<aside> 🚀 This begins Unit 1 of Values-Based Data Science & Design
In this course, we get very specific about what people pay attention to when making choices, and when paying attention to one thing makes it so you can’t attend to something else.
<aside> ◼️ An Example: Fear of Rejection vs. Courage and Honesty
Say you have a fear of rejection. It might stop you from being courageous or honest in some situations.
It's common in spiritual or psychological circles to treat that fear of rejection as an individual, psychological issue: perhaps you got your fear of rejection as a child, when your father left the family.
But your fear of rejection may also be rational and healthy within your social context! Rejection by a certain group could be a real possibility, and could destabilize your life.
If so, we can say that the way the group operates (and its presence in your life) is bad for courage and honesty. The group’s way of operating generates a rational fear of rejection among it’s members, and this crowds out people's courage- and honesty-values.
We use the term “crowding out” to refer to this phenomenon—when one consideration makes it impossible to attend to another. In this case, thinking how to avoid rejection takes precedence over thinking what’d be courageous or honest. We say that the courage and the honesty are crowded out by the fear of rejection.
We use the term “crowding out” whether the fear of rejection is rational/environmental or due to a psychological issue.
For most people, crowding out is only salient when it’s real bad: when one of their main sources of meaning is absolutely crushed by the environment or their psychology. In this course, we want to become acutely sensitive to crowding out. The truth is that we are crowded out hundreds of times a day! We want to notice even these subtle occurrences.
First, when we notice them, our sources of meaning leap into focus. The contrast makes our own values clearer.
Second, we get ideas on how to change things—to make them more meaningful. Once you practice seeing your own crowding out in detail, you’ll have intuitions whenever you see any kind of social design (a design for an event, a social network, etc)—intuitions about which motives will rationally dominate in that environment, and what values will be crowded out. That helps you critique existing social spaces, and design new ones.
Finally, it gives you a vision for a very different society—one with much less crowding out. It’s impossible to entirely eliminate it, of course: designing social spaces always involves trade-offs. What supports one person's values may undermine another’s, and outcome-oriented activities cannot be entirely avoided (everyone needs to be fed, etc.).
But if we ignore that impossibility for a moment, we can imagine a world where no one has any psychological issues, and social spaces all line up perfectly with each individual's values. There, people would have a continuously meaningful experience of living by their values.
Such a continuous, utopian, psychedelic experience of living purely in the realm of appreciation is impossible, but we can get much closer to it than we are.
By noticing all the crowding out that happens in your own life, and in the social systems around you, it becomes apparent that life could be 100x more meaningful for each person, while still attending to basic needs, compromises, etc.
Not only that, but those compromises would be wiser. And our ways of living would be superior. Such a practical utopia is inspiring—it fills us with hope for humanity and frustration about the current situation, where social considerations are constantly crowding everyone out. Seeing this future is a natural result of gaining a subtle awareness of crowding out in your own daily life.
So, to sharpen your sense for crowding out—to tune into those subtle occurrences—we have material and exercises. The main thing is this: a taxonomy of what you could consider when making a choice.
Below, I’ll step through the taxonomy, and then give you exercises where you apply it to your own motivations.
At the root is the distinction between
goals or fears. Sources of meaning like honesty and courage are about process, whereas fears (like the fear of rejection) are about outcomes. In general, if your values / sources of meaning are crowded out, it’s because of outcome-related considerations: goals and fears. (Goals and fears are interchangeable: a fear of rejection is the same as a goal of remaining accepted.)
<aside> 💎 There can be results/outcomes from sources of meaning, but they are diffuse results—results about living your best life—rather than definite outcomes to achieve or avoid. (Read more about this distinction in Making Values Concrete.)