Date of reading: 15th-16th of May, 2019
Description: A masterpiece of philosophy told in a straight, easy-to-understand manner. Nietzsche, Kant, and developmental psychology all mixed in one, told through real-life stories by using the simplest possible language and many fucks. Was blown away by the book and I can’t recommend it enough.
Part 1: Hope
Chapter 1: The Uncomfortable Truth
Witold Pilecki was already a war hero before he decided to sneak into Auschwitz. As a young man, Pilecki had been a decorated officer in the Polish-Soviet War of 1918. He had kicked the Communists in the nuts before most people even knew what a pinko Commie bastard was. After the war, Pilecki moved to the Polish countryside, married a schoolteacher, and had two kids. He enjoyed riding horses and wearing fancy hats and smoking cigars. Life was simple and good.
That’s when Pilecki volunteered to sneak into Auschwitz. Initially, it was a rescue mission—he would allow himself to get arrested, and once there, he would organize with other Polish soldiers, coordinate a mutiny, and break out of the prison camp. It was a mission so suicidal that he might as well have asked his commander permission to drink a bucket of bleach. His superiors thought he was crazy, and told him as much
And soon, he was on his way to Auschwitz, the only man known ever to have voluntarily entered a Nazi concentration camp.
The first month Pilecki was there, a full third of the men in his barracks died of exhaustion or pneumonia or were shot. Regardless, by the end of the 1940, Pilecki, the comic book superhero motherfucker, had still somehow set up an espionage operation.
Oh, Pilecki—you titan, you champion, flying above the abyss—how did you manage to create an intelligence network by embedding messages in laundry baskets?
Polish guerrilla fighters into the wild. He sent his plans and reports to Warsaw. For months, he waited. For months, he survived. But then came the Jews. First, in buses. Then, packed in train cars. Soon, they were arriving by the tens of thousands, an undulating current of people floating in an ocean of death and despair. Stripped of all family possessions and dignity, they filed mechanically into the newly renovated “shower” barracks, where they were gassed and their bodies burned.
Pilecki’s reports to the outside became frantic. They’re murdering tens of thousands of people here each day. Mostly Jews. The death toll could potentially be in the millions. He pleaded with the Secret Polish Army to liberate the camp at once. He said if you can’t liberate the camp, then at least bomb it. For God’s sake, at least destroy the gas chambers. At least.
He made it look easy, of course. First, he faked illness and got himself admitted to the camp’s hospital. From there, he lied to the doctors about what work group he was supposed to return to, saying he had the night shift at the bakery, which was on the edge of camp, near the river. When the doctors discharged him, he headed to the bakery, where he proceeded to “work” until 2:00 a.m., when the last batch of bread finished baking. From there, it was just a matter of cutting the telephone wire, silently prying open the back door, changing into stolen civilian clothes without the SS guards noticing, sprinting to the river a mile away while being shot at, and then navigating his way back to civilization via the stars.
- Such a freaking badass
Stories such as Pilecki’s inspire us. They give us hope. They make us say, “Well, damn, things were way worse then, and that guy transcended it all. What have I done lately?”—which, in this couch-potato-pundit era of tweetstorms and outrage porn is probably what we should be asking ourselves. When we zoom out and get perspective, we realize that while heroes like Pilecki save the world, we swat at gnats and complain that the AC isn’t high enough.
To show us a possibility for a better world—not a better world we want to exist, but a better world we didn’t know could exist.
And this is why, as a culture, we are so desperate for a hero today: not because things are necessarily so bad, but because we’ve lost the clear “Why?” that drove previous generations
He was tortured for almost a year, so harshly and consistently that he told his wife that “Auschwitz was just a trifle” by comparison.
- what kind of horror was the communist torture when Auschwitz was just a trifle?
He concluded his statement with “I have tried to live my life such that in the hour of my death I would feel joy rather than fear.” And if that’s not the most hardcore thing you’ve ever heard, then I want some of what you’re
One day, you and everyone you love will die. And beyond a small group of people for an extremely brief period of time, little of what you say or do will ever matter. This is the Uncomfortable Truth of life. And everything you think or do is but an elaborate avoidance of it. We are inconsequential cosmic dust, bumping and milling about on a tiny blue speck. We imagine our own importance. We invent our purpose—we are nothing.
Enjoy your fucking coffee.
See, that’s your hope talking. That’s a story your mind spins to make it worth waking up in the morning: something needs to matter because without something mattering, then there’s no reason to go on living. And some form of simple altruism or a reduction in suffering is always our mind’s go-to for making it feel like it’s worth doing anything.
Without hope, your whole mental apparatus will stall out or starve. If we don’t believe there’s any hope that the future will be better than the present, that our lives will improve in some way, then we spiritually die. After all, if
there’s no hope of things ever being better, then why live—why do anything?
You tell yourself you’ll live in a way that will make your loved one proud. You tell yourself you will use your life to celebrate his. You tell yourself that this is an important and good thing.
When people prattle on about needing to find their “life’s purpose,” what they really mean is that it’s no longer clear to them what matters, what is a worthy use of their limited time here on earth6— in short, what to hope for. They are struggling to see what the before/after of their lives should be.
It’s difficult because there’s no way ever to know for sure if you’ve got it right.
This is also probably partly why religious people suffer from depression and commit suicide in far fewer numbers than nonreligious people: that practiced faith protects them from the Uncomfortable Truth
And not only is that not a bad thing, it’s the only thing.
If this all sounds nihilistic, please, don’t get the wrong idea. This book is not an argument for nihilism. It is one against nihilism—both the nihilism within us and the growing sense of nihilism that seems to emerge with the modern world.
Success for the sake of success. Pleasure for the sake of pleasure. Nihilism acknowledges no broader “Why?” It adheres to no great truth or cause. It’s a simple “Because it feels good.” And this, as we’ll see, is what is making everything seem so bad.
Basically, we are the safest and most prosperous humans in the history of the world, yet we are feeling more hopeless than ever before.
one startling fact: the wealthier and safer the place you live, the more likely you are to commit suicide
But these are statistics about the past, not the future. And that’s where hope inevitably must be found: in our visions of the future.
Because hope is not based on statistics.
Hope cares only about the problems that still need to be solved. Because the better the world gets, the more we have to lose. And the more we have to lose, the less we feel we have to hope for.
maintain hope, we need three things: a sense of control, a belief in the value of something, and a community.
Control” means we feel as though we’re in control of our own life, that we can affect our fate. “Values” means we find something important enough to work toward, something better, that’s worth striving for. And “community” means we are part of a group that values the same things we do and is working toward achieving those things. Without a community, we feel isolated, and our values cease to mean anything. Without values, nothing appears worth pursuing. And without control, we feel powerless to pursue anything. Lose any of the three, and you lose the other two. Lose any of the three, and you lose hope.
Chapter 2: Self-Control Is an Illusion
his home life wasn’t faring much better. Imagine if you took a deadbeat dad, stuffed him inside a couch potato, lightly glazed it with Family Feud reruns, and baked it at 350°F for twenty-four hours a day. That was Elliot’s new life.
A scam artist conned him out of much of his savings. A predatory woman seduced him, convinced him to elope, and then divorced him a year later, making off with half his assets.
Finally, in desperation, Elliot was referred to a famous neuroscientist named Antonio Damasio.
Then, Damasio did something to Elliot no other doctor had thought to do: he talked to him—like, really talked to him. He wanted to know everything: every mistake, every error, every regret. How had he lost his job, his family, his house, his savings? Take me through each decision, explain the thought process (or, in this case, the lack of a thought process).
what decisions he’d made, but he couldn’t explain the why of those decisions.
One day, one of Damasio’s colleagues printed up a bunch of grotesque and disturbing pictures. There were burn victims, gruesome murder scenes, war-torn cities, and starving children. He then showed Elliot the photos, one by one.
Elliot was completely indifferent. He felt nothing. And the fact that he didn’t care was so shocking that even he had to comment on how fucked up it was.
Attending his daughter’s piano recital evoked in him all the vibrancy and joyful fatherly pride of buying a new pair of socks. Losing a million dollars felt exactly the same to him as pumping gas, laundering his sheets, or watching Family Feud. He had become a walking, talking indifference machine. And without that ability to make value judgments, to determine better from worse, no matter how intelligent he was, Elliot had lost his self-control
- all the brains in the world mean jack shit if there is no emotion behind it to determine what is good for and what is bad for you. It’s not the what, it’s the why that counts
For centuries, psychologists and philosophers assumed that dampening or suppressing our emotions was the solution to all life’s problems. Yet, here was a man stripped of his emotions and empathy entirely, someone who had nothing but his intelligence and reasoning, and his life had quickly degenerated into a total clusterfuck.
- and that’s the problem with pure rationality
equally perplexing question: If Elliot was still as smart as a whip and could reason his way through problems presented to him, why did his work performance fall off a cliff? Why did his productivity morph into a raging dumpster fire?
Even if you don’t give a shit about your wife or your job anymore, you should be able to reason that it’s still important to maintain them, right? I mean, that’s what sociopaths eventually figure out. So, why couldn’t Elliot?
We’ve all had the experience of knowing what we should do yet failing to do it. We’ve all put off important tasks, ignored people we care about, and failed to act in our own self-interest. And usually when we fail to do the things we should, we assume it’s because we can’t sufficiently control our emotions. We’re too undisciplined or we lack knowledge.
To generate hope in our lives, we must first feel as though we have control over our lives. We must feel as though we’re following through on what we know is good and right; that we’re chasing after “something better.”
when asked about his drinking, the musician Tom Waits famously muttered, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” He appeared to be hammered when he said it. Oh, and he was on national television
discovered that if you took people with extreme anxiety, suicidal depression, or other mental health issues (aka crises of hope) and maimed their brain in just the right way, they’d chill the fuck out.
Egas Moniz would even win a Nobel Prize for his discovery.
1950s, people began to notice that—and this might sound crazy—drilling a hole through somebody’s face and scraping their brain the same way you clean ice off your windshield can produce a few negative side effects. And by “a few negative side effects,” I mean the patients became goddamn potatoes. While often “curing” patients of their extreme emotional afflictions, the procedure also left them with an inability to focus, make decisions, have careers, make long-term plans, or think abstractly about themselves. Essentially, they became mindlessly satisfied zombies. They became Elliots.
The Soviet Union, of all places, was the first country to outlaw the lobotomy. The Soviets declared the procedure “contrary to human principles” and claimed that it “turned an insane person into an idiot.”
He was one of those rare artists whose insight into the human condition could be startling.
There’s pretty much always been a tacit assumption that our emotions cause all our problems, and that our reason must swoop in to clean up the mess. This line of thinking goes all the way back to Socrates, who declared reason the root of all virtue. At the beginning of the Enlightenment, Descartes argued that our reason was separate from our animalistic desires and that it had to learn to.10 .11 control those desires. Kant sort of said the same thing. Freud, too, except there were a lot of penises involved.
discovered a way to do what, for more than two thousand years, philosophers had declared needed to be done: to grant reason dominion over the unruly passions, to help humanity finally exercise some damn control over itself.
(that we must use our rational mind to dominate our emotions)
Today, we usually judge people based on the Classic Assumption. Obese people are ridiculed and shamed because their obesity is seen as a failure of self-control. They know they should be thin, yet they continue to eat. Why? Something must be wrong with them, we assume. Smokers: same deal. Drug addicts receive the same treatment, of course, but often with the extra stigma of being defined as criminals.
Conversely, we celebrate people who beat their emotions into submission. We get collective hard-ons for athletes and businessmen and leaders who are ruthless and robotic in their efficiency. If a CEO sleeps under his desk and doesn’t see his kids for six weeks at a time—fuck yeah, that’s determination! See? Anyone can be successful!
The constant desire to change yourself then becomes its own sort of addiction: each cycle of “changing yourself” results in similar failures of self-control, therefore making you feel as though you need to “change yourself” all over again. Each cycle refuels you with the hope you’re looking for. Meanwhile, the Classic Assumption, the root of the problem, is never addressed or questioned, let alone thrown out.
And you can’t simply change yourself; nor, I would argue, should you always feel you must.
We want to believe that changing ourselves is as simple as knowing what to change. We want to believe that the ability to do something is as simple as deciding to do it and mustering enough willpower to get there. We want to believe ourselves to be the masters of our own destiny, capable of anything we can dream.
If the Classic Assumption were true, if life were as simple as learning to control one’s emotions and make decisions based on reason, then Elliot should have been an unstoppable badass, tirelessly industrious, and a ruthless decision maker. Similarly, if the Classic Assumption were true, lobotomies should be all the rage. We’d all be saving up for them as if they were boob jobs.
It turns out that our emotions are instrumental in our decision making and our actions. We just don’t always realize it.
14 Now, there are two travelers in your Consciousness Car: a Thinking Brain and a Feeling Brain. The Thinking Brain represents your conscious thoughts, your ability to make calculations, and your ability to reason through various options and express ideas through language. Your Feeling Brain represents your emotions, impulses, intuition, and instincts. While your Thinking Brain is calculating payment schedules on your credit card statement, your Feeling Brain wants to sell everything and run away to Tahiti.
This is the Classic Assumption, the belief that our reason is ultimately in control of our life and that we must train our emotions to sit the fuck down and shut up while the adult is driving. We then applaud this kidnapping and abuse of our emotions by congratulating ourselves on our self-control.
Meanwhile, Tom Waits was pretty much all Feeling Brain all the time, and he got paid copious amounts of money to be drunk on television talk shows. So, there’s that.
truth: the Feeling Brain is driving our Consciousness Car. And I don’t care how scientific you think you are or how many letters you have after your name, you’re one of us, bucko. You’re a crazy Feeling Brain–piloted meat robot just like the rest of us. Keep your bodily fluids to yourself, please.
Consciousness Car because, ultimately, we are moved to action only by emotion. That’s because action is emotion
While the Thinking Brain exists solely within the synaptic arrangements inside your skull, the Feeling Brain is the wisdom and stupidity of the entire body.
Emotion inspires action, and action inspires emotion. The two are inseparable.
simplest and most obvious answer to the timeless question, why don’t we do things we know we should do? Because we don’t feel like it.
problem of self-control is not a problem of information or discipline or reason but, rather, of emotion.
Self-control is an emotional problem; laziness is an emotional problem; procrastination is an emotional problem; underachievement is an emotional problem; impulsiveness is an emotional problem. This sucks. Because emotional problems are much harder to deal with than logical ones.
equations to help you calculate the monthly payments on your car loan. There are no equations to help you end a bad relationship.
intellectually understanding how to change your behavior doesn’t change your behavior. (Trust me, I’ve read like twelve books on nutrition and am still chomping on a burrito as I write this.)
- intellectually understanding how to change your behavior doesn’t change your behavior. Amen.
And it’s not because we don’t know better; it’s because we don’t feel better.
Emotional problems are irrational, meaning they cannot be reasoned with. And this brings us to even worse news: emotional problems can only have emotional solutions.
- Emotional problems can only have emotional solutions
If the Feeling Brain is our driver, then the Thinking Brain is the navigator. It has stacks of maps to reality that it has drawn and accumulated throughout life.
As Daniel Kahneman once put it, the Thinking Brain is “the supporting character who imagines herself to be the hero.”
The Feeling Brain generates the emotions that cause us to move into action, and the Thinking Brain suggests where to direct that action. The keyword here is suggests.
Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt compares the two brains to an elephant and its rider: the rider can gently steer and pull the elephant in a particular direction, but ultimately the elephant is going to go where it wants to go.
Consciousness Car, your Feeling Brain is like a verbally abusive boyfriend who refuses to pull over and ask for directions—he hates being told where to go and he will absolutely make you fucking miserable if you question his driving.
the Thinking Brain develops a tendency to draw maps explaining or justifying where the Feeling Brain has already decided it wants to go. If the Feeling Brain wants ice cream, instead of contradicting it with facts about processed sugar and excess calories, your Thinking Brain decides, “You know what, I worked hard today. I deserve some ice cream,”
In this way, the two brains develop a really unhealthy relationship that might resemble your mom and dad on road trips when you were a kid. The Thinking Brain makes shit up that the Feeling Brain wants to hear. And in return, the Feeling Brain promises not to careen off the side of the road, killing everyone.
- hahahahah funny, but yet sad and true
Thinking Brain fall into the trap of merely drawing the maps the Feeling Brain wants to follow. This is called the “self-serving bias,” and it’s the basis for pretty much everything awful about humanity.
