On Obsessiveness

Tyler Cowen’s “My days as a teenage chess teacher” is interesting on a lot of levels. For instance, take lesson learned #6 of 7.

“6. The younger chess prodigy I taught was quite bright and also likable.  But he had no real interest in improving his chess game.  Instead, hanging out with me was more fun for him than either doing homework or watching TV, and I suspect his parents understood that.  In any case, early on I was thinking keenly about talent and the determinants of ultimate success, and obsessiveness seemed quite important.  All of the really good chess players had it, and without it you couldn’t get far above expert level.”

I often envy people who are obsessive about anything even remotely socially redeemable—whether being a grand master in chess, or cycling 12,000 miles/year, or knowing more about Mormon history than anyone except a few dozen Mormon scholars. Why do I envy obsessive people? Because I don’t know if I’ve ever been truly obsessive about anything. It seems like it would be fun to be so immersed in an activity that time stops.

And yet, when I take stock of my life, I can’t help but wonder if my lack of obsessiveness about any one thing may be one of my most positive attributes. If it’s not a positive attribute, splitting the difference between similarly compelling forces, is my essence. It’s who I am.

To the best of my ability, I seek balance. Between work and family life. Between intellectual pursuits and physical ones. Between running, swimming, and cycling more specifically. Between listening and talking. Between teaching and learning. Between friends. Between being silly and serious.   

I wonder, should I stop idealizing obsessiveness?

 

The Problem With ‘Self Care’

Self care is a concept, a lucrative subset of a 4 trillion dollar wellness industry, and a red-hot social fad that doesn’t do anything to address the underlying issues of why so many people are burned out at work and seriously anxious about an ever-growing list of things.

Because of the money now associated with self care, the purveyors of it have a vested interest in NOT helping resolve the underlying issue of frantic busyness that defines so many people’s daily lives. Granted, some of that frantic busyness is explained by people trying to eke out a living with too few jobs that pay a livable wage, but a lot of it is the result of social contagion. I run on the treadmill of life because you do.

We will mute the clarion call for self care when people will themselves to get sufficient sleep, eat healthy food, and be physically active.

My university is a classic case study in the ridiculousness of self care. All of a sudden, despite my colleagues’ tendencies to overwork, the leadership is talking about the importance of self care. We are like seriously overweight people who think we’ve found the miracle diet, but in this case, we’ll be fine if we just make time for a warm bubble bath at the end of our frantic days. And don’t forget the candle.

I predict all of the self care talk will have no medium or long-term effect on how faculty live their lives. But on the plus side, more bubble bath and candles will be sold.

Monday Required Reading

1A. QAnon’s ‘Meme Queen’ Marches On. Loneliness is a scourge.

“What attracts Ms. Gilbert and many other people to QAnon isn’t just the content of the conspiracy theory itself. It’s the community and sense of mission it provides. New QAnon believers are invited to chat rooms and group texts, and their posts are showered with likes and retweets. They make friends, and are told that they are not lonely Facebook addicts squinting at zoomed-in paparazzi photos, but patriots gathering “intel” for a righteous revolution.

This social element also means that QAnon followers aren’t likely to be persuaded out of their beliefs with logic and reason alone.”

1B. The Unlikely Connection Between Wellness Influencers and the Pro-Trump Rioters. Sigh.

2. Why Chamberlain Built a $3,000 Automatic Garage Door For Your Dog.

3. The Golf World Hardly Deserves Praise for “Breaking” With Trump. News Alert: Not everyone is impressed by my newly woke sport.

4. He Just Wanted To Play Catch. La ultima feel good story.

“I think people want to reconnect a little bit right now.”

5. Electric Cars Are Better for the Planet – and Often Your Budget, Too.

“The federal government offers a tax credit for some new electric vehicle purchases, but that does nothing to reduce the initial purchase price and does not apply to used cars. That means it disproportionately benefits wealthier Americans. Some states, like California, offer additional incentives. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has pledged to offer rebates that help consumers swap inefficient, old cars for cleaner new ones, and to create 500,000 more electric vehicle charging stations, too.”

All of today’s QAnon reading necessitated at least one President-elect Biden reference. I don’t want any PressingPausers losing touch with reality.

Paragraphs to Ponder

From David Brooks, moderate Republican, “Trump Ignites a War Within the Church“.*

“The split we are seeing is not theological or philosophical. It’s a division between those who have become detached from reality and those who, however right wing, are still in the real world.

Hence, it’s not an argument. You can’t argue with people who have their own separate made-up set of facts. You can’t have an argument with people who are deranged by the euphoric rage of what Erich Fromm called group narcissism — the thoughtless roar of those who believe their superior group is being polluted by alien groups.”

My new mantra, “You can’t argue with people who have their own separate made-up set of facts.”

*A reminder, you don’t have to subscribe to The New York Times to read my NYT links, but you do have to register.