Obvious things that are not so obvious

There are some things that are obvious, that should be obvious, but people just ignore them or find clever rationalizations for why they’re not obvious. As years go by, I see more and more of these things. For me, the scary thing is how non-obvious they seemed a couple of years ago, because it reminds me that there could still be hundreds of such things around me right now and I don’t see them as obvious. These can be “cached patterns” of thought, logical fallacies, or lazy thinking. Maybe there are some complex problems that are not really obvious to a more trained eye: if you think I have made a mistake, present an argument for why that is so, I’ll be happy to change my mind. But, lacking that, here are 3 of some pretty obvious things that are not obvious:

  1. Death is not good. This is obvious for managing your everyday life (e.g. you don’t walk into traffic), but somehow, if you apply this thought to a longer time horizon, you get very different results from what is usual. Most of us don’t want death today, tomorrow, or even next year, but we (say we) want it in 50, 60, 70 years. Consider this: if I asked you “Would you like to die tomorrow?”, you would say no. If I asked you that same question the next day, you would say no. If I asked you that same question a year from now, you would say no. If I asked you that question on 5 March 2089, if I said “Would you like to die tomorrow?”, you would STILL say no. In other words, no matter when I ask you, be it today, tomorrow, next decade, or the next millennium, you will say no, and you will never say yes if you are in good health and have friends. Obvious conclusion: we should try really hard not to die: cryonics, fasting (or at least a healthy diet), applied gerontology, and other things. There is nothing beautiful about death, nothing poetic about allowing the destruction of your own soul. There is nothing nice in ceasing to exist.
  2. Optimization is good. But it’s non-obvious. Say that you want to learn Swedish. You go to a language school and follow the curriculum. It reminds you of your high school days: you all start with checking homework assignments in the workbook, then you talk for a couple of minutes, then you read from the book, then you write down some answers to the questions about the text, and maybe then the teacher explains some topic of Swedish grammar to you. Straightforward. If you were my student a couple of years ago, you would have followed this same curriculum. However, that is no longer so. I asked myself the question: “How can I make my students learn Swedish in the least amount of time possible with the highest possible results?” The answer was not the curriculum we were doing. The answer was: learn really well the most frequent 100 words and the combinations they can produce. That was all it took, a simple question intended to make something better. The result: my students get to a conversational level in probably half the time. If you don’t really get why optimization is good, ask yourself: “Would I like to learn good Swedish in 8 years or in 1 year, given the same amount of effort?” If the answer is obvious to you, then so should the method be. Obvious conclusion: most of the things in your life can be optimized, but aren’t, because of a lack of thought. If you want results, if you really want/need something, you optimize, you don’t do the usual/normal/expected thing.
  3. Saving 500 people from certain death is better than helping an old, blind woman cross the road. Yes, you might get warm, fuzzy feelings about that old, blind woman. She is so obviously in need of assistance! Okay, if you have to choose, do you a) save the lives of 500 people and let the old woman find her own way or b) help the woman and let 500 people die? Can’t do both. Depending on your answer, effective altruism could (should) be obvious to you. When you can’t do everything but only one thing, you do the one thing that saves the most lives, helps the most people. Saving your dog from drowning is better than sharing your friend’s band page on Facebook. Sending $100 every month to a poor single mother in a Kenyan village to feed and educate her children is better than giving $100 to a random poor guy in USA. He’s in need of assistance, yes. But you giving $100 to a family in Kenya is the equivalent of, I don’t know, giving $1500 to the guy in the USA. Your limited $100 has a much stronger effect in Kenya than in the USA. You save more lives, help more people. Many people resist to such a cold calculation: how can you be so COLD about it? So… machine-like? Well, if you aren’t, you have to live with the fact that you let 500 people die just so that you can help an old lady cross the road. You have to live with the fact that your dog drowned because you helped your friend with his band page on Facebook. If you don’t optimize for maximum effect in helping, you have NOT done your best. You have done something, okay, that is better than nothing. But you didn’t give it your best. The poor woman in Kenya and her children will be hungry for another month. Obvious conclusion: instead of donating to other charities and organizations, join Giving What We Can, the organization which aims to put your money where it has the largest effect. Read 80000 hours. Do what does the most good.

This post might continue. These three things are the most obvious ones that I’ve been thinking about, but I might add other stuff as well (doesn’t have to be so serious as these three). Do you have something that you find fairly obvious, but people around you don’t? Leave a comment, I want to know.

