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The System Will Set You Free

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Systems

Not a line you’d necessarily expect from a smoothie-guzzling quasi-hippie like me, who spends too much time exposed to the Steve Pavlinas, Tim Ferrises and Chris Guillebeau’s of the world — and a few years ago even burned his suits like so many feminists’ bras 1 (for real — I’ll tell you the whole story one day).

Let me ‘splain.

Systems are the human superpower. Bad systems are the villains. Good systems are the heroes.
Systems are powerful beause systems never sleep.

A system — a good system — will set you free.

Boundaries set you free.
Limits set you free.
Easels create creativity.
There is no such thing as writer’s block on Twitter — think about that.
Why is that?
Because Twitter is a better system.

A game is a system.
There are rules.
There are limits.
When it’s good (even in a limited sense), it’s better than RL for many people.
Mothers routinely leave their children in the car to die, because of the very good (in a limited sense) systems that are the games that are pachinko and slot machines.

Humans don’t fly because we became more righteous.
We don’t fly because we are the descendants of Orville and Wilbur Wright.
We don’t fly because there was a sudden genetic mutation in 1903 or even 1867.
We don’t fly because we or they singly or even collectively achieved enlightenment.
We don’t fly because we were exposed to gamma rays or bitten by radioactive spiders.
We don’t fly because aliens came through the Stargate and gave us Goa’uld technology.

We fly because we have systems to produce, maintain and manage flying machines (which are themselves systems). We have runways and ATC and radio and manufacturing plants and inspections and a whole mess of other stuff.
We have systems built upon systems.
We fly with amazement-destroying regularity because of good systems.

Human + Good system = Superhuman. 2

Systems are like a recipe.
A good recipe can make even “bad” ingredients taste good.
Think: bread and butter pudding.
Literally made of trash: stale bread.
80% trash.
100% delicious. Tastes of awesome.
Such is the power of systems.

Cheese is rotten milk. Milk has literally gone bad.
But there’s a system. A good system. So it, too, tastes awesome.

Why has the word “system” become a by-word? Why do I hate on the school system like women hate on better-looking women (I was gonna go with something Nazi-related here, but sexism is the new thinking man’s irony, so…)?
Because systems are powerful.
Super powerful. Like I said before, systems never sleep.
And they’re neutral.
They are epic in either direction. Epically bad. Epically good.

The best countries to live in aren’t the best all over.
A crack den in Vancouver or a mansion in Myanmar, where would you rather live?
Rhetorical question. The Myanmar mansion wins hands down.
The best countries to live in aren’t good all over. They’re just good more widely, more consistently. Good more systematically. Good on average.
Similarly, SRS helps you remember kanji on average — more often than not.
It’s not perfect, but it’s more than good enough for practical purposes.

You don’t need to be smarter. You don’t need to become a better person. You don’t even need to work harder.
You are good enough as you are. Maybe you, like me, are human garbage — arrogant, lazy, selfish, lustful, distrustful of authority, incapable of playing nice with others: a real “piece of work”. It doesn’t matter. You’ll do.
Systems, recipes, algorithms turn sewage water into potable water again.
All you need is to find or make a better system, a recipe that will make you tasty.

Acute, patchy awesomeness is all well and good.
But you probably want your awesomeness the same way you want your drugs and Dr. Dre albums: chronic.
You want the chronic.
You want chronic awesomeness. I do too.

So don’t blame Japanese. Japanese is not “hard”. Kanji is not “hard”. Japanese just is. Kanji just is.
They merely exist.
Blame your system. Your system for getting used to Japanese and kanji is broken or non-existent. I know. I double know. I know from past experience and I know from present observation.

Lately, I’ve been hanging out with college kids. They’re on Study Abroad in Japan. Ostensibly learning Japanese.
But there is no system. There is just forgetting and cramming and forgetting. There’s just suffering and self-hate. There’s just magical thinking. Knowledge is being hemorrhaged (if, indeed, it is ever being acquired at all).

Don’t believe in magic.
Be the magician. Be the superhuman.
Get a (better) method.
Get a (better) system.
The system. A system. Your system.
Will set you free.

