Matrix: Reloaded Explained
The essay
Selected reader comments

Matrix: Revolutions Explained
The essay
Selected reader comments

Thirty-nine Cars

22 Oct, 2010 | Brian

I had some sympathy for Jim Carrey's character in Yes Man. That doesn't mean I felt sorry for him; it means I know that path. I didn't have quite the same motivation he did, though. I would vow never to turn down an invitation because...well, just because. We're going to lunch, do you want to come? Yes. Maybe I didn't really want to, but who knows what kinds of novel opportunities I might miss if I refused?

In a way I guess it was about fear of regret. As in, I was afraid that I would potentially be in a situation of wishing I had done something, which is a lot of made-up abstraction to base a fear on. Maybe most people's fears aren't exactly rational but I feel like mine are extra-ridiculous. Although I wonder if it's so unusual. When you get right down to it, there are those two mythic pillars, one called Fear and one called Desire, only they're both the same thing (i.e., a kind of fear) looking in opposite temporal directions. Fear really means Loss, and it looks backward at the things I once had that are no longer here. Living and nonliving, everything passes out of my light cone at some point and I won't ever see it again.

When I was much younger I invested inanimate things with this sense of loss, as if the thing was feeling the same way I felt about losing it. Watching Toy Story is murderously heartbreaking for me: all my sorrow is validated, plus a helping of guilt because I had stonily convinced myself that I hadn't really needed to feel bad. The fact that there's a popular movie based entirely around this emotion lends some consolation. At least I am not alone in this.

The other pillar, Desire, looks forward. This is about not getting. This is the fear I was talking about, the hesitation against not-participation in potential experiences. I have to have them. Those experiences are like acquisitions, and I'm half-broken without them. (Okay, three-fourths broken.) Wholeness seems to depend on indulgence. I might go so far as to say I equate adequacy with some sort of achievement board, where (I imagine) everyone can see all the awesome stuff I have done and know, therefore, that I am worthy. Of course in reality no one can see this make-believe achievement board and I have to tell you about my wondrous deeds, and this gets tiresome. This knowledge does not lessen my thirst for getting, however.

There is a gap, a flaw, in the Yes Man philosophy, and it's not what the film portrayed. I was having a conversation about this subject and was presented with the example of a billionaire buying his fortieth auto. Ho hum. Why didn't the 39th auto finally bring him satisfaction? Why did he have to go for number 40? The Yes Man Flaw is that, in my own experience, acquiring brings at best a temporary relief from Desire. The Fear of Not Getting abates for just a wisp of a microsecond, and then it's back. I have tried this experiment very many times. I have brutalized others in my attempts to repeat it. Each time, Desire returned with undiminished potency. I was as afraid as ever before, with wreckage to show for my incautious service to its demands.

So where is satisfaction, anyway? This is a pretty hard question, and I don't suppose I have an answer, but mythologically speaking the "right way" is to go between Fear and Desire - exactly between them; a balance. For me this brings to mind the Buddhist idea of skillful living, of doing things "just right." I have tried to make an observation of me doing it: taking no more than I need, using precisely as much force as required and no more, a blend of energies instead of my usual limitless profligacy of one. I'm no Buddhist master - nor Buddhist, for that matter - though from time to time I think I get it. Right perception leading to right thought leading to right action, and I will do something that feels to me skillful. Just right, I'll think, with a smile.

I really like myself in those moments.