Ming the Mechanic:
What you can't say

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 What you can't say2004-01-05 14:27
picture by Flemming Funch

Via Bird on the Moon, an excellent article "What you can't say" by Paul Graham.
"This essay is about heresy: how to think forbidden thoughts, and what to do with them. The latter was till recently something only a small elite had to think about. Now we all have to, because the Web has made us all publishers."
Much that is quotable, and I think it is a very important subject - to notice whether we're trapped in a conformist mindset, and how we break out of it, to maybe have some original thoughts and optionally dare to speak them.
The Conformist Test

Let's start with a test: Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers?

If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you're supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence? Odds are it isn't. Odds are you just think whatever you're told.

The other alternative would be that you independently considered every question and came up with the exact same answers that are now considered acceptable. That seems unlikely, because you'd also have to make the same mistakes. Mapmakers deliberately put slight mistakes in their maps so they can tell when someone copies them. If another map has the same mistake, that's very convincing evidence.

Like every other era in history, our moral map almost certainly contains a few mistakes. And anyone who makes the same mistakes probably didn't do it by accident. It would be like someone claiming they had independently decided in 1972 that bell-bottom jeans were a good idea.

If you believe everything you're supposed to now, how can you be sure you wouldn't also have believed everything you were supposed to if you had grown up among the plantation owners of the pre-Civil War South, or in Germany in the 1930s-- or among the Mongols in 1200, for that matter? Odds are you would have.

Back in the era of terms like "well-adjusted," the idea seemed to be that there was something wrong with you if you thought things you didn't dare say out loud. This seems backward. Almost certainly, there is something wrong with you if you don't think things you don't dare say out loud.
Most of us carry around a lot of taboos. Things we're not supposed to think or do because it somehow doesn't fit with what we think everybody else is thinking and doing. And yet many of those taboos vary greatly from place to place, culture to culture, and time to time. And, indeed, those that vary greatly in different times and places are the most suspect ones. The ones most likely to be a misunderstanding or collective insanity. But the rules of the world, including its taboos, are to a large degree what seems sensible to the people who believe them. Even what later (or elsewhere) is considered ridiculous was believed by some relatively sensible and rational people. But why does it even become necessary to have silly moral taboos and -ist labels to attach to each other? One clue:
"I suspect the biggest source of moral taboos will turn out to be power struggles in which one side only barely has the upper hand. That's where you'll find a group powerful enough to enforce taboos, but weak enough to need them."
Calling somebody "sexist" or "defeatist" or "divisive" or "anti-semitic" can be an effective weapon to have when you feel cornered, and you don't really have a very good case for why you're right and others are wrong, but the ruling morals happen to provide you such convenient trumps that you can use to gain leverage over others.

Anyway, absolutely brilliant article. I'll have to come back and quote more good stuff at a later time.

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5 Jan 2004 @ 15:36 by hgoodgame : Yes, a fascinating article!
Thanks for sharing it Ming. One paragraph in particular caught my interest more than the others and it was this -
The most important thing is to be able to think what you want, not to say what you want. And if you feel you have to say everything you think, it may inhibit you from thinking improper thoughts. I think it's better to follow the opposite policy. Draw a sharp line between your thoughts and your speech. Inside your head, anything is allowed. Within my head I make a point of encouraging the most outrageous thoughts I can imagine. But, as in a secret society, nothing that happens within the building should be told to outsiders. The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club.
Great advice!  

6 Jan 2004 @ 02:27 by shawa : Yup.
Groundbreaking thinking is (sometimes) better kept discreet, lol!

I´d like to add this paragraph of the article :
"(...)The trouble with keeping your thoughts secret, though, is that you lose the advantages of discussion. Talking about an idea leads to more ideas. So the optimal plan, if you can manage it, is to have a few trusted friends you can speak openly to. This is not just a way to develop ideas; it's also a good rule of thumb for choosing friends. The people you can say heretical things to without getting jumped on are also the most interesting to know."

