Thursday, 31 January 2013

Views From The Shard: Part One

My sister works in the designing-your-expensive-Head-Office business, and can gaze across London from her office windows, point at various landmark buildings and say "we did floors in that one, that one, that one..." - which is a pretty neat connection to have with one of the greatest cities in the world. The firm isn't in The Shard yet, no-one is, as the landlords are playing it very close for fear of having salesmen camping outside their doors. Everyone wants to be The First In The Shard.

Being in the trade, Sis got hold of the chance to buy two preview tickets (yea! In before Boris!) the other weekend and so off we went. I even took the 1100D along and at times it shows. If you get the chance or the notion... go, but book in advance.

As ever, click on the photographs to see the originals which have way more detail. I'll say a bit more about the visit in the next post.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Evo-Psycho vs Economics As Explanation: Part Two

Misandrist feminism was a free-rider in all this. It was Capital and State that needed women in the workforce in the 1970's and modified the laws accordingly. Militant feminism never was effective: women over thirty got the vote in 1918 because their actions in the 1914-18 War made the rhetoric that denied them the vote embarrassing. They didn't get it because Emily Davison stepped in front of a horse at the Epsom Derby. But militant feminism makes great press. There has always been a shrewish strain in the female population, and now it was being paid: the shrews grabbed the stand-up mic, the documentary and the pop-sociology book. What no-one knew was that under the cover of pop-culture, misandrist feminists would execute entrist tactics into the "women's issues" industry and embed sexist misandry into family law, social work, child protection and in some companies, HR policy.

At the same time, the value and number of full-salary jobs was declining. The price of family-sized houses was going up, pushing the cost of a traditional life up, and the opportunities for starting one at a sensible age were getting smaller. Even if the boys wanted to be traditional men, many of them could not afford it, and even if they could, there wasn't always a girl who wanted to be a traditional woman available at the right time. In the meantime, why not party a while longer? Or go for the promotion? With fewer people saving for capital outlays in the near future, there was more disposable income for partying, holidays and toys. The dark secret that office work was a damn sight easier than running a home and raising a child was out in the light by the mid-1980's. Wife or career-girl? Gee, that's a tough call. By the late 1990's any attempt to tell girls that a sensible aim on leaving education was not a career but a husband would have been answered by a swift economic explanation involving salaries, house prices, inflation and the difficulty a young man has of ever earning enough to support a wife and family in the traditional way.

I'm not suggesting that the fact you can't get laid except by flakey, slightly overweight entitlement princesses is one giant conspiracy between Barclays Bank, Tesco and Camden Social Services. Those guys are quick-response reactionaries, not revolutionaries. I am suggesting that most of the changes in the behaviour of women can be explained by reactions to economic change, to fit in with what was presented in the pop-culture as the prevailing, or perhaps cutting-edge, mores, and to react rationally to what they saw in their own families. I'll go with this kind of explanation any time. It's messy, and that's one of its advantages. It doesn't immediately suggest a way to Make Everything Right Again, which is always suspicious in a supposedly descriptive theory. 

This is the future for the Anglosphere. Nothing has changed, it's just got honest. This is how women always wanted to behave. Turns out they are every bit the same bunch of thoughtless, selfish, mixed-strength assholes than men always were. And that's what disappoints the guys in the Manosphere, who for some reason thought they could expect something rather better. Because they believed the hype. Which is where the Red Pill / Blue Pill thing comes from.

So what's an honest, decent man to do? He stays single, unless he meets That Special WomanTM. Since that is by definition unlikely (I couldn't even tell you what I would look for), and since he's not dead yet, he will want to get laid, so he needs some kind of Game. Whatever works for him. And contraceptives. He will work out, read, travel and have creative pastimes. He will understand that everything the girls say and do is intended to advance their class and personal interests, and therefore anything they say can be dismissed as a kind of propaganda. He won't bother with pop-culture opinion columnists, whom he knows make careers on fake controversy. He will aim to learn about and appreciate the Real Thing, and leave the latest entertainment industry sensation to the girls and children.

He will also understand that, no matter how the girl he is trying to Game appears to him, she is, in her eyes, an honest decent girl trying to answer the same question. She too will stay single, unless she meets That Special ManTM. Since that is by definition unlikely, and since she's not dead yet, she wants to get laid, have someone to take her out and pay her attention, so she needs some kind of Game. Too many girls think that their Game consists of showing up. It doesn't. But that's another story.

Sometimes neither have any success. The guy will shrug his shoulders and split, muttering something about how awful girls are. The girl will  split and mutter something about how awful men are. He will blog about it, she will Facebook it. Somewhere in the back of their minds will be the thought "at least I'm not stuck with a child and someone I don't actually care much about, like my parents were". 

