There are lots of self-help phrases out there.
Here's a simple example from our friend Kim Jong Un:
Live, laugh, love. Three steps. Got it! Thanks Kimmy. ❤
Live, Laugh, Love (LLL) may look like a simple, meaningless meme. But there's something about it that "fits" the human mind. It's simple. It has alliteration. It even has "Ablaut reduplication", where the i comes before the o, like in tick-tock and ping pong. It's "live, laugh, love" not "love, laugh, live."
LLL it fit for the human mind. That's why it first showed up as 1904 poem "Success" by Bessie Anderson Stanley:
He achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much
It was popular again around WWII, when this line from James Joyce's 1939 novel Finnegans Wake was found on condolence cards:
They lived and laughed and loved and left
It showed up again in the 2000s and 2010s, but now it's out of style and has receded a bit.
But will it recede forever? No. It's been popular in 1904, 1939, 2010. It will be popular again. LLL is "fit" with humans and fit memes come again. Like how Reagan used "Let's Make America Great Again" (L-MAGA) in 1980 before Trump used it in 2016.
LLL is a self-help phrase. There are also self-help frameworks. These often come packaged as a little 2x2 matrix. You may have heard of them: ACT Matrix, Bentoism, Integral Theory. They're complex enough to be helpful but simple enough to spread.
I want to look at these three 2x2 self-help matrixes today and try to answer a puzzle:
- As memetic organisms (like LLL), how do they relate to each other?
- As memetic organisms, why do they "fit" the environment?
In the end, we'll combine all three 2x2's to create a Self-Help Cube ("The Cube") that might actually help your life.
Let's look at each matrix in turn and build that cube.
1. ACT Matrix
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a kind of therapy that accepts your current state and then commits to change it.
They do this with the ACT Matrix below.
Let's say I have a slight fear of dogs (which I do, after I was attacked by dogs in two separate situations). But I also love cute dogs. What should I do about it?
- We can start in the bottom left, [Now, Internal]. When a dog shows up, I feel a bit of fear.
- This internal state gets expressed externally in the top left as [Now, External]. I might get anxious, elevated, or even leave.
- But, I can go to the bottom right to [Future, Internal]. I can re-evaluate my relationship to dogs and want to interact more with them.
- So I go to top right to [Future, External] and take some action steps like going to the dog park.
Let's look at self-help matrix #2.
Bentoism is a 2x2 that helps you make more holistic decisions. For example, let's say I'm wonder whether I should eat a pint of ice cream tonight:
- Now Me says yes. He loves ice cream.
- Future Me says no. Ice cream isn't healthy.
- Now Us is less clear. It's good to support local grocery stores, but not great to be part of a market for unhealthy food that makes Americans obese.
- Future Us says no. Instead, I could eat vegan ice cream, which is better for the environment.
So maybe I shouldn't eat a pint tonight.
As you can tell, both Bentoism and ACT Matrix share this idea of Now vs. Future. Very interesting, hmmmm. Now quite done yet though.
Meanwhile, let's look at our final self-help matrix.
3. Integral Theory
Ken Wilbur's Integral Theory helps us look at how phenomena show up throughout a system. For example, capitalism:
- Capitalism shows up at the Internal, Individual level in our consciousness. Greed is good.
- This greed shows up as External, Individual behavior, like not giving to charity.
- It also is latent in our Internal, Collective culture, like consumerism.
- Which then turns into the External, Collective system, like how consumerism is reinforced by free-trade policies.
You'll notice that each of these 2x2 matrixes has a shared axis with the other.
- Bentoism and Integral Theory look at Self vs. Collective.
- Bentoism and ACT Matrix look at Now vs. Future.
- Integral Theory and ACT Matrix look at Internal vs. External.
We can combine all three into a 2x2x2 cube. I'll call it The Cube.
Why is it helpful to turn it into a cube? We can then come from any side and "extrude" it through the rest of the cube. For example:
- I can take my ACT Matrix for fear of dogs and extrude it to the Self and Collective. How should society as a whole relate to fears of dogs?
- I can take my Bentoism for ice cream and extrude it to the Internal and External. How does my decision for ice cream show up internally in my body? How does get manifest in my behavior?
- I can take my Integral Theory for capitalism and extrude it through Now and Future. Sure, this is how capitalism looks now, but what would greed, charity, consumerism, and free trade look like in the future?
Bring this cube with you as you try to make decisions in your life. Or, if you're already seeing the world through one side, extrude it!
Let's now look at why this cube exists at all.
Why Is The Cube Fit With The Environment?
I noted at the top of this piece that Live, Laugh, Love is memetically fit with our environment. The Self-Help Cube is too.
I think of these 2x2's a "forced move" in memetic design space. What do I mean by "forced move?" It's something that will inevitably evolve given the environment. Eyes are a "forced move" in biological design space (Dawkins says "animals are indecently eager to evolve eyes"). If there's life on other planets with transparent atmospheres, we should expect eyes.
ACT Matrix, Bentoism, and Integral Theory are forced moves in memetic design space. We should expect non-English languages to find similar matrixes. If they hadn't been found yet but humanity continued forever, we would expect these 2x2's to emerge. If there's life on other planets that uses language, we would expect them to have it.
There's something "ontologically true" about Self vs. Collective, Now vs. Future, and Internal vs. External. They are "fit" with how reality works.
As an example, I wrote a piece in May 2019 on Categorizing Needs. I was trying to understand the different frameworks for needs (like Maslow) to come to a single unified framework. Here's what I arrived at:
This is like a weaker Frankenstein version of Bentoism. You could move Individual Meaning needs to the bottom right as Future Me and break up Collective/Connection needs into the top row as Now Us (connection) and Future Us (collective).
So similar to Bentoism! So surprising! Well, not really. In fact, it would almost be surprising if something like this didn't convergently evolve.
Similarly, I would expect The Cube to convergently evolve. It doesn't really matter whether I write about it or not. Someone would recognize something similar (and probably already has!).
What other 2x2's are a forced move in design space? What 2x2's share an axis with another 2x2? Is the 2x2 itself a forced move?
- h/t Alexander Herwix for connecting ACT Matrix to Bentoism.