Veteran social reformer S. Toohey called last week’s Dysatisfunctional.com post: “an occasionally unhinged treatise on modern heartbreak and disappointment.” My sister was disgusted but supportive, and that seemed to capture the heart of the enterprise. Other comments queried the different levels of reality that may be experienced when starting over, supposedly bringing us closer to Mazlo’s hierarchy of hands-down-your-pants: happiness and self-actualisation. To clarify, let us invoke the stylings of a former prominent Australian indie magazine: the Earth is/not flat. Man has/not landed on the moon. Pluto is/not a planet. My last relationship was/not good for me. My parents are/not jack-asses. I am/not feeling ok.
What these statements have in common is that when they change, nothing else around them does. When you said quietly in a conspicuously public place, “It’s not you, it’s me”, you really meant it because their big doe eyes and nose-tears were making you feel kind of guilty. When you talked before and after to your friends, it came out, “It’s not me, it’s them! They will always be emotionally retarded!” and this seemed equally true. “Which is the real reality?” ask the clever millenial filmmakers of whatever, their actors swanning around in various black-on-black ensembles. As bored to death as many are of the question, it’s yet to be satisfactorily answered. Even in contemporary humanities, the issue simply is/not relevant. As for the dysatisfunctional day-to-day, we think it matters because people are so often hung up on getting to the real thing.
While this faux passé issue might send arts students into a drunken vortex of continental philosophy, and everyone else screaming for various religions such as economics, quantitative empiricism and other pillars of the community, here at Dysatisfunctional.com, we say, “Meh. Of course,” and resume self-flagellation. Because one of our cornerstones is that rationality can be fairly ancillary, and fairly strategic. Ancillary because we tend to initially follow mere hunches to whatever information we later claim to have proven, like burning jealousy that a) turns out to be true, in which case we may learn to distrust others more, or b) turns out to be false, in which case we will hopefully learn to distrust our inner psycho more (which is not the same as trusting others). Either way, the next instance takes us further down the path of our beliefs: towards cheerful misanthropy or paralyzing self-doubt. And unfortunately for our seasoned relational traveller, most jealousy is usually somewhat true and somewhat false, and life doesn’t always provide firm proof either way. If that means we might end up cheerfully misanthropic AND paralyzed with self-doubt, it also means we might avoid both.
This is where strategy comes in: in a world that is far from self-evident, we have a great deal of control over how we interpret it. This is good news! “That’s not jealousy,” we can say to ourselves, “it’s an expression of our love! Crazy, stalking love! Oh for joy!” And other such dangerous fantasies, even ones that don’t end with restraining orders: “I am a God/dess and the world needs my gifts”, “Deserving my abuse is controlling my abuse” and my personal favourite “There’s nothing wrong with accumulating wealth. No really, nothing wrong! Nothing at all!” *explodes into tears* This is why 20/20 hindsight is not all it’s cracked up to be, because it’s always partial and flawed; perhaps 1927 hindsight is more accurate, in which we realise things in the 80s were much better/worse than we thought at the time:
So if strategic reasoning can save us from life’s slings and arrows (“Your arse is not big in that dress. It’s enormous.”) it can also create further problems. Nevertheless, we think sharing with you the joys of contingent realities will relieve some of your burdens. Because we’re nice, and because we want to get on television and import pellets of branded tee-shirts. You see? Just knowing that our rationalisations are ancillary and strategic can do much to alter the kinds of realities we might construct for ourselves. Following the examples above, we might beware our own undue megalomania, find our indulgent recourse to victimhood suspicious, or wonder about the relation between our newfound wealth and that nagging emptiness, diarrhea or sense of desperation when it seems there’s every reason to finally relax.
That’s why the next time I break up with someone, with renewed confidence in my grasp of the world, I’ll solve the whole problem by sensibly articulating the maximum truth of the matter available: “It’s not you/me, it’s me/you.” With that I’ll walk away knowing that I’ve finally, REALLY got it locked down. And no one will be upset. Next time for sure.