How to Be Optimistic: 3 Major Steps

How to Be Optimistic: 3 Major Steps, Problems were solved centuries ago
Serenity Prayer
Know that there is a transcendent meaning

  1. Problems were solved centuries ago
  2. Serenity Prayer
  3. Know that there is a transcendent meaning

Some Examples of Transcendent Meaning:

  • Homer’s idea of living on in the Odes of their posterity (Alexander the Great, it is said believed in this conception)
  • Legacies of families
  • Nirvana, from Indian philosophy, or Reincarnation
  • Christianity, where one lives as an Image-Bearer of God, and reality itself is part of a tapestry of God’s plans, where God Himself (this seems the only true one, from what I can tell)

Consider these Visionaries:

  • Steve Jobs – trying to ‘make a dent in the universe’ – “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”
  • Martin Luther King:   “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
  • Napoleon– ” The strong man is the one who is able to intercept at will the communication between the senses and the mind.”
  • Churchhill: “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. “
  • Alexander the Great: “There is nothing impossible to him who will try.”

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Pre-Political Checklist with Chesterton: A Non-Partisan Primer for Intelligent Citizens

The inspiration for this article is the upcoming election cycle, and the impending and inevitable nonsense that will attend it. Two Chesterton quotes stand out for some helpful guidance. The first quote is this:

“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up.”

This is not restricted to political discussion, but generally good advice about evaluating the past.  The second quote is this:

“The men whom the people ought to choose to represent them are too busy to take the jobs. But the politician is waiting for it. He’s the pestilence of modern times. What we should try to do is make politics as local as possible. Keep the politicians near enough to kick them. The villagers who met under the village tree could also hang their politicians to the tree. It’s terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hung today.”

Building on these two quotes, I think three distinctions should be made before you start to think about what to vote for, and who to vote for.

The first distinction separates promises from reality. This should not need mentioning, but from talking with students in the university, watching the news, and observing social media, this clearly is worth mentioning. A politician gains power, and keeps power, by selling a narrative. However, the sale’s pitch and the product, are different things. A pitch for the climate may be bad for the climate. A pitch for safety may make things more dangerous. This is why we want our politicians close: if you have a salesman that never has to explain why they didn’t produce what they promised…why wouldn’t he overpromise and underdeliver (for those unacquainted with good business, it is supposed to be ‘under promise and over deliver’)?

The second distinction separates ‘moral’ issues from the ‘empirical’ issues. Giving a million dollars to an orphanage will have good consequences. But what if I got the money by stealing from the bank (other people’s money)? If we assume government policies are only an empirical matter that can be counted and calculated, this is skipping a rather important aspect of the discussion. Also, going back to the first distinction, we might call the act of stealing from the bank, to ‘reappropriate’ it to the orphans, the ‘Property Preservation Act.’ This doesn’t address the moral issue at all, and simply assumes that the act is just. After all, the politician and his supporters said it was.

The third distinction separates ‘character’ from ‘policy’. This relates to the character of the politician. In a perfect world, we would simply select perfect people, with perfect policies, but alas, we have politicians because we don’t have a perfect world, and we have tons of bad policies because we often don’t know which policies are the best (and we’re gullible). Further, a man with severe character flaws can enact good policy, and a saint can enact bad policies.

This brings us back to the first quote about fences. We are born in a world of institutions, but we have imperfect people, finite resources, and imperfect institutions. However, before you can fix things, you have to understand how things work. To fix a foundation, you need to understand a bit about foundations. To fix a wall, one needs to know a bit about walls. To fix this country, one needs to know how it does work before one fixes it. One needs to be able to make the distinctions listed above, and a bit about history.

If you’re not willing to do this….perhaps you shouldn’t vote. It isn’t a good idea to shoot in the dark.

Boiled Down Points, with Video

  1. Rational action requires knowledge, not gut reactions
  2. Political Action without accountability is a bad thing (though probably common)
  3. Character and Policy are separable things (this isn’t directly to the Chesterton quotes, but related and relevant)
  4. Moral issues and Empirical Issues are different things (also related)
  5. Promises and Actual Effects are different things

Excellent Sites about Chesterton:

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How to Refute an Argument (and how not to)

What is the difference between an uncritical attack, on the one hand, and a critical refutation, on the other? Understanding what is wrong and right is quite different from feeling comfortable with a given set of ideas and positions (comfort does not necessitate rightness or truth). To this end, to know this difference between actually arguing and refuting, I will briefly explain what a refutation actually is (and isn’t). In the world of information, this is extremely important.

