تبدیل به شیء زیرک از تمایل شوکتاب: قوانین طبیعت انسان / درس 6
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5 Become an Elusive Object of Desire
The Law of Covetousness
Absence and presence have very primal effects upon us. Too much presence suffocates; a degree of absence spurs our interest. We are marked by the continual desire to possess what we do not have—the object projected by our fantasies. Learn to create some mystery around you, to use strategic absence to make people desire your return, to want to possess you. Dangle in front of others what they are missing most in life, what they are forbidden to have, and they will go crazy with desire. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Overcome this weakness in yourself by embracing your circumstances, your fate.
The Object of Desire
In 1895 eleven-year-old Gabrielle Chanel sat by her mother’s bedside for several days and watched her slowly die from tuberculosis at the age of thirty-three. Gabrielle’s life had been hard, but now it could only get worse. She and her siblings had grown up in poverty, shuttled from one relative’s house to another. Their father was an itinerant peddler of goods who hated any kind of ties or responsibility and was rarely at home. Their mother, who often accompanied her husband on the road, was the only comforting force in their lives.
As Gabrielle had feared, a few days after the mother’s death her father showed up and deposited Gabrielle and her two sisters at a convent in central France. He promised to return for them quite soon, but they would never see him again. The nuns at the convent, housed in a former medieval monastery, took in all sorts of girls to care for, mostly orphans. They enforced strict discipline. Within the somber walls of the monastery, which was sparsely decorated, the girls were to live a life of austerity and spiritual practice. They each had only two dresses they could wear, both alike and formless. Luxuries were forbidden. The only music was church music. The food was exceptionally plain. In her first few months there, Gabrielle tried to accommodate herself to this new world, but she felt impossibly restless.
One day, she discovered a series of romance novels that somehow had been smuggled into the convent, and soon they became her only salvation. They were written by Pierre Decourcelle, and almost all of them involved a Cinderella-like story—a young girl growing up in poverty, shunned and despised, suddenly finds herself whisked into a world of wealth through some clever plot twist. Gabrielle could completely identify with the protagonists, and she particularly loved the endless descriptions of the dresses that the heroines would wear. The world of palaces and châteaux seemed so very far away from her, but in those moments in which she drifted through novel after novel she could feel herself participating in the plot, and it gave her an overwhelming desire to make it come to life, even though it was forbidden for her to want such things and seemingly impossible to ever have them.
At the age of eighteen she left the convent for a boarding school, also run by nuns. There she was trained for a career as a seamstress. The school was in a small town, and as she explored it she quickly discovered a new passion to pursue, the theater. She loved everything about it—the costumes, the sets, the performers in makeup. It was a world of transformation, where somebody could become anybody. Now all she wanted was to be an actress and make her name in the theater. She took the stage name Coco and she tried everything—acting, singing, and dancing. She had a lot of energy and charisma, but she realized quickly enough that she lacked the talent for the kind of success she desired.
Coming to terms with this, she soon hit upon a new dream. Many of the actresses who could not make a living from their work had become courtesans who were supported by wealthy lovers. Such women had enormous wardrobes, could go where they pleased, and, although they were shunned by good society, they were not shackled with some despotic husband. As luck would have it, one of the young men who enjoyed her on the stage, Etienne Balsan, invited her to stay in his nearby château. He had inherited a family fortune and lived a life of total leisure. Gabrielle, now known as Coco to one and all, accepted the offer.
The château was filled with courtesans who floated in and out from all over Europe. Some of them were famous. They were all beautiful and worldly. It was a relatively simple life that centered on riding horses in the country, then lavish parties in the evening. The class differences were noticeable. Whenever aristocrats or important people came to the château, women like Coco were to eat with the servants and make themselves scarce.
With nothing to do and feeling restless yet again, she began to analyze herself and the future ahead of her. Her ambitions were great, but she was always searching for something beyond her grasp, continually dreaming about a future that was just not possible. At first it was the palaces in the romance novels, then it was a grand life on the stage, becoming another Sarah Bernhardt. Now her latest dream was just as absurd. The great courtesans were all voluptuous, beautiful women. Coco looked more like a boy. She had no curves and was not a classic beauty. It was more her presence and energy that charmed men, but that would not last. She always wanted what other people had, imagining it contained some hidden treasure. Even when it came to other women and their boyfriends or husbands, her greatest desire was to steal the man away, which she had done on several occasions. But whenever she got what she wanted, including the boyfriend or the life in a château, she inevitably felt disappointed by the reality. It was a mystery what in the end could satisfy her.
