Books Proteus Read in November 2019

Happy Thanksgiving! I read 3 books in November – a decent number. Now it’s time to give a short review for each book, and post them on my list of short reviews.


 

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71rqh0jMyJL.jpgBuddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor

Rating: 4.3/5

Finished: 05/Nov/2019

A book making the case for agnostic Buddhism. BWB treats the Buddha as a historical figure, and focuses on Buddhism as a “dharmic practice” for reducing suffering rather than a monastic, metaphysical, or mystical tradition. Good for secular explorers of Buddhism, avoid if you’re a more traditional or religious Buddhist.

[Read more about Buddhism Without Beliefs on Amazon]

 

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71iE%2BTOpwML.jpgThe Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan

Rating: 3.9/5

Finished: 16/Nov/2019

An engaging geopolitics book about the coming century of global disorder, and how America’s geography, demography, financial system, and growing shale capacity will turn the 21st century into a true American century. He only dedicates two pages to climate change, but there’s much in Accidental Superpower worth thinking about.

[Read more about The Accidental Superpower on Amazon]

 

https://proteusmorrill.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/bf241-iu.jpgThe Stranger by Albert Camus

Rating: 1.7/5

Finished: 25/Nov/2019

A book about an apathetic doormat, who uses nihilism to justify low standards and poor life choices. Existentialism is a powerful life-affirming philosophy; even though this is a core existentialist text, this is existentialism at it’s worst. Read if you like Camus – I’d suggest finding a better book on existentialism.

[Read more about The Stranger on Amazon]

A More Detailed Way of Rating Books

I’m updating my list of short book reviews – it’s slow going, but it’s coming along.

Normally when I finish reading a book, I’ve been rating it out of 10, and then turning that into a 5 star rating for Goodreads. After rating so many books with similar ratings, I’ve concluded that I need to make a more detailed rating system to be a little more objective about rating books. The rating system I’ve made has 5 categories I consider important in books, with 50 total points, and is easily converted to a 5 star rating.


Writing Quality: Is it written well? How often did you put it down, and was it for positive or negative reasons?

  • 0 – The editor had a heart attack
  • 3 – Difficult to get through
  • 5 – Could be better, could be worse
  • 7 – Pretty well written
  • 10 – I couldn’t put it down or didn’t want to stop

Good writing is subjective, but important. Some books have great reasons to read them despite being badly written, but bad writing gets in the way of enjoyment or learning.

Accuracy/Believability/Content: How accurate, usable, or revolutionary is the information? Or how accurate is the book’s setting? How believable is the information – is it too good to be true? Or how believable are the story and characters?

  • 0 – Complete bullshit/What story? What characters?
  • 3 – A lot of misinformation/stretching my suspension of disbelief
  • 5 – Some information could be better/the story could be worse
  • 7 – Learned a few new things/pretty good story
  • 10 – Revolutionary book that changed my life/one of the greatest stories in human literature

A good book isn’t just written well, the content is also amazing. It should teach you something useful, the information should be true, or the story should be brilliant.

Rereading: Do I want to reread this? If this is a reread, has it changed how I feel about the book?

  • 0 – Don’t mention this book to me ever again
  • 3 – I’d rather not reread this
  • 5 – I could reread this if I’m bored
  • 7 – There’s some value in rereading this
  • 10 – I’m going to reread this multiple times in my life

Good books aren’t just read once; the best books get read more than a dozen times. Each reading should teach something different or give a new perspective.

Gifting or Recommending: If an open-minded person with an interest in the genre/topic was looking for their next book, would you gift or recommend this? If the book is controversial or the author is disliked, is there a reason people should read it anyway?

  • 0 – I wouldn’t give this to my worst enemy
  • 3 – It would be better if they read something else
  • 5 – Maybe I’d recommend it, maybe not
  • 7 – I’d consider giving/recommending it
  • 10 – I would be proud to give it to them, and if they’ve already read it I want them to read it again

If a book is really good, I want to recommend it to people – and I want to give the best books to people I care about most, to enrich their lives. If I can’t do that, it’s a problem.

Longevity: Will this book be readable, useful, or interesting to readers in the future? Would it be better for them to read a different book in the same genre/topic?

