Sunday, March 20, 2011


I'm always frustrated with the idea of desires/preferences.  People want stuff.  I want stuff.  What stuff?  Well, it might, at times, be largely dependent on external stimuli, and other people's preferences (let's say you're in a group with people trying to go out to a restaurant, and must pick which restaurant) and at other times be almost totally internal and inflexible (I must buy a pair of running shoes because I run (and being a runner is essential to my identity) or I must get food for my sick mother).

The origin of a set of preferences splits on more continua than external/internal too; they're also temporally arranged: some are more immediate and have only been in place for a minute (slice of pizza/coffee) and some have been long coming (pass the bar exam) while the reasons for other desires are total falsifications (if I breathe fresh air after smoking, smoking will do less damage to my body)--one thing is for sure: preferences face forward.

Something we're all guilty of is a process of confabulation, wherein we fabricate reasons to explain our own behavior. We have a running commentary on our own behaviors, but that doesn't mean that we're accurate about ourselves.

It is a sobering thought, to, on one hand, desire certain somewhat discrete objectives and on the other hand know that some of our thought process is subsumed by falsifying patterns onto events visible only in the rear view mirror: this happened because of that, and that was a result of my decision to do a third thing--but none of it need be true completely. 

The only way out is to see aggregate patterns and take them into account when we assign responsibility for events, but it is almost impossible to extinguish the chance that what occurred was random (and not part of the narrative our brains tell us occurred). Still, there are facts out there in the universe.  We might not like them, but that doesn't change them, only our reaction to them.

For the chronic drinker or addict, or obsessive, thoughts rush in to cover all of the terrain in a sticky sweet layer that makes it virtually impossible to pull apart reality from fiction--or to understand when someone, for instance, says something because they mean it or because of some other hidden motive that they're not saying overtly (because perhaps they're being strategic).  These thoughts may not stop, instead choosing to spin in on themselves and create what I can only describe as terrifying stress, especially when they turn inward to create suspicion of oneself (i.e. I can't trust myself to create plausible reasons for past behaviors or to ground future preferences).  That's when a drink or other drug comes mighty handy.  It is also when a fight comes in handy.  Why?  Well, a drink, a drug, a fight, it might sort of relieve stress in the immediate short term.  Very simple.  All of those compounding vast thoughts about patterns that don't quite have a beginning or an end liquefy into digestible chunks, and life can be manageable again.

There are two things to note here.  One, is that alcohol can be a form of self-medication for legitimate mental illness and two, is that we are very very good at finding patterns where there might be nothing but noise, air, or static, and that our brains can easily be put into overdrive, where we see patterns everywhere that don't exist.   Hence wild conspiracy theories or, more simply, men who think that all of the women in the room are looking them, or, indeed, that nobody sees them at all, ever.  

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