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How to Think

2017 September 24
by Ian Welsh

If there is something this blog is about, it’s how to think. There’s an entire category, but it’s most of what I write about.

Thinking well isn’t about always being right, because you can’t be. It is about having models of the world that are:

  • Right often enough
  • When wrong, fail with the least harm possible and ideally with benefit.

Models are never true, they are always abstractions from the truth. Most of our models of the world are not reasoned, they are emotional and experiential. Science is a special form of experiential. The world turns out to be a very odd place indeed: It is not intuitive that there is action at a distance, that there is no transmitting medium (ether) in space, that gravity warps time and space, or that observation changes the results of quantum experiments.

There are two sets of knowledge, overlapping: knowledge of the external world and knowledge of humans and our society.

Society creates reality: The fastest way to get dead, from stone age hunter gatherers to today, is through your fellow humans beings, whether by violence or neglect. We are deeply attuned to the fact that ostracism equals death, and we will do almost anything to stay in with our group, whoever that group is. If that means believing patent nonsense, if that involves kowtowing to cruel leaders, if that involves becoming cruel and deranged ourselves, we will do it.

We will believe what we need to believe to stay with the group we identify with, to identify with the group that supports us, and be damned the consequences to anyone outside the group–or, indeed, anyone inside the groups. Norms will be maintained.

None of this is to deny change in norms over time, but only if those norms move towards greater kindness and greater truth, is changing of norms beneficial.

And only if successful regimes fail with least harm, and ideally beneficial side effects, are their claims to be better to be entirely believed.

The decision-making humans of our society almost all run a particular set of beliefs best called neoliberalism, a particularly harmful strain of capitalism. They believe in it, because they have benefited from it, and because everyone around them believes in it. If you don’t believe in it, you don’t get into power, with rare exceptions.

This set of beliefs has led to catastrophe after catastrophe, starting with the Russian transition from Communism, including the financial collapse and austerity, and certainly including ignoring the last chance to limit climate change to acceptable levels.

Because capitalism is fundamentally based on greed and selfishness, and because its metaphysics says that price is equal to value and should be used to guide behaviour, it is failing damagingly–despite however much it has otherwise accomplished.

It is not that these failures were not predicted by many, they were. But they were not accepted as failures and no action was taken to prevent them because to accept and act, in too many errors, was to make oneself unfit for power.

Not of the group. Unclean. Unclean.

Not serious.

World models have consequences. How people think has consequences. Our tribal nature and ability to identify with virtually anything has consequences.

Because our power over the natural world has increased so much, errors and characteristics which were adaptive during most of our evolution are now catastrophically dangerous. Extinction level dangerous. Not just for us, but for all too many other species with whom we share the globe, many of whom are more than capable of immense levels of suffering.

So how we think, matters. And figuring out how to think better, not just for a few, but for the many, matters.

And because feeling is most of thinking, this means figuring out how to feel better, more accurately, and more kindly, as well.

More on this soon. In the meantime, read this model of the role of reason and emotion.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

63 Responses
  1. Tomonthebeach permalink
    September 24, 2017

    Thinking means trying to make sense of our environment. Epistemologically, cogito ergo to see what it sums up. Bits and pieces of our experience are arranged and rearranged in the process of thinking – making sense. We hypothesize that A causes B, but when the evidence suggests A is not a reliable cause, learning occurs, and we seek out alternatives to A.

    When one asserts a belief, are they not abdicating thinking entirely, rejecting any experience or evidence that is in conflict with their belief? For believers, information is either consistent with their belief, or it is a lie. Alternatively, thinking is hard work, which probably explains why it is less common than believing.

    The more beliefs to which one adheres, and I think this is Ian’s point, the easier it is to understand the world. As beliefs accrue, the world of believers becomes binary: male or female, good or evil, friend or foe, capitalism or communism, etc.

    Is such a thing as a “how” to think. I see reasoning in animals all the time. Where did they learn how to think? Perhaps it would be helpful to ask how to encourage the hard work of avoiding life in a binary world.

  2. Herman permalink
    September 24, 2017


    This reminds me of your old post on the American culture of meanness. People experience bullying and cruelty especially in the workplace and they perceive that in order to survive they must act the same way or end up as a victim. Hence you get the vicious American habit of punching down and making targets of the weak and the common habit of thinking that you must be a greedy, cruel, selfish jerk to survive.

    As much as this way of thinking is presented as a form of machismo it is really the result of weakness and bullying from above. Notice that the usual tough guy types never target anyone stronger than them. That is because they are taught at school and at work that you must worship authority in order to avoid punishment and maybe become the Big Boss yourself one day.

    Contrast this with traditional societies like feudalism where being cruel to the weak was seen as sinful and cowardly. You didn’t score tough guy points back then by beating up peasants you scored points battling other armed men in war or in duels. Of course violence toward the weak happened under feudalism, but it was not celebrated like it is today where people relish the idea of throwing people out of work or taking their health care away or jacking up the price of prescription drugs and get called “great business minds” by legions of fawning wannabes.

