0216 – find a reason to be (smartly) mad

I think that Life should be lived passionately, with fire in your eyes and heart. It shouldn’t be boring, mundane, forgettable. You need to feel your heart beating in your chest. to utilise your nervous system for the brief moments in which it exists. You need to dive onto the landmine called you and blow yourself the up.

It’s easy for this rhetoric to become hollow- full of thunder and bravado, signifying nothing.

I think it helps to have something that you’re truly mad about. I have flipped flopped about this a lot. Sometimes I think it’s important to be detached, to remain calm and zen. My boss often seems incredibly calm and zen. But he’s also building a startup, which is like chewing glass and starting into the abyss. Why would he do it if he were not in some sense mad? [1]

I understand the value in the plea for calm and gentle acceptance. But I think that’s also a rather privileged perspective. Imagine telling somebody who’s oppressed and subjugated that they ought to be calm and gentle. They might be if they choose to be, but nobody has any right to tell anybody else that that is what they should be.

I need to refine my statements. When I say “get mad”, I don’t mean a blind, vengeful, wrathful state that’s uncontrollable, violent, childishly aggressive. I’m talking about a cool, calculated madness that empowers and enables the possessed to be monomaniacally focused.

Focus and persistence requires energy. It requires the devotion of that energy over and over again to the same pursuit. It requires a certain intensity- and that intensity is what I am talking about. Life should be intense on some dimension. Some people achieve this through drugs and violence, or human drama. Arguments, fights, stress. I’ve experienced a little bit of that in the past and it’s really childish and boring- at least that was my experience.

I think the best way to experience that is by contributing beyond ourselves to bettering the lives of others. And yet… I have found that rather hard to do. I have found it hard to put myself in a position where I can focus on helping others. Why? I’m not sure. I know that I want to help people, but a lot of it feels like me just passing time, me just entertaining myself. [2]

I’m not sure if that’s necessarily a problem. Thinking that I’m pursuing meaning might be a losing game. I’m pursuing pleasure. I want to be excited. I want to experience flow. I want to feel connected with other humans I respect and admire. What is exciting and Interesting? Progress. The advancement of the species. If that’s too abstract- the advancement of myself.

But personal development for its own sake is something that I don’t seem enlightened enough to pursue. I forget about it. It doesn’t seem to excite or thrill me, probably because I’m too obtuse to fully appreciate the implications. Should I try to challenge myself to appreciate the implications? [3] Or should I perhaps attempt to focus on things that seem sensible in the moderate, conceivable future? Both of course, but what would I prioritise?

For the time being it seems to me that the latter makes more sense. It’s more manageable and has a better shot at yielding some sort of payoff. Also my life has stakes and I can’t afford the sort of open-ended experimentation that young privileged people tend to be able to have. [4]

What do I do then? I could focus on just getting by. Doing enough to survive and a little bit more, and then getting myself scraps of pleasure and joy where I can. This has been my primary mode so far and I have found it unsatisfactory. I am aware of the hedonic treadmill and that Life will always be defined to a large extent by dissatisfaction- but I think there are broad general states that are significantly different. There will always be some frustration in work, but a job you love is dramatically better than a job you hate. I find myself thinking about people who suffer from having a mismatch between their genders and/or sexual orientation and the world around them. For a trans person, for example, life before transitioning is often substantially more miserable than life after. Dissatisfaction, body image issues, etc are all still problems, but there’s clearly a deep difference.

What if this is the case for other things outside of gender and sexual orientation? This seems to me to be something that is almost obviously far more likely to be true than false. I think this is clear to me because I was clearly horribly mismatched in school. Suppose ADHD doesn’t exist. Why did I behave so differently from all the rest? Why was I so much less likely to do my homework? If it’s because I was lazy or selfish- why? Why was I so much lazier and more selfish than all the other kids?

A part of why I am writing these million words is to make a statement, which is this: I Am Not Lazy. It makes me mad to think that people older than me told me that I was lazy and I believed it. I understand of course that they were themselves affected by all sorts of difficulties and constraints. To them I was a nuisance, something to be dealt with. I can understand that. I don’t blame any particular Individual for it. But it gives me something to be mad about all the same.

That is not why I started writing this. I could find a way to blow it off if the world thought I were lazy. Fuck it, let them be right, I don’t have to care. But it’s not just about me. It’s about everybody else who’s maligned. There’s more to this. I’ll continue another time.

[1]At the extreme end, existence is absurd and we are all mad. Sure. But that itself doesn’t explain the range of behavior that we see in the world around us.

[2] And yeah, everything we do is to amuse ourselves- to release chemicals in our brains. The hypothesis here is that making a ‘real’ difference to other people somehow feels better than imagining it, fantasising about it, achieving the corresponding beliefs through fantasy, illusion, self-deception. Or collaborative self-delusion. Mass delusions feel completely valid to the delusional, no? Their brains literally experience the joy and euphoria that the rest of us mostly hope to achieve.

And of course in the final grand scheme of things we are all inconsequential and nothing matters. Always good to keep that in perspective. But later we will have to poop and pee and eat and drink, and in the persistence of this existence- we, as functions of the galaxy, of the universe, will have to play our roles anyway. So we might as well play roles that please us.

Something like that.

[3] This is a complicated thing I’ll have to address later, if I ever do at all.

[4] The reality is that most people in the world live very difficult lives, defined more by their responsibilities and obligations than their freedoms. So I’m still far more lucky, fortunate and privileged than most. Yet for all I know there may be poor village children in Africa who are, neurologically speaking, more happy and satisfied with life than I am- despite being materially worse off. It’s really a lot about perspective. But perspective aside, do we or do we not have an obligation to improve the lots of others? Or is it good enough to alter their experience? I change my mind about this from time to time.

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