Monday 30 January 2012

About Adams & Eves

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (...)”

                                                                                                         Genesis 1:26

The other day my flatmate and I stupidly went to do our grocery shopping on a Saturday noon. Fascinating how every other person living in a 5 miles radius seems to have had the exact same idea. While waiting at the checkout counter one of the cashiers caught my attention. I found him quite attractive and pondered about the things he likes to do when not wasting his Saturday worse than we did. By the time we made it half way to the end of the queue my flatmate made a funny comment about my latest object of fantasy which clearly stated that she had an entirely different feeling about my Adam. She did not find him attractive at all and had all the wrong ideas about him. But did she really? I came to wonder how our perception of one and the same person could be poles apart.

In my image. After my likeness.

In the beginning there is us, with all of our characteristics, qualities and experiences. We believe to know exactly who we are and what we need. In our better half we are looking for someone to complement us and to offer us traits we don’t have ourselves, in order to feel complete. The older we get the more our ideas of the perfect significant other are formed. When risking a close enough look we will notice that this particular idea looks a lot like ourselves. When we make assumptions about people we find attractive we almost inevitably fill them with everything good about us. Our preferred object of fantasy will share a lot of our experiences and almost all of our opinions. I assume it is safe to say that our ideal partner is like us - only more so. Convenient, isn’t it?
When meeting a stranger that optically fits into our scheme of prey it seems to be very easy to fill that pretty shell with all we want to be in there. A beautiful body is the perfect projection surface for all of what we believe to need and want. Allegedly this illusive interaction of looks and ‘character’ makes people interesting. I mean who did not fantasise about a famous actor or actress, the new kid in class or the guy at the counter?
On the other hand it seems that we attribute people that don’t suit our ideal of attractiveness with negative characteristics.  That at least explains why my flatmate and I could not agree on counter guy.

Master of creation

Meeting someone in real life and possibly making all the wrong assumptions is easy. How about entering the virtual world? There you don’t only get to see your object of interest anytime you want but also get access to a lot more information. Due to Social Networks and dating platforms we can now not only build a better illusion of the other but also of ourselves. On the internet we can filter which information we want to share with the public and which we don’t. That gives us almost almighty power to create and reinvent ourselves according to who we feel like being seen as today. Only fly in the ointment: so can everybody else. The shell someone presents of themselves on the internet is devoid, despite the extra information we get. On the internet we will never see a person as they really are. We will only see who they themselves would like to be.

Rose coloured glasses - a look in the mirror?

How about falling in love then? Are the rose coloured glasses nothing more than a look into the mirror? Nothing more than us seeing what we are so desperate to see? Well, not entirely. In order to even make it till that stage there must be at least a basal verification of what we hoped to find in the other. Basically we can start to put our glasses on when we ensured that this person is not a complete dickhead - finding that out usually does not take too long since real dickheadedness is hard to hide. After we got up the courage to actually talk to each other, kind of like each other and fit into each other’s templates we might start to fall in love. And this is where misery begins...

Expulsion from paradise

Life and love would be pretty easy if our newly found perfect partner would not come with a free will. This vicious little option of disagreeing can sometimes shake our perfectly build illusion to the core and we have to swallow that sour tasting piece of apple of knowledge. Especially during the first few months of a relationship we experience these odd moments where our partner does not quite behave the way we would have expected them to. Or to put it better: our partner does not react the way we would have. With each of these smaller or bigger disappointments we peel off a layer of illusion and more and more get to know who we actually are with. We come to realize that this ideal we had is not quite equal to reality. So whether we want to or not here comes the moment of truth: Our partner is an autonomous thinking and living individual! It is time to so say goodbye to illusions, concepts and projections. When we really want to be with our partner we should carefully check what about them is ours and what is really theirs. People always say you should not try to change them but I figure this is exactly what needs to be done. We need to change them back who they really are and for that matter really start to get to know them. We should carefully examine what exactly happened when our expectations weren’t met by the other. Is it really them simply being ignorant or did we expect something totally unrealistic which if we are honest wasn’t ever going to happen?