  • 0 – Dead on arrival
  • 3 – Already has huge issues, and will only get worse in the coming years
  • 5 – A handful of issues, but future readers will still get something out of it
  • 7 – Maybe there’s an issue or two, but still good/useful for the foreseeable future
  • 10 – Timeless, a book people will read/have read for centuries without issue

Every book carries a risk of becoming outdated, or of showing off the ignorance of the times. The best books are timeless, and will be read long after the author has died.


There’s still plenty of room for personal opinion – the point is to make my ratings a little more objective, not spend hours judging punctuation or fact-checking the whole book.

Terrible books will still get a handful of points, and really good books will lose a few points unless they’re perfect – both are better than just saying “That was great/terrible!”

Has anyone done something like this before? Probably, but most people don’t. Then again, most people don’t read as much as I do, and don’t need to be be that detailed.

Changing My Writing Style

I went to college for six years.

The first two years were in high school, taking community college classes to complete a high school degree. The next two years were as a regular community college student, exploring my options for university. The last two years were as a university student.

During that time, I had to write a lot of essays. Some were very good – others not as good. What united most of them was that they were very long.

Academic writing usually prioritizes length, with page and word requirements. Sometimes this is reasonable or necessary, forcing the student to prove they fully understand the topic. Often this isn’t reasonable or necessary – the student is asked to write in 1000 words what could be said in 100, and in 20 pages what could be said in one or two. The length means that something was said, but not necessarily that anything important was said.

Academic writing also emphasizes technical vocabulary – jargon. This is also sometimes reasonable or necessary, since difficult subjects can be hard to talk about otherwise. Often this isn’t reasonable or necessary, creating confusion in the reader, and hiding a lack of understanding from the author.

As you can guess, I’m changing my writing style to avoid length and jargon from now on. Looking back on some of the things I’ve written on this blog in the past, some of them could be half as long and twice as clear. If something can be clearly said in fewer words, I’ll try to do so. If something can be said with simpler words, I’ll replace them.

What does this look like? As an example, it looks like something George Orwell wrote called Politics and the English Language. In the essay Orwell lays out his 6 rules for good writing:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

Basically: the opposite of academic writing.

There’s also a tweet thread by Naval Ravikant, about How to Get Rich (without getting lucky). Rather than write a long book, he tweets out about 40 simple principles for getting rich. Also: no jargon.

It’s not just about essays: I’m also going to go over my list of reviews – I call them “short reviews” but most of them are still too long. I’m going rewrite all of them to be less than 50 words – with writing that short, every word counts.

For most writing, being clear and understood is more important than length or jargon. Universities will tell you otherwise.

I’m sure this will take practice to get right.

Books Proteus Read in October 2019

Happy Halloween! I read 8 books in October! Now that the month is over, it’s time to give a short review for each book, and then post all of these reviews to my big list of reviews.


simulationAre You Living In a Computer Simulation? by Nick Bostrom

Rating: 10/10

An essay about advanced/post-human civilizations and “ancestor simulations” (high-fidelity supercomputer simulations that are advanced enough to simulate previous historical eras and all of the human brains of those eras – overly simplified, think Sid Meier’s Civilization meets The Matrix). Bostrom argues that one of three things is true: 1. all advanced civilizations go extinct before making ancestor simulations, 2. all advanced civilizations decide not to make ancestor simulations for mysterious reasons, or 3. there is an absurdly high chance (I infer it’s something like 1 in a trillion or a 99.9999999999% chance) that we are currently living in an ancestor simulation right now. One of the most influential essays of contemporary philosophy – and one of the most interesting. Most probably won’t count this as a book, but 1. Goodreads does, and 2. this little essay is arguably more thought-provoking and influential than 99% of books being written. The problem I’ve seen is that most people don’t understand probability very well (or at all) and can’t wrap their head around why Bostrom gives such a high chance to you and I living in a simulation – as long as you understand probability even just a little bit, you should absolutely read this essay.

