functional philosophy, musings

You’re a Freak (And Your Friends Don’t Like You.)

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(Warning: mature language and content)

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that the world is full of freaks. A lot of us are half way to developing agoraphobia in an effort to avoid interacting with one of them.  Actually, I would argue, that with a few exceptions, the level of normalcy demonstrate by most individuals is rather astounding.  I know, I know, you’ve seen them out there, gun toting crossdressers swinging from ropes made of dildos (well, maybe not THAT crazy.) But take a good hard look at yourself, and then try to claim that you don’t have some traits enveloped within your own psyche bordering on unadulterated insanity.

We spend a lot of our lives pretending to be acceptable excuses for human beings, usually at work, or in the first few months of a relationship before we get too comfortable and blow everything up.  To pull off this subterfuge effectively, we dedicate far more time than we realize to filtering all of our unacceptable desires, urges, and preferences out of the garbage bin that contains our ‘true selves.’ These efforts separate church and state in a sense, and are the reason most of us are able to refrain from displays of public masturbation.

So maybe I was wrong to suggest that the freak population of the world is dwindling- it seems that each of our births gave rise to one more freak wandering the planet .  The fact that people can manage this reality, and maintain amicable, often durable social relationships, is truly a miracle.  Now let me lecture you on the two primary mechanisms that allow this miracle to flourish.  

The first mechanism operates by diverting the thoughts that appear in our minds down two different paths.  One path leads to our vocal chords where these thoughts are turned into speech before spilling out of our sultry lips.  This second path is reserved for thoughts that would shatter another’s person’s world were they ever to be spoken out loud, or at the very least reveal how bat-shit crazy we truly are.  These thoughts end up getting buried very, very deep in the backyard of our consciousness. Back before sentience evolved in our giant craniums, this wouldn’t have been possible.  When a dog gets an idea, say to hump your leg, then a change of pants is in your future.  If you do this as a human, you swiftly become a social pariah of Harvey Weinstein proportions.  

The second mechanism within us is a large part of the reason we’re so fucking cruel and unaccepting of one another.  Each society develops an unofficial checklist of activities, speech, dress  — essentially every medium that a person can choose to express themselves through– that dictates what is acceptable within these mediums and what isn’t.  Instilled within each of us is a desire to viciously eradicate in others any display of behavior that deviates from this checklist.  In the not so distant past, mobs of inbred morons achieved this with a tree and a noose.  Today, however, we’ve become so damn civilized (Did I make you laugh?) that we usually try to achieve these same ends via verbal torment and ridicule.

The harsh, cringe-worthy, reality is that at base level, a modicum of this behavior serves as the glue that holds society together. Without some basic rules to guide social behavior, things would quickly fall apart.  Ever been on a first date where you flailed desperately just to find something in common with the other person to break the silence? Of course you do- it was the worst hour you ever spent at Applebee’s.  If all of society failed to find this common ground, civilization would quickly deteriorate, and a modern dystopia spring up in its place.  Not the sexy “I, Robot” type either, but the filthy, cannibals-stranded-in-the-desert type scenario that Mel Gibson has to envision to get an erection. 

 These basic instincts that allow socialization on a mass scale are the same instincts causing you to feel so shamefully uncomfortable in your own skin.  Individuality has been systematically beaten out of you in an attempt to reshape you into a Jenga piece, whittled to fit seamlessly into the tower we call ‘culture’.  But the process isn’t quite so simple.

A person’s inherent nature cannot be fundamentally altered through any degree of ridicule; it is a gift and a burden to be carried from conception to death (except in the event of a lobotomy, of course.) You can, however, condition a person to become adept at suppressing their true nature.   Even social justice warriors, who so selflessly dedicate their lives to fighting back against the evils of categories and labeling, make categories of their own to fill the void.  Gender, politics, religious beliefs, we all have particular ideals we subscribe to, and we know very precisely what behaviors are and are not accepted among individuals sharing these ideals.  If we have a desire that does not adhere to these ideals, we swiftly move to conceal it.  

By the time adolescence appears in the rearview, we have moved far beyond the skill of censoring our urges, coming to condemn and even vilify our true identity.  Our own individuality begins to be treated as a metaphorical herpes outbreak, with flair ups of idiosyncrasy being quickly forced down into our subconscious.  Now, a few uniquely abhorrent desires might serve well to be buried (such as bathing in the blood of a newborn.)  On the other hand, the gross majority of activities that we forego due to our own inhibitions are either harmless, or beneficial in nature, and preventing the fulfillment that would stem from these activities is very harmful to our mental health. Much of the anxiety and stress we attribute to external factors is actually much more deeply rooted in these penitent exercises in self-suppression.  

For many of us, this isn’t a complete revelation.  The most inhibited among us understand, at the very least, that happiness would be easier to attain if we ceased to be affected by other’s judgments.  Freaks who take pride in their true nature have at least one friend in any room they enter in their own countenance. For the rest of us, indulging our self-conscious urges does not leave us invulnerable to external criticism, while simultaneously offending our true nature, who now refuses to text us because we only answer when we’re drunk.   

