An existential threat to our way of life has arisen in China. This threat to the free world is something that we have known about for a long time, though the current response is not what it needs to be to protect us and the average person seems to remain ignorant of it.
I wish that I were referring to the virus that the World Health Organization has cowardly designated as COVID-19 (as opposed to the regionally-derived names given to diseases originating in countries without the willingness or ability to exert political influence), which originated in the Chinese province of Wuhan. COVID-19 likely spread from bats to humans, either through an exotic food market or a Chinese disease control laboratory studying the animals.
This virus, though it may threaten our lives and those of our loved ones, pales in comparison to the true threat that China poses to our way of life.
Today was kind of a weird day because I got a lot done, but not by my usual metrics.
Tomorrow I really need to get into shape on working on those, because they do tend to reflect how I’m making money currently.
We are never so happy or so unhappy as we suppose. (Maxim 49)
François de La Rochefoucauld
There’s a long way down, and there’s a long way up.
I like the notion that there’s a metaphysical heaven and hell that reside below the depths and above the peaks of what the world can hold. Because there is the sacred, we cannot know true hell, and because there is the profane we cannot know true heaven.
The one way to alter this would be if one or the other were to vanish from the world, and neither seems like a likely outcome.
At the same time, we are limited by our history and our context in how we perceive the world around us.
I think that this comes up a lot in modern politics; we see the world around us and think that it’s really awful, but the whole situation is really not all that worse than what people have been used to a long time. In fact, we live in a blessed golden age compared to not just some but probably any of our predecessors.
There are examples I could give here that would be more politically charged than they need to be to make my point, so I’ll focus on the idea of nuclear war bringing an end to humanity.
First, the estimates are apocalyptic in their scope, but overlook the fact that a lot of the dangerous of a nuclear war are centralized in particular zones. We’d possibly see a return to a dark age, but probably not the end of the species.
This is not good, but when you look at it in context it’s immediately obvious that there are far worse things that have happened throughout history. Think of the plagues and wars that spanned continents, famines that took out massive portions of the population.
Humanity has always faced existential threats, and always will. They take on new forms because we’ve been fortunate enough to transcend the old ones, and our means of doing so have been imperfect and driven by base motivations.
We also overestimate our prosperity.
I don’t want to diminish our accomplishments, since they’re almost always a reflection of what happens when virtues are practiced consistently and sacrifices are made to improve our condition over a long period of time, but at the same time it is important to realize that our current state of being is one of a potential multitudes.
If we were serious with ourselves and pursued virtue with the same dogmatic obsession that we tend to pursue the things that we want, we would see outcomes we can only dream of.
Don’t obsess over the pain of the day. It is a reminder of imperfection, of virtue unfulfilled. Nothing more.
Don’t presume that there is something fundamentally different between now and the collected past.
I had a productive day, but kind of lost track near the end so we’re in another situation where we’ll have just one aphorism tonight.
I’ve been thinking a lot about speech and freedom. I’m a bit ashamed to say that I don’t like to say what I really think because I don’t want people to respond in a negative way.
It’s not that I’m particularly controversial. I’m fairly moderate in almost every way, and those few ways in which I am not are all derived from moral foundations.
Still, we live in scary times. There’s something that Jordan Peterson once said about the matter of freedom of speech: “It is not safe to speak, and it never will be. But the thing you’ve gotta keep in mind is that it’s even less safe not to speak. It’s a balance of risks: do you want to pay the price for being who you are and stating your mode of being in the world, or do you want to pay the price for being a bloody serf, and one that’s enslaved him-or-herself?”
I like to think that these explorations of aphorisms are my attempt to say what I think without stepping on toes, but even then I sometimes worry that I’m setting myself up for trouble down the road.
You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.
One of the things that I find interesting about the modern day is that speech has become something that is a measure of who we are.
We revere speech when it’s done in the ways we approve of.
When people say things we don’t like, they’re apostates.
It’s one of the few bipartisan issues, and the great thing is that there are always people who say things for which they should be condemned, which muddies the water quite handily.
The problem is that we wear our alliances on our sleeves and they have increasingly become our identity.
