The Only Skill You Will Ever Need

When I was a young’n, one of my grade school math teachers asked the class “What is the most important subject in school?”

What with it being a math class and all, we naturally said math.

“Wrong,” he replied matter-of-factly. “The most important subject in school is reading.” He then went on to explain that if what you know is math, then all you know is math. If what you know is science, then all you know is science. But if what you know is reading, then what you know is whatever you choose to learn.

That still sticks with me, after all these years. If you can read, then you can learn. And if you can learn, then you can accumulate wisdom. And if you can accumulate wisdom, it’s just a matter of time before the world is your oyster. With reading, all things are possible. In this manner, it is my God.

Of course, I need to make a little room in my theory for those who can learn better in a way that’s not sticking your nose in a book. Maybe you’re one of those people who learns through watching others. That’s fine, you can join us. Maybe you’re the type who needs to scrape your chin before you apprehend knowledge. God bless you, you’re one of us. Maybe you’re one of those rare breeds who doesn’t care for reading but can pick something up with your hands and understand it as thoroughly as if it were a part of you (lookin’ at you, tinkers). You’re part of the club, too.

As we can see, there are more ways to learn than merely reading and all methods are legitimate so long as the end result is the accumulation of knowledge. Bottom line: has learning occurred? So let’s not get too hung up on the reading phase of the success continuum and focus on the broader, more salient point: the ability to learn. I’ve written on how to get awesome at life by becoming more of a learner so you can follow the link for more specifics.

But first, we must understand that the ability to learn is, in and of itself, without limits. Often, however, we find that, where the rubber meets the road, it does have a limit. So what limits learning? To only limit to learning you will have in your life is dependent on one thing: your individual desire to learn.

Adjusting your desire to learn can be a difficult task. Some of us are inherently complacent, and don’t crave any more from this world. Some of us have self-esteem issues; we feel we don’t deserve any more. Some of us are scared, and that makes sense. Life is scary. But if any of these describe you, then all you need is a change in your perspective. The things that hold you back—complacency, shame, fear—are the very things that you can change about yourself. Trust me, you just have to get off your ass and do it. The ability to learn makes you limitless as an individual.

First you can learn about psychology and understand why it is you’re so messed up in the first place. Then you can learn about how to throw the monkey off your back and start living. Then you can learn about how to self-motivate. You can learn about all the possibilities that this world has to offer, and how other people have pursued them. Once you flip the switch in your mind that you will develop the skill of learning skills, there’s really no stopping the snowball effect. Armed with no other skill in the world but the ability to learn, you have a better chance than anyone else at shaping the world in your image, securing your legacy, and manifesting your own destiny, so stop reading right now and commit to learning how to learn.

Q Anon and the Psychology of Conspiracy

I was listening to a talk radio show on the way to work recently and they had a caller on who was educating the show’s incredulous hosts on the sagacity of Q Anon, a shadowy internet personality who has recently entered mainstream consciousness. Q purports to divine the future of America through various signs such as typos in the President’s tweets. The evidence, said the caller, is “all around”.

I don’t know your personal feelings on Q Anon or on conspiracy theories more generally, nor do I particularly care. What I was struck by in this conversation was the seeming lucidity of the caller. He sounded like a young kid, granted, maybe mid twenties but not unintelligent. In fact, he seemed possessed of a reasonably sound and healthy mind. Up to that point I had taken for granted that conspiracy theory was more in the realm of the provocateurs, the senile, the drug-addled, etc. But this guy didn’t seem to fit any of these molds. For lack of a better word, he seemed like a regular guy.

I’ve heard it said that everyone has a spiritual side, that we have an innate desire to believe in something higher, something more powerful, something that makes sense of this meaningless world. I agree with this. Many people, it seems, have a propensity (susceptibility?) to perceive communication on a metaphysical level. Some seem to be capable of understanding a language that the rest of us find inscrutable. I supposed this is how we get Q Anon believers and people who see the Madonna in a grilled cheese.

However, I’ve also taken for granted that that spirituality would be naturally well-guided and ultimately positive. Until recently.

In the 100,000 or so years that homo sapiens has inhabited this rock, people have come to understand the reality of innate spirituality and furthermore, the deleterious effect of this instinct when not properly channeled. Enter faith. Elders assumed, rightly, that if people were going to place their immutable faith in some higher power irrespective of its worthiness or rationality, it might as well be in a faith that we as people control. As such, we invented a religion that would both satisfy the fundamentally human desire to believe in something bigger than ourselves (thus protecting ourselves from our own nature,) while simultaneously channeling that belief into something valuable, something that objectively improves the world around us.

For instance, it is primarily due to the spread of Christianity throughout the world that the Arab slave trade, perhaps the most brutal and enduring of all slave trades, came to an end. (Yes, the spread of Christianity brought its own host of negative consequences, but I think even an a priori-level cost benefit analysis will reveal that humanity ultimately made out like bandits in that compromise. At any rate, it’s a discussion for another time.)

On the other side of the spectrum, we predictably see the opposite. As faith in formal religion implodes, people increasingly latch onto informal religions—conspiracy theories, superheroes, Harry Potter, etc. What makes conspiracy theorists particularly insidious is that it’s impossible to contradict their faith. In fact just doing so only proves them right. As soon as someone demonstrates evidence that a thing is false, that person necessarily trips the theorist’s “gaslight radar”. The rational person becomes—in the theorist’s eyes—just another undercover spy trying to throw them off the scent. It becomes a downward spiral of self fulfilling prophecy where “evidence” of the theory’s validity is “all around.” In the conspiracy theorist’s mind, nothing could be more obvious.

For as long as this decline in established religion continues, we can expect more and more people glomming onto pseudo-religion as their spiritual outlet—as the thing that offers them meaning in a world that is all too often lonely and cold. How this will ultimately change humanity I will leave up to you to decide, but if I were a gambling man…

P.S. All this being said, I am open to the possibility that I am wrong. Despite a long precedent of conspiracy theories proving false (or at least never being proved true by any reasonable standard), and despite my own self-declared level-headedness, I harbor in my mind and heart the narrow splinter of possibility that I could be dead wrong. I truly hope that never happens because it would send my delicate constitution into a Kafkaesque free fall where I would begin to question the validity of everything I had come to understand was “true”. (Aside: I think The Truman Show is one of the scariest films ever written. Perhaps more on this later.) All existential crisis aside, I will, in the event of this Q business proving true, admit I was wrong, apologize, and promptly exile myself to the country to live out my days in a state of ungodly hermitage.