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Everybody Wants To Rule The World!

Uh, no. Not that kind of rule. More like the Tears For Fears song (, but not quite that either.

The world runs on rules, from grammar rules that all too few people take seriously any more, to rules of games, rules associated with laws and regulations, rules of professional conduct, and so on. Then come the endless lists of “rules” for how to live your life. And, of course, every list has a different number of rules, and a different focus on what is important. “16 Simple Rules” for this, “10 Essential Rules” for that, “40 Rules” for another thing.

And then you have lists for cats, dogs, healthy eating, weight management, sports, and endless others, including CGP Grey’s video: “The Rules for Rulers” (, which is very good.

What can we do? How many rules should we follow? How can we make sense out of the endless lists?

I just looked up the “KISS rule”, thinking that I would base my set of rules on another rule (which would have amused me), but instead found links to the “KISS principle” instead ( Even better!

KISS is an acronym for “keep it simple stupid”, and was apparently coined by a lead engineer at Lockheed in the 1960’s. However novel this expression of it is, though, it is not a new concept. Earlier expressions include Occam’s Razor (, and appear to stretch back at least to Aristotle.

I also found a great quote, attributed to the author and cartoonist Ashleigh Brilliant ( I didn’t recognize the name, but some of his cartoons seemed familiar...

"Life is the only game in which the object of the game is to learn the rules."

So, avoiding the rabbit-hole of philosophical meditations on simplicity and the meaning of life, where does that leave us?

For me, it comes down to three “rules”, which I think are simple in theory, though rather complicated in practice.

Rule One: “Don’t be a jerk”

Endless variations on this, and even whole communities devoted to it (eg, the SubReddit /r/AmItheAsshole). It all boils down to the so-called “Golden Rule” (, which has parallels in most cultures.

I find that one of the simplest ways to test something is to switch it around, which sometimes uncovers hypocrisy.

The Satanic Temple ( has used this principle a number of times, usually to highlight the need for separation between church and state. The group uses Satanic imagery as a metaphor to promote pragmatism and skepticism. One example of this is the use of the sculpture “Statue of Baphomet” ( to expose the true motives of those claiming “religious freedom”, while actually promoting the views of one religious group over others.

When considering rules proposed by one group, think of them as being proposed by another group and whether your opinion would change. Taking another religious example, if you consider it prayer in public schools to be acceptable, would you still consider it acceptable for the prayers to be from a religion different from yours?

If you are courteous and honest, you’re 90% of the way there.

Rule Two: “Just keep swimming”

I’ve mentioned this one before, and usually refer to it as the “Wisdom of Dory” ( It boils down to perseverance and having a positive attitude. By this, I don’t mean the “Power of Positive Thinking” ( or it’s successors in the “self-help” industry (which I think causes more problems than it solves – perhaps a topic for later posts...), but rather the idea that each decision point is a new opportunity to make things better.

Learn from the past, but don’t obsess over it. In most situations, we can make decisions that make things better, make them worse, or stay the course. If we can simply increase the number of “good” decisions and reduce the number of “bad” decisions, we can hardly avoid improving things over time.

The idea that our lives are made or broken based on single decisions is very common. But consider that those decisions are usually based on innumerable other decisions that lead you to a particular point in your life. You can’t necessarily know how you will react in a given situation, but you can usually do something to improve your odds over time.

Take a course, read a book, go for a walk, drink more water – whatever it is, if you can nudge your life in small ways, the big things often take care of themselves. In fact, that’s part of what I am doing at this particular moment! The whole idea of this blog was to learn a bit, write a bit, and see if I can make the world a tiny bit better. I try to keep Rule One in mind at all times, to keep the chance of offending people to a minimum, and try to keep Rule Two in mind, so that I can adjust my approach as needed, and apologize if necessary. If anyone finds anything positive in what I have to say, I consider that a wonderful bonus.

Rule Three: Authority = Responsibility

The wording of this one is a bit less pithy than the others, but I consider it a vital component in how we all live our lives. I think I first encountered this idea in the book Starship Troopers (, which I found very thought-provoking and interesting. I have re-read it a number of times over the years, and still get a lot out of it. The novel includes discussions of the nature of war, the meaning of citizenship, and a lot of fascinating future technology. (Please do NOT start me on the movie of the same name. Other than the title and the names of some characters, it has almost nothing to do with the book – to the extent that I found it painful to watch. And, on top of everything else, no armoured battle-suits!! Seriously?!)

With regard to authority vs responsibility, my father provided an excellent role-model, but Starship Troopers was my first exposure to quotes about it. That said, the Heinlein quote that best describes it was from the character Lazarus Long (

“Any government will work if authority and responsibility are equal and coordinate. This does not insure “good” government, it simply insures that it will work. But such governments are rare — most people want to run things, but want no part of the blame. This used to be called the “backseat driver” syndrome.”

Responsibility without authority leads to people being blamed and punished for things they have no control over, which is idiocy. On the other hand, authority without responsibility leads to – well, look around at the current political situation in many countries.

On the personal level, we can influence this balance to some degree. If we are being held responsible for things outside our control, we can at least attempt to take on the co-ordinate authority – it’s not easy, but it can be done in some situations.

If we’re given authority without external responsibility, all we have is our personal sense of responsibility to keep use from abusing that authority. We see far too many examples of this abuse, but there are exceptions. Another Heinlein quote ( illustrates this challenge quite well:

“I have known many heroes and some were such oafs that one would feed them at the back door if their deeds did not claim a place at the table. I have known few men who were noble, for nobility is scarcer far than heroism. But true nobility can always be recognized...noblesse oblige is an emotion felt only by those who are noble.”

This is a hard one, but if we can avoid being a jerk (Rule One), just keep swimming (Rule Two), and insist on balancing authority and responsibility both for ourselves and our elected officials (Rule Three), I think we have a chance.



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