What does an unbridgeable gap look like?

I was raised to believe “Anything is possible if you put your mind to it”. I was also raised to believe that “Everyone is equal”. This explicit declaration of a lack of any sort of class(ification) system and that everything in reality bends with enough will paints the world in extremely hopeful tones. Add on top NCLB-era participation trophies, and the world becomes “You want it? You can have it”. It’s something that anyone will agree couldn’t possibly be true, but feelings aren’t changed so easily.

Yesterday I read an article by one of my favorite writers and instantly concluded creating such a piece was forever beyond my reach.

It’s not that long, it’s his usual finesse with words and flow, but this time he talked about a topic which I thought I knew something about. Something which at least in recent times he hasn’t directly talked about. And yet in 1 article and ~1600 words he manages to cut to the heart of the matter. It’s something which he basically does every single post, and upon retrospect he really does talk about a lot of different topics, but I only noticed it this time because it’s a topic I thought I knew something about.

While he writes

Because individuals run rampant, it becomes impossible to do anything without cars. Even public transportation doesn’t work well when the distances are too great and even urban areas too diffuse for any coherent collective activity. Every single house stands alone with its own lawn.  At the same time all the houses are nearly identical.  In a glimpse, we see the banality and horror of individualism without duty to others.

the best I can formulate on the matter in about the same length is

Commuting fucking sucks. I’d rather spend 30 minutes a day crammed into a box with everyone else than 2 hours a day in my own little box. Everyone has to prefer that; they also only have 24 hours a day. What’s the point in cars anyways? We all use the same roads which are planned out and the big three things to travel for are working, buying, and sleeping. What’s the big deal about “freedom”? So why are cities built around cars rather than trains? This is obviously evil. Also cars are why people are fat.

It felt like the story my dad told me about visiting my brother at university. Brother had been there for three months and there was some problem with his screen window, and dad asked him why it hadn’t been fixed when the problem was so simple. Brother said he’d been there for three months, he would’ve figured it out by now if there was a solution. My dad walked over and, without any tools or YouTube videos, fixed it in about three seconds. Dad happens to have been an engineer for a decent chunk of his life, but I think there’s more to it. The easy and given solution of “hard work and time” clearly isn’t it. If anything it fits the definition of poison: looks great, replaces the actual stuff so you stop searching, and harmful.

Whatever those solutions are, the more important question is whether or not they exist. How does one identify them? Which unbridgeable gaps are actually bridgeable?

At some point in time I couldn’t draw faces at all, at some later point drawing 5 heads took me 10 hours, now 5 heads take about 10 minutes – whatever the improvement of the former, the latter step was obviously an improvement of at least one and a half orders of magnitude. There was definitely a lot of time and work inbetween, but the reason why they improved so drastically wasn’t because of the time and work. After the 10 hours one, I went to bed, woke up, and thought “There’s no way in hell just this much should take that long. Professionals should be able to do this in, I don’t know, but it couldn’t possibly be more than 10 minutes a face. Something is fundamentally wrong about what I’m doing“. For the first step it was even more unrelated: “I need to do something with my life that doesn’t require large amounts of capital. What can I do with just the things on my desk? …Drawing? Let’s try to actually seriously learn drawing.

It’s been 2+ years since then and I’ve been able to, adjusting for the “anything is possible” nonsense, do things I never thought I’d be able to do. There’s lots of other people who’ve done a lot less in 2 years, and a lot of other people who’ve done more, but in any case it turned out to not be impossible for me. If you told me five years ago I wouldn’t care or spend time on online competitive videogames at all I wouldn’t believe it.

Could I have done something else instead? Can I still do other things?

What exactly is out of bounds?

Anything I’m not interested in spending time in is obviously impossible; regardless of the lack of value in hard work and time spent it’s not zero. “Passion” is required at some level to spend time, which is required to discover new and interesting things, which is required to explore those to expand horizons – or in other words, improve. Things which I’m not “passionate” about I guess aren’t relevant because I wouldn’t want to do them. But even with things I do “want” there are things I can’t discover, right? By nature of how I was raised, or what language I think in, or what ideology and friends I have? Spending time without being able to discover and implement anything new is just a 9-5 without getting paid and maybe without the 9-5. Which areas are things I, for whatever reason, can’t ever learn anything significant or improve in any meaningful way?

That writer clearly has more experience in writing and in the subject matter. I’m interested both in his way of communicating and what a better city would look like. Are either of these two things impossible for me to do? How would I determine that?

Is it a field I can only grind, or is it one where I can get orders of magnitude better?


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