Pain might be an inevitable part of our lives. But even so, pain is, on its own, utterly meaningless beyond the fact that the word means pain. That is what I absorbed from the book, “Repetitive Strain Injury: A Computer User’s Guide” by Emil Pascarelli and Deborah Quilter.
Before I continue, apologies for my voice. If it sounds weird, it is because I have a cold. I was going to wait until I completely recovered, but then, I was… I was so bored. I have been so bored for almost a week now, supposedly recovering from this cold, sleeping a lot, and being bored to tears. I cannot just sleep and do nothing any longer.
Yes, boredom. I want to emphasize that I am recording now, instead of a week from now, out of boredom. It is not because I feel like I must power through the pain. It is not like my boss tells me that I must suffer through pain, otherwise I’m a bad, bad employee. Not at all. It is the opposite. There is no boss and presently, I make zero direct money from this podcast, although, I don’t know, maybe people find me through the podcast, so in that regard, maybe there is some money in Sponge. The effect of individual channels through which I reach the world is highly difficult to measure. How do people find me? I do not know.
The point is, what I do know is that I dislike pain. I want to avoid pain. And the pain of boredom is unbearable. That is why I am recording now, hoping that you don’t mind this state of my voice too much.
Just wanted to emphasize this, since today’s topic is pain.
So. Back to “Repetitive Strain Injury: A Computer User’s Guide” by Emil Pascarelli and Deborah Quilter.
This is quite an old book. The copyright is for 1994. So, the book is almost 30 years old. But, since not much has changed in the anatomy of the overall human population, if at all, I believe a lot of the information here still holds true today.
And interestingly, what also still holds true today because not much has changed is the non-physical aspect—the psychological and social aspects of the condition called RSI. As in, the aspects that you’d think might have changed dramatically, because they’re intangible and therefore perhaps more malleable than physical and anatomical elements… well, such intangible elements have changed, I believe, so it’s not that the psychological and social aspects remained static. However, the psychological and social aspects haven’t changed that much.
Thus, what still holds true today, after nearly 30 years, is how some people react to they themselves displaying symptoms of RSI and/or how they react to other people displaying such symptoms. Even more, extra specifically, how some people, sometimes, deny the very existence of such a thing as RSI.
But, as I said, despite the lack of change in this phenomenon of RSI denial in some people, the larger world has changed. It’s not like it remained completely static. And even for those who still deny that RSI exists, a book from 30 years ago will show them such dramatic examples of ignorance that hopefully, maybe, they will change their minds. Because, it’s one thing to deny RSI and another to altogether deny the possibility of getting hurt in an office setting. I think in the year 2023, right now, even the people who don’t believe that RSI exists are to varying degrees aware that office work isn’t all a rosy walk in the park. So, by seeing examples from 30 years ago, in which doctors outright deny the possibility of getting hurt in an office setting, at all, maybe, by extension, those who deny the existence of RSI in the year 2023 will consider the possibility that maybe, you know, their denial is as nonsensical as the denial of the dangers of sitting for too long.
Of course, having said this, I’m not sure if people who don’t believe in the existence of RSI would be very eager to listen to this particular episode. In general, humans don’t like to get told that they’re being nonsensical—me included. But, well. I have no other word for RSI denial. It is nonsensical. In general, when people feel compelled to not only deny the existence of their own pain but also that of others—which they would be doing, if they deny the existence of RSI—then… well, why do I have to care about their hurt feelings? They’re hurting the feelings of others, and very possibly, hurting the physical health of others, by denying the existence of RSI.
Anyway. This book was written in the early days of computers being actively, widely, and repetitively used in an office setting. So, there are some unbelievably tragic tales about people’s real actual physical pains being denied for psychological and social reasons.
From the book, quote, “A large number of my patients have expressed great exasperation in connection with seeking treatment for RSI. They tell me their doctors treated them like children; the exam was too short; the doctors were arrogant or cynical, or told them to do something inappropriate, such as go back to work when they were in too much pain to touch a keyboard. My patients describe coming in for their appointments—frequently in great pain and panic-stricken—only to be seen for ten minutes and sent home because the doctor (quote within quote) “couldn’t find a cause” (end of quote within quote) for the injury. Or they are diagnosed with something they don’t have: I have seen too many young people who had needless surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome because, as their doctors put it, (quote within quote) “there was nothing else to do.” (end of quote within quote) If there is nothing left to do, unnecessary surgery is certainly not the answer.”
