Friday, October 14, 2022


"...founder-led companies, in particular, are very missionary-esque in their mission, [laughs] if you can say missionary-esque in their mission. They’re true believers, and they have a story that they’ve told themselves about why this company exists and why it’s successful.

It usually has very little to do with the stuff that I write about, which is business models and moats and network effects and that sort of thing. No, “We are connecting the world” or “We are organizing all the world’s information” — very lofty sort of goals. I think the more founder is there, the more that sense of mission is felt deep within the organization.

But that creates blind spots where you can’t even . . . It’s not that they’re bad at public relations. It’s that they can’t even imagine the possibility of anyone thinking about them poorly because they know their own intentions, and their intentions, they feel, are good." Ben Thompson of the "Stratechery" newsletter.

I thought of churches and parachurch groups, as that is what we were supposed to be noticing - that these tech firms are like religions in a way, at least in their assurance of their own pure motives. Yet I thought of academics as well, starting from the rather simple idea that "Well, education is good. It's better than ignorance. So teaching people knowledge and thinking is good, because it's better than nescience and not thinking. So everything we do here must be some sort of public service and we should be admired accordingly." There is the same type of blind spots, of not noticing many things. 

Unlearning false things is very hard, much harder than learning something new.  We grow attached to what we know, and it usually ties in together as a sort of network, with each sector being used to prove the others. In an upcoming post about polygamy, I will be referencing research that has a hard time being heard, because so many people are so sure that it just can't be true, there must be something wrong with it even if we can't see it right off. In Joe Cesario's research showing there is no racial bias in police shootings he has to keep answering the same objections over and over.  It's like a game of whack-a-mole. Or perhaps like looking for a missing remote. Did you look under the seat cushions? (Yes, of course they did.) Did you bring it with you to the bathroom?eventually ending with Sometimes people leave them in the refrigerator.  Did you look in the refrigerator? Standardised testing researchers have the same problem.  An enormous amount of energy is wasted because people need to unlearn what they know, because it isn't true.  Ignorance would actually have been better in that sense, because you could teach the information quickly to a visitor from Mars who had no preconceptions.

There are people who are very good at answering the same question over and over, but I am not one of them. I can in one way do this well and in one way not.  To give someone a first explanation is a joy, even if they don't quite get it right away. But I have no patience for people who try to mock-patiently explain to me what they think is just obvious but I know is wrong. There is little that is more dangerous than things that "everyone knows," because those are precisely where the unquestioned assumptions are hiding. 

They believe that because they know many things that others do not know, what they know must be true - which does not follow. When I started in mental health, the psychologists were either behaviorists or Freudian/dynamic therapists. Both of them knew an enormous amount that I did not know.  They would reference Donald Winnicott or Harry Stack Sullivan and I would try not to look too obviously stupid. I could not have held my own for five minutes in a debate with them.  But they were wrong, partially or almost entirely, and could not see it.  Why, all the other psychologists and the people who had taught them were brilliant people! This was true, but that truth did not matter.  Brilliance will not save you from self-deception. 

In fact, if you are brilliant and motivated but start from a wrong theory, you will make yourself more and more stupid as you go further, as you will just naturally acquire more information, and tend to remember those things that reinforce your existing ideas. In history, you will have legitimate discussions and debates about looking at the record and examining who is privileged to speak.  Who wrote it, who paid them, what group did they originate from, what were their cultural roles...all excellent questions. Yet there is an rather obvious time period and set of texts that is treated differently.  Who gets to write the histories now?  Who pays them?  What groups do they come from? These are examined only in part - these days in order to seek to discredit others on the basis of identity - and the very great question who is not privileged to speak? is only dimly recognised.

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