My Principles For Understanding The World

These are my rules for life and these are my principles for decoding reality:

* We live in a post-modern world. There’s no one narrative that adequately explains reality.

* Personalities are usually less powerful than situations. The news media focuses on personalities because that is a more compelling story than focusing on structure, but structure shapes the world more than individual whims. For example, as I write this in April of 2024, Bibi Netanyahu is Israel’s Prime Minister and his personality gets a lot of media coverage. If someone else were Israel’s prime minister at this time, Israel’s conduct toward its enemies wouldn’t change much. For example, if Bibi decided to support an independent Palestinian state, he would simply be removed from power because the majority of Israelis are not in a mood to give the Palestinians anything. If a Haredi Gadol came out in favor of Zionism, he would no longer be a Haredi Gadol.

A structuralist understands that what happens in Ukraine or Israel or Nigeria has nothing to do with America’s vital interests. To adopt a lesson from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, don’t confuse the urgent for the important.

Sometimes, however, individuals are more important than situations. If anyone but Hitler had led Germany during WWII, there would not have been a Holocaust.

* We’re all locked in an iron cage together and nobody is coming to save us. To survive, you as an individual and as a nation want to become as strong as possible because you never know what might happen and possessing strength is the best way to survive.

* (Almost) nobody cares about out-groups.

* The stronger your in-group identity, the more negatively you feel about out-groups. “Ties bind and blind.” (Jonathan Haidt)

* The more stable and cohesive you are, the better. The more divided and unstable your competitors, the better for you.

* Everybody has a hero system. Most people get it from their community, noted Ernest Becker. Liberalism and leftism are the hero systems that thinks they have transcended hero systems. Most people seem unaware that their hero system is a product of contingent circumstances, and it is this subjective hero system that drives liberals to condemn imaginary sins such as racism, bigotry, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia and the like while people on the right condemn sins that are imaginary from a liberal perspective such as gay sex and trans identity and drug experimentation.

* For the normal person embedded in a group, his purported racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, prejudice and the like are not the opposite of morality, but the proper foundation for morality. This bloke loves specific people and is loved by them and thus he has an in-group and a hero system and everything he needs for meaning and morality. Such a person is less likely to engage in reckless behaviors than those who are unmoored.

* “Anti-Semitism is as natural to Western civilization as anti-Christianity is to Jewish civilization, Islamic civilization and Japanese civilization.” (Maj. Kong)

* You could do worse than the TV show Yellowstone for wisdom about life:

* “Until they find a cure for human nature, a man must stand with his people.”

* “Mister, I don’t know you, but if you’re wearin’ that brand, you must be a bad man.”

* “Should is a useless word, almost as useless as hope.”

* “A man who puts a hand on a member of my family never puts a hand on anything else.”

* “No one has a right. You have to take a right, or stop it from being taken from you.”

* “Lawyers are the swords of this century. Words are weapons now.”

* “It’s the one constant in life. You build something worth having, someone’s gonna try to take it.”

* “All men are bad, but some of us try really hard to be good.”

* In a 2006 lecture, Tom Wolfe said: “Each individual adopts a set of values which, if truly absolute in the world – so ordained by some almighty force – would make not that individual but his group…the best of all possible groups, the best of all inner circles.”

* Almost nothing we think and feel is ours alone. Instead, we depend upon cues from our group. We experience reality through our group identity. Christians, Jews, Japanese, gays and members of other groups see the world primarily through their primary group identity. In his 2018 book, The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, John J. Mearsheimer wrote:

My view is that we are profoundly social beings from the start to the finish of our lives and that individualism is of secondary importance… Liberalism downplays the social nature of human beings to the point of almost ignoring it, instead treating people largely as atomistic actors… Political liberalism… is an ideology that is individualistic at its core and assigns great importance to the concept of inalienable rights. This concern for rights is the basis of its universalism—everyone on the planet has the same inherent set of rights—and this is what motivates liberal states to pursue ambitious foreign policies. The public and scholarly discourse about liberalism since World War II has placed enormous emphasis on what are commonly called human rights. This is true all around the world, not just in the West. “Human rights,” Samuel Moyn notes, “have come to define the most elevated aspirations of both social movements and political entities—state and interstate. They evoke hope and provoke action.”

[Humans] do not operate as lone wolves but are born into social groups or societies that shape their identities well before they can assert their individualism. Moreover, individuals usually develop strong attachments to their group and are sometimes willing to make great sacrifices for their fellow members. Humans are often said to be tribal at their core. The main reason for our social nature is that the best way for a person to survive is to be embedded in a society and to cooperate with fellow members rather than act alone… Despite its elevated ranking, reason is the least important of the three ways we determine our preferences. It certainly is less important than socialization. The main reason socialization matters so much is that humans have a long childhood in which they are protected and nurtured by their families and the surrounding society, and meanwhile exposed to intense socialization. At the same time, they are only beginning to develop their critical faculties, so they are not equipped to think for themselves. By the time an individual reaches the point where his reasoning skills are well developed, his family and society have already imposed an enormous value infusion on him. Moreover, that individual is born with innate sentiments that also strongly influence how he thinks about the world around him. All of this means that people have limited choice in formulating a moral code, because so much of their thinking about right and wrong comes from inborn attitudes and socialization.