This quote is just one of the many ridiculous examples of how condescending some doctors can be when they are faced with symptoms that they have no clue about, whatsoever. It’s not just RSI, specifically, but, all throughout the book, there are examples of how these so-called doctors seem utterly clueless about how office work, in general, can lead to a lot of physical pain.
Especially this last sentence from this quote, which should be true, apparently doesn’t hold true for some arrogant doctors. I’ll repeat the last sentence. “If there is nothing left to do, unnecessary surgery is certainly not the answer.”
And yet, what did some doctors do? Ruin their patients’ hands, and quite possibly, their lives. Because, let’s not fool ourselves here. Hands, for a human being, are critical. Absolutely critical.
Can human beings survive without hands? Oh, sure. They may even thrive.
Is it easy? No. No no no no no.
I’ll state the following more clearly right away, in case you haven’t noticed already. I have a really low opinion of doctors who think they know everything about the human body. The history of medicine is full of such doctors. You’d think that by now, no doctors should delude themselves that they know everything about the human body. But of course, the irony of the human species is that a significant percentage of its population is delusional enough to think that there will be no progress after the era in which they are leading their lives.
Basically, some doctors from the 18th century thought they were at the pinnacle of medicine. Some doctors of the 19th century thought the same thing. Some doctors of the year 1994 thought the same thing. It is no big surprise that in the year 2023, some doctors still think the same thing, and a hundred years from now, there will still be doctors who think the exact same thing, no matter how much and how often it is revealed that so-called state-of-the-art medical practices are actually just a bunch of baloney.
Now, granted, this isn’t specific to doctors. It happens with scientists, businesspeople, politicians, and artists. The problem, when this happens with doctors, is that doctors, unlike other people who have other professions, can truly, actively, intentionally ruin people’s lives in the name of fixing them up.
Yeah. I get mad shit angry at stuff like this—especially when it comes to pain. When pain is denied. When pain is treated lightly. And worse, as a consequence of that, more pain is used to fix the first pain.
That is just. Mad shit messed up. And I think that part of the reason things get messed up this way is that people attach various nonexistent, inherent, and sometimes opposing meanings to pain.
So, today’s theme is this:
Pain might be an inevitable part of our lives. But pain is, on its own, utterly meaningless beyond the fact that the word means pain.
I want to emphasize that, by “meaningless,” I don’t mean that pain doesn’t exist. Just because something has no inherent meaning doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Meaning and existence are two separate things. Just because something exists doesn’t mean it has meaning. Just because something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it doesn’t have meaning. Just because something exists doesn’t mean it doesn’t have meaning—you get the idea.
Anyway, doctors. If there ever was a profession in which the history of the ridiculousness of accepted theories has been well-documented, then it’s doctors. By now I believe it is well known that there used to be a time when doctors recommended smoking because it made you healthier. Also there used to be a time when doctors let you potentially bleed to death because bloodletting was believed to be healthy. You can look up many more examples. There are so many examples that a link isn’t necessary.
Are there good doctors somewhere out there? Of course. Like with all professions, there has got to be the upper 10%. Or even the upper 30%. I’d be happy with the upper 30%. But, again, like with all professions, there truly exists the lower 70% even with doctors.
If I sound sarcastic, it is because I am. I still see this… default reverence about doctors. I find it quite funny, actually. Where does this default reverence come from? For any profession, where does any default reverence come from? How do you know if a doctor is a good doctor just because they’re a doctor? Them being a doctor only means that they are a doctor in the legal sense, basically. Most countries have some sort of standard, an exam to pass, and educational steps to go through, for a person to get a license to call themselves a doctor. That is all that means, that a person is a doctor. They met the minimum requirement to call themselves a doctor. Beyond that, there is no way to tell how qualified a doctor is.
