On Mistakes and Cultural Evolution


Of course I can’t control this, but I ask you don’t share this specific URL–in line with the message in this piece, I’d like this piece to be given to those people who find it by poking around this site, and thus experience discovery when engaging/ understanding deeper nuance. I appreciate it in advance! Now that you’re here, I’d love to talk about anything here, cultural evolution, the textures of Internet connectedness, etc.

(a bit more of a word ball pit than other pieces)

A mistake I made. How does our treatment of mistakes influence our communities? Individual Decisions. Understanding Nuances

I’ve made various mistakes before. Certain ones larger than others.

I reflect on these mistakes occasionally, and those thoughts of course bring additional thinking about how communities deal with mistakes. The Internet is extremely influential here, given its permanent recording of information and feedback-loop dynamics on some behavioral axes and ideas.

A Mistake

(warning: blandly written story (and perhaps this whole piece), for summary purposes)

My own perception of this includes an experience I had in my first year in uni: during my class president campaign, I ran a community survey where members of my class could share their interests, then everyone got paired up, matching as similar answers as possible. A few weeks later, I drag-and-drop uploaded the folder with my python script to my recently-created github, not realizing it contained the survey data too. This was so early in my coding career that I didn’t have the maturity to think of this error. Which, on the brighter side, also proportionally reduced the impact; at that point the only place my github was linked was the school hackathon I recently went to (but of course this doesn’t mean it wasn’t saved by someone on the Internet).

Eventually some student saw it and reported it to the school newspaper; one night at 1AM I got an email from the folks there, saying “Hey, we’re going to publish a piece on this, please take the repo down.” Which I did while they interviewed me over the phone; I spent the rest of the night emailing apologies to each person. I’d never made such a public mistake before. Those weeks I was filled with a numbness, walking in a community I knew wasn’t so open to me anymore.

What had I done with the trust people put in me and my relationships? The tough part was the situation mostly featured dynamics of nonverbal cultural norms. The scope of privacy wasn’t clearly stated; it was more “general understanding” for a “meet some person in your class” survey. Yet the survey did include questions for gender and sexuality–things quite top of mind nowadays–alongside the “favorite activities” ones. A few folks responded to my emails acknowledging/accepting my apology, which I’ll always appreciate. I didn’t receive any other replies–as expected–but what did that mean for me knowing what effect I had? Of course, it would be foolish to count that as equivalent to being cleared. Friends said it was ok and they hoped others didn’t react badly.

Obviously I think about this situation every so often, and they sure are not comfortable “happy times” thoughts. My mistake taught me many lessons quite early on about the seriousness of privacy, responsibilities we have, and proper guidance of beginners, which I’ve carried with me since. There’s also interesting connections between that mistake and how my life has changed since (other ways than the topics covered in this piece, such as how it changed my extracurricular activities / social feelings / leaving school).

I also startted paying closer attention when similar instances happened in the communities around me. What were the population-level effects?

Population Level: the Staying Power of Sociopathy

Ever since I had that experience, over time I’ve taken notice of folks that are marked online for some mistake, particularly big names, executives, celebrities, etc.

How should mistakes be handled in a population? How might people learn from their mistakes, what role does everybody play, and what are the resulting effects?

For instance, how does each party change, not change, and pass on these traits to the next generation of the population? Do our intentions result in what we actually don’t want long term? What would you, reader, want to be true about these dynamics?

Which leads to something I’ve observed–“How do communities handle mistakes?” has implications for how a population evolves to harbor more sociopathic traits.

Considering ideas along the lines of:

From thoughts like these, there seems to be a natural tendency for sociopathy to self-reinforce. People who are conscientious could lose out, while sociopaths shrug it off and continue doing their thing. Traits pass on to the next generation of culture.

(Now, the elephant is, what am I becoming from my mistakes?)

Like Darwin said, evolution in Nature doesn’t know what’s “right” or “wrong,” it just goes. So maybe we “should” (up to your definition) be more deliberate about what changes we’re driving in our communities.

