The only thing that reverses system decay
Nicholas Sailer

Abusive bonfires and sacrificial scams

All of our friends reading this thread be like

First, thanks for posting this, it was awesome to read and I’m looking forward to adding to the discussion here. In case people who don’t know us are reading this: Nick and I are longtime friends that have been through many interesting journeys and say things like ‘this is all bullshit’ all the time. That’s a colloquial parlance and is fully within the bounds of Maroni / Sailer decorum.

I’d like to summarize the main parts of your response to make sure I understand the message:

  • Transactions: You feel that I’m modeling human relationships as transactions, and that transactions are a poor model for describing relationships.
  • Risk: You agree that killing decaying systems is a good thing to do and not doing this does hold people back. But, you feel that the thing that holds even more people back is risk aversion, resulting in an unwillingness to catalyze the creation phase of a new relationship or project.
  • Sacrifice: You believe that the key input into a relationship is mutual, unconditional sacrifice, which is equivalent to love.

Let me know if I’ve got this wrong, and now here. we. go.

Transactions ≠ relationships

I’m 100% not modeling relationships as transactions in the above post, or in life. That would be a terrible analogy to force upon relationships. Transactions (like let’s say selling a product, signing a treaty, or buying kilos of cocaine to save your car company) are single point events. Relationships are not single point events, and they are definitly not strings of single point events tied together. Parties engage in transactions when they want what each other have, and are willing to part with something with less received value to get that thing.

In my article I defined relationships as an interaction force between two people designed to enrich the lives of both creators. So, that would be more akin to a gravitational interaction between two particles that is always present. A force happens consistently over time, a transactions occur one time.

In an effort to avoid semantic disputes, I used two stories to try to model projects and relationships to make these abstract ideas more clear. A bonfire (or a sandcastle) is not a transaction. A bonfire is a real thing made of resources that was produced and maintained by a creators. Relationships are bonfires. The extrinsic value of a bonfire is more than the sum of its components in the eyes of the creators (warmth now > sticks in my yard). It is a thing that is made and maintained by people by investing (and yes, sometimes sacrificing) resources and time.

I think that modeling relationships in this manner was my intent, and still the best way to talk about them. Keeping to this framework also sets us up to talk about your other two points. So I’m going to choose to continue to accept the Create, Maintain, Decay model. I’m also going to choose to continue to accept that this is an irreversible process, as recanting on this point would mess up all my clever thermodynamic analogies which make me sound smart. Okay, so now on to risk aversion.

Risk Aversion

You said:

I believe the largest failure point of human happiness is the aversion to sacrificing resources for a system that may not pay back: The aversion to risk. We’re afraid to have faith in the possibility that the system may or may not pay us back — but either way, we’re afraid to take the chance and find out. So we don’t.

This is EXACTLY why you must be comfortable in the void. In my view, learning to accept death’s inevitability and focusing on being content with no material possessions, relationships, success, joy, etc is the solution to this problem you raise.

I think the only slight nuance in our logic sequences is that I highlighted the effect of risk aversion in the decay phase, and you are talking about risk aversion in the creation phase. Both are equally valid and yes, both contribute to the smothering of happiness. I focused more on risk aversion during the decay phase because what I think people forget is that you first have to kill what you have today so that you can free up resources to pursue the creation of new things tomorrow.

I think the part people are most afraid of is not the (usually fun) process of making the new thing. People are more afraid of the killing part that comes before that part: quitting their job, breaking up, etc. The part we are afraid of in the creation of new things is rooted in us not wanting to kill the things we have today.

Home strech here we come.

The Role of Sacrifice

Sacrifice is when you give up something you want to keep in order to help someone else (hashtag Websters). So, unlike in a transaction, with sacrifice you feel like you’d be better off in the short term by not making the sacrifice. I did not use the word ‘sacrifice’ because I think it is laced with a lot of heavy, preconceived notions (particularly of the religious flavor). I thought using the word would distract a bit from the message of the post. But you are right, I have sacrificed a lot, more than anyone knows, for my projects. In recent years I’ve invested more time in my projects than my relationships, so I have more experiences, and thus more stories, on that side of the fence. Sacrifice is just one of those things that happens when you try to make real stuff.

But back to the bonfire analogy world for a bit — let’s say for the sake of the argument that JUST as I’m nearing the end of my firewood supply my bonfire stops putting out warmth and instead starts making me and my group of friends colder! That would be weird, and totally not cool (pun). Back when the bonfire was making life warmer, I might have been willing to do a lot to keep it going. I might be willing to sacrifice the wood from my own chair in order to keep it going. After all I’d rather stand than watch everyone around me freeze.

But now that this damn bonfire is making us cold instead of warm, why would I burn up my chair to keep it alive?

In an ideal world our relationships keep us warm forever. In the real world this is pretty rare. Sometimes life makes it easy for us to notice when relationships slip into the decay phase. For example, no one is going to sacrifice in order to keep a relationship going with an abusive partner. This type of decay phase is easy to spot and kill. And our society would not expect us to embalm those types of relationships.

But all too many relationships slip into more subtle decay phases. They become zombie bonfires that just burn up wood that could have been used to start a better fire in another part of the yard. These are harder to spot and kill, so we become embalmers and use all the resources at our disposal (including sacrifice) to keep them illogically living.

Religion and society don’t like it when we kill these types of relationships. It upsets me when I see people embalming mediocrity in the name of tradition, sacrifice, loyalty, or gritty stick-to-it-ness. Society does not trust our own ability to decide when things transition from maintenance phase to decay phase. Being loyal and sticking with something through sickness and health is certainly what should be done in maintenance phase. Just because there are arguments or bad times does not mean decay is upon us. Important things are hard to maintain, and they do require effort and sacrifice. Don’t get me wrong, making the call that something is no longer in the ‘worth saving’ phase and has moved into decay zone is hard. Our gut usually knows well before our brains do.

I wrote the post to try to explain that once you give up everything you hold dear, like what others think, the things you own, your lifestyle, and the projects you care about, you are able to face this void. When you do that (and it should be done multiple times throughout life) you are free. Nothing can hurt you, and you need nothing additional to complete you. That does not mean you know everything there is to know or have experienced everything there is to experience. It just means that you accept what you are and you aren’t waiting for ‘X’ to then say you’re ‘good’.

I don’t want to be in a relationship if I feel like I’m there to complete the other person. I want to find people that have embraced the void, and then enjoy the experience of existing in this universe with those people for as long as we mutually feel the journey is enriched by doing it together.

‘Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.’ — Micah 4:4