Wednesday, January 01, 2014

His Smiling Face

I want to say up front, that I am not contradicting this post but contrast it. That link applies to our cognitive downside which is to ignore our intuitions. But I want to talk about I guess the limits of evolution. Not as explanatory theory, but just that all the problems we still have, have by definition survived evolution.

So you walk into a bar and check out the action. At one end of the bar, is a guy that makes you feel totally uneasy, his face is asymmetrical due to a broken nose and scarring, his complexion is unattractive - pox marked and pale, he looks unhealthy in some genetic way, yet he is tall and imposing, could easily overpower you. He is dressed in a way that suggests he is not that socially conscious and you hear him break into a laughter that makes him seem both oafish and ignorant.

Yes. By all means, ignore that guy. You make a beeline to the other end of the bar, where a young handsome guy dressed tastefully, confidently strikes up conversation with you. He is attentive and smiling, studying you in a manner that is flattering, not invasive.

Flash forward a few months, and you are sitting with your girls having coffee or some shit, and that guy is the subject of your conversation, you find yourself saying 'you don't know him like I do... he has hidden depths.' etc.

Here I must pause, because I don't want to be alarmist. I want to make clear, that what I am absolutely NOT advocating is the idea that you can trust no one. Indeed trust is the cornerstone of a relationship, not just a relationship but sex.

Just like the guy at the end of the bar had a bunch of visual and sub-verbal warning signs telling you to stay away, the guy you are now dating, the attentive one with the smiling face has his warning signs to. It's just the first reliable warning sign I've presented is the conversation we were having before I interrupted.

What are you saying to your girls? Firstly, you are defending you're boyfriend. It may seem innocuous and non-serious, but that's precisely what you are doing. There's a conflict going on, not an intense and angry one, but a tension. What you see in him is not apparant to all. Or at least doesn't seem that way.

You perceive a disparity in perception itself. You find your boyfriend to be nice, your friends don't find him that way. They need not be overt, but you've picked it up and now you are having this conversation. And it's a warning sign.

That's a hypothetical. But if I may, I have a real world example that's actually much more overt and worse. X is dating Y, Y tells X that Y is going to sleep with Z, Y then sleeps with Z. Y returns to X on another occasion and compares X to Z as lovers as a topic of conversation. Informing X that Y prefers Z as a physical lover.

It's a no brainer right? What might amaze people is that Y ever got to see X again to have the comparing lovers conversation. This isn't a modern progressive open relationship built on a strong foundation of trust, honesty and mutuality. This is a power play. A horrible abuse of power.

Now X and I are standing in a park discussing Y, and I am unequivocal on my advice that Y needs to be cut out like an aggressive cancer from X's life. X tells me 'but deep down she is a good person...' and I shall divulge no more, because that should be sufficient.

They are all good people deep down. The people that hurt us most often are those that have the opportunity to hurt us. I think ultimately letting somebody in close enough to hurt us is a worthwhile and necessary risk. Trusting people is most often rewarded, which in my experience at least, is the truth.

Fact is, that a 200kg gorilla has very little opportunity to harm or rape us. They look dangerous from a mile away, we gonna avoid eye contact. Just as people know to observe Gorilla's at a zoo, or in a national park being escorted by a guard, people know to observe men with scars running down one side of their face and russian mafia tattoos in a movie cinema, or at the very least from across the restaurant dining room.

There's a natural warning sign that actually makes paradoxically a lot of dangerous people quite safe. There are dangerous people though, that can get around all our warning systems, or use our own cognitive functions to get by our warning systems.

Fortunately, nature has some analogies:

The pink orchid mantis
the terrifying ant mimicking spider

If you can clickety click and look closely at the ant mimic, get good and creeped out. Those antenna's are legs, it's abdomen has conformed to the shape of an ants. It's an ant with eight eyes and legs for antenna. It creeps me out, thanks to the disparities in how I feel about ants versus how I feel about spiders.

And sure, we feel creepy looking at an ant-mimic, because we know it's a spider, and we are creeped out by the queerness of evolution to produce such a thing, but also because it would work. Intuitively we know that for the rest of our lives most of us are not really going to give that much scrutiny to ants to ensure they are indeed ants. 

