Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

How to Have Unique Ideas

Before Trump, I might have said the liberals were the party of “conformity” and using moralistic outrage to control behavior. Maybe; it was at least up for debate anyway. Not anymore, you’ve overtaken us, you Trumpian-conservatives, good job. Good job.

Regardless of if you agree with me where I’ve drawn the line on this (maybe you think liberals are still worse, maybe you thought conservatives were always worse) I hope you’ll perhaps agree that, as a country, we have a problem with groupthink right now. It’s probably easier to see in the other side than it is to see in your own side, or in yourself, so let’s not worry about where we draw the line, and rather just consider the question how can you start having more ideas that are uniquely your own?

I would like to suggest, first off, if you find yourself “always” agreeing with what your particular in-group is saying, you are probably not thinking for yourself. You are probably simply regurgitating things you have absorbed; it’s fine, we all do that sometimes. Maybe we all even do this most of the time, but our goal is, to create some ideas that are yours. One easy way to do being going about doing this, is to start asking yourself the question “how is my opposition right?”

For instance, I am a strong feminist. But, what are some things I think anti-feminists tend to be right about?

  • Some women feel deprived of the opportunity to be traditional mothers in today’s environment
  • Some young men have very strong un-met needs that were traditionally met through marriage
  • We all have to work harder and have less leisure time now that it’s expected that women should be in the workforce

I actually agree with these points anti-feminists sometimes put forth. Now, when I go back to integrate these ideas into my feminism, I can end up with a bit more nuance to what I was originally thinking. For instance, I think it was a feminist oversight to not put more effort into raising the status of mothers, so now the main way women can gain status is joining the workforce; we should consider feminist ways of addressing that issue. I do not believe, however, we should go back to forcing all women to be traditional mothers because some women want that.

I also believe, we are having social problems because many young men are lacking necessary social support. However, I do not believe we should start depriving women of livelihood so we can start forcing them to be economically dependent on men, so these young men can get their needs met via traditional marriage. Rather, I would favor exploring new methods and techniques to help young men get their needs met.

You get the idea.

If you cant see the element of truth that your opposition has, you’re probably missing part of the bigger picture. It actually reminds me of a really good article, written by a pro-life conservative (that I can’t for the life of me find.) Right around the time of the roe v wade leak, this conservative guy said he was happy Roe v Wade was likely to get overturned, but acknowledged the legitimacy of why liberals were so upset about it. He acknowledged that the lack of majority rule, and the fact that a group of unelected officials were able to make such wide sweeping decisions, was actually deeply disturbing despite the fact that he agreed with this particular outcome. Even though I don’t agree with what his point of view, he is a person I could respect intellectually and engage with.

I recently wrote a fairly condescending piece on why conservatives have no new ideas because I’ve stopped giving any fucks that conservatives find me condescending, but truth is, part of why I find the vast majority of contemporary conservatives to be so fucking basic is I’ve engaged with intelligent conservatives who have a rational basis for their ideas, and I know most of the conservatism getting peddled now is vacuous trash aimed at helping republicans keep an authoritarian grip on power. And, yes, the liberals do the same thing — but right now, they have much less institutional power so their ideas are much less stupid.

But, let’s forget about culture at large. How can our own ideas be less stupid? Well, one way is to see what’s true in our opponents ideas, that’s true. Another way is, to observe our own emotionality around what certain ideas bring, and dive right into the most scary thing.

For instance, when I first started my career in programming, deep down, I was terrified that I wasn’t going to be as intelligent as the men around me. I didn’t like to admit this to anyone, but it was an absolutely pertinent insecurity for me. To make matters worse, young men I worked with would often send me articles on things like “why women are less rational than men” and things like that (yeah, that would be a hostile work environment and I probably could have gotten him fired, but I didn’t.) The fact that I felt like I had to constantly defend my intelligence wore on me, and every single tiny mistake I made was humiliating.

