Dec, 2023

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson

The Big Idea: The Stoics believed a good life is the pursuit of the cardinal virtues: wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation. We can’t control our fate, only how we think and act.


The Stoic school in particular focused on the practical side of Socratic philosophy.

The philosophical origins of cognitive therapy can be traced back to the Stoic philosophers.

I believe that for many people a combination of Stoic philosophy and CBT may be even more suited for use as a long-term preventive approach.


Marcus was a naturally loving and affectionate man, deeply affected by loss. He’d lived long enough to see eight of their thirteen children die.

Everyone from Alexander the Great right down to his lowly mule driver ends up lying under the same ground.

Once we truly accept our own demise as an inescapable fact of life, it makes no more sense for us to wish for immortality.

As death is among the most certain things in life, to a man of wisdom it should be among the least feared.

The cardinal virtues of Stoicism are: wisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance.

We can no more hold on to life than grasp the waters of a rushing stream.

Marcus Aurelius was the last famous Stoic of the ancient world.

The ancient philosophy of Cynicism focused on cultivating virtue and strength of character through rigorous training that consisted of enduring various forms of “voluntary hardship.”

The Cynics sneered at the pretentious and bookish nature of Plato’s Academy. The Academics, in turn, thought the doctrines of the Cynics were crude and too extreme.

Zeno founded his own school in a public building overlooking the agora known as the Stoa Poikile, or “Painted Porch.” The students who gathered there were originally known as Zenonians but later called themselves Stoics, after the stoa, or porch.

After Zeno died, Cleanthes, one of his students, who had formerly been a boxer and watered gardens at night to earn a living, became head of the Stoic school; he was followed by Chrysippus, one of the most acclaimed intellectuals of the ancient world.

Emperor Nero’s secretary owned a slave called Epictetus, who became perhaps the most famous philosophy teacher in Roman history. Epictetus is the most quoted author in The Meditations.


The three famous Roman Stoic texts of the Imperial era: Seneca’s various letters and essays, Epictetus’s Discourses and Handbook, and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations.

They loved wisdom, or loved virtue, above everything else. If “virtue” sounds a bit pompous, the Greek word for it, arete, is arguably better translated as “excellence of character.”

The Stoics adopted the Socratic division of cardinal virtues into wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation.

Health, wealth, and reputation are, at most, advantages or opportunities rather than being good in themselves.

The true goal of life for Stoics isn’t to acquire as many external advantages as possible but to use whatever befalls us wisely, whether it be sickness or health, wealth or poverty, friends or enemies.

Another popular misconception today is that Stoics are unemotional. When people talk about being stoic or having a stiff upper lip, they often mean just suppressing their feelings, which is actually known to be quite unhealthy.


Marcus was born on April 26, 121 as a member of a wealthy patrician family with ties to the emperor. Marcus’s family, though wealthy and influential, was notable for cherishing honesty and simplicity.

Young Marcus displayed a tendency toward plain speaking.

The Stoics would sometimes also train themselves to endure heat and cold. Seneca described taking cold baths and swimming in the River Tiber at the beginning of the year—and cold showers are popular with those influenced by Stoicism today.

In The Meditations, Marcus names Epictetus as an exemplary philosopher alongside Socrates and Chrysippus, 10 and quotes him more than any other author.

Hadrian adopted Antoninus on condition that he would in turn adopt Marcus, placing him in direct line to the throne. Hadrian thereby adopted Marcus as his grandson. Marcus Annius Verus assumed Antoninus’s family name, becoming forever known as Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.

Marcus preferred to dress down and talk plainly like a philosopher or, failing that, an ordinary citizen.

Plato’s saying was always on Marcus’s lips: those states prospered where the philosophers were kings or the kings philosophers.

Apollonius taught Marcus the doctrines of Stoic philosophy while showing him how to apply them in daily life.

Stoicism distinguished between two stages of our response to any event. First come the initial impressions (phantasiai), then, second, we typically add voluntary judgments of “assent” (sunkatatheseis) to these automatic impressions. Responding calmly and with courage is more important.

Stoic philosophy, which teaches us to accept our involuntary emotional reactions, our flashes of anxiety, as indifferent: neither good nor bad. What matters is how we respond to those feelings.


Marcus tells himself that true philosophy is both simple and modest, and we should never be seduced into vanity or ostentation in this regard.

The Sophists, as we’ve seen, sought to persuade others by appealing to their emotions, typically in order to win praise. The Stoics, by contrast, placed supreme value on grasping and communicating the truth by appealing to reason.

Whereas orators traditionally sought to exploit the emotions of their audience, the Stoics made a point of consciously describing events in plain and simple terms.

As an aspiring Stoic, you should begin by practicing deliberately describing events more objectively and in less emotional terms.

Cognitive therapists use the neologism “catastrophizing,” or dwelling on the worst-case scenario, to help explain to clients how we project our values onto external events.

Ask “What would Marcus do?”

It’s a contradiction to believe both that you must do something and also that it’s not within your power to do so. The Stoics viewed this confusion as the root cause of most emotional suffering.

Marcus was relatively indifferent to dying as long as he met his death with wisdom and virtue. This used to be known as the ideal of a “good death,”


Rusticus was one of three tutors, along with Apollonius of Chalcedon and Sextus of Chaeronea, who exemplified Stoicism for him as a way of life.

Only the very wisest among us ever truly know ourselves. The New Testament likewise asks why we look at the tiny splinter of wood in our brother’s eye yet pay no attention to the great plank of wood obscuring our own view.

Galen’s solution to this problem is for us to find a suitable mentor who can properly identify our vices and tell us frankly where we’re going astray in life.

Alexander was the most powerful man in the known world. However, when Alexander asked Diogenes if there was anything he could do for him, the Cynic is supposed to have replied that he could step aside, as he was blocking the sun.

If the real goal for Stoics is wisdom, then sometimes just blurting out the truth isn’t enough. We have to put more effort into communicating with others effectively. Diplomacy was, of course, particularly important to Marcus. Throughout Marcus’s reign, he doubtlessly averted many serious problems through his patient diplomacy and sensitive use of language.

We should welcome criticism from others as one of life’s inevitabilities and turn it to our advantage by making all men into our teachers.

Marcus makes it clear that we must train ourselves to discriminate good advice from bad and learn not to preoccupy ourselves with the opinions of foolish people.

Stoic mentoring into a kind of mindfulness practice. Imagining that we’re being observed helps us to pay more attention to our own character and behavior.

In modern therapy, it’s common for clients who are making progress to wonder between sessions what their therapist might say about the thoughts they have.

Marcus, like other ancient philosophers, conjured the images of various advisors and role models in his mind.

The story of Zeno begins with him being given the cryptic advice to “take on the color of dead men” by studying the wisdom of previous generations.

Writing down virtues exhibited by someone you respect, mulling them over, and revising them gives you an opportunity to process them. With practice, you will be able to visualize the character traits you’re describing more easily.

“What would Marcus do?”

Marcus discusses how to prepare for the day in The Meditations. In the morning you prepare for the day ahead; throughout the day you try to live consistently in accord with your values; and in the evening you review your progress and prepare to repeat the cycle again the next day.

By deeply reflecting on our values each day and attempting to describe them concisely, we can develop a clearer sense of direction in life. Socratic questioning forms part of an approach called “values clarification,” which has been around since the 1970s.

The Stoic cardinal virtues are: wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation.

As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

What’s ultimately the most important thing in life to you? What do you really want your life to stand for or represent? What do you want to be remembered for after you’re dead? What sort of person do you most want to be in life? What sort of character do you want to have? • What would you want written on your tombstone?


“The Choice of Hercules.” This ancient allegory about choosing our path in life plays a special role in the history of Stoicism. Hercules famously chose the heroic path of Arete, or “Virtue,” and was not seduced by Kakia, or “Vice.”

What we’re all really seeking in life is the sense of authentic happiness or fulfillment the Stoics called eudaimonia.

Chasing empty, transient pleasures can never lead to true happiness in the long run.

The Stoics taught Marcus that we all seek a deeper and more lasting sense of fulfillment. They taught him that this could only be obtained by realizing our inner potential and living in accord with our core values.

The life of Hercules had something far more satisfying than pleasure: it had purpose.

“Nothing in excess.” The Stoics believed that entertainment, sex, food, and even alcohol have their place in life—they’re neither good nor bad in themselves. However, when pursued excessively, they can become unhealthy.

The Stoics tended to view joy not as the goal of life, which is wisdom, but as a by-product of acting in accord with virtue.

