I used to think being condescending was important for being a good thinker

I used to think being condescending was important for being a good thinker.

I would never have said that, though. I might have maybe admitted that I wanted to feel superior. Like I knew that condescension isn’t necessary for being a good thinker. It was more like I thought I had earned superiority; I thought I was better (than other people) because of that[1].

It’s like I was jealous (but not envious) of prowess.

By ‘jealous’ I mean that I was insecure that someone else being skillful would diminish my skill. And reflecting on it now, that feeling was (at least some of the time) true. I know that I’ve unwittingly[2] been an intellectual fraud[3] before, and more than once. I was insecure because I should have been insecure – better thinkers than me would be able to find me out.

Every time a breakpoint like this happens (where I feel like I make some progress) it feels like I’m starting to get a better understanding of this stuff. Like how to live. What life values and attitudes matter. What to fertilize in the orchard that is one’s mind.

One the one hand that makes me a bit sad, like having this feeling of starting over, almost. On the other hand, isn’t that the essence of being at the beginning of infinity?

I’m hesitant to say that last bit. Not just because of the CR harassment, but also because it feels like stroking my own ego a bit. I don’t think it would be good for me to do that at the moment. But I also can’t un-notice it.

Anyway, I wanted to share.

  1. edit: I also felt like I needed to, like, show that off. I needed to act superior, too. Something like that. ↩︎

  2. I’m not being 100% literal here, I more mean like I’d convinced myself that stuff like being overconfident was okay, or that I deserved to win an argument so it didn’t matter if I was a bit sneaky and just outmanoeuvred someone instead of being honest. ↩︎

  3. by ‘an intellectual fraud’ I mean that I had mislead people about the reality of my knowledge/confidence; I spoke with unearned authority. ↩︎

In the past, I felt sad in a pretty similar way, but the up-side feeling was different, it was more like a feeling of over-confidence since I thought I’d overcome something.

Lots of people act this way, including lots of famous “intellectuals”. It’s a common cultural attitude (though people don’t admit it or see it that way).

Somewhat tangentially, this is related to past discussions about overreaching. Do you ever feel like you have to start over on your understanding of walking? Recognizing letters? Grasping an object with your hand and picking it up? No. Some of your skills are more solid. They’re part of a track record of success at basics. The stuff people end up needing to start over on (instead of just fix) are things where they skipped steps, skipped prerequisites, tried to jump ahead to an unearned conclusion without the building blocks, etc. Some of these problems start in one-size-fits-all schools with poor curriculums and group teaching, so kids get pressured to keep up and to accept partial understanding as good enough and move on (especially if they are passing tests while still somewhat confused, which is common because the tests are designed so that most students can pass without the teacher actually doing a good job first). Some of the problems start because parents want their kid to understand and obey stuff and pressure him to at least pretend to do that instead of respecting confusion and patiently explaining stuff. Parents enforcing rules on young kids I suspect is even more dangerous re making them try to deal with something with partial understanding than the actual punishments. The confusion and lack of explanation – and the implied message that’s what life is like and you need to deal with it – can be worse than some punishments.

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