2/25/10

Does everything happen for a reason?



Left: Is there any reason for this?

The belief that everything happens for a reason is popular because it meliorates pain, loss and misery in life by asserting that that which is bad is not gratuitous but necessary, unavoidable, and will - ultimately - be for the best possible good, if not for us immediately, then in terms of the big scheme of things.

But the first problem with the belief that "everything happens for a reason" is that reason is always ascertained retrospectively after a phenomenon has already occurred. The fact that something happened is considered to be "proof" that it had to happen. This is not only shoddy logic which inverts laws of causation so that cause follows from effect rather than vice versa, this is also basically a useless belief, because it can never tell us anything new, expand our knowledge of ourselves or the world, or even prove that the proposition that "everything happens for a reason" is reasonably true. It's the question of whether we can ever know the truth of a Kantian synthetic-a priori proposition that neither follows from a posteriori sensory experience, nor offers a predicate that is contained in the subject ("reason" isn't necessarily implied by "happening" or vice versa). But how could that ever be the basis for knowledge?

Let's take the deterministic stance and assume that it were possible to know that "everything happens for a reason". If reason is that which is logically consistent to the mind, then we could somehow interpret circumstances to correctly predict what should reasonably and rationally follow from them (by finding causes from effects and then using those inverted causational patterns to correctly predict new causes and effects), and we could then say that everything does indeed happen for a reason. Not only would this enhance the quality of our lives and improve our knowledge and understanding of life, existence and the universe, but it would actually prove the proposition itself that things happen for a reason. But this could only happen if the proposition became instead an analytic-a posteriori proposition in which the proposition is both observable and evident in the universe and also that the predicate justified the subject. But as far as we know, this is not possible (* read footnote on why). Instead we're left with the paradox of having to believe in the inherent reason of the universe, which is ridiculous, because reason is something apparent and clear to the mind, since it must by definition be logical. If its truth cannot be ascertained logically but only through mere belief, then it's no longer reason. It's basically just a watered down version of religious belief and remains a synthetic-a priori proposition that is impossible to prove (and is thus actually useless for knowledge, contrary to what Kant might say).(**)

Many of us mistake cause for reason and use these terms interchangeably. As far as we know (or can know), everything is the effect of a cause. That which exists is the effect of accumulated causes and those effects themselves become causes for later effects, and so on. This we know - or rather, what we know can only be known by this (because we don't know if there may or may not be things in the universe that may exist without ascertainable causes, as in, perhaps, a quantum universe or in black holes or other things we don't really understand). But to say something doesn't just have a cause but a reason to its existence is to say that there is a meaning and a purpose and even perhaps an aspect of universal consciousness (some god-type thing) to all causes so that they not only produce effects, but produce effects that must exist, effects that are indispensable for the overall picture, effects which therefore must be good because their existence is dictated by reason. In other words, to believe in reason is to believe that all things happen according to a kind of teleological script in which - for mysterious reasons beyond our knowledge - everything has a purpose so as to help bring about a denouement to that teleology. The key word here is "for". To say everything happens "from" or "as a result of" a reason is virtually the same as saying it results from certain causes. That's fine. But to say things happen "for" a reason means that that which has happened must have happened because its existence is dictated by reason and must therefore be the cause of future effects that also must exist. In short, you must believe that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and that all that happens must ultimately be good, because it all follows a reasoned script.

But then we're left with an absurd situation in which the most unconscionable crimes of history, like the Holocaust, must have happened because they happened for a reason. If it had never happened, then that reason behind it would never have been satisfied. An essential piece of the universe's ultimate purpose would never have been in place and therefore if no Holocaust had happened, this would've been a bad thing. So the Holocaust had to happen, because that which has reason cannot not exist, since it's part of the overall mysterious way of things. Therefore, if you believe that everything happens for a reason, then you believe that it's good that the Holocaust happened. And slavery. And Hiroshima. And Pol Pot.

After all, if everything happens for a reason, reason must be good, since we cannot believe that that which necessitates the existence of all things could be bad, because all that exists - including ourselves and our precious little lives - is born from it and is a part of it. Therefore life cannot be bad, considering how valuable it is to us and how much we cherish it. It's all we know, it's all we are, therefore it's all that is of value to us. Even that which we consider bad is defined by all that is antithetical to life and existence (what we define as bad is that which leads to death or pain, which is basically a step toward death). Therefore existence is good ipso facto. So then if reason is thus necessarily perceived as good, this brings up the question of whether unspeakable bad can form a part of the good (and a pretty hefty chunk of it at that)? Can there be reasonable acts of violence, oppression, torture, pain, suffering, misery, death, destruction, injustice, malice and evil? What is this edifice of reason built upon? If that which is good can harbor so much bad, then that which we consider bad mustn't be bad in essence, since it all serves the good. But then that means I shouldn't consider Hitler or the Holocaust bad. And yet I do. This leads to moral nihilism by which everything is equally good or equally worthless (which means all that you cherish, the love of and for your family, the importance and value of your life, your belief that everything happens for a reason, etc., is also worthless). So ultimately, the idea that everything happens for a reason - and the idea that there is an inherent moral value of "good" or "bad" in the universe - seems in fact unreasonable.

