“I… no longer wish to live like this.”
We need therapy.
How do I know this? Well, do you think you don’t? Do you think people on the whole think they don’t? No, everyone knows this. Everyone, in every part of America, needs therapy. If you’re not American, or at least Americanized, then I’m sorry but I don’t know what you’re up against. But in America, at least, everyone, rich and poor, urban and rural, Democrat and Republican, and every color under the sun, needs therapy. The country, the nation, is sick. We don’t function any more, at all. I know this. You know this. We all know this. Nobody thinks America is okay. That’s not a sign of one part being sick. That’s a sign of everything being sick. That means that the solution starts at home: we need to stop being sick. That means we need therapy.
Does that mean we need to all go see therapists? Hell no. They’re sick too. In any case, the best kind of therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (which shares its acronym most delightfully), is basically something you do to yourself in any case. All learning, all growth is something you do to yourself. That doesn’t mean a teacher, a therapist, is worthless, mind. It just means that they aren’t the solution. You’re the solution. That’s what it means to be the problem. The best they can do is give you some real good advice once you’re ready to hear. But the therapists haven’t gotten past this problem, so they can’t give you therapy on this. They can give you damn good therapy on some other things, though, so go see one for those.
So if you can’t get therapy from someone else, why am I writing this? Good question. Simple answer. I’m trying to give myself therapy, and I’m recording it, so hopefully someone else can learn from it. I don’t want to fix you. I can’t fix you. You might be able to fix you. I might be able to fix me. What’s the result of me fixing me? Hopefully, good things. Maybe I’ll stop being bad to others. Maybe I’ll stop being bad to me. Are those good reasons for you? I hope so. If they are, if you hate the things you do so much that you’d be willing to give anything to just stop suffering that horrible evil, then maybe you’ll be able to give yourself therapy as well. I really hope so, and I hope I’m not leading you down a false path. If I am, tell me. I don’t want to go down that path either.
Let’s talk about the sickness. It’s pretty simple: you hate your life and yourself. You’re probably wrong about which parts you hate. I’d guess you think you hate where you are in life and who you are as a person. That’s wrong, and that’s part of the sickness. What you actually hate is what you do in life and how you act as a person. There’s a big difference between the static and the dynamic. Namely, the dynamic changes and can change. Specifically, you can change what you do. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s hard.
Why do you hate those things, though? Easy. They’re meaningless. There’s no real substance to them. Let me guess: either you’re burning through low-wage hours and just scraping by, or you’re just meandering your way through some part of the “system” (school, work hierarchy, who cares) without a clear sight of what’s on the other side. Possibly drugs are involved, and drugs are as meaningless as you can possibly get, apart from video games, trash TV, junk food, social media posturing, casual sex, and masturbation. I do most all of these. We all do most all of these. It’s become normal to do most all of these. That’s a real problem. Why do we do such meaningless things? Simple: they’re all pleasurable in the most banal sense, and they’re all coping mechanisms. That’s why they’re so tempting, and why you won’t be able to kick the habit until you get therapy. You need terrible things like these to live the awful life you live. Oh, hatred’s another one. Hatred’s a big one. You can stand to live almost any life, so long as you’ve got enough hatred to keep you going. Do you think the Count of Monte Cristo’s life was good? No. It was awful. It was unbearably awful. Same with anyone else who lives with hatred. Don’t let that distract you from the others, though. They’re bad too.
How do you kick an addiction? Well, the critical step is changing the environment. What do you mean by the environment? Duh. You have to change the life, and to change the life, you have to change the mind… get it?
I said pleasure was a coping mechanism. I emphasize, banal pleasure. The little pleasures of life are essential to life. The empty pleasures of life are the enemies of life. So what, then, could possibly be worse to someone than to worship pleasure? There’s nothing.
Stop. You should probably read Plato’s Gorgias. It’s important. It’s one of the things that started breaking me free. I mean, I already had to be ready to break free, and that’s a combination of a bunch of other factors, like having a grumpy and antiquated aesthetic and having felt what it’s like to be inside an evil person. If you feel like you need to read it, then read it. If you don’t, then just remember everything from above, and come back when you’re ready. Nothing can ever help you unless you’re ready.
