When should I give advice? What is it? Advice is inscructable. I don’t fully know what advice is and what it’s position in society it holds. It’s probably super hard to understand. I don’t mean guides, how-to-bake a muffin, more like life advice such as “fake it till you make it” or “be confident”. Guides have their fair share of problems too, but advice is the weird thing I want to look at today. Advice is inscrubatable on the surface. How many cliche pieces of advice have you dismissed in your life on the ground of “just being a thing that people say”. I have dismissed alot, though looking back, what was really happening was that I happened to be so desensitized to people saying it that it’s meaning never clicked.
There is a great subsection in the half finished novel called The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. This subsection concerns the rambling (very sane, just rambling) recollections from a character named Chris Fogle that comes towards the climax of his pseudo-religious revelation that leads to calling to be employed in the IRS. He also at somepoint remarks
“But I remember once, during an afternoon on which he’d paid me to help him with some light yard work, asking my father why he never seemed to dispense direct advice about life the way my friends’ fathers did. At the time, his failure to give advice seemed to me to be evidence that he was either unusually taciturn and repressed, or else that he just didn’t care enough. In hindsight, I now realize that the reason was not the former and never the second, but rather that my father was, in his own particular way, somewhat wise, at least about certain things. In this instance, he was wise enough to be suspicious of his own desire to seem wise, and to refuse to indulge it—this could make him seem aloof and uncaring, but what he really was was disciplined. He was an adult; he had himself firmly in hand. This remains largely theory, but my best guess as to his never dispensing wisdom like other dads is that my father understood that advice—even wise advice—actually does nothing for the advisee, changes nothing inside, and can actually cause confusion when the advisee is made to feel the wide gap between the comparative simplicity of the advice and the totally muddled complication of his own situation and path. I’m not putting this very well. If you begin to get the idea that other people can actually live by the clear, simple principles of good advice, it can make you feel even worse about your own inabilities. It can cause selfpity, which I think my father recognized as the great enemy of life and contributor to nihilism. Although it’s not as though he and I talked about it in any depth—that would have been too much like advice”.
He remarks on something his father did not tell him, but he just sort of figured. The reason his father did not tell him is because that would be against the very point it. Is Chris Fogle giving us advice? This is probably an example of the author’s favorite sort of contradiction, the double bind. Or maybe it’s not an example of this because what Chris Fogle is saying is not advice, or is it? We really can’t tell. Fogle is mostly just blurting things at us, which a character latter in the book calls “irrelevant”. So it’s not advice. Yet there is another question of whether, or not the author of the book wants to give us advice. We cannot know here, because of how the author unfortunately committed suicide before this book was finished being written. So Chris Fogle is probably not giving advice, but the author may be, but still possibly could not be. Chris Fogle could also be? Did we get anywhere by this? I think actually, but I’ll get to that later.
So the idea is that giving advice is bad, because it’s simple and hard to follow, but you can’t say that because that’s giving advice. Ok so the way I want to approach this problem is by talking about the question is it even possible to use advice. Basically what I want to say is that advice is mostly helpful long after it is given. Advice is a double bind, it is very complex and yet impossibly naively simple. Most times that I have found advice to be useful is when I realize something years after hearing for the first time. This is always a eureka moment, a liberating shock. Advice is most useless as rule that you just have to follow from above. Life Advice for me rarely works in the moment, always in continual recollection and reflection. Advice works like actively connecting all the dots in creative patterns, not just blindly following certain rules.
If I walked up to you, and told you “fake it till you make it”, or “where there’s a will there’s a way” you would think I was being a pretentious. You would be probably correct, but there could still be truth to these statements . You could probably quickly and swiftly point out how these advice were each independently contradictory. For example “I want to instantly become a very wise person” does mean I get to be a wise person instantly. This to me is missing the point. “Where there is a will there is a way” is maybe more about the way than the will. One would also probably not know the way, so it probably won’t happen soon if at all. The advice is only helpful in highly specific situations. It is helpful as a process of understanding things. You don’t need it. Its just useful for understanding what things may have happened to you and what may happen. Though it’s also a very personal understanding. The reason I would be pretentious if I tried to tell you the advice is because then I would be foolishly overcoding my own understanding over someone else’s understanding of the world using statements that exist out of context of the understanding. This context is a big theme is the subsection concerning Chris Fogle. He is rambling so much, because he need to provide context. A certain type of story-of-my-life style context is important for using pieces of advice.
