Filter Failure & Critical Ignoring

“As important as the ability to think critically continues to be, we argue that it is insufficient to borrow the tools developed for offline environments and apply them to the digital world. When the world comes to people filtered through digital devices, there is no longer a need to decide what information to seek. Instead, the relentless stream of information has turned human attention into a scarce resource to be seized and exploited by advertisers and content providers. Investing effortful and conscious critical thinking in sources that should have been ignored in the first place means that one’s attention has already been expropriated (Caulfield, 2018). Digital literacy and critical thinking should therefore include a focus on the competence of critical ignoring: choosing what to ignore, learning how to resist low-quality and misleading but cognitively attractive information, and deciding where to invest one’s limited attentional capacities.”

-Anastasia Kozyreva,, et al. “Critical Ignoring as a Core Competence for Digital Citizens.” Current Directions in Psychological Science. Volume 0. 10.1177/09637214221121570

One of the red flags of conversation is that you have to give “both sides” consideration. Or, the person you are talking with suggests that you need to do more research in the topic, particularly if it is along the lines of their argument.

Here’s a radical idea. Arguments have to earn their place at the table. All opinions are not equally valuable, and if you want consideration, you have to do the work and not tell the people you are trying to convince to do the work for you. If your perspective is anti-vaccination, Earth is flat, etc., don’t be surprised when you are ignored.

I don’t have to care about your pet issue, particularly when it is objectively wrong. Even if you are right, about your religion, politics or conspiracy theory de jure, you aren’t entitled to anyone’s attention. You earn attention by caring about people, not ideas.

Or, to make an analogy, you are not entitled to sex with someone, just because you are lonely. What is true of the body is also true of the mind. Congress is based on consensus.

Accept, Reframe, Or Reject

“EVERYONE GETS SHITTY FEEDBACK sometimes. There are a variety of reasons for this, starting with the fact that giving feedback is difficult and most people are terrifically bad at it. But even those who have developed strong feedback skills will still sometimes do it poorly, because the attention and care required to do it well are so often in short supply; or because the systems we occupy do not incentivize the effort. All of this means that shitty feedback is out there, and while we can and should work to prevent it, we also need mechanisms for dealing with it when it happens.

A lot has been written about how to avoid giving bad feedback, but I want to tackle the flip side: what do you do with feedback that sucks?

-Mandy Brown, “Accept, Reframe, Reject.” aworkinglibrary.com. November 1, 2022

This is a variation of the truth that there are always three actions available to us for any circumstance. We can accept it. We can change it. Or, we can leave it. I’d argue that the vast majority of criticism from others is a commentary on their own issues. It often has little to no relevance to the person being commented upon. So, almost everything either needs to be reframed or rejected. The crucial question is: what can I learn from this criticism?

This piece talks about the first action. I think the most important point is to not defend yourself. It is rare that this is necessary, and it is often our first reaction. You can simply say, “Thanks for sharing your point of view. I’ll be sure to give it some thought.” You’ve not accepted that their criticism is valid. But, you have accepted that they have expressed their point of view. You have heard it. You are considering it. This is all most people want: to be heard and consideration.

Of course, there are situations where you have to do something different, such as the supervisor at work example she uses. But, even there a simple: “I’ll do better,” will often suffice.

Politeness costs nothing. Listening to people costs nothing. These can be effective avenues for getting feedback on our behavior from the outside world. But, it’s rare for a person to know us well enough to give feedback that can simply be accepted. This is true of even people that know us well. We all have different values and ways of looking at the world, and we need to reframe input to make it valuable in light of our idiosyncrasies. Feedback, particularly the unsolicited kind, almost never does that.

Also, people that you don’t know rarely give feedback worth considering. They are commenting without context, which is generally worthless.

Warmth: Charisma & Commitment

I’ve been thinking a bit about stolzyblog‘s comment on Coin of My Realm: Meaning post from a few days ago. Let me quote the exchange entirely:

“SB: Warmth. It’s what is missing from Robin Hansen’s “insight”. And the interesting thing about this is it seems (from watching some of his interviews) that he does not know this. All his knowledge has kept this region dark to him.

