Googling “how to reduce the need for affection” doesn’t turn up all that much, and if you ask your friends, they’re just gonna laugh at you. Until weeks later, after they’ve been ditched by whomever it was for them that month, and they come to you, tail between legs, asking “Hey…did you ever find out how to reduce the need for affection?” This has happened to me multiple times!
In researching reducing the need for affection, I’ve come across plenty of articles that try to dodge the issue by avoiding the word “affection.” They claim people are seeking “attention” or “prestige” or “approval” or some other medical-sounding reward. But I think the situation is a lot hotter than that, and by hot I mean a warm fuzzy HUG — get your mind out of the gutter.
A lot of the search results you DO get (YGMV*) are content-farm articles on how to spay or neuter your pet (…so that’s what they’re calling it now?) or y so srs/pitiful pieces in the Huffington Post about how to make your man show you more affection (…she really hasn’t figured that out yet?). I lost the very few useful links I came across. But here’s what I’ve discovered:
Get busy working on an idealistic project(s).
Get a pet (this is more of a hack: route around humans).
Get lost. Aloneness becomes a more comfortable habit given time.
And keep in mind this Theodore Sturgeon quote from his novel Godbody, which the character Britt Svenglund ascribes to the character Dan Currier: “any person who cannot be by himself, it’s because when he is by himself he thinks he is not in good company.”
In the last year, I’ve been in a totally unprecedented situation: I’ve had lots of friends! And I’ve conducted a lot of socializing. (Mostly at this excellent coffeehouse & computer repair shop in Fort Worth.) The whole experience startled me. “Wow, so this is what all the people I hated in high school were doing!” It gets so thoroughly, disgustingly addictive. You wake up one day, and your emotions are beseeching the universe to deliver you affection from others. Your long-lasting contributions to humanity? Yeah, screw those. WAIT NO!
You have to consciously pull yourself away if you get addicted. (Twitter, I’m looking at you.)
Now, you might not want to become a recluse. Currently you gotta interact with people to get where you want to go in life, and it turns out social skills are useful for that. Plus, a good social space generates good random. You encounter people who give you knowledge and paying gigs and culture. This happens in cyberspace, too, but it happens differently in meatspace; I’m not sure how to describe the difference, or why both are valuable.
Brain in a Vat Doesn’t Need Your Meatspace (Pic stolen from here).
A pickup artist is going to look at people with alleged affection-deficits and offer to teach them how to acquire more affection. Which, when you think about it, is not unlike a nicer (or at least nicer-sounding) Thrasymachus, who (according to Plato) taught that justice is nothing but “the advantage of the stronger.” (In the fifth century BCE, in ancient Greece, you could buy teachings from sophists such as Thrasymachus. Early-day Tony Robbins.) Pickup artists have a term: One-itis. Urban Dictionary as usual has the best definition:
Often confused with love, this is the feeling that a particular woman is actually special. This is just an illusion; she is the same as the other three or so billion. “Go fuck ten other women” is the most commonly prescribed treatment for this “disease” (hence the “itis”), as it tends to show quite quickly how very alike people are.
But everyone is a special snowflake, dammit (srsly, you are. And aren’t at the same time, too. Paradox WOAH!). Anyway, it is just remarkable, the difference in perspective, when faced with the question: “What do I do about my affection-deficit?” 1) Become more skilled at manipulating people into giving you affection; or 2) Reduce the need for affection. I’ll take option 2.
Once I was chatting online with someone, importuning the person for attention affection, and found myself rebuffed; instantly my mind generated epic narratives about how they were full of shit and one day, despite my anger and bitterness, I would triumph before all! AT THE EXACT SAME TIME in another chat window someone was importuning me for attention affection, all plaintive, and I was like, geez, this person’s annoying, won’t they go away, like srsly. Humans are up to here in this affection-acquiring attention-economy business. It’s the pits.
So you want the golden mean of affection and social interaction that suits your purposes and not the purposes your addictions or inexperience define for you. (A golden mean is not necessarily in the middle of the continuum, and not necessarily any sort of average.) On the other hand, maybe you’re such an awesome mystic that you flat-out don’t need to interact with others at all. In which case … can we meet?
INTERLUDE. Let’s take a break for a second.
* YGMV: Your Google May Vary, depending of factors such as your IP address. Which is one reason why proxy networks such as Tor are fun: “Today I’m gonna Google from the point of view of someone in the Czech Republic. Podívejte!“
Writing this I found out there’s a now-defunct Swedish goth metal band called Beseech.
They appear not to want my affection…but is it a reverse psychology trick?
Beseech covered ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” which is both awesome and horrible, and most fitting for this post.
Half past twelve / And I’m watching the late show in my flat all alone / How I hate to spend the evening on my own! … [Yeah I can’t take any more of this either.]
END INTERLUDE. Back to srs bizns.