5lovelanguagessecretThe 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman

Rating: 8/10

A simple book about a simple idea: people in relationships express love in different love languages – Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Keeping the “love tank full” in a relationship requires speaking your partner’s love language, and your partner speaking yours back to you. Mark Manson calls this the “Harry Potter of relationship books” for a reason: it’s a simple idea, everyone’s read it (or says they’ve read it), and you can find this book in every airport bookstore in the world. If you’re in a relationship, read it. Even if you’re not in a relationship, it might be a good idea to spend an afternoon reading it to figure out your own love languages.

radicalhonestyRadical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth by Brad Blanton

Rating: 7/10

Brad Blanton wants you to tell the truth – all the time, about everything. Blanton lays out the case that lying is the major cause of all human stress and illness, and for the sake of your health (and literally the survival of humanity), you should adopt radical honesty. Honestly? I’m not sure I fully buy it. I agree that lying will destroy you inside, and it’s best practice to tell truth. I’m skeptical of lies causing all illness and stress though. I’m skeptical of other stuff: Blanton tirades against moralism, resulting in moral-relativism-in-everything-but-name – which is followed by a 14 part political agenda that basically combines Bernie Sanders with Eckhart Tolle (which seems a little moralistic to me). Even if I think Blanton is a bit of a hypocrite (Blanton also thinks he’s a hypocrite), I think Blanton is onto something, and Radical Honesty is a thought provoking book.

unlimitedpowerUnlimited Power: The New Science Of Personal Achievement by Anthony Robbins

Rating: 5/10

Tony Robbins’ first book, written right at the beginning of his career as a self-help juggernaut. It has a lot of interesting ideas (some of which match other good advice I’ve read), plus some unique advice (he’s the first I’ve read recommending trampolining for superior health). Make no mistake though: Unlimited Power is a deeply flawed book. There are many references and quotes, but few citations. The book is unmistakably a product of the 80s, and many parts are severely outdated. Plus, the book is dominated by Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a form of psychotherapy that isn’t widely respected outside of self-help books. From what I can tell, Robbins’ later books are better (or at the very least contain less NLP), and you should just skip Unlimited Power unless you love Tony Robbins.

datalovestoryData, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match by Amy Webb

Rating: 9/10

An absolutely riveting tale of a woman on a mission: stop having bad online dates, define exactly what she wants in a husband (from height and build, to his opinion on cruise ship traveling), and crack the code of online dating to find the Jew…ish Prince Charming of her dreams. While this book is mostly aimed at women, it combines three things I love reading about: data science, relationships, and neurotic smart people solving problems. I’ve been fascinated by this book ever since I saw Webb’s TED Talk, and read it in an afternoon (not because it’s short, but because I couldn’t put it down). You’ll laugh, you’ll be embarrassed for her, you’ll learn something about the algorithms that dating sites rely on (which might not apply as much to recent swiping apps), and if you’re like me you’ll facepalm over Webb stress-smoking after bad dates (to be fair, these were some really bad dates). The book probably won’t be for everyone, but I absolutely loved it. Spoiler: She finds her Jew…ish Prince Charming.

luciddreamingExploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge

Rating: 9/10

A classic book about being conscious during your dreams, and even learning to control them, from the pioneer of lucid dreaming. This is not a book about dream interpretation, Freudian psychology, or about anything magical like astral projection or souls: this is a book about lucid dreaming. LaBerge keeps his book focused on scientific information and practical steps for achieving lucidity, drawing from his PhD work in lucid dreams and from ancient texts related to lucid dreams. Even if there are newer or better books about lucid dreaming (this was written in 1990), this seems to be the classic book on the subject, and one I plan on rereading.

jlscompleteJonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Rating: 8/10

A novella about individuality, self-perfection, and the willingness to be different – told with seagulls. I *suspect* a lot of people who know me wouldn’t expect me to like a book like this – it grew on me. The first part wasn’t very promising – Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a special seagull! He doesn’t want to spend his days working for food! He wants to be free, and master the art of flying! The other seagulls don’t understand him, and then they kick him out of seagull society! And then he spends the rest of his days flying until he dies. But then it turns out he *didn’t* die, and things get way more interesting. It’s deeper than it sounds, at least to me. I can understand the mixed opinions people have about this book, but I liked Seagull – I just hope I don’t reread this later, and react to it the same way a lot of people react to rereading Catcher in the Rye.

