space upon which to anchor oneself. You can tell men and women apart by their bodies, men and women pair up, and due to cultural taboos created to discourage and inhibit unethical behavior motivated by biological instincts, men and women even have separate hygiene infrastructures. Furthermore, every culture keeps to themselves, because they have different rules that most humans have trouble reconciling across interactions (using the communication mindsets). All of these rules are based on assumptions about how people work, without much freedom for people to do what they most want to do, but they make people feel comfortable. Arbitrary convention though it may be, it’s predictable and safe.
When it turns out that you can’t tell what a person is going to do or who they’re going to pair up with just by looking at them, or even what hygiene infrastructure a person may have used in the past or may use in the future, people who aren’t used to such uncertainty become frightened. It’s a visceral fear; if you base your rules about what males and females do on the same logic as your rules about not harming people, anyone who disregards the former suddenly becomes scary. Moreover, other cultures are not so far away anymore, and people who have never had to understand other paradigms are starting to feel an uncomfortable existential doubt regarding the way they’ve always looked at and judged the world. They think Trump will bring back the order they’re familiar with, so they vote for him.
On the other hand, there are also many people who don’t feel that fear of uncertainty, but who just feel that there is no need for the vast majority of people to go to any great effort just to make a minority of people feel comfortable. Why, they ask, should their established, “tried-and-true” culture give up anything because their assumption about how someone would behave is occasionally wrong? Even if it’s not their fault for being different, why should they get special attention? These people are not bigots, but merely neutral. Trump promises to respect their neutrality, so they vote for him.
It doesn’t occur to the neutral people that the ability to accommodate different people is not just for those people’s sake, but for the sake of the entire society. Here we come back to karma: if we practice building a society where people can feel comfortable being different, we will avoid the vulnerabilities of stagnation by cultivating diverse mentalities and the freedom to express them. Furthermore, learning to accommodate people with different characteristics strengthens our empathy mindset, which is invaluable in inevitable disagreements, at all levels of perspective difference, from between cultures to within a family. Finally, such kindness creates a societal identity committed to being good: putting forth the effort to help other people without expecting direct compensation. A society of good people is more beneficial for each individual than a society of neutral people, because each person benefits from the good people around them, whereas in a neutral society each person only benefits from those they do favors for.
The last group of Trump supporters are those who feared the consequences of allowing Hillary Clinton to win. They are not Trump supporters, but merely Trump voters. While Trump supporters may lack the meta-skill of empathy, Clinton supporters are by and large equally bereft. For the past several years, Clinton supporters have pushed away the fearful people I have described above, refusing to engage with them or do anything to assuage their fears, and labeled them scary monsters for having such fears. They have done so largely out of fear themselves; having been oppressed in the past by prejudice, intimidation, and force, they have out of caution or catharsis applied this same destructive treatment against their oppressors or anyone who reminds them of the oppressors. What Clinton has promised her supporters is a world completely rewritten to suit them, completely disregarding any fears or concerns of the Trump supporters as well as the Trump voters, and based in large part on values, beliefs, or interests that the Trump supporters and voters do not identify with.
Not only that, but Hillary Clinton, like Donald Trump, takes advantage of fear to gain power. With most of the news media as her ally, ready and eager to distract and dissemble regarding any wrongdoing on her part, she can eat her cake and have it, too. She can win popular support as a representative of the people while implicitly selling political influence to special interests, corporations, and even other countries, enriching herself in the process. Aided by her infinitely more professional presentation, Clinton’s supporters demonstrate a willingness to take her lies and deceit at face value. Most Trump voters are unwilling to allow such corruption and propaganda to be rewarded, lest it become even more entrenched in government. They feel it is important to reduce the level of corruption in government by voting it down and out, even if it means electing an empty-headed, vindictive blowhard.
Of course, the empty-headed vindictive blowhard is what Clinton supporters and voters fear. The Clinton voters admit Clinton’s shortcomings and take responsibility for their fears and their choice. Clinton’s supporters ignore or confabulate excuses for Clinton’s transgressions because they fear what happens if she doesn’t win, beyond the disqualifying traits of Trump himself. Clinton supporters’ fears are at odds with the fears of the Trump supporters, you see. The latter are trying to stop their own fragile world from collapsing, but in the process create a prison for the former. Clinton supporters try to escape the restrictions build around them, but in the process introduce chaos, economically and culturally, to Trump supporters.
