7/27/11

The language of real(-ity) love



On the influence of philosophy on The Bachelor/Bachelorette

If you've ever watched reality shows like The Bachelor/Bachelorette or any one of half a dozen other programs, you will have noticed the bizarre language in which people express their thoughts on relationships and love.

Here's how it mostly works: In the initial stages of a relationship it's about "putting yourself out there", "opening up to possibilities" and "listening to your heart". As a relationship develops it becomes about "having feelings for" someone, about "getting to know the real you/me" and about "being in touch with your emotional side". Then when there is a relationship to speak of, we hear stuff like "having something real", about "seeing yourself with him/her", "sharing a bond/connection", about sparks, electricity, energy, attraction.

Sure, it's always the same cliched expressions, the same banal drivel, the usual pabulum. We can all see that. But that's just what is so extraordinary about those expressions and that kind of language, the fact that it has become so normal to speak in those terms, and the fact that they have become cliches at all. In fact we're so inured to that kind of language that we don't even really hear what is being said, as the expression just fits neatly into a background pattern where it has about as much meaning as the twitting of a bird or the sound of traffic. It's just a part of that whole experience, seemingly and inextricably intertwined with the TV screen, the program, the music, the graphics, the standard shots of beaches and sunsets, the kinds of big titted and waxed chested soap opera-type attention-mongers on those shows, the cheesy narration, and even with you, sitting there taking it all in between sarcastic remarks and bites of your microwave dinner. The whole interactive experience comes with those "normal" terms and expressions that we have come to take for granted, and we would only really notice if in fact all those expressions used in reality TV were not there rather than the fact that they are.

But what is said on those shows is actually anything but "normal" once they have been reflected on and been rediscovered, when they have once again been made to stand out as a problem. Once we have become conscious of these expressions that we take for granted, what is said reveals a really strange way of thinking about ourselves and others that seems to be at the root of everything wrong about the way we seem to understand our social world and how people relate to one another. Just summing it all up reveals how incredibly weird our way of thinking about human relationships really is.

Here is an interpretation of all those expressions in a nutshell:

We think of ourselves as autonomous agents who are "closed" to others until we "open" ourselves to them, in which we "have" (possess) feelings "for" another which we can "give" to them or "take" from them as a kind of trade, and we act and react upon each other through the exchange of feelings and affections that we possess as we navigate through the tug of influence "inside" us between our "real" selves and "social" selves, between our "hearts" and our "heads", between the "logical" and the "emotional", all the while expressing concern for how "genuine" this experience is for both parties.

That all sounds like complete hogwash, if not borderline derangement, but actually what is said in these reality programs is the result of centuries of influence from the greatest minds of philosophy whose legacy has survived till this day, so much so that these everyday expressions have become ingrained in each and every one of us, and we often cannot even find the language to describe all of this in any other way. These influences live on unconsciously in the discourse of The Bachelor/Bachelorette in three (admittedly mostly overlaid and overlapping) stages:

1. The Newtonian: Autonomous rational self-contained beings interacting as independent agents through Newtonian laws of action-reaction, give-take, force-counterforce, etc. Eg: "I'm getting that vibe from you that I need to let my guard down and be open to love so we can develop this strong connection that we have."

2. The Cartesian: Segmented and compartmentalized selves based on dichotomies of inside/outside, heart/head, emotions/reason, mind/body, self/other, etc. Eg: "My heart says one thing but my head says another."

3. The Lockean: Rational agents possess "properties" that are sought for. The lack of said properties -- or possession of undesirable ones -- results in a rational choice to either continue a relationship or break it off for the sake of "exploring" the properties of other eligible bachelors or bachelorettes. Eg: "I have feelings for her that are real."

The first thing that stands out is the assumption that we are autonomous self-contained agents in a world populated by other autonomous self-contained agents interacting according to Newtonian laws of give and take, action-counteraction, stimulus-response. We "open ourselves to" another person, and through that metaphoric "gap" we let flow in the love, electricity, feelings, emotions of others, as if these were streams of light or rays of essence. Then with these we form "connections" and "bonds" between two people. Furthermore, whenever you hear of "opening up", you almost always hear the term "vulnerability", as if there is a breach in a fort's defenses, as if something from "without" can now "enter within", kind of like how you would describe an invasion, or an infection. So there is a "before" when defenses are tight, and an "after" when defenses are vulnerable but desired affection, love, feelings, emotions can enter inside, at the risk of these hurting us -- like a virus might, or an invading army.

