“We All Know” – Three Dangerous Words

Anything that “We” all know for certain should be questioned.

The most dangerous beliefs are those considered “settled” or “consensus”. Those are the ideas that close minds, kill curiosity, and end exploration.

Those are also the ideas that have people supporting the harassment, caging, and killing of dissenters.

It doesn’t matter whether the consensus idea is true. What matters is not shutting down those who disbelieve it, no matter how crazy they are. It’s cowardly, unbecoming, and evil to do so. It reveals a thoughtlessness and lack of imagination, curiosity, and compassion.

As Milton said,

And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing.

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The Answer is Always Individualism

I just saw an article by venture capitalist Marc Andreessen called “It’s Time to Build.”

I’m both encouraged and troubled by it.

I’m encouraged to see anything promoting and celebrating human achievement, instead of just shitting on wealth and promoting envy.

I’m troubled because it begins with the premise that “We” have failed to do really big giant things. It’s a small step from “We need to build bold things” to a technocracy where everyone is forced to put their resources to uses dictated by scientistic managers with grand plans.

I’m troubled because Silicon Valley sometimes seems to long for any kind of “Big” effort, no matter how much of a boondoggle, or whether it’s backed by force or funded against citizens will via taxation.

It mentions how “We” need to overcome regulatory capture. Well that only happens if the state shrinks, and big, unified, central visions imposed on the populace die with it. You can’t reduce capture and also increase state-run Hoover Dam type projects. Silicon Valley is naive about Public Choice Theory and the way real-world political incentives play out predictably.

I am ALL for big, massive, bold visions.

I want to terraform other planets. I want flying personal vehicles. I want limitless energy. But I know that such visions are only beneficial and not dystopian in a world where individual freedom trumps the desires of any small group of people. Those efforts and advances will only be wonderful if visionaries can persuade individuals to embrace and engage them voluntarily, and part with their resources to fund them without threat of force or artificial incentive.

Absent freedom, none of these big bold builder visions are inherently good and can quickly turn evil.

Some Silicon Valley types seem to want a world of endless tech innovation whether the market demands it or not and whether individuals choose it or not. A world controlled by the nerds. I am not accusing Andreessen of promoting this. But I do see an easy shift from his progress promotion to progress coercion, animated by the collectivist spirit of the age.

Anti-Silicon Valley types seem to want to steal all the money from the successful and prohibit people from progress. A self-defeating and soul-sick approach.

While I agree that anti-progress is awful, pro-“big ambitious projects” is not by itself a less scary ideology. Only individual freedom is. Progress nested in choice.

I once wrote about how Virginia Postrel’s Stasist vs Dynamist dichotomy (progress vs. tradition) is usefully paired with Thomas Sowell’s Constrained vs. Unconstrained vision (reality vs. utopia). I think it’s very applicable here.

Dynamism is only a force for good when nested in a constrained vision. Otherwise it becomes technocracy.

Article here. Chart below.

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Boredom in a Land of Plenty

It’s a strange time to be bored.

The idea seems impossible when you consider the infinite access to ideas and information, entertainment and project, people and products we now enjoy. But boredom is still very real.

My kids get bored. I get bored. Everyone gets bored.

I suspect modern boredom isn’t about a lack of things to do, but not finding interest in the things you’re supposed to be doing, or wanting to do. Maybe guilt is the real cause of boredom.

You’re supposed to want to do a certain range of things at certain times. Sometimes, those don’t appeal. But when bored, it’s rarely the case that you can think of absolutely nothing within your reach that would be unboring. More likely, you feel guilty that you aren’t interested in what you think you should be. If you were a better person, you wouldn’t be bored by X productive thing, so you pretend you’re not bored by it and have internal tension.

I don’t think escaping boredom is the highest good, but I don’t think enduring boredom is noble either. You have an inner fire. Stuff that stokes it is worth pursuing. Sometimes you have to push through boredom to find something amazing, but often, boredom is a sign that you’re not quite on track. Instead of feeling bad about it, listen to it.