Of course, this isn’t to say that similar situations have never happened in history, though I shudder to recall some of the other instances (what comes to mind first in my knowledge of history is the late 1850’s in the US, which is not a good place to be drawing comparisons to), but I think that we’re in a very different place for a simple reason.
We’ve lost our foundations, so the superficial displays are all we’ve got.
One of the things that I think is leading people toward destruction and perdition is losing the ability to talk normally and freely.
I read a lot. That’s not a boast, it’s just a statement. I started this year with a goal of reading a book a week, and I’m running closer to two. I’m keeping my readings eclectic as much as possible to avoid getting into a rut.
One of the fields that I’ve spent a lot of time on is psychoanalysis.
I’m something of a devotee of Jung and the field of depth psychology, though I generally disagree with Jung on many of his final conclusions I think that he’s correct 90% of the time.
One of the things that we see in psychology is that you wind up with complexes that are a result of certain situations and phenomena within the psyche.
I think that a lot of our ills in our society are coming from this desire to eradicate evil not only in ourselves but also in others (in fact, it seems predominantly directed toward others and sometimes ignores the self).
It’s a flawed goal. The methods needed will themselves corrupt us, and that’s if we are correct in our assumptions. Our aim tends to be pretty bad.
What we wind up with are two complexes.
The first is projection of guilt. People who demand moral perfection in themselves but don’t reach their goals will often begin to see their flaws in other people. When one remains unaware of their tendency to do this, it becomes destructive.
The remedy to this is fairly simple. You need to learn to let go of other people.
I had to work out of this complex myself, and I think I often still see it function in my mind. I blame a genetic propensity, or maybe familial acculturation, because I see it a lot in my family (or, if you want to get spiritual, you could say it’s generational sin).
The things that helped me get over this were three-fold:
I realized I was pretty awful, objectively speaking. I’ve gotten better, but I’m still not what I’d consider good. I use the term “good” in a moral sense only on choice occasions, so I’ll extend this to say that I’m somewhere between mediocre and slightly-better-than-mediocre, depending on the day.
I realized that everyone has their own agency and responsibility, and if I turned my attention to others I’d never fix myself, and I definitely needed fixing first. There’s a biblical injunction about “looking first to the log in your own eye” before you help your neighbor with simple problems and judge them. As a judgmental personality type (to such a degree that personality types exist, which is a complex matter), I definitely needed to awaken to this.
I realized that anything I did to condemn other people only hurt them. The result: Forgive everything, forget what one can safely forget. I don’t have control over other people, and odds are they don’t really have control over themselves, because I don’t always have control over myself (through my own moral weakness). I let go.
The other complex that forms from a society that creates an untouchable class is that of the exile-in-society.
These are the people who become dangerous and bitter. They gravitate toward nihilism and destruction because there is no other path left.
And why should they have another path? They have given us our best, and we rejected it out of hand.
Of course, it’s not that we shouldn’t reject things. Rejection is the best method that society has to direct people, since it’s less coercive than the alternatives.
But the problem is that we reject people, rather than their actions or ideas.
We silence them without converting them, and do so at our peril.
Don’t silence those I don’t like.
Remember that judgement needs to come from the right spirit.
Cut back on caffeine today. Feeling a lot better (at least until the headaches start), but also really kinda drowsy and tired. Please forgive any silly spelling mistakes, because I’m typing with my eyes falling closed.
Upside: I’m not tempted to stay up late watching videos on YouTube.
I should just delete my YouTube account.
It is useless to close the gates against ideas; they overleap them.
Klemens von Metternich
One of the ideas of history is that there are times when certain ideas and expressions will be heard regardless of the individuals; a collective guides humanity in a certain direction and nobody can really claim to have enough control to stop changes or force things along a certain path.
I don’t know that I agree with it wholesale, because it’s a little too teleological for me to accept as a historical method, but it’s also true in a sense.
There’s a prevailing spirit of the times (not in the spiritual sense, but in the zeitgeist sense), and eventually it gets going along a certain path.
I was recently thinking about the movie V for Vendetta, and the notion that there’s something very archetypal about a rogue rising readily repelling regression (or, that is, people rebelling against tyrants).
If we buy into Jung’s notion of a collective unconscious, or the more traditional notion of a fundamental nature of humanity, it goes to follow that there are times when the conditions that people are exposed to will lead them to act in certain ways.
