Self Acceptance vs. Self Improvement

How can one balance self acceptance with self improvement?

Our egos tell us that without focusing on our faults and shortcomings, improvements to our character can never be made.

But that depressing conclusion is only valid when we forget an incredibly important distinction:

 

We wield direct control only over our behavior, not over our thought process. Trying to stamp out every unwanted thought is as hopeless as fighting Hydra; as soon as one head is cut off, another appears. It’s a hopeless, frustrating, self-defeating battle.

Attempting to fight off an emotion as it arises is akin to time travel, because to truly prevent an emotion, you would have to eliminate the pre-existing mental conditions that allowed the emotion to arise. But we aren’t time travelers. Our awareness exists only in the present moment. When the emotion is there, its there. Every moment we spend wrestling with it only strengthens and lengthens its life span.

But as rational adults, we have a responsibility, a right, and a moral imperative to control our own behavior. A thought or a feeling that impels us to hurt someone need not be acted out. We’ve all felt that before, and by some method prevented ourselves from enacting the emotion. It is this capacity to regulate what internal conditions are expressed in the external world that “self improvement” helps us to cultivate. Through that ability to control our own actions, we create conditions that help us to experience favorable emotions and healthy thought patterns.

This combination of behavioral regulation with the improvement of external conditions acts upon the principle of compounding interest. As one gets better, the other in turns improves by a greater degree, and so on until incredible, almost unthinkable things are achieved.

Accept what your mind is at the present moment. No fight against yourself can ever end in victory. Only by right action can external conditions improve, an only by observance of external conditions can right actions be defined.

As for the internal…

Observe the good thoughts and the bad. Watch what frightens you as well as what gives you hope.

What is the difference between them?

Where do they go once you’ve already thought them?

And if you’re the one observing, who do those thoughts belong to?

Life Game Theory

Life must be a game because if it is anything other than a game it is torture. The difficulties, cruelties, and unfair situations are innumerable. Though these troubles differ in degree and scope, they are all the same in relative terms to those who possess them.

Only in games are difficulties intrinsically necessary. Only in games do bad things happen to the good, because there is neither bad nor good. Only aggressor and recipient.

And only in games does the triumphant coexist with the devastated, because they are two opposite states, inseparable as light and dark.

When understood as a game, life is clear in its directives for the human mind.

  1. You must play. If you do not participate at full strength you are losing. We as humans are presented with a binary choice; play or lose. Stagnation is failure. Inaction is failure. Those not swimming towards land are soon to drown, because no person can tread water for long.
  2. There are rules that must be followed, for without organizational rules success and failure cannot be operationally defined or attained. In life we can define failure, for death and pain are observable phenomena.
  3. Discerning the rules is one of the primary aspects of the game. Our most effective process of rule discernment is called science. Its current manifestation is perhaps reaching its outer limits of efficacy.
  4. Nested within the life meta-game are an infinite number of smaller games, ranging from the human devised such as chess, to the biologically based such as social interaction, to the atomic game of complexity ascendance by which life is generated and proliferates. Of course, all the games within the meta game are contained within one another and inextricably linked.
  5. We each are not only game players, but game makers who play a role in constructing the rules and governing principles of our immediate enviroments. This control has causal reach into the collective culture, as culture is nothing but the simultaneously held beliefs and subsequent behaviors of strongly causally linked human beings at any given moment.
  6. Due to our ability to conceive of the meta-game and consciously discern and shape rules, there is no definite limit on our role within the game, though so far as we know we as the created can never become the game creator, whatever such a thing may be, because that would imply an illogical causal cycle. Though, our understanding of the game logic is obviously limited and differs at the varying levels of analysis. Quantum physics has demonstrated how muddied the game gets at the most minute scales of observation.
  7. Human beings are capable of enjoying the game. Laughter is real. Smiles are real. Serotonin and dopamine are real and create experiences as obviously existent as gravity. Therefore, our perceptual frameworks are best structured to enjoy the game as much as possible.

