Thursday, August 29, 2013

The 8 things I know that it seems like nobody else gets

This is something completely different from my usual posts. I don't do dumb lists. But I was walking a mile with my son today and started thinking about the stuff I want to instill in my kids that most grown men are too stupid to tell them. This is what I came up with:

(1) Things don't happen for a reason


The holocaust wasn't an essential part of a master plan where everything turns out for the best. When you didn't get the job, it wasn't because there's a better one waiting for you. Even if you're religious, the saner people in your religion have probably articulated a theory of evil that acknowledges that sometimes shit happens. Please believe that.

I know a guy who wouldn't go to a job interview one Thursday because he had an invitation to something else, and so "it wasn't meant to be." Nothing is meant to be. Go to the interview.

(2) Everything is a numbers game


If you have a one-in-a-million chance of a model agreeing to go on a date with you, that means you need to ask one million models for a date. The same goes with job applications and running for public office and crazy invention ideas and everything else. Try one thousand things that you have a 0.1% chance of succeeding in, and in the end you will accomplish one incredible thing. Then, if you want, you can forget to talk about the 999 failures, and just let everyone think that you're brilliant.

(3) Civilization is mostly maladaptive

Church, state, school, factory evolved from a slave system that is not your friend. Civilization spread all over the world because it was good at spreading, not because its institutions make us happier. Civilization works by getting you to believe things, and anything someone really really tries to get you to believe is probably false if it doesn't make sense to you.

(4) You have a subconscious


You don't do things for the reasons you think you do. You don't believe the things you think you do. That guy who you hate because, I don't know, he just looks, like, such a douche? You may be jealous of him. Or maybe you want his body. You don't know that these are the reasons, of course. That's why they call it the sub-conscious. Your friends though? It's probably pretty easy for all of them to see that you're really jealous. And gay.

(5) You should walk humbly before the chemicals


When you hate someone you should take a quick inventory of how much sleep you're running on, whether you've eaten, if you need a cigarette, and when the last time you had sex was.

If you're good to go on all of these, then you probably really do hate them for other reasons, like the ones listed in point #4.

(6) Good writing is acting like the language got started yesterday


Don't say "blood curdling screams." You've never even pictured blood curdling. Don't say "abject poverty." You don't even know what abject means. You just know it's the word that people put before the word poverty.

Make up your own descriptors, because no one else is going to picture blood curdle either, and no one else knows what abject means.

Eryn doesn't "melt my heart."

But when Eryn first took her glasses off and I got a good look at her green eyes, it did make that hot sharp thing happen in my chest like I had narrowly missed driving head-on into a bus.

(7) Anger is useless at least most of the time


If someone disagrees with you and you yell at them, what's your game plan? Are you going to scare them into believing what you do? Ok, what if your girl is looking at another man? You get angry and he's not attractive anymore?

Seneca thought that no one ever needed to be angry. He thought that we could learn to kill the emotion completely and lose nothing. I believe that.

Seneca did allow, though, for pretending to be angry sometimes. People who grew up with mean parents sometimes won't think you're serious unless you do.

(8) Feeling guilty is useless


Cats don't feel guilty. Cows don't. Dogs kind of do, because we train them. Guilt is an emotional complex, and not a cardinal emotion. It's some form of PTSD, some kind of Pavlovian, internalized fear of the whip.

You don't need it. Even if you've ruined everybody's lives, feeling guilty will fix nothing. If you have the facts you need and you want to do the right thing, that's all you need.


  1. Yeah, I agree with most of these points, but the only reason you 'know' them is because of your subconscious biases. These are really just theories that you choose to believe in.

  2. Not everything is a bias. And all biases aren't incorrect.

  3. Nice points but can't agree on the last one. Just as you have a subconscious, you also have a conscience. Your id wishes you didn't and tries to silence it so that you might serve only your pleasures. But your subconscious pushes troubling matters of the conscience back up. That's guilt, and it keeps you honest to yourself.

