Thursday, June 22, 2017


Note: This is a Vlog Post, so the text comes from the embedded videos. It is therefore in a spoken rather a written register of English.

So... I was listening [to] and watching a lecture by Alain de Botton that was delivered somewhere in Australia, I think at an opera house. And he was giving his usual message, which is really an anti-individualist message. But a lot of people don't realize it, because it is couched in such humanistic language that a lot of people are, in fact, attracted to it. And the point of his lecture was that it does not matter who you end up with, that you can love anyone, and that Romantic love is probably something that we were conditioned to feel by literature, but it's not real, and that in fact there are probably a lot of people walking around pretending that they're in love, because they think they can't be in a relationship unless they are in love. But it's okay, you don't have to pretend anymore. The secret is out. It's not real. 

I do think that there's a lot of truth to what he says. and that's why it resonates with people. But it's not true for everybody, and that's part of the problem. 

He says that we are now in the Age of Romantic Love, and then he gives an example from Flaubert's Madame Bovary to sow ow awful it is. But, of course, Flaubert was not a romanticist. He was an anti-romanticist. He was a realist, and he was on the same bandwagon as de Botton. He just wanted to tear apart the image of romantic love and show how silly it was.

In fact, maybe a higher percentage of the world's population is not given to romantic love, because they're not limerent. And it does not ave specifically to do with love, It also has to do with preferences.

Some of us have very strong preferences -- on everything.  We know exactly what kind of pizza we like. We know what movies we like.  We're in love with certain characters in movies and television and books. And we are totally not interested in other movies and other television shows and other books. We have strong preferences, and we won't change that.  And then there are other people who just go by trends. Their favorite clothing is whatever happens to be fashionable today. Their favorite show is the one that is popular today.  They're going to read the latest novel on the best seller list, because it's on the best seller list, and they want to be able to discuss it at parties with other people. And it doesn't matter whether they like the book or not, but they're very open, and being open like that, they just don't have a preference.

Even something like "What's your favorite color" is a question that not everybody has an answer to. You can say that we were conditioned by society to think that we're supposed to have a favorite color, and if we don't have one --- well, we make one up. And, of course, if we don't have one, and we make up the favorite color, today it could be red; tomorrow it could be blue. And somebody for whom the whole question of favorite color is important might think: "This person is lying to me. Yesterday his favorite color was red. Today it's blue. He's lying! He's keeping the real favorite color a secret from me." We often have that kind of a clash with people for whom some things are just not that important.

So when I was watching that lecture, here's what it reminded me of. In 1976, during the Bicentennial, I visited England, and at the time I had a best friend. So I was obsessed with this best friend, because I am one of those limerent people, and I was having a conversation with my host in London, and I was going on and on, and I said "My friend" -- let's call her Suzie. That's not her real name, but let's call her that. "So Suzie said this about that. And Suzie really likes to do this." And on and on.  Almost every subject that we brought up, that we were talking about, I inserted something about Suzie. And finally -- kind of -- he was laughing silently to himself. So I asked him: "Why are you laughing?" And he said: "Well, you keep talking about Suzie all the time." And I said: "Yes, because she's my friend. Don't you have any friends?" And he said: "Yes, I have many friends. But I'm not obsessed with them."

Okay. Well, that's just it. To me, if you had a friend, you pretty much had to be obsessed with that person. Otherwise, it's not your friend. I either like somebody a lot or I don't like them at all.

For most people, it's not like that. And I think it's like that with everything in their lives. You can talk to them about what profession they would like to be in, or what profession they are in, and they're not going to be passionate about it, and you might get the impression they don't like their job, but that's not actually the case. They like to work. They like the workplace. They like to socialize with other people in the workplace. They may be perfectly happy and content with their jobs, but they are not in love with their job. They're not obsessed. They might be married. They might be happily married. They might have a spouse who they truly -- they have a very nice arrangement going. And they're not ever going to get a divorce, and they're very content, but you won't get the impression that they're in love, because, in fact,  they're not in love. But that does not mean that nobody is ever in love.

