When Should Instinct Be Ignored?

If what we felt to be right was always the right thing to do, this world would be a much simpler place.

Yet such is not the case.

We end up faced with a dilemma:  Let our feelings lead us to disaster or become a Machiavellian machine.  Neither approach seems to make human lives any better.

Perhaps as with most things, there is a golden mean here.  Finding it might lie in understanding when we should listen to our gut feelings and when we would be best advised to ignore them.

To figure things out, we’d probably do best to ask:

What functions are human feelings best suited to.

Some ideas come to mind:

-Face to face interactions, human relationships.

-Intuitive judgment

-Warning us of danger the fast way so we don’t have to stop and think before we react.

At what kind of functions are the feelings weakest?

-Abstract relationships

-Quantitative reasoning, making estimates

-Warning us of non-physical, probable, or long term sources of danger.

Once we have some kind of basic model, we gauge which of our faculties should be listened to in a given situation.

Driving a car is by far the most dangerous activity in a typical post-industrial life.  Far from being frightened, we can’t help but feel a false sense of security no matter how hard we try.  Though we are traveling at superhuman speeds in a several ton chunk of metal, it’s all so deceptively smooth and placid.  With our actual bodies in a state of complete rest, our instinct not only fails to ring the alarm, it often advises us it’s about time for a nap.

It is quite obvious here that our ancestral instincts are entirely unsuited to the situation.  We must try to stay awake behind the wheel and rely on our intellect to make the right judgments.

Let’s say we think we might be picking up subtle signals of interest from a desirable member of the opposite sex, but nothing concrete.

There’s a complete absence of facts, proof, or explicit statements for one to act on.  The intellect tells us there’s not nearly enough evidence in this case to eliminate reasonable doubts.  The person in question might just be one of those people who’s friendly to everyone they meet.

Solution: wait for more evidence…

Obviously, a pure intellect approach is unsuited to this situation.  We can reason: sexual attraction in the human species does not take place on a rational or even a conscious level.  Therefore: it would be foolish to expect explicit statements of interest in most situations. Dealing with the situation in rational terms is inadequate.

Solution: Tone down the intellect, rely on the intuition to navigate this situation.

As human beings, we make these sorts of distinctions all the time.  We just don’t formalize 0r become aware of the process that we use to do so.

Unfortunately, in most of us, instinct remains the arbiter over whether a situation calls for instinct or intellect.  Unsurprisingly, our intellect doesn’t get called onto the scene as often as it should.

Perhaps the golden mean lies in attempting to place our mental tool box under conscious, intellectual control.  Instinct would still be the tool of choice much of the time, but it would have to answer to a rational handyman.

The Bicycle and the Chasm

Builds Upon: Domitian’s Error

Imagine a narrow sharply winding path about 2 feet wide with a dark yawning pit on either side.  The path is the only route across a chasm and it must be crossed on a bicycle.

One wishes to preserve one’s life and not fall in, but the default human response is fear.  Ironically the desire for life will make one nervous and probably cause one to lose balance and fall to their death.  Therefore, if one truly desires to live, one must suppress their overwhelming desire to live.  It is a paradox of sorts yet in application it makes perfect sense.  If one is cool and in control while going across the chasm, the short ride is quite doable.

This thought experiment is a principle in itself.  It illustrates how the truth can be both paradoxical and counterintuitive at first glance.

It is a demonstration that you have to separate your principles from intentions and determine what your actions accomplish in actual implementation.

It is about how the most ardent passions are not the epitome of living, how they can be destructive and counterproductive.

It is about how one tends to lose what one most desperately desires by virtue of desperately desiring it.

The Lichen and the Weed

Builds Upon: Best Possible Persons,
The Inevitability of Orthodoxy

It always seems to happen sooner or later.  The inevitable transition of a new, dynamic great idea into the next robotic McDogma.

Thus, Christianity has been a fantastic success while Christ has failed utterly.

Thus, Martin Luther’s well intended ideas enjoyed great success because European rulers needed a justification for breaking away from Catholicism.  The horrors of the Thirty Years War, social tumult across the entire continent ensued.

Thus, the ideas of Descartes and Newton, devout Christians, soon came to be used against Christianity.