Then one day, without thinking of what exactly she was up to, she wandered into Balsan’s bedroom and pilfered some of his clothes. She started to wear outfits that were totally her own invention—his open-collared shirts and tweed coats, paired with some of her own clothes, all topped with a man’s straw boater hat. In wearing the clothes she noticed two things: She felt an incredible sense of freedom as she left behind the corsets, constricting gowns, and fussy headpieces women were wearing. And she reveled in the new kind of attention she received. The other courtesans now watched her with unconcealed envy. They were captivated by this androgynous style. These new outfits suited her figure well, and nobody had ever seen a woman dressed quite in this manner. Balsan himself was charmed. He introduced her to his tailor, and on her instructions the tailor custom-made for her a boy’s riding costume with jodhpurs. She taught herself to ride horses, but not sidesaddle like the other women. She had always had an athletic bent to her character and within months had become an expert rider. Now she could be seen everywhere in her strange riding costume.
As she progressed with this new persona, it finally became clear to her the nature of her vague longings: what she wanted was the power and freedom that men possessed, which was reflected in the less constricting clothes that they wore. And she could sense that the other courtesans and women at the château could identify with this. It was something in the air, a repressed desire she had tapped into. Within a few weeks several of the courtesans began to visit her in her room and try on the straw hats that she had decorated with ribbons and feathers. Compared with the elaborate hats that women had to pin on their heads, these were simple and easy to wear. The courtesans now strode around town with Chanel’s hats on their heads, and soon other women in the area were asking where they could buy them. Balsan offered her the use of his apartment in Paris, where she could begin to make many more of her hats and perhaps go into business. She happily took up the offer.
Soon another man entered her life—a wealthy Englishman named Arthur Capel, who was excited by the novelty of her look and her great ambitions. They became lovers. Capel started sending his aristocratic lady friends to Coco’s studio, and soon her hats became a craze. Along with the hats she began to sell some clothes that she designed, all with the same androgynous look that she had worn herself, made out of the cheapest jersey fabric but seeming to offer a kind of freedom of movement so different from the prevailing styles. Capel encouraged her to open up a shop in the seaside town of Deauville, where all the fashionable Parisians spent their summers. It turned out to be the perfect idea: there in the relatively small town, filled with people-watchers and the most fashionable women of all, she could create a sensation.
She shocked the locals by swimming in the ocean. Women did not do such things, and swimming costumes for women were almost nonexistent, so she created her own out of the same jersey fabric. Within weeks women were at her store clamoring to buy them. She sauntered through Deauville wearing her own distinctive outfits—androgynous, easy to move in, and ever so slightly provocative as they hugged the body. She became the talk of the town. Women were desperate to find out where she got her wardrobe. She kept improvising with men’s clothing to create new looks. She took one of Capel’s sweaters and cut it open, added some buttons, and created a modern version of the cardigan, for women. This now became the rage. She cut her own hair to a short length, knowing how it suited her face, and suddenly this became the new trend. Sensing momentum, she gave her clothes without charge to beautiful and well-connected women, all sporting hairstyles similar to her own. Attending the most sought-after parties, these women, all looking like Chanel clones, spread the desire for this new style well beyond Deauville, to Paris itself.
By 1920 she had become one of the leading fashion designers in the world, and the greatest trendsetter of her time. Her clothes had come to represent a new kind of woman—confident, provocative, and ever so slightly rebellious. Although they were cheap to make and still out of jersey material, she sold some of her dresses at extremely high prices, and wealthy women were more than willing to pay to share in the Chanel mystique. But quickly her old restlessness returned. She wanted something else, something larger, a faster way to reach women of all classes. To realize this dream she decided upon a most unusual strategy—she would create and launch her own perfume.
At the time it was unusual for a fashion house to market its own perfume, and unheard of to give it so much emphasis. But Chanel had a plan. This perfume would be as distinctive as her clothes yet more ethereal, literally something in the air that would excite men and women and infect them with the desire to possess it. To accomplish this she would go in the opposite direction from all the other perfumes out there, which were associated with some natural, floral scent. Instead, she wanted to create something that was not identifiable as a particular flower. She wanted it to smell like “a bouquet of abstract flowers,” something pleasant but completely novel. More than any other perfume, it would smell different on each woman. To take this further, she decided to give it a most unusual name. Perfumes of the time had very poetic, romantic titles. Instead, she would name it after herself, attaching a simple number, Chanel No. 5, as if it were a scientific concoction. She packaged the perfume in a sleek modernist bottle and added to the label her new logo of interlocking C’s. It looked like nothing else out there.
