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Echo Chamber

It’s not what you think. Well, it’s exactly what you think, but not. Of course, there are cameras everywhere… of course they are listening, that’s a goddamn given, people. I don’t understand why anyone finds it astonishing or interesting that they know what you are doing. Of course they know what you are doing, and cameras and spy satellites are ruses for the small-minded, for those who lack imagination. They are always here, always present, and they know everything you are doing. They don’t necessarily understand why, but that’s not really the point is it?

The point is that it is given that they already know you, what you want, and where you are going. It’s not because they are following you, it’s because they are guiding you, and making you believe that the voice in your head is your own. It’s not. Or at least, it might not be. That’s the point; you don’t know. At least, I don’t know.

I have a friend who’s offering me a place to stay. The offer is rent-free-living until I can get back on my feet. His words were, “Back on your feet.” I didn’t know that I’d left the ground, but I guess it was obvious to him. It sounds like a pretty nice offer on the surface, and it is, but there is always more. No, I’m not suggesting anything as pedestrian as ulterior motivations—I doubt even he is fully aware of what happens next. We both know that if I move in I’m putting myself in a position of needing him, a position he has frequently called untenable. “Untenable,” or sometimes, “Unwise,” and frequently, “Aaron, you should never put yourself in a position of need, you will be exploited.” He talks to me and advises me, because the game is more fun for him if he tells his prey what he’s going to do to them before he does it. I often imagine him telling someone exactly how hard he is going to punch him or her in the face—gender is not relevant except that he claims women are even more astonishingly susceptible to the game—and then punching exactly has he has stated. The thing of it is, he is astonished, possessed by his own astonishment in fact, that the recipient of the punch is surprised. It is only a weak analogy, but you get the gist. I’ve seen him do it to others—his experiments are not all physically assaulting, but they are all at least emotionally so—and he has told me to my face that I should never put myself in a position of need… and he is inviting me into a position of need. I know him. He is my friend. I know that I cannot take him up on his offer.

Of course, if he was as one dimensional as I’ve presented so far, you would wonder why I would even consider such a proposal, but what you don’t know is that he doesn’t know either. He is in fact of the mindset that this time it will be different. Genuinely, he believes that he would never hurt me, but he will sense my weakness, and eventually it will incense him. He’ll poke at it, and play with it, and finally he will kill me or fuck me or both. Figuratively or properly, you ask? I ask you, does it matter?

Of course, I might be wrong. I can’t talk to him about it though. It’s one of those topics you can’t bring up with a close, personal friend; “I love you. I know you love me… also, I think that you are capable of using me like a toy for your own amusement and that my welfare will be sacrificed.” I actually did say to him, “I don’t want to be one of your experiments.” He responded, “You’re right, sometimes I do that, but I wouldn’t do that to you.” And so the game was made even more tantalizing… I definitely cannot live with him.

There will probably be sex, cuckolding, and humiliation. I think he would try to teach me that is what I like, that is what I want. He might be right. And that’s the point. Again. I don’t know.

But none of that is probably true. He is a great friend. And what if—in this imagined future—he is right? What if abuse will teach me who I am, or set me free of who I used to be? What if the real trap is that all of my musings are ramblings to prevent me from seeing the truth? But I can hear him talking to me, hear him telling me I need to be bold and do what I really want to do… knowing that will play to my ego, make me feel stronger, so that when he breaks me, it will be all that much more satisfying. It is my ego that holds me back, it is my ego that pushes me forward, and in the absence of ego I am either abused or not and it is irrelevant.

When I see the future—you know, not see it, but recognize the values of today and the variables available to me, and collate, calculate, imagine a future—I inevitably enter a paradoxical paradigm that makes me dizzy. If I believe I’m right about a bad outcome for a decision, you know, and I don’t choose what I think would be bad, I’ll never know I was right about it… because I won’t have done it. I would have to deceive myself into believing it would have gone differently, but I can never know it for sure. So, I choose the thing that will end up bad for me, and update my choosing mechanism, and maybe get severely hurt in the process, or I can choose what I believe will be better, risk-avoiding, and never really know if there was a risk at all.

So yeah, I can’t live with my friend, but to know why I can’t, I’d have to live with him. I probably won’t.

I can’t live here either. I’m comfortable here, and that makes me extremely uncomfortable. Another friend, a different friend, talks to me carefully about how happy he is today. He wants me to be happy too. He has acquiesced, and he accepts his sublimated joys and real joys. Basically what he said was that life was better now that he’d given up. Those were almost his words. He chose his words carefully knowing me well enough to know that if he said anything sounding at all like “complacency is the road to happiness” that I would lash out, and angrily fight back, or worse, I would try to convince him that he was wrong—I think there was some amount of fear in the conversation—and re-invigorate him to pursue something he believed he could not have. It is dangerous for a person happy with his life to question his happiness. He doesn’t want to unsettle his life, in fact, he wants me to join in and embrace the happiness he has found. He believes ultimately that I can be happy his way. My friends, the closest of the close, are the ones trying to convince me to settle down. They want me to give up. It’s not so bad. In fact, giving up allows you to finally truly enjoy what you have, to put down roots, to grow up.

So, I can’t trust him anymore either. I still love him, but he is in the prison. He is snared and trapped, and he doesn’t want a way out. Life is Stockholm. My friends, all of them, are suspect. We talk about the quality of the food, the crema of the espresso, or the flavor of the hard drinks. We laugh and I try not to remind them anymore that all of this is bullshit. I feel like I am visiting them, and only seeing them through glass, talking on a phone even though we are face to face.

