Being Your Own Parent

Over the course of years, I’ve slowly determined that most of my flaws and ugliest tendencies are simply the things my parents let me get away with as a child. I say this not to shirk responsibility, but because I think we often flatter ourselves and over complicate the causes of our pathology.

Whatever flaws I see in others I fast find in myself, among them a certain brattiness that masquerades as sophisticated angst or existential frustration. I look back at the style of temper-tantrum or pouting I performed as a kid, and catch myself doing a grown up version when things don’t go my way.

My parents let me retreat into my comfortable spaces far too often. I was allowed to retreat when I should have been helped up and told to get on with it. My room was a refuge, and when I didn’t play well with others I had toys and gadgets to replace them. That privilege granted me the luxury of an early introversion that probably had even less utility then than now.  The benefit of such an early start was that eventually, introspection got boring, like mining the same stone, again and again, allowing me to be frank about what was once hidden and unknown.

They say our personality is locked in by age 4. But what you can observe you can measure, and what you can measure you can change. I’ve put myself on a steady diet of self-observance, and in many ways become the stern parent for myself.

Being willing to do this dirty work might give me a fighting chance at changing course a bit, correcting the things that should have been corrected some time far back on an elementary school play ground.

Sometimes it feels a bit like watching a nature documentary where I myself am simultaneously the subject and viewer.

I’m not saying it’s fun. But it just might work.

Laughing at Life

Whats disturbing in one moment is hilarious the next.

Humor is usually the release of tension caused by a change in context regarding a shocking or absurd event.

People who don’t laugh are usually bitter, cynical, and resentful of the cruel nature of the world. The reasons for this are more than chemical. It is all too easy for one to despair in the knowledge of our condition; as mortal members of a young species existing on a floating piece of rock in a largely empty and barren Universe.

Yet that very description of our existence could function as the set up to a joke.

I’ve heard that morticians usually go to their work with a light-hearted attitude. Because what other choice do they have?

If every mortician woke up every day considering the dark implications and meanings implied by every part of their work, none would ever last more than a month.

We, as humans have no other choice but to laugh in the face of our absurd position as self-aware monkeys capable of gaining control and understanding of physical laws and conditions. Our options, if we are to confront the reality of existence, rather than ignore it, are only this; cradle our heads and weep, or throw them back and laugh at the stars.

The moments we forget that smirk and glimmer in the eye, whenever we cast our eyes down to consider graveyards and names long forgotten, we lose the emotional levity and leverage required for a productive experience and existence. The agoraphobes and the shut-ins aren’t laughing very much–, and from a certain perspective, their attitudes toward the world are accurate. It is risky out there. Chaos reigns supreme everywhere, successful though we might be at managing specific processes and outcomes. To live is to risk, to be in danger, to get hurt, stumble, fall, get embarrassed, and fail as many times as not.

But to despair and retreat from all that, to hide in safety and sadness–

What is that but a death for the living?

 

Productivity vs. Chaos

Productive use of one’s time is perhaps the primary goal of adult life in our society, yet we find it more difficult than ever to define what productivity actually is. 

Often we act under the assumption that productivity is simply whatever makes us feel productive, though that sort of circular logic fails in that its efficacy is not measured by way of an external result.

It seems to me the simplest, most helpful definition is:

Activities can be regarded as productive in so far that they bring about the desired result.

So is productivity than our true North, the thing by which our lives should be organized?

The answer to that question is contingent on your own trust of the human mind’s ability to determine what is actually worth pursuing.

If the desired results are destructive, can the activities that led to them be considered productive?

Alas, it seems we’ve fallen into a semantic game. The truth of the matter is, your own awareness is all that you can know to exist, and the only thing by which all else is measured. If you cannot trust your rational mind, you trust nothing at all.

Results are generated by right behaviors, and right behaviors are determined by analysis of previous results, which in turn are the data by which we can design systems to achieve desired results.

Easier said than done, though we may still take comfort that paths to success can be defined so simply.

Systems thinking may be our best defense against the chaotic world around us, and the disordered states of mind that arise as our ego scrambles to protect itself.

 

 

Lift Your Weight

“The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.”

