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Group Thinking, Allies and Enemies, Individuality

I promise this will come back to seduction, but the larger body is about human nature. Just bear with me.

My favorite video game is Planescape: Torment. I’ve replayed it four times through the years, and it always astounds me how smart and insightful it is, even ten years after its publication. At the game’s start, you wake up on a slab in the mortuary, and your only lead as to how you got there (and why you’re alive at all) comes from a tattoo that a floating skull named Morte reads off your back. You find out pretty soon that your character, The Nameless One, can’t die. What’s more, you meet all kinds of people (and demons and monsters and cetera) who have run into you over the course of hundreds of years, and they all pretty much hate you, you who are a tabula rasa when you crawl off the slab at the beginning of the game. Through dialog trees, you have the option to be a crazy person, a total dick, or a pretty decent guy. But none of that changes three central facts: you can’t die, you have no memory of what happened before you woke up, and most of the people you encounter, if they’ve met you, hate you.

One of the game’s most noteworthy aspects is that it is, essentially, an interactive novel. Depending on who you ask, the game’s dialog comprises about a million words. Since most video games with a strong emphasis on narrative are voice acted these days, that amount of dialog would be unheard of in a modern game (to say nothing of modern gamers’ tendency to skip cut scenes or story elements in order to jump into the action). As such, you have loads and loads of time to meet strange creatures with a single chord running through them.

1.) a reformed desire demon (succubus) who runs a “Brothel of Intellectual Pleasures”
2.) a dimension traveler who is disgraced in the eyes of his own order and who, it turns out, is your slave
3.) a wizard who became so consumed with fire that he is literally consumed with fire.
4.) a talking mechanical box who is considered defective because he has the vague components of a personality

The list goes on and on, and the central theme is repeated over and over again in those hundreds of thousands of words:

What can change the nature of a man?

I’ve run through the game five times at this point, and that refrain is never far from my head, especially during my weekend workshops. If you want to get some really shifty answers out of a seduction teacher, ask him how someone can change from weird. I don’t mean weird like you’re a special individual, and you know your personality is a special song that only you know how to really sing. Yes, you’re a special snowflake. I mean WEIRD. I mean those people who are borderline Asperger’s or autistic or verging on sociopathic. I have a psychiatrist friend who swears up and down, “You can’t fix asshole.” (which is close to the assertion of psychiatry regarding psychopaths/sociopaths: their lack of empathy is incurable so far as we can tell).

Yet change happens. When I was 18 I was opposed to pre-marital sex and wrote tracts about binary morality. Now I’m promiscuous, and I can only see the world with round edges and shades of grey. Somewhere down the line I trespassed against my prior morality enough times that it became something new. It’s still in the corners. I still have a yin for monogamy, and most of my beliefs come straight from the Presbyterian playbook, but they are cobwebs on the walls now. Big shock: I am different at 31 than I was at 18.

More interesting, though, are the times I have been pressed to change. I have letters I wrote home from Marine Corps boot camp and besides the fact that they are a surprisingly good read even 12 years later, I am amused at my younger self’s deep woe over the constant use of the word “pussy” to describe, well, being a pussy. I had a real problem with the DIs summoning feminine archetypes as totems of weakness, such as when the drill instructors would call us “ladies” when we were too slow or couldn’t climb over the pull-up bar more than 10 times. Somehow, though, the culture absorbed me. A few years later, I was right there with other Marines calling another devil dog “Theresa” because he couldn’t knock out 50 push-ups. I still laugh whenever I hear the name Theresa.

Words are anchors. There’s a special power in the way the drill instructors would bark the words that signified a breach in training.
“Oh, this recruit is an individual!”
“That recruit is on his own fucking program!”

Even now, when I see or hear the word individual, it has a whiff of asshole about it. Individual. Someone who sneers at the collective good, someone who looks out for himself instead of his brothers. To be an individual, Marines are taught, is to be nasty.

What can make or unmake the artifacts of our developmental psychology? How strong a catalyst would be needed to, say, sacrifice your own child or parent? If God Himself asked? If he/she turned into a zombie? If he/she was an abusive narc/alcoholic?

Tony Robbins says all our actions rest on the pursuit of pleasure or escape from pain. This tickled me when I heard it because I’d been squawking for years about how everything we are is shaped by our relationship to fear and desire. I like Robbins’s better. He recommends neuro-associative conditioning for immediate, actionable, identifiable change. And repetition. Wise repetition is a pattern in virtually every case of extreme success. Wise repetition, I said. As my old swim coach used to say, “Practice of perfection makes perfect.”

Real change, then, is a Herculean (Sisyphean?) effort. You must look in the mirror and agree you are capable of positive change. This alone is nearly impossible for some people and is one of the main barriers to self-improvement. Most people seem to run around believing they are locked into their personalities, habits, and identities. The alternative means taking agency in your own life to a larger degree, and that’s too much responsibility for a lot of people. Then you have to adjust your life inside and out to obtain the results you want. Inside and out. A lot of people seem to want to improve themselves without changing exterior factors that determine happiness. Did you know that one of the main determinants in your personal happiness is the length of your commute? By the same token, the people you spend time around and the activities you engage in are all in the equation of your life’s outcome. You ARE, to a large extent, the sum of the five people you spend the most time around. Guys want to know how to get pumped up before they go out to work on their seduction skills. It ain’t reading a blog post, that’s for sure.

Yet even then, we are still, to a large extent, who we are. I stopped playing video games for 18 months when I first learned about seduction, but when I picked up a controller again it felt like coming home. I have gone on long diets before, and people always say you’ll lose the taste for the bad foods. I suspect these people have never eaten a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

I don’t have an answer.