Originally published December 16, 2014
It has many names: akrasia, apraxia, weakness of will, autistic inertia, an insufficiency of spoons, the wall, the hole, being a non-player character, chaotic inversion, absence of purposefulness, too busy to think about life, the inner Bruce, the need to lose, unstructured procrastination, the infungibility of scarce time, lack of agency, sphexishness, revealed preferences, executive dysfunction, the rarity of absolution, effortful decision-making problems, the valley of bad rationality, the collapse of feasibility of default roles, the route-eater, severe Algernon tradeoffs, broken OODA loop, tropisms toward negative life outcomes, Matryoshka principal-agent problems, the Catch-22 foundry, intelligence level 0, perversely-incentivized intuitive game theory modules, the unaccusable accusation-garnerer, the Preventer, the invisible self-reinforcing restrainer, picoeconomic dislocation, breakdown of will, hidden motives, innocent failures, multiply-fractured executive ego, bad meta-habits, corrupted hardware, the machine of actively self-mislabeling self-control handles, the complex maladaptive system, the mirror maze miseryhouse...
The monster is my new name for my lifelong inability to do things on purpose.
12th grade English teacher assigned heavy, time-consuming assignments
at the end of the schoolyear after the AP exams were already over.
Everyone protested, except me because I didn't do them. Her response to
the complaints was unexpectedly wise, something like, "If you can't get
yourself to do these assignments now, what makes you think you'll be
able to do your just-as-hard assignments in college?" It was an
eye-opener for me: I realized that my habit of never doing assignments
was not going to magically disappear.
It occurred to me that
going to college would be a very bad idea. It actually occurred to me.
But I still went, because it was the default path. I lazily applied to
one and only one mediocre ("good") school and got accepted. I dutifully
went and dropped out after failing all of my courses the second semester
and now I am in debt. The monster won.
I need to emphasize how
damaging this incidental inability to act correctly or intentionally
was. During the first half of the first semester I was subjected to a
tyrannical sociopathic roommate whose attitude toward me was "haha,
why haven't you gotten over your stupid social anxiety, obviously I
should expertly, Machiavellianly arrange for the consensus to be that
what we and your involuntary instincts do to you is your fault, hahaha".
My effortful, coordinated attempts to switch rooms or something were
useless; no official would have any of it. After the very stressful
Incident whereupon I was freed from his company the worst thing that could have ever possibly happened
did happen, and I was gone. I never recovered from the roommate or from
Connie's death. I spent the second semester alone, feeling guilty about
not doing my coursework instead of doing it. The monster wouldn't let
me do it.
The default view that people take and I don't mean
hypothetical people this actually happens is that if you fail at college
or at finding a job, it's because of something culpable about your
conscious game-theoretic homunculus, rather than other things like
involuntary perversely-incentivized rejection-related neurosis, or some moderately-incentivizable non-conscious thing like Handle or Vladimir_M talks about,
or the bottom falling out of the economy, or being inappropriately
assigned to college though it's an infeasible default role, or not being
in contact with normal sources of culture and advice that would provide
the breadth of context to point out that you might need attention from
the disabled students office from day one, or horrible mixed-message
logical entailments of culturally propagated expectations...
sleep for around twelve hours a day. When I awaken, it takes me at least
three hours to get out of the car. Tasks that ordinary men can do
instantly take me years to finally get around to, if I don't
eventually give up on them. And they keep piling up, so I lose track of
some; things fall apart; all descends into entropy. I don't shower or
brush my teeth very often. I do laundry once every three months maybe.
Homelessness makes each of these problems worse. In 2013 someone bought
me a microphone, which I wanted to use to record audiobooks, and I when
it arrived I found I couldn't plug it into my laptop. It still awaits an
adapter. That sort of thing happens all the time.
Nothing has ever held my interest forever. I first started animating in 2000 with cute flipbooks, animating on
and off, mostly off, for subsequent years, and finally gave up on it
when I realized in 2014 I didn't have the motivation to do a series of
movies I've wanted to for a long time. That lasted longer than anything
else. Even things I'm completely addicted to, like League of Legends,
can't hold my interest. I played that game obsessively for a year, and
one day stopped and never started again. In that case I didn't want to
start again, but even when I want to start again it doesn't matter; the
monster won't let me. The most virtuous thing I've spent my time doing
was spending late 2013 to April 2014 independently learning the
calculus. I didn't mean to stop, but I did. I kept trying to start again
and couldn't. Dozens of times I've tried to learn programming and
involuntarily crumbled at the first or second hurdle.
The monster does not feel like an absence of some ability. I call it the monster because it feels like an active, evil presence
blocking me from doing what I should. It lives in everyone to some
degree, but in me it has grown very strong. In growing strong the
monster has grown strange. Where in most folk the small monster
manifests only in temporary procrastinations and mild social aversions,
in me it has consumed all.