  3. September 24, 2017

    Some are born Outsiders. Men of the wood. Vizaards.

    Companionship can be both blessing and curse.

  4. V. Arnold permalink
    September 24, 2017

    Ten Bears
    Some are born Outsiders. Men of the wood. Vizaards.
    Companionship can be both blessing and curse.

    Here at the hermitage, beliefs are viewed as a curse; setting a reality that may not exist.
    Belief is a lock on reality, avoid at all costs.
    Belief is anathema to curiosity/inquiry.
    Belief is anathema to now, the moment…

  5. realitychecker permalink
    September 24, 2017

    I think Ian has clearly got it right as to the limitations of models.

    What to do with that truth?

    I think it comes down to humility–are we willing to honor humility at the expense of ego?

    It may well be impossible to ever know or prove when we have an absolute truth in hand, but it is certainly much easier to use facts and logic to determine that what we have in hand contains or represents a falsity.

    At that point, we can decide to either become humble about our limitations, or to instead protect our egos by ignoring the significance of that falsity in favor of pretending that we know more than we know.

    It’s not as much fun being humble about the extent of one’s knowledge and understanding of the world around us, but it is more honest and more accurate.

    IMO, it is the better path. It is the one I try to follow.

  6. September 24, 2017

    “To be right 60% of the time, is the most I could aspire to be.”

  7. September 24, 2017

    Messes with the religious nutballs’ heads, V, regardless the variety, when they ask (usually with a belittling, condescending denigrating sneer) “well what do you believe in”, and I tell them I don’t “believe” in anything. Just about the time you figure you’ve got it all figured out something changes the paradigm.

    It’s a Zen thing. Or maybe not. As it may, or may not, be.

  8. realitychecker permalink
    September 24, 2017

    The desire to project certainty far exceeds the ability to achieve it.

    Most never achieve the discipline required to function within that reality.

  9. bob mcmanus permalink
    September 24, 2017

    The decision making humans of our society almost all run a particular set of beliefs best called neo-liberalism, a particularly harmful strain of capitalism

    Many or most of the thinkers I follow, Negri and Jameson for instance, think that the ontology of late capitalism is simply inescapable. There is no escaping the new individualism and the collectivism of 1650-1950 or so is simply no longer available, because of changes in the workplace, secularisation, and the end of mass mobilizations like the draft and unions.

    Thick weeds: some (Simondon) differentiate between individualism and individuation, but subtle and complicated.

    Not completely sure if we can have an individualistic system and abandon control by markets, but probably the two are inevitably connected. That is what the first liberalism was all about. Markets/competition freedom/opportunity. We are stuck with neoliberalism until it crashes.

  10. bruce wilder permalink
    September 24, 2017

    People like the opinions they have.

    That is a bit of wisdom I was handed early in my blog reading and commenting. It took a while to appreciate it fully. People bring preferences for models with certain characteristics to their effort to sort out the truth or accuracy of models under consideration. In academia, where scholars compete in offering explicit models and critiquing the same, these preferences or prejudices are called a point of view.

    Ian seems to be arguing for a pov that leads with kindness, even while also arguing for a pov on human behavior that highlights cruelty.

    The thing is that your pov is neither the world nor a substitute for a working model of the world. I know I sometimes give up on understanding and just go with cheerleading my pov. Not unreasonable in relationship to partisan politics, which is a team sport with fan participation.

    With regard to a model of political economy, I sort of have one or some — a few quite elaborate opinions anyway. Mostly, like rc, I am conscious of those ideas leading to a consciousness of error, my errors or decided shortcomings in my understanding anyway. We want our pov’s to be right. But, if you are curious about the world, you are only rewarded with learning by identifying errors.

    A good model identifies errors and let’s you correct course. It is not a question of the model being “right” and predicting accurately. It is a matter of being able to learn something, to notice. A good model let’s one understand the problem. That is different from having a catechism of answers.

  11. realitychecker permalink
    September 24, 2017

    @ bruce

    It just seems way beyond coincidental that so many people’s “pov” seems to line up so well with their own personal interest. “Follow the money” explains many more POVs than anything else, in my observations. “Follow the emotional attachments,” e.g. righties chronically lightening up on anti-gay and anti-abortion positions when their own child comes out as gay or their own daughter needs an abortion, is also a good guide to sussing out the motivations of others in many situations.

    Sadly, love of a philosophical principle based solely on the beauty of its intrinsic verity seems to be a kind of love that is too refined for the masses.

  12. alyosha permalink
    September 24, 2017

    There are two sets of knowledge, overlapping: knowledge of the external world and knowledge of humans and our society.

    There’s a third set, internal knowledge. This is explored through practices like meditation, and mapped in detail by cultures that were predominantly internally focused. The Buddhists have done a great job in exploring and mapping this space.

