The Young Man and the Guru

“As Soon As You Understand Why It’s Impossible to Write a Book That Can Stabilize the World, then You Can Write It.”

A young man happened to have a very good imagination. He was moved by the great amount of suffering in the world, so he began to create solutions. The young man also happened to have a spiritual mentor, a guru. He went to his guru and said, “I’ve come up with seven upgrades, several methods that are more effective than what most people are currently doing. I could right a book about each, but they are more powerful if used all together in concert. In fact, together they can form a plan to stabilize the world and save lives.” He explained the ideas to his guru, who nodded and seemed to approve of each idea.

But the guru said, “Your ideas make sense and are extremely powerful, but you cannot write a book that will save the world, until you understand why it’s impossible to write a book that will save the world.”

This confused the young man, but the guru continued, “Even if it takes years, meditate on what I just said, ‘You must fully understand why it’s impossible. When you understand why, then it will become possible.’ Besides that, I will give you eight things to meditate on. Come back to me when you understand the relationship of these eight things to your quest: people’s pessimism; the gut-level impasse; the pessimism of those around the participants; critics; self-fulfilling prophecies, not giving power to the destructive; insincerity of the good, and the worst kinds of cancer.

The man went off and meditated on what his guru said. He spent an entire year and a half and did not make much progress on the guru’s mysterious words. Then he decided to talk to people and get their reactions to his vision. Six months later, he visited the guru and said, “Now I understand why no one can write a book that will save the world.”

The guru said, “Speak.”

“No one can write a book, because people’s pessimism and doubts are so great. As I spoke to people, they voiced more than twenty separate doubts. Some doubts seemed unconquerable, such as ‘if Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed couldn’t do it, who do you think you are?” and “There has always been wars and suffering, and since human nature doesn’t change, there always will be suffering and war.’ No one will listen, if you do not address these doubts first.

“Second, there is a gut-level impasse. Even if someone came up with solid arguments that would overcome all these doubts, people won’t really take their arguments seriously. That’s because on a gut-level they can’t believe there’s an answer. No one will take you seriously. In fact, as you explain your ideas, they will discount the good ideas and be listening for the part that doesn’t work, since they have pre-judged the situation.”

“The third obstacle to such a book is that, even though a small number of people will use logic and take action if they think that the methods are strong, the pessimism of the people around them will kill their enthusiasm. Then the people who made a good start will say to themselves, ‘Yes this book is working for me, but it can’t really work, because most of the people I know will never give it a solid try.’

“The fourth obstacle is the critics. Even if by chance a percentage of people get results, and endure the ridicule of their friends, most of the critics will surely be against it. It’s because critics believe in one of seven different root causes of the world’s suffering. For example, if I do not frame the root problem as spiritual, religious people will reject my solution; similarly others will only listen if I agree that the root causes are economic; but others will instantly dismiss if the root problems are not seen as rooted in psychology, that people have defense mechanisms, egos, and so on; others see the problems as essentially political and historical, but others see the roots in organizational, as bureaucratic or as communication breakdowns. Others will see the root problem as ethical, as value conflicts. Still others will see the root problem as inefficiencies in learning. Since you can’t translate your whole set of solutions into all seven of these “languages” you will never please a majority of critics. They will give faint praise to any good ideas that don’t address their favorite root cause.

“All the criticism gives rise to the fifth obstacle, a self-fulfilling prophecy: People will read the reviews of the critics and most will think, ‘Well most of the critics don’t like it, so it must be worthless. And though I see that some participants claim solid results, of course anything will work for a few people.’

The young man continued speaking. “But let’s pretend that by some literary feat, a person manages to satisfy most of the critics. No book can succeed since the ideas and methods it presents are a form of power. Many people who are already in power will be threatened by a change in the power structure. These people will try to exploit the book’s ideas and methods for their own gain, whether for profit, power over others, or else they will attack it because they feel it will threaten either their profession reputation or future job prospects. Since they are already in power, they have an advantage, a head start.

“But sometimes those in power are displaced, so there is a tiny chance that a book could succeed. However, it won’t succeed because of the insincerity of most good people. Just as most critics are attached to their way of seeing the world’s problems; most decent people are attached to their way of doing good. When offered methods that are demonstrably better, most people who do good will stick with the methods that they are comfortable with. They will say, ‘My way of doing good is my calling; it’s my specialty’ or ‘That’s better in some ways, but it’s not my style.’ They are like the surgeon in the following story: A surgeon operated on difficult cases using a procedure with a 70% success rate. When offered a method that has a proven 80% success rate he said, ‘I’m more comfortable with the old way of doing things. I’m comfortable with it; it’s become my style.’ This would be unforgivable among real surgeons, but it goes unchallenged among do-gooders.

“Finally, a majority of people might switch to the superior methods in time, if they realized how dangerous the current world situation is; if they recognized the signs and warnings. But like some cancers, by the time you realize you have it, it’s often too late. Either you will die slowly or painfully, or too much of you and your life must be cut out and sacrificed.”

The young man summed up, “Any single one of these eight reasons makes writing a book that will stabilize the world unlikely. Add in the other seven reasons, and it becomes a one in a million chance that such a book could succeed. People are generally pessimistic about the future of the world, but had they thought about it thoroughly like this, they would realize how majestically doomed they were. Since reasons like these forbid an overall, coordinated solution, people have relied on the piecemeal solutions that currently doom one-seventh of the world’s population to perpetual misery and early death. Yet, with increasing population and consumption of the Earth’s limited resources, how can the suffering not increase?”

He looked at the old man, “Teacher, I see now why it was folly to think I could write such a book two years ago.”

“And yet, now you can write that book,” said the old man.

“Yes, now that I realize that it’s impossible, it becomes possible.”

The old man gazed at him, a half-smile played on his lips. “And what makes such an impossible book possible?”

The youth smiled back, “Beginning the book with a story about this very conversation. This will sensitized readers. The insights will impress them and make them look forward to a book full of surprises and more unexpected insights. They will begin to be open to the book’s dramatic possibility, that it may indeed contain new ideas and methods that could stabilize the world.”

The older man laughed, “So you are saying that you yourself are the one man on Earth who has the plan that will stabilize the whole world, and rescue much of humanity.”

The young man responded immediately. “I cannot say exactly how powerful my plan is, nor can I predict to what extent it will change the world. I can only say that if I believe that I have answers that are better than the answers that others seem to have, I am morally obligated to present these answers to the world. If I don’t, perhaps hundreds of millions of people will suffer and die—people who didn’t have to suffer and die.”

The young man paused before speaking again. “I’m strong, but I’m not strong enough to live with that thought.”

 

Commentary

The purpose of this story is to demonstrate that I have some understanding of the complexity of the situation. Some people think that my plan is a simple (idealistically hopeful) chain reaction of empowerment. But it’s based on seven major upgrades that each make the plan more believable. It also requires methods to get around the eight obstacles mentioned in this story. So it’s a fairly sophisticated plan.

Now some people may want to say that the plan is too sophisticated. But people accept much more complexity in order to receive much smaller payoffs. The most striking way to illustrate this is that surgeons spend nine years after college in order to be able to perform operations in just one specialty. Over the four years of med school and the five years of specialization they study 35-50 textbooks, some of them massive. But what I’ve done is put the methods for operating on the entire world, on human civilization onto one website. — AND my goal was to make it understandable to reasonably intelligent teenagers. So while this website has a lot of material, it’s still tremendously condensed.


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