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Kindness and Reason

When we ask someone to be reasonable, what we're really asking is for them to see things our way. To put on our shoes and walk around a little. Certainly once they've seen our point of view they'll rethink their position on the matter in question.

But reason is not the study of truth, it's the application of logic, establishment and verification of facts, and justification of our actions and beliefs based on data (experiences, science, convincing arguments we encounter, etc). Reason compels us to use the best information we can find so that we might solidify our truths, or to show that our truths are incorrect, which in turn should lead us to new sets of beliefs.

This means that reason is a personal exploration; a venture out into the world to learn new things, have new experiences, meet new people, and reassess what we 'know' to be true at every step of the way. Evolving and upgrading our own perspective, so that if a person were to take a walk in our shoes at two different points, they would see from different perspectives each time. Reason is intentional, fact-based growth.

For many, though, reason is an excuse to pulverize opposition. It's a means of establishing how one worldview is better than another, and manifests as a sort of rational shaming; I can better defend my beliefs, see how foolish yours look next to mine?

This is something you see among certain wings of the intelligentsia, in particular. While they speak out against walling oneself off from knowledge, and speak against things like faith-based beliefs, traditionalist thinking, and the like, they'll sometimes act as if being able to explain the way they lead their lives makes their way of living more noble and pure.

I would argue that this misses the point of reason, and is even counter to it.

While it's possible to come up with a 'best fit' system of living, that system will not necessarily be the same best fit for everyone. To claim moral or philosophical superiority, then, is to be incredibly limited in one's scope of the world. It assumes that we all have the same goals, have had the same experiences, and hold the same data in the same regard.

Similarly, rational thinking is often applied as an excuse to treat someone else as the lesser in some way: they believe silly things, and my beliefs are clearly better supported, therefore I needn't consider their humanity. Screw them and their rain gods.

The value of reason is that it's an ever-shifting, fluid thing. The more you expose yourself to different ideas, the more variables you have to throw into the equation. By shutting oneself off from any possibility and any group of people and set of beliefs, we're not being rational. We're being prejudiced. And we're using the language of rationality and reason to justify that prejudice.

Reason is a means of seeing the world more clearly, and enriching our experience for the duration of our lives. Kindness is a means of seeing the world in a humanistic way, in which we needn't step over others to get what we want, and we needn't belittle the calculations other people have made to determine what they believe, just because those calculations are using different variables than our own, or different math completely.

To me, what's most conducive to a happy, fulfilling, growth-oriented life is to apply reason wherever possible, figuring out why we do things, adjusting to taste on the fly, and always moving toward some more perfect version of ourselves, while allowing others to do the same.

To be internally satisfied with your own beliefs and not feel the need to force them on anyone else shows immense confidence in how you live and how you arrived at your answers. To do otherwise implies the opposite: it says we need the rest of the world to fall into lockstep, lest we feel our fragile worldview is being challenged, which is scrutiny it can't survive.

To try and force our view of the world on someone else — however we reached that view, whether through ancient writings or the application of reason — is counter to healthy relationships and a healthy society.

If we were successful in converting everyone to our point of view, we'd end up with a world full of cookie-cutter people, each blip seeing the world in the same way, leaving our species with far fewer perspectives and solutions to draw upon when solving the problems that impact us all. A fragile, homogenous blob. Far better, I think, to allow people to be at different steps of their own philosophical journey; even with the conflict such variances can sometimes instigate (though, again, these conflicts wouldn't happen if we'd all stop trying to force our point of view on others).

Kindness and reason are not mutually exclusive. I, for one, think it makes perfect, rational sense to do things that make me and other people happy, and I don't feel that diminishes the seriousness with which I approach my philosophical development. I'm not going to tell you how to think on the matter, but it's a point of data worth considering and adding to your equation.

Stuff You Might Like

I've been spending a good deal of time lounging in front of my fire, trying to balance all the writing I've been doing with a decent amount of cultural consumption.

I find when I lack the latter, I not only have no idea what people are talking about half the time, cultural references being so vital to communication, but I also wall myself up with the same stimuli day in and day out. I like taking in new music, movies, TV shows, books, and games, when I can. Even the bad ones push and influence my work, and how I perceive the world.

Below are some things I've liked of late.

The Man in the High Castle

Philip K. Dick wrote all kinds of modern masterpieces (see A Scanner Darkly, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and Total Recall). His books are part of popular culture, partially through their myriad adaptations into film (most of which were nowhere near as good as the books), and partially because he's great at tapping into something crazy-sounding and making it feel real.

Such is the case with The Man in the High Castle (which was recently turned into a TV series by Amazon), a story set in a world where the Allies lost WWII, and the US has been split in two, the East controlled by the Nazis (who have used their victory to systematically kill everyone in Africa, while at the same time landing the first people on Mars) and the West controlled by Japan (who have changed the culture dramatically, in ways both good and bad). The story takes place about 20 years after the end of the war, wherein the Nazi leadership (not Hitler...he was put in an asylum long ago) is dying, and a power-struggle is forming both within their ranks, but also between the Nazis and the Japanese.