These expressions of human volition are not necessarily predictable, but they’re nonetheless reproducible (in a scientific sense, though it is practically impossible to set up the same events twice).
This is one of the functions of the historian: they look into the past and see how people act in certain conditions.
Ideas are the most powerful expression of the zeitgeist. Actions may speak louder than words, but both flow from ideas. Without an idea, there is no action and no speech.
The great problem of ideas is that they’re contagious. We are social animals, and we spend our time trying to figure out other peoples’ ideas. At best, this is just a primal instinct, and at worst this can be deliberate sabotage or usurpation. In either case, it’s a necessary process. If we don’t look into the other, we will never fully know the self. The eye sees not its own reflection.
If you have an idea, a great idea, it cannot remain silent. There’s a Christian children’s song, familiar to me from my youth, that has the following song:
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!”
I’ll spare the repetitive verses that have now come echoing back into my head, but the actual meaning here is quite sublime.
The way that cultures live and die is by ideas. The song I just mentioned carries a meme that encourages the spreading and sharing of ideas. Technically, it actually has a few separate memes in just the sentence above, but we won’t worry about that.
Von Metternich’s point is this:
An idea can penetrate anything when it’s given the chance to do so.
Give ideas the space to grow.
Look for the idea that is common and the one that is not.
Don’t think you can control the hearts of others. That’s hubris.
All rumors about a public figure are to be deemed untrue until he threatens to sue.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes
I would like to think that even if I didn’t understand anything Taleb has to say I could still appreciate his pithy style.
I probably understand very little of what Taleb is saying. That’s never stopped me before and I won’t let it stop me now.
One of the best things that any good thinker keeps at their disposal is Occam’s Razor. It’s a very simple rhetorical device, and it’s been simplified to the following:
The simplest solution tends to be right.
Typically, when I look at anything said by or about public figures, the rule is: “They’re saying it to get something.”
The veracity is not significant. The truth of the matter, especially in politics, is that people say things specifically for the point of what the saying gets them.
Whether or not words have any bearing on truth is insignificant.
There’s something that Jordan Peterson once said, and I’m too tired to look it up so I’m gonna just paraphrase it and butcher it:
If you say something that you know to be true, you’re pitting your wit against the reality of a complex universe.
One of the outcomes of this is that a mature person won’t give statements which are motivated lies (or at the very least motivated stretchings of the truth) more than a moment’s notice.
So I almost fell asleep in front of the TV not too long ago, and I had the news on. I can guarantee that 80%, maybe 90% of what I heard was basically just bloviation, and about 1% of it will have any impact on my life. Not even my daily life, mind you, but my life in general.
One of the nice things about reality being so complex is that a lot of the moving pieces aren’t really moving all that much in the grand scheme of things. This is untrue in the individual’s life, but very true in the sphere of politics.
To get back to the point, look for the things you can’t say, because those are the things people don’t want you to say.
If those things are true, run.
Say the uncomfortable truth.
The tongue is the weakest muscle. This isn’t because of a lack of physical power. It’s due to a lack of character.
Never open the mouth if the tongue tastes untruth.
This will be a short post today because I am trying out a new software for editing. I’m not 100% sold on it because I’ve lost a lot of writing because it doesn’t have any auto-saving functionality. The web plugin didn’t check if the page has refreshed between starting and finishing working, and once I clicked save and it did not.
So it wasn’t the best of days.
One often contradicts an opinion when what is uncongenial is really the tone in which it was conveyed.
This is an interesting truth.
What people don’t realize is that being unpleasant makes everything worse.
If the best project in the world required collaborating with someone truly distasteful, it would not be the best project in the world.
I almost never swear. There are few places where swearing adds proper emphasis, and many where it causes emotions to run ragged.
However, I think it comes down to a lot of things. Other than my tendency to whine (which is something I am better about), I try to be polite and helpful around people. There are limits to this, but I’ve found being pleasant and a little cooperative gets more results than you’d expect from being useful. The sacrifice required for this is minimal. Fifteen minutes a week earns interest.
There’s a connection to politics. I migrated across political affiliations before deciding just not to have any. The reason for this is simple: I cared more about victory than principle. Then I realized that everyone that I was looking up to was flawed. There are very few honest politicians. If you align with any faction, you align with a lot of snakes.
