Upper bounds

If we play our cards right, we could live hundreds of thousands of years more. In fact, there’s not much stopping us living millions of years. The typical species lives about a million years. Our 200,000 years so far would put us about in our adolescence, just old enough to be getting ourselves in trouble, but not wise enough to have thought through how we should act.

~ Toby Ord from, https://www.edge.org/conversation/toby_ord-we-have-the-power-to-destroy-ourselves-without-the-wisdom-to-ensure-that-we

I find it beneficial to have my perspectives stretched. This article walks through scales of time in a delightful manner. It pauses to ask questions, and to point out people who did certain things at precise points in our history. There are countless opportunities to shift perspective. For example: I’ve been alive for 1/100 of recorded human history. And recorded history is only 3/100 of the age of our species. The aggregate progress of humanity is simply the sum of our individual efforts, and my life represents 1/100,000,000,000 of humanity so far. Stretched perspectives indeed.

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More light

There’s also a long list of advertisers who rely on this confusion to abdicate their ethical responsibility in terms of their money winding up in the pockets of bottom-dwelling grifters and bigots. The murkiness makes it easier to pretend it’s not happening, and it’s this accountability gap the group hopes to target

~ Karl Bode from, https://www.techdirt.com/2022/06/14/nonprofit-takes-aim-at-fox-news-by-demystifying-ad-exchanges/

Caution: Depending on your viewpoint, that article will make you cheer, or will enrage you. What I want to focus on is, “murkiness” and I want to split a fine hair.

I believe there’s visibility, (in the sense that it is clear who is accountable for some speech [advertising is speech],) anonymity, and murkiness which obscures the dichotomy of visibility versus anonymity. My position is that murkiness is never a positive thing. The knowledge that something is being said with accountability, (who said it is clear,) versus with anonymity is critical for one to be able to evaluate some speech for oneself. That knowledge is removed when there’s murkiness.

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Guiding principles

We rarely take the time to capture these guiding principles—even though recognizing them can help steer our actions, lead us to better decisions, and let us live more in alignment with who we are.

~ Chris Bailey from, https://alifeofproductivity.com/my-6-guiding-principles/

As with Bailey, I don’t think I have a clear set of guiding principles. I’m not sure if I’m okay with that. I am sure that I do not want to spiral off and spend my entire day—that’s what would surely happen to me if I begin—thinking about this. Instead, I read his list and spent some time letting my thinking happen spurred by his principles. Just as he described, I did have one principle spring immediately to mind: Curiosity. To be powered by curiosity. To be passionately curious. “Curioser and curioser”, said Alice.

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The library

If you think of your mind as a library, three things should concern you. […] There is no point having a repository of knowledge in your mind if you can’t find and apply its contents (see multiplicative systems).

~ Shane Parrish from, https://medium.com/personal-growth/what-you-spend-time-reading-changes-your-brain-ee2ab4f2aa17#.20s36rpb7

Don’t panic it’s not simply a catalog of library metaphors. There are great points about being intentional about what you choose to put into your brain, what your brain is good at doing, the utility and danger—which I humorously typo’d as “dander”—of filters, and more. I’m going to go in a different direction here however: Rather than trying to figure out how to assess the library of my mind, I’ve been trying to more often let people see what it’s doing. As I’ve said many times, this blog itself is a form of me working “with the garage door up.” …and I regularly reread these blog posts myself to make sure the thoughts still look reasonable after some time sitting on the digital shelf.

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What’s in a name

A challenge arises when we make something over a long period of time. As we evolve — as we add experiences, impressions, memories, deepening knowledge and self-knowledge to the combinatorial pool from which all creative work springs — what we make evolves accordingly; it must, if we are living widely and wisely enough. Eventually, the name we once chose for it begins to feel not like a choice but like a constraint, an ill-fitting corset ribbed with the ossified sensibility of a former self.

~ Maria Popova from, https://www.themarginalian.org/2021/10/22/brain-pickings-becoming-the-marginalian/

Popova changed the name of her project a while back, and this is a nice unpacking of her thinking. I’ve a lot of projects, and they have various names; Names that are public and names for them in my own mind.

With each project, I continuously struggle to balance the desire for concision and the desire for clarity. I drive myself mercilessly to find the simplest phrase that is something memorable and meaningful. And then I drive myself mercilessly to be ready and able to explain things as iterative layers of unpacking. That name. A few sentences. A few minutes of explanation. And so on, expanding to a fully dynamic conversation about the thing. On one hand, I know that this zooming in, (towards a concise name,) and zooming out, (toward a coherent and thorough explanation,) improves my thinking and understanding. But on the other hand. It’s really exhausting.

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Pessimist? Optimist?