I am a huge fan of alternative history fiction, and this is a great place to start if you haven't read any before. Also consider Guns of the South and In The Balance by Harry Turtledove (who is considered by most to be the master of alternative history fiction). These books tell stories about the South winning the American Civil War (through means you might not expect) and the Axis and Allied powers of WWII forced to unify against an alien invasion, respectively.

American Giant

My favorite hoodie ever, and I'm not the only one who feels this way. These things are built well, built to last forever, and built using the same vertical-integration business model as Everlane (which means there's less waste, and you're not paying for their marketing budget in the price of your clothing; it's all based on word-of-mouth).

These things are glorious, and if you're in the market for a hoodie, I recommend splurging and trying one out (they have a very liberal return policy, in case you get the wrong size or just don't dig it).

My one complaint is that I don't like wearing logos and the hoodies have a little logo sewn on along the bottom. The hoodie is well-made and beautiful, though, and the logo unobtrusive, so I make an exception for it.

Amazon Fire Phone

This is a terrible phone. Not something I would recommend as your main device.

That being said, I found myself snagging one when my phone died on me while I was on a road trip and it was the only unlocked smartphone I could find that would ship to me before I headed off to my next stop. I'm glad this was the case, because I wouldn't have given it the time of day, had I not been desperate.

I say this phone is terrible because Amazon borked the software. This is not Android (which is an OS that's really come of age with the last couple of updates), it's a sad offshoot of Android that takes away all the good stuff and replaces it with tragic, often-ugly Amazon knockoffs.

The reason I recommend it, though, is that it's available at a fire-sale price (see what I did there?), comes with a year of free Amazon Prime (as someone who is a Prime subscriber, it added the year onto my account when I bought the phone), and as a slab of hardware, is great for other things.

What I've been using it for is a backup camera and primary music device. I used to carry an iPod Touch around in my bag so that I didn't drain my phone battery while entertaining myself with music and games and whatever else while traveling. The Fire Phone makes for a wonderful Walkman, has a solid camera, and because it's unlocked, I'm not tethered to any kind of phone plan. That means I never have to put a SIM card in it and can use it as a small tablet without draining my primary, carry-in-my-pocket phone.

And if you already pay for Prime, it only costs you $100 ($199 total, but Prime is $99/year, and you get a year free when you buy the phone). As an off-brand iPod Touch, this piece of hardware is very much worth that investment.

I hope they do better with the next model and make something that's a solid competitor. In the meantime, this is a steal if you're looking for a solid non-main-device.

(If you do buy it, I recommend side-loading the Google Play store, so you aren't stuck with just Amazon's app offerings).


I've been focused on a trio of things since returning to Missoula.

The first is calm and stability. This is not something I'm able to make a priority very often, but because I'll be here until May, I wanted to slow down, take stock, make sure I'm running on the right tracks, and ensure that the foundation upon which I build everything I do is solid. That's meant eating well, working out more regularly, taking long, thoughtful walks, and setting aside a whole lot of me-time. It's been glorious, and I feel wonderful as a result.

The second is catching up. While taking the aforementioned me-time, I've also been backtracking and making sure I've closed all of my open loops, including books I've been writing, projects I've been working on, and the like. I'll be finishing up the first draft of one of these books before the week is through, and the next shortly after that. There are a few other projects I've been needing to bring to fruition, as well, so hopefully I'll have some announcements to make about those in the coming weeks. I can't wait to get the current round of projects out the door, because I think they're great, but also because I've got some doozies I want to start working on!

Finally, I've been looking at next steps, and in a lot of different meanings of the word. I love what I do for a living, and this lifestyle has made available plenty of opportunities, many of which I haven't been taking advantage of. I'm looking into some of these opportunities — giving more talks, for example — and am going to keep stock of how they impact my overall level of happiness and fulfillment. I'm thinking they'll probably be net-positives for what I'm doing and want to achieve, but there'll likely be a good deal of dancing back and forth, as I don't want to push too far in one direction, only to find myself unhappy and not producing as much value as I'd like. We'll see how it goes.

In May I'll be popping around Western North America for the WordTasting Tour, and you should definitely come out and join us if you're in one of the 42 cities we're visiting; it'll be a hoot.

On April 25 I'll be giving a talk at a simplicity conference in Boulder, and I'll provide more details on that as they become available.

There are also a few other things going on that I can't talk about just yet, but will hopefully have reason to, soon.


It's nearly the end of February — where has the year gone?

I hope you're having a blast, whatever you've been up to. Speaking of which, if you've yet to do so, shoot me an email and say hello! It'd be fun to hear a bit about what you're doing with your 2015.

If you've read any of my books, I'd truly appreciate a review on Amazon — your words and stars are more valuable than you might think, and it only takes a moment.

If you're on one of those newfangled social networks, you can connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr.

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