An angry man by the name of Jared stopped by the blog the other day and left this beauty of a comment on my old A/C article:
Now, my first inclination was probably the same as yours – a deep sigh as you pull on the 20 ounce XL bloxing gloves and prepare to Deliver some Education yet again. But if you set aside the facts and just look at the feeling behind these words, I’m right there with Jared. He and I are not so different after all. If I were to paraphrase a little:
In fact, defiance and standing up for your own freedom while rejecting the influence of invaders is a natural human instinct. It has been pretty useful to us in the past, and it can still come in handy today if you use that rage for a good cause.
Unfortunately for our defiant friend, the substance of the argument doesn’t stand up quite as well as the emotion. And a good chunk of our society’s self-imposed hardships come from falling into the same basic trap: becoming so convinced that you are right, that you block yourself from ever learning anything.
Looking at this example specifically, we start with a guy rightfully seeking happiness. But in doing so, he seems to have snarled in the idea of comfort and convenience as being part of happiness. Both old philosophy and modern science have shown that this is counterproductive: voluntary discomfort and mastery of hardship are far more powerful life boosters than avoidance. Even Jared has probably noticed that kicking the ass of a daunting challenge is more satisfying than having all of life’s luxuries flow in through an IV needle and then back out through the catheter and the bedpan. The key is in what challenges you choose to embrace: I suggest as many as you can handle. Especially those dished out by Mother Nature herself.
Then there’s the rest of those factual errors. Lowering your dependence on climate control and other electrical extravagances isn’t about saving 50 bucks. It’s more like $100 per month, which compounds rapidly into $17,300 every ten years. And that 17 grand doesn’t have to go into your gas tank and out through the exhaust pipe. Instead, it could buy portions of businesses and thus become an army of employees that work for you for a lifetime. That’s a solid start at becoming a millionaire, which is something best done ten bucks at a time.
Then his argument goes on to reinforce my point perfectly with the generalization about climate change. Here our man has singlehandedly outfoxed the world’s scientific community and declared the last few decades of their research to be incorrect. The incredible irony is that he confuses climate science with a government plot to control society, when it’s actually quite clearly documented that the opposite is true: climate change doubt is a strategic misinformation campaign designed to control voters to rally continued support for the fossil fuel industry. The doubt is most prevalent in countries where the industry has close ties to the political system and the campaign has been well-funded.
For the past 20 years or so, I have watched with wonder from the sidelines as this societal experiment raged, because I’m shocked that it actually worked so well. Why is our species so easily duped by such transparent (and centuries-old) methods of tomfoolery? How are the morally good air-conditioning lovers of Alabama converted into campaigners against science itself (and unwittingly against their own best economic interests)? How has science become a political issue, with liberals and scientists being branded together as out-of-touch elites, and a certain 50% of Real Americans united in a mistrust of the whole field?
Let’s clear this all up right now and get one thing straight:
Regardless of your religious or political views, understanding what Science is, and using everything it offers to your advantage is the fastest way to accelerate your path to leading a rich and fulfilling life.
Science is not about ideology, or trying to cover the truth, or trying to manipulate people. That is what politics are generally about, and Science is exactly the opposite of that.
Science is all about looking for evidence through experimentation, and forever questioning itself and refusing to simply repeat dogma. By refusing to cling to existing assumptions about what “The Truth” is, Science gets us forever incrementally closer to understanding what is really going on in our world.
In other words, Science is the method that we have developed to protect us from our own tendency to cling to incorrect assumptions forever.
Luckily for all of us, we don’t have to get into the bullshit national debates about the current political hot topics (which politicians are using to control you). Instead, you can apply the principles of science to improve your own life right now.
How to Get Rich through Scientific Living
1. Understand more about yourself as the Human Animal, so you can work around your own mental weaknesses.
At the core, you were “built” for exactly one reason: to produce as many healthy babies as possible. Every finger and toe, emotion and follicle of your being has been optimized for this purpose. If you have other goals, like deeper life satisfaction or getting out of debt, you need to learn to override some of your default programming. Learning about how we are all Predictably Irrational is the key to this.
The moment you think you are a perfectly rational being is the moment you stop being able to think critically (and the moment you become easy for others to manipulate). A study of your own species by learning some basic psychology and behavioral economics is the best bit of education you can get.
2. Understand the difference between correlation and causation, and the value of the double blind test.
When society falls for massive misinformation, it is often because of our tendency to latch on to simple patterns and fall into the herd mentality. “I always win at Roulette when I wear my bright red shirt”, or “these $59.00 Chi Energy Alignment Pills always make me have a better day”, or “Buying this more expensive wine will provide me with a happier life” are common blunders that could be avoided if we were all better at conducting semi-controlled experiments upon ourselves. And fear of doing something differently from everyone else tends to lead us all into group mediocrity, even while stepping out and doing things in your own better way is much more likely to earn you attention, respect, and greater success.
3. Instead of fighting the gifts of Science, embrace them and use them to live a better life.
Climate change skeptics aren’t really uncomfortable with the science, they are uncomfortable with the implication that their fossil-fuel dependent lifestyle is immoral and endangered. This is an incurable condition that will lead to lifelong unhappiness, because the science is not going away.
Try as you might, you are not going to out-science the scientists by reading “skeptic” websites and repeating their memes. You’d need to practice in the field for many years to make even a small new discovery, and yet the “armchair” climate scientists are fond of grabbing each news story and squawking about how the deep ocean results prove this or disprove that.
Don’t waste your time. The real scientists will just keep collecting evidence until you’re the last one standing on the shore insisting the world is flat and those sailing ships are falling off of a giant waterfall at the edge of the horizon.
Instead, I prefer to learn more about the science by letting the specialists do their work for me while sit back and read the summaries as they come in. I then have my own time free to decide what it all means to me, and how to best deal with reality. I too wish that the world wasn’t warming so quickly, but there’s a happier way to deal with it than angry denial. I can choose to lead a happy and engaged life in my own community and consume a bit less stuff. More money, better health and closer friendships: No loss there.
Sometimes you may still choose to blatantly burn plenty of fossil fuels despite a full knowledge and acceptance of the results. I’ve been known to drive across the country, hop on a jet, or even eat a steak. But I get to do it with the understanding that it is a tradeoff, instead of hiding behind a plastic shield of wimpy denial. The extra bonus is that understanding some of the workings of our environment has greatly reduced my craving for BMWs, which has saved me at least $250,000 so far. It also brings me great optimism – I think the world’s transition away from sloppy and expensive fossil fuels is the biggest business opportunity we have yet stumbled across. The progress and prosperity involved will keep the stock market and the economy booming for more than the rest of my lifetime.
Although I now have this blog to share my own ideas about better living, its effects are obviously very finite. But there’s no need to fret about what the rest of the world is doing, because that is outside of my circle of control. Worrying is 100% counterproductive, and it was psychological studies that helped figure out that very principle.
Science is bound to deliver news that is sometimes convenient (the news that sex is very good for your health, for example), and sometimes less so (that fossil fuels and alcohol are not). But knowledge is power, and power means the opportunity to make the best of your own life, which includes dominating on the financial side of things, as well as just the ability to go to bed with a broad smile on your face each night.
Science is the way you get knowledge – nothing more, and nothing less. You’re free to fight it at your own peril, but I’ll be hanging out here in my own Life Laboratory keeping the grand experiment going as long as possible.
Further Reading: An earlier MMM Classic called Safety is an Expensive Illusion digs into some more examples of how scientific thinking about everyday life decisions and risk can lead to huge profits.