… said the man who put the clock in the leaning tower of Pisa.
We feel very lucky to sit here among deserted boats in the marina, the only ones to live aboard. Being at this interface makes us marginal – a part and apart. Put on branded sailing togs – Sperry Topsiders, Musto salopettes, Gill oil skins, HellyHansen shirts, Quba bags, whatever – and people greet us with “good morning”. Walk down the pontoon in jeans and a fleecy, and they won’t say hello. Haves don’t want to see have-nots.
Marginality helps us see certain patterns of behaviour perhaps more clearly than others.
People, for example, buy these boats to “live the dream”. Happiness, so we are told, is rarely as good as we imagine it to be, and rarely lasts as long as we think it will. “The two happiest days in a boat owner’s life”, it’s said, “is the day you buy your boat and the day you sell it”… because “buyers’ remorse” very rapidly sets in.
Owners forgot (or didn’t know) that their sleek, modern, light-displacement boats would slam when going to windward and require extra skill and attention to trim and helm downwind. That’s OK until – tired or seasick – they get it wrong, yell at the wife, scare her and convince her and the crew never to sail with them again.
So their boat now sits in a marina, good enough for coastal hops in fine weather and great for entertaining, all the while its leading-edge electronics and complex systems (computerised fuel injection, bow-thrusters, autopilots, water maker, microwave, freezer) fail expensively, one by one. This is the sad background to Persig’s Cruising Blues.
Our boat came with two electronic autopilots (one electrical, one hydraulic) and a wind vane (Monitor) also for self-steering. The second autopilot was a backup. However the first time we were hit by lightning (mid Atlantic) we lost both autopilots. With difficulty, we got them repaired. Raymarine told us they were obsolete but we found a little man in Jersey who’d fix them, at a price. The second time we were hit by lightning (in a remote lagoon in Belize) we lost them both again. We haven’t repaired them, trusting far more to our Monitor.
Why do we let ourselves be duped by those who sell such vulnerable devices?
“Lying is a cooperative act,” says Pamela Meyers. You need others for a lie to work. Lies feed on the fact that everybody is hungry for something. Lying is part of our culture, part of our DNA.
I know it may sound like tough love, but look, if at some point you got lied to, it’s because you agreed to get lied to. Truth number one about lying: Lying is a cooperative act. Now not all lies are harmful. Sometimes we’re willing participants in deception for the sake of social dignity, maybe to keep a secret that should be kept secret, secret. We say, “Nice song.” “Honey, you don’t look fat in that, no.” Or we say, favourite of the digerati, “You know, I just fished that email out of my Spam folder. So sorry.”
Deception is actually serious business… Henry Oberlander, he was such an effective con man, British authorities say he could have undermined the entire banking system of the Western world… He was interviewed once, and he said the following. He said, “Look, I’ve got one rule.” And this was Henry’s rule, he said, “Look, everyone is willing to give you something. They’re ready to give you something for whatever it is they’re hungry for.”
And that’s the crux of it. If you don’t want to be deceived, you have to know, what is it that you’re hungry for? And we all kind of hate to admit it. We wish we were better husbands, better wives, smarter, more powerful, taller, richer — the list goes on. Lying is an attempt to bridge that gap, to connect our wishes and our fantasies about who we wish we were, how we wish we could be, with what we’re really like. And boy are we willing to fill in those gaps in our lives with lies.
Most boat owners are hungry to become intrepid sailors. Yet one in a hundred of them will cross an ocean, and one in a hundred of those will circumnavigate. For if they did they’d very soon realise the dangerous inadequacy of their vessels.
So an industry grows up around marinas comprising chandlers to sell exotic, expensive and unnecessary devices and skilled shipwrights to sell the services necessary to keep them maintained… aided by boat owners who cooperate in the lie. We meet their customers over and over again in our sailing, waiting in ports for parts. Hence the cynic’s definition of cruising: “a series of repairs in exotic locations”.
In stark contrast to such depressing news, Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness tells us that “events and outcomes which we dread may when they come about turn into new opportunities for happiness”.
This is the encouraging message of David and JaJa Martin’s film Ice Blink: most of us spend our lives avoiding risk, experiencing things at about 5, 6 or 7 on a scale of 1 to 10; only when we are ready to expose ourselves to the risk of a “1” (a bad passage, say) are we likely to experience the “10s”.
This was also what Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) meant when he recommended we live not just at the top of a mountain, but at the top of a volcano (The Gay Science, aphorism 283):
For believe me! –the secret of realizing the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships out into uncharted seas!
“Character’s who you are in the dark.” And what’s kind of interesting is that today, we have so little darkness. Our world is lit up 24 hours a day. It’s transparent with blogs and social networks broadcasting the buzz of a whole new generation of people that have made a choice to live their lives in public. It’s a much more noisy world. So one challenge we have is to remember, oversharing, that’s not honesty. Our manic tweeting and texting can blind us to the fact that the subtleties of human decency — character integrity — that’s still what matters, that’s always what’s going to matter. So in this much noisier world, it might make sense for us to be just a little bit more explicit about our moral code.
When you combine the science of recognizing deception with the art of looking, listening, you exempt yourself from collaborating in a lie. You start up that path of being just a little bit more explicit, because you signal to everyone around you, you say, “Hey, my world, our world, it’s going to be an honest one. My world is going to be one where truth is strengthened and falsehood is recognized and marginalized.” And when you do that, the ground around you starts to shift just a little bit.