After an Epiphany

I've been so confused in so many ways that I had been specifically warned against dozens of times, in writing and in person, and I still didn't get it! Of course, I was warned about this, too: everyone knows that there are things you don't know that you don't know, and that there's a difference between endorsing a proposition, and integrating its implications into your way of thinking. But it's still such a shock to actually see ... to go so suddenly from hating the local Authorities for not telling you all the true and important things that your friends have been telling you, to noticing that the things that your friends have been telling you can actually be applied to stop being so hurt all the time about how the local Authorities had misled you.

Speaking of Addiction

Speaking of addiction, I suspect that relinquishing ideologically-induced moral outrage is actually harder than getting over many chemical dependencies (although I don't have any experience with the latter). At least with a drug, it's simple enough to draw a bright line around actions you're not supposed to do anymore; you can try pouring the contents of the liquor cabinet down the drain, or signing a commitment contract to not buy or borrow any more cigarettes.

But when one of your most strongly-held beliefs (strongly-held in the sense of emotional relevance, not actual probability; I'm very confident in the monotone sequence theorem, but the truth of its negation wouldn't be a blow to who I am) turns out to be false—or if it still seems true, but it turns out that being continually angry at a Society that disagrees isn't a good allocation of cognitive resources—what do you do then? Turning your life around from that isn't anything as straightforward as preventing specific chemicals from entering your body; you have to change the way you think, which is to say excise a part of your soul. Oh, it grows back—that's the point, really; you want to stop thinking non-useful thoughts in order to replace them with something better—but can you blame me for having a self-preservation instinct, even if my currently-existing self isn't something that ought to be preserved?

But then, blame or the lack thereof isn't the point.

Egoism as Defense Against a Life of Unending Heartbreak

Then the Dean understood what had puzzled him in Roark's manner.

"You know," he said, "You would sound much more convincing if you spoke as if you cared whether I agreed with you or not."

"That's true," said Roark. "I don't care whether you agree with me or not." He said it so simply that it did not sound defensive, it sounded like the statement of a fact which he noticed, puzzled, for the first time.

"You don't care what others think—which might be understandable. But you don't care even to make them think as you do?"


"But that's ... that's monstrous."

"Is it? Probably. I couldn't say."

In this passage from Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, fictional character Howard Roark demonstrates a very important skill that I really need to learn—that of emotional indifference to arbitrary people's opinions: not the mere immunity of "It's okay that people now disagree with the manifest rightness of my Cause, because I know the forces of Good will win in the end," but the kind of outright indifference that I feel about, let's say, the amount of precipitation in Copenhagen in March 1957. Someone disagrees with the manifest rightness of my Cause? Sure, whatever—hey, did you see the latest Questionable Content?

I say this purely for pragmatic reasons. There's nothing philosophically noble about being narrowly selfish, about devoting the full force of one's attention to questions like "What do I want to study?" or "How am I going to make money?" rather than "Why are my ideological enemies so evil, and what can be done to stop them?" So if there's no inherent reason why scholarship or business are more worthy than activism, why explicitly renounce the activist frame of mind?

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Don't Resent That No One Cares

It's tempting to be resentful that other people don't value your time the way you do. You complain at every opportunity: "Why, why, why do I get socially rewarded for working on this-and-such random chore that doesn't even help anyone, when obviously my great masterpiece (in progress, in potentia, coming soon) on such-and-this is so much more valuable?!"

But I think it's better not to be resentful and not to complain, mostly because it doesn't work. Other people don't care about your great masterpiece on such-and-this. They really don't. Maybe someone, somewhere will care after it's done, but it's not reasonable to expect anyone's support in advance—or, alternatively and isomorphically, it is reasonable, but given that there's nothing you can do to force people to be reasonable, reasonableness is not the correct criterion to be paying attention to.

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