You really want to convince your boss to let you work remotely.
As someone who has worked in libraries and cafes for most of my working life, this all seems kind of obvious to me, and that’s really their point.
One funny piece of trivia: since 2013 when Remote was written, 37Signals closed down all of it’s businesses besides Basecamp. One of these businesses was WeWorkRemotely.
Some of most insightful pieces of advice:
Use separate tech devices work for play. They suggest “teching down” for play. This would be something like an iPad.
Don’t get cabin fever. Working remotely doesn’t mean being a hermit, so go do social thing.
If you’re not feeling motivated, it might be the work’s fault. From the book: “Most people suffering from a lack of motivation will blame themselves first. “Ah, it’s because I’m such a procrastinator!” “Why can’t I just get myself together?” The truth, more often than not, is that you are not the problem; it’s the world you’re working in.”
Overall the book is basic (you can read it in a couple of hours) and may be worth looking at for people making the transition to work.
[This is a kind of summary of the first section of the great book Present Shock.]
America has, until recently, had an extremely strong narrative core. There has always been something great on the horizon.
“Just as Mormonism continued the ancient story of the Bible into the American present, technologies, from rocket ships to computer chips, would carry the story of America’s manifest destiny into the future. The American Dream, varied though it may have been, was almost universally depending on the same greater shape, the same kind of story to carry us along. We were sustained economically, politically, and even spiritually, by stories.”
As time speeds up these stories are swapped out quicker and quicker. At this point it’s difficult for any story to last longer than it takes to read a headline or record a snap.
Terrence McKenna talked about time spiraling tighter and tighter. The spiral has reached the point where narratives breakdown. Not the “present” experienced by someone meditating, but the “present” you experience every time you are forced to react to a situation without taking any time to think about it.
Alvin Toffler was motivated to write his seminal essay “The Future as a Way of Life,” in which he coined the term “future shock”:
We can anticipate volcanic dislocations, twists and reversals, not merely in our social structure, but also in our hierarchy of values and in the way individuals perceive and conceive reality. Such massive changes, coming with increasing velocity, will disorient, bewilder, and crush many people. … Even the most educated people today operate on the assumption that society is relatively static. At best they attempt to plan by making simple straight-line projects of present-day trends. The result is unreadiness to meet the future when it arrives. In short, future shock.
Narrative take us to the most tense moment possible, then, sometimes, offer a way out. Joseph Capmbell created the “Hero’s Journey” to help us understand this process. Storytellers keep our interest by creating tension and relieving it. We most rely on the storyteller when we are most tense. This is moment they can instill a moral in us—or a desire for their product.
The higher into tension we have gone, the more dependent we are on the storyteller for a way out. That’s why he can plug in whatever value, idea, or moral he chooses.
As things become more disorienting the more we long for a coherent narrative. The more desperate we are for a story to save us. This is when we are sold ideas that our rational selves would laugh at us for. Self-help gurus sweet in with a system (a story) to fix us. Religions come in and relieve our uncertainty with answers. Advertisers, too:
Or product. The technique reaches its height, of course, in any typical television commercial. In just thirty seconds (or twenty-eight second, then you account for the fades to and from video blackness), a character finds himself in a situation, makes choices that put him in danger, and then finds a solution in the form of a purchase.
Aristotle said that “When they storytelling in a culture goes bad the result is decadence.” Decadence
To appreciate the humor of the [Mystery Science Theater 3000], viewers need to understand the media as a self-reflexive universe of references, any of which can be used to elucidate any other. Each joke is a demonstration of the media’s self-similarity. This is not a humor of random association but a comedy of connectivity where images and ideas from very disparate sources are revealed as somehow relevant to one another.
Everything is commentating on everything else. Check out this South Park clip to get an idea of what this means:
The linear progression of the film’s story is sacrificed to the more pressing need for a framework that mirrors the viewing experience.
Quentin Tarantino revealed in the chaos of the post-narrative world when he made Pulp Fiction:
Pulp Fiction delights in its ability to play with time, and in doing so shows us the benefits of succumbing to the chaos of a post narrative world. The object of the game is to avoid getting freaked out by the resulting gaps, juxtapositions, and discontinuity.”
The satisfaction of the Hero’s Journey is being replaced by a kind of “jam-session” style where there is no fixed endpoint, just a story that goes on and on…
“And like fantasy a role-playing game, [Game of Thrones] is not about creating satisfying resolutions, but rather about keeping the adventure alive and as many threads going as possible. There is plot—there are many plots—but there is no overarching story, no end. There are so many plots, in fact, that an ending tying everything up seems inconceivable, even beside the point.
As Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth, explained in an interview, it is no longer the writer’s job to “tell us how somebody felt about something, it is to tell us how the world works.” … Characters must learn how their universes work. Narrativity is replaced by something more like putting together a puzzle by making connections and recognizing patterns.
Rushkoff warns of the danger of reality television by likening it to Milgrim’s experiment. You’ve probably heard of it. He found that the majority of people will electrocute an innocent person to death if there is a person in a lab coat telling them to.
On a structural level—and maybe also an emotional one—reality TV mirrors much of this same dynamic. [That of Milgrim’s electric shock experiments on authority.] No, we’re not literally shocking people, but we are enjoying the humiliation and degradation of the participants, from the safe distance of an electronic medium. The question is not how much deadly voltage can we apply, but how shamefully low can we go? Besides, the producers bear the real brunt of responsibility—just as the men in lab coats did in the research experiments.
This lack of concern for others is shown in the premium on self-expression:
Freestyle sports, like skateboarding, snowboarding, rock climbing, and mountain biking, are more compatible with a world in which team loyalty and military victory have given way to self-expression and the thrill of the moment.
The nature of news has shifted radically as well.
Morning newspapers would have even more time [than television] to digest, format, and editorialize on the news of the preceding day, so that the public wouldn’t simply be confronted with the globe’s many catastrophes. We would be told what was being done about them or how they ended up, and those in charge were located and given a chance to reassure us. News editors also chose when to hold back a story altogether, for fear that its unresolved nature might worry us too greatly. Foreign dictators were not granted US airtime, for example, and scandals about politicians were held indefinitely or forever. Just as the New York Times promised us news that was “fit to print,” television news shows sought to promote the interests, welfare, and contentment of America by creating a coherent narrative through which we could understand and, hopefully, dismiss the news before going to bed. Thank you and good night.
This type of news makes it hard for anyone to have a temporally sane outlook. This creates new incentives for a lot of us. Bad incentives for people who need to think through problems–like politicians.
This saturation with live, uncensored, and unconsidered images from around the world impacted public opinion profoundly and actually forced government leaders to make decisions more quickly. Officials at the Pentagon eventually dubbed this phenomenon “the CNN effect,” as then secretary of state James Baker explained, “The one thing it does, is to drive policymakers to have a policy position. I would have to articulate it very quickly. You are in real-time mode. You don’t have time to reflect.” Baker isn’t simply talking about needing to work and think faster; he’s expressing the need to behave in real time, without reflection. Policy, as such, is no longer measured against a larger plan or narrative; it is simply a response to changing circumstances on the ground, or on the tube.
As a result, what used to be called statecraft devolves into a constant struggle with crisis management. Leaders cannot get on top of issues, much less ahead of them, as they instead seek merely to respond to the emerging chaos in a way that makes them look authoritative.
So our politicians are making reactive decisions before having a chance to make a plan. This annihilation of narrative doesn’t just makes our politicians more reactive, it creates an underlying uncertainty for us as well.
Likewise, without long-term goals expressed for us as readily accessible stories, people lose the ability to respond to anything but terror. If we have no destination toward which we are progressing, then the only thing that motivates our movement is to get away from something threatening. We move from problem to problem, avoiding calamity as best we can, our worldview increasingly characterized by a sense of panic.
We try to cope by hanging on to older stories or to simplify reality into something that we can understand.
As Columbia University historian Mark Lilla has chronicled, the combination of amplified self-confidence and fear of elites is a dangerous one. In his view, the Tea Partiers “have two classic American traits that have grown much more pronounced in recent decades: blanket distrust of institutions and an astonishing—and unwarranted—confidence in the self. They are apocalyptic pessimists about public life and childlike optimists swaddled in self-esteem when it comes to their own powers.
What’s interesting is what looks to be replacing narrative: participation, present-moment story creation, and infinite games.
Finite games are those with fixed endings—winners and losers. Most every game from tennis to football works this way. Victory is the scarcity: there can be only one winner, so players compete for the win. Infinite games, on the other hand, are more about the play itself. They do not have a knowable beginning or ending, and players attempt to keep the game going simply for the sake of play. There are no boundaries and rules can change as the game continues. Case’s point is to promote the open-ended, abundant thinking of infinite games. Instead of competing against one another and aching for the finality of conclusion, we should be playing with one another in order to maximize the fun for all. Instead of yearning for victory and the death of finite games, we should be actively enjoying the present and trying to sustain the playability of the moment. It’s an approach that favors improvisation over fixed rules, internal sensibilities over imposed morals, and playfulness over seriousness.
