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.

Myth of the Tortured Artist

The “tortured artist” is one our society’s most toxic cultural archetypes. Not only because it puts forth an unsustainable identity framework for creative achievement, but because that framework isn’t effective for making great creative work possible. 

It is true that abnormally creative individuals are more likely to suffer from dramatic swings in emotion. But to assume that those swings are what makes creativity possible takes away from an artist’s authentic merit.

The tortured artist idea is simply another offshoot of that even more prevalent conception of creativity; that great works are produced in an unconscious, unwilled flash of brilliance, rather than over large amounts of time wherein a huge amount of competency within a medium is established.

The 20th century hosted an abundance of great talent, doomed to die at a young age. These culture heroes fell victim to the modern phenomenon of extreme and quickly cultivated fame, as well as a superabundance of powerful and unstudied drugs. In honoring them, it is important to separate their mistakes from their masterpieces and acknowledge that the lifestyle that destroyed them is not whatsoever what made them great.

In a perverse way, these assumptions actually make producing great works seem easier than it actually is. No one can sustain a flash of brilliance, or a period of profound depression over the amount of time it takes to become a great painter or novelist, or even to produce a single significant work. Most of the time in front of the canvas or blank page will be spent in mind state similar to that of a competent machinist or woodworker. The good work will come from long periods of deep focus and deliberate will. Such periods are not sustainable if one is depressed or manic.

Turbulent emotional spikes will perhaps give you a day of good work, but they will rob you of a lifetime of steady progress and production.

The proof is written in the historical record. With few exceptions, we see that minor talents are usually manic, drug addicted, and obsessed with a conception of creativity that relies on divine inspiration.

On the other hand, we see that the Shakespeares and Da Vincis of the world are highly industrious and of sober mind. This is not to say they were not emotional or sometimes divinely inspired; it is to say that such artists merely ornamented their creative lives with such extremes, and built the rest upon a solid framework of discipline and measured devotion.

 

Accepting Chaos

I have an important question to ask you.

How many actions do you witness on a daily basis that are in anyway motivated by concerted efforts towards virtue or rationality? Include your own actions in that census of course, and be honest with yourself.

For myself, the number of such actions is so small as to be negligible, to the degree that such striving towards virtuous action usually sticks in my minds for months. I pat myself on the back for good deeds and am flabbergasted when someone interrupts their normal programming to reach out a hand to help another or refrain from a reflexive and toxic behavior.

Most of what we do is done without conscious care or consideration. The philosophical principles we study and logically understand only come into play if we make a massive moment-to-moment effort. Of course, in our pre-agricultural society, this made perfect sense. Actions needed to be quick and instinctive.

But modern life has granted us copious leisure time with which we can design our own standards of conduct. Few use their free hours in such a way. Even fewer actually apply the lessons they glean from centuries of the written word.

Therefore, in dealing with ourselves and other people, it is important to understand we are not dealing with consistent belief systems housed in logical minds. Each and every one of us is a web of conflicting drives and subpersonalities that all vie for manifestation in action.

Rationality, logic, and morality are not the default ideals or modes of being. In fact, those very words and their conceptual contexts took millennia to develop. Don’t take them for granted, and don’t expect them or feel they are owed to you by the individuals that make up our civilized society.

High standards will save you, and transform your life. But if you expect them, demand them from the external world, you will become embittered and distanced from the environment. Or else you will fall into the trap of cynicism, and adjust your standards to match the brutality and thoughtlessness that exists all around.

Progress is achieved through aiming at an ideal, whilst meeting external conditions and your own psyche exactly where they are in the present moment. 

An honest acceptance of conditions is the necessary precondition to conforming them to a virtuous ideal.

The Danger in Goals

What is the point in attaining anything, if it does not bring you joy?

A simple, cliche question but the one that is most important in considering the setting of goals and achieving of outcomes.

Human beings do not desire objects directly; we desire the states of being those objects grant us. A luxurious car is only incidental to what is actually worth a million dollars or more; the sensation of having something difficult to create, and difficult to obtain. That pleasure is, of course, the real prize. If it were not, the million would be spent on simply the fastest, most intensely practical form of transportation, rather than a meticulously engineered work of art.

Consider this fact when aligning yourself towards a particular end goal. What is the state you are after, the thing which the object or desired condition will bring you? How will you feel in that state? How long will it last? What will be the thing to break it, or strengthen it?

Most importantly, consider if your goal is truly the thing necessary to bring about that state. Most of the time, our goals do not grant us the states we hope for, and if they do, those states last only a moment.

 

The Power of a Paradigm Shift

Mind your paradigms.

It’s incredible the degree to which our behaviors are unconscious and totally determined by belief structures we don’t question or even consciously notice.

Paradigms are the lens through which we view the world.

But how can you notice a lens?

You probably can’t. But you can notice the places where it’s smudged or cracked.

