I’m reading Robert Anton Wilson‘s Prometheus Rising right now. It builds upon Timothy Leary‘s eight-circuit model of consciousness. (More on this later). In discussing the fourth circuit, which conditions our sex roles and parent roles, Wilson talks about money being our bio-survival tickets. Parents are concerned with getting money because they need to not only acquire the bio-survival tickets for themselves, but for their young.
Wilson then goes on to talk about how behaviorists study conditioning in animals. Anyone who know BF Skinner‘s experiments with the salivating dog, or the lab rats, knows what I am talking about. Lab rats can have selective reinforcement, so that at the sound of a bell, a trained rat will run up a latter, press Button A, race across a plank and down another ladder, press button B, dash across the cage, and wait at the food-slot for a treat.
Wilson used an example from his own personal life (which I think resonates with most of society and certainly myself). He would
“set an alarm clock before sleep every night. When the alarm woke him, he would breakfast hurriedly, rush off to catch a bus, ride to a subway, change to the train, ride to an office building, rush through the lobby, board an elevator, ride to a certain floor, enter an office, and toil at repetitious (and generally pointless) tasks for eight hours.”
This behavior sequence had been shaped by reinforcement delivered every second week in the form of bio-survival tickets (paychecks.)
This analogy to rats in a maze horrified me. I’d obviously used the term “rat race” before to describe the modern working world, but when you lay it out, step by step like that, you really do feel like you are in a cage.
I would like to think that I am not that automated. I recently started changing my morning routine to have more time for myself. I wake up at 5:15 am, go to the gym for an hour, get coffee on the way home, and then sit and write for an hour before I start my morning routine (shower, brush teeth, hair, makeup, make lunch, drive to work). My daily routine at work though is a bit different though because as a lawyer, there is no automated task. Every day it is something different that you have to deal with. It takes a tremendous amount of brainpower to constantly have to think of creative solutions to new problems.
It’s kind of like you are given a bunch of shapes: triangles, circles, squares, pentagons, octogons, etc. You think you are all prepared for any sort of “round peg, square hole” situation. And then your client comes to you with a hole shaped like a goose. And you have to figure out what combination of shapes you can cram into it to make a goose. It’s kind of like that.
Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my job. I really like the people I work with, and I’m learning a lot. I like getting projects and taking them to completion. I like being able to focus on something and help people. No one goes to a lawyer when they don’t have to. Our clients have real issues and need help.
But there is something about the concept of “working” that I always have been adverse to. I looked back over some writing I had done in law school and I found this journal entry:
March 6, 2008 2:46 am
The thought of working absolutely fills me with dread. I think about all the clichés, the rat-race, another brick in the wall… and my life is headed in that direction, one day at a time. I want to be creative, express myself. I don’t want to worry about saying the wrong thing, being professional, wearing a suit, wondering if I will ever make it to that corner office. Is that going to be the culmination of my life? Making it to the corner office? I don’t want to think about billable hours, letterhead, pussyfooting around the boss…
I nearly had a panic attack today at a summer internship interview. An internship. Slave labor. And here I am wearing my suit and heels trying to impress them. “Please shackle me!” I sat there imagining my life slipping away, a dull thud of the faucet dripping, one drop at a time. I am not cut out for corporate life.
I often sit in silence and it is almost overwhelming how loud it is.
Law school goes so fast that most people don’t have a chance to sit down and think about if they actually like it. But guess what? Me, the slacker, the one that watches hours of reality TV in an attempt to be living someone else’s life, has enough time to sit and think about whether or not I like it. And I don’t.
I actually don’t really remember much from law school. I think I’ve repressed most of those memories. My sister tells me I would alternate between raging psycho bitch, and hollowed empty shell of a person, dark circles showing through layers of concealer. Sounds attractive, huh?
My recollection of law school is that it was difficult, but not overly so. I tried, but not my hardest. And that exams were the most stressful, but you pretty much chugged along doing the work for the rest of it. I probably did some nifty NLP re-wiring of my neuro circuits to tell a better and more pleasurable story than the truth. I spent a lot of time speed-reading the material so that I could spend time with my then-boyfriend.
Mind you, law school exams are nothing like taking the California bar exam. That is an entirely different beast.
I recently have been looking around going, “is this it? Is this life?” I am reminded of Melvin from As Good as It Gets: “What if this is as good as it gets?” Do we just have our little routines, our job, day-to-day monotony, sprinkled with moments of happiness, and “good times, noodle salad?” Am I missing something?
I think I’ve been so conditioned to be goal oriented. There has always been a next-step in life, a destination, a goal to attain. And I think that’s the problem. They always say that it’s the journey, not the destination. I have been so focused on the end-result, I am not enjoying the day-to-day. I need to settle in to the routine and enjoy the journey.
Or is that what a good little rat is supposed to think?