One day Mr. Sun and Mr. Wind were having an argument about who was stronger,
when they spotted a man walking along the road.
They challenged one another to see who could get the man to remove his coat.
Well, it was Mr. Wind's turn first, and Mr. Wind said:
"Right, lads, let's fucking rush him!"
and began to blow and blow.
But despite all of this the man only buttoned his coat tighter,
and Mr. Wind blew some more until he was exhausted.
But now it was Mr. Sun's turn.
Unlike Mr. Wind, Mr. Sun was very modest and restrained, and said:
"Right, you dopey c*nt,"
and began to shine and shine, all the while quietly whispering:
"Take off your fucking coat, you stupid cu**."
And the day got warmer and warmer, and sure enough, the man took off his coat,
proving once and for all that it's always nicer just to be nice.
Well, Mr. Sun was rather pleased with himself, as you can imagine.
"Oi! You see that, you fucking wind cu**?"
And the day continued to warm up, and the man took off his t-shirt, because it was hot.
And next he took off his trousers, revealing a number of politically reprehensible tattoos,
and Mr. Wind said:
"Look what you've done, you stupid sun cu**. Look what you've gone and fucking done!"
For a very long time, many of us believed that the Earth was at the center of the solar system, called "geocentrism",
and, to be fair, it does kind of look that way from the ground, if you don't know better.
But plenty of people in history pushed for a "sun at the center model" called "heliocentrism".
One proponent was a rather clever 16th century philosopher called Giordano Bruno.
He also believed that stars were distant suns with their own planets –
in the 1500s, remember.
A normal idea today, pretty whack-a-doodle back then.
The Catholic Church of the day were big supporters of Bruno's heliocentric ideas,
and celebrated his genius by lighting a big lovely bonfire,
which they popped him on top of!
Centuries later in the early 1900s,
and scientist Alfred Wegener noticed that the continents fit together a bit like an awkward jigsaw puzzle,
particularly Eastern South America and Western Africa.
He came up with a theory of continental drift –
the idea that the continents started as one big megamass called Pangea and slowly drifted apart over millions of years.
"Hey, that's a great idea,"
no geologist of the day said, and continued to fling intellectual shit at him non-stop for the remainder of his life.
It would take about 70 years –
or one Bill Murray –
for folks to realize he was actually spot on.
Kind of difficult to apologize, though, what with him being dead and everything.
September 15, 1999, and the Mars Climate Orbiter is just about to enter Mars orbit.
It does – though with a little too much enthusiasm,
The reason? Because the spacecraft was quite sensibly using metric measurements,
while the software back on earth was using imperial.
I can sympathize, somewhat –
having left England years ago, I'm still only able to conceive of the world in terms of stone, inches,
and repressed childhood sadness!
That's all just the beginning, really,
because the history of human civilization is one long failure of critical thinking.
Like the time humans invited a big wooden horsie into Troy;
like the time humans killed Julius Caesar in an attempt to save the Roman Republic,
and killed the Roman Republic;
like the time humans prescribed cocaine to treat hay fever,
and meth as a diet pill,
and heroin as a cough syrup –
Like the time humans repeatedly kept insisting on invading Russia...
during the winter.
♫ It's far too cold. Wear a fucking...
♫ It's far too cold. Wear a fucking... hat... ♫
♫ Or some nice booties... ♫
OR MAYBE SOME FUCKING GLOVES!
We are not a species built for critical thinking.
Just to illustrate the scale of the problem:
Is this a duck...
...or a bunny?
Or, which of the two orange circles is bigger –
the one on the left,
or the one on the right?
Neither: they're both the same size...
Likewise, which is rotating faster – the sphere, or the column in the center?
Neither – it's a still image, your brain is kindly animating it for you.
And, finally, if you run your eyes over each of these cat pictures,
is there one in particular that stands out?
The answer is this one, obviously,
because she's MY cat and she's FUCKING GORGEOUS!
And these are just silly optical illusions that trip us up.
How the hell are we supposed to see true reality when it comes to things that actually matter in our lives?
Well, for as long as we've been trying to grapple with ol' Johnny Reality,
there has been an enemy sabotaging us at every turn.
They live in our brain bits, and they are called "logical fallacies".
The correlation fallacy, for example.
We live in a world now swamped in data and numbery-wumbers,
and it makes it very tempting to look for correlations.
One that took a shamefully long time to admit was the now obvious link between death sticks and lung cancer.
Then again, careful there, chuckles,
there's also a highly compelling correlation between the number of people who drowned by falling into swimming pools from 1999 onwards
and the number of films around that time Nicholas Cage appeared in.
Correlation does not necessarily imply causation.
Begging the question.
This is the Ouroboros of bullshit logic.
Someone declares: "I own your house now."
You respond: "Why?"
They respond: "Because I have your keys."
"Why do you have my keys?"
"I already told you, jerko – because I own your house."
You will see this all the time in public debates,
very weak tea indeed.
The slippery slope.
Perhaps you suggest to someone that it might be time for them to give up snorting detergent.