PS: Sorry for my crap writing. It’s good to have a good recipe, and but 3 it’s even better to not starve 🙂 . I’d rather just write you something period than write nothing while waiting for something good. Sometimes you just take what’s there.

Series Navigation<< Sanity: Bad For You, Bad For The WorldThe Search for the System: How I Found One, Why You Need One >>


  1. Or…Chinese generals’ ships (破釜沉舟)…
  2. We can easily “prove” — and my use of this term is looser than your Mom — this by contrapositive. More often than not, when you take a human being out of the network of systems that supports him, you find him unable to function at whatever level he had previously enjoyed. It’s not that the person is dumb, it’s just that the system is “smart”, after a fashion. And I really wish that that sentence sounded less disempowering and anti-individualistic than it does.

    My point isn’t to put down the individual. I’m just saying, if you’re cold, you don’t learn how to raise your body temperature, you get warm clothes? And you and your clothes combine into this new, “superhuman” organism that can…survive and thrive in the cold? Sorta…

    Yeah…this example’s falling apart, isn’t it? 😀 . But what’s cool is that this reflects the process of learning in general, if we define learning as a process of “connecting the unknown to the known”

  3. new word 😛

  17 comments for “The System Will Set You Free

  1. June 29, 2012 at 00:26

    I never really thought of my Japanese study as a system so this article has been really helpful. Sometimes, I think to myself, “how can I be doing more for my Japanese?” I find this question hard to answer, but thinking of it all as a system seems to give me an new way to analyze the situation, and find ways to fine tune things.
    My current system with the aid of inertia may have brought me to the level I’m at now, but a new system with more efficiency will be what it takes to get me to fluency.

  2. Jack Cotton-Brown
    June 29, 2012 at 11:42

    The system itself is really subject to one’s environment.
    The environment is just the systems that one uses on a daily basis. The problem is that generally the systems aren’t obvious, like using SRS and MCD’s. URL shuffler is a system that makes getting a diverse online environment much more accessible and fun.
    Then it comes down to habits and routines. In order for a system to be useful one must use it on a regular basis, and that’s just a factor of convenience. We use the most convenient systems first before we make use of harder, more complicated systems that require more set up time and thought.
    Then there is the emotional element to using a system, whereby it’s not just the most convenient systems that we go for, but the ones that harmoniously balance convenience and enjoyment. For example, if there are 2 espresso bars side by side, we will go for the better one, even if the walk is a bit further. But say the 2 bars are on opposite sides of the town, you’ll just go for the one closer to get your coffee fix.
    I find the emotional element to be the most important factor of all, and I often just use ‘study techniques’ that are more fun for me even if they don’t systematize and quantify progress as well as others (e.g. just watching anime and reading manga for enjoyment without adding things to a srs or bothering to look up new words).
    I think newcomers to language acquisition under-estimate the emotional side of using their systems. If repping boring sentences is really ‘useful’ (following frequency lists for example) then they are likely to prioritize progress over enjoyment. This is what I did, and it doesn’t last very long. I was repping a pre-made sentence deck for 3 months, and learnt over 2000 sentences, but I stopped doing that because the sentences were too boring. LOTS of useful vocab don’t get me wrong, but just not arranged in a mentally stimulating way.

  3. Ed
    June 30, 2012 at 06:49

    Can’t finish article. The opening anecdote was too interesting. Tell us your suit burning tale dude.

  4. Kanjioy
    June 30, 2012 at 11:11

    I notcied that this site is mainly for people who havent studies japanese before or people who are not really serious about studying the language. It seems like the people who come to this site are looking for mainly inspiration to get started or get over their fear that they will never learn the langauge. Dont get me wrong, I think the guy who runs this page is a great nice person who encourages people, but I think this site is really wast of time. It seems like there is no true advice on how to get good in the language but poetic and phylisophical updates. Someone recogmend me visit this site, and while I am glad I visited it, I found that people who are truly serious in Japanese will figure how to get good in the language themselves. That is why stopped giving people advice on how to get good. It seems like all they wanna do is find era or argue with your system. But for those of us who truly wanna learn this thing called “Japanese”, no body has to pull our leg and tell us how to do it. WE WILL FIGURE OUT ON OUR OWN.

