The Investigation

I constantly try to be good.

I was in an ice cream cafe today. What was going through my mind?

  • Running fingers through my hair:
    I hope it looks elegant. I know it's possible to run fingers through your hair elegantly.
  • Eating ice cream:
    I have pecked this scoop from from all sides, it's ugly now. I know it was possible to keep it pretty.
  • Eating a toast, dropped an oily seed on my pants:
    I know it was possible to avoid that.

I noticed that all of this was going through my head, and thought: Artemis doesn't do that. Lucky her. (Artemis is my other personality—see Create a separate identity for fun and profit).

And then I thought: why doesn't Artemis do that? "Because she doesn't have any ambitions, not even small ones like 'eating elegantly'".

And then I thought: what if it's deeper?

Several days ago somebody told me that I might have personality issues stemming from deep childhood, 2–4 years old. Whose approval am I seeking?

I tried the standard answers and looked at the body reactions. "I want to be good for my father". A small ticklish heat wave. "I want to be good for my mother". Smaller. "I want to be good for my sister". Smaller still.

Body reactions don't have to mean anything, but still. Alright.

Artemis does not have any emotional relationship to my parents—or rather, every emotional relationship I have is labeled as "not Artemis", unless she wants otherwise. So if am somehow oppressed by my parents, she would not have that. Makes sense.

Then I thought: alright, what did my parents want from me?

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub

"You are smart, but lazy", my dad said once, and then again, and then a few more times. "You don't love me"—my mom. "You don't appreciate what we do for you".

Okay. This is the first time I am asking myself: what did they want from me? Not what did they tell me, but what did they want?

What should I have done to be good?

I don't know what I should actually have done, but I know what I felt like was expected from me. I had to come to my parents and say: "I don't know if you're wrong or right but I accept it anyway; I submit to you; I will do what you want me to do". If my mom tells me that I should wear the shirt she bought or else I don't care about her—then I have to wear the shirt. Etc. From mom's point of view, I was emotionally shitty—"you don't care about me"—not always, but sometimes. From dad's point of view, I was ideologically shitty—"you want bad things"—not always, but sometimes.

I think this is best summarized by the word repentance. Not "change yourself", but "regret and renounce yourself".

I hated that, and I never repented. I ran off to a different country after high school. I never called my parents while abroad. I told my therapist "we can talk about anything, but the thing about disliking my parents and not wanting to be friends with them—that's just not going to change". I always thought, genuinely, that people who liked their parents were just weak. They were asked to submit to their parents, and they did. Because this is what I imagined all other parents do—"you have to submit to me".

I don't know how to explain why it is scary to me. It just is. Saying "okay, looks like when you control things they work out better, so I'll be following your decisions from now on" is one thing. That's not scary. On the other hand, saying "my life will be easier if I submit to you, so I will" feels like a bargain with the devil. My gut feeling is that it's because I haven't ever seen good examples of such submission in my life? Maybe? I don't know.


Back to the point. The point was: I know, since the childhood, that I am bad but would have been good if I had repented. Therefore I have to become good some other way, or else—to repent.

This in itself is a synthesis failure (see Synthesis). "I have either to become good or to repent." Just remaining bad is not an option in this worldview.

As a side note: repentance exists in Christianity. I googled "refusing to repent" and found this:

When people will not repent after having received many chastisements through trial and suffering, they have shown themselves to be devoid of all conscience. Instead of doing what we wish, living for the moment in feasting and revelry, we should be obedient to the ways of God, living in sober service to Him. And when we have been warned and chastised, we ought to repent. It should not take many stripes to cause us to turn, but we should learn quickly like a child who needs only a firm rebuke to set him straight. Make the measure of your spiritual life your capacity to quickly and honestly repent of your sin.

— https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/refusing-to-repent/

I read somewhere, but don't know where, that "God" is a stand-in for "society". It makes sense to me. "When the society rebukes you—submit to its will. When you end up in suffering caused by what you are doing—you are probably not doing what the society wants from you. Submit to the society. Submit to the society. Submit."

I think this was my dad's schtick, literally—"submitting to the society is right". End of side note.

Anyway. What is "bad"? What is "good"?

The feeling I have (and might have due to my parents?) is that "good" equals ticking a bunch of boxes. If you are caring, etc, and don't have shitty beliefs, you are good. There is no positive account of "good"—nothing you have to do—just a lot of things you must not do. Your actions don't have to bring anyone any good, as long as your intentions are good.

I grew up in a paradigm where—for instance—Stalin was bad and Stalin did a lot of bad things, but importantly, he did a lot of bad things because he was shit.

Do you see the logic? "If you're bad, that's because you're shit. You can't change on your own—because you want shitty things—so you have to submit to somebody else's will. Then eventually you will learn how to behave like a good person. What to feel and what to think." Yay.

The Futurological Congress

What is to be done?

I think that the reason Artemis doesn't care about what she does is that she doesn't have a notion of "maybe I'm shit".

I think that to solve this for myself, I have to decide: "Alright, maybe I'm shit. If I want to be good, what should I be doing?"

And I think that "repent" is not the right answer. My parents don't know how to be good, either. Nor does Artemis. They only have glimpses of that.



Actually—I don't have to be good, even. I just have to do things I think are right.

(I'm on a Twitter break right now, so what you get is a thought train in this post instead of Twitter.)

Actually actually, I don't even have to do things that are right. Scratch that, scratch that. I want to do things that I want to do. This includes doing good things. My parents never pointed out anything along the lines of "this thing you want to do is good". So I never thought that I do want any good things. But now I know that I do.

The take-away: I want to take a look at a) what I do that is good and b) what I do that is important. That is—simply notice whenever I do anything that I think is either good or important. (Writing this post is good, etc.)