Sunday Morning Thoughts cum Tedious Facebook Essay: If The Earth Wasn’t A Safe Space We’d All Be Dead
1. be kind
2. use your strength to create spaces where fragile, beautiful things can flourish and become strong in turn
3. if the earth wasn’t a safe space we’d all be dead
4. nobody wins in a street fight, build gyms and dojos instead
5. maybe people attack and insult the outgroup because they can’t deal with the discomfort of actually having an honest conversation
6. protecting the weak does not have to mean creating dependents – most parents understands this)
It’s funny to think about the long FB statuses I’ve written over the past year. The dominant theme (I hope it’s clear) is kindness.
It’s funny because if you’ve known me since I was a teenager, you’d know that I’m also actually a very argumentative, combative person. I can be very arrogant and narcissistic. You kind of have to be, to write long Facebook statuses like this one. (Sorry! 😂) And yet I find myself dropping thousands of words to try and promote kindness. Why?
Because I want things to be interesting, and senseless brutality is fucking boring.
The world can be a mean, nasty and ugly place. It is, and it will no matter what we do about it. And yet, we built walled civilization to protect ourselves from the unyielding harshness and thoughtless cruelty of nature. We invented agriculture to protect against drought and famine. We invented governments and armies and the police to monopolize violence – to prevent “the war of all against all”, as Hobbes put it. So we already understand the value of protected spaces. A garden needs walls (and gardeners) to keep out the weeds.
There is no beauty in senseless violence. There is nothing interesting about a free-for-all race to the bottom. It’s just sad. It’s sad if you’re weak, because you get trampled. But it’s also sad if you’re strong. Because you missed an opportunity to experience something interesting.
My idea of a safe space isn’t an insulated, hyper-protective bubble. It’s more like a gym or a dojo where we challenge each other, where we train, get stronger. Where we pick each other up after we get knocked down, so that we can go at it again. How much stronger can everyone get if we just keep kicking people’s teeth in? The end result is a shitty brawl in one area of the street, while the majority of people just hide in their homes. Where got fun?
The point of strength – and I truly believe this – is to create a semi-permeable membrane, to create contexts in which life can flourish.
(Geek alert) The Earth itself is the biggest safe space that we know of. The atmosphere protects us from radiation (the sun is a deadly laser!) and from asteroid bombardment. We’d all be dead without it. And yet nobody criticises the sky for being overprotective. We know what the world would look like if the atmosphere didn’t protect us: dull and lifeless. With the protection of the atmosphere, Life is able to turn the sun’s harsh light into nourishment. It’s a really great extended metaphor, if you reflect on it. (Consider how the biosphere reinforces the atmosphere, and also how man-made pollution threatens it.)
When I really dig deep down into myself, it seems to me that I want most of all is an interesting life. I want to be surprised, I want to go “oh, wow!” as often as I can while I’m here.
And yet, over and over again, I see interesting conversations get derailed because some insecure, petty person decided to substitute argument with insults. This is something I find intolerable. Not because I’m weak and precious and “can’t stand the heat”. But because the moment you start insulting one another, the interesting conversation dies.
There is something to be said about the utility of keeping the game going. It’s possible to evolve a feature that hinders evolution. The point of intelligent strength is to identify such features and neutralize them, so that the game can keep going.
(I still think a lot about a particular conversation I witnessed on Hacker News years ago – it was an interesting thread about finance, until one guy insulted another. The thread I wanted to read was replaced by two men slinging mud at each other. It’s dumb and it’s BORING.)
I also saw a funny exchange in a group chat earlier, and I love it especially without context:
A: Who’s the winner uh?
B: No one
What were they talking about? Everything, and everyone. You might think you’ve won when the other party backs off, but what have you won exactly? It’s like when you’re playing football after school, and a scuffle breaks out, so you insult the guy who brought the ball. He takes the ball and goes home. Game over. Yay, you won! Smh.
Life’s a lot more interesting when we stop slinging shit at each other and start asking questions from a place of sincere curiosity. A gym is a better place to build strength than a street fight.
Be like the Earth. Use your strength to create spaces where fragile, beautiful things can flourish – things like honesty, compassion, sincerity. Where people can say things that they’re not sure of, and be confident that their peers will take them in good-faith (AND challenge them to be better).
In fact, if you think about it, those conversations can actually be a lot more unsettling and uncomfortable then just insulting the outgroup. Maybe that’s why we do it. Heh.
Kindness is strength, not weakness. And protecting the weak does not have to mean spoiling them, or creating parasitic dependents. It means building them up so we can hear from them too, learn from them too.
Circling back: I think when I was younger, I used to be combative because I thought it meant that things would be more interesting. Why go with the flow? Resist the flow! Demand answers! A street fight is more interesting than mindless compliance and deference! (Kiiiinda true. And easy to say when you’re a privileged dude with little to lose.)
But I was naive and thoughtlessly blunt about how I did it. I was putting people on the defensive, instead of winning them over and persuading them to open up to me.
I still want the same thing I did a decade ago. I want answers. I want to know the truth about things. I want to understand people, and the world, and myself. My experience has taught me that you learn this better when you struggle together against ignorance, rather than butt heads at each other senselessly. I’m still fundamentally combative. I just pick better battles now, I hope. And I hope this is useful to somebody.
Ok, now hungry lah. I feel like having some kaya toast.