Self-Organizing Stupidity?

I wonder if many years from now, when the history of the 21st century will be told, they’ll say it was the era in which technology first enabled human ignorance to self-organize on a global scale.

There have been, of course, many institutions that relied on stupidity and ignorance to flourish. Many religions, for instance, may have capitalized on human stupidity, ignorance, and prejudice to flourish. But the organizers themselves tended to be very smart, and religion always needed the support of smart people to stay in power – to keep the institution running. I think the internet has created an infrastructure that allows ignorant people to self-organize without any smart supervision.
Note how all around the world, fringe groups of highly uneducated and ignorant people – people who are largely immune to reason, have gained enormous power on the internet: White supremacists and Neo-nazis, racist Pro-Brexiters, the anti-immigration crowd, the extreme right in Israel who label anyone who wants peace with the Palestinians or dreams about the end of occupation a traitor, but also groups on the left like Occupy Wall Street and Antifa. There are a few interesting commonalities around these groups:
  1. They seem to be grassroots, often starting through a viral post, or an emotional reaction to an event. 
  2. They feature a very strong appeal to emotion, but have an almost total lack of educated or intellectual support.
  3. They tend to be purely destructive – there is often no attempt to create anything new, no clear agenda, no clear and considered plan.
  4. As soon as there is an attempt to form a cohesive agenda, by someone who is a bit more educated or intelligent – the fizzle out.


I’m not necessarily married to the term “stupidity” here – but I do think there is clearly a new phenomenon at play here, that of self-organizing *without* an actual organization, which necessitates thinking, planning, or capable educated people.

A poem I wrote on the bus

(Inspired by the Dao de Jing)

The worst of all is never to exist.
A close second is to exist but never to emerge.
Third is to emerge but never to cohere.
Fourth, to cohere but never to harmonize.
Fifth, to harmonize but never to plant the seed.
Sixth, to plant the seed but never to let go.
To exist,
And to emerge,
And to cohere,
And to harmonize,
And to plant the seed,
And to let go,
That is the highest.

***

Intrepid Radio Interview (18 minutes)

This short and sweet interview on the Intrepid Radio podcast dives into the idea behind the Book of Hard Truths.

Join me for a conversation that will very likely change how you look at your life. Today, joined by author Eran Dror, author of The Book of Hard Truths.

These “hard truths” are widely known and explored in religion & spirituality books, self-help books, psychology books, philosophy books, TED talks, etc. As Dror explains, he simply collected them, wrote them out as clearly as he could, and packaged them together in a new and compelling way. “I tried to create an emotional experience with the illustrations and the text, which will linger, “Dror writes. “My hope was that the book will provide a spark, which will get you thinking on your own about the truths you’ve been avoiding in your life.”

Listen Below:

Knowledge for Men Interview (52 minutes)

My longest interview yet, this interview on the Knowledge for Men Podcast is an exploration of The Book of Hard Truths.

Israeli born journalist, author and designer, Eran Dror has worked at various startups in NYC for nearly 10 years. Eran is the author of “The Book of Hard Truths” a book that brings into the light several hard, uncomfortable and unavoidable facts about life that we must all learn to accept.
Eran has recently taken an interest in Buddhist psychology and the ways we can apply it to our own lives to live with more presence.

Listen Below:

Enterprise Radio Interview (9m)

My short interview with Enterprise Radio is out. Check it out below.

Listen to host Eric Dye & guest Eran Dror discuss the following:
– What are the hard truths?
– Why do hard truths matter and for whom are they most applicable?
– What is the common reaction people have to the hard truths?
– What specific truths are hard for entrepreneurs to recognize?
– What can anyone going into a new business or launching a product do to help them accept some of the hard truths that will help them get on the path to success?

Here’s the interview on Soundcloud:

Avoiding Hard Truths = Professional Agida?

Alexandra Levit of Intuit wrote this nice summary of some of the truths in The Book of Hard Truths that is getting tweeted around a bit.

Many tough life lessons are first explained to us in childhood but seem to go in one ear and out the other. Our failure to master these often results in professional agida.

As human beings, we tend to hold on to irrational ideas and fight against the inevitable. Based on Eran Dror’s new book, here are 10 difficult truths we all must recognize and then take steps to get over. Warning: some of this might be hard to hear and even harder to digest.

Check it out!

Why I Wrote Hard Truths

HardcoverBig

Ever since I launched The Book of Hard Truths on April 23rd, I’ve had lots of people ask me why I wrote it. I usually mumble a few words about the importance of facing up to difficult truths, I mention Brené Brown’s excellent talk about The Power of Vulnerability, which shows why not shying away from unpleasant truths is so important. I also mention Alain de Botton’s excellent book and TED talk, in which he claims that we have “secularized badly”, and that we have abandoned the great redeeming power of visual art to dry, academic institutions.

But people don’t seem satisfied with mere intellectual reasons, and I can understand why. So now, a month later and with almost 300 copies in people’s hands (some 200 as free PDF downloads), it’s time to confess:

I wrote this book for myself.

