Subculture Tourism

One of the main draws (for me, at least) of travel to faraway lands is the potential for immersion into a culture very different from my own. Human culture flows like a river, both shaping and shaped by its environment. I really enjoy witnessing and experiencing the different shapes that can take.

But I can also do that a mile from home, because subcultures are every bit as interesting to me as cultures. We live in a culture-driven era. People don’t just like certain kinds of music, they form deep and meaningful communities around that music, with slang and behavioral mores and clothing conventions and everything else. They do it for television shows and movies. They do it for hobbies. They do it for everything.

This can sometimes skate the edge of being dangerous; when your subculture subsumes your personal identity you can find yourself in a dangerous place. But that’s why I love multi-subcultural-ism. I love being a tourist in many subcultures, enjoying what they have! I don’t have to adopt it as my own, but I can love the visit.

For example, you may visit a foreign country and marvel at all you see while still desiring ultimately to return home. Now imagine doing the same thing with a Star Trek convention. You don’t have to even be remotely interested in becoming a Trekkie to just really enjoy that visit. Seeing the “native dress” of cosplay and the quaint linguistic charm and even the foreign foods.

Seeing different things helps us examine our own things and realize that they’re not “defaults,” they’re one of many possible arrangements of culture. And once we see that, we also see how it could change, how it could be improved, and how we don’t have to barricade ourselves behind it for fear of any possible alteration.

Go to a punk show. Go to a Star Trek convention. Watch the Super Bowl and then go play Dungeons & Dragons. Go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show and then go to New York Fashion Week and then go to a political rally that’s outside your own political tribe. You don’t have to do any of these things with the intention of becoming a permanent transplant. But you can do all of them to become wiser about both improving your own culture, and maintaining your individuality in the face of it. Both good things.

Filter versus Force

The smaller and more optional the group, the easier it is to define the rules.

Let’s say you only want to hang out with people that wear blue hats. It’s very easy to start a “Blue Hat Club” where the requirements for admission is a love of azure headwear. It’s much, much harder to try to take the broader community you already belong to and force everyone to wear a blue hat.

That’s filtering versus forcing. You can filter for just about anything. You can effectively force very, very little.

This is also why small groups are so much more effective than larger ones at just about everything. Economies of scale aside, it’s way easier to filter for the kinds of working traits you want than to force all of a very large group to adopt them.

This principle applies to just about everything. Don’t try to force all of your larger social circle to engage in the activity you want – present the activity and create a smaller group of people who actually want to go birdwatching or whatever. Don’t try to force your larger society into your cultural beliefs, create or join a smaller community based around those beliefs. Don’t try to force your large company to adopt the practices you think are best, splinter off with the group that agrees with you.

“Live and let live” is powerful medicine for nearly all aspects of live. The smaller community you choose or create will be superior to the larger one that you eternally argue with and have power struggles within. Just leave it be.

Surpass It On

Success is best, shared.

We stand on the shoulders of giants! What an honor it is to occasionally be the giant whose shoulders are stood upon. Success builds upon success and grants new power to that which follows. It’s not a fixed pie by any means.

Each victory is a new tool, each challenge overcome is an inspiration to another, each success is a roadmap to a new one. Knowledge begets more knowledge, so share in your successes. Build a hall of many triumphs.

False Positives

Imagine that at some point during Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career (let’s say around the Predator-Terminator era), I convinced him to let me “train” him. Maybe I even had to pay him for the privilege, or maybe he just owed me an unrelated favor. In any case, I tell him to lift some weights or whatever, having predictably exactly zero impact on his total physique and resulting success.

But guess what that does for me? It lets me say, in perfect truthfulness, that “I trained Arnold Schwarzenegger!”

Okay, so that’s just step one of my devious plan. What’s step 2? Well, using my “success” at training Arnold, I now begin to advertise my training services – my ultra-elite, highly-sought-after (lol) services. If I’m good at marketing, soon I’ll have all sorts of people trying to hire me as their trainer. Except, I don’t actually know anything about training – isn’t that a problem?

Heck no! See, all I have to do is be super exclusive about who I allow to be my client. I won’t take scrawny people trying to get buff, I’ll only take people who are already super buff and want to get even more buff. People that were already going to be successful on average. Then I’ll give them busywork that sounds good and build a lot of ritual into it. There will be plenty of success stories among my clients, I can claim credit, and each new success story feeds into the whole process.

I don’t have to do a thing. And I’d be immune from criticism! My own clients couldn’t criticize me, because if they were successful what could they criticize? They’d never have a counter-factual to prove that they could have been successful without me, and claiming so would make them seem ungrateful or foolish. If they weren’t successful, I could easily blame their own work ethic, and not my training – after all, look at all of my clients who were successful! And people who weren’t my clients couldn’t criticize my methods, because what do they know?

But as long as I always screened for clients who I could predict would be successful without me anyway and convinced them that, on the contrary, they needed me in order to succeed – then I’d have a steady stream of self-sustaining false positives to keep my grift going forever.

Now, you might think all of this was an allegory for something or other. You’re probably right. This grift exists in a lot of different forms, all around you. Whenever you see someone taking credit for contributing to someone else’s success, be careful. It does happen! We help, and are helped by, others all the time. Very few people succeed entirely without help, mentorship, training, coaching, etc. But that just makes the grift version that much easier, because a real version of the same effect does exist. Bill Belichick probably contributed in a real and meaningful way to the success of the Patriots, for example. But that doesn’t mean that you can always tell. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that any team that Belichick coached would do as well. There are lots of factors to consider.

Consider them.

Lanterns

I am more interested in knowing myself better than in knowing most things external to myself. I think of it as knowing your tools being more important than knowing your project. If you know your tools, you can accomplish anything.