Thus, the Fordist vision of a consumer utopia has resulted in a consumer dystopia.

I’ve long wondered if it’s possible to grow a great idea like a lichen rather than a weed.  A lichen that meticulously plans and reinforces every new spot of growth into something that can endure the elements indefinitely while generations of weeds grow quickly all around and then die just as quickly.

Most ideas that have mass success seem to indiscriminately replicate themselves through anyone who’s willing to call themselves a disciple or a follower.  This strategy without fail results in a chaos of weeds.

Like a game of telephone, the original message gets irreparably distorted as it goes indiscriminately from person to person.

A lichen, it seems, must choose its adherents with extreme care always putting quality before quantity, group chemistry before group power and influence.  Nothing says more about the integrity of a new idea than the type of people it adopts as followers and the real impact of the idea on their lives.

Thus, a lichen clearly must follow the model of a tribe rather than that of a mass society.

Social Real Estate

Builds Upon: Legitimacy: The Most Precious Resource

Let’s say we have two identical rooms of equal size.  To an empiricist it makes no difference whether we choose one or the other.

Now let’s apply some labels.



Since the two rooms are materially the same in every respect an empiricist could continue to argue that it makes no logical material difference whether one defecates in one room or the other.  Such is a major shortcoming of a purely material world view.

Society is far more real to human beings than are the realities of matter.  Social rules exert far more influence on human lives than do mere physical limitations.

As a kid I loved geography and especially historical atlases.

As an adult I’ve wondered what a map of any given building would look like if it was a map of social zones(bathrooms, smoking rooms, boxing rings) and social territories(John’s cubicle, Jill’s room).

In my mind’s eye I see something like a typical map of a post-Westphalia Holy Roman Empire.

The way territories would work out on an actual social map would be impractical for an empire, but it works out all right for individuals precisely because of the largely immaterial nature of social circumstances.

Lets say someone has a 12×12 room all to themselves.  This social real estate gives them the rare, priceless gifts of privacy and autonomy.

If we reason like a pure empiricist, we might logically conclude a 15×15 room would provide a 25% increase in privacy and autonomy.

However, if one possesses a certain minimum amount of space, physical considerations diminish in importance.  The important thing about a piece of social real estate is the social or asocial circumstances in which one occupies it.

The Inevitability of Orthodoxy

Builds Upon: Why the Hippies Failed,
Innovation As Exception to The Rules

There are lots of ‘unique’ people out there who like to rave about all the conformists among us.  Yet we’ve all seen how a clique of non-conformists always develops its own brand of conformity.

Clearly, anyone with realistic goals must realize that all social groups, even divergent ones must acquire a new set of norms.  With an accepted set of norms comes aversion to those who fail to follow them.

The very critics who lambast conformity usually become dedicated to conforming  to their own community.

Therefore most dedicated non-conformists are clearly unable to articulate their ideas and desires on the conscious level.

It seems clear enough to me though, that conformity itself isn’t the problem.  The issue seems to be that many people can’t find the sort of group they want to conform with. Without fail, such protesters never hesitate to gel with a group that turns out to be a good fit.

Orthodoxy is inevitable, but this need not be an oppressive restraint for the way of the accepted can take many forms.

An orthodoxy can promote flexibility, creativity, and dynamism as social norms.

That is, those who love adventure and experiment would be Correct.  The conservative and comfortable would be Incorrect.

Where there is orthodoxy, there must be persecution of the heterodox.  Such processes are critical in defining a society and preserving its defining nature against destructive influences.

Many groups out there sincerely believe they’ll accept anybody.  This of course is nonsense.  They’re of course only willing to accept people who are willing and able to fit in.  But most people seem unable to reflect on the truth of the matter.  Most transactions of acceptance and rejection seem to take place on an instinctual level.

There is a fixed set of parts needed for a group to function.  An orthodoxy is one of them.

All that remains to one who would create a society is what modules to install.

Though it may be unpleasant to face the fact that there must always be Correct and Incorrect persons in a society, failure to plan for an orthodoxy is an enormous mistake.

If we refuse to step in and define an orthodoxy, than the orthodoxy will define itself according to the forces of nature.