CB: I tend to focus on ideas over people too. Warmth is really caring more about people, that they have value beyond what they offer you. Sometimes it takes people that live in their heads a long time to learn that lesson, using by finding someone that loves them beyond their ideas. But, some never find it. You make a really good point here.

SB: True, and a nice realization (about what warmth is). I have noticed something else too, though. Ideas and concepts can also be delivered or communicated with warmth. Some speakers accomplish this. But many do not… their information is sprayed forth coldly and analytically, sometimes even like a kind of psychic weaponization, if you know what I mean.”

I started to think that there were two dimensions in play. On one dimension, it matters how something is communicated. I tend to be blunt and not as diplomatic as other people might like, and my wife is often saying to me: “You can say that, but you have to say it nicely.” What she means by nicely is that I need to say it in a way that leaves more room for the fact that I could be wrong and the other person right and that even if I am saying something critical, I still like and respect them as a person. Saying something like, “That’s a bad idea and you are a bad person for thinking it,” doesn’t do that.

I saw a tweet recently that shed some light on why this is important, focused on small talk:

So, we are spending 20% of our time in social interactions, and the primary purpose of these interactions are not sharing ideas but serving as testimony that we like one another well enough to spend the time together. What we discuss is mostly irrelevant.

But, “social commitment” implies something more. It’s not just being a “fair-weather friend” who is pleasant to spend time with, but it also implies that, to some degree, a relationship that can be relied upon in difficult times.

If we want to think of the question in terms of relationship archetypes, you might parse it as:

  • Ideal: pleasant to spend time with and can be relied upon
  • Fair-weather: pleasant to spend time with but with limited reliability
  • Difficult friends: not pleasant to spend time with but reliable

The key here is that the thresholds of what constitutes reliability are a sliding scale. Every relationship has limits and what people need from them vary a great deal from individual to individual. For example, someone may be an introvert who, when they want companionship, want it limited to a few friends. Others want to be the life of a party, which means being at a party with more than a few friends.

Context also matters. When experiencing grief, even the life of the party doesn’t want to be at a party. Part of being reliable is being able to context switch, and be in the mode appropriate for the moment.

There’s also the problem that our capabilities change over time. A person with dementia is often both unpleasant and reliable. But, how we are with them also reveals something about the kind of person we are, when we interact with them. So, these relationships are important, not only to the person with the illness, but because it holds up a mirror to our character and reveals facets of ourselves we may not have been aware. Chances are those will be deficiencies, a lack of reliability we were not aware of or limits which we didn’t know we had.

Beyond the personal, it also reveals something about other types. For example, sociopaths are fair-weather friends. They want reliable relationships but don’t offer reliability themselves. Difficult friends want to be liked and to like the people around them, but they don’t show these qualities to others.

Warmth, broadly speaking, might be how we respond to these gaps. Can we be pleasant to the unpleasant? Can we be reliable to the unreliable? Where are our limits? And, are they more or less than some perceived norm?

Batshit Times

“At BATSHIT TIMES, we showcase artists, activists, and scientists challenging contemporary society’s geopolitical, technocratic, hypersurveilled, megacybernetwork nightmare.

We critique the chaos, dissimulation, and fragmentation of our times through visual projects, films, essays, and articles on emerging experimental art forms and science practices.

Currently on the third issue. The first issue is available as a free PDF download.

A Cyclic Theory Of Subcultures

“During Involution phase, many counterelites are trying to slice off adherents and resources at the same time. Some people even become meta-counter-elites, complaining that the counterelites themselves have strayed from the true principles, etc. The actual elites realize their status is also precarious, and some of them side with the counterelites in order to get a new base, bringing the conflicts to the highest levels. The overall tone of the movement becomes darker. Ordinary rank-and-file members hear so much criticism of the movement that it’s hard for them to stay optimistic about it. They stop talking about it as The Amazing Movement That Will Change Everything, and become defensive: “I’m not, like, one of those members of the movement, I just sort of think some of their ideas make sense sometimes.”

