strictures and structures

if only we stopped trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time

Month: January, 2013

This is what they do when they get you young

I read this story a long time ago in some self-help book. It is the only thing I remember:

A traveling circus must have an elphant, of course, but elephants are very strong, and it takes a lot of heavy chains to keep one in check. This equipment is heavy, and it’s a traveling circus, and so it’s impossible to afford the effort of bringing the chains everywhere.

The solution, then, is to buy a baby elephant. It is easy enough to restrain a baby elephant. You simply need to use a single chain to restrain it by one leg, lock the chain to a wooden peg, and drive the peg deep into the ground. No baby elephant likes being chained of course, and they all fight very hard, but they’re young enough that the chain defeats them. And after a while, they don’t even try any more. Even when they become full-grown strong elephants, they won’t even try. A single chain still works. The memory of their helplessness stays with them and keeps them from their freedom.

It’s a kind of learned blindspot.

I think about this story whenever I wonder why it’s not socially acceptable to skip in public, play Dungeons and Dragons, slide down a bannister, or ride a bike as an adult in some states. Simple, innocuous, childish things, things that shouldn’t even be anyone else’s business (so long as you’re careful to only break your own bannister and not mine). Those of us who are comfortable doing these things must have been very fast, evasive little elephants once.


I like to come up with sentences that summarize my thoughts on things. Like, if you took all the crap in my mind and used a program to zip it up, the output would be the following:

Enlightenment is not to be found head-on, but discovered out of the corner of your eye.
There is no willpower–only will management.
Everyone is just meat for time’s axe.
There are only two things you need to have. Something to live for, and something to die for.
Getting to do whatever you want is no fun at all.
A virtuous life is the worst consolation prize ever.
Every exception to a rule is merely proof of some other rule.
Rationality is the corset of the mind.

The thing about the virtuous life takes up a particularly large number of bits in my mind. Also the thing about meat and axes.

dad’s such a breeder

Jane: So dad, what would you have done if you’d had no kids to support? I mean, what’s so bad about never having had kids? You’d never know what you were missing out on.

Dad: Oh, I think about my unborn children all the time.

Jane: You do?

Dad: Oh yes. I like to imagine that I’m the father of two nations. One billion each.