The label “doctor” on its own is meaningless beyond that it is a label for doctors. There is no inherent value attached to the word. It’s the same as pain. There is no meaning in the word pain beyond that it means pain. Just as being a doctor doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a good doctor or a bad doctor, being in pain doesn’t make you bad, it doesn’t make you stupid, it doesn’t make you incompetent, and also, it doesn’t make you courageous, worthy, or noble.
The interesting thing is that the two extremes often go hand in hand. Pain, which is seen as making a person bad, stupid, and incompetent, coexists with pain, which is seen as making a person courageous, worthy, or noble.
This is where the danger lies. I believe, if only the first half had existed—if pain had been purely seen as something bad, stupid, and incompetent, or something that makes the pain sufferer bad, stupid, and incompetent—then it would be much easier for the sufferers to revolt. Because, it is damned frustrating when you’re in pain and other people treat you like an idiot for being in pain.
However, the really dangerous thing about pain is that at the same time, the second half of the supposed inherent meaning can be attached. Pain is seen as having the characteristics of being courageous, worthy, or noble, and it is seen as having the ability to imbue the sufferer with such characteristics as well. In other words, pain is glorified.
This is why I wanted to do this episode—because of this danger of the glorification of pain. I thought an episode like this is necessary, after having done episode 18, titled “Freeze-blue glaciers for your burning-hot wound.” That episode could be misinterpreted as me saying that people should just deal with pain.
That is not what I said or intended to say, and that is not what I am saying now. Pain might be an inevitable part of our lives. But pain is, on its own, utterly meaningless beyond the fact that the word means pain. That is all I’m saying.
Humans being narrative animals—and me, frankly, being utterly biased in saying this, because I am a narrative animal regardless of whether the greater human species identifies as such or not—at any rate, us being us, humans can attach whatever narratives to the pain they are going through. Sometimes the narrative is good for the narrator, and sometimes it’s bad.
The tricky question is, who can say with any certainty what is good or bad for someone? I don’t know if even the narrators themselves could determine that with certainty.
Of course, practically speaking, humans cannot live while they constantly question themselves. In fact, this idea of “the questioning life” is also just one of the narratives that seem to be in vogue in the 21st century. It might have to do with greater leisure time, it might have to do with greater access to information. I am not sure. But it sure seems to be in vogue.
I kind of fall into this group. It might seem like it’s really intelligent and challenging to keep questioning myself, but I think—and this is just my version of my narrative—I think it’s impossible to question myself too much, otherwise I’ll disintegrate. So, even the people who claim that they lead lives in which they question things, including me, we actually only question maybe… maybe like a tenth of our lives? What I usually mean is that I question myself and my life more than other people, or that it seems like I do, because I question the types of things that others don’t feel the need to question.
But I don’t question the ground I stand on. I don’t question gravity. I don’t question that when I eat, I will feel full. Most things cannot be questioned, otherwise the person will just go crazy. In fact, because of this nature of questioning, it is almost necessary to hang on to everything else besides the thing being questioned. You almost gotta cling to everything else, otherwise you can’t question the few things that you do question.
It’s kind of like when I say I am free when I write. Yeah, I am, but in order to tell myself that narrative that I am free, almost all other aspects of my life are completely bound, in terms of schedule, where I go, who I meet, who I don’t meet, where I don’t go, and what I don’t include as part of my schedule.
This is the irony that has also been mentioned in episode 18. “Binding ourselves is a way to be free.” So, the freer I am, the more I must bind myself in some other way.
Anyway, whichever narrative we tell ourselves, it is incredibly difficult for someone else to go in there and convince us otherwise. If my narrative is that in certain things, I am free because I am bound, and if someone comes to convince me otherwise, I will just not talk to them, because, wow, what a waste of time. That’s a narrative that I don’t want to waste time with, that narrative that you must be compelled to go around telling people how to correct their lives because you think you are so logical. I will simply not deal with that narrative, because I’m busy with my own narrative. I told you, I am bound.
At any rate, humans tend to be free to tell themselves whichever narratives they please. Even when such a narrative happens to be the mainstream one, so that it doesn’t look like people are choosing their own narratives, it’s still a choice, because it’s one thing to live in an era with certain mainstream narratives and another to adopt them. The former cannot be helped but the latter can be helped—it is a choice.
