Why care about philosophy? Because it’s the field which studies methods of thinking, and you use thinking in your life.
Can’t I think without knowing philosophy? Sure, but philosophy is the field which helps improve your thinking. Your choices are: don’t think about thinking, think about thinking and try to create or reinvent good ideas yourself (try to be a pioneer who is also ignorant of the field), or learn what is already known about it (and then maybe try to improve something after you are familiar with existing knowledge).
Isn’t it good enough to read a few life hacks about how to think better? No, those don’t work very well.
And Kant works well? No, Kant’s philosophy is much worse than nothing. There are many different philosophies. Some are good and some bad. You should learn about a bunch of philosophies and compare them and make your own judgment about what’s good. If you don’t do that, you will think using some of our culture’s default ideas about how to think, while not having a clear idea of what you’re doing or why.
Are our culture’s default philosophical ideas good enough? If you look around you’ll see lots of suffering. You have problems in your life and so do your friends. Better ideas allow for better results.
How do I try a bit of this philosophy thing? Read a little bit of something. If you’re having a good time, try a little of something else. After a few things, say something. Talk about what you think it’s about, how you think it’s useful, etc., and get feedback and criticism. Or ask questions. Or see if other people agree about what it means. In the alternative, if you don’t like something, if you run into some problem, talk about that. Talk fairly casually and keep it simple. Don’t put a bunch of effort into trying to be fancy or clever or sound smart. Use small words. Any effort you put into writing should go into clarity – saying what you mean so that people can understand you.
Can you be more specific? Not without you sharing any info. People have different life situations. The Fallible Ideas website has essays you can read, book recommendations, and discussion forums. Look around at a variety of things, not just my stuff. You should compare and make your own judgments. And then talk about your judgments so that e.g. someone can point out a way you misunderstood something and can change your mind.
I’ve tried discussing philosophy and the discussions weren’t very good, so shouldn’t I just give up? No, thinking better isn’t a topic to give up on just because some resources aren’t very good. It’s too important to pursue only if there are convenient, easy ways to pursue it. Try other options. And if you found something inadequate about my forums, you can and should say what it is. Unlike many other forums, no moderator will block you from expressing problems with the forum itself. That’s encouraged. Then a misunderstanding could be cleared up, or the forum could be changed, or everyone could agree it’s a different kind of forum than what you wanted, or whatever. Some kind of conclusion could be reached if you communicate about the issue. And keep in mind the problem could partly be you. If you go to a bunch of forums and the discussions you have aren’t very good (and you have the same issues with groups of friends, meetups, study groups, etc), maybe you’re doing something wrong. One of the things you can do about is try having a couple discussions then ask if anyone knows anything you’re doing wrong or knows anything you could do better to achieve some goal you have (saying what your goals are also helps).
How do I get inspired or motivated to actually do this? It’s up to you what to do with your life. Don’t look to me for that. I have suggestions about what makes sense and arguments that you haven’t refuted. But it’s up to you whether to be motivated by things like reasoning about why something matters which you can’t point out any errors in. Most people don’t find that kind of abstract intellectual issue motivating. Try thinking of some things that you find motivational, like some goals you have, and then writing down (or speaking out loud) some ways that better thinking would help with them. For example, if you want to get laid, better thinking helps. If you want to run or manage a business, better thinking helps. Thinking is a generic tool used in all human activities, so it’s relevant no matter what your interests are.
People have two main modes of doing tasks: now or never.
They often try to do tasks soon, but not today. Then a few months later they haven't done it. A small portion of those tasks get reprioritized and most get abandoned (a few remain on people's unrealistic todo lists year after year).
People are bad at scheduling things which are semi-urgent. They don't have to do it immediately, but they shouldn't put it off for months.
Semi-urgent is a really common category. Learning in general is semi-urgent. It's uncommon that you need to learn something right now. If you learn to read at age 7 or at age 7.25 (3 whole months later), it's not a big deal. If you learn a math concept a few months later, in the long run that doesn't matter. If you learn about WWII a few months later, it doesn't matter. But you don't want to put those things off forever, either. They are good to learn reasonably soon.
A major reason for now or never is short-term emotions. People have a spark of excitement or interest that quickly fades, so they have to do something now (or quite soon) or else they lose their motivation. They commonly lose their motivation when they sleep and get an emotional reset. There isn't a simple fix for this. People should stop basing their lives on short-term emotions. They should stop being whim worshipers, as Ayn Rand called it.
I have a partial solution to this problem. It's a way of specifying "soon" in more detail.
You do 80% of the things you plan to do "soon" within 1 week. Of the ones you don't do, you finish 80% of those within 1 more week (2 total). Of the ones you don't do, you finish 80% of those with 2 more weeks (4 total). If you still didn't do it, you can give up.
With this method, less than 1% of stuff won't get done. And each phase is reasonably easy. You're only trying to do 4 out of 5 things. You can have a significant failure rate (up to 1 in 5) and still succeed at the 80% target. And there are only 3 phases, and the maximum time you have to worry about something is under a month.
Even though it has a small number of lenient phases, this method gets 96% of things done within 2 weeks and 99.2% within 4 weeks.
What can go wrong? The biggest thing is you plan to do stuff you don't want to do. Then you still won't want to do it next week or the week after. If you're intentionally avoiding something, I haven't offered any advice to fix that. And if you primarily act based on short-term emotions which are gone in week 2, this method also doesn't address that. And I don't tell you when you should change your mind and purposely decide not to do stuff (other than letting you off the hook after the third phase, which should happen less than 1% of the time so it's not that big a deal).
Still, I think it offers some useful guidelines. It gives you ballparks of what should be happening if things are going right and you're acting reasonably. When you deviate from this method, you can use that as a signal that something is broken – you're trying to do something you don't want to do, or you're trying to do something that you were emotional about when you decided to do it and you're no longer emotional about it, or your scheduling is broken in some way (e.g. you plan to do way more things than you have time for).
People commonly have only a vague idea of when "soon" is, so they don't even know when things should be getting done or when they are failing. It helps to have some guidelines for "soon" to compare your behavior against, so you can see which things you did soon and which you didn't, instead of fooling yourself with moving goalposts.
It's hard to believe how badly run these things are. Crypto is full of scams, money laundering and crime. The main scam is ponzi schemes: the price keeps going up as long as more "investors" buy in, and whoever the last round of buyers are will lose a ton of money. Crypto is not seeing a significant amount of use as an actual replacement for dollars and credit cards.
Anyway all the crypto exchanges are run by total amateurs who, knowingly or not, routinely commit financial fraud. And some examples can bring home what that really means:
That's bad. Like really, really bad. It never occurred to them to be like "What happens to the company if our founder-CEO gets hit by a bus?" That's a standard question for startups. And this is certainly not the first time crypto money has been lost because a password was lost due to someone's death or another reason. That is a well known potential disaster. So they should have had protections against the well known danger, and they didn't. So that's awful.
But it gets way worse if you actually read the article. It's the kind of stuff that's hard to make up and would seem unrealistic if you made it up. It's so ridiculous:
Canadian crypto exchange [...] unexpectedly died in India
So he didn't even get hit by a Canadian bus. He died over in a risker country. Traveling to a less safe place wasn't enough to get them to be more careful.
The exchange holds [...] totaling $147 million, according to the affidavit.
And they owe $190 million. So they'd already lost $43 million before the founder died.
died “due to complications with Crohn’s disease
Crohn's disease is a chronic condition. So he didn't get hit by a bus, he died to a problem he already knew he had.
Cotten left behind no business records.
And yet people trusted him with $190 million.
As CBC noted, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce froze $26 millions worth of QuadrigaCX’s assets in January 2018 “after finding irregularities with payment processing,” and a document from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 2018 concluded that “$67-million worth of transactions ended up improperly transferred into the personal account of Costodian Inc, the payment processor.”
They'd already had big problems with tens of millions of dollars a year earlier. It's not like everything seemed OK until this one disaster happened.
“This is a tough lesson learned,” Calgary customer Elvis Cavalic told CBC, adding that he had been unable to withdraw $15,000 in holdings in October 2018.
The end of the article has the coup de grace: customers couldn't actually get their money out months ago when the founder was still alive and the password wasn't lost. Cuz crypto is a mix of a joke and a scam. Stay the hell away.
On FI, someone keeps asking how to feel that one is overreaching. Shouldn't there be an emotion to tell you what's going on?
No. Emotions are software, developed by our culture (mostly thousands of years ago). It's kind of like: every minute, or when something notable happens, that software runs through a checklist of 5000 things. If one is going on, it runs through another checklist with more detailed stuff for that issue. The results of the software analysis is presented in a short summary which we call an "emotion".
Our emotion software doesn't know about all situations or issues. It knows about a lot of stuff but not everything. There aren't emotions for everything. There's no reason it'd have to cover everything. It's not complete. Even if people had ten times as many emotions it still wouldn't be complete.
If there was an emotion for everything, emotions would be useless. A summary has to condense information. Emotions are focused on areas our culture considers important. They're selective. They prioritize. They help direct our attention to what matters. If there were emotions for everything, they wouldn't be a summary anymore, and they wouldn't be worth paying attention to. You'd have to have a second layer of software that screens the emotions for the ones you consider important and ignores the rest. If you want information about everything, use your eyes and ears, they are better at doing that type of thing (you won't see infrared but eyes are much less about summarizing than emotions are, they are more about giving you a reasonably complete picture of what's in front of you).
