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Anti-mimetic tactics for living a counter-cultural life (epsilontheory.com)
632 points by Ariarule 23 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 267 comments

There’s a lot of good stuff in here, things I’ve used in my personal life to great effect.

The really important thing here (that’s hinted at towards the end) is moderation.

Do some of these things. A little at a time. Find what works and what doesn’t.

Saying the truth no matter what the cost is extremely dangerous advice to follow literally.

Pick battles you can win. Know when saying the truth matters and when it doesn’t. Know when your “truth” is just another opinion no one around you at that moment agrees with.

As my dad always told me, “you can be dead right.”

Life is too short to be miserable trying to obtain someone else’s goals. It is too short to optimize everything. Remember that happiness in the moment matters. (But not at the expense of the future.)

You’ll never find me reading a book I don’t like or skipping using GPS, because things cause more stress than benefit.

Having a car break down and having a magical moment because of it? Do the opposite. Actively seek those moments by finding people to help instead of waiting for the moment to happen.

If I have any advice to add, it is be honest and be kind. Fight when you need to fight, make peace when you don’t. You don’t need to fix everything, just make the world better by being in it.

> You don’t need to fix everything, just make the world better by being in it.

I wish more people would follow this advice. I've made it a habit to try to make the world an infinitesimally better place every day. It doesn't always work out, but the effort is a huge boon to my mental health and maybe I succeed and the world is a better place.

This is a demanding thing to achieve. The road to hel is paved with good intentions.

Philospy spends a lot of literature on how to tell if what you are doing is making the world any better?

History, current history is filled with examples of "making it better" and doing enormous damage.

Is your intent when you do the action what is important? Or is it how your action is received in the moment? Or what a spectator might conclude. Or is it the eventual consequences of your action that is important? Or none of the above.

Your intent is selfish. I want to be a person who makes the world a better place. Do you do so in a vacuum? You do the act, and then never ever speak about it to anyone. Or is the real goal the adoration of those you "tell"? (Innocently and self deprecating of course)

If you were (or are) an evangelical Chrisitan, sharing the word of God, and saving souls would be the greatest good you could ever accomplish. "Today I shared the Word with 5 people. "

Those 5 people may have found a person rambling about God to be unwelcome. Annoying. Rude.

Or maybe one was in a deep crisis, and he was moved and accepted Christ and his life took meaning from it. His life got better and afterwards he kept a good job, got married, had wonderful kids.

Or a person who was rambled at has terrible trauma from childhood from being sexually abused by a Catholic priest and this forceable reminder brings him over the edge, and he kills himself 20 minutes later in a public toilet.

Maybe one is a woman who was viciously demonized by protesters for having an abortion two weeks ago. This most unwelcome vocal assault by another right-wing misogynist is what finally drives her to take a stand and gets involved in politics, changes her major to political science and many years Later she is a senator who casts a deciding vote in something she think is wonderful

Did this evangelical guy make the world better?

The intent of "make the world a bit better every day" is colloquially understood to refer to things like picking up more than just your garbage, making choices that add less tragedy to the commons, and generally being nice to people even if they're not nice to you.

Deliberately taking "make the world a bit better every day" off to some demeaning tangent tearing down others by wild scenarios designed to discourage does not "make the world a bit better every day".

"...2000 years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change..." Yeah, Douglas Adams got that bit right.

I generally work on a smaller scale and usually in regards to the people around me. Did I help? Inspire creativity? Say something kind? Say something that needed to be said? Learn something?

It doesn’t take much. Did you make someone else’s existence better?

You can still do big things, but don’t forgot the small ones. They matter too.

This is a more radical practice than most being presented here I think. Optimizing things is a cultural norm and value for most people likely reading this.

I see a lot of my peers focus on optimizing their "good output" on some scale or metric, but ignore or even devalue this one. This one that, in my experience, also has a lot more daily challenges of difficult virtues like forgiveness and humility.

My xmas gift to one of the other teams in the company was improving one of their alerts, so that it fires when there is an observable problem with the monitored thing, instead of firing pretty much constantly. Makes the alert more useful and saves them from alert fatigue.

Perfect is the enemy of good here I think :)

I pick up trash in my neighborhood. It makes the neighborhood cleaner and more enjoyable for all. You might be overthinking this.

>You’ll never find me reading a book I don’t like

Some of the best books I've ever read I didn't like at first. Love in Time of Cholera was an absolute slog for the first 89 pages, I didn't actually get through those pages the first time I tried to read it. It's one of my all time favourite books. First 30 pages of Dune were similar. Found the same with another book by Dostoevsky.

Yeah. In the last three years I picked up Joyce's Ulysses, which I sputtered out on 35 years ago, and Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, which I sputtered out on 15 years ago. I now believe that Ulysses is the best book I've ever read, and Mason & Dixon is very good.

So much process. People think there's a formula, not well known, that greatly raises the chance for "success" however defined, for everything. Nope. IMHO the key to "anti-mimetic"[0] living is to cultivate your inner bullshit detector. My friends have a fully functioning one; people who turned out to be false do not; I have no idea how to nurture one for anyone else. There is no process, other than get as broad non-digital experiences as you can and use those to learn to think for yourself. I have no idea how you can do that, because apparently no-one who is not my friend appears to think doing this is sane.

[0] This Rene Girard stuff, fueled by lavish attention from Peter Thiel and his acolytes, is bullshit. Think not? Well a while ago, I thought it might have some validity, but then I read the review by Joshua Landy in my previous HN comment:


The child comments are interesting too. A moral of the story is that my bullshit detector initially failed me, but eventually, with more experience, I got it straightened out.

> I have no idea how to nurture one for anyone else.

The bullshit detector is usually intuition and, very rarely, is what's called 'wisdom'. Intuition is what I'd describe as "the right feeling" - ability to "hear" truth, in a sense. Wisdom is "the right knowledge" - ability to see the truth. Intuition is related to emotions, and can be improved by straigthening up one's emotions. An uncontrolled storm of emotions obscurates intuition, and hatred burns it. That's why, I think, a known occult aphorism says: "a moment of hatred erases eons of achievements". Wisdom is similarly related to thoughts and words, and so straightening up what one says and thinks, allows the wisdom to show up. The " all seeing eye" is the typical symbol of wisdom. Afaik, only few top scientists had it, and they attributed their ability to see truth to luck and lots of read books.

I believe that most people out there give in to emotions, those gradually turn into something more sinister - hatred fueled by vanity, that burns their intuition to the ground and from that moment they're unable to feel what's right and what's wrong.

> The bullshit detector is usually intuition and, very rarely, is what's called 'wisdom'. Intuition is what I'd describe as "the right feeling" - ability to "hear" truth, in a sense.

Careful there. In many domains our intuitions are notoriously unreliable, given they're informed by our culture, upbringing, past experiences, genes, etc.

Intuition isnt some sort of gut feeling, or advanced pattern matching. Intuition is more like "soul's ear" that cannot be wrong. But very few people have it and tend to confuse their biases and ignorance with intuition.

The best bullshit detector is to simply keep running through the implications of whatever is being suggested. If you see something marked 80% off look for a similar item that’s five times as expensive. I think the core issue is people have a lot of false and conflicting ideas floating around so they get used to cognitive dissonance.

Many groups have a vast vested interest in convincing people of obvious falsehoods. The phrase used is “Diamonds are forever” rather than the more honest “Diamonds are flammable.” Simply repeat it often enough and it’s the falsehood which sticks around like a lesser form of brainwashing.

> If you see something marked 80% off look for a similar item that’s five times as expensive

When Facebook was first getting popular it triggered my bullshit detector.

I smelled bullshit because the underlying mechanism was social coercion to join, followed by social comparison to make everyone miserable.

It wasn't bullshit because it was bogus, it was bullshit because it stank.

My friends all have similar bullshit detectors for the spammy, the scammy and the coercive. If I knew how teach it, I'd be surprised if anybody who didn't already have it would even want to learn it.

The same work through the implications rule shows how anti-social Facebook is.

Sitting alone in your room looking through old photo albums isn’t social, but somehow going through other peoples photos is? Calling Facebook a social network is such a bold faced lie I am somewhat shocked anyone can say it with a strait face let alone honestly believe it. But it gets worse, calling clicking a like button on a news article “social” is such double think you almost wonder if these people are speaking the same language.

Diamond being "forever" is a fairly weak example of something that's repeated without any truth because virtually the only way someone can lose one is through loss or theft. Repeating "diamonds are flammable" would start people farther from the truth. You yourself may have fallen prey to the overcorrecting anti-diamond meme - do they decay in any meaningful way, or are they just overpriced?

> do they decay in any meaningful way, or are they just overpriced.

The flammable thing is relevant because gold, platinum, or silver can be recovered after a fire, but Diamonds can’t be. It’s a real risk. Large ones regularly get chipped and their all susceptible to a range of chemicals including some acids etc.

Add it all up and nationwide Diamonds get destroyed on a very regular basis.

PS: And yes as you referenced they do decay at standard temperatures and pressures but reasonably slowly. Still diamonds last 1,000 years if well preserved just don’t have the same ring, paper can do the same. The simple fact the average stone is more stable feels like a slap in the face.

I think that might have more to do with their brittleness and their coefficient of thermal expansion than it does their flammability, but thanks for pointing out a danger I hadn't considered.