* Marginalized movements attract marginalized people. Nothing great can be built by losers.

* There are no solutions. Only tradeoffs. (Tom Sowell)

* Crime and other anti-social behavior waxes or wanes depending upon our willingness to punish it.

* Much of what is considered expertise is an expertise at playing the game of expertise. Much of education is learning to play the game of education. I broke many stories (such as an HIV outbreak in porn and LA’s first latino mayor was getting divorced after an affair) as a blogger because regular journalists were not incentivized to report them.

* What will determine the success of an administration? Events, my dear boy, events. Situations will shape us as much as we shape situations. If an election takes place in a time of great threat, the right-wing candidate will likely be better positioned to win. On the other hand, if people are relatively safe and prosperous, the left-wing candidate will likely be better positioned to win.

* If you want to preserve native life, you have to restrict invasive species.

* The common denominator in all punditry is self-importance aka I see things you don’t see and therefore you need to listen to me. Do your favorite commentators optimize for truth or for some other value, such as success? I have no interests in the Biblical views of those who can’t read the Bible in its original languages and I have no interest in the Middle East views of pundits who can’t read Arabic.

* Our problems are rarely our problems, they are just symptoms of deeper problems. We usually prefer to think about symptoms rather than the disease because symptoms seem so fixable while the disease seems too challenging for comfort. For example, I sometimes obsess about why I am not married and I blame it on bad luck and other external factors, but inside I know my bachelorhood is just a symptom of my deeper issue with connecting with others, which in turn is just a symptom of my ultimate disease – my troubled relationship with myself and with reality (religious people might call reality “God”).

The 4-22-24 New Yorker points out:

That’s why thoughtful scholars—including the philosopher Daniel Williams and the experimental psychologist Sacha Altay—encourage us to see misinformation more as a symptom than as a disease. Unless we address issues of polarization and institutional trust, they say, we’ll make little headway against an endless supply of alluring fabrications.

* Democracy dominates our rhetoric, but most of life runs on hierarchy.

* Democracy and dictatorship are not mutually exclusive. All functioning democracies contains considerable elements of dictatorship, socialism, capitalism, and oligopoly. For example, the president of the United States has the same foreign policy powers as King George III. On the other hand, dictatorships such as Nikita Kruschev‘s Soviet Union often contain elements of democracy (witness the removal of Kruschev from power after the Cuban missile crisis). When dictator Joseph Stalin was fighting the second world war, he re-opened churches and allowed his people many things that they wanted in exchange for their efforts against the Germans.

Who’s the boss? The situation is the boss.

* There’s no magic key to unlocking how the world works. The closest thing we have to a magic key to reality is the predictive power of IQ for large groups. Kindness, for example, requires empathy, which is a form of abstract thought, and the capacity for abstract thought is measured by IQ. If a thousand 80 IQ people spill a drink on the floor of a public gathering, a thousand 100 IQ people spill the same amount of liquid, and a thousand 120 IQ people spill the same amount, the higher IQ groups will be more diligent about cleaning up the spill.

* Left and Right politics are evolutionary adaptations that enabled our ancestors to survive challenging environments and to pass on their genes. In some circumstances, a left-wing approach to reality will be more adaptive. In other circumstances, a right-wing approach will be more adaptive. As the 2013 book Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences notes: “[T]he political left has been associated with support for equality and tolerance of departures from tradition, while the right is more supportive of authority, hierarchy, and order.”

* When almost all of our institutions are dominated by the left, it makes sense for non-leftists to have a kneejerk suspicion of the establishment. When the left controls the cultural means of production, discussion is often a sham. Stephen Turner noted in 1989: “For Hobbes and Schmitt, one might say, discussion is always an illusion or an instrument of authority, not its basis.”

When the left decides the “real issues” and the “real experts,” it makes sense for those not of the left to rebel against these proclamations. When science funding is largely determined by the left, why would non-leftists not suspect the claims of science? When those who determine and award expertise are on the left, does it not make sense for those not on the left to harbor suspicion about this expertise? Who decides who gets tenure at a university? Dominantly, it is leftists. Those out of power are more likely to believe that the world is not right than those in power. Given that most American institutions are dominated by the left, why would non-leftists be at ease with the current power structure?

* Our political, cultural, and personal tendencies are strongly influenced by our genes.

* Religion, from a secular perspective, is a subset of culture, which comes from genes and environment. African Christianity, for example, is very different from Scandinavian Christianity.

* As long as tens of millions of people such as the Japanese are more decent than the most committed nations of monotheists, I’m not sure how one can argue that God is necessary for ethics (something I’ve believed almost all of my life). Our behavior is shaped by who we love more than by our beliefs, texts, and practices.

* There’s no reason you should pay attention to politics unless it gives you pleasure. For the average person 99% of the time, it doesn’t matter much who’s president of the United States. Most people don’t get their meaning in life from anything as abstract as politics. Most people get their meaning from family. If they have room in their life after family, they get their meaning from their work, friends, and interests. You can accurately assess people by their closest connections. We can only date and relate to people like us.

