How can you see the wave, when you’re the water?

After posting a Link on my FB Page on an essay by Paul Graham titledHow to Disagree,” I clicked on another link and came acrossWhat You Can’t Say.”

Though a bit too safe, in my humble opinion…I appreciate and value what he has to say.

According to Mr. Graham, it took him a month to write this essay, “partly because the topic was so dangerous.”

I understand and I appreciate his tiptoeing.  It goes hand in hand with:

Pensieri Stretti

When you find something you can’t say, what do you do with it? My advice is, don’t say it. Or at least, pick your battles.

In order for him to get individuals to be open, to be receptive, he couldn’t put them or US, rather, on the defensive. 

And he accomplishes this.  Quite well.  It is a very neutral-ish article. 

Although…if you really want to find something to disagree with or be angry at, you can.  We all can.  We can turn to DH2 or any other of the other disagreement hierarchies.


One thing you could jump at, though I do agree with, is:

Scientists go looking for trouble. This should be the m.o. of any scholar, but scientists seem much more willing to look under rocks.

Why? It could be that the scientists are simply smarter…

What? I’m not smart?  I think outside the box!   ~  Or any take on that would suffice.  You could take it as a personal insult.

Why am I delving into this…I don’t know…It’s perhaps the Contrarian in me.  And having read “How to Disagree” did not help matters.

Oh, there is one line that Mr. Graham has that just totally resonated in my Soul.  It made me smile because My Papá Eliseo had a saying similar to Mr. Graham’s. 

Nunca alegues con Pen…itentes.

~ Papá Eliseo

Argue with idiots, and you become an idiot.

~ Mr. Paul Graham

Of course my Papá Eliseo would sometimes use a Dicho as it was said:

Deja que haya un loco y no dos.

But normally, he would embellish it with the Colourful Language he was notorious for…

Now, besides all the excerpts below, from his “What You Can’t Say” essay, I will also take another idea from Mr. Graham.  I will start a Quotes Page.  I Loved his!

I constantly put quotes on my FB Page but I have to scroll down to re-read them or they are simply forgotten. After seeing how Mr. Graham has a place where he can reference and share his favourite, most influential, most interesting, most lasting impression quotes, I wish to follow suit!

Thus, look forward to this addition which will slowly grow.

Enjoy the excerpts below!  I did!  And definitely head over and read the entire thing here.

Many interesting heretical thoughts are already mostly formed in our minds. If we turn off our self-censorship temporarily, those will be the first to emerge.

We often like to think of World War II as a triumph of freedom over totalitarianism. We conveniently forget that the Soviet Union was also one of the winners. I’m not saying that struggles are never about ideas, just that they will always be made to seem to be about ideas, whether they are or not.

Let me see and decide for myself.

Scientists go looking for trouble. This should be the m.o. of any scholar, but scientists seem much more willing to look under rocks.

Why? It could be that the scientists are simply smarter; most physicists could, if necessary, make it through a PhD program in French literature, but few professors of French literature could make it through a PhD program in physics. Or it could be because it’s clearer in the sciences whether theories are true or false, and this makes scientists bolder. (Or it could be that, because it’s clearer in the sciences whether theories are true or false, you have to be smart to get jobs as a scientist, rather than just a good politician.)

I LOVE this one above.  Subtle but yet poignant…

Whatever the reason, there seems a clear correlation between intelligence and willingness to consider shocking ideas. This isn’t just because smart people actively work to find holes in conventional thinking. I think conventions also have less hold over them to start with. You can see that in the way they dress.

If you can think things so outside the box that they’d make people’s hair stand on end, you’ll have no trouble with the small trips outside the box that people call innovative.

The most important thing is to be able to think what you want, not to say what you want. And if you feel you have to say everything you think, it may inhibit you from thinking improper thoughts. I think it’s better to follow the opposite policy. Draw a sharp line between your thoughts and your speech.

The trouble with keeping your thoughts secret, though, is that you lose the advantages of discussion. Talking about an idea leads to more ideas. So the optimal plan, if you can manage it, is to have a few trusted friends you can speak openly to. This is not just a way to develop ideas; it’s also a good rule of thumb for choosing friends. The people you can say heretical things to without getting jumped on are also the most interesting to know.