    Ours is a culture that’s almost entirely externally focused. A culture that’s externally focused will be very wrapped around material progress – inventions, material wealth and so on. A culture that’s internally focused will appear poverty-struck, but will have great works of religious art, temples, and so on, indicating a rich interior life. All of this was explained many years ago by Pitirim Sorokin, a Russian emigre who founded Harvard’s Sociology Dept.

    Historically, our culture has tended to oscillate between extremes of external and internal focus – periods of mastering the external environment punctuated by dark ages, when the whole effort collapses, precisely because it’s not balanced.

  13. bruce wilder permalink
    September 24, 2017

    Love of a philosophical principle supposedly based on the beauty of its intrinsic verity just seems likely to be nothing more than the pretensions of a coward with way too much self-regard.
    We talk our own book, fight our own corner. Nothing wrong with that as long as you are scrupulous enough to allow that the other guy is doing the same, and is right to do the same. My objection to the politics of authoritarian conservatives is that in the abstract, they are too often inclined to regard other people as having no such right to self-interest. How dare wage earners unionize! No body is going to tell me how to run my business! You can say it is lack of empathy, but as you say, conservatives are often quite capable of empathy for family or personal acquaintance. It is the absence of empathy in the abstract that is the problem — a form of narcissism. Why should anyone, conservative or not, even have an opinion on gay marriage, if they are not the one marrying the gay? If you have a live offer, sure you need an opinion, but in the abstract, with regard to other people’s lives? 😉

    The thing is, politics is all about rules for how the abstract other-guy should behave, as well as what an abstract “we” should do collectively. Resistance to those rules from the other-guy and a preference for private consumption over public goods are natural pov’s, regardless of who attaches herself to them. It is the other half of the dialectic — the advocacy of rules and their enforcement and the provision of public goods — that requires some degree of imaginative or Enlightened self-interest to take possession of a group.

  14. bruce wilder permalink
    September 24, 2017

    Herman: “Contrast this with traditional societies like feudalism where being cruel to the weak was seen as sinful and cowardly. You didn’t score tough guy points back then by beating up peasants you scored points battling other armed men in war or in duels.”

    The morality of an honor culture is commonly a cover story for institutionalized cruelty and barbarity.

    Creating a lot of weak is what the structures of feudalism were about. Your ancestor got you your castle by ruthlessly beating up peasants and the castle reduced the costs of continually beating up peasants, so that you could be ceremonially generous on rare occasions and your children could grow up reading chivalric romances. Maybe, you could redeem your soul from eternal hell by endowing the odd monastery.

  15. realitychecker permalink
    September 24, 2017

    @ bruce

    Thoughtful comments, and I agree with most of what you say.

    I would just add, it is possible to adopt the theoretical POV of the philosopher-king, and attempt to analyze situations without regard for one’s self-interest, but it takes education and training to, first, think to do it, and, second, have the training necessary to have the discipline to keep doing it.

    Central to the attempt will always be the ability to be OK with everyone else having their own legitimate interests that they seek to promote, interests that can be in stark opposition to those of the analyst himself.

    “Legitimate interests” seems to me to be a key concept to do that kind of analysis. We do not train ourselves to be competent in the use of that concept, unfortunately. We can’t seem to find a way to agree on what is “legitimate,” as opposed to what is just greedy, or selfish, or self-centered, or anti-social.

    In law school, there was a late-year elective called Conflicts of Interest. It deals with what to do when a state asserts that its interest dictates application of its law, and another state (or states) asserts a different interest they have that dictates the application of their law. It is the legal equivalent of organic chemistry lol, and most avoid engaging such complexity.

    But when I studied that course (and got an A), I was totally taken with the conviction that that kind of analysis would come to transform almost all other areas where conflict arises. I was sure that such a useful approach would rapidly spread to all these other areas. It was my idealism speaking, I guess. Unfortunately, society has gone the other way.

    So, now we just shout at each other, and use ad hominem and repetition instead of using careful logic and detailed attention to the specific facts, to resolve conflicts in accord with the legitimate interests of the parties. Because “legitimate” has, over time, been allowed to come to mean whatever anybody’s favored tribe(s) or in-groups want it to mean. It’s very discouraging, because we could do so much better.

  16. realitychecker permalink
    September 24, 2017

    Edit: That law course was called Conflict of Laws, IIRC, not Conflicts of Interest.

  17. nihil obstet permalink
    September 24, 2017

    @bruce wilder
    My objection to the politics of authoritarian conservatives is that in the abstract, they are too often inclined to regard other people as having no such right to self-interest.

    I think they simply believe in a just, hierarchical world. They believe in hierarchy. Everyone isn’t the same. Some people work hard while others laze around; the hard workers deserve more. Some people follow God’s rules, while others sin like demented bunny rabbits (in their view, God isn’t interested in much except sex); the godly deserve more. Since, as any actor playing a villain will tell you, none of us is evil in our own eyes, there are infinite ways to be more deserving than other people, at least one of which the conservative has.

