The topic of today’s post may seem totally out-of-the blue. I know what you’re thinking: “this is such an original idea!” “12 Rules For Life?”… “No one has ever thought of making a list like that!”
Huh? What’s that you say? Someone else has already done something like this? Whatever, my list is better.
So, in proving that I can do whatever the most prominent thought leaders of our time can do, except better (ok, you be the judge), I present to you:
Intro to Maxims
Maxims are guides for action. A man is defined by his actions. If you have no maxims, who are you? How do you make decisions? By intuition? On what basis are your actions good or defensible, any more so than the actions of any other random person? Because your intuition happens to be better than other people? You might say that you are smarter or more logical than other people. But intelligence and logic are just tools for accomplishing aims. You need to additionally decide what your aims should be in the first place. Your goals will change as your life situation changes, but maxims are heuristics to help you decide your goals, independent of your life situation.
Intro to Freedom
There is a paradox of freedom. If you have no maxims, or never follow them, then you are just being ruled by your impulses. But if you follow your maxims 100% of the time, you are in some sense not completely free, because rigid maxims may not account for the particularities of a given situation. Freedom to some extent means the freedom to be spontaneous and violate your own rules. “There are exceptions,” you can tell yourself. But is is easy for exceptions to turn into the norm. Self discipline (I personally find) works better as an on-off switch than as a nudge factor because of the slippery slope. Another temptation is to say, “some maxims just need to be interpreted liberally in light of a given context.” However, a clever person can easily come up with a backwards-justification for whatever they wanted to do anyway. So they are back at instinct. The solution? The maxims should, even when under the guise of specific prescriptions, be more like abstract values. This allows you to take into account the particularities of a given situation, and how the value applies in that context. Which, to be fair, is a judgement call; you will have to use some amount of good instinct, and resist the urge to backwards-justify. Those problems, however, are inevitable, and at least this way the maxims are present as a go-through in the process.
When presented with a choice, especially a large choice, that increases freedom but makes you more responsible, and a choice that decreases freedom but provides comforts and takes care of risks for you, it is better for you to choose the option that increases freedom.
There are two types of freedom. The first is self-sufficiency: being able to do every step in implementing something, fixing something, or getting something working, without relying on help from outside organizations. The second type of freedom is social status-independence: your ability to do your work cannot be hampered by lack of approval by your peers, superiors, or dependents. Even within social status-independence, there is a difference between your peers, superiors, and dependents; each can entail a different restriction on your freedom.
Don’t “settle” for inferior options when it comes to long-term commitments that limit your freedom (marriage, house loans, college loans, long term job, religion, etc). Only settle when your standards are met. These commitments are the potential sources of greatest fulfillment, as they are the sources of progeny, but that only makes it more important to not settle.
Rule #1: Don’t Grovel
Don’t castigate/deprecate/denigrate yourself. Some people have the tendency to feign insecurity, either for comedic purposes, or because they think it will make them more likable, through humbleness. But the result is that you are a meek and non respectable creature. No one is going to be arrogant on your behalf except for yourself. You have the duty to portray yourself positively. Don’t qualify yourself, that is, try to justify yourself, as if your presence needs justification. Don’t qualify your statements, that is, don’t effectively apologize for whatever you say.
Rule #2: Don’t Live Vicariously Through Others
To do so is to make a slave out of both yourself and the person you live vicariously through. It is a lack of self ownership. To do so is to act out the philosophy that you are less important than others. What philosophy you believe is perhaps no more important that what philosophy you act out.
Don’t engage in a parasocial relationship. That is a way to live vicariously through others. This goes for fictional characters, celebrities, and so on. You are the main character in your life. None of these characters is so important that time spent thinking about them is secondary to time spent improving your own situation.
Don’t excessively gossip about someone. That is really a form of parasocial relationship: you are making your own life a secondary obsession compared to the life of others. Don’t obsessively hate someone either, to the extent that they occupy a large portion of your thoughts. That is really a type of parasocial relationship.