 Perhaps the best policy is to make it plain that you don’t agree with whatever zealotry is current in your time, but not to be too specific about what you disagree with. Zealots will try to draw you out, but you don’t have to answer them. If they try to force you to treat a question on their terms by asking “are you with us or against us?” you can always just answer “neither”.
Better still, answer “I haven’t decided.” That’s what Larry Summers did when a group tried to put him in this position. Explaining himself later, he said “I don’t do litmus tests.” [16] A lot of the questions people get hot about are actually quite complicated. There is no prize for getting the answer quickly.


Very sound advice!


One way to do this is to ratchet the debate up one level of abstraction. If you argue against censorship in general, you can avoid being accused of whatever heresy is contained in the book or film that someone is trying to censor. You can attack labels with meta-labels: labels that refer to the use of labels to prevent discussion. The spread of the term “political correctness” meant the beginning of the end of political correctness, because it enabled one to attack the phenomenon as a whole without being accused of any of the specific heresies it sought to suppress.

Another way to counterattack is with metaphor. Arthur Miller undermined the House Un-American Activities Committee by writing a play, “The Crucible,” about the Salem witch trials. He never referred directly to the committee and so gave them no way to reply. What could HUAC do, defend the Salem witch trials? And yet Miller’s metaphor stuck so well that to this day the activities of the committee are often described as a “witch-hunt.”
Best of all, probably, is humor. Zealots, whatever their cause, invariably lack a sense of humor. They can’t reply in kind to jokes. They’re as unhappy on the territory of humor as a mounted knight on a skating rink. Victorian prudishness, for example, seems to have been defeated mainly by treating it as a joke. Likewise its reincarnation as political correctness. “I am glad that I managed to write ‘The Crucible,'” Arthur Miller wrote, “but looking back I have often wished I’d had the temperament to do an absurd comedy, which is what the situation deserved.”

Ask anyone, and they’ll say the same thing: they’re pretty open-minded, though they draw the line at things that are really wrong. (Some tribes may avoid “wrong” as judgemental, and may instead use a more neutral sounding euphemism like “negative” or “destructive”.)

[… W]hen people are bad at open-mindedness they don’t know it. In fact they tend to think the opposite. Remember, it’s the nature of fashion to be invisible. It wouldn’t work otherwise. Fashion doesn’t seem like fashion to someone in the grip of it. It just seems like the right thing to do.

[…T]he arrival of new fashions makes old fashions easy to see, because they seem so ridiculous by contrast. From one end of a pendulum’s swing, the other end seems especially far away.

Labels like that are probably the biggest external clue. If a statement is false, that’s the worst thing you can say about it. You don’t need to say that it’s heretical. And if it isn’t false, it shouldn’t be suppressed. So when you see statements being attacked as x-ist or y-ic (substitute your current values of x and y), whether in 1630 or 2030, that’s a sure sign that something is wrong. When you hear such labels being used, ask why.
Especially if you hear yourself using them. It’s not just the mob you need to learn to watch from a distance. You need to be able to watch your own thoughts from a distance. That’s not a radical idea, by the way; it’s the main difference between children and adults. When a child gets angry because he’s tired, he doesn’t know what’s happening. An adult can distance himself enough from the situation to say “never mind, I’m just tired.” I don’t see why one couldn’t, by a similar process, learn to recognize and discount the effects of moral fashions.

How can you see the wave, when you’re the water? Always be questioning. That’s the only defence. What can’t you say? And why?

Okay, so maybe I went a bit overboard…but Mr. Graham had such good and valuable points.

Oh, and this quote proves his point about Scientists:

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

– Einstein


3 thoughts on “How can you see the wave, when you’re the water?

Add yours

  1. I read his essay on disagreement , I was taken back to high school. My mother’s voice rang through my ears as she lectured on proper rules of debate. 40 years earlier, when she was in high school, learning how to properly rebuff was part of the curriculum. She was quite determined that I would have some exposure to it. She also went deeper into logical refutation and the use of emotionalism in argumentation. It has come in handy over the years to know who to give credibility to and who to just plain ignore. Political debates used to to commentated with such criteria (so and so was just name calling, but x got in some very good statistical rebuttals) but in recent years those with proper debating skills have been labelled “too academic” and “out of touch” because they often lack the emotional appeal.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: