The world has conceived many cults that proselytized end of world doomsday scenarios on a specific date. One might imagine the uneventful passing of that date would induce members to break free, perhaps a little embarrassed but otherwise unharmed, and return to normal life. However, in reality it typically leads to increased conviction in a clearly bankrupt prophecy.
When the mind learns information that contradicts strongly held beliefs, it urgently conjures an emotional barrier designed to defend it’s present state and rationalize away anything that causes discomfort.
Not only is it pointless to debate a fanatic, it is often counter productive. No matter how brilliant you claim to be, there is no sequence of words you can design that will successfully convince Fidel Castro to support democratic ideals; his ego will not allow growth that doesn’t originate from within himself.
People like him will always react by descending deeper into their ideology. Like a gambling addict going double-or-nothing, they can not show weakness by deviating from their publicly stated positions. But there is no more consistent way to guarantee irrational behaviour than a devotion to consistency.
The allure of ideology is attractive to many people, mostly young people and certain personality types more than others. It is often a temporary phase validated by social proof and mutually reenforcing circular confirmation bias.
But if it doesn’t inspire too many poor decisions, it doesn’t have to be unhealthy. People can benefit from the support and comfort they derive from a community of cult members. Sometimes they even select an important issue and the world benefits from additional publicity, even if none of their solutions are adopted.
We need a world filled with people who have both the conviction to support an idea and the ambition to do something about it, but the world is also filled with people who will gladly exploit wide-eyed ideologues as pawns to advance their own cause.
The less antagonistic people you have polluting your journey, the better. I simply can not justify spending time debating them until they grow up, and out, of their hostility to reason.
Reflections on how people respond to disagreement.
It’s common for people to say, “I go where the facts lead me,” but not all new understandings are derived from new facts, sometimes they come from old facts re-imagined in a different context or held to a different standard. For example, with the same set of facts, the most correct government policy choices could vary depending on whether your goal is to optimize for maximized economic output or minimized human suffering.
Although nobody believes the most extreme positions are desirable and everybody falls somewhere in between, that is unfortunately where options and outcomes are continuous, unpredictable and most importantly, all varying degrees of wrong.
This point may seem obvious but it is important to state explicitly — values and priorities are at least as important to many debates as facts, despite their obvious malleable and transient nature. Our values and priorities shift over time as individuals, which means there can never be an absolute right answer to anything even within ourselves, let alone for all society. Everybody is always at least a little wrong at all times. There is no truth, only a pursuit of truth.
The problem is that most people are incapable of separating the pursuit from the pursuer. Our brains do not distinguish between knowledge and feelings; all knowledge is felt, not known. And since our knowledge forms the basis of our beliefs, we feel our beliefs. And if we define our identity by our beliefs, by extension we also feel our identity.
Regardless of facts, adopting a new state of awareness requires that we abandon a familiar and comfortable norm that may have served us well. It exploits a universal insecurity of inferiority by calling into question the rigour and legitimacy of our mental vetting process. It requires us to sacrifice the hard earned pride we derived from an intensely personal journey of understanding which forms the basis of our very identity. It’s hard not to take that personally, which explains why disagreements can escalate so quickly.
Even if people are emotionally intelligent enough to conceal the discomfort this causes, there is no denying cognitive dissonance is often correlated with a subtle but real sense of hostility. Hence the frustration we all experience when trying to discuss any topic of importance with people who feel they know differently, more and better facts will add little value when you are interacting with the wrong part of someone’s brain.
This effect is a form of delusion and most people are incapable of recognizing its influence on their judgement. It’s a handicap that can only be compensated for by those who embrace it. There are no open minds, only closed minds aware of their deficiencies and everyone else.
As a result, although the world would be a better place if everyone strived for a high standard of public discourse, any proponent of pragmatism must concede it’s an absurdly impractical fantasy. A world of logic does not exist and it never will. Earth is filled with people who are emotionally vested in their belief systems and are personally insulted when you disagree. Discussions are not possible with people who cling to hostility and judgement like an addiction.
In many cases challenging someone’s point of view, no matter how gently, is more likely to result in damaged relationships than learning for either party, thus in retrospect people often regret participation. We should all dislike the propagation of bullshit — it does a disservice to humanity — but unless it is known in advance the individuals involved will understand the intent, it can sometimes be better to just let it pass.
If wisdom is the understanding of others and enlightenment is the understanding of self, we could all benefit from a little more of both.