There is a man who pays me to write stories! Amazing right? Amazing. But it’s not what you think. He pays me to write his stories. I am a puppet. And forgive me for saying any of it, because he is a kind, generous, and intelligent man. He is helping me, and offering me so much, but whether he does it on purpose or not, he is manipulation personified. I can see it all unfolding, and so far, it is going exactly the way I’ve predicted so far. Each step of the way, my fear is confirmed as reality… not irrational. I am not able to tell the future, nor do I in fact believe it is already written, however, there are clues. I’m a fool to ignore the clues aren’t I? Or a fool to believe that I see them at all… and that’s the point again of course that I don’t know. I still don’t know. Fantasy from reality, I was told it was important to tell the difference… but what if my inability to distinguish one from the other is what makes me who I am? “I’m thinking of fixing my brain, but I’m afraid I won’t feel the same…” But holding on to who I am? What a stubborn fool to neglect happiness when apparently, all I have to do is change my mind.

Right, so I am his puppet, by conscious manipulation or the natural order of things, by his natural tendencies to lead, or by my inability to do the same. I offer stories, while he selectively offers counterpoints until he gets what he wants, even if it is something I’ve already written for him.

Leaders use placating tactics to bring you into their way of thinking, but sometimes make the mistake of convincing you of something you introduced, and in so doing he or she becomes transparent. If you are paying attention, you will see it too. It’s a clear giveaway that you are being manipulated. My favorite aspect is that the really good ones will tell you how effective their manipulation tactics are to your face, because you can’t call them on it. If you call them out, you are admitting a level of paranoia that will poison your voice for all eternity and they know it. They defy you to your face to challenge them on it, because you will be the one who looks hysterical. So, I sit and take it quietly, watch for it, take notes, and prepare myself for when it really matters, so that I can turn the table.

So, as you can probably already guess, I can’t work for that guy anymore.

The world, my friends, everyone, they are all against me finding out the truth. Maybe it isn’t out there at all, but I’ll never know. These kindnesses I feel, these opportunities I am given, they are all disguises for the same life. Maybe this is all that I am. Maybe that’s what you are all trying to tell me; no matter what I do, no matter my choices, life will always be like this. It isn’t bad, so what’s my problem? There is no way that this winter is ever going to end as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don’t see any other way out. He’s got to be stopped. And I have to stop him.

All of this sounds like the ramblings of an egomaniac—which by the way is just another trap. You see, condemning yourself to ego mania is a society-synthesized mechanic for writing off the truth. If you are truly egoless you can recognize that sometimes it is about you. Accept that it is not important that it is or is not about you, and move on. So, let’s move on. The goddamn point.

Everyone is trying to trap you into complacency, but most importantly, all of your friends are doing it. They aren’t against you. That would be easy. That’s the movies, or made for television, or whatever melodramatic delivery mechanism you choose for the story of paranoia. No. None of that. That’s pedestrian. That’s pathetic. Your friends are genuinely trying to help you. They don’t know that they’ve succumbed. That’s what makes them so convincing. But not all of them are that way… like the first friend I talked about. He knows… he knows the entire system of undermining our humanity. He understands that the cost of society is your individuality and he curses those that are arrogant enough to believe they can do better, or that they don’t need to make all of the same sacrifices he has made. In particular, he wants to show all of those people that they are wrong. Either that or he’s just a really nice guy who’s trying to find happiness like everyone else. I don’t know.

That’s the reality of it. I don’t know. I can never know. It’s not believing with conviction that they are watching you… it’s honestly not knowing whether they are or are not. They might be. I can’t act on it one way or the other. But you know… that’s just another trap. That’s just living blind which is a kind of complacency. But in the face of not being able to know? Recognizing that you cannot have all the answers, is it madness to accept complacency or the only sane and correct option?

And what about her? I haven’t even talked about her. She wears the traps of life like goddamn jewelry as though she owns them. She is ensnared more powerfully, entangled more inextricably than anyone else, but she wears the noose like a necklace, ties like bracelets. Silky skin… so many different styles of hair, colors of lips and eyes, and the smells, oh my god the smells. Social graces are wrapped around her wrists and ankles, suffocating restraints that only make her more attractive. She walks into the room as though she owns them! As though she created the snares for the effect of them on others, and she doesn’t need oxygen or freedom, because she owns freedom. She is bound, gagged and trussed by social paradigms, but simultaneously redefining them to her whim because she is so closely intertwined with them. What do I call it? Imprisonment? Slavery? Submission? No. Nope. Doesn’t work because she’s using the look to entrap me. Do I want to set her free, or do I like the idea of prey wrapped up neatly for my consumption? The bondage princess is just the personification of the trap I’m already in, and she is the final inescapable cell.

So, I can’t see her. I can’t hold her. I can’t let her hold me. And I certainly can’t allow myself to enjoy myself with her.

The only way to win is not to play.

And what about the other? What about the present her? The immediate her? No malice in her whatsoever. But there are sleeper agents. She doesn’t know she is the succubus. And. Of course. I’ll never know. It’s not in my nature to know. What’s it like for her to live with me? It’s not a matter of trust… I’ve just seen enough to know that I don’t know.

This is my echo chamber. I don’t know if I am the source or the reverberation. I know I’ll keep singing. I’ll keep trying.

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