Well, hello. I hope you’re having a really amazing Monday.
This is the first issue of Startlingly Awesome and Refreshingly Modest, which is an email newsletter with a super-witty name that you’re now subscribed to. It will come every Sunday, even though this one came on Monday because I like to start things off with a mistake.
I’m launching this thing because I’ve just published a piece I’ve been working on for a while called Stop Hedging and Unleash Your Inner Zealot, which you’ll find below. I wanted to share it with you and that made me realize I have other things I’d like to share, too. And here we are.
So, welcome to Startlingly Awesome. Good to talk to you. I know it’s been a while. Scroll down, click on a few links, read them now, read them later, whatever. Then hit reply and tell me what you’ve been up to, and what you think.
And if you know of someone else who might like to get on the list, please send them to the subscribe page.
We’re all terrified of a blank stare — of someone listening to what we have to say and then deciding we’re stupid. Or crazy. Or on the wrong side.
So we get very good at reading people and hedging our conversations to avoid conflict and eye rolls. This is a valuable skill, and a good instinct most of the time.
But for many of us, it is a double-edged sword. When it’s time to sell ourselves, our businesses, and our causes, that same hedging can completely undermine the message and get in the way of success.
So go ahead. Be like Soleil the way-too-into-it yoga teacher: Stop Hedging and Unleash Your Inner Zealot [~10 minute read].
Social media and the 24-hour news cycle have made recency the single most important factor in what we read, watch, and listen to. Even the best thinking rarely lives past tomorrow anymore. But we have the same instinctual drive to consume and learn that humans have always had, so we end up reading and watching mostly vapid, useless nonsense because that’s what’s at the top of the feed.
In retaliation, I’m going to use at least one slot in each week’s issue to point you toward something that blew my mind so hard that I still think about it today.
First up: Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism [~30 minute read], from Slate Star Codex.
Slate Star Codex is a fascinating blog written by Scott Alexander (a pseudonym), who is a psychiatrist and a leader in the Rationalist community. Rationality is a philosophy/movement/nerd-herd based on the idea that:
- Humans are really bad at looking at the world (a.k.a, “data”) and drawing correct conclusions
- Getting better at that is potentially the most useful thing we can spend energy on
- Doing so is actually really difficult
Scott is very good at doing this — at taking something controversial, finding the assumptions that no one is questioning, and deconstructing them until you’re forced to rebuild your opinions from scratch.
In this post from 2014, Scott poses a thought experiment that I still think about all the time: Suppose a new uninhabited landmass appeared and you got to be in charge of creating a new country there. How would you settle it? What sort of rules would you impose? If you tried hard enough, could you create a sort of utopian government that would make it the ideal place to live for the most conservative conservatives, the most liberal liberals, and everyone in between?
It starts a bit slow; be sure you make it to part III.
Okay, this video about economics literally made me say “holy shit” out loud at the 7:58 mark.
Remember Econ 101? Supply and demand? Sellers are a curve. Buyers are a curve. Where they meet is the market price, yada yada yada. I got a 💯on my Econ 101 final but I could never really grok supply and demand in the way I wanted to.
This video called Simulating Supply and Demand [~12 minute watch] is two things:
- Way more entertaining than it sounds. Captivating almost.
- Incredibly satisfying, because I think for most people it will mean finally getting why things work like they do.
Completely worth your time.
Oh. Right. Robert Mueller is old.
He did such a good job staying out of the media that my brain filled in his personality with a cross between Sergeant Joe Friday and Sam the Eagle from the muppets.
It was tough to watch our congresspeople act so beholden to their parties and the plan. But even more painful was watching Robert Mueller come across as a confused old man. I badly wanted to burst into those chambers and step in front of him protectively, withering looks of disgust aimed at each member of the committee, shouting “Stop pestering this old man! Can’t you see he needs his nap!!?!?!?”
The best recap I’ve read comes from Lawfare, a blog covering politics and written by a good mix of liberal and conservative lawyers (but understandable by us normal folks, most of the time). Go check out Mueller’s Testimony: The Baton Passes to Congress [~12 minute read] and I suspect you’ll add them to the list of places you go to understand just what the hell is going on in Washington sometimes.
Bonus: If you haven’t really taken the time to figure out what exactly was in the Mueller Report because you were hoping Mueller would give longer-than-one-word answers and save you the trouble, Lawfare also has a pretty good primer: Mueller on Trump: Everything the Special Counsel’s Report Says the President Did, Said or Knew.
The live-action movie version of Cats [~3 minute watch] looks just terrible.
That’s it. Have a great week!