To launch the perfume, she decided upon a subliminal campaign. She began by spraying the scent everywhere in her store in Paris. It filled the air. Women kept asking what it was and she would feign ignorance. She would then slip bottles of the perfume, without labels, into the bags of her wealthiest and best-connected clients. Soon women began to talk of this strange new scent, rather haunting and impossible to identify as any known flower. The word of yet another Chanel creation began to spread like wildfire and women were soon showing up at her store begging to buy the new scent, which she now began to place discreetly on shelves. In the first few weeks they could not stock enough. Nothing like this had ever happened in the industry, and it would go on to become the most successful perfume in history, making her a fortune.
Over the next two decades the house of Chanel reigned supreme in the fashion world, but during World War II she flirted with Nazism, staying in Paris during the Nazi occupation and visibly siding with the occupiers. She had closed her store at the beginning of the war, and by the end of the war she had been thoroughly disgraced in the eyes of the French by her political sympathies. Aware and perhaps ashamed, she fled to Switzerland, where she would remain in self-imposed exile. By 1953, however, she felt the need not only for a comeback but for something even greater. Although she was now seventy, she had become disgusted at the latest trends in fashion, which she felt had returned to the old constrictions and fussiness of women’s clothing that she had sought to destroy. Perhaps this also signaled a return to a more subservient role for women. To Chanel it would be the ultimate challenge—after some fourteen years out of business, she was now largely forgotten. No one thought of her anymore as a trendsetter. She would have to start almost completely over.
Her first move was to encourage rumors that she was planning a return, but she gave no interviews. She wanted to stimulate talk and excitement but surround herself with mystery. Her new show debuted in 1954, and an enormous crowd filled her store to watch it, mostly out of curiosity. Almost immediately there was a sense of disappointment. The clothes were mostly a rehash of her 1930s styles with a few new touches. The models were all Chanel look-alikes and mimicked her way of walking. To the audience, Chanel seemed a woman hopelessly locked in a past that would never return. The clothes seemed passé and the press pilloried her, dredging up at the same time her Nazi associations during the war.
For almost any designer this would have been a devastating blow, but she appeared remarkably unfazed by it all. As always, she had a plan and she knew better. She had decided well before the debut in Paris that the United States was to be the target of this new line of clothes. American women reflected her sensibility best of all—athletic, into ease of movement and unfussy silhouettes, eminently practical. And they had more money to spend than anyone else in the world. Sure enough, the new line created a sensation in the States. Soon the French began to tone down their criticisms. Within a year of her return she had reestablished herself as the most important designer in the world, and fashions now returned to the simpler and more classical shapes she had always promoted. When Jacqueline Kennedy began to wear her suits in many of her public appearances, it was the most apparent symbol of the power Chanel had reclaimed.
As she resumed her place at the top, she revealed another practice that was so against the times and the industry. Piracy was a great problem in fashion, as knockoffs of established designs would appear all over the world after a show. Designers carefully guarded all of their secrets and fought through the courts any form of imitation. Chanel did the opposite. She welcomed all sorts of people into her shows and allowed them to take photographs. She knew this would only encourage the many people who made a living out of creating cheap versions of her clothes, but she wanted this. She even invited wealthy women to bring along their seamstresses, who would make sketches of the designs and then create replicas of them. More than making money, what she wanted most of all was to spread her fashions everywhere, to feel herself and her work to be objects of desire by women of all classes and nations. It would be the ultimate revenge for the girl who had grown up ignored, unloved, and shunned. She would clothe millions of women; her look, her imprint would be seen everywhere—as indeed it was a few years after her comeback.
• • •
Interpretation: The moment Chanel tried on Etienne Balsan’s clothes and elicited a new kind of attention, something clicked in her brain that would forever change the course of her life. Prior to this she was always coveting something transgressive that stimulated her fantasies. It was not socially acceptable for a lowly orphan girl to aspire to mingle with the upper classes. Actress and courtesan were not suitable roles to pursue, especially for someone raised in a convent.
Now, as she rode around the château in her jodhpurs and boater hat, she was suddenly the object that other people coveted. And they were drawn to the transgressive aspect of her clothing, the deliberate flouting of gender roles. Instead of being locked in her imaginary world full of dreams and fantasies, she could be the one stimulating such fantasies in other people. All that was required was to reverse her perspective—to think of the audience first and to strategize how to play on their imagination. The objects she had desired since childhood were all somewhat vague, elusive, and taboo. That was their allure. That is the nature of human desire. She simply had to turn this around and incorporate such elements into the objects she created.
