7sins

I once extensively dissected all the 7 deadly sins as a mental exercise (I was bored as a conscript, and I wanted to solve the problem of Sloth.) I came to the conclusion that the 7 sins aren’t actually sins, but drives. They’re only “sinful” (in my opinion) when these drives are channeled in an unenlightened, beta way.

I divide the sins into the 4 appetites, the two identity-perceptions, and time-perception.

Pride is one of the two identity-perceptions. (Envy is the other).

Pride makes you feel good about yourself, your achievements, your qualities, etc. But that’s when you’re having a good day, and you’re on top of your game. Too much pride can also make you feel like you have something to prove, like you’re always keeping up with this ideal of yourself that you can never quite match up to. Pride makes you obsessed with being right, being on top, always, and that can lead to some sub-optimal outcomes.

The solution for me lies in acknowledging how much you owe to others, and to the world. This doesn’t mean sucking up to people, being a fanboy or any of that lame shit. It means acknowledging that you have had masters, mentors, people who blazed the trail before you. I am proud of who I am and what I have accomplished, but more than that I am honoured to be of service, and to have been blessed with opportunity and mentorship.

4 appetites- wrath, lust, gluttony, greed. The corresponding drives are destruction, conquest, consumption and acquisition. These are the easiest for me to think about and deal with. Just bear in mind the law of diminishing returns, and think about sustainability.

WRATH = DESTRUCTION: We all have the impulse to destroy- but we should channel that creatively. Destroy enemies by making them your friends. Destroy problems by resolving them. Be really really precise when you’re frustrated or angry. (Anger and frustration are both imprecise responses- we get that way when we don’t know what to do. If you be really precise about whatever’s troubling you, you’ll often find that you don’t need to go on a path of wanton destruction- you just need to identify very specific little things that you need to correct.

LUST = CONQUEST. It doesn’t actually have to be sexual, I think sexualizing it is oversimplifying it. We’ve all wanted to destroy that ass, conquer that ass, consume that ass, acquire that ass. They’re all different drives, and they all satisfy different drives. You often encounter multiple drives at the same time when it comes to sex. I’m in a monogamous marriage with a really smart woman I love, so I channel my conquest drive towards conquering the hearts and minds of others. Win them over.

GLUTTONY = CONSUMPTION. It’s fine to enjoy consuming, but it’s important that it be sustainable. You can’t just eat tonnes of chocolate every day and be happy. You have to really enjoy and savour it properly. Consume experiences, consume knowledge, consume conversations, the minds of others. Consuming food, alcohol etc are okay, but in moderation.

GREED = ACQUISITION. Again, think sustainable. A pile of money or gold or a trophy wife, etc, these things don’t satisfy you deep. There’s a law of diminishing returns at play. Instead, seek to acquire wisdom, knowledge, blah blah.

Beating pride & envy

The simple solution to both pride and envy is to realize that they are both short-sighted. They’re both dependent on a relatively narrow conception of the self.

PRIDE/VANITY: Realize this- a lot of what you are proud of, you owe to others. You have had mentors. You have had teachers. You benefit from the vast ocean of human knowledge that existed before you. You can’t take credit for all of that. When you achieve something amazing, think of it less as you serving yourself, and more of it as you doing justice to everything and everyone who has brought you to where you are.

ENVY. It makes zero sense to be envious of anybody, because you haven’t lived their experiences. You live different lives. You were born different. You were raised different. You have different perspectives, obligations, needs. Remember that everybody is different, and everybody is envious of somebody else, in some frame. Take the person you’re most envious of, and realize that they have self-doubt too, they’re nervous and anxious too, and they’re probably jealous of somebody else. Let it go. There’s nothing to be envious of. Envy is often the reminder that we are waiting.

Here’s something I wrote somewhere else about the same thing:

I deal with jealousy the same way I deal with narcissism- by reminding myself that everybody is infinitely complex, and that the concept of a distinct self is an illusion.

You can’t be proud of yourself because you don’t own you- you are the sum of everything you’ve read, everything you’ve come in contact with, everything anybody’s ever said to you.

Similarly, you can’t be jealous of anybody, because you don’t know them. There’s nothing to be jealous of. They experience a different reality. If you were in their shoes, you’d be jealous of somebody else.

So you’re not actually jealous of a person, because people are infinite. You’re jealous of a state. And states are fleeting, with diminishing returns. Desiring a state reduces the problem from one of identity (hard/impossible) to one of appetite, which is easier. Why do you care about one particular state? Entire suns are being birthed right this very second. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this great cosmic dance.

Your state, your success, your writing skills, all of that… there’s nothing for me to be jealous of. Because there is no you, and there is no me. Enjoy the ride.

TL;DR: Jealousy (and narcissism) are “short circuit” problems that only happen because we take a narrow shorthand view of life and people. Acknowledge that everybody is infinite and there’s nothing to be jealous about.

Sloth

I don’t know about you guys but this is the hardest one for me. I think of it as the desire to be comfortable. The hack is to realize that a myopic, short-sighted approach to comfort is rarely the optimal path to comfort in the context of a human lifespan. Hitting the gym might be uncomfortable compared to sitting on your couch, but the resulting strength gains you’ll get will make everything else easier- opening doors, talking to women, whatever.

The best way I manage this (and I’m still struggling with this a little) is to think about the concept of a local maxima. Very often, sloth gets us into local maximas- whatever is most comfortable in the next minute, next hour. But if we care about living a good life, we should think about global maximas, or at least beyond-immediate-local-maxima.

So I’m not any less lazy or desirous of comfort than before, I just seek it in a more enlightened, long term perspective. I want to be comfortable in my old age, fit, smart, knowledgeable. Life’s easier that way. Gotta pay my dues. It’s the smart-lazy thing to do.

Leave a Reply