About two years ago I started a project called the Modern Survival Guide, which was intended to be a series of essays on things I think people ought to know about living in the modern world. It was a project that I’m not ashamed to say I picked up out of frustration.
There’s just so much going on these days, and so many people who I thought desperately needed something like this. I was frustrated with the number of brutally ignorant people who make it to adulthood, and wanted to write something that might help the more open-minded of them.
Two years later, and I’ve realized that I was one of those people. Because of course I was. We all are.
I had to do a frankly enormous amount of research for some of these articles. I had to relearn things I thought I already knew. I had to have some serious conversations with myself about my attitudes on subjects I thought were all wrapped up. I also had to come to grips with the sheer volume of stuff that I don’t yet feel comfortable writing about, because I haven’t experienced it or simply don’t know enough about it. That was a large list.
It was humbling, if you can believe it given that I’ve done my best to come across as a know-it-all for this entire series.
And with all that, I’ve barely scratched the surface, so I’ve decided to call a short break. Not a permanent break; I still have a notepad on my phone where I write down article ideas pretty much every week. But I am going to bring this first iteration of the Modern Survival Guide to a close and call it Volume One.
But in the meantime, I’m going to start new projects, work on my editing, try to get this behemoth published, and look around for all the other things that people might need to know.
Thank you to everyone who read (and continue to read!) this, and especially thank you to those who left comments, even when those comments were contrary to everything I wanted to convey, because hey… at least you were interested enough to leave a note.
With all that being said, here are a collection of the last tidbits of things that I think need to be said repeatedly to better enable survival in the modern world:
- You are never going to know everything. That’s not the point of being “informed.” The point is to know how you know, and to make sure that what you know is good information.
- Perfection is the enemy of good. We should never stop seeking perfection, but never let it get in the way of a good enough solution.
- Control is the finest illusion. It’s a worthwhile goal to work towards self-control, but controlling anything else is like trying to steer a hurricane. Sometimes the best you can do is ride the waves.
- The people who tell you they have all the answers are usually full of shit. Please note: I have never pretended to have all the answers — just some of them. And that is a serious difference.
- Anyone who tells you that science should be certain of anything does not understand how science works. The scientific method always has room to prove a theory wrong. Certainty doesn’t really exist, stop looking for it. The best we can do is to bet the good odds. That being said, science is the best tool we have to find those good odds, so we should do our best to understand it and trust legitimately verified conclusions.
- Anyone who tells you that they completely understand how the economy works is lying, or deluded, or both. The economy isn’t an enigma so much as it’s simply too complex for anyone to understand. It’s an enormous feedback loop with functionally infinite variables, and even the best economic forecast models are going to be only partial insights. That’s not a slight on economists, it’s an assessment of human mental capacity.
- Anyone who tells you that they are the only person who can fix a problem is probably full of shit. There are 7.8 billion people on this planet; the odds are hugely against any one of us holding exclusive knowledge or insights.
- Your heroes are people too. Don’t let their failures undo their accomplishments.
- The people who tell you that you don’t matter are assholes. Drop them like 3rd period French and find new people. Even if they’re family. Especially if they’re family.
- Always own your mistakes. But try to treat them as guideposts, not millstones around your neck.
- No plan survives contact with reality. Adapt, overcome, and improvise— never assume that your plan is foolproof. But always make a plan.
- Poverty is not a sin, and being rich doesn’t make you a better person; in fact, it raises the odds significantly that you’ll be a worse person. Not because the rich are inherently evil, but because they have more options and consequently must endure more moral snares than the average person, and they’re only human.
- There is no human-made system that is free of error. Consequently there is no human-made system that should be left free to run unchecked. I’m looking at you, capitalism.
- Just because someone is a racial or ethnic minority doesn’t mean they can’t also be a small-minded bigot. Everyone’s at least a little bit bigoted. It seems to be part of the human condition. The point isn’t to minimize that issue, it’s to acknowledge it and work to overcome it.
- Just because someone is an authority figure doesn’t make them right. Authority generally gives people the ability to exert force, but it does not automatically convey the mental or moral capacity to do so correctly.
- Just because something is the law doesn’t mean that it’s just. It raises the odds slightly, but only in a legitimate representative democracy, and only when the issue has been exposed to the public for a significant period of time. Law is order, not justice. Don’t get it twisted.
- Just because someone has an advanced degree doesn’t make them right. It raises the odds somewhat, but only for the field in which they have a degree. Not all doctors are created equal, particle physicists should not be trusted to comment on relationship advice, and politicians generally should not be trusted at all without some external proof.
- There is no cosmic justice, or at least none that bothers to make itself felt on this Earth. There is just us. Whatever justice we have is justice we make. Let your actions be your prayers.
And finally, when in doubt, be excellent to one another. Thanks Keanu. You had the wisdom all along. Most of the time we’re all that we’ve got, life is short and painful, and there’s no point to making it worse for other people without a really good reason. If you can’t be anything else, be kind.
Good luck to you all. We’re probably going to need it.