Usually, the self-serving bias simply makes you prejudiced and a little bit self-centered. You assume that what feels right is right. You make snap judgments about people, places, groups, and ideas, many of which are unfair or even a little bit bigoted.
Feeling Brain is riled up, the Thinking Brain will succumb to the Feeling Brain’s fiery whims and dangerous driving. It will lose the ability to think for itself or to contradict the Feeling Brain’s conclusions.
This effectively turns your Consciousness Car into a Clown Car, with big, springy red wheels and circus music playing over a loudspeaker wherever you go.
Clown Cars are easily manipulated by whatever person or group makes them feel good consistently—whether it is a religious leader, politician, self-help guru, or sinister internet forum. A Clown Car will gladly steamroll other Consciousness Cars (i.e., other people) with its big, red rubbery tires because its Thinking Brain will justify this by saying they deserved it—they were evil, inferior, or part of some made-up problem.
toward fun—they’re all about drinking and fucking and partying. Others drive toward power. These are the most dangerous Clown Cars, as their Thinking Brains set to work justifying their abuse and subjugation of others through intellectual-sounding theories about economics, politics, race, genetics, gender, biology, history, and so on.
having an external target reassures it of its own moral superiority.
only through the destruction and subjugation of the outer world that its endless inner impulses can be satisfied.
Feeling Brain for so long that it develops a sort of Stockholm syndrome—it can’t imagine a life beyond pleasing and justifying the Feeling Brain.
With the Clown Car, there’s no independent thought and no ability to measure contradiction or switch beliefs or opinions. In a sense, the person with a Clown Car mind ceases to have an individual identity at all.
Initially, this feels profound to people because the Thinking Brain is often correcting the Feeling Brain, showing it where it took a wrong turn. So, silencing the Thinking Brain will feel extremely good for a short period. And people are always mistaking what feels good for what is good.
- what feels good isn’t the same as what is good. Ejaculating into a vagina feels good. But if the vagina isn’t your girlfriend’s, it’s not good.
metaphorical Clown Car is what inspired ancient philosophers to warn against the .20 overindulgence and worship of feelings. It was the fear of the Clown Car that inspired the Greeks and Romans to teach of the virtues and, later, the Christian Church to push a message of abstinence and self-denial.
classical philosophers and the Church had seen the destruction wrought by narcissistic and megalomaniacal men in power.
Feeling Brain was to deprive it, to give it as little oxygen as possible, thus preventing it from exploding and destroying the world around it.
Classic Assumption: that the only way to be a good person is through dominance of the Thinking Brain over the Feeling Brain, the championing of reason over emotion, duty over desire.
For most of history, the world has not been a pleasant place to live, and that was largely because everyone’s Feeling Brains 23 were running amok. The Classic Assumption was often the only thing that stood between civilization and total anarchy.
last couple of hundred years. People built trains and cars and invented central heating and stuff. Economic prosperity outran human impulses. People were no longer worried about not being able to eat or about being killed for insulting the king. Life was more comfortable and easier. People now had a ton of free time to sit and think and worry about all sorts of existential shit that they had never considered before.
And indeed, liberating the Feeling Brain from the Thinking Brain’s suppression was incredibly therapeutic for millions of people (and continues to be so today).
problem was that people began to go too far the other way. They went from recognizing and honoring their feelings to the other extreme of believing that their feelings were the only thing that mattered.
erroneously came to believe that feelings were all that mattered and that the Thinking Brain’s maps were merely inconvenient distractions from those feelings. Many of these people called this shutting off of their Thinking Brains in favor of their Feeling Brains “spiritual growth,” and convinced,25 themselves that being self-absorbed twats brought them closer to enlightenment when, really, they were indulging the old Feeling Brain. It was the same old Clown Car with a new, spiritual-looking26 paint job.
The overindulgence of emotion leads to a crisis of hope, but so does the repression of emotion
- both extremes fuck you up.
Feeling Brain numbs himself to the world around him. By rejecting his emotions, he rejects making value judgments, that is, deciding that one thing is better than another.
- this is what Jordan Peterson talks about
the person who denies his Thinking Brain becomes impulsive and selfish, warping reality to conform to his whims and fancies, which are then never satiated. His crisis of hope is that no matter how much he eats, drinks, dominates, or fucks, it will never be enough—it will never matter enough, it will never feel significant enough.
I’m being dramatic again. But I have to be, Thinking Brain. Otherwise, the Feeling Brain will get bored and close this book. Ever wonder why a page-turner is a page-turner? It’s not you turning those pages, idiot; it’s your Feeling Brain. It’s the anticipation and suspense; the joy of discovery and the satisfaction of resolution. Good writing is writing that is able to speak to and stimulate both brains at the same time.
- dammit, no wonder he spent so much time on this book and it is a page-turner and he even explained why. Fuck, he is awesome
integrating our brains into a cooperative, coordinated, unified whole.
then it’s self-acceptance that will save us—accepting our emotions and working with them rather than against them.
But listen, Thinking Brain, those things you hate so much about your Feeling Brain—the cravings, the impulses, the horrible decision making? You need to find a way to empathize with them. Because that’s the only language the Feeling Brain really understands: empathy. The Feeling Brain is a sensitive creature; it’s made out of your damn feelings, after all. I wish it weren’t true. I wish you could just show it a spreadsheet to make it understand—you know, like we understand. But you can’t.
Feeling Brain with facts and reason, start by asking how it’s feeling. Say something like “Hey, Feeling Brain, how do you feel about going to the gym today?” “How do you feel about selling everything and moving to Tahiti?”
Feeling Brain won’t respond with words. No, the Feeling Brain is too quick for words. Instead, it will respond with feelings. Yeah, I know that’s obvious, but sometimes you’re kind of a dumbass, Thinking Brain.
Whatever it is, you, as the Thinking Brain (aka, the responsible one in this cranium), need to remain nonjudgmental in the face of whatever feelings arise. Feeling lazy? That’s okay; we all feel lazy sometimes. Feeling self-loathing? Perhaps that’s an invitation to take the conversation further. The gym can wait.
let the Feeling Brain air out all its icky, twisted feelings. Just get them out into the open where they can breathe, because the more they breathe, the weaker their grip is on the steering wheel of your Consciousness Car
Feeling Brain, it’s time to appeal to it in a way it understands: through feelings. Maybe think about all the benefits of some desired new behavior. Maybe mention all the sexy, shiny, fun things at the desired destination.
how much you respect yourself when you’ve followed through on your goals, how happy you are when you live by your values, when you act as an example to the ones you love
you need to bargain with your Feeling Brain the way you’d bargain with a Moroccan rug seller: it needs to believe it’s getting a good deal, or else there’ll just be a lot of hand waving and shouting with no result. Maybe you agree to do something the Feeling Brain likes, as long as it does something it doesn’t like. Watch your favorite TV show, but only at the gym while you’re on the treadmill. Go out with friends, but only if you’ve paid your bills for the month.
Start easy. Remember, the Feeling Brain is highly sensitive, and completely unreasonable.
The Feeling Brain will respond with another emotion, either positive or negative. If the emotion is positive, the Feeling Brain will be willing to drive a little bit in that direction—but only a little bit!
But whatever you do, do not fight the Feeling Brain. That just makes things worse. For one, you won’t win, ever. The Feeling Brain is always driving. Second, fighting with the Feeling Brain about feeling bad will only cause the Feeling Brain to feel even worse. So, why would you do that? You were supposed to be the smart one, Thinking Brain.
Hell, years. This dialogue between the brains takes practice. For some, the practice will be recognizing what emotion the Feeling Brain is putting out there. Some people’s Thinking Brains have ignored their Feeling Brains for so long that it takes them a while to learn how to listen again.
This is what’s referred to in psychology as “emotional regulation,” and it’s basically learning how to put a bunch of fucking guardrails and One Way signs along your road of life to keep your.31 Feeling Brain from careening off a cliff.31 It’s hard work, but it’s arguably the only work.
Self-control is an illusion. It’s an illusion that occurs when both brains are aligned and pursuing the same course of action. It’s an illusion designed to give people hope. And when the Thinking Brain isn’t aligned with the Feeling
Brain, people feel powerless, and the world around them begins to feel hopeless.
But here’s what you do have, Thinking Brain. You may not have self-control, but you do have meaning control. This is your superpower. This is your gift. You get to control the meaning of your impulses and feelings.
because it’s the meaning that we ascribe to our feelings that can often alter how the Feeling Brain reacts to them.
by interpreting the shit the Feeling Brain slings at you in a profound and useful way. Instead of justifying and enslaving yourself to the impulses, challenge them and analyze them. Change their character and their shape
Actually, this whole “teach your Thinking Brain to decipher and cooperate with your Feeling Brain instead of judging him and thinking he’s an evil piece of shit” is the basis for CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) and a lot of other fun acronyms that clinical psychologists invented to make our lives better.
- hahha funny shit, but really good ones. Make your brain’s talk to each other, the thinking and the feeling brain. They need to be in constant communication
We fight our Feeling Brain, trying to beat it into submission. Or we do the opposite and follow it mindlessly. We ridicule ourselves and hide from the world because of the Classic Assumption. And in many ways, the affluence and connectivity of the modern world only make the pain of the illusion of self-control that much worse.
Antonio Damasio ended up writing a celebrated book called Descartes’ Error about his experiences with “Elliot,” and much of his other research. In it, he argues that the same way the Thinking Brain produces a logical, factual form of knowledge, the Feeling Brain develops its own type of value laden knowledge.
the Feeling Brain makes value judgments based on those same facts, data, and observations. The Feeling Brain decides what is good and what is bad; what is desirable and what is undesirable; and most important, what we deserve and what we don’t deserve.
The Thinking Brain is objective and factual. The Feeling Brain is subjective and relative…we can never translate one form of knowledge into the other
This is the real problem of hope. It’s rare that we don’t understand intellectually how to cut back on carbs, or wake
up earlier, or stop smoking. It’s that somewhere inside our Feeling Brain, we have decided that we don’t deserve to do those things, that we are unworthy of doing them.
This is the fundamental problem of self-control. This is the fundamental problem of hope—not an uneducated Thinking Brain, but an uneducated Feeling Brain, a Feeling Brain that has adopted and accepted poor value judgments about itself and the world.
resembles psychological healing: getting our values straight with ourselves so that we can get our values straight with the world.
- Getting our values straight with ourselves so that we can get our values straight with the world
the problem isn’t that we don’t know how not to get punched in the face. The problem is that, at some point, likely a long time ago, we got punched in face, and instead of punching back, we decided we deserved it.
Chapter 3: Newton’s Laws of Emotion
As it turned out, the boy was a kind of prodigy. By age eight, he could project the amount of feed required to sustain the sheep and pigs for the following season. By nine, he could rattle off the top of his head calculations for hectares of wheat, barley, and potatoes.
By age ten, Isaac had decided that farming was stupid and instead turned his attention to calculating the exact trajectory of the sun throughout the seasons. His uncle didn’t care about the exact trajectory of the sun because it wouldn’t put food on the table—at least not directly—so, again, he hit Isaac.
Isaac Newton’s early life was one hit after another. And with each blow, his Feeling Brain learned to feel an immutable truth: that there must be something inherently wrong with him. Why else would his parents have abandoned him? Why else would his peers ridicule him? What other explanation for his near-constant solitude? While his Thinking Brain occupied itself drawing fanciful graphs and charting the lunar eclipses, his Feeling Brain silently internalized the knowledge that there was something fundamentally broken about this small English boy from Lincolnshire. One day, he wrote in his school notebook, “I am a little fellow. Pale and weak. There is no room for me. Not in the house or in the bottom of hell. What can I do? What am I good for? I cannot but weep.
- This is really sad
This isn’t a huge leap of the imagination, as the victims of abuse are often the keenest observers of human nature.
And through his observations, Emo Newton realized something painful that we all kind of know,3 but that few of us ever want to admit: that people are liars, all of us. We lie constantly and habitually. We lie about important things and trifling things. And we usually don’t lie out of malice—rather, we lie to others because we’re in such a habit of lying to ourselves
NEWTON’S FIRST LAW OF EMOTION
For Every Action, There Is an Equal and Opposite Emotional Reaction
After all, the idea that I get to cause you pain with no justification, without your deserving pain, generates a sense of injustice between us.
the sense that one of us is inherently righteous, and the other is an inferior6 piece of shit. Pain causes moral gaps.
These are moral gaps. They are a sense that something wrong has just happened and you (or someone else) deserve to be made whole again. Wherever there is pain, there is always an inherent sense of superiority/inferiority. And there’s always pain.
When confronted with moral gaps, we develop overwhelming emotions toward equalization, or a return to moral equality. These desires for equalization take the form of a sense of deserving. Because I punched you, you feel I deserve to be punched back or punished in some way.
This whole sense of “deserving” something is a value judgment we make in the face of a moral gap. We decide that something is better than something else; that one person is more righteous or just than another; that one event is less desirable than another. Moral gaps are where our values are born
Hey, reader, that was totally unfair and, wow, I was way out of line. That will never, ever happen again. And as a symbol of my overwhelming regret and guilt—here, I baked you a cake. Oh, and here’s a hundred bucks. Enjoy.”
We’ve now “equalized.” The moral gap that was between us is gone. I’ve “made up” for it. You might even say we’re even—neither of us is a better or worse person than the other, neither of us deserves better or worse treatment than the other any longer. We’re operating on the same moral plane.
Now let’s imagine another scenario. This time, instead of punching you, let’s say I buy you a house. Yes, reader, I just bought you a fucking house.
open up another moral gap between us. But instead of an overwhelming feeling of wanting to equalize the pain I’ve caused you, you will instead experience an overwhelming feeling of wanting to equalize the joy I’ve created. You might hug me, say “thank you” a hundred times, give me a gift in return, or promise to babysit my cat from now until eternity
will open up a moral gap that you will never be able to surmount. You may acknowledge this by saying to me, “Thank you, but absolutely not. There’s no way for me ever to repay you.”
moral gap you will feel indebted to me, that you “owe me” something, that I deserve something good or that you need to “make it up” to me somehow.
You might even shed a tear of joy. (Aw, reader!)
- These small and funny sentences are one of the reasons I love Mark Manson’s work
It’s our natural psychological inclination to equalize across moral gaps, to reciprocate actions: positive for positive; negative for negative. The forces that impel us to fill those gaps are our emotions. In this sense, every action demands an equal and opposite emotional reaction. This is Newton’s First Law of Emotion.
If your country elects a bozo whom you can’t stand, you will feel a disconnect with your nation and government and even other citizens.
Equalization is present in every experience because the drive to equalize is emotion itself. Sadness is a feeling of powerlessness to make up for a perceived loss. Anger is the desire to equalize through force and aggression. Happiness is feeling liberated from pain, while guilt is the feeling that you deserve some pain that never arrived
such as the Babylonian king Hammurabi’s classic “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” or the biblical Golden Rule, “Do unto others what you would have done unto you.” In11 evolutionary biology, it’s known as “reciprocal altruism,”11 and in game theory, it’s called a “tit for tat” strategy.
First Law generates our sense of morality. It underlies our perceptions of fairness. It is the bedrock of every human culture. And . . . It is the operating system of the Feeling Brain.
Experiences that cause us pain create a moral gap within our minds, and our Feeling Brain deems those experiences inferior and undesirable. Experiences that relieve pain create a moral gap in the opposite direction, and our Feeling Brain deems those experiences superior and desirable.
One way to think about it is that the Thinking Brain makes lateral connections between events (sameness, contrasts, cause/effect, etc.), while the Feeling Brain makes hierarchical connections (better/worse, more desirable/less desirable, morally superior/morally inferior)
horizontally (how are these things related?), while our Feeling Brain thinks vertically (which of these things is better/worse?)… Thinking Brain decides how things are, and our Feeling Brain decides how things ought to be.
- horizontal brain ( how are things related) and our vertical brain (which of these things is better/worse)
Both brains have access to the value hierarchy. While the Feeling Brain determines what shelf something is on, the Thinking Brain is able to point out how certain experiences are connected and to suggest how the value hierarchy should be reorganized. This is essentially what “growth” is: reprioritizing one’s value hierarchy in an optimal way.
Really awesome DJs
Really good drugs
Then she did one of those volunteer abroad things, where young people spend a couple of months working with orphans in a Third World country and—well, that changed everything. The experience was so emotionally powerful that it completely rearranged her value hierarchy. Her hierarchy now looked something like this:
Saving children from unnecessary suffering
Her party friends looked at her and pitied her; they judged her by their values, which were her old values. Poor party girl has to go to bed and get up for work every morning. Poor party girl can’t stay out doing MDMA every weekend.
funny thing about value hierarchies: when they change, you don’t actually lose anything.
friend decided to start giving up the parties for her career, it’s that the parties stopped being fun. That’s because “fun” is the product of our value hierarchies.