Infinite games are not new, of course. D&D players have always appreciated playing for the sake of playing.
RPGs did not respect our notions of time boundaries. When was the game over? Who wrote the rules? How does a person win? If a game doesn’t teach winning, is it simply creating losers?
Dungeon Masters measured their reputations in terms of how long they could keep a game group together. They had one terrific advantage in this regard over regular storytellers: their audience actively participated in the creation of the story.
Narrative collapse has created a whole new type of necessity for—along with the possibility for—self-reliance and participation.
Instead of panicking at the death of the story,players become the story and delight in acting it out in real time. The people designing the game can still communicate values if they choose to; they simply need to do it by offering choices instead of making them in advance.
In retail, the equivalent would mean deemphasizing brand mythologies and focusing instead on what is called brand experience—the actual pathway the customer takes through the real or virtual shopping environment. It’s not about the story you tell your customer; it’s about the experience you give him—the choices, immersion, and sense of autonomy. (It also means accepting transparency as a new given, and social media as the new mass communications medium…)
Games point the way toward new ways of accomplishing what used to be done with stories. They may not be a cure-all, but they can successfully counteract some of the trauma we suffer when our stories come apart. Our disillusionment is offset by a new sense of participation and self-direction.
The promise of video games is that it’s indicative of a whole new way of thinking of things.
Computer gaming is valuable to us not just through its particular applications, but as the inkling of an approach to contending with present shock—in this case, the inability of stories to function as they used to. Without the beginnings and endings, nor the origins and goals offered by linear narratives, we must function instead in the moment. We must mourn the guiding stories we have lost, while also contending with new measures of control, freedom, and self-determination. Gaming is a great lens through which to see this process of maturation.
It’s about getting comfortable being the storytellers of our own lives.
Young people raised in this environment are among the first to take back what has been lost. Instead of finding new storytellers, they become the equivalent of storytellers themselves. Snowboarders score their own paths down a slope, while skateboarders reinterpret the urban landscape as an obstacle course. Like their peers in other pursuits, they are playing winnerless, infinite games. This growing improvisatory subculture of players also abandons the single-minded effort of political parties to win offices; they instead write their own set of behavioral normal for activism and economic justice. Instead of looking to TV and film to inform them about the world and its values, they turn to computers and games to choose their own adventures and find their own answers.
Which flashing screen we choose to answer often means less about who or what we want to engage with than who or what we want to be, ourselves, in that moment.
Every once in a while I relapse into loving trading. Recently it’s been pulling harder than normal. The following screenshots are from a presentation to the investor of Guy Spier’s Aquamarine fund.
Some History Repeats
Elliott stated that “because man is subject to rhythmical procedure, calculations having to do with his activities can be projected far into the future with a justification and certainty heretofore unattainable.” (via Wikipedia)
Some use these patterns successfully. There’s a lot of argument about whether or not they work empirically. What isn’t up for debate is that humans tend to get most excited before the subject of their excitement fails.
The following graph is in Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy and it shows three different bubble cycles over a century:
People who can remember these graphs when the rest of the world is screaming don’t get screwed at the highs and can take advantage of the valleys.
Charlie Munger is most famous for his use of checklists like that below to help keep investment decisions in perspective. Going through this will immediately clean up your thinking on whatever it is you’re considering:
Spier was featured in The Checklist Manifesto for his use of checklists in investment decisions. Below is a sample of questions he asks himself when a market hits new highs.
First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.
So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.
Secondly, writing is survival. Any art, any good work, of course, is that.
Not to write, for many of us, is to die.
We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory. Remember that pianist who said that if he did not practice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audience would know.
A variation of this is true for writers. Not that your style, whatever that is, would melt out of shape in those few days.
But what would happen is that the world would catch up with and try to sicken you. If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.
You must stay drunk on writing, so reality cannot destroy you.
For writing allows just the proper recipes of truth, life, reality as you are able to eat, drink, and digest without hyperventilating and flopping like a dead fish in your bed.
I have learned, on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet, running in circles, and yelling for a clean pair of spats.
For those who will practice morning pages:
Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me.
After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.