This is how she performed such magic: First, she surrounded herself and what she made with an aura of mystery. She never talked about her impoverished childhood. She made up countless contradictory stories about her past. Nobody really knew anything concrete about her. She carefully controlled the number of her public appearances, and she knew the value of disappearing for a while. She never revealed the recipe for her perfume or her creative process in general. Her oddly compelling logo was designed to stimulate interpretations. All of this gave endless space for the public to imagine and speculate about the Coco myth. Second, she always associated her designs with something vaguely transgressive. The clothes had a distinct masculine edge but remained decidedly feminine. They gave women the sense that they were crossing some gender boundaries—physically and psychologically loosening constrictions. The clothes also conformed more to the body, combining freedom of movement with sex. These were not your mother’s clothes. To wear the overall Chanel look was to make a statement about youth and modernity. Once this took hold, it was hard for young women to resist the call.
Finally, from the beginning she made sure her clothes were seen everywhere. Observing other women wearing such clothes stimulated competitive desires to have the same and not be left out. Coco remembered how deeply she had desired men who were already taken. They were desirable because someone else desired them. Such competitive impulses are powerful in all of us, and certainly among women.
In truth, the boater hats she originally designed were nothing more than common objects anyone could buy in a department store. The clothes she first designed were made out of the cheapest materials. The perfume was a mix of ordinary flowers, such as jasmine, and chemicals, nothing exotic or special. It was pure psychological magic that transformed them into objects that stimulated such intense desires to possess them.
Understand: Just like Chanel, you need to reverse your perspective. Instead of focusing on what you want and covet in the world, you must train yourself to focus on others, on their repressed desires and unmet fantasies. You must train yourself to see how they perceive you and the objects you make, as if you were looking at yourself and your work from the outside. This will give you the almost limitless power to shape people’s perceptions about these objects and excite them. People do not want truth and honesty, no matter how much we hear such nonsense endlessly repeated. They want their imaginations to be stimulated and to be taken beyond their banal circumstances. They want fantasy and objects of desire to covet and grope after. Create an air of mystery around you and your work. Associate it with something new, unfamiliar, exotic, progressive, and taboo. Do not define your message but leave it vague. Create an illusion of ubiquity—your object is seen everywhere and desired by others. Then let the covetousness so latent in all humans do the rest, setting off a chain reaction of desire.
At last I have what I wanted. Am I happy? Not really. But what’s missing? My soul no longer has that piquant activity conferred by desire. . . . Oh, we shouldn’t delude ourselves—pleasure isn’t in the fulfillment, but in the pursuit.
—Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
Keys to Human Nature
By nature, we humans are not easily contented with our circumstances. By some perverse force within us, the moment we possess something or get what we want, our minds begin to drift toward something new and different, to imagine we can have better. The more distant and unattainable this new object, the greater is our desire to have it. We can call this the grass-is-always-greener syndrome, the psychological equivalent of an optical illusion—if we get too close to the grass, to that new object, we see that is not really so green after all.
This syndrome has very deep roots in our nature. The earliest recorded example can be found in the Old Testament, in the story of the exodus from Egypt. Chosen by God to bring the Hebrews to the Promised Land, Moses led them into the wilderness, where they would wander for forty years. In Egypt the Hebrews had served as slaves and their lives had been difficult. Once they suffered hardships in the desert, however, they suddenly grew nostalgic for their previous life. Facing starvation, God provided them with manna from heaven, but they could only compare it unfavorably to the delicious melons and cucumbers and meats they had known in Egypt. Not sufficiently excited by God’s other miracles (the parting of the Red Sea, for example), they decided to forge and worship a golden calf, but once Moses punished them for this, they quickly dropped their interest in this new idol.
All along the way they griped and complained, giving Moses endless headaches. The men lusted after foreign women; the people kept looking for some new cult to follow. God himself was so irritated by their endless discontent that he barred this entire generation, including Moses, from ever entering the Promised Land. But even after the next generation established itself in the land of milk and honey, the grumbling continued unabated. Whatever they had, they dreamed of something better over the horizon.
