I used to follow the blog of a self-published author, whose name I won't give here, and whose work and blogging inspired me to write about the problem of the perpetual amateur or expert beginner. I followed this person for about a year and a half, until I realized two things: they seemed to be actively hostile to learning from mistakes or transcending inexperience; and they were sliding into the gutter of reactionary grouchy-bastard politics that was at the time becoming a noisy toxic public presence (around 2012). I admit, the latter inspired me to quit faster than the former.
A major dilemma revealed itself to me through all this. When is it OK to say, "Screw the world, I'm'a do me"? And when is it just being a self-indulgent twerp? At what point does someone's quest to be their own thing lead them into a blind alley (and into one of the trash cans at the end of that alley)?
My original insight went something like this: The less curious you are about things outside your natural comfort zone, the worse you'll do with this. People who are not in the habit of pushing themselves in some way end up in the doldrums of expert beginner-ism.
The next insight I've built atop that one goes like this: Curiosity is a selfless affair. The better you are at discarding your assumptions about things, the more you are likely to actually learn, instead of simply borrow. I wrote elsewhere once about how the way to avoid cultural appropriation is to be a student of the other culture and not a tourist.
The blogger/author in question did not strike me as the selfless type. Presumptuous statement, to be sure, but here's why I say that: throughout his posts, he took a stance that was less about asking "why is this so?" and more about saying "this is why it is so". He was Opinionated, and I say that knowing full well I have been Opinionated more than a few times in these here pages. But his opinions tended more towards tiresome nitpicking pedantry than actual discussion. He was only interested in being heard, not in having his ideas tested.
Explanation by way of example: One of his blog posts was a mind-bogglingly tedious explanation of how Superman's various powers could work as described. I'm not singling out this example because I think comics fans can go hang, only that the tediousness of those things carried over into the way he talked about a lot of other things. Fanboys can be fun to hack around with, but a whole worldview constructed along the lines of fanboy analysis is deadly to the spirit, not to mention any sense of fun.
The more I read his stuff, the more I got the feeling he was one of those folks who felt vaguely resentful the world hadn't validated him . To my mind, getting angry at the world for not recognizing how smart you are is like getting annoyed at the clouds for not in fact being made of ice cream. Plus, it didn't help that he seemed to think of intelligence mainly as cleverness and quick command of facts. He was more interested in being right than in learning something. No wonder he was stuck.
So here's my take: The difference between self-guidance and self-indulgence is not in what's done, but with what attitude. If you do it to expand your horizons and maintain your sense of being open to experience, it'll pay off. If you do it mainly to emphasize your separation from others, and your sense of entitlement from them, it'll suck ya dry.
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Other Lives Of The Mind