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Ideals, Interests, and Desires

December 19, 2007

I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about ideals, interest, and desire.  What makes people interested in something?  Why do people like things, and not like others?

Desire has always been a strange subject to me.  Why do we want the things we want?  Why are we interested in some things, yet not in others?  Why do people form ideals, and try to attain them?

Initially I thought the subject couldn’t be futhur explained.  People, by choice of free will simply desired something.  They chose to pursue some way of life, and that’s that.  No more can be said.  But recent thoughts have tended to give me doubts as to whether this is so, at least in some cases.

I wrote a journal entry the other day called ‘Common Sense’, where I psychoanalyzed myself, and found some unconscious motivations working within me.  There were a lot of things I left out of that entry, one of which was a strange appeal I had to the character ‘Ice Man’ from the Top-Gun movie.

For those who have not seen the movie, there was a character, Ice-man, who was one of the best pilots in the world.  Tom Cruise played a character where he was always competing against Ice-man to be the top pilot of the flight academy.

Cruise’s character was a fly by the seat of his pants pilot, who oftentimes broke the rules, and tried his own stunts, and it oftentimes got him in trouble.  Ice-man was just the opposite.  He never broke any rules, and was always Cruise’s worst enemy.  Cruise would always slip up because Ice-man was unrelenting, always calm and rational, and just waited for Cruise to try some silly move and would get him.

Growing up, I never thought anything of this.  I just thought “Ice-Man” was cool.  Why?  He just was.  I thought it was some sort of personal ‘Jason’ thing, unique to me, and I just liked him.  I found out this wasn’t the case.

What was really going on, is on an unconscious level, whether young Jason realized this or not, I was witnessing a dynamic of improvisation versus following the rules, and the guy who didn’t break the rules ended up winning.  In my entry ‘Common Sense’, I talked about why this appealed to me, but I’ll shortly recap.

Basically I had some painful childhood experiences when I tried to improvise, taking things too far, and like Cruise, it got me in trouble.  Because these events were painful, they were thrust into my unconscious mind, where I did not want to deal with them.  When these painful events had happened, I formed a mental defense mindset that it was better just to follow the rules, and not try anything crazy, because it gets you in trouble when you do so.  I went from class-clown, outgoing, and always making jokes, to introverted, self-conscious, and overall to myself.

Ice-Man had an appeal to me because he was simply a living manifestation of my own mindset, in action and succeeding, defeating all competition.  He was the best, and this mental defense mindset had made him the best.  He was doing the same thing I was doing, and it appealed to me because it was basically saying, “Yeah Jason, keep it up.  You’ll eventually become a master, who follows all the rules perfectly, and you’ll always defeat these fly by the seat of their pants guys.  They’ll slip up, but you won’t.”

This made me wonder if all appeal to various characters, movies, and other interests were similar to this dynamic.  Do these psychological defenses cause people to like things, and not like things?  Are all things we find interesting rooted in these defenses?

I pondered this thought.

I started to think about things I like.  I like studying philosophy.  Why do I love this subject?

At first I may have studied the subject in a hope to find God – what I could understand about God, and what I could not understand – but eventually it became a lot more than that.  It became a way of understanding myself, and understanding the world.  I eventually got to where I was just interested in the problems they were trying to figure out.  It was not rooted in any sort of defense.  I wasn’t particularly guarding myself from anything.

Philosophy, in some sense, was a guide to help me define good boundaries.  Good mindsets to protect me against things that will only leave me unhappy.  To keep me pursuing things that are worthwhile, and on track toward things actually worth investing time into.  Since I was raised in such a strict religious environment, I was curious as to whether what I had been told my whole life was really true.  Then again, in another sense, it was simply something I loved to do.

It seemed, strangely, to be a tangled mess of both.  I was interested in philosophy because I learned things which benefitted my life, but at the same time, philosophy wasn’t just a means to an end, it was an end in itself, as I was just curious as to finding the answers to these problems.

