What are principles good for?

They are lenses through which we see the world.

Imagine a world without principles.

In almost all cultures, the foundation of social organization rests on a set of basic rules: no murder, no stealing, no lying, etc. Without these golden rules, daily life would be impossible.

When humans lived in groups, villages and small towns, the rules were essentially self-reinforcing. In high-density environments, a perverse incentive emerges: when everyone follows the rules, the few who break them can often reap and keep ill-gotten gains due to the relative anonymity and cover afforded by cities, the Internet, etc.

We have to keep this in mind every time we encounter information. I’ve seen so many polls where people state they have trouble figuring out what is true and what is false. And in the fog of the disinformation, we have a declaration from New York Times that No One Believes Anything, that “Paying attention to the impeachment inquiry and other developments means having to figure out what is true, false or spin. Many Americans are throwing up their hands and tuning it all out.”

Well, let me say that the price to keep our way of life depends on people being able to distinguish between fact and fiction. Or as people in my business like to say, “You either blind ‘em with brilliance or baffle ‘em with bullshit.” I’m afraid we are now up to our eyeballs in the latter, but it is our duty to wade through it. All of it.

A Starting Point

Which brings us to this.*

*Before coming across substack, I experimented on Reddit, Tumblr and Twitter, so please accept my apologies for re-upping a few of the articles. I tried importing them to substack using the RSS method, but the results were not 100%.

I’m not a big movie-goer, but between the insane blitz from Avengers Endgame and his political engagement on Twitter, actor Chris Evans began popping up in my news feeds. Last time I checked, 10 percent of the people I follow on Twitter, follow him.

He is working on A Starting Point (”ASP”), a project with Mark Kassen and Joe Kiani. In September, it was announced that Kassen’s company had acquired Vantrix Technology Corporation, a Canadian company that pushes mobile video to the masses.

From what little information is available, ASP will air points of view from Democratic and Republican congresspeople and senators on various issues in hopes of reaching voters that want the information. It is a project with noble intentions.

The Both Sides Argument

By definition, Evans is reinforcing the idea that there are two sides to any given issue.

The problems are myriad. For starters, these are the views of members of two political parties. Other views are excluded. “Both sides” seems like an extension of the old Fox News “fair and balanced” mantra (which they finally dropped in 2017), where they insisted on presenting an opposing view to every interview.

Let’s do a small thought experiment. If there is a story from the space station, for example, should a paragraph that the earth might be flat be included for the sake of presenting “both sides?” And after reading the story, do people throw their hands up and say, “Oh my, I don’t know who to believe! They might be doing the space walk in front of a green screen on a movie set! There’s no way for me to confirm the earth is round because I am not a rocket scientist. Maybe the earth is really flat.”

Heaven help us. Now imagine this multiplied millions of times over Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. About things that matter. This is why I keep pounding on the observation of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises who saw it as a battle for ideas:

Facts per se can neither prove nor refute anything. Everything is decided by the interpretation and explanation of the facts, by the ideas and the theories. 

Foundational Principles

Forget about “fair and balanced,” and unlike Chris Evan’s ASP, there shall be no “both sides” here.

The ideas and the theories referred to by von Mises come from somewhere. When we dig a little deeper, it turns out that they rest on a set of PRINCIPLES, one that took shape over time as to what is right, what is wrong and what is just, in the collective mind of human civilization.

What we need to acknowledge is that fact that the world we live in is one of urban information warfare. In each war, there will be winners and losers. Just like my day job doing stock market stuff, those who perceive reality most accurately tend to be the same ones that manage to navigate the twists and turns. They rely on a solid mental framework to process information and to make decisions. This of course, rests on principles.