If you like this orange you must like that orange. Well, maybe. Tastes change, and maybe I already had an orange a little while ago, and maybe I’m not in the mood while someone else would be glad to have it, so it doesn’t follow that because I liked this orange I must like that orange.
Comparing oranges and oranges seems like a set of two objects, but it’s really four. There’s you, there’s the orange, there’s the other orange, and there’s the perceived relation between you and the two oranges. When it’s just you and the oranges, things usually find a simple way work themselves out.
But when someone else comes into the room it’s seldom oranges and oranges. Other people are ever ready to tell you what you like. If you like this orange you must like that apple, because they’re both fruit. Nah, can’t stand apples unless they are baked. It doesn’t matter that they are both fruit, I don’t care for apples. Then the helping helpers will infer the inverse. If you like this orange you can’t like that apple. Watch me – I’ll like an apple just to spite you, or choke it down because there aren’t any oranges to be had.
The nonsense comparisons just get more nonsensical. If you like this orange you must like that color orange, you must! That’s the way it’s always gone! Well, I say if you like this orange you must like that porcupine. See how silly it sounds? As long as someone sees that fourth object in the set, a connection between the two things and you, they will hard-sell you that the orange and the very-not-orange are fully fungible.
That fourth object in the set, the perceived relation between the other three, gets its power from being invisible and assumed. The assumption of relations in the set overpowers all the other objects in the set. If you like this orange you are an orange-ist, because there’s (a) you (b) the orange (c) your liking of the orange and (d) anybody that likes that orange is an orange-ist, that’s the relation between you and the orange caused by your liking it. The invisible fourth object in the set, the assumption of a relation, is now a stand-in for you. You are no longer a person who in one place, in one time, in one way, liked an orange. You are are an orange-ist.
If you are friends with that guy / read that book, and that guy / book exposed that idea, and that whole other guy with that idea did that thing, then you did that thing! The four step process of replacing the man with a mannequin is the start of superstition. Religion is realized in the replacement of the representation for the real. Hard to believe that belief is so beleaguered but right here on this very planet in this very year there are nations where if you draw the wrong cartoon, read the wrong poem, or question the wrong answer, you go to prison. Or worse.
Here’s how they make the rotten trolly run. If you said this one thing this one time then you believe – no, you are – this other thing. A clergyman is not only a clergyman, they are a Good Person. Good People do Good Deeds, and if the clergyman doesn’t do good deeds, or if he does bad deeds, well, he’s still a Good Person. All four stations of Goodnessity are there: the clergyman, the Good Deeds clergymen are associated with, Good Deeds associated with Good People, and halleluia! clergymen are Good People. And oh my but the four stations of Badnessism are there as well. If you tell that one joke then you’re a Bad Person. That joke has the Bad Word in it, Bad People use that Bad Word, Bad People do Bad Deeds, so you did a Bad Deed!
It’s four things. You, that thing you like, another thing and the proposed connection between the things. That connection is presented as more important than you. The evidence shows that nothing is more to me than myself. I’d not be here to tell you if this was not the case. What other people think and do about me has its influences, but I don’t confuse that with right or wrong or especially not Rights and Sins. Egoism is the school of thought closest to my own, and that association draws from my own luster.
The pressure to be packed in a package deal comes in many forms. Don’t like too many kinds of art or music, be part of a scene. Don’t hold political or philosophical views, be a member of a party or a school. Don’t be online, be in a social network. And most of all don’t have a yen for truth, beauty and strength – be spiritual.
When the crowd crowns you with a trait, you’re trapped. To be identified as a whole by one of your parts is cutting. Oh you’re a massage therapist? I have this pinch in my back. You’re a car mechanic? You know, my car is just outside. You do stand-up? Tell me a joke, funny guy. I heard you’re a porn star, is that right? Let’s see those tits. So you’re a professional wrestler, eh? I like that other wrestler better, the nice guy. In every variation we are made out to be not ourselves but the thing other people think you are. Man, that dude’s a racist. Heil hitler, you cartoon-drawer! Her over there, she has a suicidal level of self-hatred and is an active enemy of all women. She quit her job to be a mom when she was in her 20s. There’s something just creepy about that family down the hall, they’re always happy. Yeah, they’re Mormons. Fake vegan meat supports the aesthetic of carnivore culture. No one more intolerant than the loud champions of toleration, no one more ready to divide than the unifiers of diversity.
