Book Corner 2021.11

Songs from Books

by Rudyard Kipling

We studied the poem “If” in 8th grade and I didn’t care for it because the ending was so disappointing. “You’ll be a man, my son!” Well, I’m not a man, and I’m never going to be a man, so what do you have to say to ME, Mr. Kipling? Harumph…

I’m really fascinated by the poem now because it seems to explain perfectly in two pages the entire philosophy of Stoicism, which draws me. So look out, here come my thoughts.

“If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;”

This was referred to in a book I read about poker last year, The Biggest Bluff. Professional poker players never talk about really bad hands that they’ve been dealt, or streaks of bad hands. It’s… unprofessional. You can talk about it in the context of how you played, how others played; but to just bemoan how you didn’t see a single face card all night or something like that… you don’t talk about bad luck.

That’s what stoicism is about; not talking about your bad luck, or your good luck. It’s systems thinking, vs. goal thinking. Sorry, but Weight Watchers has always been the perfect illustration of this. Goal thinking: I’m going to lose 5 pounds! Systems thinking: I’m going to try to eat only 20 points each day this week. Goal people are always winning or losing. Systems people are winning all the time, because you win merely by following the system. Maybe you lose the 5 lbs, maybe not. (If not, you think about tweaking your system.)

This is another quote from “If” that Konnikova quoted in The Biggest Bluff:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;”

Again, win or lose, you treat everything the same: you apply your system.

I’ve always been this way. I’ve always been lost without a system, and always clung to my systems, one of the earliest being Catholicism – if ever a religion was built for me, that was it, boy. Systems out the wazoo.

I tweak the quote a lot lately:

“If you can meet with Happiness and Despondence,
And treat those two impostors just the same;”

It doesn’t matter if you’re “happy”. Apply your system.

“If you can meet with Good Sleep and Insomnia,
And treat those two impostors just the same;”

It doesn’t matter how well you slept, ya dumbass, get up and live the day.

Why don’t the outcomes matter? Because they are beyond our control. This isn’t futility. This is acknowledging that the universe is determinant. And look out, here comes my Parallel Lives schtick – it’s related. There are infinitely many lives out there. Some of them are way better than yours and some way worse. But infinitely many… which means you can’t say where yours is on the continuum. Wherever it is, there are infinitely many better & infinitely many worse. There are some lives where you’re much fatter! Others, much thinner! And here you are.

It’s not a recipe for despair and futility – you still get up every day and apply your system (which may involve dieting, though I hope not). Because things still have causes, and sometimes you’ll effect good ones.

Back to Kipling… it’s funny to me that he seems to have a poem, “The Wishing Caps,” similar to but vastly inferior to “If”, which I’ll quote now:

“LIFE’S all getting and giving,
I’ve only myself to give.
What shall I do for a living?
I’ve only one life to live.
End it? I’ll not find another.
Spend it? But how shall I best?
Sure the wise plan is to live like a man
And Luck may look after the rest!
Largesse! Largesse, Fortune!
Give or hold at your will.
If I’ve no care for Fortune
Fortune must follow me still.”

“Live like a man” – ugh, again, speaking to somebody obviously not me. But what are ya gonna do. Follow your system and luck look after the rest. Have no care for fortune – or, care painstakingly about it – either way, it follows you still, so why waste your energy?

I’m reading a novel right now about parallel lives, so you’re in for more of this.

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