So I don’t. This change made life better.
I’ve found that many abrasive people hide issues. Whether it is emotional, social, or practical, something feeds that attitude. There’s room for lenience–people have bad days–but if there’s a habit, it’s a red flag.
Nice people suck as friends. You want people who are honest. No exaggeration.
Look for people who give productive criticism. They have a good outlook. They don’t flatter and don’t denigrate.
You may notice that these people are wrong. They will not judge your opinions. Return the favor. Life will get a lot better.
You may notice that you agree with people. See if they’re jerks. If they are, do the kind thing and let them know politely. Everyone wins. If they become hostile, it’s their loss, not yours. You can’t befriend everybody. If they improve, you’ve helped them and yourself.
There is one exception: blunt honesty. Telling the truth should be the priority. Just don’t put a negative spin on it. Sincerity to help, not to harm. Take your frustrations out on paper or canvas, not people. Know when to pull a punch.
My high school Latin teacher had a phrase he loved to repeat:
“What is this to eternity?”
Nothing that bothers you is worth burning other people for.
Be kind, not nice.
Don’t tear down what isn’t worthy of destruction.
Master frustration, release it without hurting anyone.
Time for another set of reflections on aphorisms. Today was more productive than yesterday, though there were a few setbacks. My new goal is to make tomorrow more productive than today.
At this point, who knows how much I’ll have improved by Friday?
Force is not a remedy.
Well, this is certainly a goldmine.
There’s three things that I think we should look at here:
The “force” of fitting things into the human mode.
The “force” of political systems.
The “force” of our own wills.
The first is probably the most dangerous. We have a way of contemplating the world that is human-centric. This is only natural, because it’s where our values lie, and I’m a proud human supporter, so I don’t think it’s immoral either.
The problem is that our world is not cultivated and improved like a bonsai garden. There’s a line in C.S. Lewis’ work about Aslan, who’s sort of a God/Christ figure that takes the form of a sapient lion.
“He’s not a tame lion.”
Barring the commentary about God, it’s also true about the universe. We’ve got our views and perspectives on the universe, but in the end we’re grasping at straws. To grasp is better than to abstain (and we may even by fluke get close to truth), but it is still mere grasping.
The force of political systems is something that’s become a big concern for me recently. I hate talking politics, but I feel like something has to be said.
The first step in making the world a better place is to remember that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and it’s not just a literal hell. We’re coming off of a century where the action of government created the closest thing one can imagine to the metaphysical state of Hell, and we’re pretty close to doing it again.
Everyone should take a step back and ask if their actions really work, abandoning all pretense of coercion or forcing others into compromises. It’s going to (perhaps literally, at least spiritually) kill us all if we don’t.
Last but not least is the force of our wills.
One of the concepts that haunted me in my youth and later came to be known by me in more practical, identifiable terms is the archetypal notion of the Dragonslayer.
The Dragonslayer is an archetype that is defined by tragic confrontation; it’s embodied by Beowulf, Captain Ahab, Coriolanus, and even Christ (in a sense, since the sacrifice of the cross came with spiritual torment as well and would have shattered Christ’s lessers).
It’s what a person looks like when they bring their full force of will to bear on a problem, and one of the things that I’ve noticed is that where we see the Dragonslayer we rarely see slain dragons, or at least not ones that were slain without great sacrifice.
The will itself doesn’t do anything. It’s the sacrifice that does. Trying to use force when surrender is called for can doom the Dragonslayer to destruction.
Don’t point at others’ things and say “Mine!”
Remember that it is sacrifice, not willful opposition, that makes the world go ’round.
Before knocking down the door, check if it’s locked.
There is nothing useless in nature; not even uselessness itself.
I’m not quite sure what the best way to approach this is, but I feel an affinity for Montaigne so I think I understand what he’s saying here.
Side-note: Apparently everyone who reads Montaigne thinks they have an affinity for Montaigne, so take this with a grain of salt.
The idea here is that there’s a purpose to everything, at least in terms of utility (though not necessarily cosmic destiny; that’s going too far).