I wrote it because I felt like I wasted too much of my life running away from these truths. And that my life has been a very gradual, very uncomfortable process of discovering them and (in good cases) coming to terms with them. I don’t know about others, but I felt that I received very little help from society in dealing with these questions. Nobody had that tough chat with me early on, to explain that I will always share the basic limitations and vulnerabilities that all human beings have. That I will never be invulnerable, all-knowing, immortal, or infallible. I will never be perfect. I will never “arrive”.

Despite being an Atheist, when I first read the Serenity prayer years ago, it had a powerful effect on me. It goes something like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

It made me wonder: Why don’t they teach you these things in school? Surely there are things we tend to think we can change, but cannot. If someone else has already figured them out, why won’t they tell me?!

Well, it turns out they have. There are any number of books about these subjects, and if we consider that most religions are a response to just this kind of question, then it’s safe to say people have been trying to address hard truths for millenia.

So why wasn’t I getting this message?

Because I was brought up in secular culture, and because Alain de Botton is right: We have “secularized badly.”

Fan pic of Alain de Botton. March 2012. Taken right after he signed my copy of Religion for Atheists after a NYC talk.

 

We have psychologists to deal with mental illness, and professors to impart theoretical knowledge, and philosophers to research and debate truth, and artists to express their personal truths and anxieties. What we don’t have is a system or a field to address the universal needs of the psyche. A profession devoted to helping us grow up, evolve as human beings, understand our emotions, find balance in our lives, face up to the challenges of life, be happy and peaceful in the face of obstacles, connect better with our fellow men. In these incredibly important areas of life we are left more or less alone to find our way. We go out searching for answers in books, films, talks, art museums, and we do find some. But secular society does not help us much when it comes to organizing, curating, or repeating these lessons. And for the most part neither do our parents, our teachers, or our therapists.

This is why, when I read a friend’s impassioned essay about how accepting death has changed him, it hit me. I had a growing list of these hard truths in my own journals, and I knew that accepting them was vitally important to achieving peace and happiness. And I had Alain de Botton’s admonition about how we waste the power of visual art ringing in my ears. (I had just been to one of his talks in NYC and got his book.) And so, in a flash, the idea came to me:

I will create a book of visual art that carried home the painful lessons of life that were holding myself and perhaps others back. It would be a trap for the mind – my own mind, but also other people’s – to lure us into confronting these hard truths and coming in contact with them periodically. A book of artworks one could turn to for perspective and consolation.

I pitched this idea to John Cox, the most talented illustrator I knew, and he liked it. But it wasn’t until I saw his take on the first truth, the truth of death, that I was convinced I had to write this book. A feeling of peace and acceptance permeates these illustrations and that was clear from the very start.

You’re going to die. John’s illustration of hard truth #1.

 

A couple of years later, the book is now out and I couldn’t be prouder. John’s art is remarkable in its empathy and depth. And people seem to generally respond to the book in the way I hoped. They like browsing through it, but even more than that they seem to like the idea of having it around.

I still find the book helpful in my own daily life. I still pick it up and browse through the illustrations to check myself and remind myself of the larger picture. And I rejoice at having the original illustrations to hang on my walls.

And this is the truly personal truth: It’s for my own use, before anyone else’s, that I wrote The Book of Hard Truths.

How to Tell News from Propaganda

(I first wrote this post as a Quora answer a couple of days ago. I’m reposting here for your benefit.)

I’ve never lived in a country without freedom of speech, so I’m used to judging news outlets based on what I assume the owner’s editorial policy and agenda is, and it’s easy to compare different sources to get the full picture.

I have, however, studied the effects of censorship and state-control on speech during my history studies and later for my writing. I think these principles could help people identify when their news is significantly tainted with propaganda, whether state-controlled or otherwise:

    • Too Simple – Truth is always complex and subtle. Any story that is too simple is not complete and therefore suspected propaganda. If you are not given facts that go against the primary narrative, then what you are reading is not reporting but an opinion piece disguised as reporting.

 

    • No Disclosure of Biases – Every person has biases. When the person does not admit and disclose his biases in reporting, and does not acknowledge the possibility that others might disagree with him, that is likely propaganda.

 

    • Single Interpretation – Facts have more than one interpretation. If you are only presented with one interpretation, someone wants you to draw particular conclusions. In which case, you may have to doubt the facts, too.

 

    • Consistent Glamorization or Attacks – Reporting that consistently sucks up or glamorizes people in power is propaganda. The same is true of reporting that attacks certain people consistently and no matter what they do.

 

    • Strong Emotional Tone – When there is a very strong emotional tone to the news, without an attempt at objective detachment, you know that there is at least grave risk of propaganda.

 

    • Drowned Voices – When one side never gets to finish a sentence, when it is clear that interviews have been heavily edited, when one side of a debate is demonized without having a chance to speak for itself, that is very likely propaganda.

 

    • Hypocricy & Contradictions – When obvious contradictions and hypocrisy are ignored: for instance one moment praising candidate X for doing something, the next condemning candidate Y for doing the same thing, this is propaganda.

 

Hope this helps!

Hard Truths Links

The Book of Hard Truths contains multiple links to recommended books and talks that will help you explore the truths further. If you have a version that doesn’t allow hyperlinks, please use the links below.

Talks

Books