At worst, we apply a supernatural explanation to the whole show, because otherwise we’d have to recognize intelligence as a natural extension of the things that happen on a barren, unattended planet. For some reason we often insist nature couldn’t be that interesting or potent on its own. There has to be a super nature, to keep nature in its rightful, humble place. It makes us feel special I guess, maybe that’s why we don’t give nature the credit. We’re special either way, but we don’t need special rules to explain how we’re here. For that matter, we don’t necessarily need to explain ourselves to ourselves at all. Whatever happened, we got intelligent at some point, and that’s great. It’s okay to wonder aloud exactly how it happened, but clearly it did.
~ David Cain
Monism has never made sense to me. It’s interesting and I’ve spent a significant amount of time turning over its various flavors trying to understand others’ points of view. But, “that’s interesting,” is as far as I get.
When I face reality—thinking through mental models, comparing them to my personal experiences, talking to other people and listening to their experiences—I simply don’t see any deep mystery in life. Certainly, I see mind-bogglingly-huge expanses of things which are unknown (by me or anyone,) but that simply makes me more excited and more curious!
What confuses me is that the majority of people think differently, and I spend a lot of time talking to people as I try to understand how they think. I have only one point of view. I’m deeply fascinated by the universe around me and, in particular, by the conversations that come from me saying, “What does that bit of reality over there look like from your point of view?”
Theoretically, if you know what you love, then every time you make a decision you’ll have a pretty damn clear idea if it’s taking you closer or further away from what you love. You’ll know the right thing to do. So self-love is a moral issue. It consists of doing the right thing, and nothing else.
~ David Cain
If you put it that way, that would me that all of my problems are my responsibility. There is, after all, nothing in my power beyond my reasoned choices.
I’m not sure that’s worth linking to. But it is the article that sparked the thought that became this post. So, hat-tip where hat-tip is due.
You’re probably familiar with the common definition of the word “doldrums”: A period of stagnation or slump, or a period of depression or unhappy listlessness. But the common definition comes from the actual doldrums, which is a place in the Atlantic Ocean, more generally referred to as the “Horse Latitudes.”
Here’s the thought I had: I’m in the doldrums.
I’m not in the internally-generated, mental state, that the common definition implies. I’m in a place in my life which is the doldrums.
Old-timey sailors discovered a huge area of the Atlantic Ocean where the winds and sea are unreliable. Once a few explorers got stuck there, “in the doldrums,” on sailing ships, they shared the knowledge with others. Everyone quickly learned to avoid the Horse Latitudes because that place made things difficult.
Long ago I developed the twin skills of self-awareness and self-assessment and set about a long—and ongoing!—journey of self-improvement. But these days, I seem to be stuck in my journey. Why? I’m in the doldrums. I’ve navigated myself to a place which makes things difficult.
Bonus: How did sailors of old get out of the doldrums? When faced with mass dehydration, (it doesn’t rain much in the doldrums,) they’d tie their huge sailing ships to their tiny row-boats, and take shifts towing the ship.
The power going out in my apartment was refreshing for that few moments only because I knew it was coming back. There was never any question about that. It’s incredible, the confidence I have in the power coming back on. I have more confidence in the power coming back on than I do in my promise to myself to go running three mornings a week.
~ David Cain
Wow, that truth stings.
Everything there is, everything we know, hinges on this one bizarre, transient condition — existence — which just happens to be your current reality. We regard the miracle of existence as a goldfish regards water, which means we don’t regard it at all. But if you think about it, it’s an exceedingly peculiar fact — that we exist.
~ David Cain
My energy and drive to write waxes and wanes. But my desire for perspective is constant. Here’s a big ol’ chunk of a different perspective from David Cain.
My favorite sort of perspective—this has happened to me several times—is when I am completely exhausted. Not sleepy, but physically exhausted. Sometimes this has been when I have a slight fever, when a bout with the flu is beginning. But sometimes it’s just after a long day of physical labor. I lay down, and every muscle in my body is completely relaxed. There’s no urge to fidget, and no urge to move. When I’m completely relaxed like this, exhaling is such a delightfully emptying feeling.
…and sometimes my brain gets quiet enough to think, “oh! This is quite nice.”
I find myself using the word “wish” when I’ve decided I don’t like something the way it is, yet I’m not actually doing anything about it. There’s no real reason to declare my wishes. Whenever I start a sentence with “I just wish…” feel free to ignore me, I’m only wasting your time. My whiny face has probably made you tune out anyway.
~ David Cain
Then I have to ask, what does it mean when we say, “I wish you well?”
It means exactly nothing.
