Overthink your way to happiness
Dubious wisdom from your favourite wizard.
What-ho and hello,
In this museletter I will share some of the joys of overthinking, as applied to a few generic throwaway motivational clichés. Just some of the joys, mind. Lest we overthink it.
But first, allow to plug the wondrous event I have happening with fellow wizard PK in eight days hence. From 530–715pm on the 27th of October we shall be hosting another gathering for The Rekindling.
In loose adherence to the general theme of ‘coordination amidst complexity at scale’, I shall be unpacking—for the first time—my protosynthesis as to why blockchains and web3 will very likely play a vital role in mitigating the ravages of climate change (and other hypercomplex transnational woes). If you are sceptical about blockchain technology, decentralised leadership, and the notion of sacred economics (as you ought be!)—you will love this session.
I’m impatient to bring my friends and fellow complexity practitioners up to speed on what’s emerging in this burgeoning domain (beyond the myriad false narratives and hype). Genuinely, this is perhaps the most profound technological breakthrough since The Internet, and we can each play a part in how it unfurls. The dark forest of web3 is messy and fraught with peril, though. It’s dangerous to go alone, so: come gather. Tickets are available and all proceeds go to the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Lab.
Oh, and this time we have an official venue for the warm and casual afterparty intellectual speakeasy salon hangs. I would genuinely love to see you. Join us!
Whew, splendid. Now, righto, the museletter.
I am working on A Letter To A Friend who is ‘Sceptical Yet Cautiously Interested in web3’—but doesn’t quite know where to begin. The letter is not ready to share just yet, and so far consists of me playing the role of disenchanter (a necessary step before considering anything overhyped). I’ll share it with you when it’s ready, as I would like for folks to have at least as wholesome an experience as I’ve had (more regenerative than degenerative), should they choose to explore. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, my adventurous friend Mark recently shared this adorable image with me. It contains a bunch of pithy motivational clichés. The kind of clichés that, on the surface, seem quite reasonable. But once you begin to think about them—perish the thought!—they start to reveal something sinister.
“Overthinking will lead to sadness”
Ignorance is bliss. The more you think about things, the sadder you become.
I was so much happier back when I was a young and naïve hedge wizard, back when I used to believe in notions like ‘free will’ and ‘secrets to success’. Hope was a tangible beacon to aspire to, rather than an amusing hypothesis to entertain.
But since traversing the Labyrinths of Reason (all their twisting paths of inter-contingent truths), and since finding and falling into and through The Abyss (and all its disillusions), this emergent and now construct-aware archwizard finds it… a little hard to believe in free will. At least, in anything beyond a subjective sense. It’s lovely, though. And a useful illusion to maintain. Highly recommended.
But the notion that ‘overthinking will lead to sadness’ has the implication: don’t overthink things. Under-think things, and be happy instead. Avoid confronting thoughts—stay uncurious and dim.
Motivational clichés like these are like opiate for the masses; keeping us focused on our own personal happiness instead of the very systems that make us unhappy.
My wish is that we instead accept the full spectrum of emotions—and all of their seasons—so that we may live a richer and wiser life attuned to the complexity we are of and from. That we don’t shirk from facing into that which makes us sad—and there is an unfathomable lot to be sad for—but that also we don’t get so swept up in the sadness that we forget the very real ever-present opportunity for joy.
I guess I kinda like some of the latent wisdom in the now rather trite Dr. Seuss’s “Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.” Kinda? Except at the same time, I think having a bit of a cry is fine, and that we can do better than merely smile.
It’s a tricky thing. Forced cheer isn’t healthy. I’m sure The School of Life has written plenty on this. Depression itself may be an adaptive mechanism to protect us from blind optimism. And so we must ‘ware the unintended consequences of any well-intended advice.
If I was to offer the current-day Dr Fox version of this quote, it would go something like this:
“‘Overthinking’ may lead to sadness, it’s true. But thinking—true contemplation, at depth—is a vehicle of curiosity, which can lead one to wonder, insight, epiphany, and awe.” I might also add: thinking is not merely a cerebral pursuit. Thinking—and contemplation—is almost always enhanced with music and some motion.
Or maybe I’m overthinking it.
Anyhoo, another quote from this poster of clichés.
“Things always get better with time”
Except maybe terminal illnesses and maybe some abusive relationships, a dear friend points out. This is perhaps an example of memetic drift. “Time heals all wounds”* is perhaps the more timelessly apt idiom that this morphed from.
* Not necessarily true—unless we consider Death to be the ultimate healer—but true enough in most contexts.
There’s part of me that just doesn’t appreciate absolutes. I have allergies to almost any simplistic reduction into the binary—always/never, right/wrong, and so on. I’ve just seen too many exceptions to the rule; and besides: life is richer when we allow some room for doubt. A little wriggle room for contextual figuring.
Moving on from the poster itself, allow me to indulge in the borderline-cliche sentiments that pervade our environmental movements.
“Save the planet”
Pfft, the planet will be fine. It will outlast us, no matter how earnestly we continue to accelerate our own demise (taking as many species as we can with us). This ‘save the planet’ sentiment is problematic (ha!) in that it presumes that we humans are its saviours—instead of its custodians (and very much a part of the interweb of life itself; not ‘apart’). Worse, perhaps, is the expression “Save our Mother Earth” <— this might be apt in the context of some knowledge systems—but just as ‘save our planet’ puts humans in the role of saviour, ‘Save our Mother Earth’ seems to be a ploy to put men into the role of saviour once more—whilst continuing the ravage the planet anyway. I get a bit salacious in the podcast on this topic.
“There is no planet B”
Hoho—but maybe there is? How would we know? But then, even if there was a viable alternative planet for our species, it still would not justify our current path. Likely, it would serve to highlight just how precariously precious our planet is. The emergent miracle of the perfect conditions that allow for life (as we know it) to flourish. Something obscenely rare.
I don’t know. I have a high level of exposure to the trite and pithy, so perhaps I have developed more pronounced an allergy than most. I just wish for a little more consideration in the principles, heuristics, aphorisms, idioms, analogies and metaphors we adhere to.
Tyson Yunkaporta writes of this in Sand Talk, Sonja Blignaut writes of the dangers of bad metaphors, and Nora Bateson asks “could it be that the mechanistic metaphor at the heart of our culture is generating the violence of exploitation?”
My last museletter was a little highfalutin; I promised this one might be lowfalutin. I’m not entirely sure what I mean by this, other than to say that: it’s a busy week with flights, conferences and leadership off-sites—so I must keep this one brief. Which, normally translates to a long and meandering musing with no conclusion or sweet distillation of synthesis. But—verily!—I have no time to edit this museletter nor the podcast I rushed out for you, so this musing shall need to be enjoyed raw.
Hope to see you at The Rekindling if you can make it. And to the 10,000 or so subscribers who don’t live in Melbourne—I hope some day our paths may cross yet. I’m plotting.
PS: Thanks again, as ever, to the folks who ‘liked’ my last musing. It’s genuinely a lovely gesture, and appreciated. ty