In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time—none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads—and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.
I am a biography nut myself. And I think when you’re trying to teach the great concepts that work, it helps to tie them into the lives and personalities of the people who developed them. I think you learn economics better if you make Adam Smith your friend. That sounds funny, making friends among the eminent dead, but if you go through life making friends with the eminent dead who had the right ideas, I think it will work better in life and work better in education. It’s way better than just being given the basic concepts.
— Charlie Munger, quoted in Poor Charlie’s Almanack, p. 138
Strategy and Technology
The concept of nation-states as we know today is fairly recent. According to James Dale and William Rees in their book The Sovereign Individual, thanks to the Information Age the nation-state may not survive for many more generations.
"To prepare yourself for the world that is coming you must understand why it will be different from what most experts tell you. That involves looking closely at the hidden causes of change."
The Sovereign Individual is a book about the revolution of power. The key to understanding megapolitical change, according to the authors, is understanding the factors that precipitate revolutions in the use of violence. Nation-states emerged in the Industrial Age as a way to control the exercise of power, replacing the classic non-national states and multi-ethnic empires. "During the Industrial Age prior to 1989, democracy emerged as the most military effective form of government precisely because democracy made it difficult or impossible to impose effective limits on the commandeering of resources by the state. (…) It is always costlier to draw resources from the few than from the many." Those resources are important because they enable nation-states to provide different kinds of protection for their citizens.
As time passed, the narrative around what makes a person belong to a nation-state became more involved. Notions as country’s nationals, affinity by language or territory, or having an alleged common origin, are artificial narratives that facilitate the cohesion of the nation-state, and may change if the way power is exercised changes. Consider, for example, that at the time of the French Revolution only half of French people spoke French, and during the Italian unification the number of people speaking Italian was even lower.
The advent of the Information Age changes the dynamics of costs and rewards for the individual and will undercut the nation-state by creating affinities that supersede geographic boundaries. "It is ahistorical and wrong to think that loyalties to the land of one’s fathers, the patria, necessarily entails loyalty to an institution resembling a nation-state." Citizenship as we know it will become less attractive as individuals can get the same services anywhere in the world.
For the first time, those who can educate and motivate themselves will be almost entirely free to invent their own work and realize the full benefits of their own productivity. (…) In an environment where the greatest source of wealth will be the ideas you have in your head rather than the physical capital alone, anyone who thinks clearly will potentially be rich. (…) Equally, in the future, one of the milestones by which you measure your financial success will be not just now many zeroes you can add to your net worth, but whether you can structure your affairs in a way that enables you to realize full individual autonomy and independence.
The information elite, the authors predict, will elect to domicile their income-earning activities in low-tax jurisdictions. Middle talent will be in vast supplies, originating in persons around the world that can rent their time for a fraction of the rates of leading industrial countries. Those who can’t lower their tax profile by relocating their tax-residence, won’t be able to compound their savings. Their living standards will decline, also because the nation-states won’t be able to pick the pockets of more productive individuals, no longer their citizens.
As Arthur C. Clarke wrote in Profiles of the Future, the two overriding reasons why attempts to anticipate the future usually fall flat are Failure of Nerve and Failure of Imagination. "Failure of Nerve seems to be the more common; it occurs when even given all the relevant facts the would-be prophet cannot see that they point to an inescapable conclusion. Some of these failures are so ludicrous as to be almost unbelievable."
There is no better time to acquire what Carl Newport considers the two core abilities for thriving in the new economy: the ability to quickly master hard things, and the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.
 According to Wikipedia, most theories see the nation state as a 19th-century European phenomenon.
 Except where noted, all quoted text in this article comes from The Sovereign Individual, by James Dale and William Rees.`
 Clarke, Arthur C., Profiles of the Future, p. 17`
Una de las reglas propuestas por Jordan Peterson en su libro 12 Reglas para vivir dice: Da por hecho que la persona a la que escuchas puede saber algo que tú no sabes (Regla 9).
Peterson comparte un modo sencillo para ayudarnos a escuchar a lo que otra persona nos está diciendo, propuesto originalmente por el psicoterapeuta norteamericano Carl Rogers: Cada persona puede decir lo que piensa solo después de repetir de forma minuciosa las ideas y sentimientos de la persona que acaba de hablar, con una formulación que esa persona apruebe.1 Algunas veces la otra persona aceptará nuestra versión. Otras nos hará una pequeña corrección. En algunas ocasiones, estaremos completamente equivocados.
Todos podemos beneficiarnos de mejorar nuestra capacidad de escuchar a los demás, especialmente si discrepamos con el argumento de la otra persona. Con alguna frecuencia nos podemos dar con la sorpresa de que en vez de escuchar al que nos habla, estamos distraidos elaborando el argumento con el que rebatiremos apenas la otra pesona termine de hablar. Como explica Rogers, “la gran mayoría de nosotros no sabe escuchar; nos vemos obligados a evaluar, porque escuchar es muy peligroso. En primer lugar hace falta valentía y no siempre la tenemos.” (Rogers, 1952)
Algunas ventajas de resumir la posición de la otra persona:
- Entenderemos mejor lo que la otra persona está diciendo, cosa que no siempre podemos dar por sentado.
“Parece sencillo, ¿no? Pero, si lo pruebas, descubrirás que es una de las cosas más difíciles que jamás hayas hecho. Si de verdad entiendes a una persona de esta forma, si estás dispuesto a entrar en su mundo privado y ver cómo se le presenta a él la vida, corres el riesgo de quedar transformado. Puede que acabes viendo las cosas de la misma forma, puede que te veas influido en tus actitudes o en tu personalidad. Este riesgo de transformación es una de las perspectivas más aterradoras que la mayor parte de nosotros puede encarar2.”