The whole concept of expecting an automatic response or indication of a situation, whether emotional or not, doesn't make sense. You have that for many things but not all things. Such responses have to come from somewhere, they don't just exist automatically in all cases.
With that out of the way, the best indication of overreaching is hardness. When something feels hard, maybe you're overreaching. Feeling confused or overwhelmed are other relevant indicators. These aren't about overreaching but they have some overlap. They're in the right ballpark.
The feeling of hardness indicates inefficiency.
People are confused about hardness partly because there are two types. Hardness-A is an evaluation of the issue in general. Hardness-B is the feeling, it's about a person's experience. Hence people do hard things and say "it was easy for me". Touch typing is fairly hard. It takes practice. It's a skill you have to develop. But it's easy for me. I do it without thinking. It doesn't require conscious attention. I used to experience it as being difficult, but I don't now.
The same is true of walking. There was a time in my life when I couldn't walk and I had to learn how. Most ways of using leg muscles do not result in walking, they result in falling. Only some specific actions succeed as walking and staying balanced. And people have tried to write software to make a robot walk around and they've found that's difficult.
Speaking English is hard. There are thousands of words to learn, each with a spelling and a pronunciation and at least one definition. There are grammar rules and exceptions. There are different forms of words with similar but different meanings, e.g. "hammer", "hammered", "hammering", "hammers", "hammer-like". But once you get used to English enough, it can feel easy, intuitive and second-nature.
It's the same with chess. The better you get at chess, the better you can autopilot it and play without trying very hard. Chess players have a skill level they can play at when trying hard, and a separate, lower skill level they can play at when taking it easy. The skill level for taking it easy isn't usually far behind – a top player can easily beat a good player. In other words, trying hard doesn't make a big difference. A top 1% player when trying his best is still a top 2% player when not trying very hard. Trying hard at chess does make a big difference when playing serious tournament games against players of similar skill, but it wouldn't make any difference against most opponents.
Trying hard is a big effort for small results. That's an inefficient use of effort. 10% of the effort lets a chess player achieve 90% of his maximum skill. Then trying ten times harder only adds a one ninth increase in skill. It makes sense to try hard in a competition where only the best player wins and everyone is trying their best, but it usually doesn't make sense to do that in life in general. And all this applies to many other examples besides chess.
Trying hard means you're not autopiloting. You're using conscious attention, which is a limited resource. You're using focus and mental energy and creativity and that kind of stuff. And, in general, people can do that for around 2 or 3 hours per day. They can do more in the short term but it leads to burnout if they keep it up over time. (For knowledge workers, the 8 hour work day is a myth. For chess players, they focus longer when competing, but they don't compete on most days.)
Trying hard means working at the edge of your abilities with less margin for error. It means more mistakes are made. It means you're trying to do things that you don't know an easy way to do. It means trying to do things you can't do habitually, can't do while multitasking, can't do while not at your best.
Most of our life is automated. Our minds are complicated and do tons of stuff. Our consciousness is like a factory manager who can go around and inspect any one workstation at a time and make changes, but the work in the factory always keeps going everywhere else. Hard stuff is stuff that only the manager can do, there's no workstation to do it. Doing hard stuff means the manager is busy and can't go around inspecting and improving the workstations in the factory, nor creating new ones. Some people don't notice the loss because their manager (conscious mind) is usually mostly idle anyway, rather than going around checking for problems. If you have a lazy manager who wasn't going to do much anyway, then keeping him busy doesn't appear to have much downside. It's still bad though: a busy manager isn't going to reform. Keeping the manager distracted from the ongoing, unsolved problems is not how to change things so that he becomes a better manager.
In general in life, you need to figure out easy, repeatable, low-error ways to do things, then automate them (add them as workstations in your mental factory that can keep producing even when the manager isn't there). Adding more of those is how you get a lot done in life. Having your manager do any work himself is a huge loss of productivity. Your manager can do the work of, like, three workstations. Maybe even ten. He's really good at stuff compared to the automated processes (which you can think of like robots or low skilled workers). But in the long run, having your manager do the work of even a hundred workstations is a terrible deal. It makes way more sense for him to help set up thousands or millions of workstations. Much more will get done if he doesn't do it. (Also, remember, if the manager works more than three hours a day, that's overtime and he starts getting tired.)
Stuff feels hard when your manager has to do it instead of a workstation doing it. You don't know how to do it using only the sorts of cheap, plentiful mental resources that form automatic workstations.
People are confused because having their manager do something is a common step in workstation setup. First you figure out how to do something using conscious attention and maximum focus. If you can do it at all, that's a good step one. Then you figure out how to do it more easily and reliably. Then you get good at it to the point it's easy and automatic/intuitive/second-nature.
But doing something for the purpose of learning and setting up an automatic workstation, and doing it to get it done, are different things. The goal matters to how its done. Like, is the manager taking notes on how he does it so that he can then hand off the job to an unskilled worker later? Is he looking for what could be automated, as he goes along? Is he trying to figure out how to break down the task into small, simple parts that could be handled by dumb workers or robots? Doing those things helps work towards a day when the manager can stop being involved and delegate everything – which means he can move on to new projects.
On the other hand, sometimes people think they will only do something once, so they don't worry about any of that stuff, they just try to get it done and even getting the manager to do it a second time would be hard (they have no notes, they don't even know exactly what they did, they just fiddled with stuff until it worked and they lost track of some of their actions).
And sometimes people think automating something is too hard, so they won't bother. Right now, the easiest thing to do is get it done without worrying about the future. Figuring out how to automate stuff is extra work. Then they do the same thing again the next day, and the next, and they keep wasting manager effort and never get a workstation created. (This is more common with things that come up sporadically, e.g. every few weeks, but sometimes people do it with daily tasks.) Or sometimes people partially automate a task, e.g. typing, but they never fully automate it, it's always a bit of work and a bit distracting.
People talk about inspiration and perspiration. But it should be inspiration and automation. Instead of working hard, figure out how the great new idea can be done easily and repeatedly.
A big obstacle to automation is errors. Every time something goes wrong, the low skill workers or robots at the workstation can't do much troubleshooting. They aren't very creative. They'll go through a checklist of troubleshooting steps if their manager told them to (that's highly recommended!). If that doesn't work, then either the manager has to come along and fix things (like if a machine is broken), or else they can throw out that work product and start over (if only half of the things the workstation produces actually work, it can still produce stuff, although there better be some quality control steps to actually find the broken ones and get rid of them).
Automating requires figuring out how to do stuff in a highly reliable way with a low error rate. You have to figure out not just a method to accomplish a task, but an easy, reliable method that doesn't have many ways to fail. If every step is easy, and that are steps to check for problems and standard ways to fix them, then it can work pretty well and the manager doesn't have to be called in very often to clean up a mess. That's good if your goal is to get millions of workstations running, with just one manager, so that you can get a lot done in life. And yes millions is realistic.
Your brain is a computer. It's a more powerful computer than my iMac. My iMac can do around four billion CPU cycles per second, and each cycle can get several small tasks done. If the average workstation involves a million small tasks to complete one work product, and I have a million workstations, then they might all be able to average a work product completion every 10 seconds, while all running simultaneously. That's the ballpark of how powerful the brain is. And it's better to have a billion workstations and turn some on and off – some are general purpose, but most are only used when doing a specific kind of activity, e.g. a workstation that is only used when playing or thinking about chess. (Figuring out more general purpose workstations helps keep things manageable – it means you need fewer total workstations and you can get stuff done with fewer running at once. Thinking in a more principled way can mean a hundred million workstations, with a million on at a time, instead of a hundred billion workstations with ten million on at a time.)
People tell stories about themselves. This is uncontroversial.
Sometimes those stories contain errors. This is uncontroversial. People sometimes deny it when they want to deny that a particular claim in a particular story is an error.
Sometimes people's stories about themselves don't match their actions. This is uncontroversial in general. People sometimes deny it when they are defending a particular story.
When people's stories and actions don't match, a common reaction is not to notice. Why is that common? That sounds weird. It's because they already fixed the story/action mismatches that they do notice. The ones they are blind to are the ones that stay. The ones they rationalize are the ones that persist over time. The things that stay wrong over time have a higher rate of dishonesty than the ones that get fixed sooner. The issues you're honest about will get fixed with a varied, unbiased distribution of speeds – you figure some out soon and some later. The ones you're dishonest about will get get fixed with a skewed distribution of speeds – you generally don't figure them out, few get fixed because you're preventing fixing them.
When a story/action mismatch is pointed out to people, a common reaction is to blame the action. They claim it's weird they did that. The action strikes them as out of character. When story and reality clash, people tend to side with story, except in certain scientific contexts where a lot of effort has been put into getting people to respect reality more.
When story and action contradict, it's more often the story that's wrong. You can't act out of character very often, or those actions would be in character (would be normal actions for you), since you do them often. Acting out of character has to be an uncommon event. But telling false stories about yourself can be common, and is.
People often naively believe that their own stories about themselves are mostly true. They sometimes extend this gullibility to the stories of many people in their social group. Sometimes they participate in creating the stories about their friends, family, coworkers, etc.
A major step towards a reality-based view of yourself is to learn what lots of the common stories other people tell are, and to recognize many of them as false, and become good at catching people's lies. Once you're good at that, then you could be suspicious of any of your own stories that, if someone else said it, you'd think it was probably false. You could investigate those stories further using the same methods by which you would question someone else.