Sure. That doesn’t work for me. Tried it. After some time in therapy, I had to unlearn the compulsion to finish books, movies, or tv shows that I don’t enjoy.

If I’m reading for enjoyment, there’s plenty I can read. If I’m reading to learn, that’s why I’m here on HN. I have the next batch of acoup.blog and a 1890s textbook on ship handling on my eink tablet. Should keep me busy for the next month. :)

Which Dostoevsky book?

Notes from the underground. It's actually a two part novella. First part was very difficult to get through (I think it took me three tries), and then the second part was amazing. Couldn't have had the second part without the first though.

That is one of my favorite books. Why do you think the first part was difficult to get through for you?

I’m at that stage with The Brothers Karamazov right now. I have no idea what people see in it. Book 1 chapter 5.

Get up to the Grand Inquisitor story. You can stop after that, that's the peak for me, it went downhill from there.

It wasn't really fun to read. But like all russian novels, it's very long, devoid of adventure, full of characters you forget constantly. You read them to experience the russian soul, not to have fun. The best Dostoievsky for me is "The Player", one of the shortest and one whose lessons I constantly quote, especially around a horse race or a casino lol.

If you want enjoyable classics, Alexandre Dumas or Theophile Gautier are my go to but Im French so maybe the anglo world has some authors too as brilliant as Dumas but I doubt it. The best russian classic is Master and Margherita, it's a bit less slow than average but Boulgakov is special (a bit their Kafka).

Dostoevsky is one of those authors for me whom I just really cannot stand when reading the book, but there are always quotes from them and critical interpretations of them that I find absolutely amazing. Hemingway is the same, except for The Old Man and The Sea.

This was a strange one for me. Profoundly boring, yet oddly captivating. I wanted to stop reading it the whole way through, but I just couldn't.

The first 100-200 pages were a slog for me too. But pushing through was completely worth it, it's a masterpiece IMO

Taking the book example further, I’ve often found that doing something I don’t like in the moment can more than make up for it in long term happiness or skills gained. Skiing is a good example for me. I hated skiing, hated learning it, hated driving out to the mountain to do it. After putting in a lot of work, now I absolutely enjoy it and look forward to it seasonally and treasure all the memories I have created.

> Saying the truth no matter what the cost is extremely dangerous advice to follow literally.

And there’s the risk that you could be wrong… and / or just do more damage than good.

How you say what you perceive as the truth matters a lot. For example, saying “I believe this to be true” has a different effect then saying “ this is the truth.”

Providing the reasoning behind conclusions can also help- “I believe that unlimited migration is harmful to those poorest of those already here and that the rule of law is incredibly important, so I’m opposed to extending a path to citizenship” or “all human beings deserve the same dignity and from a practical standpoint an undocumented immigrant that has been working, paying taxes, and staying out of trouble is more worthy of citizenship than many who gained it simply at birth, so I support a pathway to citizenship.”

Both statements may still be problematic depending on the circumstances (where depending on the circumstances, the best option may be to say nothing) but they are far better than saying “illegal immigrations wrong” or “giving people a pathway to citizenship is the right thing to do.”

This is true in a logical sense, but also very impractical to actually apply.

You end up being drawn into super long winded discussions about minor details.

If that's what you actually want, that's fine. But a lot of the time you just want to resolve a deadlock.

Often times people don't want to hear the truth. A classic example in my own life was the gender wage gap in the late 2000s and early 2010s, especially with the Obama (forget the year) state of the union with the "all things equal" comment. A complete misunderstanding of the data by the majority of the population, and filled with highly charged emotions.

Sometimes it's dangerous to be right.

another way to think about it is if you reach a point where telling the truth no matter the cost, then maybe the path you've followed is sub-optimal.

but yes, this doesn't help you if you find yourself in that position.

> Pick battles you can win

Don't forget to pick some battles to make sure you still know how to battle. And pick some where you will lose so you can grow.

I’m not advising caution. I’m advising prudence. Choose where it’s worth putting your energy. This is the “fight we’re you need to fight” bit I mentioned.

Me arguing with my father about politics during thanksgiving is generally fruitless. Taking some time the next day discussing our assumptions and benefits that are behind our different beliefs? Generally a better approach and we can easily agree or disagree on single points. I may not “win” but both of us will know more about each other and have more respect for each other. (Or less. At least we didn’t yell and drag relatives in.)

> The really important thing here (that’s hinted at towards the end) is moderation.

Indeed. Arabs have this concept of al-Wasattiyah borrowed from Islam, which means middle / balanced / avoid extremes / compromise / weaken: "Al-Wasatiyyah... means excellence, rightfully balanced, just and fair in all aspects... Balance without any excessiveness in human life."


> Pick battles you can win. Know when saying the truth matters and when it doesn’t.

Great rules to live by. My own little corollary: learn which rules can be bent and which ones to disregard completely. They're not all created - or enforced - equally.

Win build on each other like compound interest. So does confidence. The two are almost inextricably linked.

> Saying the truth no matter what the cost is extremely dangerous advice to follow literally.

An example I use is someone knocks on your door and asks if you know where Maria is. You do, and you’re sheltering her. If you tell the truth, the person at the door will kill Maria. If you lie and say “I haven’t seen Maria”, the person will leave and continue looking elsewhere.

In this case, telling a lie is the moral thing, and telling the truth would be evil.

Someone who is unable to lie is classified by psychiatrists as "cognitively impaired".

Just fix your mind on another Maria who isn't here, and tell the truth about her.

Just don’t dob in the other Maria

That’s what lying is.

I mean, you can truthfully say "even if I knew, I wouldn't tell you".

This invites much more opportunity for speculation on the person hunting a vulnerable person that you’re trying to protect. This is precisely what someone would say if they were avoiding lying but are trying to cover for a vulnerable person.

It's also the sort of thing that someone would say who wants waste the time of an evil government to delay them from carrying out their plans.

An evil government would just drag them out of their house.

If everyone on the street did it it would cause significant problems for the government.

Why would you try to waste the time of someone who has murderous intent? I think you might have lost the plot a little bit.

By wasting their time, they can't spend as much time murdering other people. Maybe you know your next door neighbor is running an underground railroad, and you want to distract from that.

Alas the first part "even if I knew" when you know that you do know, is not truthful..

And if you were not sheltering Maria, you could truthfully say "no", and would probably do so. The discrepancy in behavior is as good as a "yes'.

A common anecdote from Kant. Im not Kantian but I think (feel) that he is somewhat right that the lie IS wrong. I think the key is that no one can be perfect, and sometimes you have to make a decision between two things that are wrong. In this case lying is much less wrong than not.

This suggest a sort of morality that contains the axiom "lying is always wrong", which then demands torturous philosophical gymnastics in order to justify one's actions in circumstances when lying is obviously right. To say that lying is sometimes right does not diminish the merit of truthfulness, rather it is an acknowledgement that communication is a means to an end, and not the end itself.

This is why I reject the categorical imperative. The claim kant makes is that you still lie because it's more unethical to normalize a society of people being given up to murderers than it is to normalize a society of (white?)-liars.

I claim that this has degenerated into utilitarianism. This is also word for word what scopenhaur (a huge fan of kant) has to say about Kant's categorical imperative in his critique of Kant's ideas...

Sounds like the buddha's middle path (that's a half serious remark). Those books also add that it's important to keep your thoughts, emotions, words and actions aligned, but like you say, nowhere those books say that you should express your opinion unprompted on every corner, and silence is a good answer when truth would only make things worse.

Liked most of this except #1

> Discovering and living out a sense of calling — a personal vocation, or something you are uniquely meant to do — is the ultimate way to cut through the mimetic noise of the world and begin to shape both a moral and a vocational compass.

There are on the order of 7 billion human beings on earth. We don't all have a personal vocation or something we are uniquely meant to do. One of the keys to leading a happy and fulfilled life is being able to be content to live within the bounds that most of us operate in. Most of us are not uniquely gifted, not particularly special, not here to do one thing in this world. But we can be kind, be helpful, try to do as little damage to other people and the world as we can, to find value in things that last and do not cost the world very much, to enjoy our lives regardless of what we do for a living, not because of it.

It may be a gift from the Renaissance to believe in individuality in the way that #1 clearly does, but it's a gift that doesn't scale to huge populations (it may not even have been right with much smaller ones). It's wonderful to live in a society that allows for individual self-discovery and self-expression, but we should not blind us to the reality that almost all of us are not on a unique, singular mission.

Here's a dialogue my father attributes to CF Gauss

Young student: Should I finish my college studies or jump straight to a thesis in advanced mathematics?

Gauss: You should finish your studies.

Young student: But you jumped straight to a thesis!

Gauss: I also didn't ask anyone's advice.

IE, people who march to a different drummer, who have a unique vocation, aren't the ones who need to be told about it.

Oh. Without much context, I would interpret the quote as "I made the worse choice for lack of guidance". Your suggested interpretation, that asking for advice means you're not an outlier on what you're asking about or you'd already know, strikes me as a very toxic ideal. That's a recipe for both unwarranted self-doubt and headstrong dumb choice-making.

> Your suggested interpretation, that asking for advice means...

No, it is an interpretation suggested by your mind. It is one possible interpretation out of many. I can show you by pointing to some of other interpretations.

1. You need to ask because you are unsure, so your idea to jump to a thesis is not a guaranteed success, so you may fail spectacularly. Be patient and do it right.