The hard parts for me with advice are somethings I call mentally by the nick names “the wall of action” and the “the wall of understanding. This wall of action is the difference between being able to act inside of advice fluently, and to just try to anxiously follow it. Often when advice first appears meaningful, I might push my self too hard to act on it even though I have not become practiced enough in following the advice. This is very stressful sometimes, and can hinder advice following, but I am past the first step without realizing. The first wall is understanding, which is more like of basic understanding. It’s like knowing the grammar and vocabulary of a language, but not being able to have a smooth conversation. Once you connect the dots with the advice I am past the first wall. I know what you want, but just can’t maybe follow the advice well. I feel free, but have entered myself into a more tight cage soon after. The wall of action is the hardest part, it is purely technical in some ways. It is the point were generating effort becomes effortless. There is no guide, only action. Or maybe there is a guide that I just have no idea. This seems unlikely, I just have no idea.
Now I need a better example that works well outside of it’s context. My example will be a list of 30 rules on writing from Jack Kerouac. It is actually 30 rules on how to make good prose. It’s called by him “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose*. Most lists online which put it up call it some thing like “Kerouac’s 30 rules for writing” or “cool essentials for writing spontaneous prose”. Kerouac is of course famous for his improvised semi-stream of consciousness style and his alcohol and drug use. This list of rules is short and somewhat amusing. Go read it, or listen to it in the form I initially encountered it in.
Woah? Right. These rules are bonkers, not necessarily in a good, or bad, or neither way. They are half useless and half unintelligible, on first glance. Most of them have nothing to do with writing on first glance. Yet on the second and third glance they seem meaningful. Why should a writer not get drunk outside their own home? How does this effect prose? These are fine things to point out about this list initially looks. This list is actually deeper than it looks if you initially though it was pretentiously shallow, and it’s shallower if you thought it was super deep, or mind blowing. Look the drunk thing. This is rule 3. You will have just read rules one and two, Kerouac likely wrote them one after another. These actually form a train of thought. See he wants you to write secret notebooks. He wants you to listen to everything. Those connect because how else will you remember what your listening too. So he is saying don’t get drunk outside your home, because how else will you hear the secrets to fill your notebooks with. To some people they might have picked this all up immediately upon reading the list and that I was pointing out the obvious, but others might have thought that this was a strange unnatural connection for me to make, and that I was projecting back into it my own ideas. I want these two groups to become friends. Not all of these rules are close to valid, or understandable. I do not know much about the author Marcel Proust, or what it means to be an “old teahead of time”. They are a part of Keroauc’s mental map of the world, they maybe great advice to him, but horrible advice to many other people who have no idea what a “dumbsaint” is. The listicle that states that these are essentials are the real issue I think. There are people in the world who have read these rules and let these rules control them, because maybe they heard that Kerouac was a famous writer.
So I want to use these concepts that I have developed to talk about ethics. This is just the first step though. Though I need to think about this more, because it is basically rooted in a issue I have with the famous ethical question the trolley problem. In general you will never directly face the literal trolley problem. It’s a somewhat misleading and stressful question. Even if you have an answer in the abstract, you still have to hesitate if the problem were to actually arises. Also it’s not even a strict test of ultilatarianism versus deontology, as it is often presented as being. Imagine the one person on the track is super important and will save thousands. Imagine the five people are all horrible. Most people who subscribe to ethical theories will also concede exceptions to their given theory. A deontologist when surprised with the lying to Nazis to save News scenario may contradict themselves, and a utilitarian when asked if they would brutally rape someone to save two might say no. The cultural sensitivity around certain topic makes black and white, ultilatarian versus deontologist positions either impossible, or merely true as rules of thumb. This connects to advice, because generally advice is accepted as in the form of rule of thumb. Though this can often demean advice, and make the advice fail because there can be to many exceptions built up. If advice, or ethics is taken to be absolute law of reality then it becomes impossible, contradictory, and stressful as previously talked about.
Advice is in some respects then a sister of ethics. Advice tends to be conductive to virtue, but not essential itself. Like what the German philosopher Imanuel Kant thought about pets. He believed that being nice to animals was not strictly morally necessary, but that it was a sign that someone was going to break real human ethical law if they abused animals. Though I also think that it’s maybe different from this, because he also abscribes no in-itself value at all to not hurting animals. I would likely ascribe some, but not as much. Kant only allows yes/no in itself values, all other values are end based. Why can’t value have ends and be in-itself real value. I think allowing varying levels of both varieties of value in an ethical action is nessarily for a nuanced conception of it. So I guess I think that the word advice has the connotation of lesser value than ethics. So advice maybe fits onto a spectrum of possible ethical value. The real hard part is navigating the difficulties of particularly situations and particular exceptions to the rule. This navigating requires experience, and seems to not be fully prefectable as is common sense. Common sense has a great deal to do with it. This always seems to trouble me, because I on a personal level think that commons sense is a fairly dogmatic idea. Yet on a practical level I think that we are always seeped in common sense anyways, and that the reasons why you should do a specific thing can be less important than the need for action at all. This is because common sense needs some level of dogmatic acceptance to follow it, but this acceptance has greater rewards than uncompromisingly useless strict forms anti-dogmatism. I still feel unresolved about most of my questions about advice.