Maybe you need to feel what it’s like to be inside an evil person, too. I certainly did. We’re all in the right place for it, already. My big moment was to realize that something I had just done was actively evil, not in some abstract metric or in the eyes of society, but by my own direct light of judgment. It wasn’t that I didn’t want people to know what I’d done, but that I couldn’t bear to think I had done it. That wrecked me emotionally for a few years, and I kept doing evil things, but had to know I was doing evil the whole time. I hope I can actually learn to not do evil things, and that I won’t just end up convincing myself that I’m not doing evil things. This is where the Gorgias comes in again: the worst thing there is isn’t to suffer evil, but to do it. You need to understand this. What, did I just say there was another worst thing? Can’t there be more than one worst thing there is? Why the hell not?
My aesthetic just made me like Plato. There’s not much more to it, except for everything in the world.
So: meaninglessness. Other people have written on this. I’ll put links down below, and really, they should be up above. I think they count as required reading. In fact, the first thing that should be required for any of this is reading. The first target of reading should be the past. Are we new? Are we unique? No. Others have seen what has come before, and they in love have written down their advice. We need to do our part and read it. Who should you read? The classics are a good start. Books don’t become classics without good reason. Some are dated, some are quaint, but all are worth at least a little of your time and sincerity. I’ll put some of my favorites below. Read as much as you like, whether mine or that of another, and then move into the more current links. Or read the current links first. I’ll put movies, too, for people who don’t like reading, and some manga for the incurable Japanophiles (read: fucking weebs). Otherwise, pick whatever you like, so long as it fits the core criterion: that it makes you think, not that it tells you what to think. We need to think. There’s no way to do therapy without thinking.
You know something fun about therapy? It can go wrong. It’s possible for people to be hurt by bad therapy. We all should have known this already, just like we should all have known that Oxy is addictive. You don’t get power without power. This is serious therapy, so it can go seriously wrong. I can’t even quantify how wrong it might go. You could destroy your entire life in the worst way possible. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen people who’ve done just that. It’s miserable looking at them. Willing to put that on the line? Yes? No? Well, good luck. Don’t know whether it’s good or bad if you weren’t frightened by this.
So, meaninglessness. Our lives are without meaning. Well, not entirely. Actually, I know a decent chunk of people who’ve got some solid meaning in their lives, and of various types. It’s relaxing to be around them. Those are the lucky ones. We’ve got to make meaning, and our society is oh-so-good at destroying meaning. The only meanings that survive are consumerism, consumptionism, and Disneyfied morals, which are the equivalent of a glossy veneer. Oh, and of course, hatred. Hatred is an easy meaning, and the one which destroys the soul the most thoroughly, because it constructs its entire meaning in something which it wants to destroy – how could it not destroy itself? I’ve watched some people, glowing people with decent meaning, start to lose their grasp of it in favor of hatred. It’s miserable looking at them too. You know what I’m talking about. If this is your solution, you’ve not achieved therapy. You’ve achieved utter erasure.
Playing a part, picking a team and going with them, isn’t the way either. There’s the hatred, for one, and you erase yourself just as easily. No, this isn’t about being special. You’re never going to end up being special, except in the very specific way that you are special precisely to yourself and the people who are special to you. If you’re confused, look up Kant’s refutation of Leibniz. It’ll make you more confused, but in a refined way.
People (read the links) suggest that religion is a source of meaning, or old cultures, or things like that. They’re right. They say that this meaning has vanished and that “God is dead” or something like that. They’re wrong. Fun fact: there’s nothing in Christianity about black cats. Ghosts and spirits get relatively fleeting mentions in Old and New Testament alike. And yet, when you look at Western European (read: Nordic, Celtic, and Anglo) countries after the spread of Christianity, the fundament of cultural belief sometimes seems to be more ghost than Holy Ghost. This isn’t some weird happenstance. Belief, and meaning, are strong, and they can carry on to our times in the strangest, strongest way. Think about the idea of the jinx. Something you say, regarding a possible good outcome, is regarded as being capable of cursing you such that the good outcome, however likely will not come to pass. If you try to say such a thing, people will reprimand you for jinxing them. It doesn’t matter that it’s usually a joke. It doesn’t matter that those people, if pressed, will publicly disclaim belief in jinxes, and say it’s something to do with people getting nervous if anything. What matters is that they will avoid jinxing themselves. Even if they don’t think they believe, they believe that their words have power. There’s meaning for you.
Obviously, I don’t mean that the solution is to just be as superstitious as humanly possible. What I’m saying is that superstition tells us something useful. It tells us that we still have access to meaning and access to power, even if that access is so faint we can barely feel it.