2. There is an opinion, that people ask for advice to have something to blame for their failure. If you are not feel like taking responsibility for your life yourself, then Gauss wouldn't take it either.

3. If you fear to make a radical decision, then it means that it is a radical decision for you. Maybe Gauss just did what he liked best. Probably he was so passionate about his thesis, so he forgot about studies, missed exams and then he had no choice except to finish his thesis.

4. To go counter-culture you need a strict conviction that you are doing it right. If you are not, then you are probably fail due to peer-pressure or some other issues induced by a social reaction to your actions. If you are asking for advice, then you are not in a right frame of mind to do it.

5. Academia is a harsh competition, you need to steel yourself and to learn how to do it. You have bachelor and magisterial studies to grow teeth, and no one, even Gauss, cannot teach you. You need to figure it out on your own. Or, maybe he was teaching his student exactly this, when he refused to give advice?

This story is like a koan, you can think about it every few years again and again, and every time find new interpretations stemmed from new life experiences you've got since the last time.

> No, it is an interpretation suggested by your mind. It is one possible interpretation out of many. I can show you by pointing to some of other interpretations.

It's not suggested by my mind. I was paraphrasing the last line of the post I replied to.

> This story is like a koan, you can think about it every few years again and again, and every time find new interpretations stemmed from new life experiences you've got since the last time.

If you're into that, have fun, but I wasn't replying to all the ways someone could interpret that line.

Also half your interpretations include the toxic mindset I was talking about. Especially 1, "because", "so", "so". 1 is directly saying that if you ask for advice on that topic then you're unfit for the risk. That attitude can go fuck itself. 3 suggests that asking means fear, which is the same kind of terrible. And 4 directly states the toxic idea again at the end, that asking for advice means lack of conviction. Talking through life-changing plans with people is a good idea, and doesn't mean you're choosing in a bad way, and doesn't mean you haven't already decided.

> It's not suggested by my mind. I was paraphrasing the last line of the post I replied to.

It took a damn great deal of paraphrasing. If I paraphrased those line, I'd probably came with something like this: you shouldn't push people to live a counter cultural life, because such a life needs some special qualities from people and if they had not them, they wouldn't be happy living such a life. If you really think than it would be good for them, then test first their qualities, push then.

> 1 is directly saying that if you ask for advice on that topic then you're unfit for the risk.

Isn't it so? If you are fit, than you wouldn't ask "should I...", you'd ask "how did it go for you, Gauss?" You'd seek for additional information allowing you to estimate risks better.

> 3 suggests that asking means fear, which is the same kind of terrible.

Fear is good, it helps us to see dangers. You'd better listen to it. It doesn't mean to do unconditionally what fear wants, but you should listen to it. I'm telling you as a psychologist: do not treat your fear as something bad, it would have a far reaching consequences. If you labeled an emotion as bad, you wouldn't stop experiencing it, but you would try to hide it from yourself. Freud would call this process repression[1], a kind of a psychological defense mechanism. And this way you would lose an ability to face your emotions consciously, therefore letting them to wreak havoc uncontrollably.

Cognitive psychology says, that the right way to deal with a fear is to dig into what causes it, to access risks, to devise "plan B" in advance, and so on. Behavioral psychology says that the right way is to try yourself on lesser occasions and to learn how your fears work, and how you tend to react to them, and to find ways to deal with them reliably. One not just jump into a lake because of his fears to drown, it would be better to learn to swim first. No kind of psychology says that the right way to deal with fears is to reject them, to smile and wave, to try to look like there is no fear. It may be a good tactical method, but if abused it would lead to a strategic losses.

> And 4 directly states the toxic idea again at the end, that asking for advice means lack of conviction.

I know nothing about the toxicity of this idea, but if you are trying to make someone else responsible for your decisions it is lack of conviction. If the mere "you shouldn't do it" can stop you, you are not ready. Just try to see it as a kind of test: if you pass, then you are ready.

> Talking through life-changing plans with people is a good idea, and doesn't mean you're choosing in a bad way, and doesn't mean you haven't already decided.

Yes, I agree completely. But there is my advice to you: if you do this, then do it with a phrasing that doesn't sound like you are externalizing your decision making. There are whole branches of psychology which was built on an assumption that the phrasing reveals details of people's thought process, of their emotional state, their fears and so on. This branches would treat "should I do this" not as an attempt to gather information in order to make a better decision, but as a blindingly bright neon sign of a fear of uncertainty. Ordinary people (like Gauss, haha) also perceive phrasing in this way, though maybe less persistently than psychotherapists.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repression_(psychoanalysis)

> that asking for advice means you're not an outlier

I'd take it as a bit milder view - that currently you're not eager enough to risk things and not in a position where you know you're ready.

This reminds me of a theme on HN questions around a decade ago: "Should I drop out of uni to work on a startup?" (often from people who don't have one yet or a good idea how to join one) If the person is neither convinced enough to do it themselves, nor are they in a position where their work is so successful that uni interferes... - it's likely a safer bet not to do it. And that doesn't mean I have any knowledge or guesses about whether that person can be an outlier in the future.

Your suggested interpretation, that asking for advice means you're not an outlier on what you're asking about or you'd already know, strikes me as a very toxic ideal.

It's a story of my father. As far as I know, GF Gauss was the greatest mathematician since Archimedes and also a rather toxic person.

And there are a lot of ways you can interpret the quote. I think it's not so much an ideal but statement that actually society, even other prodigies, aren't necessarily going to support you going your own way. That isn't good imo but it's realistic. "Tough love" isn't necessarily the best teacher but it's certainly here.

Vocation is your own sense of purpose, you don't need to be the best at X to have X as vocation at all. What you need is that you can contribute something special to X, and anyone that dedicates their working life to some purpose definitely can.

This is the Hindu idea of svadharma - one's personal work in this lifetime. As you said, it need not be anything outwardly unique, just that it is what is right for you.

We're only confused about this obvious philosophical truth because, in the age of tech, we seem to expect one god-like gizmo or human to do X for everyone on the planet. When in reality, this only works for a tiny, tiny set of X's. Most things need millions of people doing them.

Is staffing a public toilet right for anyone? Hauling trash? Overseeing a car-making robot? Bending over in a field all day picking green vegetables?

There are many things that we all need done for our society to function. At this point in time, it is still necessary for most people to spend large amounts of their lives doing these things rather than what is right for them as unique individuals.

You are misunderstanding what is meant by svadharma. Svadharma does not mean I do not work hauling trash or working in a field all day. It could mean exactly that. However given advances in technology, it could evolve to mean something different. It is not ones "ideal" - it is what one is naturally best at.

> Is staffing a public toilet right for anyone?

It could be right for you. Until you try it, you’ll never be certain.

No, not at all. Hinduism is a slave-system where slaves have a duty towards their caste, vocation is an expression of positive freedom, of your own recognition that you have been born to do something.

Heh, are you for real?

Hinduism is a religion and way of life, first of all.

Secondly if you're actually making an honest mistake and not being completely ignorant, you probably meant that the caste system is a slave-system. And I can agree, it's been horrible, and it has no scriptural authority in Hinduism. Svadharma is not the caste system and the caste system is not Hindu.

> vocation is an expression of positive freedom, of your own recognition that you have been born to do something.

There, you got it! This is svadharma.

There is no need to act offended, if I am mistaken so is every encyclopedia on the web. Svadharma is defined as duty towards your place in the caste system, I'm pretty sure castes play an important role in the Vedas but I has been a while. If this isn't the case my bad, but please provide resources because every resource online seems to be wrong.

Believing something is the best past for an individual does not mean believing it to be "scalable" or that it would be good for society (or even possible in a society) for everyone to adopt that path.

Socrates was executed for corrupting youth. He never denied it.

Sure. But then I don't think it makes much sense to be dispensing "advice" like this in such a generalized way.

Suggesting to a particular person that you know that they should try to find their life's mission and purpose may make sense given whatever you know about them. It may be absolutely the right advice (and path) for them to take, since there are undoubtedly people who do have such singular purpose.

However, that doesn't imply that this way of thinking about how to approach life makes any sense in a generalized "how to live an XXXX kind of life" article or book or talk or whatever. That's even more true if one of the metrics supporting why "an XXXX kind of life" is good includes happiness. If you're only going to be happy if you manage your singular unique mission and purpose in life, then the chances are extremely high that you will not be happy.

This "you're not special, so just live within the bounds everyone else lives in" thing seems like a depressing spin on life.

I agree that there's a lot of rules that everyone should follow and philosophies that most would benefit from, but... everyone's life involves situations and relationships that are unique and singular and special to them. For example, most adults are taking care of a family that is very special to them. "Take care of your family" is maybe not a special, unique purpose on its face, but it is special to each person who is doing it.

While it's perhaps true that few people are called to live lives that would look utterly unique and remarkable in an autobiography, I think we should take care not to define out of existence the inherent uniqueness and singularity of purpose of each life.

> we should take care not to define out of existence the inherent uniqueness and singularity of purpose of each life.

Absolutely. I would never want to do that (or be seen as doing that).

Then yeah, I get what you're saying and I agree.

That’s why I have contempt for people who ask the rhetorical question of “what is everyone followed that path?” and then act surprised when I’m not wowed by their common-sense wisdom. I didn’t ask whether the plan was good social policy or not: I asked whether those actions were reasonable for me to do.