It is perhaps true, as Chesterton said, that we aren’t suffering for lack of wonders, but lack of wonder. But that doesn’t mean you need to feel guilty for not being captivated by whatever you’re doing. To enhance your sense of wonder, you can begin by listening to your lack of it and moving towards where you find it. Seek and cultivate wonder at the same time.

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No One Will Tell You

You will not be told the most important truths. Because no one can tell you. You have to discover them yourself from experience.

People can tell you ideas and information that may be useful. They can articulate versions of their truths. But the truths most important to your life can only be won through piecing together everything you experience, learning patterns, and seeing how they hold up and improve your life and thinking.

There’s no shortcut or book of important truths you can quickly ingest. There’s only living with curiosity, openness, and clear thinking.

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Relative Tragedy

We live in strange times. Or perhaps all times are strange.

Giving something a name grants magical hypnotic power. “Coronavirus” or “Covid” are names that immediately occupy all attention and short circuit normal brain function.

I imagine newsrooms today:

Editor: “Any tragedies to report?”

Lackey: “A few sir”

Editor: “Shoot”

Lackey: “An airplane suddenly veered off course and crashed into a mountain killing all 200 people aboard”

Editor: “And…”

Lackey: “None of them tested positive for the Coronavirus”

Editor: “Meh. Not a tragedy. Run of the mill. Anything else?”

Lackey: “An elderly disabled war hero was driving home from saving his daughter’s kitten when he got stuck on the train tracks and suffered a horrible collision”

Editor: “And…”

Lackey: “His car burst into flames and he died a very terrible death as onlookers couldn’t reach him in time despite heroic efforts”

Editor: “And…”

Lackey: “He tossed a hand scrawled will out the window just before he perished, revealing a secret fortune he donated to the poor”

Editor: “And…”

Lackey: “We can’t be sure because we can’t verify he was tested, and the tests are ridiculously inaccurate, and he had no symptoms, but he may have had Coronavirus”

Editor: “MY GOD THE HUMANITY!!! Why didn’t you tell me we had a lead story!”

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Sociopaths, Clueless, Losers

I first came across this Hugh MacLeod illustration in a booked called, The Gervais Principle, by Venkatesh Rao.

Rao’s book is one of my all-time favorites and it’s packed with cunning. It’s a breakdown of workplace and social politics using this pyramid applied to the show The Office.

Sociopaths know the game is all made up and rules are for suckers. They also know they must perpetuate the illusion of rules of the game. They need the Clueless to believe fully in the rules and carry them out as they manage the Losers. Losers are cynical and streetwise enough to know the game is bullshit, but lack the motivation (or perhaps have the scruples) to try to change it by becoming Sociopaths.

This pyramid applies to political reality as well as corporate.

The Sociopaths aren’t often in the limelight and can be hard to identify. The Clueless encompass nearly every politician, pundit, protester, or activist. They rally and debate endlessly about details of the political and legal process, sincerely believing it’s not all just made up. They believe in the Myth of the Rule of Law, and treat justificatory pieces of paper as if they are truly binding on anyone. The Losers are the great mass of people who know politics is bullshit, role their eyes at the Clueless, but lack the ambition (or have the scruples) to try to become a Sociopath.

Losers may be cynical, sometimes nihilistic. But they aren’t being played for fools. They have the ability to carve out some scope of a day to day life that puts up with the game, sometimes bending or breaking the rules. Sociopaths may do things that harm or benefit others, but their main drive is winning. Clueless are used and made fools of by both Sociopaths and Losers. Losers put up with them because they would rather not have the terrible jobs that the Clueless take such pride in. HOA board? Township Supervisor? Losers laugh. Clueless treat them as solemn duties and take pride in acting out what they fail to see as a farce.

I can’t tell you what it’s best to be. None of these options sound very appealing to me, so I try to imagine somehow being outside the game entirely, whether or not it’s possible. But the framework is useful and entertaining. Once you get it, you can’t unsee the world this way.

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