Curiosity: The Master Impulse

Curiosity is the master impulse behind all human progress and good things.

Every dominant belief and political structure are optimized as the antithesis of curiosity.

Curiosity is the greatest threat to concentrated power and prestige, so those who have power and prestige labor endlessly to create the mind-killing opposite of all curiosity. Consensus. Obedience. Being seen as “normal”, “in the know”, “respectable”.

Curiosity doesn’t care about reputations and rules. That’s why it’s the only impulse with the power to cut through the human bullshit matrix and create progress and discovery.

The least respectable ideas often have more curiosity behind them than the most respected. It doesn’t make the specific ideas any better or more true, but you can be sure that the curious impulse behind wacky ideas is more beneficial to humanity than the obedient prestige-seeking behind consensus.

It’s impossible to overestimate the unpredictable power of raw curiosity unencumbered by the need to be seen as serious.

Death and Awakening

Curiosity is the ultimate flame of progress, growth, and meaning. It’s what makes us most human, and pushes us closest to the divine.

Curiosity is what leads to breakthroughs.

If you look at the history of man you see a relentless curiosity. The same curiosity that turns people into martyrs and heretics brings humanity forward.

If there is a “great stagnation” as Peter Thiel, Tyler Cowen, and others believe, it is the stagnation of curiosity. The battle against curiosity has been waged since the beginning of time by tyrants, despots, authoritarians, and fear-mongers. And for the last 100 years or so, curiosity has been losing. The entire schooling system is one gigantic effort to contain curiosity. Credentialism, official bodies and bureaucrats, licenses, unified master plans, oustings and labelings are systematic battles against curiosity.

Obedience is the antithesis of curiosity. Curiosity is dangerous. Curiosity, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, is not safe, but it’s good.

You can see the dominant impulses today are the opposite of curiosity. Climate change fear and the idea of “consensus” is the enemy and opposite of all curiosity. It’s a mind killer. It’s a progress killer. It leads to death and stagnation. Unmitigated trust in scientific and medical professionals is a curiosity killer. There is a lot of dead curiosity lingering in the heart of every human on the planet.

Or maybe it’s just dormant. And maybe it’s awakening just a bit.

In fact, there is a lot of hope right now.

Curiosity has new vistas as wide ranging as a renewed interest in spirituality and Jordan Peterson to conspiracy theories that spread on 4chan and Reddit. These are good, whether or not they’re true. Forget the specifics of individual claims or beliefs. The fact that people are yearning for and exploring ideas considered wacky and out of bounds by the curiousless consensus is good.

Curiosity is good. Curiosity is ready to have a new dawn. And humanity is desperate for its master impulse to awaken again.

Ancient aliens. The flat earth. Political conspiracy. Religious resurgence. Jung. Archetypes. Alchemy. Astrology. Myths. UFOs. The “Invisible College”. The Mandela Effect. Time travel. Simulation theory. Planetary colonization.

What do they have in common?

They live only in a world where curiosity is not dead. Even as the cost of exploration outside the curiosity killing norms grows, so too do the number of people playing around with heretical ideas.

Again I emphasize, it’s not important what percentage of these ideas are “correct”. What’s important is the courage to play with the ideas. Those who play with crazy ideas are the R&D arm for humanity. They move us forward not only with their discoveries, but with their attitude. Nothing is more deeply human than relentless curiosity.

Anti-Science?

Unbridled curiosity is the root of all breakthroughs. Slavish repetition and rule-following kills it. Typically a few generations after a breakthrough by a curious tinkerer, a school of soul-dead followers canonize the details and fear deviation. The spirit through which disciplines are born are smothered by the formalization of the disciples.

If you think wild, crazy, weird, mystical, politically, socially, and philosophically dangerous ideas aren’t behind the progress of humanity, think again.

