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.