The Economics Of Attention

Everybody wants attention, and most of us are pretty good at getting it too. This is a mammalian constant; just watch puppies and kittens with their mothers. Infants who did not make any effort to attract and retain adult attention, or who were grossly incompetent at obtaining it, would tend not to survive until reproductive age.

Both sexes, therefore, want attention. Both sexes possess this wiring left over from helpless infancy. Like much else of our animal heritage, however, such wiring does not self-destruct when we reach adulthood. Rather, it tends to prevent adulthood being attained. Now, if attention is something children need to obtain for early survival, then adulthood might perhaps be defined in terms of no longer needing attention. Probably no one is actually indifferent to attention; but women often demand to be made to feel as if they are the only person in the world, and of this one ought to grow out. An adult, then, would be someone devoted to goals pursued for their own sake and not for the sake of what attention could be elicited therefrom.

In truly pathological parenting, both boys and girls may be granted attention only in return for dysfunctional behaviour, whereupon they very reasonably conclude that dysfunctional behaviour is the way to go, and so persist in it until their dying days.

If we set this aside and consider quotidian parenting, however, we note that the sexes begin to diverge. Firstly, little boys tend to be awarded attention in return for positive achievements, whereas little girls tend to awarded attention mainly for their looks and charm, which can very rapidly equate to rewarding them for coquetry. Earlier feminist generations were disgusted at this, bless them; they despised women who were good for nothing but batting their eyelids to make men do their bidding; they thought it better to be the first person to fly from Hawaii to the mainland, or perform similar “masculine” accomplishments.

Later feminist generations lost sight of this tomboyish focus on objective accomplishments, and were recaptured by the older assumption that females were owed attention not for their deeds but for their persons as such; except now it was not for their beauty or charm, but rather for their claim to an inner, ineffable superiority. And so boys and tomboys alike were mocked and reviled for incarnating the metaphysical evil of the masculine mentality. Actually doing things in the world was held to be imitating men and therefore unacceptable, for the true business of women was, just as it had been in the Victorian era, to sit on the sidelines, sniff self-righteously and hand out the booby prizes.

Second, since the whole industry of popular psychology was created if not by, then at any rate for, women, it is very concerned not to say anything that would alienate its paying public. In consequence the industry teaches women that they deserve constant attention, that they must have constant attention, and even that they may and should make obtaining constant attention the sole business of life. The industry does not put it quite so baldly, of course, but pretends that it is all about “relationships”, as if such a thing is even possible with an attention junkie.

As a diversionary tactic and a projective mechanism, the popular-psychology industry further pretends that it is men who are the big babies in need of the attention, whereas in the real reality – that is, outside of women’s magazines – the natural tendency of men is to take an interest in the external world. Not all forms of such interest are readily understandable; I personally have no interest in football statistics or in collecting beer-mats, but I contend that the easy mockery of such hobbies as autistic obscures two important truths: that neither the football statistics or the beer-mats pay the male collector any attention, and furthermore that this does not bother him in the slightest. Whatever else he may be getting out of his bizarre activity, it is not attention. We find a similar psychology in the minority of women who collect things (e.g. Dresden figurines or some downmarket equivalent thereof), provided that they are not displayed to attract attention but are enjoyed for their own sake. It should be noted, however, that suburban flower gardens and baked goods by no means fall into this category, but are always weapons of vicious social warfare designed to capture the attention of the community at someone else’s expense.

Within a relationship, the popular-psychology industry counsels constant talking about that relationship. Now, if a relationship involves actually doing things together, then it involves two parties. Talking about the relationship, however, need only involve one. The woman talks about what she is feeling and tells the man what he is feeling. She is notoriously determined not to know what is really going on inside him, in case it turns out to not to be all about her; and so she makes up her own stories about what he is thinking and feeling, with which he will do well to concur. It is essentially a solo performance, and every second of it involves receiving attention. Doing things together, in contrast, has a regrettable tendency to divide the sum total of available attention and divert it onto the things that are being done, which is clearly less satisfactory. Ergo, it is the business of the popular-psychology industry to pretend that the heart of a relationship is the discussion of that relationship, rather than actually doing things together. This rapidly becomes an infinite regress whereby the parties do not actually have a relationship at all, but merely discuss the discussion of a relationship.

It is not possible to criticise this state of affairs, as the female-psychological complex has achieved a monopoly of thought every bit as complete as that of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages or the Soviet Communist Party in the Forties. The word “psychology” currently means a set of strategies for praising and encouraging women who desire infinite attention and stigmatising men who prefer to interact with the external world.

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