It ceases to be fun or interesting to us. Therefore, there is no sense of loss, no sense of missing out when we stop doing it. On the contrary, we look back and wonder how we ever spent so much time caring about such a silly, trivial thing, why we wasted so much energy on issues and causes that didn’t matter. These pangs of regret or embarrassment are good; they signify growth
- the pangs of regret and embarrassment are good – they signify growth.
NEWTON’S SECOND LAW OF EMOTION
Our Self-Worth Equals the Sum of Our Emotions Over Time
Newton’s First Law of Emotion states that when someone (or something) causes us pain, a moral gap opens up and our Feeling Brain summons up icky emotions to motivate us to equalize. But what if that equalization never comes?
What if someone (or something) makes us feel awful, yet we are incapable of ever retaliating or reconciling? What if we feel powerless to do anything to equalize or “make things right?” What if my force field is just too powerful for you?
moral gaps persist for a long enough time, they normalize.
- this is excruciating to read. And it makes me wonder do I think about myself like this? Do I value myself by the amount of money I earn and can make? Sometimes I do because everything was always about money so I started to hate it. It was how much you earn is how much you are respected. The less you earn, the more of a shithead you are. But not anymore.
They lodge themselves into our value hierarchy. If someone hits us and we’re never able to hit him back, eventually our Feeling Brain will come to a startling conclusion: We deserve to be hit.
if we didn’t deserve it, we would have been able to equalize, right? The fact that we could not equalize means that there must be something inherently inferior about us, and/or something inherently superior about the person who hit us.
Because if equalization seems impossible, our Feeling Brain comes up with the next best thing: giving in, accepting defeat, judging itself to be inferior and of low value.
But if we’re not able to equalize and act on that righteousness, our Feeling Brain will”17 believe the only alternative explanation: “I am shit, and he is righteous.”
Newton’s Second Law of Emotion: How we come to value everything in life relative to ourselves is the sum of our emotions over time.
acceptance of ourselves as inherently inferior is often referred to as shame or low self-worth.
Life kicks you around a little bit, and you feel powerless to stop it. Therefore, your Feeling Brain concludes that you must deserve it.
If we’re given a bunch of stuff without earning it (participation trophies and grade inflation and gold medals for coming in ninth place), we (falsely) come to believe ourselves inherently superior to what we actually are. We therefore develop a deluded version of high self-worth, or, as it’s more commonly known, being an asshole.
contextual. If you were bullied for your geeky glasses and funny nose as a child, your Feeling Brain will “know” that you’re a dweeb, even if you grow up to be a flaming sexpot of hotness.
People who are raised in strict religious environments and are punished harshly for their sexual impulses often grow up with their Feeling Brain “knowing” that sex is wrong, even though their Thinking Brain has long worked out that sex is natural and totally awesome.
High and low self-worth appear different on the surface, but they are two sides of the same counterfeit coin.
than the rest of the world, the same thing is true: you’re imagining yourself as something special, something separate from the world.
deserves special treatment because of how great he is isn’t so different from someone who believes she deserves special treatment because of how shitty she is.
your obnoxious aunt who ruins Christmas every year.
And in California more recently, one disturbed gunman justified trying to shoot up a sorority house with the fact that while women hooked up with “inferior” men he was forced to remain a virgin.
if you’re being honest. The more insecure you are about something, the more you’ll fly back and forth between delusional feelings of superiority (“I’m the best!”) and delusional feelings of inferiority (“I’m garbage!”)
Ultimately, we must feel something about ourselves in order to feel something about the world, and without those feelings, it’s impossible for us to find hope
It’s only natural, then, that our immediate assumption is that we are at the center of everything—because we are at the center of everything we experience
Most people believe that they are of above-average intelligence and have an above-average ability at most things, especially when they are not and do not.
We will each, given the chance, delude ourselves into believing that what’s good for us is also good for everyone else.
When we screw up, we tend to assume it.26 was some happy accident But when someone else screws up, we immediately rush to judge that person’s character.
This is a human problem. Every institution will decay and corrupt itself. Each person, given more power and fewer
restraints, will predictably bend that power to suit himself. Every individual will blind herself to her own flaws while seeking out the glaring flaws of others. Welcome to Earth. Enjoy your stay
Feeling Brains warp reality in such a way so that we believe that our problems and pain are somehow special and unique in the world, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Because, let’s be real: People suck, and life is exceedingly difficult and unpredictable. Most of us are winging it as we go, if not completely lost.
And if we didn’t have some false belief in our own superiority (or inferiority), a deluded belief that we’re extraordinary at something, we’d line up to swan-dive off the nearest bridge.
Whether you believe you’re the best in the world or the worst in the world, one thing is also true: you are separate from the world. And it’s this separateness that ultimately perpetuates unnecessary suffering
NEWTON’S THIRD LAW OF EMOTION
Your Identity Will Stay Your Identity Until a New Experience Acts Against It
her Thinking Brain must pick one of two explanations. She can believe either that (a) all boys are shit or (b) she is shit
because, after all, she still has to live with herself. This choice isn’t made consciously, mind you. It just kind of happens.
shit. He’s pretty rad. And sweet. And cares. Like, really, truly cares.
How can he be true? After all, she knowsthat all boys are shit. It’s true. It must be true; she has the emotional scars to prove it. Sadly, the realization that this boy is not shit is too painful for girl’s Feeling Brain to handle, so she convinces herself that he is, indeed, shit. She nitpicks his tiniest flaws.
So, she does. She runs. And she runs in the most horrible of ways. She leaves him for another boy. After all, all boys are shit. So, what’s trading one piece of shit for another? It means nothing. Boy is heartbroken. Boy despairs. The pain lingers for years and morphs into shame. And this shame puts the boy in a tough position. Because now his Thinking Brain must make a choice: either (a) all girls are shit or (b) he is shit.
- this is the perpetual cycle of shit. And it’s a true one!
Our values aren’t just collections of feelings. Our values are stories.
Our narratives are sticky, clinging to our minds and hanging onto our identities like tight, wet clothes. We carry them around with us and define ourselves by them. We trade narratives with others, looking for people whose narratives match our own. We call these people friends, allies, good people. And those who carry narratives that contradict our own? We call them evil.
narratives about ourselves and the world are fundamentally about (a) something or someone’s value and (b) whether that something/someone deserves that value. All narratives are constructed in this way:
Bad thing happens to person/thing, and he/she/it doesn’t deserve it.
Good thing happens to person/thing, and he/she/it doesn’t deserve it.
Good thing happens to person/thing, and he/she/it deserves it.
Bad thing happens to person/thing, and he/she/it deserves it.
They determine how we feel about ourselves—whether we deserve a good life or not, whether we deserve to be loved or not, whether we deserve success or not—and they define what we know and understand about ourselves.
network of value-based narratives is our identity.
But here’s the funny thing: when you adopt these little narratives as your identity, you protect them and react emotionally to them as though they were an inherent part of you. The same way that getting punched will cause a violent emotional reaction, someone coming up and saying you’re a shitty boat captain will produce a similarly negative emotional reaction, because we react to protect the metaphysical body just as we protect the physical.
- if someone came up to me and told me I’m a shitty writer. Same as punching me in the face
You are close with your mom growing up, and that relationship brings you hope, so you construct a story in your mind that comes to partly define you, just as your thick hair or your brown eyes or your creepy toenails define you. Your mom is a huge part of your life. Your mom is an amazing woman. You owe everything to your mom . . . and other shit people say at the Academy Awards.
and you absolutely lose your mind and start breaking things. Then that experience creates a new narrative and new value in your mind. You, you decide, have anger issues . . . especially around your mother. And now that becomes an inherent part of your identity.
And on and on it goes.
It’s not just the bullying from when you were in grade school that fucks you up. It’s the bullying plus all the self-loathing and narcissism you brought to decades worth of future relationships, causing them all to fail, that adds up
Your early experiences become your core values, and if your core values are fucked up, they create a domino effect of suckage that extends through the years, infecting experiences large and small with their toxicity
Dad walks out, and your three-year-old Feeling Brain decides that you were never lovable in the first place. Mom abandons you for some rich new husband, and you decide that intimacy doesn’t exist, that no one can ever be trusted. .34 No wonder Newton was such a cranky loner And the worst thing is, the longer we’ve held onto these narratives, the less aware we are that we have them. They become the background noise of our thoughts, the interior decoration of our minds.
Despite being arbitrary and completely made up, they seem not only natural but inevitable
The only way to change our values is to have experiences contrary to our values.
- What was AIESEC internship for me
This is why there is no such thing as change without pain, no growth without discomfort. It’s why it is impossible to become someone new without first grieving the loss of who you used to be.
- It is impossible to become someone new without first grieving the loss of who you used to be
when we lose our values, we grieve the death of those defining narratives as though we’ve lost a part of ourselves—because we have lost a part of ourselves.
These are all defining, fundamental parts of you. And when they are torn away from you, the hope they offered your life is also torn away, leaving you exposed, once again, to the Uncomfortable Truth.
The first is to reexamine the experiences of your past and rewrite the narratives around them. Wait, did he punch me because I’m an awful person; or is he the awful person?
- It’s like my Life-Path Crucible workshop
Often, with time, we realize that what we used to believe was important about the world actually isn’t. Other times, we extend the story to get a clearer view of our self-worth—oh, she left me because some asshole left her and she felt ashamed and unworthy around intimacy—and suddenly, that breakup is easier to swallow.
begin writing the narratives of your future self, to envision what life would be like if you had certain values or possessed a certain identity
we allow our Feeling Brain to try on those values for size, to see what they feel like before we make the final purchase.
Real change would entail fantasizing what not wanting yachts in the first place would feel like.
The Feeling Brain doesn’t know the difference between past, present, and future; that’s the Thinking Brain’s domain
- that’s why life path crucible works. The brain can’t distingish when that shit is happening
Other times, you can just tell your Feeling Brain stories that might or might not be true but that feel true. Jocko Willink, former Navy SEAL and author, writes in his book Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual that he wakes up at four thirty every morning because he imagines his enemy is somewhere out there in the world.
before his enemy, that gives him an advantage. Willink developed this narrative for himself while serving in the Iraq War, where there were actual enemies who did want to kill him. But he has maintained that narrative since returning to civilian life.
Objectively, the narrative Willink creates for himself makes no fucking sense. Enemy? Where? But figuratively, emotionally, it is incredibly powerful.
Willink up every damn morning before some of us are done drinking from the night before. That is the illusion of self-control.
Without these narratives—without developing a clear vision of the future we desire, of the values we want to adopt, of the identities we want to shed or step into—we are forever doomed to repeat the failures of our past pain. The stories of our past define our identity
“There is an emotional gravity to our values: we attract those into our orbit who value the same things we do, and instinctively repel, as if by reverse magnetism, those whose values are contrary to our own
“Large swaths of people coalesce together, forming tribes and communities based on the similar evaluations of their emotional histories. You, sir, may value science. I, too, value science. Therefore, there is an emotional magnetism between us. Our values attract one another and cause us to fall perpetually into each other’s orbit, in a metaphysical dance of friendship. Our values align, and our cause becomes one!
Puritanism and another in Anglicanism. They are inhabitants of two closely related yet different gravities. This causes each to disrupt the other’s orbit, cause tension within the value hierarchies, challenge the other’s identity, and thus generate negative emotions that will push them apart and put their causes at odds
At this, Isaac took out another page and drew a series of circles of differing sizes. “The stronger we hold a value,” he wrote, “that is, the stronger we determine something as superior or inferior than all else, the stronger its gravity, the tighter its orbit, and the more difficult it is for outside forces to disrupt its path and purpose.
“Our strongest values therefore demand either the affinity or the antipathy of others—the more people there are who share some value, the more those people begin to congeal and organize themselves into a single, coherent body around that value: scientists with scientists, clergy with clergy. People who love the same thing love each other. People who hate the same thing also love each other. And people who love or hate different things hate each other.
“Now, you may be saying, ‘But, my good man, Newton! Don’t most people value the same things? Don’t most people simply want a bit of bread and a safe place to sleep at night?’ And to that, I say you are correct, my friend!
“All peoples are more the same than they are different.
But those slight differences generate emotion, and emotion generates a sense of importance. Therefore, we come to perceive our differences as disproportionately more important than our similarities. And this is the true tragedy of man. That we are doomed to perpetual conflict over the slight difference
theory of emotional gravitation, the coherence and attraction of like values, explains the history of peoples
Another region may overflow with food and wine, and its people would come to value hospitality, festivities, and family.
Another region may be arid and a difficult place to live, but with wide-open vistas connecting it to many distant lands, its people would come to value authority, strong military leadership, and absolute dominion.
“And just as the individual protects her identity through beliefs, rationalizations, and biases, communities, tribes, and nations protect their identities the same way
Eventually, these nations will bump up against each other, and the contradictory values will collide.
“Most people do not value themselves above their cultural and group values. Therefore, many people are willing to die for their highest values—for their family, their loved ones, their nation, their god. And because of this willingness to die for their values, these collisions of culture will inevitably result in war.
The country or people who have adopted values that maximize the resources and hopes of its peoples the best will inevitably become the victor.
conquers neighboring peoples, the more the people of that conquering nation come to feel that they deserve to dominate their fellow men, and the more they will see their nation’s values as the true guiding lights of humanity.
Eventually, when those values cease to be effective, they will lose out to the values of another, newer nation, and history will continue on, a new era unfolding. “This, I declare, is the form of human progress.”
And in that quiet, dark moment, Isaac Newton looked at the circles on the page and had an upsetting realization: he had no orbit. Through years of trauma and social failure, he had voluntarily separated himself from everything and everyone, like a lone star flung on its own trajectory, unobstructed and uninfluenced by the gravitational pull of any system.
The questions both Newtons answered that summer of 1666 had perplexed philosophers and scientists for generations. Yet, in a matter of a few months, this cantankerous, antisocial twenty-three year- old had uncovered the mystery, had cracked the code. And there, on the frontiers of intellectual discovery, he tossed his findings aside to a musty and forgotten corner of a cramped study, in a remote backwater village a day’s ride north of London.
How to Make All Your Dreams Come True
After all, I have demonstrated an uncanny knowledge of your pain, a backdoor entrance to your secret truth, a deep vein traveling through your heart. You then realize that in between all my big white teeth and shouty words, I’ve spoken to you: I was once just as fucked as you . . . and I found my way out. Come with me.
HOW TO START YOUR OWN RELIGION
An Introduction to a Proven System That Will Help You Achieve Everlasting Bliss and Eternal Salvation!
(OR YOUR MONEY BACK)
In this so-simple-anyone-can-do-it six-step program
Religions are a beautiful thing. When you get enough people together with the same values, they behave in ways they never would when alone. Their hope amplifies in a sort of network effect, and the social validation of being part of a group hijacks their Thinking Brains and lets their Feeling Brains run wild
This is hugely satisfying psychologically. People just lose their shit! And best of all, they become highly suggestible. Paradoxically, it’s only in a group environment that the individual has no control, that he gains the perception of perfect self-control.
HOW TO START YOUR OWN RELIGION
Step One: Sell Hope to the Hopeless
Now, I don’t consider myself the most patriotic person by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems to me that anyone holding such a sign in broad daylight immediately becomes a highly punchable person.
The students were part of the LaRouche Youth Movement, a group started by the far-left ideologue Lyndon LaRouche in New Hampshire.
And when I came upon them, it took me all of ten seconds to figure out what they actually were: a religion.
Don’t worry right-wing friends, years later, they would draw the same Hitler mustaches and make the same claims
about Obama—if that makes you feel any better. (It shouldn’t.)
Yes, young one, you thought it was Mom and Dad’s fault, but it’s not their fault. Nope. And I know you thought it was your shitty professors and overpriced college’s fault. Nope. Not theirs, either. You probably even thought it was the government’s fault. Close, but still no. See, it’s the system’s fault, that grand, vague entity you’ve always heard about.
Remember that in order to feel hope, we need to feel there’s a better future out there (values); we need to feel as though we are capable of getting to that better future (self-control); and we need to find other people who share our values and support our efforts (community).
