// Patrick Louis

Hidden Hope For Control

Control theory

This article is about a rarely discussed component that resides in the background of our lives.

No word clearly describes this phenomenon as it’s a fusion of different ideas.
We blueprint ourselves according to media that display extravagant versions of winners and losers. The profiles on social media are facade created around individuals — Profile being a well-chosen word as it misses the other angles. All across those there’s an implicit demand of mechanized efficiency which slipped from our workplace to our interaction with ourselves. We are our own employee and are expecting results.

Hence, there’s a special purpose market created for motivation and self-help, to push the ones that are prone to fall for the media comparison trap. It abuses them by extracting as much money as they can while never letting them achieve what they promised.
It is not surprising when you are selling a shortcut to happiness and fulfillment. What is achievement, what is a goal, what is fulfillment?

A goal is defined by the way it achieves its premise within constraints, be it time limit or numbers as long as we can compare and know when it is reached. Yet a goal in itself never leads to fulfillment, as it’s constrained and fades away once the results are part of normality.

What isn’t constrained is the intent. An intent differs from a goal in its fixation, its concentration, and its purpose which is often a continual and never ending one. It’s fluid and humane, allowing focussing on the moment and on the ceaseless growth. The self-help industry can’t teach you how to have intentions, all they can do is goal setting and keeping yourself in line to achieve them. An intent is not tangible and there’s no control over it, the only one you can have is on the goals which might be on the path of your intent.

In light of this, it seems that wherever we look everyone is discontent with what they are doing, looking for more efficiency and ways to tackle their procrastination — a fashionable word. Why are we obsessed with this efficiency-rat-race?

There’s sympathy with the satisfaction and self-esteem issues, using goals as manners of growing, but why efficiency in itself?
Maybe it is related to how we are born in a world where we are pampered and don’t worry about much. We may crave some higher purpose, meaning, and order, but there’s nothing our surroundings can offer.

It is an anomie and a nihilism crisis.
We live in a time when religions are slowly loosing their core of being doctrines that would be able to answer all questions and soothe the minds. Globalism has regrouped all philosophies and everyone is free to make up their own version of what used to be a strict system that directs and orders all actions.
In most societies, the individual is now the generator of reality and meaning. A demand that makes us feel lost.

If we can’t have an imposed system of beliefs then the effortless choice is to paint our system based on capitalism, hence the efficiency. This is sometimes called neoliberalism but that word doesn’t convey the exact meaning.

Still, we aren’t in power, nothing is, we know it deeply, and it’s shattering. Injecting entropy deliberately via goal setting is a form of illusory control. But this system is empty and many are attracted to nihilism, not as a position of comfort but as a position of stability. Instead of opening insecurities, they prefer to adhere to something they can be sure of, or at least believe. In this stance they like to blame their surroundings for everything — nothing is their choice, everything is meaningless.

Nihilism and religions are one and the same: “eternalism”. A hope to reduce the fear of the unknown by inserting a stop sign to all questions, it gives us a narrow set of available options.

This invades our everyday life and makes us feel wonderful.
In video games we can “buff up”, “grind”, repeat the same reassuring tasks over and over again knowing that doing this will make us reach our goals while at the same time having nothing surprising interfere. Total control, and if anything happens we can pick from the limited amount of choices and get out of the virtually risky setting — Escapism. The world is at our mercy and there’s no worry. This is very satisfying.

Similarly, with cartoons, be it Bugs Bunny or Rick and Morty (competency porn), the main characters magically get out of chaotic situations by molding their environment like invincible gods. No responsibilities, no worries.
This is morbidly satisfying, pornography for the mind.

Now back to the real world: being stuck in traffic for hours with no control and confined in a vehicle we can’t leave behind because it’s an expensive item we can’t afford to lose. This is frustrating!
Isn’t it satisfying in cop movies when the protagonist throws his cars shamelessly?

In the traffic example it creates road rage but in general it creates a detachment with reality. Reality doesn’t ply to our will unlike in movies. Some can’t get over this and keep this sort of immaturity. However, this ideal of perfect control where things happen just by wishing them, unconstrained by the rules of physics, where we have and own the highest locus of control, actually happening, with no external forces is excruciatingly boring. An incessant need for closure.

“Total control (which requires total predictability) is totally boring. Life needs some challenges, surprises, setbacks, and serendipity to make it interesting. Enjoyment and personal growth come only with partial control.”

A place you wouldn’t expect to find this phenomenon is inside our educational system (in most places). When learning at school, we go through the process of doing repeatable exercises. Nature has patterns yet those are ambiguous. Humans are biased to recognize patterns, even when there are none, to memorize and repeat them. Learning is much more than that and school stops here. We learn artificially easy problems, created by our teachers and bound by the set of formula that can be applied to solve them, more often by swapping some values.
Those are also satisfying, as the number of buttons to press are limited, even though the insights and what is learned is narrow, we believe we’re getting smarter.

Outside of school problems require both a baggage of knowledge, ingenuity, and creativity to be solved. This is one reason why many who were doing great in high school are struggling at university level with critical thinking or with open-ended problems. Memorizing hundreds of formula and techniques doesn’t create a genius.
Intelligence is then an ability to face the void, the unknown, try, test, imagine, and link thoughts in unexpected ways.

Total control or the opposite don’t occur, they happen at the same time and this discussion brings this to light.
Think about revisiting the way you learn and set your intents.

More to read:


  • Vizcarra at Spanish Wikipedia / Public domain

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