Discussion is externalized thinking. Thinking is self-discussion.
Not entirely. This mostly applies to the conscious aspects of thinking. It’s thinking that you pay attention to, not autopilot/habits.
Rational critical analysis looks at the content of ideas, not their sources. It doesn’t matter if the source is you or someone else, it’s the same idea either way. The same sort of analysis needs to be done to evaluate two rival ideas regardless of their sources – which means, regardless of whether they come from two different people in a discussion or from one person who is thinking silently.
Discussion lets other people share criticism with you and learn from you. Those are big benefits. They help share good ideas and overcome people’s personal weaknesses. Some of your weaknesses are not shared by some of your discussion partners, and you don’t have some of their weaknesses, so there’s lots of scope to help each other.
Good thinkers can think out loud and can think as part of discussion. They don’t have to think alone first, in advance of discussion. They can do some thinking in real time, and some in fairly near real time (writing a text reply slower than talking out loud as one thinks, but without taking any significant break to think things over).
People who have trouble thinking in discussion also have trouble thinking outside of discussion. But there are some important differences. People who get pressured and socially manipulated a lot can think better alone because those things happen less when there isn’t another person directly involved. But if they were a better thinker they’d deal with that better.
Many people believe they know an idea, they just can’t explain it well. They separate thinking and communication as different skills. But if you can explain the idea to yourself, you can use that same explanation with other people!
People also claim they have arguments that convince themselves but wouldn’t convince you. This is biased. They believe it’s because they have access to information that you don’t, e.g. their own internal feelings or memories. But they can tell you those. You and they should both see the evidence the same way: “Joe reports remembering X.” or “Bob says that he feels Y very strongly and seriously.” The reason they think it’s more convincing for them, than you, is they realize that those kinds of reports are unreliable and you won’t accept it, but they believe those kinds of reports, anyway, when they are the reporter. That’s biased and bad thinking. People should learn to be skeptical of their own beliefs. If they know they have a belief that a reasonable external person would be skeptical of, they should doubt it themselves, too.
People also separate truth-seeking and debating as different skills. They think the better thinker, with the better idea, can lose a debate because he is less good at clever rhetoric. This is reasonably accurate when both thinkers aren’t very good. But great thinkers can handle these issues. A good thinker can point out rhetoric, manipulation, faking, etc. A good thinker will refocus the discussion on key points like what are the criticisms of each idea, and ask the other person to cooperate in joint truth-seeking. The gullible people in the audience may still be fooled, but that should clarify matters enough for the reasonable people to be able to see what’s going on. (Of course errors can always happen. There are no guarantees.)
All this means: learning to discuss is a way of learning to think well. And learning to think well without learning to discuss well is implausible and is a sign of fooling yourself. Because thinking and discussion are linked, and most genuine skill at either one also works for the other.
I make freely available two main categories of things. 1) Online writing/video/audio. This is non-interactive and distribution costs are approximately zero. 2) Interactive discussion, which is expensive in terms of my time. It overlaps with (1) because people are welcome to read the discussions without saying anything. There’s also overlap the other way because people can start a discussion about e.g. a blog post.
There’s a huge amount of material. I’ve written ~50,000 public contributions to discussions, in addition to the blog posts, essays, YouTube, etc. I also sell digital products which are much cheaper than consulting because they aren’t personalized – the same work can be sold to multiple customers.
How many people read books by a great author and become even 1% as great as the author? That’s very rare! Non-interactive stuff helps people, and it’s easier to engage with, but the results are usually pretty limited. People read/watch too passively and uncritically, don’t think of enough questions or pursue enough followup issues, understand stuff vaguely and think they agree (too low standards), and don’t apply/use the ideas enough. And they misunderstand parts which causes misunderstandings of later parts, which causes even more misunderstandings of later parts, which can spiral out of control.
So what about discussions? I’m available for free discussions primarily at the FI email group (and the Curiosity website which is similar). I visit other forums periodically but you can’t rely on that.
I discuss primarily because it's part of being a philosopher – I can get questions and criticism, learn things, practice writing, practice understanding people, share ideas, think about issues, etc.
Participating effectively in FI discussions is hard and doesn’t work well for most people. I know lots of specific problems people have, but there’s a fundamental issue:
The FI group is about reason and intellectual progress. To use it well requires being good at those things or being on a path to get good at them.
Discussion methods and skills are, essentially, thinking methods and skills. One has to be a good thinker to discuss effectively. This is because thinking is self-discussion, or, put the other way around, discussion is externalized thinking.
The same epistemology governs both discussion and thinking. The same methods for resolving a disagreement between ideas apply if those ideas are in one person or in multiple people.
Relevant skills include dealing with criticism rationally, organizing ideas effectively, being able to look at issues objectively (avoiding personalizing and bias), coming up with questions, knowing when you do or don’t know enough, and figuring out how to apply ideas.
Learning to use the FI group well is a somewhat equivalent problem to learning to think well. So that’s hard.
A tip for using FI: If you think something is bad (e.g. that a person was rude, mean, demanding, pushy, dumb, not listening, etc.), ask about it. People (especially the better posters) often do things on purpose for reasons. The online discussion group is 25 years old and has developed and refined its approach intentionally (guided especially by David Deutsch and myself). If you choose to silently disagree with something, you should to be tolerant, not have it start building to a bigger problem. This comes up particularly because of violations of social-cultural norms.
Second tip: Be careful when people aren’t talking to you directly. When speaking to a newer poster people often try to write something that’ll make sense to him, which doesn’t require as much background knowledge. But other posts may build on years of prior context and can easily be misunderstood by newcomers who don’t ask tons of questions.
Paid consulting is about helping the customer with what they want help with. In free discussions, my primary goal is my own learning, and I interact with people when our projects overlap. What my goal is has large consequences for what happens.
When consulting, I make things easier for customers and they can control the topics. In free discussions, I often ask topic-changing questions and I’m often interested in judging people and filtering out irrationality and dishonesty. In free discussions, I often don’t take hints and I often want things to be made clear that other people don’t want to make clear.
In consulting, I help organize what happens and help take responsibility for the other person achieving their goals. In free discussions, I expect people to manage their own affairs (like deciding how much time to spend, when, on what). I volunteer help less and expect people to take reasonable steps for making progress such as reading books and critically discussing as they go along.
Free discussions are mostly text, asynchronous, often partial effort/attention, sometimes slow or no reply, and are a permanent part of the public record. In paid consulting customers reliably get high attention and effort, and can get faster help, voice chat, real time interaction, and privacy.
Free discussion replies are often generic on purpose. Instead of giving personal help, I take the issue someone brought up and write an answer that would be of interest to many other people too.
People often don’t really understand what sharing ideas publicly means. It means your post is just like an article or book by a public figure. People can scrutinize it, discuss it, criticize it harshly, misunderstand it, analyze things the author (you) unintentionally revealed about himself, etc., and the author has no control over any of that. The author doesn’t have to participate or read what’s said, but what he wrote is now evidence to be used by others as they choose. Your post can become a permanent example or reference point about irrationality or some other flaw. FI posters sometimes bring up quotes from years ago.
Lots of people think they want the role of a responsible intellectual/adult/peer/equal in a rational discussion forum. “Reason? Of course I want that! Sounds great!” But that’s hard and people usually don’t like it, and they'd be better off buying help. Admitting weakness and inequality, and publicly taking on more of a student/learner/child/beginner role, also doesn’t work well for most people (they both dislike it and don’t know how to do it well).
Another reason for consulting: in the medium or long run, to get much value from others, there’s no good way to get out of offering value to others. Money and rationality are both values one can offer. Money exists in greater supply and is easier to come by and offer. Intellectual progress is hard and finding ways to throw money at the problem can be good. (I would personally be thrilled if I could find effective ways to spend more money to get philosophical benefits.)
Human civilization has more knowledge than any one person. We have a division of intellectual labor. Some people specialize in chemistry, others law, others fashion, others history, others football. A specialist in a type of knowledge is called an “expert” or even an “authority” for his field. The division of intellectual labor has progressed to the point of narrow specialities – e.g. we have experts in ancient Greek history, or WWII history, rather than all of history. There are different kinds of scientists, and then within a kind, e.g. physicist, there are sub-kinds, e.g. astrophysicist.
People accept expert advice from car mechanics, doctors, lawyers, scientists, tech support people, sports coaches and more. You may be able to learn about a few topics, in detail, yourself, but not all the topics that come up in your life. There’s too much to know it all yourself.
If you didn’t use other people’s expert knowledge – if you didn’t participate in the intellectual division of labor – you’d be handicapped, have a limited life and not accomplish much compared to people who do (just the same as a person who doesn’t participate in the economic division of labor cannot produce much compared to people who do participate).
The intellectual division of labor raises problems to be addressed. How do you know which ideas from other people to use? How do you judge an expert’s claim when you don’t know much about the field? How can decide what to think when experts in a field disagree with each other?
One attempted solution is credentials. Some people perform the task of judging experts. But the people saying which experts are good are themselves experts (in the field of judging expertise), so you’re left with the same problem of deciding which experts to listen to. They’ve just moved the problem: instead of deciding whether to listen to a scientist saying humans evolved, you decide whether to listen to a guy telling you he knows which scientists to listen to. And normally the qualifications of the people giving out credentials in a field are that they are experts in that field (not that they actually have any special expertise at judging experts), so it’s really just “Listen to me about which physicists you should listen to, because I’m a good physicist.”