    Since the world is just, the people who have more deserve it. The business owner deserves to own his business, and the worker trying to unionize is trying to get something she doesn’t deserve — she’s bad! The “more” that the deserving deserve is money and freedom from unjust constriction. Property gives him the power to escape from anybody else’s orders or compulsion in everyday life; he doesn’t have to take a boss’s orders if he has money. And the government shouldn’t make him take orders from it, either.

    Some deserving people do suffer unjustly. That’s God’s testing of us, and our opportunity to pray and to practice a little charity. Those sufferers are the people like us; we understand that. The people suffering not like us are the ones who suffer because they deserve it.

    In their own eyes, authoritarian conservatives are inordinately moral people.

  18. bruce wilder permalink
    September 24, 2017

    nihil obstet: I think they simply believe in a just, hierarchical world.

    Not “simply” surely, but, yes, this is a common theme in apologia for conservative and reactionary politics. Corey Robin, Reactionary Mind territory: from age to age, reactionary conservatives seek to maintain or institute anew hereditary aristocracy and a political culture that mirrors the goodness of a hierarchy of rank, and in which even the severely subordinated value their place and even their dependency, as that dependency sustains them. If you hold a place of considerable privilege, it is the sort of opinion that is easy to like having.

    And, it is also an opinion that is not without some merit. I am skeptical of the value of hereditary rank, or rank of any sort really, but I acknowledge that we do organize production by means of hierarchy and authority. We do have to both motivate and permit diverse effort and investment, in a decentralized system with a deep division of labor.

    Even a lowly peasant or labourer in such a system, conscious of her dependency on its stable working, and harbouring many resentments, might fear disruption or predict the new boss will be as bad as the last boss.

    These are easy opinions to have. As rc notes, it takes effort and training to do better. I would say it particularly requires mass membership political organization, but that is another topic. Liberal education for the professions was once considered a way to make sure at least some made the effort and got the training, which rc refers to. Neoliberalism has subverted much of that program’s design in our own time, with precious little effective resistance that I can see. But, again I digress.

  19. realitychecker permalink
    September 24, 2017

    I have always thought you could build a pretty good society if you made it very easy for people to meet all their basic survival needs, but reserved a large area where people who wanted to do and have more could make the efforts to achieve those goals, and hopefully add some good things (ideas, inventions, products, services) to the society in the process. A composite of socialism and free enterprise, with appropriate boundaries and rule enforcement on the latter.

    It’s ridiculous to think that those who work hard and productively deserve no more than those who only lay around and consume resources produced by others.

    It’s also ridiculous to allow the inheritance of vast wealth that one had no hand in creating. Huge fortunes cannot happen without drawing heavily on societal resources of many kinds, so it’s reasonable for much or most to go back to society after death.

    (Also ridiculous to pretend that corporations are persons, but now I digress.)

  20. bob mcmanus permalink
    September 24, 2017

    Hereditary hierarchy is a way to avoid disruptive competition, destructive civil wars, and unsettling shifts in policy and governance. When it works. The peasants who survived the Wars of the Roses or the Sengoku before Tokugawa didn’t care as much bout abstract meritocratic principles in the gov’t way up above. After Clinton-Bush-Obama-Trump it is starting to look more attractive, as long as it isn’t Jared or Ivanka. The top dude is at most always first among many anyways, she always represents a team.

    Democracy and liberalism is mostly about getting the masses involved in their own governance, in order to get everybody marching off to Verdun and Iwo Jima.

  21. bob mcmanus permalink
    September 24, 2017

    And I don’t think everyone really believed Henry VIII or Victoria were the perfect meritocratic monarchs, they just pretended it was so because it was useful and the alternatives were dire.

    Like damn, anybody can be President! And here we are.

  22. bob mcmanus permalink
    September 24, 2017

    Creating a lot of weak is what the structures of feudalism were about. Your ancestor got you your castle by ruthlessly beating up peasants and the castle reduced the costs of continually beating up peasants

    Oh hell. No, the rice production goes away and the peasants don’t help when your neighbor invades. Feudal lords weren’t suicidal idiots, and peasants weren’t importable like factory workers.

  23. someofparts permalink
    September 25, 2017

    “It’s ridiculous to think that those who work hard and productively deserve no more than those who only lay around and consume resources produced by others.”

    Hard productive work not only gets you much less, it gets you fired too.

  24. realitychecker permalink
    September 25, 2017


    Please make it clear that you were just being ironic with that comment.

    If you were.

  25. Sid Finster permalink
    September 25, 2017

    @Herman – in Medieval Europe, there was a rich tradition of peasant revolts and laments of peasants, tired of being extorted by the nobility.

    Some of these laments were written down. This is especially impressive in a time before printing, when most peasants could neither read nor write nor afford books, and neither the Church nor the nobility were exactly eager to cheer for the upsetting of the existing social order.

    “Piers the Ploughman” and its progeny are some of the better known examples. The nobles were described as glorified robbers, justified by the Church hierarchy, such that the only people who had a chance of salvation were the poor and the lower clergy. This wasn’t the only lament of this type.

  26. Steeleweed permalink
    September 25, 2017

    An friend once remarked that “The intellect is very useful for reading restaurant menus.”

