An advice on advice
Looking for someone else’s experience on how to deal with whatever issue you are trying to fix? Here’s some healthy (and lengthy) cynicism that might save you a lot of time.
As an out-of-the-closet cynical like myself, there are few things that come as close to drive me into a suicidal thoughts frenzy than, ironically, other people’s arrogance. Here’s the thing about people telling other people what to do:
BIAS. FUCKING, UNAVOIDABLE, HUMAN BIAS.
You might be thinking right now “no shit, Sherlock”, but I feel like you - actually we, as in “we, humanity” - should grow familiar with introspecting further about it. Think about how hard it is to be empathetic. For real. Like mathematically how hard it is. Let me guide you through it:
> You have your set of problems. Let’s call that P for now. Someone else, naturally, has their own set of problems, which we’ll call O.
> It follows trivially that, unless you are talking about the same person, P is strictly different from O.
> P and O are formed by their own sets of possible causes. They can be similar sometimes, but you have to analyze them one by one to make sure that they, in fact, are. To make things worse, you can make some mistakes in the process.
> You currently have no solutions for P (otherwise it would not be a problem set, obviously), and the same goes for O. But you want to solve it, so you spend most of your time thinking about P, and little to no time thinking about O.
Now let’s consider that one of the problems of P is a past problem of O. So, naturally, O’s container has something to say about P’s problem. This is where shit usually ensues.
Here’s the thing: when it matters, unless we are talking about children, people with some sort of disability (physical or mental) or any other impediment that is related to the specified problem, there is absolutely NO rational reason to assume that the lack of solution to a problem is always caused by a lack “perspective”.
I’m not saying that people won’t do dumb shit. They will. Absolutely. All the time. But it is simply ridiculous to assume that an idea is going to solve most of the problems of the world. There is no such idea. If there was, it would be by definition, magic.
And you can’t generalize the solutions that worked for you and expect them to work for everyone. You are not everyone. Everyone is not you. Someone else is not you.
Yes, the world is, and always has been, really complicated
Optimization problems are a huge deal for computer science and mathematics. There’s a ton of research on the subject. There’s all kinds of incentives for people to try and classify every single problem that one may encounter in any step of everyone’s mundane lives. There’s literally a field called “Ubiquitous Computing” that is about trying to shove an algorithm in any theoretical hole one may possibly think. There is NO reason to think that the problem with the world is simply a deficit of ideas. We have Google. We have Wikipedia. We have TED Talks. We have Social Media, including this website. Ideas are as abundant as we could possibly wish for (which doesn’t mean that ideas are worthless. Just that they are usually not enough, and when they are, the problem ends up being solved as you would expect).
But the world is still far from perfect. Why are there still people who are hungry? Why is there violence? Why is there corruption? Is it bad government? Bad capitalism? Bad people? Just seems weird.
The ultimate problem with the world is called complexity. Complexity doesn’t just mean that the world is “hard”. It actually means that the world is so hard to comprehend that you are barely registering a tiny fraction of even your own perceptions. Think about it. You have a bunch of sensor organs, which are formed by sets of tiny individual sensors. You have a brain trying to decode and make sense of all of the data, simultaneously. How hard is it? It is freaking fucking bad hard. That’s why there are people devoting their lives to studying exceptionally specific things like language, cognition, behavior, economy and society’s systematic relationships. Nature is usually complicated, but when humans are involved, shit gets real.
Simplicity is, most of the time, outright lies
So let’s try to be a little pragmatic for a second: you have a (solvable) problem on your hands. Let’s consider 3 possibilities here: a) you can’t solve it because you don’t know how, or b) you can’t solve it because you don’t have the resources, or c) you can’t solve it because you don’t know about the resources you could have if you knew about them.
With information, a) and c) can be tackled trivially (not necessarily simplistically, tho).
New in town? There’s an app for restaurants. You can talk to people. You can roam aimlessly until you find people selling food.
The problem is when the problem is actually a b). Lack of resources is not solvable by ideas. It has to involve other people or an institution and sometimes it can end up being impossible or very unlikely.
This is usually where all the advice falls short. There is no advice in the world that can solve b). If your problem is money, there is nothing I can tell you that will transfer money to your account. I can try and convince someone else to give money to you, but why is our reaction to just assume that telling you that things are going to be ok if you try harder to do something impossible is just lost on me.
It’s not just inefficient, it might actually be dangerous.
One of the most common complaints I get from people with any kind of mental illness, including myself (ADD, GAD & Depression are my personal holy trinity), is the almost comical inability that people have to understand what they are really about. Telling someone to cheer up during a depressive crisis is like asking a person born blind to draw something abstract on the moon. You can’t make yourself honestly feel “happy” out of nowhere, and that’s not even nearly scratching the point of being depressed, which has nothing to do with sorrow. Depression is your brain deciding that staying in bed is the optimal solution for today and failing spectacularly to adopt a different state. It’s like a computer when it freezes. Except you won’t stop breathing or have a cardiac arrest because that’s a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THING for the brain, just like your deviated septum has nothing to do with your carpal tunnel. If every “fail-safe” solution that is being offered to someone ends up failing, can you really blame them for going suicidal? I mean, nothing works… might as well give up. It shouldn’t be like this and it doesn’t have to be.
But why is this even a thing? Like, why do people even try to counsel each other if things are so clearly too complicated? There are some exceptions to my pessimism, of course. Yes, sometimes it is better to risk being annoying to not sharing something useful with someone else. If you know something, it is a great practice to volunteer to help people learn more about it, on the condition that you will be as transparent as possible on how you learned it yourself ( you know, that thing that journalism seemed to have forgotten how to do. I’m generalizing here, but still being very accurate… ). And always remind yourself and people around you that it is ok to seek help.
Some practical stuff
If you ever hear something in the format “If you do X, it will result in Y”, you should ALWAYS interpret it as “I did X once or more and it resulted in Y”. This counts for science as well. A thousand miles before considering whether the relationship has a positive truth value, you have to make sure that you have the necessary details that describe it. If you don’t, you get something that can mean anything. If you don’t, you have religion. If you don’t you have bad capitalist deals. If you don’t, you get Trump.
While we’re on that, make sure to check on people’s consent before you start lecturing them about whatever. They might be too polite to point out that they heard that a million fucking times. Here’s a quick way to avoid that: Ask: “Wanna hear about <solution>?” , if the answer is “No”, then shut the fuck up. If they consent, ask again after explaining part of the concept to make sure that they haven’t changed their minds…
Don’t keep shit from healthy people when you are sick. Don’t keep shit from your parents when they were spoiled little shits at your age. Don’t keep shit from people talking about moral without talking about reason. Throw that shit away and try to remind yourself from time to time that if you keep their advice, and they turn out to be wrong, that is going to be YOUR problem. Help people around you, but don’t give them shit.