I should point out that killing a social addiction is most conducive to creative thought. Which is much more useful to the world and (less important) much more happiness-producing than nightlife. What other people think really gets into you and mucks with your invention wellspring. Of course, not so good to invent something without people in it, so at least say hi to somebody today, okay? Or maybe just this week. (Even if just online ;-)
A lot of people I’ve recently met center their lives around winning games, with scoring casual sex encounters as one of the main ones. In this Interview with Pickup Artist Chaser Clarisse Thorn, the interviewer, whom the answer-ready Clarisse just barrels over, splashing her slang about One-itis and strategic ambiguity and outcome independence, asks: “Must everything be framed in terms of a game? What if […] You want to opt-out of that worldview?”
Clarisse answers by saying everyone’s playing games regardless of whatever nobility they affect.
Protester nobly not playing a game; opting-out or super-rational opting in?
One guy I know who regards himself as a skilled pick-up artist (or, as their lingo has it, a PUA) denigrated a certain other person who likes to read books in public by saying the person reads books in public for the sake of appearing broody to women. Maybe the reader just likes to read books. Anyway, the guy writes off men who do not optimize for the degree of social success he regards as advisable by saying these broody idealists have lost so many social games that now they’re just bitter. (As if bitterness alone is damning.) That’s often partly true, I believe, but by not thinking further he’s foreclosing himself from understanding a dimension of human experience that for him just isn’t salient.
I think practicing idealists — let’s say good artists and whistleblowers for specificity — share something: they intentionally lose games in order to create new realities. Think about whistleblower and soldier Joe Darby who exposed the abuses at Abu Ghraib — which included the gruesome CIA-assisted murder of “ghost prisoner” Manadel al-Jamdi. As recounted in Phil Zimbardo’s excellent book The Lucifer Effect (p.476-77), Darby said the abuse he witnessed
“just didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. After about three days, I made a decision to turn the pictures in. You have to understand: I’m not the kind of guy to rat somebody out….But this crossed the line to me. I had the choice between what I knew was morally right and my loyalty to other soldiers. I couldn’t have it both ways.”
After retaliation by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Darby “was whisked away, and eventually concealed in military protective custody for the next several years.”
“But I don’t regret any of it,” Darby said recently. “I made my peace with the decision before I turned the pictures in. I knew that if people found out that it was me, I wouldn’t be liked.”
“For many,” Zimbardo writes, “Darby’s calling attention to the abuses was unpatriotic, un-American, and even faintly treasonous. ‘Hero a Two-Timing Rat,’ ran a headline in the New York Post. [… Darby] was unable to accept [a Presidential Citation honor from the American Psychological Association] because he, his wife, and his mother had to remain in military protective custody for several years in the wake of the many retaliation threats they received.”
The game, the incentives lined up for Darby did not offer him victory for whistleblowing. He decided it was more important to create a new reality wherein injustice at Abu Ghraib had a better chance of being righted. These are the kind of people, I think, that pickup artists write off as merely being bitter. (Note the mainstream media’s dogged efforts to reduce idealist Bradley Manning’s motives to social frustration.)
Another guy I know defended Joe Paterno for not doing enough about the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. This guy said Paterno was being paid well, and when you are being paid well, you can’t be expected to risk things; he also said it with a wink wink, nudge nudge attitude that conveyed “Mature people in the know agree with me.” He is a popular, cheerful young man who is solidly liberal, solidly Democrat. His attitude that maturity consists in surrendering ideals belongs to the feel-good pickup artistry of political and social marketing: Romney’s RNC speech, Obama’s speeches, The Daily Show, TED Talks. The content is irrelevant here; the truth or falsehood or the value of a particular Daily Show joke or Romney claim is irrelevant here. What I am saying is that the way marketers prioritize making the audience feel good higher than the content is most dangerous. We have a world where marketing and appearance trump reality and truth-telling to such an extent that anyone who prefers the latter over the former is cast off as immature and bitter before they are even listened to. But how are you supposed to report CIA torture? With a laughtrack?
Good artists work the same way, though not in the conscious decision-making manner of whistleblowers. By a sort of instinct, good artists wind up rejecting the incentives the main of the art market offers them and create not ossified things but new and therefore real things. New realities. Creative writing is good to the extent that writers allow themselves to live fully while writing; that reality pays off in the voice or tone of the piece, which reminds readers not to trust in appearance but rather in reality. Somebody might be reading a book in public to remind himself of that.
You could ask, though — what is the difference between perception-management (a negative term for a component of marketing: managing consumer or voter perceptions) and putting your best foot forward? After all, many of the techniques pickup artists teach are useful social skills to learn, just amped up and repurposed for sexual conquest. And though the horizon for contributing to humanity anonymously (seethese to learn more) is improving, people pretty much still need to interact with others to get where they want to go.