My psychology studies have been rooted in the same dynamic.  Sure I learn things which protect me against the common pitfalls you see people in all the time.  Then again, I’m very interested in understanding emotions, not for any particular reason, but just because they’re interesting.  There’s no goal I’m hoping to gain from understanding these things.  I’m pursuing them as goals in and of themselves.  I read the book, think to myself, “Well that was interesting.  Never knew that”, and the book closes.  I never plan on using it for anything.

I’m not reading Bertrand Russell’s Principles of Mathematics right now for any reason other than I simply want to read it.  It’s not to look smart, or even to use the knowledge for anything.  I just think the stuff is neat.  What is a number?  Can all mathematical propositions be reduced to the same logic I’ve studied in philosophy?  Russell started talking about constants (which philosophers call ‘particulars’) and generalizations (which philosophers calls ‘universals’), and how all pure mathematics is rooted in relationships between the generalizations, not anything in particular.  Empirical space is different than pure mathematical space.  This kind of stuff is what he believed philosophers meant when they oftentimes said that mathematics is a priori.  He was also talking about how to the real hardcore mathematicians “in the know”, the subject is just as uncertain as any other.  A lot of technical definitions in mathematics are lacking, and they don’t really understand what’s going on. I just stood back while reading this and thought… This is awesome.  I’ve been curious about this stuff for years!

I thought, well, this isn’t leading me the answers I’m wanting.  I need more examples.

I thought about a guy I know. I won’t say his name as I don’t want to embarrass the guy too bad.  When it comes to relationships, the guy has no boundaries, no preferences, no defenses, no anything.  He just takes whatever slop life hands him, and though the women that he’s had in his life could be classified, at least mentally, as garbage, he still keeps tagging along to horrible relationships, hoping things will eventually get better, even though all rational argument and probability says it will not.

He seems to like any woman.  He’s the opposite of selective.  Pretty, ugly, nice, mean – if she shows interest, he’s there.  I suppose most would label him as extremely desperate.  He’s basically hoping that some woman will eventually take him in.

Watching this kind of dynamic is what makes you start wondering about, “What you really want” versus “What you think you want”, and we start to try to convince the poor fellow that he doesn’t really want what he says he wants.  He’s only deceived himself, in desperation, that he actually likes these women, but in reality, he does not.

Greg and I refer to this state as, “Not knowing what you even want.”  He’ll either get nothing, or randomness given to him from the world, but nothing is directed toward a goal or purpose.  There’s no sense of science, where he starts identifying factors he likes and dislikes, and starting to filter the women.  In fact, he’s in such bad shape, he doesn’t have any women to even filter on.  He has no options at all.

You’d think this kind of guy would have lots of options blowing his way, but actually it works in the opposite way you’d think.  The selective guy is typically a guy with things going for him, so he doesn’t settle for just any girl, and the girls pick up on that, and end up all pursuing him instead.  He has value.  This other guy has no value.

I thought about myself, and thought, “I have options in this area of life, with girls that like me, but I don’t pursue this.”  Then I pondered why.  It’s not that I don’t like women, or that I have anything against them, they’re just lower on my priority scale, and I’d rather have other things than a relationship.  I thought, “Hmm, that’s a defense, but of a different sort.”

When you think of a defense, you think of trying to block something when attacking you.  Women lunging at me and I have this big shield, thwarting their advances.  Really, to me, my mindset is so oftentimes disconnected from even thinking about women, that I don’t even notice the advances.  Thinking of this, just the other day, I was in Wal-Mart and a college aged girl (cute too) started trying to talk to me.  I was buying some pens and a few notebooks for my math studies.  She said some things, I said, “Hi”, smiled, listened for a second, then said, “Excuse me.  I need to get going.”  It wasn’t but a few seconds later my thoughts returned to what I was thinking about, and I literally haven’t thought of her until just now.

Greg on the other hand, he’s been working on this area of his life, and has been studying dating, women’s psychology, relationships, and everything.  He had a girl advance on him the other day while he was in a restaurant, and he told me about the story.  He had been changing his posture, how he stands (such as when waiting in line), and was wondering about the results.  I will admit, he looks better with his new posture.  He seems to have more life, and look more healthy.  His mother even commented to him that she’s noticed changes, but couldn’t quite put a finger on what it was.  He’s much more open and stretched out, looking much more comfortable in the environment, than his older more hunched, slouched look.  To him, this was progress.  I think it’s good progress as well.

