Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Naught for Nothing

There's this scene in My Name is Earl somewhere... where it is revealed Earl is afraid of flying, and his brother Randy asks Catalina if she's afraid of anything and she says 'snakes and rape.'

We used to live in a world where there were real things to be afraid of. Furthermore, there was some point in our youths where we learned a bunch of names for phobias, meaning that we talked about fears not anxieties.

Not to trivialise anxiety, nor add to its stigma. I've had one anxiety attack and it was highly unpleasant. I've been afraid many more times in my life, innumerable times. Just today I was reminiscing about a sand dune I climbed in my youth, that being a sand dune created an artificial horizon once you had climbed it, and heading back down had me irrationally afraid of it becoming a cliff. Fortunately a younger kid in our group voiced his fear and spared me the ridicule, but as an adult I realise it was tricking out the automatic devices in my mind hooked up to my eyes and giving me a sense of vertigo about approaching the edge.

I presume this very device has kept many of my ancient ancestors from falling off cliffs and precipices and crumbling rock walls, allowing them to live and reproduce so I can be their ancestor.

Irrational though it was that a mound of sand would suddenly erode away into a sheer cliff face, that fear was most definitely not like my one and only ever anxiety attack. More akin to that were the dreams I had about running, where I would get stressed by the physical sensation of paralysis that occurs in REM phases, as the Victorian High School cross country meets played out in my mind.

I'm wondering though, if I now live in a world where I am surrounded by people who have a reverse ratio to me. Who've experienced anxiety innumerate times and fear once to never. I mean all of us experience anxiety, it's within the normal spectrum of human emotion.

But I seem to, and to be honest, resent living in a world where people are afraid of feeling 'awkward' or 'weird' a perpetual high-school where life's objective is to avoid humiliation.

I feel like I live in a world where dismounting from the uneven-bars induces in me a fear of breaking my ankle, and landing awkwardly, san broken ankles is a good outcome for me. I really don't give a shit about my grace in sticking a landing, just that I stick the landing. Everyone else, someway somehow is operating on a level where the worst possible outcome is that they stumble, ever so slightly.

I suspect some technologist built the world around me, and probably less recently than I imagine (I imagine back to the 80s, but it could have been some disciple of the Buddha) felt like it was possible through modern innovation to remove all human suffering.

Obviously, that hasn't succeeded, but it hasn't stopped a bunch of people from trying. Nassim Taleb has this beautiful derogatory term 'fragilista' to describe entities like Alan Greenspan and Gordon Brown whom set about trying to remove economic recessions from the economic cycle forever, resulting in the current state of the world economy. But that kind of digresses from the point.

Consider that if you are reading this, it's highly likely you have never in your life needed to actually contemplate a concept like 'food security' which refers to your access to basic calories of food intake. You've probably stressed more in your life over the excess of calories you consume and probably even expend money and/or energy trying to compensate for just how much food you eat. Even while complaining about being broke.

Whereas large chunks of the world's population do worry about food security, and I don't know, but I strongly suspect, they don't much worry about social anxiety. The populations that hike miles for clean drinking water, I also suspect don't have bullying epidemics driving up youth suicide rates.

This may seem to be straying far from what my seeming problem with people devoting energy to avoiding weirdness and awkwardness is, but I see them as related.

I suspect a lot of people now live under a credo where for various reasons, they think it is possible to get things without giving anything. Buy a house and your capital will appreciate without you doing anything to earn it (although, plenty of people think renovating a property before flipping it does something, I strongly suspect the time you spend renovating before flipping the property contributes more to the appreciation than the renovations themselves.) or that by racking up enough degrees somebody will just pay you to do your dream job. Or that by swiping right on an app your soulmate is going to find you.

And perhaps being able to steal intellectual property, virtually consequence free for almost 2 decades and a booming (at least still in Australia) property bubble have helped seed a mindset that thinks you can get something for nothing, take no personal risk. I went to private school and that certainly drummed in that if you just worked hard at memorising the limited sets of problems you are tested on, then you can pretty much just pick your career.

Give me the society where senior high school students have to bet their futures on a stud-poker match. Where luck plays a visible role and from an early age kids have to accept that sometimes you lose, sometimes you fail and sometimes you just have setbacks.

I suspect some of the worst treatment I receive is a product of a golden rule for this era of extreme risk-aversion, failure aversion. If I apply to a job, where my resume is being reviewed by a person who grew up fearing rejection, that person is likely to not want to subject me to a rejection letter, so they just don't call. Of course, in our current job market where 100 applicants swarm over one position, it's more likely that it simply isn't feasible to contact all the unsuccessful applicants. But say I ask somebody out who could never bring themselves to do so, I am beginning to suspect this is the driver beyond the modern phenomena of simply not answering - particularly as Aziz Ansari pointed out in an increasingly text based communication culture.

Most practically frustrating for me, is trying to draw audiences to an art show from people that would never do what I do. Are studying their hardest so they don't have to. But somebody has to, that's the catch. These are what employers are, the risk takers or descendents of risk takers that gambled big to command the resources.

I'm gambling my future on selling pretty pictures. I'm trying to sell it to people that don't even use their real names on facebook, that don't click 'like' on statuses they like. People that won't answer a question unless it has a clear criteria for success outlined by some academic.

These people understand me as little as I understand them. And yet I have to work with them, convey to them somehow, that because they'd never exhibit their own art in a show, it still means something to me for them to turn up to my show and look at my pieces, and judge them. Yes, I want them to do to me, the very thing they are most terrified of being subjected to themselves.

How do you sell that?

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