I’ve been sick this last week. The kind that had me on my back in the bathroom in the wee hours- the tiles were cool while I was profusely covered in sweat – pondering whether to call an ambulance or not. I didn’t, because I couldn’t deal with paperwork in Spanish at that level of disorientation. Instead, I made 4 litres of rehydration fluid to drink overnight and the next day. But while recovering since then, I like reading. And this quote hit something that’s been in the back of my mind for a while.
“Does a philosophy like Rationalism/liberalism have inherent flaws and tendencies toward making us more certain of our preconceptions? Or did this community just get how it is because of which people happened to be in it?”
My feeling is that this community – which I do enjoy dipping into occasionally- tends to fill the hole left by religion for many people. No more so than many other online communities, true. Atheism, Yoga, various diets and exercises, even the startup community is filled with people seeking meaning from things that are just not designed to give life meaning, in my opinion.
Unlike some of the other communities, though, it’s easy for people to rationalise ugly ideas with cold logic. Based on rationality alone, the Spartens were right to throw sickly babies off cliffs; the machines in the matrix were right to compare humanity to a virus that might as well be harvested, since we destroy so much; and women could kill 2/3 of all men on this planet without any impact to future birth rates or genetic diversity, while drastically helping the overpopulation problem and being able to eat the occasional steak without environmental guilt.
It’s just that all of these are so obviously wrong.
In a world where machines can do many low skilled jobs more safely, more quickly and better than humans, why are we so keen to suppress the one things we excel in? And do people keep coming with such awful ideas they try and justify? Whether under the banner of rationalism or the alt right?
The Unfulfilled Gift
I have this recurring feeling that a lot of unhappiness comes from the idea of failed potential and trying to track down that one thing that lead us astray from our “destiny”.
It has to be a big thing. A hydra.
Because a lot of books in the last 30 years and so much of the internet seem to be devoted to fixing and optimising individuals to achieve their promised potential. To find their one true calling. To finding success, love and meaning.
If you’ve been showing up each day and following the collective wisdom of parents, teachers, lectures, bosses, self-help gurus, self-improvement courses, and therapists and still not seeing results…then what’s holding us back must be really big and unseen.
Cos you’ve done your part, and no one can say otherwise.
If we could only slay that hydra, we could become our promised, successful selves.
What we name the hydra is the only thing that sorts us, politically.
For some people it’s patriarchy. For some, it’s neoliberalism. For some, it’s immigration, for some it’s EU regulations. For some, it’s feminism. For some, it’s communism. For some, it’s liberalism. For some, it’s the class system. For some, it’s white supremacy. For some, it’s globalisation. For some, it’s the medical establishment conspiracy. For some, it’s global warming conspiracies. For some, it’s cultural Marxism. For some, it’s religion. For some, it’s lack of godliness. For some, it’s the legacy of colonisation.
What if the whole problem was the idea of that potential we were expected to achieve?
What if it only ever applied to three generations in a special, post-war time, and and we took it as a birthright?
When I think of what I expected of myself, I’m ambivalent. On one hand, I never expected to make it this long without seeing the inside of a government jail. On the other hand, I kind of feel like the work I put into my career hasn’t paid of like it could have done for some others.
But who am I really comparing myself to, if I’m honest with myself? Cos I’m not doing too badly compared to the people I graduated with, as opposed to people with verfified accounts on Twitter.
I’ve seen people live in houses made of scrap metal in 40c heat without as much anger and angst as the average office worker in London, just because no one ever told them there was a future semi-detached owner in their future lives. They had no monsters to kill.
Ambition is good. Wanting a better, fairer world is something we ought to be proactive in (no one should live in a heap of scrap metal), but negative comparison to some dream our parents had for us is sucking out the joy and energy away from enjoying what we do have.
Next time, I’ll talk a little bit on why this perception of failure is making people angry. Spoiler alert, it’s a cognition bias.