    1. Guilt keeps you honest to yourself? That sounds like a tortured way to live. Morals, what you feel is "right", compassion to yourself and others should keep you honest.

  4. > Try one thousand things that you have a 0.01% chance of succeeding in, and in the end you will accomplish one incredible thing. Then. if you want, you can forget to talk about the 999 failures, and just let everyone think that you're brilliant.

    I am going to flip a coin. It only has two possible outcomes - Heads, or Tails. By the way you've written your argument here, if I flip a coin twice, one of those should be heads.

    H H
    H T
    T H
    T T

    How many times do we have to flip a coin to be practically assured of getting a H? Let us assume that 99% is being practically assured.

    50% 50%
    25% 75%
    12.5% 87.5%
    6.25% 93.75%
    3.125% 96.875%
    1.5625% 98.4375%
    0.78125% 99.21875%

  5. Great post! The "Feeling guilty is useless" point really struck home for me. But, now I need to work on the #6 point because I have never struck anything home before...

  6. I think that

    "Civilization works by getting you to believe things, and anything someone really really tries to get you to believe is probably false if it doesn't make sense to you."

    pretty much writes off passion, which I'm not cool with, but it is a great rule of thumb. Nice list broseph

  7. If you try things that have 0.1% change repeatedly 1000 times, the change of succeeding has binomial distribution. The probability that you get at least one success is just 63%.

    Number games indeed.

  8. If you consider reincarnation and other evidence of an intelligent universe, everything has purpose.

    That example-man who decided not to go to his job interview was right that it wasn't meant to be but only because he decided it was so.

    It very well may have been a much better idea for humanity on the whole for him to get that job than whatever else he decided to go do instead just because he was already planning on it.

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  10. Civilization exists because civilization makes the rules.

  11. (1) Things don't happen for a reason
    - ABSOLUTELY CORRECT. Regarding an earlier comment, there is no evidence for an intelligent universe.

    (2) Everything is a numbers game
    - True, but you are confusing the way probability works. Others have pointed this out.

    (7) Anger is useless at least most of the time
    - Probably true

    (8) Feeling guilty is useless
    - Not entirely true. This is only anecdotal, but the people I know who say that you shouldn't have regrets are those who make the most questionable moral decisions, e.g. cheating. Guilt can give us motivation to make better decisions in the future and learn from our mistakes.

  12. Good post sir! One of the better blog posts I've come across (but then again, the signal-to-noise ration on the Internt has never been very good)

  13. you, sir, should be given an award

    because i think

    you are the most pretentious thing I've ever seen on the internet
    it disgusts me so good


  14. "History, agrarianism, info-graphics, music and recording, genealogy,
    Wikipedia and other engines of mass collaboration, free culture, digital
    philosophy, the problem of universals, conversation, small experiments,
    mineral water, walking, anarchy, romanticism, the future."

    Absolutely love your interests! Can you talk more about them?

  15. 1. INCORRECT. To say this would be to say you everything, considering yourself some kind of god to know whether something happens for a reason or not.

    Also to the comment about no evidence of an intelligent universe the same applies, also the famous quote, "The absence of evidence isn't the evidence of absence."

    2. INCORRECT. Nothing is a numbers game, hopefully that doesn't go over anyone's head.

    3. INCORRECT. No one is forced to do anything, otherwise we could not die.

    4. INCORRECT. Einstein already debunked this one when he talks about the realm of forms that we exist in an entirety, hence only one conscious without extensions.

    5. Are you on drugs???

    6. INCORRECT. It evolves every moment, hence as new every day.

    7/8. INCORRECT. Our emotions(all of them) are the reason we still exist, its why you are here and not dead, in prison, straight or whatever. These are the very meaning of existence, you will probably only understand that when/if you live a long life.

    I hope you posted this entire little rant as a joke because its full of inconsistent and illogical information.

  16. Provocative stuff, Ken.

    (6) "Hold the newsreader's nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers."