This dichotomy of fearful people cannot possibly elect a good politician, not because good politicians don’t exist, rare though they be, but because the most successful politicians at the national level, by far, are those who make Politician Noises. The United States has bad political karma.
Until people stop being afraid, they will be attracted to politician noises. Until they master meta-skills to the point where they are confident enough to assume responsibility for their own lives, they will ask the government to protect them from what they fear.
Why wait passively for that to happen, when we have a workable plan? If you want to see a better world, help make it happen! Sooner or later, everyone will be part of it, so you might as well get a head start and enjoy the benefits of honing your mindsets. After all, no matter how good your brain hardware is, you won’t get very far if you don’t keep your software up to date.
For reassurance about the election, please see Tim Urban’s article at his outstandingly enlightening blog Wait But Why: http://waitbutwhy.com/2016/11/its-going-to-be-okay.html. I already answered the question he asks at the end. Um… spoilers? While you’re there, go ahead and read everything else on Wait But Why. It will do you a world of good.
You can also listen to the song Angels or Demons? by the excellent band I Fight Dragons. They have many songs dealing with hard-hitting epiphanies, which will probably resonate especially well with young adults, although I have a hunch older listeners can learn some things as well. Definitely check them out.
If you are irked by my criticism of Clinton, here is some thorough substantiation from Ethics Alarms, home to the ever-vigilant watcher of watchmen:
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 growthmindset. 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.
Sorry for keeping you waiting. It’s taking me a while to revise the big kickoff post, but I expect to be done soon. To tide you over, here is a post distilling the essence of the political speech. Granted, some candidates actually believe in the ideologies they preach, so to reflect their speeches you can remove any admission of duplicity in this template. It is likely that the appeal of said ideologies is still based on the reasoning below, though.
If we want to have more candidates who don’t talk in the manner demonstrated here, we need to resist the wish-fulfillment that the predominant breed of politician promises us. When the easy paradise that they push isn’t outright impossible, it almost invariably has a great cost that is foisted onto other people, possibly hidden far off into the future where few can predict it nor later determine its origin.
Without further ado, here is the quintessential political speech.
It’s great to be here, in the great location of wherever we are. It’s great because you’re here, and you want to feel like you’re great, even though you never try to surpass yourself. That’s why I’m here! I’m here to promise you that I will validate your complacency! I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure that you never have to find out you’re wrong, that you never have to develop new skills or change your lifestyle, and that your world will never get less pleasant, and I’ll scapegoat anyone who stands in the way!
Vote for me, because I am all things to all the people whose particular brand of complacency I enable. I will ensure that your current, meager level of maturity will last you the rest of your lives, by inundating the rest of society with laws and propaganda until it accommodates your weakness. You are special, so you deserve it. The scapegoats are not special, and while we’re making all these laws, we don’t care about what they want or how they feel, because it would most likely conflict with having your goals and feelings catered to.
Remember, we’re us. They’re them. Your comfort is more important than their rights. Don’t pay them any respect; rather, pay them contempt, to make it easier to forget the possibility that they may be right, or at least that you may be wrong. Don’t forget, wrong people will never be right, so they deserve no kindness, and therefore you should be afraid of being judged wrong. Don’t try to understand the wrong people. Just use them and any work they do, white collar or blue, to fill in the cracks of your idyllic world, like so much spackle.
Together, we will fabricate a world in which you are the righteous heroes who always win, even though you don’t sacrifice or risk anything from the pleasant lives you know, which is what sets real heroes apart from regular people. And we couldn’t find any volunteers to play villains, so we conscripted people who think they’re the heroes in their own world, just like you. But you should believe that their wrongness is so obvious that they must know they are wrong and are acting purely out of selfishness. That way you don’t question whether they really are wrong, because that means questioning whether we’re right, which will destroy my career and be very unpleasant for you.
Now, meanwhile, I’ll take some money from some big corporations and special interest groups, who are complacent just like you, to make laws that will support their complacency at your expense. I’m still fighting for you, though, because while I do want their money, I quite need your votes. My opponent, however, takes money from corporations without pursuing your votes, which is bad. My opponent and their followers are evil because they’re busy validating their complacency instead of yours, and they are scapegoating you. They are disrespecting you, and ignoring not just your valid concerns, but your complacency as well! Vote for me so that you win and scapegoat them, instead.