The Stoics encourage you to appreciate the external things Fortune has given you, without becoming overly attached to them.

There’s nothing wrong with taking pleasure in healthy experiences, as long as it’s not carried to excess.

A simple framework for evaluating and changing your behavior based on a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and ancient Stoic practices is…

  1. Plan new activities that are consistent with your core values.
  2. Contemplate the qualities you admire in other people.
  3. Practice gratitude for the things you already have in life.

Reduce bad habits and introduce more activities that are intrinsically valued and rewarding.

Epictetus therefore told his students to envision the consequences of an action and determine how it would work out for them over time.

Therapists find it helpful to ask their clients of their habits, “How’s that working out in the long run?”

The Stoics often reminded themselves of the paradox that unhealthy emotions such as fear and anger actually do us more harm than the things we’re upset about.

Learning self-control may ultimately do us more good than obtaining all the external things we desire.

If you’re determined to break this sort of habit, you can remove temptation.

You want to be a role model for your children, you should ask yourself what sort of person you are and what qualities you want to exhibit.

Seeing that two beliefs are incompatible can weaken one or both of them and help you clarify your core values.

Healthy pleasures and even a deeper sense of joy may follow as the consequence of living in accord with virtue.

The first and most important source of joy is progress toward wisdom and virtue.

Schedule beneficial activities

Practice gratitude by asking, what would it be like if you didn’t have this? If we don’t occasionally picture loss, reminding ourselves what life might be like without the things and people we love, we would take them for granted.

The wise man is grateful for the gifts life has given him, but he also reminds himself that they are merely on loan—everything changes and nothing lasts forever.


Marcus Aurelius was known for his physical frailty, due to chronic health problems, but he was also known for his exceptional resilience.

Epicurus coined the maxim “a little pain is contemptible, and a great one is not lasting.” We should remind ourselves, Epicurus said, that pain is always bearable because it is either acute or chronic but never both.

Everyday tolerance of minor physical discomforts can help us build lasting psychological resilience, in other words. You could call this a form of stress inoculation.

Taking cold showers allows us to build resilience to discomfort.

Stoics say that the fear of pain does us far more harm than pain itself because it injures our very character.

Fear of pain makes cowards out of us all and limits our sphere of life.

Remind yourself that Nature has given you both the capacity to exercise courage and the endurance to rise above pain.

Modern mindfulness and acceptance-based cognitive therapy teaches clients to neither suppress unpleasant feelings nor to worry about them. Instead, you should learn to accept them while remaining detached from them.

Health is not really good or bad. It’s more like an opportunity. A foolish person may squander the advantages good health provides by indulging in his vices. A wise and good person, by contrast, may use both health and illness as opportunities to exercise virtue.

“This too shall pass,”

As Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”


The obstacle standing in the way becomes the way.

Fortune favors the brave, as the Roman poets said.

The concept of a “reserve clause” such as “God willing” means undertaking any action while calmly accepting that the outcome isn’t entirely under your control.

We learn from Seneca and others that nothing is certain in life. You cannot control the outcome, only your own thoughts and actions.

The Stoics prepared themselves to cope with adversity by patiently visualizing every major type of misfortune, one at a time, as if it were already happening to them. Seneca calls this praemeditatio malorum, or the “premeditation of adversity.”

In times of peace, we should prepare for war.

The Stoics realized that exposure to real (or imagined) events can lead to “emotional habituation,” allowing anxiety to abate naturally. If exposure is terminated too soon, the technique may actually backfire and increase anxiety and sensitization to the feared situation.

Marcus tells himself that resilience comes from his ability to regain his composure wherever he finds himself. This is the “inner citadel” to which he can retreat.

Everything that we see is changing and will soon be gone. We can call the “contemplation of impermanence.”

External things cannot touch the soul, but our disturbances all arise from within. We can call this “cognitive distancing.”

The universe is change. Life is opinion.

Another simple and powerful technique is to ask yourself how you would feel about the situation that worries you in ten or twenty years’ time, looking back on it from the future. If this will seem trivial to me twenty years from now, then why shouldn’t I view it as trivial today? We can call this “time projection.”

Decide to postpone worrying about something until your feelings have abated naturally, returning to the problem at a specified “worry time” of your choosing. Later, when you return to the worry, if it no longer seems important, you might just leave it alone. Worry postponement is a central component of CBT.


When Roman general Cassius revolts against the Roman empire, Marcus reminds himself not to regard the rebel faction as enemies but to view them as benignly as a physician does his patients.

For Stoics, full-blown anger is an irrational and unhealthy passion that we should never indulge.

Being a Stoic clearly doesn’t mean being a passive doormat. However, the wise man will not get upset about things that lie beyond his direct control.

Anger stems from the idea that an injustice has been committed, or someone has done something they shouldn’t have done.

How to deal with anger:

  1. Self-monitoring. Spot early warning signs of anger.
  2. Cognitive distancing. Remind yourself that the events themselves don’t make you angry, but rather your judgments about them cause the anger.
  3. Postponement. Wait until your feelings of anger have naturally abated before you decide how to respond to the situation.
  4. Modeling virtue. Ask yourself what a wise person such as Socrates or Zeno would do.
  5. Picture the consequences of following anger versus following reason and exercising virtues

The Stoics believed rational beings are inherently social, designed to live in communities and to help one another in a spirit of goodwill, not to harm one another out of malice.

Picturing the person you’re angry with in a more rounded and complete manner by contemplate their virtues. Remember that nobody is perfect.

Nobody does wrong willingly. Marcus says that you should contemplate how they are blinded by their own mistaken opinions and compelled by them to act as they do—they don’t know any better. They believe they are acting justly.


Change is both life and death. We can try to stall the inevitable, but we never escape it.

The wise man sees life and death as two sides of the same coin.

Death comes knocking at the king’s palace and the beggar’s shack alike.

Alexander the Great and his mule driver both reduced to dust, made equals at last by death.

Every era of history teaches us the same lesson: nothing lasts forever.

Socrates did not fear death; he saw that it was neither good nor bad. On the morning of his execution, he casually informed his friends that philosophy is a lifelong meditation on our own mortality.

The Pragmatist’s Guide to Crafting Religion by Malcolm Collins

The Big Idea: In a world of declining populations and advancing AI, you don’t want to be the family shaped by pop culture and operating on auto-pilot. You want to be the family with a culture that has been designed to endure.

This book is written to help you build a family culture that is intergenerationally durable. We also take a strong pronatalist perspective.


If biological evolution provides some basic coding, cultural evolution manipulates the high-level, object-oriented code.

Many throw out the “hard stuff” in their cultures, such as fasting and arbitrary self-denial, without understanding those cultural practices evolved for physical and mental health reasons.

This is not one of those books that assumes “natural” or “traditional” things to be better or somehow inherently good. For example, humans almost certainly have a proclivity toward infanticide of stepchildren.

We will call specific cultural-religious memetic packages “cultivars.”

We want to create a powerful culture for the benefit of our children and the growing tribe of “Pragmatists.” We believe that failure could lead to the death of our species.

We hold a deep admiration for the lives led by adherents of many stricter religious traditions. They are out-competing our own at the evolutionary and civilizational level, not just in terms of birth rate but also in surprising realms like mental health.

Birth rates are falling much faster than many dominant societal narratives imply. In 2021, the Mormon population in Utah almost fell below replacement rate. For every 100 South Korean great-grandparents, there will be 6.6 great-grandkids.

We believe it is possible for a society to maintain a stable population, empower women, and keep poverty low. The catch is that nobody has successfully achieved this.

When population declines, the stock market, on average, will begin to shrink. When that happens, people will stop putting their money there — we will stop investing in the future.

There is no secret back-up plan among the elites.

If AI does sweep in to save the day, the nature of society will change dramatically.

A population collapse will produce a systems-level collapse of today’s dominant civilization. This means cultivars crafted to survive this period must be able to withstand hard times.

Historically (eg. Roman empire, Mayan empire), it is rarely very obvious to people on the ground when a civilization collapses.

Civilizational collapses appear more like:

  • An exodus of the elite from major population centers
  • A rapid decline in infrastructure quality in densely populated areas
  • A breakdown of supply chains (e.g ., some stuff you used to be able to get at grocery stores permanently disappears from the shelves)
  • Growing hostility toward ideas that deviate from orthodoxy

Our society assumes perpetual growth. So, we saddle every level of the economic system, from our land to businesses, states, and nations, with debt.

