Tuesday, August 16, 2011
"Humans are masters of deception. We use our minds and behavior continually to try to trick people into believing what is not true…that we're tougher, smarter, sexier, more reliable, more trustworthy than we really are."
-Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University
There's a moment in middle childhood when the difference between what you know and what grown-ups know starts to seem unaccountably huge. It's not just the stuff you're aware of but imperfectly understand - like man-made flight and pancakes - it's unknown unknowns. Crepes, blood sausage, really cool panties we don't even know about. My brother's childhood belief, recounted years later, was that people must have a chip implanted in their brains during college, which is why mom and dad were so smart.
So it cuts deep when you finally realize as a teenager that grown-ups live life like a f*cking d*ckhead. They don't know sh*t. They're bad at their jobs and confused about the point of existence. They visit psychiatrists and pee their pants. As Adam Carolla says, "I had no idea. I had no idea that this is how life would be. You know when you're a kid and you're nine years old and you're walking around, you see a cop or a schoolteacher or a dentist or an attorney, you go, "Oh, that guy must know his sh*t"… I had no f---in' idea how bad everybody, from my gardener to the highest people on the rung of show business, how horrible everyone would be."
But fine. Life disappoints. Humans are fallible even in fully matured manifestation. John Edwards. Bruce Jenner. Darth Vader. Such is life and the moping, adolescent fury responsible for goth fashion. The truly devastating disillusion, however, comes on the sly. It's covert like a ninja but it kills every bit of childlike wonder and enthusiasm you have (sadly, the opposite effect of the ninja style). Within decades you become a despairing, self-loathing, bovine-minded middle-aged man with no hopes, no dreams and no interest in the wonder of the cosmos, like Kenny Powers as a gym teacher, and you won't even know how it happened.
The disillusion is this: the reason adults don't know much about anything is that they don't care. It doesn't matter to them. All those years they fed you a diet of math homework and mnemonic techniques as if learning about the world was the quintessential part of the human condition, but as far as they're concerned, the pursuit of knowledge is a nerd's sideshow, a sidecar, the artsy little seat adjoining the motorcycle of important things: island homes, famous friends, and trophy wives. Adults know by a wealth of experience that people like Socrates, Kepler, Ghandi, Hamlet, Abe Lincoln - those geniuses end up dead. Poisoned, persecuted, starved, stabbed, shot in the head. Charlie Sheen, Donald Trump and the Situation, by contrast, end up on top of sexy waitresses.
The secret to life, it turns out, isn't knowing about sh*t. It's convincing others to validate you. Class dismissed, tiny mo fos.
But consider that for a moment. You grow up presuming that reality - waterfalls, tanbark, the gravitational mechanics of jungle gyms - is the focal point of existence. However messy and amorphous the ultimate purpose of life, you just assumed it had something to do this stuff and knowing more about it was the natural next move. The notion that reality is a kind of arbitrary and fungible anchor for some weird construct that basically amounts to sociological warfare is profoundly disturbing.FN1
And probably at a conscious level we never accept it. For most everyone naked social strategizing, like rain to a sorority girl, is yucky. Empty somehow. Thus, adult life has historically involved pretending that the reason we squabble over the debt ceiling or stem cells or Helen of Troy, fight for a plot as Mel Gibson said whereon the numbers cannot try the cause, is that such things matter existentially. They are special and intrinsic and we in the form of Bill Maher or Marc Maron or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad do not merely use them as common and fungible points of reference in the larger enterprise of propagating our DNA with someone who's not way dumb and ugly.FN2 Until Facebook.
Facebook has transformed reality from a necessary if random reference point into something extraneous. Q: Why did Jane visit the park or date that guy or whatever? A: So she can post self-promoting photos on Facebook. It's started to dawn on ladies that parks and, to the point of this blog, guys, have marginal or at least second order utility as mechanisms of social validation. And further, and this is the real epiphany, those things, in most cases, can make you look less than awesome. There are limits to what reality is willing to offer ordinary people.
Facebook isn't like that. On Facebook you have hot friends and a cute nephew and are being hugged by Mark Wahlberg when you celebrity saw him at a restaurant in Venice. On Facebook you don't have to accept being a mid level marketing manager with a used Jetta and a boyfriend who kind of looks like Janet Reno. On Facebook you're a f*cking superstar. On Facebook your knowledge about and engagement with the ostensible stuff of life can be regularly and almost wholly staged and for that reason is effective like never before in tricking people into believing that you're tougher, smarter, sexier, more sensitive than you really are.FN3
This isn't a knock. Any adult more interested in bumblebees than impressing Salma Hayek is a f*cking d*ckhead. This is, nonetheless, WTANGISF.
FN1. Carolla said in this regard, "You know how long man has been walking this earth? Millions of years [ed.: including direct ancestors]…the fact we all happen to be here at the same time at relatively the same age is one in a billion…if you were here in 1855 and I was here in 2025 we'd still be really close in time. …It is kind of a weird miracle-coincidence we're all here at exactly the same time. And, by the way, we're all going to be gone about the same time too. So, here the thing: what the f*ck are we killing each other for? Shouldn't we relax?…We have a short run, a little window, in terms of the earth's calendar, just a blink of an eye. How about we save the killing for the next group of assholes that comes when we're gone. But nope, we can't do it. We got to start building bombs and going at each other. And whenever I say that to someone, they say, 'What kind of f*ck fag pills you been eating?' All right."
FN2. Maron on Bill Maher's show said, "You can think for a long time that you're angry FOR A REASON. But, a lot of times, if you just do a little more thinking, you're probably just f*cking angry. Politics [or whatever] becomes a template for your [self-made] fury."
FN3. Concededly, social media technologies mess with conventional definitions of who people really are, so the point is overstated. Still, it's not likely that virtual realities like Facebook will ever cannibalize the primal realities of in-person interaction, whatever Keanu Reeves movies suggest. Because at some point you have children and you can't tweet your way through that sh*t.
Posted by Samuel Snodgrass at 2:18 PM