Instrumental rationality for overcoming disability and lifestyle failure (a specific case)

by CAE_Jones 4 min read14th Nov 201225 comments

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I read things like "Rationality should win!", and I feel validated. That's basically what I've believed as far back as I can remember (and though my memory isn't as reliable as I'd like, I do think it is pretty decent, based on comparisons I've made with video evidence. Not that said video evidence includes much of me talking about my beliefs.).
 
Yet, clearly, I am no master of rationality, given that my situation at present is not what I would define as having won. When my father was my age, he was employed, married (to his second wife, with whom he is still married), and I was three years old. It wasn't long after that when my sister was born and my dad started work for his father-in-law, whose business he eventually came to own and still runs for a viable profit today. He did set some goals for himself that he hasn't quite met--gaining enough self-sustaining wealth to retire at age 45 (he turned 45 in February 2012) and/or spend his days lounging at the beach without negative consequences--but considering how much money he's put into vacations to the beach, and that he's still able to support his business and family (my stepmother makes a non-negligible contribution to this), I'd call him much closer to successful than me.
 
So, clearly I didn't pick up everything that made my father successful. I don't think dwelling on the differences will help much, but relevant is that I was born with no vision in one eye, and had some vision loss in the other a few years later, until it finally dropped to near-useless starting around age fourteen. (Incidentally, this is my excuse if I fail to catch any spelling errors in this post.) I was taught to believe strongly in the power of human intelligence, and that peer pressure is evil, and that education is the most important thing ever.
 
By 2008, I'd discovered that most of this was extremely flawed, and it was too late to correct the damage that acting on my perceived value of these beliefs had caused (I hadn't realized the extent of that damage by then, but was beginning to pick up on some of it). I'd gotten into an expensive college because the best education possible was apparently important and expensive... yet between my vision, attention to what I thought of as rationality, and rejection of many social conventions, I was completely lacking the skills to get much out of the college experience other than some basic details on a few foreign cultures. After six years of that, I'm back with my parents, $30,000 in debt, unemployed, lacking in the social department to an extent that seems more uncurable than not, still require a French credit to receive a diploma that will in all likelyhood be of very little utility to me, with a serious defficit in skills necessary for independence. Oh, and have less than $400 that I can use ($90 may or may not be in a bank account I don't know how to access, $123.51 in paypal, and the rest in cash). I was recently reapproved for supplemental security income (which I don't expect to be any more than $400 per month), conditional on me living at the property my grandmother left me.
 
I said all of that to ask: how do I fix these problems? I think I've gone on way too long with this post, but explaining some of the obstacles won't help me find solutions without goals, so I'll list some.
 
* I have lived in the same town for 24 years, and in the same house for close to 20 of those, yet I cannot travel anywhere beyond our property on my own without serious risk (getting lost / injured / trespassing / doing accidental damage to someone else's property / etc). I have more mobility skills than my parents give me credit for (About a week and a half ago, I decided to go across the street to ask my stepmother about lunch, and my father said "There's a road! You'll get run over!". I have crossed more dangerous roads than that one unaided multiple times, though he wasn't witness to any of this.). I believe I could get to the store down the road from my grandmother's house unaided (getting back might be more difficult, though), but that's about it. Being able to travel independently seems likely to increase my abilities to accomplish other things tremendously, so this is a problem to be overcome.
* My financial situation is horrible. By my estimates, I could live on $500 per month, assuming I was efficient with food, electricity, etc, and still be able to afford internet access and possibly avoid incurring the wrath of whoever my student loans are paid off to (an understanding of my finances was never given priority before 2010, so I only vaguely know what's going on). I'd much rather have a bit more ($1000 a month would be spectacular, although if part of that is SSI I wouldn't be able to save more than $2000 at a time without losing it). I am led to believe that my employment opportunities are extremely limited (my region has handled the economic recession well, but my other issues seem likely to add to the difficulty). Actually finding local employment without being able to travel to locations independently and fill out application forms would be more than a little difficult, and I have a strong preference for something with a physical component that would make online work undesirable. (My programming skills are also less than spectacular; I've been able to develop accessible computer games and have actually turned a slight profit on that (by which I mean less than $300), but I don't believe I can program on the level that would get someone else to hire me. And if I could write on demand, I wouldn't have an outstanding French credit.). (Here's what the American Foundation for the Blind has to say on employment among disabled Americans: http://www.afb.org/section.aspx?SectionID=15&SubTopicID=177 ).
* Health. I'm sure just living on my own would have a serious impact on my ability to adjust my diet for nutritional value (I find that I tend to eat whatever is easiest, which is usually horribly unhealthy). I can cook with a microwave, and am told that a slow-cooker/crockpot is easy to use. I'm more concerned about exercise, seeing as I can't safely go running or anything of the sort. (I also don't like treadmills, for some reason. I'd be ok with an eliptical, if I could acquire one and find somewhere to put it...).
* I have no experience with romantic relationships (I'm not even sure about strong platonic relationships, for that matter). I am possibly interested in changing this. As a hint at some almost-definitely-harmful things that I haven't been able to remove from my mind, the previous statement was far more painful to write than those before it (as in, if I wound up in a romantic relationship, I would absolutely dread discovery from my parents, knowing that the worst they'd do is make comments intended to be humorous rather than harmful.).
* I've had my creative endeavors (writing fiction, game development, etc) as side-goals for a while, but recently I've started to consider that making them higher priority is probably a good thing. The problem, other than combatting procrastination and other sorts of akrasia, is that I'm at a point where, to keep moving forward almost definitely requires funding. (I can't see well enough to do graphics, and haven't been able to find a decent way around this that doesn't involve paying someone to do graphics; I can't do all the voice-work I'd need, and volunteer voiceactors are horribly unreliable; sound libraries, software licenses, web hosting, etc). The goal is of course the creation of the products to my satisfaction, not the funding itself, but funding seems like a crucial upcoming step.

Solving/accomplishing any of the above would be a significant victory, yet I feel extremely limited in my personal ability to do so. If we can call any one of those successfully resolved using methods promoted at LessWrong, I'd definitely try to provide as much evidence for the victory as possible, as all the questions about the utility of LW make substantiated claims of successes due to the methods of rationality seem valuable to the community.

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