If you want to pinpoint the source of an error in a given argument, you basically have two fronts to consider: (1) the truth of the premises, and (2) the reasoning between the premises that lead to the conclusion (validity). Knowing this, we can also infer how NOT to refute something. That is to say, a true refutation does at least one of the two things we just discussed (or both). A false refutation is something that looks good on a superficial and emotional level, like something substantial is being said but doesn’t survive careful analysis (it isn’t actually substantial; flash without substance).

Boiled Down: uNDERMINE AN ARGUMENT BY SHOWING the FALSITY OF ONE OR MORE PREMISES, AND/OR SHOWING THAT THERE IS AN INVALID INFERENCE.

fOR A COMPLETE REFUTATION, HOWEVER, YOU NEED A COUNTER ARGUMENT THAT CONTRADICTS THE CONCLUSION OF THE ARGUMENT THAT YOU ARE ATTACKING.

Some popular fallacies are basically attacks (not on the actual argument, its premises, etc). Ad hominem (latin for ‘against the man’) is popular, which is simply to attack the character of the arguer or the platform that they have. For instance, rather than wrestling with the cited data, the interpretation of the data, or the reasoning, one could attack the style, or appeal to anything else that prevents another person from ‘taking it seriously.’ The ‘it’ here is the argument. The argument is important, the means that the communication is made, verbally, visually, etc, but these things are not important (only important in an auxiliary way).

This can’t be stressed enough. A bad person can make a good argument. A good person can make a bad argument. A smart person can assert something foolish and stupid. A fool can say something brilliant and true. This is why critical thinking and logic are so important. If we can cultivate the ability to reason together, examine arguments, and know what the ‘point’ of the argument is, then we can all jointly get closer to the truth.

With this in mind, if you read something that you think is wrong, the burden is two-fold: showing the falsehood of premises, and/or showing the illicit inference. That’s it.


Contrariwise, a false refutation is precisely when you make an attack that essentially tells yourself and others: ‘don’t wrestle with the premises and reasoning’. That is, a false refutation is an attack on the general credibility of the arguer instead of the argument itself.

There are some some notable things to be said though, regarding credibility of sources. A person known for lying might be lying. True. A news site known for fabricated stories might be fabricating stories. These are things that we should be aware of. However, if we are to be part of the critical discussion of ideas and truth, we have to demonstrate where the arguments go wrong, if we are to understand how to get things right.

In short, critical reasoning is hard, and we should be on our guard to not pretend we are doing it, when in fact, we are just attacking something without examining it carefully. An honest solution is easy. You can say, ‘I don’t know.’ Or, ‘I haven’t examined the studies yet.’ The worst thing that you can do though, is to pretend to think carefully when there was nothing going on but sheer prejudice (‘I don’t like this view, so it must be stupid and wrong’).

So, let’s talk about premises and reasoning because that is what critical thinking requires. It is hard. It is time-consuming. But it is better for everyone.

See also these articles on reasoning and logic:

Provisional How-to for Voting (without being a lemming)

Don’t assume that voting issues are binary (neatly divisible by two; R vs D), because that is simply absurd. There are at least 100 crucial moral, scientific, and historical issues that need careful consideration, in order to make informed policy decisions and voting well. The very idea that all of your political positions can be comprehensively represented by two different parties is indescribably silly…