We begin with the simultaneous birth of truth and uncertainty. It may seem fluffy at first, like it doesn’t apply to your uncertain future. I assure you it will. Soon.
From Passion of the Western Mind:
“[T]he more the Greek developed a sense of individual critical judgment and emerged from the collective primordial vision of earlier generations, the more conjectural became his understanding, the more narrow the compass of infallible knowledge. “As for certain truth,” Xenophanes asserted, “no man has known it, nor will he know it.” Philosophical contributions such as the irresolvable logical paradoxes of Zeno of Elea, or Heraclitus’s doctrine of the world as constant flux, often seemed only to exacerbate the new uncertainties. With the advent of reason, everything seemed open to doubt, and each succeeding philosopher offered solutions differing from his predecessor’s. If the world was governed exclusively by mechanical natural forces, then there remained no evident basis upon which firm moral judgments could be founded. And if the true reality was entirely divorced from common experience, then the very foundations of human knowledge were called into question. It seemed that the more man became freely and consciously self-determining, the less sure was his footing.”
As we began to uncover the concrete world under our subjective level of understanding we uncovered a vast separation between others and ourselves. If logic and natural law applied to one area, shouldn’t it apply everywhere?
Yet, how can each of these philosophers present logically sound arguments while contradicting each other?
This kind of uncertainty is uncomfortable for us (the two words are practically synonyms). Philosophers tried time and again to create a way of living that followed the newfound rules of reason. The Roman Stoics had a strong contingency, yet even they couldn’t provide the certainty craved by those who needed a philosophy to live by.
It’s worth noting here that the Stoics were working hard to deal rationally with an ethically ambiguous world. Yet the issue was not only internal. The world itself seemed to be going out of control. People seemed to have lost control over their lives. External discomfort causes internal confusion. When our old stories turn out to be false we are left in an existential void—and we will fill it with anything.
“This Christian ethical ideal of goodness and charity was strongly promulgated and at times widely observed, an ideal certainly not lacking in the moral imperatives of Greek philosophy – particularly in Stoicism, which in several ways anticipated the Christian ethics – but now having a more pervasive influence on the mass culture in the Christian era than had Greek philosophical ethics in the classical world.
In contrast to the previous centuries of metaphysical perplexity, Christianity offered a fully worked out solution to the human dilemma. The potentially distressing ambiguities and confusions of a private philosophical search without religious guideposts were now replaced by an absolutely certain cosmology and an institutionally ritualized system of salvation accessible to all.”
Individual truth no longer mattered. Spiritual (and philosophical) certainty became easily available for anyone who craved it.
This sense of certainty didn’t come for free. Human activity was now seen as valid only if it served God. Sacrifice was applauded and pride was punished.
“Only by such [divine] intervention were [Paul and Augustine] saved from continuing a life the self-defined direction of which could now be seen as futile and destructive. In light of these experiences, all merely human activity, whether independent willfulness or intellectual curiosity, now appeared secondary – superfluous, misleading, even sinful – except as it might lead to fully God-directed activity. God was the exclusive source of all good and of man’s salvation. All heroism, so central to the Greek character, was now concentrated in the figure of Christ. The human surrender to the divine was the only existential priority. All else was vanity. Martyrdom, the ultimate surrender of the self to God, represented the highest Christian ideal. As Christ was self-giving in the highest degree, so should all Christians strive to be like their Redeemer. Humility, not pride, was the distinguishing Christian virtue, requisite for salvation.”
It seems that reason and science would make our world more certain. Not so. Winston Churchill describes uncertainty (both physical and moral) nearly two thousand years after the beginnings of Christianity:
“It is not given to human beings – happily for them, otherwise life would be intolerable – to foresee or predict to any large extent the unfolding of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values. History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes.”
Churchill saw first hand how well the First World War was planned for—and how exactly zero of those plans mattered. From the first fight the best generals looked like amateurs. New technology and tactics disrupted everything. It had been theorized about for a decade but never battle tested. These generals were forced to appreciate the power of improvisation—a lesson Churchill took with him into WWII.
Even science textbooks have to be thrown out every few years because of new information. It seems all that is stable are death, taxes, and 2+2=4 (although I’ve been told this last one is disputed by some mathematicians…).
This swaying back and forth between uncertainty and certainty has never stopped.
We move through periods where the world seems to behave according so some eternal laws. If we learn to use these laws we can do anything we want. We can see this in the Christian era described. More recently we can look to the period when the American Dream seemed to be in full swing: go to college, get a job; buy a house, sell it for more; invest in stocks, make money.
