Our Precious Paragraphs Are Being Destroyed

paragraph.pngOriginal image from KissPNG, edited by Antidotes for Chimps

Our humble, trusting paragraphs, an essential component of quality writing, have been led into dark alleys by content-producing “experts”, and found themselves mutilated. Once a solid, distinguishable group of ideas with the purpose of demarcating meaning, the paragraph is now an amputated, unrecognisable mess, writhing on the page while surrounded by its detached, isolated limbs, as though Hannibal Lecter decided to pursue his passion as an editor.

It’s hard to resist the advice of the so-called experts, who boast tens of thousands of Medium followers, and claim to earn thousands of dollars from writing. We want to be successful too, and we’ll try whatever it takes to get there. But when you become successful by altering an essential component of writing – a rule crucial to reading comprehension – you may be a personal success, but you’ve failed everyone else. You’re strengthening our abhorrent quick consumption culture, which is more interested in cherry-picking short, sharp sentences from an article, and so losing the coherence required to properly understand it. We cannot scan an article and expect to comprehend and retain the information fully, appreciate the rhyme of the sentences, or indulge in the vividness of a beautifully descriptive word. Scanning is fine for simplistic, dull writing, but untenable for properly-written pieces. Our desperation for expeditious success is folly – the more frantic our pace, the less we retain. Rather than finishing an article with an entrenched, meaningful idea, we’re left with disjointed bits of incoherent information, carelessly flung into our brain.

A paragraph is determined by a group of related ideas. It cannot be cleaved into smaller pieces without affecting the quality of the writing, or impairing the reader’s ability to understand your intention. If you’re targeting cherry-picking scanners, maiming the paragraph might be a suitable approach for you. But if you’re a writer who wants to produce unhindered, precise content – conveying your ideas perfectly while being a joy to read – don’t listen to the success-at-all-costs charlatans who advocate shorter paragraphs. Their unallayed ambition is wreaking havoc on popular online writing, with impressionable, aspiring writers copying the technique in the hope of becoming successful, contributing to the disfigurement of our once-wonderful art, and making the world a bit more stupid.

It’s woefully distasteful to read an article that is mashed up like a dog’s dinner. The thread of our understanding is cut, discarded, temporarily lost, and we scramble for it like blind fools, finally locating it, only to lose it again during the next “paragraph.” Though the writer may be bursting with good ideas, their failed and misguided execution ruins the reading experience – an encounter that might have been blissfully satisfying. It’s a tragic situation for both writer and reader – the former being encouraged to convey their valuable ideas in a handicapped way, and the latter being deprived of an enjoyable and instructive spell of reading.

An article is not the same thing as a tweet or a Facebook post, and shouldn’t be written as such. It’s a collection of ideas under a common topic, carefully and thoughtfully expounded. Appropriately-sized paragraphs are essential to communicate an idea properly – what is writing if not a method to transmit ideas? What does it become after being butchered by dollar-hungry content frauds?

It’s time for us to collect the remains of our precious paragraphs from the crime scene floor, throw on our scrubs, and like skillful surgeons, stitch them back together into healthy, related units of information. Their treatment has been grievously unfair, and it’s our responsibility to restore them to their former wondrous glory, so that our treasured ideas can be fully comprehended once again.

The dangers of smart drugs

If you’re an athlete with a performance-enhancing chemical coursing through your veins, you’re considered a cheat. The entire country of Russia was banned from the Olympics back in 2015 for repeated doping scandals, and have only recently been allowed to re-enter under strict conditions. It simply isn’t deemed fair for athletes to infuse themselves with ability-boosting chemicals – what would be the point of having a competition in the first place? Unless there’s a baseline – in this case the undisturbed human body – a tournament cannot be fair from the outset.

Widen the scope from a sports competition, to the competition between humans as a whole. Our species is hierarchical in nature, there’s no doubt about that. Unfortunate circumstances and repeated awful decisions might position us at the lowest rungs of the hierarchy – drug-dependent, chaotically-minded, and living on the streets. Auspicious circumstances could place us at the other end of the scale, highly-successful with a fulfilling job and family life. If the bum discovers a fortuitous chemical that will improve his dire position, is that still considered cheating? Would doping our way to the summit of our economic hierarchy turn us into swindling tricksters, just like the Russian athletes?

“Smart” drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin, Modafinil, and many others are alleged to give you such an advantage. Droves of students are using them in order to excel in their studies, leaving their peers in the dust. How this affects the self-esteem of those left behind is difficult to measure, not to mention the pressure it puts on them to take the drugs themselves in order to keep up. Classical musicians, highly-respectable and almost regal in their image, are taking beta-blockers in an attempt to control their nerves, creating a dependence in the process. There’s clear similarities in the idea of instilling yourself with Dutch Courage by downing a pint of beer before a nerve-wracking event. The French Foreign Legion, the UK’s Ministry of Defence, and the Indian Air Force are all dabbling in the narcolepsy-treatment Modafinil in order to enhance their troops’ performance. The next world war might bear witness to soldiers popping a few smart pills before clambering over the top into no man’s land. In the prosperous Silicon Valley, tech employees are taking small amounts of psychedelics in order to enhance their creativity; everyone wants to be the next Steve Jobs. Idiotic parents are even hooking up their children to “brain stimulation kits” – literally electrocuting their offspring in an effort to improve them. The tyrannical Nurse Ratchett would be proud.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be the best possible version of yourself, but are smart drugs really a safe way to do so? Though not physiologically addictive like alcohol or cocaine, there’s a clear risk of psychological dependence. When you’ve had a taste of higher-level functioning and reaped the rewards – a job promotion; a better grade on an exam – the incentive to return a lowly, loser-like baseline might be lacking. A bowl of clumpy gruel isn’t quite so appealing after eating Kobe beef. Through consistent use of smart drugs, we’re raising our expectation of what our baseline performance should be. It’s hazardous territory to navigate.