- how to start a relig… I mean, spark a movement
In addition, young adults struggle with self-control.5 For the first time in their lives, they don’t have some authority figure watching over them 24/7. On the one hand, this can be liberating, exciting. On the other, they are now responsible for their own decisions. And if they kind of suck at getting themselves out of bed on time, going to their classes or a job, and studying enough, it’s tough to admit that there’s no one to blame but themselves. And finally, young people are particularly preoccupied with finding and fitting into a community.
People like Lyndon LaRouche capitalize on lost and aimless young people. LaRouche gave them a convoluted political explanation to justify how disaffected they felt. He gave them a sense of control and empowerment by outlining a way (supposedly) to change the world. And finally, he gave them a community where they “fit in” and know who they are.
Our “discussion” went on like this for another few minutes. Back then, I didn’t know any better. I still thought stuff like this was about reason and evidence, not feelings and values. And values cannot be changed through reason, only through experience.
- values can’t be changed through reason, only through experience. This is what it means to change the world
I looked back and replied with a Carl Sagan quote I had once read on an internet forum: “I think your mind is so open your brain fell out!
We are the most impressionable when things are at their worst. When our life is falling apart, it signifies that our values have failed us, and we’re grasping in the dark for new values to replace them.
There’s a reason that all the major religions in the world have a history of sending missionaries to the poorest and most destitute corners of the globe: starving people will believe anything if it will keep them fed. For your new religion, it’s best to start preaching your message to people whose lives suck the most: the poor, the outcasts, the abused and forgotten. You know, people who sit on Facebook all day.
Jim Jones built his following by recruiting the homeless and marginalized minorities with a socialist message minced with his own (demented) take on Christianity. Hell, what am I saying? Jesus.14 Christ did the same damn thing.14 Buddha, too. Moses—you get the idea. Religious leaders preach to the poor and downtrodden and enslaved, telling them that they deserve the kingdom of heaven— basically, an open “fuck you” to the corrupt elites of the day. It’s a message that’s easy to get behind.
But to have hope, people need to feel that they are a part of some greater movement, that they are about to join the winning side of history. And, for that, you must give them faith.
HOW TO START YOUR OWN RELIGION
Step Two: Choose Your Faith
Without faith, there is no hope.
faith, but having faith is inevitable. Evidence and science are based on past experience. Hope is based on future experience.
You have faith that living longer is worth it, so you strive to stay safe and healthy. You have faith that love matters, that your job matters, that any of this matters.”17 So, there’s no such thing as an atheist. Well, sorta. Depends what you mean by “atheist. My point is that we must all believe, on faith, that something is important. Even if you’re a nihilist, you are believing, on faith, that nothing is more important than anything else.
Whatever our Feeling Brain adopts as its highest value, this tippy top of our value hierarchy becomes the lens through which we interpret all other values. Let’s call this highest value the “God Value.”
Other people’s God Value is love. They view all other values through the prism of love—they’re against conflict in all its forms, they’re against anything that separates or divides others. Obviously, many people adopt Jesus Christ, or Muhammad, or the Buddha, as their God Value. They then interpret everything they experience through the prism of that spiritual leader’s teachings. Some people’s God Value is themselves—or, rather, their own pleasure and empowerment. This .21is narcissism: the religion of self-aggrandizement. These people place their faith in their own
superiority and deservedness. Other people’s God Value is another person. This is often called “codependence.
After all, the narcissist’s God Value is himself, and the codependent’s God Value is fixing and saving the narcissist. So, it kind of works out in a really sick and fucked-up way. (But not really.)
—whatever it is, it is a faith-based value that this one thing will produce the best future reality, and therefore gives the most hope.
It’s around now that some of the more scientifically minded readers start raising their hands and pointing out that there are these things called facts and there is ample evidence to demonstrate that facts exist, and we don’t need to have faith to know that some things are real. Fair enough. But here’s the thing about evidence: it changes nothing. Evidence belongs to the Thinking Brain, whereas values are decided by the Feeling Brain. You cannot verify values. They are, by definition, subjective and arbitrary. Therefore, you can argue about facts until you’re blue in the face, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter—people interpret the significance of their experiences through their values.
- People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care
meteorite hit a town and killed half the people, the über-traditional religious person would look at the event and say that it happened because the town was full of sinners. The atheist would look at it and say that it was proof there is no God (another faith-based belief, by the way), as how could a benevolent, all-powerful being let such an awful thing happen? A hedonist would look at it and decide that it was even more reason to party, since we could all die at any moment. And a capitalist would look at it and start thinking about how to invest in meteorite-defense technologies.
- Same same, but different
Evidence serves the interests of the God Value, not the other way around. The only loophole to this arrangement is when evidence itself becomes your God Value.
more commonly known as “science,” and it’s arguably the best thing we’ve ever done as a species. But we’ll get to science and its ramifications in the next chapter.
Therefore, all hope (and therefore, all religions) are also based on faith, faith that something can be important and valuable and right despite the fact that there will never be a way to verify it beyond all doubt.
- irrational belief beyond doubt – because it’s subjective and unverifiable, it can’t be in the domain of science. It simply isn’t because it’s not scientifically possible to (dis)prove it.
three types of religions, each type based on a different kind of God Value:
Spiritual religions. Spiritual religions draw hope from supernatural beliefs, or belief in things that exist outside the physical or material realm. These religions look for a better future outside this world and this life. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, animism, and Greek mythology are examples of spiritual religions.
Ideological religions. Ideological religions draw hope from the natural world. They look for salvation and growth and develop faith based beliefs regarding this world and this life. Examples include capitalism, communism, environmentalism, liberalism, fascism, and libertarianism.
Interpersonal religions. Interpersonal religions draw hope from other people in our lives. Examples of interpersonal religions include romantic love, children, sports heroes, political leaders, and celebrities.
Spiritual religions are high risk/high reward.
Ideological religions play the religion formation game on “Normal Difficulty.” These religions take a lot of work and effort to create, but they’re fairly common. But because they’re so common, they run into a lot of competition for people’s hopes. They are often described as cultural “trends,” and indeed, few of them survive more than a few years or decades. Only the best last through multiple centuries.
interpersonal religions are playing the religion formation game on “Easy” mode.
completely surrender ourselves and our self-worth to another individual
of shit that you have to suffer through before you can ever grow out of it.
This preoccupation with the next life developed because for most of human history, everything was completely fucked and 99 percent of the population had no hope of material or physical improvement in their lives. If you think things are bad today, just think about the plagues that wiped24 out a third of the population on an entire continent, or the wars that involved selling tens of25 thousands of children into slavery. In fact, things were so bad in the old days that the only way to keep everyone sane was by promising them hope in an afterlife
because it gave the masses a guarantee that their suffering was meaningful, that God was watching, and that they would be duly rewarded.
This is because supernatural beliefs can never be proven or disproven. Therefore, once a supernatural belief gets lodged as someone’s God Value, it’s nearly impossible to dislodge it.
Ideological religions generate hope by constructing networks of beliefs that certain actions will produce better outcomes in this life only if they are adopted by the population at large. Ideologies are usually “isms”: libertarianism, nationalism, materialism, racism, sexism, veganism, communism, capitalism, socialism, fascism, cynicism, skepticism, etc.
You can theoretically test to see whether a central bank makes a financial system more or less stable, whether democracy makes society fairer, whether education makes people hack one another to pieces less often, but at a certain point, most ideologies still rely on faith. There are two reasons for this.
Humanity is so vast and complex that our brains have trouble taking it all in. There are too many variables. So, our Thinking Brains inevitably take short-cuts to maintain some otherwise shitty beliefs. Bad ideologies such as racism or sexism persist due to ignorance far more than malice.
In fact, a lot of what everyone is losing their shit about today is the fact that traditionalist, nationalist, and populist ideologies are winning political power across much of the world, and these ideologies are seeking to dismantle
much of the work accomplished by the neoliberal, globalist, feminist, and environmentalist ideologies of the late twentieth century.
Every Sunday, millions of people come together to stare at an empty green field. The field has white lines painted on it. These millions of people have all agreed to believe (on faith) that these lines mean something important. Then, dozens of strong men (or women) plod onto the field, line up in seemingly arbitrary formations, and throw (or kick) around a piece of leather. Depending on where this piece of leather goes and when, one group of people cheers, and the other group of people gets really upset.
- hahaha an amazing take on NFL through the lens and style of Yuval Harari!
Hit the ball here, and you’re a hero! Kick the ball there, and you’re a loser!
Because, as we’ll see, religion is all about emotional attachment. And the best way to build those attachments is to get people to stop thinking critically.
HOW TO START YOUR OWN RELIGION
Step Three: Preemptively Invalidate All Criticism or Outside Questioning
The trick is to adopt a belief that creates a self-reinforcing us-versus-them dichotomy—that is, create a perception of “us” versus “them” in such a way that anyone who criticizes or questions “us” immediately becomes a “them.”
If you don’t support the war, then you support the terrorists.
God created science to test our faith in God. Therefore, anything that contradicts the Bible is merely a test of our faith in God.
Anyone who criticizes feminism is sexist.
Anyone who criticizes capitalism is a Communist.
Anyone who criticizes the president is a traitor.
Anyone who thinks Kobe Bryant was better than Michael Jordan doesn’t understand basketball; therefore, any opinion they hold about basketball is invalid.
These false us-versus-them dichotomies have the added benefit of always presenting the group with a common enemy. Common enemies are hugely important.
Also, it’s not enough to tell your followers that nonbelievers are bad. You must demonize them. They are the downfall of everything that is good and holy. They ruin everything. They are fucking evil.
The more fear, the better. Lie a little bit if you have to—remember, people instinctually want to feel as though they’re fighting a crusade, to believe that they are the holy warriors of justice and truth and salvation. So, say whatever you need to say. Get them to feel that self-righteousness to keep the religion going. This is where conspiracy theories come in handy. It’s not just that vaccines cause autism; it’s that the medical and pharmaceutical industries are getting rich by destroying everyone’s families. It’s not just that pro-choicers have a different view on the biological status of a fetus; it’s that they’re soldiers sent by Satan to destroy good Christian families. It’s not just that climate change is a hoax; it’s that it’ a hoax created by the Chinese government to slow the U.S. economy and take over the world.
HOW TO START YOUR OWN RELIGION
Step Four: Ritual Sacrifice for Dummies—So Easy, Anyone Can Do It!
Growing up in Texas, Jesus and football were the only gods that mattered. And while I learned to enjoy football despite being terrible at it, the whole Jesus thing never made a lot of sense to me. Jesus was alive, but then he died, but then he was alive again, then he died again. And he was a man, but he was also God, and now he’s a kind of man-god-spirit-thing that loves everyone eternally (except maybe gay people, depending on whom you ask). It all struck me as kind of arbitrary, and I felt—how do I say this?—like people were just making shit up.
I could get behind most of the moral teachings of Christ: be nice and love your neighbor and all that stuff. Youth groups were actually a ton of fun. (Jesus camp is maybe the most underrated summer activity of all time.) And the church usually had free cookies hiding somewhere, in some room, every Sunday morning, which, when you’re a kid, is exciting
I remember asking my dad, “If God already knows everything and loves me no matter what, why does he care what I wear on Sundays?” Dad would shush me. “But Dad, if God will forgive us our sins no matter what, why not just lie and cheat and steal all the time?” Another shush. “But, Dad—”
school before my balls had completely dropped, and a couple of years later, I struggled my way through my first Nietzsche book. From there, it was all downhill. I started acting out. I bailed on Sunday school to go smoke cigarettes in the adjoining parking lot. It was over; I was a little heathen.
questioning and skepticism eventually got so bad that my Sunday school teacher took me aside one morning and made me a deal: he’d give me perfect marks in our confirmation class and tell my parents I was a model student as long as I stopped questioning the logical inconsistencies of the Bible in front of all the other kids. I agreed.
- how to bribe a kid
Now that I’m older, though, I get the whole dress-up-for-Jesus thing. Despite what I thought at the time, it wasn’t about my parents (or God) torturing me. It was about respect. And not to God, but to the community, to the religion. Dressing up on Sunday is about virtue-signaling to the other churchgoers, “This Jesus stuff is serious business.” It’s part of the us-versus-them dynamic. It signals that you’re an “us” and that you should be treated as such.
The robe, a visual cue signaling status and importance, is part of the ritual thing. And we need rituals because rituals make our values tangible.
—in short, to give them rituals. Rituals are visual and experiential representations of what we deem important. That’s why every good religion has them.
the Feeling Brain’s value hierarchy, you need some easily repeatable yet totally unique and identifiable action for people to perform. That’s where the rituals come in.
repeated over a long period of time, which only lends them an even greater sense of importance—after all, it’s not often you get to do the exact same thing that people five hundred years ago did. That’s some heavy shit. Rituals are also symbolic.
Countries create rituals around their founding or around wars they’ve won (or lost). We march in parades and wave flags and shoot off fireworks and there’s a shared sense that it all signifies something valuable and worthwhile.
couples create their own little rituals and habits, their inside jokes, all to reaffirm their relationship’s value, their own private interpersonal religion. Rituals connect us with the past. They connect us to our values. And they affirm who we are.
But the real reason for ritual sacrifice was deeper than that. Humans are actually horribly guilt-ridden creatures. Let’s say you find a wallet with a hundred dollars in it but no ID or any other info about whom it belongs to. No one is around, and you have no clue how to find the owner, so you keep it. Newton’s First Law of Emotion states that every action produces an equal and opposite emotional reaction. In this case, something good happens to you
without your deserving it. Cue guilt.
You exist. You didn’t do anything to deserve existing. You don’t even know why you started existing; you just did. Boom—you have a life. And you have no idea where it came from or why. If you believe God gave it to you, then, holy shit! Do you owe Him big time! But even if you don’t believe in God—damn, you’re blessed with life! What did you ever do to deserve that? How can you live in such a way as to make your life worthwhile? This is the constant, yet
unanswerable question of the human condition, and why the inherent guilt of consciousness is the cornerstone of almost every spiritual religion.
- this is a freaking great explanation. And mark it with the moral gap that opens and you understand it completely
Prayer is like a gratitude journal before there were gratitude journals: “Thanks, God, for letting me exist, even though it sucks to be me sometimes. I’m sorry I thought and did all those bad things.” Boom! Sense of guilt absolved, at least for a while.
Ideological religions handle the guilt question far more efficiently than spiritual ones. Nations direct people’s feelings of existential guilt toward service—“Our country gave you these opportunities, so put on a damn uniform and fight to protect them.”
Finally, in interpersonal religions, sacrificing oneself generates a sense of romance and loyalty. (Think about marriage: I mean, you stand at an altar and promise to give your life to this other person.)
Rings, gifts, anniversaries, wiping the piss off the floor when I miss the toilet—it’s the little things that add up to one big thing. You’re welcome, honey.Rings, gifts, anniversaries, wiping the piss off the floor when I miss the toilet—it’s the little things that add up to one big thing. You’re welcome, honey.
HOW TO START YOUR OWN RELIGION
Step Five: Promise Heaven, Deliver Hell
hopeless people desperately avoiding the Uncomfortable Truth by studying a bunch of bullshit you’ve made up, ignoring their friends, and telling their families to fuck off. Now it’s time to get serious
Some people might call this the cycle of psychological abuse. But let’s not allow such terms to ruin our fun.
And instead of getting pissed off at the money-based religion you’ve bought into, you get pissed off at yourself. You blame yourself for failing to live up to your God Value, regardless of how ill-advised that God Value is.
holiday—the message is always the same: the more you do it, the more you’re told you need to do it to finally experience the satisfaction you’ve been promised. Yet that satisfaction never comes.
- like me and going to the church- the satisfaction never came
No religion will ever make you feel blissful and peaceful all the time. No country will ever feel completely fair and safe. No political philosophy will solve everyone’s problems all the time. True equality can never be achieved; someone somewhere will always be screwed over. True freedom doesn’t really exist because we all must sacrifice some autonomy for stability. No one, no matter how much you love them or they love you, will ever absolve that internal guilt you feel simply for existing. It’s all fucked. Everything is fucked. It always has been and always will be. There are no solutions, only stopgap measures, only incremental improvements, only slightly better forms of fuckedness than others.
HOW TO START YOUR OWN RELIGION
Step Six: Prophet for Profit!
Want a dozen sex slaves? Just say the word. Make up scripture. Tell your followers that “Stage Six of Manatee Enlightenment” can only be found in the Prophet’s orgasms.