Social condemnation hurts more than having to urinate with an erection (take my word for it girls, its no picnic).  By the mere virtue of individuality, expression your own true nature will materialize different from everyone else’s.  So far we’ve only discussed the personality in terms of desires and courted behavior.  Yet personality is just as encompassing of traits and behaviors that we expressly dislike, ranging in flavor from mild aversion to spicy hatred.  

I’m talking to you here millennials: don’t think your perception of yourself as some open-minded, non-discriminating, all organic progressive places you above casting judgments. Just as societies develop a checklist of acceptable behaviors, this same process occurs on an individual level.   In a loose sense (rest assured that a ‘your mom’ joke was removed from this sentence in the final edit), society’s concept of acceptable behavior operates on an average of the checklists of each of its constituent members.  You will never be exempt from judgment, and never cease to judge, and that doesn’t make you small-minded. Overwriting this part of our biology is just as inconceivable as overcoming our need to breath.  But, if you don’t like my writing style, feel free to try both, starting with the second option. 

Where the hell do we go from here?  The best thing we can do for ourselves is to try to prevent our own inborn judgments from hindering another’s ability to express their true nature.  You don’t have to like the guy that wears a cross necklace to complement his aesthetic when he’s not even religious; in fact, I encourage you not to.  But don’t roll your eyes so hard they point back towards your tiny brain, or stare so long you get mistaken for being in the midst of a catatonic episode. 

We don’t have the bloodiest idea of how the thought processes of other human beings unfold, so we assume they function in a congruent fashion with our own.  People who look at others in a generally positive light feel, overall, like people view them in a positive light, and vice versa. And of course, the same thing goes for assholes.  Altering our own perceptions is the best way to foster optimism involving our own notions of how others perceive us. 

As a human, you are a living, breathing form of art.  (Don’t feel special, I’m feeding that same line to everyone else reading this.)  The difference is, however, if a musician comes down from an acid trip and realizes his latest masterpiece is the auditory embodiment of a scrotum, he can just roll the sheet music into a joint.  That same luxury is not afforded to us.  From our first breath, we are broadcast on national radio and all the world is invited to tune in.

When you suppress your desires in the name of normalcy, you become coffee shop music. Tolerated, lightly impressionable, but never deliberately sought out.  Many people fashion themselves a commodity because others seek their attention or affection.  This leads them to reason that they must have something wonderful to offer.  I never meant to make you cry, but the majority of your social acquaintances could be little more than ‘fair-weather friends’.  

Humans have an intense need for socialization, even pasty-skinned introverts like me, and if they lack access to a kindred spirit to share time with, they might fancy you the most convenient person to fill that void.  Ironically, it could be your selective muffling of the stranger desires within you that makes you so.. tolerable.  But is that really the kind of person you want to waste precious time on, even as every moment of life draws us inexorably closer to death?  

Beating this music analogy to death, art is subjective, and the very same reasons that I cite for considering hip-hop absolute trash, are the same reasons that people lacking my refinement waste all their trunk space of sub-woofers.  If absolutely no one can find a reason to take issue with you, then nearly everyone is struggling to find a strong reason to hold you in high esteem.  We, as a species, can handle negative judgments if we have someone that truly loves us to glue the pieces of our self-esteem back together afterwards, but we drown in loneliness when we swim in a sea composed purely of these ‘fairweather friends’.

It’s a daunting task to engage in any activity that you believe may result in criticism, but you can take solace in the fact that judgment shines like a light- in every direction. If some asshole indulges his biological programming to attack any individuality he sees manifested in you, this same unwillingness to combat his biology is wreaking havoc behind the scenes of the disguise he’s tailored for himself.  Internal suppression of desires is often the culprit when some dude dies from a massive coronary in his 40’s, and everyone goes “Oh my GOD! He was so young.”  Maybe, but his true nature was attempting to gnaw its way out of the facade he was building for the last 40 years, and it was only a matter of time until it finally succeeded.  

An insult, especially of the ‘sick burn bro’ variety, can fester for a few days, and the blisters can sometimes take years to dissipate entirely.  But living a life void of the sincere pursuit of fulfillment, a life trapped within the naivety of a faulty perception forced upon you by society, results in a pathology affecting the rest of your sad little life.  

In the words of the revered prophet, his esteemed holiness, slim shady: “…you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, cuz opportunity knocks, once in a lifetime.” Engage in activities that will make you look silly, wear things that will get you pointed and stared at; be the freak you really are.  The friends that judge you don’t appreciate the real you anyway, and the friends gained from engaging in true expression of self will be the ones truly needed to conquer the insecurity, fear, and doubt that are currently working to inhibit your pursuit of happiness.  