-Jim Morrison

The same sentiment was expressed by philosopher Jean Paul Sartre in a phrase that has been much repeated and misinterpreted:

“Hell is other people.”

Both quotes resonate with a truth known to all of us. We are social animals, forced everyday to have interactions with the most complex systems currently known; other human beings.

And of course, we ourselves are complicated and often self contradictory actors in the social world, both creators and destroyers of ourself and others. Those around us exert a social pressure that we in turn submit to, transmute, and exert back out. This occurs on the micro level within us, as different thoughts and drives compete for expression through the body, and also at macro levels in social situations as different people compete for dominance and control. The global culture itself is nothing but the final expression of this near infinite set of nested competitive frame works.

But in this jungle, 7 billion strong, full of tyrants, vagrants, billionaires, and prostitutes, who wins?

Who exerts influence, and crafts the environment to their liking?

Who dies still in love with the world, and with the world in love with them?

It isn’t the ruthless.

The Stalins and Hitlers of the world live desperate, paranoid, hopeless lives full of fear and hatred. They are not happy. They are loved only by the pathological. Any look into their personal lives and this truth becomes evident.

It isn’t the greedy.

The nature of greed is in wanting more. If one is greedy, one lacks. If one lives in a state of lack, they are not happy. To call a greedy person happy is to call a leaking bucket full.

But what of the individuals?

The people who, despite their pathologies, fears, traumas, and inconsistencies see in themselves a load bearing capability. They see that they could lift a great weight, and in the lifting make their own lives worth living, and their own pathologies worth enduring.

The people who perceive what is the most difficult, impactful goal they could attempt to attain, and strive towards it, social pressure be damned.

Power games crumble on contact with these sorts. Governments change and cultures evolve. The old games become silly as history looks back and thanks these individuals by way of the favorable narrative.

Hell is other people. Perhaps hell is the entire world, both internal and external.

But heaven is the higher ideal.

Heaven is the muscle by which we may lift the weight nature has assigned us.

Find your weight. Discover your difficulty.

Fight your most terrible fight, for yourself and the rest of us.

Justify your existence, and discover the world is a simple place.

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.

Why Positive Thinking Matters

Why do we remember things?

In order to learn from previous mistakes, and correct present and future behavior.

Why can we project the future?

So we can foresee unfavorable outcomes, and avoid them.

The present is the only thing we can act upon. Both the past and the future exist only as images within our minds. From these images, we create our conception of the present.

Memories and predictions are the present moment’s context.

We have limited control over what we choose to remember. The unconscious mind filters perceptions for us and files them away. But in spite of that automatic process, we have near complete control over our attitude towards those memories.

Was that person cruel to us because of our inherently flawed personality, or because they themselves are inherently flawed, and are struggling to conduct themselves in the world?

Did our parent’s treatment of us cause permanent, irreconcilable damage, or nurture an indomitable resilliance?

Those choices, in how we conceive of past events, are left up to our conscious minds. By crafting those conceptions, we form the present moment’s context. This context determines our actions. Our actions determine our future.

And people say positive thinking is naive.

Just as depression stems from negative conceptions of the past, leading to impotence in the present, anxiety stems from negative conceptions of the future. This results in a rigid immobility, like that of a frightened prey animal.

But here again, we have control.

The world is not 10% as dangerous as it was when our biological systems evolved. We have a capacity for fear that far eclipses reasonable need. How can we overcome this obsolete circuitry?

By practicing positive visualizations of the future. Drown out the ugly projections. Look at them and dismiss them, again and again. Deny them the air they need to live. It may take months. It may take years. But thoughts, like animals, fight for prominence within your conscious mind. Support the positive conceptions. Do not nurture the negative with attention.

This is the essence of positive thinking; a vigilant tending to our mental gardens.

Do not hesitate to poison the poisonous.

Those flowers and fruit trees you wish to see grow must be tended to constantly. Water them with attention. Let them grow until they take over everything, even those patches of weeds you thought permanent and hopeless.

Do this every moment of every day of your life.

And perhaps in several years, you will wake up and find yourself in a Redwood forest, so strong and tall that the weeds are denied all light, all rain. These negative conceptions will perish without you even having noticed them.

That is the character of a healthy mind.

That is the power of positive thinking.