What it is

Finding the right partner is tough as hell and we - as always - have great ways to make it even more complicated. In these hurried times we judge too quickly and make connections between someone’s outward appearance and their character. And even when we have found someone we keep complaining that they don’t behave as we would like them to. Still though we are entitled to have our expectations and are free to leave whenever those aren’t met.

Concerning counter guy - I was afraid he might be a dickhead and did not say hi!
Praise the internet!

'Illusion is the first of all pleasures.' - Oscar Wilde

Thursday 29 December 2011

The Subway Experience

The Subway Experience

A few weeks ago I was riding the subway. Subways - or rather my fellow travellers- have always particularly interested me, especially in big cities. It appears that when living just long enough in a big city’s anonymity people feel free to share every intimate detail with not only their friends but with the entire public - or in this case: the entire compartment. Apparently it got very easy for us to become intimate with total strangers and let them be part of our most personal thoughts and in some way allow us to be naked in front of everyone. Therefore it wasn’t very surprising to hear a young woman talking about her last night experience sleeping with a guy she had just met. She said he was quite ok and that somehow ‘it’ just happened. After a night of ‘ok -sex’ they fell asleep cuddling and the next morning brought back the old insecurity - their future remained uncertain but the cat was out of the bag.  A shame - she was finally ready for a new relationship. Therefore she will call him - despite the mediocrity of things.  

How does one get oneself into such a thing?

I couldn’t help but wonder what it is that made that woman be so intimate with someone she had just met - particularly if he wasn’t quite it. I believe the older we get and the more relationships we had the more frustrated and disillusioned we become. Hollywood tells us that this one special person is out there and that we recognize them by everything being perfect and compatible from the very beginning. It seems while we more than ever know exactly what we want in our partner we have forgotten that a good relationship needs hard work. Have we accepted to be with a lot of Mr. Wrongs until Mr. Right finally comes along - just to not be alone until then? Very modern forms of relationships are those simply not wearing the label ‘relationship’. Somewhere between friends with benefits, the open relationship and the old classic relationship this new non-relationship tries to combine all the advantages. It does not need to keep that easy-way-out door open because officially no one was ever in. This non-relationship leaves us under the impression of not being alone and having something real. There is always someone to think about, someone to drag to an event and most important there is always someone for lonely nights. And all that comes with no obligations and no responsibilities. This non-caring makes it very easy to bare all - after all none of it is serious and can be taken back with a giggle and a pat on the shoulder. We don’t need to fear judgment or shame. Without investing emotions we cannot get hurt or fail and when we did not like it we will simply let go of what we just tried on. And then... NEXT! But this time the real thing please!

Not on the first date?

What happened to ‘Not on the first date’? Is it true that first date sex suggests a certain non-seriousness? Does it imply that we just don’t want to be alone for the night? Or is it nothing less than a simple checking out the others qualities before deciding whether to invest feelings or not?  After all no one stays young forever and getting the personal happy-end runs on a tight schedule. The longer we look for our perfect partner the longer our checklist gets. So why not start with the essential things: Is he good in bed? If he is Mr. Right he most certainly will know how to work me right away. Right? If the first time was not that bad we are likely to give it a few more tries. The result usually is: casual sex. A friend once told me that after having casual sex for three times someone will always start to want more. Does that mean that the intimacy of sex can trick us into having feelings for one another or are they real? Scientists try to explain that phenomenon with the hormone ‘Oxycotin’ - the so called ‘attachment hormone’. With women this hormone is distributed while or after having sex, with men on the other hand it is distributed through the prospect of having sex and increases over time of abstinence. Thank you Grandpa Ape. So is ‘Not on the first date’ really a coming true advice for all those who are looking for something serious? Apparently.  
Down which roads can first date sex lead then? It can either remain the dead end it is, result in casual sex or end in a relationship with no safety net and second bottom. If we were in Hollywood no matter which road taken it would always end in ‘married happily ever after’. But since we don’t live in far far away we better not get our hopes up.

