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History of my name

A lot of people ask me if Buster is my real name. Here's the answer.

I have a pretty weird story to share about my name.

I was born with the name Erik Keith Benson.

My parents told me that Erik is a Norse/Swedish name meaning king or something, loosely hand-waving to my father’s side of the family that is from there (though we have no known family that’s still over there). My mom said that the “k” was also convenient because it maps to the hard “k” sounds in Japanese. My first name in Hiragana is:


And is pronounced eh-ri–ku.

Keith was my father’s middle name and my grandfather’s middle name, and my grandfather went by Keith. Another call out to that side of the family, but I don’t know if it had any significance past that. Looking it up on family search, none of my grandfather’s other 12 (!) siblings had the middle name Keith, and I don’t see it showing up in generations previous to that either. I remember some kid making fun of my middle name when I was super young… he said it was a nerdy or otherwise awkward name, and I often made fun of my own middle name for years, probably as a self-defense mechanism to that. It’s weird how that is still attached to my relationship with that name.

And Benson also comes from my father’s side. I wish I had some connection to my mom in my name… that K at the end of Erik isn’t really a whole lot to go on. Benson was given to Sven “Swanty” Johan Bengtsson when he immigrated to the US on September 27th, 1875, having been converted by Mormon missionaries (I think).

Now for the fun part.

In 2006 I …

Added to the Self-reflection pile.
February 6, 2019

The definition of “emotional labor” has changed

The original meaning was about the work of hiding emotions from your job.

Arlie Hochschild coined the term in her book, The Managed Heart, to describe a component of some service industry jobs in which workers must project a different emotion than the one they are experiencing.

The new common usage is super valuable for us, and probably more valuable than the original intended meaning. But I also really like the original intended meaning and think it too is a phenomenon worth understanding.

The new usage of “emotional labor” has gained currency as a way to describe the myriad unpaid jobs and responsibilities that people (many of them women) take on in families, offices, and communities.

In families, the term refers to the mental work required to keep a household running—all that scheduling and bill-paying and research—as well as the anxiety of being in charge of those thankless and largely invisibly tasks.

“Emotional labor” had a narrower meaning as it was originally conceived. In 1983, the Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined the term in her book, The Managed Heart, to describe a component of some service industry jobs in which workers must project a different emotion than the one they are experiencing. The most often used example of this is a flight attendant tasked with maintaining an air of friendly calm, even amidst passenger complaints or turbulence (a notion that inspired an entire genre of Saturday Night Live skits). It’s a useful term, to describe a real phenomenon.

The original definition of “emotional labor” is the work of …

From Annaliese Griffin.
Added to the Fuzzy pile.
January 20, 2019

The Hippocratic Oath

A pleasant oath to remember our humanity.

I went down a strange research rabbit hole about the Hippocratic Oath, and tweeted about it:

Click through for the rest.

This is a modern re-write of the Hippocratic Oath which is the version most adopted by doctors today.

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

Okay, it’s good to be humble and acknowledge the mountain of science that every doctor stands upon.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures that are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

This is my favorite line in the oath because it acknowledges that it’s necessary to always find the right balance here, and there’s no hard line around treatment or no treatment that a medical philosophy can rest on.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

Another caveat to our instincts to reduce everything to facts and theories. You gotta be a human as well.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

More humility. More acceptance of the fact that we’re all human.

I will respect the privacy of …

From Wikipedia.
Added to the Health and Negative space piles.
January 17, 2019

The Beginning of a Fruitful Dialogue

Things we’ve seen and learned 10 days into the formation of a new friendly and diverse space on the internet.
Added to the Dialogue pile.
Part of the Fruitful project.
January 17, 2019

Can a friendly and diverse dialogue exist between liberals and conservatives on the internet?

Let’s learn from past mistakes and keep trying.

For the last 2+ years I’ve been researching and writing a book about productive disagreement (Why Are We Yelling? will be published in 2020). It’s based on work that has unfolded since I synthesized all 200+ cognitive biases into 4 universal conundrums that our brains are constantly trying to solve in the Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet, which has since been read more than a million times. This unfolding project has been the hardest and most rewarding work of my professional life so far.

It seems necessary to put these ideas into practice towards something meaningful. That is, addressing one space that is very negatively impacted by our struggles with communication: politics.

I’m in the early stages of forming what hopes to be a friendly and diverse community for political conversation online. You probably think I should have my head checked, right? I know many efforts are happening around this right now because the time is ripe for this to happen. I think we can do it!

It’s invite-only and will be moderated to encourage respectful, open dialogue from all sides. The only problem is that my own network is largely liberal-leaning. Like many these days, I live in a bubble.

I think the best way to make it all feel less like a trap to conservatives and more like an opportunity to relieve some of our collectively built up frustration is to find a founding member with strong ties in conservative communities. I’m extremely interested in any intros to people you think might be a good fit …

Added to the Dialogue pile.
Part of the Fruitful project.
January 9, 2019

Announcing a new friendly and diverse community: Fruitful

Call for early adopters!

What is it?

