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Against Admirable Activities
Christians often say, "Love the sinner but hate the sin." I say, "Love the signaler but hate the signal." We all want to be respected, by ourselves and others, or at least not despised or ignored. So we fill our lives with activities that could get us more admired, such as pursuing our career, practicing our art or sport, tending our beauty, developing our style, being loyal to our friends and family, caring for the downtrodden, becoming more informed about current events, and so on.
These admirable activities help us to develop and show our admirable qualities. But since admiration is in part relative, my looking more admirable comes in part at the expense of others looking less admirable. So there is in part an arms race quality to admirable activities, which suggests we do too much of them from a global point of view.
Unfortunately, our minds were not built from a global point of view. We are instead built to admire admirable activities, in addition to admiring the people who do them. We admire drawing, singing, sporting, writing, joking, helping, and so on, and we support policies that encourage these activities. We like our families, churches, clubs, companies, cities, and nations to subsidize such activities. Parents push their kids toward more admirable activities, such as music over video games. And nations subsidize science, sport, and arts that will impress other nations.
This support urge can make evolutionary sense. A group that coordinates to help its most noticed members look more admirable may be more admired as a group, to the benefit of all group members. But at a global level we all suffer from admiring admirable activities, much like trees suffer by working to grow tall enough to see the sun past other trees.
Yes, the optimal level of admirable activities may usually be above zero, and yes other considerations may suggest we do too little of some activities. But we are too eager to believe such considerations exist. For example, many will tell you that we should subsidize art because it promotes peace or innovation. Overall, we try too hard at admirable activities, relative to just enjoying the less-admirable pleasures of life, and we are biased to neglect this problem. For humanity’s sake, please, take five, and chill.