-Scott Alexander, “A Cyclic Theory Of Subcultures.” Astral Codex Ten. August 9, 2022
  • Phase One: Pre-Cycle, niche
  • Phase Two: Growth, moving to mainstream
  • Phase Three: Involution, complexity, sub-groups, elements shrink
  • Phase Four: Post-Cycle, established institutions, final form or return to Phase One

See also  Giambattista Vico‘s La Scienza Nuova which posits a civilization cycle and is described in Wikipedia as follows:

“Relying on a complex etymology, Vico argues in the Scienza Nuova that civilization develops in a recurring cycle (ricorso) of three ages: the divine, the heroic, and the human. Each age exhibits distinct political and social features and can be characterized by master tropes or figures of language. The giganti of the divine age rely on metaphor to compare, and thus comprehend, human and natural phenomena. In the heroic age, metonymy and synecdoche support the development of feudal or monarchic institutions embodied by idealized figures. The final age is characterized by popular democracy and reflection via irony; in this epoch, the rise of rationality leads to barbarie della reflessione or barbarism of reflection, and civilization descends once more into the poetic era. Taken together, the recurring cycle of three ages – common to every nation – constitutes for Vico a storia ideale eterna or ideal eternal history. Therefore, it can be said that all history is the history of the rise and fall of civilizations, for which Vico provides evidence (up until, and including the Graeco-Roman historians).”

Pretty straight-forward parallels, with the post-cycle indicating a frozen state where institutions persist for some period before descending back into Phase One or dissolution.

Let Go With Grace

“Once you accept that as a fundamental boundary on your capacity as a manager, it’s going to set you free. Free from centering on the self-serving anguish over what you could have done differently, and on to the acceptance that these outcomes are inevitable when dealing with the opaque potential of strangers.

The redeeming realization is that this is a great, big world. The human pieces that don’t fit into your puzzle will complete someone else’s. And in fact, if you refuse to let go of a piece that doesn’t fit on your end, you’re keeping someone else from making theirs. Besides, nobody wants to be the piece that doesn’t fit.

So learn to let go with grace. You’re not here to save anyone. It’s an illusion of grandeur to believe that you can.”

-David Heinemeier Hansson, “I can’t save you, nobody can.” world.hey.com. August 5, 2022

This reminded me of a conversation with a neighbor I had several years ago. They were trying to get involved in the lives of heroin addicts in order to “save” them. I said it was a mistake. It’s a rare circumstance where you can “save” anyone. Moreover, the most likely outcome is that they would negatively impact her, not the other way around.

There are acute situations, where an intervention at a key moment, might change the outcome. They happen. But, they are rare.

But more than 99% of the time, people interesting in “saving” others are not focused on these moments because they have a different agenda. They feel broken and in saving others they are trying to save themselves. Or, more generally, if others can be saved, perhaps they can be saved. And much of that time, they doom themselves because they are busy trying to solve someone else’s problems rather than working on their own.

But, of course, that also sounds selfish. You don’t want to save others? You only want to save yourself.

The reality is that I can only control what I do. The key point is that we are interconnected. We cannot solve only our problems. But, we cannot solve the world’s problems. Nor can we solve the problems of a large group. Our effective influence is a few people, who we have enough interaction with to see those rare moments when an opportunity opens. We need to prepare ourselves to meet that moment, which means working on our own shit and keeping good relationships with people – building our relationships – so we trust one another when the storm hits. The reality is that trust often isn’t fully cemented until after the storm, when you rose to an occasion and you could have left.

But, the only way to get there is to spend the time and do the work. Even then, it may not be enough. It won’t be enough if you are with other people that aren’t spending the time and doing the work. I guess the net on that is make sure you choose your relationships wisely.

