In the movies or cartoons, when someone is mind-controlled, you can always tell. Glowing eyes, robotic voice and actions. It’s always a dead giveaway, like they are a puppet being controlled, sometimes their motions even stiff and jerky.
Some of the blame for that is just cinema. We need to let the viewer know what’s going on, by giving them a visual cue. Even if no one ever seems to ask, “Superman, why are your eyes glowing like that?”
In the real world, mind-control works a bit differently. Here’s the mechanism that makes it possible that no one likes to think about:
Any action you take, whatever it is, your subconscious mind has made the decision to perform the action about seven seconds before your conscious mind is aware of it.
Our conscious mind is often left to come up with the rationalizations for our actions long (in brain terms) after our subconscious has already made its decision and pulled the trigger.
But the conscious and subconscious mind are like strangers to each other. Like two people working in the same house, who never talk. In most cases, the subconscious is the blue-collar carpenter behind the scenes, doing all the actual work. The conscious mind is like the overpaid supervisor who stands around and later on brags about all the work that “he” did. But even though the supervisor is supposed to be the one in charge: He cannot tell anyone that the house is fixed, until the carpenter tells him, and actually confirms, that the house is fixed.
Dina’s subconscious said no, and then I shouldered it out of the way, and speaking on its behalf just said, “Consider it from another perspective. It’ll be fun. Why not?”
But the subconscious doesn’t just stop working, and you have to continue negotiating with it until you’ve overcome all of its objections. Talking with the subconscious is a lot like talking rapid-fire with an agitated stutterer like myself. Immediately in response to my little insinuation into the conversation she was having with herself, the impulse came up from her subconscious, the next wall of objection against copulation: “Danger: Sexually-transmitted diseases.”
To which I rapid-fire replied back to it, “You’ve read his charts. He’s clean.”
I’m paraphrasing, because it’s not as if actual words were being spoken here.
After all of that, her conscious mind finally got involved and then told her, “Wow, this is kind of hot.”
So that was kind of how it worked, and the accompanying headache was worth it. It felt, to her, like she had a choice. And from that moment forward, she was not a puppet in this situation, I can assure you.
In fact, quite without any further interference from me, without any remaining muddling in her mind, she then later decided to herself that the illicit nature of our grope and grind in the bathroom was a real turn on, and “just what she needed” after a stressful day of work.
And afterward, the next day, she thanked me for it. I had no hand in that, either.
Was what I did wrong? I’ll admit that it was. I interfered with her free will, and she had no real defense. But was it rape? No. No, I do not think so.
If I am a mind-controlling rapist, then I am the only rapist in history whose victim was thankful for the honor and performed willingly and quite vigorously without any restraint, in a manner indistinguishable from enthusiastic consent. Even if you tried to confuse her under questioning, I am certain she would have agreed with absolute conviction that it was consensual.
If I was a silver-tongued devil, which I am not if you remember my conversation with Maria, I could have coerced her the old-fashioned way with smooth words and a bunch of pseudo-romantic language that I didn’t really mean. It would have taken longer, but the outcome would have been the same.
When it comes right down to it: I just have an advantage that no one else does. It sucks, and it’s not fair to the rest of you, but it’s not fair that there are people who are better at communication and coercion the old-fashioned way, either.
Superman could punch his fist right through a man’s ribcage just by accidentally tripping on the street, yet the authorities still let him fly around on the loose. Let’s have some perspective here.
Over the next few days before my release, I got to personally witness the outcome of my little interference with Dina’s life. She spent a lot of time thinking about it, about how it was such a rebellious thing to do, and how it felt really good to do something, just once, that she wasn’t supposed to do. Though she continued to harbor some guilt about doing it, she also came to view it as an empowerment. We're full of little contradictions like this. Screw those people who ordered her around all the time at work, she thought, screw her ex, and screw Will. She did not always have to be perfect, to hold herself to that standard, not anymore.
She also considered it a personal achievement. She had surprised herself, and for once in her life had not been the good girl, had shown that there was more beneath the surface than the good girl mask she’d worn for years to make everyone happy. She started realizing how much this little act of hers had stifled her, had kept her from enjoying the things she really loved, and from expressing herself.