In the United States, a slave knew he had a place: that of a slave. In India, an Untouchable knew he had a place: that of an Untouchable. The modern moral minders, starting with Stalin onward, developed a different delineator. If you are seen to stray too far from the approved set of beliefs, you have no place. You are to be stripped of your job, your career, your credentials, your home and your money. The Good Guys in the White Hats are ever vigilant for any infraction. Call them the improperatzzi. What a remarkable coincidence that the virtue they advocate is the same as the group they are a member of.
I can’t say I judge all men in all moments anew. I’ve also decided to not ask you to do so. That sounds too much like work. I don’t have the time or energy, much less the inclination, to always cast aside generalities, stereotypes, and biases. In this very essay I may lump a whole spectrum of people I disagree with into the base categories of liars and fools. But you and I both know some people are just jerks, and some people are solid citizens. I’m a member of some groups, a friend of others. Everyone I don’t like has me in common. If it suits me I’ll give you a chance, but maybe I’m busy or angry that day and you’re just going be hidden behind what I think of you based on some other thing at some other time. You’ll live. My opinion isn’t even all that important to me.
The troubles come when people decide that those who are different aren’t to live. Except for liars and fools, everyone on the planet knows that the Religion of Peace currently holds the title belt for murdering those who think or act differently than they do. I keep hearing that there’s a majority of Muslims who aren’t like that, but I also keep not hearing about what they are doing to enlighten their brothers and sisters who keep misunderstanding Islam in the same way, century after century. Maybe the numbers are there for the majority to reform the minority, but let’s see some action. A sound public shaming is a good start, and in this regard I do my part. But again – I limit myself to that most pathetic and un-magical of all activities, writing, when I disagree. The beheaders, the child-rapers, the enslavers, the kidnappers, the hijackers, the perpetually grieved – the Muslims – not so much.
There’s no controversy, only a nontroversy. A man can like music by ADULT. and Mildred Bailey. A man can know a great deal about far right politics without being of the far right. A man can be interested in beliefs about UFOs without believing in UFOs. The scolds and the bullies secretly know this but don’t want you in on their game. They know what is bad for other people because they’ve seen the evidence – but somehow, they saw the evidence and didn’t suffer from the exposure. They are good enough to tell you what’s good for you, but you aren’t. No thank you, you pinch-faced busybodies, I’ll decide for myself what I like and do and think and believe. I’ll even take my lumps for the luxury.
The heart wants what the heart wants. So does the groin. I’ve made up a name for those who think otherwise: quantisexual. A quantisexual is deeply invested in quantifying sex. Who can have sex with who, what the arrangement is named, who shares that name and who doesn’t. Who is doing it right, who is doing it right but for the wrong reasons, who is doing it all wrong. Not satisfied with the real-life cooties you can get from sex, a quantisexual invents forms of ritual contamination and cleanliness. If you have even one stray thought about your own sex, you’re bisexual. If you’re bisexual then you’re queer. If you’re queer then you have to support all the other queers in all their queeriosities. Even if you don’t have sex at all there’s a whole slew of cooties you can accessorize yourself with like ‘cis’ and ‘demisexual’ and ‘asexual.’ The name for a thing becomes more important than the thing itself, like sheets being more sexy than what goes on between them. The alphabet soup of alt-sex has more rules and restrictions than the Roman Catholic Church. Quantisexuality is a fetish. Hip hip hooray if you were born that way or if, by pretending it’s your thing, you get to join the right in-groups. Sex will go on without your names for it.
Standing at the rich banquet of life, far too many go with a cuisine they’ve been gifted by someone not even alive to share the meal. Only these foods go together, and only in this order, and in this amount. Not because to do otherwise leads to sickness or death, but because, well, other people might… see… See what? Me getting a few of these and a few of those, concerned less than they, enjoying more than they. You do go on if you must keep kosher, hold halal and avoid fish on Friday. All the more for me, pal, or maybe I’ll just have a bite and be done. What we do and like isn’t limited to one item from column A and two items from column B. Life is not a family meal or a package deal. Beliefs and interests are all a big mess and probably not very important, so pull them together in a way that makes sense to you. Just don’t insist I sign on to your supper club.
The thing you like is the thing you like. You didn’t used to like it, and maybe you won’t like it later. You don’t have to explain or understand it. You don’t have to get my approval for it. If it stops working for you, you stop working for it. Move on, and I’ll be doing the same.
- Trevor Blake is the author of Confessions of a Failed Egoist.