X vs Myopic X

Posted: 2017-08-13 , Modified: 2017-08-13

Tags: Ayn Rand, creativity, egotism, flaws, goals, love, myopia, remix

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The myopic x problem is the problem where I’m motivated by x, but I cling to x, and won’t do things that help me achieve x if they involve stepping outside of x for a moment. So being myopically x hinders my accomplishing x. I have the myopic egotism problem: when becoming a better person (ultimate goal is egotistic) means forgetting myself and being open and listening to other people (which involves temporarily suspending egotism), I have trouble. The myopic creativity problem is when I put myself in front of an empty screen and try to write, when coming up with something to write involves reading, watching, and studying books/movies/etc., talking to and doing things with people, and learning more about the world. Myopic egotism and myopic creativity together make me think everything I do should come from myself, and prevent me from “standing on the shoulders of giants.”

(On friendship and love I think I have the opposite problem: I’m farsighted, looking in the distance, wanting these connections because of the benefits they will bring, rather than wanting them in themselves. I.e. learning:creating::friendship:(everything friendship leads to), where I’m myopic in the second component, so I overlook the first. As a contrast, Justine is about myopic love.

The thing with ulterior motives (do A in order to B) is that although I can’t deny their existence, I have to get myself to not think about B and get myself to truly love A. The only way to truly be knowledgeable is to love learning; the only way to truly enrich myself is to cultivate love and friendship, without thinking of these as for the ulterior purpose of cultivating myself.)

It’s the same with research: I spend too much time trying to get an idea to work, so I can publish it and Have Done Something New! when instead I should ask myself things like, is this likely to work? what’s the best use of time? what things should I understand better before I try to come up with something new? what foundational things should I be learning?

Why do I think this is circular? Because I think, “once I create something truly new, then I’ll have the confidence that I’m not just a rehash, and then I can go out and learn stuff without worrying whether I can be original.” This means that I shouldn’t change my current course—I should keep spending a lot of my effort on creating, rather than putting the creating aside. The circularity comes from (1) creating requires me to learn/absorb stuff, (2) I don’t want to learn/absorb a lot of stuff until I’ve proved that I can create something.

The myopic creativity that I’m talking about, I think, is a bastardized version of what an artist would call “creativity.” A lot of creativity is remix. It’s being “my brain is open”: not a flow of information out, but a flow of information in. I try to tell myself that life is remix. But I have a hard time having faith in it.

The catch-22 is illusory though. (1) is true regardless of whether I want to believe it or not. (2) is in my head: it’s a “want” not a “need.” (Like men saying they have to “satisfy their needs,” ugh.)

How is this related to Ayn Rand style egoism? I like her teachings. But I think one has to be very careful because the idea of egoism is easy to misinterpret. It’s easy to confuse egoism and egotism; I use “egotism” to refer to “myopic egoism.” Egoism, done right, includes a (sometimes difficult) realization that even when the end goal is benefiting yourself, you’ll have to step outside yourself to accomplish it—you’ll need your friends’ help, you’ll need to be humble and learn from the masters. Egotism is refusing to step outside yourself for even a moment, and it remains egotism even if you try to label it “egoism.”

The essay Joy in Discovery: that’s exactly the attitude I need to have. This reminds me of another Ayn Rand bit: she always says that when you enjoy something, that pleasure is yours. She affirms that [the way you relate to something making you happy] cannot be taken away from you. So even if you’re not a good painter at all, and you don’t own any works of art, you can walk in the museum and get a uniquely personal experience.