No more loneliness. No more relationship problems. No more financial woes. You can fulfill your wildest dreams. You just have to trample on the hopes and dreams of thousands of other people to get there.
concerns or pedantic arguments about ethics and whatnot. Because that’s what you get to do when you start your own religion: You get to decide what is ethical. You get to decide what is right. And you get to decide who is righteous.
religious beliefs and their constituent tribal43 behaviors are a fundamental part of our nature.43 It’s impossible not to adopt them. If you think you’re44 above religion, that you use logic and reason, I’m sorry to say, you’re wrong: you are one of us. If you think you’re well informed and highly educated, you’re not: you still suck.
And propel human systems forward in a sort of Darwinian competition. Religions compete in the world for resources, and the religions that tend to win out are those whose value hierarchies make the most efficient use of labor and capital. And as it wins out, more and more people adopt the winning religion’s value hierarchy, as it has demonstrated the most value to individuals in the population. These victorious religions then stabilize and become
the foundation for culture
But here’s the problem: Every time a religion succeeds, every time it spreads its message far and wide and comes to dominate a huge swath of human emotion and endeavor, its values change. The religion’s God Value no longer comprises the principles that inspired the religion in the first place. Its God Value slowly shifts and becomes the preservation of the religion itself: not to lose what it has gained.
When the original values that defined the religion, the movement, the revolution, get tossed aside for the sake of maintaining the status quo, this is narcissism at an organizational level. This is how you go from Jesus to the Crusades, from Marxism to the gulags, from a wedding chapel to divorce court
But more important, because by experiencing our hopes, we lose them. We see that our beautiful visions for a perfect future are not so perfect, that our dreams and aspirations are themselves riddled with unexpected flaws and unforeseen sacrifices. Because the only thing that can ever truly destroy a dream is to have it come true.
- Because the only thing that can ever truly destroy a dream is to have it come true.
Hope Is Fucked
She listened to him play piano and tell jokes and rambunctious stories of his antics with his old friend, composer Richard Wagner. Unlike in his writing, Nietzsche was polite and mild in person. He was an affectionate listener. He was a lover of poetry and could recite dozens of verses from memory. He’d sit and play word games for hours, sing songs and make puns. Nietzsche was disarmingly brilliant.
Yet, Meta was no intellectual slouch. In fact, she was a badass of her time. Meta was the first woman ever to earn a PhD in Switzerland. She was also one of the world’s leading feminist writers and activists. She spoke four languages fluently and published articles all over Europe arguing for.3 women’s rights, a radical idea at the time. She was well traveled, brilliant, and headstrong. And when she stumbled upon Nietzsche’s work, she felt she had finally found someone whose ideas could push women’s liberation out into the world.
Nietzsche was, in fact, everything he claimed to loathe: weak, dependent, and wholly captivated and reliant on powerful, independent women. Yet, in his work, he preached individual strength and self-reliance, and was a woeful misogynist. His lifelong dependence on the care of women seemed to blur his ability to see them clearly. It would be the glaring blind spot in the vision of an otherwise prophetic man.
Hall of Fame for “most pain tolerated by a single individual,” I would nominate Nietzsche as one of its first cornerstone inductees
In 1880, what he would later call “a bad year,” he was bedridden 260 out of 365 days.
Meta quickly discovered that she wasn’t the only intellectual woman fascinated by this man. He had a parade of women coming by to take care of him for weeks or months at a time. Like Meta, these women were badasses of their time: They were professors and wealthy landowners and entrepreneurs. They were educated and multilingual and fiercely independent. And they were feminists, the earliest feminists.
But for most of his life, his work was almost universally ignored. Then Nietzsche announced the death of God, and he went from failing university professor to pariah. He was unemployable and basically homeless.
bunch of people onto a plot of land with limited resources and have them start a civilization from scratch. Here’s what happens: Some people are naturally more gifted than others. Some are smarter. Some are bigger and stronger. Some are more charismatic. Some are friendly and get along easily with others. Some work harder and come up with better ideas.
Since the advent of agriculture, all human societies have exhibited this stratification, and all societies must deal with the tension that emerges between the advantaged elite and the disadvantaged masses
Nietzsche called this belief system, in which those who end up ahead do so because they deserve it, “master morality.” Master morality is the moral belief that people get what they deserve. It’s the moral belief that “might makes right,” that if you earned something through hard work or ingenuity, you deserve it. No one can take that from you; nor should they. You are the best, and because you’ve demonstrated superiority, you should be rewarded for it.
Slave morality believes that people who have suffered the most, those who are the most disadvantaged and exploited, deserve the best treatment because of that suffering. Slave morality believes that it’s the poorest and most unfortunate who deserve the most sympathy and the most respect.
Whereas master morality believes in the virtue of strength and dominance, slave morality believes in the virtue of sacrifice and submission. While master morality believes in the necessity of hierarchy, slave morality believes in the necessity of equality. While master morality is generally represented by right-wing political beliefs, slave morality is usually found in left-wing political beliefs.
- best description of political left and right
We all contain both these moralities within us. Imagine you’re in a class at school and you study your ass off and get the highest test score. And because you got the highest test score, you’re awarded benefits due to your success. You feel morally justified having those benefits; after all, you worked hard and earned them. You are a “good” student and a “good” person for being a good student. This is master morality.
imagine that you have a classmate. This classmate has eighteen siblings, all being raised by a single mother. This classmate works multiple part-time jobs and is never able to study because she is literally putting food on the table for her brothers and sisters. She fails the same exam that you passed with flying colors. Is that fair? No, it’s not. You would probably feel that she deserves some sort of special exception due to her situation—maybe a chance to retake the test or to take it at a later date, when she has time to study for it. She deserves this because she is a “good” person for her sacrifices and disadvantages. This is slave morality.
morality is the intrinsic desire to create a moral separation between ourselves and the world around us. It is the desire to create moral gaps with us on top. Slave morality is, then, an intrinsic desire to equalize, to close the moral gap and alleviate suffering. Both are fundamental components of our Feeling Brain’s operating system. Both generate and perpetuate strong emotions. And both give us hope.
Nietzsche also argued that the Judeo-Christian ethic of charity, pity, and compassion ushered slave morality to prominence, and continued to dominate Western civilization up through his own time.
They were, he believed, at the root of all political and social conflict throughout history. And, he warned, that conflict was about to get much worse.
In a kind of Darwinian competition, those religions that mobilize, coordinate, and inspire their believers the most are those that win out and spread throughout the world.
These new religions were (usually) monotheistic and were not limited to one nation, race, or ethnic group. They preached their message to everyone because their message was one of equality: all people were either born good and later corrupted or were born sinners and had to be saved. Either way, the result was the same. Everyone, regardless of nation, race, or creed, had to be converted in the name of the One
Anyone who dared question the validity of their faith-based values. It’s for this reason that, like most atheists, Nietzsche loathed spiritual religions. Natural philosophers, as scientists were called in Isaac Newton’s time, decided that the most reliable faith-based beliefs were those that had the most evidence supporting them. Evidence became the God Value, and any belief that was no longer supported by evidence had to be altered to account for the new observed reality. This produced a new religion: science.
science may be the only demonstrably good thing humanity has ever done for itself. (Thank you, Francis Bacon, thank you, Isaac Newton, you fucking titans.)
But science did something else even more spectacular: it introduced to the world the concept of growth. For most of human history, “growth” wasn’t a thing. Change occurred so slowly that everyone died in pretty much the same economic condition they were born in. The average human from two thousand years ago experienced about as much economic growth in his lifetime as we experience in six months today.
would live their entire lives, and nothing changed—no new developments, inventions, or technologies
people, using the same tools, and nothing ever got better. In fact, things like plagues and famine and war and dickhead rulers with large armies often made everything worse. It was a slow, grueling, miserable existence.
Then science happened, and shit got cray-cray.
And that ability to look back and see progress, see growth happen, changed how people viewed the future. It changed how they viewed themselves. Forever.
And this implied all sorts of wonderful things. Freedom, for one: How were you going to choose to grow today? But also responsibility: because you could now control your own destiny, you had to take responsibility for that destiny.
These were concepts that had never been voiced before. With the prospect of so much growth and change in this life, people no longer relied on spiritual beliefs about the next life to give them hope. Instead, they began to invent and rely upon the ideological religions of their time. This changed everything. Church doctrines softened. People stayed home on Sundays. Monarchs conceded power to their subjects.
The scientific revolution eroded the dominance of spiritual religions and made way for the dominance of ideological religions. And this is what concerned Nietzsche. Because for all of the progress and wealth and tangible benefits that ideological religions produce, they lack something that spiritual religions do not: infallibility.
- you need a 0 0 0 0 coordinate in your life (Sheldon Cooper) which doesn’t change. Infallibility.
The robustness of spiritual religions means that the shit could hit the proverbial fan, and your psychological stability would remain intact. Hope can be preserved because God is always preserved
If you spend a decade of your life lobbying for certain governmental reform, and then that reform leads to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, that’s on you. That piece of hope that sustained you for years is shattered. Your identity, destroyed. Hello darkness, my old friend.
And when the ideological foundation of our belief systems and value hierarchies is shaken, it throws us into the maw of the Uncomfortable Truth.
growth would bring upon the world. In fact, this was the whole point of his “God is dead” proclamation.
“God is dead” was not some obnoxious atheistic gloating, as it is usually interpreted today. No. It was a lament, a warning, a cry for help. Who are we to determine the meaning and significance of our own existence? Who are we to decide what is good and right in the world? How can we bear this burden?
spewed forth in the Enlightenment’s wake (democracy, nationalism, communism, socialism, colonialism, etc.) as merely postponing the inevitable existential crisis of mankind. And he hated them all. He found democracy to be naïve, nationalism stupid, communism appalling, colonialism offensive
Nietzsche predicted coming conflicts between the ideologies built on master and slave moralities
He predicted that this destruction would not be limited to national borders or different ethnic groups. It would transcend all borders; it would transcend country and people. Because these conflicts, these wars, would not be for God. They would be between gods. And the gods would be us.
Everyone drank a lot and didn’t do any work. It was one big, everlasting frat party. The ancient Greeks called this “paradise.” But if you ask me, it sounds like a special kind of hell.
Hera gave her the ability to create a family. Hermes gave her charismatic speech. On and on, the gods installed gifts and talents and intrigues into woman like apps in a new iPhone. The result was Pandora. The gods sent Pandora to earth to introduce competition and sex and babies and arguments about the toilet seat.
Somebody opened Pandora’s box—surprise, surprise, the men would all blame the woman for it—and out flew all the evils into the world: death, disease, hatred, envy, and Twitter. The bucolic sausage party was no more. Now men could kill each other. And, more important, now men had something to kill each other for: women, and the resources that attracted women. Thus, began the stupid dick-measuring contest also known as human history.
- Thus, began the stupid dick-measuring contest also known as human history
Basically, humans started being humans. Everything appeared to be fucked. But in the bottom of that box there remained something shiny and beautiful. There remained hope.
Think of it as the yin and the yang of mankind’s eternal struggle: everything is always fucked, but the more fucked things become, the more we must mobilize hope to sustain and overcome the world’s fuckedness. This is why heroes such as Witold Pilecki inspire us: their ability to muster enough hope to resist evil reminds us that all of us are capable of resisting evil.
Because hope didn’t just inspire Pilecki’s heroics. Hope also inspired the Communist revolutions and the Nazi genocides. Hitler hoped to exterminate the Jews to bring about an evolutionarily superior human race. The Soviets hoped to instigate a global revolution to unite the world in true equality under communism. And let’s be honest, most of the atrocities committed by the Western, capitalist societies over the past one hundred years were done in the name of hope: hope for greater global economic freedom and wealth
So far, I’ve argued that hope is fundamental to our psychology, that we need to (a) have something to look forward to, (b) believe ourselves in control of our fate enough to achieve that something, and (c) find a community to achieve it with us.
Experiences generate emotions. Emotions generate values. Values generate narratives of meaning. And people who share similar narratives of meaning come together to generate religions.
These religions grow and expand and eventually define in-groups versus out-groups, create rituals and taboos, and spur conflict between groups with opposing values. These conflicts must exist because they maintain the meaning and purpose for people within the group. Therefore, it is the conflict that maintains the hope. So, we’ve got it backward: everything being fucked doesn’t require hope; hope requires everything being fucked.
Because hope requires that something be broken. Hope requires that we renounce a part of ourselves and/or a part of the world. It requires us to be anti-something.
Nietzsche believed that none of the ideologies generated by the scientific revolution would hold up in the long run. He believed that, one by one, they would slowly kill each other off and/or collapse from within. Then, after a couple of centuries, the real existential crisis would begin. Master morality would have been corrupted. Slave morality would have imploded. We would have failed ourselves. For human frailties are such that everything we produce must be impermanent and unreliable.
“beyond good and evil.” For him, this morality of the future had to begin with something he called amor fati, or “love of one’s fate”: “My formula for greatness in a human being,” he wrote, “is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it.”
It basically meant: hope for nothing. Hope for what already is—because hope is ultimately empty. Anything your mind can conceptualize is fundamentally flawed and limited and therefore damaging if worshipped unconditionally. Don’t hope for more happiness. Don’t hope for less suffering. Don’t hope to improve your character. Don’t hope to eliminate your flaws
And then act despite it. This is our challenge, our calling: To act without hope. To not hope for better. To be better. In this moment and the next. And the next. And the next. Everything is fucked. And hope is both the cause and the effect of that fuckedness
But the only thing that frees us is that truth: You and I and everyone we know will die, and little to nothing that we do will ever matter on a cosmic scale. And while some people fear that this truth will liberate them from all responsibility, that they’ll go snort an eight ball of cocaine and play in traffic, the reality is that this truth scares them because it liberates them to responsibility. It means that there’s no reason to not love ourselves and one another
The second half of this book is an attempt to understand what a life without hope might look like. The first thing I’ll say is that it’s not as bad as you think. In fact, I believe it is better than the alternative. The second half of this book is also an honest look at the modern world and everything that is fucked with it. It’s an evaluation done in the hope not of fixing it, but of coming to love it.
But, she (Meta) realized, to Nietzsche, it was simply another construct, another conceit, another human failure, another dead god.
She would go on, though. She knew she would. She must go on and attempt to cross the abyss, as we all must do; to live for others despite still not knowing how to live for herself.
“Meta,” Nietzsche said.
“I love those who do not know how to live,” he said. “For they are the ones who cross over.”
Everything Is Fucked
The Formula of Humanity
Immanuel Kant was either the most boring person who ever lived or a productivity hacker’s wet dream.
Despite sounding like a colossal bore, Kant was one of the most important and influential thinkers in world history. And from his single-room apartment in Königsberg, Prussia, he did more to steer the world than most kings, presidents, prime ministers, or generals before and since.
He resolved the two-hundred year- old philosophical debate between rationalism and empiricism in the span of a couple of hundred pages… he reinvented moral philosophy, from top to bottom, overthrowing ideas that had been the basis of Western civilization since Aristotle
If Thinking Brains had biceps, Kant’s Thinking Brain was the Mr. Olympia of the intellectual universe.
Moreover, he lived what he preached. Kings tried to censor him; priests condemned him; academics envied him. Yet none of this slowed him down.
And I mean that in the truest and profoundest sense of the phrase.10 He is the only thinker I have ever come across who eschewed hope and the flawed human values it relied upon; who confronted the Uncomfortable Truth and refused to accept its horrible implications; who gazed into the abyss with nothing but logic and pure reason; who, armed with only the brilliance of his mind, stood before the gods and challenged them . . .
. . . and somehow won
lesson that was far more important than the other lessons: eating ice cream is better than being burned. This lesson was important because it was a value judgment. Ice cream is better than hot stoves. I prefer sugary sweetness in my mouth than a bit of fire on my hand.
A friend of mine once described parenthood as “basically just following around a kid for a couple decades and making sure he doesn’t accidentally kill himself—and you’d be amazed how many ways a kid can find to accidentally kill himself.”
Eventually, the exploratory phase exhausts itself. And not because we run out of world to explore. Actually, it’s the opposite: the exploratory phase wraps up because as we become older, we begin to recognize that there’s too much world to explore. You can’t touch and taste everything. You can’t meet all the people. You can’t see all the things. There’s too much potential experience, and the sheer magnitude of our own existence overwhelms and intimidates us.
We adopt most of these rules from our parents and teachers, but many of them we figure out for ourselves. For instance, after fucking around near open flames enough, you develop a little mental rule that all flames are dangerous, not just the stove ones
The adolescent applies if/then rules to her decision making, thinking through cause-and-effect chains in a way that a young child cannot.
Actions have consequences. You must negotiate your desires with the desires of those around you. You must play by the rules of society and authority, and then, more often than not, you’ll be rewarded.
