Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Entry 99, 6.28.11

Entry 99, June 28th, 2011, 12:03am (ship time GMT +2)

I just finished reading a fascinating book called, “The Game,” by Neil Strauss. The “game” that Strauss refers to here is the art of seduction, the study of social interplay between men and women (or men and men or women and women, though he focuses primarily on heterosexuals) set against the backdrop of LA's sunset strip and Strauss' gradual induction into the underground world of professional “pick-up artists.”

Things this book is not:

  1. A detailed “how-to” guide for the unhappy single male looking to start a streak of one night stands.

  2. Sexist. Mostly.

  3. Completely true, probably.

  4. For kids.

Things this book is:

  1. The story of a man, intelligent and driven but unlucky in love, and his search of theaforementioned “how-to” guide.

  2. A biographical sketch of a very strange underground community and the people in it.

  3. Wildly entertaining.

  4. Surprisingly Zen.

Strauss begins by detailing his life before the beginning of this adventure and his lack of success with romance. In high school he had no girlfriends – in college he had one, a “one night stand that lasted two years.” Any time that he was around an attractive woman he was petrified. He was convinced that he just “didn't have it.” As Strauss describes: “Young men have two drives. One towards power, fame, and success, and the other to companionship, intimacy, and sex. I was half a man, or so I felt.”

His journey begins when he stumbles across an online community of professional “pick-up artists,” men who have studied both the art of and science behind interpersonal attraction and view romantic conquest as a sort of game, like hunting. The experts were sharing “field reports” on online forums (of both their successes and horrific failures) while a large following of beginners studied their exploits with an eye towards emulation. At first he assumed that these followers were just a bunch of angsty adolescents, but he soon discovered that they were men of all ages in every walk of life, from college students to wealthy business executives – and all of them felt powerless when dealing with the opposite sex.

Strauss chalks this up to an educational disparity between the sexes. There is a multimillion industry devoted to informing women how to attract the opposite sex (an industry that does at least as much psychological harm as good, but that's a whole different issue), but no comparable structure exists to inform men about how to be attractive to women. These experts, then, had decided to take it upon themselves to learn how by turning to biology textbooks, group dynamic theories, neurolinguistic programming, hypnosis, and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned trial and error.

“I withdrew five hundred dollars from the bank, stuffed it into a white envelope, and wrote 'Mystery' on the front. It was not one of the proudest moments of my life.” This is how Strauss gains entry into the real, flesh-and-blood side of this world. The undisputed master of the PUAs (pick-up artists) a man named “Mystery,” (no one used their real names inside PUA circles), had just started teaching workshops. Strauss (quickly renamed “Style”) and two other students met Mystery and his wingman, Sin, in a hotel lobby in Los Angeles where they discuss theory for several hours (“Peacock theory,” “negging,” “FMAC: Find, Meet, Attract, Close,” etc.) before heading out on the town. Four days of intense clubbing later, Strauss (“Style”) is in.

He quickly rises through the ranks of the AFGs (“Average Frustrated Guys”), eventually replacing Sin as Mystery's wingman. They go to Belgrade, nearly get shot in a country that doesn't really exist, start teaching workshops all over the world, get threatened by other competing gurus, and finally open a house in Los Angeles where they can concentrate on the game. It becomes a mecca for students of the game as they come to Style and Mystery to live in the house, prowl the strip, and become masters themselves.

Two years later, Style finds himself in a strange position. He has mastered the game – Mystery is out of the action (for reasons too long to detail here – read the book) – and is yet unsatisfied. The easier women are to get, the less he enjoys them. In dehumanizing the other gender, he has dehumanized himself. He has won the game, and lost everything he was playing.

Style, though, gets lucky. He meets Lisa – a woman he cannot game. She is impervious to all of his tricks, his mannerisms, his assumed gestures and his fancy outfits. She stumps him, and he gets the dreaded “one-itis,” where a man becomes so focused on a woman that he is too nervous to act normally around her and ends up driving her away. Strauss discovers that for all of the things he has learned about seduction, he hasn't learned anything about relationships.

Even more luckily for him, though, Lisa can see through all of the extra stuff that he has accumulated in his personality over the past two years to the extremely smart, driven person that he actually is. He finally wins her over by letting the persona drop and giving his AFG a chance to come through. By violating the most sacred rule of the PUAs he is able to win Lisa over. Strauss remarks, “I'd learned that the only way to win the game was not to play.” Zen, eh?

But there's a caveat. He quickly goes on to point out that he never would have been ready for Lisa if not for those two years studying social interaction and feminine attraction. At the end of the experience he is himself again, but he has purged all fear of inadequacy from his mind. This fear would have made a relationship with Lisa or anyone else completely impossible. The game was not about women at all, but about conquering his inner fears.

It reminds me of Siddhartha (which I will get back to writing about soon, I promise!). Siddhartha, even after his meeting with Gotama (the Buddha), descends into the ancient Indian equivalent of such a society for decades. On the other side, he awakens from his debauchery as one wakes from a slumber. “I always knew these things were a distraction in my mind, but now I know in my bones and my skin,” he says of worldly pleasures. He then goes on to achieve wisdom.

So what's the moral here? Does the path to wisdom lead through folly? To let go of my need for worldly pleasures, should I master the game of accumulation of them? Or does it work the other way around?

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