Closer to home, we can see this syndrome at work in our daily lives. We continually look at other people who seem to have it better than us—their parents were more loving, their careers more exciting, their lives easier. We may be in a perfectly satisfying relationship, but our minds continually wander toward a new person, someone who doesn’t have the very real flaws of our partner, or so we think. We dream of being taken out of our boring life by traveling to some culture that is exotic and where people are just happier than in the grimy city where we live. The moment we have a job, we imagine something better. On a political level, our government is corrupt and we need some real change, perhaps a revolution. In this revolution, we imagine a veritable utopia that replaces the imperfect world we live in. We don’t think of the vast majority of revolutions in history in which the results were more of the same, or something worse.
In all these cases, if we got closer to the people we envy, to that supposed happy family, to the other man or woman we covet, to the exotic natives in a culture we wish to know, to that better job, to that utopia, we would see through the illusion. And often when we act on these desires, we realize this in our disappointment, but it doesn’t change our behavior. The next object glittering in the distance, the next exotic cult or get-rich-quick scheme will inevitably seduce us.
One of the most striking examples of this syndrome is the view we take of our childhood as it recedes into the past. Most of us remember a golden time of play and excitement. As we get older, it becomes even more golden in our memory. Of course, we conveniently forget the anxieties, insecurities, and hurts that plagued us in childhood and more than likely consumed more of our mental space than the fleeting pleasures we remember. But because our youth is an object that grows more distant as we age, we are able to idealize it and see it as greener than green.
Such a syndrome can be explained by three qualities of the human brain. The first is known as induction, how something positive generates a contrasting negative image in our mind. This is most obvious in our visual system. When we see some color—red or black, for instance—it tends to intensify our perception of the opposite color around us, in this case green or white. As we look at the red object, we often can see a green halo forming around it. In general, the mind operates by contrasts. We are able to formulate concepts about something by becoming aware of its opposite. The brain is continually dredging up these contrasts.
What this means is that whenever we see or imagine something, our minds cannot help but see or imagine the opposite. If we are forbidden by our culture to think a particular thought or entertain a particular desire, that taboo instantly brings to mind the very thing we are forbidden. Every no sparks a corresponding yes. (It was the outlawing of pornography in Victorian times that created the first pornographic industry.) We cannot control this vacillation in the mind between contrasts. This predisposes us to think about and then desire exactly what we do not have.
Second, complacency would be a dangerous evolutionary trait for a conscious animal such as humans. If our early ancestors had been prone to feeling content with present circumstances, they would not have been sensitive enough to possible dangers that lurked in the most apparently safe environments. We survived and thrived through our continual conscious alertness, which predisposed us to thinking and imagining the possible negative in any circumstance. We no longer live in savannas or forests teeming with life-threatening predators and natural dangers, but our brains are wired as if we were. We are inclined therefore toward a continual negative bias, which often consciously is expressed through complaining and griping.
Finally, what is real and what is imagined are both experienced similarly in the brain. This has been demonstrated through various experiments in which subjects who imagine something produce electrical and chemical activity in their brains that is remarkably similar to when they actually live out what they are imagining, all of this shown through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Reality can be quite harsh and is full of limits and problems. We all must die. Every day we get older and less strong. To become successful requires sacrifice and hard work. But in our imagination we can voyage beyond these limits and entertain all kinds of possibilities. Our imagination is essentially limitless. And what we imagine has almost the force of what we actually experience. And so we become creatures who are continually prone to imagining something better than present circumstances and feeling some pleasure in the release from reality that our imagination brings us.
All of this makes the grass-is-always-greener syndrome inevitable in our psychological makeup. We should not moralize or complain about this possible flaw in human nature. It is a part of the mental life of each one of us, and it has many benefits. It is the source of our ability to think of new possibilities and innovate. It is what has made our imagination such a powerful instrument. And on the flip side it is the material out of which we can move, excite, and seduce people.
Knowing how to work on people’s natural covetousness is a timeless art that we depend on for all forms of persuasion. The problem we face today is not that people have suddenly stopped coveting but quite the opposite: that we are losing our connection to this art and the power that goes with it.
We see evidence of this in our culture. We live in an age of bombardment and saturation. Advertisers blanket us with their messages and brand presence, directing us here or there to click and buy. Movies bludgeon us over the head, attacking our senses. Politicians are masters at stirring up and exploiting our discontent with present circumstances, but they have no sense of how to spark our imagination about the future. In all of these cases subtlety is sacrificed, and all of this has an overall hardening effect on our imaginations, which secretly crave something else.
