We’re getting there.
But first we go back here:
So what’s an “holistic cause”? It’s a strategy for
“…Exploring relationships in the bigger system, and even effecting changes in them. But we have to get our heads around this: what does it mean, to try to operate a system that we can never know everything about? That we can never even know how much we don’t know about? The small system gives us little mental consoles where all the causal relationships are drawn together. Picture yourself standing at it: it’s pretty big, but you can see that if you just bash away randomly at the buttons there is some possibility of getting something right, because anyway you are standing in front of it, you know where all the key activators are, even if you don’t know what they do. And one way or another there are only so many of them, which means that even if that number is quite large all the connections the number governs are still internal to the console.
What if it is so large that it covers every inch of the room you’re standing in, floor ceiling and walls?
What if it covers every inch of the whole building, that contains the room?”
But having said all that, I admit it…it’s reaching a bit, right? I mean the idea is that I start with some system and say its workings aren’t reducible, so we have to operate it “holistically”, and that’s all fine but what does it mean? How does one do it? And what could ever serve as a nice neat convincing example of such a system anyway, I mean this business of “pretend you couldn’t know”, that isn’t exactly the real pure Socrates…why not just pretend you can know, wouldn’t that make things easier? And cost half as much? You cannot give me a concrete example of operating a system “holistically”, that isn’t just a cheap superstition easily replaced by actual, real, tangible, and effective scientific knowledge…!
Let us suppose, just to see what we can knock out of it, that the studies showing married people live longer are not just a bunch of crap. Of course, they may be: they might be riddled with selection bias, they could be totally untrustworthy…but then so might studies showing that grandmothers like to drink tea, so let’s just say we’re willing to believe them, and then see if we can zero in on a reason to believe them. I mean, this is actually not too hard to do: if you spend half your life sleeping next to the same person, it seems pretty reasonable to say that they might notice when you have a massive stroke in the middle of the night, and so in the ordinary course of things might call an ambulance for you. So in this light, saying that married people live longer isn’t any more controversial than saying hikers using the buddy system die less frequently than those who don’t…although really that isn’t what we’re measuring, it bears pointing out: we’re actually measuring with what greater frequency non-buddy-system hikers die, right?…and the rest is just conjecture…
But acceptable conjecture considering the plain and immediate fact that saving a person’s life is easy, because sometimes all you have to do is be around. And then we could go on from there, you see, once having got that all sorted, and maybe also say: well, being long-lived actually means living longer into old age, doesn’t it, so maybe if you crunched the numbers a bit more you would find that it’s being married when you’re ninety that increases your odds of extending your lifespan, and being married when you’re thirty is actually pretty irrelevant to the statistical pattern. So it isn’t “being married” that even does the trick then, is it? Because studies would probably show that old people in nursing homes tend to live longer than old people who live in garbage dumps, too! So, okay, maybe “being married” isn’t even a thing, causally-speaking — it’s just proximity to other people that counts, and the lifespan it adds is like a year, two, five, basically however lucky you get that’s how many years it adds, and these aren’t even the good years so it isn’t the statistician’s fault if it just so happens married people spend more time around other human-shaped objects than unmarried ones do. Right?
But maybe not, of course. Because is it not a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of the good fortune to have gotten himself a wife shall be in want of a glass of whole milk from time to time, and unable to find anything but skim in the fridge? So although we probably can’t prove a whole lot about how this person or that person is failing to die because their eating habits got slightly modified a half-century earlier, we can probably allow as how more people with crap diets fall before the scythe at younger ages in general, than ones who get the right amount of, let’s say, at least Vitamin C. So these statistics work from youth up as well as age down, inevitably…even though at first glance it may not look like it…and also I mean there are statistics, but then there are also specific facts that are facts: like you should take care of yourself better, get some exercise for God’s sake, stop eating deep-fried Coca-Cola for breakfast. Because no one denies that it’s superstitious nonsense to say walking under a ladder is bad luck, you know? But if you keep making a point of walking under those goddamn ladders, pretty soon you’re going to find out that there are worse things than bad luck, and that one of ‘em is being a bloody fool.
Sure: diet. Why not. Diet, and proximity to people and phones. See, we’re making progress. We don’t need to talk about “being married” as though it could lengthen your life…we don’t even have to talk about it as something that really, so to speak, “exists”! If all we have to do is make a list of what changes about your life when you get married, then we can call those things factors in your longevity and just let ‘em stand on their own. Right?
So what does change about your life when you get married?
For one thing, you’re fucking MARRIED, aren’tcha? I think the married guys in the crowd know what I’m talkin’ about, amirite guys? Marriage? It’s sort of a lot like being married? Not too much like not being married? And what changes about your life is pretty much everything. Everything in it. Where you go, what you do. What you think about. How you eat, sleep, and generally carry on. Taxes. Public transportation. Toothpastes. Spending patterns. Legal arrangements. Contents of spice racks. Location of spice racks. Sometimes, existence of spice racks. Relative preference for things made out of stainless steel. Exposure to different kinds of varnishes. Holiday destinations. Familiarity with soy products. How much change in jars you have lying around. Frequency of minor colds and flus. Skill with deploying eyedroppers. Knowledge about articles of clothing. Colour. General likelihood of arguments about dinosaurs. Reading material. I’m not being sexist here, even though I started out talked about married men, nor am I being hetero-elitist or something, the fact is that the difference between being married and not being married is just that over here was a whole big EVERYTHING when you were not actually completely sharing your life with another person, and then over on this side over here you totally ARE, so the everything is DIFFERENT. It’s a different everything altogether. So…wanna take a shot at living longer?
