ALS Topic 44 - What is smart & what is crazy? Part 1: Individuals

Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, ALS 44
Saturday, September 28, 2019 11 am to 1:30 PM (end time flexible)

Venue: The Rose - 31 East Terrace, Adelaide SA 5000 (Upstairs. Please buy a drink or something))

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.

Focus Questions

1. You are likely to spend the last half of your life - up to 50 years - "retired" whether you want that or not. Is this smart or crazy? What are you going to do about this? Be real.

2. If you get a tertiary education (university etc), your actual career if you have one is likely to last no more than 20 to 25 years. Is this smart or crazy? What can be done about this? Be real.

3. Between about 15 and 25 y.o. a large proportion of people, especially men, think they are immortal but work hard to destroy their brains and destroy other people, with alcohol, drugs and violence. After about 50 they try to cling to any remaining life with prescribed drugs and (sometimes) feeble attempts at exercise. Are these patterns smart or crazy? Have you noticed any cultural change with this, or will it go on forever?

4. People go to school, and then tertiary institutions to get an education - they say. So what is an education? Mostly they say it is to get a job, but most of the education doesn't teach them a job. At best they learn a few procedures and get a diploma. Not many people are actually interested in exploring new ideas. Why not? Is this whole setup smart or crazy? Why are 'education' systems so corrupt?

5. Each culture teaches its members to judge other people in certain ways. In some places you might have to show religious belief, or pretend to political beliefs. In some, different age groups might be expected to wear 'fashionable' clothes. In some, you might be judged according to skin colour. In some (many!) you will be judged on how much money you have. Often such judgements can ruin people's lives, or promote them. Is this smart or crazy? How do you judge other people?

6. In most cultures it is inconvenient to meet and interact with other people socially outside of venues for eating and drinking (especially alcohol). The venues for eating & drinking are run for profit, not health. Over a couple of decades of socializing in venues for eating & drinking, together with the personal laziness & indiscipline of people, this undermines the health of a large part of the population. Is this crazy or smart? Can you think of any attractive alternative to this pattern?

7. Up until very recently, real societies (regardless of political boundaries) were fairly small bands or tribes trying to prevent their own extinction. They established strict cultural rules, often backed by religion, to promote the birth and raising of children in stable conditions. This included a strong obligation to marry, and social rules to govern the marriage relationship. Now the world is overpopulated with humans. Huge numbers of people move frequently, or even emigrate. 30% of a lifetime is taken up with education, 20% of a life (for many) is spent in unstable careers, after mid-life many people are unable to find work. Is this smart or crazy? How do you think traditions like marriage might or should change to handle these new social realities?

8. The idea of what 'mental illness' is varies greatly. Sometimes culture or religion or even politics defines it. Young people are known to suffer more mental illness than old people. Some mental problems are permanent, some temporary. Where more professionals and drug companies make a living from treating it, the apparent incidence of mental illness rises (e.g. USA). A common statistic is that 1 person in 5 suffers a form of mental illness in any given year (including in Australia). Treatments for mental ill-health worldwide are often primitive, sometimes brutal, can mean social isolation, and often involve powerful drugs. Is this smart or crazy? What is the best way for us, personally, to manage relationships with people who seem mentally unstable in some way?

9. The people who run large, successful organizations typically work extremely long hours, and live very, very disciplined lives. For example, they will rarely waste time with TV or social media. Most of them are men. They expect other career-minded people in their organizations to live in the same way. Is this smart or crazy? Do you think it is actually possible to run complex organizations without living like this?

10. Australians have some of the highest personal debt in the world and low savings. Big debts include mortgages, education bills, cars, sometimes medical bills. Smaller but continuing debts can include credit cards, phone & Internet subscriptions, costs of house ownership or rent, overseas holidays and so on. Australia's total personal debt is around $2 trillion and the average Australian household owes $250,000 (@ 2016:  ). Is this smart or crazy? What is the best way to manage personal debt?


Extra Links and Reading

Marnie Vinall (11 September 2019) "Privilege is the hidden ingredient for success that we don't talk about enough" ABC @ (2019) "Australians’ household debt nears highest worldwide" @
Killian Fox and Joanne O'Connor (29 Nov 2015) "Five ways work will change in the future". The Guardian @
Mark Manson (April 27, 2017) "The Surprising Benefits of Being (Slightly) Crazy - Everyone's mind is different and we all display a few traits that could fall under the definition of one or more mental disorder. But they're what make us unique not what slow us down". Pocket @
Royce Kurmelovs (15 Sep 2019) "The nightmare of Australia's welfare system: 'At the push of a button, my working life was erased'" Guardian @
[Quote: "Earlier this year a scathing Senate report said the Jobactive scheme – the government’s employment service – had unleashed a “bureaucratic nightmare” on jobseekers. Welfare groups said out-of-work Australians were “suffering” under the Coalition’s $7.3bn program, which has its roots in the Howard government’s outsourcing of employment services in 1998. Since then the system has grown and evolved into a network of 1,700 providers across Australia, with companies competing for public money and the right to triage some 750,000 unemployed people on Newstart into a series of government schemes with questionable outcomes such as Work for the Dole, ParentsNext and the PaTh Program". Centrelink also deals with pensioners incompetently]

[Thor, comment: Smart or Crazy? Centrelink is one of several people-interface Australian government departments which have been driven into steep decline bordering on corruption by political ideologues. Immigration is another one. What happens is that people in these departments who are competent and have some humanity leave in despair or are forced out. Morale sinks to rock bottom and members of the public who have to deal with the departments often have their lives ruined or, to survive, resort to dishonest tactics themselves].