The day before I left Abbott Northwestern forever, when she came into my room for one final blood test, her mind was still buzzing with the conversation she had with her sister on the phone the night before, her confession about what Will had done, about her kicking him in the balls, all of it.
Her sister had believed her, thanked her, and hung up the phone.
And all of this because I had a three second conversation with her subconscious.
The assumption that any act of mind control is always to the detriment of the person being controlled is a false and hurtful stereotype. People are really good at keeping themselves in ruts. We hold onto our rigid patterns, because we think it makes us safe. But as soon as we do something out of character, we break the pattern, we break our self-image, and are forced to reconsider who we are.
A friend gets dragged along by someone on a rock-climbing expedition. They do not want to go, and they object strenuously, but their friend just laughs, says, “You’re going” and in the end, because they like their friend and want to stop feeling like such a boring person, they go along. And, quite to their surprise they find themselves on a rock ledge, and they are forced to think of themselves as a rock-climber, something they never thought they would be in their lives. In fact, something that seemed almost impossibly out of character for them.
They’d never have sought out rock-climbing on their own, but someone else imposed their will upon theirs, and they ended up doing something they really, “in their heart”, didn’t want to do. But then, once they get there, they find that it fills some part of their soul that was missing, and they rethink their entire life, all because of that one little event, that one little interference in their life, from another person. And then they thank that person for introducing them to rock-climbing, and changing their life.
That kind of stuff happens all the time.
It’s the same with me when I coerce people, except I don’t have to do it via a long conversation.
It was the only time I ever pushed my will on Dina, because I felt just guilty enough about it to only do it once, and because now I knew that it was possible. That she was empowered by it was a good thing, and I am happy for it. I just cannot defend my actions by claiming that it was my intent all along.
But it wasn’t the last time I mind-controlled someone at Abbot Northwestern: I finally got someone to smuggle me a Big Mac, and enjoyed every greasy bite of it.
Dina did not say much to me after our bathroom encounter, just her thanks and a few secret, and a few downright naughty smiles. I was in her thoughts while she was giving me these secret looks, but I will keep those to myself, as I think they were rather sweet, and none of anyone else’s damned business.
All philosophizing aside, I was ready to leave Abbot Northwestern. A hospital is not the real world, but a world all of its own, and I was sick and tired of being around sick and tired people.
The night before I was to return home was a Thursday, and the next morning I was to be a free man, released to the world, with a lifetime prescription to painkillers and a cool new set of scars.
There was, of course, the matter of my job, and I opened up the cheap laptop I’d bought and finally logged into my corporate email account, and started laughing as I saw that there were over six-thousand new messages. With the exception of the one bouquet of flowers set to my room by the company by way of Maria, I’d had no contact with my employer at all. My cellphone never survived the crash, and I was not interested in picking up a new one while I was undergoing life-altering surgery.
The earliest emails were the funniest. Subject lines in all-caps from Mike and Maria like, “WHERE ARE YOU? ARE YOU OKAY?” and "WHEN YOU GET BETTER CAN YOU PLEASE CONTACT US? EOM" dated to sometime back in October.
Subject lines with ‘Re: Harper Daniels’ and ‘Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Harper Daniels’ filled my inbox, and even from the previews I could see that Maria was always beginning the email with a conciliatory tone.
But Harper Daniels was still our client, after four months of their problem not being fixed. Even more surprising, to me, was that I could still log in, which meant I hadn’t been fired, but then I suppose there are probably laws against firing people who are sent to the hospital in critical condition.
But the old familiar frustration cropped up. Because they were still debating about what to do about the problem, and all of it revolved around when I was coming back into the office. They still had not found anyone able or willing to figure out what was going on with the compiler (which mostly would have amounted to reading the documentation I wrote), or rewriting it, as I’d proposed months before in what felt like a different life.
I honestly don’t know what they would have done if I had died. Gone out of business, most likely.
I composed a new email, sent it to both Maria and Mike, and told them that I would be out of the hospital tomorrow. I needed the weekend to get my things in order, but that I’d see them bright and early Monday morning, on time, and we’d get this Harper Daniels mess all sorted out.
I hit send, and then leaned back in the bed, grinning like the cat who taught himself to open a can of tuna. For the first time since my first day on the job, I couldn’t wait to go back to work.