  1. Don’t assume that voting issues are binary (neatly divisible by two; R vs D), because that is simply absurd. There are at least 100 crucial moral, scientific, and historical issues that need careful consideration, in order to make informed policy decisions and voting well. The very idea that all of your political positions can be comprehensively represented by two different parties is indescribably silly. If you think that the political complexities are suitably covered by two categories, please don’t vote. It is likely that your reasoning is ill-informed.
  2. Don’t assume that every policy that promises something as just, is really just. Only a fool would simply assume a politician is telling the truth. Quite often, a policy that is marketed as just is unjust. Or, something for the poor, may not actually help the poor.
  3. Understand the principle of ‘cui bono’, and invested interests. Politicians thrive on emotional appeals. Cui Bono?: this simply translates to ‘who benefits?’. It is a good question, regardless of what the issue is. It isn’t decisive, but it is important to keep in mind. Politicians stay in power, and expand their power, by appealing to the ‘greater good.’ (this includes Third Reich, USSR; this is not a crude ad Hitlerum, but a simple appeal to the facts of history: politicians appeal to emotions, and get power through this)
  4. Suspend judgment (if you think you understand all of the issues of politics without much thought, you are either a bona fide genius, or you’re an utter fool)
  5. Evaluate issues independently: Each issue, and the corresponding political solutions, these need to be considered independently, as well as with other policies, historical context, means, etc. However, since we have a tendency to get wrapped up in emotional and irrational passions, it is wise to isolate things to their barest components before one can seriously evaluate what the issue really is, and what the appropriate response should be (sometimes inaction is preferable to inappropriate State action)
  6. Understand different aspects of policies:
    1. Know how moral issues differ from empirical issues (not strictly speaking, empirical; a policy might be immoral, even if does something that a group of people likes)
    2. Know how empirical issues (factual issues about the actual world) differ from moral issues (issues about right and wrong). For instance, empirical issues, strictly speaking, are not about moral principles. Moreover, sometimes a given policy isn’t obviously wrong (morally), but history may show that it doesn’t provide what it promises, or is grotesquely inefficient; like this$2 million dollar bathroom)
    3. Know how political theories underpin a given policy because some political theories are bad (this isn’t easily captured in a parenthesis, and requires a longer article; see Politics Without the Labels)
    4. Know how economic theories underpin a given policy (if a given policy is based on disproven/bad theory, that is a reason to not support it)
    5. ‘Good consequences’ don’t mean that it is the right thing to (otherwise, robbing a bank would be good, provided you distributed it properly; hint, it is still wrong)
    6. If you can’t separate these issues, this means that you should probably do some research, and after critical thought and discussion (assuming you have friends that are willing and capable of doing this), you can then revisit the underpinning issues later, with a clearer head, so to speak.

7. Exercise a little skepticism about policy promises, especially when someone is appealing to darker vices (revenge, envy, division, blame). Of course, sometimes people are to blame, but if the blame is assigned by getting carried away by tribalistic us-vs-them sentiments, you have to exercise MORE caution.

8. Look at strong defenses for both sides, and don’t formulate your positions by looking at caricatures from one opponent mischaracterizing the other. For instance, free market capitalism isn’t about greed, consumerism, and the destruction of the environment. Really. There are principled, well-meaning people that think that free markets make life better culturally, financially, politically, etc, without being pro-greed, pro-consumerism, and anti-environment. Likewise, though some capitalists may actually advocate for these negative things, it would be foolish to judge an entire group of people by the least coherent, and objectionable person that MISREPRESENT the position.

9. Don’t assume that there is deep-seated racism, bigotry, etc, etc, etc, simply because somebody disagreed with your beloved party. It is just silly…and annoying…and stupid.  If you put on colored glasses….guess what, everything you see will be….wait for it…colored. It will look different if you look at things from different angles and arguments. Consider what I call the Statist Fallacy: assuming that if you somebody does not think that the State is the appropriate mechanism to address a given ill in society, that this necessarily that such a person is against the given cause (e.g. State-run education vs. private charity). Understanding this fallacy makes it clear that it is not valid to conclude that since a person advocates for a private solution for a given problem, it is not necessarily because this person that does not value education itself. For instance, one can intelligently and coherently maintain that one means is more appropriate than another means towards a given end. Research and thought are needed to determine this, not gut reactions, ad hominem’s, and hysterics.

Much more can be said, obviously, but these are essential aspects to voting responsibly. Have any suggestions to add to this? Let me know.

Learn your fallacies, and save the world! (Yes, this is hyperbole, but there is something to it)

Is this an exaggeration? Yes! Learning your fallacies may not save the world, but it will make it a little less irrational, and that is a very good thing. You could, of course, go the completely free route, and look at Wikipedia, and the many lists of fallacies, or check out some great free podcasts.

Is this an exaggeration? Yes! Learning your fallacies may not save the world, but it will make it a little less irrational, and that is a very good thing. You could, of course, go the completely free route, and look at Wikipedia, and the many lists of fallacies, or check out some great free podcasts.  Also, you can check out my article Intro to Logic for Commenting on Social Media (aka, how not to be an idiot, when reading, thinking, and posting on social media).

If you only are going to spend a few minutes…then simply read on.

