Scholars Of The Deep


“There is a difference between loving one’s life because of its achievements and enjoyments and loving one’s life for the sake of life itself. It is one thing to relish in one’s victories and successes. It is something else to love one’s life despite or even because of one’s failures and suffering.” (Kathleen Higgins and Robert Solomon)

This quote tries to overthrow the values of achievement and enjoyment by saying it is distinct (and distracts) from appreciating one’s life for the sake of life itself. It then implies (as any Buddhist Syncretist would agree) that appreciating life, in and for itself, requires the tenet of coming to love the suffering that comes to us in our lives. To do so is the first step towards not recoiling from the unpleasant, or reflexively grasping at the pleasant. One can then experience how it is “possible to be at ease in the world for no reason, if only for a few moments at a time, and that such ease is synonymous with transcending the apparent boundaries of the self.” (Sam Harris, Waking Up)

This mindset of being at ease for no reason makes for a good base-line when viewing motivation and goal-orientation. But not because it is neutral or passive. In fact, it carries a passion for discerning what is subjectively real in every moment. It represents the observer who wants only to experience more clearly. This makes for a good base-line because it is the only approach to subverting ceaseless change as an unreliable basis for lasting fulfillment. (Meditative Objectivity)

“Our values grow out of our passions. Thus all values–those which apparently deny and slander as well as those which affirm and embrace life–express the needs of living beings. The difference is simply that values of the former type express the requirements of suffering and decadent forms of life; whereas those of the latter type are expressions of healthy, ascending forms of life.” (Kathleen Higgins and Robert Solomon, The Portable Nietzsche)

This quote says that all values express the needs of living beings. And therefor, as humans with needs, we should not be handed our values; they should grow from our passions. This frame allows for degrees of moral relativism: experiences can work as a strong tool for internalizing higher values, desires, and preferences, on both an individual and societal level (would today’s world contain more violence if the World Wars never happened?).  (Moral Relativism)

“To cut off all attachments, to shun the pleasures of sensuality and triumph in an effort to escape the pains of loss and defeat–this now strikes me as an inappropriate response to the inevitable presence of some suffering in everyday life…Through passionate attachments to people, goals, and pleasures, life must be lived to the fullest… To do otherwise is an affront to human nature.” (Jonathan Haidt)

This quote denies The Eastern Ideal of cutting all attachments, because people who live in wealthy democracies can set long-term meaningful goals and expect to meet them.[1]

This gives us a sense of a ‘healthy ego’, which helps us fulfill our goals in life. These goals can either provide benefit in the moment, or in the future. Investing your time into future benefit is what builds a sense of self. Motivation should focus on finding an enjoyable path to building a happy sense of self. (The Benefit of Reliable Abundance)

The trend thus far has been to move from the bottom up: moral relativism, meditative objectivity, and the benefit of reliable abundance. Following this trend, a nice next step could be to focus on benefit that compounds over time. Reminiscent of that obnoxiously boring relative that loves reminding you how the ice-cream sandwich you just bought could have turned into a week-long vacation in the Bahamas 50 years from now if you invested it.

The value of a thing comes from the value it provides over the course of its entire life. It is therefor useful to recognize and then focus on the pieces that have larger multiplicative effects. For example, going deep into knowledge that can also be used to improve your life (the necessity being that you have to start with yourself before you can effectively focus externally).

For example, if you like to compartmentalize aspects of your life, it might be helpful to view personal life investments as filling various buckets with meaning: self, family, friends, career, partner, hobbies, spirituality. When viewed more holistically: climb Maslovs, paint your mosaic of ideals in the clouds, reify.

If you are less into compartmentalizing things, it may be helpful to view the process as untying large knots of perceptual complexity into clear trails of distinction (such as this meandering essay).

To capture the principle components of this space, lets try and formally label emotional, social, and non-academic competencies (i.e. Skills).

Non-academic Competencies (Skills)

Decision Making Conflict Management
Empathy Flexibility
Goal Orientation Futuristic Thinking
Analytical Problem Solving Negotiation
Creativity Teamwork
Continuous Learning Written Communication
Interpersonal Skills Planning and Organization

Social-Emotional Competencies (Skills)

Sense of Self Sense of Belonging Evaluating Others
Internal Self Control Handling Rejection Practical Thinking
Self Awareness Handling Stress Accountability for Others
Self Management Resiliency Attitude Toward Others
Self Direction Realistic Expectations Intuitive Decision Making
Sensitivity to Others Personal Drive Using Common Sense
Social Awareness Self Confidence Respect for Policies
Social Management Personal Accountability Following Directions
Relating to Others Systems Judgment Integrative Ability

Suggested Virtues

Curiosity Simplicity Courage
Relinquishment Humility Humanity
Lightness Perfectionism Justice
Evenness Precision Temperance
Argument Scholarship Transcendence
Empiricism Wisdom The Void

“I think many people would benefit from … keeping options open and learning as they go; from going outside their comfort zone and challenging themselves to gain new skills; and from generally focusing, early on, on personal development and learning.” (Holden Karnofsky, GiveWell)

Holden is saying that its important to push your comfort zone to gain new skills, thereby becoming a generalist. But speaking vaguely about goals is a recipe for existential angst. So if this sounds too heavy, if it all feels too serious, don’t forget: Life is a game. Its called Samsara. Nobody wins. (Benefit That Compounds Over Time)

We now move from a place of internal health, to one of positive external influence. Moving slowly, we find ourselves in our immediate communities: at home with family, adventures with friends, at work with peers. The mutual support of Immediate Others gives strength and endurance towards a vision.

Lets say Culture and Strategy are the highest abstractions for traits of a community. Culture is less about what we want to achieve (i.e. excludes ambition) and more about who we are. Therefor, culture contains things such as a demographic and an accepted morality. Strategy, on the other hand, is about choosing a system to solve the problem at hand, or how a community functions.

This is why the idea of “Culture Over Bureaucracy” is interesting. It hopes for Strategy to be an emergent quality of Culture. An attempt at functional anarchy. The goals of the community are reached from a bottom-up Bias Towards Action.

Contrary to this is that some constraint is good for us; absolute freedom is not. And so explicitly recognizing emergent norms, or establishing intentional norms, is useful for moving towards shared goals. That is, to create a cohesive community, its members should establish healthy foundational norms that help them work together towards a common, shared identity. (Benefit Of Immediate Community)

[to be continued…]