Isn't it convenient that humans all need the same amount of schooling? Four years of high school, four years of college, and then we're prepared.
Isn't it convenient that driving a car is the exact maximum risk that 90% of Americans are comfortable with? No one thinks cars are too dangerous, but very few are willing to take greater risks.
Isn't it convenient that the standard American diet is the optimal balance between nutrition, taste, and health?
Isn't it convenient that TV is the perfect entertainment medium for all of us?
Isn't it convenient that we've all determined that working eight hours a day, five days a week, is the perfect balance between work and rest?
Isn't it convenient that alcohol is the perfect drug for everyone, the exact right mix of pleasure and bodily destruction? Any other drug is deviant, and abstinence is antisocial.
Isn't it convenient that marriage is the perfect domestic institution for everyone?
Isn't it convenient that we either agree with everything either the Democrats or Republicans preach?
Maybe these are all the exact right decisions for everyone, I'm some weird fringe weirdo who has to be different for difference's sake, and I'm foolish for forgoing these time-tested gold standards of living. Maybe that's true.
Or maybe, just maybe, we're a society of people who avoid making decisions. Perhaps our brains have atrophied from decades of being spoon-fed life, and we're now trained like pets to accept what's given to us. We go along with the flow, embracing defaults not because we think they're best for us, but because we haven't actually thought at all.
When I meet someone, I consider how normal their life is. I do this not because it's a one hundred percent accurate heuristic on how much I'll respect someone, but because it's damn close. If you have a totally normal life, then there are only two possibilities: you've thought through every aspect of your life and miraculously agree with society on each one, or you don't think at all. I try not to associate with people who don't think.
I think defaults are the most dangerous things in America right now. Why do we have an obesity epidemic? Because no one's thinking about their diet. Why is unemployment so high? Because the world is changing and we're still stuck in this school/job mindset from decades past. Why was there a financial collapse? It's not really because of the bankers, it's because no one really thought about their finances and they just went along with the flow, buying houses they couldn't afford. Not all of our problems stem from not thinking, but a lot of them do. Maybe most of them.
You have to think. You have to. Even as you're reading this, I hope you're thinking, "Is he actually right, or do I just agree with him because I like his writing?" Greatness is an absolute impossibility without thought. Is your goal in life to be great, or is it to avoid discomfort? I hope it's the former, because the latter is the worst life goal I've ever heard of, yet it's the goal that is actually responsible for most of most people's decisions.
Sorry for posting this so late. I thought that it was Thursday.
Photo is part of a statue at the Asian Art Museum in SF.
I love both this post, and how well thought out the comments are! I'd like to add my two cents: breaking away from a societal norm isn't as easy as just thinking. Many people consider it an insult to their way of life if someone chooses a different lifestyle ("What, my lifestyle isn't good enough?? Who do you think you are judging me??"). Because of this, they have a tendency to conspire against the person breaking the mold, whether intentionally or merely subconsciously, either with actions or just a constant stream of negativity. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't break away from a societal norm if you don't agree with it.
Nice job on another great post Tynan!
I think part of what makes the world interesting is that we are all different. Some people's life goal if to avoid discomfort, to live a comfortable life and perhaps have a house and children. Personally, I can't judge others by my own standards. Would the world be a better place if everyone tried to be "great"? What does being great even means? To most people, being great means making a lot of money. These are the people who usually end up causing a lot of the world's problems.
Tynan, I love your writing, but I feel that despite the fact that you say otherwise, you judge people a lot by your own standards. Am I wrong to think so? You also have a very American-centric view of the world when you write, and I feel that very often your writing applies to America, and America only. In many parts of the world, people are suffering and trying to survive, to put enough food on the table to feed their families and to earn enough money to send their children to school so that they can have a chance for a better life (in fact, in America too, I should say). These people's goals might be to live comfortably and without too many worries, and to lead a happy life. Personally, I really can't judge these people, and I'm sure many of them are super nice and are people I'd love to associate with.
