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Friday, April 12, 2024

Scheider’s Rules for Life Revised

 I originally posted this on my website in 1995 or so. You can still find the original there:

I had developed these to give me a calmer approach to life. I tend to worry about everything, and try to figure out how to FIX it all. Looking at life with these rules gave me a little more realistic perspective. You have to kind of just let it go.

There is a lot of thinking behind these, and some good scientific research - but if I put all of that in here, no one would read the thing. I’ll be lucky if anyone ever reads it as it is.

  1. Most of Us are not paying attention.

When someone is merging into your lane of traffic, do NOT count on them noticing that you are there in the lane. YOU have to do the avoidance thing, because they are generally NOT paying attention. If you are in a long queue, and someone else shows up, odds are that they will not notice where the end of the line is. You may have to point that out to them. People get wrapped up in things, they focus on one thing at a time -- it's a genetic survival technique. The male can locate food and find his way home. The female pays attention to the cave. There's no genetic preference active for traffic, queues, or reading notices! So don't get upset when folks around you don't seem to notice something -- that is the norm, not the exception. 

A corollary for this is 'the world is run by those who show up'. If you want to make a change, go to the meeting -- or call the meeting! Most people don't.

UPDATE 2017.01.30. I wrote this decades ago, partly in jest. It struck me as true, that people are generally not paying attention, and it seemed simpler to just recognize that, rather than be disturbed by it. As it turns out, there is significant neurological research that supports it. 95% or more of what we do with our brain is an automatic reaction, which we are occasionally aware of, and mostly after the fact. See the book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. So we make almost all decisions with the FAST brain, not our SLOW brain. See Thinking, Fast and Slow. This is true for political and economic decisions as well. The only part of our society that is actually using this information is advertising! And we have a recent presidential campaign that offers obvious proof. The other amazing thing that we have discovered, is that it is actually possible for all of us to pay a bit more attention, and to make much better decisions, with the simple practice of daily "mindfulness." Nothing religious about it, nothing magical - it turns out that this is how our slow brain catches up. On that see: A Mindful Nation. I continue to have hope, and you should too.

  1. Most of Us are conservative. 

Most of us do not want things to change. This is the norm and it pretty much works. Just imagine that you walk into the bank to cash a check, and the bank teller decides to change the way he/she does accounts just for you. Not today, thank you!

And it's a genetic preference. Before we could read and write, when the knowledge of building houses was simply passed down, if you built a house, you had better do it the way they were always built. Otherwise, you ran the risk that it would fall down in the first rain storm, and you would catch a cold and die. People survived best doing it the way it was always done. Those innovators, the people who built a house that departs from the standard, ran great risk that their genes would not be passed down! So . . . when people resist change, get used to it -- that's the way most people operate.

2024 04 update. I still think this is true, and I have come to learn just how deeply seated it is. On that topic see my Blog entry: This is a review of Jonathan Haidt's book: The Righteous Mind. There is a lot of research on this. 

For the genetic component, see Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences by Hibbing John R. et al, and Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are by Robert Plomin.  Not good or bad - it just is.
One of the amazing things here is that this conservative / progressive predisposition also correlates with other things - like our sense of taste! Guess which one likes kale?  Hmm? One thing it does not correlate with is our level of intelligence or education! And here I thought I had a good thing going. 

  1. We need meaning and purpose in life. 

It's in our genes. Hominids with this dominated the others. The problem is that almost any meaning and purpose works, good or bad. And this rule also means that religion, all kinds of religion, will always be with us. Don't fight it, live with it and use it.

I think it is important to recognize that this has a genetic root, and it is not just our culture, history, or the persuasive power of the threats laid upon us by most religions trying to convert us!

In most cases, this need is fulfilled by some form of religious belief. The exact form varies widely, from the Buddhist approach of agnostic rules for life, to animism and Hinduism that find gods in everything, to the Jewish, Christian, Muslim preference for a single creator. But it is pretty clear that, despite the Enlightenment and the secular movement, religion as such is not going away any time soon.

These religious beliefs do provide meaning and purpose, but the variety is so great among them that they barely have a common thread. One might say that religion requires some belief in life after death, but that does not seem to be the case. Traditional Judaism and most Asian religions do not look for any reward for good deeds in some other life. Some of them talk about the dead, about ancestors, and about achieving "nirvana." But it doesn't sound much like the classic Christian paradise. And many primitive folk do just fine with religious tenets that involve no after life whatsoever.