Why do so many of us then have difficulty accepting that things may not happen for any reason whatsoever, that there may well be no purpose or meaning to any and all actions, and that all phenomena are random, coincidental, gratuitous? It's basically just a new form of the age-old Fate vs. Free Will debate. Belief in fate absolves you of responsibility for your actions, and all actions. It gives you the comfort of believing you live in the best of all possible worlds, and it instills an optimism toward life in the belief that everything - including all the bad things - are ensuring life and the universe improve in steady increments as everything nears closer and closer to its teleologically perfect end state. Because, ultimately, a belief that everything happens for a reason is a belief that there is one great reasonable state toward which everything progresses and at which all the icky stuff will have long ended and fulfilled their part in the playing out of a reasonable universe which supposedly needs the Archduke Ferdinand to be shot, that film you watched last night to be made, and those icebergs in the Bering Sea to float at a southwesterly direction at a rate of 6 nautical miles on Tuesday morning.

Furthermore, fatalistic belief not only reassures you that the mistakes you made were unavoidable, that you had no choice in the matter, but it also expiates monstrous deeds and absolves the criminal of his or her crimes. Maybe you feel comforted that whether you think you should have taken that job offer or not, you ultimately had no choice in the matter, and it happened for a reason, and so it was good you didn't take it because that's precisely what had to happen because some other good will come of it instead, therefore you can let your mind and conscience be at ease; but that comfort turns sour when you apply the same principle to Josef Mengele. What good could you believe would possibly eventually come from systematically blinding, torturing, mutilating and crippling children through some of the most monstrous experiments ever committed? You wonder then who wrote this reasoned script and whether it has any merit worth dedicating belief to, let alone respect.

Beyond philosophy, quantum physicists already seem to have found that a reasonable structure to things is not possible - or at least not within the grasp of our knowing. Take the slit experiment that shows how light quanta act paradoxically like both particles and waves (so that a photon seems to occupy more than one space at the same time, something for which we don't even have the linguistic tools to express or understand), or Schrodinger's Cat (alive and dead at the same time until the box is opened and a witness enters into the experiment, demonstrating that there is possibly an infinite number of parallel universes that we can never see), or Heisenberg's uncertainty principle (you can only know either the position or the velocity of an elementary particle like an electron at any one time, never both, indicating that we can never know exactly how the elemental building blocks of the universe do, did and will act). There are things that seem they can never be known, factors that can never be detected, and therefore a reasoned and rational complete model of the universe that can never be attained.

So instead, we'll continue to believe in the morally repugnant and logically shoddy belief that everything happens for a reason, so as to satisfy our selfish complexes, mollify our regrets, ameliorate our insecurities, and decorate our ignorance.

Is it more reasonable then to believe the universe is random? Chaotic? A result of chance? And if the universe is random, then does this make Free Will possible? Can there be any moral framework to such a universe? Would such a universe mean that we would be savage animals all lustfully pursuing our own selfish interests - as religious people and other fatalists believe? This topic will be next.



* Let's assume that everything does happen for a reason. So if a lizard ran out from under a rock to catch a beetle and was then pounced on and eaten by a bird of prey, this wouldn't just be a case of cause (sighting of beetle), effect (running out from safety of rock to hunt it) which then becomes the cause of another effect (bird of prey swooping down for the kill). This scenario would instead be: beetle must be seen by lizard which then must come out from under the rock so the bird of prey must eat it because the phenomenon of the bird of prey eating the lizard happens "for" something else that must happen (as dictated by reason). If we were to believe this then we end up with a kind of Zenoan paradox so that every single factor must have yet more countless numbers of preceding causational factors dictated by reason, and each one of those factors must have yet more factors that multiply exponentially with every step back. And then every step back must have another intermediary step in between those steps and then other intermediary steps between those intermediary steps ad infinitum so that if the universe were dictated by reason, knowledge of that reason would be impossible because it would forever bring up more reasons behind those reasons and so on all the way down to the levels of how the rain that fell on Manila in 1683 and the envelope that was opened by Tsar Nicholas II in 1897 and the comet that passed by in 13,000 B.C. all had an effect on not just the lizard and the beetle and the bird (and everything else in between the lizard beetle and bird - the sunlight, the shadow, the bacteria, the air, the wind, the position and movement of every grain of sand, etc.), but on everything else as well, all the way down to each and every cell and molecule and atom and even all the elementary particles like quarks and leptons (to which Heisenberg's uncertainty principle applies) involved in how everything at any given nanosecond plays out, all of which is beyond knowledge (as far as we know). So the entire history of the universe - everything that ever happened down to a virtually infinite regression of factors and events - should have culminated perfectly in the lizard being eaten by the bird of prey at that particular locus in space and time and that particular locus with the beetle and lizard and bird interacting perfectly with everything else in the universe at that time. But then the same Zenoan paradox comes up in relation to time: how do you measure the exact time of an occurrence down to the seconds and milliseconds and nanoseconds etc.? What is that moment, and how can you establish any one instance in which everything/something happens at once? Furthermore, don't the laws of relativity tell us that our perception of time is relative to the speed of light, and that what one person sees differs from the other, depending on their speed and position and movement at that particular "moment"? So a "now" of mine might not necessarily be your "now" and what you see may be totally different from what I see at any given point. This might not be too significant a factor at low speeds at which a lizard and a beetle and a bird move (even though it is still a factor, albeit minuscule), but it is a huge factor when dealing with massive (cosmological) and minute (quantum) phenomena. In short, there would be no mind or supercomputer powerful enough to ever figure out all of the variables involved, because they would be virtually infinite and any polynomial equation would take virtually an infinite amount of time to figure it all out. Add to all this the uncertainty principle of Heisenberg, which makes knowing the position and velocity of an elementary particle literally impossible. And if you can't figure those most fundamental factors (like the path and behavior of leptons etc.), then knowing whether everything abides by reason is impossible as well.