    “Of all that I hold probable,
    Only this I know:
    My wisdom only takes me
    Where my folly wants to go.”

    I think part of the problem is that while science is learning more about the brain, we still don’t know any more about Mind than the ancient Greeks did (and perhaps less). Mental activity vis-a-vis the world and that mental activity’s influence on our actions likely predates consciousness, but only with the rise of consciousness have we begun to think about thinking. All too often, our thinking is like looking at ourselves in a mirror and speculating on what the back of our heads look like, or trying to build a hammer using only a hammer. Evaluating thought by thinking about it may not be the best way.

    I used to read a lot of philosophy but found that that most modern philosophers bore the hell out of me by talking mostly about philosophy. One I do value quite highly uses the training and mindset to analyze the world. He also analyzes philosophy in non-philosophic terms. Highly recommend

  27. Ché Pasa permalink
    September 25, 2017

    Hard productive work is no guarantee of anything at all.

  28. Jeff W permalink
    September 25, 2017

    …since feeling is most of thinking, this means figuring out how to feel better, more accurately, more kindly, as well

    I think the way to do that is laid out quite nicely in this blog’s posts such as “The Four Principles of Prosperity” [here] and “The Golden Laws of Prosperity” [here].

    You want an environment in which acting with kindness and generosity is supported. People want to help others. We are social beings. It’s better to have a society that supports that rather than one that doesn’t.

    You want an environment where, by and large, the people who are subject to the consequences of an environment, especially the adverse consequences, are the ones who arrange that environment.You don’t want to have a situation where one group (the rich and powerful) arrange the environment (e.g., declare wars, maximize profit, pollute the environment, dictate the ideology etc.) and another group (everyone else) suffers the adverse consequences (e.g., die or get injured in those wars, lose their jobs, live in toxic, polluted places, have faulty explanations for how things work).

    And you want an environment where people can learn to accurately assess how we are doing in those two areas—and that involves learning how the environment shapes our behavior (including our internal body states—our feelings) and how longer-term consequences may be very different than the short-term ones (see global warming).

    I think all those would go a long way toward making people feel better. The vast majority of people want to live in a kind, generous society. They want to have efficacy in bringing about the circumstances in which they live. They want to understand how things work—have their “models” align more closely with reality.


    Evaluating thought by thinking about it may not be the best way.

    I agree. There are lots of pieces to this: ideology (which Ian mentions a lot), cognitive biases (systematic deviations from rational thinking), unconscious behavior, generally (that includes the work on internal body states by Antonio Damasio but it also includes how, just generally, people often can’t explain why they do things or might not even know they’re doing them, e.g., native speakers may discriminate between sounds in their own language, as we do in English, and have no idea that they are doing so), on and on. You can’t get at any of that by thinking about it or at least you can’t get very far. You’ve got to do some behavior analysis—looking at the environment and behavior. (I wouldn’t say that involves knowing more about “Mind”—it means abandoning it, actually.)

  29. realitychecker permalink
    September 25, 2017

    Some people seem to think that the world should be just an extension of their Mama’s nipple–no work or effort required at all to get all the things they want.

    Seems awfully pathetic to me.

    Where do they think all the good things in the world came from?

  30. realitychecker permalink
    September 25, 2017

    This is a post about how to think, and some seem to have expressed a belief that working hard and productively is not a good way to think.

    I can’t get over this, so I ask, how do people here think they should get all the things they want if not by working hard and productively for them? Not only food, clothing, shelter, medical care, but also your toys and expensive entertainment, fancy clothes, etc., etc.

    And, do you realize that you can work hard and productively for yourself, and not have to be at the mercy of a boss? If you just want to avoid unfair bosses, why do you reject that notion?

    I am seriously curious to hear some answers on this. But I think there is also much to be learned if these questions elicit only silence.

  31. hvd permalink
    September 25, 2017

    I think the comments upstream about the lack of efficacy in working hard are not suggesting they want a nipple but rather that all too often in the workplace and in the way society is organized hard work is rarely rewarded and all too frequently merely breaks the spirit of the hard worker while rewarding only the “owner” of that work. I think the comments were meant to reflect the injustice of such an order not as commentary on the joy of good work well done.

  32. nihil obstet permalink
    September 25, 2017

    Hereditary hierarchy is a way to avoid disruptive competition, destructive civil wars, and unsettling shifts in policy and governance.

    It’s an attempt to avoid the evils you list, but it brings them anyway as the royal offspring come to believe too much in their own entitlement. After Augustus, the Julian family of Rome became a by-word for dysfunction, both personally and politically. From William the Conqueror through James II, virtually no royal grandchildren came to the throne without disruptive competition, wars, and real or near revolts (the exceptions were Henry VIII’s children). The dynasties of 1914 Europe were certainly unable to act well. As societies became more interconnected, the governing failures of incompetent monarchs became too expensive and legislatures became a lesser evil.

  33. Ché Pasa permalink
    September 25, 2017

    I repeat, “hard productive work is no guarantee of anything at all.”

