"I don't need to know how electricity works to use it."
While writing the previous post, someone mentioned how website comment sections have been a disaster for the human race. I didn’t think too much into it since I take it as self-evident that the comments sections are not worth delving into. The seed of an idea nagged at me for a few days so I sat down and let it run through its natural conclusion. So, this week I’ll write about the distinction between Strategic Ignorance and Tactical Ignorance. Knowing what they are is, in my view, crucial.
Strategic Ignorance is a cardinal sin. You want to know what the big picture is; you want to know:
where you are headed, and why you’re going there (this is Purpose);
what resources you have available and when you should deploy them to achieve your goals;
what the territory is like (e.g. environmental conditions, physical features, opportunities and threats, etc.)
what obstacles might be arrayed against you (anticipation).
In the macro game, the bird’s eye view is essential and I invest my time, money and energy to acquire more information to fill in the blanks on the map.
More Information = More & Better Conceptual Tools = Higher-res map of the territory (which in this case is Reality)
I find that the more detailed my mental map of the territory is, the better decisions I make, the faster I can execute on them. The lack of such detail is strategic ignorance and if this applies to you, you may find yourself stagnating in your goals, going in circles, making poor decisions and not being able to figure out why you cannot move forward.
But in the thick of it – in the micro game? Tactical Ignorance is superior. Like an operator on the switchboard, you have to develop the capacity to toggle inputs on and off at will, depending on the situation. The capacity to focus your attention like a 100Mw laser on one thing is so rare and so powerful that it will make you seem inhuman to those around you.
Is it necessary to live a decent life? Nope.
Is it even required for a good life? Absolutely not.
But I know you, gentle reader, so allow me to make an assumption about you: You’re here because you want More, Better, Different. You want to be exceptional, and because of that, it is imperative that you develop this trait.
Every man and woman in the top 1% of their field, whether sport or art or business, has this capacity. At any given moment they make a decision to say No to the trivial multitude of information and external stimuli, so they can say Yes to only such information that explicitly relates to their goals.
In other words, I am referring to the opportunity cost of information. Every little scrap of data you say yes to is a world of information you say no to. You only have a limited amount of time awake. And you have a limited amount of STUFF your mind can keep juggle and use. Between working, commuting, and the miscellaneous activities that comprise a human life, you have perhaps 2-3 hours in which you can absorb stuff. Conversely, you have a finite bucket in your mind that slowly fills throughout life. Ergo, you’d best pay attention to what you’re putting in the bucket.
This is why I don’t read the news, in favor of reading books, physical training, or watching documentaries.
The 24-hour news cycle is hopelessly distorted with bullshit and counter-bullshit (what the pundits call, ahem, analysis). Difficult to get a clear idea of what the situation actually is. What seems like big crisis today will be forgotten in two weeks, and vice versa. Not Lindy.
Books take a much longer time to research, write, and publish. Older books in particular are even better, because they have withstood the ultimate test – Time. As time passes, trendy books that are in truth quite useless or lacking in charm/beauty/humor/utility/wisdom will pass from the top of the bestseller list and end up on the ash heap. Old books are Lindy, and the oldest books are the Lindy-est.
It is said that more information is created in a single day now than was contained in the entire Library of Alexandria. A population of more-or-less literate people means everyone is able to participate in discussion about whatever the Current Thing is, regardless of whether they can contribute anything of worth or genuine insight beyond just pointlessly expelling an opinion into the void. That’s what comments sections are, in many cases. Pointless arguments between people who don’t have anything of substance to offer beyond an opinion or feeling, no wisdom or insight or practical utility.
Think about it.
Arguing with strangers on the internet about issues that you have little to no agency over is akin to Medieval philosophers and theologians arguing about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.
This phenomenon rises in lockstep with the Knower/Thinker psychological type that commonly shows up on Reddit and forums. You know… the type of person who absolutely refuses to execute a plan, or commit to a course of action, until every possible detail is accounted for. If you’ve never met such a person, consider yourself blessed. There are people out there who…
won’t go on holiday without planning every single day’s itinerary down to the minute;
comment on how they would have done X or Y better while watching the CrossFit Games or the Olympics, while never having competed or seriously trained for that sport a day in their life.
Let go of the need to know everything. It is a fool’s errand… having more information is not as helpful as you think. In fact in many situations it’s counterproductive.
Remember when you were lifting weights for the first time - you didn’t have any idea how many reps or sets you “should” do. You didn’t know about linear progression or wave periodization or German Volume Training but you just instinctively tried things out. It was good – it felt right – to pick heavy things up and put ‘em back down. And when the thing felt lighter you progressed to the heavier thing and repeated the process.
Countless athletes and strongmen have attained legendary physiques and feats with little to none of the scientific precision or academic rigor modern “athletes” insist on. They’ll swear up and down that you need to imbibe BCAAs or get 10 hours of sleep or consume 24g of protein within exactly 30 minutes of the workout or that anything over 8 reps is automatically hypertrophy work or that you can’t hit cardio in the same day you’ve lifted weights because “cardio saps your gainz, brahhhhh”. Minutiae, minutiae, minutiae.
Bullshit. All excuses to Talk instead of Do. Get under the weight and Just Fucking Do It.
You’re not going to get it right the first time. That’s the point of progress. And not everything has to be Optimally Optimal all the time. Impossible. Hell, life is more fun + interesting because it is by definition suboptimal and imperfect. Much fun and joie de vivre happens when you wing it and just try things out without a perfect plan. You WILL make mistakes. And then next time you try something different and it works better. That’s called learning.
This doesn’t mean you don’t need a program for training. This doesn’t mean plans are worthless. Far from it – having structure and an overarching strategy is one of the most powerful and life-affirming things you can do for yourself in any area. In the macro: months, years, decades. Strategies and plans compound your gains because after each phase is over you can go back, review, learn from it and apply the lessons.
But in the micro – minutes, hours, days – you don’t need to be saturated with data and opinions. Sometimes you don’t have to know how something works - just that it works. I don’t need to know how electricity works to use it.
Find as much information as you need to get started on something, whether it’s training for your first 10K/Spartan Race/Tough Mudder (I just completed my first Tough Mudder last weekend), starting a lifting routine, learning a new language or skill, beginning a side job.
Don’t nitpick about the minute details. Just start and learn and adapt on the way. You’ll figure it out better when you actually have experience to reflect upon. Start and don’t stop. Just fucking do it.