But up-lifting goals that are not religious also work well with humankind. Hitler and Mussolini crafted goals that drove entire nations, without any semblance of a religious taint about them. Gandhi and Martin Luther King rallied thousands of people to a goal with no agreement on religious tenets. I can still remember President John Kennedy's inaugural address, and how it energized me. He lifted my sights, lifted my spirits, made me believe that we could do great things together.

Lately, our political leaders have been gathering followers by preaching fear and hatred of others, some others, almost any others - whether they be Al Qaeda or the Democrats or the Republicans or atheistic destroyers of marriage.

Let’s  try the other approach? Lift up the best that is in us and push us forward with it. What about the common good? What about the good of all humankind? What about an uplifting goal that would make our lives worthwhile? For more on this, you might look at Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion. The author has great ideas, but the implementation is going to take a bit of a worldview shift.

  1. Most of us don’t read.

It's just not in the genes. For thousands of years, we handed down wisdom and knowledge through song and poem. If you could remember a rhyme and a meter, you could remember how to hunt the elephant. If you couldn't, you didn't eat! Pictures work, but stories are better! Books and reading are really recent in the evolutionary scale. And it is even more recent that someone could actually own a book! Even after Gutenberg, books were very rare and expensive.

The statistics are that 43 million Americans read at the 4th grade level, meaning they are functionally illiterate. Most people average 99 hours of reading in an entire year. Only 11% read the newspaper. It's not a problem with our education -- it's in our genes. Wikipedia has a bit of history on that:

Even when people do learn to read, most of them do not retain things that they read. They retain the oral version much better, and a video one best of all. 

So - don't count on written notices to do anything. You need to stand up and say it, and it works even better if you can sing it! And if you want a really great career, get into story telling of some kind -- people just love to hear stories. Think movies, not books. And a visual experience is probably the only thing most of them retain - just look at TikTok for a few minutes!

  1. Word of mouth works better than anything. 

This is a corollary of “most people don't read.” If it is the "in" thing, the "cool" thing, it will move the product. The word gets around. It beats advertising every time. The trick is how you go about getting your product to be the latest “cool” thing. I think this is the power of celebrity endorsement and “influencers.” Most people are fans of sports and movies -- someone in that world can sway them better than the coolest print ad. Check out the "The Cluetrain Manifesto" on the web. 

This public relations guy figured out that he could make a lot more noise for his company if he just talked to people all the time, rather than sending them press releases and such. After a while, they started calling him because he was such an expert in the area.

Just remember how you found out about this! Since you are among the minority of readers, you found it written down right here. But most people will not. Remember the rule that most people don’t read.

  1. Dictatorship is the norm.

Democracy is a thin veneer on top of humankind looking for hierarchy and order. We crave hierarchy. If it doesn't exist, we make it up. It takes a whole lot of social maturity and mutual trust for a democracy to survive. When the US was planning to invade Iraq and liberate them from their dictator, a friend of mine sent me a publication which recited all of the things that had been created or discovered in that small part of the world -- like writing, and the first legal code, the Code of Hamurrabi! This friend clearly felt that the dictatorship there must have destroyed the source of so many wonderful things. But the area known as Iraq has always been a dictatorship -- as far back as anyone can trace the history. In fact, almost every place was always a dictatorship. The Greeks and the Romans had a short fling at an oligarchy -- a democracy of the nobility -- but it didn't work out. People want and need strong leaders.

This representative government stuff is always just a step away from disappearing. When the founding fathers finished the constitution, the vast majority of them thought that George would be a king within 10 years -- but it was worth a shot. When Lincoln was elected the first time, he was not sure that the 100 year old democracy would survive his first term -- and this was before the Civil War. This is priceless stuff, and hard to keep intact. Don't take it for granted. And . . . don't try to push it on any culture that doesn't have the basics to support it -- it won't last. It's like trying to teach a pig to sing -- it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.

If the Iraqi people really want a democracy, they have to work on the basics -- we can't force it on them. That hasn't worked anywhere else on the planet -- with the possible exception of Japan! For an even more robust understanding of how geography and climate impact democracy as a possibility, watch the  first part of this video

  1. Selfishness is the norm.

We all start selfish, and it's hard to let it go. It works! Don't be surprised by it. When some altruism appears, just be grateful. Most people support their family, but it takes a fairly sophisticated society to support anything beyond thatl. Getting to the level of the nation is a really big step -- most parts of the world have not achieved it to any degree.
If you want people to get motivated about something, you have to appeal to their selfish interests. It's only as a person or a society matures and gets beyond survival that they can cast a little wider area of concern, and actually consider their city, and, after a lot of maturity, their country. It will be a very long time before most people on the planet actually care about the planet itself. We are still working on this inter-dependency thing.
Why do you think capitalism succeeds so well? It's based on a modestly expanded selfishness. According to these anthropologists, The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous the reason the WEST achieved capitalism and expanded economic development was that the Church persuaded people that they had to expand beyond the insular family circle of trusted friends. It had to do with NOT marrying your cousin. If you do business in most parts of Asia, a trusted relationship is more important than price. It is not ethical to bid on price alone. 

