Thursday, December 24, 2009

Life: a handy survival guide

So, it's Christmas Eve, and all the usual pressure to post something appropriate to the season. But which season? It's summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and who knows what in other universes and timelines. I raise my middle finger in salute to the season, and instead offer some helpful guidelines to life in general, culled from my unmentionable years of experience in this world.

I call them the rules because, well, they work as rules.

Kate's rules of life:

1. People are stupid. This includes everyone. Yes, even you.
2. There is a very special kind of stupidity only very intelligent people exhibit. "No common sense" is the least offensive way to describe it.
3. "Common sense" isn't.
4. Equal opportunity doesn't mean equal outcomes. It means everyone gets a fair chance. What they do with it is their business.
5. Life is inherently unfair.
6. Bitching about the unfairness of life not only does nothing to change things, it alienates people who could help change things.
7. Perfection doesn't happen. There will always be flies in the ointment.
8. In any gathering of people, there will be a hierarchy.
9. In any organization, there will be a bureaucracy.
10. Any bureaucracy or hierarchy exists to perpetuate itself and increase its power, irrespective of the desires of individuals within it.
11. Not only does power corrupt and absolute power corrupt absolutely, power will attract the corruptible and corrupt.
12. Anyone who seeks power is automatically suspect.
13. Lying is universal. Look at the actions, not the words.
14. Anyone who says they never lie is lying. They might not know it, but they're lying.
15. Most lies are social grease. The only harm they do is make it easier to tell the lies that aren't social grease.
16. In any organization, compare the stated purpose to the actual result. The latter is the real purpose.
17. There is no such thing as objective judgment.
18. Everyone believes they are normal.
19. Every social unit exists to divide the world into "us" and "them", and to protect "us" from "them".
20. It's a lot easier to accept the divide between "us" and "them" if you believe "them" are evil or not really human.
21. With few exceptions, no-one thinks they are evil.
22. Human capacity for self-deception is infinite.
23. Desire to believe leads to the biggest self-deceptions.
24. "Only the guilty have anything to fear" is a lie. Anyone claiming this should be removed from power immediately.
25. Left and right are meaningless abstractions. Look at the actions.
26. Follow the money. The trail smells bad, but it's like shit - better out than in.
27. Always look at who benefits most from any corporate or government decision. That's who paid for it.
28. Nothing is free. Look for the hidden cost.
29. If it seems too good to be true, it is.
30. If you have a choice between stupidity, even the most breathtakingly insane stupidity, and a conspiracy, go with stupid every time. The people you're thinking about aren't intelligent enough to maintain and hide a conspiracy.
31. Any secret known by more than one person isn't.
32. Confidential information isn't.
33. Most people don't care. So long as life stays more or less the same, they're happy.
34. Most people are scared of intelligence. Prove to someone you're smarter than they are, and they'll do whatever they can to bring you down to their level.
35. Most people are scared of anything new or different. They used to kill it. Now they just make it so miserable it kills itself.
36. Any political extreme is functionally identical to any other political extreme. They're all dictatorships of the elite. The only differences are in how the elite are chosen.
37. Beware of governments demonizing any group of people. They might start with people who you think deserve to suffer, but they won't end that way.
38. Beware anyone who refuses to compromise. Without compromise, nothing happens.
39. It only takes one to start a war.
40. Peace requires all parties involved to commit to it.
41. Evolution selects for aggression.
42. It usually isn't worth it.
43. Every rule can and will be broken. Frequently.
44. Random acts of kindness confuse your enemies.
45. Everyone has enemies. Learn who yours are.
46. Knowledge is not power. Knowing how to use knowledge is power.
47. Beware of true believers of anything. The biggest atrocities are committed by true believers.
48. Taxation is not theft. Taxation is the cost of living in a relatively well supplied society.
49. If you choose to claim the moral high ground, be certain your actions are impeccably moral or you will be exposed as a hypocrite.
50. Survival is zero-sum.
51. Success is not zero-sum, but most people think it is.
52. Wealth is not zero-sum, but most people think it is.
53. The only way out is in a box.
54. There is no way to win.
55. There is no way to break even.
56. No-one will remember how many toys you had. They will remember what you did.
57. The noble savage isn't.
58. Pre-industrial life was like rats: nasty, brutish, and short.
59. You don't have to inherit wealth to make money, but it helps a lot.
60. There is never 'enough' although there is often too much and too little.
61. Civilization isn't.
62. Civilization is the distance between life and death.
63. No-one plans to die.
64. Sturgeon's law (90% of everything is crap) is optimistic.
65. Murphy was an optimist.
66. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, and expect what actually happens to bear no resemblance to either.
67. The easiest way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one.
68. Most people would rather be at the bottom of a hierarchy than outside the group.
69. Be a cunning linguist.
70. The good old days weren't.
71. Holding the high ground makes you a target.
72. There's no such thing as foolproof.
73. Sometimes the risks are worth it.
74. The sure, safe road leads to stagnation.
75. True pacifists can only survive if non-pacifists choose to defend them.
76. Independence isn't. Everyone relies on everyone else to some extent.
77. There is no such thing as living independently. Everything you own involved some input from someone else.
78. Success requires work, skill, and luck. It takes a lot more of the last part than most people think.
79. Everyone who succeeds does so on the backs of a whole lot of people who don't.
80. Everyone who succeeds has a moral obligation to the people they climbed over to get where they are.
81. Legalizing moral obligations never works.
82. If you succeed by stabbing people in the back, expect someone to do the same to you.
83. Ideal usually isn't.
84. What you want probably isn't what you need.
85. What you need probably isn't what you want.
86. Aim for what you need first. The rest will usually take care of itself.
87. There is no such thing as a good war. There are many forms of necessary war.
88. War can never be fought cleanly. It can be fought ethically.
89. No matter how debased your enemy's tactics, don't adopt them. You can still succeed without them.
90. Benevolent tyranny is still tyranny. There's no guarantee it will stay benevolent.
91. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
92. Anything worth doing will be more difficult than you thought.
93. If it seems too easy, it probably is.
94. Pay your debts, especially the emotional ones.
95. Everything has conditions. If you can't find them, they'll bite you.
96. The most dangerous phrase in human history is "it's for your own good."
97. The most terrifying word in any language is "oops".
98. Communism and Fascism have two things in common. Both are tyrannies. Both are evil.
99. Evil exists. It's usually dressed up as good intentions - but not always.
100. The knottiest problems in human history have usually been how to handle apparently free resources. If no-one owns it, no-one's responsible for keeping it in good shape.
101. It's probably better to be an asshole than to be just passing through.
102. Look beyond the surface. Dog poop coated with gold and jewels is still shit.
103. The best solution to any problem gives everyone involved something they want.
104. A solution that gives everyone involved something they want may not be the best solution.
105. Friendship comes without strings attached. Respect has to be earned.
106. No position, no matter how elevated, makes the person who has it worthy of respect.
107. It's called wage slavery for a reason.
108. Employers are in positions of power. Remember this.
109. If it seems stupid and pointless, look for someone whose power it increases. Of course, it may just be stupid and pointless.
110. Never blame the tool. Blame the person who uses it.
111. Technology is neutral. The people using it probably aren't.
112. Sufficiently advanced skill is indistinguishable from art.
113. The human need for religion is the most easily exploited need in existence.
114. One man's good intentions are another's utter evil.
115. Be wary of anyone who claims they only want to help you.
116. Humans generally fall into one of four "types". Followers, Leaders, Predators and Mavericks. Watch for Predators and try to be a Leader or a Maverick. The numbers are against you, but the rewards can be good.
117. Followers and Leaders do not like Mavericks. Predators don't care.
118. Race is relevant only to your doctor. Culture shapes the way you see your world.
119. Look for your blind spots and actively try to eliminate them.
120. Your actions under stress reflect who you are. Anyone who becomes abusive or domineering when stressed should be watched and treated with caution.
121. People who want power will aim for control.
122. Anyone who can control what you do or say has power over you. Whether this is a bad thing depends on the situation - so be careful who you grant that power.
123. It isn't possible to live without giving some people power over you. How much and whether it's wisely given are different matters.
124. Never play leapfrog with a unicorn.
125. Fences can protect you from what's outside them. They can also lock you in.
126. Always remember that you could be wrong.
127. Just because you can do it doesn't mean you should.
128. Never mistake passion and enthusiasm for ability.
129. Civilization is the reflection of how well we control our animal instincts.
130. Natural is not always good.
131. Artificial is not always bad.
132. Few things in life are clear-cut. If you stick to rules, people will get hurt.
133. No-one is born innocent except in the sense that they haven't done anything bad. Yet.
134. We're born animal. How much we choose to deny the animal is a measure of our civilization.
135. "If it feels good, do it," is a mantra for those who wish to give the animal full control.
136. Animals are not naturally warm and fuzzy. The ones that are are the ones we've bred to be that way.
137. It takes ten generations to go from wolf to nice doggy. It only takes one to go back.
138. Never trust a cat. They chose to make themselves more attractive to us. Love them all you want, just don't trust them.
139. A cat purr short circuits brain cells. They know this.
140. When you feed it, you take responsibility for it. That includes expensive vet visits.
141. Rights and responsibilities are not mutually exclusive. Never treat them as if they are.
142. Never insert anything into an orifice that isn't meant to go there. This especially applies to small animals and strange sexual behavior. That's what sex toys are made for.
143. Gut instinct sometimes is just that. Sometimes it isn't.
144. The human subconscious is the best pattern-matching tool in existence. Listen to those hunches.
145. Life is sometimes gross.
146. Scientific laws and theories don't need anyone to believe in them. They might have gaps and hiccups, but they're sufficiently proved that believing in them is a bit like believing in tables.
147. Anyone who says science and technology is evil needs to be reminded of flushing toilets, running water, and preemie wards.
148. Do not trust anyone who says technology is evil after being reminded of flushing toilets, running water and preemie wards. Just strip them and leave them in the empty area of your choice.
149. Never blame the tool. Tools, be they guns or flushing toilets, never hurt or benefited anyone by themselves. They have to be used.
150. It always comes down to how it's used.
151. Grammar is not your mother or father's mother.
152. Spelling and grammar are not tools of torture, they are tools of communication.
153. Learning is good. Knowing a little about something is dangerous.
154. Never stop trying to improve. It's impossible to stay static - you can only improve or decline.
155. A low tooth/tattoo ratio is never good.
156. Poverty may not be optional. Squalor is.
157. You are not your parents.
158. You are not your ancestors.
159. You are not required to stay where you were born, physically or socially.
160. Small, weak bodies can be excused. Small, weak minds can't.
161. Zero-sum is not necessarily a bad thing.
162. Incorrectly identifying something as zero-sum is a bad thing.
163. It really is stranger than you can believe.
164. There may be no absolute Truth, but there are plenty of effective truths.
165. Always remember that anything you say could be your last words.
166. Live every day as though it was your last - it just might be.
167. Your intuitively obvious truth is someone else's bizarre delusion. And vice versa.
168. Beliefs can be objectively judged by how much harm they do. After everyone has finished arguing about how 'harm' should be defined.

Additions and amendments are welcomed.


Jonathan D. Beer said...

Soon to be published by Kate, "The Cynic's Bible" ;) And I tell you what else: I'll buy it.

John Lambshead said...

Ninety percent of everything is drivel. If only we could work out which ninety percent.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see the old saw about twenty percent of the people doing eighty percent of the work.

Chicken soup really is good for you.

Doctors don't know everything. Get a second opinion.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Where did you get the list from, Kate?

Kate said...


Thanks! Not that I"m at all cynical, really. (And if you believe that there's some beachfront land in Nevada....)

Kate said...


That makes a handy amendment to Sturgeon. 90% of everything is crap - but *which* 90%?

Kate said...


20% of people might do 80% of the work, but sometimes figuring out who's doing the work and who's doing a good job of looking busy can be interesting.

Chicken soup is certainly good for you, if not quite so good for the chicken ;-)

And yes, second opinions are Good Things

Kate said...


It's my list. Some are sayings I picked up somewhere, others are my own observations. I add to it now and then, whenever something occurs to me that seems fitting.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Kate. No. 64 gave me a real laugh. While trying to look for my blind spots bent my brain a little. . .:)

Kate said...

Hi Chris,

Blind spots can be difficult to find. They're buried in the things you know are "supposed to be" because that's how it was when you were growing up.

Moving to the States from Oz, I've picked up quite a few of mine, usually when they crashed into the blind spots of the people around me.

64 is, alas, way too accurate.