December 21, 2022

I've been thinking about ambient anger and annoyance, those days when everything rankles. When you're in that state, you can snap and yell at any moment, with every minor (and major) further irritation being a potential spark to a minor (or major) blow up.

At first I thought understanding the problem (in order to better cope with these scenes) was like this:, like, everything seems like a big deal because we lack long-term perspective. (To quote Keynes: "The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.") But now I think Michael Jordan points to what looms even larger:

I think - subconsciously - we can take EVERYTHING personally. The traffic we're stuck in seems like a personally directed affront, somehow. The jerk cutting us off - I mean that's DEFINITELY one on one, zero sum, and so very personal right? It's outrageous.

We evolved to become a planet-engulfing species by being really sophisticated in small-group settings - that's where our brains developed, and co-operation allowed us to overcome our (good, but not world-beating) physiques to become just about the planet's most fearsome and successful animal. (I just did some math and while ants outnumber us there's only about 14lbs of ant per person)

But I think a side effect of that is how we attribute intentionality to everything. I think this explains the ambient frustration many people live through as well as many folk's beliefs that there's a higher divine power behind it all. When we see something happen, we look to who wanted it to happen, because that attitude serves us so well in the scopes we evolved in.

But we don't just see things as intentionality serving someone else's purpose (which is the stance I can usually take) - we replace a kind of objective sense of "what chain of cause and effect made this happen, and did someone set that in motion on purpose, and if so what where their goals and intentions?" with a simplistic "why the hell is his happening TO ME??? Screw you."

But that's no way to live. To quote the eponymous character of Garrison Keillor's Don Giovanni: "Helpless rage is a major cause of falls in the home."

So disclaimers, I know a lot of my equanimity seeking, even-keeled nature gets based in the privilege I enjoy. I'm not much of a striver and I have a materially easy life. That aids to my ability take things more calmly. (Though also I think about cliches of the passive Taoist; it might be that the best path is not to accept everything but keep fighting the good fights...)