Also obvious: if you’re not Anglo/Celtic/Nordic, then think to your own superstitions and what you can claim as your own. I don’t know all these things, but I know they’re there for you. If you’re not descended from people from those areas but still bear the superstitions I mentioned, then you still have access to them. Skin color is no object. The only object is cultural heritage. You know if you have it.
Meaning is power, power is meaning. That is, real power, that is, power insofar as power is something which is good for you. Read the Gorgias yet? It’s not just a bit of word trickery. It’s word trickery to be sure, but it’s not just that. Power is only real power if it’s good for you. Otherwise, it’s just… a lack of restrictions. Lack of restrictions doesn’t help. An unending search for getting rid of restrictions probably got us into this mess in the first place. Do me a favor. Go to the supermarket, look for the toothpaste. Pick out some of them. Look at active ingredients. Fun fact: Colgate’s Tartar Control is identical to their basic toothpaste or whatever they call it, as far as the active ingredient and concentration is concerned (read: everything important). They try and say it has two different effects. You’re free to pick either. You have no power of choice. Those two statements are highly compatible, and what’s more, you already know it. Chances are you’ve railed on about that fact in the past. Chances are you’ve mistaken the reason why the toothpaste or the Tylenol or whatever are all the same thing. It’s not because of capitalism or some shit. It’s because you valued fake power over real power. It’s because it ever came down to a question about toothpaste in the first place. It’s never been about toothpaste. The toothpaste doesn’t matter. What matters is meaning, and you can’t buy meaning.
All this is coming off as way too anarcho-socialist. Fuck. That’s my mistake. I buy shit. You buy shit. We all buy shit. That’s fine. Let’s be real: we’re not gonna stop buying shit. Buying shit is important. We’re not gonna make our own toothpaste and get some deeper meaning from it. Not all of us, at least. I won’t stop you. We’re gonna buy Colgate or Crest or Store Brand or Tom’s of Whereverthefuck, mostly based on how much we like flavors and how much we want to spend, and that’s okay. Colgate can keep offering their full array of toothpaste and that’s fine. They can even keep offering that fake-as-shit Tartar Control stuff. The point is, it’s not something we should care about. Being able to buy a lot of toothpaste doesn’t matter. That choice isn’t powerful. It’s meaningless.
Let’s talk about the other side of it: highly restricted situations or patterns can be meaningful. Need an example? I’ll give you one. No, two. No, well, they’re pretty much the same: food and sex. They’re both carnal pleasures, unless you’re vegetarian, in which case they’re legumal pleasures or something like that. Same difference. People metaphorize back and forth between the two so often you’d think they got their dick stuck in a stack of pancakes at a formative age, or something something cucumber slash root vegetable. Whatever. Let’s get to the examples.
Imagine you’re sixty. Maybe you already are. If you are, kudos for reading this far. No, not because this is challenging and because you ought to be hopeless because you’re old, but because you gave this hideous, abrasive, and ignorant writing from someone way younger than you the time of day. That’s a massive amount of pain tolerance. Anyway, you’re sixty. You’re married, to whoever fits the bill as being someone you could stay married to for a good few decades. You have sex pretty often, though not as often as when you were younger. Maybe it’s more. Who knows. You also go out to eat pretty often, around the same frequency as sex in fact, and always to the same place. You know the waitstaff. Hell, you know the kitchen staff by now. You know the menu by heart. Maybe you get the same thing every time, maybe there’s a little rotation between your favorites. You say the same things to the waitstaff, you tip nicely, and you go on your merry way. It’s a routine by now. If there were an Olympics event for eating at this place, you’d score gold, no sweat. Perfect style points, no splash at all. The sex is basically the same, but I’ll spare the details. See? The metaphors are great.
Imagine this real hard. I mean, real hard. Tell me: what is it you feel? Is it boredom? Is it ennui?
Is it warmth?
If it falls more into the first category, then chances are you need even more deprogramming from the whole choice-is-power disease. If a lack of variance (read: distractions) makes you feel bored, then that doesn’t seem to be a problem with the lifestyle, but more a problem with you. Either you’re so used to (read: addicted) to variance that you’re unable to imagine fulfillment without it, or you’ve been so deprived of imagination that you can’t even begin to fathom what a restaurant you’d be happy with would look like. You can’t even imagine what a person you’d be happy with would look like.