Luke Henriques-Gomes (15 September 2019) "ParentsNext: 80% of recipients who had payments suspended not at fault, data shows". The Guardian @

El Gibbs (19 September 2019) "Disability royal commission begins today, a long overdue reckoning into the violence against us" ABC @ [Quote: " - People with intellectual disability are 10 times more likely to experience violence than people without disability,

- People with intellectual disability are three times more likely to be victims of assault, sexual assault and robbery compared with people who do not have an intellectual disability

- 20 per cent of women with a disability report a history of unwanted sex compared with 8.2 per cent of women without disability".]

Thor May (2014) "Multicultures – communities of familiar strangers". The Passionate Skeptic website @

[Quote: "I have been a dockyard labourer and an office clerk, a university lecturer, a high school teacher, a salesman, an airport dispatch officer, a writer, an editor, a taxi driver, a poet, a researcher and heaven knows what between (nor in that order). I have been a customer and a reveller, a hospital patient and a consultant … and so it goes on. I have been a rich foreigner in poor countries and the despair of banks in my hometown. When a stranger asks “what do you do”, as he fishes for the right stereotype to pin on my chest as a mark of admiration or secret contempt, I am at a loss to answer. That is, I am a man of my age, a chameleon creature accustomed to slipping amongst a kaleidoscope of roles. This plurality of role plays does not mean that I am "values free". I have values, but they are not a tribal collection like "watches cricket" (actually I dislike cricket..), or "barracks for the national flag, right or wrong". My values are more in the nature of boundary markers on behaviour that I look for in myself and those I meet. I don't care if you wear a hijab or burn incense in a Buddhist temple. I do care for a marker such as "above all, do no harm" - not always achievable perhaps, but at least a navigation beacon."

Thor May (2014) "The Purpose of Education - a hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy? ... Is education most commonly treated purely as an instrumental tool (e.g. to get a job), or as a path to self-development, or both? How can a balance between objectives be achieved in public education?" The Passionate Skeptic website @

Thor May (2012) "The Contest for Competence " The Passionate Skeptic website @

[Quote: Most people doing most things are marginally competent at best, and this is in every area of human activity, taken in its aggregate. Any given individual may be good at one thing - cooking, music, his job, whatever - but the aggregate of people doing any of those activities will be indifferently capable. In fact, a significant number will be seriously incapable, and they may do damage out of proportion to their numbers. There will be a small number who are brilliant at this particular thing. ... The contest between societies and groups, ancient or modern, is not about 'capitalism' and 'communism', or all the other '~isms' . It is about the struggle to capture the scarce carriers of competence. They may be bought by cash or prestige. They may be kidnapped by civil powers or by organized crime. They may be lured into a closed system such as both classical and modern Chinese officialdom (i.e. as mandarins, in that case by examinations), and thereafter kept in a cage to service some elite. There are a myriad of other traps and lures to have the competent do what others lack the wherewithal to manage."]

Tim Urban (September 18, 2019) "Chapter 6: The American Brain" Waitbutwhy website @

[Thor, comment: This is brilliant. Highly recommended. It is one of the best descriptions and explanations I've seen of how the marketplace of ideas & morality evolves over time. A couple of examples from the text of changes in public 'wisdom':

a) In the 1880s Americans smoked 50 cigarettes per year per capita. By the mid 1940s it was 2000 cigarettes per year per capita. It was seen as a harmless habit. In 1954 47% of the population and half of all doctors smoked. By 2017, after a long struggle, that was down to 14% smoking.

b) Interracial marriage: In 1959 (when I was in 3rd year high school) 96% of Americans thought interracial marriage was immoral. By 2013 only 14% of Americans thought that. ... so when you hear the shrieks on social media, stand back a little and be patient ...]

Nils Adler (25 Sep 2019) "People, heal thyselves: Nigeria's new mental illness approach - With 200m people but only 150 psychologists working in the mental health space, Nigeria needed a new idea. So Victor Ugo started something" The Guardian @

Thor May (2014) "So we had a few failures. Was that the end of university?" The Passionate Skeptic website @ 

Thor May (2014) "The Problem of Work and the Rise of the Precariat" The Passionate Skeptic website @

[Quote: "Work, as a life experience, has evolved greatly over historical time. For most ordinary people, their job is not something that they enjoy much. However, without formal work many lose focus, may become dependent on welfare, and certainly become socially stigmatized. It seems that increasing numbers of people will never be able to have secure employment. They have joined a new social class now called the precariat. What are the consequences of that? How have we reached this point? What is a practical, long term solution to “the problem of work” for ordinary people?"]

Jan Owen (24 November 2019) "Our careers education is flawed: we need to think about skills not jobs - New report finds 60% of students studying for jobs that will be altered or could vanish in next decade due to automation" The Guardian @ 

Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


What is smart & what is crazy? Part 1: Individuals (c) Thor May 2019 return to Ddiscussion