Rather than it being a new thing that we suddenly realize that romantic love is a falsehood, and that really we should make reasonable choices about a mate, this has been ongoing. When I was teenager, that's exactly what my Great Aunt told me, that's exactly what I heard from everyone, including my friend Suzie -- which is not her real name.

Okay. So, what did Suzie say? She said that she could fall ,,, I mean, that she could marry -- she wasn't talking about falling in love at all. She thought the romantic ideal was wrong. She was a Christian. She was an Episcopalian, and she believed in loving everyone, and she thought she could be a very good wife to any man, provided that he were normal. Now, of course, I had no idea what she meant by normal. But just so you understand her situation, let's backtrack to Suzie's early childhood.

So Suzie's parents were happily married and had four children. And everything was going well, and her father was a professor at a university, and he was content with his family life, but this was maybe in the sixties -- I mean, it was in the sixties -- and he kind of got flower fever. And one day, he turned to his wife, Suzie's mom, and he said: "I love you. And I love the children. But I don't want to do this anymore. So how about I quit my job, and I get a motorcycle -- maybe we get two motorcycles -- and we tour the country with our four kids on the back of the motorcycle. Wouldn't that be a much better way of living?"

And his wife, Suzie's mom, looked at him and said: "You're crazy. I want a divorce."

Okay, so this is the background to Suzie. Suzie's mom took her four children to the town where Suzie's dad's parents were, and raised them as best she could on her own.

And Suzie was thinking: "I don't want this to happen. I don't want a flower child." So she was looking for somebody with nice conservative values, a good Christian, with whom she could form a family, and it didn't matter that he wasn't necessarily the guy that she was most attracted to, or anything like that. 

Okay, getting back to Suzie. She found the kind of man that she was looking for. And they married. And they lived in a small university town, And they had five children. And everything was going very well. She was homeschooling; he was a good provider. And then, one day, after some of the older children were teenagers, he came home and said: "I love you, Suzie. And I love the children. I don't want to change anything, except that I've met this young woman, and I'd like to bring her into our family, and have her live with us as my concubine, just like in the Bible."

And Suzie said: "You're crazy! And I want a divorce."

Now, Alain de Botton, one of his pet theories is that you can go and see what's wrong with what you are looking for in a mate, because you are probably looking for the exact same way that you were treated in your childhood, or you're looking for something from your childhood, something familiar. You're not actually looking for happiness. You're looking for familiarity. And so, if you had a cold, unfeeling parental figure, then you're looking for a cold, unfeeling parental-- I mean, sexual mate. And that's why you should not listen to your feelings. That's what he says: "You don't --You should not listen to your feelings, because you are just trying to repeat your childhood." 

But I think it's a little more complicated than that, if we look at Suzie's story. She was looking for somebody who was not like her father. Her father was an intellectual; so she was looking for somebody who was very religious and traditional. Her father was happy-go-lucky, and she was looking for somebody who would be responsible. She was looking for the exact opposite. She was trying to avoid the things that had happened in her childhood. And it was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because what ended up happening was amazingly similar to what happened to her mother. But maybe the thing that made it happen isn't that the man was not normal. 

It's really actually pretty normal to want that. It's fairly normal to at one point in your life, about mid-life -- to reexamine everything. And to think "Well,  maybe I don't really like my job that much." That's not unusual. And that's what happened with Suzie's father. It's also not that unusual for a man at mid-life to cboose a younger woman. It's actually kind of unusual to say: "No, I don't want to abandon my existing family." To say: "I still love you, and I just want this extra thing." And if we are conditioned by the society that we live in to do anything, it's that we expect to not renegotiate the contract, and if somebody tries to renegotiate the contract midway, then we say: "No. You're crazy." And also we don't consider other marriage patterns than the ones that we have become accustomed to. Even though, we might be religious, we might read the Bible all day long and not notice that's what's going on there. So I would say: "Suzie, read your Bible more closely!"