But think about all of your past classmates and coworkers and whether any two of them were exactly alike.

Even within a specialized class or career the people there will have wildly different backgrounds and life experiences. Hence their sense of calling from a personal standpoint will be unique..

>But we can be kind, be helpful, try to do as little damage to other people and the world as we can, to find value in things that last and do not cost the world very much, to enjoy our lives regardless of what we do for a living, not because of it.

Wait, that's a vocation, but if you don't have will to set and pursue goals, then you won't pursue them, you will be swayed by other ideas, like not all people being equal for minimization of damage.

This could be something as prosaic as “i want to code” then work as a programmer for 40 years though, right? The world needs millions of programmers rather than ten really good ones.

But anything can also be unique.

There are millions of programmers. But how many people are working on some obscure open source project?

Not everyone NEEDS/WANTS to be unique.

But anyone can be. Easily. Don't give me this 7Bn people bull crap. 2^33 > 7Bn you only have to make a few choices / do a few things slightly different - and you're doing something unique.

You also don't have to go things alone. You can join a group of people that are doing something unique - see everyone at Rajneeshpuram or Biosphere 2. You don't have to be Osho or John Allen. Or even Ma Anand Sheela. You can just be a part of something unique.

I think the word “unique” in the description is unnecessary. You can absolutely have a non-unique calling. Depending on how you categorise it though it may or may not sound unique.

It’s like the are we a monopoly question:

Google: we are not a monopoly in the advertising business. We have so much competition from billboards, tv ads, newspaper ads and other websites with their own ads.

Local restaurant: we totally are a monopoly. We are the only Italian-Korean fusion restaurant open after 11pm in this small town!

What is the starting point for that thought though?

Is it "I want to make this thing I have an idea for", or "I want a job-ready skill"?

If it's the former, "learn to code" doesn't have to be the next step. It could be drawing up a mockup or creating the basic logic in something simple like G Sheets.

From there you can go to one of the many no-code tools that can use Sheets as a data source. Seeing how far you can go with off-the-shelf options provides valuable experience, because you'll know precisely where the bottlenecks were, and can talk to a developer to understand what you need to learn to convert it to code.

Compare that to jumping straight from idea phase to to a 20+ hour video course on HTML/CSS and JS. By the time you get to the CSS Box Model, you'll have forgotten why you started the course in the first place.


Yes, these are all lovely examples. However, in the meantime (at least for the time being), millions of people:

   * build cars
   * work in retail 
   * construct and repair buildings
   * sew mass-market clothing
   * build, maintain, manage the energy supply system(s)
   * plant, grow, harvest and process food
   * run the machines that move people, products and materials around
It is quite possible to find meaning and purpose doing any of these things, but they are generally unlikely to offer the sense that you exist in this world to do whatever it is that you do for a living. Despite that, the people who do this sort of work play an invaluable role in how our societies work. Rather than encouraging everyone to run away from the critical work that needs to be done, I'd rather build a society in which people can feel meaning and purpose in their lives regardless of what they do for a living.

All sense of meaning, purpose, and satisfaction stems from our own minds. I found deep meaning and purpose in being a busboy and sometimes I still miss it. I had a friend and coworker who felt the same way. I had other coworkers who hated the job and just did it to earn some money (often, but not always, for college).

It's easy to understand why someone might feel a strong sense of meaning and purpose if they win an Olympic gold; but they could also be miserable and generally dissatisfied with life.

Any prejudice we have about how someone should feel if they are doing a particular job is just our own interpretation of how we would feel doing the job; but there isn't anything inherent in any of these jobs that gives meaning or purpose. (I also think people confuse being satisfied with the perks of a job—say fame or fortune—with meaning and purpose and satisfaction with the job itself.)

It was TFA, not me, that said

> Discovering and living out a sense of calling — a personal vocation, or something you are uniquely meant to do — is the ultimate way to cut through the mimetic noise of the world and begin to shape both a moral and a vocational compass.

and that's what I was calling out, not the idea that certain jobs can prevent you from having meaning and purpose.

Right. You're misunderstanding the quote.

It's hilarious that this is standard self-help advice designed to make you a better worker, packaged up as something subversive or "anti-mimetic." I am reminded of Mark Fisher:

"Witness, for instance, the establishment of settled 'alternative' or 'independent' cultural zones, which endlessly repeat older gestures of rebellion and contestation as if for the first time. 'Alternative' and 'independent' don't designate something outside mainstream culture; rather, they are styles, in fact the dominant styles, within the mainstream."

"To learn more about [anti-memetic counter-culture] my website and be notified when we release new content sign up here."


I'm going with Mark Fisher on this one. This is absolutely generic and unoriginal cut-and-paste Californian lifestyle advice trying to package itself as something deeper - which is something generic and unoriginal Californian lifestyle advice always does, as part of its own branding™.

But it does raise the question: what would a genuine online counter-culture look like?

I'm pretty sure going to museums and restaurants and playing golf at off-peak times wouldn't be part of it.

But what would?

Something like 4chan in the past

> I'm pretty sure going to museums and restaurants and playing golf at off-peak times wouldn't be part of it.

Why not?

That's the point of Fisher and those before him, isn't it?

Counter culture gets recuperated. New terrain becomes deterritorialized and reterritorialized. Edge becomes fashionable and popular.

Even if we knew what would, would that thing survive getting mentioned on HN?

> But it does raise the question: what would a genuine online counter-culture look like?

I can think of:

The short-live Boogaloo meme culture

The NRX movement

Fundamentalist religious communities

Note that none of these subcultures are ever likely to be history's protagonists. But they are (or were) arrayed against the dominant culture's contemporary beliefs, narratives, and trends.

100rabbits permacomputing work is worth looking into.

There are other pockets out there, typically left-leaning that are too multitudinous, heterogenous, and individually niche to be effectively categorized in a single sentence.

Mimetics aside, because I have no idea what anyone's talking about, those are 3 reactionary movements with edgy rebellion branding.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I would argue that neither the Boogaloo movement nor the NRX movement (despite its name) can be considered purely reactionary.

The Boogaloo movement is/was composed primarily of hardline libertarians, and right-anarchists

The NRX movement makes reference to medieval texts and ancient political thought that has they are separated from by generations.

To the extent that either group has cohesive visions for the future, their visions are alien to anything we've seen in the past hundred years. They envision fundamental social, governmental, and economic transformations. Retrograde, but in part only just now enabled by new technologies.

They full-throatedly embrace change, but want a different kind of change.

They don't fit cleanly into either box.

But you don't need to be revolutionary to be counter culture. MAGA was counter culture in 2016. The Amish are counter culture, they're just not cool counter culture, or even necessarily desireable counter culture. They merely existed in opposition to cultural trends that dominant and prestige media outlets were embracing, and inspired their vocal opposition.

A blog about growing your own food or making your own necessities instead of ordering more disposable crap like most of the internet would have you do.

This piece is definitely haunted by the flood of self-help listicles that we've seen in the past decade or so, but also there are facets of it which are actually very effective ways for cultivating meaning in one's life outside the dominant styles. There is a film of fetishism going on here, but still some good parts. Outsideness is possible.

> It's hilarious that this is standard self-help advice designed to make you a better worker,

Are we reading the same article? This article doesn’t read at all about becoming a better worker. It emphasizes anti-consumerism and building diverse personal experiences and insists on not blindly following your peers and doing what others want you to do.

It's for a specific kind of worker -- the neoliberal individual, the "entrepreneur of the self" who cultivates their personal value like a capital investment because they are human capital. "Building diverse personal experiences" is a nice euphemism for this. Although you are not doing what others want you to do, it's a freedom conditioned by the market. Being anti-memetic is already priced in.

Not all of the tips, like "be nice" and "forgive people" accord to this logic, but as a general through-line: Burgis is relentlessly focused on "the way great companies are built" (#23), worships the great innovators Henry Ford and Steve Jobs (#18), demands that everything has a purpose (#17, #13), in service of what he deems most important, "the calling" or personal vocation (#1).

We might read this through the lens of 20th century German sociologist Max Weber, who traces the spirit of capitalism to the Protestant ethic [1]. As a very short summary, it's an ethic defined by the very same vocational calling [Beruf], where labor acquires a religious significance and produces values that then become secularized. From my copy of his book:

> One of the constitutive components of the modern capitalist spirit, and, moreover, generally of modern civilization, was the rational organization of life on the basis of the idea of the calling. It was born out of the spirit of Christian asceticism [...] The Puritan wanted to be a person with a vocational calling; we must be.

Whether or not you believe the historiography, the function of the vocational calling is to produce a subject who works and disciplines themself automatically.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Weber#The_Protestant_Ethic...

Sure, and it's hard to detach from the idea we must have a purpose - which I would even argue predates and exists outside the christian sphere. I'm an atheist and I still think life should try to expand outwards in space for the sake of structuring the chaos...

Look having no goal, purpose or calling seem to work now that we organized process-heavy societies where one dilletante wouldnt hurt too much. But let me remind you not so long ago we did what our father did and his father before. And also, that if we jump back into natural nihilism to live as free of purpose as animals, we'll miss many of the intellectual wonders that the group managed to accomplish, maybe through the illusion it has no alternative, I concede.

Probably not important to you, after all, since there's no inherent rule nor purpose, but sad a bit to me.