Empathy is Ugly

To practice empathy is to model in your own mind the experiences of another. It is the primary tool in human social interaction and thus is held as the utmost good. Empathy allows one to identify pain in someone else and by that identification presents us a choice of either remedying that pain, or ignoring it.

But human beings do not develop tools that work only for the benefit of others. Empathy exists because it has utility. What is this utility?

Of course, empathy is indispensable to the tribe, as it is the basis of social cohesion.

But what is empathy’s utility to the individual, apart from those benefits derived from the success of the group?

The answer begins with empathy’s ugly offspring; envy. For so far as empathy allows us to model another’s pain, it similarly allows for us to model their pleasure. The greater one’s capacity for empathy, the greater this effect.

What is the natural result of this, if one be at least marginally self-aware, or in another way of speaking, empathetic to one’s self?

The result is knowledge of the discrepancy in pleasure and joy between our inner state, and that of another. The smiles and casual grace of those higher on the dominance hierarchy stand as intelligible signs of the direction we must strive.

Of course, as in all social animals, that direction is up. Empathy is merely the precursor to the primary propellant, envy, that may serve to launch us upwards.

Those deficient in empathy will have little motivation to strive towards the top. Why should they strive, when the benefit is not apparent? When their minds are not capable of modeling the pleasure of dominance?

But those who do not perceive themselves as capable, or of possessing the potential to become capable, of climbing the dominance hierarchy will suppress their empathy. They will label it envy, placing it neatly within the category of sin. Such poor souls will have no interest in studying the great people of the past. All will search for malevolent tidbits in order to dismiss the powerful as evil, and high positions as intrinsically entailing cruelty. In doing so, their inner empathetic compass, the one designed to direct them upwards, will be rubbed clean of its magnetism. These, the unempathetic or incapable, will likely be miserable all their lives and have no understanding as to why.

How can one be happy when the utmost biological goal, a 300 million year inheritance, is conceived of as the realm of sinners?

If striving towards greatness is not good, then nothing is good. And if greatness is anything other than improving oneself, and rising upwards within the many nested dominance hierarchies that make up our society, then nothing is great.

Empathy’s utility is in telling us who the great people are, and how far from them we currently stand. Without it, we are confused and frustrated, unable to conceive of any concrete goals whatsoever. Without such concrete goals, and our struggle to progress towards their completion, there is no positive emotion. Without positive emotion, what is life?

Confusion. Chaos. Pain. And a continually confused organism can only do one thing; spiral downwards into death.

 

Equality is Evil

The surface of a liquid only becomes flat when there ceases to be energetic motion upward or downward. This is called stagnation.

Blades of grass are only equal in length once they have been cut down by a lawn mower. The pleasant smell is their chemical cry for help, the beginning of a desperate effort to recover from the injury.

Human beings are equal at no point during their lifetime, save the end. The fastest sperm wins. Our species survival is contingent on this race. The failures of the slower are precious gifts to posterity. But if equity is the benevolent principle of organization, then let us apply it. Weights for the fastest sperm, jets for the slowest. But what abominations would be made from that billion strong stalemate?

But no, they say, you go to extremes. Your strawman is ridiculous. We wish only that the sperm would begin at the same place, and all impediments being removed, would naturally all get to the same place, at the same time.

Very well then. But then why the billions of competitors in the first place, if they are all the same after all?

No, they say, they are not all the same! But not one is better or worse than the other.

Very well then. So you do not wish to make the Procrustean bed. You simply wish to scrub the demarcations from every ruler and pluck out the eyes of every judge. Because only then, with all senses dulled and metrics melted, will there be equality.

If it is another way, then what are we?

A procession of clones, going nowhere, achieving nothing, for all our striving less than savages, for at least a savage knows the weak from the strong.

Equality is evil. Let the disparities between us form the valleys across which we build bridges, and let not our ideal be a desolate plain. For not even the rain falls equally across the earth, and life is the better for it.