I Like New York in June....

 If you are the sort who listens to others’ conversations, or even have a few of your own, you may have noticed how many sentences begin with “I like....” Why is it we so frequently assume the one thing another person wants to know is whether we like something or not? If the conversation is about a movie, food, or a trip to the Bahamas, why wouldn’t some sort of description be more to the point?

Sentences beginning with “I like...” suggest that the conversation is essentially about the speakers feelings, opinions or state of mind rather than about features of the existing world. “I like Big Macs” assumes the listener is interested in the speakers experience and not gathering information about the food -- as in greasy, salty, well done, small portions, etc. As a style of speaking, “I like...” places the personality of the speaker at the center of the conversation; a testimonial of character or taste being substituted for information.

Another characteristic of “I like” sentences is that there are so many and they cover just about any sort of experience. I like: potato chips, spending time with my children, masturbating in the dark, going to church on Sunday, doing crossword puzzles, Picasso, professional wrestling, bloody mary’s, Siesta beach, Whopper’s with cheese, Ike for President, bowling for dollars, a clean white shirt with just a touch of starch, silk panties, ‘Judas Priest’ to show in the fifth at Aqueduct, living alone.... Given the variety, what should a host make of it when a guest proclaims “I like the roast — and the company as well!” Should it be assumed the roast occupies a place in the guests’ life similar to that of Picasso, or more on par with bowling for dollars?

The question may be funny but it’s not trivial. If conversation is to be more than structured noise then giving meaning to “I like” statements depends on knowing the answer to such hypothetical comparisons. Quite frankly, having a place in someone’s life on a par with potato chips does not contribute much to my need for acceptance.

“I like...” sentences often seem to have a transactional purpose: an attempt to avoid giving offense, committing the speaker to protracted conversation, causing controversy, or some combination of these unpleasant intensities. Matching tastes by trading ‘I Like...’ sentences seems to be a harmless social passtime, rather like flipping quarters. But it is odd that people come to believe they have gotten to know someone who offers them no more than this sort of verbal kiss off.
The “I like...” maneuver may be symptomatic of a society always on the run, with no time to smell the air or examine the content of one’s experience. So perhaps questions such as ‘How did you find the Bahamas?’ are best dealt with not as an opening move for what is hoped to be a complex involvement, but merely as a glancing encounter calling for a quick statement of the bottom line: cut the crap; like it or not; yea or nay; up or down. In a consumable world everything reduces to junk or gold.

Philosophically, there have been voices proclaiming for centuries that knowledge of an objective reality is no longer, or never was, available to tall featherless bipeds. We are doomed to receive, in this view, mere subjective perception dressed up to simulate the thing itself. Like it or not statements have the virtue of skipping the detour through an archaic, or at least unfashionable, objectivity in favor of swiftly arriving at the critical point of personal preference. “I like ... moonlight and motor trips...”
“I like...” is, indeed, the final truth of the matter in the gloomy supposition that personal preference is all modern people take away from their experience — “Am I liking this or not?” Watching people at their leisure this can be a very tempting inference, but it inverts my point by turning a piece of lazy language into a reflected truth of human experience. “I like...” does not even begin to capture the experience of parents who change diapers many times a day for years; it does not begin to express the commitment of career soldiers who devote their lives preparing for war most of them sincerely hate; it does not begin to account for the critics who personally detest art they recognize as brilliant or profoundly alteraters cultural perceptions.

Whatever pollsters may say, preferences do not necessarily entail behavior. One may like and totally avoid cocaine, cigarettes, ice cream, unsafe sex, late night walks in Central Park and mid-day naps. Personally, I dislike handling raw organ meat, but I cut up turkey livers for my cat’s evening meal. My feelings about it never seemed particularly pertinent.
Efforts to cure the indiscriminate quality of “like” statements sometimes involve adding intensifiers such as ‘really’, usually sounded as ‘rilly’ in the California manner. The effort doesn’t rilly work, but I will concede that if I loathed organ meat my cat might sup on something else.
On the other hand, I rilly like my cat.
...How About You?”











©Al Katz • Prof. of law SUNY, Buffalo, 1969-1989 (ret.)