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Powerful and Powerless

(I haven’t yet read Robert Greene’s “48 laws of power”, it’s on my reading list; these are just some things that I’ve been thinking about)

Power is not binary

It’s not a question of having or not having power, but having less or more of it. Imagine you’re renting an apartment. Who has power here, you or the landlord? You provide the landlord with a steady inflow of money. Not only that, but you, if you’re a good tenant, provide the landlord with a sense of security: they know that they’ll both get the money every month and that the apartment will not be ruined in some way. So you could argue that it is you, the tenant, that has the power.

On the other hand, the name landlord doesn’t have “-lord” in it for no reason; indeed, the landlord is the owner and they have the possibility of your eviction in their hands (generally you’re protected by law not to be evicted immediately, but still). Obviously, the landlord is the possessor of power in this situation.

So who really has the power?

Answer: both of you have relative amounts of power to one another. Power is not binary, power is a quantity that can be distributed in a binary fashion, but usually isn’t. You wield some power over the landlord and the landlord wields some power over you. Sometimes you have more, sometimes they have more.

Forms of power

What is power, actually? Let’s arbitrarily define power as “good probability (>50%) that what you want actually will happen”. So, by this definition, power can come in many forms and the only thing that matters is that it brings >0.5 probability of you achieving your goals, seeing your plans to fruition.

Here are some forms of power that I can think of (there are probably others too):we-can-do-it-rosie-the-riveter-wallpaper-2

  • money
  • influence
  • strong character
  • knowledge
  • technology
  • numbers (of people)

 

So, let’s revisit the apartment example again. Let’s say you’re paying 1700 a month for the privilege of living in another person’s space (doesn’t matter which currency, I’m using arbitrary numbers). Let’s also say that your total earnings per month are usually around 4000. So, you have 2300 left to cover the bills, food and other spending. Say that it takes 800 for the bills. You now have 1500. Food, around 1200. You have 300 for any other spending (not a lot, you have to make ends meet, but you regularly survive). You are person A.

Person B, on the other hand, earns twice as much – 8000 per month. After all your costs, person B still has 4300 left to spend, enough to rent another apartment simultaneously.

It is recognizable that person B has more power than person A, but it is not immediately clear why this is so. I’ll explain.

Say your landlord starts giving you a hard time; maybe they’re broke and need to squeeze out the money, or they simply smell that you’re not really powerful. They start to demand earlier payments every month; when the equipment in the apartment breaks down, they refuse to pay for the repairs and insist you do it; they ask for advance rent payments; in short, they become very needy and demanding and “unreasonable” (funny word that – generally it’s used if you don’t have power to say no).

What does person A do? They submit, and submit, and submit, because they know that even if they find another apartment at this cost, which is unlikely, they’ll still get in the same sort of situation (a landlord that’s more powerful and demands things). And also all the hassle with moving and trying to earn a living at the same time… It’s easier to submit to the ever growing demands and small pokes and prods than to leave this increasingly abusive situation.

Person B? Hah! Person B says to the landlord at the first sight of “unreasonable” demands: “No.”

Just no. No explaining. No nothing. No.

Person B, you see, doesn’t care. Person B doesn’t try to make things work out for everyone and cooperate and compromise, because person B has enough money on their account to be able to simply say “no.” What’s the result? The landlord doesn’t even try to milk out more money because they know that they’ll lose a good tenant that gives them a steady inflow of money and a sense of security.

But did you see what just happened here? Both tenants were good tenants that provided the landlord with money and security, but only B had the possibility (>0.5) to leave. So person A has less power than the landlord, and B has more, simply because B has more options – in the form of more money.

All this serves to drive in a key lesson that I am learning: do your best to get (enough) power. This is a top-level priority. There will be kind people that will not turn to predators when they smell that you’re not strong, but the world generally doesn’t function like that, I think. Lions attack the weakest buffaloes. Street thugs attack the weakest victims. School bullies bully the weakest kids.

If you see the world as a battle between good and evil, you know that the battle will only be won if the good guys are stronger than the bad guys. So if you want to do good in the world, you have a moral obligation to get more power. Being powerless just gives more power to the evil tyrant, to the rapist, to the bully, to the corporation that puts toxic chemicals in children’s toys, to the landlord that doesn’t want to pay for repairs, to the policeman that beats on peaceful protesters. Don’t shy away from power, saying “Power corrupts!” Instead, get power and find some way in which you won’t get corrupted by it. Yes, power can corrupt, and you should be careful not to become one of the people you despise, but not all people with power are evil scum – be like them! Be Albus Dumbledore, not Voldemort. Be Luffy, not Doflamingo. Be Sherlock, not Moriarty.