I also think the world is more complicated than you tend to depict it. Why is unemployment so high right now all around the world? Well, I don't really have an exact answer to provide right now, but I believe it has more to do than the fact that we're still stuck in this school/job mindset from decades past. And why was there a financial collapse? Well, once again it has more to do than the fact that Americans bought houses without thinking. Think about it this way: why is it that Americans could buy houses without having any money to pay for it in the first place?
I also think that what makes the world interesting is that we're all different. That's why I'm against societal norms that make us less different.
If someone has actually thought about it and their goals line up with societal norms, maybe I'm a bit suspicious of that, but no problem-- we can all have our own standards. On the other hand, a lot of people have not thought about their lives and they go along with the flow. I might like these people or even love them, and I would expect that most would have a lot of positive things about them... but can I honestly say that I respect them? I can't.
At the same time-- who really cares if I respect them? They don't, because they have society's approval. I'm just a guy with my own ideas and my own standards, and those might be better or worse than average.
I don't have all the world's answers or a 100% complete understanding of how the world works, but I have reasonably well informed opinions. Any issue has a lot of factors going into it, but I do believe that the lack of thought and herd mentality is one of the major drivers behind many of our problems including those mentioned. I'm glad that people can buy houses they can't afford, but I don't thnk they should do it. Just like I'm glad people can buy alcohol, even though I don't think anyone should.
I focus on America because I feel like I have some grasp of the problems here. Some of them may translate to other countries, but others won't. I leave it to the reader to decide if what I say applies to his country.
Last, the masses don't read my blog, so I don't write for them. I write primarily for people who are on the cusp of independence and deliberate living, and those who are there already. I hope that anyone would benefit from my writing, but I focus my effort on a subset.
Thanks for the reply-- I enjoy disagreement when it's presented constructively as you have.
I thought the post was great. One thing that causes me to lose respect for people is whenever they get easily offended.
That said, as an aside, have you ever been drunk? I'm sure lots of people have brought this up before, but I don't know that you can give alcohol a fair shake unless you've used it for its true purpose, which certainly isn't taste...
I haven't ever been drunk. I wrote a whole post about why I don't drink (which may be due for an update 5+ years later). I actually think that here are a lot of positives to alcohol (and other drugs),but I think that it's VERY easy to use as a crutch and to mask real problems.
I also think that the internet is a similar mix of good and bad, and knowing how hard it is to isolate the good, I'm not eager to complicate my life with a similar element.
I was an alcoholic for a while- except in America it's known as college
think it's like other things that cause natural gravitating impulses-
you can let it get in the way of your goals or you can be in control.
But you're not missing much, believe me. It adds maybe a bit of a social element, but if you were a successful pickup artist, I'd say you probably have all the social skills you need.
The world is a complicated place, yes, but the state of world is the result of 7 billion daily decisions made by each one of us.
Those decisions not all have the same weight, and the power of your own decisions can affect not only your life but the life of others. The same decision made by many people, even if they have little power individually, can have tremendous effects on the long run, on a larger scale.
Each day we fight with what seems to be very petty decisions or what some call "first world problems" like deciding whether to eat that chunk of chocolate or drink that can of beer or not. It is clear that this kind of issue seem quite irrelevant to the more global problem or to the people struggling with their life. But on the long run, the fact that several hundreds of million people decide to give in and drink that beer, everyday, affect the world as a whole, down to the guy deciding to produce that beer in the first place, the worker in the plant, the farmer who harvest the malt etc.
Most people don't think about the outcome of their decision, the weight they have, no matter how petty they seem. It's a miracle if they truly think about how they affect their own lives.
I think the world is a mess right now because many people stopped thinking even when making important decisions. Terrible things happened in the past 100 years or so, often the result of very small groups of people herding a larger mass that stopped thinking.
Wanting to live comfortably and happily seems something very simple and easy. But it's actually what most of mankind fought and still fight every day to achieve. And it require thinking deeply about what you are doing, every day.