Our Technology Sickness—and How to Heal It

“Because of the digital revolution, our lives are being transformed by three grand bargains. The intellectual bargain: we have more knowledge but less capacity to concentrate and focus. The social bargain: we are much more available but much less attentive. And most importantly, the emotional bargain: we are much more connected, but much less empathetic. When we trade away skills for power, attention for availability, empathy for connectivity, and quality for quantity of relationships, we sign up to a Faustian pact that we do not even know exists—one that gives us more control over the outside world, but less control over our inner world.

What then is to be done? What shifts in thinking and behavior will help us reverse course?

1. A philosophical shift: Less choice, more freedom…[essentially, a variation of the Helsinki Bus Station Theory. The longer you travel down a path and narrow your scope, the more interesting the path. More options means you are in a space more people travel.]

2. A cultural shift: Attention over availability…Our humanity should not be measured by how much attention we attract but by how much attention we devote to what matters. [Or, as has been said elsewhere, “Focus on nourishment rather than poison.”]

3. Remedial technologies [and behaviors. The idea is to train an incompatible behavior. It is possible to turn Airplane Mode on your phone, a remedial technical solution. But, turning your phone off and reading a book accomplishes the same thing and removes technology from the equation. The Amish might be a good reference point.]

4. A Talmudic shift…Jews are expected to be conversant with all sides of a controversy, but in their lived behavior they are expected to follow one position among many. Such a culture ensures that one’s intellectual world is much more expansive than the world of one’s lived practice. [Or, don’t let your politics define the ideas you are allowed to engage with.]

—Micah Goodman, “Our Technology Sickness—and How to Heal It.” Sources. Spring 2022

Excellent essay, all the way around. Recommended.

Forer Statements As Updates And Affirmations

“The Forer Effect is a trick used by astrologers, psychics, and social psychologists…What statements show a Forer effect? Wikipedia just says they should be vague and somewhat positive. Can we do better?…

…Or you could phrase them as affirmations, or arguments for self-compassion…

– Scott Alexander, “Forer Statements As Updates And Affirmations.” astralcodexten.substack.com. July 26, 2022

I found the concept of the Forer Effect and the exercise or turning it around interesting. But, I think where it fails for me is I think trying to compare ourselves to the internal states of other people, an experience we do not have direct access to and can only guess at, is rarely an exercise that has value. We do not know what other people’s lives are like. And, for those whom we have a lot more interaction and might be able to guess, it’s largely irrelevant.

My wife is someone who seems genuinely happy as a default state. Does it make any sense to use what I imagine her experience is of the world as a comparison for my experience? I assume I am different from her and from most people. I think the real question here is whether a given behavior is adaptive or maladaptive. Is my self-criticism, on net, a positive or a negative in my life? Is my sense of being different from other people a positive or negative force in my life?

When you reframe this discussion and try to get away from comparison and think instead of other ways of being, or perhaps other times in your own life, you are at least interacting with your lived experience and trying to do something to improve it. Personally, ‘I find questions like: does anyone else experience/believe/whatever X?’ to be in the same category. Whether other people have similar experiences is largely irrelevant, isn’t it?

We live in an environment where we are constantly being manipulated and influenced. Of course, everyone feels critical of themselves and awkward because we are products of that environment. If we lived as hunter gatherers 500,000 years ago, the uncertainty and doubts we have would be completely different. So, the fact other people have the same outlook and behaviors that you do is not surprising. It would be surprising if they were much different.

So, perhaps the more interesting question is: how am I different than most people? Or, as Scott Alexander puts it:

“These affirmations aren’t foolproof. 50% of people are in the top 50% of most-sexually-awkward people, and 1% of people are in the top 1% most sexually-awkward. When I read these, I feel like most of the time I can think “Ah yes, this is a Forer Effect, good thing I caught myself before I believed it”, and then for one or two of them I think “No, I am just literally objectively in the top 10% of the population on that trait.” This is why I’m calling these “potential updates” instead of “absolutely correct articles of dogma”.

-ibid.

To me, this is the more interesting question. If you are going to engage in comparison, which I don’t think you should – i.e., comparison is the thief of happiness, wouldn’t it be more interesting to focus on where you are truly different from others?