Powermongering for World Optimization: the Minimal Guide for Good People

  • Money: options. More money, more options. How to get more money? (1) Be more valuable to other people and, ideally, (2) be a master of some thing. A cook is valuable (and paid), a better cook more valuable (and more paid) and a master cook is the most valuable of all (and has more money than all). Mastery, if done right, will mean a lot of money.
  • Influence: manipulation. If you know your practical psychology well, you will be able to make other people do what you want them to do. Read Influence by Cialdini. (Also, fame sometimes equals influence, but not always.)
  • Strong character: power recognition. Don’t be a weakling that feels powerless despite the fact that you actually do have power. If you are person B, don’t be anxious about your landlord giving you a hard time – you are in a position of power, recognize it.
  • Knowledge: currency of power. The more you know, the more you can exchange this knowledge into other forms of power. You could know a lot about influence and become influential. You could know some information and exchange it for money. You could know BJJ and pin some attacker to the ground. If power is the product, then knowledge is the currency with which you buy it.
  • Technology: the counter to other powers. In a world of knives, a gun makes all the difference. Tech can give you an otherwise unobtainable upper hand. If you went alone against a hundred Viking warriors, you would definitely be killed. Unless if you had an atomic bomb. Then you, alone, would beat a hundred armed warriors. Whenever you can have technology, or just learn it and use it, you should.
  • Numbers: the primal form of power. Sometimes, a lesser force will beat a bigger one. But often, it will not. If you can count on a lot of people, either for some sort of conflict or just as help, you will be a very powerful person indeed.

Power doesn’t flow from “could-happen” ideas

When the bully pins your head to the window of the bus and you’re all alone with him, you might be thinking “I could kill him. I could make an evil and ingenious plot and take his life. I could get him to- OUCH OUCH OUCH OUCH PLEASE STOP”.

Stop speaking or thinking nonsense. Power only comes from things that can actually happen. You know that you’re not going to kill anyone, despite your fantasies. The bully is powerful and you are weak. You can, in fact, obtain more power and thwart the bully: you can read books on influence and make his life really ugly by using Slytherin skills; you can earn money and pay someone bigger to beat him up; you can learn boxing and break his nose; you can get a couple of friends and collectively beat him up etc.

But dreaming up things that you’ll never ever ever do is just fantasy, and you are trying to put yourself into a position of power based on fantasy. Wrong. Don’t do that. Instead, recognize who has power, in which amount, and then do what is necessary to obtain more power. You don’t have to become the bully yourself, but you have to have enough power not to be bullied.


How do you think about power? Are you a powerful person or are you powerless? Leave a comment! I know I’m slowly getting to more power, but I originally come from a victim-mentality, zero-power personality, so I have a longer road than some. But you know, you gotta do the work, and do it every day…

How to be evil

So, my New Year’s resolutions were these two:

  1. Be more easy-going and less critical, less imposing.
  2. Read 200 books in 2016.

My average for the last two years has been around 15 books a year – just over one a month. This is a sad statistic for someone that can speed-read, and it’s disheartening for someone that has over 300 books on his to-read list. (If you wan’t to see what I’ve read or what I’m reading or planning to read, you can check out my Goodreads profile. I don’t really leave reviews and when I do, I do it in Croatian, but that might also change one day.)

Thus I started the year off with a book a day influence(or almost a book a day). I read them in no particular order, as they spark my interest at the time. It is mostly non-fiction, books I can extract useful information quickly and discard the rest, but I don’t discriminate against fiction. Somehow it happened that, after reading How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie, a book that has been recommended to me time and time again, I got interested in “people skills” – and so I started reading Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Now, this book is really good. It is based on scientific research on human psychology and how we make the decisions we make, and also how people use flaws in our decision making processes to make us do what they want us to do.

Naturally, I had a feeling that this was nothing new. We all know, at least intuitively, that salespeople have their “tricks” that make us comply with their sales requests. But the problem is we see their techniques as tricks, not as well-tested, research-based methods that use our weak spots to hack our brains. Simply put, as it so happens very often in life, we do not take certain things seriously enough. We just buzz past them, without noticing how deliberate, how studied, how professional – these techniques really are.

