It’s an odd arc for a movie to follow Goodness itself. Most stories teach us lessons by showing us a person: we match the Good parts of ourselves with this protagonist in the film. The Good parts undergo trials but ultimately prevail.
In this movie, however, bad behavior is punished. It’s the sort of movie that would answer the question “Is murder a sin?” with “Depends: who are we talkin’ about?”
In uncut gems, the protagonist is Goodness, we follow the plot arc of Right, and Right, as it should, ultimately triumphs in the end. The vehicle for this lesson, however, is a sad sack of a meatbag: Adam Sandler watches a basketball game instead of tucking his son into bed; he explodes in anger instead of listening to his girlfriend; and he gambles with borrowed money instead of paying it back.
We empathize with the people around Adam Sandler: the three kids, the wife, the loan shark, the girlfriend. We even feel sorry for Sandler sometimes: He’s compulsive, but he’s right. We think, “I’m compulsive but right.” But Uncut Gems shows us: “Here’s where those two traits can lead you…”
So we’re oddly satisfied when Sandler’s big bet finally pays off… and is punctuated by him being shot in the head. “Those who gamble with others’ lives should pay with their own.“
This movie does not merely show us how the world is; it describes how the world ought to be. Good should prevail while bad gets shot in the head, even if it’s that adorable goofball who starred in Happy Gilmore.
It’s not a pleasant film. You probably won’t enjoy it. Or you’ll enjoy it the way you enjoy going to the dentist and hearing stories about The Holocaust: it hurts but it’s ultimately good for you.
So process your trauma, overcome your compulsions, and watch Uncut Gems when you want something reeeeeeally intense.
One of my clients was impressed by an edit. We then shared this delightful exchange:
Them: `How did you edit this section to make the article flow better?`
Me: `I can use any information to prove any point.`
Them: `That’s scary.`
Me: `I know. That’s why I don’t work for Philip Morris.`
I then described my process. Here’s that walk-through:
You expressed curiosity about how how I solved the “disjointed” problem. I mused on my approach a bit and can better articulate it in writing here. It’s somewhat of an engineering approach… I think… (I have never done engineering outside of that one time I built a shelf):
- What are our aims? What are our problems?
- The two sections feel disjointed. We want them to feel connected smoothly.
- The comment _______ made has interesting info–let’s find a way to include it.
- Implicit step: What are our requirements? What are our constraints?
- We’re constrained by our medium, so “published on the web” (Writing, web formatting (especially headings & subheadings), hyperlinking, bulletpoints, and pics/drawings are the big ones.)
- Meta: I don’t think about this so much consciously any more. Not for this medium, at least (for other media, yes!). There was a time, however, when I thought obsessively about “what are the constraints of the written-for-web medium?”, which was super formative in becoming facile with the tools. (The biggest one that people mess up in this medium is headings and subheadings. It’s like a table of contents to guide you while reading! Who doesn’t appreciate an easy-to-use map?)
- Structure the content to achieve the goal.
- ________’s comment had very interesting info, albeit some of it was framed off-topic-ly. However, everything can be on-topic in one sentence or less.
- This is kinda a cool idea. I think of it as “bridging” because that’s how I was taught: you find a relevant trait of topic A, highlight that piece, bridge to a similar nugget in topic B, and then go to point B. This parallels the way our brains process language: we fire neurons in clusters around each word. So, to go from “Sheep” to “cloud”, one could use “white” or “fluffy”. These are trivial examples, but the concept stays the same: From my dog to Trump could be The Adorable Smidgen -> Chihuahua -> Mexican wall -> Trump. You get better at it over time, finding the shorter (and in the case of logic/business, actually relevant) paths. (That said, in persuasion, you don’t even need relevance! Crazy concept that’s super scary when you think about it…)
- In this case, we had a starting point (the paragraph before) and an end to get to (the next section). We also had the content of the middle bit (which I got by breaking ________’s points into their constituent pieces). Now use the technique “bridging” and the thing structures itself! It naturally lends itself to an order… the one that links most logically!
