Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Downsizing Fallacies

Youth, they say, is wasted on the young. I'm pretty sure that's why Viagra is one of the best selling products of all time. Is there data out there about if it's the men or the women who really want and demand the stuff? I mean for the men to use, since I guess women find it useful on themselves too, off label. Anyhow, it, sort of, levels the playing field between old and young, right?

And, well, the trouble with level playing fields is that they presume some such thing as fair competition. The desire for a level playing field pretty much presumes your outrage - you the fandom - if someone on the field is doping. But they handicap sailboat races, to rule out the hardware differences, so that the skills and talents of the sailors are the thing that gets tested.

As far as I can tell from the comments I get here, the only people who read this, or likely any other thing up on the web are the folks who would pander Viagra, Cialis, porn, internet ponzi schemes, that kind of thing. Or are they just bots? Yeah, I guess they are just automated commentator machines, pretty much like the talking heads on TV now that I think about it. There doesn't really need to be any intelligence behind them, because we'd be shocked right off our butts if they were to say something unexpected. Anyhow, it's a pain in the butt every day to have to remove them all. Like barnacles growing on my hull, these comments keep appearing.

For lots of sports, if we were to handicap the players according to past performance, that might eliminate the outrage about the doping, but the trouble is that for most contests, it's both the physical conditioning and the ability to drive that body which is in the game.

Of course, who's doing the driving anyhow? Can you drive you? Physical conditioning presumes a kind of dedication that you and I don't have. We wouldn't even get started if we didn't have the skill. So, there's a kind of feedback loop which goes way back to some start, and in the end we, the fans, enjoy watching contests among the very best. Handicapping them would make the whole thing really frustrating to watch, don't you think?

Wednesday afternoon sailboat races among handicapped boats are probably more fun for the racers, who pretty much know where they stand, than they would be for any audience. Audiences require some clear and present contest, and not one in their mind. You need to be able to see, like in a Nascar race, which car is ahead of which. And it just blows the whole thing if it turns out that one of the cars was hiding some secret supercharger. Some horse had gotten an injection. Some stone was stuck into the horseshoe. Or some Madoff was, you know, making off.

So, we apply these terms to the economy, guessing, I guess, that we've borrowed them from the way that evolution works - survival of the fittest. It's capitalism's best apology. But as everybody knows who's ever watched some apes (Have you ever watched apes? I sure haven't, but I've read about such things), while the alpha male is pounding his chest, the rest of the guys are acting, well, depressed. Kind of like the way that school kids act once they learn that they're out of the contest.

There's this really hot woman driver now in Nascar, who I only know about because she's the spokesmodel for the company which sold me my domain name, Catalytic Narrative. She's an anomaly, right, since, generally speaking, we're used to seeing men behind those wheels. But how hot is that now, to see some woman driving the fastest cars, and I've gotta say, she's really truly hot. Hot wheels.

Kinda gets your motor going. But we wouldn't expect to see her driving her actual body against the men in, say football. Or to be even a little bit less grotesque, we'd be awfully surprised to see her playing soccer, or even running against the men, and if we did, she'd pretty much look like a man, and then we'd accuse her of secretly being a man. You know the drill. She'd only get to be hot metaphorically.

Now, at the deepest level of the secrets we may hide - and you've gotta admit that this is interesting at least metaphorically - is our DNA. Our genes. As if those might be the only proof of whether or not we are cheating. It's how rapists prove they didn't do it, but also how competitors of any kind can prove their gender. And it's that same secret code which drives the survival of the fittest.

Of course, it turns out that on the fringes (and you know I'm really only intersted in the fringes) things are never quite as clear as you'd wish. There are children born with ambiguous genitalia, and even if they aren't there is the subjective experience of being a man, say, or more likely a woman when you're genetically not, and all sorts of experiences in between. I guess the fandom hopes that these folks will just stay out of the competition, so that things can remain black and white and simple. But then there are those people who combine two complete and distinct set of genes within a single body. A kind of milkshake twin, which divided and then recombined during gestation, so that the person could, you know if he were to want to, get away with murder, say. Or skip a paternity rap.

My equipment doesn't work so well as it once did. You know, I have to jot more things down, take my time, eat differently and all the rest if I don't want to accentuate more than necessary the comparative consequences of getting old. The hair, well forget about the hair, and pretty much forget about athletic competitions, unless it's in some "master's" group. I won't even mention the unmentionable stuff.

But at least my body's no longer driving me. Well, OK, that's just not true, since every once in a while my body seems to take me to the emergency room for something I could easily have gotten away with in my youth. But in my youth, I was only focused, you know, on that one big charge of taking things right to the edge, and still it was never good enough.

OK, sure I still like to take things right to the edge. I live on the edge, right? In that liminal zone where all the evolution actually does take place. Except that I'm white and well capitalized, socially if not financially, and still have pretty good job prospects, which kind of eliminates any edginess to me.

See, that's the thing. Most people focus their attention on what they're afraid to lose. After twenty-something, you've lost the contest for the alpha spot, and so you settle on some specialty where you can shine a bit, or you set your sights within your rank and you compete for self-esteem right there where you, well, belong.

I do have to wonder, though, if there's a different kind of contest possible. No, I mean I really have to. I'm not getting any younger, after all, and there must come a point where the Viagra or pump implants or whatever people do just hurt way more than they would be worth. Like that guy who looks like an old head photoshopped to a younger body, but apparently isn't, except that why would he want to torture himself like that? I just wonder. Is he still cruising bars at his age? Would he be welcome among the competition?

At a certain point, you turn away from the game toward other pursuits. Your contest might be with yourself, for instance, so that when things come at you from directions you might not necessarily approve of, you test, first, your ego, to see if you might be blocking out whole aspects of reality. You might learn to try things on, what they call "ideas" (a ridiculous notion if ever there was one), for instance, to see if they might work better than the old habits you've grown used to.

