What follows is a not-entirely-serious observation which is intended to revisit and perhaps expand slightly on a previous commentary. However, as I approached the end of writing it, I realised that there was an element of “alchemy” in the analogy I was using: from lead to gold, and how we can get there.


Many of the points discussed here have been discussed previously; however, they are repeated here because of the context.


“Silence is a lesson learned from the many sufferings of life.” - Seneca


As you probably know (if you come here regularly), this year, I have been trying to follow Ryan Holiday’s “Daily Stoic Journal” [1] as well the accompanying “The Daily Stoic”, and his prompt for August 5th is: “Can you hold your tongue today?

When we read the expression “hold your tongue”, recall that in daily use, we are much more likely to hear this as an imperative than as a request. The meaning of the question, therefore, is different - it is about our ability (the meaning of the verb can) to refrain from making comments when we receive an external stimulus; essentially, I would suggest, because:

1: modern society seems to mandate commentary about every single little thing, and clearly this is actually a kind of surrogate mind control - rather than putting out an endless stream of garbage propaganda, the media (and therefore your controllers) simply make the suggestion and allow people to brainwash themselves by repetition: “A lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”

2: this is a brilliant, cheap tactic, and unfortunately it is very effective; people feel an entitlement to speak, often on the basis of little information, because of their automatic assumption of “authority” on the part of the originator, which absolves their requirement to research things for themselves and find out what the real “truth” is. This is tantamount to suggesting that by accepting the word of the assumed “authority figure”, the commentards are engaging in a state of “blissful ignorance” which is corrosive, but for the consequences of which they are unwilling or unable to accept any responsibility. This situation is inherently self-reinforcing.

3: it is also narcissistic in the sense that encouraging the ignorant to give their opinions, perhaps without thinking but in rapid response to a conditioned stimulus, makes the speakers think that their opinions are important, when in fact it is simply repetition assisting indoctrination. By repeating the official narrative and receiving approbation from peers and seniors, people receive positive feedback, but their thinking is empty and irresponsible...

4: ... and this is why they elect their so-called “leaders”: in reality, they want someone else to function as a combination of leader, parent and responsible authority, someone else who accepts responsibility for the consequences of possibly disastrous decisions at the political level; truly a pernicious form of social symbiosis. It is an immature mindset; what they are seeking is a substitute parental figure.

Having realised this, personally, I find myself much in agreement with Turd Flinging Monkey when he says that the problem is democracy itself, because as the Western liberal democracies have “progressed”, they have awarded enfranchisement (voting rights) to more and more people who simply vote for their own interests rather than that of the country as a whole, increasingly (nowadays) including the ridiculous proposition that non-citizens should be entitled to vote, eventually making opposition numerically impossible.

As a side comment at this point, as previously, we might take a look at the “democratic” situation as it stood in the early United States. As it appears from input from the Internet, enfranchised individuals were those who had sufficient property and wealth, rather than the Great Unwashed of the streets, who were not enfranchised. Why?

It’s simple: street people with nothing will see that the wealthy have land and property, which they in fact acquired through contracts and deals, releasing some of their wealth to pay for it. This is really no different to shopping on the local High Street; it’s just a question of (financial) scale. Unfortunately, the effect of enfranchising the non-wealthy (note that I do not say “the poor”; many of the “non-wealthy” are not actually “poor” but simply think that they are getting a worse deal than others), in the long term, is corrosive, because it allows political representation to people who may be lazy, stupid, envious and greedy; they look at more affluent members of society and realise that by voting for the “right” representatives, eventually they would be able to get their hands on the money and property of the wealthy, which they were previously unable to achieve for themselves due to laziness. This is precisely the situation we have been in for quite some time now.