A few months ago I met a mirror image of myself. Not in terms of appearance, but in terms of everyday guiding philosophy. We don’t necessarily have the same interests or assign the same importance to various things, but the common denominator that dominates our decision-making is some kind of principle… and an uncompromising resolution to remain consistent with that principle.
I saw a mirror image of myself and I didn’t like it.
Watching this person make poor decisions I realized that living a life based on principal means you are incapable of adapting to circumstances. For such a philosophy to be optimal you must live in a perfectly predictable world. You must know every possible fact relevant to every possible decision for you to even have a basis for concluding your principal is worthy of rigidity.
It’s now obvious to me how ridiculous my decisions must have appeared at times to others. Principles may be useful as a framework or foundation of expectations, but no rule is absolute.
In some ways setting aside a dollar for later is no different than setting aside a dream for later. You want something, you could have it now, but you’ve consciously decided you are better off getting it later.
But, at least your savings yield a return in exchange for your patience; excuses will only make the present seem that much worse as it shares today’s consciousness with your dreams of a better tomorrow.
Excuses can never make that better future more likely to occur, they can only make it remain the future for a little bit longer. But if you think it’s what you want, why would you delay it, deliberately? What is the point of sacrificing to seed the fields only to delay your harvest, when the yield can only go down?
People make all kinds of excuses to justify and rationalize keeping a fantasy world in their minds instead of their lives. Of course you plan to spend your savings eventually, just as you plan to pursue your dreams eventually, but not now. Like a chipmunk preparing for winter you gather your dreams and wait.
If you knew the answer to that question you wouldn’t be waiting, you would be answering it right now. But you don’t and may never know. You’re waiting at the airport for a person with no name and no face. Even if the person shook your hand, you wouldn’t know it.
So you wait, possibly forever, for something you won’t recognize when you see it, to get something you could have right now.
According to the Abrahamic traditions, God is omnipotent. All seeing and all knowing. We were created by God to worship him, but not everyone follows those very simple instructions, which is a real dilemma. If God is omnipotent and wants us to worship him, why would he give us the ability not to?
Imagine if I designed a coffee machine to make me coffee 5 times a day, but for some reason added a feature tempting the machine to randomly add goat urine to my cup. If I didn’t want goat urine in my coffee, why would I add that feature? How could I justify adding that feature into the machine then blaming the machine for doing exactly what I programmed it to do?
If God is omnipotent he has the ability to compel everyone to believe in him. Even with free will, he could have a daily announcement where God appears in the sky to give us our assignments. But he doesn’t. He consciously decides not to intervene and make himself obvious. He made us intelligent, free and skeptical then blames us for using those faculties when he disappears for a thousand years.
We humans also play God to other species. We genetically engineer mice to grow cancer and die, on purpose! But we do it specifically because we aren’t omnipotent. We do it to test cancer drugs that can help us.
What would you call a person who already has the cure for cancer but still breeds cancerous mice anyway… and randomly picks which mice to heal and which to watch suffer an agonizing death… only to revive them from the dead so they can burn in hell fire for all eternity because they had the nerve not to be chosen to receive our cure for the cancer we gave them?
If God does exist, it’s more likely he isn’t omnipotent. I can envision a God who is experimenting with us, like we experiment with mice. But how does God benefit from our existence? Any why would he lie to us in his revelations?
Maybe we were created by the universe unconsciously but predictably as a symptom of existence. You created each cell in your body and every one of them is alive, but you have no conscious control over any of them.
Nobody would argue a human skin cell has a soul, so why would we expect any single celled organism out in the wild to be different? If a single cell organism can be alive without a soul, why would any species need one? What is so different about the way humans interact with the world and respond to environmental stimulus than a fox, tree, spider or bacteria?
Nothing, we just figured out math.
The nobel prize winning economist is (in)famous for his belief that more government spending will help solve short term unemployment without threatening Federal long term fiscal health. The first half of his position is arguably correct but the second half is a dangerous gamble.
Let’s assume Krugman gets his way and deficits increase even beyond their present day historical levels, how much debt will be on the books by the time we experience an economic recovery? Nobody can know for sure, but despite the market for Treasuries being the largest and most liquid in the world, the government already issues more bonds than can be absorbed today. The only reason the Treasury is able to continue even at the present inadequate (according to Krugman) levels is because during a depression the Federal Reserve can intervene without causing price inflation – the Federal Reserve is “printing money” to buy them.