greatestmindsThe Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time by Will Durant

Rating: 8/10

A collection of essays by master historian Will Durant, covering a handful of topics from the most important thinkers in history, to the 100 books to read for a complete education. After reading The Lessons of History (which is a masterpiece), I’m now dedicated to reading as much of Durant as I can get my hands on. There are parts of Greatest Minds that are incredible – Durant’s soaring rhetoric about humanity and heroes, the list of 100 best books (I’m attempting a similar project), and the brief inclusion of Marquis de Condorcet (who in my opinion is the most underappreciated thinker in all of western philosophy). There were parts I didn’t like as much – while I love how Durant talks about humanity in general, I’m not as enthusiastic about how he talks about “savages/primitives.” And while I love Durant’s book list, I’m not as interested in Durant’s long chapter about the best poets. With all that said, read Greatest Minds with an open mind, right after reading The Lessons of History.

Books Proteus Read in August 2019

Here’s something new I’m going to be doing on the blog. Every month at the end of the month, I’m going to make a dedicated post for reviewing every book I read that month. Those reviews then get posted to my page of short book reviews. Simple enough.


he

He: Understanding Masculine Psychology by Robert A. Johnson:

Rating: 4/10

A man must consent to look to a foolish, innocent, adolescent part of himself for his cure. The inner fool is the only one who can touch his Fisher King wound.” A book by Jungian psychologist Robert A. Johnson exploring masculine psychology, primarily through the the Camelot myth. It starts off with an interesting discussion of childhood psychological wounds (the “Fisher King” wound) before getting bogged down by weird interpretations (not to mention unsupported assertions and free-association) of old meanings of words, comparative mythology, and numbers. This really put into perspective what I find frustrating about Jungianism: lots of interesting concepts, but too often it relies so heavily on myth and interpretation that it eventually gives up on logic or rules of evidence.

sixpillars

The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden:

Rating: 9/10

“The tragedy of many people’s lives is that they look for self-esteem in every direction except within, and so they fail in their search. The ultimate source of self-esteem is, and can only be, internal. In what we do, not what others do. When we seek in the externals, we invite tragedy.” Psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden explores the nature of self-esteem, its two key foundations, and the six pillars for building and supporting self-esteem. In addition, he covers external factors that can affect self-esteem, such as parents, teachers, workplaces, religion, and the relationship between self-esteem and tribalism. You don’t have to agree with Branden’s libertarian politics to appreciate the message: you are enough, you have the right to exist, and you have value. For me the best part of this book wasn’t just the content, but the fact that the content echoed a lot of other great books I’ve read (especially Models by Mark Manson). If you’ve ever struggled with self-esteem, confidence, or self-love, I highly recommend this book.

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Way of the Superior Man by David Deida:

Rating: 6/10

“As long as life continues, the creative challenge is to tussle, play, and make love with the present moment while giving your unique gift.” A book about sexual polarity between men and women, and how to become a spiritually aware superior man. I have mixed thoughts. On the one hand, there are some interesting ideas, mirroring other books I’ve read, and I can see why this was recommended to me. On the other hand, this book is far more spiritual and poetic/flowery than books I usually read. Plus there are some parts that are just… weird. Parts where you’ll go “Huh? Where’d that come from?” or “Why is he even talking about that?” With all that said, here’s my overall take: if you’re a man interested in relationships with feminine women, there’s going to be some value for you, even if some parts are kind of weird (I’d also suggest checking out Models by Mark Manson if you’re looking for rock solid men’s advice).

Stop Outsourcing Your Existence

Modern life is defined by services, products, and trends designed to outsource critical parts of your existence – to people, products, and things outside of your direct experience. If you want to live up to your full potential, you need to resist these things as much as possible or necessary.

Stop outsourcing your social life to social media. It’s good to keep up with friends, family, and people you admire – but don’t replace real experience of these people with a screen. You are a human being who needs friends, family, and community – in person.

