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How to Worry Correctly

This entry is part 17 of 18 in the series The Art of War of Learning

Sometimes our worries are too luxurious. But this is not the only worry failure mode. There are other forms of irrelevant worry. The kind we’re going to talk about today is perhaps even more pervasive and more pernicious than your garden variety luxurious worry. That kind is: the vague/abstract worry. The VAW (rhymes with “WOW”). Sounds like a word you shouldn’t be allowed to say, doesn’t it? Lol

Prince Siddharta Gautama, AKA the Awakened One, AKA The Notorious B.U.D., already done told you this shizzle some 2500 years ago: there are certain questions, no matter how deep they are (or seem to be), that are not worth asking and not worth answering because there is no friggin’ answer for them.

Nobody can answer your abstract worries. There is no answer for them. They will waste your time and your life. Abstract questions are quagmire questions: they will suck you in and suck you dry of time and life. They are the Vietghanistan of mental engagement. Trust me: I speak as a veteran of the VAW wars 😉 .

Interestingly, the Vietnam War itself, the quintessential quagmire of modern military history, became the utter gong-show that it did because US policymakers were asking abstract questions and trying to solve abstract problems (「containment」, 「Red Scare」), all while knowing less than nothing about who the Vietnamese people actually were and what they really wanted, what they really really wanted.

It was the ultimate victory of abstract over concrete. And in the Coke-and-Pepsi bipolar world that was the Cold War, Washington policy wonks’ radical incuriosity pushed many Vietnamese nationalists into the waiting arms of the Soviet Union, whose agents knew all the right things to say. That’s what happens when you support colonialism: you make Communism, the dumbest economic system ever devised, seem palatable. Economic freedom, which is literally my favorite thing ever, can be a hard sell when your country is being invaded, occupied and humiliated.

Capitalism is the natural enemy of prejudice, racial or otherwise, in no small part because greed is not only good, it’s also stronger than hate 1. People can hate you, but they’ll take your money. Green is the great equalizer. And capitalism is resilient; it doesn’t need a perfect world to function; it functions not merely despite imperfection but because of it. Capitalism is so awesome that even communist countries do it. 2 Capitalism doesn’t need to be encouraged, it just needs to not be rooster-blocked by governmental overreach — overregulation, overtaxation, and willfully stupid foreign policy. Reagan and Thatcher didn’t need to fight apartheid, they just needed to not go out of their freaking way to protect it. Ditto Truman and Eisenhower on naked imperialism.

Reading and loving the writing of someone like Bill Bonner [whose work I won’t link to here, but you can google him] only to find out that he’s a…how you say in the simple English…a cultural chauvinist with a strong hint of “rayciss”, a wearer of “eau de racisme” cologne, if you will, it struck me: this must be what it’s like to be Jewish. As a Jewish person, one probably has to like the people one likes without worrying about whether or not they’re anti-Semites, because that would drastically reduce one’s scope for enjoyable reading and finding intellectual heroes.

Bonner’s ideas for US domestic policy are so right (and those for foreign policy so wrong) that it’s almost amusing. He’s like a real-life version of Two-Face from Batman: “people need to be free” / “F### Vietnam! You ungrateful g##ks! France gave you people civilization and sidewalk cafes!”.

What?

Motherlover. Dude. Seriously? This bumclown is why so many people can’t have nice things. This chucklehead is why communism ruined so much of the world for over a generation. Bill “NAMBLA member forever” Bonner is why cats like Ho Chi Minh and Castro couldn’t become like Lee Kuan Yew. Because it takes almost superhuman levels of psychological strength (or an overwhelming amount of compensating experience) to appreciate the ideas of a person or group of people who openly despise and condescend to you.

And I’m not exaggerating about the cafe thing; this pantstreak of a man actually used restaurants as a justification for the rape and pillage of a nation. By that logic, Vietnam should rule all the universes, because Vietnamese food produces mouthgasms in all humans. It’s fine to steal a house as long as you put in nice furniture, right? Geez Louise.

You know, at the risk of stereotyping (although I happen to think positive stereotypes aren’t such a terrible thing, but, whatever, you didn’t ask me), Asian people have such great attitudes. They don’t seem to get bent out of shape over all the abuse that they take from chuckleheads like Bonner (a man whose public career would be taken out back and shot like a golden retriever if he had pulled this kind of stunt on any other ethnic group) because they’re too busy winning at life. Personally, I aspire to that kind of self-control and untouchable dignity.

In a way, the typical Asian (immigrant) reaction to discrimination is the ultimate example of correct worrying. Instead of striving for abstract fairness, justice, love or even being treated with basic decency, Asians as a group stick their heads down and get to work on solving small, local, concrete problems: making that coin, learning that lesson. The indignities they face are legion, but they bring more than enough dignity of their own to get by. It’s not romantic or pretty or exciting, but it, well, works.

It’s unfortunate that many of capitalism’s staunchest defenders have also been racists. But that abstract worry (“this person who has good ideas also has very bad ideas”) mustn’t distract us from the prize. (Keep your eyes on, etc., etc.).

And you thought all this political crap was just a detour. Betchyour sorry now, huh? Hehehe.

Anyway.

This no-abstract-worries thing is a lot like how you ask questions of the Internet. Basically, you want to solve small, specific, local, concrete problems, not big, global abstract ones. Don’t ask whether or not a problem can be solved, ask how to solve a specific problem and be prepared to pay for high-quality answers. Don’t learn “how to cook”, make one (and only one) dish for dinner tonight. Don’t solve “world hunger” (a stupid phrase if ever there was one). Feed and love this one kid — and only this one kid — now.

Do what you can right now — no more. Ask real questions. Ask concrete questions. Worry about real things. Do real things. Don’t ask if Japanese “is hard”; don’t wonder if you’re good enough or smart enough; don’t ask if you’re “doing enough” (if you have to ask, you’re probably not 😉 ). Never ask if you’re “good at” Japanese. Just go learn a new word. Just move. Just turn on the (Japanese) TV. Just timebox. Just get things rolling. Just inch things forward (it’s a cinch!). Ask what you can do in the next three minutes. Then do it. Use your hands. Try stuff out. Generate light, not heat.

Series Navigation<< They Can Bleed: Your Enemies Are Not Gods, Your Opponents Are Not Invincible, Or, How To Learn Languages Like KratosThe Way of the Cockroach versus Clausewitz’s Bastards >>

Notes:

  1. Apartheid in the American South was enforced by government fiat, not market forces. Indeed, market forces put huge dents in it.
  2. (the USSR was always capitalist for the purposes of international trade; the USSR also practiced capitalism domestically during periods when the communism clusterhumpery and its side-effects got too strong, and the nation needed an economic booster shot; the PRC, meanwhile, gave up on communism as soon as Mao buggered off).

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