A slippery slope response would be: "Well, what do I give up next?
Shoes, then water, then breathing!?
IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT!?"
No, this is clearly not what you meant.
It is possible to make a change to the status quo without the complete collapse of physical reality.
The false dichotomy.
This is the dick move of presenting an A-B choice that isn't actually A or B.
These include things like,
"Well, either we save the rainforests, or we save the whales. You decide!"
What? Why? Can't we just do both?
Or, one that really gets my goat:
"If science can't prove everything immediately about how the world works,
then it must all be magic."
...Wat? Why can't there just be an honest gap between science and truth called
"We don't know yet, but we'll get there one day"
NOFKYOlogy, motherlovers! ;)
And that's not even the half of it!
Our brains are riddled with these bastards, ready to trip us up at any moment:
the argument from tradition,
the argument from false authority,
the argument from "because I read half a fucking Wikipedia article" –
we are constantly falling prey to silly patterns of thought,
and the only safeguard against them is eternal vigilance.
And possibly drugs! :)
All that being said, one point that rarely gets brought up in critical thinking
is that there is something more satisfying than winning arguments,
and that's not getting into arguments.
As a kid and a teen, I was quite obsessed with psychic phenomena, like telekinesis and telepathy.
But the more I looked into it, the more it all just seemed like anecdotal evidence,
and so far, no psychic feats confirmed under fair experimental conditions.
All the same, I finally lost my faith one day while watching UK daytime TV,
and one of those psychics was on, claiming to talk to dead people's relatives.
I'm sure you know the drill:
"Hey, anyone in the audience know a dead person whose name begins with E?"
"...or any letter in the English alphabet?"
"Ooo, I do!"
"(Oh, thank fuck for that...) And they're telling me they knew you somehow..."
"Oh God, yeah, it was my grandfather!"
"And they're telling me they were your grandfather."
"Wow, that's incredible, how did you do that?"
"And I'm sensing they died from something that made them dead."
"Oh my god, he's a wizard!"
Why do these ghosts always have really specific messages,
but simultaneously can only remember the first letter of their own fucking names?
Anyway, it suddenly hit me:
"Hmm, either this guy is actually talking to the dead, which will completely revolutionize modern science,
or this motherfucker is taking advantage of fragile people who are grieving for their loved ones,
and he's doing it for monetary gain."
Which is a very special flavour of evil, I hope you will agree.
It destroyed my faith in psychics and gave me, shall we say,
an overly passionate dislike of people making big metaphysical claims they couldn't back up.
And every time I came across people at parties or over dinner who hinted at even the most gentle metaphysical sentiments –
"Ah, everything happens for a reason," or whatever –
I became, there is no other way to put it, an obnoxious dick,
because I associated all of them with this one guy I'd seen on TV.
I was... insufferable.
Years later, however, I was eating dinner with some friends and a friend of a friend had joined.
The new guy noticed I wasn't eating meat and asked,
and I said, "Ah, I'm not really into it," and attempted to leave the thing there.
But he followed it with: "Well, if you care about animals so much,
why are you still eating dairy products? That's cheese on your plate, isn't it?"
"Uh-huh," I said. "Anyway..."
"Well", he continued for some time,
"I mean, you're not really making a difference. You're probably just trying to demonstrate how morally superior you think you are to everyone else."
"Yes, that's a fair point," I said.
...In the universe where I'm a Buddhist monk.
In this universe, I said:
"Uuuuhhh, go fuck yourself! And who the fuck are you anyway?"
And, of course, an argument began, ruining dinner completely.
Months later, though, somehow, we calmed down and discussed the incident, him and I.
And he was decent enough to explain that he had a roommate
who constantly yelled at him for enjoying steak, or bangers and mash, or whatever,
and he had automatically put me into that very same camp.
Much like I had believed anyone who wasn't a hardcore scientific materialist like me
must be a con artist.
And that was kind of humbling, because I was no more going to yell at him for enjoying a bratwurst
than those poor people I'd been mean to over dinner were gonna con me out of money
to talk to my dead childhood hamster.
And it seems suddenly that arguments about ideas usually rely on two fundamental constants:
1) Everyone thinks they're being reasonable, however insane their position is,
and 2) No one's going to change their mind by getting called a dick.
Looking back on that unpleasant dinner, I should have just calmed down and said:
"You seem a bit irritated, mate. What's up?"
And we probably could have sorted things there and then.
But my pride was hurt, and that was all I could think about.
Some days, you're the pigeon,
some days, you're the statue,
and almost all of us are ignorant about almost everything.
The world is too big not to be.
But, miraculously, finding the mental strength to say
"Alright mate, you seem a bit annoyed. Let's talk about it,"
is always going to get a better result than "go fuck yourself".
It relies on constantly remembering that the primary characteristic of a silly person
is that they think they're clever, and usually enjoy insisting that they're correct about everything,
Which makes admitting to ignorance a rather rare and endearing virtue.
In other words, what would Socrates do?
