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Homo sapiens is a controlling species. In a list I made almost exactly two years ago (on March 7, 2006), I jotted down some of the ways we try to maintain control. The list included the following: naming things (classifying), feng shui, numerology, organizing stuff, manipulation through emotion, talking & silence, raising the voice, creating, rules, rules, rules, setting up institutions (government, church, schools, etc.), time (by keeping time), structure (creating structure(s) in our environment), and through money (poor vs. wealthy). I’m sure you could add your own ideas to the list of how human beings control things.

The notion of control is something that’s gone through my mind numerous times over the years and has been refreshed by a comment left on this blog about Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (NIN). The commenter said that Reznor was a “control freak.” Other fans have also insinuated that Reznor has a control problem, having hissy fits if things don’t go his way. Being slapped with the label of ‘controlling’ is considered a bad thing, but need it be?

Some of the charges related to Reznor’s controlling behavior seem to stem from the falling out he had with his record company, TVT Records. Reznor wanted more artistic control than the company was willing to give him. Tell me, if you’re an artist, musician, writer, and someone kept trying to stymie your artistic vision, wouldn’t you feel like throwing a few hissy fits yourself? Wouldn’t you want more control over the final product?

In Reznor’s case, his desire to have control over his artistic vision and the terms under which he wants to release that vision have led to truly revolutionary leaps in how the business of music is done. Witness the release of his new album(s), Ghosts I-IV. According to the More Info page on Ghosts,

“This music arrived unexpectedly as the result of an experiment. The rules were as follows: 10 weeks, no clear agenda, no overthinking, everything driven by impulse. Whatever happens during that time gets released as… something.”

I’d say those are pretty loose parameters for creating an album and shows a desire for a complete lack of control. But let’s stone the guy who wants control, shall we?

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When I was in college, I went to the campus psychologist about three times. On one of the visits, the psychologist told me I had a control problem. I was horrified and immediately disagreed with her, saying that I had no desire to control other people.* She responded that it wasn’t about me trying to control others, but that I had too much control of myself. She didn’t mean it as a compliment and the statement still bugs me.

Translated, I took it to mean that the psychologist was telling me that I was uptight, not willing to let loose. What the hell is wrong with that? And what was her idea of letting loose? Downing a case of beer to get loopy? (We were on a college campus, after all.)

Aren’t psychologists forever working to help people gain more control over their lives? (Whether from their emotions, mental illness, chemical dependence, tough situations – take your pick.) Was it such a shock to this woman’s system to see someone so “in control” that she had to suggest I get out of control so she’d have some reason to help me?

The psychologist would be glad to know that there have been many times in my life where I have lost control and managed to come through fine. Usually the loss of control has come from an issue of the body – like having to be anesthetized for the removal of wisdom teeth, or going under during the c-section birth of my Eldest Son. Day and night morning sickness with all three of my pregnancies was a sure way the Universe showed me that I wasn’t really in control of anything. All I could do was lay on the couch and try not to vomit.

See, that’s the thing about control. For as much as any of us try to have control of ourselves (or others, if we’re into that sort of thing), none of us, not even Trent Reznor (who I very much doubt is the control freak some make him out to be), are ever truly and completely in control of anything. And the Universe is only too happy to smack us in the face periodically and show us that.

You’ll have to forgive me for deciding that life is too short to purposely put myself into a position of being out of my gourd, whether emotionally or chemically. You see, I like having self-control because it allows me to feel the fullness of life. While control may be merely an illusion, it’s an illusion I’ll gladly snatch from the claws of an indifferent Universe any chance I get.

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* My lack of wanting to control others is born out by my philosophy of raising children. I don’t own my children; I just have the good fortune of taking care of them for a while. My goal is to try and make sure that they become independent adults who have a sense of responsibility to the larger world.

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