And sometimes, such mainstream narratives make no sense. And this is the case, not just in the ironic sense such as in the statement “Binding ourselves is a way to be free.” I believe this statement contains truth, whereas some mainstream narratives aren’t like that. They just… utterly don’t make sense.
And one of the nonsensical mainstream narratives revolves around pain. Pain that is supposed to be bad, stupid, and incompetent, but also, at the same time, is glorified into something courageous, worthy, and noble. Into something good.
Is it my own bias that makes me think that? If I say that some narratives make no sense at all, is that just me being unable to see sense? Is there any sense in seeing pain as bad but also good?
I am leaning toward, no, there is no sense in some narratives. Of course, even so, it would be foolish of me to attempt to directly contact people and attempt to change their minds. But the great thing about the online world is that if I say something once on a podcast, theoretically, many people can hear what I say over decades. Centuries. Perhaps even millennia. That’s why publishing is so nice. You only gotta do it once and you don’t need to directly aim it at anybody. I am not bothering anyone. Not at all. There is always the off button if anybody doesn’t want to listen to me anymore. If they do want to listen, there is the subscribe, like, bookmark buttons, and so on and so forth. We all know the drill by now.
Anyway, so, I will also not go around telling people I know in real life, who suffer pain but love pain so much that they cannot picture themselves as being painless, to stop telling themselves such narratives. In this case, I have tried in the past to do that—to convince individuals directly that such narratives are bad for them, because, well, because, they were in active pain. But oh, it is difficult, so difficult to break your own narrative. When you deny the value of something that people hold dear, they get angry. This is the case even with a thing like pain, with which, hopefully you’d expect that most people wouldn’t get attached to.
What happens with narratives is that you cannot question the very basis from which you operate. And for some people, pain is that. It is the basis from which they operate. When you try to convince them that being in pain is bad for you, they will feel as if you’re robbing them of a ground to stand on. And they might get angry at you.
The following example is related to episode 19, titled “Let it be known that I do not object to the machine overlords.” In it, I declared that I have no problem whatsoever accepting machine translations and AI narrations as a tool.
As I said in that episode, one of the things I do is translate. Specifically, I frequently QC other people’s work. And thus, fortunately, I don’t do a lot of active typing. But of those people who do active typing—wow. In some cases, the amount of pain. Because, RSI, folks, RSI.
Sitting for long hours at a desk and typing away for most of the day is not a safe job. In fact, it is a very dangerous job. And by now, in the year 2023, unlike in 1994 when the book “Repetitive Strain Injury: A Computer User’s Guide” came out, you’d think that everyone would be aware of the dangers of typing too long and sitting too long.
And indeed, at least in the cases I have witnessed, they are aware. But, you see, they… also… aren’t aware.
They know, but don’t know.
You know? They know but they won’t do anything with that knowledge anyway, so it’s basically the same thing as them not knowing.
The scary thing in life is that awareness alone doesn’t do much, to the point that some folks might be inclined to debate whether that can be called awareness at all.
Anyway, this refusal to use awareness to better one’s quality of life does not occur purely for survival reasons. You know, people do need to make money, so, doing painful work might not be avoidable. However, I’m saying, in many cases, it’s not due to that need for survival that people deal with pain.
Because, look. Many translators work from home. There doesn’t need to be a shared office in the case of translation work. So, it is entirely possible for translators to get up every thirty minutes and stretch for five minutes. Granted, this will increase the length of the workday. If you do ten thirty-minute sessions, with nine five-minute breaks in between, that’s 300 plus 45 minutes, so 345 minutes. That’s 45 minutes longer than working 300 minutes straight.
However, those nine five-minute breaks would greatly reduce the pain of these translators. But they don’t do it.
You know why I know this, even though there is no office and I don’t even know what some of them look like? Like, I’ve never met them in person?
It’s because they brag about it!
Yes. This is what I have been building up to.
There are workers who brag about the pain they feel through their work. They will write you lengthy emails about the suffering they are going through, and expect you to say, “Wow, what a hard worker you are! A model worker! Amazing! Good job! Well done.”