There’s also obvious health concerns to consider. While the traditional smart drugs are FDA-approved, there’s a plethora of other chemicals being sold online which aren’t. Who knows how the impressionable and ambitious souls who take these substances are polluting their bodies? Even the drugs that are approved by the FDA have unclear consequences of long-term use – they simply haven’t been around long enough to know. Are you willing to risk your own health on these chemicals in order to run the rat race a little bit faster? Whatever happened to slowing down and savouring each moment? Life isn’t just about getting ahead of the competition.

It’s easy for drug companies to determine the medical side effects of a product without giving a single thought to the social implications. One only has to look at the opioid epidemic in America as an example, a chemical-compound so effective at numbing pain that it’s become a medical disaster. Could smart drugs be on the same path? Nietzsche’s Will To Power – the idea that the main driving force in humans is to reach the highest possible position in life – supports the idea. Our innate desire to climb the economic hierarchy might be made easier through the use of smart drugs, but at a health cost that nobody really understands. Until we do, it might be wise to continue living your life down in the ditches, unenhanced, as nature intended.

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In praise of being bored

Boredom is a state of mind that many of us frantically try to avoid. The moment it starts to creep into our awareness – that sense of tedious lethargy which seems to taint our very souls – we instinctively want to liberate ourselves from the moment; to escape into anything else. It’s often associated with feelings of apathy, depression, weariness and languor, and as such, has been tarred with a negativity that’s difficult to shake off. Some writers would even have us believe that boredom is the consequence of a flawed character:

“There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”  – G.K. Chesterton

Philosopher Martin Heidegger thought that without focus, we’re faced with nothingness, and can experience dreaded existential anxiety:

“Profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference” – Martin Heidegger

It may as well be lumped into the same category as leprosy and Piers Morgan, for all the good it does us. And yet, boredom is a misunderstood phenomenon. It happens to have a multitude of benefits that few of us are aware of, which could be judiciously reaped if we manage to achieve the laborious feat of leaving our phones the fuck alone for a few minutes.

As with every other emotion that we experience, boredom was developed for an evolutionary benefit: to discover what interests us, and then to motivate us to go towards it. It serves as a mechanism to seek beneficial new experiences. Many significant human advancements may have been the result of bored geniuses.

“Something’s got to happen – that’s the explanation for most human undertakings.” – Jean-Claude Baptiste (Albert Camus)

The self-reflection and daydreaming that occurs during times of boredom can tell us a lot about what we want, and deliver the kick up the arse we need to achieve it. Self-destructive and addictive social media habits are causing us to miss important observations about ourselves; invaluable insights that shine a light on our deepest desires. Instead of filling our time with entertaining nonsense, we can focus on what’s meaningful. Boredom forces us to start on the difficult and valuable thing that we’ve been putting off for years. It’s an opportunity to tend to our own requirements; to be temporarily introspective, instead of mindless content consumers.

“Boredom makes people keen to engage in activities that they find more meaningful than those at hand.” – Wijnand van Tilburg

Professor John Eastwood is a seasoned boredom researcher, and cautions against our pernicious desire to escape it:

“Like the trap of quicksand, such thrashing only serves to strengthen the grip of boredom by further alienating us from our desire and passion, which provide compass points for satisfying engagement with life” – John Eastwood

Few people like to be alone with nothing but their thoughts, because their thoughts are often difficult and would rather be avoided. But running away only exacerbates the problem; it grows in your mind like a rapacious, steroid-injecting virus, goading you into a fight that must eventually be fought. The beasts that you bury deep within will always rise to the surface; no amount of distraction will numb them into submission.

Another detrimental effect of constant busyness and distraction is the feeling that your brain is full of worthless clutter, and running the same pace as a dark-skinned gentleman shortly after stumbling on a KKK cross-burning. Consuming hundreds of memes every day will result in anxiety and fatigue. If you allow yourself to be bored on occasion, you’ll probably be less tired at the end of the day. It’s like a cup of coffee without the elevated heart-rate. Imagine all of the extra stuff that you’d be able to achieve.

Having had the spirit to withstand a little boredom, the valuable thing that you then decide to do will be suffused with more creativity. Innovation often comes from daydreaming, when your mind is in a directionless, wandering state. Only by doing nothing is there room for something to emerge. When we’re in such a state, our brain’s Default Mode Network is activated, a core component of creativity. Incidentally, this network is also activated when taking psychedelics, so if you lack the ability to let yourself be bored, you might want to consider taking a shitload of magic mushrooms instead. Who knows what wonders you’ll create.

“So we might try to find that stimulation by our minds wandering and going to someplace in our heads. That is what can stimulate creativity, because once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to wander, you start thinking beyond the conscious and into the subconscious. This process allows different connections to take place. It’s really awesome.” – Sandi Mann

On the surface, being bored seems like a rascal to be avoided, a waste of our precious time. But digging a little deeper reveals the truth: it’s a driving force of creative thinking, allows golden moments of self-reflection, and compels us towards what we value. Escaping into the glow of a screen while sucking our thumbs for comfort isn’t necessarily the best option. Relent to your boredom, you may just stumble on something important.

“When hit by boredom, let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is: The sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface. The idea here is to exact a full look at the worst. The reason boredom deserves such scrutiny is that it represents pure, undiluted time in all its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendour.

Boredom is your window on the properties of time that one tends to ignore to the likely peril of one’s mental equilibrium. It is your window on time’s infinity. Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.” –  Joseph Brodsky

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