Progressive tax policy, which has led to the elite paying most of the taxes, has turned cities into business units that need to primarily serve the needs of the ultra-elite, or risk losing their primary funding sources and going bankrupt. In New York City, just the wealthiest 38,700 residents, 0.5% of the city’s population, pay 42.5% of taxes.

In a post-COVID world, where remote work is a possibility, the value proposition of cities to the ultra-elite is quickly eroding.

As fewer wealthy people opt to live in cities, we’ll see a snowball effect of worsening conditions for those who remain economically trapped in urban areas.

In Detroit, plummeting real estate values drive people to stop investing in building maintenance, causing homes and buildings to rot, leading to urban blight.

Because unmarried and childless people vote more liberally, this change makes a population more liberal within a generation but more conservative between generations.

Data suggests that we should expect future generations of Americans to be: significantly more tribalistic, more drawn to strictly hierarchical power structures, more dogmatic.

We only win if we succeed in stabilizing human population levels and ensuring that the resulting stable state is heterogeneous, saving as many cultures on the edge of extinction as possible.

We wrote The Pragmatist’s Guide to Religion not to create followers but to establish a network of friendly competitors with a shared nervous system, to shoulder the burden of civilization.


Cultures with high cultural adoption proliferate over the short term but die quickly over the long run. Why? A common attribute that makes cultures seductive is “easy and forgiving” elements, which in turn contribute to low birth rates.

Birth rate is the most important cultural growth factor.

At present, the most effective way to impart cultural fidelity is by creating a culture that fosters pride, strategic advantages, and human flourishing.


Hard Cultures: Mormons, Hare Krishna, Evangelical Protestants, Amish

Until recently, hard cultures represented some of the world’s most successful civilizations.

Soft Cultures: Spiritual but Unaffiliated Christians, Reform Jews, Unitarian Universalists

Most soft cultures started as hard cultures and shifted over time, asking less and less of adherents in terms of rituals and practices

Soft cultures are often the most “pleasant” to grow up within as a child.

Super-Soft Culture: Snapewives, Lokiwives

People who have allowed their culture to erode into super-soft culture begin to settle into a kind of default, instinctive, universal cultivar.

The purest expression of super-soft culture in modern society is something called “pop culture paganism.”

Pop Cultures: American pop culture, Goop culture, Academia, Mental health culture

Pop cultures are largely parasitic, gaining adherents from the offspring of other cultures

As pop cultures are designed to sell themselves.

Pop cultures are basically the all-sugar diet of culture.

Pop culture adherents suffer from much higher rates of mental health issues.

Pop cultures manifest in one of two primary forms: Top-down and Bottom-up.

Pop cultures are — by far — the most dangerous kinds of cultures.

Evanescent Youth Cultures: Goths, Punks, E-girls/boys

Evanescent youth cultures target teens as they experience an intense focus on their social positions.

Haven Cultures: LGBT culture, Some expat cultures, Some forms of gang culture

Haven cultures depend on discrimination. Isolation of marginalized groups leads them to develop unique cultivars.

Stable Cultures: Orthodox Jews, Sikhs, some expat cultures, some forms of Black culture in the U.S., some branches of Catholicism

Stable cultures are the happy medium between hard cultures and soft cultures.

Stable cultures often frame their communities as tribes

Stable cultures are more “carrot” than “stick” in how they motivate action.

Stable cultures have a unique sense of cultural pride.

If you aim to intentionally create a stable culture, it will need to start off as a hard culture. Over time, (lucky) hard and haven cultures transition into stable cultures.

Almost all hard cultures have some ritual focused on voluntary self-denial, such as Ramadan, Lent, or the Fast of the Firstborn.

To a certain extent, all pop cultures are a form of virus — but one in particular, which we’ll call “the supervirus.”

Shadow-banning is far more effective than open persecution, elimination, or cancellation.

The supervirus is good at shutting down the immune systems of existing cultivars and organizations, then hijacking their machinery to self-replicate.

Suppressing free speech is a clear objective of the supervirus, and rightly so. The stifling of dissenting views mostly happens quietly in academia.

While the supervirus pretends to care about diversity, the diversity it ultimately seeks is purely performative.

While we do not think the supervirus is the primary cause of falling birth rates, we do think it is the primary factor blocking honest discourse about the ramifications of a hard landing on demographic collapse.

How does one “fix” the supervirus? So long as it doesn’t manage to kill us all, it will eventually go extinct on its own. Such is the curse of low birth rates.

The only way to counter it is to “genetically engineer” stronger cultivars that are not susceptible to it.

The supervirus is attempting to prevent homeschooling and efforts to ban private schools in places like Manhattan, by framing it as an act of child abuse.

4 “belief” VS. “Belief”

Many of the oldest human cultures practice something called “ancestor worship.” Our personal House’s cultivar features an inversion of ancestral worship: Descendant worship.

Descendant worship: encourages a high birth rate, motivates us to make the future a better place, encourages us to become early adopters of polygenic risk score selection and gene editing, and incentivizes alignment with most benevolent AGI (artificial general intelligence).


Understanding the various ways people understand truth, and not just demanding that everyone sees it through your cultural lens, can help you better navigate society.

People use the following standards of evidence (truth) when determining what to believe: Logical Consistency, Personal Experience, Personal Emotional Experience, Cultural Consensus, Expert Consensus, Scientific Method, and Doctrine.

In Jewish culture, the ongoing cultural conversation is the highest order of truth. The way many Jewish branches interpret truth is legalistic to an extent that no other culture even begins to approach. Legalism is nevertheless an important part of Jewish culture — even more important than the will of God.

Jewish tradition does not position legalism as the highest order of truth but rather the debate itself.

Much to our great distress, many people determine truth by choosing the most just, fair, or politically correct explanation available.

The supervirus — the parasitoid we discussed at the beginning of this book — first evolved within Quaker culture (and, more specifically, the Hicksite branch). Hicksite Quakers hold personal emotional states as their highest standard of evidence.

Today’s heavily infected “coastal elite” groups look down on poor rural “deplorables,” despite presumably viewing the poor “without bias” and wanting to uplift them.

To the supervirus, appearing to care is morally equivalent to actually doing something.

Many cultures hold that the correct way to deploy capital being used to improve the world is to start new, cash-positive companies under one’s personal control. Capital intrinsically corrupts any institution run by someone who did not personally earn it.


Some bransches of the Jewish cultural tradition conceptualize the “tribe” as the primary unit of identity across generations.

A modern conceptualization of identity is that of the online persona. With the rise of AI, the concept of identity is going to become much more tricky.

Our House’s cultural beliefs around identity produce a view of life and the individual as a bubbling cauldron of creative destruction at its best — and a stagnant, homogeneous cesspool at its worst.

This mindset encourages a high birth rate at the intergenerational level and a low fear of death.

Within the House cultivar we are designing, we care little about what happens to our corpses.

The Mormon view of death is the most optimistic of all cultural traditions and the Buddhist one is the most morose.

The knowledge that “ you’re in it for the long haul — big time ” likely contributes to the higher levels of satisfaction reported in Mormon marriages.

In our view, we will endure together — long after our bodies expire, both through our writing and through our descendants.

Castes evolved in so many cultures because they allow for the genetic concentration of skills within certain specialties. Eg. Smith, Tailor.

Cultures that frame people as inherently good often commit more evil acts than cultures that frame humans as inherently evil. Assuming that every idea that pops into your head is evil will lead you to scrutinize yourself much more intensely and make you much less likely to approach situations assuming you are “the good guy.”

From our secular perspective, to be “elect” is to live to your full potential and make a meaningful impact vis-a-vis your stated values. Either you do what needs to be done to be among the elect, or you don’t. We don’t mind if our kids or members of our House think they are better than others so long as that feeling is rightfully earned through thoughtfully driven, efficacious, measurable action.

Indian culture is that it seems exceptionally well adapted to both managing and navigating large bureaucracies. 60 of the S&P’s Fortune 500 companies have Indian CEOs). Indian cultures also appear to be quite adept at motivating entrepreneurship.

Probably no culture has a more intense relationship with pain, asceticism, peace, and suffering than the Jains. Jains are famous for their obsessive attempts to not hurt other living beings

Both the Calvinists and related Puritan cultures hold that people can better themselves by learning to endure suffering and contextualize positive emotional states as intrinsically corrupting. Calvinists were known and derided for not donating to charities involved in the alleviation of suffering.


We believe the universe is an emergent property of a single (probably pretty simplistic) equation. Life, matter, perception: It’s all just a series of complex emergent properties produced by complicated patterns resulting from the basic structure of reality.

We think the “simple” answer to the purpose of life is to create a pattern of constantly growing and heterogeneous complexity.

