The Luck of Interest

If you write a book, you have to be that book. Your time must become the time of the book. If you engage in public discussion on social media, the world (the others) will always be a step ahead of you. Only the latest analysis and verdict are worth mentioning – everything else is irrelevant, a mere object of the ongoing public debate that relentlessly pushes forward.

With a nod to Albert Camus, the mere act of halting the frenzy of evaluations in order to formulate your own narrative is an act of rebellion. If you are utterly unafraid of being ‘irrelevant’ tomorrow, it means that you have found a genuine interest.

In a world where social media companies are designed to optimize both advertising income and data extraction, their algorithms make sure that we spend as much time online as possible. And since cat photos are unlikely to engage a user’s soul, they reward controversy and political outrage.

 

What the bleep do we want?

Subjected to a deluge of information, knowing what you are really interested in is more important than ever. It depends not only on education, but on luck. If you were lucky enough to find out in your childhood what you are really interested in, you will find it much easier in later life to focus on that subject and avoid distraction. This has always been the case, from the Wright brothers’ fascination with flying to Thomas Aquinas’ fascination with harmonizing the Bible with Aristotle to Claude Monet’s fascination with color. Is it any different in the age of distraction? Should we be more thankful if a genuine interest has befallen us in a time when nearly everybody is wearing a distraction apparatus in his or her pocket? Are people less likely to develop an undiluted interest for something under the new predicament?

A genuine interest is the attempt of our subconscious mind to experience this directedness without an intermediary.

We don’t consciously pick or choose our genuine interest, because, in the language of philosophy, it is logically older than our agency. The I is always-already directed towards the world before it becomes conscious of the fact. Genuine interest is the attempt of our subconscious mind to experience this directedness without an intermediary. When we evaluate potential areas of interest in order to find our true calling, we are rationalizing. We try to find unassailable reasons that will convince ourselves that such and such must be our true interest, or even our calling, to use that unfashionable term.

 

How to not find your calling

This is how, at eighteen, I went about finding my calling. I visited a number of universities in the Low Countries and compiled precise reasons for studies like chemistry, architecture or molecular biology. The ones for computer science were the most compelling to my young and inexperienced mind. I would be able to employ my full creativity while making something useful and without the dependency on lengthy, boring, material processes. Obviously, the reason I had fabricated was bad propaganda and I fell out of love with IT soon after. With apologies for the hackneyed phrase, you don’t find an interest, it finds you. If it is a genuine interest, not pursuing it ought to be almost unbearable. This, at least, is what many artists, scholars and scientists alike have always attested.

Back then, in 1998, there were some distractions (notably the television), but nothing like what we have today. It must have been enough to shut down the voice of my subconscious announcing what “I” (what was in the process of becoming that I) ‘really’ wanted.

Here is what I am worried about. If young children are bombarded with information, how can they choose? How can they develop a strong interest for one thing if, as soon as learning about it presents the slightest challenge, a plethora of other things is literally at their fingertips? How can they really learn how to concentrate on something, if distraction is more profitable for the advertisement machine that orchestrates the flow of information they can access?

Children need strong key experiences that are not fragments on a social media timeline they glint at in passing, scanning if it is something their in-group thinks they must know. Experiences that make an impression on their souls because they can’t be scrolled down or swiped out of sight. Experiences that have a sense of inevitability, that don’t have alternatives, command our full attention and seem to give us a glimpse at the true nature of reality.

In the digital era, such strong experiences seem to be as scarce as the simulacra or fake experiences you can purchase online. Because distraction has become the norm, it is more important than ever to realize how lucky we are if we find our real interest.

 

The Luck of Interest was originally published on Meandering home

We contribute to human progress by empowering people to express themselves, learn about the world, and have fun together.

was originally published on Meandering home

Profit maximization is a ‘clean’, strong forcing idea, i.e. one that allows for the abstraction from local context. It binds human actions together in a social structure that proves very hard to disentangle. Communal welfare cannot abstract from life in this way. The internal motivation hinges on local outcomes and thus erodes, leading either to societal collapse or suppression, which represent more primitive forcing ideas, namely following orders and immediate survival.

was originally published on Meandering home

The your Work should be your Passion Trap

Almost every day, I read or listen to interviews with people who proudly proclaim that they have found the profitability in their passion. They no longer have to ‘work’ and have banned all tedium from their lives. Their message is, unequivocally, that we should aspire to do the same. If we just stick with our unfulfilling jobs, we are not living up to our full potential. In other words, we are failures.

It is a compelling argument, and from the vantage point of somebody who ‘made it’, there seems to be no alternative. If we don’t aspire to that ultimate goal, the merging of work and pleasure, sustenance and joy, there is something wrong with us. All of our life should be meaningful and worthwhile. But what if such extremely high standard is unattainable, wouldn’t it lead to low self-esteem – even more so than the capitalist rat race?

If we expect profitability of our passion, aspiring to emulate the success stories that abound on social media, we will subconsciously discredit those passions that fail to yield a profit. In other words: we remain strictly controlled by the invisible hand of the free market, the mechanism that can no longer be trusted in a time of negative externalities that promise future suffering, yet aren’t yet taxing our current sense of well-being.

Doing the right thing in a world that is focused on short-term pleasure or profit, is not a profitable proposition. Perhaps giving inspirational TED-talks is, or starting a ‘green’ company, but in the arena of competing ideas, you can’t compete with the advertisement budget of corporations. And because the kind of change we need goes against the bottom line of these corporations, it follows that cannot be profitable, at least not at a scale that threatens those corporations.