It is a major cognitive leap for children and fundamental to growing up in a healthy, happy way. Young children are like little tyrants.
The knowledge of pleasure and pain is still there in adolescence. It’s just that pleasure and pain no longer dictate most decision making.17 They are no longer the basis of our values. Older children weigh their personal feelings against their understanding of rules, trade-offs, and the social order around them to plan and make decisions. This gives them larger, sturdier identities
Nothing is done for its own sake. Everything is a calculated transaction, usually made out of fear of the negative repercussions. Everything is a means to some pleasurable end
problem with adolescent values is that if you hold them, you never actually stand for something outside yourself. You are still at heart a child, albeit a cleverer and much more sophisticated child.
- oh so that’s what it is. You are still the child inside of you, but you just cover it up with a better if/then model. You lie to avoid conflict, you call your parents so that they don’t get mad.
To become an emotionally healthy individual, you must break out of this constant bargaining, endlessly treating everyone as a means to some pleasurable end, and come to understand even higher and more abstract guiding principles.
But I would argue that, by themselves, they do not make you an adult. They simply prevent you from being a child, which is not the same thing.
- the things that prevent you from being a child don’t make you an adult. They simply don’t make you a child.
That’s because most people who do these things do them because they are rule- and transaction based. They are a means to some superficial end.
Eventually, though, we realize that the most important things in life cannot be gained through bargaining. You don’t want to bargain with your father for love, or your friends for companionship, or your boss for respect.
If you have to convince someone to love you, then they don’t love you. If you have to cajole someone into respecting you, then they will never respect you. If you have to convince someone to trust you, then they won’t actually trust you.
The most precious and important things in life are, by definition, nontransactional.
While people who navigate life through bargaining and rules can get far in the material world, they remain crippled and alone in their emotional world. This is because transactional values create relationships that are built upon manipulation
Adulthood is the realization that sometimes an abstract principle is right and good for its own sake, that even if it hurts you today, even if it hurts others, being honest is still the right thing to do.
child’s pleasure or pain, the adult realizes that there’s more to the world than the adolescent’s constant bargaining for validation, approval, and satisfaction. Becoming an adult is therefore developing the ability to do what is right for the simple reason that it is right.
An adult will love freely without expecting anything in return because an adult understands that that is the only thing that can make love real. An adult will give without seeking anything in return, because to do so defeats the purpose of a gift in the first place.
The principled values of adulthood are unconditional—that is, they cannot be reached through any other means. They are ends in and of themselves.
There are plenty of grown-ass children in the world. And there are a lot of aging adolescents. Hell, there are even some young adults out there.
Past a certain point, maturity has nothing to do with age.23 What matters are a person’s intentions.
difference between a child, an adolescent, and an adult is not how old they are or what they do, but why they do something.
But it’s only the adult who doesn’t steal for the simple principle that stealing is wrong. And to steal, even if she gets away with it, would make her feel worse about herself
- Even when nobody knows, you know
the way we learn to transcend the pleasure/pain values (“ice cream is good; hot stoves are bad”) is by pursuing those values and seeing how they fail us. It’s only by experiencing the pain of their failure that we learn to transcend them.
- Damn, this is why Russia and deportation centre in Turkey were so shocking to my value set – it’s because those values of timidness and nervousness failed me
essentially what good early parenting boils down to: implementing the correct consequences for a child’s pleasure/pain-driven behavior.
You are helping them understand that life is far more complicated than their own impulses or desires. Parents who fail to do this fail their children in an incredibly fundamental way because it won’t take long for the child to have the shocking realization that the world does not cater to his whims.
have been had the child learned the lesson when he was younger. He will be socially punished by his peers and society for not understanding it. Nobody wants to be friends with a selfish brat. No one wants to work with someone who doesn’t consider others’ feelings or appreciate rules. No society accepts someone who metaphorically (or literally) steals the ice cream from the freezer. The untaught child will be shunned, ridiculed, and punished for his behavior in the adult world, which will result in even more pain and suffering.
they can abuse them. An abused child also does not develop beyond his pain- and pleasure-driven values because his punishment follows no logical pattern and doesn’t reinforce deeper, more abstract values. Instead of predictable failures, his experience is just random and cruel.
ice cream sometimes results in overly harsh punishment. At other times, it results in no consequences at all. Therefore, no lesson is learned. No higher values are produced. No development takes place. The child never learns to control his own behavior and develops coping mechanisms to deal with the incessant pain.
abused and children who are coddled often end up with the same issues when they become adults: they remain stuck in their childhood value system
- contrasting examples, same results. Coddling too much is like beating them too much – you set them up for failure
A society without trustworthy institutions or leaders cannot develop rules and roles.
A person who has been bullied in his younger years will move through the world with an assumed understanding that no one will ever like or respect him unconditionally, that all affection must be hard-won through a series of practiced conversation and canned actions.
This manipulation rarely fails them in any meaningful way, so they come to believe that this is simply how the whole world operates. Life is one big high school gymnasium, and you must shove people into lockers lest ye be shoved first
hat the only things in life of real value and meaning are achieved without conditions, without transactions.
The best way to do this is by example, of course, by showing unconditionality by being unconditional yourself.
teach an adolescent to trust is to trust him. The best way to teach an adolescent respect is to respect him.
best way to teach someone to love is by loving him. And you don’t force the love or trust or respect on him—after all, that would make those things conditional—you simply give them understanding that at some point, the adolescent’s bargaining will fail and he’ll understand the value of unconditionality when he’s ready.
parents and teachers fail, it’s usually because they themselves are stuck at an adolescent level of values. They, too, see the world in transactional terms.
bargain love for sex, loyalty for affection, respect for obedience
And the shitty, shallow, transactional parent/child relationship is then replicated when the kid goes out and forms
relationships in the world, because he then becomes a teacher or parent and imparts his adolescent values on children, causing the whole mess to continue for another generation
- and this is why teachers kill more people than doctors, nurse, and politicians- combined!
And instead of recognizing that their problems are rooted in the transactional approach to the world itself, they will assume that the only problem is that it took them so long to do the transactions correctly.
You love someone knowing you may not be loved in return, but you do it anyway
because to act unconditionally requires some degree of faith—faith that it’s the right thing to do even if it results in more pain, even if it doesn’t work out for you or the other person.
Your Thinking Brain will tell you that this is illogical, that your assumptions must inevitably be wrong in some way. Yet, you do it anyway. Your Feeling Brain will procrastinate and freak out about the pain of brutal honesty, the vulnerability that comes with loving someone, the fear that comes from humility. Yet, you do it anyway.
the friend who tells you what you need to hear even though it upsets you.
It’s no coincidence, then, that all the world’s great religions push people toward these unconditional values, whether it’s the unconditional forgiveness of Jesus Christ or the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddha or the perfect justice of Muhammad. In their purest forms, the world’ great religions leverage our human instinct for hope to try to pull people upward toward adult virtues
as they grow, religions inevitably get co-opted by transactional adolescents and narcissist children, people who pervert the religious principles for their own personal gain. Every human religion succumbs to this failure of moral frailty at some point. No matter how beautiful and pure its doctrines, it ultimately becomes a human institution, and all human institutions eventually become corrupted.
virtue and instead focused on measurable, concrete goals: creating greater happiness and less suffering; giving people greater personal liberties and freedoms; and promoting compassion, empathy, and equality. And these ideological religions, like the spiritual religions before them, also caved to the flawed nature of all human institutions. When you attempt to barter for happiness, you destroy happiness. When you try to enforce freedom, you negate freedom. When you try to create equality, you undermine equality.
deal with the fact that whatever you make your God Value, you will always be willing, at some point, to bargain away human life in order to get closer to it. Worshipping some supernatural God, some abstract principle, some bottomless desire, when pursued long enough, will always result in giving up your own humanity or the humanity of others in order to achieve the aims of that worship. And what was supposed to save you from suffering then plunges you back into suffering. The cycle of hope-destruction begins anew.
And this is where Kant comes in . .
The One Rule for Life
completely scarce and unique: consciousness.
—because for everything in the infinite span of existence, we are the only thing (that we know of) that can actually direct existence.
Therefore, Kant cleverly deduced that, logically, the supreme value in the universe is the thing that conceives of value itself. The only true meaning in existence is the ability to form meaning. The only importance is the thing that decides importance
Kant believed that without rationality, the universe would be a waste, in vain, and without purpose. Without intelligence, and the freedom to exercise that intelligence, we might as well all be a bunch of rocks. Rocks don’t change. They don’t conceive of values, systems, or organizations. They don’t alter, improve, or create. They’re just there.
Consciousness is able to take a problem, a system of a certain amount of complexity, and conceive and generate greater complexity. In a thousand years, we went from twiddling sticks in a small cave to designing entire digital realms connecting the minds of billions. In another thousand, we could easily be among the stars, reshaping the planets and space/time itself.
both in ourselves and in others. He called this principle of always putting consciousness first “the Formula of Humanity,” and it kind of explains . . . well, like, everything, ever.
The Formula of Humanity states, “Act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.
The Formula of Humanity is the single principle that pulls people out of adolescent bargaining and into adult virtue
To transcend the transactional realm of hope, one must act unconditionally. You must love someone without expecting anything in return; otherwise it’s not truly love. You must respect someone without expecting anything in return; otherwise you don’t truly respect him. You must speak honestly without expecting a pat on the back or a high-five or a gold star next to your name; otherwise you aren’t truly being honest.
- “I love you” can’t have “I love you because…”
you must treat humanity never merely as a means, but always as an end itself
An end is something that is desired for its own sake
If I wanted to eat a burrito only because my wife wanted a burrito and I wanted to make her happy, then the burrito is no longer my end; it is now a means to an even greater end: making my wife happy
as a means to some other end is the basis of all wrong behavior. So, treating a burrito as a means to my wife’s end is fine. It’s good to make your spouse happy sometimes! But if I treat my wife as a means to the end of sex, then I am now treating her merely as a means, and as Kant would argue, that is some shade of wrong.
Violence, same deal: you are treating another person as a means to some greater political or personal end. Bad, reader. Bad!
Honesty is good in and of itself because it’s the only form of communication that doesn’t treat people merely as a
means. Courage is good in and of itself because to fail to act is to treat either yourself or others as a means to the end of quelling your fear. Humility is good in and of itself because to fall into blind certainty is to treat others as a means to your own ends.
- these are all described as an end by itself so that’s why we uphold them to the hero level – honesty, courage, humility
But here’s the beautiful thing: unlike other moral systems or codes, the Formula of Humanity does not rely on hope. There’s no great system to force onto the world, no faith-based supernatural beliefs to protect from doubt or lack of evidence.
No one is better or worse or more righteous than anyone else. All that matters is that conscious will is respected and protected. End of story.
Instead, he decided that the only logical way to improve the world is through improving ourselves —by growing up and becoming more virtuous—by making the simple decision, in each moment, to treat ourselves and others as ends, and never merely as means.
Hope doesn’t even have to enter into the equation. Don’t hope for a better life. Simply be a better life.
- don’t hope for a better life. Simply be a better life.
Kant understood that there is a fundamental link between our respect for ourselves and our respect for the world.
Therefore, self-improvement is not the cultivation of greater happiness but, rather, a cultivation of greater self-respect
Telling ourselves that we are worthless and shitty is just as wrong as telling others that they are worthless and shitty.
Self-love and self-care are therefore not something you learn about or practice. They are something you are ethically called to cultivate within yourself, even if they are all that you have left
The Formula of Humanity has a ripple effect: your improved ability to be honest with yourself will increase how honest you are with others, and your honesty with others will influence them to be more honest with themselves, which will help them to grow and mature. Your ability not to treat yourself as a means to some other end will in turn allow you to better treat others as ends. Therefore, your cleaning up your relationship with yourself has the positive by-product of cleaning up your relationships with others, which then enables them to clean up their relationships with themselves, and so on. This is how you change the world—not through some all-encompassing ideology or mass religious conversion or misplaced dreams of the future, but by achieving the maturation and dignity of each individual in the present, here and now.
But, as Kant believed, the simple question of dignity and respect in each moment must be universal.
Modern democracy was invented under the assumption that the average person is a selfish and delusional piece of shit, that the only way to protect us from ourselves is to create systems so interlocking and interdependent that no one person or group can completely hose the rest of the population.
It acknowledges that power attracts corrupt and childish people. Power, by its very nature, forces leaders to be transactional. Therefore, the only way to manage that is by enshrining adult virtues into the design of the system
Political extremists, because they are intractable and impossible to bargain with, are, by definition, childish
They are also unabashedly authoritarian because, as children, they are desperate for an all-powerful parent to come and make everything “all right.
extremists know how to dress up their childish values in the language of transaction or universal principle.
But what she really means is that she wants freedom from having to deal with any values that do not map onto her own. She wants freedom from having to deal with change or the marginalization of other people. Therefore, she’s willing to limit and destroy the freedom of others in the name of her own freedom
Extremists on the left play the same game, the only thing that changes is the language. A leftie extremist will say that he wants “equality” for all, but what he really means is that he never wants anyone to feel pain, to feel harmed, or to feel inferior. He doesn’t want anyone to have to face moral gaps, ever. And he’s willing to cause pain and adversity to others in the name of eliminating those moral gaps.
But allow me to throw out another one: that the maturity of our culture is deteriorating.
The fundamental political schism in the twenty-first century is no longer right versus left, but the impulsive childish values of the right and left versus the compromising adolescent/adult values of both the right and left. It’s no
longer a debate of communism versus capitalism or freedom versus equality but, rather, of maturity
versus immaturity, of means versus ends.
Pain Is the Universal Constant
Then, slowly, the researchers exposed people to fewer and fewer unethical proposals. As they did, the Blue Dot Effect kicked in. People began to interpret completely ethical proposals as being unethical. Rather than noticing that more proposals were showing up on the ethical side of the fence, people’s minds moved the fence itself to
maintain the perception that a certain number of proposals and requests were unethical.
As the researchers noted, this bias has incredibly upsetting implications for . . . well, pretty much everything. Governmental committees designed to oversee regulations, when provided with a dearth of infractions, may start to perceive infractions where there are none. Task forces designed to check unethical practices within organizations will, when deprived of bad guys to accuse of wrongdoing, begin imagining bad guys where there are none.
This is the Blue Dot Effect. The better things get, the more we perceive threats where there are none, and the more upset we become. And it is at the heart of the paradox of progress.
the nineteenth century, Emile Durkheim, the founder of sociology and an early pioneer of the social sciences, ran a thought experiment in one of his books: What if there were no crime?
Durkheim said no, that in fact the opposite would happen. He suggested that the more comfortable and ethical a society became, the more that small indiscretions would become magnified in our minds. If everyone stopped killing each other, we wouldn’t necessarily feel good about it. We’d just get equally upset about the more minor stuff.
- this dude got it right 200 years ago!
that protecting people from problems or adversity doesn’t make them happier or more secure; it makes them more easily insecure.
What we find, then, is that our emotional reactions to our problems are not determined by the size of the problem. Rather, our minds simply amplify (or minimize) our problems to fit the degree of stress we expect to experience.
On the contrary, it appears that perhaps by removing healthy adversity and challenge, people struggle even more. They become more selfish and more childish. They fail to develop and mature out of adolescence. They remain further removed from any virtue. They see mountains where there are molehills. And they scream at each other as though the world were one endless stream of spilled milk.
Recently, I read a cool Albert Einstein quote on the internet: “A man should look for what is, and not what he thinks should be.” It was great. There was a cute little picture with him looking all science-y and everything. The quote is poignant and smart-sounding, and it engaged me for all of a couple of seconds before I scrolled on my phone to the next thing.
If I pick it up and throw it across the room in a drunken rage, we could theoretically measure its location in space across time, determining all sorts of useful stuff like its velocity, trajectory, momentum, and how big a dent it will leave in the wall.
Time and space are what we call “universal constants.” They are immutable. They are the metrics by which everything else is measured. If this sounds like common sense, it’s because it is.
Then Einstein came along and said, “Fuck your common sense; you know nothing, Jon Snow,” and changed the world.
Einstein proved that time and space are not universal constants. In fact, it turns out that our perceptions of time and space can change depending on the context of our observations. For example, what I experience as ten seconds, you could experience as five; and what I experience as a mile, you could theoretically experience as a few feet.
who has spent a significant amount of time on LSD, this conclusion might kind of make sense. But for the physics world at the time, it sounded like pure craziness.
