On the perils of calm: Confronting the gaping maw of reality

So in my last post, I talked about the importance of having a calm center.  I still believe in that, truly, but there is a good reason that our minds chatter so much:

Reality is fucking bleak.

I mean, that's a good reason to distract yourself.  That's a good reason to binge-watch The Office.  If the alternative is to see reality clearly, maybe distraction is the best option.

It's not like our propensity to distract ourselves with meaningless things is new, or our desire to escape reality.  People have done drugs since the dawn of people.  There certainly is a whole industry devoted to distracting us, but the desire to distract isn't entirely their fault.  There is a hollowness to our society.  There is, perhaps, a hollowness to life.

Distraction is self preservation.

Let's play with a simplified model of a mind.  The mind can think a certain number of thoughts per second.  Its basic reward system is thus: if it can predict an event before the event happens, it feels happy.  If it learns something new, it feels happy.  If it makes a bad prediction, it feels sad.  If it learns that something it thought it knew is incorrect, it feels sad, in proportion to the number of other things it "knew" that relied on that thing being true.

This mind also hates to be idle.  Optimally, it will be in a state where it can work on one problem for an extended period of time, making steady progress ("Flow").  More likely, though, it will be in a state of mild panic, juggling a few problems that it can't find solutions to, gradually despairing more and more as the search continues fruitlessly.

There's a saying that "ignoring your problems won't make them go away", but it kinda sorta will.  If I've got a power bill due in 10 days that I know I can't pay, I can either worry about it for 10 days, or put it out of my head.  So long as the worrying wouldn't have made me come up with a solution, I got a much better deal, happiness-wise, by doing things to distract myself from it.  The power's gonna get cut either way, right?

And that's a real-world consequence that cannot be ignored.  There's a "how not to give a fuck" movement out there that I mostly like because I think people care about a whole lot of stuff that just does them mental harm, but taken to an extreme, it's dangerous.  If you're stranded in the cold, "not giving a fuck" means freezing to death when you could have been searching for shelter.  And in a more day-to-day scenario, you should absolutely give a fuck about the state of your child's school, or the environment around your house.

Again, it's basically a matter of choosing what you care about.  But I've been trying to practice what I preach, and it's depressing sometimes, because I feel this giant disconnect between people, all of us trying to project a happy and normal life, while inside we're doing intensive image management to come off as the right kind of person.  And I don't know what to do to reverse this trend where we all have to be the PR person for Me, Inc. and make a good show for the shareholders (friends, family, coworkers).

All I can really do is tell you that I'm fucked up and I'm okay with that, and hope that other people are willing to do the same.  I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing most of the time.  Sometimes I do stupid things just to see what other people's reactions will be.  Sometimes I do stupid things because I really just didn't think them through very well.  When I'm trying to impress people I tend to clam up in fear of saying something that they won't like.  A lot of times I try to convince myself that what happened was exactly what I wanted to happen, even though I know that it wasn't.

I don't think that there's such thing as a singular "authentic self". We are complicated and contain multitudes. I think we're all basically the same as someone with multiple personality disorder, only our different personalities have an "uber-personality" that mediates between them. That "uber-personality" isn't you; it's more like a switchboard that connects the various sub-personalities to the outside world.

"Fake it till you make it" is just a strategy for evolving one of your sub-personalities.

A lot of my personalities are in despair right now, thinking that the world is going to shit.  We don't have adults at the helm of the country anymore, and that's scary, because this country is a big and complicated machine that has the potential to wreak a whole lot of havoc.  If I'm quiet and listen to my true thoughts, they're basically all saying "bail out, GTFoutta dodge, get off the grid and learn to fend for yourself".  And that's really sad because I like a whole lot about America.

So, yeah, I get why distraction can be good.  Might as well fiddle while Rome burns if you don't have the means to put out a fire.  Might as well rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic if it distracts you from your impending doom.

Just know why you're distracting yourself, I guess.  Let yourself feel the bad for a while just so you know the distraction is for a reason. And hope that one day reality will be stable and sane enough for you to come back to it.

Or, I guess, use those mental cycles to figure out ways to change things?

"God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference."
Maybe "the things I can" is a variable.

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