Stop outsourcing your pursuit of competition and adventure to video games. There’s an argument to be made for video games as literature or creative medium, but most video games are not like this. Most video games are packaged superstimuli designed to addict you and drain your energy. Compete in the real world. Explore the real world. Seek adventure in the real world. Learn how the real world works. Don’t conquer video games – conquer reality.

Stop outsourcing your sexuality to pornography. There might be a difference between erotica (sexuality in the form of creative expression) and pornography (media designed to fulfill a base urge), but you’re not going to know the difference if your primary (or exclusive) experience with sexuality is through a screen.

Stop outsourcing your desire for positive emotions to drugs (including alcohol). By positive emotions I don’t just mean happiness, I also mean transcendence, inner peace, extroversion, and even creativity. Learn how to find and create these things without drugging yourself. If you’re going to use drugs to achieve altered states, use them in ways that enhance your normal life, rather than distract you from your daily nightmare.

Stop outsourcing your thinking to influencers, teachers, experts, and gurus. Learn from these people, take from them what you can, but don’t replace your own thinking with simply being a follower. Think about what others tell you. Learn from multiple sources. Do your own research. Think critically about credibility. Don’t merely follow the crowd or what’s popular, consider other possibilities and alternative ideas (including ones that seem crazy, or will likely get you ostracized from popular culture).

I’ve sometimes said that the most radical act in the world is to think for yourself – I’m starting to wonder if the actual most radical act is to live a life of direct experience rather than an outsourced life.

Tribalism and Self-Esteem: Excerpt from “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” by Nathaniel Branden

This is an excerpt (or really three excerpts) from the book “The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” by Nathaniel Branden. If you’re like me, and you’re very disturbed by growing tribalism in America and other countries, you’ll find this interesting.

Throughout human history, most societies and cultures have been dominated by the tribal mentality. This was true in primitive times, in the Middle Ages, and in socialist (and some nonsocialist) countries in the twentieth century. Japan is a contemporary example of a nonsocialist nation still heavily tribal in its cultural orientation, although it may now be in the process of becoming less so.

The essence of the tribal mentality is that it makes the tribe as such the supreme good and denigrates the importance of the individual. It tends to view individuals as interchangeable units and to ignore or minimize the significance of differences between one human being and another. At its extreme, it sees the individual as hardly existing except in the network of tribal relationships; the individual by him- or herself is nothing.

Plato, the father of collectivism, captures the essence of this perspective in the Laws, when he states, “My law will be made with a general view of the best interests of society at large … as I rightly hold the single person and his affairs as of minor importance.” He speaks enthusiastically of “the habit of never so much as thinking to do one single act apart from one’s fellows, of making life, to the very uttermost, an unbroken concert, society, and community of all with all.” In ancient times, we think of this vision as embodied in the militaristic society of Sparta. In modern times, its monuments were Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Between the ancient and the modern, we think of the feudal civilization of the Middle Ages, in which each person was defined by his or her place in the social hierarchy, apart from which personal identity could hardly be said to exist.

Tribal societies can be totalitarian but they need not be. They can be relatively free. Control of the individual can be more cultural than political, although the political is always a factor. What I wish to point out here is that the tribal premise is intrinsically anti-self-esteem.

It is a premise and an orientation that disempowers the individual qua individual. Its implicit message is: You don’t count. By yourself, you are nothing. Only as part of us can you be something. Thus, any society, to the extent that it is dominated by the tribal premise, is inherently unsupportive of self-esteem and more: it is actively inimical. In such a society the individual is socialized to hold him- or herself in low esteem relative to the group. Self-assertiveness is suppressed (except through highly ritualized channels). Pride tends to be labeled a vice. Self-sacrifice is enjoined.”

One encounters the tribal mentality again in the technologically advanced society of George Orwell’s 1984, where the full power and authority of a totalitarian state is aimed at crushing the self-assertive individualism of romantic love. The contempt of twentieth-century dictatorships for a citizen’s desire to have “a personal life,” the characterization of such a desire as “petty bourgeois selfishness,” is too well known to require documentation. Modern dictatorships may have a better grasp of individuality than did primitive tribes, but the result is that the hostility is more virulent. When I attended the First International Conference on Self-Esteem in Norway in 1990, a Soviet scholar remarked, “As Americans, you can’t possibly grasp the extent to which the idea of self-esteem is absent in our country. It’s not understood. And if it were, it would be condemned as politically subversive.”