    If you are able to think through ideas, concepts and experience of work and reward, life in a word, you know it’s true.

  34. hvd permalink
    September 25, 2017

    Che pasa:

    except as its own reward in circumstances in which it may be?

  35. realitychecker permalink
    September 25, 2017

    The only things guaranteed in life are death and taxes, they say. But some people want guarantees on everything; there is no place in their worldview for managing risk, I guess.

    I repeat: Where do they expect to get all the things they want to have and consume?

    If this kind of thinking is what the left has turned into, I’m out. And I’m a fool for having spent my whole life on the left.

  36. September 25, 2017

    Only guarantee in life is death. Taxes can be avoided.

  37. realitychecker permalink
    September 25, 2017

    @ TB

    OK, fine, just death.

    So, what do we do with those who want to get what they want and need without doing any productive work?

  38. Ché Pasa permalink
    September 25, 2017

    Many of the troops in Vietnam engaged in hard productive labor; many others engaged in hard destructive labor. The political outcome was the same as if they had never fought and died for the empire.

    The slaves of the nascent republic (empire-to-be) engaged in hard productive labor and their reward was for some of them to be allowed to live and labor for their owners another day and to see their children sold other owners who would extract their hard productive labor and permit some of them to live another day.

    The “free labor”, the working class, of the nascent empire engaged in hard productive work on behalf of their employers and their reward was abuse and a pittance — if that.

    One could go on and on and on citing similar examples from history and to this day. People who know how to think understand these matters intimately. They understand the national fiction of “hard work” and its supposed rewards.

    Many of the advances we like to celebrate have come at the cost of many others’ lives and well-being, and not at all (or very little) from the hard work of the celebrated owners and entrepreneurs.

    Those who believe the myth obviously do not know how to think.

    And RC: you’re no leftist.

  39. September 25, 2017

    Define “productive work”.

  40. someofparts permalink
    September 26, 2017

    “So, what do we do with those who want to get what they want and need without doing any productive work?”

    Nationalize the fuckers.

  41. Hugh permalink
    September 26, 2017

    Everyone thinks. Many people understand bits and pieces of things, but very few understand in a thoroughgoing and comprehensive way. Conceptual frameworks are important, but to construct or choose a good framework, it is important to know how ideas relate to each other. This is a learnable, not innate, skill, but it is seldom taught. If you are cynical, you well might say that this is a feature, not a bug. The choice of a framework depends upon its explanatory and predictive power. What you want is a framework that neither explains too little nor too much. This is as in argumentation where an argument needs to be calibrated to its point. Everyone understands that a weak argument is a bad argument. What a lot fewer get is that an argument, if accepted, can be too powerful. It proves not only what you want, but can be used to prove all kinds of things you don’t, including things which are obviously nonsensical. I see this error a lot both in argumentation and use of conceptual frameworks.

    Ideas have ordering relationships. This shows up in both logic and theory. Logical errors are pretty common, but also fairly clear to spot and understand. Theoretical errors, much less so, because the nature of theory is not taught. Arguing down a logical chain is pretty explicit. Arguing up one isn’t. Think of it as akin to a priori and a postiori argument. I see errors of this second kind often, but it is difficult to get people to recognize them because like frameworks and arguments, they are only interested in the bits and pieces that work for them, and simply ignore everything else that doesn’t.

  42. realitychecker permalink
    September 26, 2017

    Che Pasa, you really need a lot of help. It’s really sad that you have so much to say, when so little of it makes any sense at all.

    You cite some abuses as proof that there is no place or need for anyone to ever do any productive work. Yet you still expect someone to make it possible for you to eat and survive in comfort. Who, you won’t say.

    Great, you live with that.

    I was a radical for the left until it went batshit crazy during the Obama years and proved that it did not believe any of its own traditional propaganda.

  43. Ché Pasa permalink
    September 26, 2017



  44. V. Arnold permalink
    September 26, 2017

    Ché Pasa
    September 25, 2017


  45. realitychecker permalink
    September 26, 2017

    Well, that’s really great.

    I challenge any one of you geniuses to explain to us exactly how you can arrange a functional society where nobody has to do any productive work.

    The world is not a nipple. Sorry to break it to you.

  46. Peter permalink
    September 26, 2017


    You may have exposed an issue worth thinking about. Why are some people trying to discredit the idea that productive work is necessary for people or society to advance? All of the jobs I have worked required high productivity from the start and when I was a carpenter I was paid for hard work and productivity not by the hour. I was required to work l2 hour shifts as an engineering and equipment technician at a semiconductor/chip fabricator. That industry requires constant improvements in productivity and people who work hard and smart are rewarded.

    Ian mentioned that traffic to this site peaks during work hours on work days which means some possibly many salaried employees are not working too hard or being too productive. Another post and comments seemed to try to justify this drag on our economy as normal behavior for entitled individuals. This may help feed the collectivist idea of paying people to not work because some people are already paid in full for only working part of the time.

