Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Dice Man - Chapter 17 (the nr of Rebirth)

Eventually, it had to happen; the dice decided that Dr. Rhinehart should spread their plague - he was ordered to corrupt his innocent children into the dicelife...

...Larry took to following the dice with such ease and joy compared to the soul-searching gloom that I often weal cough before following a decision, that I had to wonder what happened to every human in the two decades between seven and twenty-seven to turn a kitten into a cow. Why did children seem to be so often spontaneous, joy-filled and concentrated while adults seemed controlled, anxiety filled and diffused?
It was the goddam sense of having a self: that sense of self which psychologists have been proclaiming we all must have. What if - at the time it seemed like an original thought - what if the development of a sense of self is normal and natural, but is neither inevitable nor desirable? What if it represents a psychological appendix: a useless, anachronistic pain in the side? Or, like the mastodon's huge tusks: a heavy, useless and ultimately self-destructive burden? What if the sense of being someone represents an evolutionary error as disastrous to the further development of a more complex creature as was the shell for snails or turtles? He he he. What if? Indeed men must attempt to eliminate the error and develop in themselves and their children liberation from the sense of self. Man must become comfortable in flowing from one role to another, one set of values to another, one life to another. Men must be free from boundaries, patterns and consistencies in order to be free to think, feel and create in new ways. Men have admired Prometheus and Mars too long; our God must become Proteus.
I became tremendously excited with my thoughts: `Men must become comfortable in flowing from one role to another' - why aren't they? At the age of three or four, children were willing to be either good guys or bad guys, the Americans or the Commies, the students or the fuzz. As the culture molds them, however, each child comes to insist on playing only one set of roles: he must always be a good guy, or, for equally compulsive reasons, a bad guy or rebel. The capacity to play and feel both sets of roles is lost. He has begun to know who he is supposed to be.
The sense of a permanent self: ah, how psychologists and parents lust to lock their kids into some definable cage.
Consistency, patterns, something we can label - that's what we want in our boy.
`Oh, our Johnny always does a beautiful bowel movement every morning after breakfast'
`Billy just loves to read all the time...'
`Isn't Joan sweet? She always likes to let the other person win.'
'Sylvia's so pretty and so grown up; she just loves all the time to dress up.'
It seemed to me that a thousand oversimplifications a year betrayed the truths in the child's heart: he knew at one point that he didn't always feel like shitting after breakfast but it gave his Ma a thrill. Billy ached to be out splashing in mud puddles with the other boys, but . . . Joan wanted to chew the penis off her brother every time he won, but ... And Sylvia daydreamed of a land in which she wouldn't have to worry but how she looked ...
Patterns are prostitution to the patter of parents. Adults rule and they reward patterns. Patterns it is. And eventual misery.
What if we were to bring up our children differently? Reward them for varying their habits, tastes, roles? Reward them for being inconsistent? What then? We could discipline them to be reliably various, to be conscientiously inconsistent, determinedly habit-free even of `good' habits.
`What, my boy, haven't told a lie yet today? Well, go to your room and stay there until you can think one up and learn to do better.'
`Oh, my Johnny, he's so wonderful. Last year he got all "A"s an his report card and this year he's getting mostly "D"s and "F"s. We're so proud: `Our little Eileen still pees in her panties every now and then and she's almost twelve.'
'Oh, that's marvelous! Your daughter must be so alive.'
`Good boy, Roger, that was beautiful the way you walked off the field and went home to play Ping-Pong with the score tied and two out in the last of the eighth. Every dad in the stands wished his kid had thought of that.'
`Donnie! Don't you dare brush your teeth again tonight! It's getting to be a regular habit.'
`I'm sorry, Mom.'
`Goddam son of mine. Hasn't goofed off in a week. If I don't find the lawn un-mowed or the wastebaskets overflowing one of these days, I'm going to blow my top at him.'
`Larry, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You haven't bullied a single one of the little kids on the block all summer.'
'I just don't feel like it, Mom.'
`Well, at least you could try.'
`What should I wear, Mother?'
`Oh I don't know, Sylvia. Why don't you try the cardigan which makes you look flat-chested and that ugly skirt your grandmother gave you which always twists. I've got a pair of nylons I've been saving for a special occasion: they've each got a run.'
`Sounds groovy.'
Teachers, too, would have to alter.
'Your drawings all tend to look like the thing you're draw, young man. You seem unable to let yourself go.'
'This essay is too logical and well-organized. If you expect to develop as a writer you must learn to digress and be at times totally irrelevant.'
`Your son's work shows much improvement. His papers on history have become nicely erratic again, and his comportment totally unreliable (A-). His math remains a little compulsively accurate, but his spelling is a delight. I particularly enjoyed his spelling of "stundent" for "student".'
`We regret to inform you that your son behaves always like a man. He seems incapable of being a girl part of the time.
He has been dating only girls and may need psychiatric treatment'
`I'm afraid, George, that you're one of our few ninth graders who hasn't acted like a kindergarten child this week.
You'll have to stay after school and work on it.'