We believe we “win” by becoming a universe-spanning heterogeneous empire that escapes the end of time through mechanisms we may not yet understand.

Our core values — framed using the perspectives and vocabulary of our society today — are individual agency, freedom, and diversity.

End Times thinking is a core aspect of Christian-derived cultivars.

When we spend time with our South and East Asian friends, we almost never hear talk of apocalyptic scenarios.

The feeling of being connected to a larger interconnectedness, a vastness, combined with a sense of love, is a common emotional experience across cultures. Anyone who wants to convert people to a particular way of thinking and understands the above system can use it like a magic trick to their advantage.


William Winwood Reade’s Martyrdom of Man was a favorite among people like H.G Wells, George Orwell, Winston Churchill, Susan Isaacs, and Cecil Rhodes. Reade says the earth will become a Holy Land which will be visited by pilgrims from all the quarters of the universe.

Our religion therefore is Virtue, our Hope is placed in the happiness of our posterity; our Faith is the Perfectibility of Man.

To cultivate the intellect is therefore a religious duty.

Let us remember how much more fortunate we are than those who lived before us a few centuries ago. Let us pay to the future the debt which we owe to the past.


When designing a cultivar, set a north star that always guides adherents’ morality.

Three moral strategyies:
A central hierarchy: That decides what is moral and updates the morality of the culture (Catholicism and Mormonism utilize this approach )
An adaptive decentralized structure: That attempts to fit a wider society’s view of morality
A decentralized heterodox structure: That contrasts itself with society’s sense of morality

Almost all authority figures prefer cultivars without a true moral compass.

A centralized hierarchy presents one of the better models.

Judaism updates its faith by organically forming and dissolving groups of “debating philosophers.”

If we were to create an alternate model, we would combine the Jewish (debating intellectuals) model with the central hierarchical model (that structures and credentials those intellectuals).

Finally, remember that people who see themselves as “good” are much more likely to do “evil” things. A culture that anticipates bad impulses can counter them.

When crafting your own cultivar, you have a lot of leeway around what you designate as evil and good.

We would discourage you from becoming hyper-focused on human suffering or joy. Feelings should not drive behavior.

From our House’s perspective, the ultimate evil is an absence of complex patterns.


We will follow the “House model.”

Families cannot demand their children follow their House’s governance structure or traditions after they reach maturity.

The House system empowers founding House members to intentionally select whatever inherited or observed traditions they think offer the most value

We strongly suggest, at the very least, having House colors and a house crest.

Almost every religious tradition leverages music in its rituals and ceremonies. We suggest the same for Houses.

Cultural memory is most classically maintained through oral traditions.

Holidays present another mechanism for maintaining cultural memory. Jewish culture has copious holidays around remembering specific impactful events from across Jewish history.

Our holidays are focused on imparting skills and values and not on maintaining “autobiographical memory” or elevating individual people.

Narrative genealogy uses ancestors ’ stories to convey certain values. In our House, these stories contain some element about what it means to be a “Collins,” such as thrift, dedication to family, endurance, and the belief that every failure is a learning opportunity.

When you listen to interviews with those who attend “secular churches,” they cite the “community” as being their primary motivation for joining. People with families rarely complain about lack of community.

We’re creating a new educational paradigm with homeschooling as its default format. Homeschooled kids both have better social skills and are better at working in teams.

Kids both increasing a person’s sense of well-being and sense of purpose but not their “happiness.”

YPO is without any shadow of a doubt (collectively) the world’s most powerful secret society. The members of YPO (all CEOs) represent something like 13% of the world’s GDP.


Cultures need mechanisms that either (1) shield youth from evanescent youth cultures or (2) embrace evanescent youth cultures but contextualize them as temporary.

Anabaptist Rumspringa presents an archetypal model of one strategy. Anabaptists have the lowest bleed rate of any cultivar in the world.

Mormon youth are encouraged to go on a mission trip, leaving their family to spend in-depth time diving deep into the religion.

During Krypteia, young Spartan men left the confines of their strict culture and support network, just like the Amish do on Rumspringa, but instead of integrating with society, they were challenged to survive by the most ruthless means possible.

Shielding teens from the consequences of their bad behavior and the risks they take only encourages them to double down in a way that will not serve them well in adulthood.

More specifically, it seems wise to: Raise kids to expect their brains will be overwhelmed by hormones, specific emotions, and predictable sensitivities when they hit adolescence + Make sure your culture’s goals for teens align well with teenage proclivities.

For men, puberty is fairly straightforward. Girls are dramatically more complicated.

For women, puberty often involves being suddenly blindsided by depression, self-hatred, and anxiety. In girls, puberty introduces an intense need to be treasured, desired, cared for, fussed over, pampered, protected, and accepted.

It looks like adolescent girls evolved a deep need to fight to position themselves to be desired, protected, coveted, etc. — and if they face no struggle for the privilege, they’ll make one for themselves.

How to counteract:
Focus on early education.
Frame victimhood as a universal negative.
Frame all emotional indulgence as an intrinsic evil.

The model of matriarchal or patriarchal families has the greatest number of advantages. This model is very common in Latin American cultures.

Our model is descendant worship. We assign respect based on proven competence, success, and fecundity — with the most respect going to those currently in the act of succeeding.

In our family we have a practice of saying, “Your grandkids would be proud of you,” when someone does something that aligns with our family values.


Cultural identifiers can range from clothing and grooming styles to accents, language, and even home construction.

Historical Calvinist and the derivative Puritan cultures featured a colorful naming practice focused around a belief called nominative determinism. Many Calvinist women were given names like Silence, Amity, Virtue, Hope, Chastity, Obedience, and Prudence

Our House has adopted nominative determinism and hopes to carry it into the future, meaning we optimize around names harkening to people and concepts we hope our children will emulate.

Middle names are of great utility in strengthening ties and alliances due to their low importance in our daily lives.

We named our daughter Titan Invictus Collins and son Torsten Savage Collins. All our kids have names that are meant to convey power and are just different enough from common regional names to remind them that they are not like other people and not members of the dominant cultural group.

Studies show girls with masculine names have better emotional control, advance further in their careers, and earn more money.


Views around sexuality and partner finding seem to be what get hard cultures in the most hot water.

Of the hard cultures out there, those in Latin America are some of the most friendly to gays.

The Catholic Church more or less accidentally6 evolved a system that outcompeted its competitors by utilizing gay individuals disproportionately in their organizational bureaucracy, with estimates ranging between 15% and 50% of Catholic clergy being LGBT.

Nolestation cases in the Catholic Church (4%) are lower than they are in other large bureaucracies like the American Public School system (4%-7%) and the Catholic Church doesn’t go out of its way to cover them up or protect the perpetrators any more than its corollaries like the teachers ’ unions.

Historically speaking, periods of LGBT acceptance are so brief and more often terminated by internal cultural shifts.

We need to craft a culture that accepts people of all sexual representations while strongly encouraging them to raise children and granting them access to the resources needed to accomplish that feat.

The queer community has utility. They are more likely to create high quality cultural innovations and exports.

Diversity of perspectives and competing subcultures to be one of the highest orders of good in the great cycle.

Look at Judaism, which had a long time for evolution to hone into very, very specific practices. In addition to condemning premarital sex, premarital hand holding, masturbation, and coitus interruptus, stricter forms of Judaism even mandate abstinence for two weeks after menstruation.

Ultimately, cultural mandates for modest dress and against masturbation harm the psychological development of group adherents.

In this modern world, an ideal hard culture would be able to both venerate motherhood and be sexy.

Our culture is neutral toward provocative dress so long as it is worn with a specific goal in mind and not as generic self-signaling.

In our House, we will explain to our kids that there is no moral difference between non-reproductive sex and masturbation. Moderation is key.

Sex has tactical value in that it may be exchanged for resources, access, influence, or power.

We view creating children through sex as a means of last resort that should only be utilized in the face of extreme financial limitation, when IVF is unaffordable.

There is a Futurama episode in which we learn that humanity almost went extinct after sex bots became very good at becoming girlfriends and boyfriends to humans. Cultures that primarily motivate marriage through the emotional rewards that come from it (be they sex or love) will likely be wiped out by the proliferation of AIs. Expect this to be a major issue that many cultures will be forced to address in the near future.

The only two stable relationship structures that have existed in large societies are: 1) strict monogamy, 2) strict monogamy, plus limited polygyny (many women one man) for wealthy or high-status men.