Conversely, from the "gap" we've opened in our defensive "outer shield", we can also give out those same vibes, electricity, energy, emotions, etc. like a ray gun from one autonomous self-contained being to another autonomous self-contained being! We too can "give" feelings to another and have them become "vulnerable" and "open" to our advances.

What kind of language is that to express how people live with each other in the world? It's basically a mix of military, sports and economics nomenclature. You'll hear expressions like "bringing my A-game" or "bringing my guard down" (sports) or "emotional investment" (economics). Of course, that comes from the format of these shows, which is that of a competition, so naturally people would relate their experiences to sports or war, but we know these expressions aren't just used on TV, and are still only possible because of that elemental belief that we are autonomous, self-contained agents acting freely in a world of other autonomous, self-contained agents all making independent rational choices, or if not, at least taking into consideration our separate inner "emotional" voices.

All of the above cliches point to this absurd, childish and bizarre way of thinking of ourselves and how we live with each other. But they also point to something else, namely the way we think of ourselves as segmented and compartmentalized individuals with "one part of us" that thinks and "another part of us" that feels. That's the Cartesian influence. You'll notice that all these contestants are always negotiating through those dichotomies with every decision and every experience: inside/outside, heart/head, emotional/rational, real me/(fake me?). There is assumed to be a clear-cut delineation between the "soul" and its emotions and feelings and desires, and the "mind", with its rational and logical capacity. That same Newtonian tug between people in the world is also assumed to exist in a Cartesian sense inside each person, so that "logical us" desires one thing whereas "emotional us" desires another. We have of course been used to thinking in these terms since Descartes, for whom the mind/body duality was of the essence in his quest to prove that we really exist (which, for him, was very important and not something to be taken for granted, which itself is very weird, although others might consider that good philosophy).

Then there is the "possession" of certain properties: wit, humor, intelligence, fortitude, family values, loyalty, etc. We apply a Lockean sense of ownership and property to that which is a "part" of our personality, and through the program, the Bachelor/Bachelorette compares what is possessed among the contestants and decides to continue with some and break it off with others.

When we actually put those banal reality TV expressions into some kind of (admittedly simplistic) etymological perspective, we see that they are not just stupid crap. They are actually based on smart crap that has a lot of intelligent lineage behind it, although it's in the hands of those who can't see that lineage and have to use it because that's the only way they know how to express themselves and the only tools at their disposal for doing so, since they are forced to describe things we perhaps would otherwise not feel the need to describe. That's why these shows are fascinating, because people on them are forced to describe the experiences they're going through for the sake of our entertainment and viewing pleasure. They're forced to describe things we never have to, and that of course reveals just how poorly we understand ourselves and how we interact (I just used the term "interact" because it comes naturally, meaning none of us are immune to the way the dominant discourse makes us see things). If we were in their place we probably wouldn't do any better.

But maybe if we had an alternative view we would be able to understand each other and make relationships work a lot better, even on TV. So instead of all this claptrap, why don't we just accept that we are:

1)... inextricably intertwined with others, that what we think we "really" are on the "inside" is molded and formed and always constantly reformed by our interaction with others on the "outside", and that it isn't really something of the "essence", something "incorruptible", something "pure", something "within", like the latter day remnant of that old superstition of the "soul", but is rather fundamentally and singly who we are and how we are and is always indexed to others' opinions of us, and our experiences and interactions (there's that word again) with them. The unity of within and without through the unity of self and other(s). That means...

2)... relationships are no longer about "opening up" or "letting defenses down" or showing "vulnerability", they are a natural extension of human relationships and the sharing of one's feeling and emotions and thoughts and affection is just a natural, ongoing, everyday occurrence merely taken to a quantitatively greater degree between two people who may want to advance their relationship further. That way the pressure people feel from that sense of "vulnerability", "opening up" and other horribly pejorative terms for the sharing of love and affection can finally be done away with, and the whole experience need no longer take on the same metaphoric significance of "military weakness" or "viral infection" that it has now. That will be good because...

3)... we will no longer see feelings and emotions as things belonging to us which we trade and transport through gaps in egotistic defenses, and in fact not as "things" at all, let alone things "given" and "taken", nor "possessed". We will understand that feelings and emotions and moods are actually constantly affected, shaped, reshaped and reformed by the feelings and emotions and moods of others, and that in fact nobody "has" any of these "inside", as if independent of others, springing purely from one's own self, but that all of us live in them, always shaping and reshaping them, and being shaped and reshaped by them, even as we're unaware of it happening. That is a great step forward because then...

