Mental Mistakes

Chapter 12
The Mix

Between the totally unregulated garage sale and the totally regimented socialist "marketplace", lies a crowded spectrum mixing markets and "markets" in every combination you can think of. To understand the mixes, understand the elements. There are the market elements, based on voluntary trade; and there are the should committee elements, based on coercion. Where volition dominates in a mix, prices will not tell the whole truth, but they will give some information. Commodity markets provide examples. Where coercion dominates in the mix, prices will give false information, but patterns of trading will be informative, as traders use various methods to get around the coercion. Foreign exchange markets provide examples. In our country, many markets are free enough to give prices. In China, few markets give any information that you can trust.

Mental mistakes follow the same pattern. Thinking can be a mixture of active elements, passive elements, and subjective elements. Activeman, Passiveman, and Subjectiman can be the same man at different moments. A mind completely passive is a mind in a coma. A mind completely subjective is a mind institutionalized as helpless. That is why mental mistakes terrify those who make them: they are direct threats to sanity. Distinguishing the elements makes it possible to find methods to correct the mistakes. Passive mistakes can be corrected by building the habit of making comparisons. Subjective mistakes can be corrected by learning to make comparisons right. By comparing these elements, you can find a basic mistake which combines both. It is evasion.

Evasion is the mental action of throwing the mind out of gear for subjective reasons. When it is a chosen action that threatens your life as a reasoning human, it is immoral. When it is part of a habit automated long ago, then it is not being chosen now, so it not immoral now. But it is still life-threatening now.

Passive minds are those that have automated the habit of evading the need to think. Subjective minds are those that habitually evade the fact that reality will not conform to them, so they have to conform to it. Active minds are those that have automated the habit of staying focused on reality as it is.

Let's take Mixtureman to the flea market. Behind the wheel of his car, he is Activeman. He feels the most alive when he's driving. He is an alert driver, skillful in traffic, not too assertive, not too timid. He is paying attention.

Parking is another matter. It infuriates him to be forced to park blocks away, leave his beloved car, and walk like a peasant. It is all he can do to park at all, while turning into Subjectiman. Look at that idiot, taking up practically two spaces right near the entrance! He should be taken away in chains! Look at this line to get in! They should have at least two more ticket sellers! Look at the price! Why should you have to pay to get in and be gypped? There should be laws regulating this stuff!

Once inside, he begins to dream, and turns into Passiveman. There was this story about the guy who bought a painting in the flea market, and it turned out to be by a famous painter, and he got rich. That's the fun of looking at all this junk: it could be treasure. Hey, smell that grass. Is somebody selling it? That's the thing to do at the flea market: mellow out.

Back in his car, he feels happy to be driving, and returns to Activeman. He glances at the painting he bought. Damn! Gypped again. No way that amateur effort is going to be worth anything ever. Oh well, it didn't cost much. He decides to take the long way home, so he can drive some more.

Or perhaps Mixtureman is Activeman at the office, Passiveman on the freeway, and Subjectiman when he gets home. His wife wonders how anybody that hard to please can survive in an office. His coworkers wonder how such a smart guy has so much trouble with his wife. He wonders why he does so well at work, and so poorly at home.

Children live in a strange world. They are praised for work that adults would be ashamed of. They are told that Santa Claus is real, but knocking on wood is silly superstition. They are taught that it is everyone's duty to care for them, but they should be grateful anyway. They live in a mix of fantasy and reality, duty and privilege, decisions and whims. Is it any wonder that they learn good habits here, bad habits there, and mixed habits everywhere?

Because of the confusions of childhood, the first task of a young adult is to grow up on purpose. That means deciding that the best chance of a good life comes from having an active mind. Some minds are faster, others slower; but all minds can stay active by choice. From this choice follows the task of sorting out good mental habits from bad mental habits, and changing the bad ones.

Young adults who do not grow up on purpose try to live life with the mix of good and bad habits they acquired at random. In areas that interest them, they will choose to think. In other areas, they will let the mind drift. In areas they consider "personal", they will try to live by making demands. In areas they consider "business", they will not consult the wish list—at least not always. Depending on the mix of habits they happened to acquire, they will be more successful, or more "unlucky". They will wonder why they do so well in some areas, and so poorly in others. They will resign themselves to fate.

The joke is on them. They can grow up on purpose at any age.

The act of trading in a market is the act of living in a society. Reason and rights are the prerequisite of both, because they are parts of a whole. The self-regulating nature of the market comes from the self-regulating nature of the traders. The things that hamper market self-regulation are the things that hamper individual self-regulation. When markets are a mixture of real and phony elements, it is because the traders are a mixture of real and phony elements. The fact that all trades are voluntary makes the market one with you.