Remember, no one else will validate your complacency, and if they say they will, they’re probably horrible people. Be afraid to vote for anyone else! And above all, don’t become independent, proactive, or willing to take responsibility for your own lives and happiness. If you do, then you won’t settle for the illusion of change and/or security I’m working so hard to give you, you won’t overlook my crimes and gaping character flaws, and you’ll demand that I actually accomplish positive goals, which is a lot more difficult to do successfully, since reality can’t be convinced that I never made a mistake. It’s much easier for all of us to fight a forever war against your fellow citizens along divisions brought on by poor communication skills, insecurity, and a lack of respect and understanding.
Now, I’m not saying you don’t have some valid concerns, but if you didn’t have any priorities based on ignorance or on vices like cowardice, you wouldn’t have invited me here to tell you all this in person, because you would have no reason to convince yourself I’m not lying to you. So remember to check all the boxes for the Democrepublibertariagreen party! For a brighter future than the country has ever known, just like the good old days!
Now, before anyone stops reading in disgust, or becomes rabid with agreement, the title does not mean that some people are not people because they oppose certain ideas. The title means that the origins of the forces that oppose wisdom are not people, but states of being. People are merely victims, thralls of those conditions. If you are reading this looking for an excuse to do violence against other members of society, you are part of the problem, and will find nothing here to vindicate you. If you dare to continue reading, however, you may learn how to fight for a better world in a constructive way.
In the course of your life, you have probably at some point read, heard, derived, or otherwise discovered some grand idea which could better the whole world if it were widely practiced and implemented in our culture and institutions. Perhaps a new form of government, an economic system, or even a simple cultural custom. You then most likely wondered why it hasn’t already been implemented, if it has been around for so long, or if it was so obvious that you or I could figure it out with a token effort. Having studied many such ideas and observed society for some years with this question in mind, I have a few decent answers and a proposal to offer for your consideration.
Brilliant ideas do not languish merely because they are obscure. On the contrary, many of the most edifying ideas on self-improvement and building healthy cultures were written down by famous people, and are read and studied by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of other people. For simpler fare, if you’ve seen motivational posters, uplifting Facebook posts, or most any children’s television show, you will see some excellent basic principles (mixed in with useless platitudes). Following the principles well will better your life, yet it is obvious that many people have never learned them or simply ignore them. If the entire world were to successfully adopt these ways, though, the majority of our problems would vanish, leaving only the problems to be solved with science and technology. Imagine if the people of this world stopped interfering with each other through war and exploitation and started supporting each other against common enemies like natural disasters and disease. Why isn’t everyone living like that?
The first enemy of wisdom is a lack of nuance. Any given idea or principle generally doesn’t do any good if it is followed in all circumstances. The more specific it is, the fewer situations it is fit to address. Inversely, the more general and widely applicable it is, the harder it is to know when a different approach is better. Most useful ideas need to be balanced against opposite or complementary ideas, and none alone are good or bad. It’s the balance that makes it possible for us to succeed and construct a better world.
Consciousness is a tightrope: in order to move forward, you cannot fall to either side. You have to be a walking contradiction. Be determined to succeed, but make peace with the possibility of failure. Maintain focus but don’t get tunnel vision. Avoid having to apologize, but don’t hesitate to apologize when you have to. Use specifics and generalities. Fit in with others but but assert yourself. Be generous, but make people take responsibility for themselves. Don’t get distracted by doubt, but prepare for the worst. Hold people accountable, but forgive them. Be like silk hiding steel. Trust but verify. Speak softly and carry a big stick. Say “nice doggy” while looking for a rock. Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet. Be obedient and freethinking, circumspect and forthright, humorous and serious, strict and kind, confident and humble. It’s enough to dizzy the mind.