Here is a passage on the heroes of science, and their obsession with forbidden knowledge, secret societies, and mysticism:

WHEN WE PEER INTO THE HIDDEN LIVES of the heroes of science, the people who forged the mechanical world-view and made the great leaps forward in technology that have made our lives so much safer, easier and more pleasant, we often find they are deeply immersed in esoteric thought – particularly alchemy.

We might also consider the lesser but related paradox that many of the world’s most notorious occultists and outlandish visionaries were also in their own way practically minded men, often responsible for smaller but nevertheless significant inventions.

Looking at both groups together, it is difficult to see a clear distinction between scientists and occultists, even as we move into modern times. Rather there is a spectrum in which the individual is a bit of both, albeit to varying degrees.

Paracelsus, perhaps the most revered of occultists, revolutionized medicine by introducing the experimental method. He was also the first to isolate and name zinc, made great breakthroughs in the importance to medicine of hygiene and also was the first to formulate principles which would come to underlie homeopathy.

Giordano Bruno is a great hero of science because he was burned at the stake in 1600 for insisting that the solar system is heliocentric. But as we have already seen, this was because he believed fervently in the ancient wisdom of the Egyptians. He believed that the earth goes round the sun because, in the first instance, so too did the initiate priests of the ancient world.

Robert Fludd, the occult author and defender of the Rosicrucians, also invented the barometer.

Jan Baptiste van Helmont, the Flemish alchemist, was important in the secret societies for reintroducing into Western esotericism ideas of reincarnation – which he called ‘the revolution of humane souls’. He also separated gases in the course of his alchemical experiments, coined the word ‘gas’, and in the course of experiments on the healing powers of magnets, coined the word ‘electricity’.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the German mathematician, was Newton’s rival in the devising of the calculus. In Leibniz’s case his discoveries arose out of fascination with cabalistic number mysticism which he shared with his close friend, the Jesuit scholar of the occult Athanasius Kircher. In 1687 Kircher, an alchemical student of the properties of the vegetable dimension, resurrected a rose from its ashes in front of the Queen of Sweden. Leibniz himself has also provided us with the most detailed and credible account of the alchemical transformation of base metals into gold.

The Royal Society was the great intellectual engine of modern science and technological invention. Among Newton’s contemporaries, Sir Robert Moray published the world’s first ever scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions – and was a fervent researcher into Rosicrucian teaching. The strange monk-like figure of Robert Boyle, whose law of thermodynamics paved the way for the internal combustion engine, was a practising alchemist. In his youth he wrote of having been initiated into an ‘invisible college’. Also practising alchemists were Robert Hooke, inventor of the microscope, and William Harvey, discoverer of the circulation of the blood.

Descartes, who fathered rationalism in the mid-seventeenth century, spent a considerable amount of time trying to track down the Rosicrucians and in researching their philosophy. He rediscovered the ancient, esoteric idea of the pineal gland as the gateway to consciousness, the inner eye, and his philosophical breakthrough came to him all of a piece while in a visionary state. His most famous dictum may be seen as a recasting of the Rosicrucian teaching intended to help foster the evolution of an independent, intellectual faculty: I must think in order to be.

Frontispiece, designed by John Evelyn, to the official history of the Royal Society, published in 1667. Francis Bacon is depicted as the founding father. He sits under the wing of an angel in a way that echoes the closing phrase of the Fama Fraternitatis of the Rosicrucians.

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Blaise Pascal, one of the great mathematicians of his day and an eminent philosopher, was discovered after his death to have sewn into his cloak a piece of paper on which was written: ‘The year of grace 1654, Monday 23 November, day of St Clement, Pope and Martyr. From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve at night, FIRE.’ Pascal achieved the illumination that the monks of Mount Athos sought.

In 1726 Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels predicted the existence and orbital periods of the two moons of Mars, which were not discovered by astronomers using telescopes until 1877. The astronomer, who then saw how accurate Swift had been, named the moons Phobos and Deimos – fear and terror – so awestruck was he by Swift’s evident supernatural powers.