Or maybe that’s even a human fallacy; maybe the core fix is to just chill out about deliberate “control” in general–slet go of wanting to control the world around us to be so-and-so; maybe that’s the root of what manifests as pressure in the first place, which gives rise to sociopathy.

What’s the “answer” you believe? And what do you want to happen? What’s your role?

What happens when we apply a presure of holding people to their past mistakes? Do we forgive and allow growth? How do we judge what “counts” for justice? What traits “make it through”–then to the next generation? How do we better accomodate the Internet when using our judgement scales?

Individual Decisions

We all have vulnerable skin and thick skin in certain areas, different parts to our personalities, sensitivities that can be influenced by the millions of ways a life experience can be different throughout time.

Across all these surface areas for intreactions, I think we’re all afraid of being revealed as naked. When life springs upon you a revelation you weren’t aware of. The Emperor’s New Clothes, where we are the emperor and fear if we’re actually naked, and also we’re unsure whether we’re the emperor or not–all in our minds or in other people’s minds.

After making a mistake, particularly one you made unwittingly, we begin to fear more might spring out of anywhere else.

(Is even writing this revealing something naked about me? In a way, the answer is, of course, since that’s not only how “takes” on the Internet work, but also the reason art exists. We can’t be paralyzed)

But we all make mistakes. And when we think of “embarassing moments,” or “cringe,” or even past mistakes, we have to shake it off. There are different parts to us, and we reinvent ourselves. Not only like a hermit crab outgrowing their previous (psychological) “homes”, but additionally like a multi stage life form that has evolved from breathing water to air (or vice versa). Dont let previous redefine us, because that is how we die in our adventures. What if an adventure book suddenly had nothing new to share?



What’s most dangerous is if you start to not believe your own perception. Then your mind plays games with you, games of deciding what to do or how to act to fit in. So, I say: your mind is strong, independent. You can hold both ideas in the head at once: “I am confident I’m not naked,” and “Sure, I might be wrong and suddenly revealed to be naked. But that’s ok.” Don’t overthink or compare either in a relative manner with the other; they can simply coexist.

It’s like a cold shower–do we grow, or shrink away from the pressure? Who do you want to be? How does your decision affect how you’ll change society?

(What type of individual would you want to be influenced by the above paragraph? Who doesn’t need it already?)

Popular trope, this why kids are respected in their ability to pick up new skills and try new things, (plus guidance). They don’t know those demons (yet).

Don’t forget hypocrisy–I’m guilty of this too–I catch myself holding other folks to their past too much. So I do my best to empty my mind and treat every conversation as meeting a new person. What happens with that?

Let’s all be more responsible and justice-oriented for our fellow humans, and chill out with more tolerant views of each other at the same time. They’re not necessarily in opposition; with this positive sum mindset things can be improved.

Understanding Nuance

The layers of technological abstraction between us are growing, where impressions are immortalized online, set in stone with avatars, timelines, and statements. Techhnology’s system of record has encouraged us to believe we know all the categories and buckets there are to know. But evidence points in opposite direction:

If all we see about a mistake-maker is that mistake, it might hurt us in the long term. We need to figure out a way to properly handle justice while also preserving long term health of our communities, and take into account how Internet dynamics might work against this. Use the pitchfork appropriately when you see X headline, maybe sometimes to plant some good seeds for society.

That starts with us engaging deeper, seeing nuances, finding positive sum solutions, strengthening connections, and see parts of ourselves in others.

Notes (Questions)

What’s in the future and past of each present smile or frown we see on the street? How do they remember each other?

Reputation is important for safety. How do we keep a healthy society together? What happens if we don’t?

Will we find a way to make everyone happy? How does the belief that it might be possible in the future influence present actions?

What hard moral questions are humans currently blessed (or perhaps cursed if we know we will eventually have to meet) with avoiding because technology isn’t there yet?