Rule #3: Don’t Betray Your Benefactors
Don’t publicly criticize someone who has made personal sacrifices to help you or stood alone in your aid.
Rule #4: Don’t Betray Your Lineage
It is not an act of generosity to sacrifice something that has been entrusted to you. Your land, progeny, legacy, non-fungible inheritance, heirlooms, customs, governance positions, etc. That is, things that have been given to you, and benefit you, but with the expectation that you defend them.
Sometimes, these types of things are no longer beneficial to possess. However, it is not generous to give or trade away these things — or, of whatever generosity might exist, you do not have the right to doll it out on a whim.
Rule #5: Use Philosophy Correctly
Don’t take continental philosophy to be strictly correct. It isn’t correct, it’s useful, in the same way that literature is useful. Freud and Jung aren’t strictly correct psychology, Marx isn’t strictly correct economics, and likewise, continental philosophers aren’t philosophers as you might understand philosophy, rather, they are the equivalent of literature. And like all literature, there is good and bad literature.
Don’t take analytic philosophy to be strictly useful. Analytic philosophy seeks to make statements that are strictly correct. But it is extremely difficult, almost impossible, to do formal logic on human languages, because of the ambiguity in human languages like English. Therefore, the way philosophers do formal logic on human languages is they don’t. Instead, they will construct a facsimile of a human language where every word has a very precise definition, as chosen by them, arising from primitives. But in so doing, you are becoming detached from what is actually useful to people. What you deduce can only be held true ceteris paribus, within a vacuum, within a constructed matrix. How can this constructed matrix model the real world? In the real world there is a bombardment of extenuating variables.
Don’t be a mid-wit. A mid-wit is the worst of all worlds. You are smart enough to detect noble lies, but not smart enough to implement the moral truths that underly them. Here, defer to Chesterton’s fence. Defer to tradition, and understand historically, in an pre-opinionated way, before you swear it off.
Shifting gears: the benefit of writing philosophical theories is that we know they are wrong but we don’t know why.
Rule #6: Optimize Across Virtues
I find a useful 4-way split of virtues between truth, morality, fitness, and beauty. Therefore I will go over each one. Truth is correctness and accuracy. Morality is what we value. Fitness is about strength and continuation. Beauty is the most nuanced, because it seems to incorporate the previous three, making it a meta-value. Beauty values what is intricate, subtly meaningful, virtually impossible to reproduce in the same essence, or something of historical significance. Beauty hates waste and damaging disorganization borne of ignorance.
There are many situations in which it is appropriate to value one value over another, or vice-versa. A noble lie is morality taking precedence over truth. The blunt or politically incorrect truth is truth taking precedence over morality. Preferring death to blissful subjugation is an example of morality taking precedence over fitness. Toughness is giving fitness precedence over morality. Banning ivory is an example of morality taking precedence over beauty.
Liberalism is a gift from the strong to the weak and simply that. It is not a method for becoming strong. It is something that the weak can benefit from while the strong can luxuriate in.
On the topic of noble lies: don’t accept noble lies from others. It is weak minded. If you are weak-minded enough that you would benefit from noble lies, you are probably unable to detect noble lies anyway.
There is such a thing as dignity, which is an intersection of aforementioned values. Dignity is those things that you cannot compromise over.
For example, there is dignity derived from truth and morality over short term self-preservation (fitness), imbibed in the unshakeable maxim that you will not tell a public lie to defend a corrupt and immoral institution. Furthermore, there is dignity in the intersection of beauty and and self-preservation in the maxim that you will not tolerate spiteful humiliation of yourself.
Remember: this is all essentially continental philosophy!
Rule #7: Don’t Use “I Didn’t Have Time to Learn That” as an Excuse
If you’re in the position of being questioned about something, you should have learned it. Of course, due to inevitable time constraints, there are many things you will not be able to do because of time. But you should not make yourself out to be a victim of time. Rather, maintain a conception of your own fault, the knowledge that lack of knowledge is a defect of yourself, and not something imposed on you.