Another attempted solution is reputation. Some people have a bunch of success is some visible way and then people listen to them more. And reputations can partially carry over to their associates, and to a lesser degree to their associate’s associates.
Another attempted solution – which is how a lot of reputation works – is to judge by popularity. But great ideas usually start out unpopular.
Another way people judge expertise is by charisma, social status, social skill, and stuff like that (including dressing well and speaking in a “smart” sounding way). This is a poor method. It leads to competitions not at field expertise but at expertise in impressing people and presenting as credible to them.
Another way people judge experts is by which ones create material (articles, books, videos, etc.) for a general audience that they like. This isn’t very good at figuring out who is the best at the details of the field because it looks for skills like being able to communicate well about the basics of the field.
I propose a better way to judge experts. This solution is especially meant for intellectuals rather than, e.g., bike repair experts. Experts should provide public information which can be evaluated by lay people. It’s their job to prove their own case if they want to be considered an expert. But how? Specifically by being open to debate. Experts should be open to questions and criticism, in public, and organize the information in a way that people can look it over and see who blocked further progress on resolving the disagreement. The public should favor experts who have addressed all outstanding criticism of their knowledge over experts who have withdrawn from that kind of discussion, ignored criticisms, refused to answer questions, derailed debates, etc. Experts should be judged by the current state of the debate in the field, and should organize that debate so it isn’t a mess with no clear answers.
People who don’t know how to do this aren’t fit to be experts in a fields that deal with controversies (but maybe they can successfully be an expert accountant). If your field has ongoing disagreements and debate, then you need to know how to organize and evaluate disagreements and debate in order to do effective work in your field.
The starting point of clarifying the state of the debate is to invite debate. The people who decline debate are the people blocking resolution of the issues. The people who are unwilling to try to address questions and criticisms should be presumed wrong, even though they might be right about some particular issues, because their methodology – their way of dealing with knowledge – is not oriented towards truth-seeking. People who reject intellectual collaboration, on principle, are limiting their participation in the intellectual division of labor and thereby limiting their effectiveness (just like a business that won’t consider any business deals with other businesses).
A good expert has the general attitude: “If I’m wrong, tell me what I’m wrong about. And I’ve told you what you’re wrong about and I’m still waiting for you to respond.” And he thinks of debate as primarily a matter of writing, over time, not verbal debate in person. So he can write a blog post criticizing something, and that advances the state of the debate, and if it’s not answered then that shows the other guy isn’t debating (or discussing, which should be the same thing). And it shows the other guy also lacks proxies to discuss for him. And lacks sources he could cite that address the issue with no new work. (Or else he has the perfect answer, already written, and just won’t say? Not a plausible story.)
Openness to debate is a well known criterion so many people pretend to meet it. But most don’t pretend in more than a token way. Suppose I wrote a blog post with some questions and criticisms for an expert. You, right now, could predict that most experts would ignore me. For example, Richard Dawkins would ignore me (and that’s not mere speculation, I have actually contacted him and been ignored, even though I’m an expert who has written serious criticism of some of his work). His openness to debate is limited in some ways.
What are the limits on the openness to debate of Dawkins and the large majority of other supposed experts? I could try to analyze and criticize them and talk about some Paths Forward stuff. But there’s a much simpler way for lay people to evaluate the matter. Has Dawkins written down what his limits on debate are, himself? Has he publicly shared a policy stating his openness to debate, including the limits and the reasons for those limits? Has he asked if anyone knows any ways to remove or reduce any of those limits? No he has not. Because he isn’t seriously interested in discussing and getting disagreements resolved.
Many experts were more open to debate when they were younger, and they get disillusioned after many bad, ineffective discussions. They give up and decide talking with people is mostly a waste of time. What they should have done is learned better methods that better conserve their time, get to the point faster, and so on (see Paths Forward for info on how to do that). Organize the debate better instead of giving up on debate (and then dishonestly pretending you’re still open to debate). Learn enough philosophy – methods of dealing with ideas, learning, resolving disagreements between ideas, etc. – to be an effective intellectual. Sure that’s hard (most philosophy is crap) but if you want to be a good intellectual you need to deal with that problem and find or create and then use actual good methods for making intellectual progress (and if you think you have those, write them down and expose those to criticism and debate, and also make them available for others to learn and use if you think they actually work well! As I have done.).
By the way, what if all the experts in a field are bad? What if none of them are really open to debate? Then it’s hard to evaluate, so you should ask a philosopher (general purpose expert) to evaluate the field (and you can judge which philosophers are experts by their openness to debate).
People don't want unbounded discussion of ideas. They will debate a specific topic, like minimum wage, if you aren't allowed to talk about discussion and thinking methodology, how important the issue is relative to other issues, how it fits into the bigger picture of life, etc. And if you don't expect to actually reach a conclusion, and don't mind if they give up halfway through without explanation. The first time a problem comes up which isn't part of the limited topic (e.g. they think your communications indicate negative feelings, or they have negative feelings themselves), the discussion soon ends without problem solving because that kind of problem solving is out of bounds.
Most people and forums are hostile merely to continuing to discuss a topic for more than a few days. They're also broadly hostile to quoting what people say and replying to that, rather than everyone just making general comments on the issue and then everyone agreeing that everyone is smart and their comments merit respect. Also people don't like criticism – they don't want to be told what their mistakes are. People view mistakes as bad things to avoid because they don't expect to actually solve problems (if you can't/won't correct a mistake, being told about it isn't helpful).
People don't expect or seek progress. They think discussions are a hobby where you try to sound clever and entertain each other. They aren't actually trying to contribute to human knowledge.
I want to talk with people who are trying to make a substantial contribution to human knowledge. There are two ways they can approach that goal. They can think they already know enough to work on achieving it now, or they can think they don't know enough and be trying to learn enough to get there. Identifying which category they are in, or even saying what goals they do and don't have, is the kind of thing that people generally don't want to talk about (it's out of bounds since it isn't keeping the discussion limited to e.g. whether or not a border wall is a good idea).
Another question I ask people, which is also out of bounds, is whether they have a discussion forum or know of one they think is good and participate at. And if the answer is no, is that something they want and would they like to join my forum and actively participate? And if they are going to judge my forum negatively, will they say why and will that judgment be open to clarifications, questions, criticism, etc? People don't like to talk about this because it involves admitting they aren't looking for discussion. (Sometimes they pretend that they already have plenty of great discussion, so they don't need more. They have to claim it's private though, or else I'd ask to see it. People who claim to have lots of great private discussion, but none in public, are liars and also are, apparently, not interested in contributing their knowledge to the rest of the world.)
Lack of discussion means there are no paths forward for people's mistakes to get corrected, even when the correction is known.
Lack of debate means obscuring which ideas do and do not survive criticism. Which ideas can handle questions and scrutiny? Let's find out!
Intellectuals and the Marketplace discusses the important problem of the hostility to capitalism by the “intellectuals”. Interestingly, the article itself is written in an intellectual style and ignores Ayn Rand (a major contributor on this topic) in favor of quoting people with more "intellectual" styles or reputations. The article covers only a limited range of theories about what the problem is, and doesn’t offer solutions. But I still think it has value because it’s such an important problem with so little work being done to address it.
I think the key fact is that understanding and valuing capitalism, freedom and other parts of liberal civilization is the rare exception in the world. Only a few societies have ever done that, and only in a partial, incomplete way. There has never been much of a pro-capitalist society. Things didn’t get worse. We didn’t forget what we knew. By and large, people just never knew it in the first place. Almost no one has ever understood capitalism very well or been competent to defend it intellectually. Historic periods of greater economic flourishing were largely unplanned and were never on an adequate intellectual footing to withstand sustained criticism over time.
Why haven’t the few people who understood capitalism well been able to widely share that knowledge? Because of generic resistance to learning and new ideas. It’s not about capitalism specifically, the same thing happens with most innovative ideas in most fields. People are bad at changing their minds, feel attacked by criticism, don’t study/learn/think much, avoid effort, and focus on things like social status rather than truth. That is really ingrained in people, so it’s hard to spread important new ideas, like about how and why capitalism works or anything else. A few independent thinkers learning economics doesn't address the problem of widespread irrationality.
Almost all people, whether “intellectuals” or not, are puppets of static memes. The most notable thing about the anti-capitalist intellectuals is they are totally ignorant of how and why capitalism works – e.g. they are clueless about logical consequences of price controls or tariffs, and they often fall for variations on the broken window fallacy (so do lay people). The “intellectuals” are not people who learned about an intellectual field like economics, they are the people who learned how to achieve the label “intellectual” as a social status. People actually interested in ideas are very rare.
Real intellectuals, people who energetically seek the truth, are rare and have always been rare because static memes cause people, especially parents, to crush the rationality of children – mostly before age 7. The big picture solution is rational parenting, which can only be done effectively by the few outliers who are fairly rational and honest themselves, and who are capable of learning a lot of cutting edge philosophy and who want to do that. (The solution to bad ideas is not a retreat from ideas, but a better approach to ideas which is better at finding and correcting mistakes.)
If we're bad at assimilation, then immigration is dangerous.
If we're good at assimilation, given modern communications technology, we should be able to assimilate people living in other countries. They can learn English and Western values online. They can access our books, TV, radio and online or mail-based educational courses from their own countries.
Therefore I propose the following immigration policy: only let in immigrants who already assimilated before immigrating.
There's no need to let in unassimilated immigrants and then try to assimilate them after they're here and hope it works.