- El acto de sintetizar ayuda a la consolidación y utilidad de lo que recordaremos.
- Crea una barrera contra la construcción de argumentos tipo la falacia del hombre de paja3. Para la persona que habló acepte nuestro argumento, es probable que tengamos que argumentar mucho más clara y sucintamente de lo que ella misma lo hizo.
Después de resumir, es posible que encontremos valor en los argumentos de la otra persona y hayamos aprendido algo en el proceso. Si no estamos de acuerdo con los argumentos y seguimos pensando que están equivocados, entonces nos habrá servido para afilar nuestra posición contra ellos. En todo caso, estaremos en una mucho mejor posición con respecto a nuestras propias dudas.
“Si (…) escuchas sin prejuicios, la gente tenderá a contarte todo lo que piensa, con muy pocas mentiras. La gente te contará las cosas más sorprendentes, absurdas e interesantes que puedas imaginar. Tendrás muy pocas conversaciones aburridas. De hecho, así es como puedes saber si realmente estás escuchando de verdad o no. Si la conversación es aburrida, probablemente no lo estás haciendo4.”
This article is also available in English as The Rare Skill of Listening to Others
- Jordan Peterson, 12 Reglas para vivir, p. 312 ↩
- ibid. p. 313 ↩
- La falacia del hombre de paja es una forma de argumento por la que se refuta a través de una idea que no va en la línea de argumentación de la discusión, sin tocar debidamente el tema de fondo. cfr Falacia del Hombre de Paja en Wikipedia. ↩
- ibid. p. 315 ↩
One of the rules proposed by Jordan Peterson in his book 12 Rules for Life says: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t (Rule 9).
Peterson explains a simple rule proposed by American psychologist Carl Rogers to help us listen to what the other person is saying: Summarize what people have said to you, and ask them if you have understood properly. Sometimes they will accept your summary. Sometimes you’ll be offered a small correction. Other times you’ll be completely wrong. “Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately, and to that speaker’s satisfaction.1”
We can all benefit from learning how to listen better to what others are saying, specially if we disagree with the other person’s argument. Instead of listening, we may often find ourselves constructing the answer we will fire at the other person once she finishes explaining her point of view. As Rogers explains, “the great majority of us cannot listen; we find ourselves compelled to evaluate, because listening is too dangerous. The first requirement is courage, and we do not always have it.” (Rogers, 1952)
Some advantages to summarizing the other person’s position:
- You’ll understand what the other person is saying, which you cannot always take for granted.
“Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But if you try it you will discover it is one of the most difficult things you have ever tried to do. If you really understand a person in this way, if you are willing to enter his private world and see the way life appears to him, you run the risk of being changed yourself. You might see it his way, you might find yourself influenced in your attitudes or personality. This risk of being changed is one of the most frightening prospects most of us can face.”2
- The act of summary helps in consolidation and utility of memory.
It creates a barrier to the careless construction of straw-man3 arguments. For the speaking person to agree with your summary, you may have to argue even more clearly and succinctly than the speaker has managed.
After summarizing, you may find value in the other person’s arguments and learn something in the process, or hone your position against those arguments if you still believe they are wrong. You will also be much better at withstanding your own doubts.
“If you listen, instead, without premature judgement, people will generally tell you everything they are thinking–and with very little deceit. People will tell you the most amazing, absurd, interesting things. Very few of your conversations will be boring. (You can in fact tell whether or not you are actually listening in this manner. If the conversation is boring, you probably aren’t.)4”
- Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, p. 241. ↩
- Carl Rogers, quoted by Jordan Peterson in 12 Rules for Life, p. 242. ↩
- Oversimplifying, parodying, or distorting your opponent’s position. “A straw man argument is a misrepresentation of an opinion or viewpoint, designed to be as easy as possible to refute.” cfr Bad Arguments. ↩
- ibid., p. 243 ↩
Sometimes, you have to make a decision that implies choosing between two negative outcomes. This is called the lesser evil principle. How do you make the best decision in this context? Some ideas that may help.
- Part of what makes this kind of decision difficult is that it is hard to accept that we are going to loose either way. However, because the damage derived from each choice is not the same, it is important to have clarity about which negative consequences we are willing to bear, and which not.
- We need to identify emotional and psychological components that may be cluttering our judgement, or making us rationalize an emotional decision unconsiously taken beforehand.
A symptom of this is only considering arguments that reinforce our position.
- Beware of what Adam Grant calls the first instinct fallacy1. We fall in love with our first solution to the problem, without regarding that there may be other better possibilities.
- We prefer the security of the known to the uncertainty of opening ourselves to unknown possibilities. But the known option may not provide the best outcome. Also, we may the social pressure that may come from changing our mind, specially if some specific opinion is expected in our social circle regarding certain topics.
Sometimes, no matter what the arguments are, we don’t listen because we feel that our identity is being threatened if we change our mind.
- We need to consider first and second order effects. Second order effects are those derived from the first effects. We need to ask: in this scenario, what would happen next? And after that? What would happen in a year from now? In four years?
- We cannot disregard a negative effect only because its probability of happening is low. We need to evaluate the impact of that possibility actually happening. For example, when playing Russian Roulette the probabilities of winning are 83% and only 17% of losing… but with fatal consequences.
Complex situations don’t have a simple o clear solution. We rarely have perfect information. When we are forced to choose between two negative outcomes, it’s critical to consider the worst outcome possible, disrigarding the possibility of the outcome actually happening. In another context, that is why people buy insurances against rare but dangerous events such as earthquakes. In those cases, arguing that you don’t belive that there will be an earthquake this year doesn’t help. You need to evaluate the possible loss if there is an earthquake.
- Adam Grant, Think Again. Accordingo to the author, in 33 studies, in all cases the revised solution proved to be better than the initial solution.↩