An orthodoxy that does not have to answer to its members is well on its way to becoming the sort of mindless tyrant that rules over mass societies.

The Most Precious Resource: Legitimacy

In an inherently unfair world, legitimacy becomes the true currency of reality.  Whatever, injustice one might suffer is meaningless so long as we inhabit someone else’s reality.

When we allow others, or the mass society itself to define our world for us, we fall in the habit of accepting what we call ‘reality.’  No matter how pointlessly cruel and boring our society might become we snappily admonish one another: “That’s reality.”

Indoctrinated from an early age and trapped in a bubble of mass consensus, the system we live in enjoys an enormous degree of legitimacy.

If questions of legitimacy are about dividing up the terrain of reality itself, it is no wonder they are taken so seriously.  An accepted set of ideas is nothing less than an empire of belief.

Belief may seem like the stuff of fairy tales but is quite real.

One should ask:  What happens to a fiat currency when  people stop believing in it?

What happens to a nation when people no longer believe in its laws or its right to govern them?

So solid and monumental is the reality of legitimacy that a purely empirical world view begins to seem rather foolish.

One cannot measure legitimacy in a laboratory, but its loss brings about the fall of nations just as surely as does a lack of material wealth.

The richest state of all is powerless if its citizens see no meaning or purpose behind the wealth and the power.

The importance of legitimacy explains to us why conformity is the general rule of every society and social organization.  Every dissenter disrupts the legitimacy of society, decreases the extent of its territory, limits its power.  No society that has survived in the long term has much tolerance for those who diverge.

To those with a stake in a legitimate reality, it matters little if critics of established ideas are correct.  Even a challenger with a point might undermine the strength of the group and weaken its ability to unify in the face of adversity.

Few of us consciously think of the strength of established realities as a physical, precious resource, yet in practice all people and social organizations instinctively and jealously guard their power over perceptions of reality.

Just as states can come to the brink of war over a diplomatic incident, a domineering parent might fly into a rage when a child dares ‘contradict’ them.

Thus when putting forth an idea, the first consideration need not necessarily have anything to do with whether it is right or wrong, but rather its potential to gain and hold power in our world.  What version of reality will ‘sell?’  What message best agrees with the dominant reality already in place?

Advertisers, salespeople lobbyists, lawyers, and politicians all approach the world with this sort of mentality.  All of these professions are examples of legitimacy engineering.  For persons in these professions, group perceptions of legitimacy come before any objective truth.

Often in our everyday life, we would be better off examining our situation in terms of accepted realities.  Most Americans I meet will challenge their bosses and co-workers when they sincerely believe they are right.  Inevitably they also end up complaining about ‘brown nosers’ and ‘suck ups’ who understand that agreeing with the accepted orthodoxy is the more prudent path.

Judicious individuals understand that their own perspective is too weak to win against a collective.  They understand that new ideas must be introduced carefully into the established reality for being right is quite dangerous.

Those who foolishly ‘tell it like it is’ never seem to understand that right or wrong is meaningless if they come to be viewed as a dissenter, an outsider, a target.  Naturally they end up watching other people advance while they stay put or even get demoted or fired.  They continually fail to understand that an objective truth is impotent when one is bankrupt in terms of legitimacy.

Fairness is Irrelevant on the Macroscale: A Truth of Human Nature

By actually mentioning ‘the world isn’t fair’ we by implication suggest that the world ought to be fair or that at least a different, better world would be fair.

Yet there is a deep mistake here.  The mistake of applying notions of fairness to the world.

What is fairness but our judgment on what is equitable in the limited scope of face to face interactions?

Even as the first rudimentary states arose, it cannot have taken the rulers long to figure out that tribal rules of interaction did not apply in statecraft.  It would have been immediately absurd to be ‘fair’ and honor an agreement that would damage the state and result in damage to its citizens and its wealth.

In the eons before states, human sympathies were reserved for fellow tribal members.

Everyone one else was a potentially dangerous outsider not worthy of mercy or any special consideration.

In the present era, this survival impulse is still strong within us.  We generally care about family and friends, the insiders in our lives.

As much as we might try to pretend otherwise the great mass of humanity is meaningless to us.  No matter how many times we might see famine victims in the newspaper, we really truly do not identify them as human beings.  If we acknowledge their suffering, we do so on a purely intellectual level, not in our heart of hearts.