And because they can't afford their own place, they will have flat- or house-mates waiting to chat to them and share a late-night vodka. Their parents had their own places, and were lonely.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Evo-Psycho vs Economics As Explanation: Part One

The Manosphere loves Evo-Psycho. I don't. It's unfalsifiable to the N-th degree, pseudo-science right up there with psychoanalysis and String Theory. It's an ideology, an interpretive framework within which one can make sense of seemingly random events and outcomes. It makes no predictions, but it's damn good, in skilled hands, at making anything seem as if it was the most obvious and natural thing to happen. That's why it seems so hard to actually refute it. Evo-psychos never make predictions, they only explain.

When it comes to stuff like this, I'm with the old school guys. Follow the money, follow the power, follow the twisting curves that is the development of Capitalism. Look for the expression of class interest and at the logic of the relevant social structures and institutions, and at the influences of pop culture (itself a product of Capital) as well as those Four Horsemen of Social Apocalypse: Church, State, School and Parents. Regard people as problem-solvers making use of these institutions to advance their self-interest within whatever random rules they have picked up, and with whatever random talents, gifts and advantages they may have been born with or into. Also I hold that inter-sexual differences are smaller than intra-sexual differences, mod reproduction-related issues. In other words, given any asshole-like behaviour by men, you can find a woman who's a bigger asshole, and given any saintly behaviour by women, you can find a man who's a better saint.

So here's my version. Economic development in Western Capitalism reached a stage around the late 1960-s where there was not enough labour to do all the work that could be done, and that many of the jobs being created were not congenial to most men and didn't quite add enough value to justify a full male salary. In addition, the State - even in America - was creating a large number of welfare-related social services jobs that definitely did not add a male salary's value, and so both the State and Capital needed more women in the workforce. Hence the changes in employment legislation in the 1970's. In a very short time, basically between 1970 and 1979 in the large towns, girls went from seeking marriage to seeking A Flat Of Their Own.

They did so for three reasons. Girls aren't stupid. They can see when their parents aren't happy, and they could figure out that it was being forced to live together well after the initial attraction had faded that was the cause. It's men who bang on about the Old Days when Gramma and Gramps Toughed It Out and Stayed Together, not women. Women don't want to live like that for a moment longer than they need to, as they proved when no-fault divorce was introduced. So a lot of girls simply don't have the stars in their eyes in the first place.

Pop-culture hyped the benefits and joys of independence. It did so because it saw girls going into jobs rather than marriages when they left university, realised that there was a market there - all the single ladies spend, spend, spend, a value second only to the Pink Pound - and mirrored those girls back to themselves. Other girls read the same magazines, thought it looked like fun, and followed on. In case you guys think that's an unrealistic assumption of naivety and influence, where did your friends get their Blue-pill ideas from?

Third, who the heck said that women ever wanted to be married and raise children? It just looks that way because it worked out that way before The Pill. Gramma just wanted to fool around, did so for a while, and then the inevitable happened and Gramps did the right thing and married her. What we know from the introduction of no-fault divorce and reasonably well-paid jobs for women after the 1970's is that it isn't men who want to live alone with their cats, it's women. It isn't men who set up impossible ideals for a potential partner as a way of hiding the fact they don't really want one, it's women. And it's both sexes who are happy to screw around, especially if there's no chance of pregnancy.

Monday, 21 January 2013

I Could Have Screwed Up Royally...But I Didn't

So where are we, now that we're back where we started?

I'm one of the people who lives for sensations and pleasures, and I was somehow smart enough in my teenage years, reading Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas as it came out in Rolling Stone, to realise that if I let myself go to those sensations, if I ever found a drug that got me out of it, then I was not coming back again. I channeled it into the abstract thought of philosophy and mathematics, and taught myself to appreciate jazz and composed music. That's where I get my kicks. I understood somehow, from somewhere, about "the pram in the hallway", long before reading the book. I knew from when I was five or six that I never was going to get married, and I have never changed my mind. I have wanted to get laid, I have wanted a girlfriend, I have wanted a "relationship", but never in the depths of any misery did I ever want to be married. I could cite my Chinese horoscope, which has a strong Rat influence: we Rats never get into anything we can't get out of. Or I could just accept that I'm an addict with the sense and luck to stay away from the really destructive addictions.

Like many young men, but not the majority of them, I had a long and painful dry spell when I should have been getting laid regularly. This gave me a bitter view of the world: women were the enemy, because they had what I wanted and wouldn't let me at it. At some point this passed, and I think it was in my late twenties, when I started working and did get laid now and again. It didn't take a lot to make me feel way better. Then all the other stuff happened. I knew the girls wanted some kind of relationship that I wasn't able to provide, and because I didn't understand much about myself, I thought that was my failing. I was "wrong". And that was where we came in.

