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September 02, 2004

What's wrong with the world

In a discussion in the Letters to the Editor section of The Times newspaper, a hundred years ago, on the subject of "What is wrong with the world?", many people contributed their thoughts. But it was G.K. Chesterton who provided the only correct answer: "I am."

It would be easy to blame all evil on Gilbert Keith Chesterton -- he was, after all, Catholic. But what he meant, of course, is that we all have to take responsibility for what's wrong with the world. We're the problem.

In that spirit, then, here are a few of the things wrong with me. Those who know me are invited to contribute more; I've already emailed the Xanga admins notifying them they may need to install additional hard drives for your comments.

Item: I'm lazy. I am. There's no getting around it. Given the choice between doing nothing and doing something I don't want to do, I'll almost always choose the former unless compelled by, for example, threats of suspension of sexual privileges. Larry Wall, inventor of the Perl programming language, called laziness one of the great virtues of a programmer (the others being impatience and hubris). He's right, in a sense: if someone's already written and debugged the code you need, why write it again yourself? But his virtues don't extend beyond the context in which he used them. Laziness is not attractive, and is my constant undoing. It explains many things: my continued presence in the ranks of the lumpen unemployed, my lack of a driver's licence, the realm of permanent chaos that is our house, the unmowed grass, the unpainted side porch, my procrastination regarding my citizenship application, and a host of other things.

Item: I'm selfish. Not always, but sometimes. I think we're all selfish to a certain extent (as usual, I ascribe it to the genes), because self-preservation requires a certain amount of selfishness. I don't know if I'm more selfish than anyone else, but regardless, it's part of my contribution to what's wrong with the world.

Item: I'm way too good-looking. Not really. But saying stuff like that is one of my faults because, even though I don't mean it, maybe people think I'm serious. The fact that I do say it, in jest, probably reflects a fundamental sense of insecurity. I've never really thought about that before.

Item: I'm introspective. "No shit," I hear you cry, "else you wouldn't be writing this blog entry, which is a flagrant act of navel-gazing, in the first place." You have a good point, damn you. You're harsh but fair. Introspection isn't necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes I take it too far and get so caught up in myself that I shut down on the outside.

Item: I'm shy. That is, until I get to know someone. But I can be in a group of five people I know very well, and if there's one person present I don't know, I sometimes clam up. I don't understand it. It's one of the reasons I like to drink when I socialise, because alcohol opens me up. This particular flaw makes job interviews a complete nightmare, because I realise how important it is to come across as friendly and outgoing, and yet at the same time my instinct is to just shut up and listen. This does not help.

Item: I'm obsessive, though a kinder soul would call it "focussed." Occasionally I'll get fixated on something -- an idea for a cool computer program, maybe, or an idea for a screenplay/short story/novel/article -- and will concentrate on it to the exclusion of everything else. I'm very much like my father this way. When he was planning or writing a novel, which was more or less all the time, he grew extremely distant and uncommunicative. He was there, but not there. I think for him, during those times, the characters he was creating were more real than the people around him. I'm the same. And maybe it's true: the characters are more real than "reality" because the creator knows, or can know, everything about them, every thought, every emotion, every detail of their past. Real people are far less comprehensible. This applies to programming, too, in an even more profound way: computer code is the epitome of predictability. The computer does only what it's told to do, and nothing more. Perhaps I'm a control freak without even realising it.

Item: I'm too logical and analytical. Probably because I'm an Aquarian (Aquarians are too logical to believe in astrology). My first instinct in most situations is to analyse. It's not that I'm not intuitive: I just tend to ignore my gut in favour of my brain. This has been advantageous in some situations. For example, when I was about 12 years old my three-year-old nephew went missing. We all searched but, for a few minutes, avoided even looking towards the covered swimming pool, because that possibility was just too hideous to contemplate. Once it became obvious that he was nowhere else the cover was pulled back and I either offered or was instructed to dive in and search (the water had not yet been cleaned for summer, so it was impossible to see more than a few inches below the surface). I dived in, and, nearing the bottom, saw a dark shape. I grabbed it and pulled it to the surface. "It" was, of course, my nephew. My mother and I were the only ones who kept our heads, and started performing CPR, telling others to call for help, etc. In that instance my logic, which told me to act immediately, which recalled instantly my life-saving and CPR training, was at its most useful. It told my gut, which had screwed itself into a tiny shrieking ball, to shut the hell up, that it was time for my brain to do the thinking, because everyone else's brain (except my mother's) had shut down, rendering them gaping and useless. So I guess I'm glad for this particular weakness, because my calmness under intense pressure is one of the parts of me of which I'm most proud.

Item: I'm verbose. See above.

Anyway, there're some of the ways I help make the world how it is. I could go on, but I don't really want to. Feel free to mention anything I've missed ;).


At September 18, 2004 at 11:13 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At September 18, 2004 at 11:13 p.m. , Blogger Ross Thomas said...

Er, that was me, testing.


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