    If the Statist collectivist revolution envisioned by many here were successful most everyone could work for the state and learn to be as minimally productive as possible. The USSR had some great examples of how this mentality spreads through the workforce.

  47. Ché Pasa permalink
    September 26, 2017

    The lives of some workers can be better than others, and the myth can be propagated that the difference is due to the hard work of the better-off. But it is rarely if ever true.

    As society deteriorates, workers must work harder and harder for less and less reward, but you can be sure that someone profits on the labor of others, just as you can be sure that those who profit will blame the hard worker for his or her own misery (he or she is not working hard enough, amirite?), and when that falsehood is revealed, you can be sure that the “unproductive” and useless eaters will be blamed for the hard worker’s misery — a misery that will solve itself once the useless are culled from the herd.

    So it is; so it will be.

    Rebellion is not progress in itself, but it can lead to progress.


  48. nihil obstet permalink
    September 26, 2017

    As a sorting mechanism for who gets more toys, work must be hard and unpleasant and everybody must do it; anybody who doesn’t work “hard” is damned. It’s Puritanism for the materialistic, the perfect American religion.

  49. realitychecker permalink
    September 26, 2017

    It’s great to see the useless eater type lefties reveal themselves for what they truly are.

    I always found it possible to want fair treatment for everyone and vote Democrat, while still not expecting to get anything for nothing.

    People who shun the idea of working for what they get will eventually be living in a manure pond. Enjoy yourselves. At least you’ll all be equal, amirite?

    Even Marx expected the able to work, but he was a greedy capitalistic pig in your eyes, I guess.

    You don’t want to be employees, and you don’t know how to be in charge, either.

  50. Peter permalink
    September 26, 2017


    There will always be some hard and unpleasant jobs that must be done but automation is reducing the need for humans in those positions. The US has created too many low wage service jobs to replace the better paying manufacturing jobs we have lost and that trend must be reversed. Workers having the buying power to get the toys you mention is what drives up demand and the wages paid to the lower level workers.

    For people like yourself who seem to be allergic to idea of productive work there is a system I’ve read about called Basic. In a not too distant future when we have loosed the greedy capitalists on the solar system and they have gathered so much wealth that the people back on earth can choose to work or take Basic. All of their basic needs will be met in this separate system but they will not receive any money because they are not part of the working system and its rewards.

    I like this idea because we could ignore, without guilt, the lazy and constant whiners who are unfit for the working world.

  51. hvd permalink
    September 27, 2017

    I find it deeply ironic that a lawyer should be carrying on about productive work.

  52. realitychecker permalink
    September 27, 2017

    I gotta say, I am somewhat amused by this concept that there must be a “guarantee” of successful results before anyone takes any risks or does any work.

    Entrepreneurs accept the risk of failure, which are enormous, and that is why they get outsized rewards for success. And they deserve them, because managing a business is hard work where you never really get to rest and relax like. (I’ve been there.) Then people not willing to take those risks come along, and want to get equal rewards for being the janitor. It’s hilarious, really, when you think about it.

    One wonders where the idea of guaranteed success comes from. It doesn’t exist in nature.

    Where does it exist?

    Please note before replying that I am already on record against inheriting great fortunes.

  53. hvd permalink
    September 27, 2017

    Or for that matter is commenting on a thread labelled “how to think”

  54. realitychecker permalink
    September 27, 2017

    Edit: strike the “like.”

  55. realitychecker permalink
    September 27, 2017

    @ hvd

    Fine. You hate lawyers? Then don’t ever use one. Good luck, fool.

    BTW, I stopped practicing 25 years ago, because I didn’t like the ethical climate of the industry. But I often worked 80 hours a week when I was doing it. How many hours a week do you work?

    I retained the ability to think clearly, which you seem to have never bothered to develop. Too much work for you?

  56. hvd permalink
    September 27, 2017

    First, get a sense of humor. Second, the number of hours worked rarely equals productivity, and as a previous thread here indicated usually suggests a fall off in good work. I have to teach this to the lawyers who come to work for me – making a joke that any who work more than 35-40 hours a week get their pay docked for those extra hours.

    Finally, I don’t hate lawyers, and in fact actually earn my living by supplying them with information, but the ethical climate – the need to be entrepreneurs, the marriage to barren ideological position has made it very difficult for lawyers to actually be professional – has led to a climate in which my joke hits much closer to home.

    I would also like to point out that lawyers (and me by extension) are part of the courtier class that supports the rule makers who have so consistently exploited the real productive class.

  57. someofparts permalink
    September 27, 2017

    For every person who works hard and gets rewarded, thousands of others work even harder and suffer for it. For most of us these days, the harder we work the harder we get fucked.

  58. Ché Pasa permalink
    September 27, 2017

    “Hard productive work” (undefined) is one of those Calvinist/Puritan myths that never die, though it has never been true as a general thing.

    The myth exists to convince others that they must work hard for their subsistence, when in fact their work provides a parasitic overclass with luxury, and no guarantee of even subsistence for the worker.