Emmanuel Swedenborg, the great eighteenth-century Swedish visionary, wrote detailed accounts of his journeys into the spirit worlds. His reports of what the disembodied beings he met there told him inspired the esoteric Freemasonry of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He was also the first to discover the cerebral cortex and the ductless glands, and also engineered what is still the largest dry dock in the world.

As we have already seen, Charles Darwin attended séances. He may have had the opportunity to learn the esoteric doctrine of the evolution from fish to amphibian to land animal to human from his close association with Max Müller, early translator of sacred Sanskrit texts.

Nicholas Tesla, recently described by a historian of science as ‘the ultimate visionary crank’, was a Serbian Croat who became a naturalized American. There he patented some seven hundred inventions including fluorescent lights and the Tesla coil that generates an alternating current. Like Newton’s most important breakthroughs, this last arose out of his belief in an etheric dimension between the mental and physical planes.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many leading scientists thought it worthwhile to pursue a scientific approach to occult phenomena, believing that it would ultimately be possible to measure and predict occult forces such as etheric currents that seemed only a shade more elusive than electromagnetism, sound waves or x-rays. Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph and therefore the godfather of all recorded sound, and Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, both supposed that psychic phenomena were perfectly respectable areas of research for science, involving themselves in esoteric Freemasonry and theosophy. Edison tried to make a radio that would tune into the spirit worlds. Their great scientific discoveries arose out of this research into the supernatural. Even the television was invented as a result of trying to capture psychic influences on gases fluctuating in front of a cathode ray tube.

(From chapter 23 of, A Secret History of the World, by Mark Booth.)

This is not accident or coincidence. Curious people follow the white rabbit down strange paths. Because their desire for answers is stronger than their desire to fit in.

Fitting in is a shackle on the mind.

The Enemies

You are the enemy of curiosity.

Your desire to gain prestige and status from others. Your desire to “win” the games created by others. Career games. Education games. Title games. Awards games. Fame games. Money games.

The only game worth playing is the game of chasing down your questions and desires. But it’s easy to forget that. We want to feel alive, and a quick hit of respectability from strangers does the trick. For a minute. Then we need more. And the more we prioritize it the deeper enslaved we become.

When pursuing prestige, our mind becomes our enemy. We must restrain it and bend and form it to the collective blob of drooling thoughtless belief in “What we all know”.

No! Every theory deserves questioning. Every assumption deserves scrutiny. Nothing is out of bounds.

The enemies of curiosity never tell you why pursuing magic or faith healing or inter-dimensional travel or religion or moon landing conspiracies is a waste of time. They don’t make arguments about the ideas themselves. They only appeal to prestige. They tell you people who chase those rabbits are dumb. They tell you of the social cost you’ll endure. They tell you it’s a waste of time because “they” have already settled these things. Why repeat the work of getting answers “we” already have?

The enemies of curiosity think the only things worth pursuing are new additions to the body of accepted knowledge. Examining the foundations is silly. But the foundations are always wrong. Questioning everything, all that is established, known, sacred, and solid; that is the role of curiosity.

It doesn’t help to blame others. The enemy within who desires respectability over truth is the one you need to defeat.

Stoke the Flame

Crazy ideas reveal thought processes.

Most people shut down crazy questions because it would be too much work to refute them point-by-point. Not because they cannot be refuted – most can, because few crazy ideas turn out to be true – but because most of us have never done the work necessary to justify the beliefs we hold.

“Prove to me the earth isn’t flat” is the question of a curious mind. It is a good question. It’s good because it forces us to think through how we know what we know. It exposes our direct experience as the pathetic sliver it is. If you can’t prove it through direct observation, how can you? What if appealing to experts or second-hand accounts doesn’t count? Can you reason to it? These questions stimulate real thought.

Embracing such questions brings humility. It reveals how silly absolute thinking is in most cases. It uncovers incentives and probabilities. You begin to analyze the likelihood that person X is correct, or why person Y might benefit by exaggerating. It shows complexity and uncertainty and the amount of knowledge that is guesswork.