There is no magic ratio for these contradictory traits. You need to have both ideals actively running in your head, watching the world and pushing for one path or another. Experiment with each of them in turn, without being reckless (yet another balancing act). Find a mentor, but take their words with a grain of salt (and another one). Get feedback from your environment, though it may be delayed, on how an ideal will work and how it won’t. Calibrate yourself. Learn to observe a situation and determine what combination is most likely to be most harmonious. Finally, develop the skill to make these opposites work together to create something greater than either alone. A full explanation of how to calibrate ideas will take at least a short book and still be incomplete. The point is that nuance is difficult. Many people fall off the tightrope. Most of the rest have no idea how they’re staying on, and can’t explain it even though they may try. Sometimes they accidentally talk other people into falling off their own tightropes, because the other person’s rope is pointed in a different direction; many popular works claim to contain wisdom, but are actually sloppy, and serve to distract people from learning true nuance.
The second reason society interferes with itself is a lack of available willpower. Knowing good and doing good are not the same thing, no matter what Socrates says. Instant and certain gratification is much more alluring than delayed and uncertain gratification, as Bill Watterson’s Calvin realizes. We frequently choose immediate pleasure in spite of negative long-term consequences, rather than choosing positive long-term consequences in spite of immediate discomfort. We are well aware of these consequences. Knowledge is not the problem. We made the choice despite knowledge, not because of ignorance. Why did we do that?
There are two aspects of our minds that come into play here. One aspect is made of emotion and motivation, and assigns a relative value to every situation. (In the book of wisdom called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath refer to this aspect as the Elephant.) This aspect doesn’t have any concept of future consequences; it only knows what you want and what you don’t. The emotional side is very important, because without it you would have no reason to do anything. No action would be better or worse than any other. You would act on autopilot, without initiative. On its own, this emotional aspect of you goes for instant gratification, on the rational basis that experiencing pleasure is better than not. For cost-benefit analysis we need to play the long game, and for that, we need another aspect of ourselves.
The skilled aspect of you makes no value judgments. It simply uses your mental abilities to explore the world, make observations, and carry out your will better than you could without it. (In Switch, it is referred to as the Rider, which steers the Elephant.) To use a popular example, if you express a wish to be very physically fit, the skilled part of you will hand you a plan for becoming so, probably involving exercise. If you express a wish to sit and watch television instead of exercising, it will allow you to do so, but if it is working properly, it will inform you that you are compromising the desire you already gave it. You may be admonished that you that you can’t eat your cake and have it, too. Your skilled side doesn’t, however, care what you choose. It will do whatever is asked of it. The problem comes when it is asked to resolve too many conflicts between competing desires, declaring a winner and telling the loser to be silent. The skilled aspect can only handle so much decisiveness in one day before it tires and stops being able to give voice to long-term desires. The short-term desires win by default.
In order for the desire for physical fitness to win, one of two things needs to happen. One possibility is that the fitness desire would need to have a much stronger voice in your decision process (despite the lack of short-term reward) than the desire for television, so that even a very fatigued skilled aspect can hear its voice and rule in its favor. That strong voice takes time to develop. When you figure out what is most important to you, practice and discipline will allow you consistently choose that goal over any conflicting desires. When your skilled aspect works with your emotional aspect to figure out what you want most, you can more easily forgo desires that interfere with your highest priority. You can also gradually shape your motivated side to be less impressed with instant gratification in general, and to take satisfaction from long-term efforts.
The above is a good long-term approach, but it takes a while to settle into. To make the transition easier, there is an alternative approach based on conserving willpower: you can set up your environment and personal schedule so that your skilled aspect does not have to make so many tough decisions and tire itself out so quickly, so it will be fresh and able to perceive the merits of long-term desires when it is most important. By doing all the preparation for working out ahead of time, such as arranging your clothes and shoes the day before, there is less mental effort required to begin exercising, so it will seem less intimidating. By putting a screen or time restriction on the television, television becomes a less competitive option because it has lost a major advantage: easy availability. Alternatively, you can put a television in your workout area so you don’t have to choose, preserving more of your willpower. This approach will work in the short term and the long term. Be forewarned, though: even when you restructure your environment, you can expect there to remain temptations of instant gratification which can distract you from the long-term goals of living in accordance with the concepts of wisdom that you learn or develop.
(As an aside, for more information on helping your highest priority win, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work is both an excellent resource and another of Chip and Dan Heath’s books, not coincidentally. Wait But Why, an inspiring blog by Tim Urban, has some fun articles illustrating what happens in your head when you procrastinate, using characters like the Instant Gratification Monkey and the Panic Monster that personify familiar concepts. Intentional Insights, a nonprofit organization founded by Gleb Tsipursky and Agnes Vishnevkin for the purpose of spreading knowledge to empower people to build the lives they truly want, has an article about how to boost willpower. These are only a few examples of the wisdom that is already available, but implementing it is up to you.)