Assimilation has a failure rate. If we assimilate them in their home countries, the failures can stay there instead of already being here. And even with a low success rate, we can still assimilate a larger number of people than we actually want to bring here (we can still pick and choose the best ones).
If you want to come here, prove it first by assimilating yourself remotely.
What if someone doesn't have access to the internet, or there is some other obstacle, so they don't have the opportunity to assimilate? Too bad. Life isn't fair. Our immigration policy should benefit our country by only taking people who found a way to already be a good fit before coming here (there are enough of them that people without internet access are not our problem).
Also, the best thing we can do to help underprivileged foreigners is to spread Western values to the whole world. We should be making it clear that Western values – the ones that originated with the Greeks, then the Romans, then the Western Europeans – are the only ones that bring peace and prosperity. Other countries can help their own underprivileged by adopting capitalism and limited government, by favoring economic and personal freedom, and by having a government which protects men from violence instead of violently oppressing its people.
There are a lot of people in the world. They can't all come here. Foreign countries need to improve. That's the only way to help everyone.
The U.S. needs to improve as well. It's in real danger from anti-Western ideas that have gained popularity internally. Bringing in more people who don't have Western values is making that problem worse. That problem is threatening to destroy the most civilized country, which is the best able to lead others to freedom and prosperity. It's in the interest of all men of good will, in all countries, that America remains a free and prosperous country that is capable of sharing good ideas with others.
America should be spreading its values to other countries, not bringing other values here. Sadly, a lot of the problem is that America is currently exporting anti-American values. The "intellectuals", media and "cultural elites" are predominantly anti-American. But thanks to the internet, anyone can help, regardless of where they live, by learning English and studying the ideas that made America great in the first place, and then communicating, explaining and teaching those ideas. The world needs fighters for ideas – the American ideas that came from Europe that came from Rome that came from Greece. Those ideas about reason and liberty are the only civilized ideas the world has ever known.
Also, immigrants are no threat to a free country. Immigrants with other values become a problem when the government meddles in men's lives, restricts liberty, fails to protect law and order, and redistributes wealth. Help fight the intellectual battle to save the U.S. from the authoritarian ideas of a giant, all-controlling government and we could then be in a position to reasonably (instead of suicidally) consider a more generous immigration policy.
I watched the first few minutes of How to Train Your Dragon 2 and saved two interesting clips, the opening narration and a social interaction from a few seconds later. This post is only about these clips. Note that this movie is extremely popular. People paid over half a billion dollars to watch it in theaters, like they did for the first movie too. Six seasons of a TV spinoff have been created. A third movie is coming out soon (Feb 22, 2019). Take a look at the clips:
When you watched the clips, did you notice anything? Did you have any opinions? What was good? What was bad? Did you stop to think about them? If you think about it now, can you come up with much without rewatching?
I'm going to guide you through some analysis, instead of just handing you all the answers, so that you can learn more. I want you to think instead of just read what I say and nod your head. Do you want to think?
Write down your comments on the clips (don't watch the clips again, just use your memory). Don't write things you wouldn't normally say. Don't stop being yourself to do analysis. Don't write a bunch of dumb stuff just to have more written down. Don't write what you think I would say. Only write points you think matter: reasons stuff is good or bad that you care about and genuinely, in your own opinion, think is important. Only write things that make sense to you. Don't write down picky criticism you don't care about but you think might be what a pedantic philosopher is looking for. Write your actual beliefs. If you don't see anything wrong with the clips, don't write anything negative. Writing about what you liked is a good idea too.
Writing things down lets you see if your thinking changes at any stage in the process. Don't rely on your memory of what you thought of the clips at first. Put it in writing so you can compare later.
Now that you've written down your initial thoughts, go ahead and rewatch the clips as much as you want and check out these transcripts. After the transcripts are some things to look for and questions to consider, which you can look at immediately, or after considering it more yourself (it's your decision).
Clip 1 transcript
This is Berk. The best kept secret this side of, well, anywhere. Granted it may not look like much, but this wet heap of rock packs more than a few surprises. Life here is amazing, just not for the faint of heart. You see, where most folks enjoy hobbies like whittling or needlepoint, we Berkians prefer a little something we like to call dragon racing.
Clip 2 transcript
Astrid: What are you doing, Snotlout?! They're going to win now!
Snotlout: She's my princess! Whatever she wants, she gets!
Astrid: Ruffnut?! Didn't she try to bury you alive?!
Claims or conclusions given without arguments, reasoning or evidence.
What does the narrator do to try to be persuasive or credible?
Are you being given unbiased or useful information?
Every time someone says something, who is he speaking to and what does he want his audience to think? Why does he say it?
Write down additional thoughts now that you've looked more closely. Keep the first and second batches of thoughts separate and clearly labelled.
When you're done, look at what you missed the first time that you can see now. I haven't told you anything about the clips yet. Did you miss much that you could have seen without learning anything new, just by looking closer yourself? Some people will have missed a lot that they could have caught if they gave more thought to what they were doing, but for other people it won't make much difference to look closer because they don't know anything to look for. It's good to know which situation you're in. Would it help much if you did things more thoughtfully using your existing ideas, or should you focus more on learning what kinds of thoughts you can have? Or maybe you think you have a ton of great answers and didn't miss much, and you can compare what you wrote to my commentary later in this post.
The Cultural Situation
I thought the first clip was bad enough to stop watching the movie and do critical analysis. It's full of the kind of manipulation which turns people into puppets and controls their lives. (This movie has only a minor role in making people into puppets; it primarily just pulls their strings. That's because the strings are attached by parents, family, friends, teachers and culture in general, mostly at a younger age. And there's so much stuff to influence people that any one movie doesn't make a big difference. The movie is one little piece of culture.)
If you're blind to this situation – that people are manipulated like puppets having their strings pulled, and that the movie clips are crammed full of that kind of manipulation – then you factually don't have much control over your life. You're not an effective, independent thinker. Our culture is dangerous and these clips are prime examples of huge, life-threatening dangers. If you see no danger, that means you are a victim, a puppet, a naive, gullible dupe. Note that disliking this particular movie (because of e.g. the genre or target viewer age) is no protection, and similar manipulations are everywhere in our culture.
These clips are typical, standard examples of evil and irrationality. They're good to analyze because they don't stand out. They're representative. They're not special.
You can't defend yourself if you can't see the danger. You need some idea of what your enemy is before you even start combatting it. No, Muslim terrorists aren't the biggest danger to civilization. It's not MS-13 gang members crossing the wall-less border either. Philosophical corruption and intellectual error are much more important. If people were better thinkers, and thought for themselves more instead of being manipulated by static memes and George Soros, then our current political problems would be pretty easy to solve.
The first clip has over 20 flaws. And the main issues are dishonesty and social manipulation, not just poor literary qualities (which it's also guilty of). There's no need to catch even half the flaws on your first viewing; I didn't. But you should catch some flaws on your first viewing and notice something's wrong. Then you ought to care enough to look more closely at what you're watching (or stop watching), and ought to be able to identify many flaws. Don't just swallow a movie like this uncritically. And don't think I couldn't do a similar analysis with some other popular movie that you like more than this one. And don't think that you know it's not very good, so it's not affecting you: you're not immune to things you spend time on uncritically or inadequately critically. (Like the people who read the New York Times and say they know it's left-biased, but it's not affecting them since they know that. Those people are consistently lied to in big ways, correct for 10% of the bias, and are duped.)
In order to live in today's irrational culture and not be a pawn of manipulators, you require the following skills:
Able to see something major is wrong on your first pass through clips like these.
Able to identify and explain many large flaws when you review them.
Remember, notice and care about those kinds of flaws during your daily life, not just when analyzing.
Able to connect these flaws to an understanding of how they control people's lives and use men as puppets.
Be able to handle subtler stuff. This movie is aimed at the masses and doesn't try to manipulate people who aren't easy targets. And it emphasizes things extra for the young audience. Lots of manipulation is way harder to spot.
And even those skills won't make it safe for you to have a conversation. You need more than that to safely have a conversation without being manipulated! Your puppet strings can be pulled during the conversation, before you get a chance to analyze it, even if you have an audio recording or chat log available later (and how often do you go back through the details of your chats?). Real time conversations pressure people to respond quickly without enough thought, while people are emotional and facing social pressure. And it's easier to treat a fictional movie as something separate from your life to analyze. It's hard to do that with your friends, family, or even someone you just met.
The point of the opening scene is the narrator is telling you what to think. The topic isn't very important (his mythical village, dragon racing), but the issue of thinking for yourself is important. And the narrator isn't doing it honestly, directly or clearly. Instead he's following certain cultural game rules for how to pull people's puppet strings.
You may think that if you didn't see what was going on, it just wasn't affecting you. I'm overanalyzing and you don't analyze it like that. If you missed what was going on, how could it control you when you were unaware of it? The answer for a person with that reaction is: you do understand what he's saying, just not in a clear, conscious way. The script is highly understandable to virtually everyone in our culture. People know what it means. They just don't realize how much it's telling them what to think, and using intellectual trickery, instead of giving them information that they can use to think for themselves. People interpret it as simple, straightforward information when it's not.
This stuff is in a popular movie because it works on so many people. And if you don't know exactly what's going on – if you couldn't be writing this blog post yourself – then you are in danger.