One of the important things here is understanding that it’s a matter of perspective. You can look at things a bunch of different ways, and there are ways to view things that definitely have a negative impact (e.g. catastrophizing) or a positive ways.
It’s a call to see the silver lining in the clouds, basically.
Another point is to engage in some lateral thinking. We’re in an incredibly complex system and things work together in ways that are more complicated than the individual parts (and even the individual parts may have more to them than they at first seem to carry).
One of the things that seems counter-intuitive is that working less may wind up being more productive, because overworking oneself leads to burnout and fatigue.
Case in point: uselessness (at least in the right context) is useful. It’s good to delegate tasks to others as is fit and also to embrace a little time for rest and relaxation, so long as it does not become destructive to other opportunities and endeavors.
The secret is this: there is no secret. (Welcome to cliche-town!)
Really, though. It’s not about becoming obsessed over some grand secret, some alchemist-esque magnum opus that will lead you away from the rigors of everyday existence. It’s not about some grand third-eye awakening (though there’s also a mystery to everything that the strictly rational miss out on).
You just have to realize that you don’t know as much as you think you do, and broaden your search.
Never assume that you know what something is for.
There is a utility to be found in everything.
Adapt to what is around you, and remember that a change in context can be a change in everything.
Forced myself to write a little more today to make up for some previous short entries. I’ve now been doing this for basically a month straight, and it’s been really good. I think it’s helped me find my compass a little better than I had been.
In a conflict, the middle ground is least likely to be correct.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from the Bed of Procrustes
We falsely praise compromise as a virtue because we associate it with the ability to change one’s mind when better evidence is presented. This doesn’t necessarily mean that compromise is worthless, but I think people don’t understand what a good “compromise” really is.
It is difficult to actually realize an improvement by moderating one’s values. It is much easier to achieve such a thing by remaining true, but being realistic. To permit one’s values to be breached, even in part, will only lead to resentment.
Settling for a compromise only leads to two unhappy parties, rather than one.
Compromise leads to a decreased ability to adapt.
Instead of accepting the fact that one’s values may not actually improve the world, and that they should be reconsidered, instead the half measures are blamed rather than a flaw in their foundation. We can see this in basically every political issue in modern American politics. The compromise only creates a further point of contention, and both sides claim the success of their views and the failure of the other’s.
The solution to this is to concede rather than to compromise. Of course, one should never sacrifice one’s highest values lightly, but it may be better to have a short-term defeat then a long-term compromise that adds up to be equally bad. Don’t take a half-measure if the half-measure is not substantially better than having nothing.
It’s also worth noting that I’m not calling for extremism. Go only to the point at which desired effects are achieved, not further. Going too far for the sake of avoiding compromise is not any better than compromise.
Rather, one should fight vociferously to achieve their goals until those goals are achieved.
One should also think carefully before forcing others into a compromise that will breed resentment. This is a great way to amplify every ill, and should be avoided.
Identify what would satisfy.
Eat until you are no longer hungry, but do not continue past that point.
Never sacrifice a value for expedience.
For a man to achieve all that is demanded of him he must regard himself as greater than he is.
Goethe, as quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms
I value humility highly. I believe that being humble is a great way to guard against being wicked.
I do not think that Goethe (especially the Goethe of his later life) disagrees with this. However, being humble in and of itself is not necessarily a goal.
There are those who assert that the biblical injunction to be meek is more properly rendered as being able to use power, keeping it restrained. It is not a virtue to be harmless if one has no other choice.
So it is that being humble means recognizing one’s potential and capacities but not fooling oneself into believing that one is living up to their potential. Otherwise, it is just a lack of confidence.
I think that this is what Goethe is referring to when he says that someone must regard himself is greater than he is to achieve what is demanded of him. He must see that he has what we would call a heroic potential, I must be willing to struggle to bring that into being.
In my own life, I have been struck by the need do this. As someone who would happily think of himself as ordinary, I need to keep in mind that my potential is incredible and constantly move it forward. If you had told me ten years ago that I would be where I am today, I don’t think I would have believed you. At the same time, it was the striving that I did five and ten years ago that has gotten me where I am. Where I will be in five years is a direct result of what I do today.
