Another tragic example concerns lonely people. The lonely are interesting because it’s so tempting to say: ‘Oh, lonely people. Yeah, those are just losers, or whatever. Those are people who can’t make friends.’ Actually, the data suggests that the vast majority of lonely people don’t lack any social skills at all. It’s just they found themselves in lonely situations.
You move to a new town and you don’t really know anybody. How do you meet people? It’s hard to meet people. The longer that persists, now the longer you’ve been lonely, and then — this is the key part with the lonely and the busy and the money and the poor — now that you’re in that state, your behavior changes, and the way your behavior changes seems to keep you in that state.
There are, I think, a few ways in which your behavior changes. Scarcity draws a lot of attention to itself. That’s the key finding that I think motivates everything. When you’re experiencing scarcity, your mind automatically focuses on that thing. That focus brings benefits, which we talk about. But it has some costs, too, which help create the scarcity trap.
One cost, for the lonely: If you want to be interesting, the one thing you shouldn’t do is really focus on the fact that ‘I want this person to like me.’ That’s going to make you very uninteresting. But the lonely, they just can’t help but focus on that.
There’s this beautiful study in which subjects speak into a microphone and they either think that someone else listening to them, or they think they’re just talking. Among the non-lonely, there’s very little difference in how third parties would rate subjects’ responses. A third party rates subjects as equally interesting in both conditions. Yet lonely people become less interesting when they think someone is listening. It’s sort of a choking effect. That’s one kind of scarcity trap.
~Sendhil Mullainathan [source]
Lonely people see double entendres everywhere.
~Renata Adler [buy]
Monty Python’s Meaning of Life [excerpt] (1983) (Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam) [buy]
"Sundays in March"
For Celeste and Robert Klein
Our bear, we call him now.
Ursus minor, pure in his hole
betrayed by yellow snow
and a melted patch of scat
around the ash tree’s bole.
Likely ousted just last fall
to make way for the new crop.
Denned up all winter on your scarp
he’s come out periodically,
taken three steps to pee,
gone up the canted trunk
and stretched, like a basketball dunker.
Higher claw marks every week
attest to his improved physique.
In order to lean in and touch
his black moth-eaten laprobe fur,
in order to feel his lean flanks twitch
under our palms, we four vigil keepers
each Sunday climbed a slope so steep
we seized handholds on saplings to
underwrite our view.
We whispered over him, as if
his trance were sacred to this cliff.
As if these watchdays might compare
with other vigils of our lives—
the Sixties’ civil rights sit-ins.
The lyings down against the war.
Peacewalks to halt the bomb. Believe
me, bear’s the merest rung we’ve
stepped on climbing Jacob’s ladder.
Now let us live in harmony
with every breathing thing,
the church exhales. Our horse manure
beds your garden, half your pig’s
in our freezer. The children,
all grown and scattered, cross
time zones now and then to visit,
victims of the oldest feelings
that nothing changes, everything is broken.
So be it. For years we’ve lugged
back and forth the same unopened jug
of sour red Chianti, token
that we’re each other’s home-and-home.
Earlier today we bought
four market lambs to fatten
and dress out next November,
held them up, floppy as pillow ticks,
for the elastrator
and stayed to smile at two bummers,
orphans high on their four-hour fix
of milk replacer, skidding among
the kitchen chairs with the farmer’s mongrel.
Outside, the laying hens no longer
laying will have their necks wrung.
Everything pays for growing tame,
whatever you call it. Our forebears,
those good gray Victorians,
caged wild birds and blinded them
with hot needles. It was thought
that this would make them sing.
We castrate what we plan to eat
to purge the musk from the meat.
He made their shining colors
and He made their tiny wings.
We settle our accounts and go,
the four of us clumsier now
plodding through rotten snow,
rising toward our bear
to put the wilderness back in.
Each pilgrimage we make
I hope to find our avatar
cranky, thin, waked
by the calendar,
vanished from the body of the tree.
Today, at last. Something we watched,
touched, and let be.
~Maxine Kumin [source]