Contemporary Civilization: Emergence from Darkness or Mortal Sickness?

Whether we praise or condemn contemporary civilization, none can deny that it is—in terms of what men had been and thought and done until quite recently—different, peculiar, abnormal.  There are those who think that this abnormality represents our long-delayed emergence from darkness into the light of reason; for others it represents the terminal stage of a mortal sickness.

Gai Eaton, King of the Castle: Choice and Responsibility in the Modern World, p. 9

It is forgotten however that swift change is a characteristic of decay, not of growth, and that the body which took some eighteen years to come to maturity dissolves into its constituent chemicals in a far shorter time.

Gai Eaton, King of the Castle: Choice and Responsibility in the Modern World, p. 52

Questioning our purpose and goals

Like those who came before us we have chosen — or had chosen on our behalf — certain particular objectives out of the multitude of possibilities open to man and, like them, we ignore everything that seems irrelevant to our purpose.  This purpose is determined by the assumptions we take for granted, the axioms which seem to demand no proof, the moral imperatives which appear self-evident and therefore unarguable.  We are rational creatures, certainly, but reason does not operate in a vacuum or spin the premises of argument out of its own substance.  It must start from somewhere. Certain propositions must be accepted as self-evident before our minds will function, and one can reason as well on the bases of a false proposition as upon that of a true one.

Gai Eaton, King of the Castle: Choice and Responsibility in the Modern World, p. 7-8

He may be aware that there is a great deal wrong in the human situation, but he defines this in terms of current progressive ideals. To suggest to him that it is precisely these ideals which are mistaken and that our troubles are due, not to the obstacles in the way of reaching our goal, but to the initial choice of goal is to propose the unthinkable.  A superstitious faith in progress endures even when the dogma of progress has been exposed as an illusion.

Gai Eaton, King of the Castle: Choice and Responsibility in the Modern World, p.9-10

Aim Low (but higher than where you are)

It seems like unquestionably good advice to tell people to aim high. Reach for the stars so that if you miss, you’ll still hit the moon, they say.

But advice like this can be debilitating. You look at the stars and the rickety old bicycle you’re on and you see this is ridiculous. Why bother? It’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion given the circumstances.

If instead, you aimed for that next hill to see what more you could see from that vantage point, the whole thing seems more doable and worthwhile. And who knows, you might come across something or someone that can take you a little bit further. And then from that, get a little further. And so on.

You might even hit the moon some day. Or even the stars.

It all begins by just aiming for that next little hill over there.

The garden hose lesson

Fewer options are often a good thing.

When you’ve got restrictions and limitations on what you can do, this in itself becomes a new opportunity.

You don’t have to decide certain things because they’ve already been taken off the table for you.

You have no choice but to focus. And focus the key to meaningful work.

It’s like when you’re spraying with a garden hose.

What happens when you partially cover the tip of the hose with your finger?

By forcing the water through a smaller area, you increase the pressure and the spray goes further.

The downside of the plan

Sometimes, I find myself getting stuck because I want to do things in a certain order. I want to do A, B, C and D and I want to do it in that order. So when I get stuck on C, I’ll stay stuck there. I’ll leave the project for a bit. And then I feel this weird guilt about leaving the project so long that it blocks me from coming back. Of course the longer I stay away, the harder it is to come back. And the cycle continues.

So I need to let go of that original plan. Doing A, B, and D is better than doing only A and B. Who cares if C is missing. I might have been the only person that expected it to be there in the first place. No one might actually notice. And maybe, just by going ahead with D I’m able to figure out how to do C later. And in the end, I’ll have all the pieces I originally intended.

Now that I write this out, I realize I should have known this already. When we write exams, they tell us that if we get stuck with a question, we should just move on. Don’t stay stuck there. Keep going until you find a question you can answer and then go back to do the ones you can’t.

Make a plan, but when it becomes an obstacle to the work, let it go.

Working and watching

There’s a tiny little thrill we get from seeing the results of our work — stats going up, likes, comments, page views, a little edit on the back end that makes a website look better, a reply to an email.  It’s fun to keep checking these things.  To sit back and watch.

But it’s not where the real satisfaction comes from.  That’s like the icing.  It’s nice and sweet.

The cake is doing the work.  That’s the enjoyment that fills you.



Maintaining momentum

When you’re on a roll, getting things done is so much easier. You’re confident, you know how to do it, it’s easy to keep going.

Inertia, in this case, is on your side. An object in motion remains in motion until an external force acts upon it.

Unfortunately, this inertia of motion is fragile. It doesn’t take much to break it. You get lazy, confused, not sure what to do, overwhelmed, something comes up, something else demands your attention and seems more important so you skip a day. That day becomes two days, three days, a week, a month and before you know it, this good habit that you had built, this project you were working on gets put on the shelf for a year or more.

So when you’re on a roll, protecting and maintaining that momentum is a high priority. An interruption isn’t just a pause for a day. It could be years. It could be the end of that project all together.

And if you do lose momentum, do whatever you can to restart. Break the task down to something smaller. Keep breaking it down. Lower the bar until you can’t help but trip over it.

When you’re going, keep going. Don’t let anything get in your way. There’s too much at stake here.

And if you stop, don’t just sit there. Get up. And get yourself going again.

Non-fixed resources

Some resources aren’t fixed.  They become more available to you the more you use them.
It’s like how muscles grow with use and shrink when left idle.  In this case, you don’t have to carefully decide what you’re using that muscle for.  What’s important is that you’re using it.
You can walk, do housework, go to the gym, lift weights, play with kids — the more you move, the more you can move.
The ability to concentrate on deep work is also like this.  Whether you’re reading a difficult text, writing something for publication, preparing a presentation, the more you use this muscle, the stronger it gets.
The same goes for ideas.  The more ideas you come up with, whether good or bad, the more ideas will come to you.
So the key here is not to be too picky and wait for the ideal activity, application or idea. Move, concentrate, come up with ideas.  Don’t worry about doing the best thing.  Do something.  And keep doing it.  So you can do more.