4)... that whole compartmentalized self, that "us" comprised of inner/outer, real/social (fake?), head/heart, mind/body, emotion/logic will naturally crumble by the wayside and this schizophrenized, disunited self that is always alienated in the face of itself can finally see that as complex as we are, there are no neat separate realms within or without us, but that moods, emotions, thoughts, memories and all our other attributes are all constantly involved with each other, always intertwined, never independent of each other, always affected by each other, that there is no such thing as a body apart from the mind, nor even a self apart from others, nor a "logical" apart from an "emotional", because both are always suffused with the other, and to every thought there is a mood and to every emotion there is some kind of logic. That means...

5)... all those hang ups that everyone talks about on that show, all those issues, all those expressions are nothing. The Newtonian world of bumping egos lazering feelings from inside them to those willing to let down their defenses to accept those feelings and give them back in return while both try to balance their hearts and their heads to find the right balance of reason and feelings to create a bond that links two people and makes something real out of an inside connection... all of that falls by the wayside. People would stop being exposed to that garbage.

Instead we would have a refreshing new view of who we are, how we are, and what it is to love, and we would spare ourselves and others the waste of time of wading through a world that has been misrepresented by a 2500-year philosophic tradition going back to Plato that seems just plain wrong.

Of course, that would also be the end of The Bachelor/Bachelorette and other shows that merely reduce human relationships to mechanically construed competitive interactions for the sake of commercial profit, but would that be a bad thing?

7/1/11

Chillaxing at the Gentlemen's Club



Time to kick back, relax, and crack open a beer at my favorite exclusive members only Gentlemen's club

After a hard day's slug through a pile of whatever it is I pay myself to do at my own company that I own, nothing suits me better than a nice cold brewski, particularly one I can enjoy in the comfort of my own reserved table in the VIP section of my favorite exclusive members-only Gentlemen's club for men. That's right, it's time to take off the suit and put on another suit, button my shirt up to the chin, throw on some cufflinks, slip on a tie, and jump in my chauffeur-driven company car to chillax with some of my white conservative upper-class amigos at the Fluffingtonshire White Gentlemen's Club For Men And Not Women.

Aaaah, that beer's going down real smooth, even smoother when I remind myself that 99.999999999% of the human race is excluded from sitting here beside me at this mahogany table with ivory inlays extracted from slaughtered elephants in this very exclusive Gentlemen's Club for Upper Class People with Penises. I'm just going to kick my feet up on this 19th century antique ottoman and enjoy this moment for which I pay enough money in annual fees to feed and clothe thousands of opposites-of-people-like-me's in parts of the world that are outside the confines of this club for people-exactly-like-me.

The menu! Thank you, Frobisher. Let's see... I'll have the roasted baby Sumatran pygmy rhino cutlets with truffle and caviar sauce and some fried Siberian leopard liver on the side. After a hard day of making money from moving money around without producing anything of worth for the human race while shamelessly consuming enough resources to save a small town in Africa from starvation every month, I like nothing better than to eat a nice hot meal that costs almost as much as my watch. Oh and here comes some company! It's Lord Earl Viscount Duke Grovington Probington-Hyphenated-Name of Salisbury the Eighth, cousin of the King of Lichtenstein and fourth in line to the Bulgarian royal throne, don't you know! I say! I say "I say" a lot, so don't be put out when I say "I say", just let me say it, okay?

I'm finished with my dinner Frobisher I can't possibly eat another piece of this Siberian leopard liver. How about another couple of cold ones, two brews for two bros, a nice cold tall boy for the Lord Earl Viscount Duke here. Let's kick back and discuss hedge funds and bridge strategy, shall we? Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa, nyeh-nyeh-nyeh-nyeh, quite quite quite, yes-yes-yes, fa-fa-fa, what-what-what, ha ha ha ha! Splendid!

Uh-oh, gotta go now. I have a busy day ahead making profits from short-selling stock of companies I'm betting will fail so I can make a nifty killing which I can then spend on a Ferrari. Another day, another tons of dollars! I'm so happy to belong to a group of peers who have been brought up to believe deep down that they are better than everybody else in the world. I need my daily zees so I can sleep the sleep of sociopaths before heading back out into a society that values psychotic callousness and indifference to the misery of fellow humans.

Looking forward to chillaxing with another cerveza tomorrow, bra!

Reasons why not to drink and write, Exhibit A



<--- Kris Kristofferson enjoys a nice hot cup of coffee because it makes him better than you

My girlfriend bet me I couldn't write something good after 12 shots of Jim Beam, so this masterpiece is intended to wipe that smug face off her head - although, as you can tell by the title above, she sort of wins. Anyway, it's called... drumroll (it's not called "drumroll", but imagine a drumroll going trrrrrrrr psss after "it's called", psss being the sound of the cymbal):

Kris Kristofferson is a Coffeestocrat from Kentucky!