The final reason for the current state of the world is fear. It is the fear that any attempts to master nuance are futile, that there are no answers to be found, that running on pure instinct and unmodulated passion is the best you can do. It is the fear that developing willpower is a wasted effort, or worse, that it is not: either that your long-term goals will not be worth leaving the surety of immediate gratification, or that they are well worth it, but you are too weak. Perhaps the most tragic, it is the fear that there are too many forces opposing those who would use nuance and willpower to change their own lives, let alone the world. People are afraid that they will not get what they want because they will waste their effort doing something that cannot be done, and if they do not fear it at the outset, a prolonged absence of positive feedback from our pursuit of nuance and willpower will usually send us retreating back into the land of easy labels, easy pleasure, and (in the words of Thoreau) “quiet desperation”, often leading into depression. Fear is no distraction, but a deterrent.
The enemies of wisdom are not people. They are in people, in us. They are ideas, sometimes ones we aren’t aware of. We can’t beat them simply through anger, passion, hope, love, or even knowledge. Those may be necessary, but they are not sufficient. To kill an idea, you cannot fight those who hold it, because that empowers the story of the idea. You have to listen to people, figure out what they want, and replace the idea with a better one, one that gives people what they want better than the original idea did, or introduces something they realize they want more. A constructive solution does the hard work of making peace with opponents instead of sloppily and callously attempting to subjugate them with cheap force.
I didn’t write this article to drive people to despair, but to offer a practical solution. What I offer (in the article to follow) is a formula for developing constructive solutions, a starting point for counteracting these enemies of wisdom and allowing this world to catch up to the most advanced of its residents. It is a framework for understanding desires and the skills necessary to fulfill them by making sense of and working to change ourselves and the world around us. Where it goes from that beginning is up to you. It may be difficult, requiring nuance, willpower, and courage. I will do my best, however, to make it easy. My question to you, then, is this: How much do you want to truly change your world?
Update 2/22/20: After reading several articles by Nick Hanauer, I have reconsidered my stance on an across-the-board minimum wage. If a minimum wage is raised in one location, there may be some incentive for companies to move to another location, but if it is raised everywhere (accounting for cost of living), then it may have positive secondary effects of revitalizing the economy that outweigh any negative effects, if it does discourage hiring. However, I think that a universal basic income (UBI) would be a better policy because it would allow people to engage in activity that is beneficial to society but difficult to monetize.
Furthermore, I no longer believe that the wages that corporations pay to their workers will reliably reflect the value that the workers provide, even accounting for labor competition and the opportunity cost of paying those wages. The wages seem to reflect the balance (or lack thereof) between the bargaining power of the corporation and that of each individual worker. Unless the workers are unionized, the negotiation is skewed heavily towards the corporation because it has more money, power, authority, time, information, and individuals working in coordination.
Building on this concept, I realized that extremely wealthy people make vastly more money than others not because they make vastly better decisions or provide vastly more useful services, but because they have developed the knack for being the people asked to make those decisions and provide those services. They have cultivated a reputation and permit their employees to borrow that reputation by working for them, under certain standards and conditions. This is all well and good.
The problem is that these reputations are very difficult to compete with or hold accountable for maintaining quality. Instead, money and power accumulates to a few key points of concentration (companies and their reputations) in greater and greater proportions. There seems to be some tendency in large societies for control over resources, and decision-making power in general, to “optimize”, which usually means that a plurality of it ends up in the hands of a tiny minority, which is efficient for the purposes of churning out mass-produced comforts but which denies regular people the ability to choose the terms on which they participate in the economy: what role they want to play in helping the world function. Meanwhile, people are too busy maintaining the market dominance of their chosen points (and fighting for control over them) to bother ensuring that the power they wield is used for good purposes, or reinvested in these regular people.
I’ll eventually co-opt this update for a future article, but just for the record, I have an updated and more nuanced picture of the economy, the problems with the status quo, and what will be necessary to solve them than I had when I wrote this article.
End of update.