I'm not saying that I have the answer. The problem is, it's kind of like this prophecy in ancient literature, where you hear that your son is going to kill you when he grows up, and you think: "Well, let's try to avoid that!" So you take the baby, and you expose him on a mountain top, not realizing that the gods and all the animals are going to save the baby, and then the baby comes back, and he's fully grown, and he doesn't know that you're his father, so he kills you. That's a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Maybe the answer is not to not listen to your feelings. Maybe you should listen to your feelings more closely.

Somebody asked Alain de Botton after that lecture that I saw: "So what would be a good way to choose a mate? Do you think that Tinder works? Do you think all of these new-fangled ways of selecting a  mate -- Do you think that that helps us find the right person?" And he said: "No, there is no right person, and I think this emphasis on choice is wrong.  You should understand that you should be capable of loving anyone, if you learn how to love. And in fact you should be willing to marry a leper. In fact, it would be great if everybody married a leper!" And he laughed.

Okay. I have a very big problem with this. And it's not because I am prejudiced against lepers. Lepers are people, too. But each leper is a different person. And so, even if you decide that you are going to a leper colony and you are going to marry a leper, it matters very much which leper you choose. 

The idea that you should look for somebody with a disability and that that disability defines that person is one of the most evil things that there could possibly be. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Shortages, Migrations and Rationing

Humans have migrated every time they found that they did not have enough of something they needed to live. Instead of trying to fix their environment, they moved to a place where things were better for them.

More recently, when facing shortages, people do not consider moving. Instead, rationing and redistribution are ways in which such shortages are handled.

"What if Florida goes underwater due to global warming?" People ask this question, as if by asking it, it will make us all want to work hard to prevent the globe from warming up.  As if we could! As if we were that powerful! But isn't the answer obvious: If Florida goes underwater, then people who live there will move someplace else that is more habitable -- Greenland, maybe, if it suddenly becomes green.

Insuring the public against natural disasters has the effect of making life unbearably expensive. If every time a city built below sea level is flooded, it is rebuilt at public expense, if every time a public school built on a flood plain washes away, it is re-built by the taxpayers, then people will never see the wisdom of moving on and going to a place where things are better for them.

Living in a warm place where you need not heat in winter is desirable. Having fruit just growing on the trees, ripe for the picking, is nice. When too many people move into the same place, resources get depleted, as happened in the dust bowl, or in Middle East,  that used to be a place flowing with milk and honey. It was fertile and green there then, but now is arid and desert-like. Yes, we do, at least to some extent, destroy the paradise that we thrive in. But as people with a rich hunter-gatherer heritage, our basic instinct is sound: after you foul the nest, move on to someplace cleaner.

Are we trying to escape ourselves? Absolutely not. We are trying to escape each other. Like Pa Ingalls, we know that when the other people arrive in droves, then it is time to move on. Good neighbors are those we only see occasionally.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Laissez Faire in All Things

Lately, I have been experimenting with turning some of my essays into videos. Not everybody likes to read. Some people prefer being read to. Here is the latest video in this vein.

The text of this video can be found here. 

Ostensibly, the above video falls into the genre of the self-help, since it is a response to a similar effort by The School of Life. But at heart, what I am trying to say is the same as in this essay about nature and the free market. 

Th text to this video can be found here

I don't think that people who believe in socialism came up with that belief in a vacuum. I think it permeates their understanding of everything. They think it applies to love, to family, to society and even to nature. I keep getting inundated with ads from Jane Goodall. The latest one was to the effect that if I send her enough money, then "nature can win!"

Sorry, Jane, but nature always wins.  It does not need money from me or you  to function. We are a part of nature. There is no way to escape it. Nature's code of laws is self-enforcing. Any attempt to get away from the natural consequences of our actions is futile. But if we just go with the flow, if we just let things be, then we can be the beneficiaries of the consequences of sequences of events that cascade all by themselves.

Love is like that, too. It's not necessary to second guess everything. We don't need less ego to enjoy it. We can just understand this one simple thing: taking and giving happen simultaneously without "exploitation" when you just allow people to do what comes naturally.