07 June 2007

Happiness: The Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis

Nobel Laureate Konrad Lorenz attempting to induce an aggression
response in a goose by blowing his stinky-ass pipe smoke in its face. The
goose later ripped off his beard and crapped on his nice new shirt.


I feel like chokin' a fool. Lawd, lawd does I feel like chokin' a fool!

And through that statement, you may have guessed that our Cognitive Science lesson for today is on Dollard and Miller's Frustration-Agression Hypothesis. Put down your tuba and peanut butter sandwich and stop readjusting your frilly under-drawers and listen, dammit. This is important. The lives of thousands of customer service professionals are at stake.

Ready? Begin.

Way back in 1939 when everyone was nice (except maybe Hitler), a buncha eggheads (Dollard, Miller, Doob, Mowrer, et. al.) got together and worked out this crazy idea that frustration and aggression were inextricably linked. According to them, aggressive behavior was a response to what they called "goal frustration". In English, that meant that if you have a goal in mind, and you try to achieve that goal but you can't, you respond with aggression in order to achieve that goal. They said that pretty much all aggressive behavior could be explained that way.

Okay. So. A few years go by and a bunch of critics call bullshit on that, so Dollard et. al. come out with another paper that says, "Dear Chumps: We didn't say that aggression was the only response to frustration; we said that aggression was one kind of response to frustration. Love forever and - seriously - go fuck yourself. Dollard et. al. PS: We spent all the grant money on bathtub gin. Ha ha ha on you."

Konrad Lorenz - remember the guy with all the geese following him around? That guy - he was another one who studied aggression in animals 'round about the same time as Dollard and Miller. In his book "On Aggression", he hypothesized that aggression was a natural drive that had to be slaked by acting out from time to time. I say bullshit. First off, he worked with geese, and everyone knows that geese are the most predeterminately pissed off animals in the universe. Second, I'd like to meet him and his geese some Friday night down at the Fight Club. I've got something they can slake!

Look, I'm not saying that Dollard and Miller were right or they were wrong. (I am saying that Lorenz was wrong, though.) What I am saying is this: it seems that dealing with frustration is my next great hurdle in this whole happiness thing. The "3 things" exercise has worked out swimmingly. I highly recommend it. It seems to be a panacea for a whole spectrum of neuroses...half a dozen of my own, at least. (At this very moment somewhere in New York State, a certain Dr. C. J. Spezzano is higly amused. -Ed.) My state of mind is generally pretty - what's the word - "chill" I think is the correct clinical term. But every once in a while, specifically when I'm in some sort of frustrating situation with some public utility or Internet service provider or contractor or - well pretty much anyone you have to deal with to - what's that word - live, I find myself thinking very aggressively if not acting aggressively, and that certainly doesn't make me happy. To wit, the Death List that I have recently composed which consists of several public institutions and enterprises that have stymied my attempts to live a calm and peaceful life. Chief among them (with their various transgressions enumerated for your edification) are:

My Mortgage Company: who just this morning sent me on a circuitous jaunt through PhoneLand and the Valley of Being On Hold because they got my Social Security number one %$#@ digit off.

My Phone Company: who still have not flipped the tiny, tiny switch that makes my downstairs phone work, despite my manifold entreaties and requests...not to mention the fact that they just doubled my phone bill instead of halving it and combining it like they said they would...and don't even get me started on how &^%$ing long it took to get my service hooked up in the first place.

My TV Company: who...aww Christ, I don't even want to say it. The appointment is for between 1P and 5P. They show up at 9:30P, whistling a merry tune. Then they don't even install my...arrrrrrrgh. Choke, hell!Where's my gun, goddammit?! (You're a pacifist. Remember? -Ed.)

My Various Contractors and Service People: who, while they're very cordial and congenial and do good work, I still have to...every time I call they don't...and then I have to...arrrrrrrrgggggggh! I said where's my gun goddammit!!?? The big gun! The one with the knife on the front of it and the part that sprays poison!! Find it!! (Gun, hell. You need some booze! -Ed.)

Okay, there's more but I gotta stop. Otherwise I'm going to have to get someone to stand on this blue vein on my forehead to get it to go down.

Frustration is a part of life. That's just a natural fact. (Or a Noble Truth, if you like. -Ed.) If there weren't any frustrations, that would mean that things happened exactly the way you wanted them to every single time, and all you'd have to do was blink to get anything you wanted, and then where would you be? That's right. You'd be a ditzy blonde living in a tiny bottle, polishing the chrome on Major Healy every time he turned around. (You youngsters ever watch "I Dream of Genie"? -Ed.) And how's that a way to live? Fuckin' no thanks. The interesting thing about life is that it has some randomness and surprises to it, and that's what makes it ossum. Can't have surprises without frustrations. They're flipsides of the same thing.

