Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Clockwork Life

It's late. I am biting my finger nails. I have been biting and picking at them all night.

This is my worst habit. The tips of my fingers are slightly stinging and smarting. The ingested nail and skin makes me feel slightly off. My fingers end up looking like shit.

Ironically, I see myself as a relatively sane individual. In most of my actions I see cause and effect. My actions are mostly reasonable to the people and environments I find myself in. Except when it comes to biting my nails.

A week ago I was helping my flatmate fry her chicken. She snapped that I was doing it wrong; and I snapped back that she shouldn't yap so much. It was the first time I got angry in a long time. Perhaps it was the lack of food, it was 5ish and I hadn't eaten all day.

Self control is something I value; but sometimes the puppet strings snap and the mind loses control to emotion.

Most murderers for example fall into this category. Murder is rarely premeditated to any great degree, it is mostly perpetrated by people who would never contemplate such things until they find themselves in a particular situation where they lose control. I remember a hearing a psychiatrist say the biggest mistake murderers make is that beforehand they would not believe they are capable of such an act.

Perhaps the illusion of determinism helps us fool ourselves that our lives are somehow more structured and controlled than they really are. Imagine realising that we often cannot predict or control our own actions let alone another's; the uncertainty of when or where a tsunami will rip through our lives is a paralysing thought.

My boss was caught in a car accident last weekend. A large truck smashed into a car behind him while coming of the highway. Luckily for him the car behind him soaked up most of the impact of the crash. He came away unscathed but the driver of the other car will probably not live.

A moment's lapse and so many lives are adversely affected.

We build our societies and ourselves around notions of cause and effect even when something so whimsical can have calamitous reverberations. We have evolved to embrace the illusion of determinism but it comes with negative side effects.


C.Feng said...

While I agree we've evolved to embrace the illusion of determinism (if not for anything but as a defense mechanism), I'm not sure all its side effects are negative. True, knowing some things are based on cause and effect is comforting. However, knowing that "one cannot predict or control our own actions let alone another's" can be beneficial as well. Let's say I want to work for Company X. I submit my cover letter and resume and HR notices that I graduated from the same college as the CEO. My information gets moved along. Or, HR notices that I studied at a bottom tier college. My information is tossed in the trash. (Or, someone in HR is having a bad day and decides not to pass along my information b/c they don't appreciate the fact that I worked for Company Z). I have no real control over how others view me, it's just simply up to me to go about things in a way that I believe is best for my goals. As long as I know I've done all that I am capable of, demonstrated all of my abilities, I'm still the one in control. Beyond that, with regard to the decision making process of others, it's out of my hands. In a way, it's a sigh of relief. Of course, it'd be nice to have a magic formula to plug in, and once you've completed the formula, to be guaranteed a result... but life would be rather boring, don't you agree? Isn't living life about bettering yourself as a person and taking chances, and seeing what comes your way?

Though generally speaking, there are "safe paths" to pursue, for example, in the U.S., education is probably the single most effective way of evening the playing field... if you are a college graduate your likelihood of falling through the cracks of society are much slimmer than if you did not go to college. Of course, there are loads of factors that prevent people from having equal opportunity to a good education... but essentially, education= better opportunities. Once you've established this "baseline," it's still up to you to take responsibility for what happens to you. It's not logical to think that just because you graduate from a professional school-- that you can expect to go on cruise-control. There are probably loads of people with the same skills as you-- now it's time for individuality to come into play! This is where not being able to predict what will happen is beneficial in a society. It forces people to work to distinguish themselves. Maybe this will mean more school, or taking up an interesting hobby, doing community service-- which as a result, creates a better society, I think.

Also, while there are many things outside of one's locus of control (where you were born, the professions of your parents, the state of the national economy which resulted in various opportunities or non opportunities as you were growing up), that doesn't mean you can't have an internal locus of control. For example, I know that despite what's going on around me, I am in control of what I personally do. Sure, there may be barriers and hardships (or easier access and special privileges ) that I encounter, but at the end of the day, it's up to me to live my life. Just because something is harder for me to attain, doesn't mean I cannot attain it, it's just harder. If I put in the effort, it will work out... but I need to decide if it's worth the effort. On the same note, just because I can attain something easily, doesn't mean I necessarily want to pursue it. It all depends on needs/wants and costs/benefits, I suppose.

delvi said...

ha....i thot u r a pertapa: never got angry.

johnorford said...

petapa? never heard of that one b4! : )

delvi said...

pertapa is hermit. u should consult ur dictionary. just make sure u wont explode ur anger when ur near me. i'll eat u alive then he he he he. To me personally i hate being angry; it drains away my energy.

johnorford said...

Christina, what u say makes sense. The only thing is that people often attach too much meaning to events which hinge upon chance. I may succeed and you might fail and the difference is sheer luck, yet I will somehow think I am better than you. Stochastic outcomes is not necessarily a problem but most of us live in denial -- often to our detriment