Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Top Ten Weaknesses

Or: Why you shouldn't listen to anything I have to say.

I think it will be funny for future Josh to read this and comment on how accurate he thinks this list is.

I shall attempt to think of the biggest character attributes that hold me back from my goals. Things that keep me from clearly and accurately assessing reality in all its facets and making sound judgments about life. I hope this list is more than just a clown car of humility, but also a tool for recognizing blind spots and avoiding disastrous blunders. It can also be used in retrospect to interpret my past mistakes or even successes. As often these sorts of weaknesses can be double-edged swords, bringing about positive things as well as fumbling about, accidentally dismembering us. But these, I think, are mostly the single edge sword verity: only detrimental to me and those I love.


You may notice I'm not listing things like my biases. I tried to exclude weaknesses that I think all humans have, otherwise I'd have to list things like my lack of time traveling skills and my mortality.

On a side note: one of my strengths is that I am honestly open to critique, so please, if you know me, or think you do, feel free to pitch in a weakness that I forgot or don’t know about!

So here they are, in no particular order:


  1. I can't hold multiple variables in my head at once. I think this may be my biggest limitation in the process of learning and speculating. It means, I believe, that I have to go through more iterations of an idea in order to ground it in a framework of reality that I can relate to. I need concrete examples of stuff. And that keeps my thought-world rather terrestrial. I can't follow some of the philosophy I read because it is either not possible to connect the concepts to meaningful metaphors or because the authors don't feel the need to do so.
  1. I don't 'get' math and science. I've gotten more and more unsettled as I realize that most philosophers were also mathematicians or scientists. I think this is very much related to the above issue. When people say I'm smart I always think about this fact to keep me from becoming proud. When I say I'm bad at math, I mean I'm REALLY bad at math. I have to use my fingers when adding odd numbers above 3. Literally. I can't remember how to do long division. I barely scraped by in my Algebra 1 class at the Art Institute. And that was only because I had a really generous teacher who had to hold my hand through almost every equation.
  1. I don't think on my feet terribly well. I've discovered that I rely heavily on preplanning what it is I do and how I do it. I've found that out by the asinine ways I behave when a plan changes in the middle of things, whether it's shopping, driving, talking, etc. Since I frontload most of the planning I end up doing a horrible amalgamation of plan A and plan B, rather than abandoning plan A completely. I don't know if this affects my navel-gazing philosophical ponderous postulating , but I wouldn't be surprised if it did.
  1. I don't have a classical liberal education. I have an Associates Degree in art. I have had no classes in philosophy, comparative religion, anthropology, etc. I've been trying to compensate for that over the past five years by purchasing collage courses on CD and reading as much as I can, but I wonder how much is slipping through my brain due to a lack of interaction with a professor or the ability to ask questions. This is one of those weaknesses that could provide some compensatory benefit. My learning is fragmented and has no over-all arc or syllabus, so I am not being led in any particular direction as I learn, as I assume I would be if I was taking four years to study philosophy at a university. This means I am probably lacking a coherent system for interpreting and categorizing the various philosophies and ideas I'm running across. But then, maybe those categories and systems are functioning as filters that constrain or misinterpret according to modern ivory tower standards. Maybe. But my guess is that overall my lack of schooling and armature status in the philosophical field still a big negative.
  1. I'm lazy and undisciplined. I overcome this somewhat when I'm driven by a passion like sculpting or writing, but the second things get tough or confusing my mind wants to check out and jump to something else. Guilt about this weakness can sometimes help me power through chores, but not usually. I consider this to be my single biggest moral failing.
  1. I tend to downplay the experiential input of life and exalt the systematic big-picture ideas. This is manifest in how people-stories on the news don't interest me in the least. So-and-so was accused of this-or-that crime and this evidence supports his guilt and that evidence supports his innocence. Blah, blah, blah; don't care. I prefer the general to the specific. I think this is sort not-seeing-the-trees-for-the-forest. The obvious weakness in this perspective on life is that I could be overlooking tons of very useful information that could inform or even overturn my big-picture ideas.