    • Rout
      July 2, 2012 at 20:39

      Ah, but inspiration is such an important thing when it comes to accomplishing anything. I agree that people who really do want to learn Japanese will figure it out on their own eventually, but this site – and similar ones exist to start you in the right direction. So instead of trying out tons of ineffective methods, it gives you lots of ideas on how to effectively learn a language. But in the end, it’s all just advice, you make your own system. 

      Still, without the motivational boost from AJATT, I wouldn’t have started to learn Japanese at all.  

    • 名前
      July 3, 2012 at 00:02

      I agree with everything that Rout just said. Not only that, but this site essentially tells you to do what works for you. It tells you that if you really don’t like using an SRS, don’t use it. Katzh encourages you to find your own way, but also shares what he did and what he would have done differently along the way. 
      You use the point that people will figure it out on their own as a point against the site while the site encourages you to do just that. 

    • July 3, 2012 at 07:27

      >I notcied that this site is mainly for people who havent studies japanese before or people who are not really serious about studying the language.
      Why would a site about how to learn Japanese to fluency be for anyone else?
      This site describes a broad path for people to walk, and obtain fluency in Japanese (or their target language). If you look back through the archives, you’ll see that all the major concepts of ‘All Japanese, All The Time’ were pretty much stated by early 2008. Since then, the site’s author has continued to post tweaks, new concepts, and just pitching the same ideas from a different perspective. 
      The point of is to teach a method of learning language. I don’t know if anyone would need that knowledge more than early/procrastinating learners…

    • Drewskie
      May 16, 2013 at 23:32

      Khatz used to focus articles on methodology, but people wound up following it blindly and devoutly to the point where they’d suffer and burn out. It turns out that the 10 or so articles on that subject in the table of contents are more than sufficient for getting the main idea about how Khatz learned Japanese. Once you have that main idea, it’s up to you to implement it in a way that works for you, and to work out the details along the way. There are plenty of other blogs that describe peoples’ individual implementations of AJATT, so if you want those kinds of ideas, go out and find them. For Khatz, though, I think he’s taken an approach that let’s him feel like he’s aligned Neutral Good, i.e. not hurting anyone and just posting ideas to help people not hurt themselves.

  5. Anonymous
    July 1, 2012 at 02:16

    Counter-point: what if I’ve tried multiple systems, and they’ve all fallen short and have all been difficult? The only common factor here is Japanese, so at that point, the logical next step is to say that Japanese is hard.

    • ahndoruuu
      July 2, 2012 at 12:22

      Albert Einstein. “If learning Japanese is hard for you, you have not failed.  You have just found 10000 ways that don’t work.”

      It’s a little known, scientifically proven fact that Einstein was one of the earliest AJATTeers.  He never mentioned it in public, but there is absolutely zero evidence that says he was not.

    • July 4, 2012 at 07:13

      Counter-counter-point: what if everything is intrinsically hard, and what seems to be easy is just because you’re adapted in such a way that makes it so?

  6. July 1, 2012 at 02:47

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Kathzumoto. Learning Japanese is only part of my life, so much more can be applied to this way of thinking.本当にありがとうございましたカッツさん 

  7. Bob
    July 6, 2012 at 20:16

    That’s a very good piece of writing. Reminding of texts by Phil Hine or other Chaos Magician. You really have to read about Chaos Magic. Really.

  8. Carlos
    July 7, 2012 at 23:51

    This apology is systems is great. I subscribe 100%. Keep up the good work! 

  9. July 10, 2012 at 21:06

    I agree entirely.  Having a good system helps a great deal. But there a piece missing that’s often mentioned in other posts.  So just to complete the circle:
    “All you need is to find or make a better system . . .”
    . . . and stick with it.  And keep tailoring it.  But mostly just keep on keeping on.
    A good system keeps you on the rails.  Perseverance is what moves you from station to station.

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