However, by the time Krugman is satisfied with employment levels and government spending can begin to decline, the debt will have reached such historic proportions it will not be practical for the Federal Reserve to allow interest rates to rise; any increase will swamp the Federal government in interest payments. In response to such a crisis, the government will either have to raise taxes and kill the fledgling recovery or continue selling bonds to the Federal Reserve (printing money) despite the economic recovery… imagine how QE during an economic boom will be received by the market. How can the system keep inflation under control while printing money to finance the debt?
While Krugman is technically correct, the best kind of correct, about the ability of the government to increase spending today and not experience a fiscal collapse until some point in the future, he is not correct about the ability of the government to get its finances in order before that crisis hits. There will be no calm before the storm, we will transition directly from depression to crisis with no time to catch our breath.
But I’m sure you’re telling yourself they are smarter than that, if random internet guy has figured it out, I’m sure all the PHD’s at the Federal Reserve have as well. You’re partially correct, they have been buying longer term bonds in recent years to help prevent a sudden tsunami of interest payments when rates start to rise, but that means the Federal Reserve is sitting on an enormous amount of government securities that will soon plummet in value. There is no way they can sell long term government bonds yielding 3 or 4 percent back into the market to return it’s balance sheet to normal and prevent inflation from getting out of control, nobody will take them.
The Federal Reserve will have to mark down the value of those assets and probably render itself insolvent. Of course, the Federal Reserve can print money so maybe it doesn’t matter, but just imagine the politics. The economy is booming with inflation raging out of control and the central bank that brilliantly engineered a recovery without a tsunami of interest payments is now bankrupt and demanding the government reduce liquidity by raising taxes because it is unable to intervene in the market with anything other than words and interest rates. So much for independence, do you trust Congress that much?
And besides, this all assumes the economy will recover. What happens to the economy when the spending stops? If the economy never rebalances to something more sustainable than complete dependency on consumer debt and bubbles of various flavors, what happens to all those shiny new jobs once government demand disappears again? Can the government ever actually stop spending? It’s an important question we should not dismiss.
The value of any asset, no matter how vital, cycles between under valuation and over valuation – does the same concept hold true for aggregate demand? Can it ever be too high and actually need to drop for the economy to improve its health? It’s hard to argue America hasn’t been on a consumption and spending binge for the better part of the past several decades, perhaps a drop in demand is not the problem, but the solution.
People need adversity to give meaning to their existence; it’s only through struggle that we are revealed to ourselves.
Living a casual life breeds rationalizations of inertia out of a very human and instinctive desire to be consistent with our present everyday behaviour. Strip away your ego long enough to recognize and accept that you’ve been making silly excuses your whole life.
Some people have adversity imposed upon them, others subconsciously invite disorder into their lives to unknowingly attempt fidelity to their purpose. Everyone else must do it deliberately. For the majority who aren’t lucky enough to stumble into the answer and get away intact, it’s imperative that we intentionally inject ourselves into complicated, uncomfortable and interesting situations or pursuits. It doesn’t matter how you choose to break the grip of inertia, but great answers emerge from great sacrifice. There is no other way to discover and act on our purpose before the opportunity and energy have passed.
Those who do, couldn’t have imagined any other way to live. Those who don’t, die regretting all the things they never did much more than anything they did. Amongst the worst deceptions of youth is undoubtably the misvaluation of time. Nothing is more precious, stop trading it for more of what already hasn’t satisfied you.
There is something enjoyable about watching people run. It’s not the mystery of where they’re headed, nor the inspirational improvement they realize in their health, nor the comedy of their facial expressions; it’s quite simply the satisfaction of knowing there are still people willing to exert an effort to achieve something… anything.
Those who aim to achieve anything without action are consciously submitting to failure. Lottery tickets are not an investment and laziness will not bring validation. If you want something, stop making excuses and go get it.
One of the many traits that distinguish humans from animals is our ability to set seemingly impossible goals and win through careful planning, reckless ambition, inexhaustible optimism and an irrational refusal to accept defeat. Once you learn you can change the world, you will never be the same again.
In his own voice.
Many years from now people will not view this movement as having accomplished nothing, but ordinary participants won’t be satisfied with its outcome. Not for lack of energy or intent, simply for lack of foresight and understanding of where power hides, and how it survives.