Great post Tynan! I agree that people have to ask questions of their lives and the choices they make, but sometimes when you write posts like this, I wonder if non-conformity is a value you might question yourself. Don't get me wrong, I've been reading your blog for years and I think you have an incredible, interesting life, and I think people could learn a lot by your example, but at times you seem so steadfast in your belief that a unique and interesting life is the way to go, where a "normal" conformist life is inherently bad, that it seems almost like a religious observance. I've seen the same fervor in friends who swear by organic foods, despite conflicting scientific evidence on claims that they unswerving hold as fact.
It reminds me of a great article by "You Are Not So Smart" author David McRaney on Brand Loyalty. While the article refers to purchasing decisions, the same could be applied to a lot of the values that we create for ourselves through our lives. Check it out: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/05/19/fanboyism-and-brand-loyalty/
Anyway, hope I've not offended you in saying that. I still think your life choices and values are awesome, and I totally agree with the points you make in the post.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment.
I've given a TON of thought to the value of being different. I, of course, can't claim to be totally free of cognitive biases, but I'm pretty good at identifying them (probably because I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff like this). Sometimes I do things only because they're different. Most times I do different things because they're better for me.
For example, I know that I prefer five fingered shoes mainly because they're different. In my mind I think they're better for me, but if I'm logical about it, I can understand that any flat-soled wide-toe-boxed shoes are probably equally good. I still FEEL the preference for the weird shoes, but I know it's not rational.
On the other hand, living in an RV is actually much better for me for rational reasons. It keeps my costs down, it forces me to be minimalist, it eliminates distractions, it allows me freedom, etc.
That said-- I actually have come to the conclusion that being different for no good reason is actually better than not being different. I believe this because I think that the more different people experiment, the better a society we'll be. That goes for big things as well as small ones. This is why you'll see me criticize people who don't actively make decisions in their lives, but not people who make decisions very different than mine.
Maybe equally important, the beaten path is a "crowded market". There are a lot of people competing for the same thing. Going your own way allows you to use your own values and skills to go after goals that actually matter to you. I think that this is easier (and better) than going for common goals using common methods.
Hey thanks Tynan, I appreciate you taking the time to reply. You make some good points.
I wonder if being unique and different works better for you, or is more appealing to you, because you're someone who is quite independent (at least you seem that way from how you live and work).
I think sociologists would argue that the positive side to conformity is that it allows societies to function smoothly and predictably. Of course that sounds incredibly boring and I doubt anyone wakes up in a morning and wants their life to be a small cog in a much larger machine, but the fact remains that it's difficult for societies to run or accomplish anything without a degree of predictability and consensus.
I'm reminded of the Simpsons episode "Bart's Inner Child", where the citizens of Springfield are inspired to "Do what you feel" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l84MdfAox0Y). In the short term everyone thinks it's great, but eventually it descends into anarchy.
Of course I appreciate it's something of a stretch for me to take "why not think about your diet and how much TV you watch", and end up at "descends into anarchy", so you'll have to forgive me taking it off the rails a bit, but I guess I'm just trying to illustrate that as unappealing as conformity may be to an individual, it can be good for society, and that say, a modern day nomad, still needs the majority of society to do mundane tasks in the service industry, for that nomad to be able to lead the life that he does.
I have a whole post I plan on writing about this-- I'll probably put it up soon since I've been circling around these topics recently. Until then, a couple thoughts:
I think that society does benefit from having a lot of normal people, just as we benefit from having some outliers. In some cases, like diet, I think that we would pretty clearly be way better off if we changed drastically across the board. In other ways, moderate change would probably be best for society. In some cases, maybe no change is best.
I think that as a weirdo, I benefit tremendously from normal people, and I'm infinitely grateful for it. I wouldn't be willing to go work long hours at Chipotle every day making burritos for largely ungrateful customers, but I'm sincerely thankful that other people are willing to do that.
My message is primarily aimed towards people like myself who have it incredibly easy. Compared to many many people, I've had no real hardship in my life. I was raised in a good family and never had to worry about food or shelter or love or anything like that. Given these incredible (and random) gifts, I feel like I have a real responsibility to do as much as I can with my life. That means thinking about my decisions and trying to make the world a better place-- not coasting and sticking with defaults.
