2016 - Biggest Lesson, Most Dangerous Books

I don't do New Years resolutions, but I like to think back on the last year.

I'll touch on two things:

  1. The most important thing I've learned this year: Tactical Silence
  2. Most dangerous books of 2016

Tactical Silence

I suspect that a year from now, I'm going to look back and say "Man, I really dropped the ball on a lot of conversations and relationships up through 2016".

Old Josh thought discussions went somewhere, and that I could change minds with words, in conversations directly about the thing I wanted to change.

Hah. A helpful-but-reluctant read through 48 Laws of Power, couples with reading through Life Together, and a few other sources, convinced me that direct discussion about most things where I'm trying to convince someone of something is more "entertaining-though-possibly-damaging pastime" than "productive effort". This holds true in the work and private domains.

New Josh is significantly more cynical, and in most situations much less inflamatory. I don't stand to gain anything from debates, and neither does the person I'm debating with.

What DOES matter is action. No one really cares what I think about anything, but as soon as I take action on something, any potential conversation is dramatically shifted.

Conversations go from hypothetical:

What if x happens

If that thing is true, than it might mean this other thing is false!"

to historical:

Well, you did X, and it seems like Y and Z happened, so I guess going forward we'll do...

I know I said X in the past, but it looks like we're seeing Y results, and IMPORTANT_PERSON suggests Z response.

So, now, when someone says something that is (to me) catastrophically untrue, about either myself or anything else, I just smile and nod. Even if I need to do something about it, it's rare that addressing it right then will drive any useful change.

"Tactical Silence" is still new to me, so I imagine in another month I'll have much more coherent and consistent thoughts on it, but by then I'll probably not want to talk about it.

(I don't even know where the term came from. I feel better keeping my mouth shut when it's a tactical decision, instead of backing down from conflict)

Dangerous books

I read a lot last year. More than I plan on reading for a while, and along the way, I read many books that I wouldn't really recommend to others, and a few that I would.

A dangerous book is one that did one of two two things, against my will:

  • Forced behavioral change in my daily or weekly routine
  • Forced my thinking to change on a specific topic or domain

These books are dangerous because they're driving changes in how I behave and/or how I think. I am able to exert precious little control over both of these things, and am therefore exceedingly wary in letting outside influences in. So, when something forces me to behave or think differently, I must admit temporary defeat, even though I'm inevitably improved in the process.

I don't endorse any of these, though there's lots of potential value in all of them.

Here's the books that I label as dangerous:

If your curiosity is even remotely piqued on any of these books, check out reviews on Amazon or GoodReads.

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids

This easily pushed me over the edge from "I don't look forward at all to the burdens of parenthood" to "it'll be hard, but I think the reward will fairly quickly outpace the effort, and the long-term gains certainly outweigh the short-term sacrifice."

Josh, that's a terrible reason to have kids. You think the long-term gains outweigh the short-term sacrifice? What about love, and your own flesh-and-blood? Doesn't that matter?

Not to me, right now. I imagine it will eventually. Also, this is a small picture into my decision-making about many things. Imagine what it's like for Kristi, putting up with this all day long...

Amazon: Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids

The Market for Liberty

Sigh. Here marks my transition "Libertarian" to "certified tin-foil-hat-wearing anarchist". I didn't even like the book, but there was one key point in the book that I couldn't shake.

A laissez-faire society is not a Utopia in which the initiation of violence is impossible. Rather, it is a society which does not institutionalize the initiation of force and in which there are means for dealing with aggression justly when it does occur.

So, what system has a monopoly on the lawful initiation of force, and which also institutionalizes bad actors inside that system?

The government.

This ties into some other themes that have been growing in my head for a few years. Tinkering around the edges of a system that institutionalizes the initiation of force, and is able to coerce it's own survival on the backs of those who serve it... is a luxury, since it's steamrolling over the lives of many others.

Related: the last book that made me cry while reading it: Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms. Spoiler: The government simultaneously claimed to act in the interests of it's citizens as it hunted down and destroyed innocent-but-marginalized people.

Amazon: The Market for Liberty

Deep Work

I wrote I quit after reading Deep Work. I started wearing a wrist-watch, and I now work in Pomodoros. As I track how much work I do, I mostly just track how many Pomororo's I've accomplished in a given day.

I'm still slowly remaking how I work and my daily routine in response to Deep Work.

No other book that I've read this year has impacted my day to day as Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Deep Work on Amazon

Life Together

Life Together is about Christians living in community. This exact topic has been plaguing me for the better part of two years, and Life Together brought a lot of hope and clarity to me.

I've struggled with the notion of "Christian community" because I get so frustrated by much of what happens in churches, or is done on my behalf by "the church" (as defined by old white conservatives from America).

I struggle to sit under the biblical authority of people who's politics seem decidedly anti-christ-like. The temptation is to just walk away and try to carve out some little "church of Thompson", and pretend like that is sufficient and Christ-honoring, but it isn't.

Life Together was convicting, and is driving change in my daily routines. I'm going to re-read it soon and make another "wave" of changes, but the most encouraging thing was how much Bohhoeffer celebrates the virtue of keeping one's mouth shut:

Bonhoeffer's Decisive Rule of Christian Fellowship: Every individual is prohibited from saying much of what occurs to him.

So, I can celebrate the minor victories of keeping my mouth shut, most of the time.

More on this topic another time.

Amazon: Life Together

80,000 Hours

40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, 40 years. That's about 80,000 hours of work. How are you going to spend it?

This book isn't driving change in my life right now, but it meshes perfectly with my already-heretical notions about what it means to "do good work for others".

I.E. Do you want to have a big impact on the world? Don't become a doctor, at least if you plan on working in America. The marginal societal return of an additional doctor is tiny compared to that same doctor in a poor country, or compared to plenty of other career paths available to someone today.

Don't go work for a non-profit, either.

The theme is "effective altruism", and they handle job/career advice better than most. FWIW, they're big fans of Cal Newport's Deep Work philosophy.

Amazon: 80,000 Hours