Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gagging Mr Spock

ivicia from rpg.net asks

How to approach fixing the burden of bad experience that fills you with stress and makes you avoidant ,
its irrational so its very problematic.

Im up for any practical, philosophical, or metaphorical advice you can share.

Thank you. 

I hate Mr. Spock. I know, I know, it's nerd heresy, but despite the fact that he's cool, and funny, and heroic, that's how I feel. See, Mr. Spock says emotions are illogical, and that offends me. Not as a romantic, or a humanist, but as a logician. Logic doesn't work like that.

The only thing logic can do is preserve the truth value of arguments. This can be very powerful, but it is also limited. Logic cannot tell you what goals are worth pursuing, what facts are true, or what values are worth having (unless, of course, any of those things contradicts established truth).

In a broader sense, this is true of rationality as well. It can tell you the best course of action, but only you can define what "best" actually means. Your feelings are not irrational, they're pre-rational. They are not conclusions, they are premises. And treating them like premises will give you enormous power.

Take the true statement "Mt Everest is very tall." What is the logical conclusion we can draw from this fact? Trick question - it depends entirely on our additional premises. Consider the difference in the following arguments:

Mt Everest is very tall
I want to climb Mt Everest
Therefor I should gather equipment and assistance


Mt Everest is very tall
I hate climbing
Therefor I should choose a new destination for my vacation

In each case, the meaning of the first premise is defined by the context provided by the second. In the first argument, "Mt Everest is very tall" is an obstacle in the second, it is a warning.

What is your second premise? Because if all you want to do is minimize stress, then your feelings are a warning, and nothing to be ashamed of. Avoiding things that cause you stress is a rational reaction. In fact, people do it all the time. It's the reason I don't hang out with drug addicts and only drive my car when I have somewhere I absolutely need to be. Cutting yourself off from things that make you unhappy can be a very mature response.

I'm guessing, though, that you have other goals, and that your stress is stopping you from doing things that you want to do. In that case, remember - your stress is an obstacle, and obstacles can be overcome. Which is not to say that you can charge through on pure willpower, but rather, that you can plan around it. You can seek the assistance of friends, family, or professional counselors. You wouldn't climb Everest without a Sherpa guide, you don't need to confront your stress alone.

On a more practical note, I find what helps me is to remember that people can only see the outside, and that if I can force my body to go through the motions, that can be good enough. If something needs doing, it doesn't matter if I'm cool or suave or sexy while I'm doing it. I'm not James Bond, I don't get extra points for sang froid.

Whatever you do - don't beat yourself up for having feelings. You inhabit a body whose internal meat computer is programmed to register distress when it is reminded of previous bad experience. This is not something you can change. It is a value-neutral fact about the world. So save your rationality for where it might do some good - in formulating your response.

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