I have to say, if you believe that it's your responsibility to make the world a better place, I'd sincerely request you to revisit your stand on global warming, biodiversity loss, environmentalism and the rest of it. I remember your post from a long time ago where you mentioned that you aren't bothered about these issues because the "top scientists of the world" are on it.
Unfortunately, such is modern life that regardless of how strong the science is, Big Oil and co. don't want to see us act. And someone like you could make a conscientious decision to travel and live a little bit more greenly, inspiring literally hundreds of thousands in the process. Of course, even then the impact would be small, but a ton of CO2 not emitted is a ton of CO2 not emitted.
Before this starts sounding like a jab, however, I should say that I realize your environmental impact is a miniscule of what most people in the developed world have, since you have no car, no big house, no TV and minimum clothes.
First of all, I'm almost certainly in the top 1% greenest in the US. I use solar power, have all LED lights, eat only sustainable food, ride a motorcycle instead of car, take public transportation, etc. And I do write about those lifestyle choices, even though I don't highlight the green element of it.
And the reason I don't highlight the green element of it is because it doesn't really matter. A ton of CO2 not emitted, as you say, is a ton of CO2... but a ton of CO2 has no practical impact on the earth. It's a number, but not a real impact.
When I think about how I can have an impact on the world, I think about where my leverage is. Right now that leverage is in two places: I can inspire people and give them tools to live a more actively considered life, and I can create a blogging platform that helps people spread their message. These are two areas where I feel like the difference I can make can actually matter and change lives. A few tons of CO2 won't change lives.
Even if everyone who ever went to my blog cut 50% of their CO2 output, that's not going to matter either. And believe me-- I'm not persuasive enough to get that many people to do that.
On the other hand-- look at people like Elon Musk. His leverage IS in an area where he can make a big difference. The gasoline cars he's taking off the road have some impact, but more importantly he's changing perception of electric cars and bringing that change on a little bit faster.
The electric car revolution is coming... it's just a matter of time. I didn't realize this fully until I went to China and saw just how many people there drive electric scooters. It's a HUGE amount. The transitions has started, and big oil won't be able to do much about it.
So when I talk about scientists fixing these problems, I actually mean scientists working for entrepreneurs like Musk and whoever owns those electric scooter companies in China.
On the other side of things (and the world), you have people like the president of the Maldives who are using their political power to effect change. In other words, people are attacking this problem from a lot of angles, and are making progress. Anything I would add would be a drop in the bucket and would serve no functional purpose beyond me feeling good about myself.
I know you feel differently about this, and that's fine. Maybe you ARE the type of person who cares so much about these issues that you will figure out how to put yourself in a position where you can create change. Maybe my blogging platform can even help you to spread that message somehow.
I enjoy your writing because you're surprising. Part of what makes you surprising is how your posts can be both incredibly right and incredibly wrong.
You start out so well, pointing directly at common (though unspoken) assumptions most people just swallow without a second thought. You bump it up a notch, showing your fascinating approach to sizing people up. You're ready for a slam-bang finish.
Then you swing hard and spin around with the momentum of your miss. Suddenly you've gone back to attacking education without any supporting arguments or evidence. Snore.
We all have our biases. That's okay. The problem is in deciding that they're facts. You would improve as a writer and (I suspect) as a person if you would stop making these sorts of claims.
A bazillion experts will tell you that the banks were a huge part of the collapse, but noooo, Tynan saves the day, letting them off the hook! It must be right! Right?
Come on. You seem like you're a generally honest person. How come you fib to yourself so much?
A bazillion experts will also tell you that the food pyramid is spot on. That doesn't make it so. There were a lot of contributing factors in the financial crisis, and I don't claim to understand all of them. I'm sure you don't either. If banks didn't offer the loans, it wouldn't have happened. If people didn't take the loans, it wouldn't have happened.
