Hello. Welcome to a new year. I am both broadly in favour and suspicious of new year’s resolutions. It’s admirable to want to make positive changes, but I’m not convinced that picking an arbitrary date to start making large and potentially difficult modifications to one’s life is always the best course of action.
Much of this feeling comes from seeing a focus on the endpoint and not the actions or projects or new habits that are required to reach it. For me it’s the breaking down of the big, scary thing into little manageable pieces that’s the key; action rather than motion.
I think people intuitively understand this, yet don’t put it into practice. During my yearly visit to Facebook the other day I saw one of my friends resolving to lose a fairly dramatic amount of weight this year; another to learn a new, as yet unspecified language; another to save enough money for a particular car he likes. But what are the things you need to do to achieve these things?
I’m not saying that these people haven’t broken down these goals into meaningful actions—social media is naturally focused on destinations rather than the road taken—but I’m doubtful.
I think this outlook is useful beyond resolutions and problem solving and project management and the self-Taylorising productivity oafs that comprise LinkedIn. In a variety of ways, we have always broken things down and put them back together again in order to better understand them.
Calculus does this to an infinite degree—chopping a problem into infinitely many tiny parts, solving the (easier) problem for each of them, then putting it all back together. Anyone who’s studied maths will tell you that you’re left with a simpler problem than the original. (The word ‘calculus’ comes from the Latin root ‘calx’, meaning small stone, from a time when such things were used for counting and calculation. It’s perhaps ironic that both Newton and Leibniz, key in the development of calculus, died from bladder and kidney stones respectively.)
It’s present in the arts too, in both literal and metaphorical senses. When asked about the many references to drugs in his songs, Elliott Smith said:
[Drugs] were partly on my mind because it’s a very useful device to talk about other things that are harder to name. If you can’t name the big thing, you have to break it apart into small things with names and build it back up using the small things.
For me, Smith is the best exponent at this.
So there you go. Chop 2022 (or Plague III) up, solve the bits, build them back together, make your life simpler. Easy, right? Well, no. But worth a try.
Onward then to this issue’s links. Reply if you have anything on your mind; if not, see you next time.