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Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Hacking la Femme

Do I want a girl who's mind I have to hack to get?

I wish I knew.

"Of course not!" seems the obvious answer, but there is much to the question which is not obvious.

I'm like a bird watching the mating rituals of my fellow birds, thinking "that's just silly!". I mean, how contrived! Bob your head up and down, fan out your tail, do a little dance and then chirp twice as loud as you can. Didn't work? Do it again, but with more gusto.

But dammit, as I sit by on the sidelines mocking this nonsense, that cute chick I was chirping with just a minute ago seems genuinely entranced by the thing, and next thing you know the feathers on the top of her head are standing up like you'd just rubbed her on a balloon, and she's flying off with that goof-ball to his nest. Why? She doesn't know, and chances are good he doesn't really either (unless he was a bird like Andrew*, from whom I am borrowing the term "hacking" in this context).

(I can see now why men once believed rain dancing might work too.)

The mating ritual is a diagnostic and our innate sense for it is so deep, so old, we may never know all of its facets, nor ever be fully, or even substantially, aware of how it guides us, tweaks our priorities, makes our decisions, determines those "wants" which we call our "free will".

Attraction is perhaps in no way a conscious, logical thing. We can make all the rational, well-founded decisions we want about who we would most benefit from spending our time with, and yet our attraction remains a three year old child with a mind of its own, running off in some other direction seemingly oblivious to all these sensible thoughts.

And attraction motivates us. It is motivation. "Hack me--I want to want!" she says. It's not enough to satisfy the conscious mind--it doesn't feel right until you do the little dance.

And I've been aware of all of this for a long time, but still I am conflicted about some aspect of it. Exactly what, I'm not sure.

The average bird goes through the motions without knowing why; he does it because, quite simply, he wants to. And so does she. This is natural selection at its best, boys and girls running their diagnostics on public display, programmed to select the mate that will most likely propagate their genes.

But consciousness throws a wrench in the works, gives us a competing metric for our choices and actions. We question ourselves, see our own reflection and go "my god, why am I dancing around like an idiot?" And so we re-shape ourselves in a more sensible image, to be the embodiment of our conscious ideals, whatever those may be. And we look in the mirror and say yes, that is me. And people like us look at us and say yes, there is the embodiment of our conscious ideals--it's sure a shame I don't find you attractive.

But consciousness also gives us a level of control we never had before, if we can escape this dangerous middle ground and re-take control of the lower levels--of ourselves, and of other people. Recognize and accept the hard-wiring, and use it. It is the control panel of our motivations, the helm of our will. Before us is a button labeled desire. Push it--we all want desire, right?

And I've been aware of all of this for a long time, but still I am conflicted about some aspect of it. Exactly what, I'm not sure.

I want to say that it's all just dishonest and manipulative and that I prefer a more direct approach. But that's not true--I've been a quiet advocate of psychological hacking for as long as I can remember, just not without some poorly-defined reservations (which I am now endeavoring to elucidate). Many of the images I have always carried in my head of desirable interpersonal interactions are heavily based on mutual hacking, on intentionally pushing those buttons to raise the level of experience to something well above mundane life. It is perhaps even a defining characteristic of my "ideal" companion that she enjoy not just meta-cognition, but meta-behavior. Those are key ingredients of a truly superliminal relationship.

So, what's my problem with it?

Possibilities that come to mind:

I think all of these (and more, I'm sure) interact to form a positive feedback loop, leaving the whole system precariously sensitive to initial conditions. Practically speaking, if she decides a priori that she's interested in me, then: I don't feel the game is a prerequisite, so I don't resent playing it; she responds positively, so it's fun; she gives me the benefit of the doubt, so wherever I'm not good at it, it doesn't matter; I see it working so I'm inclined to take it further; and ideally, she's playing too, making it more viscerally enjoyable for me, making her more valuable to me for being so adept, and making me feel more visible before someone so meta.

Conversely, if she decides up front she's not interested, whether because I'm not what she was hoping for physically, or because of the context in which we met, or even if it's simply her default posture in defense against the endless onslaught of suitors, then: I find myself resenting that I am expected to "perform"; initial feedback is cold (guarded), so I quickly assess that I'm just out of my element, and lose faith that there's any positive end in reach; she doesn't give me the benefit of the doubt, so every mistake costs me; her lack of positive response makes it boring, and the game becomes work instead of fun; she becomes boring, and I wonder why I am bothering in the first place; and by no stretch do I feel visible to her--she doesn't even want to look.

What frustrates the hell out of me is this could be the same girl in both cases, under just slightly different initial conditions!

A glance at my past confirms that my life has been determined at the whim of initial conditions--a roll of the dice that's particularly reluctant to turn up in my favor, being the odd-ball I am. And more, these initial conditions may generally only apply to certain personality types (INTJ) in the first place. Getting through any other door may be limited to freak accidents.

And in principle, this is mostly my fault, primarily for not having the social self-esteem necessary to push through that cold start. (Although, the benefit-of-the-doubt factor can be huge, sometimes its own unbreakable feedback loop.)

And I don't know if I can ever fix that. And I'm not even sure I want to, because a part of me says I don't really want someone who lacks the strength, courage and enthusiasm to make a warm start out of every opportunity life brings. But is that an honest assessment or a rationalization? I can't really know until I get what I'm not sure I want.

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com