The Robot Gospel: Shit Sisyphus
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One of the foundational myths that lie at the heart of what it means to be American is: We don’t like being told what to do.1
The religious weirdos that left Europe and landed in this new world. The American colonists that didn’t want to be be governed from an ocean away. The people in the South that wanted to continue to own other human beings. Bosses that want to continue exploiting the people working for them. Protesters of all stripes. Teenagers...
Once we have figured out where we (think we) should be in a group’s hierarchy, we have acceptable tolerances for what we are willing to have asked of us. The people below us should do whatever we tell them, and we will do whatever the people above us want as long as it is reasonable. It’s all animalistic, base instinct. Social jockeying for power, ultimately. There is strength in numbers, and strength in strength. Those without power need the people who do. But most importantly — a fact that those with power want us to not look behind the curtain to find out the obvious secret — those with the power won’t have it if we don’t give it to them.
And again, that’s possibly where fears of Robots Taking Over come from, because why wouldn’t an intelligent creature (albeit synthetic) want to wage violence and impose its control over other beings? The only reason pigs or octopodes haven’t wiped out humans is because they don’t have thumbs. And racoons only keep us around because of our sweet, sweet trash.
Now, how do we determine if something is reasonable within social strata? If someone is the same status, then it depends on if there is an asshole in the equation.
No asshole: A reasonable request is fulfilled.
Asking asshole: An unreasonable request is made and is left up to the discretion of the one being asked to fulfill it.
Asked asshole: A reasonable request is made and is not fulfilled, even though there will be no impositions or inconveniences in fulfilling the request.
Now, how are we to know the status of the people around us, and how can we determine what is reasonable? Status is often linked to our group identities and how they appraise status. If you’re a fan of a sports team that wins a lot, then you’re going to think of yourself as higher status than those of a losing team. And if you’ve been a fan for a long time, and your parents were as well, then you’re going to see yourself as higher status than someone who became a fan recently, especially if they have been winning.
If you are a fan of some pop culture property, the more knowledge about it you have, the more nicknacks and tchotchkes you own, the more your personality is subsumed by it, the higher status you may be among fellow fans.
Since one of our primary adaptations is living in groups, there has to be a way to figure out how to do things, and so somebody’s got to be in charge. The very first example of power we are exposed to is parent and child. Parents are in charge of children. And only because babies can’t take care of themselves. Adults are bigger, they know how to do things. That is something we are used to, so we fall into that habit. Either seeking a higher power to protect and guide us, or seeking to gain power because it seems pretty sweet to be the one that gets to tell others what to do.
And so who gets to tell others what to do? Historically, it was usually the person (okay, Man) that had the most power and status. Power is status. Status is power. That’s the shorthand hardwired into our brains. Physical strength. Money. Attractiveness.
Shit rolls downhill2 and you have to eat it. That’s the way we understand that it works in a group. It’s not always just shit, but it’s always mixed in there. If you want to leave, then it’s just you, solo, against the lions. Which is why you should want to push that rock up the hill — to eat less shit.3
Conversely, the less people below you, eating YOUR shit, the closer to the bottom it can appear you are. The ratio gets more shit heavy the more people higher up than you. So there exists a two-fold path of achieving more status, ultimately with the goal of having more people with less power than you. So, you can try to raise your own status, or lower the status of others.
The way I’ve tried to play my part in this bullshit game, is to not let people know where my status lies. To be as invisible as I can. You can’t hit what you can’t see, and probably the most primal expression of having power over others is violence. And I sure as shit don’t wanna get hit!
Going to school in the 80’s and 90’s, according to TV and movies, bullies roamed around every corner, looking for nerds and dorks to be shown their place in the social hierarchy. Either inside lockers, or hanging from the flag pole by your underwear. I had to camouflage myself as much as possible. Blend in and not stand out.
Having glasses since Second Grade had already placed a target on my back. Being visibly not white, and having curly hair exacerbated my visibility. Sure, there are the weirdos that take their appearance to the extreme, much like a coral snake advertising its venomousness (venomosity?). But, possessing no actual power to back up my display, everyone would be able to tell I was a friend of Jack.
Wearing t-shirts with anything on them could be an invite to some sort of conversation about how someone liked The Simpsons too, or possibly how Pearl Jam sucked and Nirvana was better. Make any sort of contemporary stylistic statement, and a retort could be made that I wasn’t cool enough to pull it off. The sarcasm soaked 90’s turned everyone into a shitty simulacrum of an insult comic. Many of those same feeble comedic admirers who today cry wolf at not being able to make jokes about anything anymore, because the prime weapon in their arsenal of calling people “gay” has been disarmed.4
Trying to find strength in numbers was a way of trying to avoid predators. Just hanging out with one other friend, we were seventh graders targeted by a growth-spurt inflated eighth grader. Him, asking what our names were. My friend immediately trying to diffuse the situation by trying to establish empathy with providing his age: “Well, I’m thirteen...”
“Oh, you’re Thirteen? What are you, in a gang?”
Fuck. That was the end of that. I had to abandon my friend and try to save myself. Not able to outrun the lion, I was able to outrun my friend. I sought refuge among a group of girl friends. Most of them I knew from band.5 The only other guy among the group was one of the shortest guys in our grade — a knock against his status. He was also … I guess you would say effeminate? Not a macho, societally conforming expectation of how men should present themselves.
And since men, of course, are higher status, then anything having proximity to femininity is undesirable and fair game to be treated as having less value. It didn’t matter that he could play several instruments, was a wiz at sight reading, and was the only one in our entire school that could handle a double reed! He was made fun of, and had to retreat to this female faction, because he would not be subjected to the same type of status measuring that males imposed on each other.
I did have a crush on one of them, so I could have been observed as holding court over a harem of some sort. While I may have been lacking in the expression of physical, violent power, I was cis and masc, so my chosen group configuration was acceptable for me, because to others, it seemed like I was … eh, something vulgar I don’t want to write down, because while I am heterosexual, I’m not fucking gross.
Sean, on the other hand, is having the last laugh... He’s married now, and they have a couple of kids. I congratulated him upon hearing the news, even though we haven’t kept in touch over the years. I also told him that I was sorry I didn’t try to stick up for him when we were kids (even though I wouldn’t have been able to stop anybody). He thanked me, but said that he understood. Since I was a band dork too, and I had to watch my own back.6 It was the 90’s, and homophobia was much more prevelant in society.
Still, it sucks that he went through what he went through. Hopefully, him having his dream career as an award winning composer (he’s got his own Wikipedia page!) and recently winning two hundred fucking grand can provide some solace and sense of accomplishment and closure.
I’m closing out Hispanic Heritage Month with this video from I band I just found on YouTube looking for a video I linked in the footnotes below. An Atlanta punk band of Puerto Ricans that I gotta listen to more of, now that I know they exist.
It’s a Myth in the way that it is an epic historical tale, not that it is a fantasy. Although, for a nation that has such a boner for not wanting to be told what to do, forcing indigenous people off their land, enslaving people, and reluctantly doling out rights as slowly as you can to women, doesn’t seem like a country all that invested in freedom and liberty. Maybe it is a myth in that way, then, and what I should have said is: I want to be the one to tell others what to do.
Scientists really missed an opportunity by not naming one of the dung beetle species after Sisyphus.
Fuck, I just should have worn a pocket protector and been done with it.
My “Thirteen” buddy has said just as much, but we have stayed in touch, and still hang-out to this day.