Hold up: I’m not saying no variance. Variety is the spice of life. Let me repeat myself. Variety is the spice of life. Ever tried eating a spoonful of cinnamon? But it makes pastries taste amazing, when added in just the right amount. That’s something else to learn: moderation.
If you feel warmth, then chances are you’ve gotten a bit of the therapy completed, for whatever reason. That’s good. You recognize that something as simple as this can make you feel happy. Probably you had a kind and loving family, or some genuine friends, or something like that. And yes, that’s what makes that food taste so good, makes that sex feel so good. It’s not that it’s won three Michelin stars or some AVN awards. It’s that you have a connection with the people behind it. It’s that there’s meaning there, and that meaning gives you power.
No, it doesn’t give you the power to change the world, but it gives you the power to change one person’s world, and just by saying “I love you.”
Another metaphor. Imagine the devil comes to you, horns and all, and says: “I’ve laid a terrible curse on you!” You ask, “What?” He explains, “From now on, you will never act out of your free will ever again. I will force you to act, each time, in exactly the way that you want – nothing else!” You gasp. “Oh, no! Does that mean that I’ll just act on my basest urges and end up fucking, fighting, or eating everything in sight?” “What? No!” says the devil. “I mean ‘want’ in the holistic sense. It’ll be a tally of your base urges, your intellectual considerations, and your moral convictions, and everything else that could possibly influence how you act, all weighed against one another in a reasonable fashion so as to describe, at any moment, what it is you really want.” “Oh,” you say. Oh. And what do you say next?
If you’ve any sense, you’ll say: “So does anything actually change?”
That’s the secret about devils, of course. They don’t really corrupt anyone, but only hurt the people who are already corrupted. If you answer, “Of course it matters, of course I don’t want to be forced to act in the way that I already want to act, in the most holistic sense of the word ‘want!’” then you’re already solidly blinkered by choice. You don’t care a single bit about what it is you end up doing. All you care about is that it seems to you that you get to choose what you do. Can you imagine anything more meaningless than caring more about the principle of having a choice than over what ends up happening?
Let me make it a little more real. Imagine that you’re intending to do something, and then someone commands you to do that thing you’re intending to do in a really unpleasant way. What would you do? Would you not do that thing, just to spite them? Would you value the illusion of having a choice over the actuality of what you wanted? Do the things you want mean so little that you’re willing to sacrifice them just so you can play pretend that you’re a free spirit? That’s ridiculous and childish and powerless. The right answer, of course, is to do what you were planning to do anyway, but be rightfully angry at that person because they’re being a fucking prick. Fuck them.
Power. Back to power. We know what it isn’t. It’s not choice. We know one thing it can do, kind of. We know it’s meaning. Good, but not enough. Meaning by itself traps itself in a loop. Rather, it digs itself into a pit, or it traps itself in a loop. The loop: something has so much meaning to you that nothing else can mean so much, and then you develop a deeper infatuation with that meaning, and you trap yourself in orbit around that one thing. You know what to call that. It’s obsession. You know what obsessed people look like. It’s not pretty. Somehow, it’s worse when they’re in love, because then they aren’t just fixated on some material hobby, but on a living being that suffers if they hurt it, and hurt it they will because obsession isn’t love. The pit: even easier. You just can’t find any meaning to begin latching onto, to use to get to other meanings. That’s called nihilism, generally.
But power’s also something that’s good for you (if we’re to call power good). What’s meaningful and good for you? How about living a good life?
Wait. This is a common answer, which means that it’s not a good one. If common answers were good, we wouldn’t all need therapy. And yet, what’s the alternative? Are we going to say that living a bad life is good for you? Are we going to say that the kind of life you live is irrelevant? Are we going to say it just happens to result from making the right choices, rather than being the right choices? Nah. The problem is figuring out what the good life is. That one’s a bit of a doozy.
We have a couple of points to go off of, of course, like those examples about choice and food and romance and so on and so forth. Those are okay-ish, but it seems somehow wrong to understand them as the core of what’s going on here. It seems like we’re just focusing on the gloss, again, and not on the substance. I’m not going to pretend that if you just go to the same damn pizza parlor every day, that it’ll fix all your problems. It’ll probably do the opposite. That’s a surface-level fix, and not a real solution.
Maybe a better path is to say: power is the ability to live a good life, and living a good life makes you powerful.
