It is generally unlikely that a fella understands his position at any given time. When you think about it, the person who studies your actions the least is you. The people around you don’t need to carry a mirror to check you out; they just casually watch and develop opinions. So the interesting question becomes: do you know yourself better than other people do? Well, it’s interesting to me, anyhow. I like to think about stuff that probably won’t make the papers anytime soon. I’m no balloon boy, after all. If you wanna know who you are, I suggest you ask somebody.
Kurt Vonnegut said, “Be careful what you pretend to be, because you are what you pretend to be.” I first heard it years ago. It’s a quote that passed over the green digital display of the register at the 7-11 while I was waiting in line to buy smokes. It startled me. The immediate consequence of what it meant occurred to me like this: if I pretend to be what I want to be, then I will be what I want to be. That sounds like total crap to pretty much everybody I’ve ever told, and I’m not sure I could defend it in philosophical court, but I know I’ve never tried. I haven’t bothered. I haven’t bothered and I haven’t cared to work it out because the logical underpinnings of the idea don’t affect the way the idea works in the physical world, and the way it works is. . . Well, let me give you one possible example.
If a guy doesn’t really cheat on his wife but only pretends to, then what is he really doing? I mean, we’re going to have to ferret out the individual actions, aren’t we, so let’s say he has approached a woman and engaged her in conversation. The nature of this conversation is that he wants to pretend to have an affair with her without actually having an affair with her, something this woman conveniently also would like to do. They begin to see one another, sneaking around, starting secret email accounts with complicated passwords on their computers at work, and generally being real shady and scandalous. They’ll have to spend the night out at some point to really hammer the illusion home — though retiring to separate hotel rooms, unbeknownst to anyone who may be watching their movements (they’re just pretending, after all) — and if they can pull it off, spend as many nights out as they can without raising too much suspicion.
Right, then. Obviously, nobody will ever wonder whether they are only pretending to have an affair; that’s just silly, so all their friends and acquaintances will start talking. Spouses would be easily convinced, marriages ruined, homes wrecked, and all this in the very real world, not some fantasy I-was-just-pretending world. You may say, “Oh, sure, BothEyes, but that doesn’t mean they were really having an affair,” and you’d be right from a certain point of view, but look at the votes: every person in contact with them, including people they don’t even know who sit near them at restaurants and in bars and such perhaps, will say that they are having an affair. The number of people who will say that they were only pretending? Exactly two, and they won’t argue, either. Why? Precisely because they’re pretending to have an affair, that’s why.
Now, if I am the only person in my world who knows that I am Abraham Lincoln, I will be committed to an asylum in short order, and I will deserve it. If I say I am only pretending to cheat on my wife, then it will not matter whether it is the truth or not as far as the world is concerned. Right? But morally it makes all kinds of difference, you may say, to which I reply, what real difference does it make when your marriage is in shambles? It would have done greater good to have actually cheated — at least then there would be some new love and romance to make up for that which was destroyed.
The point is, what you pretend to be will be what the rest of us believe about you. Whether you decide that your tiny piece of reality is true and we’re all deluded or not, it will have no bearing on everything that follows. Remember, Chris Columbus was not the first European to sail to the New World, was five hundred years too late for that and it’s real old news, but elementary schools still put his picture up to celebrate his national holiday, don’t they. Yeah, they do. Me? I’m pretending I’m a writer. In a few years when I’m older and more weathered, I guess I’ll have to come and ask you guys who the hell I am. That’ll be a tough dram to drink, but hey — I wouldn’t want to die having never met myself.
So the next time you pretend you’re a real tough guy strutting downtown in a flat-bill ball cap cocked sideways and a Tap Out tee-shirt, remember what ol’ Vonnie has to teach us all as we wait in line at the 7-11 for smokes: if you act like a douchebag, you truly are a douchebag.