Failure to achieve desired results are the clearest sign of a limiting, broken paradigm. Our unconscious minds want us to keep a limited paradigm. Our DNA wants to follow the path of least resistance, conserve energy, and reproduce. Nothing more.

In many ways, the basic drives of our DNA are sociopathic. They don’t care about charity, kindness, love, except in so far as they get us the things we need for survival and reproduction.

But our consciousness can rise above all that, and set a paradigm that beats the default behaviors assigned to us by our selfish DNA.

This is a choice we are presented with. A difficult choice, and a choice it takes effort even to perceive. But it is clear that everyone falls somewhere on a spectrum of paradigms, ranging from that of a Murderer to that of a Saint.

The former has fallen into a downward spiral, falling farther and farther down into a paradigm where all that matters is the immediate fulfillment of impulsive drives.

The latter forgoes immediate fulfillment in exchange for a continued commitment to the bettering of their environment, often at the expense of their own pleasure and profit.

Few of us exist at either of those two poles, but rather somewhere in the middle. We often swing wildly between moments of great joy and generosity and animalistic hunger or self-obsession. Take notice of what triggers these swings. It will be to your benefit, and the benefit of others to elevate your paradigm. So many of the problems we face are self-generated, due to a limited and unsustainable set of beliefs about what we need and what the Universe owes us.

It owes you nothing.

You owe it everything.

But luckily, if you are a microcosm of a system, anything that is to the benefit of the system, is a benefit to you.

Pragmatic Morality

Far too often it seems that our actions done in order to please another only increase their distaste for us, whilst those done in an attempt to distance oneself from another only further increase their attraction.

Why do we pursue what runs, and shrink away from what reaches out?

Because we unconsciously assume that what needs us must be somehow lacking, and what evades us must necessarily possess something we lack.

Or perhaps it’s derived from our ancient instinct to chase whatever runs and run from whatever chases. Such is the plight of an intelligent omnivore.

Such is the plight of an intelligent omnivore.

But to fully conscious, self-aware creatures, are millions of years of evolutionary selection really any excuse for cruelty?

As usual, the real question is not in how the problem arises, but rather in how the problem is solved.

By default, we solve this problem in one of two ways:

By treating everyone like an undesirable, or by acting as though everyone has something to offer us.

The latter, though morally appealing, is not a sustainable strategy. Many people you encounter will threaten you and through various means and for countless reasons attempt to make your life worse.

The solution is in a reciprocal morality; by offering others the exact amount of respect and compassion that they offer us, we can avoid being taken advantage of whilst also helping those who are deserving of help.

But for those people who are truly evil, how do we avoid stooping to their level?

I suppose that is the most basic question in regards to a pragmatic morality.

How low are you willing to follow the people around you?

If you encounter someone who betrays, does that give you license to act in kind?

That lower limit is incredibly difficult to determine, and it becomes more difficult the eviler the enemy.

World War II essentially drove all the opposing world powers to act as though there was no lower limit, that all acts of evil were made acceptable by the actions of the opposing side.

What is your lowest limit of acceptable conduct?

Where does self-defense begin and end?

Is it better to behave as though everyone around you was evil, whilst assuming they’re inherently good, or behave as though they’re good whilst assuming they’re inherently evil?

And perhaps the most important question of all:

From whom and by what process have you determined the answers to these questions?

Few possess clear and conscious answers to these questions, but to act in the world we obviously must have some pragmatic morality.

Watch your behavior, and the unconscious system will reveal itself.

I’ve never met a person whose system wasn’t in need of some reform.

Truth is Order

Truth is the only stable organizational principle.

It is the equivalent of “nature” in the realm of ideas, in so far as “nature” can be defined as what selects for survival and reproduction of biological entities.

The truth is what can be arrived at by differed peoples across time and space, and that does not change according to the beliefs of the preceptor.

“But matter itself is directly affected by measurement at the quantum level!”

Indeed, but isn’t that statement itself an expression of conclusions based on repeatable, measurable phenomena? Isn’t our understanding of quantum mechanics still contingent on Truth, even if only as a measure of contrast?

We are disinclined to place importance on objective truth to the exact degree that such a value system would erode our current mode of existence.

The Truth is destructive of all that does not adhere to it. Perhaps a healthy fear of tyranny is what averts our eyes from those facts and phenomena that would cause us pain and direct us to change.

So often, our relationship to the world is rendered toxic by a pathological definition of truth:

That Truth is whatever our individual mind possesses.

Such a definition is so flimsy that it either makes our behavior disorganized and chaotic or else our identities so rigid that we stagnate because any change would imply our previous presumption of the Truth was completely false, and thus contradict the very principle our definition of Truth is founded upon.

The Truth is not something you inflict on other people. If it must be inflicted, enforced, propagandized, it is likely not the truth.

Because if it were true, why would force be required to make it manifest in the world?