No one is suggesting having no goal. But if you have exactly the same goals as everyone else - build a business, become an executive, do executive things - while persuading yourself that you are somehow different because you read a few extra books and don't use a GPS etc, you are very much not operating outside of your culture, never mind being counter to it.

And you are at least metaphorically - and possibly also literally - "doing what your father did."

What goals are genuinely countercultural in 2022?

>What goals are genuinely countercultural in 2022?

Undermining or opting out of society: Crypto, neo-reactionism, antiwork, anti-capitalism, even alternets like Gemini to a degree.

Undermining societal norms or rejecting status quo reality: incels, anti-vaxx, flat earthers, pro-pedophilia. QAnon and BLM are both explicitly against society, albeit for vastly different reasons.

> Undermining or opting out of society: Crypto

In 2021, everybody and their dog is trying to make money by speculating on crypto... It might have been countercultural in 2012.

>In 2021, everybody and their dog is trying to make money by speculating on crypto... It might have been countercultural in 2012.

I meant using crypto for its original political purpose - sustaining an anarcho-capitalist economy and providing a means to opt out of the state.

I don't think anyone is actually doing that, but yeah. Fair point.

> Undermining or opting out of society: Crypto, neo-reactionism, antiwork, anti-capitalism, even alternets like Gemini to a degree.

Most of these exist as negative reactions against existing ideologies and as such aren't really countercultures. Antiwork, anti-capitalism, they only exist because the thing they oppose (c.f. work and capitalism) exist. These cultures only exist as long their opposite cultures exist, no longer. They are just as mimetic as the dominant culture they oppose.

Gemini is a fun one because despite it having lots of people who want to participate in a counterculture, it uses the same infrastructure as the corporate internet they want to oppose.

A genuine counterculture would be orthogonal from the original culture, not the negative of it.

>A genuine counterculture would be orthogonal from the original culture, not the negative of it.

Counterculture always runs contrary to an existing culture, in rejection of its ideals and values, it's right there in the name. I think you're making an argument that counterculture can be just as mimetic as culture, which I might agree with. It's all part of the same cycle of assimilation, transformation, rejection and rediscovery.

> I think you're making an argument that counterculture can be just as mimetic as culture, which I might agree with.

Fair enough I might be looking for too much in "counterculture".

I think they meant that the same advice is presented in a different context as self-help/better worker advice.

I can see what they're saying, a lot of this also gets mentioned as productivity advice:

- Anti-Mimetic Scheduling: take advantage of the off-peak times

- Building a Deep Bookshelf: allocate 10% of your annual reading to books where you know you’re not going to ‘agree’ with the fundamental premise

- Don’t Participate in the Shark-Tankification of Worth

- Learn to Navigate without GPS: It kills the brain and it kills the wandering — the spirit.

- Stop Writing to Please

- etc.

Had exactly this thought reading it. Here's a list of platitudes to make you a subversive independent thinker!

I'm surprised they haven't yet sold them as NFTs.

And they said it would be easy to start a cult. Not with all these other assholes copy/pasting Oprah's book into GPT-3!

Yes, surely the main ‘anti-mimetic’ strategy to adopt is not adopting lifestyle affectations from a blog post that claims that that will make you a better person.

That's exactly what they want you to say. Now you can level up and understand this advice is just for the weak-minded. For a few thousand bucks you can go to a special seminar.. etc

WHY the fuck did this rank on HN?

This is exactly the kind of post that ranks on HN. It seems intelligent but is not very challenging.

> Being “anti-mimetic” does not mean being a ‘contrarian’ or refusing to imitate one’s peers. That’s what every hipster thinks he’s doing, too. “Everyone leaves the beaten path only to fall into the same ditch,” wrote the social theorist René Girard, the father of mimetic theory. This kind of naive rejection of the culture is not what we’re talking about here.

I'm a big fan of Mark Fisher's work but I must say that I didn't read this piece in this sort of light. Seems like quite different to the usual co-opting of wisdom in the service of capitalist hegemony. At the very least, more insightful and wiser than a lot of listicles.

This section is particularly important and worth re-reading:

> Being “anti-mimetic” does not mean being a ‘contrarian’ or refusing to imitate one’s peers. That’s what every hipster thinks he’s doing, too. “Everyone leaves the beaten path only to fall into the same ditch,” wrote the social theorist René Girard, the father of mimetic theory. This kind of naive rejection of the culture is not what we’re talking about here.

This mindset runs deep in tech communities, where some people seem to think they can build a personality around doing everything differently than others. It’s the person who can’t resist the urge to remind everyone that they don’t use a popular text editor, programming language, or operating system.

I’m actually all for exploring the less popular path and trying different things. It becomes a problem, however, when someone can only view every choice as a false dichotomy in which only one option can be chosen. And of course, they’ll find a way to casually mention how they chose the less popular of the two options every time it comes up. They need everyone to know they are different (which they believe is equivalent to being better).

If you always choose the anti- path, the mimetic is controlling your behavior just as much as if you always choose the mimentic path; it determines what you do. The point is to make decisions on other values, disregarding the mimetic (except when you choose to regard it).

Analogously, in decision theory, someone is equally reliable and predictable if they are always right or always wrong.

I am the guy that throws a wrench into my friends' plans for where to have a drink, or where to go for dinner. This guy should take a break and write some self-help garbage for nonconformists who want to be a little more socially chill. But I guess that's not where the money is.

This kind of pedantic talking-like-a-successful-guy to weak-minded-people shit nauseates me. Mark Manson made a great career out of it. It's Joe Rogan's bread and butter. Dress it up in all the pseudo-historical philosophy you want, it reads exactly the same way.

The best take-down ever of this is the rather forced performance given by Tom Cruise's character in "Magnolia". The writing and direction of that piece of social commentary was one of the things that made me think PT Anderson was almost as good as JD Salinger at deconstructing the mind of conformist-wannabe-rebels.

This reads like a Buzzfeed listicle for people who hate Buzzfeed listicles.

By all means, please do read more books, consume less frivolously, watch old "under-rated" films, &c. But do it because you want to do it, not because some weirdo on the internet told you that it'll make you "counter-cultural."

Insisting that people should be more anti-mimetic and simultaneously calling humanity homo-religiouso (fundamentally religious), insisting that people don't read the Bible enough etc...

Oh well. At least this goes into my pile of "read things you deeply disagree with".

If you read enough of it to disagree with something you read too much of it. It belongs in the pile of things you read the first page of and go, oh shit, I just clicked on clickbait.

This is one of the most pretentious and ironic pieces of writing I've ever seen on HN front-page. Maybe only surpassed by pg's "How to think for yourself" being #1.

Idk the highly upvoted pg article about "orthodox privilege" is also up there for me.

I don't know, man. Why is living a counter-cultural life considered desirable? It's because there was this thing called the counter-culture in the 1960s and now it's considered cool. Seems like just another form of imitation to me.

For me this sort of discourse always comes back to the same basic truth: if you want to live an authentic and worthwhile life, you need to decide what you value and not just what you are rebelling against. This is the only ticket out of eternal adolescence.

Did you read the article? It sounds like you’re in agreement with the author.

> Below are some of the ways that we might cultivate some ‘anti-mimetic’ habits so that we’re not constantly struggling to keep up in the hamster wheel of desire that most of the people around us are running on—and reinforcing the wheel for one another. I hope some of these tactics will help you step off and chart your own course a bit more easily.

> As nice as it is to ‘fit in’, there are other times when it’s necessary to exercise self-possession, freedom, and intentionality to choose a course of action that isn’t quite so mimetic — that is not primarily the product of social imitation but the product of our innermost sanctum: our conscience, our understanding of our vocation, our deliberate and fully ‘owned’ choice of what we believe to be true, good, and beautiful. It is through these kind of intentional acts that we become who we are.

> Being “anti-mimetic” does not mean being a ‘contrarian’ or refusing to imitate one’s peers. That’s what every hipster thinks he’s doing, too. “Everyone leaves the beaten path only to fall into the same ditch,” wrote the social theorist René Girard, the father of mimetic theory. This kind of naive rejection of the culture is not what we’re talking about here.

> Being anti-mimetic means have the personal freedom to counteract negative forms of mimetic desire — like the kind that leads to polarized politics, unhealthy obsessions, envy, hustle-porn, and never-satisfied striving for things that won’t ultimately matter to impress people who don’t love us.

I do in some ways! And yet... the overall tone of anti-this, anti-that, only dead fish go with the flow... it looks like somebody pulling furiously at the Chinese finger trap. You need to relax, you need quiet and calm to hear the voice inside that will tell you the way beyond whatever ugly game you're stuck in today.

Maybe it's for different ears than mine. I think the message there is basically good. My take is a little different - people should go beyond fighting the flow and just let the flow be irrelevant to them. Let it pass around and through you and feel nothing. Find something different in that quiet.

> only dead fish go with the flow

Maybe putting words in the author's keyboard, but the fish in a current metaphor -- to me -- highlighted the same sentiment you seem to be promoting: don't be anti* all the time. Fish don't always swim up stream; they rarely do. The point is that a live fish has the ability to swim up stream when it needs or wants to.

These are fantastic advices to turn into an arrogant insufferable person. I used to be that person, it’s miserable. There is a lot of good in drinking the social kool aid and embracing our cultural quirks

The difference between the medicine and the poison is in the dosage.