This has been distilled to a motto: “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”. I am a pessimist or optimist of the intellect according to facts on the ground, but I am ever an optimist of the will.

~ Jason Crawford from, https://rootsofprogress.org/descriptive-vs-prescriptive-optimism

Frankly, I’ve never cared for the simple dichotomy of, “are you an optimist, or a pessimist?” There is simply too much complexity—in the world, in the mind—for that level of simplicity to be useful. I’m interested in models, and this article from Crawford spreads out some of the complexity nicely. (It also includes some interesting references.)

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Diffuse thinking

Although diffuse thinking comes in the guise of a break from focus, our minds are still working. Often, it’s only after we switch away from this mode that we realize our brains were indeed working for us. Moving into diffuse mode can be a very brief phenomenon, such as when we briefly stare into the distance before returning to work.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/focused-diffuse-thinking/

It is a most interesting mode of thinking. Even after protracted wondering, it’s not clear to me what exactly is the list of things necessary to intentionally slip into the mode of thinking. So I’ll start with some things that will prevent me, every time: Being exhausted or even very-tired will prevent my diffuse thinking. Because settling in, physically and mentally, is also how I go to sleep. Being overly energetic will prevent my diffuse thinking. It’s as if the mind is the driver atop the elephant, and the elephant must be in the mood to follow, not in the mood to frolic or smash.

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A good argument

Arguments […] can have a great deal of force for us even if, perhaps especially if, we recoil from [the] actual positions. The better the reasoning, the more [the] work requires us—if we’re going to be honest—to pick out the step where we disagree, and to see what consequences that has for the rest of our thought.

~ Stephen E. Sachs from, https://reason.com/volokh/2021/09/30/why-listen-to-abhorrent-speech/

I do think about this sort of thing.

In my day-to-day life, I rarely encounter something abhorrent. That’s partly because of my privileged position in life, but it’s mostly because I don’t try to overreach. I don’t try to watch “everything” or keep up with “everything” and I very emphatically do not try to have an opinion on everything. But I do, sometimes, encounter things that, while not abhorrent, rise to the level of odious. Which then makes me think, “do I want to have an argument?”

Increasingly, approaching “always” these days, I don’t feel I have the energy for a good argument. That’s not a good sign.

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What do you know

Read that title in the Petulant Voice. (There are the 1st-person, 2nd-person, Narrator, Author, etc. voices; I’ve always thought failure to formally recognize Petulant Voice was a major literary oversight.)

Reasoned skepticism and disagreement are essential to progress and democracy. The problem is that most of what’s happening isn’t reasoned skepticism. It’s the adult equivalent of a two-year-old throwing a tantrum.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2019/02/distrust-intellectual-authority/

As in this article, the majority of what I’ve read—in the 32 years I’ve been reading stuff on the Internet—has been about the skeptic in the skepticism/disagreement relationships. But the responsibility is actually with the side claiming authority.

Always.

Because that’s the moral high road. (The high road is always less crowded.) If one wants to hold oneself out as an authority, then one is responsible for reaching down and helping others up. (Also, is “Tortured” a recognized voice?) One is not responsible for the skeptics whose attention you do not have. But one is responsible for those whose attention you do have; Those skeptics see you. There’s your chance to do good work.

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Respecting people’s wishes

We’re not just respecting people’s time. We’re respecting their voice and their passion.

~ Seth Godin from, https://seths.blog/2021/09/respecting-their-time/

It’s a good post from Godin. This post of mine is a literal tangent from one thing he mentioned…

In cases where “we’re all going to be speaking” isn’t on the agenda, going around the room, (ala “let’s all introduce ourselves”,) robs people of their agency. I’ve heard it discussed that this wastes time—it does. But vastly worse is the fact that it removes people’s agency.

(Agency is critical. I’ll go out on a limb and say that depriving someone of agency is literally the worst thing you can do to a person. All the horrible physical crimes you just thought of, involve first depriving the victim of their agency. Imagine if taking someone’s agency was treated as the worst crime possible.)

I imagine I’m leading some session, and someone is sitting in the space. When their turn comes around… suppose they don’t want to speak? What if they didn’t want to be heard? By saying, “let’s go around”—even if I say, “and introduce yourself if you want to“—regardless, they are going to be seen. They have to speak, to decline to speak. They have to leave the room, or hide, etc. My “let’s go around the room,” literally robs everyone of their choice.

There are of course lots of situations where “going around” makes perfect sense. For example, if we’re sitting in a restorative justice circle, everyone there knows how it works. You’re free to not speak, and you know that you are going be seen. But the vast majority of times I’ve been in a “let’s go around” situation, it’s the theft of agency variety.

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