Irrelevant Troubadour

A Guide to Life (By 4chan)
December 27, 2010, 3:11 am
Filed under: internet nonsense, social sciences

So recently I came across this lovely image somewhere in the vast wasteland of the internet.  Here’s a preview (I’m not embedding the actual thing since it’s huge):

4chan, life coach

Charming, eh?  Basically, this is a guide to life made the folks at 4chan (which board, I’m not sure).  Now I’m not really one to buy into the whole “anonymous are legion and are slowly destroying society” hype–they’re angry adolescent nerds, just like all previous angry adolescent nerds throughout history.  Still, 4chan culture is still a very interesting window into the mindset of a certain subset of a generation, and so I thought it would be valuable to analyse what they think are the steps to a fulfilling life.  This image is set up like a step-by-step guide, so I’ll go through each step in order.

Step 1: get a real job.  Can’t really argue with this one.  Well, I suppose I could; the idea that one’s livelihood should be tied exclusively to how much work they do isn’t one I’m entirely sure I agree with, but that’s a topic for another day.  Also, this guide basically assumes that your average 4chan user isn’t going to be able to find a job that’s fulfilling to him (and before you take umbrage at my pronoun use, this guide was written completely with a male audience in mind.  4chan, remember.)  Then again, I suppose this thing is intended for people completely lacking in direction and ambition beyond “frag some faggots in Halo 3 and pirate some anime”, so it’s perhaps a valid assumption that they won’t have a career they’ll be passionate about.

Step 2: don’t waste all your money on anime merchandise.  Pretty good advice if you ask me.  Just ask Jennifer Diane Reitz.

Step 3: stop spending all your time on 4chan.  Also good advice, albeit somewhat ironic and hypocritical–after all, whatever self-appointed internet life coach made this thing obviously doesn’t have much else going on in his life beyond posting on imageboards and making giant MS Paint motivational posters.

Corollary to steps 1 to 3: you don’t have asperger’s/depression/social anxiety disorder, you’re just using them to avoid reality.  Surprisingly enough, I actually know where this one’s coming from.  It’s a troubling trend among residents of the internet to read wikipedia articles about various mental disorders and decide they have them.  This is especially true with Asperger’s, I’ve found–after all, if you have self-diagnosed Aspergers, not only do you get to be both a misunderstood genius and a victim, but you have an excuse for why you can’t talk to girls.  It’s a shame, though, because Asperger’s Disease and depression and anxiety disorders are very real, and people pretending to have them for attention cause a lot of undue prejudice to come the way of those who actually do have them.  But that isn’t really the point of this post, and besides, the phenomenon of the fake aspie is one that has been documented quite extensively other places on the internet.

Step 4: go where the girls are.  Basically, this one just says to find groups of people who share the same interests you do and eventually you’ll meet women there.  Pretty straightforward and unobjectionable.

Step 5: buy whichever girl that strikes your fancy a ridiculously ostentatious gift!  This is really where things start to get hairy.  Basically the guide is telling its reader to buy the affections of the female of his choice.  Now, it says in the fine print that you, in fact, shouldn’t treat this as a trade for the woman’s love, but come on, that’s what it is.  Step 6, a flow chart, reinforces this: it’s basically a straight line from “giving her stuff” to “she goes out with you”, with the only detours being seemingly arbitrary lacks in affection.  The most damning thing here is that no other factor in your relationship is mentioned besides these gifts.  The strategy is pretty simply “buy her stuff, and if she doesn’t like the stuff you buy her find someone else.”  Whoever made this guide regards courtship in a very stone age manner–the females go to the one who brings back the biggest gazelle carcass to the cave, personality and wit irrelevant.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves with the caveman analogies; that’s not ’til Step 8.

I will say though that the picture of the stick figure dude giving the stick figure lady a two-ton box of Pocky is pretty cute.

Step 7: prepare for the suck.  As cynical as this is, I kind of agree with the gist of it: people tend to regard the beginning of a relationship as the “happily ever after” moment without taking into account the toil it takes to keep a relationship alive and the hardships that invariably happen to couples.  Lord knows I do this.  It’s a simple fact that once you begin seriously seeing someone, not only does life start throwing innumerably curveballs at the two of you, but you begin to notice all the flaws in your loved one that you ignored while in the flush of your infatuation.  In typical 4chan fashion, however, this guide presents a little list of the flaws you could discover in your new significant other, and puts “pimples” on the same tier as “ovarian cancer”.  That kind of hyperbole, though, is pretty much par for the course in internet discourse, so it can be ignored at least to some degree.

This all ties into the second part of this step, which can basically just be presented free of modification here: “Human beings are programmed to notice the imperfections of others more than the imperfections of themselves.”  This I completely agree with.  It’s especially true in the strange hall of mirrors that is 4chan: you have your little board (be it /tg/ or /co/ or /x/ or /d/ or god help you /b/), and while you may argue with others on the board, they’re anonymous just like you, so you never manage to form a permanent negative opinion of anyone else.  You eventually begin to identify with the board as yourself , which makes a good deal of sense, because after all, everyone who posts there is Anonymous, who is you.  The rest of the online world, then, is all the people around you, and you regard them with mockery and derision, mixed with a smidgen of genuine hatred–feelings you can’t feel about your own group (and thus by extension your own self) due its members’ lack of identity.  In short, it’s a lack of self-knowledge.  This problem happens on a micro level as well, to one person, both online and in other social interactions.  You can’t find flaws in yourself unless you examine yourself, and you can’t examine yourself unless you know who you are, which precious few people do.