TFA states quite in the beginning that the point is not about becoming a contrarian, even less being a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian. Seems like you are projecting quite a bit.

For someone who talks so much of loathing social media, they seemingly do very little to avoid it.

Acknowledging the technology is basically poison at scale, maybe remove it from your life so you do not suffer the same brainrot as the masses.

The great Naval once wrote: Be wary of anything that uses the word "social".

Social Media is conditioning people to discuss moral crusades, launch moral crusades, and dwell on moral crusades. Humans are being conditioned to write and say things that inspire anger towards the opposition, because that is the best approach to getting likes, upvotes, and subscribes. Poison for your mind.

> The great Naval once wrote: Be weary of anything that uses the word "social".

I was not aware of this quote, so I googled, and it turns out it's a Twitter account


I would guess this is Naval Ravikant?

I'll also point out that Naval correctly used the word "wary", but I do weary of these things too.

It does seem to be Naval Ravikant, someone I was not familiar with.

Considering his background, the tweet might as well be investment advice as opposed to life advice.

Most of his pontifications and influence are only distributed to people at scale because of Twitter. I’m not sure he’s great or particularly good example to follow.

He is friends with Nick Szabo and has a pretty sharp mind with some good experiences. I think he is basically done with the rat race of becoming successful now and he has written a bit of relevant advice for folks.

I learned about this Naval guy through Twitter, ironically.

I haven't looked into him too much, but from what I can tell, people only respect him because he has money.

As other HN-ers have mentioned this is a really good article over all, just wanted to add something extra related to this part:

> Not all who wander are lost. And sometimes, I like to drive with absolutely no destination at all.

more exactly a link to la Dérive [1]:

> The dérive is a revolutionary strategy originally put forward in the "Theory of the Dérive" (1956) by Guy Debord, (...) It is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, in which participants drop their everyday relations and "let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there"

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%A9rive

This chap needs a decent editor. The tone is dissonant. Maybe, there's some decent stuff in here, but who'd know? In the same sentence we encounter "Nobody wants to be the disagreeable, anti-mimetic guy" and then, "grab a beer or a bite to eat". I don't know for sure, but the person with whom I want to "grab a beer" doesn't know wtf an "anti-mimetic guy" is. Write it up, or write it down, but FFS, just write it for the reader you're trying to reach. Don't try to fit in so many buzzwords (mimicry?). It's rare that ideas are new, so you're better off just trying to express them more clearly, and move on from there.

This is a path to more meaning and engagement, but at the cost of much more misery. Post-modernism is lame, but Lyotard's "tyranny of consensus" is real - the vast majority of people do NOT want to be challenged, and these days it feels like the ones that need to be challenged are on the edge of violence.

At least in this time and place (2021 USA), keep your head down. At least for now.

> At least in this time and place (2021 USA), keep your head down. At least for now.

No. Now is precisely the time when the insane need to be reminded that while outright sanity is impossible, we can, should and must be more sane than we are now. The tribes be damned.

How do people actually read this and take it seriously? It's listicle level non-conformist hogwash, ran through a thesaurus. By all means, watch more old movies and read more books. But don't pretend it makes you anything other than pretentiously edgy.

Being anti-mimetic and following lists is kind of... mimetic, ain't it?

I read this and while I view some of the points as good advice, like others have pointed out -- being counter cultural for the sake of it is a path to misery. Articles like this miss one crucial overarching point and that is, what ever you do in life, do it intentionally. Go with the flow, don't go with the flow -- whatever as long as every once in a while you have a think and ask yourself "is this really what I want out of life" if it is great keep on keeping on but if it's not then think about what you have to do to change your life to get to where you want to be, doing what you want to do. Don't be merely an observer in your own life.

The problem with most of the advice is that hindsight is 20/20 and some decisions or circumstances are extra hard to invert or redirect.

People change, we do not have infinite time and over time actually making lasting acquaintances takes ever more energy. And if you change, so may your circles of friends, or even family.

Few people make themselves available later on, everyone is busy or sapped, either by work or other obligations. A decision to change and go against the flow can easily become a lonely one.

I've always been told life is lonely anyway, by the time you're in your mid thirties I think the average American for instance has like two close friends and dwindling family.

In my case every time I've tried to go with the flow I wind up resenting myself more than I like the people I'm keeping company with and always go back to marching to my own drum and shedding whatever social circle I've cobbled together.

I find that I enjoy my own time doing what I want and doing what I find stimulating more than I dislike the loneliness.

Very much to each their own though, it's obviously very personal and my way is definitely not the best for everyone, heck some of the time I'm not even sure it has been the best for me.

When the RIAA (and by extension music streaming services) went after youtube-dl I decided to orchestrate my media consumption a lot differently. I started to collect tapes and cds again. Same goes for movies.

My rational is that David Bowie isn't collecting those streaming royalties anyway and his estate is getting 0.0005 cents per play so isn't it better to own a physical copy and not line the pockets of lawyers who think they can go around dictating FOSS projects?

Honestly it's kind of fun too. Ripping your collection to FLAC and setting up a samba share is a nice Sunday afternoon project.

The writing is on the wall, this will only get worse.

Just remember, society will have an implict bias against anyone is is not like them. I happen to fit many of the suggestions in the list and it has gotten me nowhere.

It's gotten me nowhere as well but it has allowed me to be me, which is quite alright. I wasn't trying to get anywhere necessarily. But I was always comfortable with that.

It's a painful existence to be oneself and see the negative consequences/treatment by society because of it.

It's also a painful existence to be someone else, and live an unfulfilled life.

And it's a rewarding experience to be oneself and eventually find the set/setting/companion/environment that correlates to you in a fulfilling way.

Sometimes that's very difficult or impossible. It is never the easiest choice, but worthwhile things rarely are.

I'm going with impossible.

I won't deny the importance of luck.

There are things one can do to increase their apportionment of luck in life, but outcomes are not guaranteed.

I don't mean to be glib. Equanimity is required for lasting contentment. Equanimity comes more naturally with age.

Yet equanimity alone will not bring contentment either.

i don't want to pry, but if you don't mind, what kind of negative consequences are you experiencing?

i too experience negative consequences, but these are owed to finding it difficult to make friends. however, i do not believe that this difficulty comes from doing what is suggested in the article but rather the reverse, the difficulty to make friends is something i grew up with, any behavioral quirks developed later as a consequence of not having friends.

so in other words, the negative things you experience maybe don't come from being yourself but because you may be missing something else, something that may have had a hand in shaping who you are now.

Yes, it can be. I am lucky and very fortunate in that I have found places to live where I can be myself and am around people who value that even though they may not understand me or the way I live.

what makes you think that getting nowhere is caused by you doing as the article suggest?

i am just curious here, not judging. where do you want to get, and what do you think it takes to get there?

i too thought that most of the points applied to me and my feeling was that i would be miserable if they didn't. i can't in fact imagine living another way. this is me, and i am going to make the most of it, regardless what others think.

(to all the commenters who suggest that this list makes for a miserable life: if that's the case then this list is not for you. it's for those of us who don't enjoy following others)

i'd like to share one specific experience that seems relevant. in highschool i was a contrarian. a quiet one who expressed this by wearing different things than everyone else. at one point i realized that if everyone else started to copy my style then i would change my own style, and that meant that my style was just as dependent on others as was everyone elses.

that realization made me stop being a contrarian and instead i simply chose a new style that i could enjoy on its own regardless whether it differentated me from anyone or not.

so instead of asking: will this differentiate me from others?, i am asking: is this comfortable for me? is this something i want? does this fit into my principles of life? ...

Being contrarian and being anti-mimetic are different things.

The simple thing is that people who get promoted (or any other favorable thing) are the ones who share the most similarities with the person doing the promoting. I see this all the time at my company and in my life. This is even true in things like law and government (law enforcement and prosecutorial discretion).

Just stop doing isn't necessarily an option. Why should one not be their true self, and how difficult and painful would that be? Some people are stuck between the options.

of course, the point is that i eventually realized that i didn't want to be contrarian and somehow transitioned to some form of anti-memetism.

that has led me to be mostly self employed, and when i did take on employment then it was to further my own interests and not toil away on something that i could not identify with just to earn some money. i have never been in a position to be promoted in my job, so i didn't think about that. though it is possible that at least one termination of a job was influenced by my anti-memetic behavior, but that let to some interesting new options, so in my case it was not detrimental.

and yes, not being anti-memetic just isn't an option for me either.

This is perhaps the most important point right now in our increasingly polarizing society:

“The time has come for us to forgive one another. If we wait any longer there will not be time enough.” He understood that the only way that we wouldn’t be ‘battling to the end’ in a never-ending mimetic escalation is through an anti-mimetic movement away from violence and retribution and toward reconciliation and peace.

Mimetic frenzy is the engine behind accusatory networks (as we see with cancel culture) and revolutionary movements that result in incredible amounts of bloodshed and destruction when left unchecked. Refusing to accuse in one’s personal life and instead focusing on measured reaction as a counter-mimetic approach to these movements is the way to remain human in the midst of it all.

Or it is the way to be milked and shaved to the skin while not saying no.

Any act of opposition can land you on a blacklist or worse, even small one, even if you do not expect it.