The United States of America is a culture with the greatest number of subcultures of any country in the world. It is a society characterized by an extraordinary diversity of values and beliefs in virtually every sphere of life. And yet, if we understand that we will be speaking only of dominant trends to which there are any number of countervailing forces, there is a sense in which we may legitimately speak of “American culture.”

What was so historically extraordinary about the creation of the United States of America was its conscious rejection of the tribal premise. The Declaration of Independence proclaimed the revolutionary doctrine of individual, inalienable rights and asserted that the government exists for the individual, not the individual for the government. Although our political leaders have betrayed this vision many ways and many times, it still contains the essence of what the abstraction-America-stands for. Freedom. Individualism. The right to the pursuit of happiness. Self-ownership. The individual as an end in him- or herself, not a means to the ends of others; not the property of family or church or state or society. These ideas were radical at the time they were proclaimed, and I do not believe they are fully understood or accepted yet; not by most people.”

Morrill’s Law

You may have heard of Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. It might take a while, especially for rarer events, but any disaster that potentially can happen will happen eventually.

You may have heard of Moore’s Law: The highest possible number of transistors that can be put in a CPU, at minimum cost, doubles about every two years (many variants and misquotes of the law can be found on the internet, possibly including this one). While there are some caveats (including rising R&D costs, and Moore himself stating that the Law would stop being true sometime between 2015-25), the Law has held for the past 50 years.

If I ever become famous enough to have an adage like Murphy’s Law or Moore’s Law named after me, I’d like to propose my own “Morrill’s Law”:

Any way you can be misunderstood, you will be misunderstood.

It’s basically a more specific version of Murphy’s Law, applied to the communication of ideas – particularly new or controversial ideas.

Misunderstandings are Easy

If something you say while communicating an idea has vague, ambiguous, or multiple meanings, oftentimes the worst possible meaning will be assumed. The worse the implications are about you, the less likely you are to be given the benefit of the doubt that you were misunderstood.

If you’re trying to tell someone about your complex idea, your idea will be reduced to a (somewhat) related but simpler idea. The more complex an idea is, the harder it will be to have that idea stick in someone’s mind or have that idea faithfully reproduced.

If your idea is somewhat close or adjacent to a taboo idea, your idea will be assumed to be the taboo idea in disguise. Clear differences will be ignored, and confirmation bias will go into effect as the person looks for evidence that you secretly support the taboo idea. This will be worse if recent events (personal or political) have primed them to look for secret supporters of the taboo idea.

If your idea is outright controversial, your motives will be assumed to match those of the worst proponents of the idea. Even if there are stark or extreme differences between you and those proponents, you will be grouped together regardless.

If there is an extreme historical example of your idea (or a somewhat related idea) being put into practice, and having disastrous consequences, your idea will be assumed to result in the same exact consequences. Even if your idea is unrelated, distinct, or was designed specifically to correct or avoid those flaws, all of this will be ignored in the face of the extreme historical example.

Avoiding Misunderstandings

Supposing this law is true – that any way you can be misunderstood, you will be misunderstood – how do you avoid this? I’m not sure, however based on the above I can come up with some potential guidelines:

Be specific.

Be as specific and unambiguous as possible while communicating ideas, and be equally attentive to communicating what the idea is not.

Recognize personal barriers to understanding.

Recognize that many misunderstandings come down to differences in background, communication style, and life experiences. Work around this or with these, whenever possible.

Reduce complexity.

Reduce your complex ideas to the simplest version before other people do it for you – if you can’t control your idea being simplified, you can at least try to control what simplistic version is remembered.

Break apart your idea.

Alternatively, if your complex idea is composed of several smaller ideas, communicate the smaller/simpler ideas clearly before communicating the larger/complex idea.

Compare and contrast.

Find ways of comparing your idea to the taboo or controversial idea, in ways that very clearly demonstrate how your idea is distinct or opposing.

Demonstrate that you are not evil.