The kinds of questions small children ask are pure curiosity. “Why is the sky blue?” How many adults still ask that? Did they stop asking because they completely understand the answer, or because they stopped being curious? Because it would be “weird” to ask such questions?

Kids want to know why all the myths and stories and movies are full of super powers, but they don’t see anyone leaping buildings or reading minds around them. Do you know why? Are you fully satisfied with your answers? Why? Because it seems like a waste of time to think about it, or because you have a thorough understanding of what’s possible? Did answers come, or did curiosity leave?

We Don’t Know Anything

Take archaeology. Archaeologists have no idea what to make of their field.

There are thousands of ancient structures that no one knows anything about.

From elaborate underground cities to buried megaliths, there are countless pieces of the past that no one knows who created, when, why, or how. We are utterly stumped. Hundreds of times over.

And that’s just with the stuff that’s been found.

New amazing things are discovered all the time. Not just little things that add detail to notions of the past. Things that make previous theories impossible.

Only twenty years ago, an entire Egyptian city declared by all the academic experts to be a myth, was found at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Much like the city of Troy, it was found not by a “professional”, but a hobbyist who was more dedicated than any tenure-seeking conservative with little curiosity. A businessman from France raised the funds and spent years combing the seafloor while the academics sat on their asses. He found temples, statues, jewelry, pottery, canals, docks, and hundreds of ships. The find proved that Egyptians were seafaring and robust trade with Greece was ongoing.

A few decades ago in Turkey a site was found 50 times larger than Stonehenge. It’s still 95% buried, but what has been uncovered is a complete knockdown of all previous textbook history. It looks to be nearly 12,000 years old and way more sophisticated than anything that age is supposed to be. Nobody really understands it.

Also recently discovered was the largest yet crater from an apparent asteroid strike under the ice in Greenland. This thing was bigger than the one thought to have killed off the dinosaurs, but appears to have occurred much more recently.

This is just scratching the surface. How many places under the ocean or buried in earth are there? Whale bones have been found in the Sahara. Virtually none of the Sahara has ever been explored or excavated. What else could be there?

We know so little about our own history, let alone the history of plants, animals, and the climate of this planet. Accepted history covers a laughable sliver and does a laughable job even of that.

Accuracy is Impossible

I’ll never forget when I worked in the Michigan state capitol and would see various events and protests. The next day I’d read coverage in the newspaper. More often than not, the coverage described (and sometimes even depicted with fudged photos) events that were nothing at all like what I witnessed firsthand. That was one day later, from a source of the same language with a shared culture in an age of internet access. And still, what was printed was accepted by the majority of Michiganders yet it was woefully inaccurate.

Remove any ability for counter-narratives. Throw in different, even dead languages. Throw in radically different cultural contexts and ways of describing things. Oh, and add not a few days or weeks or even years, but centuries or millennia.

The idea that history paints an accurate picture or that archaeology can map out the details of the past is beyond ludicrous.

Of course we must try! But we should be humble enough to see these as best guesses given current information, never as “consensus” (a word that does not belong in a serious and ongoing intellectual discipline, but to religions and dead lines of thought).

A curious mind should rejoice at all this mystery. Somehow the most credentialed are almost without exception threatened by it. They gave up the journey of discovery when they got on the road to status and tenure.

So Much More

That’s just a glimpse into one discipline.

We don’t know what gravity is, why the moon orbits like it does, what the billions of bacteria in our bodies do, how viruses work or whether they are living, or why we experience time as flowing forward.

No question or theory is out of bounds. Explore them all. Ask why old theories got dropped and what made current “consensus” win. (The answers are unflattering to the consensus peddlers.) Ask what would happen if we scrapped all our assumptions. Ask.

Curiosity doesn’t just lead to knowledge for humanity. It leads to being fully alive on the individual level.

Stay curious.