Here’s a few little tricks I use. These may seem trivial and silly, but given that mimetic behavior is rooted in a very basic level of existence, I believe these counter mimetic attitude exercises are useful in maintaining the foundation of a anti-mimetic Maslow’s hierarchy.

When I know I’m going to be exposed to a video advertisement I summon all of the rage and contempt I can to make my mental state as unlikely to retain the ad’s message as possible.

I take perverse pleasure in letting my devices alarms/notifications ring without rushing to attend to them. Similarly I talk back to the maps directions voice.

I like this article, and I also like the Girardian theory/terminology, but I wish I could send this to my younger brother without him having to muck through the context of RG and mimetic theory.

I know it would sort've just become a self-help article at that point. There's been a deluge of those lately, most of which are of s** quality and usually preaching the sort of "hustle hard bro" message Luke decries, but I just think this sort of stuff would _actually_ do well on TikTok with a smidge of substitution for the more core-RG terminology.

René Girard actually _is_ a must-read. No need to go through everything he has written -- though his works are a great gateway to our (Western) culture as they draw on everything from ancient mythologies (notably greek) to modern philosophy, with a focus on the sources on the Christian religion. Start with "I See Satan Fall Like Lightning", a very straightforward, almost romanesque read, and if interested, read "Violence and Religion" and "Things Hidden Since The Foundation Of The World". A great way to dive into Humanities.

I've read Girard, but I don't think everyone in my life has the attention span or interest to dive into him. I'm imagining what the conversation of me recommending THSTFOTW to my bro would be like LOL.

Wish I could send it to my younger self, but life lessons can only be learned by people who decide to learn them.

> Read Foreign Newspapers

Depends on which ones... gets a little dispiriting to realize I just labored through what was actually a Japanese translation of an article from Reuters originally written in English.

In a wider sense, if you're actively trying to go against the grain of society, they've already got you, in a way.

Even more, foreign sources often lack context (and in some cases, language skills) to make proper sense of a story. That said it’s still a good practice to read an outside perspective.

I was thinking, jeez, there’s a whole lot of Christian mysticism in this article, and so it’s not surprising —- indeed, downright mimetic —- to read the author’s at Catholic University.

It took me until the following passage to realize this:

> As my regular readers will by now, I think that a massive deficiency in religious literacy is causing confusion. We have an inability to make sense of new developments like Bitcoin because our fundamental nature as religious beings — homo religiosus — is being denied. If we recognized and embraced it, who knows what Renaissance of reason and innovation we might see?

#13. Social Media with a Purpose made me pause - I have two Instagram accounts, and a Facebook account.

Instagram 1 is for family and friends. It's snapshots of daily life for family and friends all over the world.

Instagram 2 is for others that like me enjoy making radio-controlled replica cars and trucks from flat sheets of styrene.

Facebook is to let people who know me find me.

Why would one NOT have a reason for social media? Anything as mundane as keeping up with distant friends and family is reason enough, no? And of course that's going to forever remain mimetic unless you're a business. That's why there's the word "social" in social media, or did I miss the boat?

TikTok for entertainment. Twitter to be heard... I can't believe one would have any kind of social media account without a purpose. Even if it's showing off your wealth, or pretending to be something you're not - they're all reasons, no?

> If you have a vague answer, dial it in immediately.

I think this covers most people's use of social media. Many at best have a vague notion of why they are on social media, or at worst have not even considered the possibility of not participating. "With a purpose" to me suggests forethought: Think about why you are on social media before participating (or before your next interaction), if you haven't thought much of it before. This is very different from coming up reasons after the fact, which I think is far more common.

Not sure it needs to be dialled in for social media. If you want to achieve a result like monetisation then yes, but then it's no longer social, it's just become an income-related activity (job!!) and is no longer social media -- it's now a tool to achieve a non-social media goal.

A counter case -- for sure as a consultant at McKinsey, umlaut or Accenture you'll write out a communications plan in which you detail and map project stakeholders, places/times of project news and briefings, publicity, dealing with external inquiries and so on. That's a very, very specific and detailed set of requirements for what boils down to social media at corporate level.

Way over the top for Jane and Joe Average. For whom "keep in touch with friends and family" is specific. For many the notion of not participating is unthinkable - becuase THAT's where all their family and friends are. And so it requires no additional pontification, I'd think.

What might an example of a loftier, more dialled-in purpose be?

I don't think dialed-in has to be lofty. Keeping in touch with family is a perfectly fine reason. My point, and I think the point of the author, is that thinking about it before, not after, offers an opportunity to deepen your understanding.

For the longest time, those in my circle who used Facebook to "keep in touch" really didn't. Sending me an apple on the latest farm game isn't a genuine interaction to me. It was only after I quit that close friends finally got the hint that Facebook was not a good way to reach out to me, despite explicitly saying it many times before.

For those for whom not participating is presently unthinkable, maybe thinking it over would do some good. That doesn't necessitate changing one's choice in the end, but considering it can be useful in and of itself. Family and friends are not only on Facebook. They have a real presence in the real world. Even if one chooses to stay on Facebook or whatever social media du jour, realizing this can be immensely helpful.

At first I thought this was about Antimemetic tactics which would be far more useful as a lot of time and potential for original thoughts is wasted through the absorption of memes these days. Memes tend to stay in my head far longer than what seems healthy and makes it harder to be truly creative and imagine novel ideas.

Same. Arguably there's strong crossover, though - mindful consumption would be both antimimetic and antimemetic.

Memetic mimeticism? Is there a Dawkins/Girard intersection?

Are “Anti-mimetic tactics” selfish?

And does the mnemonic I before E except after C rule apply in this context?

We might be close to a CRISPR for memes here. Memesplicing anyone?

The deep bookshelf rings true to me. I use https://audile.app for exactly this - but in music.

A book version would be neat.

The Audile page suggested Jackie Gleason singing Christmas classics, which is certainly different to what I would normally listen to.

On a whim I started listening to 1920s and 1930s music. It’s not at all my style but you know, after awhile, it’s kind of good. The feeling was very much like learning a new language.

Keep refreshing - you’ll get a different album each time!

Eh. Some of these are dangerous and misguided.

A commitment to truth has value. A commitment to speak it always and essentially pick fights and cut your own throat is not really a dedication to the truth. It's some kind of misguided puritan guilt or something like that.

Forgiveness is a gift. Trust is earned. People hold grudges when they know no means to have compassion for another while still protecting themselves. Telling people to run around randomly forgiving others is an unnuanced idea that advocates for encouraging bad behavior and a professional victim position.

If you can help them move on, cool. Wonderful. If you can't, it's bad advice that amounts to saying "The nice thing is to cut your own throat and actively encourage others to keep cutting throats without consequence."

> 20. Read Foreign Newspapers

As someone who has lived in many different countries around the world. I can strongly relate to this point. Media in different countries cover mostly the same information but the angle is different. Watching the media of two different countries which are opposed to each other politically gives you a better general idea of what's going on. When you do that, you can easily see the spin/deception and you train yourself to spot it.

There is always spin in the media. It's a bit like cross-examining two people in an argument; of course each individual will try to subtly twist the facts in their own favor. Nation states are no different; if anything, they're more consistent.

There are interesting ideas, but despite even speaking down on hipsters who do things just because they are not mainstream - the whole concept reminds me still of it.

Being anticultural for the sake of it.

"Being anti-mimetic is the power to live in freedom"

I mean do that, if that is your thing. But rather just do what you really want. Whether your local culture supports it, or not. This I call freedom.

Just note of course, going against the mainstream is a lot harder. And there are cultures that are very repressive against even small sidetracking from the norm. And they will try to make your life hell, for bringing chaos into their stable order of things. Because this is how they might perceive you, for not adopting to their standard.

> I have always had disdain for the show Shark Tank and all of its many derivatives.

Shark Tank is itself a derivative.


> "I think that a massive deficiency in religious literacy is causing confusion."

In an article about selective anti-mimeticism, worship at the altar of self-oppressive mimicry. Too serious to be a joke, but the irony...

Religious literacy is different than religion. In a Girardian sense, Christianity can be seen as an antidote to the mimetic sparagmos because it puts forth the scapegoat to end all scapegoats.

Religion is the opposite of Enlighenment. In the 21th Century, any religious thinking will be threated as a childish, inmature reasoning.

I absolutely hate the content of this article, mostly because it's the exact set of things that you won't be able to do if you need to read about them on Hacker News.

The people who read this article and attempt to make these changes are the people who will talk about this stuff incessantly, and push it onto every single other person they meet.

It's legitimately repulsive in its phoniness, because I work hard to be authentic, and if I were to take this article seriously, it'd be a huge step backwards in authenticity.

Apparently I've reached the maximum number of free articles despite never visiting this site before

Same here. I used the 12 foot ladder, it works.


I just opened the article in a different tab. Something is amiss with their paywall implementation.

I got halfway through and a newsletter signup modal interrupted me and wouldn't close. Good thing I know CSS or I couldn't have finished reading.

So much for being anti-mimetic and bucking the trends.

Maybe they’re going by Referer? Which sounds utterly silly.

Misread the title as 'antiemetic'. Went in expecting strategies for keeping food in your stomach when consuming 'counter-cultural' substances.

My personal philosophy on this is to not live life by tactics like "anti-mimetic" or "counter cultural". Like what you like, be present & don't treat life like a to-do list. There's room to be well read alcoholic with a good heart & a love for 90's hip hop.

