18 Comments

Whenever I talk to my girlfriend about my obsessions it doesn't go as well as that; I always seem to end up digging myself a hole.

(..er, sorry. Love the story; thanks for sharing! I find I agree with your overall taxonomy but would maybe quibble with the location of some individual items within it)

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There is a human need to PRODUCE. This is different from the need to create - creation implies something new, or even useful. But production can just be production for the sake of it.

Sometimes I work on a big square that I'm knitting. The square isn't going to be anything or do anything but it's satisfying to see stitches added. It's nice to see the tunnel grow bigger!

That's my theory on tunnel man anyway.

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tunnel man is like a nice version of the wailing wall in paul auster's "the music of chance"—which also, weirdly, had a little bit of a catnippy quality. maybe there's something inherently interesting about making a big effort for something with an unknown payoff (see: stonehenge, michael heizer)?

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Nov 9, 2023·edited Nov 9, 2023

The thing about tunneling that differs from most of the other "anti-pornographies" on your list is that it's a *project* with clear indications of progress and physical persistence of that progress over time. I'm not a tunneler myself, but this sort of thing seems far more gratifying to me than meditation, yoga, or sitting on the beach.

The closest similar thing in my own life that I can think of is building big LEGO kits at a leisurely pace. I do it when I want to and because I want to, not because I have to. It's engrossing but not taxing. And you have a persistent physical artifact when finished.

As for evolution, I suspect that natural selection favors "industriousness" -- i.e., a general affinity for work. So I would not assume that an activity such as tunneling is counter-evolutionary.

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Lots of kids like to dig holes and try to "tunnel to the center of the Earth" or whatever. There's something fascinating about what's under there, and making a space away from everything else. Not unlike a clubhouse or treehouse, but kind of more organic because it's down in the earth itself. But an awful lot of work!

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Like the sentiment but can't agree with the conclusion.

On the one hand, yes, someone being obsessed with something for its own sake sounds healthy. On the other... there is a very real human phenomenon of "screws coming loose" where someone does something compulsively forever and will jump through whatever necessary hoops (explaining things to other people, promising changes, etc) in order to not change. We're right to be a little scared by it: when someone no longer follows "human programming" there's no way to use our human programming to predict what they're going to next. They've gone "off-script" and now there's the potential for true chaos (see e.g. every horror movie ever; they're basically about coping with this fear in one form or another).

The problem is distinguishing "a healthy love of a weird creation" with "a screw is truly loose and you have no idea what happens next". Like, kids love to dig hole and imagine cool underground forts, fine. But crazy people also love to dig holes and then murder people in them (I mean... maybe). How do you know the difference? Well this person is also socially isolated from everybody else and evidently tunneling "compulsively" and not interested in... more normative ways of spending their obsessive time. Gut check says there's a 50/50 at best that this ends up healthy vs super fucked up. Not sure which way it goes yet, of course, but the more erratic it gets, the less cozy and more horror-movie-in-the-making it feels.

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Hmm. Where does reading fall on the spectrum, and how much does it matter what one is reading? IE, books versus blogs versus social media?

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Like church, maybe tunnel man just wants to connect with fellow earthlings and dirtbags?

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This is ADORABLE! Thank you so much for writing.

How'd you find out about this man?

Similar: I'm a teenager, and at our church a group of about 14 of us are putting on a Shakespeare play. No particular reason, just for fun. One of my friends had to miss play practice one Saturday and seemed genuinely disappointed; when I asked him why he answered "I AMUSE MYSELF at these things." ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Tunnel man is the anti-hero we need.

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Tunnel Man rocks, for a few reasons:

1) Slightly Bizarre, which helps spread the story.

2) Internal locus. It takes gumption to say "I am going to dig the tunnel", but gumption is good and wholesome.

3) Upending the Labor Theory of Value: "If working hard doesn't matter, how come this guy's tunnel is so sick"

4) Non-offensive. If he were launching punk rock posters into his neighbor's yard, it'd be mean. Nobody's hurt.

5) The fact that the couple didn't break up is the icing on the cake. 99% of Reddit is people airing dirty laundry and explaining that they've already dumped someone, or writing "My bf runs me over with a Jeep everyday, should I stay or leave?" This is a slightly bizarre thing with a sane reaction from both parties.

In conclusion: Weird, harmless, motivated people are unicorns on Reddit and it's nice to remember they exist.

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