Book Corner 2022.8

by Julia Galef

From one Julia to another…

Julia Galef is my new hero.

Galef defines ‘scout mindset’ as having clear thinking as your mission, to take a true map of the terrain. This is contrasted with ‘soldier’ mindset, which sees itself always in combat, and thus views the surroundings primarily in terms of what needs defending, etc. It’s not a perfect dichotomy, but you get the idea. Strive always to see the truth, even when unpleasant or bad for your side. A scout needs to report back with the real situation on the ground, even when the commanding officers might not like what they hear.

To be honest, the first four out of five sections may have had me leaving only a three or four star rating. Parts about overcoming bias seemed to be geared towards scientists and social scientists. Parts about about living without illusions seemed more for entrepreneurs. It all stated truths, but presented nothing earth-shattering.

The final section is where it really took off: Rethinking Identity. A chapter ensues about how beliefs become identities; and the next chapter presents my favorite takeaway: hold your identity lightly. My ex-therapist would have loved this. He always discouraged rigid thinking along the lines of “I am [this type of] person.” One should, instead of thinking, “I am a feminist,” think instead “I am someone who often sympathizes with feminist causes.” Not, “I am a vegan,” but “I am one who currently adheres most of the time to a vegan diet.” Or whatever. You find that this subtle shift has you becoming less defensive, more liable to seek truth in others’ arguments rather than digging in to a perceived threat. And if you must have an identity – try on ‘scout’ as an identity. “I am a scout.” A scout wouldn’t dismiss an argument out of hand without first giving it a fair hearing.

Some fun parts that I bookmarked:

“The Outsider Test.” When faced with a tough decision, try to avoid the sunk-cost fallacy by imagining someone else has just stepped into your shoes. What would she likely think of the situation? Try imagining that YOU have teleported from the outside into your own life, and wonder, what would you tell you to do? What I liked was her “It’s as if you’re hanging a sign around your neck: ‘Under New Management.'” I love the image. Also, this is why I love reading advice columns. It’s so easy to see the solution to other people’s problems. I try to imagine being an advice columnist answering myself; would the answer be crystal clear?

On holding your identity lightly: I have a friend who shall remain nameless who gets angry whenever I try to be a moderating influence, a la “let’s just TRY to consider where the ‘other side’ is coming from on this…” He’ll call it “coddling.” Coddling racists, coddling evil people, whatever. Galef: “It’s not a favor you do for other people, for the sake of being nice or civil. Holding your identity lightly is a favor to yourself – a way to keep your mind flexible, unconstrained by identity, and free to follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

Finally, choosing your role models. I’ll tell you my role model easily: Tyler Cowen. Tyler is interested in everything, and disinterested about everything (in the original correct sense of the word). Tyler doesn’t take sides. Tyler is on the side of whatever improves humanity’s health and happiness, and he is, as far as I have been able to tell after many years of him being my homepage, genuinely interested in seeking out what that side actually is. He will praise or censure whoever deserves it, and does not hew to any party line. If the data seems to show that universal Pre-K, for example, is beneficial for kids in the medium to long-term, he’s for it; and if it starts to show actually the opposite is true, then he’s against it. He doesn’t come in with a pre-set belief. He really, truly wants to know the truth. And he takes interest in everything. When something just plain doesn’t interest him, he takes interest in finding out why. He follows sports and popular and unpopular arts and culture. When he doesn’t like something aesthetically, he asks himself why, and why other people might like it; what is the art trying to convey, on its own terms? He travels extensively, and he travels for the purpose of learning. You get the idea. I love Tyler.

And I love Julia! I’m going to listen to more of her podcasts.

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