Fruitful will be an invite-only Q&A community around the question of how we can be most productive as humans and citizens during the upcoming 2020 election season (based on many streams of work I’ve been aggregating for my book on productive disagreement). It won’t be on Facebook, and it won’t be ad-supported, and it will be FREEEEE. It’ll be a place to ask questions and get input from a wide variety of perspectives that are quieter and more nuanced than the kind that travel through the news and social streams.

The biggest goal I have is to make it a FRIENDLY AND DIVERSE community, with people from many different perspectives and backgrounds communicating productively.

It’s not going to happen by accident.

To do this right, I’m gonna need your help. This means, from the start, we need to find people who aren’t in my filter bubble politically and demographically, and to work with them from the start as founding members who can help represent views that I can’t represent.

This means finding women, under-represented minorities, a variety of ages, ethnicities, and economic and social circumstances. It also means finding people who are on the right, and people who have lost hope, and people who are not represented by any political party. If you are in one of these groups, please reach out! I want to work with you.

(It does NOT mean I’m looking for ass hats and harassers. In fact, ass hats and harassers aren’t allowed no matter what your political persuasion is.) …

Added to the Dialogue and Government piles.
Part of the Fruitful project.
January 7, 2019

30 fundamentals

Lots of things I agree with in John Nerst's 30 Fundamentals.

My top take-away

I lifted a couple things from this list and added them to my own beliefs file. Specifically, thoughts around how modern life is changing the way we relate and communicated to each other and causing all kinds of problems. Overall, this is a great read and also a great example of the value in articulating foundational beliefs and opinions.

My highlights

The kind of background assumptions that float by unnoticed when you agree with them work very differently when you don’t.

I love how this is articulated. Our confirmation bias against our cognitive dissonance… two sides of the same coin.

It’s interesting how so many things are implied and unsaid (and how, if you agree with these things, you don’t even notice). A writer may leave things unspecified for several reasons: they might not be aware of their own assumptions, they might think they are obvious, or they might just think the reader agrees. Or all three.

I agree, and also the impracticality of actually being explicit about everything. Communication is already so difficult and low-bandwidth that we have to take advantage of unsaid things.

This works ok in the real world. It doesn’t work at all on the internet where voices are disembodied and spaces have ill-defined borders.

Because in the real world we tend to have more history with the people we’re talking to. Not necessarily because of the medium.

It also encourages a shoot-first-ask-questions-later, “thorns out” approach to reading …

Added to the Rules to live by pile.
January 4, 2019

Equilibriums and Limits: a better way to look at most every political issue

Understand the difference between equilibriums and limits.

My top take-away:

When the argument is about a binary choice between only two option, consider re-framing the difference as something that exists along a spectrum, with more than two possible perspectives. Some perspectives will be about which direction we should push, relative to our current circumstances (aka equilibrium perspectives). Others will be about what kinds of absolute limits we should put into place regardless of current circumstances (aka limitation perspectives).

My highlights:

We sometimes think of political issues in binary terms. Is someone pro-life or pro-choice? But most individuals hold views that are more complicated than a binary can capture.

A fool’s choice. If you’re choosing between one thing or the other, expand the pool of considered options.

An alternative is to describe a given position on a spectrum.


Most political stances can be understood in terms of an equilibrium. For instance, some people might believe that access to abortion in a conservative state is too restricted under the status quo, and favor relaxing the rules regulating abortion clinics. That is, they might favor shifting the equilibrium in a “pro-choice” direction.

The stance is relative to the current perceived status quo rather than an absolute position.

Some Americans would feel less polarized and alienated from their fellow citizens if they recognized that some of the people fighting on “the other side” of a polarizing issue actually hold values and …

Added to the Dialogue pile.
January 2, 2019

History of my beliefs (so far)

My beliefs are constantly changing, and so are the tools I use to share them.

A short history of how my beliefs have moved over the years. You can find every change to every belief between 2012 and 2019 in this changelog.


I listed about 40 beliefs the first time I sat down and tried to do this. Organized by subject, like “On Morality”, “On Science & the Universe”, etc.


It almost doubled in length in the second year to about 70 beliefs. It was still largely tracked on a subject basis.


I added a bunch of stuff to the top and all around the beliefs to better explain the system of tracking beliefs over time and reviewing them frequently. I think I realized at this time just how valuable the project was to my own sense of well-being, and I hoped others would find it useful too. I also added a section for my “favorite ideas” because these too seemed to shift and grow over time in a way that was useful to occasionally review.


I tried something new this year, and attempted to organize by beliefs by the type of belief they were instead of by their subject. I was really interested in understanding the structure of beliefs, and coming up with language to describe how beliefs were shaped in our brains, and how they served different functions. I think this is where I lost a lot of people… whereas before people would see the Codex and say “Wow, I want to make one” now they said “Wwow, that looks complicated. I could never do something like that.”


I stuck with this system …

Added to the Meta and Self-tracking piles.
Part of the Codex vitae project.
December 31, 2018

Sarah Mei’s thread about the negative space of technology

Every technology has both upsides and downsides.

It starts here, click through to read:

From Sarah Mei.
Added to the Negative space pile.
December 31, 2018

Buster Benson (@buster) is a writer and builder of things. If you're new here, check the about page or see my entire life on a page.


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