I could have screwed up my life a dozen ways and royally each one. I could be twice-divorced with three estranged kids: two from the first marriage, one from the second. I could be a suffering alcoholic - though I would be long dead by now. I could have been a drug addict - and even longer dead. I could have picked up the gambling bug, but the last races I went to, one horse didn't make it out of the stall, and one lost a shoe on the way down to the stall. I stopped after that. I would have needed a big win to get hooked, and I never had one. I've survived some nasty bouts of unemployment that sent my career back to zero when I was forty and then fifty. I climbed back out and have had my nose above water for a while now. I've even survived a car crash that other people thought would have killed the occupants.

I used to think I messed-up my career, and while I made some dumb moves in my first job, but after that, I didn't. I know now that strong corporate careers need a lot of energy and people skills, as well as a capacity to do stuff now that you believe may not pass the Regulator in the future. I don't have that energy, and I don't have that temperament. For many years my intellectual thinking was confused, first by hormones and then by booze. It was only when I got sober and calmed down that I began to be able to think clearly. In a great many ways, I am in better shape now than I was when I was thirty. Just not as pretty.

It is, all in all, a freaking miracle I am still standing at all, let alone standing as tall as I am. When my energy levels are up, I can carry on with life and feel okay. I look confident, I don't feel down, but look at what I do, at how I live, and you will see that really I scuttle from home to work to gym to home and that's basically it. I haven't approached a woman in years, nor tried to find another job, nor, well, anything outside the scuttle-path. Either I've decided to retire early, or something is still wrong, or it's just plain time I got off the bench.

This has been one looonnnnggg investigation of the idea that "something is still wrong". I mean, of course, on one level, there is something wrong. I'm an addict, alcoholic and ACoA, and I'm pretty sure others would add other non-flattering adjectives. I am not going to do trust, fun, intimacyTM, authority figures or relaxing, and I am going to take myself too seriously (whatever that means). I was never going to be a great father, nor anyone's loving husband. I get bored way, way too quickly for that. I can't be anyone's rescuer or amateur therapist, and I'm no-one's mentor or guide. I'm not that promotable, and I have no desire to slave-drive younger people (aka a "motivational manager") or sell clients something they don't really need (aka "consultancy").

Well, this is "wrong" to a gold-digger / husband-seeker / status-groupie / princess / career-girl / entitled-wall-slammer-in-denial. It's also not what the older woman wanting a substitute father for the kids / replacement husband / fund to pay off the debts (all aka "someone to share my life with") is after either. And in London, those groups make a lot of the female population. Fine, at my age and hormone level I can live without them. The task is to find a woman who isn't one of them, ask her to join me for coffee so we can engage in mutual inspection and see if we can keep a reasonable conversation going for twenty minutes. If so, I'll follow up with an actual date. And I'm talking 30-45 here (probably 35-45, the 30-35 is aspirational). How do I have the temerity to aim there? 

So there's this twenty-seven year old at work I have a crush on. (I always have a crush on one of the girls at work. It occupies those feelings with someone unavailable. It reminds me I'm alive.) Except she doesn't yet realise she's attracted back (Girls! Sooooo in touch with their feeeelings). Her friend can see the attraction, and has made indirect jokes about it a couple of times. I am not going to make a move, because work, and because I don't want to deal with someone who can't recognise her own feelings, and who is just a little bit of a princess. The point is, those girls don't see me as their kindly Uncle. They see me as a viable man. Otherwise I would have heard "Eeeeugh" noises.

So it's about getting my Game going. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Finally, I Understand "Normal" - And It Isn't Pretty

I had a cold around that time, and did I ever write some even more depressed stuff on it. I will spare you. Then I read this...

"Girls back home never could stand the fact that I was different. Before I had tits I was a misfit...who liked to read and watch horror movies...They teased me and made fun of me, but didn't give me much thought. Once the hormones kicked in, that's when I became a genuine threat. It wasn't just that I loved sex, it was the fact that I didn't use it as a bargaining chip. I didn't want to trade it for a house and a mess of kids. I actually enjoyed it for its own sake. For that, all the girls hated me. Boys on the other hand, they loved me. That is, until reality kicked in, and they traded me in for a more sensible, wife-worthy model." (Christa Faust, Money Shot, pp119-20 Hard Case Crime edition.)

That, right there, is almost the entire Manosphere - Feminist / Mars - Venus / Slut - Wife / Fundamentalist Religion - Socialist Atheist thing in a  nutshell. Ms Faust's website is here and she looks pretty darn funky to me, but I doubt I could hold her attention for very long, plain commuter guy that I am. The point is, she's an actual woman, not a guy with a pen-name.

Because if she was a guy with a pen-name, that quote could be dismissed as loser male cynicism. Since she isn't, there are three possibilities: first, Ms Faust doesn't mean it, it really is fictional; second, this is an idea that all sexually over-sensitive / over-powered / obsessed people, female as well as male, have about the Straights; third, it's true. I'm going with the second and third.