Poker players say that if you can’t see who the sucker is, you’re the sucker. If you can't see who is being taken advantage of, and how, then you aren't skilled enough to play poker with those players, and you are being taken advantage of without realizing it. That's how life is too. If you can't see who are the puppet masters, and who are the puppets/suckers, and what the manipulations are, then you're one of the puppets/suckers.
This movie isn't notable. These clips aren't special. This stuff is everywhere. The movie is evil, but it isn't more evil than other popular stuff. I'm using these clips as examples, but my goal is to point out things which apply broadly. A person who is blind to the flaws in these clips would also be blind to the flaws in most of our culture.
Clip 1 Analysis
You may have noticed the narration is formulaic and unoriginal. I want to begin by pointing out just how cliche it is. Cliches are in alternating italics and bold:
This is Berk. The best kept secretthis side of, well, anywhere. Granted it may not look like much, but this wet heap of rock packs more than a few surprises. Life here is amazing, just not for the faint of heart. You see, where most folks enjoy hobbies like whittling or needlepoint, we Berkians prefer a little something we like to call dragon racing.
It's all standard, but 48% of it is actually recognizable cliches. There are six cliches in five sentences. That's an amazing density of cliches. Why? This is a big budget movie with talented script writers. This is intentional. It's not incompetence. They do it because people already know what cliches mean. They take an especially small amount of thought to understand because thinking about them was already done in the past. People like cliches because they're familiar and easy to deal with. Also things became cliches in the first place because they worked well in some way, e.g. did a good job of pulling people's strings.
Audiences like the cliches but aren't honest about what's going on. They aren't consciously aware of how cliche it is, and they don't recognize how much the movie is designed for them not to think. The cliches feel familiar and natural to people, in a good way. (Many adults would prefer something more subtle. But did you catch all six cliches in your analysis?) After the movie, many people would admit it had some cliches, but they wouldn't know how much, and they wouldn't be honest about how much they liked them. Another movie with fewer cliches wouldn't sell so many millions of tickets.
Cliches pull people's "they speak my language, we have stuff in common" string to create rapport and communicate being part of the same group. Pulling people's puppet strings manipulates them. Pulling a lot of strings, in the right ways, can get big results.
Note that your puppet strings are complex. When I talk about what strings are pulled, I'm approximating. Each thing actually pulls dozens of different strings, and pulls each with a different amount of strength. The strings aren't defined in English and no one knows every detail about them.
This is Berk.
This pulls people's "introduction" string. They don't think about whether the clip really is an introduction to Berk. It's not. It's not a tour. It doesn't give you an overview of Berk. It doesn't tell you about Berk. There are only 5 words to convey significant information out of 65 words (8%): "dragon racing", "wet", "rock" and "Berk".
But it's worse than that. "Wet" isn't really providing information. It doesn't say whether the water comes from rain, snow, fog, the ocean, or what – you have to learn that by looking at the visuals. The word "wet" is there to sound negative, as I'll discuss later, not to give you useful information about Berk.
The word "rock" is also there to sound bad, not to help you understand that Berk isn't a swamp (which you can see at a glance, anyway). And "rock" is misleading given all the grass and trees.
"Berk" doesn't tell you about Berk, it's just the name. Except, not even that. Watching the clip, I thought that Berk was the name of the town. It's not. Berk is the island and the town is "Hooligan Village". I learned that from the wiki. (All my information comes from the clips unless I specifically mention otherwise.)
“Dragon racing" is misleading. It's a sheep-catching competition involving riding dragons. The winner is determined by points, not by racing across a finish line first. Don't feel bad if you didn't catch that, I found that out from the wiki, not the clip.
The narration doesn't really introduce Berk. If you muted it and just watched the visuals, you wouldn't miss anything but a name that doesn't actually specify what it's naming. But people accept that they were introduced to Berk because the formulaic wording ("This is [name]") framed it as an introduction in ways they respond to (are manipulated by, have their strings pulled by). People are gullible and they don't actually think about it, they just believe what they're told (when told in the right way with standard puppet string pulling, and nothing they're told triggers doubts, e.g. by being offensive, taboo, unconventional, weird, etc.).
And the visuals aren't representative of Berk, either. The visuals let you see the town some and then focus on scared sheep. They aren't meant to give much information, they're meant to impress you with the landscape, let you see the setting is medieval, and then look at sheep (for reasons discussed later). Based on the initial visuals, you'd expect Hooligan Village to be a tiny town – there aren't many houses. But then there's a huge crowd cheering for the dragon races. Why? Because a larger and louder crowd raises the social status of the racers more. It presents them as more popular and signals that dragon racing itself is popular. This pulls your "like what other people like" or "popularity contest" string, which is a major string even in people who deny having it. For second-handed viewers to want to be dragon racers, or to like dragon racers, they need to see dragon racers gaining the approval of others. Most people don’t want to be involved with weird, niche hobbies, and they don't know how to judge things other than by looking at what others approve of.
The movie producers don't care about making a logically-consistent setting and getting factual details right, they just jump straight from pulling one string to pulling the next, and they do it in a way that's convenient at that moment. And that's what their audience wants – string pulling, not consistency. String pulling is what people find meaningful and enjoyable. People want symbols, cliches and other things they understand. If the movie didn't pull people's strings, they wouldn't know what to do. They're used to being passive and having their strings pulled, rather than taking the initiative to think about things for themselves.
The best kept secret this side of, well, anywhere.
This is dishonest. Berk isn't a secret. No one is keeping the secret. "Secret" is pulling a string to mean good. It's one of many ways the narrator says one thing while meaning another.
Even if it were a secret, it wouldn't be the best kept one. That's a lie, too. That’d be false even if it was claimed about a small region rather than about the entire universe.
If you say "Berk is good", people won't trust you. It pulls their "bragging" string, which is bad. So people brag in other ways that pull other strings. People seem to (unreasonably) assume that if you show you’re a normal person who fits in to society – by knowing you’re not supposed to openly brag, and knowing what to say instead – then you wouldn't lie to them. Except it's not really that logical and people don't really have reasons, that's just how their strings work. This makes people easy to manipulate.
"Well" pulls a string indicating the speaker is being honest. How? It indicates he's pausing to think about what's true instead of thoughtlessly reciting a script or boasting. (Can't a boaster stop to think about the best way to continue his boast? Logically, yes. Don't blame me for people's puppet strings not making sense.) But the narrator is not actually being thoughtful. Savvy people insert stuff like this, on purpose, when they aren't stopping to think, in order to manipulate others. (It's common in scripted acts by comedians.)
The "this side of [location]" cliche is poorly used. The script writers couldn't think of a location to name or didn't want to name one, but used that cliche anyway. But it doesn't matter because people interpret that cliche to mean "a lot". The point is to claim something is big or good in a large region. People don't pay much attention to what region is named.
So the text means, "It's good, a lot, and I'm saying this thoughtfully." And people understand that and hear it that way. Even if they don't do analysis, it still communicates that message to them. And it follows the communication rules of our culture so that it sounds good to people instead of setting off their "bragging" or "liar" triggers.
And the next sentence helps defend against accusations of bragging:
Granted it may not look like much, but this wet heap of rock packs more than a few surprises.
To try to sound honest, the narrator tells you the good and bad about Berk, not just the good. This pulls people's "people saying negative things are telling the truth, because no one would admit to anything bad if they didn't have to" string. Except the narrator is lying because the movie wants everyone to love Berk and isn't willing to say anything actually bad about it. Puppet masters give fake negatives in order to sound honest without the risk of a real negative turning someone away.
"Granted" sounds defensive, like the narrator knows you aren't impressed by Berk and he has to answer your accusations that Berk sucks. This tries to sound reasonable and like he's giving real information to address the issues. It's not. Berk looks like a lot. The opening of a high-budget movie is visuals of Berk. It's impressive and picturesque!
And saying Berk doesn't look like much is like saying the cover of a book isn't impressive, but the inside is. That isn't a real downside. A book doesn't need an impressive cover to be a great book. Everyone knows that. Actually, by invoking the "don't judge a book by its cover" string, the narrator is basically (unfairly) accusing you of irrationally judging Berk overly negatively based on appearances, and he's telling you to correct your judgment to be more positive. That's manipulation.
Saying Berk is "wet", a "heap", and "rock" is meant to sound bad, like he's admitting what isn't great about Berk. But those aren’t what people care about, they aren’t about social interaction. They're just in the background. It's like saying my city is good because it's amazing, but bad because it has concrete, and trying to make that sound like a two-sided analysis instead of a one-sided analysis. Also, lots of people like mountains, islands and oceans, which are the actual things being talked about with a biased, negative framing.
"Surprises" pulls people's "surprises are good, fun and exciting" string. It's another disguised brag. And it's nonsense. Surprises make it harder to plan your life well. Surprises mean not knowing what's going to happen, being ignorant, being caught off guard. Surprises were dangerous in the past, but now our civilization is advanced enough that we're less scared since we're able to deal with lots of problems ... but Berk has medieval technology so surprise often would mean death.
Surprises appeal to the kind of people who like dance parties, beer, drugs and casual sex, not reason, technology or freedom. Surprises aren't intellectual stimulation. They're for people who are bored at school or work and want something to disrupt the drudgery of their lives – and they want the disruption to come from the external world because they aren't going to take the initiative to change their own life. People with good lives don't want disruptions.
And I doubt Berk has a lot of surprises. I don't think Hiccup (the person doing the introduction to Berk) is giving much thought to what he's saying or whether it's true. I don't think he means what he's saying: he's not paying attention to the meaning of what he's talking about because his focus is on pulling people's strings so that they think Berk is good. Each time he chooses words, he thinks about what will pull a string (how to manipulate people), not about reality and how to make his words correspond to reality.
