Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2014/ Unearned Life

Unearned Life

Maybe I have written about this before, but it occurs to me that I have not worked for any of the things I value in my life. When I was younger I valued getting high grades at school, but I didn't work hard for those grades; I cruised by on natural talent and obliviousness (and then fourth-year university hit, but that's another story). I value reading a lot and being frugal, but I did not cultivate either of these practices; they are my natural inclinations. I valued my ability to educate others, and although it is true that I have worked on these skills a little, mostly I coasted by on natural talent. I even value being Canadian, despite having done nothing whatsoever to earn that status (my parent deserve credit for my citizenship, not me).

This is terrifying on multiple levels. Firstly, it means I am completely undeserving of whatever it is that I value. Secondly, it means I have no basis whatsoever to be judgemental of others. Other people have not been blessed with the few positive inclinations I enjoy. When I see panhandlers or drug addicts or dumb people around, I want to lecture them and tell them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but I have no basis upon which to criticize them.

This is a tricky thing. I do believe that self-improvement is possible. After being involved with the cult for so long I have come to believe that people (including but not limited to poor people) often contribute to their own drama, that this left-wing narrative of angelic poor people being victims of societal oppression is deeply flawed. But if I had been unfortunate enough to trade lives with the people I judge, then I am pretty convinced I would not have made better life choices, whereas if others enjoyed the privilege and gifts I have been given in my life they would have used those privileges and gifts better than I have.

Another terrifying aspect is that if I have done nothing to deserve my natural inclinations, I will have no recourse when those inclinations change or disappear. I see evidence of this already -- most notably in my aging body, but also in my ability to pick up new knowledge and skills quickly. At some point all the things I value will be taken away from me. Then I will have nothing, and other people will be able to judge me as harshly as I judge others. Given my current dental drama I am acutely aware at how harshly I judge people who have missing teeth. People can be valuable, worthwhile human beings even if they have had teeth extracted and lack the money for cosmetic reconstruction, but my subconscious cannot get past its prejudice. I have had a tooth extracted, and it is pretty clear that if I am still alive I will have some serious dental problems over the next few years. Not only will other people judge me for being a gap-toothed loser, but if I am being consistent I will be obligated to judge myself. A second example (which I have written about before) are my language faculties. My spelling is getting worse; my sentence structure is getting sloppier, and I am becoming more and more prone to typos and unclear sentence structure. I once had natural inclinations to produce structurally sound (if aesthetically boring) prose, and now those inclinations are diminishing. Meanwhile, I feel judgemental of other people who misspell words or express themselves poorly.

A third terrifying aspect is that I have never worked hard for anything in my life. Whenever I face a task that requires abilities beyond my natural inclinations, I tell myself that I lack the skills for that task and that I don't care. I have realized this recently in the context of event planning. I get stuck doing organizing and event planning a lot, and my events almost always get mediocre attendance. I am okay at organizing event logistics; I am terrible at convincing people to attend them. I do not have a natural inclination to sell people things or to be outgoing. However, these are learnable skills. It is entirely possible for me to improve my marketing skills and improve turnout at the events I get stuck organizing. But I am not willing to learn these skills; I tell myself that I "just can't" promote events effectively, and despite failing again and again I refuse to even try. This is a specific example, but the overall principle applies to my entire life.

If I was a better person, at this point I would resolve to work on these weak areas, to develop the skills I lack, to be less judgemental about the circumstances in which others find themselves because of their natural inclinations. But I think we all know I am not going to accomplish any of these things. Instead I will wallow in existential dread and my feelings of helplessness, as is my wont.