"It wasn't just that I loved sex, it was the fact that I didn't use it as a bargaining chip. I didn't want to trade it for a house and a mess of kids. I actually enjoyed it for its own sake. For that, all the girls hated me." For someone who regards sex as a complex and many-faceted pleasure that is enough in and of itself, the idea that it would be used to manage one's partner is almost morally repulsive. Who would do that, and why? 

I have puzzled, as have many, over the answer to that question for a long time. In the depths of a dry spell as a younger man, the answer was "manipulative bitches who don't have the capacity to love". Dry spells do brutal things to a boy's world view. It won't do as a considered answer, especially as there are women who like sex for its own sake, and I did meet a few. What's puzzling is why almost all men should think there is nothing wrong with women using sex to manage them, as they must, or there would be rude words to name the women who did it. But there aren't. It is regarded as natural and maybe even desirable. Most men go along with it. Shall I say that again? The vast majority of men consider that it is entirely natural, right and proper for women to use sex to manage them

At this point, someone could say "Blue Pill / Red Pill. Duh!" That's all too much tied into Evo-Psycho for me. I prefer to look to the way we experience and interpret the world on a very fundamental level. Of course I would, I'm a philosopher. I suggest that folk like me, Ms Faust and some of the Manosphere guys, are very differently wired from the Straights.

We are people for whom living is aesthetic, about sensation, feeling and thought, intensity, variety, being lost in a moment, enchanted by a detail, when someone's smile can be the high point of a day. The way we live can often look slightly addict-y, exactly because those sensations are a kind of High. We seek out sensations from whatever our preferred sources are, and those are the reasons for our actions. Why do we do what we do? Because it feels good. (Note: not because it is "satisfying", "fulfilling", "meaningful" or any of that morality disguised as psychobabble. I said "feels good" and that's what I meant.)

The Straights aren't like that. They are all about relationships with other people. Their reasons have to do with co-operation, competition, sabotage, status and display, about recognition and help from, or victory or control over, other people. They do stuff because it creates, develops or changes a relationship with someone. So for a Normal PersonTM everything is about managing, competing with, manipulating or using other people. That's why Normal Men don't find it odd that Normal Women should want to manage them with sex. It's all just part of the drama and content of their lives.

Sick, isn't it?

What's worse is that under the guise of "psychotherapy" and other related witchcrafts, they try to shame us into being Normal PeopleTM, by telling us we are sad and miserable, empty and unable to have intimate relationships, and lacking in meanignful and fulfilling occupations. Don't we want to be married and have children? Don't we want the relatives round for Christmas? Don't we want to celebrate our birthdays with everyone in our mobile phone? Don't we want to toss frisbees on the beach and play mixed touch rugby? Don't we want to live like them? No. We Bloody Well Do Not. And within short order, they are reduced to shaming.

Oh. And if you find yourself asking "But why are you after sensation, instead of entering into human relations? What went wrong?" then you are still caught in their, or still exercising your own native, shaming mode. Nothing went wrong. We were made Ferrari's, and NormalsTM were made, well, Volkswagens. What's wrong is if we try to carry the baggage for their family holiday to the house at the end of the dirt track. Not where we're at our best. Just like the NormalsTM are not suitable for abstract thought, scientific, technological and medical discovery, sustained creativity, problem-solving and single-task focus. That's our stuff.

So we're nearly there. In true form, I have come round in a large circle, but seen parts of the world I haven't seen before on the journey.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Dry Spells and The Damage of Missing Good Times

There was as yet something un-touched in all this, and this whole rambling meditation was not going to be complete until I found it and dealt with it. 

I found it in this harrowing post which brought back the ridiculous pain, emptiness, bitterness, anger and sourness I felt from the periods of extended celibacy in my teens and twenties. Some of us guys have hormones that won't let us sleep in sustained celibate peace - at least when we are younger. Personally, I think we are in a minority, and that the majority of men are quite capable of living for extended periods without the slightest human touch (or maybe that's the real reason to play team sports?). The majority of women certainly seem to be so capable (by Seven Dials' Observation, there will be women who can't go a week without sex, and men who can go a decade). Many men feel nothing from extended celibacy, but for those of us who do, it changes our hormonal and emotional balance permanently.

For whatever reason, some of us guys leave childhood with an unfulfilled need for emotional reassurance, validation, or whatever other word you might want to use. Or maybe we have a messed-up hormone cocktail that makes being physically alone painful. It kinda doesn't matter what causes it, what matters are all those Sunday mornings we wake up alone and hurting, depressed, angry and in pain. We feel there is a cure for this, which is sex, waking up with a woman in the bed, but we can't get the medicine. There's some magic word or gesture or something we need that we don't know. There's a place we need to go to find girls, but no-one knows where it is. And when we do find some girls, they are charging a price, and some of those prices are way too high - marriage, commitment, relationships - while some feel like come-ons with no promise of delivery - a weekend away, an evening's entertainment. Worst are the girls who want us to be someone else. We start to think the whole thing is a game, a trick, and all the players are lying. 