The child, we are informed, needs to see order and consistency in the world or he becomes insecure and afraid. But what order and consistency? The child doesn't have to have consistent consistency; it seemed to me he might grow equally well with consistent, dependable inconsistency. Life, in fact, is that way; if parents would only admit and praise inconsistency, children wouldn't be so frightened of their parents' hypocrisy or ignorance.
`Sometimes I'll spank you for spilling your milk and sometimes I won't give a damn.'
`Occasionally I like you when you rebel against me, son, and at other times I love to kick the shit out of you.'
`I'm usually pleased with your good grades in school, but sometimes I think you're an awful grind.'
Such is the way adults feel: such is the way children sense they feel. Why can't they acknowledge and praise their inconsistency? Because they think they have a `self.'
Like the turtle's shell, the sense of self serves as a shield against stimulation and as a burden which limits mobility into possibly dangerous areas. The turtle rarely has to think about what's on the other side of his shell; whatever it is, it can't hurt him, can't even touch him. So, too, adults insist on the shell of a consistent self for themselves and their children and appreciate turtles for friends; they wish to be protected from being hurt or touched or confused or having to think.
If a man can rely on consistency, he can afford not to notice people after the first few times. But I imagined a world in which each individual might be about to play the lover, the benefactor, the sponger, the attacker, the friend: and once known as one of the next day he might yet be anything. Would we pay attention to this person? Would life be boring?
Would life be livable? I saw then clearly for the first time that the fear of failure keeps us huddled in the cave of self - a group of behavior patterns we have mastered and have no intention of risking failure by abandoning.
What if secretly before every agon or game the dice were thrown to determine whether the `winner' or the `loser' `wins'! The prize or the championship, with fifty-fifty being the odds for each? The loser of the game would thus end up half the time being congratulated for having been lucky enough to have lost, and thus won the prize. The man who won the game would be consoled for playing so well.
`But!!! The loser of the game would still feel bad, the winner still feel 'good.'
But I remembered reading in a widely acclaimed book on children's games something which made Larry's affinity for diceliving make sense. I dug out the book and read confirmation of my thoughts with joy. Children, it said ... rarely trouble to keep scores, little significance is attached to who wins or loses, they do not require the stimulus of prizes, it does not seem to worry them if the game is not finished. Indeed, children like games in which there is a sizeable element of luck, so that individual abilities cannot be directly compared. They like games which restart automatically, so that everybody is given a new chance.
It seemed to me that there were two quite different meanings of failure. The mind knows when it is blocked and when it has found a solution. A child trying to solve a maze knows when he fails and when he succeeds; no adult need tell him. A child building a house of blocks knows when the collapse of the house means failure (he wanted to build it higher) and when it means success (he wanted it to fall). Success and failure mean simply the satisfaction and frustration of desire. It is real; it is important; the child doesn't have, to be rewarded or punished by society in order to
prefer success to failure.
The, second meaning of failure is also simple: failure is failure to please an adult; success is pleasing an adult. Money, fame, winning a baseball game, looking pretty, having good clothes, car, house are' all types of success which primarily revolve around pleasing the adult world. There is nothing intrinsic to the human soul in any of these fears of failure.
Becoming the dice man was difficult because it involved a continual risking of failure in the eyes of the adult world.
As dice man I `failed' (in the second sense) again and again. I was rejected by Lil, by the children, by my esteemed colleagues, by my patients, by strangers, by the image of society's values branded into me by thirty years of living. In the second sense of failure I was continually failing and suffering, but in the first sense I never failed. Every time I followed the dictates of the die I was successfully building a house or purposely knocking one down. My mazes were
always being solved. I was continually opening myself to new problems and, enjoying solving them.
From children to men we cage ourselves in patterns to avoid facing new problems and possible failure; after a while men become bored because there are no new problems. Such is life under the fear of failure.
Fail! Lose! Be bad! Play, risk, dare.
Thus, I exulted that evening of Larry's first diceday. I became determined to make Larry and Evie fearless, frameless,
egoless humans. Larry would be the first egoless man since Lao-Tzu. I would let him play the role of father of the household and Evie the mother. I'd let them reverse roles. Sometimes they would play parents as they perceive us to be and at other times as they think parents should be. We could all play television heroes and comic-strip characters.
And Lil and I every conscientious parent - would change his personality every other day or week.
`I am he who can play many games.'
That is the essence of the happy child of foul, and he never feels he loses. `I am he who is x, y and z, and x, y and z only': that is the essence of the unhappy adult. I would try to extend in my children their childishness. In the immortal words of J. Edgar Hoover: `Unless ye become as little children, ye shall not see God.'

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