embracing my own agency
For most of my formative years, much of my schedule was controlled by authority figures: schools and parents. When I was first in a position to have much greater control over my own time, I squandered it
. Then I got a job for a few years, and my time was controlled, my efforts directed. After quitting it
, I again squandered my time
. I've had a few more cycles like that. Throughout all of this I tended to think of myself as lazy, and wondered how I could fight my own laziness
It occurs to me now that years and years of taking orders from authority figures really fucked up my ability to manage my time, and to direct my efforts towards goals of my own choosing. Whenever I had time to myself, I just wanted to do nothing, perhaps because I was accustomed to goal-directed activity being unpleasant. And it was unpleasant partially because I wasn't the one setting the goals. I suppose these repeated periods where I squandered my time were when I rejected being an agent for someone else's goals, but was incompetent at setting my own and executing on them.
Anyway, I think that slowly over the last 2 years of grad school I've started to realize that my time is my own, and that the way I spend it today is a big part of what options I'll have tomorrow. (Perhaps "realize" isn't the right term; "act like someone who understands" might be more accurate.) I'm getting better at identifying what options I want to have tomorrow, and how to direct my energies towards those long-term goals. Maybe that's just behaving like a fucking adult, but it's big progress for me, and I feel pretty good about it.
I'm more productive at work now, allocating time both to short-term (applying for funding next month, teaching responsibilities, various new student administrative things) and long-term projects (developing a plan of study for my PhD work), and doing so far more efficiently than ever before, though with plenty of room for improvement. The same is true for home life. For example, last weekend I canned 23 liters of tomato sauce with some friends, to make some delicious local produce last into the winter. These are the kinds of things I've been saying I wanted to do for years now, and now I'm actually doing them. Items on my list for the near future include homebrewing beer and submitting a paper for publication, both of which will happen in the next couple months.
I'm trying to make similar progress with personal relationships. I've had very few deeply satisfying connections with other people, and the few I've had haven't lasted very long, probably at least in part due to my own failure to maintain them. I suspect I'll be able to apply these newfound abilities in this part of life as well. We'll see how it goes.
Aside from the personal utility I'm deriving from these changes, it occurs to me that the explanation I've hypothesized -- years of taking orders from authority stunting my ability to effectively identify and pursue my own goals -- could have enormous social implications if the same dynamic has been playing out for a large population, which
. I'll have to think more about that.
I don't think I have an inertia problem any more. Looking back, I'm not sure I ever did. Values that I had internalized from my social environment conflicted with other values, resulting in, well, conflict. What was really happening, in my life and in my posts here, was a struggle to make sense of the world around me and how I fit into it.
Having advanced my understanding of the world and my place in it, I no longer see my tendency towards laziness as a vice, quite the opposite in fact. I see it almost like a defense mechanism. My system was overloaded, so I shut down, preventing me from doing any more damage.
We here at Inertia Anonymous think of ourselves as possessing above-average mental faculties, but lament our inability to fully harness our natural ability; we call that gap laziness. But like Peter Gibbons
, I now say that gap is because we just don't care.
To elaborate, it is clear that one common trait among us here is self-identification as "smart kids."
Cara: "we are not 'regular lazy people'. We are all overachievers"
WK: "anyways I am still a genius."
adspar (and dan): "Lazy Dan and I have often lamented that our most productive days ended 8 years ago when we graduated from high school."
Mox: "I have been relatively successful at my chosen path in life even while being super lazy."
Why do we think of ourselves this way? Well, we've always been told that we're smart, we got good grades, and we earned various academic awards. Why did all of that happen? Like Mario says
, it is because we did well on tests. Well what do tests measure except the ability to tell authority figures what they want to hear, to regurgitate information that we committed to short-term memory simply to earn the approval of the authorities, to jump through fucking monkey hoops just to see a shining "A" on the "report card" that the school authorities sent out to other school authorities (not to mention our home life authorities.) School doesn't educate; it socializes. It teaches people to fall in line, not to question anything.
So we spent most of our formative years being rewarded for doing what we're told and following the rules. That had to have become part of our self-identity, at least on some level. But on some other level, we knew that part of our success was total bullshit. We knew that cramming wasn't learning, but we did it anyway. Why? It wasn't that we were lazy, it was that we just didn't care. We didn't care about learning the material, we only cared about the grade.