If someone is sick, don’t send prayers or well wishes. Instead, tell them you will miss them when they are gone—oviously only in cases where Death is the elephant-in-the-room. In more mundane situations, why not tell someone how much you enjoyed this opportunity to spend time with them. …or how much you appreciate their simply calling to say hello. Don’t “wish” them well. Don’t “try” to keep in touch. (Those are just a few examples that spring immediately to mind.)
Avoiding “wishing” is not easy. I’ve been actively and intentionally working on it for many years. So far, I’ve managed only to become aware of it each time I “wish” or “try.”
Even from a seemingly unempowered starting point — a budget apartment in some forgettable corner of a society that has been designed to make you sick and impotent — these traits will do more for you than any “Anti” stance you can think of. Hating the system is a favorite American pastime. It feels good, is difficult to stop once you start, and gets you precisely nowhere, not unlike eating Doritos. This is not us against them, it’s us for us.
~ David Cain
I don’t know about you. But it is definitely “me against me.” Not in the sense, “I need to conquer myself,” but in the sense, “I need to stop defeating myself.” What’s that old adage? …be kind for everyone you encounter is fighting a great battle? I need to learn that lesson, and I need to remember that the person I most often encounter is me.
We forget that what we have is more than what we need. Obscenely more. I know it may sound perverse, but here in the future people often feel like they need more than they have.
~ David Cain
There’s a sense of accomplishment in being prepared to sleep on the floor when traveling. There’s a sense of freedom in being able to carry a small backpack and live comfortably. I always knew this was at least partly due to knowing that I was prepared enough for important contingencies and free enough to roll with whatever comes up during the day.
But now I see that there’s a second dimension to why I enjoy it: The self-imposed hardship. Sometimes the floor is cold and drafty, sometimes there’s a cat (I’m allergic to cats), sometimes everyone stays up very late (I usually turn in around 9:30), sometimes I miss a meal, sometimes I don’t sleep much if there’s too much light, sometimes it’s noisy, … and so on. Still, I am invariably in a better mood than usual the morning after each of these choose-your-own-adventures-gone-bad. Cold, stiff, sneezy, tired … sure. But in a good mood. Well, that’s very interesting, now isn’t it?
I’m not making a call for you to take up Parkour-flooring. I’m only pointing out that when I occassionally reset my callibration by intentionally taking on some suffering, I’m invariably happier after.
Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of not voting because they feel like they would then be forfeiting the only power they have over who governs. But your vote contains no power. It is a virtually inert token of your participation, which does carry some sentimental value to some people. But it has no election-swinging ability. There are plenty of actions that can make a difference but casting your vote isn’t one of them.
In the media, your vote is billed as a precious choice with resounding consequences, which means you should watch a lot of election coverage so that you don’t screw it up. Now think for a moment: who might have an interest in having you vastly overestimate the importance of your vote? The candidates, and the news organizations that talk about them 24 hours a day.
You’ve been had. They don’t want your choice to be logical, they want it to remain emotional.
~ David Cain
Next election, when you see me not wearing an “I Voted!” sticker, go ahead and ask me if I voted.
I’ve stopped looking at everyone’s lapels to see if they voted, and I’ve stopped asking people if they are going to vote. If and when politics comes up, I talk about topics that matter to me. My civic duty—and I believe it is a duty which I fulfill partly in exchange for reaping the benefits of living in a civil society—is to participate in the demoncratic process. That process includes a tiny, irrelevant show of theatre where some people see me at the local polling place. That democratic process also includes a much larger amount of other stuff; my working to understand the issues that interest me so I have an informed opinion. …and then using my brain to participate in the democratic process by browsing, negotiating, buying and selling in the Marketplace of Ideas. I hope to see you
Thanks for browsing my wares!
We usually (though not always) recognize the absurdity in blaming animals, inanimate objects, or the weather for the annoyances they cause us. Shit happens, and most reasonable people can accept that. But somehow, if we can in any way pin the inconveniences in our lives on a failing of another human being, we are quick to do it.
~ David Cain
Replace every instance of we with I in the above quote and it once fit me perfectly. I sometime mention the fundamental attribution error and that is a significant part of what he’s talking about. But there’s more to it than just that error.
This is something I’ve managed to transform into a snide condescnesion; for example, when driving, I often think, “…aaaaaand, cut me off,” just before drivers do so. I recall how I used to get angry in such situations. Really angry. Fortunately, more than a decade ago, after a lot of meditation, I learned to first witness the anger, then to know when to expect it, and finally to not bother creating it.
Witness the condescention. Learn to expect the condescension.