This is really fascinating stuff, folks. Such emails are always two-sided because, first of all, for their suffering to be a big deal, the pain has to be bad bad oh, so bad. Oh, stupid me, they say. Stupid me, so incompetent, gosh, I wish I could work more. If I didn’t feel pain, I would work more, they say.
And but then, underneath that, like a thin veil, exists the part that makes no sense to me. That the reason they are telling me about their suffering, despite not knowing my face and supposedly claiming that they think suffering pain is bad, stupid, and incompetent, is that actually, deep down, they think pain is good. They think being in pain proves how hardworking they are. They think it is a symbol of their dedication. A medal.
It is just sad. Completely sad. This is the kind of narrative that I’m just… There were cases where I tried to convince people to take breaks. Not in reducing their workload—because, I don’t know if they need the money or not—but by adding breaks. But no. They will not. They don’t want the bad stupid incompetent pain to go away. They need the pain. It is such a part of their self-image that they cannot exist without it.
It is scary folks. So scary. And even scarier, this is part of the mainstream narrative.
And you might say, “No way this is mainstream.”
And I would say, “Think again.”
One of the phrases that I abhor is “No pain, no gain.” This statement is simply wrong at the fundamental level.
Is it possible that pain accompanies gain, or that gain accompanies pain? Oh, sure.
But… if there is no pain, is there truly no gain? No. No no no no no no. Not true.
That is why that statement, “No pain, no gain” is so sickening.
And if you say that nobody could possibly take that statement literally, well then, I am glad for you. I am glad that you won’t be one of the people who attach so much glorified meaning to pain that you identify yourself with pain and then, without pain, you start hating yourself. I am truly glad that you don’t take “No pain, no gain” literally.
But plenty of people do. And I fear that sometimes, they don’t even know that they do.
See, these are the types of statements that I can question because I don’t question 99% of the things in life. I mostly eat the same things, I mostly wear the same things day in day out, I have the same workout routine that I cycle through, and so on and so forth. But give me bullshit like “No pain, no gain,” and immediately I sit there and think, “That’s wrong.”
It is wrong. There can be gains without pain. It is such limited thinking to require pain for gain.
Pain might be an inevitable part of our lives. But pain is, on its own, utterly meaningless beyond the fact that the word means pain.
What gives pain meaning is our own narratives. What makes pain bad stupid incompetent and also courageous worthy noble—and thereby good—is us.
Pain is not necessary. Pain isn’t even unnecessary.
Pain doesn’t have any such attributes. It is just a word that describes certain phenomena, but those phenomena don’t have inherent meaning. When a child falls while it runs, there is no inherent meaning to that. It’s not necessarily because the child was stupid, and it’s not necessarily because the child was a motivated child. The fall, and the pain from the fall… just is. That is all. Of course, the child is free to form narratives around the fall, but hopefully, truly, hopefully, it is not one that tells it to keep falling intentionally because feeling pain by falling is a noble endeavor.
Pain… exists. It just does its existing, like… a smile. Is a smile good or bad? It is neither. You can smile because… I don’t know, your lover gave you a bouquet of wildflowers. But also, you know when I will smile? The day Meta dies. I think that will be a somewhat evil smile. But it will be a deeply heartfelt smile. Oh, I will smile so much that day. I will drink wine and start a barbecue or something.
Pain is like a smile. Maybe there is good pain. Maybe some pain you go through for specific purposes is really good. I don’t know. But in that case, what makes it good is the specific purpose, not the pain itself.
We must never associate the core of us with the existence of pain. If we do that, it really becomes “No pain, no gain.” Meaning, the version of us that isn’t in pain will seem worthless to us, because only through pain, we can gain something. And this is completely, one hundred percent, purely the result of a narrative. This is not like the law of gravity. This is pure fiction, and not the entertaining kind.
Humans live in their own fictional worlds. I do use the term “reality” for practical convenience’s sake, but at the deepest level, what is happening is that there are different versions of reality, and many aspects of them overlap, so that it looks like those overlapping parts form a concrete reality.
I’m saying, this idea of “No pain, no gain”—in other words, this idea that pain is necessary for worth—is utter fiction.
