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#14: How to Save the World (Or Maybe Just Yourself)

#14: How to Save the World (Or Maybe Just Yourself)

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Welcome to yet another Motherf*ckin’ Monday, the only weekly newsletter that promises it would never date your sister…and then asks her out anyway. Every week I explore three interesting and cool ideas that can make you a slightly less sucky person. This week we’re: 1) deep-diving down the “no more news rabbit hole,” 2) learning why stupid people are so much more confident, and 3) asking about the possibility of book clubs. 

Let’s get into it.

1. Why You Should Quit the News (Or at Least Cut Way, Way Back) – Last month I sent out an email discussing how I cut way back on news last year and felt much better for it. I asked you for your experiences and was quickly deluged with hundreds upon hundreds of emails, all saying more or less, “Yeah, fuck the news!” 

At that time, I promised to do some research and write up a big article about quitting the news and I’m happy to say I followed through. In fact, I might have gone a bit overboard. This article is officially the longest article on my entire website. It’s a good thing that one of my recommendations is to read more long-form content, otherwise I’d kind of look like an asshole. 

I cover why the news media is so negative, how it misinforms and polarizes, how it harms our mental health and diverts our attention from pressing issues. Oh, and for good measure, I get into the history of information networks, how technology alters these networks, and how those alterations dictate where power flows within society. In the process, I say what’s up to Johannes Gutenberg, make the obligatory Nazi reference, and attempt to commit seppuku with a Flintstones spoon. 

All in all, it’s a wild ride. I’m quite proud of it and think it’s one of the most important things I’ve published on the site in a while. Please, check it out. 

Read: Why You Should Quit the News

2. What’s Wrong with the World, Anyway? – While researching and writing the news article, I was reminded of a famous Bertrand Russell quote: 

“The fundamental cause of trouble in the world is that the stupid are so confident and the intelligent are so full of doubt.” 

Russell was describing what psychologists would decades later label The Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Dunning-Kruger Effect shows that the less knowledgeable people are, the more they tend to overestimate their knowledge and abilities. Similarly, the more knowledgeable somebody is, the more they tend to doubt themselves. 

The Dunning-Kruger Effect occurs for the simple reason that smart and experienced people are aware of what they do not know. Whereas dumb and inexperienced people have no idea what they don’t know. They think they know it all! And so they act accordingly. 

It’s the rest of us who pay the price. 

3. Is It Better to Overestimate or Underestimate Yourself? – And here’s where we get into that grey area in the scientific literature that makes me throw up my hands and say, “OK, fucking whatever.” 

We all have a tendency to overestimate ourselves and our abilities and this often causes a lot of unnecessary pain. (See: every narcissist you’ve ever known.) A huge part of self-awareness is the ability to understand that you’re probably not as good as you think you are. This ability to underestimate yourself leads to great things like humility, curiosity, charity, and so on. 

But, there is also robust scientific literature that repeatedly shows people who believe that they will become successful at something are more likely to become successful. People who believe they are fast runners tend to run faster. People who believe they’re going to ace a test are more likely to ace the test. People who believe they’re going to survive a terrible illness like cancer regularly out-survive their pessimistic counterparts. 

So, what’s the deal? Should we overestimate ourselves or underestimate ourselves? 

Here’s my conclusion: overestimate your future, underestimate your past. Acknowledging you know nothing and that you’ve accomplished nothing will give you the benefits of humility. But the positive expectation will give the benefits of higher performance. 

Another version: “I still understand little, but I’m capable of accomplishing a lot.” For me, Michael Jordan embodied this paradoxical self-estimation perfectly. He was mercilessly critical of himself. Nothing was ever good enough for him. But on the court, in those final minutes, he always believed he was going to hit the shot when he took it.  

Until next week, 

Mark