But to understand yourself better, you need tools as well. External tools. Maybe there are some truly great philosophers that could get to great insights from just themselves, first principles, and logic, but I’m not among them. I need books and conversation and music and experiences and all these other things. They help me understand myself better, which then helps me get more out of those things, which helps me understand myself better.

And then what? Well, then nothing. Maybe I pass along one percent of the knowledge I’ve gained. Most of it wouldn’t be relevant to others. Maybe a little bit would be relevant to people very much like me, but how many of those could there be? Maybe, again, some truly great philosophers manage to create patterns of thought that can be duplicated by many and helpfully, too. Probably not me. But maybe I can donate a clue here or there.

It’s good to hang lanterns as you go. Leave those clues. For yourself, as much as for anyone.

Hunt

Your goals aren’t stationary. They will move to evade you. You have to be prepared to track them when they do.

Just because you’ve made 10% progress towards your goal doesn’t mean that there’s always guaranteed 90% remaining. Those goalposts shift! Sometimes they shift in your favor, but often not.

Get reacquainted with your target on occasion. Track it, don’t let it get away.

Five Percent

I am a raging completionist. Whenever I get an idea in my head, I envision the end state of that idea, and then I want to work maddeningly on it until it’s done. Whenever I am delayed by something outside of my control, it itches.

Here’s another problem: I don’t instinctively like sharing my work while it’s in motion. And another: I think (incorrectly) that I do my best work alone.

All of these add up to a dilemma where I take on a project, then get stuck. I can’t finish immediately, and that frustrates me, and the frustration causes me to distance myself from other sources of help and inspiration, and thus I feel incomplete until I’ve ground my way out, using far more effort than should have been required.

Great advice I received today on this topic: you can’t get to a hundred percent without getting to five percent.

So What If You’re Right

Sometimes you are 100% in the right in your disagreement with another person. They’re wrong and you’re not.

Doesn’t change a thing.

Your boss is doing one thing, and you think they should do another? Even if you’re completely right – so what? Nothing will change just because you’re right. No cosmic entity comes down and adjusts the world to be in balance with your correct view.

You still have to decide to quit or not. If you quit, you have to decide what else to do. If you stay, you have to decide how to navigate it.

This is the source of so much frustration in people. They get to a point where they’re sure they’re right, and then… nothing happens. It feels like it should! Once someone is “right” (which usually means finding a few people who agree with and validate you, but it could genuinely mean proving the correctness of your side), that person then subconsciously starts to expect the world to just change. And then it doesn’t, so what do most people do? They proclaim their right-ness with more fervor. Perhaps the universe just didn’t hear you.

Nope, sorry. Right or wrong, it’s still your life. You’ve got to manage it. Accepting that – truly internalizing that lesson – will save you so much frustration it’ll probably add five years to your life. It’s worth it to let go of being right.

The Box

An explanation, a definition, an accurate description – whatever you want to call it, putting a boundary around something so that it can fit within a framework in your mind. It’s good and bad. No, scratch that – it’s amazing and it’s terrible.

Why?

Because that particular tool can be used to make your life far better, or to trap you and kill you. It all depends on where you are in relation to The Box.

I’ll give you an example. Malfunctions within the human brain are nothing new, but giving discrete malfunctions names, causes, definitions, etc. – that’s relatively new, all things considered. So maybe a few generations ago a kid would just be hyper or active or “a handful,” and now that kid has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. That’s drawing some clear, bright lines around something that may not have had those lines before. Putting a box around it.

But now, this can go one of two ways. A great one and a terrible one.

The great one: “Wow, now that we understand some of the causes and likely effects of this particular configuration of neurons, we can encourage where we need to as parents, we can adjust our discipline and communication so that the worst of the resulting traits are mitigated and our child flourishes.”

The terrible one: “Everything our kid does is excused and will not be improved in any way, because the ADHD diagnosis serves as an excuse for all behavior.”

People do both. Have you received a diagnosis of depression? That’s The Box. If you say “Now that I have a name and a definition, I can use that to understand my pain, to improve, to get better, to defeat it,” then you’re using The Box as a cage for your enemy, and that’s good. But if you say, “Well, the reason I don’t work towards the things I want to achieve is because I have this diagnosis,” then you’ve put yourself in The Box. You’re the one who’s trapped.

When we, as humans, feel like there’s some giant but vague shadow over us, preventing our successes, it can come as a relief to get a name for it. “Thank goodness,” we think. “I’m not fundamentally broken as a person, there’s just some very specific malfunction, and it’s real and it’s valid and maybe even other people have it, and so it’s not my fault.” That is the first step on the road to the death of every dream and aspiration you’ve ever held.

Think of going to the doctor because you feel generally ill. Fatigue, aches and pains, all that. But you don’t know the cause. After several tests, the doctor returns to tell you that you have a malignant tumor, and that’s the cause of all your ills. Imagine then saying “Oh, thank goodness! My illness wasn’t imagined; it was valid and real and justified, and now no one can judge me for feeling sluggish or weak.” That would seem a strange reaction. The point of looking for a root cause wasn’t to justify your sensation of illness – it was so that you could find the cause and then destroy it.

Remove that tumor! Defining a root cause for anything about yourself that you’re unhappy with is only the very first step. The acquiring of a target, if you will. The next step is to exorcise it from yourself! Put it in The Box, while you yourself escape from it.

Showoff

The actual aim of showing off, if you think about it, is to convince people that you don’t need any more information.

I get it. We all want status and esteem. We all want people to respect and admire us. That desire is stronger in some than in others (much stronger), but at least a little bit we all want people to think we’re cool. So we show off, we flex, we strut.

In small doses, it’s fine. Be proud of your work, your accomplishments! Be happy to share with others, too.

But really, don’t try too hard to convince others that you’re done learning and improving. Because otherwise you might just be.