Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Do You Care About The News?

Be sure to read this post over at Return of Kings

Drowning in Lake Wobegon

Most people you meet have no interest in getting better at anything. There are powerful cognitive biases that prevent us from meaningful self-reflection, along with a coddling culture in America that strongly opposes personal development by encouraging individuated mediocrity.

"The Lake Wobegon Effect" (illusory superiority) describes how we overestimate our abilities and downplay our negative qualities. This effect is highly persistent in social science -- in any random survey, the vast majority of people will say they are above average in any trait. This is impossible by definition in a random sample.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a related to this. People who are unskilled are more likely to overestimate themselves, while people who are skilled at something are more likely to underrate their abilities. 

To prevent the trap of "just being ourselves" we first have to acknowledge what we need to improve.  How many times have you been truly honest with yourself about your limitations, especially those that you do not have the power to change? Take out an index card. Write down at least three improvable traits at which you are currently significantly below average. These are mine:
  • "Likeability"
  • Public speaking
  • Motivation to get out of the house when I have free time
  • Faking interest in social situations

Whether or not you plan to improve anything, the mark of a loser is someone who can't face the reality that they suck at something and would rather hide behind false bravado. Don't be one of them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Has Your Lifestyle Been Designed?

The author recounts his experiences backpacking across the world, during which he had more free time and more fulfilling experiences while living on a shoestring budget. Counterintuitively, he spends more money when he returns to Canada, despite not feeling that it buys him the pleasure it did on his trip.

The article contains an especially interesting point about the way we work: the 40-hour workweek was instituted in the early 20th century, but by all accounts our technology has made us more productive, so we should be able to get the same work done in less time. There is strong circumstantial evidence that we are unable to devote deep concentrating to more than a few hours a day. I often feel this way in my own job, where I will go through bursts of intense productivity but will need to recover afterwards by answering emails or doing some other mundane task. This doesn't even factor in the exponentially increased distractions (Twitter, Facebook, Iphone, text messaging, etc.) that we have tugging at our attention at all hours of the day.

So why won't employers allow for a more flexible employment schedule? Because only working just enough to support ourselves would flatline an economy built upon consumers accumulating debt for non-essential excesses. The system forces us to have minimal leisure time, during which we have to spend more money to feel like we are maximizing our enjoyment. It's a vicious cycle that I see every day. Friends are content grinding away at jobs they dislike and having very little useful free time to themselves. They never quite seem to do the things they talk about in their "someday" fantasies (let alone keep themselves in decent shape), but have time to watch TV and appease their girlfriends with dinners at chain restaurants.

The closing words of this article hit particularly hard:
"The perfect customer is dissatisfied but hopeful, uninterested in serious personal development, highly habituated to the television, working full-time, earning a fair amount, indulging during their free time, and somehow just getting by. Is this you?"
So, is it?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Jason Collins

In case you've missed the last several days of news, NBA center Jason Collins has become the first major sport athlete to come out of the closet during his pro career.

To be honest, I have been disappointed by the manosphere's coverage of this story. Many seem to think that the popular media is trying to promote a pro-gay or pro-woman agenda at the expense of men. Are they? I don't know. But focusing on this peripheral issue obfuscates the real question of whether a pro athlete coming out is a generally positive thing for humanity. I believe it is.

The average person doesn't understand the level of talent, drive, and concentration required to be a professional athlete. The job is a grind. You're traveling thousands of miles a week, being watched by tens of thousands of people a night, living in hotels, playing high-stress games, and answering to idiot writers whenever you screw up. It's pretty incredible that Collins has been able to focus on his career while carrying such a large secret under potentially hostile conditions. Many professional athletes have said they would not want to play with a gay teammate. Furthermore, the majority of NBA players are Black, part of a culture not known for being especially accepting of homosexuality.

I've seen scores of snarky tweets about how this is going to make money for Collins, make him more famous, get him speaking engagements, and essentially make the fortune of an otherwise unremarkable player. Is there a potential for material gain for Jason Collins? Sure. But much of this commentary about ulterior motives ignores the following:

Jason Collins has made $33 million dollars in his career.

I would bet that there have been many other closeted gay athletes who had exponentially more to gain than Collins by coming out publicly (or even FALSIFYING their sexual orientation to get a big payday). If the payoffs are so huge and the media's "bias" facilitates this type of revelation, then why hasn't a single one taken advantage of these powerful incentives by doing something so easy? 

Because it isn't easy.

Most high-end manosphere writers are fairly well-educated, and because many were raised in the "liberal" and "tolerant" environments they (often justifiably) rail against, I think they tend to underrate the daily discrimination faced by gays in our society. There are still wide swaths of America where people live a lie in fear of losing their jobs, being physically assaulted, being disowned by their family, etc. only because of their sexual orientation. If Jason Collins's actions make a dent in that reality, it seems like splitting hairs to call this anything but a positive for our country.

Do I think this is on the same scale as Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball, which some in the media are comparing it to? No. But it's an important moment in our culture. People will accuse me of being a "liberal" or a "SWPL," but in today's world of sound bites and clich├ęs I give the guy a lot of credit for facing a contentious issue that has ramifications both in and out of sports.

Collins coming out is an important step in fostering an environment where people are judged by what they contribute and what they create, rather than what they do in the bedroom.