The script writers didn't want a whole sentence of fake negativity, so they went back to being positive at the end of the sentence. They couldn't wait for the next sentence to turn it around. What if someone worried the movie would be bad before hearing the next words?
Saying Berk has surprises reinforces the "don't judge a book by its cover" theme. It's saying a book with a boring cover can have surprises inside. It's saying anyone who isn't a bigot will recognize how amazing Berk is, right now, immediately, whether Berk looks amazing or not. Judging stuff by outward appearances is like racism, in the sense of judging human beings by skin color. This is manipulative pressure to pull people's strings.
Throughout, the narration doesn't give people room to think for themselves or form their own opinions. It's constantly pulling strings to tell them what to think. It doesn't give information about Berk for you to evaluate, it gives conclusions about Berk without any information to allow you to evaluate. If you had any information, you might use it to reach a different conclusion than the script writers want you to. They want you to be their puppet.
This is an example of pseudo-persuasion. It's not rational arguments. It's not giving you evidence for you to evaluate with your own judgment. But it's getting people to believe and accept stuff anyway, and not to feel irrational or gullible. The string pulling takes the place of reasoning. Our culture has a bunch of rules for how this works, the rules of pseudo-logic and social manipulation, which are an alternative to the rules of truth-seeking. They specify how much you can brag, when to equivocate or be humble, how to be charismatic, how to be perceived as honest, etc. The movie follows standard rules for what people want to hear, what they are gullible about, and they eat it up. That’s what they want – manipulation according to irrational social status game rules – instead of actual reasons and information for them to think through. Being told what to think is preferred to thinking. Having your strings pulled so that you know what conclusion to reach is preferred than judging for yourself. That's what our culture is like.
Also, by switching from negative to positive, I think some people feel like that's learning because they are following along and changing their mind (from negative to positive) while listening. So it feels like engagement and thinking to them. And they don't consider that the narrator knew his conclusion in advance, he's not actually figuring it out as he goes along. So when his tone changes back and forth, that's intentional, dishonest manipulation, not uncertainty about what he's going to say. When he sounded negative about Berk, temporarily, he was lying to pull your strings.
Life here is amazing, just not for the faint of heart.
This pulls people's "fair and balanced" string. People trust this because it's not fully positive. People think that something which is only good is too good to be true. But if you give pros and cons, then people think it's an objective, unbiased analysis. This is easy to take advantage of. (It also results in lots of negative reactions when I try to explain why my philosophy is thoroughly right, not just two-thirds right. People are hostile to the goal of actually getting things right.)
But the movie wants to be all upsides and no downsides – it wants the opener to energize and excite, not leave people concerned they won't like the bad things – so the downside here is done dishonestly, it's not a real downside. The pros and cons they give don't make a fair comparison.
Saying it's not for the faint of heart means it's not for everyone, there is something bad and limiting. That sounds like a downside of Berk. But that's actually bragging about how exciting it is. It means, "This is too exciting for people who hate fun." That fake downside – not being boring – is what pulls people’s puppet strings to balance out the bragging about how amazing Berk is.
Yes, that's ridiculous. Our culture is ridiculous. But this isn't a joke, it's real life. People are this bad at thinking. And there's something very evil which makes people irrational and gullible enough to be manipulated this way (a big piece of the evil is punishing children and other ways parents use authority instead of reason).
And life isn't amazing in Berk. That falsehood is being said to people who have far more amazing lives, but don't appreciate it. Skyscrapers, iPhones, cars and electric lights are amazing. We have hospitals and science. Living in Berk would mean dying young, never being clean, eating poorly, being tired all the time from doing far more manual labor, and many other things that modern civilization has dramatically improved.
You see, where most folks enjoy hobbies like whittling or needlepoint, we Berkians prefer a little something we like to call dragon racing.
"You see" is telling you what to see. The phrase signals to people that you're going to explain something now. But then instead of getting an explanation, we get propaganda. So using that introduction was maniuplative instead of accurate.
He's lying about what hobbies most folks prefer. His claim is false. Why? By comparing dragon racing to particularly boring hobbies, it looks extra exciting by comparison. Apparently dragon racing isn't exciting enough, so manipulation is required to hype it up extra.
It pulls people's "comparing things" string. People recognize comparisons as a good intellectual tool, so it makes the narration more credible. In general, people judge claims by how many credibility strings are pulled, not by the reasoning used in arguments (which they don't actually understand).
“We Berkians prefer" is dishonest. He's presenting something he believes everyone prefers. It's meant to have broad, popular appeal. It's not a preference peculiar to Berkians.
“We Berkians prefer" is speaking for a group as if everyone in the group is the same, like diversity and dissent have never entered the narrator's mind as things that exist. It's basically like racism to assume that everyone with one shared trait therefore has a lot in common. And people who aren't aware of dissent, and assume it doesn't exist, are going to be intolerant of dissent. And consider what you'd think if someone said, "We white people prefer" or "We men prefer"! (But you're allowed to do it with people from a particular city, and sometimes with minority groups, because our culture is inconsistent and these things aren't decided by logic.) This shows that the mainstream of our culture is lying about loving diversity and tolerance, and about being intolerant of racist attitudes – otherwise a movie like this wouldn't be so popular. (Also, the many articles from "liberal" activists who thought the movie was pretty good, or complain about the wrong things, indicate they are frauds.)
“Little" is a dishonest way to say "big". Yet it pulls people's "negativity is honest" string, even though everyone knows it means the opposite of what it said. And saying something negative shows confidence (I'm so great that people will see it even if I don't show myself only in the best possible light). And by calling it "little" and relying on the audience to figure out it's not little, it's big, he's tricking people into thinking they are using their own judgment instead of being told what to think. And, at the same time, he's implying it's so obviously big that he knows everyone will figure it out, he isn't concerned anyone would think it's little – so that's more implied bragging.
“We like to call" is a weird phrase. It's not true. They like to dragon race, not to call dragon racing "dragon racing". It's a cultural string for some reason that's hard to pinpoint. I think it's partly saying that it's so great that you can tell its great just from the name, even the name is impressive (contrary to the "don't judge a book by its cover" stuff from earlier).
Visuals and Audio
The voice tones and music communicate that what you're seeing is exciting and good. They emphasize the messages that are in the words. The visuals do this some too, e.g. the opening makes Berk look epic. If you didn't speak English, you could figure out a lot of the meaning just from looking at it and listening to how it sounded. (If this interests you, listen to some music in a foreign language, or watch a foreign film without subtitles, and see what you can understand. It's a way to see how much information is in voice tones, music, body language, visuals, and other non-words.)
Lots of the visuals are about sheep. Why? First, because people mostly only care about people (and these sheep are more like emotional people than like animals). Anything besides social interaction is boring. Even dragon racing needs an approving audience for viewers to care. Being good at an unpopular sport isn't impressive, it's lame. People don't want to see buildings much, even though that's where people live. They also don't want to see the insides of factories or lots of other interesting things. And when they visit nature, they're always bragging to other people about how beautiful it was and posting photos on Instagram – they're just doing what other people approve of and then seeking actual approval for having done it (like kids getting gold stars or high grades from their teacher – that whole school dynamic teaches kids to base their life on doing things to get approval and accepting the judgment of others instead of making their own judgments of what they did). So the movie needs to quickly get away from the landscape and get to some people or an adequate substitute, something that viewers care about. We already saw enough of the landscape for some Instagram photos, now it's time to move on.
What do the sheep do? They're scared of the dragons. Scared sheep is less of a negative thing than scared people, so that allows the movie to present dragons as impressively scary without the negative of scared human beings. Sheep matter less than people so they make a better victim.
And there's a social interaction between the sheep. Four sheep push one sheep into the open to get snatched. That's bullying. Literally this mainstream movie is teaching people to form groups and gang up on individuals or smaller groups and bully them. And the bullying can include physical force like shoving. The movie legitimizes and normalizes bullying, and shows kids how to do it. What about all the anti-bullying propaganda our culture also has? Lies and lip service. Bullying continues to be a problem because our culture likes and accepts it.
While on the subject: the second clip also shows bullying. Astrid hits Snotlout at the start. And it speaks of Ruffnut burying Snotlout alive, which is also bullying. The bullying in the second clip is more like domestic abuse than like a bully on a school playground. Snotlout is being abused by females he is romantically interested in. Most people in our culture do not seriously think a woman can domestically abuse a man, and are scornful of men who aren't strong enough to deal with attacks from women. This movie reinforces that evil, pro-violence attitude and the "men should be strong" and "women are weak" gender roles behind it. What about all the anti-gender-role propaganda, feminism, etc? Lies and lip service. Those activists have other agendas which have nothing to do with having men be treated better or domestically abused less, or freeing men from social pressures to be strong, masculine, etc. Many SJW women say it's fine to be a weak man, but most of them are romantically and sexually interested in strong men, and don't respect weak men.
Clip 2 Analysis
I'm going to go into less detail on this clip since I've already said a lot. I included it because of its attitude to romantic relationships, which are full of pulling each other's strings.
Astrid hits Snotlout at the start. That should be appalling violence but doesn't trigger the anti-violence reactions of most people in our culture. It's telling viewers that hitting people is a good way to express disapproval (as long as it's a female hitting a male, who is unreasonably assumed to be too strong to actually get hurt). Then there's the dialog:
Astrid: What are you doing, Snotlout?! They're going to win now!