** But the elenctic inversion of this argument could also be applied to maintain the truth of the proposition that "everything happens for a reason" by inductively claiming that because all factors haven't yet been discovered, the truth of this proposition is not disproved but only (and eternally) delayed until it is proven by the discovery of all the factors at some distant hypothetical moment in time! It's like saying that until you can disprove the universe exists in the belly of a giant pink unicorn, the universe could conceivably still exist in the belly of a giant pink unicorn. This logical loophole (born of the fact that our knowledge is incomplete) is essentially where all religious belief exists.

2/21/10

Rules of Conversation



We need to establish some ground rules for conversation because people are getting away with murder out there. Here are some basics to abide by.

- The conversation should start with a smile and end with a smile. But it has to be a real smile, the kind where your eyes smile along with your mouth, not one of those insincere condescending fake upside down grimaces.

- You don't have to look at me when you're talking, you only have to look at me when I'm talking.

- Even if you're only pretending to listen to me, please at least nod from time to time when I'm talking. I know you're probably only thinking about what you're going to say when it's your turn to speak, but if you want me to act like I'm listening to you when it's your turn, then you have to act like you're listening to me too.

- Also please just ask me a question or two every now and then so it seems like you care. Then you can go on talking about all the tedious shit in your life that I don't care about either.

- Don't talk about your pet unless you're talking to someone who has the same kind of pet. If you have a dog, and you love your dog and want to tell me about how your dog did the cutest thing the other day, then don't, because I don't have a dog.

- Same thing goes for babies.

- Talking about tits, what you ate, or things we've watched on screens of various sizes recently, is not fit for conversation. It's only fit to be filler for commercial breaks.

- Talking about the weather with someone in the same age range as you is forbidden, unless your life might in any way be threatened by the weather. Otherwise the weather can only be discussed with a grandparent and/or your girlfriend's dad, and even then only if the weather's either really bad or really good.

- Don't use me as a griping board to complain about every little thing that's not going well in your life. I'm not your mother.

- Guess what we're not going to base a conversation on? We're not going to base a conversation on your weight or mine. The conversation will not include how thin or fat you or I looked before, or how much thinner or how much fatter you or I look now. Nor will we speculate on how many kilos worth of more thin or more fat might possibly be estimated to have been lost or gained since last estimation. The only people who care about how they look or how other people look are people who don't have their priorities straight at all.

- You don't necessarily have to look straight into my eyes when we're conversing, just my face. Save the self-righteous Jesus stare for when you need to hypnotize your landlady.

- "How are you?" is not a cue for you to hog the conversation right off the bat and start talking on and on about all the intimate minutiae of your daily life. It's also not your cue to talk about how awesome and happy you are and how everything's going great, because that's just depressing to hear.

- Don't talk so loud. I can hear you, I'm right here.

- Talk up a bit, because no matter how normal you think your speaking volume is, I will never be able to hear you as well as you can hear yourself.

- If you're fidgety and restless then you shouldn't be having a conversation. You should be on a treadmill.

- Can you answer my question again without the sarcasm this time please? Thanks.

- The majority of the conversation should not be about what you do or what other people do, but what you think, see and know.

- Throwing in the odd non sequitur comment is good once or twice in a conversation. More than that can be a sign of derangement.

- Don't talk about things and how much they cost. Nobody wants to have a conversation with a shopping catalogue. Talk about ideas instead.

- If you have nothing better to talk about than the people sitting at the table next to us, then I'd rather try having a conversation with the people sitting at the table next to us.

- ", so..." is not the way to finish saying something, and neither is ", so, you know..." If you must, just say ", so... I'm done now, it's your turn to speak."

- Question: Guess who doesn't care about people who talk about themselves? Answer: People who have to listen to people who talk about themselves.

- Don't cut in when I'm talking. You'll know I'm done when I STOP TALKING.

- Oh hey, also, if you look at your fancy phone one more time I'm going to shove it up your nose.

- You will know that you're talking too much when I've stopped participating in the conversation and you're left basically just delivering a monologue. The fact that I'm still looking at you, nodding and agreeing with everything you say while I continue to quietly sip my drink is basically just my polite little way of saying OH MY GOD I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU'RE STILL TALKING.

- Don't say you were kidding. When you have to say you were kidding, it means you weren't kidding.

- Give a slight two-second pause after I'm done talking before segueing from there into your own story. That slight pause indicates that you have listened to me, processed what I have said, and that what I have said has brought to your mind a similar thought worth you talking about and me listening to.

