The physically strongest people you know rarely are that strong because they just wake up that way. No, they invest significant portions of their time putting in the work necessary both to obtain, and maintain it.
The same goes for the mentally strongest people you know.
Granted, it’s much easier to pick out someone who is physically, rather than mentally strong, but there is a lot of overlap between the two if you know where to look. Indeed, while larger muscles and regular feats are hard not to notice, being less-susceptible to the influence and manipulation of the endless numbers of bad actors out there who jerk people’s emotional chains or abuse their ignorance on various topics, often only manifests in very subtle ways. And many of the ways they do manifest make the average person feel uncomfortable, such as the guy you know who flatly and firmly says the word “no” as a complete sentence in itself, without adding layers of grammatical bubble wrap around it.
Anyone with the willpower and focus to develop mental strength can go from being the proverbial 97 lb. weakling to a Charles Atlas of cognition. Unfortunately, as yet there are no gyms for the mind, and even worse, there is no end to the number of self-styled gurus out there who want to sell you a load of goods from the back pages of the world’s current version of pulp magazines: social media.
With that in mind—and the fact that countering those people is a significant part of our mission here at Bullshido, here is a short list of concepts that will help you avoid getting sand kicked into your brain:
Bonhoeffer’s Theory of Stupidity
“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless.
Evil can be guarded against, but stupidity cannot, and it is endemic in the human race.
This conclusion may seem cynical, even defeatist, but if you know the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you realize comes from a place of empathy and sadness for the state of his country and humanity as a whole. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran minister in Germany around the rise of the Nazi party. He publicly lamented the descent of that country into fascism, with ordinary people violently turning on their neighbors along lines of race and other immutable characteristics. For his efforts, he was put in prison where he did much of his writing on the subject, and eventually executed.
Evil rarely comes in the form of a mustache-twirling villain or someone with skull emblems on their uniform. And in nearly every case where it does, it is empowered and defended by the stupid—people whose emotions rule them and refuse to accept much less acknowledge contradictory evidence. Indeed, “stupid” people, in this sense, become irritated and even violent when they are contradicted on their beliefs—thus creating a defensive barrier around even the most ridiculous and heinous beliefs that most normal people do not have the determination and strength to try to penetrate. At scale, this results in atrocities.
Knowing is—at best—a third of the battle
Being aware of Bonhoeffer’s Theory gives you an advantage in several ways, including the ability to reflect on whether or not you fall under this encapsulation of stupidity, helping to address that. But more importantly, you begin to see its effects at scale: in social situations, mobs, and especially as the underlying cause of many of our problems as a society. And being aware of how the stupid are exploited by sociopaths, along with the full scope of consequences for it scattered though the bloodstained history of mankind, you begin to see how you should put at least a little effort to reduce stupidity in your sphere of influence—even if it’s just grumbling a bit less at writing out that property tax check that goes to public education.
“For every PhD, there is an equal and opposite PhD.”
On first glance this concept would appeal to the type of quarter-wit that loves to trot out their basement bedroom philosophy degree from the University of Cannabis with some variant of, “we can’t really know anything”, or “science is just a bunch of assholes making shit up”, or “magnets, how do they work?”
Instead though, this concept is helpful to grasp the utter nightmare of dealing with people who promote the Magnified Minority—the ridiculous voices on the fringe who give in to the irresistible and overwhelming incentives for catering to people who want to believe the opposite of whatever the current consensus is on a subject.
The reality is that while there isn’t remotely parity between the number of PhDs in a field who agree with the consensus and the fringe contrarians trying to claw their way to notoriety or Patreon subscriptions by spreading bullshit, it sadly only takes a handful of them to muddy the waters, especially given our previous entry into this list.
Furthermore, this effect is exacerbated by one particular skill set that is developed in the process of earning a PhD: the ability to rationalize and defend any conclusion irrespective of how wrong it is. As Gurwinder Bhogal said, “…having a PhD doesn’t make someone right, it often just makes them more skilled at being wrong.”.
There are a ton of heuristics that do a reasonably good job of sorting out the credibility of a person’s contribution to a subject, and while having earned a PhD is one of them, that doesn’t make it foolproof—there are always highly-talented fools around.
The Shirky Principle
“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”
Speaking of incentives, another thing to be aware of and on the lookout for when making everyday decisions, is the reality that so many of the organized solutions to complex and difficult issues that people have come together to devise, eventually end up perpetuating those issues in order to ensure said organization continues to exist. The reasons for this aren’t too complex, ranging from people who pay their bills by working on the issue (and would have to find employment in a completely different field), to personal or emotional investment in the institution and not wanting to see the glorious struggle end—like some aging rebel still trying to stick it to the man (from his 6 bedroom McMansion in a gated community).
It’s at this point where we at Bullshido have to do a bit of gratuitous horn-tooting, by way of providing an example for other organizations.
As many of our readers are aware, we started this project over twenty years ago, mainly to call out BS in the martial arts and combat sports, with a few side trips into stolen valor and other forms of prestige or credibility theft.
Towards the end of our first decade, however, it became apparent that there were fewer and fewer examples of frauds, or cranks, or shameless con-artists left in the world of martial arts that the people who were interested did not know about. Indeed, as we were one of the groups that most strongly promoted the sport of Mixed Martial Arts—not only as a pastime, but a means to test whether someone actually could put their martial arts skills into practical use—the sport’s rise in popularity did more heavy lifting on getting the average person to understand what actual fight skills looked like in action, rather than in action movies.
Once that became clear, and the only people who were left believing ridiculous ideas like how you don’t really have to spar to be good at fighting (like James Lindsay here), were too sad and pathetic to spend much time trying to dunking on much less convincing. And consequently, we started going after bigger, more dangerous forms of bullshit that pervade the health, wellness, and fitness industries.
Knowing why some serious problems persist despite having well-funded institutions dedicated to addressing them, is the first step in addressing that meta-problem. And speaking of well-funded institutions—which we are not—here’s a link to our Patreon page.