For me, this started when I was sixteen and went on until my early thirties, with the very, very occasional one-night stand. Going six or nine months without sex was standard, and the worst dry period was over two years of postgraduate study. Hell, I didn't even lose my virginity until I was twenty, and I knew good-looking straight guys who got through university without popping their cherry.

Bad times cause two harms: the first is the bad time you have, and the second is the good time you missed. Think of it like having a sports injury. While you are off in pain and recovering, everyone else is training, getting better and getting more confidence. A guy who has a serious dry spell early in his life has a bunch of pain and resentment baked into his view of the world, and even if that subsides, he has to compete with other guys who have had positive experiences and gained confidence in the game of life. Now imagine how he looks at the world. It's a place that says NO to him, where he feels  lonely, frustrated and sour, and where all the good stuff is out of reach, but not out of sight. It's a place that makes no sense - as witness the phrase that became a Joe Jackson song "Is she really going out with him?" - and which is full of false promises, liars, teases, and worst of all, people who apparently simply cannot see him. It is not a place he expects to succeed in, at anything. It's a place where everyone pretends, and gets drunk to live with the realities they never really talk about. It's a place where no-one he knows has any useful advice, where there is no-one to turn to for help.

It does not matter why he is having this dry spell, or if there was anything he could have done about it. It only matters that he has it. Because once he does, he is changed forever. Gradually he makes himself smaller and smaller: he loses ambition; his contacts with people become polite, formal, stylised and shallow; he learns to manage his whole life himself. If he's smart, he will occupy his brain with theatre, art movies, science, history, novels, modern dance, music, programming, and a hundred other diversions, and of course he will lean on booze, or drugs, or pornography. All that simply separates him further from the rest of the world. And the worse it gets, the more important the cure that's in the sole gift of women becomes, and the more he resents them and what he sees as their games and lies. Which does not make him an attractive prospect, which further tightens the loop.

Manosphere advice says "hit the gym". That's only partly because by now our young man is in poor shape. It's also because weight training works. He does the work, his body shape changes, he looks better, feels better. It may be the first taste of success he has had for ten years. He works with a trainer to get him started. This may well be the first positive experience of other people and his own efforts he has had for ten years. 

That's how bad a long dry spell is. It is not something a man "gets over", or "moves on" from or "recovers from". It is permanent damage, ten years of lost good times he cannot get back, and ten years of head start that other people have on him.

It is almost impossible to explain how much damage the missing good times do. Here are some of the things you believe: that there is something that bonds a man and a woman and enriches both their lives for it; that there is a feeling called "joy"; that it is possible to be satisfied even for a moment; that it is possible to feel safe; that other people can be a source of help and useful advice; that it is possible to rest and relax; that it is possible to walk into a room full of people and feel welcomed; that your needs will get met. I think that these are illusions, delusions and generalised crocks.

Here are some things I believe: that I should edit myself all the time; that "belonging" is a one-sided delusion; that when I leave people's sight, I leave their minds; that other people are being polite when they spend time with me, and would rather be somewhere else; that I have nothing in common with anybody enough to last more than a ten-minute conversation about the weather; that I am invisible; that other people want me to be what they imagine me to be; that outside work I have nothing to offer anyone.

Because I'm in late middle age and the hormones are different, I don't feel the pain of all that stuff often. One day at a time, which is how I live, it's okay. There's a vague nagging feeling that I'm missing something, but most of the time I can busy it out. In my was late-twenties, this stuff hurt like a motherfucker.

This is what I needed to get in touch with.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

I'm Not Wrong - But I'm Not Convinced I'm Right Either

There was a brief pause after the Cycle of Despair thing, while I meditated on my attitudes to people, and how I was in a Cycle over people. Which I dropped, because it didn't feel right. In the meantime, I carried on with this line of thought.

Every now and then I used to like, or at least get a perverse kick from, rubbishing myself. How bad a person I was, how my life was a waste, how I couldn't have fun, or live in loveful trustingness with the world, or experience joy and happiness, and all that stuff. I used to be able to get a week's self-pity out of that, but the last couple of tries haven't gone past twelve hours. I just don't have the energy to keep it going and it isn't any fun anymore.

It's taken me a while to understand why. Stay with me for a while.

There's a very wide range of tolerated variation in intellectual and physical skills: you can lack the ability to make an omelette with a clear conscience, as you can be incapable of running a marathon in under four hours or rattling off the proof of the Downward Lowenheim-Skolem theorem, and no-one is going to call you out on it. By contrast, there is a very narrow range of tolerated variation in social, inter-personal and emotional "skills". People who don't behave close to the norm are marginalised with varying degrees of pity and politeness, and because most people like hanging out with some group or other of bros and hos, that marginalisation hurts. Literally hurts, as in nasty-hormones-in-the-bloodstream-hurts. It's that hurt which people take into the therapist's office or seek to get rid of through self-help and mood-altering substances. 