EDIT: And for god's sake be kind to someone who doesn't share your worldview, even if that worldview is offensive in some way.

Most important in these times is to not get influenced by ubiquitous advertisement. Be that radio ads, youtube recommendations or highway billboards. One needs to be really careful to not let their subconscious get influenced. I personally make a list of most of the ads I see and don't buy stuff from those brands unless there is no alternative.

Here's an anti-mimetic idea:

Stop chasing advice on how to better yourself. You won't find enlightenment in articles like this.

This comment has self-destructed.

Sounds pretty trite to me.

This was one of my favorite recent reads.

The most tangible tech related thing it made me think about is Google News. There are reasons to dislike the service (or the beast behind it), but at the end of the day, it’s a great way to help break your own personal political ethos bubble. Read the headlines of CNN right next to FOX. Consider the angles. On that point, I’d love to find a non-FAANG alternative that does the aggregation as well as Google. Anyone have suggestions?

Separately, I will quibble with this:

“ I’ve never understood why the debate our education has focused so heavily on the type of school (private, public, parochial, charter, etc.). Shouldn’t we be more concerned about the quality of education?”

He’s grossly glossing over the socio-economic subtleties. Those ARE ultimately meant to be debates about quality — and about how quality education can be delivered at mass, fairly and justly.

The debates over the type of schools are about school governance, and what sorts of school governance are best suited for "quality education".

Coming from a public policy perspective and background, I don’t see it that way. Rather that’s simply how some have chosen to frame it (and some like yourself have come to accept it).

My thought about this one was, to obtain your own understanding of this world or everything, then make your own choices. It doesn't matter if you are mimetic or not, you are still living your own world, from the beginning to the end, isn't it?

Fantastic list, and was quite happy to see, I'm already doing most of these, many for most of my adult life. The big ones for me were I threw away my phone a couple years ago, and have essentially stopped using all social media. I also made an effort to go completely analog when hiking, something I do daily, for instance barometric altimeter and contour maps vs gps/google maps.

There are 2 that I weren't on my radar at all though, and will take them to heart and work them into my lifestyle: "Return Anger with Kindness" and "Forgive Someone. Repeat.". These are really hard in today's divisive world, but someone has to take the first step.

Thanks for putting together a wonderful list.

Being autistic mean I don't really need to make an effort for that. Silver lining, maybe?

Isn't hacker news, for all the excitement about mimetics, just another form of Instagram? Aren't we all just here for all the things listed in that article?

Isn't the internet itself, as a giant copy machine, the opposite of the goals of a mimetic life?

Maybe this says a lot more about how I approach HN than anyone else. I truly love this community and the ideas put forth by Girard are so interesting. But, it makes me wonder if by pursuing them I'm just following the herd anyway.

I also would love to hear someone write about being anti-mimetic with kids and with another parent. There is an entire industry trying to make you spend money that's so mimetic.

Probably. The article itself had a comments CTA in point #25, a newsletter subscription CTA in #15, and then I stopped reading because it seemed like a hypocritical list in that it was on course to hit all the typical content marketing milestones. Struck me a bit like Thoreau praising the wilderness from the comfort of civilization.

Which is not to say it's all nonsense. I think the front matter sums it up nicely. Life is about what you focus on. Your personal focus is what will separate you from the "dead fish".

Focus is dividing what matters from what doesn't and that's unique to each person. People do this focus calculus all the time when deciding whether and who to marry, how many kids to have if any, what school subject to study and how hard to study, and so on. The "dead fish" in the article's analogy aren't really dead, but they're acting on subconscious, pseudo-instinctive drives (usually some form of search for social validation) whereas we can at least attempt to be more conscious of what we want our life to be about (social validation maybe doesn't matter as much as we often feel it does, at least relative to other things).

This can sometimes mean abandoning, at least in part, the principles of those around us because they don't lead where we want to go (a common experience between parents and their children). Or at least being able to better negotiate compromises when someone knows what they actually want rather than just trying to get along.

> Simple heuristic: ask yourself what price you would pay at the moment you are using a digital product to be doing the real thing. Take running on a treadmill through a digital forest on a 10” screen. If the answer is $10, then do the math: I bet that’s more than what you pay for a daily gym membership. That means that there is more value for you to unlock if you find a way to make that desire a reality.

I don't understand this. What is he proposing you do with the $10? Why would this advice change if your declared value was less than a daily gym membership?

The way I read it: The argument starts with the reader being in a gym. So having paid the gym is given and we assume that the gym must provide some sort of value. At some higher fee, the value would be negative and the reader would not have gone to the gym. Rationally.

Now the article argues that since the reader would pay more to be in the forest than the gym, they should evaluate their options to run in the forest. Because that could provide more absolute value. Even if it meant travelling further.

The only way it makes sense to argue this way is when you're trying to convince a consumer of a non-consumer option that is better. Because, it presumes, only when a consumer evaluates the forest as a product, they will see its value.

i didn't get that either, but then maybe that's because i would never even consider using a treadmill when i can go for a walk. most other digital things like watching videos or listening to audio books don't have practical analog equivalents, or have no benefits. (i really don't see the benefit of playing vinyls. in the end i still get sound made through electricity. for the real analog experience i actually play an analog music instrument myself.)

> How many people can honestly and explicitly articulate their purpose, or mission, on social media? Is it to gain followers? Sell books? Build a Substack list? What?

This line resonated a lot with me and some of my goals and anti-goals when I started working on Haven[1]. I don't want to support any sort of commercial or brand-building goals on Haven and I explicitly send those people to Wordpress on the features page.

[1]: https://havenweb.org

> "I read many books not because I think I’ll ‘like’ them but because I think that I won’t..."

I won't necessarily intentionally look things I don't like but I will ask others what they're reading, what they suggest, and so on. It helps me escape confirmation bias.

The other hack I use is to read books referenced in the book I'm reading. These are often the book that influenced the book I'm reading. Getting back to basics, back to the source, is often helpful.

These are pretty mimetic ways to find books to read.

Not really. Not relative to myself. If you're going to deviate from patterns, that starts with self.

To tie this into tech a bit, Peter Thiel is a Girardian. There’s at least one interview out there of him expanding on his views about Girardian mimetics.

I don't think it's a good idea to make deviance an end-goal. It should rather follow naturally from your other goals and needs.

If you want to live an anti-mimetic life, basically… be gay. Lol even the article has a pic of Oscar wilde. Gays have the secret and this whole form is way more homophobic than it likes to let on

I'm reminded of broken mirror guy from Black Mirror who starts a YouTube (whatever it actually was) channel at the end.

Bit off topic but there's something I never got quite right in american linguo: do they say people do 9am - 5pm workdays ? Cause in France where I worked 3 years and Hong Kong 7, it's more 8:30-7. Someone leaving at 5 is almost reason for a riot in a team in both countries, how is it so common in the US?

For an anti-mimetic article it could have used something other than a reverse sorted listicle format.

From his book blurb "According to Girard, humans don’t desire anything independently. Human desire is mimetic―we imitate what other people want.", he just described NPCs. I'm not an NPC, and would be surprised if there are any here.

Also the importance of intuition, but going against the crowd can be a lonely road, not for everybody. I'm reminded of warning not to read too much. "When we read, another person thinks for us, we merely repeat his mental process" - Schopenhauer

Many of the things here I used daily, and thought I was original for thinking it up. Never thought it'd be considered "anti-mimetic" or such. How curious - really the article is 1:1 to how I do things, just because I felt like it.

I think he didn't quite understand the depth of Girard's thought. It's not like that you can really fight mimetic desire, especially not by following any kind of tactics. Reproducing behavior in a certain way is nothing but mimesis.

I'm not going to dis the OP's hypothesis, but he missed much of Girard's point. It's not that children mimic the desires of their parents or individuals mimic the desire of society writ large, it's that desire is embedded in the perceptions of reality transmitted to children and reinforced by society.

That being said, I like the article and maybe the author was just side-stepping complications by presenting Girardian desire as being consciously culpable. But that is a complication in and of itself: desire is often unconscious and accessible only to the hidden self of the subconscious.

That the desire the author describes may be a meta- (or pata-) desire is worth noting when reading the text.

Or at least that's my 2 bit commentary.

This article is full of dumb advice that will cause nothing but grief if you follow it. This is an anti-mimetic comment. ;-)

Wow, this resonated so much with me that I could have wrote this. Amazing to know I'm not alone. Cheers!

I am surprised the word 'listen' was used only once in the entire article. There is so much to be gained by simply perking up those little ears of ours, and I would certainly say it is becoming anti-mimetic.

Also, being flexible. You don't have to avoid using GPS all the time. But sometimes I find a fun challenge in seeing if my brain can figure out A to B on its own, etc...

> The Marriage of Anti-Mimetic and Anti-Fragility

And that was when I realized the whole article was bullshit.

Very solid arguments in the liquid post-truth media trending. Thanks @lukeburgis.

surreal to read this. I had never heard of memetic theory.

A year ago , I was struggling to describe an experience and needed a word to describe it while journaling.

I called it “Wantingness” at the time! Going to go back and review my journal entries.

Ironically reading and engaging in commentary on the article is a girardian desire

this all sounds great in principle but the fact is most of whats advised is only accessible to the exceptionally privileged

"avoid typical crowded hours and go to restaurants and museums at 1400 on a workday"

sure id like to but...

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