We see evidence of this in personal relationships as well. More and more people have come to believe that others should simply desire them for who they are. This means revealing as much as they can about themselves, exposing all of their likes and dislikes, and making themselves as familiar as possible. They leave no room for imagination or fantasy, and when the man or woman they want loses interest in them, they go online to rant at the superficiality of men or the fecklessness of women. Increasingly self-absorbed (see chapter 2), we find it harder than ever to get into the psychology of the other person, to imagine what they want from us instead of what we want from them.
Understand: People may point to all of this as evidence that we humans are becoming more honest and truthful, but human nature does not change within a few generations. People have become more obvious and forthright not out of some deep moral calling but out of increasing self-absorption and overall laziness. It requires no effort to simply be oneself or to blast one’s message. And the lack of effort simply results in a lack of effect on other people’s psychology. It means that people’s interest in you will be paper thin. Their attention will quickly move on and you will not see the reason for this. Do not swallow the easy moralism of the day, which urges honesty at the expense of desirability. Go in the opposite direction. With so few people out there who understand the art of desirability, it affords you endless opportunities to shine and exploit people’s repressed fantasies.
Strategies for Stimulating Desire
The key to making this law work for you is to objectify yourself and what you produce. Normally you are locked in your own thoughts and dreams. You imagine people should love and respect you for who you are. You believe that what you produce should naturally excite people. After all, you have invested a lot of effort and have high hopes for success. But others see none of this. To them, you are just a person among others, and as a person you inspire either curiosity and excitement or indifference, and, even hostility. They project onto you their own fantasies and preconceptions. Once made public, your work is also an object completely divorced from your own hopes and dreams, and it inspires emotions that are weak or strong. To the degree that you can see yourself and what you produce as objects that people perceive in their own manner, you have the power to alter their perceptions and create objects of desire.
The following are the three main strategies for creating such objects.
Know how and when to withdraw. This is the essence of the art. You have a presence that people see and interpret. If you are too obvious with this, if people can read you too easily and figure you out, if you show your needs too visibly, then they will unconsciously begin to have a degree of disrespect; over time they will lose interest. Your presence must have a touch of coldness to it, as if you feel like you could do without others. This signals to people that you consider yourself worthy of respect, which unconsciously heightens your value in their eyes. It makes people want to chase after you. This touch of coldness is the first form of withdrawal that you must practice. Add to this a bit of blankness and ambiguity as to who you are. Your opinions, values, and tastes are never too obvious to people. This gives them room to read into you what they want. Movie stars are masters of this. They turn their faces and their presence into screens upon which people can project their own fantasies. What you want in general is to create an air of mystery and to attract interpretations.
Once you sense that you have engaged people’s imagination, that you have your hooks in them, then you must use physical absence and withdrawal. You are not so available. A day or week can go by without your presence. You create a feeling of emptiness inside them, a touch of pain. You occupy increasing amounts of their mental space in these absences. They come to want more of you, not less.
The musician Michael Jackson played this game to perfection on the social level. He was deeply aware of the dangers of saturating the market with his music and public appearances. He spread out the releases of his albums, making the public hungry for more. He carefully managed the frequency of his interviews and performances and never talked about the meaning of his lyrics or propagated any overt message. He occasionally had his publicists leak to the press some new story surrounding him, such as his use of hyperbaric chambers as a way to maintain eternal youthfulness. He would neither confirm nor deny these stories and the press would run wild. He was someone who sparked stories and rumors, but nothing concrete. Through this strategic elusiveness he made himself an object of continual desire—both to know him better and to possess his music.
With the work you produce you can create similar covetous effects. Always leave the presentation and the message relatively open-ended. People can read into your work several interpretations. Never define exactly how they should take or use it. This is why the work of great dramatists such as Shakespeare and Chekhov has lasted for so many centuries and always seem so fresh and exciting; each generation can read into their plays what they want to. These writers described timeless elements of human nature, but without judging or directing the audience to what they should feel or think. Take that as the model for whatever you produce.
Keep in mind the following: the more active our imagination becomes, the greater the pleasure we derive from it. When we were children, if we were given a game with explicit instructions and rules, we quickly lost interest. But if the game was something we invented or was loosely structured, allowing us to inject our own ideas and fantasies, we could sustain our interest for much longer. When we view an abstract painting that evokes dreams or fantasies, or see a film that is not easily interpreted, or hear a joke or advertisement that is ambiguous, we are the ones who do the interpreting, and we find it exciting to be able to exercise our imagination in this way. Through your work you want to stimulate this pleasure for people to the maximum degree.