When you put your best foot forward, you are primarily allowing people to perceive you of their own accord, rather than emphasizing your manipulation of consumer and voter perceptions. I say emphasize because of course people are always managing perceptions by picking out what outfit they want to look good in today, etc. But it is when appearance overtakes reality that you have a problem. Especially if you can no longer tell the difference between the two. The phenomenological difference between them in first-person experience is real, I think. I’m not entirely sure. More than one slightly ashamed person in a private moment has asked me how they can make themselves more authentic. Maybe I am bitter, but I never know how to answer that question, because it is a problem I’ve never really had.
Divorcing, I’ve been going back to a lot of material from my earlier life, especially my teenage years when what other people said didn’t matter to me so much; in a marriage, or at least in mine, you are constantly having to compromise, appease, and betray yourself.
One thing worthwhile I salvaged from my teenage interest in the noxious ideas of Ayn Rand is the W.T. Jones History of Western Philosophy series. Jones was a philosophy professor at Caltech, and his otherwise little-known five-volume set became a bit more popular outside academia after Rand’s followers promoted the books.
W.T. Jones History of Western Philosophy
Volume 1: The Classical Mind. Second Edition (1969).
Volume 2: The Medieval Mind. Second Edition (1969).
Volume 3: Hobbes to Hume. Second Edition (1969).
Volume 4: Kant and the Nineteenth Century. Second Edition, Revised (1975).
Volume 5: The Twentieth Century to Quine and Derrida. Third Edition, with Robert J. Fogelin additions (1997).
I read them initially in high school: the late nineties. I understood it through about Volume 3. Sometime in the early 2000s I read it again on my own while studying philosophy in college, and I understood it through most of the 4th volume. Now I’m hoping to walk away with the whole thing understood.
All this philosophizing about life, on my and Jones’s parts, and I don’t even know who this guy is! I tried to read up on him tonight, but found little online. A retirement bulletin from Caltech explains helpfully that he specialized in world views, taught at Pamona College prior to Caltech, wrote seven books, and received several honors: he was a Rhodes Scholar, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Lippincott Fellow, a Proctor Fellow, a Ford Faculty Fellow, and a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar. The bulletin also quotes him as writing in 1977 that “One of the great aims of education should be to help students learn how to enjoy — enjoy, not merely tolerate — cognitive dissonance, cognitive ambiguity.” Very wise indeed.
A Seattle Post-Intelligencer article from 1986 reveals that his son, Jeff Jones, is a playwright. Jeff Jones wrote a collage-like play built from beach movies, Bible movies, Plato, and Latvian folk music. The article calls it a “beach biblical ancient Greek Latvian epic,” and it is part of a series the younger Jones titled, with apparent impishness, “A History of Western Philosophy.” (He also mentions going to therapy.)
I’ve been (re-)reading the elder Jones’s History of Western Philosophy almost every night just before turning off my iPhone flashlight. Aristotle definitely helps me fall asleep. Once I wanted to read the Copleston eleven-volume History of Philosophy — Copleston was a Jesuit priest — but in that series there are no translations for the plentiful Greek. Although I know some koine, Copleston’s Greek was still … Greek to me. An acquaintance has been asking why I’m wasting my time reading a history of western philosophy that isn’t Bertrand Russell’s. Because I’ve been told Russell is very opinionated in his presentation, whereas Jones quotes primary sources extensively and provides good context and what seems to be fair and only a little analysis.
Volume 1: The Classical Mind, by my bedside
There is really not much online about Jones, and little of his personality in his very objective, mostly humorless history. However, sometimes Jones reveals himself with his examples:
But is Plato’s psychological analysis of human nature correct? Is his account of the form “man” adequate? It seems clear that people who suffer from hangovers should not drink to excess and that people who have a tendency toward indigestion should not overeat. But one hardly needs to be a philosopher to discover this. How is Plato’s theory to deal with the man with a cast-iron stomach who prefers lobster to lyrics, boogie-woogie to Bach, and sitting in the sun to differential equations? We may agree that such a man is not living a well-rounded life, but are we justified in telling him that he is less happy than the man who lives a well-rounded life?
We could say, of course, that the man who prefers boogie-woogie to Bach simply doesn’t understand Bach. This line of argument is not without force. Bach is difficult; where the untrained ear hears only noise, the musically educated ear hears “exquisite harmonies.” Hence it is not surprising that a great many people prefer boogie-woogie. If, however, they were to study music, they might find that an increased musical appreciation repaid them for their trouble. But suppose that, after devoting some time to Bach, the man who prefers boogie-woogie says, ‘Well, I still don’t see anything in classical music.” We might be tempted to reply, “If you don’t, then so much the worse for you.”
This retort discourteous is, of course, not conclusive, and Plato would not have wanted to rest his case merely on the possibility of cultivating one’s taste. He wanted to maintain that the nature of man really is what he described it to be and that the man who doesn’t find it so is mistaken, not merely deficient in taste.
“Boogie Woogie” performed by Count Basie’s Blue Five:
Bach Prelude & Fugue no. 3 in C# Major, Well-Tempered Klavier Book 1, performed by Glenn Gould:
I’m going to read W.T. Jones’s History of Western Philosophy and sit in the sun at the same time!