I ultimately assign all responsibility to the individual in pretty much every case. That's my belief, and yours may be different. When people don't think about their financial situation critically and they take a loan simply because a mortgage broker offered it to them, I blame them for the consequences that befall them.
From a personal standpoint, I don't care that the financial crisis happened. Did my stocks go down a bit? Sure-- but that's what I get for investing in something with risk that I don't fully understand. My fault. Not the bankers or the people who took the loans.
More relevant to the blog post, I believe that if, as a society, we thought more critically about our decisions, the crisis wouldn't have happened. Am I right? We'll never know... I think that's obvious to everyone reading.
Tynan, have you read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "Black Swan" and "Antifragile"?
Author questions a lot of our assumptions about the way world functions (+calls out a lot of people, including so called "experts" and even Nobel prize winners, on their BS).
I think you would enjoy both books, very though provoking and sobering.
I think the housing crash appears to be both a fault of the banks and a fault of the people. The banks- let's give loans to people who have shown no track record of dealing with their money appropriately, so we can get more money. People- durr herr, big house.. duurrrrrr *drool*
The gist of his post was spot on- think!
What is your system for determining facts? At some point, decisions must be made, and unfortunately, most situations can't be solved (for lack of a better word) purely by deductive reasoning.
You know what? I'm gonna write a blog post about this on my own blog... Enough toiling away in the comments section
Regarding your statement about meeting new people: "Everybody seems normal until you get to know them."
When you get to know some people you might find that they don't care whether or not you respect them.
On your considering the normality of people when you meet them ; "Everyone seems normal until you get to know them."
On getting to know some people you might find that they don't care whether your respect them or not.
"Even as you're reading this, I hope you're thinking, "Is he actually right, or do I just agree with him because I like his writing?" Wow, I do apologize that I was not thinking that. I was thinking more along the lines of, "Wow, what a pretentious and belittling attitude this person has of humans". If someone has a "normal" life you automatically assume they don't think at all. Perhaps these "normal" people are dealing with realities of life, and are going to school and working so that they aren't a leech on society and the people around them. You really think that school/university is a useless system of the past? How do you suggest that people are integrated into jobs that actually have practical use? You want chemical engineers who just skip all the silly schooling? You're just encouraging rebellious behavior which leads to poverty and homelessness. I'm sure many of your readers probably feel cool breaking with society but are meanwhile working a dead end job (if having a job at all) living in their mom's basement. People are not all mindless assholes as you seem to assume just because they are "normal", and even the most normal people in the world aren't as black and white are you've colored them. Incredibly pretentious.
"The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same."
"In order to be an immaculate member of a flock of sheep, one must above all be a sheep oneself."
People follow the norms because they desire to be accepted in society, and the only way to be accepted by the majority is conformity. Unless someone has a strong sense of self, it's very hard to break out of the mold and quit being a sheep. One must be as Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke of in "Self-Reliance".
One of the great sacrifices of subjecting kids to school is that it trains them to ask for permission for everything, from turning in work late, to changing to a different class, to more mundane things like going to the bathroom. It's a tradeoff, of course: condition kids to seek permission for everything, and by doing so enable a system to exist where they receive an education.
Maybe that's a worthwhile tradeoff, and maybe it's not. But the real harm in it, in my opinion anyway, is that when we leave school, we're still in the habit of asking permission for everything. That's dangerous.
A manifestation of this that I come across with frequently is the questions that people send me by email. Here's a paraphrased template, which covers a good 60%+ of the emails I get from strangers:
"It just happened. Just like that. You know, one day I just had enough. No more! I haven't smoked a cigarette since then. That was three years ago."
Yeah, well, except it didn't happen just like that.
Here's how I think change really happens... and it's the same pattern that occurs all across the universe when anything new happens:
An idea is had. A heretic thought. Some inkling, some hint that maybe everything isn't as you thought it were.
It looks harmless at first. It's just an acorn of an idea. An acorn that will grow into a majestic oak that tears through concrete foundations.