Then the pendulum swings the other way. The world seems to be thrown into chaos. There is no reliable pattern we can follow. The events around us—and thus our fates—seem to be completely beyond our control. As we saw above, the birth of reason created this kind of uncertainty. You know from experience that we are again in a time of intense certainty.
Notice that Stoicism was popular before Christian certainty swept the Western world. With this understanding it isn’t surprising to see its resurgence in our culture, is it? Especially among tech entrepreneurs who operate under massive uncertainty. (See: Tim Ferriss, Nassim Taleb, Ryan Holiday, William Irvine, and Art of Manliness.) We will explore this in more detail later on as a tool for leveraging the uncertainty of the world. For now it’s enough to understand that humans develop (or, in this case, adapt) the philosophy they need for their current situation.
Seth Godin reintroduced the term “tribe” into our world with his 2008 book Tribes. It’s awesome, I don’t know why it took me so long to read it.
My favorite pieces:
It’s only in the last couple years that businesses have started leveraging the power of showing their processes. It’s a powerful tool for gathering an audience.
While Joel runs a small software company in New York City, his real passion is talking about how to run a small software company. Through blogs and books and conferences, Joel has changed the way many smart people thing about finding, hiring, and managing programmers. Along the way, Joel has assembled a large and influential tribe of people who look to him for leaderhship.
Tribes are simple.
A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.
Human beings can’t help it: we need to belong.
Do you believe in what you do? Every day? It turns out that belief happens to be a brilliant strategy.
More from Joy
“How was your day?” is a question that matters a lot more than it seems. It turns out that the people who like their jobs the most are also the ones who are doing the best work, making the greatest impact, and changing the most.
It’s a criticism when you throw that word at a politician, but all tribes are made up of partisans, the more partisan the better. If you’re a middle-of-the-roader, you don’t bother joining a tribe.
Partisans want to make a difference. Partisans want something to happen (and something else not to happen). Leaders lead when they take positions, when they connect with their tribes, and when they help the tribe connect to itself.
Interest -> Action
So a leader can help increase the effectiveness of the tribe and its members by
transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and a desire for change;
providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications; and
leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members.
Anatomy of a Movement
Senator Bill Bradley defines a movement as having three elements:
A narrative that tells a story about who we are and the future we’re trying to build
A connection between and among the leader and the tribe
Something to do – the fewer limit, the better
Too often organizations fail to do anything but the third.
That’s it – three steps: motivate, connect, and leverage.
Most organizations spend their time marketing to the crowd. Smart organizations assemble the tribe.
Whatever the status quo is, changing it gives you the opportunity to be remarkable.
You Are Leveraged
What I’m saying is that one person – okay, what I really mean is you – has everything. Everything you need to build something far bigger than yourself. The people around you realize this, and they are ready to follow if you’re ready to lead.
“I’m doing what you told me”
The second reason we have factories has nothing to do with efficiency and a lot to do with human nature. Part of us wants stability. We want the absence of responsibility that a factory job can give us. The idea of “I’m doing what you told me to” is very compelling, especially if the alternative is foraging for food or begging on the streets.
Organizations Good, Factories Bad
Organizations are more important than ever before. It’s the factories we don’t need.
Organizations give us the ability to create complex products. They provide the muscle and consistency necessary to get things to market and to back them up. Most important, organizations have the scale to care for large tribes.
But organizations don’t have to be factories, not anymore. Factories are easy to outsource. Factories can slow you down.
In a battle between two ideas, the best one doesn’t necessarily win. No, the idea that wins is the one with the most fearless heretic behind it.
Another look at winning in the world of words from Nassim Taleb: “As in anything with words, it is not the victory of the most correct, but that of the most charming – or the one who can produce the most academic-sounding material.”
Use Attention, Don’t Hunger for It
It’s easy to hesitate when confronted with the feeling that maybe you’re getting too much attention. Great leaders are able to reflect the light onto their teams, their tribes. Great leaders don’t want the attention, but they use it. They use it to unite the tribe and to reinforce its sense of purpose.
Faith is critical to all innovation. Without faith, it’s suicidal to be a leader, to act like a heretic.
Steps to Making Your Movement
The key elements in creating a micromovement consist of five things to do and six principles:
Publish a manifesto. Give it away and make it easy for the manifesto to spread far and wide. It doesn’t have to be printed or even written. But it’s a mantra and a motto and a way of looking at the world. It unites your tribe members and gives them a structure.