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Trump versus Iran: Power Doesn’t Just Corrupt, it Deludes

On January 8, US president Donald Trump addressed the American public concerning a casualty-free Iranian missile attack on US bases in Iraq, where just last week Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike.

If the speech was remarkable in any way, it was for the comparative restraint Trump displayed: Rather than pledging another round of tit-for-tat, he announced new sanctions on Iran, vowed that “as long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” called on NATO to “become much more involved in the Middle East process,” and rambled aimlessly about the “Iran nuclear deal” that his administration abrogated in 2018.

What was unremarkable — and unfortunate — in the speech was the obvious assumption underlying it: That the United States enjoys, and SHOULD enjoy, absolute power in international relations.

Trump is hardly unique in publicly stating, or in operating on, that assumption. The claim of such absolute power has been the tacit US doctrine of foreign relations since at least as far back as the end of World War Two.

America emerged from that war as the world’s sole nuclear power and, unlike other combatant countries, with its wealth virtually unscathed and its industrial capacity increased rather than demolished. Its rulers saw themselves as able, and entitled, to dictate terms to almost everyone, on almost everything.

“Power tends to corrupt,” wrote Lord Acton, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Acton was referring to individuals (“great men are almost always bad men”), but his observation is just as true of institutions. And above and beyond corruption, absolute power creates delusion.

The post-war “consensus” on American power around the world began to fray almost immediately.

The Soviet Union acquired “the bomb” and settled in for half a century of dominating eastern Europe.

The US found itself fought to a draw in Korea and defeated in Vietnam when it tried to throw its newfound weight around.

Even after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the US learned that Michael Ledeen’s re-formulation of the doctrine — “every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business” — tends toward big price tags and negative returns.

Yet the delusion persists. It substitutes hubris for humility, sacrificing the blood and treasure of Americans and foreigners alike on the altar of a false god and in pursuit of an imaginary paradise.

The foreign policy recommended by Thomas Jefferson in his first inaugural address —  “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none” — was, and remains, the common-sense alternative to the nonsensical assumption of absolute American power.

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Controlled Choice Isn’t School Choice

I recently heard the term “libertarian paternalism.” It was presented in an article about health care, specifically doctor-patient relationships, as a strategy for helping patients choose among the various best options the doctor recommends. There were many good points in this article about personalizing medicine, but that term made me cringe. Taken literally, “libertarian paternalism” means the free will to select among the choices that some authority figure determines is in your best interest. I don’t like this term, mainly because it’s an oxymoron. The dictionary definition of “libertarian” is a person who believes in the doctrine of free will. To add a caveat that limits free will to options chosen by some allegedly omniscient actor rubs me the wrong way. And yet, we see this contradictory and demeaning idea enacted in many areas of life, especially education.

The comparable term in education is “controlled choice,” or the idea that someone will pre-select among the best options and then allow an end-user (e.g., a student or a family) to choose from among those established options. At the student level, controlled choice might look like a teacher announcing a unit on US presidents and then letting the learner pick which one to research. Central planning, even when seemingly well-thought-out and with good intentions, ultimately restricts free will.Or it could look like a lesson on mammals in which a teacher allows the child to pick the elephant group, the bat group, or the whale group. In this environment, the teacher (or curriculum developer) decides what the child will learn but allows the child some discretion. It’s a lot like reading a choose-your-own-ending book: It can make the story more enjoyable, but only if you are interested in the overall theme. We can contrast controlled choice at the learner level with self-directed education in which the child is fully in control of what, how, when, and with whom she learns.

At the macro level, controlled choice manifests in policies that allow families some degree of choice over their assigned district school, as long as it meets a district’s overall enrollment distribution goals. My city, Cambridge, Massachusetts, was one of the first to enact this type of controlled choice program in 1981 as a way to let families choose among the city’s various public elementary schools through a ranking system, as long as each school met its preferred socioeconomic distribution quota. The goal was economic integration and improved academic performance, particularly for disadvantaged students, while retaining some choice beyond a zipcode school assignment.