It is necessary to blend many ideas of the self together. The past self, weaker and less experienced but also with more potential, the future self, who will reap the rewards of today’s labor, the current self, who must act in accordance with both the past and the future, and the hero, who represents the fusion of all three into one personage, must act as one.
This is a tremendous force, and it requires faith and will to bring it to bear.
Bring myself into balance with my past and my future.
Do those things which fall into the domain of the hero.
Live as if I could one day command millions.
No one lies so boldly as the man who is indignant.
Nietzsche, as quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms
People have a problematic relationship with the truth. Even those with the best intentions often have difficulty figuring out what it is, and emotions can complicate things. We generally consider sticking to the truth as a moral good, but it is a good which we are oft-tempted to subordinate to other purposes.
The most natural thing in the world is to defend self. Even someone who holds themselves in low esteem still grates at the offenses of anyone else.
We like to defend ourselves against criticism, even if it is deserved. In this ironic fashion, we impede our own growth.
I find out that I work as a freelance or independent game designer my first response to any criticism of something I have done is to come up with five thousand justifications as to why it is the best thing to do. Many of these justifications will be things that only occur to me once it was time to defend my work. While this is not such a grievous falsification, it shows this general mood well, and it also lets me to see if myself into thinking that I am better than I am.
A more honest response would be to internalize the sort of polite response that one gives a well meaning critic. To accept others’ feedback, and then immediately compare it to your own original motives, is to listen to what has been said. Otherwise, you get defensive and then you lie.
It is also worth noting that takes cultivated personal virtue to ward off other indignity without resorting to deception. Too often, we see people whose first response to criticism is to slander someone else. This shows weak character, and not much of a mind. This sounds harsh, but I will admit that I am of this tendency myself. I simply rarely get a chance to use it.
To remain honest under pressure is a sign of integrity, the ability to always act in accordance with one’s guiding values. Acquiring this integrity provides one with a bulwark against making expedient but destructive choices.
I’ve been listening to Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton: A Memoir (Amazon affiliate link), in which he recounts his time living under a fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini. One of the things that I find interesting is that he is able to discern how his critics are responding emotionally and falsely accusing him because he has disturbed their quietude, not because he has actually done the things that he is accused of (whether or not he had).
Act with honesty, even in the face of shame.
Don’t attack others because I have been hurt.
Never assume that I will be virtuous.
Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies.
Nietzsche, as quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms
This ties in, to a degree, with the subject of our previous aphorism. There is the potential for a great deal of self-contradiction in the human mind. One of the most powerful forces that can lead to this error is belief. As such, it is important to always examine whether a belief is being held in line with truth.
This is a difficult thing to do, as it requires earnest discussion with those who disagree with you. This makes it unpalatable to most people. It is much easier to pretend to debate, or to debate those who are in agreement with the conclusion you have already reached, than it is to enter at your own risk. It requires a respect for the person you are talking with which exceeds the strength of your own stubbornness.
I find that when I believe something I have a hard time rationally assessing the surrounding details. This isn’t a novel phenomenon, but it is something that is pretty common. There’s a really low-level breakdown of it in more detail than I care to go into here:
There are various reasons that people give for this tendency: an evolutionary biology perspective that says that you will believe what you believe in light of conflicting evidence because it is better to remain with your in-group, traditional abstract vices like hubris, psychoanalytical concepts like the ego and superego.
However, the truth is this:
Everyone is willing to die for their beliefs, they just might not realize that they’re the ones killing themselves.
This is why all major religions have a large tradition of faithful doubters; people who challenge the assertions of the faith but do not leave it. They’re necessary for the health of any large group. I’m fairly orthodox in my perspective, but I see the merit of constant questioning in all things.
Build my convictions on solid ground. Test the ground first.
Pay attention to emotion. It can be easily overlooked.
One of the things that makes or breaks any story are the characters involved in it, but creating great characters goes beyond individual personalities and delves into the experiences and social contexts of the world that they live in. In short, your characters should be opinionated.
Creating a living world is necessary for characters to be truly vibrant, and one of the best ways to do that is to look at current events and issues that characters are likely to engage themselves with. It is important to remember that in places where there is total agreement there is also little interest to be found: everyone agrees that the invasion of orcs is going to be problematic for the stability and sovereignty of the kingdom in the long run.