I am not Atlas, nor was meant to be

The New Year forces us to do a reality check. Accomplishments. Failures. Expectations. Sage books. Bad politics. Mistletoe. The CO2 from sparkling wine hitting you in the nose. Deep breaths and realisations. Shy wishes for the future.

The light and exciting feeling of starting something big pushes me on.

Coming to conclusions reminds me of herding cats. In a big dark room.

Conclusions lead to learning. I want to learn. Learning means order and understanding. Sometimes, stormy randomness prevents linear learning. What was it all for then I wonder? Just to be lived?

A sarky friend of mine calls this “the syndrome of searching for deeper meaning”, a disorder more prevalent in women. One step away from calling me a conspiracy theorist, the sneaky fk!

Why do I want to learn? To feel less pain by stepping on the same rake, as the Russians would say? I prefer the more subtle term, adaptation.

I resolve this by looking for ways to tame uncertainty. Work around it. Turn anxiety into excitement. Think probabilistically. Find people who have the same thoughts and dreams. Remember that I can always rely on myself.

My temptation to justify, to over-explain, to over-plan and catch that finer insight comes from a heightened, unhealthy sense of personal responsibility.

Aged 5, I fell and hurt myself during play. Nothing major. My grandmother came over. I expected her to help me up and console me. Hold me and tell me it’s all ok. She lifted me alright, but then gave out to me for not looking where I was going.

I think I am still running on that software. I always look for ways in which I caused what happened to me.

In some ways, it’s helpful. In others, I am Atlas with the weight of the world on my shoulders. Why haven’t I given up that horrible mentality?

Personal responsibility motivates like nothing else. It’s the fuel of making dreams come true, so it’s hard to give it up.

My learning from this is that feeling like Atlas is frighteningly egocentric. I am not Atlas, nor was meant to be. The world will keep on turning without my help.

What makes me want to bang my head against the wall is the obviousness of it all. Again and again, I arrive at these thoughts. However, it seems that understanding what is within my control is a daily exercise. Thinking about it every day is vital to being productive and at peace.

Meanwhile, I am building up my progress report from September to the end of November. Be ready with yours for 1 December 😉

Mood: T.S. Eliot

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Kids: a moral dilemma

I am aware of the nihilistic tendencies of some of my readers and I think they would enjoy reading this essay entitled Kids? Just say no. A professor of philosophy, David Benatar argues the merits of anti-natalism.

My first objection is that this is fundamentally against nature – and there is no winning against her. Evolution. Selfish genes. It’s obvious and I don’t need to explain it. To be fair, the professor recognises this and establishes his argument as applying to a minority of people.

My second objection is that there is always a way out. I don’t necessarily mean the “happy kind”. One of this professor’s readers wrote to him about his very unhappy life and concluded that he was sentenced to suffering by his parents. I think the author of the letter miscalculated what is within his control and what isn’t. He is no longer the helpless child in his mother’s arms. He has choices. While on a human level, my heart goes out to him, on an intellectual level I feel that blaming your parents on your death bed is denying your own sovereignty.

A man I know well, one of the kindest people I ever met, once expressed his views on sperm donation. He was strongly against it and one of his points was “is this world really that wonderful”, which shocked me at the time. Clearly, this point of view is much more common than I originally thought. I am just hearing Freddie Mercury’s whaling: “Mama, ooh, I don’t want to die I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all”.

My third objection is against the author’s assertion that “life is simply much worse than most people think”. This is just a random, unfalsifiable, unsupported thought. Very relatable of course, as we all have our darker moments, but ultimately how is this a reason? The professor argues that optimism bias is a reason, but there are so many counter reasons! Most cognitive distortions drive our estimations of life down, not up. And if his assertion is true, isn’t the answer to be more in touch with reality, especially in terms of what we tell our kids about the world, than to annihilate your genes from the planet?

The author then goes on to say that “life is a state of continual striving”. I vaguely agree, but our interpretations are entirely different. The author seems to believe that anything other than pure bliss is unpleasant. For sure, if you define it this way. His whole essay seems to be based on disillusionment, from a pretty self-centred point of view.

My last objection is as follows. The author argues that we, humans, cause a lot of damage, “every human (who is not a vegetarian or vegan) is, on average, responsible for the death of 27 animals per year.” Is that his definition of damage? Isn’t it a little arrogant to talk this way about humans when it wouldn’t occur for us to say this about, say, lions?

Of course, we all pick our battles and I don’t at all judge people who don’t want kids. The benefit of the professor’s work would have been obvious 200 years ago as it would have clicked some people out of the mindless default mode that one must have kids, no other options, and highlight the wider responsibilities of parenthood. In today’s world, it’s just another ode to nihilism.

On a personal level, I see so many of my friends who have kids and do you know how I feel? I feel that these people jumped off a cliff and survived. The responsibility of it has been painted as being so humongous to educated people that reading Prof Benatar’s essay is just unhelpful to someone like me. I already know.

P. S. I have also been pointed to this blog. It would still your blood.