Okay, first things first, if you’re a Harry Potter fan (and quite honestly, if you’re not, I don’t understand you as a human being) there is this incredible fanfiction called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and believe me when I say it’s one of the best new things I’ve read in a long, long time. And I do not say such things lightly. The reason why this fanfic is so great is that it challenges my ideas about the world. Might be that I’m just getting old and my brain is getting calcified, but I’d wager that there’s not so much out there that is challenging – not to read, but challenging to the mind. (There are, naturally, a lot of books challenging to read, but absolutely debilitating to the mind – complicated doesn’t necessarily mean smart.) This is a gem and I mean it.
So anyway, go and check it out. You might like it, you might not, I personally don’t like the writing style, but there are many wonderful things on that website and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Inspired by this fanfic, I’ve thought about today’s problem – plotting.
I’ve never been much of a plotter. Whole my life I’ve lived in a world where people are nice when they want to be nice and where they are rude when they want to be rude. In a world where you get invited to a cup of coffee because that person actually wants to hear from you, not to accomplish some hidden goal. As I grow older, I grow wiser, and I begin to see that around me, people have hidden agendas, hidden goals, hidden wishes and wants. And they plot. Without being cynical and saying everyone does it – even though, quite honestly, everyone does it to a certain extent – I’ll say that there are real plotters among us and that they do plot.
First thought that comes to mind: who gives a fuck? Let them plot, I won’t be a part of their game.
Response: not so easy. You can chose to remain on the outside, but if you don’t understand what’s going on around you, you’re a pawn and that means you’re the weakest figure in their game.
So the only responsible thing for an aspiring overhuman is to understand plotting. I’m not saying practice it. Practice it, maybe yes, to a certain extent, somewhere, sometimes. But simply understand it as good as the best plotter would.
Who are these plotters among us? Well, obviously, politicians and men of power. But also people around you, people you wouldn’t even suspect. I’ve written a post on the matter: The secrets of the everyday. Just to give you a short version: there is always something around you to discover, something other people don’t want you to know, and you have to 1. accept this fact, 2. perceive what goes around you and 3. ask the right questions. There are secrets to unveil in this world. Some might find this worrisome, but I find it beautiful. This means that your little stupid boring everyday is everything but not that. But I digress. Politicians. They do actually plot and you’re an idiot if you think you’re not a part of their plot. Do you want to be blindly carried and pushed and controlled? Or do you want to actually understand the game that’s being played? Because even if you live in a cottage in the mountains, having no contact with the state, the state can still decide to make a mine of your precious mountain, or cut down your precious forest. Ignorance is never a good strategy. You might be thinking “well, it’s not fair, why do I have to know about these things? Why can’t I just live my own life and have fun and enjoy?”. Why indeed. My response is more or less the same as for the question of martial arts (“Why do I have to learn the martial arts, why must I give away precious time and energy to learn to fight when there are many more interesting and better things to do than to fight other people, like reading, or building a house, or discovering a cure for cancer? It’s not fair!”)
It is not fair. It would be better to do these other wonderful things with your time, and not, well, waste it on plotting or fighting. But you know the cliché: the world’s not fair. If you just accept it right away, it’ll make the transition much easier.
But there is a catch. Nietzsche says:
He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.
If you do decide to do the only rational thing and learn to fight and learn to plot, do not become a person who solves their troubles through fighting or plotting. These things are bad, but they must be known. They must be understood. But they really are very bad.
One big issue with plotting is that it becomes the cultural norm. This relates to the previous quote – people that usually wouldn’t resort to plotting do it but then it becomes something normal to do, the regular way to do things. Let me be clear on this: plot only when you have to. The truth is a better weapon than empty lies. Open dialogue, truthfulness, discussions, honesty – everything should be tried before escalating to plotting, that is the only way plotting doesn’t become the norm, and we don’t want a bad thing to become a norm. In other words, if you’re in an organization where there is a culture of open dialogue, make sure that you do not destroy that culture. If however you’re in a plotting culture, try to turn it away from the dark side and begin a practice of honesty. Plotting is the last resort, something you do if you have no other way.
Plotting is always a way to gain power. It basically goes like this: I have a great idea, I want to change the world to fit to this idea, I see I need power to change the world, I go after power, I plot to get power. Some do it because of their ideals, others because of money and self-interest, but basically everyone goes through these steps and one might argue that the worldwide political-economic-religious net is a result of plotting, and one wouldn’t be in the wrong.
Understand that there are plots around you. These plots are “big” (as in big businesses, politics, etc) and “small” (as in, people you know, people you live with and so on).
Understand who benefits from what.
Learn techniques and strategies that really good plotters would use.
Identify the smartest people around you and among them, identify the smartest plotters. Keep an eye on them.
Question all motives.
Don’t become paranoid.
Plotting is always a way of getting power, so understand the relations of power around you.
Some practical exercises you might do:
- Read the politics section in the newspaper and imagine that what happened is the intended result. Ask yourself who benefits from this result.
- Whenever somebody wants something, question their motives and try to discover true motives if you have a feeling that they’re lying.
- Identify powerful people around you and discover how they rose to power.
- Whenever there’s a confrontation, ask yourself if that’s just a part of a bigger picture i.e. if somebody provoked this confrontation deliberately.
- Look for signs of deliberateness everywhere around you.
It is indeed a thin line between someone that sees the world clearly and a paranoid conspiracy theorist. Do not make the mistake of becoming the latter at the expense of the former.
Become the best plotter you can without actually plotting and you will see that it’s a whole new world that just opens up if you look at it the right way.