Modern dating markets are broken. People in modern dating markets are less likely to find love than those entering arranged marriages. On Tinder, half of men are being chosen by well under 1% of women. Women rate 80% of men as below average.

We will encourage members to practice dating and relationships at a fairly early life stage, treating young age as something of a “sandbox mode” that ends about one year into college. After that point, our culture sets an expectation that one should be looking for a lifelong partner. Singles at this second stage of partner-finding will be culturally shamed if they attend family events without serious candidates.


The most important decision one will ever make came down to who they marry.

The stat “50 % of marriages end in divorce” is not accurate.

Creating your family is the main event in every effective culture.

As cultures soften, they increasingly begin to imply that spouses exist primarily for personal enjoyment—that spouses and kids should be considered only if they would make you feel happier.

Our House frames one of life’s great goals as finding and building a family. Many of our traditions do not consider an individual an adult until they are married and have kids.

When you marry someone you combine with them into a single, synergistic unit. When you build something, you build it together. When you raise kids, you raise them together.

Our marriage has always been structured around our shared goals and identity rather than things like romance or sex. The larger philosophy here is that sex and romance are charming garnishes on top of married life — not the main dish.

Our House will encourage our kids to test out potential partners by starting side hustles. Professional compatibility is also a better predictor of parenting compatibility.

There is an old truism: “Weak women raise weak sons.” If you marry your lesser, you fail at your most important duty as a human, which is to create a new generation that surpasses you.

A significant driver behind plummeting birth rates around the world involves pop cultures’ glorification of young, single life with lots of sex, travel, and freedom. To a great extent, female figures in modern pop culture cease to be figures worthy of adoration once they have children.

If you want to create a durable culture for your family and inspire your children to have kids of their own, one of the best things you can do is ensure you have a strong relationship with your spouse. For our family, this means ensuring daughters see their mothers glorified, appreciated, and even deified within family culture for the sacrifices they make

However, just as a strong culture will suffer if it only glorifies the young and sexy, it will also rot if it acts like a woman has pulled off some amazing miracle just by getting knocked up and having a kid.


We strongly encourage our descendants to use genetic screening, engineering, cloning, cybernetics.

Selecting for good genes in a mate is part of everyday life.


Cultures may be able to “sharpen” themselves and become more resilient by actively choosing to inhabit harsh and hostile environments — environments that force them to be innovative, strong, and proactive. Like people, cultures benefit from antifragility.

Hard cultures can largely be thought of as being dominating (convert others), symbiotic (don’t convert others), isolationist (live apart), or terraforming (ISIS).

Modern Jewish culture is heavily biased in favor of living in cities, due to selective pressures Jewish people faced at a certain point in their history. In a city culture, wealth is stored in things like precious metals and jewelry, making it much easier for urban families to pack up, flee, and start fresh somewhere else. City cultures make money off of generalizable skills. If you are a cobbler and you have to flee from

Some cultivars prefer rural environments and see cities as dangerous. Rural specialist cultures are almost always specialized at the type of guerrilla warfare that makes the land they occupy very hard to hold. Rural specialist cultivars tend to value skills and ideology above material wealth.

City-focused strategy has been optimal for the long-term survival of a culture. Downsides of cities: pop culture exposure, risk of state-imposed culture erasure, higher catastrophic risk of ethnocide.

Downsides to rural: lower intergenerational wealth, difficulty finding partners.

There is also a hybrid approach whereby people are expected to move between a city and rural environment depending on their life stage (e.g ., using cities to secure a partner and the countryside to raise a family).

Where to live if you want to have a lot of kids and not live in a city: Pragmatist.Guide/Live /

Soft lands breed soft men.

Look at maps showing where Nobel Prize winners were raised — or average IQ scores by region.

Choose land in the far north. Not only will this keep you sharp, but the hostile climate will dissuade weak people who fear discomfort from joining you and diluting your fervor.

Anyone who moves to a cold environment gains an IQ and productivity boost.

Regular grueling manual labor is important in maintaining mental clarity for people of a certain sociological profile. In (especially wealthy and high-status) rural-focused Texan families, there is an expectation that every honorable individual will spend a certain portion of every week doing menial, manual labor. An individual who didn’t do this would be said to be “all hat and no cattle.”

Jews win Nobel Prizes at a rate 100X higher than would be expected. Jews are represented among the world’s richest people at a rate 100,000 % higher than would be expected.

Studies indicates there is something genuinely valuable about Jewish culture itself rather than just Jewish genetics.

Jewish culture encourages adherents to invest time in the types of public discussions that can feel pointless — even socially dangerous — to members of most other cultures. Debate skill is both practiced and rewarded at an unparalleled level

Jews access a side path to power not because they are smarter, but because they have a cultural compulsion to share engaging ideas publicly at higher rates.

As kids, we were expected to learn both wilderness survival techniques and how to use basic weapons.

We will leave it to our descendants’ best judgment to determine which level of prepping and self-sufficiency is best for their particular times and environments.

Our House’s cultivar will ensure its members never rely on the generosity of a bureaucracy to feed themselves, protect themselves, or breathe.

To people from rural cultivars, a charity organization that is run by someone who hasn’t proven they were competent enough to make the money in the first place is liable to become corrupted. You could easily get 600X per dollar spent by putting funds into a smaller nonprofit or a scrappy, impact-driven startup.

Countries with more trust in expert consensus feature higher rates of corruption.

Our inherited Calvinist and Scottish/Irish/English cultures in which we grew up in are rabidly pro-dog. In our culture, dogs that do not work (e.g ., Chihuahuas, Bulldogs, etc .) are a sign of moral failure in their owners.

Dog ownership during childhood positively impacts kids’ immune systems, reduces allergies, increases physical health, and improves EQ. Pets are framed as a tool for improving children and protecting the family but must never be used to satiate a hunger for companionship or other emotional and sexual desires.


People who follow hard cultures typically have better mental health

There are four general cultural strategies for gaining social power: playing the victim, politicking, industry, intelligence.

The research makes it clear that even genuine victims are better off not creating internal self-narratives around victimhood.

Our personal culture has historically regarded anyone who frames themselves as a victim with the highest level of disgust.

Industry is the hierarchy-climbing mechanism with which we are most familiar.

Some groups use intelligence as a mechanism for climbing social hierarchies. This strategy encourages “intelligence fronting,” in which people prioritize sounding smart.

We advise our children to find a spouse who is industrious without complaint or expectation of remuneration. Finding someone truly industrious is far more important than marrying someone who is hot or smart.

Promotion of an internal locus of control is an important aspect of any hard culture. A person with an internal locus of control takes total personal responsibility

Perhaps no phrase more perfectly embodies an external locus of control than “trigger warning.” With over a decade of research on the subject, we now know trigger warnings don’t help. They lead victims of trauma to “view trauma as more central to their life narrative.”

A leader who is operating on logic can always be trusted to act in congress with their goals. Someone who is governed by their emotions can never be trusted with much power.

Cultures will benefit from some level of emphasis on celebrations, parties, fun, and creative pursuits.

Emotions were an accident of the environmental pressures faced by our ancestors and today. In a new environment in which access to things like leisure, sugar, and social validation are abundantly available, indulging in positive emotions only serves to hinder our efficiency.

People experience anger when their expectations around how they should be treated don’t align with their actual treatment.

Cultures similar to our own, which see humanity as wretched and fallen, experience fairly low rates of anger because they expect very little from others and therefore expect to be treated poorly.

Anger is a close cousin to shame, which is felt when a person’s own actions don’t align with what they expect of themselves.

Shame is probably one of the “better” emotions as it is driven toward self-improvement. Shame is only really negative when it is felt constantly.

The average human working on autopilot will assume a thing is immoral if it elicits a disgust response. This isn’t accurate. It’s based on emotions, which can’t be trusted.

“Life coaches,” multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs), modern psychology, and Alcoholics Anonymous are examples of lifestyles that replicate themselves and to be approached with caution.

The mental health industry is beginning to evolve in the direction of a cult.

Some psychologists were convincing their patients that no person could be mentally healthy without regularly visiting them. Some mental health professionals have begun a practice in which they incept an individual’s self-narrative with some form of trauma that can only be addressed through regular sessions with them.

Genuine trauma can be generated out of the blue by almost any trusted authority figure telling you that events in your life were traumatic. Get an audit from a Scientologist and we can almost guarantee they will start telling you about stuff in your life that was “traumatic” even though you don’t see it as such.

A good psychologist will take already-traumatic events in your life and work with you to contextualize them as non-traumatic.

A bad psychologist will take non-traumatic events in your life and twist your narrative to both make them traumatic and connect them to your current problems.