Works at NCN, too. *grin*  

6 Jan 2004 @ 03:28 by jstarrs : Good one, Ming...
I guess the question is then "why do we keep our thoughts secret?'
Fear of ridicule, misunderstanding, cultural taboos etc?
That seems to be where trust comes in: if we trust someone not to immediately judge our exteriorized thoughts, the thoughts can then be mulled over, honed down, built upon?
Heidi, it's interesting, about your comments on self thinking freedom. Got me thinking about the 10 non-virtuous actions in buddhism. There are three mental ones: covetousness, harmful thoughts (towards beings)and wrong views.
Covertousness is obvious, as is harmful thoughts, which could also be criticising someone, mentally. Wrong views concern mainly thinking that there's no such thing as cause & effect. Do your 'outrageous thoughts' fall into these? LOL!  

6 Jan 2004 @ 10:36 by ming : Secret thoughts
I guess a general reason why we keep our thoughts secrets is, yes, that they might be misunderstood and ridiculed, and overstepping cultural taboos easily get us in some kind of trouble. It is kind of like our world is structured so that the ability to put others down about some thought of theirs has stronger power than the expression of the thought itself. Which is sort of unfair. Honest authentic thoughts and their expression *should* have more power, but they don't usually in most of our cultures. If I just once admitted that I like dressing up in women's clothes (I don't), it would be a weapon that can be used against me for the rest of my life. Although, it would mainly be a weapon in environments that are built largely on phoneyness. E.g. if I was running for some political office, every little thing I might have said or done that could offend any moral norm would suddenly become a powerful weapon for my opponents. And of course I can use that observation to try to avoid such environments, and seek out environments where I can be more authentic. But that in itself isn't quite enough if I'm speaking openly in a very public and open forum. Like, say, here. Where all sorts of people might come by and be offended and call me things, even if it is people I do not at all consider part of "my" group.  

6 Jan 2004 @ 10:49 by martha : being authentic
I have high hopes for the internet that as more poeple connect to the world we will all allow more space for people to be authentic. I sense the potential.
As an artist one tries to stretch beyond the accepted boundary and it usually spills over into others aspects of ones life. It is much safer to stretch a bit and then stay in that spot for many years and stagnate. Being authentic takes a courage few posses and not one encouraged in society.  

6 Jan 2004 @ 18:23 by hgoodgame : If we allow ourselves freedom of thought
then from what I understood of the context of the article I would have to say yes, someone's/anyone's outrageous thoughts could fall into the categories of non-virtuous action according to buddhism. When we learn how potent our thoughts are, then we'll be more cautious how we use that power, privately or publicly.
And Shawa, you're right about the discussion part. It's good to have a few friends as screwy as I am when I really need to part the waters..  

7 Jan 2004 @ 03:07 by jstarrs : Martha?
I agree totally, this way of communicating is new and finding ways of being effective AND authentic whilst experimenting with all these new tools is fascinating and has a lot of potential...  

7 Jan 2004 @ 03:31 by shawa : Heidi
Describing yourself as... "screwy as I am when I really need to part the waters", makes you a potential friend of mine, ipso facto, lol! Creative screwiness is definitely IN for me :
We do need a certain type of "screwiness" to create a new world!...
I DO support creative screwiness in my friends....
Now - is THAT a thought that shouldn´t be revealed? hehehehe  

7 Jan 2004 @ 03:59 by jstarrs : So, what's the definition...
...of 'screwiness', ladies & gentlemen?
Here's Dictionary def, is it right on?

screw·y ( P ) Pronunciation Key (skr)
adj. Slang screw·i·er, screw·i·est
Eccentric; crazy.
Ludicrously odd, unlikely, or inappropriate.

screwi·ness n.  

29 Jan 2004 @ 20:48 by po51uk @ : too much thought
u guys think way too much... where is this excess thought gonna get you in life anyway?  

1 May 2016 @ 22:51 by Seven @ : fJImcIdziPaTZceoriH
Do you understand how documenting the graphic violence of a dictatorship brutalizing those who speak against it IS the most important reason a "global forum for free expression" is useful? If you can't allow the most brutal of these videos, you are not a "global forum for free exuessrion&qpot;.  

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