March 17, 2022
 min read

Mind Macros 08: Spiral of silence, perfectionism, and Ikigai

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Hello, friend.

Welcome to another issue of Mind Macros - I hope you find something of value.

Practical Advice

1. The principle of inversion

"The way complex adaptive systems work, and the way mental constructs work, problems frequently become easier to solve through 'inversion.' If you turn problems around into reverse, you often think better.

​"For instance, if you want to help India, the question you should consider asking is not: 'How can I help India?' Instead, you should ask: 'How can I hurt India?’ You find what will do the worst damage, and then try to avoid it. Perhaps the two approaches seem logically the same thing. But those who have mastered algebra know that inversion will often and easily solve problems that otherwise resist solution. And in life, just as in algebra, inversion will help you solve problems that you can't otherwise handle." — From Poor Charlie's Almanack by Peter D. Kaufman

Don't ask, how can I improve my life, but how can I worsen my life? Then do the opposite. It's often much easier to find the things we shouldn't do than the things we should. That's why the inversion principle is so effective.

When building an argument, try considering the possibility that you might be wrong and asking, 'how could the opposite be true?' If you had to build a case against your argument, how would you begin disproving it?

"I never allow myself to hold an opinion on anything that I don't know the other side's argument better than they do." — Charlie Munger

Munger's advice runs parallel with a Nassim Nicholas Taleb line in Black Swan I think about often, "Be confident about what is wrong, not about what you believe is right."

2. Find your Ikigai

"This Japanese concept, [Ikigai] translates roughly as 'the happiness of always being busy.' It also seems to be one way of explaining the extraordinary longevity of the Japanese, especially on the island of Okinawa, where there are 24.55 people over the age of 100 for every 100,000 inhabitants—far more than the global average.

​“According to scientists who have studied the five Blue Zones, the keys to longevity are diet, exercise, finding a purpose in life (an ikigai), and forming strong social ties—that is, having a broad circle of friends and good family relations." — From Ikigai by Hector Garcia Puigcerver

Finding our Ikigai is to find the overlapping points between four quadrants of life.

  1. What we love
  2. What the world needs
  3. What we can be paid for
  4. What we are good at

In the center is our Ikigai.

Food for Thought

1. Spiral of silence

"The German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann coined the term 'spiral of silence' in 1974 to refer to a phenomenon that we see often today: people’s willingness to speak freely depends upon their unconscious perceptions of how popular their opinions are. People who believe their opinions are not shared by anyone else are more likely to remain quiet; their silence itself increases the impression that no one else thinks as they do; this increases their feelings of isolation and artificially inflates the confidence of those with the majority opinion." — From Wanting by Luke Burgis

Information decentralization was the dream of the digital age. However, something unexpected happened instead.

Rather than providing the chance to access evidence on both sides of an argument, the internet became a closed echo chamber. Most people are now only consuming information that aligns with their preexisting views. This trend results in a society so polarized that it's unwilling to listen to the other side's points before dismissing them as crazy. We intentionally exclude those who do not share our views from our digital (and physical) environment.

The spiral of silence is a natural result of residing in an echo chamber. Members who present evidence against the doctrine are removed and labeled enemies of the group. Avoiding becoming a social outcast is in our DNA. In our hunter-gatherer days, tribe banishment meant certain death. Clinging to social ties has become more important than truth, logic, and rationality because of this bias.

Think you're immune?

Have you ever found it easier to avoid conflict with someone by not saying what you really think?

While it might not matter if Mark never finds out that you disagree with his views on immigration, imagine the same behavior scaled up.

Perhaps a table of presidential advisors are merely saving face, not wanting to lose their jobs and choosing not to share critical information that would anger the President. The implications could be catastrophic.

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong explains in his book, Think Again, how fragmented the United States has become:

"In 1994, only 16% of Democrats and 17% of Republicans held a very unfavorable view of the other party. By 2016, majorities in both parties expressed very unfavorable views of the other party: 58% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats. Even more alarmingly, 45% of Republicans in 2016 saw policies of the Democratic Party as 'so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being,’ and 41% of Democrats in 2016 felt the same about Republican Party policies.​

"In 2010, 49% of Republicans and 33% of Democrats in the United States reported that they would be displeased if their child married outside of their political party, whereas less than 5% of both parties had said this in 1960. Polarized politics has infected personal relations.

"In 2014, 50% of consistently conservative Republicans and 35% of consistently liberal Democrats agreed with the statement, 'It is important to me to live in a place where most people share my political views.'

"Similarly, 63% of consistently conservative Republicans and 49% of consistently liberal Democrats agreed that 'Most of my close friends share my political views.'"

2. Use perfection as a signpost, not a destination

"It is reasonable to have perfection in our eye that we may always advance toward it, though we know it can never be reached." — Samuel Johnson

"For me, perfection is not a single moment in time when everything aligns and we are faultless, nor is it a finished state accomplished by rote. Instead I choose Johnson’s description – we keep it in our eye as we head towards it, knowing we will never quite catch up, but basking in that sun all the while." — From Word Perfect by Susie Dent

Perspective determines perfection.

We will never feel as though our work is perfect. Flaws, inadequacies, and improvements are all that we will see. This is the curse of creation.

We are always our harshest critics. Yet, another person may come along and, not thinking of a way it can be improved, deem our work perfect.

Take a look at Amazon reviews to see this in action. One five-star “perfect” is another's “less than one star if I could, do not buy.”

Perhaps perfection is less about the thing itself and more about where you’re standing.

Quotes to Ponder

1. Robert Shafer on self-education:

"The truth is that the only education is self-education. Teachers can impart information and make suggestions, but they are like sign-posts—they can only by example and precept point out the way. A sign-post is of no earthly use unless the person who consults it wants to go somewhere."

2. James Hollis on how we make decisions based on outdated ideas:

"Most of us live our lives backing into the future, making the choice of each new moment from the data and agenda of the old."

​Thank you for reading,

Matthew Vere

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