Living in End Times

Climate change is scary. The sixth extinction is scary. Trump, North Korea, and nukes are scary.

Hans Rosling would do great presentations about how things are getting better. And in many ways they are.

And yet.

People have thought they lived in the end times throughout human history. Sometimes just a few. Sometimes large parts of a society. We can easily fixate on the negative.

And yet…the end times happen once. That they have not happened is not proof of future performance.

In the 20th century, we acquired the capability to destroy the world in less than a day. Real end times became possible.

Catastrophic ecological change is slower moving, but we seem to be hitting a rapid phase with multiple possible tipping points.

Of course, it’s not over until it’s over, but given the demonstrated capacity of our existing institutions to handle complex phenomena, it’s hard to be confident.

People who falsely believed that the world was ending were still living with that believe. Many of them lived out their lives so we know it’s possible to survive the stress of “knowing” you are living in the end times.

It seems to be a skill we need to culture.


Anti-anxiety/procrastination measures for 2016

I’m anxious about a lot of things. This drives writer’s block and procrastination generally. Plus I have at least a normal level of aversion to unpleasant tasks (or to…tasks!). Hard things are hard to get yourself to do! Tedious things as well! Even a little “normal” putting off of the unpleasant can feed into an anxiety spiral about it (I haven’t done it, it’s late!, is it late? I won’t be able to do it! if I do do it, it will take forever and I’ll do it poorly! etc.). So, a couple of things I’m trying this year:

  1. The blog! I’m working on writing every day. I often write e.g., in the comments of Lawyers, Guns, and Money (LGM). I enjoy that a lot and I think I post good stuff pretty often (and do fun research for it). But it’s not always a healthy writing. I get compulsive about it (write, refresh (did someone reply), refresh (how about now), refresh (now)? look! a bunch of things to reply too. at length. after I find and read a couple of papers! time to refresh.) It is ephemeral. Of course, it has a wider audience than this blog, but it also doesn’t relate (typically) to larger projects. It’s reactive to posts that have little to do (most of the time) with e.g., anything I’m working on.
    Also, there are oddities, as one might expect with a fairly large community arguing about politics. Some people really don’t like me. This isn’t, itself, a problem, but there’s very little utility in arguing with someone who’s trolling you. Esp. if there’s little of substance at play.
    Facebook is similar. I post a lot there and it’s fun but it generally doesn’t lead toward productivity.
    My hope is that if I get better at going to write a post here, it will be reusable, or segue more neatly into work, or, at least, be more self-limiting. WordPress sucks, though.
  2. I’ve started using a pretty minimal Kanban board on Trello (basically, the default board, though I’ve added a backlog and stuck lists). It’s working on thus far. If I’m blocked, I can usually create a card or a checklist. I put small things (open the email) on the checklist, which is soothing. I often can do that small things and that leads to other things. It’s not perfect, but it got me out of the coming off holiday+illness overall block earlier than I think it would have ended. It’s not perfectly helping right now, but it helped me catch a few things I was missing. The fewer long standing lurking items, the lower the background stress.

It’s probably time to see the GP again and see if there’s anything to be done medication-wise. It’s not desperate by any means, and perhaps all these little measures will add up. But teaching one new and one 2/5ths new courses in period 1 was…quite bad. I survived, but it was really tough with a characteristic anxiety pattern each week (peaking on Tues; classes all day Thurs and Fri). I’ve not been great since then (and got really sick after, and have had lingering illness on and off from that time until now).

I’m pretty tough. I generate a lot of anxiety but I cope with it too. Now always ideally, but at surprisingly high levels of functionality. But it takes a toll. Also, I am getting older. At some point, I’m going to get inherently less resilient.

I’m sure there’s other stuff too. (My exercise is much better these past two years. My living environment is stupendous — the new neighbourhood is so wonderful.) One nice thing is with the concentrated teaching, I have two periods with no classes (only tutorials and the like). So I have a bit of space to work on improving the baseline.