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Friday, May 04, 2007

On a Scale From

If you pet a dog, she'll be happy.

If you pet a cat, he'll decide whether you're doing a good job or not. If you're giving him a good petting, he'll purr. But if you're just stroking him absent-mindedly, he's likely to walk away. Why should he waste his time on a bad petting, when he could be dreaming of a good one? If you're not going to do a good job, you don't deserve to pet him.

I can see why cats are occasionally (half-jokingly) called evil, and why dogs are so often praised. But myself, I'm more of a cat-person. These days, I try not to get attached to too many cats because I worry it'll end badly, but I do like cats. I love my dear little Pussy Willow, who has become such a friendly cat. I like that cats don't put up with things they don't like. If there's food Willy doesn't like, he won't eat it. Compare that with Fudgie, who'd eat anything at all in the right circumstances.

Now, how can I trust that when Fudgie eats something, she's really enjoying it? After a while of not considering whether something is good or bad, don't "good" and "bad" lose their meaning? Doesn't food become just food? And if dogs don't differentiate between being petted while they have your undivided attention and being petted while you're barely noticing them, then how can you see value in petting them? And when a dog is loyal, what is that really worth? Dogs will look for any reason to love people. "Do you ever pet me? Do you ever feed me? Have you ever looked at me in passing? REALLY?? Then you're my new best friend!" So a dog is loyal- big deal. What's that worth, when they're practically wired that way?

With cats, it's different. Willy wasn't always friendly. When we first adopted him, he was scared of everyone. (He'd had a rough childhood.) So now, every time he enthusiastically jumps in my lap, it means something. Because I know it could have gone either way.

Some people think that dogs are much more intelligent than cats, and I can see why. You can tell dogs what to do. Dogs are more helpful, always aiming to please their masters. Cats, on the other hand, just sit around and sleep. But maybe they're sleeping because they've rejected whatever you want them to do. If a dog sees something, she'll chase it. If a cat sees something, he'll first determine whether it deserves attention. If not, he'll go to sleep- he can dream up a world more fit to live in.

"Ah, but dreams are merely escapism!", you challenge. And I need to accept that challenge for as long as the escape is not permanent. Eventually the cat will wake up, and the dog will be happier. Because an unappreciated happiness is better than an appreciated unhappiness.

Maybe I should elaborate.

You can't really appreciate good without also appreciating bad. If you'd seen lots of professional movies, but never any amateurish home-made ones, you'd take good film-making for granted. You'd think it natural that anyone to pick up any video camera could make a good-looking piece of film. On the other hand, if you've seen what an amateur can do, you can respect the professionals more. It's just a basic argument, but the same applies on any level. The more types of badness you understand, the more types of goodness you appreciate.

But here's the question I was getting at: Is this a good thing? Is it good to appreciate measures of quality? It's not so clear-cut. Is it worth recognizing the bad for the sake of the good?

And let's flip the question around a little. Let's say the world has more bad than good-------
90% of everything is crud.
- should you try to appreciate the good, knowing that it will also illuminate the bad? And here we get back to the cat's dreaming. If you indulge in dreams you see more good. But then the bad seems more pronounced. And if you completely disregard dreams
If you aren't where you like, you should like where you are!
, and deal only with what is right in front of your eyes (like a dog, or most adults), you might never notice that your life isn't worth much at all!

For my part, I tend to appreciate things. (Sure, there are important exceptions. But in general.) Everything's very colorful, very pronounced. This makes life in the Real World difficult. (Which isn't a fitting excuse for anything, since I could stop appreciating things so much.) I get a tremendous amount of pleasure out of very little things, yes. But I tend to get very depressed over little things as well! You can't get one without the other. Back in September, I came up with a musical theme I loved, and thought I'd forgotten it for good. I was thoroughly miserable for hours afterward, and would have kept being miserable if I hadn't managed to squeeze it out of my memory forcibly. When I did, I was in ecstasy. These extreme emotions can change as quickly as they start.

Malfunctioning electronics feels like the world is crumbling around me, while getting new electronics is like a new world open up. I delight in playing Ocarina of Time, but am troubled that my family won't. I'm overcome with loneliness, but only because I appreciate good socializing when I get it. I'm overjoyed by lasagna, but the chicken we eat on Shabbat is frustrating.

It would undoubtedly be easier to ignore all this, to just grow up and stop paying attention to the quality of life. Most adults seem to do it. My mother is like a textbook example of the condition. And she's survived. I say that's not enough. What do you think?



Well, since you asked -

My way of life is sort of a mixture of both. What I try to do is recognize the bad in order to appreciate the good, but at the same time keep my perspective so that the bad doesn't bother me so much.

You know, it occurs to me that (visual) contrast is a good metaphor for this. Most adults let it go down, let the world turn gray - not the funnest of ways to live life. Such people usually feel a loss at some point in their colorless lives and try to retrieve their childhood. They usually fail.

But if you turn it up, you get the intense dark along with the bright, which deters most of us. Those who do it anyway frequently lapse into depression. So my goal is to objectively recognize the good and the bad, and focus only on the good.

It doesn't sound very intelligent, I know, and it doesn't really work yet, but I have hope.

Malfunctioning electronics, huh?
I'll bet that applies now..


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