One of the most popular economic debates in the modern world is the minimum wage, and I’m very confused as to why. The proposal under discussion is that there be a minimum amount that a person is allowed to pay a full-time employee. Paying a full-time employee a smaller salary is a violation of the law. The proposed alternative is… not to have a such a restriction.
The false dichotomy here is almost palpable. Let’s think like engineers here: What is the problem that we’re actually trying to solve? As far as I can tell, we’re trying to make it more likely that people can support themselves and their families, most likely by getting jobs that pay enough for that. It doesn’t take much thought (but still more than most people bother to spend) to see that a minimum wage will work against that goal, so I’ll only spend one paragraph on that before moving on to better alternatives.
By way of example, if the government decided that ice cream trucks “deserved” to make more money, and so enforced a minimum price they could charge that was more than the usual price, fewer people would think that having ice cream at a moment’s notice was worth it. Some would even stop being able to afford it. It’s like an electrical circuit; for any given voltage (demand), a component (worker) with a tiny resistance (price) will have a very low power output (income) despite having a high current (number of customers). Raising the resistance (price) will raise the power output (income), at the same time lowering the current (customers). But with too high a resistance (price), the power output (income) starts to drop back down because the current (customers) drops too far. There’s an optimum resistance (price) for maximum power (income) for a given voltage (demand). The law can’t know the optimum price for ice cream to maximize income, though, especially when it varies by location. Bottom line: A rule that says, “If people pay you, they must pay you more,” has the gaping loophole of people just deciding to not pay you in the first place, and it is foolish to think that they won’t exercise that right. You don’t have a right to make people buy what you’re selling (unless you’re the government, but that’s another topic).
The reason people try to confabulate that minimum wage is good is because they seem to think it is the only option. Alternatively, they think that by definition anything contributing their ideology must be good, and admitting anything about it is wrong would create cognitive dissonance and lose ground. I do agree that one point in favor of minimum wage versus simple unemployment assistance is the job experience provided by actually working, but it doesn’t make up for the minimum wage putting more people out of work in the first place. There are other ways to get people job experience and keep them paid, such as a mandatory minimum per-person income provided by the government. That may turn out not to be the best option; I haven’t investigated it thoroughly. However, the fact that it hasn’t even entered the national conversation, let alone supplanted the minimum wage in it, despite the latter being self-defeating (in theory and practice) and the former not, reflects badly on human society.
You want to solve poverty? Start off with an intellectual exercise: when talking about the economy, do not mention money. Money is a useful mechanism for keeping the economy efficient, but labeling people and things with prices leads people to overlook their important qualities. People get money by doing favors for other people. They want money because they can trade it for other favors from other people. The other people accept the money in trade because they want to call in favors, too. The power of money is that it acts as a fungible favor: in theory, a favor that anyone can do for anyone else, that you can earn no matter what type of favor you can offer (as long as it’s accepted), and that can likewise be traded for many favors, depending on how much of it you have. Money rewards cooperation and establishes consistency, which generates confidence. In this way, it leads to a more productive economy.
However, the concept of money also lets you forget that it’s not “getting money” you want—you don’t get use out of money by keeping it. What you want is “the ability to call in favors”: getting people to give you things and do things for you. Money lets you forget that society is a network of interdependent people, that in order for others to want to do you favors, you generally need to do favors for others in turn. People think money can measure the health of an economy, but economic health cannot be represented by an average income; that’s just a number. An economy’s health is reflected by how reliably people get what they want, how much they can do that other people want, and how much they are increasing what they can do. That’s because the economy isn’t made of money. It’s made of people.
You want people to have a higher income? No, you want them to get more of what they want. The best way to accomplish that equip them to do other people favors, so they can get favors in turn. No matter how much money there is in the economy, people who don’t do very good favors won’t get much of it, unless we either set up institutions to provide them with favors anyway (not a bad idea), or twist incentives by fiat to pretend people are more useful than they really are, causing them to be rejected by the system.