Let that freak flag fly girllllll.

functional philosophy, musings

An Unfortunate Creature

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Anyone seduced by the temptation to waste a night on wikipedia can testify to how easily this can happen. In this diverse landscape, pop-culture nonsense and dissertations on quantum mechanics co-exist, living only three clicks apart. Wading into the website’s infinite wisdom at this former end of the spectrum, I was quickly lured out of my cognitive depth towards the latter. While efforts to comprehend subjects such as quantum superposition quickly became futile, it was here that I discovered the thought experiment meant to help scientists comprehend this subject, referred to as “Schroedinger’s Cats”.
Thinking about this experiment, while failing to transform me into a physicist, did provide me with a valuable insight into the inner-workings of select processes involved in human socialization. To explain these insights, I’ve devised a strikingly similar, albeit highly simplified, thought experiment of my own. Instead of Schroedinger’s cats, I have somewhat cynically named this experiment ‘Unfortunate’s Creatures.’ (Because who thinks about locking a cat in a box anyway? C’mon.)
Let’s suppose that some creature, pick something fun if you wish, is placed in a soundproof, inescapable trunk, and the lid is then firmly closed. At some indeterminable point in the future, this creature is certainly going to die, yet we have no way of knowing precisely when this will happen. The creature’s existence is suddenly engulfed in a paradox, a concept most of us are familiar with. A living creature can only exist in one of two static states- living or dead. In the moments immediately proceeding the lid closing on this unfortunate creature, however, in a sense the creature exists in two states simultaneously. Lack of oxygen and sustenance has not yet become a considerable problem for the creature, yet we know its ultimate fate is sealed. Therefore, in our minds, at any given moment, the creature occupies the states of both living and dead concurrently.
The perceptions we hold about other people, which radically influence our behaviors toward them, and the perceptions that others hold regarding us, exist in the same state as ‘Unfortunate’s Creature.’ Our fundamental inability to experience the mental states of another human being directly make it impossible to know what is occurring in the trunk of their psyche. This results in a situation where we are constantly trying to infer other’s feelings towards us from their behavior, which is far too imprecise an experiment to yield any dependable results.
An unfathomable amount of pressures are exerting themselves upon even the most blessed among us at any given time. Poor behavior aimed in our direction is no guarantee that we were the stimulus to provoke this acrimony. As humans we rely heavily on preconceptions to inform our evaluations, but when it comes to social interaction, we tend to underestimate the subjectivity of our preconceptions. Considerable character flaws can often be overlooked in an individual who we believe to hold us in high esteem, and noble traits can likewise be discredited in someone who names us the subject of derision.
This phenomena is much the product of an ego that insists reciprocated action is the best way to safeguard our self-esteem from unrequited affection. Like many practices prompted by the ego, this one grossly overestimates our own importance in shaping other’s thought processes. We meet so many different people over the course of a lifetime, we quickly give up on evaluating them on a case by case basis, and instead begin lumping individuals into categories. In practice, another’s treatment of us is determined primarily by how prior life experiences have conditioned them to deal with ‘people like us.’ The ego can’t stand being degraded by such impersonal evaluations, but in reality it’s quite silly to treat someone poorly on the basis of symptoms suggesting such a tragically narrow view of the world.
Even if we possess the wisdom to realize the injustice inherent in generalization, our determinations are still bound to suffer from such fallacious thinking. Life is simply too overwhelming to allow the luxury of giving each person the respect they likely deserve. While another party is subject to the internal machinations of the ego that whirl about in any social situation, we are too, and each party is responding to the other’s outward behavior as influenced by these processes. Customarily the origin of strained relationships leads to the displacement of blame– “They didn’t like us first.” Objective thinking, however, allows us to ascertain the truth that this cycle may have been initiated by either party’s response to a lifetime of prior conditioning, or an infinite variety of other factors presently weighing on either party’s mind.
Escaping this cycle in contingent upon acknowledging this paradox, and choosing to believe ‘Unfortunate’s’ Creature’ is still alive in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. Ultimately, this thought experiment suggests that if we want someone to like us, and don’t be fooled- even the most anthropic among us desire affection and adoration- then we must operate on the assumption that they already do. If we deviate from this assumption, our pesky ego will insist that our behavior towards the other party deviate accordingly. This makes it impossible for us to discern whether their dislike of us is predicated upon some external factor, or simply being perpetuated by our own reaction to a perceived distaste for our character.
Granting respect to an individual who sees us in a negative light inevitably gives rise to uncomfortable feelings. Engrained within human nature is a morality lying somewhere between ‘The Golden Rule’ and ‘Hammurabi’s code’. Life’s trials generally draw our behavior towards the latter, which results in limited comprehension of the paradoxical nature of socialization. As a result, we are only capable of imagining ‘Unfortunate’s Creature’ to be alive or dead, when these states simultaneously manifest as soon as the lid is closed (a metaphor for first becoming a member of another person’s narrative, and vice versa.)
The decision must be made to eliminate cynicism from our social interactions, and either assume we are liked by all, or refuse to allow our treatment of others to be affected by perceived irreverence. If, in fact, our idealism proves ineffectual, at least we can take solace in the fact that if ‘Unfortunate’s Creature’ is dead, we weren’t the bastard that locked the trunk.