Create rivalries of desire. Human desire is never an individual phenomenon. We are social creatures and what we want almost always reflects what other people want. This stems from our earliest years. We saw the attention that our parents could give us (the object we first coveted) as a zero-sum game. If our siblings received a lot of attention, then there would be less for us. We had to compete with them and with others to get attention and affection. When we saw our siblings or friends receive something—a gift or a favor—it sparked a competitive desire to have the same thing. If some object or person was not desired by others, we tended to see it as something indifferent or distasteful—there must be something wrong with it.
This becomes a lifelong pattern. For some it is more overt. In relationships they are interested only in men or women who are already taken, who are clearly desired by a third party. Their desire is to take away this loved object, to triumph over the other person, a dynamic that most certainly has roots in their childhood. If other people are making money through some new gimmick, they want not only to participate but to corner the market. For others it is subtler. They see people possessing something that seems exciting, and their desire is not to take but to share and participate in the experience. In either direction, when we see people or things desired by others, it drives up their value.
You must learn how to exploit this. If you can somehow create the impression that others desire you or your work, you will pull people into your current without having to say a word or impose yourself. They will come to you. You must strive to surround yourself with this social aura, or at least create the illusion.
You can create this effect in several ways. You manage it so that your object is seen or heard everywhere, even encouraging piracy if necessary, as Chanel did. You don’t directly intervene. This will inevitably spark some kind of viral pull. You can speed up this process by feeding rumors or stories about the object through various media. People will begin to talk and the word of mouth will spread the effect. Even negative comments or controversy will do the trick, sometimes even better than praise. It will give your object a provocative and transgressive edge. Anyway, people are drawn toward the negative. Your silence or lack of overt direction of the message will allow people to run wild with their own stories and interpretations. You can also get important people or tastemakers to talk about it and fan the flames. What you are offering, they say, is new, revolutionary, something not seen or heard of before. You are trafficking in the future, in trends. At a certain point, enough people will feel the pull and will not want to be left out, which will pull in others. The only problem in this game is that in the world today you have much competition for these viral effects and the public is incredibly fickle. You must be a master not only at setting off these chain reactions but at renewing them or creating new ones.
As an individual you must make it clear that people desire you, that you have a past—not too much of a past to inspire mistrust but enough to signal that others have found you desirable. You want to be indirect in this. You want them to hear stories of your past. You want them to literally see the attention you receive from men or women, all of this without your saying a word. Any bragging or explicit signaling of this will neutralize the effect.
In any negotiating situation you must always strive to bring in a third or fourth party to vie for your services, creating a rivalry of desire. This will immediately enhance your value, not just in terms of a bidding war but also in the fact that people will see that others covet you.
Use induction. We may think we live in a time of great freedom compared with the past, but in fact we live in a world that is more regulated than ever before. Our every move is followed digitally. There are more laws than ever governing all aspects of human behavior. Political correctness, which has always existed, can be more intense because of how visible we have become on social media. Secretly most of us feel bothered or crushed by all of these constraints on our physical and mental movement. We yearn for what is transgressive and beyond the limits that are set for us. We can easily be pulled toward that repressed no or yes.
You want to associate your object with something ever so slightly illicit, unconventional, or politically advanced. Chanel did this with her overt androgynous appeal and flouting of gender roles. The fight between generations is always ripe material for this. What you offer is in bold contrast to the stodgy previous generation. John F. Kennedy did this by setting himself off against the 1950s and the Eisenhower era—a time of stultifying conformity. By contrast, voting for him meant youth, vigor, and a lost masculinity. In essence he played to the secret resentment of the father figure and the transgressive desire to get rid of him. This desire is always tacitly out there among the young, and it always has a taboo element attached.
One illicit desire that almost all people share is voyeurism. To peek inside the private lives of others violates strict social taboos on privacy, and yet everyone feels the pull to see what is going on behind people’s doors. Theater and film depend upon these voyeuristic desires. They put us inside people’s rooms, and we experience this almost as if we were literally spying on people. You can incorporate this into your work by giving the impression you are revealing secrets that should really not be shared. Some will be outraged but everyone will be curious. These could be secrets about yourself and how you accomplished what you did, or it could be about others, what happens behind the closed doors of powerful people and the laws that they operate by.
In any event, what you offer should be new, unfamiliar, and exotic, or at least presented as such. The contrast to what is out there, so numbingly conventional, will create a covetous pull.
