Post #1000: A Strawman for Everything

Posted on in Philosophy

Well here we are. It’s post 1000! Surprised to have written so much here.  Thanks for reading, linking, and commenting, as that’s a huge motivator for my prolificity.

For post #1000 it seemed i should try and sum up. Be concise. Get to the point of whatever it is I’m trying to do. Here are five big swings, themes you’ll find in much of my other writing. It’s preachy as hell, but hey, it’s post 1000 .

A Strawman for Everything

  1. We need to ask more questions. I don’t just mean kids. I mean adults. Information is so cheap and easy today, but it’s worthless without good questions to frame it with. The news tells us about the murder in our town, or the unemployment rate, or the fluffy cat saved in the tree, but what are we do about this? Why is it how it is? Who decides these are the best things to tell us and why? From the cradle to the grave we are given information as if it was precious, but it’s not anymore. We’re overwhelmed by it (Information is a form of garbage), and yet oddly addicted to cramming more of it in our brains. The rare commodity is the wisdom for how to think about information, and that starts with asking questions about it. What is a fact? Why was this fact chosen instead of another? The skill of asking good questions is something we are never taught in school (schools being places we’re mostly rewarded for giving the ‘right’ answer). We need to cultivate question asking as a skill, recognize the distinctions between information, knowledge and wisdom, and align our energy in relation to the relative importance of these three different things.
  2. We confuse tech progress with social and personal progress.  The 20th century was the most technologically advanced in history, and had the most bloodshed in history. This doesn’t mean all of the former caused all of the later, but it certainly didn’t prevent it. More recently, the web, for all its wonders, did not prevent misleading information from leading the U.S. into war. New technology guarantees almost nothing. Social progress, more freedom, less cruelty, personal enlightenment, lifetime fulfillment, and more, all depend less on technologies than self-awareness and will. The U.S. Constitution was written on quill pens. The Civil rights movement was fueled by marches and speeches. Buddha, Jesus and Socrates did all their deeds without even the dream of electricity. The Internet, the iPad or whatever comes next are unlikely to be the prime mover in (social) progress as history demonstrates tech is rarely the missing link: our self-awareness and commitment to change often are. Tech can certainly help, but the heavily lifting is always on us.
  3. Integrity is the proximity of your beliefs to your actions, and we need more integrity. It’s very easy to preach from the bible about compassion, or tell tales of the good Samaritan, or about the U.S. Bill of Rights, but somehow we forget these things when it’s inconvenient. Or when we’re personally offended. I wish there was some way to put an integrity score over people’s heads, floating around for all to see. I’m starting to judge people less by my own values, and more by how their actions match their own proclaimed values. Unlike the status symbols of cars and clothes, there is no easy status symbol for ones own integrity (Now that’s a technology I’d like to see). I don’t know how I would score myself, but part of why I write, and why I try to be transparent here is to keep tabs on my own bullshit. I think being fulfilled and happy in life has much to do with integrity, and it doesn’t require money or gadgets to develop more of it. One story of this age, with Enron, Madoff, WMDs, and the sub-prime crisis, is a story of lost integrity. I wonder about how to push things the other way.
  4. There is a downward spiral of empty consumption. When George W. Bush, after 9/11, told us the best thing Americans can do is to buy, something bizarre happened to us. He had the greatest leadership moment of my lifetime in his hands – he could have told us anything at all, plant trees, volunteer in schools, send gifts to GIs, and like WW I and WWII, the country, and some of the world, would have passionately rallied together to work towards a shared cause. But he told us to keep plugging along (to “live our lives and hug our children”) and  to buy for ourselves (“I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy”). I think we all knew there was something missing from this, but didn’t know what it was.  And as a nation, despite our many religions, one kind of faith we share is the faith in buying things. Now, I like buying things. I like the computer I’m typing on, and I like the car I drive, but I don’t have faith that a better computer or better car will making me much happier than the ones I already have (And some research bares this out). Most people I know want more community, friends, love and meaning in their lives, yet spend most of their life energy working very hard to earn more money to buy (or go into debt for) more things they don’t need, things that will never help them get more community, friends or meaning they seek. Advertising convinces us otherwise, and we like being convinced, as we’re terrified of our economy falling apart, an economy dependent (though not as much as we’re told) on  consumption. I don’t know how we get out of this loop, but it seems to be a problem, and as Jared Diamond is fond of saying, this likely can’t last very long.
  5. This is the greatest time in history for creatives. When I talk to groups about creativity and making things, it’s rare to see anyone who notices how its cheaper and easier to make creative work and get it out into the world than ever. If born in our age, Thomas Paine or Thomas Jefferson or Voltaire would have loved to have been bloggers, and to have instant access to the world for their ideas. DaVinci, Michelangeo and VanGogh would have had websites, thrilled to get commissions via paypal from strangers, freeing them from working only at the frustrating whims of popes and kings. Making music, film, books or almost anything at all is cheaper than ever in history, and can be put out into the world without a single person’s approval. We are free! The gatekeepers are gone! There are almost no external excuses anymore. The only reason you are not making the thing you daydream, or support others who do what you wish you could do, is about is you, and how you think about you. Get started here.