- Follow the logical train of thought of the conversation. When you start jumping to totally different things at random with barely a tenuous link to what came before, that kills the conversation as surely as if it were gibberish and we're both left chasing the fleeing contrail of a blurry point lost in a cluttered maze of unnecessary words.

- If you have to ask me more than twice in a conversation whether I'm listening to you or not, then you've basically got your answer right there haven't you?

- Don't be politically correct. I'm not a magistrate.

- Ok sure, go ahead and tell a story... but not more than one, and only if it's very good, very funny, and short.

- Learn how to make fun of yourself, and admit to your own shortcomings when and where relevant. Conversing with people who take themselves too seriously is like listening to politicians trying to win your vote for how cool they think they are. If you can't talk about anything real or sincere then go away.

- Saying something unflattering about yourself relieves me of the task of having to do it for you, and relieves you of the nervous expectation of anything negative being said against you. This benefits us both by helping us relax.

- Don't smirk.

- Don't nitpick every word that comes out of my mouth. Pay attention instead to the overall tone and meaning of what I say. For example, if I say "Are you really a musician?" then that means I'm just asking whether you're a musician or not, so don't go for a smartassy cheapshot like "What do you mean really?" Just say yes or no, fuckface.

- If an awkward situation arises, do not try and skirt around it. The best way to get an elephant out of a room is to accept that it's there and point at it until it goes away. Make light of all awkward situations.

- Don't roll your fucking eyes. I'm right here and you're not invisible, so if you have a problem with something I said just say so instead of making judgmental faces to yourself like you live in an invisible bubble of your own smugness.

- If I am to know anything flattering and good about you, then I need to hear it from anyone but you. Don't spoil your good qualities with such a bad quality as talking about yourself. Let You speak for itself without you having to speak for it.

- Don't give me any bullshit about how you're enlightened, or have been freed of your ego. Saying something like that is the most self-absorbed and egocentric thing imaginable and induces instant dry heaving in anyone who has to hear it. Remember: you're a human being, you have an ego. If you didn't, you would probably die. Come to terms with it, accept it, make friends with it.

- No cliches please! Also, no quotes, no paraphrasing, and no memorized witticisms. If you have something to say, and you happen to be an adult, then you should be able to say it in your own words rather than sounding like an almanac.

- Don't jump to immediate conclusions and get all defensive over something I say. Give me the benefit of the doubt until you're sure I'm saying something not to your liking.

- Don't take anything personally. Assume you are above and beyond the reach of any and all words, opinions and prejudices concerning you. Keep your mind independent of your social being.

- Don't just talk about what you're talking about, but also what's going on as you're talking. Be conscious of your consciousness, and maintain a part of you that's observing what's happening even while another part of you is a part of what's happening. This brings an added, real-time layer to the conversation. For example, referring to the expression you just made when you said what you did, or how what you said sounded like crap, or how your voice sounded on a particular word, etc. It's nice to spontaneously mention impromptu things and make a topic of conversation out of them, because it keeps things fresh and fun. It also shows that you don't take the sound of your own voice too seriously.

- Don't get offended, get even. People who are offended retreat into a shell of indignation for protection and wish that that which offends would go away because they don't like it and it scares them. Instead, sally forth, draw your sword and lock into battle. Defeat what you don't like; don't just ask it to stop.

- If you think we should "catch up", then there's no point in catching up, because if we gave a shit about each other at all then we wouldn't need to catch up.

- Gossip is a suitable topic of conversation only after you've already exhausted a range of other more sophisticated topics such as a clever interchange of witty socio-cultural observations, a dialogue on a great film/book/building/concert/music/person etc., jointly pondering one or two philosophical problems, discussing an interesting episode or twist of history, sharing some heartfelt existential thoughts, and peppering all of that with some great humor, satire and irony, and also maybe even debating some issue involving your favorite sport. Only after you've already gone through all that can you talk about something as vulgar as people you know, even if the gossip is very juicy.

- Seriously, stop looking at your fucking phone.

- If you have nothing to say, don't just say nothing. Instead, say "I have nothing to say". That could in itself lead to an interesting, funny and sincere conversation about the irony of how you're both talking to someone you have nothing to say to. If it doesn't, then you can just say nothing and move on.

- Drink two, at most three, glasses of alcohol for the duration of the conversation. Same principle applies to coffee. More than that leads to senseless loquacity and eventually just the interchange of repetitive monologues of dubitable cogency. Less than that makes you use unnecessary big words like "loquacity", "dubitable" and "cogency" in the same sentence.

- Don't expect me to keep a secret. Why would I keep a secret if you can't keep a secret? The best way to keep something a secret is to just shut the fuck up and KEEP IT A SECRET.

- Don't ask me if I'd mind if you asked me a personal question if I don't know what the question is that you're about to ask me. How the fuck should I know if I mind or not? Ask me if I mind after you ask me the question.

- You don't have to declare that you're about to say something as if you were proclaiming an edict. Just say it.

- Ultimately, the measure of a good conversation is laughter. The more laughter, the better the conversation.

- The measure of a bad conversation is one in which you have to overtly say how much you both enjoyed it, like when you have to state out loud that it was "really good" or "you really connected" or "you had fun" as if you're trying to convince each other that it wasn't dull. The laughter is the bonding, everything else is fake fake fake.