Finally, dangle in front of people the prospect of grasping the unattainable or the impossible. Life is full of all kinds of irritating limits and difficulties. To become wealthy or successful requires great effort. We are locked inside our own character (see chapter 4) and cannot become someone else. We cannot recover our lost youth or the health that went with it. Every day brings us closer to death, the ultimate limit. Your object, however, offers the fantasy of a quick path to wealth and success, of recovering lost youth, of becoming a new person, and even of conquering death itself. People will grasp greedily at such things because they are considered so impossible. By the law of induction we can imagine all of these shortcuts and fantasies (just as we can imagine a unicorn), which gives us the desire to reach them, and imagining them is almost like experiencing them.
Remember: it is not possession but desire that secretly impels people. To possess something inevitably brings about some disappointment and sparks the desire for something new to pursue. You are preying upon the human need for fantasies and the pleasures of chasing after them. In this sense your efforts must be continually renewed. Once people get what they want or possess you, your value and their respect for you immediately begin to lower. Keep withdrawing, surprising, and stimulating the chase. As long as you do, you have the power.
The Supreme Desire
Our path must always be toward greater awareness of our nature. We must see within ourselves the grass-is-always-greener syndrome at work and how it continually impels us to certain actions. We need to be able to distinguish between what is positive and productive in our covetous tendencies and what is negative and counterproductive. On the positive side, feeling restless and discontented can motivate us to search for something better and to not settle for what we have. It enlarges our imagination as we consider other possibilities instead of the circumstances we face. As we get older, we tend to become more complacent, and renewing the restlessness of our earlier years can keep us youthful and our minds active.
This restlessness, however, must be under conscious control. Often our discontent is merely chronic; our desire for change is vague and a reflection of our boredom. This leads to a waste of precious time. We are unhappy with the way our career is going and so we make a big change, which requires learning new skills and acquiring new contacts. We enjoy the newness of it all. But several years later we again feel the stirring of discontent. This new path isn’t right either. We would have been better off thinking about this more deeply, homing in on those aspects of our previous career that did not click and trying for a more gentle change, choosing a line of work related to the previous one but requiring an adaptation of our skills.
With relationships, we can spend our life searching for the perfect man or woman and end up largely alone. There is nobody perfect. Instead, it is better to come to terms with the flaws of the other person and accept them or even find some charm in their weaknesses. Calming down our covetous desires, we can then learn the arts of compromise and how to make a relationship work, which never come easily or naturally.
Instead of constantly chasing after the latest trends and modeling our desires on what others find exciting, we should spend our time getting to know our own tastes and desires better, so that we can distinguish what is something we truly need or want from that which has been manufactured by advertisers or viral effects.
Life is short and we have only so much energy. Led by our covetous desires, we can waste so much time in futile searches and changes. In general, do not constantly wait and hope for something better, but rather make the most of what you have.
Consider it this way: You are embedded in an environment that consists of the people you know and the places you frequent. This is your reality. Your mind is being continually drawn far away from this reality, because of human nature. You dream of traveling to exotic places, but if you go there, you merely drag with you your own discontented frame of mind. You search for entertainment that will bring you new fantasies to feed upon. You read books filled with ideas that have no relation to your daily life, that are full of empty speculations about things that only half exist. And none of this turmoil and ceaseless desire for what is most distant ever leads to anything fulfilling—it only stirs up more chimeras to pursue. In the end you cannot escape from yourself.
On the other hand, reality beckons you. To absorb your mind in what is nearest, instead of most distant, brings a much different feeling. With the people in your circle, you can always connect on a deeper level. There is much you will never know about the people you deal with, and this can be a source of endless fascination. You can connect more deeply to your environment. The place where you live has a deep history that you can immerse yourself in. Knowing your environment better will present many opportunities for power. As for yourself, you have mysterious corners you can never fully understand. In trying to know yourself better, you can take charge of your own nature instead of being a slave to it. And your work has endless possibilities for improvement and innovation, endless challenges for the imagination. These are the things that are closest to you and compose your real, not virtual world.
In the end what you really must covet is a deeper relationship to reality, which will bring you calmness, focus, and practical powers to alter what it is possible to alter.
It is advisable to let everyone of your acquaintance—whether man or woman—feel now and then that you could very well dispense with their company. This will consolidate friendship. Nay, with most people there will be no harm in occasionally mixing a grain of disdain with your treatment of them; that will make them value your friendship all the more. . . . But if we really think very highly of a person, we should conceal it from him like a crime. This is not a very gratifying thing to do, but it is right. Why, a dog will not bear being treated too kindly, let alone a man!
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