  1. Most of us are corrupt.

This is a corollary of the selfish rule. We are tribal, focused on ours, our family and tribe. Again, this is genetic. It works well - xenophobia is the normal state of affairs. We protect our own for survival. Altruists didn't pass on the gene.
In the so-called "civilized" western world, we voice principles that sound like honesty and integrity. It gives us a reason to be upset when we catch people taking bribes, misstating financial results, ripping off their corporations for millions of dollars, etc.
The reason is that we have discovered that, for a truly complex economy to survive, we do need each other at some level. We have to have a market that we can actually trust. The value of our currency is based purely on trust. Most business deals go down with only a handshake. So we keep working on it, but you shouldn't be surprised when someone is caught with their hand in the till. In the rest of the world, outside of North America and Europe, everyone knows that everyone else is on the take -- that's why capitalism struggles there. Heck, it is barely making it here. And as for the trust required for democracy, forget it. Trust, but verify! ALWAYS.

  1. Poverty has always been the norm, and still is. 

Us folk in the Western World are living in Disneyland. If the rest of humankind really understood how good we have it compared to them, they would be invading our borders. But, wait, they are doing just that!

There's an important corollary to this one: crime is the norm where poverty is the norm. This is a little complicated, because poverty is not just low income, but the perception of being poor in an affluent economy where you are excluded. Our sociologists / criminologists know this. If we want to reduce crime, we must reduce poverty. It is actually cheaper to create good paying jobs for people than to build prisons and hire police officers. As the gap in our society from top to bottom gets relentlessly larger, we can only expect that crime will continue to increase.

The best theory that explains this is that we have raised this wonderful ideal -- the American dream -- and then made it virtually impossible for many of us to attain it. Those with NO shot at it, get it any way they can.

One good step would be to raise the minimum wage so that anyone with a job can afford food AND housing. The concern there is that it will cost us all more money. That may be so in the short run, but it will save millions when it reduces crime, improves school performance for all those kids in poverty, and drives the economy with all of those working folks able to buy the things that they produce. This is a consumer economy. That means that most of the things that drive it are things that we really don't need. You can't sell things people really don't need when they have low paying jobs and are afraid of losing those. They have to FEEL affluent. We CAN pick ourselves up by our bootstraps -- we just have to make sure that we pick up MOST of us.
But then there's that selfish thing! 

Another way would be for a guaranteed job at that minimum wage. It would also solve the self respect problem of being unemployed. And it would pay for itself, easily. For a lot more on that, see Stephanie Kelton on MMT here: 

10. You can't persuade anyone of anything they don't already believe. 

I used to think differently on this - so I had lots of arguments or “discussions" with people. Life is much simpler now. I really don't need to "kill Santa Claus," or change the social order! The only hope for change (see rule #2) is a generational one. Go after the kids! Why do you think Head Start is such a success?

This rule was brought home to me one day when I was discussing evolution with a friend who is of the more fundamentalist persuasion about the Bible. I was asking how he could ignore all the evidence about evolution, and he brought me up short with this: "If I can believe that someone created this whole universe in a single stroke, don't you think I could believe that this entity could make it appear to be billions of years old?" Got me there. I give up.

Religion and politics are the worst here, of course, but there are plenty of other beliefs out there that are held with great fervor. You see, people need meaning and purpose in their lives in order to survive. If you threaten what gives them a solid foundation, they will resist with great emotion - not reason, mind you - emotion. There is no way to reason with someone about a belief or principle that they did not arrive at by means of reason. You just cannot argue with someone's emotions!

If we don't see a meaningful religion, a meaningful goal in life, we make them up. When someone presents one that promises happiness, now or later, we are sorely tempted to adopt it. Charismatic leaders understand this -- they speak to our needs, not to our best interests. If you have never heard of Heaven’s Gate, give the documentary a few minutes of your time.
Heaven's Gate: The Cult of Cults

After a decade of reading neuroscience, this one has become even more clear. We actually do not THINK - we mostly FEEL. Our brain is driven by chemicals that make us FEEL things - not think things. Cognitive thinking, the kind required to do math and make critical decisions is rare - and the vast majority of us rarely accomplish it. If you don’t believe me, look at these two fine texts by Lisa Feldman Barret: How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, and Seven And A Half Lessons About The Brain. Ideas are a cultural construct - we FEEL our way through life. Stop and think about it - get my point?