Anyway, the whole point of the book seems to be how to protect yourself from the bad effect these techniques might have on you. What I have done is the opposite: I have compiled a list of techniques based on fixed action patterns that can be used to influence and manipulate people into doing things they wouldn’t have done before. This is real grey area here, but it’s the same thing as learning to punch someone in the face.

I will not go into detail here; for that, you have to read the book. The author lists all the studies that he bases his conclusions on and you can check the studies out too. What I will explain is what fixed action patterns are and how they can be exploited to manipulate people, and I will list out all the possible practical applications of these findings. It is on you to decide if you will ever use them. I plan on field-testing them – not using them on a daily basis, but on trying them out and seeing how they work for me, and if I am able to use them in an efficient manner.

evil

So, what are fixed action patterns?

Fixed action patterns are actions that a certain species does in presence of a certain stimulus, and rarely (or never) differs from the fixed course of action. These are so called “instinctive responses”, but them being instinctive is not enough. They are simply fixed. If a certain stimulus is present, the animal does exactly the same thing over and over again, despite it not being a good decision. For example, some birds will roll any egg-shaped object into their nest because they have a fixed action pattern that says: “I always have to roll eggs back into the nest.” They simply cannot decide otherwise. They just perform an action without any will of their own. It just happens, the pattern takes over the brain and any brain processing whatsoever.

Needless to say, humans have also exhibited fixed action patterns in their behaviour. Despite it being a bit more complex and despite our wonderful ability to rationalize afterwards, we have our own ways of turning off the thinking brain and just completing the pattern that has been ingrained into our nervous system by evolution.

Here are the ways a knowledgeable person can exploit these fixed action patterns:

  1. Use the word “because” often, even if your reasons are just repeating something you just said, or saying something non-related. Science says that if you hear the word because, you are more likely to comply to whatever was needed, even though the reason itself might not be a good reason. It just suffices to have A reason.
  2. Do favours and give small gifts that are difficult to turn down. People are more likely to comply to your requests if they feel they owed you something, even though your original gift might be an order of magnitude smaller and insignificant compared to what you’re asking for.
  3. Make people commit to things. If they commit to what you’re asking them, however small it may be, it makes larger commitments possible. Want not to be robbed while you use the toilet in the café? Ask somebody to watch over your stuff. That way, they commit to a certain role they have now assumed.
  4. Commitment is best achieved not through spoken word but through action. If your commitment makes people DO something, anything, just writing a couple of lines of text for example, it is a much stronger commitment than without the action.
  5. “Lowballing” – if you want to enforce or sell something, you offer it for a small price (monetary or any other kind). After a test period, you raise the price, saying that you’ve mistakenly thought the price was lower. Because of the test period, people have committed themselves to a certain product or whatever it may be you were trying to sell/enforce. They are much more likely to accept the raise in the price. Car dealers routinely lowball people.
  6. If you want someone to do something, be as similar to them as possible. Profess to have the same hobbies, wear the same clothes, speak in the same way. The more you are similar, the more people are likely to comply with your request.
  7. Look good.
  8. Flatter. Flattery, even when perceived as flattery, is often just as effective.
  9. Create an image of authority, be it through the way you speak, through a title you might have, through the clothes you wear. People are more likely to comply if they feel a request is coming from an authority, despite it not being an appropriate authority.
  10. The less something is available, the more people want it. The less the information about the unavailability of something is available, even more the people will want it. This is amplified if this something was previously in abundance.

There you have it, ten techniques to manipulate people into doing things you want them to do. Statistically, they should work with most people. Naturally, this information is of greatest interest to people that want to sell things, but many other uses are possible. Read the whole book for additional information and for greater understanding and appreciation of these techniques.

A final word of caution: be wise in your use of these techniques. It is better to tell the truth instead of lies. It is better to work in the open instead of plotting. And it is better to be honest instead of manipulating people’s fixed action patterns. But as you go through life, you will undoubtedly find yourself in situations where lying is necessary, where plotting is necessary and where using fixed action patterns is necessary. You might still decide not to use them but when you find yourself there, it’s better to know these things than not to know them.

 

The eating conundrum

In the post The Overhuman Diet, I describe what I eat and why I eat it. I mention that I eat a lot of protein and that a lot of that protein is animal protein. Dabbling in vegetarianism and knowing quite a few vegans, I’ve started reconsidering my opinions on food, trying to see if there is any new piece of information that might induce me to change my eating behavior. (note: this type of thinking, always reconsidering your own behavior, criticizing your patterns and being prepared to change – this is absolutely critical for an Overhuman). This is what I found.