Controlled Choice Programs Results

But new research reveals that controlled choice programs in many urban districts have not achieved their intended goals of socioeconomic integration or the narrowing of achievement gaps between high- and low-income students. An in-depth analysis by David Armor of the Cato Institute finds that not only were intended goals not reached but also that unintended consequences, including “white flight,” were widespread in controlled choice districts. Armor concludes:

Most larger school districts that have implemented controlled-choice plans have experienced (or are experiencing) demographic changes like those experienced during race-based busing, meaning the loss (or “flight”) of white and middle-class families. Moreover, there is ample evidence that economic diversity is not producing academic benefits for poor children in these districts. In other words, controlled choice can bring much pain and controversy for little or no educational gains, at least as measured by test scores.

Central planning, even when seemingly well-thought-out and with good intentions, ultimately restricts free will. Concerned that when given real freedom individuals will make the wrong choice, those with power often seek to limit—or control—choice. It is true that freedom means the freedom to make bad choices, but that isn’t a compelling reason to curb one’s freedom to choose. It’s also important to note that what constitutes a “bad choice” is subjective. Individual freedom means toleration of individual choices. As the Nobel prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek wrote in The Constitution of Liberty:

What is im­portant is not what freedom I per­sonally would like to exercise but what freedom some person may need in order to do things bene­ficial to society. This freedom we can assure to the unknown person only by giving it to all.

Hayek goes on to say that the essence of real freedom is humility. He wrote:

All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest.

Controlled choice, libertarian paternalism, or any number of similarly discrepant terms suggest that appointed wise ones should have the power and influence to coerce others through policy or decree. Those of us who truly believe in the doctrine of free will should recoil at attempts to add qualifiers to its promise.

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The History of History

It would be interesting, though very difficult, to study how history changes.

I don’t mean how the sequence of human events changes from the present into the future, I mean how the past changes. Since it exists only in memory from our present perspective, the stories we believe about the past are the past. But those stories aren’t fixed. They change all the time.

I’ve seen some books and studies that look at a few historical events and document the ways in which history textbooks dealt with them in, say, the 1950s vs today. The changes are often dramatic, but presented in a deadpan Orwellian fashion as if it has always been this way, nevermind what we used to say.

And it is of course true that history is mostly written by those on reasonably favorable terms with the dominant political powers. When those change, histories also change.

Imagine if the German army had won World War II, or the Soviet Union had won a nuclear showdown with the United States. Do you think the dominant historical narrative would be the same? Not only would the telling of those conflicts be different, but the story of all previous history would be different. There is little reason to believe our current historical story is any less biased.

And in most cases, you can’t easily go to the evidence to prove which version is true. Evidence is scant. Most of history, especially ancient history, is based on one or two fragments or artifacts that get translated by one or two people who then get referenced by others who get referenced. If you wanted to find out whether a particular ancient figure was real, you might find the best you could get was someone who wrote a story about them, and it’s unclear whether the story was intended as fiction. There is no harder evidence for many things in history.

This does not make history a scandal or conspiracy, but it ought to cause humility. It needn’t cause paranoia about being lied to. In fact, I find it thrilling. It means the world is full of so much more mystery than we assume if we simply accept dominant narratives as provably true.

It is useful to think probabilistically about history (and everything else). If you experience something firsthand, you can be certain it happened. If a trusted friend relays a story, you might be slightly less certain. By the time you’re hearing fifteenth-hand someone referencing an nineteenth century scholar’s belief about when the Sumerians built the Ziggurats based on one type of textual analysis, the probability is it totally accurate should be a lot lower.

In Orwell’s dystopia, history gets changed by the politically powerful at moments notice by changing the official story. While I do think it’s easier than most of us assume to change the dominant historical narrative, it takes a lot more than changing some government documents or publicly funded textbooks. Academics and professional historians are the easier part. Artists and novelists are the more important part.