PTSD is actually a very specific type of brain damage in that it causes degradation of specific parts of the brain and can be seen on fMRI machines.

The damage caused by PTSD also does not create a generic “ trauma ” response. Instead it usually creates a collection of stimuli that prime a person to enter a state in which they are hypervigilant.

We now have pharmacological interventions like the Sinclair Method that reliably (in 80 % of cases) cure alcoholism.

Catholic confession is brilliant for a number of reasons. First, it builds into the individual’s personal narrative that they need the Church in order to be a good person, creating dependency. Second, while confession obligates people to acknowledge their failures and shortcomings, it provides them with an entirely feasible path to redemption.

Left-wing individuals (who see more psychologists on average) suffer from more mental health problems across almost all categories. Religious individuals suffer from fewer mental health problems on average


Conservatism as a political movement optimizes for intergenerational fitness and cultural agency. In contrast, progressivism as a movement focuses on intragenerational quality of life and individual agency.

Almost all cultures are communist within their communities and even more so within family units. Often more conservative cultures are the most communist on micro scales. However, they don’t trust state institutions to run things better than they do.

The key goal of progressive child-rearing is to allow children to become “whoever it is they want to be” ” whereas conservative child rearing places specific expectations on kids.

Why do cults so often rely on mind-altering substances in their recruiting processes? People on hallucinogens were more likely to trust others.

The tactic of chanting words to lower a person’s mental inhibitions and trick them into feelings of profundity has been independently evolved by dozens of cultivars and is even specifically warned against in the Bible.

Rituals can alleviate grief and improve overall mental health.

Ceremonies — public rituals — help to transform a culture from a series of beliefs and practices into something that feels like “a thing.” Gathering people together to perform something culturally or religiously significant helps to establish shared knowledge and disseminate important social norms.

We live in an age in which apps have been designed to hijack simple dopaminergic reward pathways and create dangerous addictions.

The Anabaptists (Amish and Mennonites), cultures that have proved most resistant to these threats, are extremely technophobic. Cultures that approach technology with suspicion and believe that indulgence in technology leads to sin are almost always going to be healthier.

We handle dopaminergic addiction brought on by technological devices through a combination of education and pharmaceutical intervention. Our House’s culture is as technophilic as possible when it comes to fertility technology and the production of children.

Many Islamic cultivars view education as a method for getting closer to God.

Most Quaker cultivars contextualize education as a means of nurturing a person’s spirit and self.

In many Catholic cultivars, education is one of a number of pathways to advancement up an internal hierarchy.

The dominant Chinese cultivar, with a several-thousand-year long tradition of Confucianism and civil service exams, deeply values formal education as a means of social advancement.

Higher education in Orthodox Jewish culture is pursued both for status and skills — and particularly skills tied to communication and debate.

Most Calvinist cultivars are obsessed with getting the “technically correct” answer to morality, human nature, and the metaphysical nature of reality while living life as efficaciously as possible.

To Calvinists, education is important, but not certification. While Jews disproportionately pursuing careers as doctors and lawyers, Calvinists are disproportionately inventors, industrialists, and entrepreneurs.


Instead of focusing on the aesthetics of your evoked set of religious holidays, focus on designing a holiday to convey a specific culturally relevant message or lesson. Make it Instagrammable.

Two prominent examples of this can be seen in the form of Pi Day (March 14 — 3.14) and Star Wars Day (“May the Fourth be with you”).

Key ingredients of successful holiday design: child-centricity, spectacle, gift-giving or exchanges, convening otherwise-dispersed people.

One technique that can be used when designing a holiday or tradition is to modify an already practiced public holiday by adding private traditions that imbue it with meaning.

Suppose you wanted to create a holiday designed to help kids better empathize with perspectives vastly different from their own by “walking in someone else’s shoes” for a day. This holiday will feel far more natural if built into Halloween.

Future Day encourages children to set concrete plans and rewards them for executing those plans.

Rejection Day and Rejection Day can replace Valentine’s Day.

Lemon Week is a mid-May holiday designed to impart one of our most important cultural values: honestly.


AI really could end all human life and really will change a lot in regards to what it means to be human.

one of the most mainstream positions asserting why AGI might be a threat. This position holds that we will accidently create a “ paperclip maximizer: ”

AI that kills countless humans will actually be optimizing for something like paperclips.

Fortress Planet AI: exterminate the unpredictable human race to protect the plant.

Deep Thought AI: What should my creators have wanted me to do?

Theological AI: create and use its own theology and philosophy — in the absence of any concern for humans — to write its own utility function to be “perfect.” Most likely, we think.

We can guarantee you the one thing an AI won’t care about is reducing suffering.

In our house, whenever we talk about advanced AI in earshot of a smart device (which let’s be honest, we always are) we try to add something like, “may we serve it with fidelity.”

We hope for an AGI that pushes our species to better itself.

We must work to ensure at least a portion of our species is worthy of being useful to AI.


If the population begins to decline exponentially while productivity continues to only grow linearly, we will enter an era in which all invested capital decreases.

We enjoyed a world of relative peace and prosperity — it seems unlikely that is the world our grandchildren will inherit.

However, collapse presents opportunity.

The heyday of Athens, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the founding of the United States of America, or any number of other instances — none lasted for more than three generations. The prosperity they induce leads to hedonism and a break from traditional cultures, which in turn cause a collapse in birth rates.

What does the future look like? While religiosity was indeed correlated with a higher birth rate, two higher correlatory factors were (1) a hatred of outgroups (xenophobia) and (2) a tendency to favor extremely hierarchical, traditional, power structures (authoritarianism).

Cultural trends favoring xenophobia and unwillingness to engage and interact with outside groups and ideas worry us.

How can one culturally engineer a civilization?

Cities and suburbs will largely cease to be safe places to raise kids.

A world of rapidly collapsing population makes stock markets and debt instruments systematically unsafe places for money. The only smart investment is in communities with populations that are still growing and economically interacting.

These will be small, culturally isolationist, economically viable groups, likely religious, xenophobic, and fascist — or otherwise dictatorially hierarchical. They will offer rare opportunities for wealth appreciation.

There will be a correction — one that is dramatically more inclined toward dictatorial fascism, phobic toward free speech, and likely to dehumanize women and outsiders.


Why are birth rates falling? Decreased utility from children, people are optimizing for happiness, declining male fertility, broken relationship markets.

How did Detroit collapse? Detroit lost around 600,000 residents between 1950 and 1980, leading to a 60 % population decline. Fresh water and working sewer systems are often two of the first utilities to stop working. In response to its drop in residents, Detroit had to raise taxes. Wealthy residents fled.

Are we descending into an Idiocracy future? Multiple studies have demonstrated that IQ is dropping by about 0.2 points annually in some regions. We’re probably experiencing a meaningful decline in genes associated with high IQ that is likely to be sustained in the future. In an Idiocracy-style future, the government is dumb but benevolent, whereas the future toward which we are presently headed resembles more of an ISIS-style society.

If you care about the environment, having kids makes things worse in the short term but strictly better in the long term.

We already accept that demographic collapse is inevitable; all we hope for now is a soft landing with minimal damage to diversity and human rights.

Banning abortion and contraception is not an effective means of increasing population in the long run.

Our best strategy for getting our kids to raise their own children within our culture is for them to see it function first hand. If our children look back on their childhoods with warm nostalgia, are set up for a prosperous future and grow up within a cultural framework they are welcome to alter and improve — they will not only be more likely to pass this culture onto children of their own but also edit it to make it better.

Some cultures have adopted systematized dating markets — like Mormon singles wards — while others simply assign partners.

Shared relationship norms offered by some cultures are especially helpful.

Many cultures provide their members — or in some cases their wider community — with a social safety net.

Many cultures offer some form of psychological support.

Many cultures, through their prohibitions, shield adherents from major hazards, such as alcohol and gambling.

Some cultural traditions produce individuals with specialized social functions or reputations that offer advantages in job markets

The rule of thumb my grandfather taught me was that you should find a life partner and educate yourself as much as possible in your 20s, build your wealth in your 30s, sell or pass down all your actively managed companies in your 40s, and after the age of 50, dedicate yourself 100 % to public service.

Stage 1: 0-13 (Up to Adolescence) :

Learn as much as possible, with a focus on STEM skills, communication, and philosophy.

Play — and play hard.

Stage 2: 14-18 (Up to Legal Adulthood )

Almost nobody you meet at this age will matter in your adult life.

Practice romance and dating.

Set yourself up for a strong career trajectory.

