Suicidal Ideation

Krup Industrial RevolutionI have a very obsessive mind. It always wants to proclaim something as meaningful, as worthwhile, as an object of virtue. In my better moods I can enjoy something for what it is, but frequently such enjoyment will trigger a religious conversion. I will become convinced that this or that ideology is the arbiter of worth. These days, I am self-aware enough to have a fair chance of noticing when this happens, thus I find that it happens more and more insidiously.

I just spent an enjoyable weekend at my parents’ house. My two-year-old niece was there. She spent a happy half hour bashing the keyboard on my laptop. So I wrote her program that beeped and displayed photos of her grandma whenever she hit a key. She loved it. After dinner, I wrote a version of Pong to play with my sister, which was also fun. It’s this sort of thing that makes me like computers – the ability to create a game or perform some complicated (or tedious) task in only a few (enjoyable) minutes.

Then on the way back to London I found myself driving through the countryside. As I watched the old farms, hills and woods, I felt a deep affinity for rural, traditional England and was sorry to be returning to the filthy city. Suddenly I sensed a great conflict between my love of technology and my love of the country. Somehow, over the course of less than twenty-four hours, I had managed to turn enjoyment of two different aesthetics into an ideological dispute. Without being able to explain why, I couldn’t reconcile liking computers with liking the countryside. They were completely incompatible.

The problem was that I couldn’t merely like computers, I had to find their meaning. I couldn’t simply enjoy an aesthetic, I had to discover the principle behind it. Having done so, I made it the measure of worth to the exclusion of all else. All this from a couple of hours programming. Then twenty minutes driving along a country lane had driven me to accept open nature and the simple, traditional life as the ultimate virtue.

The only way I could reconcile these two mutually exclusive principles was to subordinate them to something else. Something had to be elevated to the highest good so that everything else could be accepted as a tool to obtain that good; or, at least, so that something would occupy that position in my mind so that I could enjoy other things without turning them into ideologies.

Happily, once identified, these obsessions can be dispelled as fast as they arise. Nevertheless, they are a real pain. I think I have ideological OCD.

Published in: on January 7, 2008 at 12:00 am  Comments (3)  

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  1. That all sounds quite familiar. I was remarking to Mrs. Afagddu the other day about how I seemed to be remarkably neophilic (if not in a particularly materialistic, ‘gadgety’ sense) for a Radical Traditionalist. I justified this to myself by regarding my neophilia as an expression of my need for new personal experiences and situations and the quest for general discovery in life. I don’t think a love of technology is necessarily at odds with a traditionalist mindset. With the backdrop of a sense of value and the realisation of the importance of simplicity and tradition, I think we can justify having certain ‘modern’ preferences. It’s the grand scale of thoughtless, unchecked over-dependence on technology that has devalued traditional thought, values and skills, not necessarily the predilection for technology itself. Like many things, technology is a good thing in moderation.But the modern Western mindset has lost it’s sense of moderation and is rather too interested in gratification and excess. Naturally, it has lost a degree of its sense of value because of this. There is far too much general clutter, complication and confusion in modern society and that, I think, comes from there being too much of everything; there are too many people, ideologies, vested interests, products to choose from and to some extent, there is too much pointless technology. A degree of simplification is a possible antidote to such excess. But try telling that to those who propagate the myth of progress and those playing their part in the expansion of the ever increasing sphere of government. I can also identify with the tendency towards obsessiveness. I’ve noticed that the longer the fight with it goes on the better I’ve become at identifying it, restraining it, rationalising it and either absorbing it or moving on from it. In other words, I think I’ve mellowed with age a bit.

  2. I have no problem reconciling my views rationally, it’s just that my mind is far from rational sometimes. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is irrational in its choices of things to be rational about. Logically there is nothing incompatible about technology and “traditionalism”. As is often the case, Terry Pratchett expressed this quite succinctly. Two of his characters discussed condoms:

    ‘Not natural, in my view, sah. Not in favour of unnatural things.’
    Vetinari looked perplexed. ‘You mean, you eat your meat raw and sleep in a tree?’

    The difficulty seems to come from my tendency to shift from an enjoyment of a thing itself to an obsession with the idea of a thing. Thus my enjoyment of computing insidiously shifts from just having fun with computers to a desire to base my worldview on the idea that everything is a number. Or something like that anyway. It’s a bit like that infernal question that we both learned to loathe, “But how is it conducive to your X?” I keep catching myself making the same mistake, just substituting something else for X. This is a bad thing, which I currently hold in check by being angrily opposed to things ending in ‘ism’.

  3. There’s no answer to that, I think, but to merely enjoy things for what they are without imbuing them with more meaning or value than is realistic. Obviously that’s easier said than done. Focussing on the idea of mystery for mystery’s sake and the concept of the sacred and the profane being intrinsically entangled as per the views of de Benoist and Brother Ensio has helped me a lot. I still find myself questioning the value of everything of course, but nowhere near to the extent I once did. It certainly is like a form of obsession, and there is often no way to rationalise an obsession other than doing what you’ve already done in writing it down and explaining it in rational terms.

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