Bad reasoning is typically divided into two major types. The first is a problem in the logical structure relating to a problem in form, or a formal fallacy. The other type of problem relates to a problem of content (the material, or matter, of the argument). Both are important, but if you are not going to spend your time studying logic (be honest), then the most common errors will be discussed here, which can be broadly captured by two camps of errors about the matter of an argument: ‘appealing to the wrong things’ and ‘being hasty.’ Common examples of appealing to the wrong things can be appealing to popularity, authority, force, feelings, pity, envy, etc. The biggest issue that you need to realize is that fallacies screw up your reasoning because they do have something to them, and often they do get you rules that often work out (but they don’t always, and often mislead us). Consider being a poisoner. Would you succeed in poisoning someone if you leave out a contained labeled “POISON!”? No, but you might succeed if you hid the poison in things that look like non-poisonous things tea, coffee, and doughnuts.

Fallacies are like that, they are sneaky little blighters.

You probably would go right, most of the time, by taking your doctor’s advice, but just because a doctor advised something does not mean that it necessarily is the best course (doctors can be wrong). You’d probably get it right sometimes if you polled people on uncontroversial topics like the weather. But here’s the problem: with controversial things, we’re trying to sort out the BS, and to do that, we need to be less hasty, less credulous, and more critical.  To accomplish this, we have to take to heart to some hard lessons, like: facts don’t care about how you feel (it doesn’t necessarily mean anything except that you feel a certain way), doing something doesn’t mean you should (even if a bunch of people think it is ok), believing you are right doesn’t mean that you are, and even thinking carefully–even this– still doesn’t mean that you are right.

The first major camp of informal fallacies is basically about appealing to things that don’t really matter (though it seems relevant), if you think carefully (even if that method often works well normally). The second camp relates to being hasty. This is obviously related to the first, but is a little different, because it has less to do with appealing to something, than with assuming that one’s premise gets you more than it really does.

For instance, consider statistics: correlation does not equal causation. E.g.  100% of serial killers drink water. Coincidence? Put that water down you sicko! This might trick us though, because when there is a causal relation, there will also be a correlation.

Another popular fallacy, also with statistics, ignores this: disparity does not equal injustice. E.g. Two equally trained people do the same things, but one gets paid much more than the other. Injustice! But this is clearly problematic, what if one person is working while in jail for murdering pregnant women and their unborn babies (and working in the prison)? This could also make sense when one person with equal training, background, etc, simply does a better job than the other, despite otherwise equal backgrounds. But in this case, one person was working in a prison, while the other was doing the same job outside of prison (relevantly different than).

Or take an economic fallacy that is driven by the uncritical conviction that equal ‘labor’ should net equal pay (as if labor and calorie expenditure are more valuable than, say, productive value). Contrast the differences between a person that creates an entire industry and makes a billion dollars, and works 70 hours a week, but his twin works 70 hours a week too, but at McDonald’s, and makes far less. If there is an injustice, it requires an argument, rather simply saying that if there is a disparity, then there must be an injustice. In this case, one person took risks, built something that otherwise wasn’t there, and created a complex system of layered planning, cooperation, and voluntary exchanges, on the one hand, while on the other, this person took no risk, built nothing, invested nothing in terms of long-term plans/energy, etc, made naught but a sandwich, created no systems, and did not need to know how to facilitate multi-layered, voluntary exchanges.

This is nothing but a sketch, of course. I’d recommend that you do your own research, try to jump to fewer conclusions, say ‘I don’t know’ a lot (unless, of course, you do), and try to name the fallacies that you think you find in the news, what you read, and what you say. We make mistakes all the time. It is just silly to assume otherwise. So, let us all try to make fewer bad appeals, less hasty generalizations, and help each other seek the truth, encourage civilized discussion, and become self-educated in the best sense of the word. If we do these things the world will be a little better off.

Some other websites with fallacy examples:

https://carm.org/logical-fallacies-or-fallacies-argumentation
https://www.bethinking.org/apologetics/logic-and-fallacies-thinking-clearly
http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/index.html

Some Free Podcasts:

https://player.fm/series/mastering-logical-fallacies

Good Books to Buy:

Socratic Logic: A Logic Text using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles, Edition 3.1
With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies

Some other websites with fallacy examples:

https://carm.org/logical-fallacies-or-fallacies-argumentation

https://www.bethinking.org/apologetics/logic-and-fallacies-thinking-clearly

http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/index.html

Some Free Podcasts:

https://pintswithaquinas.com/podcast/28-7-common-logical-fallacies/

https://player.fm/series/mastering-logical-fallacies

Good Books to Buy:

Socratic Logic: A Logic Text using Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles, Edition 3.1

With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies

Intro to Logic for Commenting on Social Media (aka, how not to be an idiot, when reading, thinking, and posting on social media)

Admit it, you’ve wondered why some people can’t help from saying stupid things. However, have you thought about what the ‘right way’ to read, think, and respond is, to another person’s argument? I’m going to give a run-down about how to start thinking about this.

