Posts tagged ‘book’

November 29, 2008

dealing with the Curse of Knowledge

I have to stop myself from quoting Ben Parker’s famous line about power and responsibility, but I can’t stop thinking about the frightening change, and its consenquences, happening in my head after reading a certain book or two.

There is nothing special about my case. The same could happen to you. The same will happen to you, after you read a certain book or two.

In my case, it happened with Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick. Gladwell examines why social change can happen so suddenly (crime in New York in the 90s dropping suddenly, why teens smoke more and more, how an unknown book became a huge hit etc.), and the Heath brothers explore what makes an idea stick in our heads (whether it’s from advertising, education, humanitarian work etc.) and how we can shape an idea that will be as sticky as possible.

After reading these two books, I’ve had one of those moments where you’ve just been given loads of amazing data, connected in an extremely meaningful way, along with several insights which challenge you, no, force you  to both change your oppinions and form new ones about important things and issues you didn’t even know existed or didn’t deem important. You basically can’t stop yourself, once you read these two books in a two day period, so that it’s all bundled up really tightly. You can feel all that knowledge being integrated into the way you perceive the world, make decisions and act them out. And, there’s that ever growing thirst for more. Because now you’re even more keenly aware of how much you really don’t know how this world and you in it works.

The reason I mentioned Uncle Ben there in the beginning is because once you’ve read those books, you gain a big insight into how easily we humans can be influenced. Seemingly irrelevant things can significantly change our behavior, things that we would never in a million years accept could influence us so much; and once you know what some of those things are, you also realize that you have a new responsibility – you know how to use those things, and you know what effect they have on people. You also know that often you’re safe from consequences because they’ll rationalize it all away, since we all believe that we’re completely in charge of our choices and our destiny (even though so many people are into astrology… you know, just in case).

So, once you know all this, you have to really (re)define your ethical values and boundries, especially when you want to do something which will influence a lot of other people, and especially when you know that they’ll think that it was their idea to do what you said all along. Before, you sort of dimly accepted that it was fair, because you thought everyone more or less knows the rules of the game. Now, you know you’ve learned some new rules which a lot of people don’t know about. So what becomes fair now?

In addition to all of this, as I said I’m now keenly (not to say desperately) interested in finding out what other things are influencing my behavior. I think that once you know them, you can adjust your strategy in dealing with them, and reclaim a bit more ground in your internal struggle for control over your actions and your life. As Steven Pressfield quotes Dalai Lama in his excellent War of Art (which I’ll also write about) “The enemy is a very good teacher”.

In closing, a big thank you to Jonathan Davis from Combat Consulting and Ryan Holiday for recomending these books on their blogs.

September 23, 2008

Log 9

Read Chie Nakane’s Japanese Society a couple of days ago and Erich Fromm’s Psychoanalysis and Religion today.
Japanese Society is an excellent read, and what left the strongest impression is the utter rationality with which the Japanese society and the Japanese individual are analyzed. After all the stereotypes of “The Japanese are so mystical and incomprehensible”, it’s a strange feeling to read a book which makes you truly, rationally understand some of the fundamental attributes of Japanese society. Also has several examples from India and the Western world, which makes for some great comparisons of different social dynamics.

Fromm’s Psychoanalysis and Religion is a great read. Basically, He explores the essence of an individual’s search for meaning and happiness and the place of psychoanalysis and religion in this search. The hard (but so true) conclusion is that there’s no easy path or 12-step (or in fact a 1200-step ) program to getting there, but rather what is required is that we, through careful observation of our thoughts and actions, finally realize how misguided the “official” story of how a life should be lived is (in the modern, predominantly capitalist societies, or what he calls “the ‘marketing orientation’ of modern man”); from there, by accepting this method of constant, honest introspection, we should devote ourselves “to the realization of the highest principles of life, those of love and reason, to the aim of becoming what [man] potentially is, a being made in the likeness of God”.

Yes, I know it’s very difficult to paraphrase over a 100 pages of philosophical thought in 2 sentences and show why it shouldn’t be dismissed as hippie-talk (this stereotyping of almost any mention of searching for life’s meaning and brotherly love as some misguided bullshit for naive, misguided flower-children is a whole another story). But what’s in this book is, for the most part, very true or very near the truth, and while not offering an easy solution (since there isn’t one), it gives some good pointers to what’s not good with today’s world – and after reading it I feel as if I have a deeper understanding of the workings of today’s capitalist society and the individual trapped in it.

I’ll stop here, because this topic requires a whole new post (or three). Just a last random observation: I’m happy to say that my reading concentration is visibly improving – even though I should now probably be, for various reasons, very emotionally stressed, not only am I mostly successfully overcoming the stress (again, for various reasons), but I’m amazed to notice that my attention while reading was almost constantly on a very high level. There were several moments when I had to go back and read a sentence 10 times, like trying to start an old car, until the words started registering in my head, but my motivation never wavered and I always regained my attention. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.