What socialists notice about the economy that is disturbing, though I doubt they can articulate it, is that even though only a tiny portion of the population needs to work in the “life-sustaining” sector of the economy, the part that helps people survive and stay safe, in some ways that actually makes things harder. The capitalist system of resource distribution means that you can only call in the favors you need to survive if you can convince people to want the favors you can provide. Much of the “life-affirming” sector of the economy (the part that fulfills desires for mental stimulation and comfort) has become parasitic, designed to lead people to desire things that are harmful (e.g. cigarettes) or gratuitous (e.g. mass-produced collectible toys), simply because the people selling those products fear they can’t provide any other favors. Thus we find ourselves watching the situation of a person who is trying to earn favors in the form of food for their family by designing a commercial that convinces people that a product that causes cancer will make them more attractive. That’s not only sad, that’s ironic, considering that as far as humanity has come from subsistence farming, people are still sabotaging each other to survive. Society has grown, but individuals haven’t, because they don’t realize they can.
People impose limitations on themselves out of ignorance and fear, forming a fixed mentality, a stagnant self-image. The way to break out of that is growthmindset, the mentality of actively looking for opportunities to develop your skills. In order for the economy to become healthier and more prosperous as a whole, we must create institutions that can help people defeat their fear and develop their ability to do favors, by teaching them to apply growth mindset to continue overcoming their limitations. With humans’ current productivity and their even greater potential, there is no reason so many people should be afraid they can’t earn a living.
As primary elections are taking place across the United States, many people I know are flabbergasted at the popularity that Donald Trump has demonstrated despite his apparent lack of substantial thought, his boorish disregard for anyone he doesn’t like, and his general immaturity. Given than many of the other candidates are almost as bad in their own ways, I myself am disappointed but unsurprised.
Donald is the quintessential politician. Most politicians at least try to have some sort of rational policy plan for getting people what they want, even if the plan is usually no good. Trump all but dispenses with the idea of having a detailed plan, and talks directly to his voters’ feelings. Criticizing him on his lack of coherence would be like trying to deter a pack of wolves from eating you by calling them bad dogs. Being a good dog is completely irrelevant to how a wolf operates. Furthermore, people admire wolves! Wolves are edgy and hardcore. But there’s a reason they don’t live with us, guard our houses, inspect luggage, or occupy any other place in civilization: they are first and foremost concerned with their own place in the pack, and doing whatever they can get away with. When we aren’t busy admiring wolves, we fear and shun them.
Like a wolf, Donald represents the brute force and raw power of nature. With raw power, you don’t need finesse; you don’t need empathy; you don’t even need respect. You can take whatever you want with impunity, you can bully people, and when your demands are questioned you can reply, “Because I said so.” All it takes is more money, celebrity, authority, or military than anyone who disagrees.
Most everyone has some group of people they associate with a grudge or grievance. Donald speaks to those animosities, saying that we don’t have to put up with them anymore. We’ll get back all the things we lost. We will “win!” Other politicians do much the same thing, but unlike them, Donald speaks seemingly on impulse with total lack of inhibitions. Because he appears not to pay attention to the consequences of his actions, and because he acts untouchable, people assume he really does possess all the power he claims, and so the power becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a phenomenon known as Refuge in Audacity.
Were this phenomenon limited to Donald, he would merely be another rich arrogant celebrity. However, the people who support Donald feel he could extend that power to the entire country as president. Regardless of whether or not he actually has such power, I recommend that Donald’s supporters ask themselves some key questions:
Is this the dream now? To become so powerful that you don’t have to care about anyone else? To never have to compromise ever? To get what you want simply because you want it? To embody greed for domination and supremacy; sloth for stagnation and sloppiness and never having to take responsibility for your actions; wrath for ignoring any sort of limitation; and hubris for having absolute power with no possibility of resistance by those who disagree? That’s all four types of control addiction (greater and lesser scope, imposing chaos and order) coalescing to form a spirit of pettiness and mediocrity.
It’s admittedly a tempting idea on a visceral level, but if you met a person like that in real life, perhaps at the supermarket, or at the movie theater, or even at your workplace, would you admire them? Would you think to yourself, “it is good that such a person exists in this world, but the only thing wrong is that that person should be me!”? More practically, how long would that person’s power last before the world turned against them in justified indignation? How can you maintain power with such a careless attitude, when others (the people who “lost”) are working hard to bring you down?
You might think that the only alternative to being the wolf is to be the dog, obsequiously jumping on cue, eating what you’re given, and answering to someone else (and being adorable, but that’s neither here nor there). That’s not true at all. You can still be a person.