    (2) Your math is a little defective. Of the 6,326.541.2 women scoring 8 or higher on the Riparian Hotness Scale, approximately 0 (+/- 0) have agreed to go out with me. If there is a one in a million chance that one will go out with me, I should have had 6.326 dates. In fact, there is a 50% chance every time I ask one out, but a 1 in one million probability. However the law of averages does not apply, but Otter's Law does:


    where Omega is "Otter's Constant," Mu is the number of models, and S is the average hotness on the Riparian Scale.

    This equation (see my published works) produces the predicted result (zero).

    (8 or whatever it was) Guilt is not useless, if it's used properly. Guilt and its cousin shame play a pretty serious role in establishing the balances between the needs and interests of people: you say a will to do right is enough, but unfortunately, that's demonstrably false.

    Or if not false, at least tightly interconnected to the biochemical / neurological experience of guilt.

    Guilt is a pretty useless thing if you just feel bad all the time, but it's a strong and useful evolutionary advantage in itself. It's no good getting drunk because I lost my job because I was drunk, but guilt is the spark that reminds me that getting drunk on the job is not commensurate with my goals. Is it ideal if I'm rational enough to figure that out without guilt's pressure? Sure. But neuroscience tells us that our reason has certain hard limits (see your point on the subconscious). All guilt is is the biochemical reminder, "Your goals and impulses are coming unbalanced. Your subconscious has dictated to you and continues to dictate to you in ways that contradict your larger need." A right response to that is to re-balance yourself.

    Shame performs the same function, only externally: what guilt does for you as a person, shame does in the community. "You're a lying mooch who produces nothing of value and takes from others" produces (in most people anyway) a biochemical response that reminds him of his interdependence with others; if he responds rationally and well to the shame, he will engage in what the Bible calls "repentance"(rethinking) and less interesting literature calls "cognitive behavioral therapy."

    Shame and guilt can both be misused, just as any powerful force can be; but the answer is not to shut it down or deny its utility: it's to use it rightly: they make urgent the need to rethink when our reason is ill-equipped to get us to that point. And if we have a subconscious, and if it makes us do dumb things like hate black people or despise those we desire, we desperately need a mechanism that makes rethinking happen.

    (7) Anger similarly serves a couple of purposes, not just scaring people, but providing us with the energy we sometimes need to do justice. Like guilt and shame, it's badly invested in people who like its apparent power. But when it pushes us in the direction of saying, "This is unjust, and I refuse to sit still over it," it's a powerful agent. And like guilt and shame, it is only really powerful in the end if it's in the hands of good people.

    1. Jim,

      Is there any end to which guilt or anger would push a man that logic and love could not?

      Bizarre out-of-my-butt thought experiment: You've had brain surgery that completely killed anger. Now you can't get mad. A bad man walks into your house and starts shooting your family members. Wouldn't your love for your remaining family members compel you to take the man down, sans anger? I can't think of a situation where this logic doesn't work, and the same thing goes for guilt. I think they're both useless.


      Wait: I just re-read this:

      "Is it ideal if I'm rational enough to figure that out without guilt's pressure? Sure. But neuroscience tells us that our reason has certain hard limits (see your point on the subconscious)."

      And you have a very good point. That could be right. Guilt could be not-useless, I guess, because your subconscious equipment is better.

      I think you'd have to be a pretty properly trained dog though.

      My parents, when they were newlyweds, had a dog named Becky. There was always a wet spot on the carpet in some room, and as much as they put her nose in it and swatted her and yelled at her, it never went away. They came to find out eventually that it was a a leak, and not the dog pissing, but the dog never recovered. For the rest of her life she whimpered and felt awful then she passed by that spot.

      I think of civilization as so profoundly maladaptive that I think that we're all pretty fucked up dogs right now, so that I'd trust my slow and buggy conscious Prolog over my black box neural nets that have been fed a lifetime of rubbish any day.

    2. I appreciate your careful reading of my comments.

      Your example of Becky is a clear example of misused shaming. (Technically, it's not "guilt," but it preys on Becky's natural capacity for guilt, if we allow a little anthropomorphizing of the dog. Or else if we assume the biochemical reactions of dog-guilt and human-guilt are more or less analogous.) The flaw was in your parents' misunderstanding about what had actually happened, not in the operation of guilt.