11. Conspiracy theories presume way too much intelligence in world 'leaders'.

They are not that smart! I've met a few -- most of them are just a tad above average intelligence, and usually short-changed on the practical side. No one is behind the scenes moving the levers -- it looks like a mess because that's just the way it is. Just look at the conspiracies that have actually come to light through the stupidity of the people running the show. They got away with it for a while, but they left big footprints -- think Iran / Contra, Enron, Tyco. These are NOT smart people!

12. Most people are black and white thinkers.

Most people are black and white thinkers -- they don't get the complex issues. This seems to come from a biological imperative to divide everything up into 2 camps. Edward O. Wilson (On Human Nature, 1978, p. 72) says we have a tendency to "dichotomize" -- to separate everything into 2 camps -- them and us, good and bad, friend or foe. It seems to be a genetic propensity for making quick survival decisions. But it leaks over into all kinds of things. These are called “heuristics'' - quick rules of thumb. Our brain takes these shortcuts to act quickly, and to save energy.

Patriotism, support of the current government, tends to be one of them. When we have a sense that our way of life is at stake, we divide into 2 camps. If you think we should be doing something different here, you are un-American. If you are upset that American corporations are ripping us off for billions, you don't support the American entrepreneurial way. The FBI has a list, and you are on it, my friend.

Humans are so complicated and messy that there are NO easy solutions. It takes more time and more money and more energy than anyone wants to expend to really solve human problems. I talk to my elected officials about the downstream effects of cutting social programs -- they cannot get their brains any further out than the next election. Honest. If it doesn't happen in the next 2 years, it does not exist!

13. We are a violent species, especially the male half.

95% of the people in jail for violent crime are men. The US is the most violent place on the planet. Of the developed countries, our murder and violence rate are number 1. You have to go to Somalia to live more dangerously -- of course, it is REALLY bad there!

ANDit is in the genes. That testosterone generates the energy to defend one's turf, and it does a wonderful job. As societies get more complex, as we gather into tribes and villages, controlling that tendency to murder each other is a major part of our social cost.

I'm convinced that professional football is a plot to reduce violent attacks by males on each other. For that period of Sunday, and now extended to Monday nights, and even to Thursday, watching those huge guys pound on each other keeps the audience from doing the same to their neighbors. We will have attained an amazing level of civility when we actually ban football as too dangerous for our kids’ brains.

I would also count it a significant step forward when we charge people with abuse who beat a child with anything, including their hand. That early lesson in respect and human interaction lays a strong foundation in our kids that violence is a basic rule of life. Verbal abuse can be just as damaging and should be banned as well -- at least toward children.

Over the years, I have had numerous occasions to observe Vietnamese friends of mine and how they deal with their children. They are always quiet, respectful and patient. They also always have high standards and goals. Those kids have done amazingly well, and I have never seen them raise their voice to them, let alone their hand.

14. Never pay retail - you can always find it on sale. 

A bit frivolous, but important. This is especially true in many stores that cycle SOMETHING on sale every week, and off the next. Ask Ron Johnson, the former CEO of JC Penney whether a plain low price policy will work. And look at Kohl’s for the absolute epitome of always on sale, discount, coupons, etc. 

15. It's never as easy as it looks! 

You know how this works. You have this little project to do. It'll only take an hour or so. But then, there is this, and that, and I need a tool, and one thing leads to another and it takes the whole day. I've learned never to start ANY project that involves plumbing except early on Saturday morning, so I can be sure the hardware will be open when I need it! AND I have 2 days to finish the blessed thing, or get expert help on Monday.

16. You are never going to beat the squirrels - give it up. 

They have nothing else to do but figure out how to get into your bird feeder.
2024 04 I have to revise this one. I got a Droll Yankees feeder. The squirrels might try it twice, but never again. 

17. Law of 'Sociality' - yes, I know it's not a word - yet! 

We are social beings, and our economic, social, and political health depend on each other in profound ways! We do not seem to really understand this at the grass roots level, as we are all normally swamped by that selfish stuff -- but once in a great while, it surfaces. When we thrive, we thrive together. When we fail, it is because we have ignored the weakest among us, we have not made room for them at the table, and we have fallen down as a society.

What we really need is a bit more research here. When those psychologists discover that 65% of us are selfish and keep those rewards to ourselves (at least in the WEIRD world of western culture), what they should be doing is looking at the 35% who have the altruistic tendency, and figure out WHY those folks are different. What is the genetics, the childhood care, education, and peer influence that created those folk? How do we propagate that to the rest of humankind? As the great Canadian Philosopher Red Green put it, “I’m pulling for you, We’re all in this together.”

