Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Monday, May 23, 2016

Just Another Boring Post, No Reason to Read

Kurt Vonnegut wrote in the introduction to Mother Night, "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."  I have found this to be quite insightful.  Our identities are a mélange of elements cobbled together from the primordial murk under the oversight of a fitfully attentive spotlight of consciousness.  We have less control than we like to imagine, but on the other hand, what control we exert tends to shape us whether it is "genuine" or not.  There is no ironic way to impress your thumb into the clay.

Another way to think about it is that Poe's Law has a lot of traction in real life.  Briefly, Poe's Law states that in the absence of an express indication (such as a winking emoji), it is impossible to deploy sarcasm/irony on the internet without being mistaken for an earnest proponent of the view that is expressed.  If you decide to carry yourself a certain way, the wider world generally has neither the time nor the desire to disentangle your "true meaning."

In real life, you see this in "ironic" enjoyment of things, especially personal appearance.  ("I'm not the kind of guy who enjoys wearing a beard!  I'm sending up the kind of guy who enjoys wearing a beard!")  But I think the point goes much deeper:  to a dismayingly large degree, we choose our tastes for reasons that typically do not reflect well on us.  (Often we want to seem sophisticated.  I mean, "mélange"? Really?)  In other words, it's not just the hipsters, it's all of us.  We "lock in" at some point, but before that we are remarkably fluid, and the point of solidification is almost entirely arbitrary.

I'm not going to be able to express very well the merger of style and substance here.  I'll just observe that they tend to merge very quickly.  There's a scene in Catch-22 where the bomber pilots are hoping that a ribbon (representing the line between Allies and Axis) will move up the Italian peninsula past the bombing target, so that the pilots won't have to risk their lives on more bombing missions.  An officer snidely observes that their focus on the ribbon represents magical thinking:  what matters is the actual movement of the battle line, not the ribbon that represents it.  In the night, Yossarian sneaks up to the map and moves the ribbon past the target city.  The next day, seeing that the ribbon has moved past the target, the commanders order the planes to stay on the ground.

And it turns out that in real life too the ribbon matters all the time, even when it "shouldn't."

Anyway blah blah blah.  The point is that "James" is too moralistic and judgmental.  Victorian, is the way I like to think about it.  So to operationalize all the observations I've made above, I am going to try an experiment.  This summer I am casting aside all notions of morality and I am going to pursue my own interests without regard to other people or any notion of decency.  I will obey some rules, of course, but only because it is in my own short-term interest to do so.  I will lie and steal with impunity.  I will assert dominion over all I survey.  I am above morality, and I have made myself as a god among men.


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