Make it easy for your followers to connect with you. […]
Make it easy for your followers to connect with one another. […]
Realize that money is not part of the movement. Money exists merely to enable it. The moment you try to cash out is the moment you stunt the growth of your movement.
Track your progress. Do it publicly and create pathways for your followers to contribute to that progress.
Transparency really is your only option. […]
Your movement needs to be bigger than you. […]
Movements that grow, thrive. […] Don’t mortgage today because you’re in a hurry.
Movements are made most clear when compared to the status quo or to movements that work to push in the other direction. Movements do less well when compared to other movements with similar goals. Instead of beating them, join them.
Exclude outsiders. Exclusion is an extremely powerful force for loyalty and attention. Who isn’t part of your movement matters almost as much as who is.
Tearing others down is never as helpful to a movement as building your followers up.
Be Boldly Wrong
Isaac Newton was totally, fantastically wrong about alchemy, the branch of science he spent most of his career on. He was as wrong as a scientist could be. And yet, he’s widely regarded as the most successful scientist and mathematician ever.
The Secret of Leadership
The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture. Go there.
This kind of thing happens all the time. We make decisions and then forget about them. Your beliefs, perspective, and actions are the result of countless tiny decisions that you made at one point and forgot about. They last forever and it’s impossible to keep track of them all.
I don’t know what this means other than: you’ve probably made way more progress than you think… and you’re setting yourself up for your future in ways you can’t appreciate. Right now.
Nothing is that big of a deal but everything matters.
I’ve had a complicated relationship with religious faith for a while.
The beliefs are generally absurd, but so are the atheists who attack things so obviously metaphorical.
Faith in certain circumstances has allowed people to do terrible thing (Islamic terrorists) and other people to do great things (religious charity is massive). It’s given business men (John D. Rockefellar) and athletes (basically all of them) the supreme confidence and unnatural energy necessary to perform at the highest level.
In the face of the world mocking them for believing in fairy tales people have remained religious.
Religious may be destructive in some spheres. So is science’s illusion that everything can be explained, predicted, or controlled.
We believe that religion supplies potent tricks to mitigate people’s natural epistemic arrogance and overconfidence about the future. “I don’t know” is something hard for humans to accept and say; this is made easier in the Arabic language, as the typical traditional expression is “God knows.” Saying “God knows” is easier on one’s ego than “I don’t know.”
Wittgenstein (1961/1921, 6.372) remarked: “…the view of the ancients is clearer in so far as they have a clear and acknowledged terminus, while the modern system tries to make it look as if everything were explained.”
Accordingly it is an extremely naive interpretation to think that religious ‘beliefs’ map to the ‘justified true belief’ standards of modern epistemology (see Ichikawa and Steup 2014); it is naive to examine the supernatural aspect of religion as anything but epiphenomenal. One needs to think of religious ‘belief’ as closer to a form of trusting, as a form of action, or a willingness to take action, and, most crucially of all, as a set of interdicts upon action. Further, religion establishes a categorical demarcation between sacred and profane, and one that cannot be violated (see Eliade 1959). The sacred is not open to ‘rationalization’—what we don’t understand is not necessarily irrational, and it might have reasons that can be probed only across generations of experience and experimentation.
“Suckers try to win arguments, nonsuckers try to win.”
Consider the evolution of ideas: ‘bad ideas’ (in the epistemic sense) can survive if they have some side benefits—an idea that seems to be absent in the literature about “evolutionary epistemology” (Popper 1999). It is misguided to focus on the competition between ideas—and their survival—as an end product. What matters is the survival of the populations that have such ideas. Those with the right risk-management heuristics make it, even if their system of belief does not appear ‘rational.’
Too New to Know
Modernity is in this sense a dangerous uncontrolled experiment. The amount of historical time that any significant number of humans have lived without religion is infinitesimal compared to the sweep of history. Given that, the amount of time that we have sought as societies, as a species, to live without religion is almost nil. It is a symptom of chronic short-termism and over-optimism that people now assume that living in such a way is sustainable.
… if a good idea were obviously good, someone else would already have done it. So the most successful founders tend to work on ideas that few beside them realize are good. Which is not that far from a description of insanity, till you reach the point where you see results.
The first time Peter Thiel spoke at YC he drew a Venn diagram that illustrates the situation perfectly. He drew two intersecting circles, one labelled “seems like a bad idea” and the other “is a good idea.” The intersection is the sweet spot for startups.