I’m back on the road.
Vegas today, LA Wednesday, back to Austin Saturday night.
4 huge guests coming on Modern Wisdom Cinema this week. I can’t wait for this.
You’re probably pretty competent.
You can do things.
You’re prepared to try new stuff.
And when you try new stuff, you don’t suck that much and you seem to make progress more quickly than most people.
This is the Curse Of Competence.
Your options for life-direction are less constrained by your abilities, and more by your choices.
This sounds like a blessing.
Indeed it’s better than the alternative.
But it’s a unique category of problem; one which occurs while people tell you how fortunate you are to deal with it.
Barry Schwartz in the Paradox Of Choice talks about the process of buying jeans 60 years ago.
You went to the jeans store and there was one type, one colour, one cut.
You found your waist size, paid and walked out.
Now you may have wanted a slightly different style of jeans, or length, or colour, but you had no choice other than what was given to you.
So your total utility from the jeans may not be maximised but your satisfaction with the decision is pretty high, knowing you got the best you could given the circumstances.
Compare this to today.
You go to a jean store and look around.
Do you want skinny or bootcut? Straight legged? Cropped? Ripped? Blue? Grey? Acid wash? With contrast stitching or without?
The options are endless.
Hurray! You can finally select exactly the pair of jeans you’re looking for.
Boo! This also means that any suboptimal decision is entirely your fault.
If you were unhappy with your jeans in 1960 – it’s the fault of the crappy jeans store.
If you’re unhappy with your jeans in 2024 – it’s the fault of your crappy choice.
Previously, your outcomes were largely out of your hands and limited by the world, today, they’re only limited by your choices.
This is how a constraint of options makes the decision making process easier.
The Curse Of Competence plays into this too.
If you only are good at one category of things, you sure might be unhappy that you can’t do something else, and that indeed is a rubbish situation.
But the constraint helps to narrow your choices down.
On the other hand if you’re good at lots of things, there are many paths open to you which is liberating but can also cause you to be scared, confused and frozen in place.
We could call this a Titanic Problem.
An issue that everyone says you’re in such a privileged position to deal with.
“This is an extra special type of tragedy, a tragedy that unfolds while everyone cheers.
Like being on the Titanic after the iceberg, water up to your chin, with everybody telling you that you’re so lucky to be on the greatest steamship of all time.
And the Titanic is indeed so huge and wonderful that you can’t help but agree, but you’re also feeling a bit cold and wet at the moment, and you’re not sure why.” — Adam Mastroianni
Having lots of competencies you could follow in your life is exciting, but it’s also terrifying and paralysing too.
Plus you have the added pain of feeling guilty for your seeming ungratefulness at the difficulty, even though the world is at your feet.
This week’s upcoming episodes:
Mary Harrington – one of my favourite writers on Digital Modesty, why liberals would sooner date an OnlyFans worker than an OnlyFans subscriber and the problem of Matt Walshism.
Rikki Schlott – brand new data and research on the waves of cancellations in the media and on university campuses, just how bad is this? What is driving this culture of safetyism? Really good.
Dean Phillips – Presidential candidate for the Democratic party and ex-owner of Belvedere Vodka and Talenti Gelato explains just how corrupt the American political system is and what it’s actually like inside congress.
THINGS I’VE LEARNED
The patriarchy strikes again.
% of US women and men who say it is “acceptable” for women to be topless:
At the beach
— h/t Rob Henderson
The danger of chasing status.
“Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy.
It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.” — Paul Graham
“Many people would rather be hated than unknown.
In Ancient Greece, Herostratus burned down the Temple of Artemis purely so he’d be remembered.
Now we have “nuisance influencers” who stream themselves committing crimes and harassing people purely for clout.” — Gurwinder Bhogal
Post-It Note Reminders.
If you need triggers to remind you to do certain things – like be grateful as you step outside of your door or to not eat things from the cookie cupboard, Post-It Notes seem to be doing the trick for me.
Maybe after enough time it’ll become habit, but for now I’m living under the tyrannical surveillance of little squares of sticky paper.
America people – Neutonic restock is underway and will be back soon I promise!