I had a friend who was always mindful of the path he took to cross a room. As he navigated between two chairs, around the table clockwise, and over to the coffee maker, an invisible line was drawn behind him like a spider’s thread. Such was his belief. Returning to his origin by a different route would spell entanglement, his efficiency declining throughout the day as he became ensnared in his own past.
My friend’s philosophy never worked for me because of the cognitive load. Where was the true origin, after all? Was it reset at will at the beginning of each day? After first coffee? Could the line be severed under special circumstances, or was that against the rules? My fear was that these questions could never be answered to my satisfaction, as seductive as the concept was. But my position was that if one was going to hold a belief then one must stay true to it regardless of the inconvenience involved.
Which is why I prefer to obsess over imaginary things that don’t require as much attention to physics. My obsessions should be troubling, inherently, but intuitive. Thus, for the most part, my preoccupations all have to do with social affiliations. These are the taffy-like connections that form spontaneously between people, usually those in close proximity. For these nonverbal accords to be struck, the sole requirement is that a group’s constituent members find themselves properly arranged. What denotes “proper”? Well, that is an elusive thing.
By way of example, say that you’re at work and need some technical support. You stroll over to the technician’s desk only to find them having a conversation with someone else, so you linger at the back of the queue, waiting until they’ve finished their dialog. However, a connection of sorts has already been made, and when your party suddenly gets up and leaves with the other person, you must wait where you are until your party returns. Are there any other realistic options? Trudging back to your own desk without an answer would be as inefficient as it would be humiliating. Or, to follow the two of them… well, that would be tantamount to stalking. No, you must wait for as long as it takes. It’s a burden, clearly, for what if they have gone to lunch? Or what if they’re both enjoying a stress-induced bout of amnesia, and are even now wandering the streets, shirtless, howling?
Or maybe you stop to speak to a friend briefly as you’re leaving a party. It’s unfortunate that you didn’t spend more time talking to them during the party, but you were busy exploring the house. But say, did your friend find the opportunity to see the amazing cellar? You enlist the host to take your friend on a tour, and a moment later you watch as they both descend the staircase. Unfortunately, your transaction has committed you to a tacit contract which effectively bars you from leaving the party until your friend has returned, no matter how long that takes. If you left now it would appear as though you had consciously ditched your friend. And to follow them… well, not only would that be stalking, but it would also seem like you were looming just to gauge your friend’s level of cellar appreciation.
Social conduct is tricky business, even without the additional burden of subconscious game-playing. But it’s only the structure imposed by these games that prevents disparate groups from engaging in melee after orgy after melee. Have you ever wondered, as I do, what perverse constructs keep your friends on the visitor’s side of the orangutan cage? Even now, are those around you obsessively labeling, ordering, and concatenating each interaction in inscrutable ways that would be impossible for them to articulate? If so then be glad of it, for I believe that we are all merely savages in costume, momentarily distracted by the music of creativity, lest tooth and groin have their final say.