The Middle-Aged Genius’s Guide to Almost Everything 19 – Your Own Opinions Can Suck Too
October 1, 2018
[Beginning of recorded material]
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, why are people convinced of their own awesomeness?
Rick Rosner: Lance and I argue every week. Lance is super conservative. I am liberal. Lance, often, accuses me of being brainwashed by the liberal media. I got pissed off and listed the reasons why I am hard to brainwash. I understand there are problems with any media that you watch, where you may not be getting a complete picture of the world.
But he does that. He accuses CNN of being a brainwashing medium. I tend to disagree. I think CNN is crappy because of the profit motive and focus grouping. It may have the effect of providing a biased picture, but that is because they have found that is how you make the most money.
I do not like CNN anyway. With the conservative knuckleheads that they put on to piss you off, talking and complaining, I prefer MSNBC, which also leans liberal and doesn’t disguise it. I, certainly, prefer both of those to Fox, which dispenses an endless stream of counterfactual bullshit.
Anyway, I was yelling at Lance how I am not brainwashed. I spent 25 years at the doors of bars trying to catch people lying to me. I have read thousands of books. I try to get a balanced and realistic picture of the world. I manage money for family members.
That means not being a socialist but not being capitalist – and being a hard-eyed opportunist capitalist as soon as a company gets in trouble. I would go ahead and buy into the company without feeling any qualms about the company, where the CEO will jump on you.
A couple times, I went by Scientology to try and let them recruit me. It is an exercise in not being recruited for that crap. I got a smog check. You have to get it checked every two years in California.
Down the street from the smog check was an or is an enormous Church of Scientology, I decided to go in, because I hadn’t been brainwashed in a few years. I watched a video presentation on the life of L. Ron Hubbard. It made me sad.
Because the guy, born in 1911, got out there and did a lot of amazing shit as a young man; if the video is factually accurate, which I kind of think it is in some ways and especially bullshitty in his later life, he was America’s youngest ever Eagle Scout. He commanded a ship during WWII.
He went on foreign expeditions to China and all around the world. He was a pretty impressive guy. It wasn’t until he a pulp writer and pumped out millions of words for pennies a word. Then he developed this bullshit religion.
At that point, he descends into saying whatever the fuck he wants whenever he wants to say it, being a compulsive liar. I was asking myself, “How did this guy turn into this other guy?” This compulsive liar, reminiscent of our president.
What is the mechanism or what are the mechanisms that reinforce this? The major mechanism is getting away with it, being successful. That is true for both Trump and L. Ron Hubbard.
They both ended up accumulating followers and material assets. There is a second thing, which, I think, is being overly convinced of one’s own awesomeness. That you use your history of getting away with stuff to convince yourself of your own greatness.
This is pertinent to me, personally, because if you’re convinced of your competence to reach your own conclusions; that is a self-reinforcing dynamic in a lot of cases, probably something that I have to watch out for because I, at various times of my life, have been highly convinced of my ability to solve tough conceptual problems.
Often, I get negative feedback. I get ideas of my own rather than following a plan that has been successful for hundreds or thousands or millions of people. My plan ends up turning out more shittily than common sense and a more established way of doing things.
It is not nice to do things that suck and that are not great, but it is nice to have the negative reinforcement so that you don’t always feel convinced of your own awesomeness. No matter the times I’ve crashed and burned, or had, at least failure, I do tend to think about stuff.
There are other people in the Mega Society. There’s a guy who is working a documentary and a podcast about various members of the Mega Society. One guy is currently in prison right now, or jail, awaiting trial for running a money and sex cult, Keith Raniere.
He is a Mega guy, a guy who did really well on the Mega Test. He is someone who managed to convinced rich people and celebrity actors that he had figured out the world. He formed a cult where he had a bunch of sex slaves, where they would recruit more sex slaves with him.
He had, in the cult, a number of members of the Seagrams family, who let him manage $100 million of their assets. He rather quickly lost the money. This is a guy who is, probably, overly convinced of his own awesomeness, which is reinforced by his being able to convince these people to give him sex and money.
There is another guy who seems to be trending in that direction according to rumours that I hear. When you have an ability to figure things out, like a good performance on the Mega Test, which has some of the hardest puzzles in the world to figure out, there is a dangerous tendency to become overly convinced of your own expertise in all areas.
