Looking at your story, looking at the world

This is a kind of prequel to Iterated Self-Improvement.

Reading Bonds That Make Us Free, it occurs to me that it, Ayn Rand, Games People Play, and The Last Psychiatrist are all talking about the same vision of evil, and proposing different alternatives to it.

Bonds That Make Us Free calls it self-betrayal, when you tell a story about how you can’t help it, how it’s really other people who are responsible for your failures and if it weren’t for them, you’d be good. It proposes as an alternative a genuine outward orientation of love towards others.

Ayn Rand calls it social psycho-epistemology, where the opinions and feelings of people are what are truly real and the material world is a social construct or matter of opinion, and contrasts it with rational selfishness where you orient yourself towards the world outside, and try to make it the way you want it without worrying about justification or conformity. Other people's thoughts shouldn’t be as real to you as the material world, and the life you want to live in it. You can only pick one - living in your own world, or living in the world of other people's intentions. Similarly, you can trade your need for their justification and vice versa - or you can trade value for value. Rereading Atlas Shrugged was able to temporarily pull me out of a days-long downwards spiral recently - because it suddenly seemed boring to present my needs as a claim check. It seemed contemptible. It seemed like a betrayal of self and integrity. So I stopped - at least for a bit. I started thinking again about how to provide value for my friends, even as it seemed nearly impossible to succeed at.

The Last Psychiatrist calls it narcissism - the desire to be seen as good, and as fitting your role, rather than the intention to be good to others, to fulfill one’s responsibilities, to discharge one’s duties.

Games People Play doesn’t really have a vision of the good, but it talks about how people set themselves up in situations where they can show that they’re justified, instead of acting towards their nominal goals, because what they care about is the justification.

I think I’ve been struggling with this problem. In mid-August I was too worried about how I was failing in one of my relationships to take responsibility for my own experiences. I’ve been too worried about being a responsible, conscientious worker to think about what kind of rhythm of life I actually want and am willing to accept. I wasted thought cycles on how the house I'd just moved into with friends wasn’t good yet and I’d been incompetent, instead of trying to make it good for myself in immediately achievable ways.

But I also seem to have something like the opposite problem more often.

I tend to forget my successes and remember my failures. I have often said, “nothing bad ever happens to me,” and this is a true account of the world I experience - but not because I have such incredibly good luck. It’s because when I work towards a goal, I think of this as normal and forget about it. Then it seems like every so often the universe randomly gives me some reward, and occasionally people attribute the causality to me - but I wasn’t doing anything extra, I just kept doing normal things and got lucky! This isn’t just true of longer-term stuff my relationships - that the friendships and career I’m building feel like inexplicable repeated bouts of good luck even though I can point to the deliberate work and planning I did over an extended period of time to make them happen - but of things like ordering something i need online. It still feels like I have no control over what stuff I have. I do normal sensible things, and every once in a while a box randomly arrives from Amazon.

But when I fail - well, then I can remember. I can remember the wrong assumptions I made, the times I was too greedy for short term gains, the things I should have been able to do better. I can remember seeing that the house was nowhere near painted a few days before we moved in, and then deciding that the painters knew their business better than I did and besides my personal assistant was responsible for managing them. I remember agonizing over time management and choosing, repeatedly, not to talk as openly as I could with my partner, with my friends, with my manager about it, not to accept myself where I was and build on that.

One thing I did for a while to heal my soul is literally, every day, check the status of the Amazon packages I’ve ordered so I can remember that I caused a thing to arrive when it does. I also tried a more extensive version of this sort of causal narration. What else should I do that’s like this, to remember that I can cause good things in the future, and preserve the lines of causality in my awareness?

What else am I missing? Where are the holes in this narrative? Where am I overcomplicating things?

2 thoughts on “Looking at your story, looking at the world

  1. Pingback: Tempted to help | Compass Rose

  2. Pingback: A still small voice: a method for integrity | Compass Rose

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