As this is my 1000th post, I can’t finish it without saying Thanks.

Thanks for reading, for commenting, for buying my books, for hiring me to speak, and telling others about my work on amazon and elsewhere. I know I’m here because of you.  Its been an amazing ride and I promise you this: I’m just getting started.

(This post was partially inspired by the Lou Reed song, Strawman)

25 Responses to “Post #1000: A Strawman for Everything”

  1. Marcelo

    Nice post – thanks for the 999 that preceded it as well :)

    One word nit though – ‘Integrity is the distance between your beliefs and your actions, and we need more integrity.’ So… we need more distance between our beliefs and our actions?

    Looking forward to 1000 more posts.

    Reply
  2. Esteban

    Congrats! Nice post.

    It seems you left the first point unfinished though: “Question askers are annoying, frustrating and”.

    Reply
    • Scott Berkun

      Esteban: Thanks! Weird, an older version of the post got posted (thus the errant sentence). corrected.

      Reply
  3. Bram

    Congratulations from a new subscriber! Inspiring post – point 2 really made me think. Our lives are filled with advanced technology, but we still have a lot to learn about how to apply it to do things that really matter.

    Reply
  4. calvin

    you are the man !!
    Congratulations Scott and please keep posting.

    Reply
  5. Marco71

    Graat post. I think “comprehension” is better than self- awareness and that your definition of integrity could overlap the meaning of “consistency” .

    Reply
  6. Theo

    Hear, hear. “Social progress, more freedom, less cruelty, personal enlightenment, lifetime fulfillment, and more, all depend less on technologies than self-awareness and will.”

    Great post as always, looking forward for more!

    Cheers!

    Reply
  7. Jen

    I’m so glad to hear you are just getting started! I look forward to each of your blog posts.

    Teaching good questioning techniques in school – awesome. So I leave here inspired to bring that knowledge to my own children.

    Thank you!!!

    Reply
  8. Elisabeth

    Amen. To all five points.
    Congratulations on your 1000th post but I only just found your blog. Guess I’ve got some reading to do…

    Reply
  9. Dominik

    Scott, thanks for all the 1000 posts!
    It’s really a great achievement to go so far and still have interesting, inspiring and creative ideas to share we readers.

    Reply
  10. Percy

    Congrats on the 1000th post Scott. The impressive thing is not that you’ve reached 1000 posts but that there’s so much quality in the posts, which is the hardest thing of all. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

    Also, the point about questions is right on the money. The more I look at children and see how they’re being educated, I wonder why we take this natural curiosity that they have when they’re growing up and try and conform it to a certain way of “adult thinking” or learning. We’re naturally wired to learn when we’re babies and we need the education system to keep that going. I’ve also noticed that most of the really smart people that I know always know how to ask the right questions that cut to the core of the matter.

    Reply
  11. jodene

    Bravo! I wondered what the subject of your 1000th post be (as did you) — and I anticipated something powerful and provocative. No disappointment! All 5 points resonate deeply for me, but #1 and #3 in particular. Integrity and critical thinking are qualities our world abundantly needs. Both help to illuminate choices against empty consumption (#4). Thank you for your highly thoughtful blogging. I look forward to the next 1000.

    Reply
  12. Dick

    Keep up the fight, Scott. Keep speaking and writing about things that you care about. We’ll read, enjoy and join ya.

    Reply
  13. Mike Nitabach

    Congrats! And thank you!

    Reply
  14. Ashish

    Congratulations, Scott! Your posts are all so interesting read. This one is also not an exception.
    Have you thought of picking up the greate ones and publishing it as a book? I am sure it will be an interesting one and liked by many.
    You are truly inspiring and your down to earth transparent attitude adds a special halo around you, which I am sure lot of people would aspire to have.

    Ashish

    Reply
  15. Alyx

    My Strawman for everything: I’m not creative

    Reply
  16. alfred beilin

    hello all the best to yous for 2012
    a beilin

    Reply

Pingbacks

  1. […] this evening following a link from Matt (WordPress). No rocket science or genius insights just the common sense to say it (and do it, and ask questions …) (Information is a form of garbage), and yet oddly addicted […]

Leave a Reply

* Required