    The overclass can never guarantee anything but the abuse and exploitation of hard workers while the hard workers assure the parasitic overclass of leisure, luxury, power and ever greater levels of exploitation.

    What’s not to like? Win-win, right?

  59. someofparts permalink
    September 27, 2017

    Che Pasa: +1

  60. realitychecker permalink
    September 28, 2017

    @ hvd

    Lawyers are the ones who spend a lot of time and energy learning how to help and helping people who can’t or don’t want to handle all the suffocating details that modern life requires them to submit to. They deserve credit for that.

    Also, the good ones are the only ones that can be relied on to argue persuasively for honoring important principles when the rest of the population is willing to be ridiculously short-sighted and emotional. So, give them credit for that, as well.

    To the others on the side of this debate that seem to think all the good things can be readily available to them without SOMEONE having to work to provide them, where would you say those good things get made, and by whom?

    Finally, to the idea above that hard work does not “equal” success, I wonder what your expectations are for the world generally. Perfect return for every outlay of energy? That’s so unrealistic. It should be enough for you to know that hard work certainly does CORRELATE highly with success.

  61. hvd permalink
    September 28, 2017


    As I have been trying to explain the people on the other side of the debate are NOT saying that “all the good things can be readily available to them without SOMEONE having to work to provide them.” They are saying that this system at this moment does not, for most of those doing the productive work, fairly reward those people for their hard work.

    The legal profession is a great example of this problem. For the most part the most highly remunerated are not those who actually put in their time understanding and applying the law. The guys on the partner track are the rainmakers, the salesmen, the hucksters, and the guys who get entrepreneurship as opposed to professionalism. Folks who spend their time trying to understand the law, who work at research, at making good, fair arguments are the suckers, the losers who work 80 hour weeks and never get that partnership. I get to hire some of those, and hopefully not treat them like suckers.

    Because salesmanship (better known as hucksterism), or the ability to understand entrepreneurship as opposed to the professional attributes, are what leads to high remuneration actual understanding and application of the law takes the back seat – after all how can you actually convince a lay person that your interpretation of the law will win the day. Results are unimportant only sales count. And by the way those traits are most highly rewarded because professionals are piece workers (if on a contingency) or otherwise hourly slaves. The only way to actually receive remuneration commensurate with that achieved by the capital market hucksters or the rip off CEO’s who add little value but take enormous rewards is by engaging in the same form of hucksterism or entrepreneurial cleverness, not by acting professionally. I think all of these are reasons why you came to feel that the profession has dubious (at best) ethics.

    The bench has equally grown less and less capable as credentials take the place of careful reasoning, moving the docket takes the place of thoughtful decision making and political loyalty to unquestioned dogma replaces understanding the actual context of the laws being interpreted.

    I work hard because I feel rewarded by doing good work. That I own the means of production insures that I am well remunerated. That I believe good work should be rewarded (not hours worked but good results) makes sure that the people who work for me are reasonably rewarded. I assure you that I would make a LOT more money if I didn’t think that good work well done was my primary reward and the money should be shared in by my employees. In that sense hard work correlates highly with success. But if I were blocked from receiving fair remuneration that other reward would be seriously undermined.

    I am afraid that you are picking a fight where none exists. It is a problem that people hired to win whether justice or law are on their side all too often have. I am not condemning the role of advocate but rather am pointing out the difficulty that arises from habitually having to advocate.

  62. realitychecker permalink
    September 28, 2017

    @ hvd

    Thanks for sharing; I now know that you must have some appreciation for the value and demands of management, unlike some here. 🙂

    All your criticisms of law as practiced ring true to me, (and more, much more; ditto all our institutions, pretty much), but to keep it simple, I just could not stand to have to deal with liars all the time. I hate liars. Which is why my gig is reality checks, i.e., I’m just seeking to prevent liars from lying to themselves, or unquestioningly accepting basic contradictions. A very thankless task lol.

    Your thoughts of me as advocate do not apply. My bottom-line devotion is to trying to see things clearly, and dealing with whatever that clear vision requires. And a lot of times that means correcting myself as well. Which I try to do as quickly as possible.

    FYI, I never wanted to be a lawyer, but wanted to learn enough in one or two years to keep others from continuing to be able to take advantage of me in the business/legal areas. But when I did decide to complete the degree, in my 30’s, it was with the clear idea that I wanted to be a gladiator for little people who were being abused by big people, and that is the only kind of work I ever sought. (Similarly, when I earlier thought to become a psychotherapist, it was to help others who were in trouble. It amuses me greatly to see so many attack me as some kind of Empire-supporter lol.)

    Ian’s current posts are very interesting places to flesh out these and related issues, I’m enjoying all the careful and thoughtful comment there.

  63. realitychecker permalink
    September 28, 2017

    @ hvd

    I would just add, that it does not seem to me that the debaters here are just saying they want a fairer share. (What is “fair” will always elicit debate, anyway.) It seems like they want to get whatever they want wiithout doing much at all.

    I resist extremes.

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