Masks

(crossposted from Facebook)

(This is not about you, unless it is.)

You go through your life vaguely numb and disconnected or vaguely afraid and anxious about everything. Other people are a source of judgment and shame and you reflexively avoid putting yourself in situations or doing things where you might open yourself up to that judgment. Instead you slowly perfect a mask that allows you to interact safely, to get through the day without anything too bad happening.

Then you meet someone.

You catch each other’s eyes from across the room. You look at each other. Something inside you melts, and you come into contact with something that feels powerfully human – deep and ancient and beautiful, light as a feather, bright as the sun. You yearn for this. It feels right in a way that nothing else in your life does. You drop your mask, a little. And for a time, things are not so bad.

Then it starts to go wrong. One of you says or does something, and it touches a wound in the other. You both have so many wounds. You may not even know about the most important ones. It hurts so much to look at them that you desperately pretend to each other that they aren’t there. You apologize, you say it didn’t matter and you were just being silly, you attempt to move on. You can keep this up for weeks or months or years if that’s what it takes. Your masks calcify.

But you can’t keep this up forever. One day your mask breaks. It all comes pouring out – all of your pain, all of your anger. They hurt too, and they respond in kind. What is most poignant about this moment is that your hearts, wounds and all, have never been closer to the surface – they are so close they could almost touch. In some sense you are never more human than in this moment. But you can’t see this about each other through the pain.

All you see is a monster, finally unmasked.

Poetry

(crossposted from Facebook)

They spent 16 years teaching me not to listen to myself, but then they also had the gall to try to teach me about poetry

Listen. When I read poems in school, I felt nothing. Nobody had told me there was anything to feel. We talked about meter, or symbolism, as if those things were the point, and it never occurred to me that those things are not the point, and it would never have occurred to me that the point is to listen for the music coming from the poet’s soul – because I didn’t even know that was an option, and even if I had I wouldn’t have had the slightest idea how, and anyway it wouldn’t have improved my grade in English class.

Now I am just barely, barely beginning to understand that poetry is how a soul makes itself understood, because I am just barely, barely beginning to see and hear souls at all.

Procrastination

(crossposted from Facebook)

me, an ordinary guy in a dystopia: my biggest problem is that i just procrastinate too much on my daily shifts in the salt mines. if only i were better at withstanding the electro-whips of our harsh but fair robo-masters. i read some blog posts about hyperbolic discounting scrawled on the ground in blood and shit but they didn’t really help what do i do

me, actually: that is not your biggest problem 😦

Bullshitting yourself

There’s a fairly general class of behaviors I’ve been calling “lying to yourself.” They include things like

  • saying to yourself that you don’t want to go to a party because you’re tired, as opposed to because it’s far away and you don’t really know the people who are going to be there and that makes you anxious
  • saying to yourself that you’re in graduate school because you love your subject, as opposed to because the idea of no longer being in school is terrifying to you

but also things like

  • tricking yourself into thinking that the work you’re doing is more important than it is, in order to motivate yourself to do it, e.g. using rewards like candy
  • tricking yourself into feeling happy, e.g. with video games built on fake accomplishment
  • eating food whose taste has been decoupled from its nutritional content, e.g. highly processed food.

But I’m starting to think I’ve been using the wrong name. I think the name I want is actually bullshitting yourself.

Continue reading “Bullshitting yourself”

Terrorism and conceptual gerrymandering

Periodically people write articles arguing that terrorism is not a problem because it doesn’t kill very many people, especially when compared to various other amusing causes of death, such as choking, drowning in a bath, lightning strikesbicycles, heat waves, accidental gunshots, etc.

This is a terrible argument. Here’s an example that will hopefully make this clear. Let’s say I have a friend named Steve. Steve is a murderer. And murder, unlike terrorism, is a huge problem, right? Well, it turns out that murder by Steve is a tiny problem. Steve only murders, let’s say, 10 people a year. That’s less than the number of people who die every year in parachuting accidents! So murder-by-Steve isn’t worth worrying about, just like terrorism.

Right?

Continue reading “Terrorism and conceptual gerrymandering”

Alcohol creates common knowledge

Some of my friends don’t know what drinking is for, and even among those who do, they don’t all know that they all know what drinking is for. So here is my picture of what drinking is for.

The standard story is that drinking is good because it lowers people’s inhibitions. But here is an interesting observation: people like to synchronize their drinking, by clinking their glasses together and all drinking at the same time. What does this accomplish that everyone drinking independently doesn’t accomplish?

Continue reading “Alcohol creates common knowledge”