So you may not know this, but Kris Kristofferson is a coffeeholic. In case you're wondering what that is, that's like an alcoholic but for coffee. Me, I'm like a coffeeholic but for both alcohol and coffee, which would make me an alcoholandcoffeeholic. See what I did there? I am a wordsmith. But this isn't about me, it's about Kris Kristofferson (I have Kris Kristofferson on copy/paste mode now so don't worry if I seem to be wasting a lot more time typing Kris Kristofferson than other words, because I can now punch out four Kris Kristofferson's in a row with just one finger on ctrl and the other tapping the v key four times, look: Kris Kristofferson Kris Kristofferson Kris Kristofferson v... I let go a little early there, it should've been v, it should've been Kris Kristofferson). However, Kris Kristofferson's not just a coffeeholic, he's also a COFFEE ELITIST WITH ALL CAPS. That makes him a “coffeestocrat” (from coffee + st + ocrat). This means that Kris Kristofferson believes that those with good taste in coffee are superior to everybody else, including immigrants, the working classes and foreigners, provided they don't drink good coffee. There, I said it. Actually, I'm not sure he believes that, and I don't even really know if Kris Kristofferson even drinks coffee, although bets are he does because it's a delicious hot beverage and he's American. But I picked Kris Kristofferson anyway because his name goes well with coffeestocracy what with all the hard c's and effy f's they share, so I chose this literary tome to be about him instead of, say, Leonard Cohen or Pamela Anderson. That's probably the first time those two names have been used in the same sentence by the way (it is, I just Googled it in that tiny space between the y and the left parenthesis). Also, the first time those two names and Kris Kristofferson's name have all been in the same paragraph is probably this paragraph (I'm not Googling that). Kris Kristofferson's name by the way, in case you were wondering, is "Kris Kristofferson".

What is a coffeestocrat? It's like being racist or classist, but for coffee, so it's like being hyperactively detached and talkatively aloof, while at the same time being urinarily haughty. For one, a coffeestocrat doesn't drink any of those cheap 2-in-1's or 3-in-1's that have way too little coffee and way too much creamy sugary chemically powder that looks like dishwater in a cup. They are SUPERIOR TO THat. (that‘s my girlfriend being funny with the shift key, but the joke’s on her because I probably would‘ve emphasized the SUPERIOR TOTH anywAY) So no instant coffee for blue blooded coffee royalty like Kris Kristofferson. And none of those cappulattechinos or chaisoylattecheatohs or chocolocococopocos either. Just good black coffee for Kris Kristofferson. After all, coffeestocrats like Kris Kristofferson are not just sophistocrats (that's a real made up word despite the squiggly red line I saw under it when this thing started off in a Word document), but also minimal sophistocrats, which makes them more like coffeesophistominimocrats. But hey, Kris Kristofferson wouldn't be averse to buying his super fancy coffee from a Starbucks or a Peet's or something either, even though they're chain stores and one of them uses armless child slaves in the third world to pick their coffee beans for them with their teeth (I'm not hinting which one, let's just say it rhymes with Starbucks). Would Kris Kristofferson prefer an independent ma and pa coffee store that uses homegrown water? Sure. Would he prefer to be a locacoffeevore who only drank locally grown coffee, thus giving us the opportunity to mix locavore and coffee into a catchy new newword, which could be an English neologism for neologism? You bet. Could newword lose one of those w's? I don't see why not. Neword sounds good, although now it sounds kind of directional, like "hey, let's go toward the new". Which I guess we all are always going toward, in an ontological sense... but for all Kris Kristofferson's coffeesophistominimacratnessityism, he is no snob. No sir. He's not a coffeesophistosnobistocrat. Because a true coffeestocrat is a democrat on the outside (hence his amenability to voting for Peets or Starbucks if they were to run for some kind of office on the over-hyphenated-coffee-with-armless-child-slaves ticket) but an aristocrat on the inside (which is why he drops his monocle metaphorically and exclaims inaudible harrumphs at the mere suggestion of Nescafe, which is Swiss for "Nescafe").

So let's hear it for Leonard Cohen or Pamela Anderson! (oh no, I last copied "Leonard Cohen or Pamela Anderson" to paste it in the Google bar, but what I meant was "Let's hear it for Kris Kristofferson!").

So Let's hear it for Kris Kristofferson!").

Speaking of Google, here's something interesting: if you replace one of the o's in Google with g, it spells Ggogle, which is an anagram for lgooeg. Words are fascinating!

Also, he's not from Kentucky.