That's a very different mantra, by the way, to
to "what would Diogenes do?" because the answer to that one would be
"piss on people you disagree with and take a shit in the theater."
Incidentally, just a small personal request to the New Theater Royal in Portsmouth:
please give my season ticket back –
I promise I won't do it again.
Despite our species being the smartest smartypantsers on the planet,
human children are some of the most helpless infants in the entire animal kingdom.
Baby giraffes can stand up just hours after their birth,
but it takes our infants years before they can be left unsupervised.
That means we have to take care of them for a long time,
out of nothing but kindness.
That's me, by the way, back when I couldn't stand up and lived on a liquid diet –
so, no much has changed, really...
I often marvel at the fact my mom and dad spent all that time raising me, and protecting me, and teaching me.
They did it because they are kind.
It is a debt I can never repay, and they wouldn't expect me to, either.
That kindness is what kept me alive, and some variation of it was what kept all of us alive in those early years.
Do you know – a lower jaw bone was found in Dmanisi, Georgia, some time back now?
It belonged to a member of the homo erectus family, our now extinct human cousins.
He was a male of about 40 years old, who lived probably 2 million years ago.
The jaw is missing all its teeth except for one.
And we know he lived a long time like that,
which means someone was helping him to eat.
Two million years ago, someone was feeding him.
Someone cared about him, maybe someone loved him –
back in deep time, even before our species began,
a person or a group was practicing compassion.
Someone was being kind for the sake of being kind.
I think about that two million year old jawbone a lot these days.
I like to imagine a little pack of our evolutionary cousins huddled around a fire, knowing little, understanding even less,
before recourse to reason, or law, or history,
before currency and standing armies,
and probably with no concept that one day, two million years in the future,
their cousins – us – would build this incredible global project of civilization,
and if there was some way we could have shown our cousins and ancestors just how far humans would one day come,
everything would seem alien to them –
except, perhaps, for compassion.
Because though they lived in perpetual ignorance,
though they were incorrect about almost everything all the time,
from that jawbone in Georgia,
from other ancient skeletons telling almost exactly the same story,
we know that they had kindness.
And it is the same kindness that today raises our kids and takes care of our elderly.
It's the same kindness that provides disaster relief or medical aid,
the same kindness that sustains friendships and writes love letters.
Do you ever get that weird "wow" moment sometimes, when you realize that the future isn't just this abstract sci-fi place – with hovercars or whatever –
it's ACTUALLY coming? Like, one day, it will ACTUALLY be the 22nd and 23rd centuries,
and they'll be just as pedestrian and real as the 21st century is to us?
And then, do you ever get that second "wow" moment when you realize that making it to those centuries isn't actually guaranteed,
that we could drop the ball at any moment,
and you think: "My god, is ANYONE making sure we're gonna be okay?
Is ANYONE actually steering the ship?"
'cause those sure are some big waves over there,
and we've never been this far out to sea before,
and maybe if we squint really hard, we can just about make out the promise of land centuries ahead.
But between the future and us are ten thousand furious storms –
of warfare, and infighting, and God knows we're in a crisis right this minute.
But our ancestors have been here before,
living forever on the knife-edge of ignorance and death,
at the constant mercy of systems inside and outside themselves
that they did not understand, just like us today.
And if there was one thing alongside intelligence and technology and wisdom,
if there was one thing that sustained them,
if there was ONE THING that got them through –
their bones are indisputable:
it was compassion.
It was kindness.
Doubtless, we will screw up in the future
with one million times the efficiency that we screwed up in the past.
We cannot, and will never be correct, about everything all the time.
Ignorance is in our bones.
But kindness is in our DNA.
And if anyone says otherwise...
Just tell them to fuck off.
With love, obviously...
Oh hi! Thanks for sitting through that.
Two things: firstly, I hope you enjoyed the opening animation,
because it was made by my best mate in the whole world – Mr. Jimmy Cakeshoes.
He's just starting out on here, and has a channel with a brilliant parody of Star Wars Episode 3,
which I laughed my ass off to, and I'm quite sure you will as well.
There is a link below if you'd like to go and check it out, or say hi, or wish him dead, etc.
It is an honor to have you working by my side, my man, and I'm just incredibly proud of you.
Second thing: I made a video a while ago called "thoughts about writing",
where I was trying to get down everything I wish I'd known about writing when I started writing,
but it was too bollocksy and abstract and it didn't work.
So what I have done is make some mini podcast episodes, if you like –
all about what to do If you're a creative type and you're having creative problems,
and also how to even get started with writing, or whatever else you want to do artwise.
We will cover everything – from finding inspiration to getting the sads, to creative burnout, to avoiding dark web narcotics.
The first few episodes are up on a separate channel,
there's a link below, and I will be uploading some more in the coming weeks – that's the plan, anyway.
I really hope you like them, I really hope they help with your creative endeavors;
big love, hope you're keeping safe, hope you're well.
New book coming soon, promise.
Dislike, unsubscribe, I detest you, goodbye... <3