  1. I'm very privileged. I don't mean I own a yacht or went to Princeton. I only mean that I live in the richest, most powerful nation in the history of humanity. And that has a LOT of perks and gives me a very different perspective than most people in history. Now, most philosophers that we know of were also very privileged. Many of them didn't even have jobs, just floated from patron to patron, writing and conversing with the day's elite. But that's a very different kind of privilege than mine. I don't have access to anyone politically powerful, and I have to work a job and a half to make ends meet. But I live in a cultural climate that accepts almost anyone's ideas without hostility, that encourages creativity and outside-the-box thinking, and I have access to any writing from any time available instantly via the internet. My country is currently still very politically stable, and culturally dominates the world. Another kind of privilege I have is that God granted me the talent to work in an industry that I love. An easy-going, flexible, free-snacks-and-drinks kind of industry where I get to sit on my butt all day and be creative. While I have worked some 'real' jobs in the past such as fast food and newspaper delivery, those were short-lived endeavors and I was miserable as hell while doing them. I honestly don't know how I would survive if I had to do that kind of job the rest of my life. I'm really, really blessed that I have such a cushy job. As a funny example: guess what I did at work today? In the level I'm working on for Guild Wars 2 I 'painted' slime trails all over a laboratory where a monstrous oozing experiment escaped and rampaged through the place, upending tables and destroying equipment. Can a job get any better than that? I think not. Beyond those privileges, I am not a minority in race, religion, sexual orientation, or a bunch of other categories. The world I inhabit has evolved to meet my needs more than any other race, religion, etc. All these factors affect me and my thinking in many ways.
  1. I desire to be different, original, to defy convention, to play against type. I like the apparent contradictions in my life. Things like my taste for heavy, angry or depressing music and punk rock hair, while reading Kierkegaard and C.S. Lewis. Attending an evangelical traditional Christian church while reading Marcus Borg and John Hick. Being a video game artist in one of the most liberal places in America and holding conservative political beliefs. Stage diving into a mosh pit one night and memorizing James 3 with my kids the next. How much of this is driven by an internal appreciation for depth, and how much is showmanship is unknown to me. If there is any of it driven by a desire to confuse or challenge people's beliefs, I'd rather not have anything to do with it. I hate the thought that I could be subconsciously shaping my behavior, beliefs, and personal appearance for the sake of others. Whether it's appeasing or defying makes no difference, it's the fact that the impulse comes from outside a solid core of conviction that bothers me. If I'm driven by a desire to be X to other people, rather than to simply be an honest man before God, I'm being a fool. My guess is that as it is with almost everything, there is a mixture. I'm not a pure panderer, nor a shining beacon of self-truthiness.
  1. I can't see what's right in front of my face. In certain contexts, when there are a variety of items and I am looking for one particular item, like at a grocery store, I will search and search, finally ask someone, and they will point to it directly in front of me where I had just scanned 5 times. This problem also plagues me when navigating user interface in computer programs and on websites. I've noticed this is most severe when an element or button I'm looking for is a different shape, size, or color than the majority of the screen. It seems that this must make most people see it immediately, but for some reason my brain seems to be wired backwards, and these emphatic methods cause me to be blind to them. How this relates to my ability to think through difficult issues and ideas is unknown to me, but I can easily imagine that if my mind accepts visual conformity and rejects visual anomalies, then perhaps it does the same thing to other kinds of information.
  1. I'm really good at rationalizing. Therefore if I want something to be good and right, and another thing to be bad and wrong I can articulate great sounding arguments to secure them in my mind as being so. Fortunately I have a strong desire not to intellectually coddle myself this way, but that doesn't mean I'm not doing it without realizing it in many cases.


So there you have it. Ten reasons why I spout the nonsense that I do.


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