Things I learnt in 2016

Things I learnt in 2016

2016 was a bit of a crazy year. I know I’m late to that party, but I thought I’d make a list of things I learnt in 2016. This list is of course more related to life in general than it is to the many courses I took, so it doesn’t have things like “the role of the amygdala in learning, as it is currently understood”.

  • It can get worse
    • A lot worse
      • No, like, a LOT worse.
  • When things look genuinely awful, people will take action.
    • It may be too late when they do.
      • People don’t think it’s that bad until they can put a face or a name on it. A villain creates a goal in a way that nebulous societal forces do not.
  • Epistemological claims are more important than ethical claims because without them being agreed upon you cannot take any cooperative action.
    • Corollary to that: The fourth estate is a bigger deal than people think and should seek to regain its dignity.
  • People do care, just not enough.
    • They will care more if you make it personal.
  • Nazis keep coming back for a reason.
    • Just because you don’t know the reason it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
  • Terrorists are people too. Thinking of them as just evil removes several weapons from your arsenal. Fight with everything.
    • Just because terrorists are not JUST evil it doesn’t mean they are not STILL EVIL. It means they are evil AND ALSO OTHER THINGS. Like lonely and scared and pious and angry and sad. Understanding nuance is not a reason to ignore the actual consequences of the situation.
  • It is pleasant to dehumanize. It makes life easier, because when you dehumanize others, you justify their suffering. It’s fine if person X suffers because he’s a fucking member of the Ys, right? No. People don’t like to suffer. Whether they are terrorists or priests, schoolteachers or students, politicians or prosecutors or presidents or prostitutes. People who suffer have a reason to act. Delegitimizing their suffering, absurd as it may personally seem to you, will not have positive consequences.
  • Your friends are imperfect people with their own failings and their own cognitive gaps. Don’t forget that.
    • That means sometimes they can be a piece of shit. Just remember so can you.
  • Sometimes you can learn everything about the thing and still have no answer.
    • This is not because the answer is not there. It may be because the answer implies things you aren’t ready to accept.
  • Power’s first priority is self-perpetuation. Not whatever else it said it would do. Those things can still matter, of course, but they are not the first priority. They can and will be sacrificed in order to ensure self-perpetuation.
  • Sometimes the person you have a crush on for two years will suddenly start a committed relationship with one of your friends within a week of them meeting. You just kinda have to deal there.
    • Romantic relationships are helpful, but so are other relationships.
      • Focusing on that which you do not have while doing nothing about it is never helpful.
  • You can boost your GPA a lot with no extra effort if you’re not having a mental breakdown over the course of the semester.
  • Respecting people you don’t understand is easier when you realize they also don’t understand you and to them their point of view is perfectly fine.
    • It is still exhausting to go through hours-long conversations where you realize that there is nothing you can do because this is a reasonable person, they just have fundamentally different axioms that you can’t change.
  • Health is trickier than you think.
    • Not because of theory, but because of practice. A lot of the theory just boils down to “eat more vegetables instead of junk and move more”.
      • If you want to be healthy, you have to make being-healthy easy for you.
  • Just because you suck at first it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try… but it does mean you shouldn’t try in public a lot unless you’re mentally prepared for a resounding public failure.
  • Totally unrelated to this: Busking is hard.
    • Yeah, I thought “of course it’s hard, it is very obviously hard” too, it’s harder than obviously hard, okay?
  • Your family loves you. They also don’t fully understand you. You can use this, but you must be aware of it to do so.
  • Oppression is weird.
    • Going from being the oppressor to being the oppressed will not actually bring people enlightenment, even though it feels like it should.
      • It may, however, bring people the illusion of enlightenment.
  • The world is hard to understand. If you think you get it, you don’t have enough parts. That’s okay. They’re somewhere. You just need to work harder.
  • This is not normal and we may have to learn how to die in the Anthropocene.
  • Other people have harder and easier lives than you. To someone else you may be a cautionary tale, or an inspiration.
  • The more necessary but not sufficient conditions for a thing, the less often that thing will happen (unless those conditions don’t vary a lot). This applies to everything. Everything. Yes, even to your movie tastes.
    • If the thing in question directly affects how you can live your life, the fewer necessary but not sufficient conditions for it, the better.
  • Mom and Dad will say super useful stuff sometimes. Listen.
    • Other times they don’t know shit, but listen anyway so that you can mount a good counter-argument.
  • People who want to help you exist. Let them help you and then thank them for being so cool.
  • Being an adult is not about having it figured out. It’s about understanding you don’t while trying to figure it out more. Also doing lots of boring chores while listening to podcasts on philosophy.
  • Egg is a very versatile food. Buy lots. Eat lots. Super filling, too.
  • Breakfast is kind of optional, but it’s better if you are not woozy by 3pm.
  • Sometimes people not-caring is perfectly understandable and just because you care it doesn’t mean they should or will.
  • There are no “solved problems”. 2+2 is a mystery to a 6 month old, and a demagogue is a mystery to a country with little experience with them. Libertarianism’s flaws are a mystery to people who don’t understand second and third order effects, and communism’s flaws are a mystery to those who have never had to lose something precious because of the popular will and need. Just because you know the answer, it doesn’t mean they do, and it doesn’t mean they should.
    • Getting angry at people for not understanding things like you do is essentially getting angry at people for not having had your privileges. Yes, they too have access to the internet and to information on the subject, but your own curiosity is a privilege too.
      • Being privileged is good. Enjoy it.
  • Hypocrisy is just a thing that happens, you need to be cool with it cropping up, even if you want to stamp it out.
  • Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy freedom.
  • You can’t feed a starving child with good intentions and awareness, but you can’t get anybody to donate money to their cause without them.
  • Actions are more important than words.
    • But speaking is an action.
  • People will tell you that you can do things you can’t, and that you can’t do things you can. Stop taking their word as gospel and just do what you can and try what you want.
  • You have time. Spend it before it runs out.
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Things I learnt in 2016

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