This is a principal well understood by every tyrant.  The death of a single insider is a tragedy.  The death of a faceless crowd means nothing.

I imagine that even the greatest of humanitarians have been little different as human beings, but they saw their natural state as a shortcoming no doubt and strove to act as the truly empathetic being they believed they ought to be.

When one reflects on the tribal nature of humanity, however, the idea of a ‘fair world’ becomes patently absurd.

Applying the mentality of the ancestral tribe to a mass society is an epic exercise in willful self deception and futile, wishful idealism.

Considerations of fairness ought to be kept within the inner circle where they belong.

When fairness is put in its place, the world seems far less chaotic and most human behaviors for time immemorial stand explained.

Our instincts allow us to wipe out populations who oppose us without too much guilt.  In fact, we are predisposed to hate and fear anyone outside our narrow definition of empathy.  No doubt those rendered incapable of action by an excess of empathy for outsiders have long since been wiped out.

With the blindfold of naïve idealism removed, one would expect the oppression of weak factions by strong factions to be among the great rules of this world.  Indeed this rule holds flawlessly true.  It is one of the laws of nature.

The world is full of people who want ‘to make the world a better place.’  Whether by adopting a highway, donating unwanted canned food, or giving to charities these well-doers have yet to bring about any change.  They labor against the essential nature of the universe and will therefore always fail.

Ultimately we cannot truly feel deeply for the billions of people we’ll never be close to.  It is time we recognize what any Subtle person must intuitively know:

That one’s inner circle is the proper place for the empathy, sympathy, and fairness.

It may be in our interest to cooperate at a mass level and keep collective imperatives in mind but this should never be confused with the personal bonds we share with a select tribe, the bonds that truly give us meaning.

Promoting an ethical egalitarianism is not only in vain, we waste the gifts meant for friends and family on strangers and crowds.

The greatest lesson here: if one would have a relatively cohesive massive society, it must be founded on a vast number of tight knit tribal units given sufficient cause and incentive to cooperate on the macroscale.

Psychologists have long noticed a ‘rule of 150’ that defines the upper size limit of a cohesive band of humans.  Armies with their dependence on group cohesion in extreme situations all organize fighters into tribal sized groups.  Corporations that have observed the tribal rule have met with considerable success.  Some time ago, a religious sect called the Hutterites independently figured out the rule of 150 and they’ve observed it ever since.  As soon as one of their colonies becomes too large, a part of the community splits off to form a new colony that will follow the same procedure.

The Hutterites realized the essential truth that humans are tribal animals with a very limited social scope.  Naturally their model of development has proven successful for them for they work in conjunction with the nature of our universe.

Social egalitarians, politically correct worshippers of ‘diversity’, and do-gooders however, will never accomplish much.  All we need to do is look in our hearts.  Though we may publicly applaud those who speak of a social fairness and ‘making the world a better place’, we recognize the cliché and there is an immovable cynic within us that rolls its eyes in exasperation.

‘Unplanned’ Traits

Builds Upon: Reforming Ant Society, The Reality Show: Part 1
Reforming Ant Society Part 2

Within about 10 generations, Soviet geneticist Dmitri Belyaev was able to completely transform wild silver foxes into completely domesticated animals.

All he had done was select for the calmest tamest foxes each generation yet by the end of the process, the foxes exhibited many other traits common to domesticated dogs.  They had spotted coats, floppy ears, and curled tails.  They barked, wagged their tails, and were sensitive to human body language.

Selecting for one major criteria resulted in multiple changes.

Scientists and other logic workers pride themselves on their ability to work with rational cause and effect, but when it comes to the real world their efforts often fall short.  These persons tend to fall into the trap of pairing each cause with one effect, or a few related effects.  Complex processes tend to be regarded as a collection of discrete, independent cause and effect relationships that happen to be occurring simultaneously.  Thus, complex processes are reduced into countless bite-size syllogistic morsels.

However, the case of Belyaev’s foxes tells us that one should not rely too heavily on this syllogistic method.  Rather than one cause leading to an effect, one cause begets a variety of intended and unintended, related and unrelated results.

