The Paradox of Absolutism

I cling to free will because I choose to believe in human empowerment; I believe in agency. I think an important first step in unlocking this power is transitioning to a mindset of freedom. Free, in the sense that we all set our own fate, that we can do (or at the minimum strive to) do anything in this world, and that we should anchor our goals based off of our dreams, not our risk-adjusted probabilistic calculations.

With that, I introduce a nuanced paradox.

On one hand, I believe there are no absolutes in this world (an ironic statement in itself). But really, I think there are no prescriptions, no universal bylaws that hold up in every circumstance. In fact, I think we have too many people giving too much false advice. We have too many people who share prescriptive recipes rooted in hindsight bias. We need more disclaimers. We need more fact-checking. And we need more thinking for ourselves.

Imagine that is one sphere of my thoughts.

At the other end is the following idea: playbooks and generalizations are incredibly valuable tools and the best creators use them all the time to make decisions. In fact, the very best creators live and die by the success of their generalizations, their mental models, etc. This is largely true across fields.

So how do I think about this? Are these two ideas, both of which I seem to believe in, inherently contradicting each other? What is one to do about this dilemma?

I think it is actually possible to hold both views. The first view is that there are no prescriptions in life that are universally true. The second lens is that, while there are no absolutes, there are best practices. Best practices are enablers of the truth. When executed correctly, and to the precise point (a la Bill Walsh’s 49ers), standards of performance dramatically improve outcomes.

The challenge?

Selecting the right playbook.

This is a really hard task. Really really hard. I am not saying there is a generalized way to do this…in fact surely there is a mental model for trying to process this exact problem.

My final thought on this topic, for now, is that while the world needs more disclaimers, it also needs more playbooks. This challenge comes down to synthesis and filtration. We need more of both.

Also published on Medium.