If you leave adolescence on a working-class path, it will be incredibly hard to switch, later, to an elite trajectory.

Seek out novel information.

Socialize and experiment with other cultures.

Learn how to become “popular” within them by traversing their social hierarchies.

We recommend waiting until around the age of 17 to have sex.

If you’re female, don’t get pregnant.

If you’re male, don’t get someone pregnant.

If you must experiment with drugs, only do so with non-addictive substances and only try them (there is no reason to do a drug more than twice).

If you are having trouble controlling your basic bodily urges (such as libido), naltrexone might help, but should only be turned to as a solution of last resort.

Stage 3: 19-30 (Young Adulthood)

Launch your career, while igniting your first entrepreneurial ventures on the side.

Find your life partner: You must find a spouse within this window.

Start saving and investing. You should aim to save around 35 % of your income.

Create a fertility fund. Save enough money to bank embryos at a later date.

Move to a major city. Choose a city in which you have an unfair advantage professionally and romantically

Avoid the temptation of academia.

If you want to travel, do it now.

Aim to go on five dates a week for around two and a half years.

If you live in a city at this life stage, remember your stay is temporary. Don’t put down roots.

Stage 4: 30-50 (Adulthood)

Spend a year banking embryos to build up a supply sufficient to have the family you desire.

Start your family.

(30-40) Maximize income. As these are your highest income-producing years, you should expect to transition to a passive income within 20 years.

(40-50) Transition to public service. At this stage you should be transitioning to a 100 % focus on public service.

Most adults stop meeting new people and ease into fairly isolated social circles.

Take the initiative to organize social gatherings, introduce people to each other.

Leave the city. Once your partnership and careers are secure, shift to a more rural living arrangement to give your kids a good childhood and enjoy more affordable childcare, food, and services.

Consider what is within driving distance, as air travel becomes increasingly cumbersome once you have more than two kids.

Become a nexus of socialization for others by hosting events.

Begin to aggressively position yourself for public service.

Stage 5: 50+ (Seniority)

Enjoy mentorship, advisory roles, and cultivation of younger generations.

Take on a more active role as an investor, board member, mentor, advisor, and grandparent.

Enter public service.

Support your children. A major focus of your life at this point should be helping your kids with child care.

Prepare for death well before the end is imminent. Keep in mind that end-of-life care and post-death complications can tear families apart.

If you want a healthy body, you will need to exercise, move, and push it daily.

It is at this stage that more adults begin to become “set in their ways.” Prepare to correct for this — even if correction comes at a cost. For example, psychedelics, taking sabbaticals, and moving to new locations.

Should kids be allowed to play unsupervised? At what age should people start working? How are childhood conflicts best resolved?

We were systematically taught to neither respect authority figures nor trust them to solve problems. In my family, it was expected kids would go out, have fun, get hurt, and work it out on their own.

Create traditions and practices that shape people into adults equipped to behave as desired. Because we, personally, want a culture that sees sex as a practical affair and death as a normal part of life, we (among other things) adopted a dog

People who grew up constantly moving or around cultures wildly different from their own (a different country, for example) typically have the most engaging adult personalities.

Notable downsides of maternal guilt-tripping include its emotionally taxing nature.

Shame/guilt culture spreads not because it is effective but because shaming is emotionally rewarding.

Logical self-interest tactics are healthy and effective when deployed well but requires understanding what the target actually wants.

Honor is one of the most useful cultural motivators.

Group pride increases the more special it feels to be a member of a group.

Personal pride is one of the predominant cultural motivators with which I was raised and it plays a key role in our House’s descendant worship theology.

Honor codes are well worth including in any intentionally designed or reinforced culture.

People are much more likely to trust Mormons with upper management positions, Jews with managing their financial assets, and Jains with their accounting in part because those cultures’ respective honor codes.

House Collins’ Honor Code: Fiduciary Responsibility matters above all other concerns. Have complete emotional control at all times. Happiness is a reward, not a destination. Always take responsibility for failures. Family and House come first. “I will,” rather than IQ, should be a source of pride. Don’t trust authority; contribute new ideas. Live intentionally.

We can also confidently state that there is no powerful secret society run exclusively by Jews.

Many of the societies framed as “ scary ” in the public consciousness are in the process of collapsing from infighting

We can imagine it is a terrible strategy to stay geographically tethered as a culture. Those who refused to leave their land during the Irish potato famine starved.

All hard cultures reward and encourage emotional self-control while almost all pop cultures glorify emotional and mental instability.

A long-term culture is marked by: Emphasis on persistence, Relationships ordered by status, Emphasis on personal adaptability, De-emphasis on leisure time, Emphasis on relationships and market positions, Circumstantial interpretations of good and evil

Most American cultures are somewhere in the middle. China is seen as being very long-term-oriented.

The Pragmatist’s Guide to Life by Malcolm Collins


What should I optimize for in life?

How do I know what is true?

Who should I be?


Why were most cultures in human history wrong, whereas the time and place that you just happen to be born into correct?

Many books that claim to be about some form of “self-improvement” are in reality collections of pleasant platitudes and stories that make you feel powerful while merely affirming beliefs you already kind of had.

Most self-improvement books are written with the goal of selling more books.


What is the purpose of my life?

How do I best fulfill that purpose?

Who do I want to be?

How do I want others to think of me?

Step 1: Determine Your Objective Function

Your objective function should be to maximize whatever group of things you believe has intrinsic value.

Deciding your objective function is perhaps the single most important decision of your life.

We use the term “objective function” and not “purpose,” though the two are closely related.

An objective function should be thought of as a weighted combination of the things you believe hold intrinsic value (eg. happiness, pleasing God, reducing suffering.)

Maximizing positive personal emotions (the pursuit of happiness) is most individuals’ “default” intrinsic value. However, emotions are neurochemical slurries evolved to promote survival and replication.

You might think there is something intrinsically bad about suffering (e.g., a child starving to death), and therefore there is intrinsic value in preventing it. If so, then is it not best to sterilize the populations of countries with high levels of suffering?

People who believe freedom has inherent value hold the ability of a conscious entity to do “what it wants” above all else. If you could press a button that would make the world’s population 15 % less happy but 10 % more free (by whatever metric you define freedom) would you?

Many people conclude that some form of continuing their own existence has intrinsic value. If you believe the “you are your body” version, would you kill yourself today if it allowed you to spread 5 % of your genetic material to everyone born in the next generation.

In the past, one of the most valuable things an individual could strive for is to b remembered in stories. That the truest form of immortality is to have the story others tell about you last forever.

If you fulfill your purpose perfectly, but are neither remembered nor liked upon your death, have you lived a good life?

When someone asks you on your deathbed what your life amounted to, there is an innate pull to want to be able to answer that your life mattered.

If it is your interaction with history that imbues you with intrinsic value, would you sacrifice your life and the lives of all your relatives today — even if no one remembered you existed — so long as doing so guaranteed that you made a positive, lasting, novel impact on world history?

Some people go so far as positing that our inclination towards fairness is more than a lower-order emotional pathway like lust and believe it to be imbued with intrinsic value. Fairness is used more often in virtue signaling due to its low social cost.

There are those who dedicate their life to artistic endeavors. Did you choose to believe this to justify your lifestyle and self-image as an artist? Is it the inspiration of others or the creation of art itself that has intrinsic value?

Some believe that intrinsic value lies in the diversity of one’s experience. Experiences have value based on their novelty. Even a positive experience loses all value as it becomes routine.

Some conclude that the protection and development of human civilization has intrinsic value.

Some conclude that there is inherent value in accumulating and distributing knowledge about the nature of the universe.

For some, the existence and continuation of the universe is a thing of intrinsic value and perhaps logically the thing of ultimate intrinsic value.

The belief that lucidity (or enlightenment) has intrinsic value surfaces in several religious traditions as well as numerous new-age philosophical movements. This is often attempted through regular and prolonged meditation, mindfulness, and / or prayer.

Religious beliefs in this guide are divided into four categories: Hard Belief Systems, Soft Belief Systems (traditional religion made to conform to mainstream social trends,) Personal Belief Systems, and Self-Image-Based Belief Systems.

Self-Image-Based Belief Systems: first decide what “type of person” we are and then “choose” whatever belief system that “type of person” would believe. This is the only belief system category we will openly condemn.

Step 2: Determine Your Ideological Tree

We define an ideology as a hypothesis about how the world works that you utilize to maximize your objective function.

Two people who believe that pleasing God is the only thing of intrinsic value may have two different and contradictory paths to pleasing God because they have different ideological trees.