To make sure these points are adhered to, we must also instigate qualifications for good conversationalism. People must be able to talk at a certain level. Maybe we could even have conversation classes in schools, or perhaps include them as part of a General Culture course. Then we could give conversationalists colored belts to wear in public indicating their level of conversational skill, like in Karate. Because really, conversation is what defines you in society. It's such an important aspect of our lives, who we are, and how we're perceived. To leave all that to chance means leaving good conversationalists at the mercy of bores, and that should be considered a crime because it can lead to such consequences as very interesting people choosing to abstain from any social interaction at all anymore. If only J.D. Salinger or Henry David Thoreau had enough good conversationalists around them, they might not have fled to the woods.

p.s. I'm kidding about the Karate belts. I think epaulets might be more practical.

2/3/10

Why do we go out?



(or "A Trip to the Bar with a Paranoid Recluse")

You're at home all cozy on your couch, just wearing shorts, eating your favorite comfort food, watching TV, surfing the net, reading a book, listening to your favorite music, or maybe just doing nothing at all... but then you decide to drag yourself up on your feet, apply some petroleum-based gel to your face so you can shave hair off with a steel blade, strip naked and douse yourself with water before applying a bar of chemical cleanser all over your body, wriggle and squeeze your way into restrictive clothing, suffocate your genitalia in a pair of underwear, bury your feet into two layers of stuffy damp foot containers, and then gratuitously waste exorbitant amounts of hard-earned money so you can be pressed into a tiny sweaty space with obnoxious music as you sip poisonous ethanol concoctions, suck on cancer sticks, and lose the entire following day to vomiting, sickness and remorse. Why?

Sex, of course. We know that people will pay any price, forsake any comfort, bear any annoyance just to have even a zero-point-two-percent shot at finding a partner to have sex with. We have to do it; our genes tell us to, our bodies are programmed to. We are walking digestive tracts and reproductive organs. Everything else is secondary. Our sensory organs are there to find food and sex, our feet are there to take us to food and sex, our hands are there to possess food and sex, our brains are there to figure out and coordinate how we will find, reach and possess food and sex.

Food is easy, because it involves one passive inanimate mass of nutritious organic energy, and one complex active conscious animate organism (people) to consume it. Sure, sometimes getting food is difficult--especially if you're very poor or just live in a bad place for it, like Africa or the Arctic--but it's mostly widely available and easily acquired. Even if you aren't fortunate enough to have access to an efficient system of food production and distribution that involves the acquisition of slaughtered beings in nice neat packages in return for money, food is still a straightforward deal. Even if you have to hunt for it, the roles are set in stone: food will try and run, you will try and catch it, then when you catch it you will gleefully tear its guts out and eat it without any moral compunction as your prey dies a horrible death that you could give two shits about because, well, you're hungry.

This is not the case with sex, because sex involves two complex active animate conscious organisms that are both full of equally complex feelings, emotions, insecurities and neuroses - not to mention strange bodily ailments ranging from bad breath to possibly anything from a limp to a lazy eye. These two problematic organisms then have to negotiate past all of these complications through clumsy and ridiculous rituals just on the off chance that it will all somehow lead to a shot at copulation. Sometimes these rituals take weeks, involving the provision of numerous expensive gifts, spending obscene amounts of money on elaborate eating ceremonies, wasting further time and money on awkward and insincere conversations over phone, food or long aimless walks, asking and answering an endless series of humiliating questions that are thinly veiled attempts to establish some kind of awkward compatibility or connection founded on trivial things like whether one prefers cats or dogs or whether one likes mustard or ketchup. And at the end of it all there is still no guarantee that you will have sex.

Sure, we might also go out to mingle or hone our social skills or have a laugh or do a little networking or just to blow off steam, but we will rarely sacrifice our comfort for any of those reasons unless there is also the chance--even the infinitesimal chance--of something sexual going on in some way. After all, you don't go to mingle/laugh/talk/network/relax just anywhere, you go to a place where there is music, alcohol and people of the opposite sex. This all goes to show just how strong our drive to have sex is, because nothing else could possibly stir us to such illogical and Herculean deeds as having to leave soft, warm, homey comfortland for horrible, competitive, bitchy outsideworld. Most of us would barely stir if somebody's life was in danger. In fact, most of us don't even stir when our own lives are in danger. Every day we subject ourselves to the deadly dangers of overeating, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and lack of exercise without doing a thing about it. But when sex is involved, we are capable of spending $49.99 on a bottle of stinky water with some pretentious French name to splash across our face and $34.95 on an overrated skin cream that we think will reduce wrinkles. And then we go out and spend the rest of our money and health standing around being bored most of the time just because there's the slightest possibility of maybe perhaps getting it on with someone other than ourselves for a change.

And so before you know it, there you are, up off your couch and drowsily getting ready to go to a bar or attend a social gathering for some strange reason conscious You doesn't comprehend, but unconscious genetic molecular You could write a 5000-page treatise on in double helix format.