      Here's why: consider that no human-dog relationship is possible without activating the dog's guilt in some way. Indeed "domestication" and "training" is a way of structuring those raw biochemical reactions so that the dog learns what behaviors are rewarded and which are not.

      This sounds insidious to very open minded people, but only if they're kind of unreflective I think. From the dog's point of view, that operation of guilt makes clear the way in which she can remain a member in good standing of the pack. (Again, we're agreeing to use the animal as roughly analogous to humans and to ignore some details of animal behavior and neuroscience. But I think that's okay here.)

      Similarly, the neurological experience of "guilt" functions to establish an internal monitor on our behavior that responds to our environment. This doesn't make an experience of guilt either "right" or "wrong," any more than a particular sexual urge is right or wrong: it's what you do with it that counts.

      Thus a great many "rules" about behavior (enforced through guilt and shame) emerge out of survivalist cultures, where those rules make sense. In a village of 200 people that's constantly beset by famine, invasion, disease, and natural disaster, in which bare survival means working 17 hours a day and ensuring a steady pregnancy rate, "homosexuality" is a deplorable, solipsistic waste of one's precious (and scarce) energies. In fact it's robbing from the community's precious store of life-affirming energy. A practicing homosexual in such a community could rightly be conceived of as a parasite. But note that it's not his homosexuality that's to blame, it's his situation in relation to the community.

      In Los Angeles in 2013, it's impossible to make the case that his homosexual practice endangers or even inconveniences anybody.

      So imagine he's got a religious family who tells him, "You're wrong to be gay." If he feels shame, it's natural: we're hard-wired to respond to ideas of the community. But shame (and guilt) here are just feelings, and they force him to ask, "Wait, is it true? Am I disgusting and wrong to be gay?" Good on ya for your Socratic irony, mate: know thyself. But when nothing in his reason or experience confirms that the guilt is accurately assigned, he's like Becky: "Sorry, dude, but that guilt doesn't belong to me," and part of being an adult is the capacity to sort out what one should feel guilty for.

      So we agree, there's lots of bad information that comes to us in the guilt-envelope. But that's not a problem with the envelope.

      Which brings us to civilization....

    3. You make a good deal of the maladaptivity of civilization, and I can see why. But your point above about civilization seems to me to depend on an incredibly simplistic view of what "civilization" means. You write that "Civilization spread all over the world because it was good at spreading, not because its institutions make us happier." Maybe I'm not clear on what you mean by "happier," but I'd say that not only are you living proof that this is not the case, but you are living proof that civilization spread because it's an adaptation that protects us from several kinds of unhappiness.

      The word and concept of "civilization" refers simply to people living together, sharing resources and balancing their responsibilities against the benefits that come from living together as opposed to living alone. Every syllable of your blog indicates that you're content to benefit from civilization. But do you own up to your responsibilities to it?

      It seems to me that you're persuaded that civilization has made unjust or unfair demands of you. I'd like to know precisely which demands you find onerous. I don't know what you have in mind, but I'll float a few that seem to have emerged from your blog:

      -- That you maintain some sexual self-control? I think you enjoy far more sexual freedom than most people in history have, including your primate ancestors, who had to fight for mates in a hostile environment, where failure and success both carried enormous dangers. Civilization actually enables your reproductive / sexual freedom in ways that living in nature never would do. If it asks some measure of responsibility for that, well, that's hardly unfair, and at least in the United States you're offered an enormous amount of latitude to negotiate what that responsibility will be. Indeed, I'll call it an unnatural amount of freedom, since nowhere in nature are you guaranteed so much safety and so many resources to pursue your desires. Say a prayer of thanks to civilization every time you orgasm.

