Timeless Ideas | September 19, 2020

Here’s your weekly dose of timeless ideas to sharpen your mind, make smarter decisions, and live better.

Quotes

I.

Don't discuss yourself, for you are bound to lose; if you belittle yourself, you are believed; if you praise yourself, you are disbelieved.

― Michel Montaigne


II.

In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.

― Blaise Pascal


III.

As the sun does not wait for prayers and incantations to be induced to rise, but immediately shines and is saluted by all, so do you also not wait for clappings of hands and shouts of praise to be induced to do good, but be a doer of good voluntarily and you will be beloved as much as the sun.

― Epictetus

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Ideas

I.

Concentrate every minute like a Roman—like a man—on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can—if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.

Marcus Aurelius in Meditations


II.

Since procrastination is a message from our natural willpower via low motivation, the cure is changing the environment, or one’s profession, by selecting one in which one does not have to fight one’s impulses. Few can grasp the logical consequence that, instead, one should lead a life in which procrastination is good, as a naturalistic-risk-based form of decision making.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder


III.

The desire to be right and the desire to have been right are two desires, and the sooner we separate them the better off we are. The desire to be right is the thirst for truth. On all counts, both practical and theoretical, there is nothing but good to be said for it. The desire to have been right, on the other hand, is the pride that goeth before a fall. It stands in the way of our seeing we were wrong, and thus blocks the progress of our knowledge.

W. V. Quine and J.S. Ullian in The Web of Belief

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Articles Worth Reading

I.

The Crushing Reality of Zoom School

Dan Sinker | Esquire

The lesson we refuse to learn with COVID-19 is that decisions we make today have no bearing on us right now, but have a huge effect in a few months. That’s why locking down in March reduced the number of deaths in May. Why opening bars in May brought deaths right back up in July. Why parties on Memorial Day left us with COVID numbers nearly twice as high on Labor Day, and why reopening in-person school in September will likely do exactly what you’d expect come November. The delay between action and reaction means we keep half assing our way through a pandemic that kicks our asses in return.


II.

Why Power Brings Out Your True Self

Matthew Hutson | Nautilus

Power exposes your true character. It releases inhibitions and sets your inner self free. If you’re a jerk when you gain power, you’ll become more of one. If you’re a mensch, you’ll get nicer. So if you happen to all of a sudden become president, or at least president of your lab or book club, what inner self will come out?


III.

How the Government Lost Its Mind

Deborah Pearlstein | The Atlantic

For as much blame as the president himself deserves for the country’s current dire condition—and his malign incompetence is breathtaking—the federal government’s failure here is not the president’s alone. Expert agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have, from the start, stumbled and delayed, struggled to collect data, secure accurate tests, or convey a consistent message. Congress, too, has proven unable to compel swift action to address shortages or coordinate the distribution of essential supplies, and equally unable to constrain apparently rampant corruption in the allocation of the funds it has authorized. Even the courts have at times balked at accepting pandemic basics, such as the notion that states might have reasonable grounds for permitting large gatherings outdoors but not in. In the face of such systemic failure, is it time to rethink the system itself?

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