And what to do about it
I love this man called Gurwinder and hate to quibble with him, but this little piece of his delicious meal caught in my throat like a chicken bone: "The mainstream media....take care to get the actual reporting right, and when they don’t, they usually issue corrections."
This may have been true at some point but is not anymore in the Trump/social media era. The Pulitzers scored from the Russiagate hysteria were never rescinded (and never will be), the 1619 propaganda is still coming to a high school near you, the "lab leak is racist" narrative was never questioned (nor the vax mandates nor the uselessness of masking), and the endless propaganda about Amerikkka being a white-supremacist patriarchy festooned with nooses shows no signs of abating, and results in a daily flood of toxic lies.
If the goal is rhetorical accuracy and intellectual honesty in the name of having a much cleaner epistemic ecosystem (both socially and internally), I think it's important to be honest and clear about the greatest enemy to all these things: the mainstream corporate media, which has transformed into a Big Lie factory and Thought Police Dept on behalf of the globalist ruling class.
It may not be the best intellectual hygiene to always reflexively disbelieve any of MSM narratives, but they are still obviously unscrupulous and untrustworthy, and need to be recognized as such.
This was written to perfection! And it hit so close to home too. I have shared this on my social media and I hope more people read this!! Thank you for writing!!
This post comes to all the right conclusions about how to school oneself out of being an opinionated arse. But it misses something nevertheless because it assumes a world in which everyone is too opinionated in one way or another and could do with being less so.
But there are millions of people (they're not on Substack or TwitterX; they neither read The New York Times nor Takimag etc) who find the whole idea of having strong opinions a bit of a turn off. I'm not particularly championing these people (because maybe they could do with having a bit more curiosity) just pointing out that they exist in huge numbers and don't fit with this NPC rubric.
Insightful. I can definitely see myself and others here. And the reminder that we are being controlled by algorithms is a crucial understanding.
"When you’re about to have an opinion, first ask yourself whether it’s on a primary, secondary, or tertiary issue. On tertiary issues, be silent. On secondary issues, be humble. On primary issues, be passionate."
Much wisdom very nicely framed with the psychological evolutionary background.
Much appreciated. Much love.
This illuminating piece defines my personal struggle against swinging like a pendulum between thesis & antithesis, from one tribe to another and more. It requires constant self-vigilance. But the strange thing is that 3 years of this practice (and writing a Substack about it) has made me happier and less neurotic.
Another instant classic 🙌
This excellent piece got me thinking about the pernicious phenomenon of NPCs rationalizing their own NPC position by mischaracterizing a position taken by another person as NPC.
I find that progressives often dismiss even the slightest disagreement with their orthodoxy as automatically tribalist on the other side. For them, you can’t be liberal unless you completely agree with them. Anyone slightly disagreeing with trans orthodoxy, or even just disagreeing with trans activist tactics, must be transphobic.
I’ve also been accused of being an averager, and thus dismissed, by people who wrongly assume that I’m proceeding from the idea that the truth is always in the middle. The frustrating aspect of that is that they’ve correctly identified averagers as a dubious group, but wrongly assumed that anyone whose opinion is moderate must be an averager.
Thirty years ago, in my freelance writing days, I was preparing for a trip to east/southern Africa. I had a lowly job at a major media organization, which gave me access to a ton of information (pre-internet), and I prepared like mad. The more I learned, the more I realized how complex the subject was (this also happened for a radio doc I did, I spent so much time researching it I think my ultimate pay was about fifty cents an hour). Anyway, it became overwhelming. I wound up spending two years there, and the net result was that after all the research and time spent, I became more and more reticent about offering opinions, and less certain of my positions. It was odd, in a way - I knew quite a lot more than most of the people around me, but often had less to say. I feel similarly about anything controversial which interests me now - sometimes the more you learn, the harder it is to have a clear position. I'm now 60, and there are topics which I take an interest in and, while I may have a view about them, I don't believe I have enough information, so I don't say much. There are many other topics, and they can be important ones, where I just decide it doesn't much matter what I think and it would take too much work to develop a good defense of my position. (that said, there is one complex issue which sucked me in last year and I've devoted hundreds of hours to getting to an understanding of it, and can offer my views with quite a bit of confidence; ironically, I rarely do, because it's such a hot potato). ftr, I've never really belonged to a tribe, even back in high school I floated between various groups.
Good stuff, thanks for it!
Makes me think it's time to upgrade Tolkien's quote "Not all who wander are lost" to "Probably should look into that whole wandering thing."
Excellent post. I will now fulfill my NPC programming and share on Facebook.
As an NPC #2 I think being a contrarian is a better mental shortcut than being a conformist. Our batting average about what is true is better than that of conformists. But that’s exactly what one would predict a contrarian would say ;)
Very interesting, provocative essay. Concerning the conclusion:
"Your brain will always try to save time when forming beliefs — it’s what it does — but the best way to save time is not to take a shortcut to “truth,” it’s to take no route at all. So if you want to stop being an NPC, simply say “I don’t know” on all the matters that don’t concern you. And this will give you the time to not be an NPC on all the matters that do."
If Robin Hanson were here, he would say that prediction markets are a way to induce this sort of behavior. You are less likely to spout an uninformed opinion if money is at stake. He might also say that cognitive strategies are not about truth-finding. They are strategies for playing status games.
Interesting, and engagingly written. But isn’t it all just the same thing? Don’t we all just pick up shit along the way, store it in the rolodex, and pull it out when it seems like it’ll fit? For everything... analyse how we act and it is a robot trying to fit past thinking onto the present. Sometimes its essential (stay away from the red berries. Tom died yesterday remember).... most of the time, it’s horseshit. Particularly when it comes to thinking about how our society is structured.
Plus, and i’ll happily hold my hand up if i’ve missed something in the article, hasn’t this trait of ours and it’s sound evolutionary requirement, been ruthlessly exploited and strengthened in us, by a societal system that teaches us to only seek knowledge from authority, and an education system that values regurgitation above all else.
What an interesting way to look at the world. It's funny how easy it is to see others being NPCs and how difficult it is to see it in ourselves? Your first category reminded me of an Ayn Rand quote (loosely paraphrased), from Hank Reardon: "Mrs. X doesn't exist. She is just the sum of all clever opinions she has ever heard."
I feel the averager is the trickiest hole to get yourself out from. And that is because an averager has a way to neutralize a shock when experienced. Because there is nothing to protect, they can't suffer the loss of having to let a vital belief go. All other forms of NPCs have the potential to shake themselves out of their delusion if their worldview somehow collapses. The scary part is that the averager in times of peace seems virtuous and civilized when in fact in times of crisis when principles are most needed, can take a horrifying position as easily.