I suppose one could envision a crowded pool table.

A player is trying to hit a ball into one of the pockets, but in attaining this goal, pool balls are scattered all over the table.  Influencing one variable sets a host of variables into motion.  The absolute control of being able to predict everything is much harder to attain.  Under such circumstances, one is better rewarded by an overall understanding rather than a solid grasp of the minutia.  That is:

Rather than exhaustively cataloging every minute detail of every relationship only to end with a heap of disconnected ‘facts’, looking for a pattern in the scatter on the pool table has a lot more potential.

If selectors chosen by humans cause multiple unintended results, it seems that nature also would also be equally imprecise in implementing changes.  Thus if a Galapagos finch adapts to grow a different shape of beak, it would be unsurprising if this one change also resulted in other new and unforeseen traits.

Thus, the same principal that gives us tame dog-like foxes might also result in many of the evolutionary loopholes we observe in human beings that are not easily explained away as survival behaviors.

The same also with human social systems or any system at all…

Legitimacy: The Universal Language of Diplomacy

Related to: Extrovert ‘reality’

One of the great deciders of reality in life is getting people to decide it’s real.  The literature I’ve encountered from the pickup artist community has many useful insights about general human psychology.

Foremost among these is the idea of frame control:  The idea of asserting dominance by forcing/persuading others to accept your point of view as the true reality.

This got me thinking not so much about night clubs so much as it did diplomatic relations.

There are many human affairs in which frame control plays a strong role but it seems especially prominent in diplomacy.

When ambassadors and politicians meet to negotiate a deal, dominance is not usually conveyed through direct use of force but through important gestures.

The ambassadors arrive at the negotiating table as equals, but rarely will they be negotiating from equal positions.  Much of the process is a battle in which one frame asserts dominance over the other…

When the Qing dynasty of China first came into contact with Imperial Russia, they sent members of the bureau responsible for dealing with steppe tribes to talk to them.  In a gesture, the Chinese put the Russians in their place by treating them like just another barbarian tribe.  Furthermore these representatives attempted to assert the traditional Chinese way of diplomacy.  No open relations or trade until the Qing monarch had been acknowledged as the highest of kings.  This was an approach that had worked for centuries.

Some time later, an industrializing Russian empire started seizing Qing border territory claiming that their troops were merely protecting it for the Chinese.

The outraged Chinese were forced to send a representative deep into Russian territory.  This isolated representative was faced with a foreign system of diplomacy and an unfavorable situation.  The Russians were able to confuse, bewilder, pressure, and deceive at their leisure.  Predictably, the Qing representative returned with terms that all but ceded the seized territories to Russia.  The Russian ‘frame’ had prevailed.  Not only had Russia gained the territory in question, China had agreed to pay them an indemnity in return for seizing it.  To add insult to injury, the indemnity was an acknowledgment that Russia, the aggressor had been the injured party and the Qing, the wrongdoers.  This treaty of Livadia represented a huge loss of legitimacy for the Chinese.

More outraged than ever the Qing sentenced their returned emissary to death.  The Russians protested bitterly about the upcoming execution of the emissary.  Obviously the legitimacy of their treaty would suffer if the man they had negotiated with were executed like a common criminal  They did everything in their power to apply pressure until the Chinese emissary’s life had been spared.  Thus the emissary remained a legitimate representative according to the Russian understanding, not a criminal and an incompetent by the Chinese perspective.

Finally, the Chinese sent another emissary to Saint Petersburg and this time succeeded in regaining their border territories…in return for double the indemnity that had originally been agreed on.  The Russians’ understanding of the situation once again became the legitimate reality.  The indemnity meant acknowledging the Russian reality that their troops had been peacekeepers, not conquerors and that they deserverd compensation in return for their benevolence.

Modern peace lovers look back and wonder how nations go to war over slights.  They see such incidents as examples of the ignorance and barbarity of humankind.  Yet few concerns are more important than maintaining appearances of legitimacy.

