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.
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
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
“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
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?”