When you think about the American West, or Ancient Egypt, or Medieval Europe, you have a lot of ideas that are pretty coherent and consistent with other people’s ideas about these things. While most are not contradicted by history books, they didn’t originate there. It’s not the source material that causes us to believe historical narratives as much as it is the fictional narratives built on top of it. Even though we know A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is a fictional narrative (built on top of another at least mostly fictional narrative of Arthur), the historical setting becomes a little more real in our brain every time a fictional story uses it as a backdrop.

A handful of movies like Jurassic Park that portray dinosaurs as predecessors to birds probably do more to make that part of the historical narrative than whatever studies or researchers they are referencing.

On the one hand, the power of art and fiction to shape our beliefs about the past is a bit troubling. I takes very little evidence from very few sources for a bunch of stories to spin up and make us believe things with higher probability than warranted, simply because it is repeated in so many stories on top of stories.

On the other hand, it’s cause for comfort. It’s empowering. I means an Orwellian regime is going to have a harder time controlling the past. Sure, they can handle the subsidy-sucking professoratti, but to control the narratives of all the artists and story-tellers? A Herculean task. In fact, the inability to control rebel creatives has brought down many a dictatorship.

History is not a fixed thing. Our knowledge is so slim. This makes probabalistic thinking important. It makes the stories we tell important. It makes the lenses through which we view the past important.

History has a history. The way it’s presented today might not be better than it once was or could be. It’s useful to think about ways it might better be told and understood.

(Bonus: Here’s a great video on ways of seeing the past.)

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On Stoicism

To everyone who gets triggered or offended by words, take some advice from the ancient Stoic philosophy: recognize your own complicity in how you react to what you hear or read other people say or write. The Stoics taught that our emotional reactions to outside stimuli are largely our responsibility. Accepting this basic truth will allow you to take your emotional power back from those who upset you (including your children). No more will you require that trigger warnings be observed by other people, or expect them to condescendingly walk on eggshells around you. You will have more control over your mind and body if you learn that you don’t have to react in negative ways toward other people’s words. Simply observe them as you would observe a loud animal in nature, with curiosity, humility, and skepticism. And that’s today’s two cents.

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Workplace Personalities, Self-Knowledge, and Office Conflict Immunization

If you care about professional success, you almost need to make working with new personality types a part of your job.

It’s easy to develop a bubble in the workplace, especially in small companies. Many companies start out with a pretty homogenous culture with pretty homogenous personalities. For all the faults of this approach, it does make it easy for people to know, trust, like, and cooperate with each other.

Inevitably, though, your bubble gets burst. Businesses grow. Businesses diversify. Businesses hire better people, and worse people. And not everyone is going to relate to you or perceive you in the same way.

One person’s “helpful” is another person’s “controlling. One person’s “confident” is another person’s “arrogant.” One person’s “humility” is another person’s “lack of initiative.”

Dealing with peoples’ reactions and expectations only gets more complicated as a company grows. So if you’re only used to people who like your “helpfulness,” you’re going to be caught completely off guard when someone finds your help offensive. Like someone who skipped vaccination day, you’ll fall sick in no time.

Fortunately, there is a way to immunize yourself.

It’s helpful to find out the range of responses to your own personality type, modus operandi, and foibles as quickly as possible so you can adjust your course to be more effective with all people in the future. This is the reason to try working with as many people of as many different personality types as possible.

Work with touchy people, angry people, chill people, workaholic people, “creative” people, and everything in between. You’ll learn from them just how variable opinions about any one thing you do will be. You’ll learn to take the feedback and social pressure from others with a grain of salt (you’ll see that some feedback is more correlated to the personality type of the giver than to your actions). And you’ll gain from their feedback a few universally-repeated observations that may really sting – but which will teach you to be a better human in the end.

Relating to new personnel in a job can be hard. When scaling happens fast or when you’re busy, it can seem unnecessary. But if you want to avoid unnecessary conflict and gain necessary wisdom with these outsiders, try “inoculating” yourself to all the different kinds of people who make up the world of business, for better or for worse.

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