Rule #8: You Can Only Learn by Doing
If all of your knowledge is from books, then you will not know how the knowledge can be used, and you will not be able to interpret the knowledge as a 2-sided interface.
To read instructional or advice books without doing is equivalent to living vicariously through someone better.
If all of your knowledge is from listening to advice, then you will only know what other people feel good about saying, perhaps because they are trying to sound impressive or charismatic.
To put too much weight on advice from people who are clearly very different than you, before testing it in practice, is not coming to terms with yourself.
Don’t rely on advice that works better as the teacher’s explanation of something to themselves, rather than an explanation to other people. Almost all advice is like this: it is perhaps more useful to the teacher (because it reinforces their knowledge) than it is to you. People will share knowledge that is only helpful after you know everything else that they know. You do not have the context of the unstated knowledge the teacher already has. You can not necessarily expect the teacher to state this knowledge, and for this reason.
You can only learn by doing, but you should learn how to do something so that you never have to do it.
Rule #9: Don’t Scorn Knowledge or Skill, Regardless of How Menial it is
There are some people who make fun of certain skills for being signs of lower-class or whatever. “I have people do that for me!” “that’s not necessary for people like me to do!” kind of thing.
Don’t do this; it is always better to be better, and there is no pride in knowing you are worse.
Rule #10: Become Knowledgeable in the Liberal Arts, that is: Things that are Not Immediately Practically Useful, but Make you More Cultured
This includes such knowledge: chess skill, a large vocabulary, being well-read in classical literature, knowing a dead language, knowing obscure/specialized scientific information, and so on. These are a “waste of time,” but they make you “well-rounded,” or better said: a truly educated human being. With that in mind however, a “liberal arts education” is largely a sham, especially in the 21st century; although education can guide you, you cannot learn the liberal arts without teaching them to yourself. You don’t learn these things to show off, you learn them because a self-respecting man does not stay in an information corral. I do not go so far as Heinlein, “specialization is for insects,” but I would say that “a man who knows only one thing knows little of that.”
Rule #11: Don’t Adopt Platforms in Fear of the Eyes of History, or Strive to be Seen on the “Right Side of History”
Screw future historians who slander you, and let them be wrong. Do things because you think they are right, not to chase the approval of imagined future historians.
Even if you did care about future historians, out of the desire to preserve your “legacy,” it is ultimately impossible, because you do not know the tastes and opinions of future historians. You only know the trends, and what is popular with current historians, and you project that on the future. You imagine that there is some inevitable direction to elite opinion, or that future elites will be like current elites. You should not accept this as the case; elite intellectual fashions change. Your goal should be to bring about, by your effect on the world, exactly those intellectual fashion changes that you think are needed. You make them, you do not serve them. So just do what you believe is right, and if you are both successful and correct, it’s correctness will be evident.
Rule #12 Be Deliberate
Failure is a sign that you were not deliberate. There was an action that you could have deliberately taken to avoid the failure. If there was not, it wasn’t purely a failure, but rather a misfortune. That being said, do hesitate to blame things on misfortune, because often they could be avoided. Don’t blame something on misfortune if you didn’t foresee the possibility and/or understand the dynamics generating the luck.
Being deliberate does not mean to avoid being spontaneous. A spontaneous action is in fact the most deliberate type of action, because it is an action that you did not plan but nonetheless deliberately do. The alternative was to take the path of least resistance, and take no action; you do not need to be deliberate to do that.
Success often depends on your ability to instigate. The more deliberate actions you take, the more you instigate. Design when and how you want to instigate, and proceed to do it. If you do not take actions, reasoned actions, and actions you choose rather than prescribed to you, then who are you?
Don’t hesitate. If you haven’t decided what to do, don’t hesitate before thinking about what to do. If you know what to do, do it.
Honorable Mention: Be a possiblist
Optimism and pessimism both lead to apathy. Be a possiblist. Things are possible, but only if action is taken to make them happen. The aphorism, that the only way to predict the future is to make it, is correct.