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Hunger Games But Really Slow

4 min

There are too many possible lifestyles now, and it's a bigger problem than you realize.

Digital technology has increased the number of lifestyles plausibly perceived as viable, simply by increasing the number of people who can project different kinds of lifestyles.

It looks like there are many ways to live a good, happy, successful life:

For each of the above, there are real examples you can point to. There are people who have done all of these things, and plausibly appear to be thriving.

The problem is that all of these things are new (one is not, but it's operating under wildly new conditions, so now it is new).

Roughly speaking, nobody has done any of these things—in their contemporary version—for a whole human life cycle.

Thus, I would argue that, right now, people generally underestimate what we might call lifestyle risk.

The fraction of all observable lifestyles that are winning lifestyles is decreasing simply because there are always more ways to lose than ways to win, so an increase in the number of observable lifestyles means that, other things equal, any random person is less likely to be sitting on a winning lifestyle.

Even the research-based Healthy Lifestyle crew. Keto and cold plunges could be great, but also maybe they'll kill you for obscure reasons, which haven't entered our dataset yet. Maybe Wim Hof and Andrew Huberman have it all figured out, but their lives aren't complete yet, so we should not be overconfident in their advice. What if living according to legitimately science-based health hacks causes severe problems in other dimensions? Perhaps you lose a certain... je ne sai quoi. But on your deathbed you realize that je ne sai quoi was the absolute key to life, and you missed it.

My point is that, even for whatever lifestyle niche you think is the most indubitably correct, your risk of being badly mistaken is higher than its ever been. Even the most ancient and "lindy" lifestyle heuristics have a higher risk of being wrong today than ever before, simply because the artificially manipulated fraction of the lifeworld is greater than it's ever been. Lindy heuristics might be some of the safest, but it's still possible that one recent change in the artificial environment now requires one important artificial change in one's heuristics in order to survive (or thrive). The lifestyle question now has higher stakes and higher risk across the board, which is not to say equal risk across the board.

Popular culture seems to have some intuition of what I'm describing, as manifest in the superabundance of self-help media. All of the most famous male figures right now, who are known for saying words, are essentially purveyors of lifestyle heuristics. You might find their heuristics good, bad, smart, or stupid, but that's what they're doing. It's all what to think, how to think, what to do, in order to succeed in life.

If you look closely at this media, you'll see that it tends to revolve around what we might call a "strategies and tactics" worldview. "The strategies and tactics you need to achieve success across a range of pursuits."

While such discussions can be immensely valuable for certain people in certain contexts, as a whole they testify to an utterly tragic misunderstanding that seems to dominate our culture today. They foster the misconception that success in endeavors represents the zenith of human intellectual and emotional capability, when in fact, almost all of the risk and all of the reward in human life revolves around the question of selecting endeavors. The question of what to value is far more crucial question than the question of strategies and tactics for obtaining what one values. And the question of what to value is the question that popular culture vehemently ignores.

If you review the bullet list above, you'll notice that the various lifestyles reflect totally different choices about what is really valuable. It's by answering this question correctly that some of those lifestyles will really thrive in the long run, and it's by some fatal error on this point that some of those lifestyles will turn out to be big mistakes.

Before all of these massive social experiments finish collecting data, it's hard to know, from a scientific perspective, which lifestyles really are the best today.

But I think it's a good start to recalibrate regarding the real challenge before us, which is not really any of the stuff most people want to tell you about.

If you find it stressful, and ugly, to always be optimizing your strategies and tactics, you should be pleased by my point. If strategies and tactics are your bread and butter, you should be terrified by my point.

If you're currently sitting on a winning lifestyle, meaning that your vital energies are correctly subordinated to whatever value system truly belongs to human nature, but you're using mediocre strategies and tactics, I think you're much more likely to be thriving in 2050 than if you're currently using great strategies and tactics but you're incorrectly oriented.

This, by the way, is why true thinking, patient reading, and obsessively authentic writing and speaking are the most economically valuable things in the world right now, even though they remain relatively illiquid and not many people fully understand yet.


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