What it is

Going back to subway woman it seems that she is willing to be with Mr. Quite-Okay and have Maybe-Getting-Better Sex until Mr. Right will finally have the courtesy to show up. She will be in a We-Don’t-Want-To-Label-It non-relationship until someone better will come along.

First date- and casual sex with people we, when being honest don’t find to be the sweeping us off our feet kind of guy, sends a clear message: you’re my favourite gapfiller but I am still waiting. And as long as we are willing to send and receive that message and get unemotionally naked in front of strangers we will not know to appreciate intimacy. And we will continue to share everything with everyone - on the subway for everyone to hear.

Love is the answer, but while you are waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty good questions.  ~Woody Allen

Thursday 6 January 2011

The Danger of Culturalism

When thinking about culture one almost exclusively thinks about its very romantic and beautiful sides such as the fine arts, ballet and cuisine. Culture is seen as an accomplishment of the ‘modern west’, a product of one’s sophistication and the flagship of our very uniqueness in this world. Through culture one defines where they came from and who they are. Simultaneously one tries to fit into the role one plays within certain cultural concepts and as well creates them. Due to the importance culture plays in one’s process of identification and identity-forming one considers it to be not only supreme to other cultures but also substantial. The process of culture- and identity-forming is always a process that does not only focus on introspectiveness but also on external perception and distinction from others.

Briefly spoken, in order to remain in a superior position, where one’s concept of culture can’t either be challenged or ‘invaded’, one must draw clear lines that are not to be crossed. Alongside with the border-drawing and ‘othering’ goes the search for so called ‘allies’. Cultural allies can be described as imagined communities. One of the most powerful imagined communities is ‘the west’. Hence, ‘the west’s’ definition of itself and its culture is very antagonistic to its way of perceiving the rest of the world: the so called ‘others’.  One could now argue that therefore the danger of culturalism must lie within the strong antagonism of attributes and characteristics of cultures in general and the way they are valued. Though this is true one must not forget to add a second perspective on the problem: Not only the process of the ‘enemy-image’-creation but also the way they are shaped and reproduced. Therefore the imagined community being in power shapes the hegemonic discourse through knowledge production. It defines who is or can be part of a certain culture or community and who can’t.

This process is currently very apparent in Germany. Germany’s cultural landscape was formatively changed through the post war migration by inviting guest workers from several European countries. What becomes very apparent is that due to cultural backgrounds only those migrants or inhabitants with migratory background, who are not perceived as of the same culture or community, are identified as not uniformly integrable. Their difference and inability to successfully integrate into ‘German/ European culture’ is therefore based on their ‘belonging’ to a certain culture or group that is not consistent with the ‘modern western’ culture. Hence, we see culture not only anymore as time- and place-bound but also as strictly tied to an individual and culture or a cultural background as something one cannot ‘escape’ from. At that very point culturalism and racism show their common mode of function and operation.

Since 1945 the label ‘race’ is rather unfashionable and nowadays replaced by the more innocent looking label ‘culture’. One can change the label; the box one puts people into never changes though, since it doesn’t matter due to which parameters others are being judged. Therefore the terms ‘race’ and ‘culture’ are rather floating signifiers and as such void of meaning and thus apt to receive any meaning. Hence, these terms become universally usable and are free to be filled with anything those dominating the hegemonic discourse would like to fill it with.

Consequently it becomes apparent that the danger of culturalism is in no way inferior to the danger of racism. In fact both describe the same phenomenon and just go by a different name. In times of globalization and daily migration around the planet understanding the potential danger of culturalism becomes very essential for how the future will be shaped and for answering the question whether we are able to learn from the past or not.  

Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver. Hanns Johst, Schlageter, act 1 scene 1