Sunday, January 16, 2022

Projection Booth

I used to assume that people who thought highly of me saw the real me. Women who smiled at me saw something deeper. People who satisfied my needs were good solid people.

Those who took a dim eye to me, or refused to give me what I needed, just didn't get it. They didn't get me. They were too occupied with their own narcissism to see clearly. To see me.

I'm not sure, but I think this is universal. And it's self-obviously cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs.

I've previously noted that fame's a phenomenally superficial thing. You - the substantial real you - can't be famous. Only your name can be famous:
[Fame can feel] quite disturbing and artificial. For one thing, it's never truly directed at you; it focuses on a facet of a layer of a static image which happens to have your name affixed to it. And you play little part in choosing which facet of which layer of which image is focused upon. The assignment process is remarkably similar to the way children get dubbed with nicknames.
The first three paragraphs, above, explain why many people are nonetheless quite happy with fame. The whole world - by virtue of a fuzzily imprecise, intrinsically fickle positive predisposition to the letters of your name - appears to really GET you!

During the years I spent with that perspective, it never occurred to me that I was the narcissist; too occupied in my own head to recognize that people don't need to see me correctly, or clearly, or even at all, much less smile or meet my needs. You're just another turkey in this farm, bub.

Eventually, I caught on (I'm slow). And my comprehension helped immeasurably. I'm far more accepting of being ignored, distrusted, or disliked. I respect everyone's right to hold whimsical preferences and to ignore vast swathes of the world. I myself do it all the time!

But there's a downside (in this binary zero-sum world, there's always a downside): by learning to blithely accept neutral and negative reaction, I've lost my zeal for positive reaction. I no longer project fine and noble qualities onto those who agree with me, like me, smile at me, etc. I don't feel better "seen" by such people.

In fact, some of my most unpleasant life experiences have been with people who a few moments prior pronounced me AWESOME.

It doesn't take penetrating observation to recognize that, for most people, AWESOME is one chain link from ASSHOLE. Neither is a very meaningful assessment. AWESOME is when I just said something you agree with. Or told you you're right. Or smiled at you. And ASSHOLE means I didn't.

Under the hood, it's truly that goofy and superficial. People are actually that narcissistic. And I strive for consistency, so, when I learned to blithely accept "ASSHOLE", I felt obliged to become equally blithe about "AWESOME". In either case, it's just stuff they're saying. Human assessment is not super meaningful! Just relax into it and take it all lightly!

So where do I go from here? There are people for whom I feel genuine respect. They are magicians who can conjure wholes greater than the sum of their parts. Or they're courageous, doing the right thing even when it's hard or counter to self-interest. They're risers-abovers. Or they're just quick-witted or interesting. And I can't help but smile at them, and say nice things to them...which, quite unavoidably (and unintentionally on my end), makes them find me awesome. So I let that assessment blow right past me, but still stick around because, again, I respect them. That's the best I can navigate this house of mirrors.

But what about love? Well, per the old Palmolive commercial, we're soaking in it. That's the default state, period. All the drama and the rich people problems and the egoic neediness and willfully frozen perspective - all the games we play and movies we pretend to star in help us forget that we're soaking in an eternal and infinite field of love. That's what the sunlight is. That's what the oxygen is. That's what it all is.

And, in fact, we are not foreign objects in that field. We are in it and of it, radiating while basking. Disgustingly sappy though it sounds, the truth is that at our foundation - beneath the pretending and the stories and the grippy fear and stress - we are love loving love.
But that's not what you meant. You were asking about earthly love. Red pill choosers: pray proceed.

I may be the only human who registers that when someone says "I love you" it has nothing to do with you. It's a statement of mere preference. And while it's a very nice feeling to be on the receiving end of the news that you're someone's preferred thing, that nice feeling is also impersonal and autonomous. Parallel lines all the way.

The best human beings can do is to say "You're my favorite figurine in my glass menagerie", and, if they're very lucky, the other person will declare them their favorite figurine in their glass menagerie. That's the height of human relationship. The best it can apparently get.

It's even more troubling than "parallel lines". It's co-narcissism, like binary stars self-servingly leveraging each other's gravity to accommodate their respective trajectories. "She says she loves me, and it feels nice, and to be loved is to be seen and understood, because people who think highly of me see the real me."

Why did I love the women I loved? In retrospect, I have no idea. They were attractive, they smiled at me, and they told me I was their favorite. Honestly, I think that's about it ("Isn't that enough??"). I felt seen, because I ran on the conviction that those thinking highly of me saw the real me. They were good solid people! So those who made me their very favorite figurine, well, those people were, obviously, paragons.

Am I renouncing love? No way! Again, we're soaking in it!

Dale Carnegie deconstructed things rather nicely, but did not go far enough. If you keep pulling the thread he found, the whole thing unravels. Which, again, is fine. This is not a deep ride. It's a light and delightfully varied entertainment (our baseline - eternal sea of infinite love - gets boring), and we literally wouldn't have it any other way.

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