Anyways, I find that sort of thing very interesting.  Same event happens to two different people, one person doesn’t even take notice, another it’s something worthy of attention.

I brought this up to say how this all ties to priorities.  To me, women are a low priority.  They’re ok, but I’d prefer spend my time thinking about these philosophical issues.  To Greg, women are a higher priority, something he desires.   We both desire women (I’m not gay), but he values a relationship much higher than I do.

I spend a lot of time reading philosophy written by monks, and people like Henry David Thoreau.  Naturally, their kind of thinking has come off on me.  I pursue peace and contentment.  Mental solitude.  Greg wants a fulfilling love relationship.  Most of the time when I talk to people about relationships I have to abstract, and try to position myself in their mindset.  I haven’t desired a relationship with a woman in a long long time.  There’s been two girls who I’ve found alright, but I haven’t seriously seriously really liked someone since like high school.  I can’t even create that sort of dynamic anymore.  I just can’t get it to come out.

I suppose in a sense, I have ‘defenses’ against women, but they’re not really against the women, or rooted in bad experiences.  There’s no conflict at all.  I think a lot about what a relationship even is.  I was talking to a girl the other day, and she was talking about wanting a life partner.  I asked, “Why do you want someone to be there?”  To me, I don’t even understand why that matters.  I see value in being cared for when sick, but other than that, I really see no value in this.  I can watch a movie alone, or with someone.  The extra people add nothing to the film.  I can eat alone, or with someone.  There’s no added value with them, or without them.  I prefer reading and studying.

I’ve never made it over the hurdle of, “Life is better with you than without you.”  If you need someone to make life better, you seem to be needy to me.  True peace and contentment needs to fully exist within you.  People also tell me this, “Yes, if you go into a relationship hoping the other person will fix you, you’re doomed from the start.”  Then I ask, “Well, why do you even want a relationship to begin with if you’re completely self-sufficient?”  They never have an answer.

I still think it’d be ideal if gender was destroyed.  If human beings were simply human beings, neither male nor female, but more of an androgynous setup, with capability to replicate your kind without need of anyone else.  It’s weaker to need two different people to reproduce than to only need one.  Many species in the world have no gender distinction – it’s really arbitrary, and seems to me to only add complications to life, not solve any real problems.

I don’t think human beings should have a ‘significant other’.  Ideally, we’d all love each other equally.  We’d treat everyone as good as a good lover treats his or her spouse.  Even the Bible says that when redeemed, there is no distinction of gender – man will be like the angels, being neither male, nor female.  I can’t help but say that’s the route we need to strive for, if possible.

I try to treat even strangers with the same honor and respect as I would my parents, or immediate family.  I hate thinking in terms of, “he’s one of us”, or, “he’s not part of our group”, based on such shallow things as what whom you popped out of.  It’s not like I had anything to do with that.  I just woke up one day, and had a set of parents, and a certain family.  I don’t see why everyone can’t be my family.

I only went into that digression because I wonder what kind of ‘defense’ this would be?  It’s not rooted in painful experiences.  It’s not really a boundary.  It’s almost more of a defense against putting up defenses.  I don’t like the idea of social cliques, or families, countries, patriotism, etc.  We’re all human beings.  A brotherhood of man.  (I sound like a hippy).  It’s just a general apathy toward the whole concept of the relationship, finding it ‘bad basis’, and not worth considering.  It’s like listening to the news when it comes to border control.  “What should we do?” – Bad basis, there shouldn’t be a border.  Instead of trying to keep Mexicans out, we need to try to help them get homes, and jobs, and love them like we love ourselves.

I guess if this all is a defense, it’d be the fact that I’ve lumped relationships in with that whole other pile of stuff I consider as, “cares of this world.”  “Stuff that takes you away from thinking on what’s really important.”

