There Is No Such Thing As ‘Normal’ – 7 Takeaways No. 156

A cartoon image of a goofy looking duck, designed to illustrate the concept of not being normal. The duck should appear in a whimsical, exaggerated style, with quirky features such as mismatched colors, unusual patterns, and a funny expression, set against a simple background.
(Image: DALL-E 3)

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Good morning! Welcome to this week’s “Something of substance each day, collected and delivered weekly.” Smile

I wanted to pop in here and point out that you’re always welcome to reply to this email, or leave a comment on the post, with your thoughts, comments, and recommendations. You’ll also find me on mastodonthreads. (And I’ve got one of those fancy “Link in Bio“ pages as well for even more.)

1. “The groundwork for fascism has already been constructed”

It Can’t Happen Here – Sinclair Lewis – (ebook)

I mentioned this book last week, along with my hope that it offered some solution to the eerily familiar scenario it was based on. While it ends on a glimmer of hope, I certainly wouldn’t call it a solution.

“More and more, as I think about history,” he pondered, “I am convinced that everything that is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever. But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.”

I think I mentioned also that the English was a bit archaic, having been written in the early 1930s. What’s stunning to me is how prescient the story seems to be given when it was written. And I mean that both regarding what would happen worldwide in the following decade, and what seems to be happening in the United States right now.

Do this: It’s worth reading the book. I found it both sobering and concerning.

2. “There is no such thing as ‘normal.’”

Thinking About “Neuro-Divergence” – David Gerrold – (Patreon, public)

Honestly that could have been my quote. It’s something I’ve said for years. I’ve been in situations supporting others with assorted issues and been called the “normal” one (believe it or not). No such thing.

There is average or common-place or generally functioning or any of the other terms we use to describe the kinds of behaviors we consider generally acceptable.

There are several good points in this short essay, including something I’ve been mulling over for some time: that many labels are binary, when many people aren’t. I won’t use the term “spectrum”, since that now has additional meaning and baggage, but the characteristics we display in certain ways and at certain times sometimes align with those attributed to some label. Some display them more often, more consistently, or more strongly than others.

And then there’s this:

Sometimes, maybe most of the time, most people don’t want an argument, they want understanding, and that starts with listening

Do this: Listen.

3. “How can I endure a never-ending parade of nonsense?”

Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes – Morgan Housel – (ebook)

That “never-ending parade” is short-term thinking while you maintain a long-term view.

The long run is just a collection of short runs you have to put up with.

The fact is that even maintaining a long-term view doesn’t exempt you from having to deal with short-term bullshit. It just gives you a different perspective on how to handle it.

Do this: Maintain the long term, but endure the parade.

4. “Aging is a matter of moving from one interesting state of being to another”

The REAL reason to enjoy growing older – whether you’re 25, 55, or 85 – Susan Cain – (The Quiet Life with Susan Cain: a Community – newsletter)

If the author sounds familiar, she wrote “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, a book I highly recommend for both introverts and extroverts.

The takeaway above got my attention as a wonderful way to look at what it means to get older. Certainly I’ve been through a few ‘interesting states”, and look forward to many more.

Even if we lived forever, there are certain insights that just come with time.

The trick, I think, is to focus on the journey, and look for those insights along the way.

Do this: Enjoy the journey.

5. “I was playing not to lose”

Last Lecture Series: “How to Live an Asymmetric Life” – Graham Weaver – (YouTube)

Weaver shares lessons learned throughout his career, and through his life. It’s best summed up with his “Principles for an Asymmetric Life”:

  • Do Hard Things: The opposite of “playing not to lose”.
  • Do Your Thing: Doing things that matter to you, that get you excited.
  • Do it for Decades: Doing something that excites you for a long time can have amazing results.
  • Write Your Story: Before you embark on it. Some very practical goal-setting.

I found the talk inspiring. It really applies at any stage in life.

Do this: Get excited about something, and do it.

6. “We need to master irrelevancy”

How to Stop Feeling Irrelevant and Embrace Life – John P. Weiss – (Blog)

It’s one of the side-effects of getting older. You become less relevant. That’s not a bad thing, and in fact it’s freeing. It’s something that, honestly, is worth embracing and perhaps even seeking out.

It also applies to more than just getting old.

This notion of mattering less doesn’t just apply to older adults and retirees. Think about all the people desperately trying to be liked on social media.

It’s closely related to a statement I make to Ask Leo! readers who come to me with excessive concerns about privacy and/or even paranoid conspiracies: You’re just not that interesting.

And that’s a good thing.

Do this: Tame your ego.

7. “Good ideas … are, inevitably, constrained by the parts and skills that surround them.”

Where Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson – (ebook / audio book)

Johnson introduces a concept that I really like: the “adjacent possible”. Some things happen only when the right things are next to — adjacent — to other right things. This applies to everything from the origin of life, to the construction of incubators out of automobile parts (because that’s what was cheap, maintainable, and handy).

The concept applies to our thoughts and ideas as well. It’s a powerful argument for exposing ourselves to as many ideas as we can to increase the number of concepts that then become “adjacent possible” to our own. It’s even helpful to venture out of our own area of expertise so that the ideas are more novel, and help us form more interesting and unlikely solutions.

The evolutionary theorist François Jacob captured this in his concept of evolution as a “tinkerer,” not an engineer; our bodies are also works of bricolage, old parts strung together to form something radically new.

Parts that just happen to be adjacent possible at each step along the way.

Do this: Expose yourself to more ideas.

8. “One of the more contentious parts of the rise of AI”

Musings on AI, Learning, and Copyright – Leo A. Notenboom – (Personal Blog)

If I asked ChatGPT to write me a story about a sea captain obsessed with killing the whale that cost him his leg, and it responded by spitting out Moby Dick verbatim, that’s plagiarism, no question. Indeed, even if only a few paragraphs of the result were unattributed word for word copies, it would be a problem.

But that’s not what’s happening.

Do this: Remember, new concepts and new questions often accompany new technologies.

More random links & thoughts

  • Oculi Mundi – “The Eyes of the World – a new platform for exploring antique maps of the earth and skies and the history of human exploration.” Very interesting maps, but worth it also for the unique user interface.


Full list on the sources page.

What I’m Reading

In progress:


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