NOTICE: This is going to be a long and somewhat complicated post. At times, it will seem that I’m splitting hairs. What I am doing is trying to get as pure an ethical image as possible. The big problem with ethics in eating is that it’s not as simple as omnivores want it to be and definitely not as simple as vegans want it to be.

Reconsidering ethics

You all remember that story about Cecil the lion and how he was killed by an American hunter?

Well, a couple of days later, Tim Shieff, a well-known vegan freerunner posted this on his Facebook:

Click for full size

Click for full size

Both his text and the comic itself make a good point from an ethical perspective: given that you can take everything you need from vegetables and their derivatives, it is unethical to kill animals – or is it as simple as that?

To be able to respond to this question, we must go way, way back into the domain of values, starting with life in general. So here goes:

Nothing is important of itself, everything is just matter and energy and we (conscious beings, who are, by the way, also only matter and energy) decide that some things are important. One of these things is life. Some conscious beings might decide that life isn’t important, and they wouldn’t be wrong. It would just be their decision, which is completely OK. Right. so far, so good.

If you’re one of the group that decided that life (like, generally) was important, things get sort of complicated for you. If you decided that life wasn’t important, alright, if you kill to eat (or pay to kill to eat), you know that you can also kill yourself? Or at least not care if somebody kills you – because you decided that life in general isn’t important.

So, let’s continue with those that believe that life is important – i.e. almost everybody in the world.

Life is generally important.
I am a life form.
Therefore, my life is important.

This is the train of reasoning that follows from the decision that life is generally important. If you believe this, then it also follows that sustaining your life is important, and the primary method humans utilize for sustaining their lives is food.

Food (calories, macro and micro nutrients) comes from two main sources: fruit/leaves/animal byproduct and killed life forms.

Fruit, leaves and animal byproduct

Fruit, leaves and some animal byproducts are the only foods that entail not killing directly, even though you can support killing if you buy certain fruits, so not even fruit is, by definition, kill-free. Take, for example, a tomato, which gets killed after it has given its yield in fruit, or, for an animal byproduct example, hens that get slaughtered after a certain age when they stop laying eggs “efficiently”. In general, eating fruit from fruit-bearing trees is often kill-free, especially if you eat organic fruit which doesn’t entail the use of chemicals which kill life forms. In that respect, pears, oranges, apples, grapes etc, are the only sources of food that are completely kill-free every time. If you are a human, eating exclusively a wide assortment of fruits can give you sufficient calories (immediate survival) but not enough micronutrients and even macronutrients (protein and fat) – meaning that long-term survival is not guaranteed because of illnesses that could arise from lack of nutrients. Some fruits will give you enough fat (for example an avocado) but if you eat only regional fruit, chances are that you are not able to get a very wide assortment of fruits. It follows that you must decide if you will buy fruit from a very faraway place (and still risk not to have all micronutrients covered) or you will add killed life to your diet.

What is helpful that some vegetables are kill-free and will help you with micronutrients. For example, you can harvest kale, cabbage, Swiss chard and other leafy greens by the leaf so as to not kill them. What is definitely impossible is to buy vegetables that have been harvested by the leaf, so here you must grow your own or assure some way of procuring leaf-harvested greens.

And again, animal byproducts come to the rescue: eggs and dairy. Most eggs and dairy are a result of industrial torture systems that get the most out of a chicken or a cow and then slaughter them. Even free range eggs often mean that, after the hen stops producing a regular quota of eggs, it gets slaughtered. You can, however, eat kill-free eggs or dairy: the same principle as with plants – don’t buy it in markets, grow your own or buy from somebody you know isn’t going to kill the animals.

At this stage, you must decide if your life is worth more than the life of other life forms. We have already established that your life is important, but who will you choose, yourself or a different life form? Time plays a special role here, and this you must also take into consideration, because you might choose a course of action that doesn’t instantly bring your health down, but that might do so over the course of some months or years. For example, if you decide to go completely kill-free and eat only fruit, but you eat only regional fruit, let’s say plums, apples, pears and grapes, this will, over time, cause significant health problems (correct me if I’m wrong here). Buying of exotic and faraway fruit also has several ethical problems tied: you need a lot of fossil fuels to get it to your habitat, and CO2 emissions from fossil fuels also cause death on a wider, global scale through global warming. It thereby follows that as a completely kill-free vegan, you should also not buy fruit from far away.