Instead of raw power and overwhelming force, you can develop finesse, skill, and character, which have the benefit of being much harder to take away from you, because they become a part of who you are. By balancing and modulating greed, sloth, wrath, and hubris, you can manifest them as the positive qualities of ambition, contentment, boldness, and scrupulousness. You can become skilled enough that raw power need never be the first resort whenever you want something, or when something doesn’t look to be going your way.
It’s a difficult path, the path of being someone people want to help rather than being the person who gives them no choice. It requires a balance between changing oneself to fit the world and holding firm while the world resists your attempts to change it. It requires helping other people attain their own goals, rather than giving in to self-indulgence. Ultimately, though, it’s the only path that will create a world that we can be proud of.
Who am I voting for? That’s the wrong question. The question is this: Given that few if any of the current candidates look to be able to govern competently, what am I doing to help the population thrive anyway, and to help ensure we give more attention to better candidates next time? Stay tuned for the answer.
No doubt, we’ll get the president we collectively deserve. But we deserve to deserve better than this.
Edited 3/7/2016: P.S. Here are two excellent articles covering aspects of this phenomenon that I have overlooked.
Welcome. If you are reading and understanding these words, you must be a conscious entity. You may have noticed in the course of being a conscious entity that there are things you know and things you don’t. This observation seems inanely obvious, but what is not obvious is that this dichotomy is the most fundamental aspect of your existence. It is the most fundamental aspect of conscious existence in general, and effectively of existence itself, because we can only define existence in terms of ourselves. Everything is defined based on what we know and what we don’t.
What we “know” is an aspect of the fundamental concept of order. Order is what must happen, or what cannot happen. It is in patterns, rules, limits, and anything predictable. If by seeing one thing, you can predict another, that is order. Order holds things together and connects them. A system of pure order would be a system where everything is known to you, throughout the system’s past and the future.
Chaos is what you don’t know: ignorance, unpredictability, possibility, maybe-or-maybe-not. A system of pure chaos would be completely unpredictable and capable of anything, because it has no patterns, limits or rules. The existence of chaos allows plans to go wrong unexpectedly, but it also allows us to discover how to do things previously thought impossible.
Order and chaos always coexist. Although it is tempting to describe the universe as one or the other, neither description is useful for making decisions, since our ignorance introduces chaos anyway, and the continuity of our senses introduces order. In this universe of order and chaos, it is impossible to isolate a part of it that lacks limits or lacks possibility, because it can always affect and be affected by other parts of the universe that have both limits and possibilities. The boundaries between order and chaos are constantly shifting and twisting. Conscious entities, like you and I, exist on that boundary, as very complex eddies and gradients.
Causality, the concept of cause and effect, must involve both order and chaos: order describes the fact that a cause is necessary for an effect, and the fact that the effect is limited. However, for every effect, there are unknown causes, and vice versa, invoking the concept of chaos.
No matter how you look at it, if you go far enough back in history or causality, the world we live in is a huge collection of limits (order) that spontaneously and arbitrarily came into existence (chaos). It is one of an uncountably infinite collection of possibilities, and inasmuch as we don’t know what all the limits of this world are, uncountably infinite possibilities still exist for us in this world. The process of discovering and applying both limits and possibilities is part of what makes us conscious.
Consciousness involves a few principles: It requires the ability of a system to create and continuously update a model of reality (including itself) based on its experiences, and it requires some sort of dissatisfaction with the way reality is, a motivation to proactively control aspects of reality (including itself) in order to change them into something else.
Experience is an effect on oneself, and control is the phenomenon by which one becomes a cause. Mindfulness, a basic skill, is learning to experience oneself and incorporate recursive models of one’s own mind into one’s model of reality. Willpower, another basic skill, is control over the self, the ability to bring one’s own mind and actions in line with one’s decisions despite any competing mental influences.
We can apply our consciousness in different ways to help us get what we want. By taking our experiences and the models of reality we construct with them, we can do four basic things: discover more limits, discover more possibilities, extend our model, or focus our model to more immediate. These fundamental skills, and the many skills derived from them, are required for people to be fully mature and capable individuals.
The purpose of this organization is to help people learn these basic skills and apply them to make this world a better place, or at least avoid making it a worse one. Read on if you are interested, and contact us if you would like to help write the next chapter in this world’s story.