So what do you need to live a good life? Obviously, knowledge of what a good life is. That’s meaning. The practice and experience of living a good life, too. Maybe we’ll call that character, or something similar. And how about the desire, the state of mind where you can pursue living a good life genuinely and fully, without being distracted by irrelevant details that have nothing to do with goodness and which make your life hollow and empty?
Well, that’s why we need therapy.
Yeah, I know, I left a lot of important parts empty here. There’s a nasty bit of circularity going on with the whole “good life” deal. I can give you my arguments about what I think the good life looks like on a more practical level, or some more detailed discussions about a lot of individual therapy elements, or a more detailed explanation of what therapy is (hint: read the later Wittgenstein), but those are my own individual answers. They’re a work in progress. So’s this, but it’s a bit more foundational. That’s a fun word, isn’t it? But more importantly, they’re incredibly contingent on my own individual position. This, I think, is much less contingent. More to the point, none of my own answers are central to the concept of therapy. You can use them, or you can not use them. The important thing to do, for the therapy to work, is to just start working with answers in a serious way. That’s basically all the therapy is, plus interaction with others to keep you grounded.
Despite saying that, here are some hints for people who want them.
Question one: where do I go to find some kind of meaning about the good life?
Answer one: read old books or ask wise old people. You know who the wise ones are.
Question two: where did they learn those from?
Answer two: old books and wise old people, but also from doing things randomly and seeing what stuck. Don’t be afraid to try that one, either.
Question three: how do I get practice living well if it takes practice in order to live well?
Answer three: imitate people who did it nicely, or fake it until you make it. Same as anything else.
Question four: I’m having trouble…
Answer four: give it time.
That’s all I’ll give. If you’re looking for absolute dictates as to how to live after reading this, then I’ll just say: you need therapy. Let this settle for a while, read some other things, and then start again.
Speaking of reading things… oh, but I should mention. It probably should go without saying, but read absolutely everything with a charitable and critical eye. Try seriously to get the points of everyone you read, but don’t adhere to them religiously. This is especially true for the internet links. I think they’re worth reading, but you’re in the wrong business if you take anything you read on the internet as God’s truth.
All of Plato, but in particular the Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Gorgias. Actually, skip the Republic, except maybe the first two or three books. People get too caught up in it and it messes with them. It’s good, but probably longer and more obtuse than it should be.
Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason if you want to turn yourself around in circles a bit.
Browse Aristotle and Aquinas: the Nichomachean Ethics and the Summa Contra Gentiles, respectively. Helps to give a glimpse into another world.
Descartes’ Meditations, just so you can say you’ve read them.
Get some other things, too, like good old novels. Pick fun ones, for that matter. The stuff above is rarely fun, and you deserve a break.
Basically everything directed by Kurosawa is a good starting point. Ikiru is a good ending point.
Pretty much every other movie you can think of that’s known as being good. Start with things twenty years old. If you find something you like, tell me. I’m not great on movies.
Reading list, but internet:
http://slatestarcodex.com/ – gives some nice terminology and mental tools, with comfortable base-level explorations into the topic I’m dealing with here. Check the top posts (top bar) to find some really good meat, and click through the links if you dare.
https://samzdat.com/ – focuses more heavily on the ideas of pathology and therapy. Read this once you’ve read through a comfortable amount of Scott Alexander’s material, just above. Go to the archive (top right) and read through the two series in order.
http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/ – extremely dark and cynical looks into pathology and therapy. You should consider this to basically be the foundational text. However, it should be noted that the author exists (existed?) in what amounts to a different mental plane than most of us do. It is not a pretty or pleasant place. In fact, it ought to deeply horrify you. It’s important to not confuse this horror with a judgment that he is incorrect or evil. He is troubled, but he’s not troubled for terrible reasons. He may be incorrect on some or even most of his points, but regardless of whether his precise conclusions are wrong, he is observing something real which needs to be understood. It’s worth reading him very seriously for the sake of trying to understand what he’s looking at. Click on the Narcissism link in the sidebar (scroll down), click through an arbitrary number of pages, pick a post, and start reading. Or start here: http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2012/10/the_story_of_narcissus.html
Reading list, but manga:
Recommend you look for all of these on Batoto. If you aren’t into manga, don’t fret. This is for hobbyists.
Alice in Borderland
ib – instant bullet
It’s manga, so expect half of these to be mangled halfway through in some serious respect.