I'm not shy to stay this - this site has already been blessed with some of the smartest comments and people I've seen online.
The internet is powerful, but much of it is a vast space of short term distraction and time wasting. Even most of the stuff that tries to be serious is poorly thought emotional suckage. For instance, one of the most prolific people writing on "economics" online is a partisan hack who solely uses emotional language and doesn't actually do any real economics, experimenting, modeling, math, or statistics ever. Or at least, hasn't in two decades.
I built this site partially to rebel against the vast sea of distraction and emotional-based suckage. Where do strong, smart, ambitious, virtuous, pragmatic people hang out online? There aren't too many places. So I wanted to build one.
And there have been fruits to this! Already, there's been a number of smart comments. Some hundreds of people come and read each day, a number in the low thousands if you include RSS. And when excellent comments are made, I'm really honored to feature them as their own posts so they get the attention they deserve.
This comment on "A Realization About Japanese and American Superheroes" is brilliant -
I agree that in times of extreme emotional imbalance, relying on (quality) training is the best, if not only, way to go.
As you mentioned earlier, many professionals rely on frequent and standardized training to garner successful results in extreme/dangerous/emotional environments. Aboard the vessel I work on, we hold fire, man overboard, abandon ship and security drills weekly. In the maritime industry, it has been proven time and again that frequent, standardized, and quality training diminishes the detrimental effects of emotions, primarily fear and panic, when faced with extreme survival conditions at sea. Many people have died at sea and been found by search and rescue teams holding on to the lifesaving equipment that could have saved them- had they known how to use it. Imagine the feeling of holding on to a life raft but not knowing how to deploy it, while succumbing to hypothermia or drowning. Certainly an example of poor, or nonexistent training.
Assuming that the training is from a quality source, and accepted as such, then reacting to an emotional event with blatant disregard for said training is similar to not having had training at all. There is room for improvisation in many situations, so saying that training and creativity are critical to one another makes a lot of sense.
A simplified realistic scenario to consider: No two fires are the same, but scientifically, you know that certain combinations of flammable materials will burn with known characteristics, and must be extinguished with a recognized extinguishing agent. How exactly you apply the extinguishing agent can change, but knowing when/where/why/how to use it allows for creativity to be successful. Without the training, you could use the wrong type of extinguishing agent and actually spread the fire. Creativity is useless in that scenario. For example, using water on an oil fire, is just not going to work and will probably splash oil around and set more things on fire. However, using training + creativity, you can use water to cool down the surrounding areas and allow access to the fire's location in order to distribute the proper extinguishing agent and put out the fire. Without using creativity, you may not have been able to access the fire, and your training would have been useless.
I'm sure that situations exist when training is not superior, and other options are better such as if the quality of training is poor, or new information renders the old methods outdated.
As well, one need not apply complete disregard for the 'old' method. Even if its all you have, I still believe that much can be learned from it- even if you learn how NOT to do something. Regardless, doing so rationally with a clear mind is superior to emotional instability. A random emotional response will likely result in similarly poor outcomes as poor training would, and is the exact same as having no training.
Perhaps this adage is relevant here: "You have to learn the rules before you can break them". Without fully understanding why something is being done a certain way, how can you improve on it? Surely not with wild emotional guesswork.
Jess was also kind enough to let me feature her "Letter From a Merchant Marine." Personally, I think she has an extraordinary talent for making complex systems and ideas very easy to think through and gets clear, important messages across. I hope she starts keeping her own blog, or writing publicly in some capacity! The work is brilliant, and I feel very lucky that she comes and hangs out here with us and shares her wisdom.
I completely agree that the "american schema" of the superhero "innovating" in a crisis is not a very good idea if one thinks about the superhero's concrete situation. However, if one thinks more abstractly about individual or social development it makes more sense. For example, with organisations often the only times when fast development is possible, is some kind of crisis. World war 2 is an obvious example with the intense development of technology it brought. A much smaller example is the development of Internet banking in countries, such as Finland, where a banking crisis forced banks to make large savings on staff, and had to do something else than what they had in the past.
I wonder if the source of the american superhero pattern of ignoring training is actually not about life-threatening situations, but something else. It is portrayed in that way for dramatic effect. What it might be describing is the "slow hunch" of someone who is making a breakthrough in thinking. Slowly accumulating evidence / experience is showing you that what you have been taught is not actually true in practice, or only true to a degree. That feels dangerous, because there is no theory to lean on and you are "on your own", because your ideas are heretical, yet you are almost forced to pursue those ideas because they pull you in, or you have tried everything else, and it did not work.
I think much discovery and innovation is like that by nature. You are sure you are right, but the world keeps fighting back at you. You despair, but persist. Then suddenly, you try something different from your training, and the world tilts over into another state where you are suddenly successful.
In hindsight, it is obvious you were right all the time, but at the time it did not feel like that at all.
One of the things that's been really cool for me here at the blog is watching the crowd that hangs out here develop.
The big thing I set out to do with the site was create a place I'd want to hang out online. I hang out at some pretty good places, but I wasn't able to find anywhere that was unabashedly pro-victory, pro-winning, very expansive, practical, pragmatic, and says it like it is. There's plenty of places with good people online, but not too many where people are willing to take the heat for saying it like it is. I try to do that - say it like it is, even though you sometimes suffer for it.
The community's really responded - I think there's a lot of people who've been looking for something like this. I know I searched for it, couldn't find it, and that's why I started building. So it's been thrilling having all sorts of smart people write great letters and emails to me, great comments, great stuff happening.
I love it, I feel so blessed. The site's my site - it's got my name on it. But the community can transcend that, and that's why I'm so thrilled that I can feature great comments and letters.
One such talented person is Jess, our resident merchant marine. She's left a number of really insightful comments, and it's a joy to read her thoughts. She's talented writer and talented thinker. Here's some of her latest insights from a letter, reposted with permission -
When I was five years old, my classmates and I used to all love writing stories. We’d be given assignments and we’d try to outdo each other in the eyes of the teacher. There was no formal grading, but there were red ticks and comments, with “very good” topping “good” etc. In general, more pages appeared to offer superior results, so quantity was mistakenly tied to quality in our toddler minds. I suspect those writing more were the ones who also spent more time thinking about how to make their story stand out. I laboured and I toiled to fill those pages with creativity.
Doing good work was rewarded very rarely with a gold star. Oh how we coveted those sparkly awards. Months could pass without anyone in the class seeing a single one. I think stationery may have been limited. But these stars paled into insignificance for creating exceptional work: a trip to the headmaster’s office. Normally the ultimate punishment (I was up there a few times for that, too), these visits meant the highest authority in the school would personally take a moment to stick a really shiny gold star on your work. Look, it was a poor school, okay?
Fast forward 20 years and no one’s giving me a gold star for my work. But I’m cool with that, because I learned a lot since then. Quantity rarely trumps quality, although this is not the truth for all situations. Most people like quantity in their bank account. So where do we put the quality?
Getting the gold star: being the master of your own head