Mind Macros 63: Defining goodness, doublespeak, and listening without bias
"Don’t get hung up on your views of how things 'should' be because you will miss out on learning how they really are. It’s important not to let our biases stand in the way of our objectivity."
Welcome to another issue of Mind Macros - I hope you find something of value.
Food for Thought
I. Defining 'Good' As What's Good For The Whole, Not the Individual
"Don’t get hung up on your views of how things 'should' be because you will miss out on learning how they really are. It’s important not to let our biases stand in the way of our objectivity. To get good results, we need to be analytical rather than emotional. Whenever I observe something in nature that I (or mankind) think is wrong, I assume that I’m wrong and try to figure out why what nature is doing makes sense. That has taught me a lot. It has changed my thinking about 1) what’s good and what’s bad, 2) what my purpose in life is, and 3) what I should do when faced with my most important choices. To help explain why, I will give you a simple example. When I went to Africa a number of years ago, I saw a pack of hyenas take down a young wildebeest. My reaction was visceral. I felt empathy for the wildebeest and thought that what I had witnessed was horrible. But was that because it was horrible or was it because I am biased to believe it’s horrible when it is actually wonderful? That got me thinking. Would the world be a better or worse place if what I’d seen hadn’t occurred? That perspective drove me to consider the second- and third-order consequences so that I could see that the world would be worse. I now realize that nature optimizes for the whole, not for the individual, but most people judge good and bad based only on how it affects them. What I had seen was the process of nature at work, which is much more effective at furthering the improvement of the whole than any process man has ever invented."
"Most people call something bad if it is bad for them or bad for those they empathize with, ignoring the greater good. This tendency extends to groups: One religion will consider its beliefs good and another religion’s beliefs bad to such an extent that their members might kill each other in the mutual conviction that each is doing what’s right. Typically, people’s conflicting beliefs or conflicting interests make them unable to see things through another’s eyes. That’s not good and it doesn’t make sense. While I could understand people liking something that helps them and disliking things that hurt them, it doesn’t make sense to call something good or bad in an absolute sense based only on how it affects individuals. To do so would presume that what the individual wants is more important than the good of the whole. To me, nature seems to define good as what’s good for the whole and optimizes for it, which is preferable. So I have come to believe that as a general rule: b. To be 'good' something must operate consistently with the laws of reality and contribute to the evolution of the whole; that is what is most rewarded. For example, if you come up with something the world values, you almost can’t help but be rewarded. Conversely, reality tends to penalize those people, species, and things that don’t work well and detract from evolution." — From Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio.
II. Listening Without Bias
"How do you listen? Do you listen with your projections, through your projection, through your ambitions, desires, fears, anxieties, through hearing only what you want to hear, only what will be satisfactory, what will gratify, what will give comfort, what will for the moment alleviate your suffering? If you listen through the screen of your desires, then you obviously listen to your own voice; you are listening to your own desires. And is there any other form of listening? Is it not important to find out how to listen not only to what is being said but to everything—to the noise in the streets, to the chatter of birds, to the noise of the tramcar, to the restless sea, to the voice of your husband, to your wife, to your friends, to the cry of a baby? Listening has importance only when one is not projecting one’s own desires through which one listens. Can one put aside all these screens through which we listen, and really listen?"
"Listening is an art not easily come by, but in it there is beauty and great understanding. We listen with the various depths of our being, but our listening is always with a preconception or from a particular point of view. We do not listen simply; there is always the intervening screen of our own thoughts, conclusions, and prejudices…. To listen there must be an inward quietness, a freedom from the strain of acquiring, a relaxed attention. This alert yet passive state is able to hear what is beyond the verbal conclusion. Words confuse; they are only the outward means of communication; but to commune beyond the noise of words, there must be in listening an alert passivity. Those who love may listen; but it is extremely rare to find a listener. Most of us are after results, achieving goals; we are forever overcoming and conquering, and so there is no listening. It is only in listening that one hears the song of the words." — From A Book of Life: Daily Meditations by Jiddu Krishnamurti.
III. Doublespeak: Language That Makes the Bad Seem Good
"There are no potholes in the streets of Tucson, Arizona, just 'pavement deficiencies.' The Reagan Administration didn’t propose any new taxes, just 'revenue enhancement' through new 'user’s fees.' Those aren’t bums on the street, just 'non-goal oriented members of society.' There are no more poor people, just 'fiscal underachievers.' There was no robbery of an automatic teller machine, just an 'unauthorized withdrawal.' The patient didn’t die because of medical malpractice, it was just a 'diagnostic misadventure of a high magnitude.' The U.S. Army doesn’t kill the enemy anymore, it just 'services the target.' And the doublespeak goes on. Doublespeak is language that pretends to communicate but really doesn’t. It is language that makes the bad seem good, the negative appear positive, the unpleasant appear attractive or at least tolerable. Doublespeak is language that avoids or shifts responsibility, language that is at variance with its real or purported meaning. It is language that conceals or prevents thought; rather than extending thought, doublespeak limits it. Doublespeak is not a matter of subjects and verbs agreeing; it is a matter of words and facts agreeing. Basic to doublespeak is incongruity, the incongruity between what is said or left unsaid, and what really is. It is the incongruity between the word and the referent, between seem and be, between the essential function of language—communication—and what doublespeak does—mislead, distort, deceive, inflate, circumvent, obfuscate."
"In his famous and now-classic essay, 'Politics and the English Language,' which was published in 1946, George Orwell wrote that the 'great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.' For Orwell, language was an instrument for 'expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.' In his most biting comment, he observed that, 'in our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible [P]olitical language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. . . . Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.' Orwell understood well the power of language as both a tool and a weapon. In the nightmare world of his novel, 1984, Orwell depicted a society where language was one of the most important tools of the totalitarian state. Newspeak, the official state language in the world of 1984, was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of human thought, to make only 'correct' thought possible and all other modes of thought impossible. It was, in short, a language designed to create a reality that the state wanted. Newspeak had another important function in Orwell’s world of 1984. It provided the means of expression for doublethink, the mental process that allows you to hold two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time and believe in both of them. The classic example in Orwell’s novel is the slogan, 'War Is Peace.' Lest you think doublethink is confined only to Orwell’s novel, you need only recall the words of Secretary of State Alexander Haig when he testified before a congressional committee in 1982 that a continued weapons build-up by the United States is 'absolutely essential to our hopes for meaningful arms reduction.' Or remember what Senator Orin Hatch said in 1988: 'Capital punishment is our society’s recognition of the sanctity of human life.' At its worst, doublespeak, like newspeak, is language designed to limit, if not eliminate, thought. Like doublethink, doublespeak enables speaker and listener, writer and reader, to hold two opposing ideas in their minds at the same time and believe in both of them. At its least offensive, doublespeak is inflated language that tries to give importance to the insignificant." — From Doublespeak: From Revenue Enhancement to Terminal Living: How Government, Business, Advertisers, and Others Use Language to Deceive You by William Lutz.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Anthony de Mello on changing ourselves versus seeking to change the world:
"If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth."
II. Marcus Aurelius on valuing our opinions higher than those of others:
"It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own."
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