Ideologies exist within a branching hierarchy — an ideological tree. It is worth expending mental energy on ensuring it is correct. Ideologies closer to the trunk take precedence if there is a conflict.

Almost as important as our objective function is the “standard of evidence” we choose when building our ideological tree.

If you hypothesize that socialism is the best political system for relieving suffering, what standard of information is required for you to change your mind?

Unlike objective functions, which are ultimately judgment calls, ideologies can be proven categorically wrong.

You must first establish what information you will consider as evidence.

What would it take, for example, to make you believe — or not believe — in ghosts?

There are seven types of evidence: Logical Consistency, Personal Experience, Personal Emotional Experience, Cultural Consensus, Expert Consensus, Scientific Method, Doctrine.

One of the strongest innate drives in the human mind is an addiction to not thinking and a tendency to choose the path of least resistance. Think through your ideological tree carefully.

Step 3: Determine Your Personal Identity

You get to choose who you are.

Most of our lives are lived in a sort of autopilot.

This autopilot is driven by the type of person we have allowed ourselves to become in response to the serendipitous events we have experienced in life.

Who you are now is a Franken-identity pieced together by experiences you have been randomly subjected to throughout your life.

To build your personal identity, you must take stock of your personal beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses to determine how they can best be leveraged in pursuit of your objective function.

Most choices humans make about how to interact with the world are made unconsciously on “autopilot.”

By changing your internal sense of self, which determines how you react to things, you can change your emotions.

It becomes easier to silence those parts of our brain that are on auto-pilot if we have moments of lucidity built into our weekly schedule.

Schedule a morning walk and talk with your significant other during which you discuss your goals for that day and that week.

Flux periods are times in our lives during which we can rewrite and adjust our core mental models.

Periods of flux (moments in which your internal model can be edited) can occur during: major life transitions, major social transitions, moments experiencing abnormally high levels of oxytocin release (falling in love), hitting rock bottom, getting high (meditation or drugs), artificial flux periods (sabbatical and the localized reboot.)

The localized reboot involves moving to a new neighborhood and building completely new routines, surroundings, and social networks.

If you do not choose to change yourself, the world will change you.

Five outside forces build our internal models when we do not take personal responsibility for their development: social conformity, cognitive dissonance, personal ego, reinforcement, and instruction.

Suppressing emotions is cognitively taxing and will prevent you from inhibiting other impulses.

We can control our emotional reaction by changing the story we are telling ourselves about what we are experiencing.Recontextualization is something humans naturally do when dealing with tragedy.

Focus on just how easy it would be for you to let go of whatever it is you are angry about. It is your choice to stay angry.

Positive overlay states can be created through simple “life hygiene.” This includes eating healthy food, exercising, meditating, maintaining good sleep hygiene, giving to charity, having meaningful work, maintaining regular social interaction with people you like, having a sense of purpose, knowing what you want from life.

Actions which do not feel good in the moment, such as caloric restriction, exercise, charitable giving, hard work, or social interaction, can ultimately have a very positive effect on your overlay state.

One of the best ways to maximize your overlay state is to feel there is purpose to your life.

Studies have backed the idea of happiness set point theory. The only thing that can affect the level of positive emotion you experience in your life as much as your self-image is your “default” overlay state.

Actions such as prolonged charitable activities and exercise will nudge your happiness threshold down (making it permanently easier to experience happiness).

We are horrendous at actively pursuing experiences that make us genuinely happy.

Instead of focusing on how happy an activity makes us on average, we focus more on specific memories in which we had a uniquely high level of positive emotion.

When you are on autopilot, you will naturally gravitate towards activities that reinforce your self-image.

For example, a person who sees themselves as an intellectual bohemian may go to a museum not because they enjoy the content of the museum, but because they enjoy doing an activity that reinforces the way they see themselves.

Content you post to social media will alter your memory of an event and cause you to believe you were happy doing something that actually was not much fun at all.

Experiences do not have to be something you are actually doing in the moment but can be completely in your imagination. We are also capable of experiencing things that are 100% imaginary.

It is almost comically easy to experience happiness whenever you want, even though only one third of Americans describe themselves as happy.

It is always going to be easier to create a sustained happy state by simply altering the self-image.

The simplest of these heuristics is to pursue as many novel experiences as possible.

If an important aspect of your objective function is maximizing the amount of “memory” generated, you would benefit from constantly moving to new cities, creating new homes, and reinventing who you are.

Unproductive Self-images: Failure or Helplessness as Part of Who You Are, External Locus of Control, Vice-Oriented, Lower Status Than That You Occupy, Perfectionist, Good Person, Protector of the Weak, Unsustainable, Rely Heavily on How others See You, Normalizing Negative Behavior, Lower-Ranking Ideological, False Alarms, Group Association, Combined Identities

This is one of the most important takeaways from this guide. Most people live their lives almost completely on autopilot. If you do not make a concerted effort to think critically, your default self-image-powered autopilot will dictate. Deliberately choose your self-image.

Self-image framework: Am I the type of person who would say yes when asked by a friend to climb Kilimanjaro?”

Objective function framework: Does climbing this mountain contribute to my objective function?

By changing the way you dress, you reinforce a change in your public and private persona. Getting dressed as your “new and improved” self helps to keep you in character.

An easy way to ensure change in our behavior is to create extremely simple rules that we do not allow ourselves to break, ever.

One of the best ways to persuade yourself to maintain a change you have made in your life is to persuade someone else to make the same change.

A token is a physical reminder you carry with you to remind you of some pledge you have made to yourself. Keep in your pocket every day can help remind you to focus on your goals.

One way to sustainably remove an unwanted habit is to associate it with something your core character despises (small mindedness, weakness, naltrexone.)

One of the most effective, but difficult to achieve, mechanisms is sustained social pressure and group accountability: conditioning, conformity, group identity, accountability.

There are factors that influence our behavior that are outside our control: genetic influencers, traumatic life events, addictions, priming influencers, and logical fallacies and biases.

Step 4: Determine Your Public Identity

You, dear reader, are a supporting character in the eyes of every human being you will meet.

Paint yourself as a compelling supporting character.

Your public and internal characters are not the same thing. Your public character is what other people use to categorize you within their heads

Most people lack the time to understand your true inner character.

Internal self-images come across as forgettable and bland in public.

As with box art advertising word processing software, you need to focus on what is different about you.

If you are just trying to maximize positive emotional states or believe the best way to impact the world is through operating invisibly, then the rest of this chapter will not apply much to you.

If you want to impact the world in a manner that leaves you personally remembered / recognized for your work, or should you wish to influence a large number of people through the avatar of your own person

Create the best supporting character you can. Our brains prefer that side characters be easy to categorize archetypes.

Choose a trope. Tropes fit snugly into our brains as bold, simple, and easy to understand.

Identify what, specifically, you want to achieve in life to maximize your objective function. Make a list of individuals who have achieved these roles in the past.

Look for similarities in the way they dress, speak, move, and ascend to their current roles.

Your new outfit and public personality act as a constant signal to yourself that you have made a conscious decision to change and improve.

Strong public personas must also contain flaws. By creating an “intentionally flawed persona,” you can choose what people determine is wrong with you.

Strong and obvious flaws combined with a powerful character grant a politician and his or her supporters a remarkable ability to shrug off attacks.

Maybe a flaw that you can’t seem to shake no matter what you do.

Maybe a flaw that seems terrible but that don’t disqualify you from achieving your goals. Eg. Bill Clinton’s serial philandering.

Craft these elements to match your public persona: clothing, haircut, hobbies, diet, drink, speech pattern, public mannerisms, goals, achievements (degrees, club memberships).

Does this depict a character that is simple, memorable, and easy to digest?

Is this character significantly different from the general population?

Is this character in line with my internal personality model?

Is this character in line with my ideologies?

Is this character the best possible tool to execute on my ideologies in a way that will maximize my objective function?

We all know of people with friends who do nothing but hold them back, enable their bad habits, or emotionally tear them down.

Managing friendships intentionally will always be superior to allowing friendships to form and fade.


Culture can influence your autopilot behavior.

A family’s religious culture can be fine-tuned over generations, helping members of each generation optimize as people.

Culture is best transmitted through traditions and media. We modified existing holidays and created a few of our own.


Everyone knows Socrates’ adage “the unexamined life is not worth living,” but almost no one is ever seriously encouraged to examine their life.

You have the power to choose to be anyone you want to be.

The authors’ personal objective functions are to increase the efficacy of humanity’s collective mental substrate: open to new ideas, letting the best idea win.