As opposed to a more Malcolm Gladwell type of expertise, where your ability to come up with solutions in a particular area might be backed by thousands of hours of study and practice, that is about it.
Jacobsen: What are some other examples of people who came out of the Mega Society with normal backgrounds, with normal-ish, even, backgrounds?
Rosner: There are dozens and dozens of people who have qualified for Mega over the past 30 years. The vast majority of Mega members are decent, non-scamming, non-cultish, non-deluded people who happen to be good at stuff.
There are more people who live normal lives doing normal jobs, or at least not forming cults, than there of the others. But those people are less interesting because they are not nuts. There are probably 30 or 40 of them for every Mega Society member who is a nut.
There are some members of Mega who have been very successful in real-world terms, materially, in terms of going out into the world and excelling in business. There are other people, for whatever reasons, who live nice and regular lives.
They might be slightly improved by their intelligence (their lives). They do fewer things, but fall into fewer traps or pitfalls because they are smart. They might have more stable relationships because they understand and have reasonable expectations for relationships and develop ways to resolve conflict – because they are smart!
But those people do not get documentaries made about them because they are not insane culty people or insane OCD people like me. I talked to a Mega Society member who is one of these successful and normal people.
he was like, “Ugh! Not again, this documentary is being made, again, that is being made on the more freakish members.” But, yes, it is a standard dynamic, when the media look at high-IQ people. It is more fun to focus on the ones who are up to no good or are, at least, weird as hell.
Jacobsen: To clarify, of the people involved in the upcoming or recent documentary, who are extant members? Who are the people still in the Mega Society rather than the people who were in it?
Rosner: I do not know. I am in it, but I have not been active in like 15 years. I think that is how it goes. People qualify, then they’re psyched. It becomes part of their background.
There are a number of sayings; somebody who went to Harvard will manage to let it be known that they went to Harvard within the first five minutes of meeting them.
Rosner: To some extent, there’s a little bit of that with Mega, where if you’re smart enough to be in Mega then bragging about your IQ will not get you points with anybody.
But at the same time, if there is a subtle way at some point to let people know that you’ve got this massive IQ, you will let it be known. It is part of somebody’s background. It is not part of somebody’s foreground.
Jacobsen: What do you recommend for profoundly or exceptionally gifted people in terms of coming to terms with the world?
Rosner: Back up your talent with expertise and experience, if you do not want to fall into the trap of being convinced of your own awesomeness and coming to bad conclusions because you think everything you think is awesome, then have some skepticism about your ability to problem solve based on little information.
If you are going to problem solve, then become familiar with the general dimensions of what other people have tried to do, accumulate information and do not go with your first idea.
I mean, it is always a good idea, when you’re trying to problem solve, to not just come up with one idea and then just go with it. It is important to write down your first, second, and third idea, and then the fourteenth idea, and then poke at the best two of them.
That is how you do the best TV and movie writing. You look at every line and every situation and ask, “Is this the best possible way or the most entertaining way, the most insightful way to resolve or present this situation? Is this cliched?”
If you watch a lot of Netflix, which I do, a lot of the movies on Netflix were acquired for cheap because they aren’t that great and didn’t do that well. But it is a workshop in movies that could’ve done better if people sat down and did a rewrite or two – or did a table read.
They could take the cliche situations. One of the ones I hate the most. Someone in the movie sees their future love interest and is so distracted that they trip. When this happened in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I walked out of it. Because it already was bothering me, then they had this huge cliche pratfall, when Nia Vardalos sees the guy she is going to fall in love with the first time.
She has a pair of headphones on. She is distracted by the beauty of this guy. She takes some steps and then falls back as the headphones pull back on her head. I mean, come on! People love pratfalls.
But I get annoyed because I have seen that pratfall 500 times. It wasn’t the worst pratfall. It was a little original, in that, it was a little walking without walking into a wall cliche but it was still annoyingly cliched.
The way of avoiding a lot of bad thinking is by being skeptical of your own thinking, and by searching out information and looking at other people’s perspectives. A lot of the time you are rewarded by seeing other people’s views do, indeed, suck, but it helps you reinforce your own stuff.
It is possible to do good, original thinking, but your odds of doing good and original thinking go up if you approach it with less than 100% acceptance of your awesomeness.
[End of recorded material]
American Television Writer
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing
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