25 Comments

Just want to say something about Rob out of appreciation.

When a psychologist does a deep dive into philosophy and the history of philosophy and science I think it is a true reveal of the depth of the person and his professionalism as well as contribution to the field.

Rob doing this strikes me that way about him.

Philosophy predates psychology as a very similar field in terms of their goals of improving humanity, and rather than going for bloggy clickbait Rob goes into this...

I appreciate the meaningful gesture that opposes the superficial science writing we are usually exposed to.

Seriously, thank you Rob.

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Mar 12Liked by Rob Henderson

Regarding the attribution to “nature,” this would not have been an unusual way for Christians to speak at that time in history, especially after Thomas Aquinas (1200’s), who remains highly influential to the present. Natural law, and even a “natural theology” was derivative, rather than positive law, proceeding from a close observation of the way God made the world. Christians would place many of the short aphorisms of the book of Proverbs in thIs category. The “telos,” or the end (purpose) of the things observed suggests an ethical or practical guideline. Some historians even tie the beginnings of modern science to this close observation of the natural world. Evolutionary biology, and psychology, particularly where it aspires, or seems to aspire, to prescriptive suggestions about how to live or behave, would seem to be in this tradition. For my part, this connection is why I find certain aspects of your writing fascinating. You are curious enough to closely observe the natural world in ways that are highly and practically suggestive.

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"Most individuals consider themselves smarter than average, more ethical than average, better drivers than average, and so on. This is likely evolutionarily adaptive; life would be unbearable if we were fully aware of our inadequacies."

Where is the evidence that "most" people believe this?

Most of the people I've known tend to underestimate rather than overestimate themselves. Those who overestimate themselves tend to make fools of themselves, and it doesn't take much digging to discover that they're usually masking a sense of inadequacy.

Also, life is ONLY bearable when we are aware of our inadequacies. To live without this awareness is like trying to cross a busy street while blind.

Life is best and most fulfilling when we learn that our inadequacies are what make us human, and what makes us human makes us relatable - and lovable.

This reminds me of a line from an old Alice Walker poem: "You, having achieved perfection, have lost the need for love."

We can't love or be loved without our inadequacies - and we can't love other people without an awareness of our own inadequacies.

I think La Rochefoucauld was addressing his work to a specific class or kind of person, and the very sort of people who would shrug him off as merely being "envious" of them.

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"Of the “seven deadly sins,” envy is the one people are least likely to own up to."

I think this is true, but I also think narcissistic people assume any criticism of them is based on envy rather than their own bad behavior. Accusations of "envy" are used to delegitimize accurate observation. If one can dismiss any criticism as "envy" one is immune from any challenge to their own inflated self perception. It's tricky.

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#5 is especially relevant -- success is a terrible thing to happen to those who enjoy it.

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“We underestimate how often people’s ambitions are motivated by envy, resentment, and the desire to prove something to others, rather than any kind of objective and impartial desire for power or status.”

This seems the definition of the malcontent; the actor that believes he deserves more… with his assessment of “enough” is always relative to what he sees others attaining.

Wanting more is a natural and ubiquitous human trait that explains both human progress and societal destruction. Believing that more is deserved is where things go off the rails.

It also goes off the rails when the attainment of more is done by looting and not real productive achievement (because it depletes the pantry), or by reduction of top-end achievement so to make low-end achievement look better by comparison.

I would argue that our current culture and political war is driven by people having adopted an ideology backed by this behavior.

But it also goes off the rails when the attainment of more is unreasonably blocked or made scarce. This is the bit that frustrates me because it should be a common and bipartisan human interest to protect access to human achievement growth opportunity. We have allowed too much corporate consolidation. Too much outsourcing. Too much immigration. The once abundance of paths available for individuals to attain a good life have been reduced. Thus competition to achieve more is fraught with more envy, looting and class anger. Off the rails.

Lastly, there is an outer-focus and an inner-focus relative to wanting more. And I see it as teachable. Most successful athletic coaches understand that winning is a secondary outcome of performance, and that peak performance derives from practice that leverages inner-focus. These coaches also know that focus on winning only and the related negative fear of losing… it generally causes internal noise that results in poor individual decisions that contribute to more losing. In the end we all really only compete with ourselves for achievement.

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Great stuff Rob. Number 17 and your comments on it really got me thinking especially in light of this weeks events in the banking sector.

First off I think that there is a difference between “disdain for wealth” and “love of poverty”. Aristotle posited that the most moral people in a society are the middle classes. I think it actually relates to the comments you made on the effect of poverty on one’s mindset. Ironically this mindset can actually effect the upper classes as well. If one’s societal position is tied to having great wealth, that position is often quite tenuous and thus it creates anxiety about being struck from such a pedestal. In a further irony, that fear may be what motivated the accumulation of wealth in the first place.

As far as the Cato Institute article, I think many “wordsmith intellectuals” are not “anti-capitalist” but rather “anti-the Cato Institute’s vision of capitalism”. In hindsight, it should be noted that the article was written shortly before the dot-com bust. Also, page three of that very same newsletter features Alan Greenspan. Fast forward Greenspan’s errors played a key role the 2009-2010 mortgage collapse. In the past couple of days I have spoken to some committed and successful Capitalists about the Silicon Valley Bank crisis. They are all smart enough to realize that criticism of this system is important.

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I would love to turn several of these into posters and put them up in my workplace, especially the one on asking for & giving advice. I need to buy this book. :)

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"This may be a reason moralizers so loudly condemn others—for self-interested reputational management."

But is this the only reason? What would the world look like if no one loudly condemned anyone for any reason?

This can be used to shame people into silence by ignoring the substance of their condemnation and dismissing it as narcissistic grandstanding (which it may be, but they still could be making valuable points).

How do we know if someone is loudly speaking out merely to elevate themselves or to give a voice to those who can't speak for themselves?

Perhaps it's the substance of the message we need to focus on rather than speculating about the character of the messenger. That way we don't silent important objections and observations.

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What I noticed reading these is how someone immediately leaps to mind as the person the maxim takes aim at... but I never thought it was me. It's strange how easily we can see the faults in others and how very difficult it is for us to recognize our own failings.

I appreciate the thoughtful newsletters from Rob that remind me that I am a work in progress and the work will never cease.

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I just sent this to one of my colleagues (employee) who replaced a cunning employee, who I fired; apropos #29, the fired guy entangled himself in a such a web of deception as I have ever seen. My Lord, he was a bazaar, cunning, shrewd, calculating, too smart by half idiot. It became comical.

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Excellent review! So much so that I just bought the book to read and keep on my shelf. I enjoyed your examples. Thanks for introducing me to (another) great book.

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I think I passed the audition: I was simpatico with most of those aphorisms.

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