Anyways, it seems decisions toward dealing with things have a chain reaction on other interests and desires futhur down the line.  Making one decision sometimes is like making several hundred, or even thousands of other implied decisions.  Sort of a “If you make this decision, you’re also agreeing to this this and this.  Upon making this decision you’ll now be interested in this this and this.  You’ll also now lose interest in this this and this.  This this and this will now make you happy when you’re around it, while this this and this will now irritate you.”  There’s this big complicated web, to where your decision in forming mindsets (call them defenses, boundaries, whatever you want to call them), and each mindset has its set of corresponding consequences (or effects, results, things that happen – whatever you wish to call them).

Ideals seem to be related tied in with interests.   The girl I talked to said she believed there were two factors causing people to be attracted to one another: 1) sexual attraction and 2) common interests.

I don’t really agree with this myself.  I think it’s close, but not really the whole picture.  I didn’t say anything to her, however.  I think sexually attractive, especially to most women, has only about 10% of good looks, and is more of a positive energy and presence.  Being fun and a joy to be around.  Making the person laugh.  It’s really a lot to do with people skills, and having an attractive personality.  Most women will choose a fun guy, who can make them laugh, over one who is good looking and is incredibly dull.

Also, I think fulfillment in relationships is deeper than just common interests.  Actually, I think common interests are simply a subset of the deeper dynamic of “possession”.  I think the deepest relationships are rooted in injecting portions of your self into the other person, and both changing each other, for the better. I wrote about this dynamic in an old journal entry on romance.  Common interests are only a subset of this same dynamic, as you both refine each other’s views and skills in this area of common interest.  It’s almost like you both become pupils of each other, each both playing the role of teacher, and student, at the same time.  You teach your spouse, and he or she teaches you as well, and you both contribute to one another’s success.  That’s really what it means for her to be “yours” – “your girl”

So as we can see, the concept of ‘interest’ keeps getting more and more complicated as we go along.  At first, we thought people simply desired things because they chose such and such a thing.  Now we can see many other factors, which I will enumerate now:

1. Unconscious or conscious fears:
Attraction to things because they are a solution to things you fear, oftentimes due to painful experiences.  (Me liking the Ice-man character).  This also could be a woman liking a man because he is faithful. (fear of being alone) Or a kid wanting to be popular hangs out with a group of guys he doesn’t care for, to be cool (fear of not being accepted).

2. Mechanical:
Sexual, chemical, and other unchosen determinations to like things.  Nobody chooses what foods they like.  We tend to all like certain smells, and dislike the smells of things like poop.  For the most part, I can speak for men, and we can’t choose what women we find sexually attractive. (more of a proportion sort of thing).  This also includes wanting food because you’re hungry, or water when you’re thirsty.

3. Implied likes and dislikes:  (Chain reaction)
Because you like this or that, you also dislike and like other things as well.  Example: You get a phobia of things that are slimy for whatever reason, and then can never eat certain foods, or wash your hands with soft soap ever again.  Or you become religious, and then do not hang out with the old crowd anymore. (This can be a subset of #1 if we’re dealing with fears – you can fear anything which reminds you of something, or anything related to the thing you fear in your mind).  Also, likes work the same way.  You like a person, and you oftentimes begin to like the things they like – until you get mad at them anyways  🙂 (Then these things become lumped into subset #1 if you don’t forgive the person)

4. Possesion:
Things you’ve created, you tend to be more attached to, especially if you’ve worked hard on it.  Pride in the work you do.  This equally applies to children, and your significant other.

5. Intrinsic Desire:  Like the thing as a goal in and of itself
Artists admire art, just because of what it is.  I read philosophy just because of what it is.  Curiosity seems to fall under this category.

There’s probably more to this list.  I’ve simply listed the ones I’ve reflected on.  I came up with this list by myself, just thinking about the issue.  I’m sure there are psychologists out there with a better, more all inclusive list.

Also, oftentimes these interests are incompatible with other interests and they begin to conflict.  It’s oftentimes not a clean like/dislike relationship in the mind.  Oftentimes you want two things which cannot co-exist.

I think the more knowledge you acquire, the less and less ‘interests’ and ‘desires’ would be #5’s (intrinsic – goal in and of itself).

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