Conscious You is perplexed. After all, there are a lot of things to consider and negotiate before you can even get anywhere near the point where you might meet a possible sexual partner. The effort starts before you leave the house, at the point where you've taken the decision to exit your wombnest. Who'll be there? Friends, frenemies, ex-girlfriends? You start picturing in your mind a roomful of imaginary people you would both ideally want to be there and also those you would dread to see there. Depending on which set of imaginary people have the numerical advantage in the imaginary room, you will decide to continue and carry out your plan to leave safeland or cease this silly and illogical plan once and for all and return to chez-You to continue playing Solitaire while eating Cheetos and watching South Park reruns.

Let's say the imaginary ideal friends and couple of hotties you had in your mind's eye were populous enough to spur you on, and you make it outside and find yourself at the bar. You are now confronted by the reality: not all the friends, hotties and frenemies you imagined would be there are there, but instead there's just a whole lot of people who didn't figure in your mind at all before you got there, and who are just generally oblivious to you. You imagined that everyone would be conscious of your presence, for better or for worse. But the reality is that the people there could generally give a pig's ass whether you're there or not. Strange, none of them ignored you in your head. In fact, you were the center of attention, if you remember correctly.

Still, you do find that there are some people there that you know. But do you know them well enough to go and say hi first without reintroducing yourself? You know you met that person once, maybe twice, but will they remember you? Is it conceited of you not to reintroduce yourself and assume they already know you? What if they don't remember you at all and it's just all awkward and they're wondering who the hell you are? Also, when and how do you go up and say hi? Should you wait for them to come to you, or should you do it? Should you do it as soon as you see them? But what if they're in a conversation? Do you interrupt the conversation to say hi? Do you also have to say hi to the other people in that group, even though you don't know them? Or do you ignore them and act like they're not there? Or do you just scrap that whole idea and wait for some other more convenient time to say hi, like when you pass in the hallway or at the bar or outside the toilet? But then will they think you snubbed them by not going up to them and saying hi right away before? If you put off the immediate greeting then will you be spending the rest of the night trying to say hi the moment you make first eye contact? What if they always avoid the eye contact thinking you snubbed them? If you greet them later, should you explain that you saw them before and noticed they were there and wanted to say hi but didn't because you didn't want to interrupt them? If you want to play it cool and safe and not go up and say hi to everyone, does that seem snobby and stuck up? Then again, if you go up right away as soon as you see someone and say hi, is that pushy and desperate? Also, do you actually say hi or just nod your head when you make eye contact? What if they're in a conversation and you make eye contact, then do you go up and interrupt to say hi anyway? If you miss the chance to say hello at the first instance, do you then ignore and avoid that person all night - if not for the rest of your life because it'll always be awkward after that since neither of you will be sure if the other person likes you or not? Which group of people do you go up to mingle with first? Once there, when do you break off and mingle with others? How soon should you get to everyone else? Is your fly undone? Are your clothes weird? Is your hair ok? Can they notice your zit? Maybe you should go straight to the toilet and lock yourself in a cubicle until you figure it all out.

But then you hit the perfect idea that will keep you looking normal: just go straight to the bar and buy a drink. That wins you time, and also gets you a nervous plaything to grab and suck on like a big baby's pacifier. Now you can walk around the room without feeling totally useless, naked and insecure, sucking away at your comforting beer teet as you plan your next move.

Let's say you do somehow manage to interact with someone else, how does the whole question-and-answer ritual get played out? What do you ask and how do you answer? How do you say the things you'd like people to know you do without coming off as seeming conceited and vain? Or how do you avoid talking about what you do altogether? If you do have to say what it is you're doing, how do you describe it? How do you find the right balance between self-deprecation and self-promotion? How often should you come up with witty quips? Do you do small talk, or do you try and strike a risky off-beat quirky conversation to establish how cool and different you are and how you don't talk about the usual mundane stuff? If you do do that, can you follow through with it, or will it start seeming unnatural and make you look like a complete jackass within 3 minutes?

Oh shit, eye contact! Across the room, eye contact with pretty girl... and lingering too, lingering for ages, at least 1.7 seconds. That's like an eye contact eon. Play it cool, but not too cool. It's all a fine balance. Stay cool and removed too long and she loses interest... I should go talk to her. Then all I have to do is become instantaneously fun, sharp and witty on some random topic of choice and make her laugh a lot. Jesus, that sounds so difficult. I'll walk slowly toward that general direction... or fast? Show some moxie, be assertive? Yes, here I go, look at her and go up and... oh shit, she's started talking to some guy. Quick, change course, but don't lose pace, that will show indecision and insecurity, not to mention dejection... got to keep walking, and there I go past her... damn it, there's no one here to talk to, the bar is behind me... yes, the bathrooms are just over there in the corner, act like you're going to the bathroom and go to the bathroom. Wait, don't ACT like you need to go to the bathroom, that's just weird. Just walk to the bathroom. Should I leave the drink on a table before I go in? Weird having your drink in a bathroom, little shit and piss particles floating around the air' dropping into your drink... yes, leave the glass on a table and go in. I bet nobody's gone to the toilet with such a determined stride. I'm a very confident incontinent.