The official line is that those people hurt because there is something wrong with them. They need to (insert psychobabble nostrum here) and then they will be able to experience (insert psychobabble benefits here). Employers, partner-hunting women, and ordinary blokes get upset because hurt people aren't available as pliable subordinates, uncomplaining workers, partners, meal tickets,good-natured mates for Saturday football, Friday night drinks, and generally good company at weddings, bar-mitzvahs and funerals.Even in the post-modern economy and society of the 2010's in the UK, if I don't want to marry and have children, I have a choice of being diagnosed or disgraced. Even the diagnosis is only a temporary respite from the disgrace, because I should have "got over it", "moved on", "manned up" and "got on with my life".

So I would rubbish myself because I was "wrong". The proof I was wrong was that I hurt, felt empty, my career was was a mis-managed mess and I couldn't get girls when I wanted them. (Real Men can get another woman and another job tomorrow.) But, uh, like Normal PeopleTM don't have problems with any of those things?

There's supposed to be something good, desirable, pleasant and otherwise attractive about the way Normal PeopleTM live. But you know something? I can't see it. Forty per cent of them can't even choose their marriage partner very well, as they wind up divorced. Divorce is so good for the children, the husband's net wealth and income, and the wife's state of mind - everyone's a winner really (irony alert). Most of them are overweight and unfit - I've never seen a Normal Person stick with the gym - and some of them scarf junk food on the train home in the evening. They feel the need to drive a BMW X5 through the mean streets of Twickenham. They watch junk TV and barely read, can't play a musical instrument, don't like to try new types of food, get into debt buying crap they don't need, can't budget, dress badly and can't take their drink. They cook with microwaves and buy crisps for the kids. Or they are sickeningly smug, have chicken-wing triceps and vegetarian. Their emotional lives seem to me either bland beyond belief, or squalid and chaotic, or again, so smugly perfect that I want to leave before I barf. 

One of the marks of an alkie in early recovery is the perfection of their siblings. The alkie has the problem, but their brothers and sisters are just fine. Later they discover that, in fact, their siblings were as messed-up as them, maybe have the "-ism" or maybe don't. The whole Normal PeopleTM thing is the same: to messed-up people in pain, the Normals look like they are leading wonderful, if understated, lives. It's only a lot later, as the pain recedes and the empty feelings go away, that Normal PeopleTM take on a realistic appearance. And it doesn't look like a pretty sight to me. But if I'm "wrong" because I have the same problems Normal PeopleTM do, then they are "wrong" as well. That can't, by definition, be correct (much as the therapy community would appreciate the extra business).

So, guess what? There's nothing "wrong" with me. "Wrong" is when you need the psychiatric drugs. "Wrong" is when you think it's acceptable to make loans to people with no income, jobs or assets. "Wrong" is when you leave people to die on trolleys in hospitals, and when you put paperwork before people. "Wrong" is when you break your child's bones, and the social worker can't see past their religious beliefs to recognise child abuse. "Wrong" is when you hide medical test data, or ship a thousand jobs to Mumbai. "Wrong" is when you accept a job you are not qualified to do. To do any of those things, or a zillion others like them, argues a systematic flaw in a person's morals and understanding of their duties of care as a citizen. I could no more sell you crap you don't need than I could take a razor to myself - but there millions of people who can excuse themselves as they foist shite on you that you don't need.

And you might think that was a happy, constructive ending, but it wasn't. It was just another step on the journey. Just because I'm not "wrong" doesn't mean I'm "right". I'm clearly not. So what's going on?

Monday, 7 January 2013

The Cycle of Despair

So the day after I understood the vicious cycle of compulsive saving, I started to write the entry on it. Half-way through the first draft I felt that it wasn't the whole story and there was something else going on. The next day I wound up working out the diagram below on Visio (oh the ways we can blow off work hiding behind a screen!). I called it the Cycle of Despair. It works like this:

Start out green, approaching and interviewing and generally offering yourself to the world (girls, employers, galleries, theatres, whoever). They say YES or NO. Mostly, they say NO, because there isn't enough to go round and there are a lot of people asking. If you have enough denial (aka 'optimism') or resiliance, you keep going round the green cycle. If you are lucky, the world says YES and you're set. For now.

If your denial or resilience flags, as it can for a hundred reasons, you turn red and enter the Cycle of Despair. Your hopes drop and you may not bother trying again, entering into a loop of self-justifying bitterness and cynicism that further lowers your hopes, motivation and resilience. You may try again, but if you do so with lower levels of all-round gung-ho-ness, you will follow the red path through the right-hand loop, exiting back to the Cycle via a NO from the Real World. The key to staying in the fight is keeping up your resilience and denial (sorry, 'hopes'). That is not easy, faced with enough experience of the Real World. That's why I call it 'denial' rather than 'optimism' or 'hope'. 

