It Was Mother

It Was Ego

It Was Ego
Wayras Olivier
DECEMBER 2016


Ego trips too easily, you'll notice, by virtue of being small, learning a big nothing while flying about who controls its inevitable fall. If you're fortunate enough, mind you, to stub your toe on the Monty Python cannon you will find one of two Idles you can learn from. The first Idle is off to a racing start (or so he thinks) after making an appointment with John Cleese at the "Argument Clinic:"

"An argument," a young Eric Idle insists, "is a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition."
"No it isn't," Cleese protests.
"Yes it is," Idle interrupts. "Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes."
"No," Cleese protests, "it isn't."
"It is," Idle argues back.

And on and on they go, unable to move past etiolated banter into profundity. The second Idle (a few years earlier) wasn't looking for an argument. He was looking for understanding, empathy, perhaps even pity. Why? Idle didn't know about "the facts of life" which, I don't know, would have been a tad humiliating for a man his age, to broach as a subject through "a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition" let alone calling it an "intellectual process." So Idle, upon spotting a proper looking Terry Jones inside a bar, did the only intellectual thing he knew how to do. He initiated a game:

"Your wife," a brash Idle inquires, "is she a sport?"
Jones, mildly annoyed, answers "She likes sports, yes."
"I bet she does," Idle winds up, "I bet she does."
"She's very fond of cricket," Jones comments.
Idle leans in, "She likes games. I knew she would. I knew she would. She's been around, eh?"
Jones, as if to say who hasn't, simply responds "Yes, she's traveled."

And on and on they go, Idle trying to get, by being as oblique as he possibly can, Jones to explain to him what the experience of sex is like.

And what about "the pull out method" discussed earlier this year by Martin Durkin in his film Brexit the Movie? Argument or game? The filmmaker seemed to be winging it when he stopped Londoners on the street by asking them to identify the Eurocrates he held in his hands. None could. To the pedestrian Brits, the faces on Durkin's laminated photos were unrecognizable. Scenes later, Nigel Farage, founding member of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) explained:

"This is the only parliament the world has ever invented where you cannot initiate legislation, propose legislation or even the repeal of legislation [sic]. All of that comes from the unelected European commission."

"So, you can't," Durkin asked, "propose a law and try and get it passed?" "No," Farage answered, "Absolutely not." The word "unelected," is clearly what Durkin wants the audience, even those in the Remain camp, to wrap their heads around, as he builds his muscular argument for Britain's abjuration from the EU. Deemed crude by some, even downright irresponsible and negligent by others; pulling out was, as a move, voted by various literate and educated classes as the best form of protection when the time comes. I guess it's a matter of taste.

"When we are in our job it is not our decision what good taste is or what isn't. We can only give our opinion to our employer when we are asked and then we are taught to say less is more." A line lifted, one would assume, from Downton Abby's head butler Mr. Carson, is in fact The International Butler Academy's ethos, spoken by an enrolled student on the school's promotional video entitled, What is Good Taste? Executive Head Butler, Curtis Akerlind, then goes on quite seriously to say:

"We've had clients who on a whim could potentially fire a butler if they forget something as simple as having an extra pack of cigarettes that they would want at three in the morning and if the butler has forgotten to make sure that that is available, well these clients, they have the right [sic]. They are paying someone to look after them so that could be the end of a job for a butler. Employers, that, whether it is for security reasons or whether it is just because they want to, they have cameras everywhere, every movement, every facial expression, how you handle their things, is being recorded. The reason a client will pay a higher salary for this position of a butler or household manager is because they realize that the employee is giving up quite a bit of their freedom."

Comes the next thought: what is most imperishably dreadful about that "deal?" The ceaseless invigilation? Being fired on a whim? Or, perhaps that giving up one's freedom, in essence, also means giving up the freedom to argue. Did you notice how, in Kazuo Ishiguro's, Remains of The Day (as a film, released four days after the creation of the EU), Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) is unable to argue despite ironing the newspaper every morning? Stevens can't even get a stroke (cricket terminology for hitting the ball), when his employer, Lord Darlington, (who earlier asked Stevens to educate his nephew on the facts of life), invites him up to bat to discuss the country's score, which is on the brink of war. Stevens' mental anemia leaves Darlington slightly embarrassed, perhaps wondering how his head butler could be so fastidious with his upkeep, yet completely deficient with his iron.