Ok, hang out in the stall for a bit and then head back out. Check self in mirror. Check hair... don't touch the hair don't touch the hair don't touch the... damn it I touched the hair. Rearrange it a bit, no, more... there's no end to this. I know every little twirl and bump in my hair, and I'm trying to sculpt the perfect scalp. Am I scalpting? STOP, focus, leave... did I just talk to myself? Did I say that out loud? Why did that guy just look at me? Maybe he knows me? Should I say hi, am I being rude by ignoring him? Of course not, who says hi in the toilet? Strange and gross. "Hi, I couldn't help but notice that you had your dick in your hand! Let me introduce myself!"

Ok, outside again and... sure enough my drink's gone. It takes six hours to get their attention at the fucking bar just to get an eight-dollar drink, but when it comes to taking your drink they're suddenly efficient. They probably follow your every move and as soon as they see you away from your drink, they jump in and take it. The waiters and the bartenders are probably all in it together, resentful at having to serve people having fun, so they're secretly trying to sabotage everything... oh wait, there's my drink. Wrong table. Or maybe they just play mind games with you and shift your drink around when you're not looking? Assholes!

There she is, walking toward the bar, she's alone, now's your chance... go go go... damn, here's what's-her-face... she just said hi... she's so pretentious... typical "hey, so what are you up to?" bleh, so bleh bleh bleh bleh bleh... shit, I'm cornered. Insert stupid pointless chit chat here.

"I'm ok, doing nothing, not much I mean..."

She's still looking at me... say something... I have to continue... fuck

"...you know, this and that..."

This is excruciating. She's still staring at me. Just take that answer and move on for fuck's sake!

"...Just wrote something for somewhere, so... you know, the usual... aaanyway"

There, that should do.

"What did you write? For where?"

ARGHHHHH! How do people not get it when you don't want to talk about something? We should walk around with green and red lights on our collars; when green, you may proceed to draw out conversation, when red, just exchange pleasantries and fuck off.

"Oh, just this article on, you know, politics, the ruling party, blah blah blah, so what about you? What have..."

"Really? What do you say in the article?"


Nothing. I say NOTHING.

"Well, you know, it's a critique of the recent decision to... gerrymander the... will you wait a second? I'll be right back..."

RUN RUN RUN... There she is, go up and say hi NOW, don't think, don't think, you're thinking... fuck it, you're almost there... is this strange? This seems unnatural and forced, maybe you should... DAMN IT, YOU'RE THINKING! ABORT! just... abort... Plan B, go to bar! Yes! Slam the beer down fast... ugh, that was unnecessary, whatever... and hit the bar. Thank god, huge line at the bar, all packed, this will take at least 10 minutes, plenty of time to pick a perfect moment to approach her... Where is she? Can't see her. Make subtle and seemingly indifferent visual sweep of room and... nope, she's nowhere...

Oh shit, she's RIGHT behind me! What now? I don't really want a drink. But you can't just go up and talk to someone without a drink in your hand. With drink, saying hi, you look casual. Without drink, saying hi, you look like a potential serial killer. Wait, do I even have money? Damn it. Credit card, put it on the credit card. Also, I'm right in front of her, she is studying every single tiny little thing I'm doing. She's sees everything. I feel naked. Damn, I should have shaved the back of my neck. I had a pimple on my neck... Is that gone? Was it? Feel back of neck... still a bump... is it white and gross? Ok, fuck it. She's probably judging my character by how I stand in line and make it to the bar... I have to be assertive, I have to be pushy and aggressive like everyone else... I don't want to be, I'm happy to wait my turn and even let others pass... but she'll think I'm a walk-over. Am I a walk-over? Maybe I am? Who am I kidding, she wouldn't like a walk-over. Is that right, "walk-over"? Maybe it's pushover? Ok, you pushover, at least stand cool. Put both hands casually into back pocket of jeans and place one leg around the other and tilt head to the side... No, I feel too relaxed, also I could lose my balance with all this pushing and shoving for elbow room at the bar. Keep legs apart... yes, better balance, and... ok, keep arms in back pocket... no, move to the front pockets... Do I have my hands down my pants too much? Does that give the subliminal message that I'm fond of masturbation? I am fond of masturbation, who isn't? But too much? Ok, put hands on hips... no no, now I look indignant. Damn, I just want to be natural, but nothing feels natural anymore, it's all so contrived. Damn it, this is too much pressure... There's a gap! a gap! the chick on the side just got to arguing with her friend, and on the other side that drunk guy just keeled over and had to be caught by those waiting beside him who are now giving him a talking to... Perfect, I'm storming the breach! Or am I breaching the storm? GO GO!

How's that for assertiveness! Mister Man takes the bar, how you like me now? FUCK YEAH! Now, gotta get bartender's attention very quickly, otherwise I'll still seem like a pushover. After all, it looks like I just lucked out on the gap... In fact I probably seem like an opportunistic little prick... got to redeem myself with quick attention-getting of said bartender...

"ONE BEER! HEY, ONE B..." ok, he's serving guy next to me, now that guy seems more important and manly than me. Must tilt in and wave hand in bartender's face...

"ONE BEER, HEY BUDDY, ONE BEER!"

"Buddweiser?"

"NO, I SAID BUDDY, NOT BUDDWEISER, I WANT A..."


Damn it, all he heard was "Buddweiser"...

"NO NO, I WANT A DIFFERENT..."