Once the Qing dynasty was forced to give in to Russian understandings of legitimacy, a disastrous precedent was established.  As with other European powers, the way had been opened for increasingly aggressive pursuit of Russian interests within Chinese territory.  Not long after the treaties of Livadia and St. Petersburg, the Russian Empire gained the rights to build railroads and bases across Northern China, all to the crowning achievement of obtaining a warm water port at Port Arthur and connecting it to the rest of Russia…

Over the centuries, neighboring countries have often agreed to negotiate in a single language mutually understood by representatives.  But a glimpse at history tells us that legitimacy is the true, universal language of diplomacy.

Thus to this day nations squabble endlessly over honor, prestige, and distinctions.  What might seem petty to the casual observer is in fact a life and death struggle.  If a nation cannot defend its legitimacy, it becomes vulnerable to attack from without and decay from within.

Ultimately, The question is not one of right or wrong.  It is a question of which perspective can assert superiority over the other and become the legitimate reality.

Loopholes in Evolution

Human beings exhibit many behaviors that seem to confer no obvious benefit to survival and reproduction.  More perplexing still, humans are easily capable of self-destructive behaviors that seem to fly in the face of self-interest and evolution.  How on earth could selective processes have given rise to suicide?

Most people approach the question at a superficial level because they limit themselves to apologetics for their respective ideologies rather than getting to the meat of the matter.

How does suicide fit the pattern?  Obviously, it must be a manifestation of a selected trait or it wouldn’t exist.

Most people seem to fail to make a critical jump:  A possible negative outcome of a trait hardly negates its overall beneficiality.

Every trait means sacrifice and drawbacks.  Advantage in one area means a handicap in another.

Amongst human populations:

Sub-Saharan Africans have an unusually high occurrence of sickle cell anemia.  This blood disease has proved over time to be a net benefit because it provides an extra defense against malaria.

So if we were to replace ‘blood disease’ with ‘suicide’, what is the net benefit?

My supposition: suicide is an ‘unintended’ offshoot of the human ability to consider the future and plan ahead.  This is the ability that allows people to figure out how much food to store for the winter/dry season, to keep track of the seasons and figure out what foods will be available, to anticipate what a hunted animal(or a fellow human) will do next.

This ability confers enormous advantages, but it also includes handicaps.  If people develop a general ability to reason, there is large potential for evolutionarily ‘unintended’ consequences.

The same processes of selection that enabled self-awareness and reason opened up the possibility that someone could malfunction in the evolutionary sense.  It became perfectly possible to reason that if life was unbearably painful and without hope for future improvement: it isn’t so hard to make it all stop.  The logical solution: end one’s own life.

Just as African resistance to malaria is inseparable from blood disease, so is the ability to plan out food storage inseparable from the potential for suicide.  One begets the other.

There’s only so many things that could go wrong with sharp claws.  I figure that the more complex a given survival strategy becomes, the more possible bugs there could be in the program.

As such, selective processes undoubtedly serve as a debugging team for humanity.  Obviously people aren’t going to have as many children if they end up committing suicide early on.

So it makes sense that survivors felt little inclination to kill themselves.  If I were to try to harm my own body today, my every impulse would rail against it.  I am the product of millennia of ancestors who forwent suicide(at least long enough to have kids first).

Yet, nature’s debugging crew seems in many ways woefully inadequate, especially when it comes to modern societies that change radically multiple times within the space of a single generation.

But this is hardly anything new.  Even when society’s rate of change was far less, people still exhibited all the traits that strike us to this day as extra-evolutionary.

In fact most of the human joys of life seem strangely distant from raw and basic survival behavior.

Why on earth are we able to take joy in life aside from eating, defecating, and having sex?

Surely the answer is the same as with suicide.  Our capacity for survival pleasures has obviously overflowed into completely ‘unintended’ realms such as aesthetic appreciation of nature and of the arts.

Strangely and amusingly, most of what we deem to make life worthwhile is on some level a hack of the system that nature passed down to us.  Even the basic ability to make logical connections seems to have many possibilities that the debugging team cannot account for without first crippling the original adaptation.
(i.e in C++ one cannot entirely remove the possibility of a dangling pointer without removing pointers)

On another level still are the mystics.  For thousands of years, they have been the tax code lawyers of our evolutionary legacy.  Truly, one of humanity’s ancient disciplines is the art of finding loopholes in the code of human potential and exploiting them to the fullest!