The filmmakers lyrically dramatize how a certain kind of arrested development ensues when men—Stevens, and later Darlington—are unable to reason dialectically out of games and into arguments. And what about dementia? The gold-standard of derangement, the symbolic result of—it's hinted—a person no longer having a list of strong alloys on his side to help him repay the debt his conscience incurred from positioning an idol that defaulted on a promised yield of compound interest:

"When His Lordship [Darlington] went to court, he sincerely expected he would get justice and instead the newspaper increased its circulation, and His Lordship's good name was destroyed forever. And afterwards, in his last years, well, quite honestly, Mrs. Benn [Miss Kenton], his heart was broken. I'd take him tea in the library, and he's be sitting there and sometimes he wouldn't even see me, because he was so deep in his own thoughts. And he'd be talking to himself. His lips moving as though he was arguing with someone. And there was no one, of course, because no one came to see him anymore, you see."

As Mr. Stevens recounts to Mrs. Benn (Emma Thompson) about the protracted mental state of their employer, who at one time indeed held the allied yet bureaucratic European planets in his hands, yet found himself on the wrong side of Britain's appeasement to Nazi Germany.

Prior to John Gray's silly little book Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, Eric Berne, a cheeky little Canadian head doctor, had already solved the mystery behind strokes. "My condolences Stevens. It was a stroke," a physician briefs Stevens, "a severe stroke. He wouldn't have suffered much pain." I'm not referring, as I'm sure you've guessed, to that sort of stroke, the kind that midway through the film killed Stevens' father. I'm referring to the other kind. The kind that gives a rush of blood to the head when a person feels valued, and appreciated. Much pain is suffered, if strokes are missing from a person's life, and they will, because humans cannot survive long without strokes, get their strokes through a slightly more futile mechanism called a game. Incidentally, if people are running a surplus of unearned strokes they too will engage in a game. (Not a bad idea, wouldn't you say, for a clinic.)

"Games," Berne explained, "are a compromise between intimacy and keeping intimacy away. Berne, by the way, is also the man who came up with the concept of "psychological sweatshirts." The ones that, you know, people wear when they gravitate towards each other. On the front, written in block letters is a clear message, and on the back is an even clearer one:

Front: "Please tell me what to do," Back: "so I can tell you why that can't work."
Front: "Keep your distance!" Back: "A little closer please."
Front: "Someone, please love me." Back: "Not you, stupid!"

How does Berne's penetratingly hilarious insight ground those of us at home? Once one sees, with great precision, the rather terrestrial way in which people interact with one another, one can, through the humble telescope conclude quite outlandishly that: Men are from Earth, and Women are from Earth Too. Psychiatrist and social worker, Bob and Mary Goulding respectively, expanded further on Berne's theories with a terse summary on what "causes" a game to begin:

  1. Person A gives an ostensible message while simultaneously embedding a hidden message.

  2. Person B responds to the hidden message.

  3. Person A suddenly feels irritated because Person B responded to the hidden message.

Take a moment. That's right, Person B, not A, started the game. Person B could have, by simply ignoring the provocation of the hidden message, been the adult and recognized that Person A was merely seeking a stroke. So, how come ... now we get it: Person B wanted a stroke, too, in return for giving one. So, who's the tiebreaker? It's not a competition yet games necessitate a scorekeeper. Ever dated or been married to one? Of course you have. No ego can resist not knowing the difference between a good and a bad inning.

Recognize the scene below? It's a slight play on the above example, a hybrid of sorts, as an irritated Person A, after "labouring" so long with such an unresponsive Person B, must resort to embedding an ultimatum, in the last response for him to follow. I call this one "Cupid's Pitchfork."

  1. Person A: Did you know that you have been a very important figure for Mr. Benn and me?

  2. Person B: Oh. In what way?

  3. Person A: I tell him all sorts of things about you. I tell him stories about you...about your habits. About your mannerisms. He finds it very funny. Especially when I show him how you pinch your nose when you put pepper on your food. That always has us in stitches.

I daresay that telling someone to go to hell is the clearest and most arresting way to tell them that you love them, as Person A, who is really housekeeper Miss Kenton instructs in no uncertain terms, Person B, head butler Mr. Stevens, where to go. It seems to be an argument worth having. Whether or not one year ago on December 25th, a ghost of a holy point was nailed under the Union Jack, when Downton Abby could no longer create scenes for its followers ending the greatest story ever told. All types of jobs are respected equally and no occupation is considered superior, the treasured philosophy goes, which when pirated by Stevens made him so smart. But he could never coin the right words to remove the ego from the game, which in return, gives Dignity of Labour its heart.

W.