18. There is always hope.

People continue to aspire for resurrection, civilization, integrity, altruism, man for others - we do seem to hope to move forward!


We are the product of genetic evolution from tougher times. Things are very different today, and moving much more quickly - too fast for the genetics to adapt. I believe that we are more than our genes, and we can change*. The next level of evolution is social / political, provided we can avoid destroying the planet. My point is that it's an uphill battle! The genes got us here - we have to take the next step. See: The Robot's Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin by Keith E. Stanovich. The selfish genes are not in control of us completely, counter to Richard Dawkins’ book.  Don't get discouraged. 

© Copyright Carl Scheider 2024

* Another Red Green quote: “I’m a man, but I can change. If I have to. I guess.”

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Behavioral Economics History and The Power of Fifty Bits

Someone pointed me to Daniel Kahneman and Thinking Fast and Slow quite some time ago. That led me to Richard Thayer, and Behavioral Economics, and a pile of books and research explaining how “irrational” we humans are. These folk changed the “science” of economics forever.

NOW, February 2024, there is a podcast that has interviewed all of the actual players in this drama.

This includes a couple of Nobel Prize winners for Economics, who discovered that the conventional ideas of the classical economists are fundamentally flawed. Humans are NOT rational. Barely at all. I have been working on the theory that we are 95% automatic - it turns out it is more like 99% - but that’s another problem.

If you are interested, here are the references.  The first one here is a trailer or preview. It might persuade you to listen for more.

OR on your podcast tool:

Opinion Science Podcast - 

Apple podcasts: 

As Kahneman discovered, people do not actually make very good decisions. Most of what we do are nearly automatic responses to our history and our world. We use quick rules of thumb or gut reactions for almost everything we do. We might intellectually KNOW something we should be doing, but actually doing it is just not going to happen. And in most cases, we really have no idea why we are choosing what we do - it is the product of our genetics, our family, our education, our exposure to various ideas and influences. We are hardly even aware of all of the influencers that are operating on us. One of their early experiments would show people the pictures of candidates running for an elective office, and ask them to guess who won. People can guess who won that election with 70% accuracy just looking at the pictures.

So . . . one half of us look at the other extreme group, and say - “What is wrong with those people?” But this is the norm - we ALL do this almost ALL of the time. 

If you want to actually move beyond this, and figure out how to actually help people and yourself make better decisions in our own best interests, this next book is my best reference:

The Power of Fifty Bits: The New Science of Turning Good Intentions into Positive Result 

AND you can get a Kindle copy at amazon right now for $2.00.  Heck of a deal.

This author was the chief scientist at Express Scripts. He spent a lot of time and energy trying to assist customers to make better health decisions. He looked at the science and research of decision making, and came up with a systematic way to accomplish his goal. I have only started the book, so I will have to come back here and give a better summary - but I could not pass up this opportunity to alert the many happy subscribers to this blog about this opportunity. The book is very well written, with wisdom and humor. Check it out.

(I think there are may be 6 subscribers in total, and I know most of you wonder what the heck is going on here, but . . . It is starting to look more like a book club. )

This is the book summary from Amazon:

Going beyond the bestsellers Predictably Irrational and Thinking, Fast and Slow, the first “how to” guide that shows you how to help customers, employees, coworkers, and clients make better choices to get what they truly want.

Of the ten million bits of information our brains process each second, only fifty bits are devoted to conscious thought. Because our brains are wired to be inattentive, we often choose without thinking, acting against our own interests—what we truly want. As the former Chief Scientist of Express Scripts, a Fortune 25 healthcare company dedicated to making the use of prescription medications safer and more affordable, Bob Nease is an expert on applying behavioral sciences to health care. Now, he applies his knowledge to the wider world, providing important practical solutions marketers, human resources professionals, teachers, and even parents can use to improve the behavior of others around them, and get the positive results they want.

Nease offers a set of powerful and effective strategies to change behavior, including:

  • Require Choice—compel people to deliberately choose among options

  • Lock in Good Intentions—allow people to make decisions today about choices they will face in the future

  • Let It Ride—set the default to the desired option and let people opt out if they wish

  • Get in the Flow—go to where peoples’ attention is likely to be naturally

  • Reframe the Choices—set the framework people use to consider options and choices

  • Piggyback It—connect the desired choice or behavior with something they already like or are engaged in

  • Simplify . . . Wisely—make right choices frictionless and easy, make wrong choices more difficult

  • And more.