Monday, December 6, 2010

Confronting hopeless inadequacy

When I read lenin or Duncan Mitchel or any of the people I cited in the series about people I am inferior to on the DepressionJournal, I am always struck by the vast amount I don't know because I haven't read the relevant things. But my comprehension is shoddy, too, so that when I did read Tariq Ali's The Clash of Fundamentalisms or William Blum's Killing Hope, I retained almost none of it. So I prove incapable of bettering myself. This constant rediscovery of my own inferiority is wearying and maddening, and another of the things that makes me want to check out early.

I don't seem to be able to keep up with my blogroll every day, let alone the hundreds of books I've put on my list of things to read. On my hard drive I also have at least a half-dozen PDFs of books I'd hoped to read, but I'm still trying to follow the news and opinions of today. So I will never progress in knowledge — as if I retained any of it anyway.

The other thing I've noticed about myself is my orthodoxy. Since I have no self-esteem, I am constantly questioning my own opinions. And where that may lead some people to improved opinions, it leads me nowhere. Because I'm not confident to come up with my own opinions on things anymore; I've been wrong so often in the past about so many things that I don't have faith in my own reactions. Best to see what someone on my blogroll says first. I'm perpetually stymied by the belief that I'm missing something that other people are seeing, that I'm making some elementary mistake that makes me wrong vis-à-vis my own beliefs. I first noticed this in blog comments, when my statements were always simplistic things about two sentences long that added very little to wide-ranging discussions that sometimes were quite valuable. This feeling has leeched from politics into (what's left of) the rest of my life as well. I don't know what can be done about it; it seems to just be part of the familiar downward spiral.


  1. This depression sounds miserable. There are remedies that don't require head shrinkers. My first thought comes with every caveat possible—and with that said, this may be worth a look.

    You're actually pretty safe with your blogroll method of opinion-forming. Those are good, ethically careful writers.

  2. Thanks, Al. I will look into the herb. Head shrinkers have been of no use.

    The problem is that if my blogroll were wrong, I probably wouldn't know the difference. It puts me on very shaky ground, and makes me feel quite bad about myself.

    Bryan Caplan's webpage is stunningly, Geocities-level ugly, but his CV and the amount of reading he has done put me to shame. Again, I find myself in the position of disagreeing with most of what someone stands for but not being able to raise a coherent argument.

  3. Good head shrinkers face a serious dilemma. What if your depression is actually an appropriate reaction? They can't change the situation causing it. They can only try to adjust and support you, which presents another dilemma. The most effective form of support comes from comrades, and camaraderie entails a lack of detachment. The shrinks skate on professional thin ice trying to get close enough to be of any use, but not so close that they feel they can't charge for it.

    Another thought regarding the depression: do you have sleep apnea? I ask because the epistemic short circuit—not knowing, the shaky ground problem—is consistent with exhaustion. A general depressive state is also consistent with it.

    About the herb, it comes on strong for some people, so pick a day when you're not going to be obliged to meet any demanding commitments. There's substantial quality difference across brands too. I know that New Chapter is safe.

    At the risk of being presumptuous and bromidic, the amount of reading you've done relative to others is a poor method for self-evaluation. It's going to be an apples to oranges comparison every time, and it can't take into account the level of comprehension gained from the reading. There are intellectuals who read voraciously, but not necessarily with a view to gaining insight. They're after weapons and dominance.

  4. Thanks for the mention. But you know, I feel the same way -- inadequate -- when I read Lenin, or Noam Chomsky, or any number of other writers. And like other intellectuals I respect, Chomsky has said more than once, when people gush about how much he knows and how much he remembers, that he doesn't feel so retentive, his memory is a sieve and all he notices is what he forgot to mention. I feel exactly the same way. Other people probably feel the same way about you. Best wishes, and I hope you beat the depression.

  5. Al, what's your email address? Mine is I ask because it was just luck that I found this comment at all, and I'm glad I did.

  6. I just sent you an email.