Snotlout took an action contrary to winning. It doesn't really matter what it was. When people play games and have competitions, usually they care more about social interactions than winning. This is typical.
Snotlout: She's my princess! Whatever she wants, she gets!
“Princess" means romantic interest. Snotlout is dating her or wants to date her. His approach to courtship is to put Ruffnut on a pedestal and be subservient to her. This is blue pill, beta-male behavior. There is a massive propaganda campaign advocating this kind of attitude and rejecting masculinity, but there is no corresponding campaign to change women's sexual preferences (from strong men to weak men), so men who behave this way are unattractive to most women.
Giving people what they want, even though it’s inconvenient for you, shows weakness and desperation – you’re going out of your way to please them. Snotlout does this by giving Ruffnut a gift while sacrificing his own chances to win. As is typical, Ruffnut has been taking advantage of the ongoing power imbalance by mistreating Snotlout (trying to bury him alive). But he continues trying to suck up to her anyway because that’s what our culture currently tells men to do.
Sucking up to women is a very bad plan for Snotlout. He should make his own life good so that she chases after him, instead of him chasing her favor. He's acting like he has low social status, which means he does (people's perception of social status is social status). He acts like she's better than him (he has to do favors to try to be worthwhile to her), which isn't how to win over a woman, because women want to date and marry up not down. Men are more focused on career and changing the world; women are more focused on social interactions and social climbing, including by impressing people with their beauty and behavior. If you want a woman, you need to be able to help her with her life goals, not make it harder for her by looking like a loser. A lot of her proof of social status, beauty, desirability, attractiveness, etc., comes from how high quality of a mate she can attract. For Snotlout to succeed, he needs to be a man she could date to make other women jealous, not a man who would get her teased by her friends.
The social dynamics of dating are a big topic. I can't explain it all here, so I'll instead link you to a great book about it: How to Make Girls Chase by Chase Amante. It presents the law of least effort, which Snotlout is egregiously violating: whoever appears to be putting less effort in (trying less hard) is higher social status. (If you're high status, like a famous actor or a CEO, then more people will want to date you. For most people, who don't have such big accomplishments and are more average, their social status is mostly judged by their behavior, by how they act in social situations.)
Astrid: Ruffnut?! Didn't she try to bury you alive?!
Women being extremely mean to men is not funny and shouldn't be acceptable. Attempts at romantic courtship don't always work out and sometimes people's feelings are going to get hurt accidentally. But this is intentional, extreme cruelty. This movie is part of a widespread attempt to normalize this and generally give women all the power and make men into scared, helpless victims.
It may not be a coincidence that Astrid is putting down a rival young girl suitable for courtship (and she's not doing it in a way Snotlout likes, so it's hard to excuse it by saying she's being helpful). Girls commonly attack and sabotage each other, usually in more subtle ways than rival men compete with each other. I know from the wiki that Astrid is romantically interested in another character (Hiccup, who's also the narrator from the first clip). But women often compete unnecessarily. They want interest from extra males, that they can reject, in order to get attention, gifts, and appear desirable (and to have a backup plan if they get dumped). The wiki says Snotlout was romantically interested in Astrid in the past, and she may not want another girl to have him even though she is rejecting him. I mention these possibilities about Astrid being a passive-aggressive bitch because they're common, they're reasonable guesses from the clips, and they cause a lot of suffering in our society.
Astrid appears to be a hypocrite because she’s suggesting that Ruffnut shouldn’t mistreat Snotlout, and Snotlout shouldn’t pursue someone who mistreats him, but Astrid hit Snotlout earlier in this scene. That was mean and violent. Astrid implies Snotlout should avoid another woman who treats him abusively, which actually helps normalize her own abuse of Snotlout, because it suggests she understands the issue and knows what the correct boundaries are. When you suggest to someone that they shouldn’t accept violent, abusive treatment, and you violently abuse them, the message is that lots of violent abuse is acceptable and somehow doesn’t count, and only the more extreme varieties are objectionable (or, alternatively, the lesson they may take away is that whether abuse is objectionable depends on who has the power and social status to get away with it or object to it).
Snotlout: Only for a few hours!
Snotlout was glad to get any attention at all from a female (listen to his happy, almost condescending, voice tone, as he rejects Astrid's concern). This is teaching viewers the evil lesson that men should be grateful for the slightest bit of attention from a woman, even negative attention. That hurts women who learn to be cruel, and it hurts men who put up with the abuse. And it creates hostilities between the sexes.
Consider also the total rejection of reality. Being buried alive would kill you after a few minutes. A few hours isn't short and doesn't make it OK. I assume the characters are exaggerating or joking in some way (or else they're magical enough to survive such things), but whatever happened they're not talking about it using clear, fact-and-reality-oriented statements. People should try to communicate truthfully. It's hard enough to get things right if you try. The dialog is teaching a callous disregard for the truth and for what reality is like. The meaning is: ignore reality and focus only on social dynamics.
I don't expect you to understand everything I said. I can't fully explain everything in one article. If you think you understand it all, I think you're dishonest. You should have questions, confusions, parts you disagree with, parts you think you can improve, and parts you're curious to learn more about. Post some of these things in the comments below instead of making excuses to try to rationalize why you don't do that but you really do value learning. If you're busy, put it on your calendar and follow up later (this isn't time sensitive on a scale of days or even weeks, but it's bad to spend years being a puppet). If you won't do that, consider why not. If you put it on your calendar and you're busy when it comes up, move it to a later date. If you keep putting it off for months, the issue isn't temporarily being busy, it's e.g. that you're making excuses or you haven't prioritized setting up your life to include time for thinking. (Or do you have other reason-related activities that you think are better and more important? If you found something great, please share it, myself and many other people here would like more of that kinda stuff! Or are you scared of criticism of its value?)
Now look at what you wrote down at the beginning and see how it compares to what I've pointed out. How much did you miss? Then consider: adults are more experienced and knowledgeable about their culture than children. Material aimed at adults is more subtle and expects them to understand more with fewer hints. The string pulling is harder to see and more indirect.
That means that, in your life, your strings are being pulled all the time. Unless you have the skill to be far above the string pulling in these clips, which is literally kid's stuff, then you're getting manipulated many times per day. You need to be skilled enough that this kind of analysis is easy for you, or you don't have much of a chance in the adult world.
Rewatch the clips now and see if you can see them differently. Then try to apply this stuff to the next movie you watch, and the one after that, and the one after that. To learn and improve in a way that matters, you need to not only get better ideas, you also have to use them on a regular basis in your life. You need to learn things well enough that it's natural and intuitive for you. You need to practice to get to that point. Just understanding something once, while trying your best, isn't good enough. You need to be skilled enough to get it right while tired, distracted and rushed – and dealing with something with a bunch of differences from the examples you've thought about before.
If you want to be rational, it's something you have to put work into in order to achieve. It's not automatic. It's not the default. Our culture creates irrational people who dishonestly fool themselves into thinking they're rational. If you want to change, you'll have to do a lot. Go to ElliotTemple.com and start studying the material and discussing it as you go along. Or share what your other, better plan is and listen to criticism and objections.
In the comments below, please post your analysis of the clips (both parts from the beginning), and your further thoughts after reading my analysis. You'll never cut your puppet strings by yourself without help, though you might be able to paint them rose colored and wear rose colored glasses so that you can no longer see them. Take action to change yourself by learning, so that you can stop being a puppet.
Update: Justin Mallone pointed out to me that calling Berk the "best kept secret" is a brag by the narrator, who is claiming to know well-kept secrets. Being privy to secrets is a status symbol, it shows you mingle with high quality people (not the masses – if the masses know something then it's not a secret) and have their trust.
At about 8:20 [in the video] Sandford is quoted as writing that the sun will destroy the Earth in five billion years, but he thinks humans will destroy the world before then.
That humans are "destroying the planet" is quite a popular opinion. Yet Sandford is presented as being a freak, an outcast, a mentally ill person, for having this opinion. How? (BTW I'm just going by the blog post text, not the video.)
Thinking of the sun destroying the earth is weird unless its an astrophysics context, which this isn't. Normal people don't think about the distant future, and certainly not in order to fantasize about a giant explosion killing everyone. Presented in that light, which Alan's summary hints at, it sounds creepy. They purposely choose quotes they can distort or which come off wrong to people.
This sets the stage for falsely making the idea of humans destroying the world sound abnormal instead of normal. And using the word "world" instead of "planet" makes it sound different than the environmentalist slogan and helps people fail to consider how common this view is. Many readers who believe this themselves will view Sandford as a mentally-deranged freak who hates humanity and wants us all to die and is overly prone to loathsome thinking, and so on. They won't stop to think about how his views compare to their own, they will just assume his are bad.
This kind of hypocrisy is typical everywhere, e.g. people text while driving but think it's bad to text while driving and are outraged that other people text while driving. While complaining about others, they're often able to forget (or just not think about) the fact that they do it.
Relevantly, Alan also wrote:
Nor did anyone think it might be a good idea to look critically at environmentalists’ prophecies of the end of the world. The idea that we’re going to destroy the world depends on the assumption that we’re not going to solve problems caused by our actions. Since nobody can know whether or how we’ll solve these problems before we make the relevant choices, such prophecies are irrational. Taking environmentalist prophecies seriously was interpreted as a problem with Michael, not a problem with the prophecies.