The original intention (as I understand it) was to prevent people with “no skin in the game” causing the kinds of economic instabilities which seem to have become so prevalent in the twentieth century. The ultimate result of increasing enfranchisement has not been wealth for all; instead, what has arisen is the Welfare State and a destroyed nuclear family, paradoxically financed by taxation paid by those who are being damaged. I do not need to restate here a list of the disadvantages of this, except to remind my reader that the Welfare State supports too many unproductive, lazy people. These people will habitually react towards non-conforming opinions in a tribal fashion; “thinking” hardly seems to be involved, and they are thus easily manipulated by those seeking power, who also become enriched in the process.

Now, without reasonable regulation, concentration of wealth in the hands of a minority in society may be pernicious in itself, but the real point here, perhaps, is that despite how you began your life, you can make a series of decisions and improve your situation. The problem is perhaps not “the wealthy” so much as the fact that “the non-wealthy”, when confronted with life-changing decisions, consistently choose the road of least resistance because they are unable to see beyond difficulties and thus choose appropriate solutions. Electing panderers who see profit and a political career in giving a certain group (or groups) of electors the things that make them happy as a reward for being placed in a position of power makes opting for that road much easier; and so we end up with a downward spiral. If people like these represent our potential “advisers”, we should perhaps consider how valuable a lot of the “advice” we receive actually is.

However, our topic today is really about whether we should make comments when stimulated, and indeed, sometimes this is necessary. The real question is whether it should be a habit to make public comments when something unexpected or unacceptable happens, and the real answer is: “Usually not.”

The first reason might be (from the foregoing) that the reaction to what we say may not be a good one. One-dimensional virtue signallers, in particular, want to be seen as conforming to the thinking of their peers (from whom they want approval and validation) and will react immediately, irrespective of whether that reaction even makes any sense; they are “triggered”.

A second reason, however, and probably more important, is that, in fact, excessive unrequited commentary devalues what is said; which is to suggest that what we say may not be valued particularly highly, or even at all, simply because we talk too much and people get sick of hearing it, especially if we feel the need to be repetitive in order to get our ideas across. Or maybe what we said was just dumb? This is exactly the point that Ryan makes in “The Daily Stoic”:

Recall the last time you said a really boneheaded thing, something that came back to bite you. Why did you say it? Chances are you didn’t need to, but you thought doing so would make you look cool or smart or part of the group.

This is precisely what we saw above. Weak people seek comfort in the approval of their peers, from whom they may need help in the future because of their bad choices and decisions (although when things go south, what they lack in terms of wealth can perhaps be overcome by muscle, in sufficient numbers). Unfortunately, seeking validation from peers is never a good policy; if everyone thinks the same way, they will always make the same mistakes themselves, always give the same bad advice, and always expect everyone else to agree with them, however idiotic the idea may be. Ryan continues with a quote:

“The more you say,” Robert Greene has written, “the more likely you are to say something foolish.” To that we add: the more you say, the more likely you are to blow past opportunities, ignore feedback, and cause yourself suffering.

Of course: taking advice and comments from the wrong people means that you may be getting the wrong feedback at a time when you need good advice; or we may be too distracted to see whatever opportunities could be right there under our noses. Unfortunately, at some points in our lives, we all experience this.

We should, however, use a more appropriate analogy to distinguish speech which is worth hearing from that which is not: precious metals. Good advice is like gold, but also, like gold, it maybe doesn’t come our way too often. Bad advice, however, is like lead. It is much more readily available than, say, gold, but has almost no value; it is therefore much easier to get if you want it, but worst of all, lead is toxic, like the worst advice. Everybody is happy to get rid of the stuff, and socially, the accumulation of the effects of bad advice weighs us down, like lead.

These considerations lead us to an important point: since bad advice (lead) is more prevalent, not only will we hear it repeated a lot, but from what we have been saying, it is probably a product of propaganda and is repeated in an automatic fashion because, in the unquestioning public mind, it is seen as representing “common sense”, simply because no counter-argument is ever presented (or allowed to be presented) to show it to be false; it is regarded as “common knowledge”. No wonder the gold is so hard to find.

Ryan summarises his point as follows:

The inexperienced and fearful talk to reassure themselves. The ability to listen, to deliberately keep out of a conversation and subsist without its validity is rare. Silence is a way to build strength and self-sufficiency.