Ants also I feel, are on the lower order of cognition, such that they won't have a test that says 'when greeting a fellow ant, count it's eyes' you can find some videos of ant mimicking spiders on youtube, and they do a good job, such that for the ant equivalent of the duck test - if it looks like an ant, walks like an ant and waggles it's antenna like an ant then it's probably an ant - the ant mimic passes the ant test.

It's going to get close enough to take out an ant, or other prey that is unphased by the presence of an ant. The Pink Orchid mantis isn't going to successfully infiltrate flower colonies, because that's not necessary, but things it likes to eat are going to walk up to eat it, and things that like to eat it and not pink orchids are going to pass it by. 

As the prey is naturally selected to leave better defense mechanisms in place, the predators are going to be selected for better offense mechanisms. 

Such that, we should all have a little compassion for X, especially X himself. Because the people that can do great damage are the ones that look like delicate flowers and friendly ants to our unwitting minds.

Fortunately, I am just as big a sucker for people's core of niceness as X that I knew exactly what to say to him - being the advice I myself cannot follow: 'So Y is a nice girl, victim of circumstances that needs rescuing, why are you X the person most qualified to rescue her? And what if your efforts to rescue her is exactly what she needs to sustain the behaviour?'

(As an aside there's a good heuristic test for whether you have the white knight pathology [chronic need to rescue others to have a sense of self-worth] or not, imagine if you can the person you are trying to rescue getting better by themselves, or even better being helped by somebody other than you. Do you feel angry and jealous, or genuinely happy for them? be honest with yourself.)

It isn't fair in analogy, to draw a line between dangerous people and predators, though predatory people do exist. Often dangerous people are for example, self-destructive. What makes them dangerous is that they will pull you down into the depths with them. Take a view perhaps that people for a moment are actually just colonies of ideas, and some ideas are malignant, such that a person is unconsciously, unwittingly and without control destroying themselves and other people. Their problems will most often persist because they are very subtle mutations of the norm. 

Your smiling mysterious stranger at the bar had he been picking his teeth with a bowie knife would probably be exposed far far earlier as somebody dangerous. But because he isn't aware of his subconscious drive to destroy your esteem so he can experience fleeting sensations of control that require constant feeding, you are also less likely to pick up on it. Or if your gut picks up on it, for your mind to make excuses for him, talk you out of it, listen to your friends advice to 'give it a try'.

I think, in fact, I strongly suspect that we do have a way to compensate for the middle band of subtle warning signs - it's called your friends and family. They are your extrasensory power. So to fold this post right back to 'you don't know him like I do, he has hidden depths...' there's the moment to shut up and listen.

It can as my friend Trav attests, backfire (to be clear, Trav is not X, nor Y or Z for that matter, hence I name him) but here's the premise of my working theory:

You do pick up that that flower has the posture of a mantis, that your fellow friendly ant for some reason has 8 eyes and knee joints in his antenna. But that's subconscious, expressed as gut feelings, and raw emotions of unease that remind you of regular horrible spiders and classic green mantis. Then your mind your conscious mind tells you to relax and starts making excuses and reassuring noises, you ignore the warning sign and press on.

Your conscious mind has a motivation - it wants drugs, it's a fiend. Your friends will experience your partner, without the dope and oxy to boot. They have no incentive to make shit up, they get a much clearer signal and much less noise. They may still have noise. Few bff's even say 'hey tohm, you need to dump this guy RIGHT NOW!' many of my bff's will go to an admirable efforts to try and like my new beau. Then they will respectfully say nothing.

There's the crux, how to get another perspective of his smiling face. To pull out far enough to distinguish whether his eyes make him sinister or sincere? Have your friends added him on facebook? Have your social lives seamlessly integrated? I don't know the answer, there is much conflicting good will. 

My first practical step, is to actually respect how easy it is for all of us to fuck up and take on a dead weight for years of our lives. Because they aren't people with Swastika tattoos on their foreheads and hooks for hands, they are nice people that just seem a little bit off but have many good and worthwhile traits. Be forgiving, and maybe just a little bit more skeptical. 

We all ask our friends why they broke up, few of us ask why they got together. 

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