The Ethics Of Eyebrow Raising
So there’s this person I have a pretty significant crush on. My strong inclination is to handle the situation with neutral intellectual deliberation and fully honest/nuanced communication. To give them space and to retain enough agency in my feelings to avoid pressuring them. After all I don’t want to risk building a mutual love on less than fully rational foundations. Not sure I’d even call it love otherwise. But occasionally I briefly allow myself to stretch and feel some of the passion. And when I am gripped by that pull I often remember other modes of persuasion — the dark arts — by which I might persuade or influence my crush. Appeals not to the most intellectually deliberative part of their mind, but to the lower-level processes that often influence or overrule our higher intellects. However subtle or low-impact these actions might be, their mere possibility deeply troubles me.
I could easily slide into seeing my crush’s mind as a chess game, a strategic landscape to be deciphered and acted upon. Were I so assured or selfish in my prescription for both of us that nothing in their subjective world need weigh in, that I might just batter away in pursuit of a goal without an overruling interest in obtaining the most clearheaded of feedback. And if I were to take this dark path it seems that there are certain avenues I could take that would be both highly effective and that are, beyond the confines of my skull, universally accepted as normal and natural. People call this “seduction” and its fundamental nature somehow troubles no one else.
The only thing that would not be normal to the average person or even anarchist would be the level of conscious awareness and attention I would inevitably pay to these small moves.
If love is to be conceptualized as a war it must be finally admitted that in my geeky investigation of its physics over the last decade I have accidentally accumulated an overwhelming nuclear arsenal. Eye contact like precision ICBMs. Stories, anecdotes, jokes and arguments like a carefully sculpted and directed tsunami; secret technology to shove around oceans and drown continents. I have eyebrow muscles like the NSA has 0days. The sides of my mouth are black ops teams specializing in regime change.
Not to brag.
This kind of power breeds an aversion to anything approaching full engagement when it comes to anything approaching dating or flirting. I prefer to withdraw, to act as lightly as possible, to obfuscate what actions I need take behind a dazzling array of complicated proxies. In the process I occasionally wreck third world economies through impossible to understand financial instruments, sail gunboats into the harbors of hermit kingdoms under third party flags, and collect debt vassals to my international banking apparatus. Charismatic leaders in the global south try to forge coalitions to stand against my charms. But to be honest most of my colonial atrocities are actually accidental, background noise. The unintentional externalities of a distracted superpower that was only partially seeking such influence and now is dumbfounded and conflicted to have it.
But when I really care, when the fate of the world seems to turn on it — when it’s absolutely critical to do things right — I can’t help but occasionally feel an impulse to break out that nuclear arsenal gathering cobwebs in Cheyenne Mountain. To go all-in.
I am more than a little tormented by this. Deep into a skype conversation I noted, “you know it’s frustrating because I feel like if I could just hold your hand all your anxieties and flutteriness would immediately disappear.” And my crush agreed that this was probably true. But is that kind of physical grounding and appeal to hardwired tropes of security in homo sapiens ethical? Is it optimal? (Assuming conscious intentional consent to said handholding.) What is lost when such a neutron bomb sterilizes a city overrun by uncertainties? How can we trust that they are all irrational? An invitation from a country’s ruler to undertake military operations on her soil is not actually a conclusive justification for doing so.
On the other hand what subconscious effect is had by retreating to rarefied diplomatic talks between our countries’ relationship-technocrats? To cleave our cluster of concepts associated with “love” apart into strata of purity seems to risk seeding our diplomatic talks with dissidents. By intentionally excluding any remote sparks of passion, lust, immediacy and the like, am I effectively poisoning the case for love by subconscious association?
Similarly if in the process one diminishes the day-to-day minutia that make up a close friendship — the shared links of interest and retellings of minor interpersonal dramas — what subconscious impressions do we risk ingraining? And if we try to consciously manage such small exchanges does this risk eventually making it seem like work or an awkward charade?
There’s a lot of dangerous territory here. Sitting demurely at a cafe and averting my eyes from a firing solution might provide space for the conscious and intentional consideration that I want. Choosing not to be funny, not to be charming, keeping those eyebrows holstered. Focusing on sincere intelligence rather than lapsing into the more seductive trappings of it. I want to assume both of us are fully conscious floating metal spheres, but it’s dangerous to take one’s aspirations as fact. Do I need to make a counter-adjustment to the subconscious externalities of platonic cool? But it’s hard to get a precise dose of adrenaline and endorphins. The normally left subconscious dynamics attendant to normal date activities seem like the sort of thing that should first require years of treaty negotiations. Staggered rounds of talks in Doha and Seattle before the first amusement park ride.
I guess I’ll default on my usual vector — in hope that you can’t go wrong being true to yourself — and bypass these tangles with my same old prescription: Go deeper. Be more earnest. Be more meta. Be more explicit. One of the things that has come up in discussing this with my crush is the notion that attempts to be meta about everything — to add a kind of self-aware or self-depreciating tint to stuff, to draw awareness to it — can be sometimes b a way of continuously checking in on consent to typically obscured dynamics by having a meta-conversation on them. I’d like to think that’s the path out.