Intro to Logic for Commenting on Social Media (aka, how not to be an idiot, when reading, thinking, and posting on social media)

Admit it, you’ve wondered why some people can’t help from saying stupid things. However, have you thought about what the ‘right way’ to read, think, and respond is, to another person’s argument? I’m going to give a run-down about how to start thinking about this.

First, seriously note that your feelings might be quite irrelevant. Your feelings might be very informative, but the reality is that humans do not do their best thinking when ruled by their unreflective reactions. Things are not entirely solved, however, by simply being calm and collected.

For instance, one can spend a great deal of time and energy thinking about something, and still come to the wrong conclusion (thinking carefully is good, but calm and careful thinking merely helps, it does not guarantee well-reasoned thought). Think about every horrible book that was written with a lot of forethought.

Second, remember your fallacies. Fallacious reasoning is reasoning that appears strong and good, but in reality, instead of actually giving valid reasoning, it appeals to something else, like emotion, prejudices, etc. Bracket in your mind the difference between valid reasoning from fallacious reasoning. I will put some resources on my website, but until then, there are a ton of helpful websites out there to clarify the differences. In short, though, don’t commit fallacies yourself.

Third, seek to understand the statement of the post from a charitable perspective. For instance, in political discussion, some people fail to notice that there is often agreement on the ends (goals) of a given policy, but only a disagreement of the means towards those shared goals. For instance, someone on the right might argue for less gun control, and someone on the left might argue for more gun control. Both, presumably, want safer neighborhoods, social health, prosperity for their nation, etc. In this instance, granting charity, then, both sides want to protect children, the only disagreement is the means. Likewise, two people might agree that healthcare is very important, and want all people to have great healthcare.

A free-market person would argue that free markets produce better results, and since healthcare is very important, therefore, free-markets should drive healthcare. On the other hand, someone for State-intervention (for every problem, because without the government, we couldn’t even tie our own shoes) might say that healthcare is very important, so the government should be tasked with it.

The free-market person and the Statist are both interested in getting the best healthcare system, and it would be wrong to mischaracterize one’s opponent, by assuming that they want something different from what they actually want (since they both want great healthcare for the country).

Fourth, know what your job is, as a critical reasoner. You didn’t know you had a job? Well, studying logic tells us that we actually have two major tasks to perform when we check an argument (thanks Aristotle, you rock). The first job is to check if the premises properly connect to each other. That is, check whether the form of the argument is right: one premise properly connects to another, and the conclusion follows from the premises.

This can get a little technical, but the gist is something like this: make sure there are no formal fallacies, and that the form of the argument is right. The second job is checking that the premises in the argument are true. If we checked that the form right, and it passes, then if the premises are true, then the conclusion must follow (logic is pretty cool, I know). Given these two jobs, checking for validity and for truth, we now know that if there is something wrong with the argument it is of two kinds: either one or more of the premises is false, or the reasoning is flawed (or some combination).

Fifth, if you are going to respond against the argument you need to show which premise is wrong and why, and if the reasoning is fallacious, note the fallacy (there are lists of fallacies, but once you familiarize yourself with them, you’ll get the hang of seeing how bad argument work, or rather, don’t work).

Sixth, you might be wondering if all of these steps are necessary, and think, ‘why can’t I just say whatever I feel like?’ Well, one reason you might not want to do that is that you want to think of yourself as a reasonable adult, rather than an unreasoning animal. Another reason is that there are already a surplus of stupid arguments, bad information, and irrationality in the world, and we simply don’t need anymore.

Seventh, when you don’t do the suggested steps, and haven’t done the proper research to talk about something intelligent say this phrase, which is the sure mark of being educated person…are you ready for it? Here it goes: “I don’t know”. I’d practice it in the mirror a few times if you are unfamiliar with the phrase.  

Wise people know that they don’t know things (the wiser, the more they know of their ignorance). Honest people admit that they haven’t done all of the research, and don’t try to pretend to know more than they do. In short, don’t be a foolish and dishonest college-student stereotype, pretending to look and sound smart, with uncritical regurgitation of half-baked –but emotionally-charged- nonsense. Rather, say things like, ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I’ll have to look into that’, ‘I’m not sure’, and ‘I’ll have to think about this, thanks.’

I hope this introduction to logic is helpful, short though it is.