Einstein demonstrated that space and time change depending on the observer—that is, they are relative. It is the speed of light that is the universal constant, the thing by which everything else must be measured
all the time, and the closer we get to the speed of light, the more time “slows down” and the more space contracts.
50 kilometers per second, but your twin’s travels at
close to the speed of light—an insane 299,000 kilometers per second.
When you get home, something shocking has happened. You have aged twenty years, but your twin has hardly aged at all. Your twin has been “gone” for twenty earth years, yet on his spaceship, he experienced only about one year.
Yeah, “What the fuck?” is what I said, too. As Einstein once said, “Dude, that doesn’t even make sense.” Except it does (and Einstein never said that)
Einstein example is important because it shows how our assumption of what is constant and stable in the universe can be wrong, and those incorrect assumptions can have massive implications on how we experience the world. We assume that space and time are universal constants because that explains how we perceive the world. But it turns out that they are not universal constants; they are variables to some other, inscrutable, nonobvious constant. And that changes everything.
And, instead, much of what we assume to be true and real is relative to our own perception.
The researchers collected thousands of ratings from hundreds of people from all walks of life, and what they discovered was both surprising and incredibly boring: pretty much everybody wrote “7” all the time. At the grocery store buying milk? Seven. Attending my son’s baseball game? Seven. Talking to my boss about making a big sale to a client? Seven.
Nobody is fully happy all the time, but similarly, nobody is fully unhappy all the time, either. It seems that humans, regardless of our external circumstances, live in a constant state of mild-but-not-fully-satisfying happiness. Put another way, things are pretty much always fine, but they could also always be better
fucking need? A goddamn piña colada! Can’t a fucker get a piña colada around here?! So, you stress about your piña colada, believing that just one piña colada will get you to your ten. But then it’s a second piña colada, and then a third, and then . . . well, you know how this turns out: you wake up with a hangover and are at a three.
This constancy of pain results in what is known as “the hedonic treadmill,” upon which you run and run and run, chasing your imagined ten. But, no matter what, you always end up with a seven. The pain is always there. What changes is your perception of it. And as soon as your life “improves,” your expectations shift, and you’re back to being mildly dissatisfied again
This is another permutation of the Blue Dot Effect.13 This is Durkheim’s “perfect” society. This is Einstein’s relativity with a psychological remix. It’s the concept creep of someone who has never actually experienced physical violence losing their mind and redefining a few uncomfortable sentences in a book as “violence.” It’s the exaggerated sense that one’s culture is being invaded and destroyed because there are now movies about gay people.
happiness—that is, to reduce pain. This sounded all nice and noble and everything on the surface. I mean, come on, who doesn’t want to get rid of a little bit of pain? What sort of asshole would claim that that was a bad idea? Well, I am that asshole, because it is a bad idea.
you can’t get rid of pain—pain is the universal constant of the human condition. Therefore, the attempt to move away from pain, to protect oneself from all harm…Trying to eliminate pain only increases your sensitivity to suffering, rather than alleviating your suffering
This is because pain is the experience of life itself. Positive emotions are the temporary removal of pain; negative emotions the temporary augmentation of it. To numb one’s pain is to numb all feeling, all emotion. It is to quietly remove oneself from living.
But the point is, not only is there no escaping the experience of pain, but pain is the experience.
This is why hope is ultimately self-defeating and self-perpetuating: no matter what we achieve, no matter what peace and prosperity we find, our mind will quickly adjust its expectations to maintain a steady sense of adversity, thus forcing the formulation of a new hope, a new religion, a new conflict to keep us going
Living well does not mean avoiding suffering; it means suffering for the right reasons. Because if we’re going to be forced to suffer by simply existing, we might as well learn how to suffer well.
- you suffer anyway. At least pick something worth suffering for.
you suffer anyway. At least pick something worth suffering for.
And when it turned out that Ho Chi Minh, the guy who gave the French the ass-kicking, was a Communist, well, everyone kind of freaked out and thought this could spark World War III.
Why a country that didn’t do anything to anybody deserved to be cut in half, don’t ask me. But apparently everyone decided that North Vietnam would be Communist, South Vietnam would be capitalist, and that’s that. Everyone would live happily ever after. (Okay, maybe not.)
The Western powers put a man named Ngo Dinh Diem in charge of South Vietnam until proper elections could be held. At first, everyone seemed to like this Diem guy. A devout Catholic, he was French educated, had spent a number of years in Italy, and was multilingual. Upon meeting him, U.S. vice president Lyndon Johnson called Diem “the Winston Churchill of Asia.” He was practically one of us!
Well, that’s not what happened. Within a year of taking power, Diem outlawed every political party in South Vietnam other than his own. And when it came time for the country to have its referendum, he put his own brother in charge of managing all electoral sites. And you’ll never believe this, but Diem won the election! With a mind-blowing 98.2 percent of the vote!
Diem guy was a total piece of shit. Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam, was a total piece of shit, too, of course.
when you have two total pieces of shit living next door to each other, millions of people die And just like that, Vietnam spiraled back into civil war.
He was so smug and incompetent that the United States would have to gradually start intervening to prevent South Vietnam from imploding, thus starting what Americans now know as the Vietnam War.
It would take years and countless deaths for them to realize that Diem was not interested in their religion as much as his own.
Diem’s favorite pastimes was oppressing and killing people he disagreed with. In this case, being a devout Catholic, Diem hated Buddhists. The problem was that Vietnam was roughly 80 percent Buddhist at the time, so that didn’t exactly go over well with the population.
At one peaceful march, they even hurled live grenades at groups of unarmed monks.
North Vietnam, so it wasn’t really a priority. Few knew the extent of the problem, and fewer even bothered to cover the confrontations
10, 1963, reporters received a cryptic message claiming that “something important” would occur the next day in Saigon, at a busy intersection just a few blocks from the presidential palace. The correspondents didn’t think much of this, and most decided not to go. The next day, among a few journalists, only two photographers bothered to show up. One of them forgot his camera.
The other would win a Pulitzer Prize.
- two photographers, one forgot to bring a camera, the other would win a Pulitzer prize
The monks chanted. People stopped and watched the procession and then returned to their business. It was a busy street on a busy day. And by this point, Buddhist protests were nothing new.
Three monks got out of the car. One placed a cushion on the street, at the center of the intersection. The second monk, an older man named Thich Quang Duc, walked to the cushion, sat down in the lotus position, closed his eyes, and began to meditate
Quang Duc was sitting, and dumped the gasoline over his head, covering the old man in fuel. People covered their mouths. Some covered their faces as their eyes began to water at the fumes. An eerie silence fell over the busy city intersection. Passersby stopped walking. Police forgot what they were doing. There was a thickness in the air. Something important was about to happen. Everyone waited.
With gasoline-soaked robes and an expressionless face, Quang Duc recited a short prayer, reached out, slowly picked up a match, and without breaking his lotus position or opening his eyes, struck it on the asphalt and set himself on fire.
- Not even a horror movie could show something like this.
Yet, as he burned, Quang Duc remained perfectly still.
New York Times, later described the scene: “I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think. . . . As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.
But it was too late. Diem would never recover. It’s impossible to say exactly what changed or how, but the air was somehow different, the streets more alive. With the strike of a match and the click of a camera shutter, Diem’s invisible grip on the country had been weakened, and everyone could sense it, including Diem.
- one man, one idea, one sacrifice.
President Kennedy soon gave his nod of approval to a plan by Diem’s top generals to overthrow him. The image of the burning monk had broken the levee, and a flood ensued. A few months later, Diem and his family were assassinated.
Photos of Quang Duc’s death went viral before “going viral” was a thing
Communists in Russia and China published the photo to rally their supporters against the capitalist imperialists of the West. Postcards were sold across Europe railing against the atrocities being committed in the East. Antiwar protesters in the United States printed the photo to protest American involvement in the war. Conservatives used the photo as evidence of the need for U.S. intervention. Even President Kennedy had to admit that “no news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world.
It taps into a far more fundamental component of our lived experience: the ability to endure extraordinary amounts of pain.
Meanwhile, this guy was fucking burning alive and he didn’t even move. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t scream. He didn’t smile or wince or grimace or even open his eyes to take one last look at the world he had chosen to leave behind.
- how to make peace with this. You simply can’t
purity to his act, not to mention an absolutely stunning display of resolve. It is the ultimate example of mind over matter, of will over instinct And despite the horror of it all, it somehow remains . . . inspiring.
Fragile systems are like beautiful little flowers or a teenager’s feelings: they must be protected at all times
As a society, we spend most of our time and money taking fragile systems and trying to make them more robust. You hire a good lawyer to make your business more robust. The government passes regulations to make the financial system more robust. We institute rules and laws like traffic lights and property rights to make our society more robust
But, Taleb says, there is a third type of system, and that is the “antifragile” system. Whereas a fragile system breaks down and a robust system resists change, the antifragile system gains from stressors and external pressures.
Start-ups are antifragile businesses: they look for ways to fail quickly and gain from those failures. Drug dealers are also anti-fragile: the crazier shit gets, the more fucked up people want to get. A healthy love relationship is antifragile: misfortune and pain make the relationship stronger rather than weaker
the chaos of combat builds and reinforces life changing bonds between soldiers, rather than disintegrating those bonds.
- chaos makes your bonds stronger, antifragile. War sometimes does the same with soldiers (joined negative experience)
But when we avoid pain, when we avoid stress and chaos and tragedy and disorder, we become fragile. Our tolerance for day-to-day setbacks diminishes, and our life must shrink accordingly for us to engage only in the little bit of the world we can handle at one time.
And it will eventually feel manageable. The question then, the only question, is: Will you engage it? Will you engage your pain or avoid your pain? Will you choose fragility or antifragility?
everything you are, everything you care about is a reflection of this choice: your relationships, your health, your results at work, your emotional stability, your integrity, your engagement with your community, the breadth of your life experiences, the depth of your self confidence and courage, your ability to respect and trust and forgive and appreciate and listen and learn and have compassion.
things is fragile in your life, it is because you have chosen to avoid the pain. You have chosen childish values of chasing simple pleasures, desire, and self-satisfaction.
- this hits right in the gutter
but it’s generating greater amounts of emotional fragility, which is why everything appears to be so fucked.
Which brings me back to Thich Quang Duc setting himself on fire and then just sitting there like a boss.
Rigorous meditation involves sitting quietly and mercilessly observing yourself. Every thought, every judgment, every inclination, every minute fidget and flake of emotion and trace of assumption that passes before your mind’s eye is ideally captured, acknowledged, and then released back into the void. And worst of all, there’s no end to it. People always lament that they’re “not good” at meditation. There is no getting good. That’s the whole point. You are supposed to suck at it. Just accept the suckage. Embrace the suckage. Love the suckage.
meditates for long periods of time, all sorts of wacky shit comes up: strange fantasies and decades-old regrets and odd sexual urges and unbearable boredom and often crushing feelings of isolation and loneliness. And these things, too, must simply be observed, acknowledged, and then let go. They, too, shall pass.
training your mind to observe and sustain the never-ending ebb and flow of pain and not to let the “self” get sucked away by its riptide
it’s confronting your pain, it’s observing the interiors of your mind and heart, in all their horror and glory.
and the most I ever did was a two-day silent retreat. By the end of that, my mind was practically screaming for me to let it go outside and play.
Now imagine doing that all day, every day, for sixty years. Imagine the steely focus and intense resolve of your inner flashlight. Imagine your pain threshold. Imagine your antifragility.
Thich Quang Duc is not that he chose to set himself on fire in political protest (although that is pretty damn remarkable). What’s remarkable is the manner in which he did it: Motionless. Equanimous. At peace.
by two arrows. The first arrow is the physical pain—it’s the metal piercing the skin, the force colliding into the body. The second arrow is the mental pain, the meaning and emotion we attach to the being struck, the narratives that we spin in our minds about whether we deserved or didn’t deserve what happened. In many cases, our mental pain is far worse than any physical pain. In most cases, it lasts far longer.
only by the first arrow, we could essentially render ourselves invincible to any mental or emotional pain
pain is inevitable, suffering is always a choice.
- pain is inevitable (hehe Thanos), but suffering is always a choice
separation between what we experience and how we interpret that experience.
That there’s always a gap between what our Feeling Brain feels and what our Thinking Brain thinks. And in that gap, you can find the power to bear anything.
adolescent has a higher pain threshold because the adolescent understands that pain is often a necessary trade-off to achieve his goals. The notion of enduring pain for some sort of future benefit thus allows the adolescent to incorporate some hardships and setbacks into his vision of hope: I will suffer through school so I can have a good career; I will deal with my obnoxious aunt so I can enjoy my holiday with the family; I will wake up at the ass-crack of dawn to work out because it will make me look sexy.
problem arises when the adolescent feels that he got a bad bargain, when the pain exceeds his expectations and the rewards don’t live up to the hype. This will cause the adolescent, like the child, to fall into a crisis of hope: I sacrificed so much and got so little back! What was the point? It will thrust the adolescent into the depths of nihilism and an unkindly visit with the Uncomfortable Truth.
adult has an incredibly high threshold for pain because the adult understands that life, in order to be meaningful, requires pain, that nothing can or necessarily should be controlled or bargained for, that you can simply do the best you can do, regardless of the consequences.
Adolescent values inevitably break down in extreme circumstances or over a long enough period of time.
Truly adult values are antifragile: they benefit from the unexpected. The more fucked up a relationship gets, the more useful honesty becomes. The more terrifying the world is, the more important it is to summon up the courage to face it. The more confusing life becomes, the more valuable it is to adopt humility.
- goddamit, this is the best possible explanation of values that a person can receive.
No matter the turbulence or chaos taking place on earth, they stand above it all, untouched, always shining, always guiding us through the darkness.
Many scientists and techno enthusiasts believe that one day we will develop the capabilities to “cure” death.
For one, if you remove death, you remove any scarcity from life. And if you remove scarcity, you remove the ability to determine value. Everything will seem equally good or bad, equally worthy or unworthy of your time and attention, because . . . well, you would have infinite time and attention.
You could justify every indulgence, every diversion, with a simple “Well, it’s not like it’s going to kill me,” and get on with it
Death is psychologically necessary because it creates stakes in life. There is something to lose. You don’t know what something is worth until you experience the potential to lose it. You don’t know what you’re willing to struggle for, what you’re willing to give up or sacrifice. Pain is the currency of our values. Without the pain of loss (or potential loss), it becomes impossible to determine the value of anything at all.
Pain is at the heart of all emotion. Negative emotions are caused by experiencing pain. Positive emotions are caused by alleviating pain.
The more antifragile we become, the more graceful our emotional responses are, the more control
we exercise over ourselves, and the more principled our value
Life is one never-ending stream of pain, and to grow is not to find a way to avoid that stream but, rather, to dive into it and successfully navigate its depths
The ancient philosophers knew this. Plato and Aristotle and the Stoics spoke of a life not of happiness, but of character, developing the ability to sustain pain and make the appropriate sacrifices —as that’s really what life was in their time: one long, drawn-out sacrifice. The ancient virtues of bravery, honesty, and humility are all different forms of practicing antifragility: they are principles that gain from chaos and adversity.
they mistook this improvement of pain to be the elimination of pain.
What the Enlightenment did get right is the idea that, on average, some pain is better than others. All else being equal, it is better to die at ninety than at twenty.
But we seem to have forgotten what the ancients knew: that no matter how much wealth is generated in the world, the quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our character, and the quality of our character is determined by our relationship to our pain.
- the quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our character, and the quality of our character is determined by our relationship to our pain.
Pain opens up the moral gaps that eventually become our most deeply held values and beliefs.
When we deny ourselves the ability to feel pain for a purpose, we deny ourselves the ability to feel any purpose in our life at all.
The Feelings Economy
Then, in 1928, the American Tobacco Company hired Edward Bernays, a young hotshot marketer with wild ideas and even wilder marketing campaigns.1 Bernays’s marketing tactics at the time were unlike anybody else’s in the advertising industry.
It was the Classic Assumption: the Thinking Brain was in charge.
He told the reporters that these ladies were not just lighting cigarettes, they were lighting “torches of freedom,” demonstrating their ability to assert their independence and be their own women.
And many of them felt very strongly about this. If Bernays could just hitch his “smoking equals freedom” message onto the women’s liberation movement . . . well, tobacco sales would double and he’d be a rich man. It worked. Women started smoking, and ever since, we’ve had equal-opportunity lung cancer.