Here I'll switch back to the first person singular that I started with. I was pretty comfortable speaking in plurals in the middle, but now you all can decide if it would be appropriate the rest of the way.
Lamenting about my laziness in pursuing employment, I wrote
that "I don't want this to turn into something like every school project that I waited until the last possible minute to get started." Why did I wait so long to do those school projects? Because I didn't want to do them! I just had to because that was how to get the approval of the authorities. That was how to earn their approval and advance through their system. I suspect it is some part of human nature, and I'm a bit more sure it is my own nature, to resent authority. And so laziness was, partially, my own little subversion of that authority. I saw getting a job is the exact same thing as a school project, which I seemed to realize enough to write it, but not enough to make more connections.
I wasn't ever really pursuing school projects, or employment opportunities because they were what I wanted to do (in my case it was the kinds of jobs I was pursuing, not having a paying job in and of itself). I was doing them because someone else wanted me to do, and I obeyed. In contrast, I was never lazy about pursuing what I wanted to do. Ignore for a moment any judgment of the productive value of a few examples: video games, sports, poker. I applied myself to those pursuits quite vigorously. I practiced and studied and practiced some more. I improved my skills and understanding, sought out more challenges, and generally did a very good job (literally in one case) at those pursuits. They just happened to be fairly worthless, but they did show that I have the ability to enthusiastically apply myself to something.
So why was able to apply myself to diversions, but not to something more conventionally productive? Because the social and economic systems of our society aren't structured to maximize human fulfillment, intellectual development, creativity, etc. Those systems are structured to maximize profit, so as to concentrate power and control to an elite few. Individuals are just system inputs, to be manipulated in whatever fashion maximizes profit and condenses power and control. (This isn't to say that enjoyable, rewarding work can't be found; I believe it can. Its just that the system makes such opportunities hard to find. Among other things, they're almost always low-paying, which is an effective deterrent.)
This system is hugely destructive, and that's why I say my inertia was a good thing. It prevented me from fully taking part in that system, and thereby doing further damage to myself and others. I think my laziness in school somewhat prevented me from more fully absorbing the values and ideology that I would have needed to be a productive part of corporate America. So I'm glad I was lazy, because fuck that shit.
And by the way, I don't consider any of these insights particularly novel. Schools teaching obedience, corporate-controlled economies as destructive, these ideas aren't new. But they have been a revelation to me. For reasons already explained I hadn't been exposed to them, and so couldn't ever see how they've mattered in my own life.
As one last note, I've been rereading a lot of old Inertia Anonymous posts and we had some really cool conversations. I'd love to see more of that.
It's too bad none of us is an artist, because we could probably get someone to pay us to show this webpage as a brilliantly self-referential digital-interactive-new-media-modern-art-installation-thingy.
Nine tenths of the evil and suffering in this world is rooted in the idea that something must be done. Why must anything be done at all? All the advocacy and protest in the world would pale in the face of practiced inertia. The way to confound the authorities is to sigh and take your time when they ask you to remove your shoes at the airport. The way to confound the terror-profiteers is to shrug and look for lunch. I am deeply inspired by the British who seem largely not to give a shit that some nuts tried to blow up something with a car. A nation of people who carry umbrellas on the sunniest days is a nation with an admirable relationship to fate. By failing to react, they have driven American conservatives into spectacular and hilarious conniptions, eructions of rage, howls, cries, squeals, belches of anger. It's a good show, and I'm jealous that I had no part in doing nothing to provoke it.
After spending the last 2 days being fairly productive
as motivated by a feeling of last-minute desperation, I'm finding myself randomly drifting towards unplanned and non-urgent productivity in my down time. This has happened to me a few times in the past, but I'd always inevitably let the momentum slip away. This time might have a better chance of sticking because 1) I now genuinely see that momentum as a good thing and 2) the projects instilling the sense of urgency are rather long-term but with lots of very important intermediate steps.
To be more specific, we're moving to Ohio for Kira to finish school starting in September. Planning has already started, and really has to get moving now, especially for selling the house, which is going to be a major effort for us. And slightly less pressing but more important in the long-run is applying to grad schools by December. That involves a lot of planning and effort too. Hopefully I'll be able to get my momentum up for the former, and then shift it over towards the latter.