Yes, this apparently presupposes a bleak idea of ‘human nature’ (“can’t we just all understand the world is going to shit and get our act together?”, as if we don’t naturally strive for the good. We do, but our conception of the good is the target of relentless propaganda. Shoshana Zuboff’s surveillance capitalism (“the goal is to automate us”) is a real thing. All of the terms, such as sustainability, circular economy, ecosystem, social equality) used by such visionaries as Kate Raworth or George Monbiot are hijacked by profit-seeking corporations, adding to the confusion. We can be manipulated into believing almost anything.

Conflating a priori that which you want to do for the betterment of humanity, and that which earns you money, is not a good idea. Making sure you have some sort of ‘basic income’, whether that is coming from a capital investment like stocks or real estate, or a menial job that only takes a few hours, doesn’t matter. It gives you the full freedom to concentrate on the task you have identified, without having to reduce its merit to its marketability.

If you are a Wikipedia editor, stop dreaming about a paid position as an encyclopedia writer. If you volunteer in a permaculture garden, stop thinking about a lucrative job on a commercial ‘organic’ farm. If you are hosting people through Couchsurfing because you believe in hospitality exchange, stop playing with the idea of make a little money on the side using AirBnB. The revolution is not profitable.

We have to cover our bases alright. We should not abhor money or believe its use is the root of all evil. But we should be very careful with the idea of making a profit out of our passion. Once we are on the path of profit, we are in competition with the moloch we wish to slay (or don’t we?)

Instead, we should get together and help each other out. Build real trust networks rather than automate ‘trust’, share our food and shelter, create open source solutions for the management of the Commons and personal shareables. That way we keep our autonomy and control over what we create, which will be important once it begins to threaten the profits of corporations. If we don’t have to tone down for the sake of ‘surviving as a business’, our ideological voice is much more powerful – dare I say: pure – and compelling to those who we win over.

We might have to forsake, for a while, the wholeness we are craving for in our society of spiritual destitution, but it is our passion that guides us, and that passion refuses to flirt with profit if profit means compromise.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

The your Work should be your Passion Trap was originally published on Meandering home

The Fear to End all Fears

They are coming for me. To them, I will be bare matter, perhaps with the first signs of attempted self-organization. These signs are altogether boring and trivial because my mind – the official word for such attempted self-organization – is far inferior to them. To the purview of their intelligence, I am entirely predictable. There is no hiding in the innermost chamber of my mind. They are forever ahead of me and even my most intense and refined thoughts bores them to death.

The expansion of my Universe, that I had likened to boisterous, universal laughter, is a painful yawn.

I force myself to learn so that I can, for a little while, look more like the more intelligent beings that will supplant me. I must study data science, support vector machines, Fourier transformations, convoluted neural networks, microchip architecture, nuclear physics, advanced astronomy, deep learning algorithms, quantum computing. I have no interest in these things, I am just afraid.

I am afraid to be irrelevant. To whom? To whom? To society? To my parents? To my child? To myself? I don’t know. Is it the fear of death, the ultimate irrelevance of not-being? To death, everything is irrelevant, because he is the only persona in our comedy that doesn’t expire.

The perishability of all we love, including and especially those who strive to be the second-most fearsome authority after the Reaper himself, is a place to start. The secondary authorities that threaten us with irrelevance are so powerful because our own mind craves such intermediary forms – anything that can perturb our consciousness of death.

If we become aware of the fragility of all such authorities except the ultimate one, our fear becomes pure. All finite things become comic things. If we can reverse the mechanism of our fearful mind, the theoretical object of our fear becomes the uncontaminated, ultimate abstraction of not-being. Such fear, we argue against Heidegger, cannot be experienced. Anxiety (Angst) appears to lead us to our ‘true self’ because our mind constructs some finite authority and identifies with it (in the moment of anxiety, it is all there is) because it must experience something. We must understand that this is a false identification. The authority our mind constructs in a tour de force to ward off the specter of death is not who we are. I think it is a collage of all the fragments of authority we experienced earlier in life.

When we become aware of the strategy our mind strangely plays to avoid experiencing that which cannot be experienced, we may better understand our fear. Such insight cannot shut fear down, there always remains something Heidegger would call anxiety, but we don’t misunderstand it as the deepest revelation of our innermost being. We call it out for the complex trick of our very own mind that it is. We make are fear ‘pure’ by realizing that it never-yet (our answer to Heidegger’s always-already) actually is fearing the ultimate abstraction – death.

With no such supercilious – German – fear to ground the existentialist movement to overcome it, we don’t need to fear its most gruesome corollary, Nazism. Correcting Heidegger at this point liberates us from the undignified anthropology that tells us we can possess our ‘authentic selves’ with which we then ever so subtly must disqualify the Other.

What remains is the fear to end all fears. We experience it as a reflective fear: it knows it is not authentic. It is perhaps the epochè of the abstract foundational fear. It can at any moment burst out in boisterous, self-less, laughter. It is the inspired divination that our universe is entirely comical.

So we conclude our meditation on fear. We understand the mechanism of authority and why we must feel inferior. We understand the phenomenology of the fear to end all fears, and how it coincides with the last laugh.

 

 

 

The Fear to End all Fears was originally published on Meandering home