But how to deal with the frustrations when they arise? It always seems to me that they're so sudden and unexpected that you're stuck in the middle of one before you can say "I need to kill a fool". And since these little, petty things seem to be the only obstacle left between me and a constant state of happiness, it seems like if I get this one solved I'll be doing pretty goddamn good. Plus, I'll be able to pass the savings on to you! (And by "petty" I mean for example that it was the TV guys that showed up late. It's not like I was waiting for a dialysis machine or rabies vaccine or something. That would be totally worth getting freaked out over.) And the solution must be at least slightly more complex than "just chill the hell out". It seems that frustration is one of those autonomic responses, like startling, sneezing or grasping at donuts. Or maybe that's just me.

Awright. So that's the next "assignment" that I'm going to give to myself: come up with a way to disarm frustration. But in the meantime, any suggestions that you have would be more than welcome. Remember (he said, polishing a .303 Enfield with a drop sight), the lives of thousands of customer service professionals hang in the balance.

Cheers, goddammit!


05 June 2007


If it gets any more beautiful here, my head will explode. Me and Teresa
near a rapids on the Yellowstone River. My hair is standing on end because of the
shocking amounts of beauty we were exposed to each day, and not because I rubbed
six quarts of DEET and #50 sunblock into it and then baked it in the white-hot heat
of the red-hot sun. I discovered on this trip that I could really give a marmot's ass
about civilization, and really never cared if I saw it again.


Just - and I mean "just" - got back from backpacking for four days in Yellowstone. Yes, I mean capital-The capital-Yellowstone, and no, that's not a euphemism for some mosquito-infested water park that I spent the weekend at.

Where do I start? Christ, man - it's Yellowstone! The great-grandpappy of national parks! The one with Old Faithful (which I did not see) and the buffalo (which I did see) and the bears (which I had spray for but did not see)! How much more park-ier can you get than Yellowstone? It's vast, the size of something really big, like the InterWeb or maybe Stupidity. And - with the slight exception of the heavily touristed areas, like the steam vents or the restrooms - is as wild as wild can be. Animals spend their whole lives eating other animals there, and they never run out of animals! How freaking freaked out is that? It's like having a lifetime pass to Kentucky Fried Antelope if you're a bear. And you can walk for six to eight days and never, ever see a toilet. S'true.

We were hiking along a migration path for the whole of our trip, and although we did not see much large wildlife, we were constantly confronted by their bleached skeletons and almost loveseat-sized turds. We were compelled by these parts of our experience to write a new ad slogan for the park - "Yellowstone: Where Animals Come To Eat, Shit and Die". We think it'll be huge with the juvenile male demographic.

True fact that I just made up: The average weight of a single tourist at the Mammoth Visitor Complex is six hundred sixty eight pounds, not counting the Winnebago that they ate for lunch. And you can tell their age by counting the hairs on their back.

Oh oh oh! Speaking of Winnebagos - When we were driving back from the end of the trail to our hotel, Christina, one of our guides, happened to mention (apropos of nothing), "Didn't I tell you guys about the 'anal" thing?" To which we replied - in chorus - "NO." So she told us about how hilarious it is when you add the word "anal" to the beginning of the name of any motorhome that passes by you on the road. And she had just heard the so-far best of this ongoing "competition", and it was this: Anal Dutchman Express. And she was right. It was hilarious. And we howled like rabbits until we could no longer breathe. Of course I had to chime in with: "...when your usual Anal Dutchman just isn't fast enough." The Anal Pop-Up, The Anal Rimrock Express, and The Anal Sunseeker provided us with enough guffaws to make it all the way back to Jackson, where Teresa dished out an honorary self-propelled vehicular title to a wayfaring Anal Ram 1500.

Look, okay, maybe we were high on Gorp and had been massaging our bare hineys with prickly pears for four days. Anything would've been funny. I know I was in a physically compromised state. The two days previous, I drank six quarts of water per day and only peed once. Maybe I was high on thirst.

I wish I could give you some travelogue about the trip like what we did day by day, but doing that just seems so boring and mundane. Was the hiking difficult? At times, yes. On the third day, we had some pretty good elevation gain up some pretty rough terrain. Not the worst I've been on, but - hey, who wants to hear me whine about heat and exertion? I know I don't. Exertion and exposure and bug bites and all that are part and parcel of backpacking, and if I didn't like that kind of stuff, I'd stay at home and tape cheesecake to my ass. The rest of it you can probably guess, having backpacked yourself before. It's the usual pains, made completely immaterial by the unusual, unexpected, and at times indescribable glories of nature. At the end of the trail, I honestly thought I was going to cry. I saw the end of the trail come into view, and all I wanted to do was turn around and go back whence I came, back into the comfort of Yellowstone.

So yeah, maybe instead of trying to give you a blow-by-blow, I'll just include a link to the photos and let them tell the story. For now I'll just go curl up in my nice, warm, civilized bed and dream that I'm still out there somewhere near the Yellowstone River, happy as hell, face down in the weeds and the bugs and the dirt.



Yellowstone 2007