If your decision is that your life is important, but other life forms are more important, your diet is to consist exclusively of fruits/leaves that come from your region – and we do not include fruits or vegetables that, after being picked, have their original plant killed (zucchini, tomato, cucumber…) – and of leaves, eggs from free-range, not-killed-afterwards hens, and dairy from not-killed-afterwards cows and goats.

If your decision is that your life is important, and that it is more important than (at least some) other life forms, continue reading.

Killed life forms

Killed life forms are both plants and animals. If you eat bread – you support killing wheat. If you eat seitan – you support killing wheat. If you eat pasta – you support killing wheat. If you eat meat – you support killing animals.

Many vegans draw the line between animals and plants: the claim is that it’s ok to kill plants, but not animals. This reasoning is often based on the fact that plants do not experience pain. Indeed, it has not been proven that plants experience pain because they do not share the nervous system capable for pain. But on the other hand, there has been some research that points to the conclusion they might have analogous systems and actually be intelligent.

In any case, we do not know yet.

We may act on the assumption that plants don’t feel the same neurobiological phenomenon we describe as pain, but we also know that plants try to sustain their own lives. To be completely honest, we have to admit that the difference between killing a plant to eat it and killing a bug to eat it is not a big one. The difference between the two organisms is one of grade (of complexity, or genetic proximity to humans), not of category.

The only reason for this entire paragraph is to make clear one thought: If you don’t eat animals because of ethical reasons, you are actually not eating them because they seem close to you, and plants don’t. They’re one level lower on your empathy list.

The best part of it all? It’s actually ok, even though it is an elitist perspective. If you value your life more than the life of other organisms, you’re bound to certain moral choices, and genetic proximity is as good a reason as any.

Now, the real question is where do you draw the line? Where do you stop empathizing? When do you not care about killing a certain organism? Is it at nuts (tree embryos)? Is it at bugs? Is it at fish? Is it at birds? Is it at dogs, cats, cows and sheep? Is it at humans?

I’ve thought about this really long and hard, and came up with a complicated algorithm to ensure maximum ethical eating while preserving my own health. It goes something like this:

If you can, eat only kill-free. If not, add life forms from the lower empathy levels (wheat, nuts). If you’re still risking low health, add more killed life forms, but keep them on a low empathy level (i.e. it would be preferable to eat a fish instead of a chicken (because genetic proximity makes it easier to empathize with a chicken than with a fish) and preferable to eat a chicken instead of a cow). At some point, you will find the point where you stop valuing your life more – maybe it will happen with cows, maybe you’ll have to go all the way to humans, maybe not even then.

This is the only really good ethical algorithm for dietary choices that I know of. Take all your dietary choices, pull them through this algorithm, and you’re reasonably certain you’re eating ethically. Provided the fact that you in fact want to complicate things as much as I do. But the truth is rarely simple…

Technological innovations – a new perspective?

Lab meat

Lab meat

One way to eat meat without killing anyone is in-vitro meat. One day, when the technology advances sufficiently, it will be commercially available and widely consumed. Many object to growing meat in laboratories because it is “unnatural”, but this is the type of argument that would object to cars, computers, bicycles, electric power, bows and arrows, and fire. Just because humans created something with their brains instead of relying on what is immediately available doesn’t make it bad. I would gladly eat lab-grown meat, provided there aren’t any health side effects.

Final thoughts 

The reason for this post was mainly so that I clear my mind as regards ethics in eating. Not eating meat has always been clear to me from an environmentalist perspective, and not eating industrial meat has also always been clear to me from a health perspective. But I have always tended to ignore the ethical aspects of it and I never thought them through. Ethics tend to be a habit of learned behavior, not a result of conscious deliberation. In other words, most people (me, at least) will form their ethical standpoints on a combination of inert, learned behavior and a certain amount of natural empathy, instead of thinking and then making decisions. For most people, ethics are not conscious. For Overhumans, everything is conscious.

Thus the adage: “Never do anything unintentional.”

Plotting in the real world

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.

Plot (noun): a secret plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose, especially hostile, unlawful, or evil purpose: a plot to overthrow the government. (source)

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.

Petyr Baelish - one of the best plotters I know.

Petyr Baelish – one of the best plotters I know.

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.

Let’s summarize:

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.