Find a nice significant other, and settle down.
But of course, if you want to take a shot at living less long…
Find a horrible significant other, and settle down?
At a certain point the whole thing is very very hard to reduce. Find love, and live longer? Well, okay, maybe…but you can find love and still have a hellstorm of a marriage, can’t you? I mean, “love”, what’s that? It’s not a real well-defined concept. And anyway maybe love is just a long, long laundry list just like marriage itself, something that isn’t really anything…”sleep beside” “prepare food for” “bandage” “listen to” “remember quirks of”…seriously, how long could you make that list, if you wanted to, and still never include a non-essential item on it? Love as the comic-book character who has every superpower you haven’t thought of…
“Recount violent dreams about boss to”, “deeply mistrust old boyfriends of”?
“Make live longer”?
Okay, we can’t spread the net that wide, or pretty soon we won’t be talking about anything. So maybe the thing to do is to separate out the “make live longer” stuff (whatever it may be) from our overly-simplistic (or should that be “overly-complicated”?) love-laundry list. Surely there are notionally longevity-prolonging aspects of a massively changed routine that we can categorize generally, even if we can’t necessarily specify them as the ones we’re looking for, the ones belonging to the “good for longevity if married to” subcategory, the “good” ones, the “right” ones. And if they go along with certain people rather than with certain other people, then we could call those people the “right” ones…so…
Find the “right one” to love, and live longer?
Well, okay…as a general principle, all right, though it doesn’t bring us any closer to being able to say anything useful…but then suppose you do find some mysterious “right one”, then what if they die or something and you end up throwing yourself off a bridge? Okay, well then you have to be the right person too, maybe…someone who will be capable of carrying on if they…
Don’t walk under any…?
Pah! This is hopeless!
Every new subcategory just creates a new list of necessary factors that can’t be identified without creating another subcategory, with more new factors! If we can’t define the TOP layer any better, how can we possibly define any of the ones beneath it? We don’t even know what we’re looking for!
What the hell is marriage? BECAUSE IF IT ISN’T COMPOSED OF ANYTHING DEFINITE, THEN NEITHER CAN BE ANY OF THE LISTS OF THE FACTORS IT YOKES!
And yet we know those factors exist, because we know the statistical pattern exists. Worse yet, we know we can have a reason to think it means something.
“You want a shot at living longer, find the right significant other and settle down.” It does seem, on the face of it, that it would probably work, right?
But to follow that instruction to the letter is impossible, without attending primarily to its spirit; and the kicker there is that the only way to attend to the spirit of the instruction is to adhere strictly to its letter. So where we at. Where we at. For God’s sake where we at.
We are back at the beginning. Where Cosmic Eros (not the little fellow with the bow) encourages Earth and Sky to separate. And why?
Well, so they can get back together, of course!
Consider that if we took on board the above reductionist bias (I just made that up, and fully expect to get yelled at) (for God’s sake, I sound like an old hippie lady enthusing about crystal healing) we would I think be forced to conclude that betting people in a game of Long-Lived Marriage is at best like betting on Red or Black at the roulette wheel when the “0” slot has been taken out. There is no good reason for picking either one over the other. You can’t know where the ball is going to land. You can “feel lucky” all you want, but most people only feel lucky when they are lucky, which is to say only when they have been lucky, because who feels lucky when they’re losing? And all else being equal, finding “the right one”, not to mention also being “the right one”, just seems like…
…I mean if we cook all the above down, don’t we get into a situation where the only sensible thing to do is not clump people into categories of “right” or “wrong” or “almost”, or any other category we can think up, but instead just to treat the whole thing sheerly as a numbers game?! Each person is JUST ANOTHER PERSON, you cannot really know them, you cannot really predict them! Love can be a mistaken intuition! Circumstances are not fated, but random! The more you bet, the more you stand to lose! “If you want a shot at lengthening your life, pick the right person and settle down” is bullshit advice! Like saying “if you want to win, bet at the table instead of putting your money in the bank.” I mean, can’t you change your own life, can’t you replicate the Massive Routine Shift of marriage without actually having to get married?
Sure you can! Like I said, I’ve known many people who’ve desperately wanted to change their lives, and who took action on it. And they all started by not having the faintest clue how to do it. And they all ended by not having the faintest clue how to do it. And to be perfectly truthful it really doesn’t seem that hard a business. Married or not.
But there is still that statistical study, isn’t there? And at a certain point it does seem as though playing the music is more than just striking all the correct notes in their correct order. But…
What more it actually is, I really couldn’t say.
And so we are back at the beginning. And maybe we had a bit of a selection bias ourselves? After all, if it’s all about a failure of description at the TOP level…
…Then what was it, exactly, that we failed to describe? “Studies show that married people live longer.” Well they do. They do!
The studies, I mean.
Okay, come back. That’s enough for today.
I think you’re getting the hang of it.