This reminds us of the saying (originally in Proverbs in the Bible [3]) that “it is better stay quiet and be thought a fool than to speak and put it beyond doubt” [2]; especially, perhaps, when the current of public thinking is, however erroneously, going in the opposite direction; in today’s political climate, the result(s) could be abuse (both physical and verbal), de-funding, cancelling and who knows, even death at the hands of people who hate you simply because they disagree with you rather than whether what you said was true - such is their mindset that they would literally sooner kill you than be seen to be disagreeing with their peers; the weakling fears isolation.

We might ask, then, what our reactions should be. My own opinion would be that one can live a less stressful life by indulging in humour (as well as keeping a respectable distance between yourself and those who disagree with you). Remember what we said above: most of what is spoken is lead, but we want gold. We need to remember, always, that most things in life do not, in fact, need or mandate a spoken response; it is simply wasted breath. What could more appropriate responses be?

My suggestions (according to context):

* eye rolls

* a shrug of the shoulders (“Hey, I don’t know..!”)

* a short verbal sound of disapproval or amusement

* a wry smile (signifying obvious internal amusement, or perhaps irony)

* shocked silence

* a bemused shaking of the head

* a facial expression of disbelief

* any combination of the above

Our bottom line might be that in affective terms, it is better in this life to optimise one’s potential for amusement than to allow oneself to be constantly stressed due to worrying about whether there will be social approval for a spoken response. Amusement, like beauty, is surely in the eye of the beholder.

The other side of this coin, of course, is that an individual needs to be self-validating; after all, if, when questioned, you receive negative responses which may not be based upon facts or experience, how is that even relevant to you? You are probably talking to someone who is more concerned with external validation than yourself, and you should avoid these people. How could anyone possibly give you sound advice when they just go with the flow, approve of the current thing and probably do not actually know what they want, themselves? Plus: they seek validation from you, and if you disagree with them, chances are that they will not receive what they want; the response may be trouble.

Instead, think about times when you tried something new (at school or college, for example) and how you learned to do it correctly and avoid future errors. Eventually, you did not have to keep going to your tutor, unless something unexpected happened. In everything that we do, we begin in a position of a relative lack of knowledge and experience, and slowly accumulate a useful schema or framework of knowledge and concepts which allow us to act independently. So, in the future, in everything you do, most of the time (at least) you do not need advice or opinions in order to achieve your aims; you are knowledgeable, experienced and (for the most part) confident. In fact, you are already self-validating because success in what you do is the feedback you need - not the opinions of others who do not share your knowledge, experience or (in all likelihood) motivation and aims. You are not the same as they are - and you really don’t want to be like them.

An independent person is self-validating. You do things for your own satisfaction, not for the satisfaction of others; and, therefore, you do not need their opinions. They cannot live your life for you and they cannot give you proper advice because they do not know what your aims are; and this means that you do not need to respond to them.

The important opinions and advice which you should seek are from those people whom you already know are actually knowledgeable in your area(s) of interest, and these are the people with whom you should surround yourself; if the result of this is a very small circle of friends, so much the better, as your life is then less filled with time wasters. It is always better to socialise with people of value to yourself - quality is better than quantity.

Our final thought should be this: we go through life accumulating knowledge and experience, and the products of this, be they either mere ideas or actual physical objects, are the visible expressions of our ability and worth. The result, after we have abandoned and avoided the dull lead of conventional thinking, is the gold of achievement and from this, we should receive from others our deserved respect and a demonstrated desire to profit from our advice; we have, at that point, become the much-sought gold ourselves.



[1] Holiday, Ryan, and Hanselman, Stephen (2016): The Daily Stoic. Penguin Random House, New York. ISBN 9780735211735 (hardcover), ISBN 9780735211742 (e-book) .

[2] Quoted at [3] as: “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue. Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.” (KJV: Proverbs 17:28)

[3] https://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/17/remain-silent/