For instance, it has compelled me to
pre-emptively either provoke my rejection out of, or directly reject
myself out of, all the communities through which I might have had a real
support network. There are tropisms, correlated effects from shared
historical causes, that prevented many potential relationships and which
caused me to sever the most important connections I did have. I am
angry at my past for building up a set of bad habits and failing to
build up good habits which people normally acquire and use to kludge
together a social life. What I do have are a very few people who
arguably care about me but are almost as dysfunctional as I am, or
superficial acquaintances who feel vaguely guilty about their proximity
to my self-perpetuating horrible problems but won't try to help me with
I can't approach girls. I spend most of my waking moments
in agony from the mix of sexual privation, lack of intimacy or
affection, and plain multifarious lonesomeness.
Yet despite, and also because of, the severe pain, I cannot even try to
screw up the nerve to do the one thing that could theoretically
alleviate it. It isn't fear that stops me. When I tell people about this
inability to even try to try, let alone try, let alone try and succeed,
they always assume the only possible explanation is fear. Yes
there is sometimes fear when the situation arises, but that's just the
wrong explanation. The psychological state I enter does not seem to be
one that other humans can relate to, one of being physically incapable of taking an action that one is not afraid of taking.
("Fear" is in part a fake explanation that people use to mask their
ignorance of what's really going on, which is certain to be much more
complicated than a single word.)
What is actually going on then?
when I want to approach but doing so feels like an error message is
blocking my path and the OK button is grayed out. In 8th grade I was
diagnosed with Asperger's, but I don't think that really suffices or
even captures any of the dynamics. I don't know what the monster is made
of, but this particular inability feels like it comes from the same
place as my inability to learn the calculus or programming, and my
inability to go to the DMV on my own, and my inability to walk into a
pharmacy to get heartburn medication, and my inability to focus on a
non-video-game task for more than 15 seconds, and my inability to gather
allies, by which I mean the monster causes all of them.
bring it up, people are very quick to pretend that there is no such
thing as the monster in anyone ever, in part because it represents a
convenient excuse to be lazy. But this is flatly denying reality; you
can see it in anyone, and of course in some people it will be stronger
than in others. Even when all I'm trying to do is claim that I did not
choose to fail at life as hard as I did, that I did not knowingly and
willingly decide to let things fall apart so hard, that I failed because
I didn't have as much control over my life as they want to believe
everyone has, because otherwise how horrible would the world be, a place
where people's lives are routinely ruined and it's not even their
I don't even disagree with the sorts of meta-policies
that lead to a cultural norm of pressuring people to shape the fuck up
and get a job or whatever. But the forces that have to exist to keep such a norm stable—the Schellingian game theory about punishment of non-punishers, interest of elites in promoting the norms, etc.—lead to Triversian self-deception
in which people make themselves believe false things about how
draconian application of the norm is likely to affect other people's
future likelihood of shaping the fuck up, so as to avoid social
repercussions and weakening the structure in which the norm is embedded*.
People in the actual society are mostly worked to the point of constant
low-level misery, which not only creates resentment of people not
subjected to that exact kind of misery but also implies that they
themselves are already under enough pressure that they're willing to
work the amount of time and effort that makes them that miserable. The
combination of all of these things makes it impossible to realize that
trying to elicit the same amount of effort from me by applying that
pressure, outside a setting where my executive ego doesn't have to be
involved in generating and choosing to continue to follow plans, I
(Argh, I'm so bound-up by various internally
conflicting incommunicable fetters, incompatible precommitment-like
devices, introspectively inaccessible aversions, and unspeakable
preferences, that I can't say anything at all on the object-level. The
things I'm trying to do with this mess-bundle feel subjectively so
important and urgent all the time and people keep not treating them that
way and that feedback results in me getting even more desperate and
broken and bound... The
correct-according-to-a-nonexistent-but-useful-standard move in this
situation is to JOotS, as Hofstadter would say, to go meta and explain
the bound-upness. But that's no good either; I'm bound-up on all the
higher meta levels too. How did this even happen!? There is no use even
trying to explain. Best to just call it part of the monster.)
of the mechanism is that the sorts of things people suggest I do to
deal with the monster are things I could only do if the monster were not
Consider that my father's understanding of why I fail is,
"my belief that I will fail causes me to fail." ...Really, that's his
understanding. Why does he stop at the basic, easily corrected mistake
of getting the order of causality backwards, instead of even bothering
to come with a subtler, more defensible-seeming wrong understanding? I
want to call it an excess of just-world alief
leading to Triversian self-deception, maybe something about
principal-agent problems involving unresolvable payoff matrix
asymmetries, but in truth I don't know. My own father.
sometimes ask me, if I'm so incapable of ever doing anything about my
horrible situation, why don't I kill myself. The monster won't let me.