- Make the new text as short as possible while still being easily readable.
- Good writing is short. Good nonfiction, especially. For me, this comes from a concatenation of “aims” and “medium constraints”–we want to give the reader the most value for their effort/time. It also aligns with standard writer wisdom that “shorter is better” (and, I suppose, the simple economic notion that wasting resources is bad).
- The easier an article is to digest, the more readers will value it (i.e. there will be more economic surplus since it took them less time).
I don’t always think about these pieces consciously. Some are now gut instinct (like “eliminate the maximum number of words”). Others are more well-defined and intentional, like the order in which I do each step in my writing process.
^I hope this is interesting! You expressed curiosity; thought you might find it cool! Feel free to poke if anything interests you. (I’m always a sucker for writing about my process. For some wonderful reason, it’s one way I improve… 🙂
On following others:
School is following others. Culture instills following others. Corporations, countries, and organizations require following others. Following others is not for the individual. It’s for the safety of the herd.
On freedom and the individual:
I need the freedom to express. I need the freedom to explore. I need the freedom to create. These are only taught by the world’s best teachers. Learn to learn from yourself or risk living someone else’s version of your life.
I probably don’t like you. You’re welcome.* (*: Not sarcastic.)
My fourth-grade classroom restricted its students to bringing identical Valentine’s Day cards for everyone or no cards at all. I found this a problem, as most of my classmates were bland blobs, while a vocal minority were… [people I didn’t like].
Only this year—at age 25—did I finally realize I can choose my friends. Four of my friendships ended this year, and I’m glad they did.
An ex ended our friendship—my first official ending—in July, followed by an old poker buddy in August. I ended one in October—my first initiation—and a different ex ended our friendship on Monday. Every one of these has been a wonderful change, with benefits extending far beyond free time.
It’s common knowledge—and I find it experientially true—that you “can’t please all the people all the time.” Apply that to relationships: Some people won’t like you. Turn that around: You won’t like some people.
Ending a friendship is therefore an act of integrity. It forwards your values. It makes manifest your soul.
You prioritize your family. You care about your friends. Most people choose a partner to prefer over all others. Having preferences is Good. It’s the foundation of consciousness.
All my friends have former, now-dead friendships. Most drift apart instead of going out with a bang, but both seem to happen surprisingly often. People grow and change. Friendships die. We can still love what was.
You can hate some people and everything they stand for. You can love with abandon those you prefer. You can express your soul. If someone doesn’t like you, good for them.
What if my dating profile were just a list of my values? After all, that’s what I’m searching for.
My values, 9 Feb 2019
(In the order they came to me)
- Positive impact
- The human species
- Honesty of impact, not necessarily of speech
- Word choice
- Personal optimization
- [Censored for privacy]
- Personal improvement
- The youth group I advise
- [Censored for privacy]
- My long-form creative projects (especially my novel. Soon to be my TV show as well)
Previous values that no longer carry such great strength:
- Board games (comes back out when I’m with old friends/family)
- [Censored for privacy]
The more that art affects lives, the better it is. (Assuming it affects lives in a positive way).
This can be broken down into two dimensions:
- How many people it affects.
- How much it affects them.
You could define “expected impact” as (Total number of people) x (Average amount of impact).
A few methods for creating art with a high expected impact:
- Create a valuable message
- Make the message easily digestible (more memetic).
- Create a message that lasts a long time
- Widen the audience it appeals to (target more demographics).
- Focus your art on the influencers (powerful/social people, good promoters).
(Creating art that impacts other artists would fall into this category)
- Make your art have less of a negative impact (be harmful to fewer people/less sizably harmful to those it harms).
- People often make the art they would want because:
- It’s relatively easy to do it well (easier than doing market research on an audience)
- Their own taste is an approximate proxy for “people who are like them”.
- If someone had every trait in the world, they’d make the most popular art because it’d be the most relatable (which increases digestibility of messages)
- Good art should add value to people’s lives. Value is important to note as distinct from perceived value (which is what money measures).