Even though it is possible for there to exist pain that is “good” in some way, to tie one’s worth to the existence of pain is bad. Yes. I would say it’s bad. It’s one of the narratives where I’m just… I have given up by now to convince individuals to stop adopting such a narrative, but I will still talk about it on a podcast, the way I am doing now, because I think it is a really harmful narrative.
I’ve seen people brag about their headaches, their neck pain, their back pain—it is mad shit crazy.
They go to doctors, too, you know. These translators, some of them live in countries where they can go to actual hospitals, not just doctor’s offices, to get tested and get treated and all that. So, habitually, they go to the hospital due to their pain from work. Then they email me and talk about how they had to get an IV drip the other day because they were so overworked. They say this with such pride. I’m serious. This happens. It is scary. The first few times I tried to console them, comfort them, you know, I said, “Wow, I hope it never happens again.”
But then it happens again. Again. And again.
They want this. They need this pain.
I hope none of you listening to this is in this same situation, and if you are, hopefully you can see how ridiculous this narrative of pain attachment is.
We have to remember.
Pain might be an inevitable part of our lives. But pain is, on its own, utterly meaningless beyond the fact that the word means pain.
By all means, attach narratives that help you digest whatever pain that exists or used to exist in your life. But please, please do not glorify pain. I think—and I know that this might just be my own narrative talking here—but still, I think, if you do that, if you repeatedly glorify pain, it will never leave you.
That which you glorify will stay with you. Do not glorify that which you do not truly desire.
It is one thing to hate something or dislike something and still being unable to leave it behind. You know, it might not be easy to leave painful situations. Leaving behind isn’t necessarily as easy as waking up from a nightmare because the sun rises.
But even when we must stay in a nightmare for a while, we cannot fall in love with the nightmare. It just might lead to us never leaving the nightmare.
Keep the nightmare as the nightmare. It can do its own existing without the attachment of meaning. But if leaving the space of meaning as a void is too difficult, then attach a narrative of suffering and accept it as suffering. Fully accept it.
Then, when the opportunity arises to leave the nightmare, we can wake up without feeling as if we lost something by leaving it behind. I mean, wouldn’t it be tragic to wake up from a nightmare and miss it, because we told ourselves that we needed to stay in the nightmare to be courageous, worthy, and noble—good?
It is the new year. It is the year 2023. Let us stop attaching unnecessary meanings to that which we do not want. And if that is too difficult, let us at least accept it as what it is—as the thing that we want to leave behind. Nothing more, nothing less. Let us stop glorifying what we want to leave behind as something that we need in order to keep on existing as us, and in order to keep continuing our narratives.
So, we must adjust our desk setup. Pick the right chair, desk, keyboard, and mouse. And when the situation is such that it isn’t possible to pick them yourself, then consider using books to adjust the height of various gear. I do this all the time, because, apparently most office furniture is designed for people who’re 170cm-ish tall. So, basically everyone who is taller or shorter is likelier to get RSI. At the time of this recording, I am 158cm. I actually grew about 2cm in the past month or so. It’s interesting. I have always been using books or other objects as a footrest. Books are so useful in that regard.
But. Hey. What if I keep growing? I might not need footrests anymore. That’ll be a much more convenient life.
Anyway. Yeah. 2023. Forget “No pain, no gain.” Or even “No gain, no pain.” Just think, “Gain.” Maybe there will be pain, maybe not. Maybe it will come before or after the gain. I don’t know. But oh, definitely, there can be gain without pain.
I wish you all a year that is as pain-free as possible, and full of gains.
- “Repetitive Strain Injury: A Computer User’s Guide” by Emil Pascarelli and Deborah Quilter: https://www.amazon.com/Repetitive-Strain-Injury-Computer-Users/dp/0471595330
- Episode 18, “Freeze-blue glaciers for your burning-hot wound.”: https://sponge.ithakaonmymind.com/audio/018-freeze-blue-glaciers-for-your-burning-hot-wound/
- Episode 19, “Let it be known that I do not object to the machine overlords.”: https://sponge.ithakaonmymind.com/audio/019-let-it-be-known-that-i-do-not-object-to-the-machine-overlords/
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