Quitting Time

A meditation on despair: 

Say you yell every day at an/your eight year old girl for sloppy homework, admittedly a terrible thing to do but not uncommon, and eventually she thinks, “I’m terrible at everything” and gives up, so the standard interpretation of this is that she has lost self-confidence, she’s been demoralized, and case by case you may be right, but there’s another possibility which you should consider: she chooses to focus on “I’m terrible at everything” so that she can give up.  “If I agree to hate myself I only need a 60?  I’ll be done in 10 minutes. “ 

It is precisely at this instant that a parent fails or succeeds, i.e. fails: do they teach the kid to prefer (find reinforcement in) the drudgery of boring, difficult work with little daily evidence of improvement, or do they teach the kid to prefer (find reinforcement in) about 20 minutes of sobbing hysterically and then off to Facebook and a sandwich?  Each human being is only able to learn to prefer one of those at a time.  Which one does the parent incentivize?

If you read this as laziness you have utterly missed the point. It’s not laziness, because you’re still working hard, but you are working purposelessly on purpose. The goal of your work is to be done the work, not to be better at work.

For a great many people this leads to an unconscious, default hierarchy in the mind, I’m not an epidemiologist but you got it in you sometime between the ages of 5 and 10: 


is better than 


is better than 

You should memorize this, it is running your life.  “I’m constantly thinking about ways to improve myself.”  No, you’re gunning the engine while you’re up on blocks.  Obsessing and ruminating is a skill at which we are all tremendously accomplished, and admittedly that feels like mental work because it’s exhausting and unrewarding, but you can no more ruminate your way through a life crisis than a differential equation.  So the parents unknowingly teach you to opt for , and after a few years of childhood insecurity, you’ll choose the Blue Pill begin the dreaming: someday and someplace you’ll show someone how great you somehow are.  And after a few months with that someone they will eventually turn to you, look deep into your eyes, and say, “look, I don’t have a swimming pool, but if I did I’d drown myself in it.  Holy Christ are you toxic.”

“Well, my parents were really strict, they made me–”