* In reality as opposed to liberal theory, nobody has the right to anything unless you are lucky enough to live in a society that is strong and enforces your rights, but rights can still all be taken away at any time by elites due to a real or putative emergency. The sovereign decides the state of exception, notes Carl Schmitt. There is no objective enforcement of the law because law is operated by human beings who react in unique ways due to their genes, imprinting and situation.

* If it becomes socially acceptable for minority groups to pursue their own interests without regard to the majority’s interests, majorities will start acting in their own interests without regard for minorities.

* You are judged by the company you keep. We attract people like ourselves. If you want to figure out someone, look at their ancestors and look at their closest friends.

* Much of human behavior can be understood by simply asking — what’s easiest? Most people most of the time will do what is easiest. The reasons people give for their behavior usually have nothing to do with their real reasons. People almost never say what they mean nor mean what they say.

* Most people primarily want approval from a small group such as their family or their profession and this desire usually outweighs their yearning for truth. You can never persuade anyone to believe anything if their income and status depend upon not understanding.

* Everyone tries to adapt to their circumstance to best insure their survival. Why do people act the way they do? They’re trying to insure their survival. Some people do this through violence, other people through litigation, and other people by sucking in a maximum of welfare. Some people try to insure their survival by expressing love and other people try to do it through selfishness. Every organism tries to create an environment around it that is most conducive to its thriving. Every organism has a strong reaction against anyone trying to hurt it.

* “Two subspecies of the same species do not occur in the same geographic area.” (E. Raymond Hall, a professor of biology at the University of Kansas and the author of The Mammals of North America)

* “The degree of cooperation between organisms can be expected to be a direct function of the proportion of genes they share.” (University of Washington anthropologist Pierre L. van den Berghe)

* Diversity and proximity often lead to conflict and tragedy. The more united a people, the stronger (usually).

* Most of us aren’t significant (beyond the handful of people who love us). If somebody does not get their primary source of meaning from family and friends, then they either have extraordinary talents or they are deluded. People seeking meaning are usually lonely and neurotic.

* We weren’t born yesterday. We did not evolve to be gullible. The left dominates academia and media but that doesn’t turn people into leftists. We all tend to do a good job detecting when other people are seeking to manipulate us against our best interests. We tend to do a bad job detecting our own faulty thinking.

* Left and right politics are ultimately different strategies for dealing with Darwinian selection pressures. In some cases, a left-wing approach will be more adaptive (more welcoming to strangers, more innovative in how you organize family and communal life, more egalitarian, more lenient in punishing criminals, more freedom for sexual expression), while in other cases, a right-wing approach will be more adaptive (more suspicious of strangers, more traditional, more hierarchical, more severely punishing of violations of group norms).

* Predisposed: “People who support greater military spending, harsher punishment for criminals, and restrictive immigration are not doing so just to infuriate liberals but because they are more physiologically and psychologically attuned to negative eventualities.”

* Predisposed: “[E]thnocentrics do not give a fig for individual rights.”

* Predisposed: “The connection between conservatism and free market principles as a relatively recent development.”

* The battle doesn’t always go to the strong and the swift and the powerful, but that’s the way to bet. Experts aren’t always right, but expertise in a particular area will usually be more right than the opinions of the less informed.

* I’ve never found generational critiques compelling. Compared to group differences, the differences between Boomers and Zoomers are trivial.

* Any rando can say anything. We think more clearly when we think socially. If you want me to read a dissident perspective on public health matters, show me a meta-analysis published in a prestigious journal.

* You can’t understand anything outside of its situation.

* Much of what we think about the world comes from the emotional payoff we receive from that type of thinking. In the most profound things beyond the strictly physical objects around us, we don’t usually see the world as it is. Instead, we see it as we are. If you think a lot about the world coming to an end, for example, the chances are that it makes you feel important. You see through the BS! If you believe that salvation is only through Jesus or Torah or Mohammed or Marx, that similarly makes you feel important.

* When Israel is accused in the UK parliament of war crimes, it is a perverse compliment. A normal human reaction to high-achieving people is to tear them down. Nobody berates the Arabs for being savage because nobody expects much from them. When whites are accused of every evil under the sun, it is similarly a perverse compliment.

* Most people look at the world in terms of what is good for their group. Only WASPs consistently argue in terms of one universal morality.

* We did not evolve to be happy. We evolved to survive. We have a negativity bias. Wikipedia: “Evolutionary mismatch (also “mismatch theory” or “evolutionary trap”) is the evolutionary biology concept that a previously advantageous trait may become maladaptive due to change in the environment, especially when change is rapid.”

* People will say and do almost anything to augment their status. Status is the most powerful force in life that’s rarely discussed. We don’t like strivers and yet we’re all strivers. Professions (such as law, medicine, clergy, accounting, dentistry) strive to increase prestige and income by doing things that hurt the majority, such as psychiatrists diagnosing ordinary human sadness as the medical illness of depression and then prescribing pills that have no more efficacy than the placebo effect. As Adam Smith wrote in his 1776 book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

* Different people have different gifts. Different plants and animals have different gifts. Life evolved differently in different situations.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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