In the market, though, real and phony elements are out there in public to be observed and analyzed. That is why people who love whims hate markets. They look at the action of the market, and see their whims discarded, ignored, even mocked. If you live by a wish list, the market will mark a price on every item, and put a total cost at the bottom. Do you demand your way no matter what? Okay, that will be a million for lawyers, please. Do you demand a tariff on cheap clothes from Asia? Okay, that will be three billion in subsidies, please. Do you demand that hungry Africans be fed? Okay, that will be a hundred billion in bribes, please. Do you demand that the national debt be paid off? Okay, that will be eleven trillion in play money, please. Oh, you meant by somebody else?

If you are annoyed by the market's crass way of marking a price on everything, that is because it tells you how much your subjective habits cost you. It does not tell you the price in misery; it tells you the price in effort. That price mocks you, because it shows that the effort of getting rid of the subjective habits would be less than the effort of trying to make them work.

How dare you get offered three dollars an hour for work, when the minimum wage is five? Turn him in! Okay, says the market, but if the alternative is unemployment, then that costs you three dollars an hour. You demand unemployment compensation of six dollars an hour. That will show him! Okay, says the market, but now you owe six dollars an hour. The market won't let you pretend that a debt you refuse to pay is somehow not a debt. Only subjective government will let you have that pretense.

That is how the market will help anyone grow up at any age. It will show the cost of mental passivity, and the cost of subjective habits. It will demonstrate that costly illusions are not worth keeping. It will challenge you to take the moral path, and face the costs of evasion.

If you evade anyway, then the cost escalates fast. If you are going to skip over this fact, then what about the facts that remind of you this fact? You'll have to skip over them, also. But they are connected to other facts, which you'll have to skip over. And so on, into the mental equivalent of the completely regimented phony market: the mind that is not just passive, but paralyzed.

If this does not sound like a good idea, think about the two versions of Mixtureman. In those stories resides the method for getting rid of mental mistakes. The method is comparison.

By definition, a mixed mind does some things right. One Mixtureman is mentally active while driving, the other in his office. That is when they feel most alive, because most alert to the world. Why do they not clue themselves in by comparing how they feel now with how they feel at other times? Because they are afraid to.

While Mixtureman is fully alert and expertly driving, he is in control. He feels fully able to handle things. He has no need to consult a wish list, because he is satisfying what is at the top of the wish list: being in control. When he cannot find a parking spot, the control is snatched away. He feels threatened. How can he handle life if he can't even get parked? He is also not in control of the entrance line, or the admission price. So they threaten him also. How can he handle life when it is such a hassle?

Once inside the flea market, he is in control again. He can stroll around at will, and rest his mind from the unremitting drive to protect himself by being in control. It is safe to follow whims here.

If this man analyzed his feelings with his alert driving mind, he would see that he lives a basically subjective life with control as his main demand. He would see that his motivation is not the love of being in control, but the fear of not being in control. Whenever his mind is active, he would be capable of making a judgment about the wisdom of this policy. He could make plans to change it. But he would have to confront that fear of not being in control.

While the other Mixtureman is in his office, he feels fully alert, very alive, and thoroughly respected. Respect is very valuable to him, but it is not the main item on a wish list, because he does not demand it. He earns it. His employees trust him, because he never lets them down.

But then there's the drive home. In order not to feel a creeping dread of what awaits him at home, he shuts down his mind. Damn! Why do people drive so fast? Why does he have so many close calls? Drivers never give other drivers any respect!

And what about wives? Do modern wives ever respect their husbands? What would one do to earn the respect of this shrewish woman and these callous kids? To hell with it! He's the breadwinner. He has the right to demand at least obedience. So he begins the nightly war.

If this man thought about his situation while at the office with his brain in gear, he might see that his mind is basically active, with respect as what he desires most to earn. He might notice that his motivation is not love of being respected, but fear of not being respected. He could make plans to change that. But he would have to confront the fear.

Mental mistakes scare you. An unreliable heart is not half as frightening as an unreliable mind. To find and fix the mistakes, you must become a trader. Take some of the precious time when you feel truly alive, and trade it off. Use it to confront the fear that makes you hold on to bad habits. Analyze the fear. Investigate the fear. Make it fully conscious, and then consciously decide if it is justified, or not. Take some more of the precious time, and trade it off for cost analysis. Is guarding against fear worth what it costs?

A habit of analyzing will keep your mind in gear, and get rid of passivity. Confronting your fear will eventually allow you to weigh the costs of subjective mental habits against the effort of changing them. The act of making that comparison will shed an entirely new light on the wish list. It will become possible to notice that the wish list can be converted into a to-do list. You have only to ask about each item: "How could I earn this desire?" You will wonder how you ever got the idea that it worked better to demand things than to earn things.

And you will wonder how you ever got the idea that making trades is not a benevolent activity.

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