This is a story to illustrate some varieties of trouble that may arise due to high psychoticism.
In my wallet is one of those rewards cards that you swipe to get free drinks, upgrades, and such at coffee shops, shopping centers, and pretty much everywhere one spends money nowadays. The idea is that the shopkeep wants to encourage people to habitually buy from him, so he offers deals, discounts, and other rewards to people who do. It’s all very Pavlovian- loyalty through habituation.
Now, I go to Caribou pretty much every day. Coffee is my vice, they have good coffee, they have comfortable seats where I can get some extracurricular work done, and it’s become part of my (rather strict) daily routine. Every time I buy something, they ask “Do you have a perks card?” and every time I answer “Yes, but it’s not registered”. After this, I resolve to register the card immediately once I sit down to work. I have also managed to spill a little bit of my coffee at this point, either on the counter or the front of my shirt. Having done this, I resolve further that I will learn from this experience and not spill coffee the next day, which resolution is realized maybe once per week (if it’s a good week). I then apologize to the barista, who says “it’s no big deal” and cleans up my mess, and I sit down with my computer.
By the time I sit down, nine days out of ten I have completely forgotten about the perks card. The very idea has flown the coop. Some rare days, I pull it out of my wallet and set it on my lap, whereafter I forget about it because I’ve engaged in a longstanding habit chain: laptop open, browser open, voxday.blogspot.com, new tab, vault-co.blogspot.com, new tab, koanicsoul.com/forum/search.php?search_id=unreadposts, new tab, aeolipera.blogspot.com. After this, psychoticism reigns until my cell phone timer goes off (time for work). Perks cards? Pish tosh. Mere relics of a forgotten world.
I have gone through this ritual a few hundred times now, over about three years, and it’s likely I’ve missed out on at least one full day’s wages due to this bizarre form of incompetence. By taking five minutes of my time, three years ago, I could have taken an entire day off from work and picked at my toes all day, and be just as close to realizing any of my vague plans. Not once have I actually typed in the URL on the card, or even read the instructions. Without pulling out the card, I couldn’t tell you whether it has any. And yes, I am planning to register it after finishing this parable. Will I succeed? I can’t even guess, because the idea of the card has entered the ether, where my mind dwells.
Life can be a strange beast sometimes.
Now, expand this idea into an entire adult life, and we can see wherefore the majority of psychotic dysfunction. Success in modern life is founded upon manifold behaviorisms, which is a neologism I’ll have to define. These “behaviorisms” are rules of behavior characterized by 1) smallness 2) simplicity 3) disjointedness, 4) requirement of a short period of uninterrupted attention and 5) classical reward/punishment by a distant authority. A perfect example is the small steps required to drive a car. Let me ask you, is your driver’s license expired? The tabs on your plates? Is your insurance good to go? If it is, how do you know? When was your last oil change? How does one keep track of these things, and resolve them in an efficient order? It would be too much effort to create a routine for every disjointed, five-minute task that must be done every six months, or every two years. To succeed in following every law, and proactively filling out every form, would require nothing less than the constant, full attention of a person addicted to boredom.
I once tried to explain to my mom that I don’t call her very often simply because it’s not something I do routinely. I tried to fix this by setting a regular time, but she would have nothing of the sort. “Just call me sometimes when you think of it,” she said. I tried to explain, “Things don’t just occur to me, the way they do to you.” Life is like trying to keep my gas tank full, except I don’t have an indicator on the dashboard that lights up to tell me when I’m pushing my luck, and there are one thousand little tanks instead of one big one, and each little tank requires me to stop at a different gas station. Each stop, by itself, is not a big deal. But the sum total is overwhelming.
And I can’t overemphasize the importance of point 3, the disjointedness of these behaviorisms. If they could all be connected to a set of singular principles, they could be anticipated and understood as a group. Instead, they are constantly changing and shifting like sand dunes in the desert. The only way to keep track of all the little obligations in modern life is to apply full and constant attention to every newsletter, publication, e-mail, and casual rumor, while always keeping an eye on the sands themselves. Only a parent could manage such a heroic feat out of a feeling of natural responsibility, or maybe a neurotic. It is like being tasked to count grains of sand. “Why did you stop? Why do you say it’s too hard? You’ve counted 10,000, is it so hard to count the next? It’s just a single grain of sand.”
Again, this wouldn’t even be so much trouble if there were a giant checklist somewhere which, by some miracle, we could keep track of all these things. Nutrition requirements are list A, DMV and car insurance are on list B…yada yada…and the process for financial aid is on checklist Z. By next year, this list would be hopelessly out of date, and the nutrition requirements would be incorrect (but failure to follow them makes your health insurance cost more!). So during every moment of downtime, we must be continuously scouring our minds for details we may have missed, and still paying attention to every newsletter, publication, e-mail, and rumor, and yet we can’t let all this distract us while we’re filling out a simple form. Grains of sand.
I’ve mentioned this before, but at my very worst I was unable to fill out an application even one page long. During this time I was seeking psychiatric help for all this nonsense (I was still pretty young and stupid then), and was informed that I could receive Adderall (basically amphetamines) if I simply read a 40-page brochure for healthcare assistance (of some kind or another) and filled out a six-page application. I was crestfallen at the time, but it was probably a lucky break. Imagine what my life would be like if I’d succeeded, and began working myself to death over checklists A-Z! Thinking that was my best of two options, no wonder I was depressed. I didn’t even ask my parents for help with this process, as their reaction was decidedly ho-hum to my diagnoses of ADHD-I, major recurring depression, Tourette’s. Their only question was when I was going to get over it and get back into the university system, and become an engineer (actuary science was an acceptable alternative).
They have since given up on the possibility that I will amount to anything, and we have built a mutually amiable relationship out of this disengagement.
By the way, if you’ve made the connection to the previous post, that means you’re paying attention. Time to bring all this retardation to a conclusion. In conclusion, I’ve finished this post only barely in time to leave for work, and the Caribou card is still in my pocket, and I won’t be registering it today, and will continue paying full price for my coffee even though Caribou sets the full price by assuming 99% of the customers aren’t going to be paying the full price. But in its own way that’s fine, because I’ve decided all I want from life is plain, black coffee and a place to sit. The calories in those big, sugary drinks will put you in the grave quicker than you’d think.