First interview rejections, failed relationships, "not suitable for our list", rejected grant applications, blown out day game approaches, rejected new product proposals, returned book proposals, grey mornings and dismal evenings, Saturday nights out that go nowhere, entries to shows and competitions that don't make the cut, let alone win a prize... eventually it piles up and even the hardiest soul loses hope. A few get lucky - and it is just luck - and hear YES. Then they don't have to apply, approach or compete for perhaps a long time. And everyone gets their ideas rejected, no matter how famous and money-spinning they are. Track records count for nothing: the gatekeepers' opinions count for everything.

Too many bad experiences and my resilience drops, or I get a cold and don't have the energy to keep up the denial, and into the Cycle of Despair I go. There are two big mistakes when first visiting it: first, try to justify your position there as an inevitable consequence of the small number of opportunities in the world (aka "it's the economy"); second, trying to deny that, for now, you're exhausted and beat. Neither ever got me out. The first because I was convincing myself there was no way out, and the second because I couldn't see what I was doing wrong. Neither of those are the worst that can happen.

The worst that can happen is when I did nothing wrong and still didn't get any results. This was back in the mid-Ougties. There was always another more suitable candidate, or they changed their mind about appointing anyone. The numbers and the zeitgiest really were just against me. It was horrible: carrying on required neither fortitude nor heroism nor optimism, which I ran out of after six months, but sheer freaking day-by-day slogging. And when it was all over, I was the man dragging himself onto the beach exhausted, surrounded by blithe holidaymakers who don't get that he had just swum five miles, and each hundred yards was the last he could do.

I got out of the unemployment, but it took a lot longer to get any resilience back. I was in poor physical health, overweight and with higher-than-recommended blood-sugar (I didn't know that at the time). I was in a decaying LTR and was about to work for an insecure and over-promoted manager. Oh yes. The hits just kept on coming.

Anyway. I finished this, and it still felt like there was something missing. So onwards we go...

Thursday, 3 January 2013

How Compulsive Saving Works

(This is the first of a series of posts recording some very convoluted thinking about my circumstances.)

...or why money hoarders are always talking about how they spend too much on food.

There's nothing wrong with saving. £100 a month into an instant access savings account so you can pay large bills without going into overdraft is good money management. As long as you actually use that money to pay the bills. Paying in a monthly amount to a Cash ISA is a good move, though not very rewarding at current interest rates. That's the sort of saving you do. 

But when I put money into a Designated Savings Account, it vanishes. It ceases to be money. I can see the balance, but I can't spend it. No more than I can cross my legs at my knees (long story), spit into the wind or take a drink. These things are possible, of course, but none are actually going to happen. I could say that I have had too many long periods of looking for work: I live in fear of being made redundant, or passing retirement age and not being able to work a reasonably-well paid job. That fear makes me save, and while sad, it is slightly rational. It is not the whole truth.

My measurement of the successful management of my life is and always has been how much I have left over at the end of the month. It tells me how much out of control I have been, how many unforeseen things have happened to me, how wasteful I have been. If I have money over, none of those things are true, and my life is in control. I don't aim to have money left over, I use it as an indicator.

However, I can't achieve that control by being a miser. That would not look good. So Deception Tactic One is to spend a carefully-controlled-by-sheer-force-of-habit amount of money on "me". I spend it on books, music, movies and dance - when I'm allowed to eat out as well. I'm "allowed" a binge at the Sadlers Wells Falmenco season, and one dance event a month - if there is one. I can buy four or so £20 books a month, see a movie a week... you get the idea. It looks like I'm being nice to me, but it's all careful habit guaranteed not to cost much more than £1,200 a year.

(Yes. I know you would love to have £1,200 a year to spend on consumable culture. Bear in mind I don't drink, and you do; I don't smoke, and some of you do. I don't have terrestrial television, let alone a £65/month subscription to Sky, so you're probably racking up £1,200 one way or another. Also, you have children and you are not supposed to be spending your time consuming culture, you are supposed to be spending time with your children.)

So that just proves I'm not a miser. Now I have to prove that I'm not a control-freak. So Deception Tactic Two is very carefully controlled overspending on something cheap. Like food. I have a mid-morning sandwich from City Corner on Bishopsgate and lunch in a one or other of the many caffs in Hoxton, possibly with a chocolate in the mid-afternoon. I could, of course, make my own sandwiches and have lunch in the break-out area (Jesus! 'Break-out areas' Shakes head in despair.) So that caff lunch is just un-necessary out-of-control spending. Especially if I throw in the odd fish-and-chips in Jamies or a burger up at The Diner. Hey, look, rock-and-roll excess! I'm not a control freak either.

