Sunday, 7 December 2014

"The Game", by Neil Strauss

This book, lovingly bound in the old-fashioned style with (unfortunately faux) soft leather cover and (equally faux) gilt-edged pages, is the history of journalist Neil Strauss's journey into the Heart of Darkness that is the Pick-up Artist scene. Stauss's account, including the admissions of the things he got up to, is at times disturbing and occasionally even revolting, but it's not without its moments of moral lucidity - both at the time and certainly in retrospect. It's worth reading, and the last I looked, it seems that it's possible to find a pdf of the whole book online.

Everything that follows is seen through the filter of my interpretation of what Strauss saw, did and subsequently wrote.

What Strauss appears to have been offered at ground level was a method by which geeks, dorks and the otherwise socially inept could attain the same power to score chicks as the jocks and alpha males they went to school with - in other words, a levelling of the social playing field. I don't blame them - I was one of the otherwise socially inept as a teenager, and it used to baffle me as to how Boy A and Girl B, who in some cases had never before met in their lives, could be found snogging in a corner not an hour after they'd first made introductions to each other.

The essence seems to boil down to a series of routines, deeply rooted in a knowledge of linguistics and social psychology, with a very generous helping of experience gained through repeated failure. It has the advantage that someone who is socially awkward through being non-neurotypical can learn them (and as Strauss indicates, often does so with a vengeance) and apply them. The origin of all this goes back to a very few men who laid the original groundwork back in the Seventies, and whose followers then refined the techniques and expanded them through their own readings. The (somewhat potted) history of all this is recorded in Strauss's book.

By his own account, Strauss himself appears to have excelled at the Game, rising from apprentice to master very quickly by dint of application and innate intelligence, but also by combining the best of every school of thought he could get an "in" on. However, the old saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely was never more true than here, and the problem with the players of the Game is that they went beyond the ability to "level the playing field" and gained - too quickly and too easily - the power to dominate it. As I read it, men whose dream it had been simply to be able to approach a woman ended up living the nightmare of being addicted to picking them up - the end goal had been forgotten, and the means had become an end in itself.

What I found more interesting (and significantly more ironic) is that as each apprentice matured, his desire to take on apprentices of his own (for a handy teaching fee, of course, as was the case from the very start) expanded, until finally the place in which they were living and multiplying was seething with neophyte pick-up artists being churned through the "schools" like boot-camp conscripts. So the whole thing had basically morphed into not necessarily a consciously evolved pyramid scheme, but certainly a pyramidal structure, and the end result was market saturation: all the girls had been approached at one time or another with all the routines, and even the experts - the flexible ones, who'd developed and/or synthesised their own techniques and understood the deeper why as well as the rote-level what - found themselves locked out. They had, in essence, destroyed themselves.

Strauss appears only to have found true contentment when the insane situation in which he was living eventuallyh brought him together with a woman who appreciated him for what he was - which is what the Game had originally been designed to do. Others bailed out early, and some of them did so to find God.

The whole sordid business (and even reading through male eyes with most moral filters switched off, it's still pretty sordid) makes me wonder whether any of what he was doing was ethical, but at base level I think the original intention - to level the playing field for young men who are starting out from a position of social-interactive disadvantage - was (and remains) a pure one. The important thing for the person considering going down this road (and Strauss's follow-up, "The Rules of the Game", lays out the nature of that road pretty clearly) is not to lose sight of the basic goal - you are using this stuff to create an opening in which your natural self can shine.

The problem a lot of Strauss's fellow-travellers seemed to have is that their natural selves sometimes had very little to offer, either to begin with or because playing the game had consumed their lives and become the centre of their existence, and there was little for them to do but work their way through the routines (and the women who fell for them) as if that would bring them some sort of fulfilment.

By Strauss's account, it didn't. And this, to me, is not in the least surprising.

I give the book five stars out of five. Strauss's writing is excellent, his turn of phrase brilliant, and while some of the content is extremely disturbing, it does offer a glimpse into a part of the male mind that is all too often treated by some people as if it's the entirety. It isn't, and that fact needs to be recognised.

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