- Children produce great value for a few people. Cat videos produce little value for many people.
- Historically, creating evergreen content has been a stronger strategy than creating one-time impact, as that includes future generations in potential audience.
- Assuming its impact is good, the art you choose to do should be the one with the greatest expected impact. That is often similar to what you want to do most*, but not always.**
- I’m starting my career doing what I want to do most because I currently have the strongest ego (as you get older, your drive decreases) and may end up more on the intellectually-driven side later. (Editor’s note: a conversation earlier today redefined the word “ego” for me. I have more musing to do on this topic.
- Another approach is changing what you’re passionate about.
- Famous philosopher/author Nick Bostrom wrote a book that convinced many, many people to worry about AI as an existential risk. This prompted many people to start researching friendly AI, which may save the species and therefore have a HUGE impact on the world. (the hugest from here on out, perchance, because it’s necessary for all other future positive impacts.)
- This would suggest that a solid course of action for me—if there are any existential threats to humans—is to use art to fight them. (If it’s a thing that I could impact significantly. It’s not the only choice—my talents may be better used elsewhere—but it’s certainly a reasonable choice.)
*: You’ll want to do the thing that matters the most to you, and it mattering a lot to you is a good prediction that it’ll also matter to others. It mattering to others is a good predictor of how much it affects them.
**: That math has two spots of “good predictor”, so it’ll be exponentially removed from truth.
As a kid, I’d schedule a play date weeks in advance. These days, even when after confirming a reptile festival the day before, I still assume a 50-50 chance my friend bails. When he does, 8am day-of, I’m annoyed. I’m confused. How much is him and how much is changing culture?
I’m not here to tell you, “Something is lost.” It is, but that’s not the point. Instead, it’s simply that some things have changed:
- We’ve lost certainty and confidence.
- We’ve gained flexibility and opportunism.
- We’ve lost reliability and comfort.
- We’ve gained the more frequent upgrades.
- We’ve lost security in friendships.
- We’ve gained the freedom to follow our whims.
If people still lock down plans, I don’t know them. My friends might be outliers, or perhaps the Bay Area’s incessant climbing keeps everyone on the lookout for upgrades. Or maybe this experience is a worldwide phenomenon. Faster communication means more rapidly changing circumstances.
No matter the reason, I must adjust. It’s a tough lesson to learn. Negative punishment can easily become mis-associated. In this case, to self-blame:
- “What did I do that made him cancel?”
- “What’s wrong with me that made him cancel?”
I try not to see it in those ways. I try to see it as the new world order. I think that’s accurate, but I’m not sure. Are you?
“Fuck you!” yells the boy-child biking past. He pauses a moment, then adds, “And your mom!”
His comment fills me with Righteous Joy in these final moments completing my cycle home. See, I was once a Little Shit too:
- In 4th grade, I fist-fought over a chair.
- In 6th, I bit a 3rd grader. I did, however, apologize to him! (… this year.)
- The summer after 9th, I realized my loneliness wasn’t the world’s fault. I lacked friends due to that aforementioned Shittiness. (That same summer, I discovered women. Coincidence? I think not.)
As a reformed Shit, I now carry the mantle of informing Shits when they’re being Shitty.
In advising a youth group, I once explained to a high school senior the reasons it’s inadvisable to urinate in a public school trashcan. To get through to him, I employed the phrase “sex offender registry.”
I yell “Yo!” when it becomes first apparent this boy-child biker is being Shitty. He hurtles down the two-lane path at a rapid pace, clearly intent on swerving around the woman-with-dog and into my lane of the tight, dark tunnel. Upon hearing my yell, he slows, so I relax… but then the Shit passes her anyway! At the same moment as me! Dangerous? Yes! And also stupid as fuck! Maybe wait for half-a-second, Dumbass?
After passing into safety, I holler, “Don’t do that!” (admittedly as a schoolmarm would chide a child), so he delivers the epithet invoking my mum.
I was a Little Shit once, but now recognize my Shitness. One day, I hope this Little Shit does too. ‘Til then, fuck him! And his mom!