      -- That you believe in a certain way? This is particularly problematic, especially for people who grew up religious. I admit I'm not very fond of orthodoxies imposed on others, and I'm pretty sympathetic. But I can understand this from two points of view. (1) Forming a child's imagination is equivalent to forming a child's self. For this reason, a parent who neglects to engage the child's imagination at a religious level (telling, for example, the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit) neglects the part of the child that's most important. And (2) parents who love their children must find the difficult balance between handing on something of themselves to those children that matters to them while still allowing children to be who they are. There's nothing more cruel than tossing a kid out into the world and saying, "Be whatever you wish." See (again) your point about the subconscious: "whatever I wish," unrestrained by the boundaries of reality and a recognition that nature is infinitely hostile to survival, is a recipe for disaster. (Note that again civilization actually enables a child's freedom: a library is a masterpiece of civilization, and keeps a child from having to repeat Galileo's experiments.)

      Anyway, orthodoxy is just an inflexible belief in the way things are, and you have plenty of those yourself, as witnessed by this blog. There's nothing wrong with that; but when that orthodoxy stops answering to the demands of Reality, it must change. So I'm sympathetic.

      I see I've gone on a bit.

      Forgive me.

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  19. Last point: instead of teaching your son therefore that things don't happen for a reason and that guilt is useless, you might teach him, "Make good out of senseless things if you can," and "When you feel guilty, as yourself if you're doing what you truly believe in. If you are, then hand guilt its hat and say, 'Thank you for coming by, but I have things to be doing,' and show it the door. If you are not, tell your guilt, 'Thank you for the reminder. You may go now: it shall be attended to.'"

    1. To write back to everything, and do it well, would be lots of pages (which I might could do if I start feeling obsessed), but I'd quickly say two-ish things:

      (1) I don't believe that guilt is innate and shame is it's external activation. I believe shame is something that eventually programs the PTSD of guilt into someone.

      (2) When I use the word "civilization" I don't mean people living together, sharing resources and balancing their responsibilities against the benefits that come from living together as opposed to living alone. People did all of that before the sedentary shift.

      When I talk about civilization, I mean that crazy onset of something in seven hearths (the Indus, the Yellow River, the Nile, Mesopotamia, Mesoamerica, and the Andes) where people started terrorizing their kids and burning heretics and working 12 hour days. Government was created, and executions, and religion, and hell, and writing, and education, and farming, and other stuff, all at the same time. There was a shift in how humans related to each other, and a pattern of traumatizing and punishing and shaming got started.

    2. Ok, I caved and wrote something really long for you. It's the latest blog post, and it's called "A Manifesto"

  20. Ok. One more thing:

    RE: "a parent who neglects to engage the child's imagination at a religious level (telling, for example, the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit) neglects the part of the child that's most important."

    We'll just have to shrug at an impasse, there. I really disagree. That's rough. I wonder what you'd make of the stories I tell my kids, though.

  21. Adam and Eve's story was an example: it's a fable that tells what it's like to be a human living among other humans. It speaks to many of the issues you raise here, and finds something in common with them. Whatever stories you tell your kids wouldn't shock me: I might find them in conflict with my own values, and my hunch is that you're not immune to the common parental fucking-up of children: but we evidently agree that those kids should at least have the imaginative stories that tie us and our values to them. When they're in therapy, they'll remember the stories we told.

    Our real impasse is on guilt and shame, I think, though.

    At some point, people should stop shitting on the floor and waving the knife at the cat and eating all the Oreos.

    And there are good ways to affect this and there are very bad ones. All of them have to do with the standards that we set, which may themselves be rational or not. But there does not come a point at which we are ultimately free to live as we wish when we live with others, and this was as true before the sedentary shift as afterward, so far as the evidence that I'm aware of suggests.

    If we like to call this something besides "guilt," that's fine. If we like to pin the necessity for this on civilization, that too is fine.

    But we must only allow ourselves the luxury of living without the PTSD when our children's reason performs miracles against nature.

  22. > At some point, people should stop shitting on the floor and waving the knife at the cat and eating all the Oreos.

    This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

  23. I'd say a distant second to Eryn, but maybe that's just me.