I think about what the monster is trying to do by blocking me at every
turn, I don't get far. It may be related to problems with emotional
attachments resulting from my mother disappearing and being murdered
soon after I was born ("i need to make sure nothing can ever be that bad
again") and Connie dying unexpectedly and for no reason, and
subsequently being abandoned by every romantic partner and several
important acquaintances, occasionally in ways that left me feeling
extremely hurt and bitter for years.
In desperation for worthwhile attachments and acceptance, the monster causes abject isolation.
It's astonishing; it cannot be chanceful; it's like something is
hounding me... It's like someone is trying to get the monster (or me or
something) to admit that the effects of its actions are directly
opposite to the goals in terms of which it lashes out with those
It took me a very, very long time to admit that it's a
disability. I cannot slay the monster, any more than you can choose not
to suffer your excretory system. No matter how vigilant I am, it grows
stronger faster than I do. I have a disability.
am usually very angry at society for letting it come to this, for
letting my bad habits fester and coagulate into a powerful monster
feeding off the absence of virtuous interruptions of this feedback loop,
letting me become a homeless unemployable chronically lonely sexless
birdless worthless wretch, instead of turning me into the person I could
have been if I'd had proper interventions sufficiently long ago. On top
of this, society also makes it nearly impossible for people like me,
who've been failed by it, to opt out, to kill themselves safely,
painlessly, and in a way that won't get us imprisoned in a mental
hospitalprison in the event of failure ("Attempting suicide doesn't get
you sent to regular jail, so it's legal!" no fuck you) as
punishment for violating a sacred taboo. I've been hospitalized against
my will twice just for talking about being suicidal, and FUCK THAT. P.S.
if you're reading this don't try to get me imprisoned a third time. I
will never forgive you
Part of this anger seems to be the
perception that society tries hard to frame the situation in such a way
that it's impossible for me to plausibly claim that I am doing the best I
can with severely limited resources over insurmountable
stumbling blocks. The perception is that society is trying hard to
finally open a long-lusted-after crack in my fortifications and say
"A-ha! You never really cared about being a virtuous, useful,
good person at all," in order to expropriate my identity and take away
my last claim to personhood, while claiming, either knowingly falsely or
without consciously understanding the distinction at all, but without
any way for me to call them on that, that I knowingly chose to deserve
it. This is how I felt when I was libeled recently by some cruel
vagueblogs, absent from which was any apparent remembered realization
that I am still a person who appropriately cares about and takes into
account other people's welfare, in a way that successfully made it
impossible for me to defend myself, and with no one else out there
willing to defend me.
This is parallel to, for instance, "If I
don't retaliate against the person who cruelly derided one of the only
beings that actually properly cared about me yes this actually happened someone made fun of me and my bird because I am sad that she died, it will just cement everything's excuses to abandon me for disloyalty."
I know the monster lives inside me, I know that the paths by which I
might have done direct good myself are cut off. So the only remaining
subjectively compelling routes for doing a lot of good in the world are
of two classes. The first involves being a good influence on others, who
themselves would do more good, and less harm, than they otherwise
would. But the monster has eaten this route as well; even the people who
believe they should be influenced by me are generally influenced in the wrong direction or not at all. The monster interferes with my ability to interact with people. It makes everything wrong.*
second class involves an unprecedented level of altruistic assistance
from someone else. I keep thinking that if a miracle were to occur, if
someone were to rescue me from this Hell and bring me to a stable
situation where I could practice arete, the monster would weaken, and
partial recovery could begin. It is far too late for me to become the
person I should have been, too much irreparable damage has been done,
but I still think that I have some potential to reanimate into something
worthwhile, if only... if only someone would get past my surliness, and
ignore the weirdness and inconvenience of the type of altruistic act
that would be required... I frequently inspire a transient velleity to
help me out of the hole, but needless to say, that has never resulted in
The ordinary reader is still unconvinced and still
wants to denounce me with some foolishness like "It's all in your head."
Why is the ordinary reader still here? I don't know. An equally vicious
class of reader wants to give condescending advice.
A better class of reader sympathizes and wants to give me a hug (which
would not help) or say something comforting and non-judgemental (which
also would not help). Be assured that there is no reaction you can have
that I have not already seen. I've had the conversation hundreds of
times, and part of why I wrote this blog post is so that I never have to
have it again. I have heard all the dismissals, seen all the advice,
and failed to pretend to appreciate all the bromides. No one has ever
yet responded with "Come stay at my place for as long as you want."
previous paragraph is very unpleasant. I wanted to intrigue people
about the possibility of cooperating with me in a nonstandard way to
help me get on my feet, but what I did was manufacture a new way to
repel people. I am leaving it in as another example of how the monster
manifests. You could say the monster wrote that paragraph. Maybe it
wrote this one. Is there anything left of me?
In me the monster
has consumed all. There are no longer any routes whatsoever by which I
may attain absolution. Absolution isn't for everyone. Not everyone gets
the chance to do good with their life. The only things awaiting me are
suffering and death.