If you risk being grouped together with very unpopular, low-status, or evil people, find ways of communicating that you are not part of these groups – without arguing against these groups so fervently that you accidentally make yourself look like a secret member. “I’m not a spy!” said the spy in disguise.

Talk about historical changes.

If your idea is being compared to a historical idea that had negative consequences, note what has changed – in society, economics, technology, etc. – that would make these consequences unlikely or impossible.

Remember what you can and can’t control.

Lastly, recognize that you can only control your own actions – you cannot control people’s reactions. You can do everything possible to try and communicate your idea clearly, correct for possible misunderstandings, and still have people not understand your idea. Alternatively, they understand you, and still hate your idea for reasons you obviously don’t agree with. There are many more factors like this you cannot control – influence, but not control.

TL;DR: Any way you can be misunderstood, you will be misunderstood.

Intro³: The Two Priorities

I have written two previous introductions for this blog.

The first involved using this blog to talk about self-improvement, talk about critical issues in culture and politics with “courageous empathy,” and making a list of the 100 most important books to give to my children.

While I still want to do many of those things (especially the book list), that introduction post was way too long, and has been archived.

The second involved refocusing the blog into writing a book “Julie and Julia” style (short essays which get turned into a larger book), specifically about using biotech to make astronauts healthier while living in space (and the issues attached to that).

While I still think it would be a good idea to write that book, and it needs to be written, it’s a book that will take 10 years or more to write – so that post has been archived as well.

In light of August 1st being the 1 year anniversary of starting this blog, I’ve recently reevaluated my priorities – as of right now I have two priorities, and two priorities only. With every other issue I could pay attention to, it is either being de-prioritized or ignored entirely.

The First Priority: Self-Improvement

If you wish to rule a nation, you must first rule yourself.

Put another way for those uninterested in ruling: the mastery of anything first begins with the mastery of self.

I want to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. I want to be a strong person, in both mind and body. I want a life that is long, meaningful, fulfilling, and has a positive impact on the world. I want to be productive, effective, and above all competent. It doesn’t matter if I lack skills or resources for my goals – the most important skill is the ability to learn skills, and the most important resource is resourcefulness.

In my quest for self-improvement, I’m going to be reading (and have read) dozens of books – rather than write a long review that helps few, I write short reviews, which you can find here.

The Second Priority: Stopping the Climate Crisis

If climate change continues unabated for the next several decades, life on Earth will be radically altered and radically diminished.

Sea level rise. Increases in droughts, heat waves, monsoons, and other extreme weather. Melted permafrost and ice sheets. Radically changed boundaries of ecosystems. Desertification. Mass extinction of plants and animals. Ocean acidification. Climate refugees traveling to cooler ground. Resource wars and food shortages created from all of the above. The list of effects goes on an on.

There are lots of problems in the world, but you can’t solve all of them. You need to prioritize. Climate change might not kill or harm the most people in absolute numbers, but it has the most potential to make every other problem worse. Climate change won’t kill you directly, but it’s a force multiplier for any other problem that will.

As far as I can tell, climate change is only getting worse, and there’s only a few decades to stop it at most.

Right now, I have a potential solution in mind – one that works with “technology” we already have, can be deployed at scale, and at minimum will give humans more time to solve climate change (if not reverse it entirely). It’s just a matter of learning to use technologies that are exponentially decreasing in cost – and being willing to take a bold risk on a moonshot solution.

If that path doesn’t work, I’ll try something else until something does work.

What I’m De-Prioritizing

Like I said earlier, I’m de-prioritizing writing that book about making astronauts healthier. Astronauts don’t matter if Florida is underwater.

I love politics. I got a degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, and consider myself a political junkie. From now on I’m only going to pay attention to political issues to the extent that they affect me – unless some political issue rises to the level of nuclear war (or is otherwise about to lead to my death), I’m most likely going to ignore it. The latest tweet from the President matters for today’s news cycle, but not in the long run.

I love video games – I’m not going to give up video games entirely, but they’re being scheduled in as a “minor hobby” rather than a big part of my day or identity. Virtual piles of gold don’t matter if wars are being fought over something as basic as water.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from Tim Ferriss:

“Doing the uncommon requires uncommon behavior.”