Gambling

I’ve never really warmed to gambling. I understand that it’s one of those things that you’re meant to at least slightly enjoy, especially in Australia where the value of “having a flutter” is a foundational cultural myth. It doesn’t even leave me cold – I find it stressful and mildy boring.

I don’t claim to be particularly virtuous here. I just suspect that my brain is wired slightly differently to many people in this respect. There appears to be a pretty strong correlation between potentially addictive behaviours and particular neural configurations, and I seem to be deficient in the bit that controls impulsive behaviour. This is good and bad. Maybe I’m not as “fun” as the next person.

When there’s something on the line, as in all types of gambling, I immediately become anxious. The process stops being a game to me and suddenly becomes a situation where I have to protect what I have. If by chance I win a hand of poker I become acutely aware of the precariousness of victory and seek to cash out my winnings as quickly as possible. The enjoyment for me is in the “play” aspect – when money is invovled it feels like a school assignment and all the fun is vacuumed up, along with my cash.

Even Australia’s silliest holiday, the Melbourne Cup, means little to me. I attended Cup Day at Flemington once, dutifully bet on horses picked at random, and then lost all my money. My overwhelming feeling was one of relief that I didn’t have to participate any more, having made the token gesture.

No doubt I would be no fun at Vegas. I accept that. But on the up side, I’m not likely to get a pokie addiction either. So there are some benefits.

Why people in cities can’t walk properly

Do you ever get frustrated with people around you in the city who don’t seem to pay attention? People who can’t walk? People with no apparent peripheral vision? This concept from wild navigator Tristan Gooley may illuminate this problem.

“A study by the US Military found that soldiers of equal military experience did not see the world in the same way. Most criticallt, some soldeiers were markedly better at spotting dangers, like improvised explosive devices and other ambushes. The two groups that stood out in this research were those with a hunting background and those who came from tough urban neighbourhood.”

Tristan Gooley, How to Connect with Nature

The hypothesis that he draws is that these soldiers are practiced at paying attention to their environment because their life or next meal may depend on it.

My complementary theory is this: We live in a world that is utterly overloaded with high intensity but low consequence stimulus, and this similarly shapes our behaviour. The problem in a big city is not paying attention, it’s how to filter out all the extraneous information. The car horn two blocks away, thousands of nearby conversations, advertisements, street signs – it all takes cognitive effort to understand. Perhaps the reason that many people seem oblivious in large cities is that it takes all their efforts to stay focussed on what they’re trying to do. Paying attention to and anticipating another person’s needs may be a bridge too far.

I’d even go a step further and say that this may be one reason why so many people wear headphones in the city. They may unconsciously be trying to block out the random, intrusive noise of the city and replacing it with predictable, familiar noise (music that you already know). This reduction of stimulus is also the reason why you turn down the radio in the car when you’re trying to find your way in an unfamiliar neighbourhood.

The human brain can only take so much input. I suspect that the challenge for most people isn’t in the seeing, it’s in the discerning. After all, there’s a lot of worthless input out there, just waiting to distract you and sell you something.

Mainsplaining

Mansplaining” is usually understood as the phenomenon of men earnestly holding forth to women about a topic which they are already aware of, possibly even expert in.  It’s patronising, infantilising, and generally off-putting. It also fails to take into account the fact that the woman in question may be extremely well informed on the topic, but far too polite to interrupt the man and challenge him, which he would probably take with singularly bad grace anyway.  Mansplaining is, by all reasonable standards, not a very nice thing.

 

That said, it occurred to me the other night that it’s just sort of the way that men communicate, even with other men.  I was having a chat with a male friend and I noticed that we tended to hold forth on a topic, then wait, and the other person would then agree or seek further information.  It was a little like a Socratic dialogue but with far fewer straw men.

 

That pattern of conversation is pretty common actually.  It seems to me that this monologue-response-monologue pattern is standard for many of my interactions with men.  I can’t explain why this is, but for me I often don’t feel that I understand something unless I’ve spoken about it, so having the clear air to be able to monologue for a few minutes about my pet topic actually helps me understand myself better. I don’t intend any offence by doing it, but it can be difficult for me to fully understand what I think without talking (or writing) about it

 

So while mansplaining may be taken as patronising by many women, which it clearly is, it is also the default conversation style for many men, even amongst themselves.

Literary disability

For someone who reads a lot, I have a really hard time with so-called “literary” fiction. Snide judgements about definitions aside, I’m much more of an information-centred person, rather than a story-centred person.  The snarkier part of me points out that a lot of lit fic is devoid of plot as well, preferring to concentrate on the human condition, whatever that is.

The main reason for my reluctance is that whenever I read such a work (and I do try, periodically), I feel like I’m missing most of it. It’s like there’s a joke that no-one let me in on. Granted, my forays into the formal academic study of literature aren’t extensive, but perhaps there was something in it.  High school literature classes left me cold.  After close readings of texts I normally felt that either the revealed profundities were less than profound or that they were obvious, that there wasn’t a subtext. Reading other novels as an adult I find myself searching for plot or explicit information, rather than the artistry of it. Implications and subtexts are way beyond my remit it seems.

Perhaps I’m just not wired for it.  I’m envious of people who find lit fic rewarding, I wish that pleasure was accessible to me.  But I have a fairly literal mind; perhaps I’m unable to dislocate my neural machinery in the right way to handle these kinds of abstractions.

That all probably makes me immensely shallow.