Which is why money-hoarders talk about how they spend too much on food. They do not mean they are having breakfast at the Criterion every morning: they mean they are buying an extra bar of chocolate, or maybe having a nice burger when egg-and-chips would do the trick. 

That's the disguise. Here's the disease.  First, notice that the measurement of a well-managed life is not how much money you have left over at the end of the month - however much that may sound like a good proxy. Second notice that putting money into a savings account and then not being able to spend it is downright weird behaviour. If I was saving it for my old age, that would be okay, but I'm not. Didn't I mention I already do that? This is just money I'm getting rid of into a hole so I don't have to... what?

Take the responsibility of spending it wisely. Actually doing something with what I bought with it. Instead of leaving it on the shelf as I did a perfectly good DLSR all this year. (I bought that to take sharper pictures on holiday. So I didn't take any holidays this year.) Actually I don't really know where the hell I would begin to spend the money. There's a gazillion things I want, or none. None is by far the lower-energy option.

You may at this stage think that there's nothing wrong: all I'm doing is being "sensible" with my money. I'm not wasting it on extravagances and pointless toys, such as iPads, fancy cars, designer suits and fancy espresso makers. In the same way, people who find out that I haven't had a drink for eighteen-plus years say "that's really good" as if they too would like to do that. We've had this discussion: you would not be able to go a year without a drink and you wouldn't want to either. Why do you say it's a good thing that I do? 

Compulsive saving means I don't make an effort to earn more. Why should I when I barely spend what I do earn? And of course, I could always cut back on that reckless food spending I do. What I tell myself is that the extra I could earn would not make that much of a difference to my life, and I would probably just wind up saving most of it. 

Compulsive saving means I have habits that are all about avoiding: avoiding spending, avoiding bad stuff, avoiding risks. This is not virtuous self-control, but non-virtuous risk minimisation. My habits aren't about doing, meeting, going, joining, taking part, exploring, or generally living. All those verbs expose me to the risk of serious temptation and loss, the regret of spending and wondering what, exactly, I got out of it.

Compulsive saving means I overstate the the price, and underestimate the value, of everything. I invent reasons why this and that and everything you love is actually only a hype, or not as great as you think it is. I reduce my expectation of the enjoyment of anything and increase my expectation it will be disappointing. That way I minimise the regret of never buying and enjoying it. I drain the value and fun from the world - or I would if I didn't think that was a load of psycho-babble bullshit brought to you by the same bunch of liars who brought you fulfilling intimate relationshipsTM

Compulsive saving means I can take pleasure in the simple things. I bet you think that's a Good Thing. Very Spiritual. Horseshit. Taking pleasure in the simple things means I don't have to spend money. It's a financial management strategy, not a spiritual practice. And like long-term sobriety and living in the day, it's not something you would want to do for a whole year. Or could.

Now the bit you can't guess at. To stop myself spending money (notice the description.... spending money. not buying things), I need to establish a bunch of habits that keep me away from the temptation of, oh, you know, taking holidays, buying a nice coat, throwing a decent birthday party, having a nice car (as opposed to a functional supermini), splashing out on a MacBook Air (instead of the workhorse Asus I'm writing this on), buying a nice comfortable armchair to read in, paying a cleaner to come once a fortnight, and so on and so forth. Before we even get to the whole affording-a-girlfriend bit. I need a bunch of thoughts and attitudes that makes all that denial feel right and worthwhile and justified. And all that justification and saying NO and coming up with reasons for doing so is a huge strain. It needs to be maintained. It means my buying decisions are incredibly lengthy, as I find reasons for not buying the nice stuff and finding something cheap, functional and not too horrible to look at. It means that whenever I look at anything I have, I'm always reminded that it isn't what I really wanted, but a compromise. Often a perfectly good compromise, but nonetheless that. I have to tell myself that the experiences money provides are not actually good value.

Here's the thing: it doesn't matter what the reasons are. I could get all spiritual on my ass, about living a simple life and not needing toys and material things to prove I lead a good life, or I could convince myself that many of the things just aren't worth the cost, and sometimes this is true (women, saloon cars, short haul business class, lunch at Browns, Royal Ballet Christmas shows) and sometimes it's false (Macbook Air, long-haul First Class, supper at Cibrio in Florence, Pina Bausch  performances).  I choose to go the value-comparison route. Either take a lot of energy. It's a hamster-wheel that has to spin fast. I've lost count of the number of times I've reminded myself of how draining and un-relaxing those holidays I took in 2011 were, which is why I am never going to take holidays anywhere ever again. (I just pay a bunch of money on airfare and hotels and meals and get stuck with the last person I want to spend time with - me - all frigging day.) Catch is, we all still need to get away: even if it isn't much fun or relaxation at the time, it has long-term beneficial effects.

Anyway, compulsive saving isn't the problem. In may case, it's a symptom. Next time, we'll get to the problem.