Aaaand he opened and served the Buddweiser... Just take it, fuck it. Oh great, it's warm too. God, she probably thinks I'm a complete walk-over now... pushover... take out money... fuck, no money, hand him the card...

Come on, come on, please work... please let card work... MIRACLE!

Yes, got my drink, paid for it... well, overpaid for it, fucking eight dollars for a beer... Turn around now and introduce the man of her dreams to her who dreams of a man like me in her dreams... Hey where did she go?

Well, maybe it's better, fuck it... that means I'm still not looking bad... not looking good either, but at least not looking like a pushwalkover...

Ok, there she is with a girlfriend of hers, now it's time to saunter on over. She looked my way again! That's it, this is meant to be, fuck yeah, here I go, so close now...

Oh shit, my friends! Damn it, I don't want her to hear our inside lingo, it's embarrassing. She'll wonder why we punch our fists in the air and lisp and crack our voices when we say "HEY DICKFACE, KOOKACHOO!" Even we don't know what that means anymore or where it came from... I think it was what's-his-name... that time in... whatever...

Embarrassing embarrassing embarrassing... God, I can't even bear to look at her now... Oh, great, we're getting all physical and getting into the homo jokes. Brilliant. Shoot me. Can't be uncool though, have to answer and hold my own... so tedious.... this ritual always takes at least five minutes... Good, made semi-witty retorts where demanded, called him a "fag" back, drank a swill of beer, punched him on the arm in return for his grabbing my ass, that should maintain my place in the guy group hierarchy... Can I try and get laid now please? Can't mention her though, too close, they'll just stare at her and shout "Nice tits, shame you're an ass man!" Why? Wait, does she have a big ass? I can't tell. I don't want to look. I don't want to spoil it. Don't look at her ass.

Her ass is fine! It's great! Glad I looked.

Good, my friends are off outside to smoke. Perfect chance, she's right there. Do it!

"Hi... uuuhh"

Can't think.... nothing... blank... beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep... shut down

"Hi"

She talked to me, good sign. Now all I have to do is magically create an entertaining and witty conversation out of thin air.

"Can I buy you a drink?"

"I have a drink."

"Can I buy you..."


...everything in the world? Stop asking her what you should buy her! Change tack, you have about 5 seconds before she walks off.

"My name is..."

Stupidass! Hi, I'm Stupidass!

"Hi, I'm..." Didn't get her name, in one ear out the other. I blew it. If I don't ask her name again within the next two seconds I can never ask her name again.

Find something in common and say something funny about it. Just don't ask her if she comes here a lot...

"Do you come... here..."

"What?"

"... a lot?"

"Do I what a lot?"


God kill me now.

"Nothing nothing, nevermind, I just said Do you come here a lot? but it's not..."

"No"


Run away, run away, run away, run away, run away, run away

I have it! I'll do that thing where you ask which of two random choices she prefers concerning a range of hypothetical non sequitur questions!

"So... ketchup or mustard?"

Oh no, this is horrible, can I take that back?

"What?"

"Uh... nevermi... well, which would you pick, metchup or kustard?

"Custard, I don't know what metchup is"

"No no, I mean, ketchup or mustard"


Great she just sighed and looked at other people while I was talking, that's a GREAT sign.

"I don't know."

"But you have to pick one!"

"No I don't."


Good point.

"Yeah, I guess you're right, you don't really do you."

"Nope."


All hope is lost, stop trying. It's over.

"Has this been the worst come-on you've ever had or what?"

"Pretty much, yeah."


Wow, did she just smile?

"Usually what goes on in your head is pretty good compared to what comes out, but what was going on in my head was even worse than what you were hearing, could you imagine that?"

She giggled!

"It must've been very bad."

"In my defense, I actually warned myself against making almost each and every inane utterance before they came out..."

"You should've listened to yourself then, huh?"


Giggles! There are giggles and smiles! And even eye contact!

"Nah, I always think I'm giving myself the wrong advice. I only realize in retrospect that I was actually giving myself the right advice... If I had a time machine, I'd be the perfect picker-upper."

"Well I hope they invent one of those soon, for your sake."


Oh my God, could this be witty repartee-ing? Is this back-and-forth banter? Am I engaged in actual human interaction? It's almost... natural.

"What would you do if you had a time machine?"
I ask.

Wow, I'm not even thinking about what I'm saying anymore, it's all just flowing out by itself, a smooth and natural progression... two minutes ago, that same sentence would've been horrible... but now she smiled and showed her teeth, and... yes, I think she just touched her hair!

"Welllll, maybe I'd go back to the beginning of this conversation and accept that drink you offered me?"

"It's never too late for some things, even without a time machine... I'll go get you that drink."


What did that cheesy shit just mean?! No idea, but who cares? There was a logic to it in the rhythm of the conversation and the words didn't even really matter anymore. The real language is now, finally, physical... it's in the eyes, the hands, the body, the expressions, the mouth... and it just simply, magically meshes in the easy, meaningless back and forth of the banter. It's nice when that happens.

"Here's your beer... drink it before it gets cold."

"Great! Where were we?"

"I was in my time machine, getting you that drink."

"O yeah, so we went back in time to the beginning where you told me your name, right"

"Right."

"Well then I'm pleased to meet you."


The rest of the night happened, mercifully, outside my head.