What does this have to do with picking up chicks?  Well, women won’t go for the oblivious asshole, obviously.  How, then, does this guide tell you how to stop being an oblivious asshole?

Well, it’s in Step 8: pretend to be what you want to be.  The first part of this I’m good with: if you habitually make it a point to act like a good person without actually being one, you will eventually become one.  This is, from my experience, pretty much true.  It’s the damnedest thing.  It’s also quite refreshing that this guide, rather than dumping a bunch of PUA bullshit on the reader, tells him that best way to get women is by being a good person (the love-bribes of step 6 notwithstanding).

It’s in the second part of this step that things, once again, get hairy.  The average channer is understandably a bit leery of the prospect of being a good person, so the guide gives an argument from evolutionary salience (always my fave!  i’ll do a post on why i don’t like them sometime later maybe).  Basically, in the Cro-Magnon days, you had two types of adult males, your alphas and your omegas.  Your alphas were the ones who protected the tribe, help the positions of power in the tribe’s conventional structure, and as such got all of the women, while the omegas couldn’t function in the status quo structure of the tribe and so were outcasts.  This guide is positioning itself as a guide for omegas who wish to become alphas.

But let’s take a look back before the Cro-Magnons to their predecessors, the Neanderthals.  Now, my evolutionary anthropology is rusty, but if I recall correctly the Cro-Magnons arose as genetic mutants among the Neanderthals.  They had higher foreheads, thinner noses, and better cognitive functions.  And they were universally outcast.  The power structure of the Neanderthals in most cases socially and physically ostracized the new Cro-Magnons; they were, in short, omegas.  Yet these cro-magnons managed to breed, either with each other or with some Neanderthals they managed to convince.  And pretty soon they had a pretty good population going, one that was strong enough to drive the Neanderthals to extinction.  See what I’m getting at?  It’s like Temple Grandin said: “I can tell you the one who made the first stone sphere wasn’t one of the yakkety-yaks ’round the campfire.”  The alphas may control the social order, yes, but social change and upheaval comes entirely from the omegas.

And this, I suppose, is what really bothers me about this guide.  It tells you how to succeed, yes, and there’s actually some good advice in it, but ultimately it’s telling you how to succeed completely on everyday society’s terms.  According to Howe and Strauss’s theory of generations, different generations are characterized by different reactions to the doings of their peer group.  A reactive generation, for example, tends to be cynical, nihilistic, and disaffected, while a civic generation tends to be comprised of, for lack of a better term, little boy scouts.  If you need definite proof that our current generation is a civic one, just take a look at this image: the message, when you get right down to it, is, “hey kid, get a job.”  We expect our pipe-smoking, tie-wearing father figures to say things like this, but our ironically-attired, mop-headed kids?  That’s unexpected.  And it’s also a bit troubling.  It’s all to easy for a civic generation to fall into what the surrealists (a bunch of dirty reactives) called “miserablism”, and to begin living what Henry David Thoreau (a bit of a reactive, and certainly quite dirty) called “lives of quiet desperation”.  After all, getting a wife and a job and a baby and a mortgage may be better than sitting in your parents’ basement looking at Lucky Star hentai, but is it really the best you can do?

At the beginning of this post, I wrote that step 1 (get a job, faggot) wasn’t all that objectionable.  And that’s still pretty much true.  But the guide tells its reader to get a job at tech support, and then pretty much drops the issue.  To which I say: yes, get a job at tech support, but also take night classes in psychology, or also start writing your novel, or also get involved in an organized crime syndicate, or do all three of these at once, or at least do something other than just go to work.  If you have to quit posting on 4chan and forego buying two-ton crates of Japanese snack foods for girls for a while, then so be it.  There’s more to making yourself a better person than just making yourself into an alpha male.

And seriously, stop looking at all that Lucky Star hentai.  That stuff’s disgusting.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I’m (surprisingly) in favor of the guide. For people who have little idea about society’s rules, it gives them a leg up to some simple broad ideas that are well, “not wrong” (except for the money bit), and it at least figure out what they want to do next. And it’s implied by the “and that leads into” which points off panel — it’s not the end of the story.

Comment by Will Sargent

I interpreted that as the cycle starting all over again, but now that I look at it again I can see that might not be the case.

But yeah, this guide is not as bad as it could have been, and I may have overanalyzed it, but its underlying assumptions about the way the world works on a level beyond the personal still seem a bit leery to me.

Comment by irrelevanttroubadour

I agree it’s still kinda fucked up.

And that “The Rules of Life” (the Richard Templar book) is better overall (and free on Kindle!). Or even the Andrew Matthews series.

BUT. This guide nails its audience. A not so great guide that people will follow is much better than a great guide written by a 51 year old dude that no-one will identify with, or generic “happy person” cartoons. So yeah, it’s fucked up itself… but it at least points the way to getting less fucked up.

Comment by Will Sargent

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