Wednesday, 12 June 2019

How to stop struggling and gain a strong sense of direction

Subjectivism, despite its cultural dominance, is the ultimate folly. People will tell you to do something because everyone else is doing it, but that's not a reason to take action. Why should you blindly imitate everybody else? Conversely, it also makes little sense to be contrarian just for the sake of it. Be yourself, you'll hear all the time. Go your own way. Choose the path least trodden. The stream of advice goes on forever, either telling you to fall in or out of line.

In both cases, you are hearing subjective advice, recommendations not based on facts, not based on objective reality, but on what someone else is doing or refraining from doing. One way or the other, the value of such indications is close to nil. In fact, it is mostly irrelevant what anyone else is doing, believing, discarding, or falling in love with. What you should really care about is reality, facts, objectivity. Your prosperity and happiness rest on your ability to make accurate judgements, on your determination to cut off the noise, and start looking at things as they are.

Culture and fashion are calls for conformity, manifestations of gregariousness, which is another name for subjectivism measured by numbers. Relinquishing your individual thinking and embracing majority opinions, fashions and lifestyles can bring you some advantages. I will not contest that point. Imitating what most people are doing will save you time when it comes to making decisions, even if those decisions are wrong. It will equally spare you the embarrassment of having everybody point fingers at you, laugh at you, or criticise you because you are deviating from the norm.

Snakes, mosquitoes and giant spiders

The opposite side of the spectrum is called "non-conformity," which is a general category for discontent people to join. Individuals who don't want to resemble everybody else will automatically do the opposite, so that they can feel special, remarkable or at least different. I am talking about men and women who will look down at those who spend their holidays on the beach (too commonplace, too easy, too predictable), and will instead opt for practising dangerous sports. Instead of owing a summer house, contrarian persons want to live in the tropical forest, surrounded by snakes, mosquitoes and giant spiders. You will recognise these "adventurers" by their ill-fitting, torn, dirty clothes, which are supposed to be heroic.

Neither conformity nor its opposite are recipes for happiness. They can make you look average or confused, congenial or abrupt, but in both cases, your choices will revolve around subjective impressions. Join the majority or swim against the current. Wear fashionable clothes or draw attention because of your shabbiness. Imitating someone else's paintings or drawing objects upside down are not valid methods for creating great art. Adopting generally accepted values or attacking them for the sake of it will not necessarily move you forward. Neither downtrodden paths nor solitary caves are associated to personal balance, sanity or effectiveness. For sure, those are not choices you want to make blindly.

There is an alternative

There is an alternative, one that has always worked. You will not need to spend your days wondering which fashion leads to the least dismay, or whether you should be wearing colours diametrically opposed to everybody else's. Wisdom does not relate to accepting or rejecting other people's views, but it does require comparing yours with reality, selecting those that work, and discarding the rest.

Individuality requires a good measure of quiet reflection. Sound choices demand a logical evaluation of events. Before you start composing your own songs, you will need to filter out the world's noise. These are my three suggestions for escaping the predominant, mindless subjectivism, and moving towards a consistent, effective lifestyle:

First, you should stop believing in ready-made answers. You cannot orient yourself by looking at what other people are doing or avoiding. Neither specific fashions, occupations or locations can guarantee happiness. Majority opinions can bestow credibility on arbitrary standards, but those standards will remain arbitrary nonetheless. You are not obliged to buy in. You also not obliged to contradict those answers because they are ready-made. Instead, you should shun subjective inputs, and start assessing the facts yourself.

Second, abandon contradictory goals. Subjectivism is synonymous with inconsistency. False ideas will conflict with reality and with each other, even if they are endorsed by millions of people, or opposed rabidly by a minority. Neither being average nor opinionated are signs of truthfulness. In both cases, people will engage in a thousand contradictions because they have not thought things through. Anxiety is the mark of individuals who orient their actions by looking at other people. Inevitably, those persons will end up moving at random, without destination. Animals do not need perspective, but human beings do. Drop ideas that do not make sense, and rebuild your thinking in a realistic, consistent manner.

A strong sense of direction

Third, gain a strong sense of direction. You will only be able to distill universal principles from rational observations. Logic and evidence will demand more efforts than blind imitation and wild opposition, but in exchange, they can deliver permanent advantages. While other people are worrying about conformity, you will be guiding your steps by the law of cause and effect. While other persons are debating and driving each other crazy, you will be benefiting from your unique skills and opportunities. No one can tell you how to lead your life best. You have to think for yourself, stay realistic, and gain a strong sense of identity. You have to establish your ambitions and priorities on the basis of facts, not by imitating or rejecting other people's views.

Happiness requires a strong sense of purpose, which can only be drawn from objective thinking. Subjectivism is unsustainable, irrespective of its majority or minority status. The short-term contentment you can draw from imitating or opposing other people will add little worth to your experience, and heavy burdens to your spirit. Shrug your shoulders the next time you hear someone urge you to conform or protest. Ignore invitations to grow emotionally attached to ready-made opinions. Happiness calls for reason, purpose and focused action. You will only obtain those from logical, serene thinking. Steer away from subjectivism. Choose the way of reason.


Image: Photograph of classical painting. Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2019.

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