And, eventually, I just decided to look at it head on; what if women were actually less intelligent than men? What would that mean? Well, if it was on average, the gender ratio in the engineering department was over 95% male, so I had made it through a more tight requirements to get the job. So, even if it was true on average, it didn’t mean it was true about me specifically. I might be an outlier, an unusually rational woman. (Maybe.)

Second of all, all the “women are less intelligent” studies tended to look at a very particular type of intelligence, usually mathematical and analytical. Were these necessarily the most useful types of skills to society? Was it possible that more traditionally “feminine” traits like empathy and social awareness were less valued, but still highly important?

When I’d sorted through the kind of “worst case” scenario, and seen there were possibilities that made it less threatening to me personally if it turned out to be true, I was able to re-evaluate the situation again. And, it raised a new question: what type of man sends women articles about how women are stupid? Is it really a man who is secure in his own intelligence?

Eventually I began to note, high intelligence and high performing men tended to be able to work with intelligent and high performing women, but less intelligent men tended to try to cut women down. Now, I believe that women and men have similar levels of technical capacity, but women tend to be run out by medium to low intelligence men who exhibit sexism to disguise their mental inadequacies. In fact, I began to see sexism as a marker for lower technical ability because it indicates personal insecurity. Additionally, I saw some super high performing women talk at conferences, who were very analytical and precise, so that helped be conclude that women could be highly technically competent if they wanted to be.

Let me tell you, my whole mindset and ability to work in tech completely changed when I began to see sexist men as low performance, and I’ve had a 15 year career (and counting) career in tech. However, I would never have been able to get there if I hadn’t confronted the very thing I was afraid of, if I hadn’t been willing to say, “it’s possible women are less intelligent than men, I should evaluate if I believe this is true, then make a personal decision this after.” If I had concluded, for instance, that yes — my technical ability was worse than my male peers, but I had other things of value to add to the world, maybe my career path would have been different.

(It’s worth noting, there were some differences between me and male programmers on average; I liked working closely with designers and UI people, and I enjoyed full product work rather than stuff like dev4dev libraries, and I like getting user statistics so I can see how people use what I built. I also never got super into open source, despite appreciating its value, because it lacked access to an end user. I accepted these may be gender related, or simply personality related — but, if they are gender related, that’s ok. I found my place and I’m happy.)

Having an awareness of how certain ideas impact you emotionally is important to seeing the validity of ideas; we tend to just outright deny ideas that we are afraid of. However, diving into them more deeply doesn’t necessary mean you end up taking the idea on, it may be that you add more nuance to your own existing world view.

Then finally — and, I guess maybe I should have started with this because it’s a big one, to have unique ideas you want to just be having more ideas. Right now, I have 356 unpublished drafts in my medium backlog. If I don’t finish a blog post in one sitting, I functionally never get around to going back and finishing it. Effectively, my writing process is a form of figuring something out. Sometimes, half way through, I get to something and I think, nah, I don’t believe that.

(For instance just before this piece I was writing something called “How Could Traditional Gender Roles be Integrated into Liberal Ideology?” and after getting half way through, I was like this isn’t going to work so I just left it. I always have this idea that, “maybe one day I’ll go back and refine it” but I never do. Occasionally, I’ll go back and read something old and, be like Jesus Christ, I’m glad I didn’t publish that.)

But the thing is, having more of your own ideas — writing them down, getting them out (even if it’s in a personal notebook you never show anyone else) this helps you build up your own personal ideology. And, don’t be afraid to get ideas out that seem like they go against conventional wisdom, or common knowledge or things like that; these are exactly the types of ideas that often turn out to be the most interesting. And again, the key is more. It’s actually easier to select a good idea from a list of ideas than it is to come up with a good idea on the spot.

Anyway, at the end of the day, what your ideology ends up being, as long as you believe in the base equality of humans, I’m probably going to be ok with you as a person. The people I get frustrated with are the people who uncritically parrot the viewpoints of others without wrestling with them to make them their own; this ends up granting power to the original idea generator, and so disproportionately ends up granting power to people who generate inflammatory or controversial ideas. Hence, where we are today.

Break the cycle; if you’re going to have some stupid ideas, they may as well be your own.

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