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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Self control

The distinction between temporary and permanent is ideal; temporary things end, permanent things don't.
Assuming time is an infinite convention, whatever measurement chosen to be made from it must be set according to a reference point. Nothing can actually last longer than an infinite convention, so we conventionally use the term "permanent" for those things that last longer than us, and the term "temporary" for those that last less than we would expect them to. It is only when things stop from existing that the distinction gets less ideal and more real; but why should a difference be made between things that don't exist?
Life is a pretty ordered time machine; we, as humans, can't know what will happen in the future until it becomes past through our present living. Decisions are actions placed in the present whose results come about in the future; how long it takes for a decision's outcome to take place is a matter of time, making the decision to wait for such an outcome is a matter of self-control.
Long-termed decisions are usually said to be self-controlled, while short-termed decisions are usually said to be impulsive; but what's usually said usually doesn't say much. How far from the present a long-term outcome is? How far from the future a short-term outcome was? It doesn't really matter when small (temporary) and big (permanent) benefits are considered—it all comes down to global purposes and objectives then.
Let's assume waiting—the thing one does while not doing anything at all—is a behavior, let's assume even further that some of our decisions are purposive; with an ideal distinction between temporary and permanent kept in mind, self-controlled decisions involve an evident preference for permanent results rather than temporary ones. To do "what is best for the future" requires a clear foresight of what is wanted in the first place; such teleological behavior can only be achieved by self-controlled people. To do "what is best for the moment" requires no foresight whatsoever and a great deal of thoughtless action; such random, hedonistic behavior can be achieved by most.
Self-control requires avoiding immediate pleasure in the quest of pursuing big, permanent goals. Impulsive behavior requires putting off important things in the quest of temporarily avoiding important goals—and the stress produced by failure.
Both self-control and impulsiveness can be seen as continuous as a loop with two different labels. Waiting for a future goal placed too far away is as good as doing lots of random actions to fill the waiting time. Avoiding future goals for the sake of immediate satisfaction, when immediate satisfaction can only be brought about by immediate important outcomes, is as good as planning for a big outcome. The key issue is to set a big goal and fill the waiting time with useful action. When great coincidences make random products useful, randomness can sometimes be teleological.
Even though self control may only be an ideal, it is one of those that can only be sought through action—that's what makes it real.

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