Young people supposedly have the advantage here too, right? They can be more frivolous, fun-loving, experimental, and have so much less to lose. Which is funny when you think about it, since the old guy has already, by definition, lost. So, why not get a little frivolous? It's not like you've got any genes in the game anymore.  You've lost your energy to raise kids anyhow. I mean it's no mistake that they're handing out the food in Haiti to the women now, since the men all want to fight about it, taking care of their loved ones. But age can be as big a cure as gender.

So, what could it be then, to replace the dog-eat-dog competition which drives our marketplace? What could be the compensation in old age, for what you had in youth? Especially if you've jettisoned all the fruits of youthful competitive winnings. No wife, the kids live with their Mom, no retirement account. Some insurance against the ever-increasing likelihood of death, disease and accident. You were at least that careful. That careful, at least.

Apart from facility with words, which even there, is a contest which goes to youth. Because they're the only ones without a big investment in the contest as it used to be played, and so they can innovate, and push the novel, say to new limits. Do surprising things with words. No one ever wrote anything great who didn't accomplish it before, say, 28. No one ever made any great discoveries after that.

Which is a pretty broad kind of generalization, but it holds about as well as the mainstream against the fringes of sexual orientation, say, or the liklihood of women taking over football or even the sport of Nascar racing. It could happen, but the drive to compete seems to be a male dominated thing, no matter what the sports entitlement laws might try to do in recompense.

Or, wait, is that the thing then? That women want to compete just as badly as men do, but have always been knocked out of the competition because of man-made expectations? Could be!

We're only ever watching for the point. The winner. The one out front. The conclusion (I'll bet you just can't wait!). But there's an awful lot which must go on in the pit, at the training table, strategically jockeying for position in advance of the final sprint; the final charge to the finish.

And most of these contests still require some sort of stimulus-response. There is no audience. There is only one another, and mostly you're glad to be out of the limelight, since there's so damned much pressure there. So much expectation to perform. I doubt a watchmaker wants to do his work on a deadline. I doubt a painter does either.

And even in the field of evolution, I still wonder if we're paying attention to the wrong thing. Since it's the matings on the fringes which really change the game for eternity. The ones which cross the species boundary, for instance, or push the limits of what might be attractive. That's what Alfred Kinsey was exploring, taking a detour from his study of wasps. Having made his case there that there're no such things as "Ideal Types". The ones in the center supposedly duking it out for point.

I guess what that might mean is that the ones in the center, fighting for reproductive prominence (that's the fact, after all), get to champion the species as it is but have almost nothing to say about the species as it will become. As it will evolve. That gets accomplished on the fringes, metaphorically, or analogically, or whatever, the way that the geeks and nerds have suddenly moved into reproductive advantage once they could buy their Porsches just like the hardbodies always could. Or, well, you get rich, and then you get the Porsche and it won't matter how hard you are. You get the idea.

And there's even expensive stylin' wardrobes, you know, glasses and bling, designed to move the erstwhile geek to center stage. Some of it even celebrates what once got called "gay." Which might even have some influence, in the end, over what gets to be called an epithet. Driving home a point here.

So, the pit crew moves in a different direction now than it once did, and style defines a different alpha. But you know, I'm just not that certain that the contests which count are the ones which generate the most enthusiasm. (Did I really miss the Super Bowl again?! I hate to miss those commercials). The contests which count might always be the ones which take place on the fringes, off to the side, away from everybody's spotlight.

And I'm just not sure it's the apes we want to, um, ape, you know? Why should we make them our model, especially since it seems we never really did "descend" from them. They're modern too, just on a different, parallel, path. What are those other human-like species, Jane Goodall? You know, the ones where love is shared. The Bonobos!

These guys are genetically closer to humans, and they engage in all that behavior we'd like to keep in our closet. A matriarchal society, there's lots of girl on girl, promiscuity, sex for resolving conflicts if not for having fun. I guess these guys are out of the closet enough now that you can name a pants company after them. Maybe Banana Republic - you know that place where I'm afraid to shop because it's so, well, um, gay . But I do, and there's nothing wrong with that - Maybe Banana Republic paved the way. OK, I'm probably too old for Banana Republic, sorry.

Bonobos in captivity act a lot like other apes, and a lot like humans. When humans are being inhuman. The males become aggressive and even kill one another. But even when they're not in captivity, the males can be aggressive to outsiders to protect their own community.

I'm no Bonobo expert, but it does seem that here's another metaphor. And I'm not advocating free love, quite, you know the way it gets practiced by the decadent nerds and geeks among us (slipping in a little slander there to distinguish myself as a proper mensch here). But it might be nice if we could come down a bit off the extremist competitions we stage for ourselves. The winner take all kind of stuff, which just accentuate who you're not when you're a loser.

That's the kind where even if you're really really Brangolina hot (did I spell that right?), you're still going to get old or at least go out of style, fat lips, and then you too could be made into an object, as if you weren't already, and be among the most unlikely to find abiding love. It's all about abiding love here, right? Well, at least between parent and child it is. Anyhow, I'm certainly not suggesting we should ape any apes, no matter how much nicer they are than we are.

It's just that we could stand to back off a bit about the ownership thing; the sex as mortally serious all the time thing, the performance thing, the hotter is always better thing. I get so tired of seeing lives ruined by people who get treated as objects. The real contest is not always the one with the biggest audience is all.

OK, that's pretty self-serving, but you know what I mean, right? There are other ways to organize our economy. Downsize this, make my day, because, you know, I never really did pin my identity on your logo. There! I feel better now.

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