Every day we thwart our own efforts to some degree, and every day we “succeed” against our obstacles. This up and down cycle can get us going in a big way, and can wreak havoc on your stability with stress and anxiety. We encounter situations or tasks which we *must* do, and though we dislike them, we do them anyway. We force ourselves to. In this post I’m going to discuss resistance, and internal conflicts which are the source of pretty much every stress or discontent not linked to a natural deficiency (i.e. hunger).
Let’s begin with bravery. The “insanity” school of valiant action is that the ideal mode is to simply not be afraid. Basically they take a concept-human and subtract a single characteristic: fear, and expect it to be instantiated in reality. This is rather like taking a concept-human, adding wings and calling it an angel, and that it of course exists. Of course if the sociopath style is the model to which others form their behavior, they’ll simply deny that they’re afraid and then exaggerate their display of non-fear. The fiercest warriors are the most terrified ones, the guy over there in the corner shaking is at least sane enough to realize he doesn’t actually want to be there. This is a similar process to religious fervor as well, where the most devout are often the least “believing” but they’re overcompensating. This style of behavior is often brought about by what I will call a ‘restricted communication dilemma.’ Before I actually explain what it is, I’ll give you an example. Get candy. Then, get a group of school kids together, and tell them that whoever wants the candy the most gets the whole bag. The situation will undoubtedly escalate with frightening speed, and may even turn violent. You may have already considered the parallel; you get a bunch of religious people together and say “whoever believes X the most…” It’s a restricted communication dilemma because A) each agent has no method to objectively communicate their utility in the context of the “game,” B) each agent has no criteria to judge the utility that others possess, and C) specific desired behaviors directly translate into real value irrespective of game-based utility. Essentially, you have a herd of people competing under the radar for devoutness, each one fearing that they’re losing their religion, with no way to communicate positive or negative status in the competition. The guys running the show can say “if you believe you will do X” and guess what? The faithful will leap up and run, not walk, in a desperate attempt to prove their devoutness. They hope for an arbitrary reward but of course can’t claim to actually be pursuing game utility. It’s really a genius scheme.
Regarding resistance, this type of engine, applied more generally, not just to religion, produces internal conflicts. For example, if you have work to do then you’ll resist doing it because it’s not fun. However, there comes a time when prurient personal economic necessity demands that you overcome that resistance and just do it. With repetition, this internal pressure system is confirmed to “work” because you produce results, but it stresses you out and you probably aren’t very happy living through it. You know all those studies talking about people living in third world countries are about equally happy as richer nations, despite a serious economic discrepancy? This explains why. In order to get that economic value, you need to sacrifice equilibrium, and the exact degree that that equilibrium is disturbed is the degree to which that job is compensated. Now, I think it’s important to note that on average the happiness of the first and third world countries is comparable, but the distribution is much wider in first world countries, resulting in climbing numbers of very satisfied people, as well as suicide rates. Everyone copes with disturbed equilibrium differently, and differing circumstances produce different reactions in different people. For example, someone who needs substantial sleep, can’t cope with intense time pressure and high risk, and who works as a surgeon, is going to be way, way more disturbed by their job than someone who needs little sleep, works well under pressure, and can deal with having a patient’s life in their hands. However, the economic value of the job of surgeon only pays out to the value of the requisite medical knowledge, etc., and the average undesirability of the job in sleep lost, years of training, pressure, whatever. So the first surgeon would be well off financially, but disproportionately stressed out by their job relative to the average. The other would be just as well off financially, but way less stressed out than average. The whole paradigm is a result of internal pressure escalation.
So the next model is that somehow you have to be strong enough to overcome your fear. The next level is that you acknowledge that you’re afraid- a big step for someone back in psycholand- and proceed to try and push on anyway. This will produce one of two types of people whom we commonly, and incorrectly, refer to as introverts and extroverts. Introverts are the ones who have tried and failed to overcome their barriers, and as a result they languor around in stagnant mental backwaters, yet at the same time pushing hard in all directions where there aren’t any barriers. Extroverts are different. Extroverts are those brilliant few who have… tried and failed to overcome their barriers, and instead of persisting wherever there aren’t barriers, they go “OK, this isn’t working” and revert back to psycholand, deny the barrier exists, yet instead of leaping screaming over the wall like a trueborn delusional, they just walk back and forth bumping into it over and over again, like a fly in a window. They like comforting social circles where not much happens, enabling them to play up small occurrences that mean nothing just to have something to talk about. They can’t handle real discussion like philosophy, science, art, whatever, and instead enjoy digesting premasticated garbage, following one another in herds, checking for what everyone else is doing before acting, such as fashion and gossip for girls, or football and cars for boys. It’s unfashionable to have a long attention span, to actually have integrity, to go against the grain, or do something else that makes anyone else uncomfortable. Having value will freak them out, being of substance or class will make them react with hostility, and refusing to put up with their bullshit will make them calm down immediately and start acting (temporarily, alas) like a semi-normal person. You thought I was going to say extroverts were good, didn’t you? Admit it. That’s the widely held opinion. Most of the population are extroverts. Our society holds up niceness, political correctness, friendliness, and validation. Self-licking ice cream cone anyone? If you’ve read a few of my posts I’m sure you can connect the dots on this familiar persistent systemic framework. I’m not saying that these traits are necessarily bad, but I am saying that if they’re the goal, rather than the side effect of integrity, a great deal degenerates fast.
You cannot overpower your own barriers. I’m letting you off the hook right now. In a way. Any barrier you create in yourself, you will not be able to directly overcome, because the same force holding up the barrier is pushing on it. The tension will just stress you out and reduce your performance. In very Stoic fashion- the solution is not to overcome your barriers, but to identify them and then just stop propping them up. Down they fall, and you can just walk over into once impassable territory. So now I’m putting you back on the hook. You cannot overcome your own barriers, but at the same time you are fundamentally responsible for their existence, and it’s your problem to figure out how to get rid of them. I’m prepared to guarantee you haven’t heard anything like this before, so I’ll put forward a single thought right here at the end for your enjoyment.
Do you choose who you are? Why aren’t you your true self all the time?