He completely revolutionized the marketing industry and invented the field of public relations in the process. Paying sexy celebrities to use your product? That was Bernays’s idea. Creating fake news articles that are actually subtle advertisements for a company? All him. Staging controversial public events as a means to draw attention and notoriety for a client? Bernays. Pretty much every form of marketing and publicity we’re subjected to today began with Bernays.
he was Sigmund Freud’s nephew
he was the first modern thinker to argue that it was the Feeling Brain that was really driving the Consciousness Car
Freud spent most of his life broke. He was the quintessential European intellectual: isolated, erudite, deeply philosophical. But Bernays was an American. He was practical. He was driven. Fuck philosophy! He wanted to be rich. And boy, did Freud’s ideas—translated through the lens of marketing—deliver in a big way
And today it’s celebrated as business as usual. One of the first things you learn when you study marketing is how to find customers’ “pain points” . . . and then subtly make them feel worse. The idea is that you needle at people’s shame and insecurity and then turn around and tell them your product will resolve that shame and rid them of that insecurity. Put another way, marketing specifically identifies or accentuates the customer’s moral gaps and then
offers a way to fill them.
The world runs on one thing: feelings
This is because people spend money on things that make them feel good. And where the money flows, power flows. So, the more you’re able to influence the emotions of people in the world, the more money and power you’ll accumulate.
values into something universal when we’re dealing with one another. You love seashells and oysters. I love fertilizing soil with the blood of my sworn enemies. You fight in my army, and when we get home, I’ll make you rich with seashells and oysters. Deal? That’s how human economies emerged.
so they minted money as a form of debt (or moral gap) for the soldiers to “spend” (equalize) when (or if) they got back home
Instead, technologies are researched and invented to—yep, you guessed it!—make people feel better (or prevent them from feeling worse).
1. Innovations (upgrade pain). The first way to create value is to replace one pain with a much more tolerable/desirable pain. The most drastic and obvious examples of this are medical and pharmaceutical innovations.
2. Diversions (avoid pain). The second way to create value in a marketplace is to help people numb their pain. Whereas upgrading people’s pain gives them better pain, numbing pain just delays that pain, and often even makes it worse.
When the scientific revolution first got going, most economic progress was due to innovation. Back then, the vast majority of people lived in poverty: Everyone was sick, hungry, cold, and tired most of the time. Few could read. Most had bad teeth. It was no fun at all.
But what happens when a large number of people are relatively healthy and wealthy? At that point, most economic progress switches from innovation to diversion, from upgrading pain to avoiding pain. One of the reasons for this is that true innovation is risky, difficult, and often unrewarding
As the venture capitalist Peter Thiel once said, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got Twitter.”
But once the country hits First World level, that well-being flattens or, in some cases, drops off.6 Meanwhile, mental illness, depression, and anxiety can proliferate
function better within their communities. But once those innovations are integrated and everyone has a cell phone and a McDonald’s Happy Meal, the great modern diversions enter the marketplace. And as soon as the diversions show up, a psychological fragility is introduced, and everything begins to seem fucked.
Bernays wasn’t concerned with penicillin or heart surgery. He was hawking cigarettes and tabloid magazines and beauty products— shit people didn’t need. And until then, nobody had figured out how to get people to spend copious amounts of money on stuff that wasn’t necessary for their survival.
Life became so easy and fast and efficient and effortless that within the short span of a hundred years, people were able to pick up a telephone and accomplish in two minutes what used to take two months.
we tend to idealize this period. I believe that it’s for this sense of social cohesion that many people today are so nostalgic.
The internet is a bona fide innovation. All else being equal, it fundamentally makes our lives better. Much better. The problem is . . . well, the problem is us.
A near-utopian level of optimism developed throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
But they forgot.
They were so caught up in their religious dreams and personal hopes that they forgot.
They forgot that the world doesn’t run on information.
People don’t make decisions based on truth or facts. They don’t spend their money based on data. They don’t connect with each other because of some higher philosophical truth.
The world runs on feelings
And when you give the average person an infinite reservoir of human wisdom, they will not google for the information that contradicts their deepest held beliefs. They will not google for what is true yet unpleasant.
Instead, most of us will google for what is pleasant but untrue.
- confirmation bias at its finest
Thus, the greatest innovation of our lifetime has slowly transformed into our greatest diversion.
internet, in the end, was not designed to give us what we need. Instead, it gives people what they want. And if you’ve learned anything about human psychology in this book, you already know that this is much more dangerous than it sounds.
meanwhile, income inequality is skyrocketing, political polarization is ruining everyone’s family gatherings, and there seems to be a plague of corruption spreading across the world.
I’ve noticed, always takes the same form, no matter whom it comes from. It says: “We’re just giving people what they want!”
And it is true. Technology gives people what they want faster and more efficiently than ever before. And while we all love to dogpile on the corporate overlords for their ethical faceplants, we forget that they’re merely fulfilling the market’s desires. They’re supplying our demands. And if we got rid of Facebook or BP or whatever-giant-corporation-is-considered-evil-when-you-read-this, another would pop up to take its place.
Maybe what we want sucks.
I want a life-size bag of marshmallows in my living room. I want to buy an eight million- dollar mansion by borrowing money I can never pay back. I want to fly to a new beach every week for the next year and live off nothing but Wagyu steaks.
“Give the people what they want” works only when you’re giving them innovations, like a synthetic kidney or something to prevent their car from spontaneously catching on fire. Give those people what they want.
For one, many people want stuff that’s awful. Two, many people are easily manipulated into wanting shit they don’t actually want (see: Bernays). Three, encouraging people to avoid pain through more and more diversions makes us all weaker and more fragile. And four, I don’t want your fucking Skynet ads following me around wherever I go and mining my fucking life for data
The creepy ads and the privacy invasion and the lulling of large populations into docile servitude through mindless consumerism—the dude was kind of a genius. Except, he was all in favor of it—so, make that an evil genius.
And why did it all happen? You should know by now: they were just giving the people what they wanted!
But, fuck it, let’s be real: “Give the people what they want” is just #FakeFreedom because what most of us want are diversions. And when we get flooded by diversions, a few things happen.
traveling not because we want to but because we want to be able to say we went.
If you feel okay only when life is happy and easy-breezy-beautiful-Cover-Girl, then guess what? You are not free. You are the opposite of free. You are the prisoner of your own indulgences, enslaved by your own intolerance, crippled by your own emotional weakness. You will constantly feel a need for some external comfort or validation that may or may not ever come.
If Jane has to choose between two boxes of cereal, and Mike can choose from twenty boxes, Mike does not have more freedom than Jane. He has more variety. There’s a difference. Variety is not freedom.
- variety is not freedom, speed is not velocity
If the pursuit of happiness pulls us all back into childishness, then fake freedom conspires to keep us there. Because freedom is not having more brands of cereal to choose from, or more beach vacations to take selfies on, or more satellite channels to fall asleep to.
And in a vacuum, variety is meaningless. If you are trapped by insecurity, stymied by doubt, and hamstrung by intolerance, you can have all the variety in the world. But you are not free.
The only true form of freedom, the only ethical form of freedom, is through self-limitation
privilege of choosing everything you want in your life, but rather, choosing what you will give up in your life.
But you will always be able to choose what you are willing to sacrifice, what you are willing to give up.
The willingness to engage in conflict with others will free you to talk to anyone, to see if they share your values and beliefs, to discover what they can add to your life and what you can add to theirs.
You can become freer right now simply by choosing the limitations you want to impose on yourself. You can choose to wake up earlier each morning, to block your email until midafternoon each day, to delete social media apps from your phone. These limitations will free you because they will liberate your time, attention, and power of choice. They treat your consciousness as an end in itself.
- you can become free by choosing your limitations right now
then rent a locker and leave all your work clothes there so you have to go each morning.
three thousand dollars and tell them that if you ever smoke a cigarette again, they get to cash it
the most meaningful freedom in your life comes from your commitments, the things in life for which you have chosen to sacrifice.
There is emotional freedom in my relationship with my wife that I would never be able to reproduce even if I dated a thousand other women. There is freedom in my having played guitar for twenty years—a deeply artistic expression—that I could not get if I just memorized dozens of songs.
freedom in having lived in one place for fifty years —an intimacy and familiarity with the community and culture—that you cannot replicate no matter how much of the world you’ve seen.
commitment allows for greater depth. A lack of commitment requires superficiality.
This “hacking” of life, though, simply amounts to trying to reap the rewards of commitment without actually making a commitment. It’s another sad form of fake freedom. It’s empty calories for the soul.
This is not winning anything. This is merely the appearance of winning something. It is the appearance of commitment and sacrifice without the commitment and sacrifice. It is the appearance of meaning where there is none.
Real freedom is repetitive, predictable, and sometimes dull.
Real freedom has increasing returns: it requires less and less energy to achieve the same joy and meaning.
Fake freedom requires the world to conform to your will. Real freedom requires nothing of the world. It is only your will.
Throughout the book, Putnam shows that this is not limited to recreational groups but is affecting everything from labor unions to parent-teacher associations to Rotary clubs to churches to bridge clubs. This atomization of society has significant effects, he argues: social trust has declined, with people becoming more isolated, less politically engaged, and all-around more paranoid about their neighbors
North Korea is not free. They lack freedom not because they are unable to choose their pleasures, but because they are not allowed to choose their pain. They are not allowed to choose their commitments freely. They are forced into sacrifices they would not otherwise want or do not deserve.
- you are free only when you can choose your pain, not your pleasure
But the tyranny of a new age is achieved not by depriving people of diversions and commitments. Today’s tyranny is achieved by flooding people with so much diversion, so much bullshit information and frivolous distraction, that they are unable to make smart commitments. It’s Bernays’s prediction come true, just a few generations later than he expected
This man was far wiser and more influential than anyone you would ever see on a news channel or a TED Talk stage or a political soapbox, for that matter. This guy was the OG of political philosophy. Forget the “Godfather of Soul,” this guy literally invented the idea of the soul. And he (arguably) saw this whole shitstorm brewing multiple millennia before anyone else did.
- Best intro for Plato– ever!
Alfred North Whitehead famously said that all of Western philosophy was merely a “series of footnotes to Plato.
Thinking Brain and the Feeling Brain.24 He was the first to argue that one must build character through various forms of self-denial, rather than through self-indulgence. Plato was such a badass, the word idea itself comes from him—so, you could say he invented the idea of an idea.
Plato famously claimed that democracy was not the most desirable form of government
He wrote, “Extreme freedom can’t be expected to lead to anything but a change to extreme slavery.
institutions fail to keep up with people’s happiness, guess what happens. People start blaming the institutions themselves.
Plato said that democracies inevitably lead to moral decay because as they indulge more in fake freedom, people’s values deteriorate and become more childish and self-centered, resulting in the citizenry turning on the democratic system itself. Once childish values take over, people no longer want to negotiate for power, they don’t want to bargain with other groups and other religions, they don’t want to endure pain for the sake of greater freedom or prosperity. What they want instead is a strong leader to come make everything right at a moment’s notice. They want a tyrant.
- Any correlation with today’s world is… accidental?
But people forget that these rights are also earned through sacrifice against some internal force. Democracy can exist only when you are willing to tolerate views that oppose your own, when you’re willing to give up some things you might want for the sake of a safe and healthy community, when you’re willing to compromise and accept that sometimes things don’t go your way
democracy requires a citizenry of strong maturity and character.
They want equality, but they don’t want to accept that equality requires that everybody experience the same pain, not that everybody experience the same pleasure.
The lower our tolerance for pain, the more we indulge in fake freedoms, the less we will be able to uphold the virtues necessary to allow a free, democratic society to function. And that’s scary. Because without democracy, we’re really fucked.
It’s more that a functioning democracy fucks things up less often and less severely than any other form of government. Or, as Churchill famously once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others.”
Plato believed societies were cyclical, bouncing back and forth between freedom and tyranny, relative equality and great inequality. It’s pretty clear after the past twenty-five hundred years that this isn’t exactly true.
the radical hierarchy of master morality versus the radical equality of slave morality
The Final Religion
That’s because chess possesses a near-infinite number of permutations: there are more possible chess games than there are atoms in the observable universe. In any board position, if one looks only three or four moves ahead, there are already hundreds of millions of variations.
The top human players regularly got pummeled by chess software, sometimes by embarrassing margins
Stockfish was happily going along being the king of the computerized chess mountain, being the gold standard of all chess analysis worldwide, until 2018, when Google showed up to the party. Then shit got weird.
Google has a program called AlphaZero. It’s not chess software. It’s artificial intelligence (AI) software. Instead of being programmed to play chess or another game, the software is programmed to learn—and not just chess, but any game
AlphaZero can calculate “only” eighty thousand board positions per second. Stockfish? Seventy million.
before its match with the best chess software in the world, AlphaZero had less than a day to learn chess from scratch. The software spent most of the day running simulations of chess games against itself, learning as it went. It developed strategies and principles the same way a human would: through trial and error. Imagine the scenario.
And from there, your first game ever will be against the world champion.
Yet, somehow, AlphaZero won. Okay, it didn’t just win. AlphaZero smashed Stockfish. Out of one hundred games, AlphaZero won or drew every single game.
One, Peter Heine Nielsen, gushed, “I always wondered how it would be if a superior species landed on earth and showed us how they play chess. I feel now I know.”
Shogi is often referred to as Japanese chess, but many argue that it’s more complex than chess. Whereas Kasparov lost to a computer in 1997, top Shogi players didn’t begin to lose to computers until 2013. Either way, AlphaZero destroyed the top Shogi software (called “Elmo”), and by a similarly astounding margin: in one hundred games, it won ninety, lost eight, and drew two
the day an AI can write AI software better than we can.
AI will reach a point where its intelligence outstrips ours by so much that we will no longer comprehend what it’s doing. Cars will pick us up for reasons we don’t understand and take us to locations we didn’t know existed. We will unexpectedly receive medications for health issues we didn’t know we suffered from. It’s possible that our kids will switch schools, we will change jobs, economic policies will abruptly shift, governments will rewrite their constitutions—and none of us will comprehend the full reasons why. It will just happen. Our Thinking Brains will be too slow, and our Feeling Brains too erratic and dangerous. Like AlphaZero inventing chess strategies in mere hours that chess’s greatest minds could not anticipate, advanced AI could reorganize society and all our places within it in ways we can’t imagine.
will end up right back where we began: worshipping impossible and unknowable forces that seemingly control our fates.
The old gods will be replaced by the new gods: the algorithms. And in a twist of evolutionary irony, the same science that killed the gods of old will have built the gods of new. There will be a great return to religiosity among mankind. And our religions won’t necessarily be so different from the religions of the ancient world—after all, our psychology is fundamentally evolved to deify what it doesn’t understand, to exalt the forces that help or harm us, to construct systems of values around our experiences, to seek out conflict that generates hope.
And while our Thinking Brains are decent, they’re too slow and clunky to be of much use anymore. Just ask Garry Kasparov.
We are a self-hating, self-destructive species That is not a moral statement; it’s simply a fact. This internal tension we all feel, all the time? That’s what got us here.
When Elon Musk was asked what the most imminent threats to humanity were, he quickly said there were three: first, wide-scale nuclear war; second, climate change—and then, before naming the third, he fell silent. His face became sullen. He looked down, deep in thought. When the interviewer asked him, “What is the third?” He smiled and said, “I just hope the computers decide to be nice to us.”
Instead of asking what we evolved from, Nietzsche instead asked what we were evolving toward. Nietzsche said that man was a transition, suspended precariously on a rope between two ledges, with beasts behind us and something greater in front of us. His life’s work was dedicated to figuring out what that something greater might be and then pointing us toward it
So, instead of looking for hope, try this:
Don’t despair, either.
In fact, don’t deign to believe you know anything. It’s that assumption of knowing with such blind, fervent, emotional certainty that gets us into these kinds of pickles in the first place.
Don’t hope for better. Just be better
“Be more human,” but no—be a better human.
If I Dare…Conclusion
dare to hope for a post-hope world, where people are never treated merely as means but always as ends, where no consciousness is sacrificed for some greater religious aim, where no identity is harmed out of malice or greed or negligence, where the ability to reason and act is held in the highest regard by all, and where this is reflected not only in our hearts but also in our social institutions and business models
We will worship at AI’s digitized altars. We will follow their arbitrary rules and play their games not because we’re forced to, but because they will be designed so well that we will want to. We need our lives to mean something, and while the startling advance of technology has made finding that meaning more difficult, the ultimate innovation will be the day we can manufacture significance without strife or conflict, find importance without the necessity of death.
Check out more book notes at How I Read 90 Books In The Past 2 Years By Reading 20 Pages A Day