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Thursday, May 29, 2003

Translations for the Gothically Challenged

Well, I seem to be violating yesterday's hypothesis about journal frequency already.

I feel like I got my first good night's sleep in a long time last night. Here it is, 11am, and I've actually been up a while already, had a grapefruit from the backyard, and scanned the emails that came in while I was sleeping. And all the dreams I can remember from last night involved sex. Hell, I might even have a productive day ahead of me if I don't waste too much time here.

This seems like a good moment to give a translation of yesterday's misanthropic definition of humility, for those who can't read between my dark lines:

Humility is giving people the benefit of the doubt; never understating the role of luck (good or bad); trying your best to inspire without intimidating; not automatically assuming others share your values; never confusing room for self-improvement with just deserves; respecting others' unique aesthetics; never overestimating your own value or importance, nor forgetting that those are contextually and personally subjective quantities; and accepting, as in being truly ok with, that no one will ever fully appreciate you except you.

But isn't that version so much less fun?

Speaking of fun and yesterday's post, among this morning's emails was a note from my friend Paul Buceta, who I've known online for a while now, musing that here he is, an ESFP, photographer/model, people person, "likes everyone"... so where on earth does he fit into my (misanthropic) belief system?

Indeed! Where does he?

Actually, I think Paul's a great guy, I quite enjoy reading his journal, and I look forward to meeting him some day. His photography is great, as is his web design, but most importantly I love his benevolent and fun sense of life.

To me there is no surprise in this whatsoever. But I realize it may leave some people scratching their heads. How can a misanthrope like an anthrophile?

The things I personally care most about in other people are (self-)honesty, benevolence, courage, and discontent. Discontent seems like a funny thing to list there, but it's the silent root of many positives. On it's own, it breeds curiosity. In combination with courage, it breeds ambition and creativity. Paired with honesty, you get personal growth. And so on. Discontent fuels the fire of youth, and that is the flame that so often burns out as people "grow up". These things I care about are all pretty core attributes, and they can manifest in so many different ways. But most anyone who embraces them all, I like. And if they're really strong in all four, I like them a lot. Incidentally, discontent and benevolence seem a particularly rare combination.

And the nay sayers right now are probably thinking I'm just rationalizing away all those people I don't like (or who don't like me) by declaring them "dishonest" and such, and that most people hold these virtues to some degree and so if I was being honest, I'd have to say I like most people. Indeed, most people have at least a little of each of those attributes, and to that degree, I do, in fact, "like" most people. (Shhh, don't tell anyone I admitted that.) But the numbers get thinner as the liking gets stronger when we consider those who embrace those virtues, and the numbers get downright scant when you start looking at who substantially embodies them. And those are the people who I really start to like, who feel like contributors to the world as I like it, to the things that matter to me, and to them.

So still I am a misanthrope, because most people just don't embody all of those things, and so I am frustrated by the way it limits them, by the lost potential. It doesn't mean I can't enjoy their company at some level; it simply means there will always be a silent sadness in me in their presence.

The people I call friends, they are the ones who do not make me sad, or at least not too very sad. :) They are the ones who inspire me, who challenge me, who grok me, even if just a little. And all things considered, I shouldn't complain, because with conscious effort over the years I have ferreted out of the world a healthy number of such people, and they are really great people.

(But still, the Romantic Idealist in me is looking for something a little more. Is it something before me, something ahead of me, or something never to be? If only I could know just that. If only the world weren't so small.)

There's really not much I've ever witnessed in the human domain that I can't personally relate to at some level. For all of my apparent judgmentalism, by default I accept anyone and everyone for just who they are, and more often than not I can even reasonably empathize with their perspective on the world--because most differences between people come down merely to relative weightings of the many aspects of being human. That is, we're all made of the same parts, it's just the size and exact shape of each part that varies from person to person; like body, like mind. Realizing that this common anatomy of the mind exists provides quite a toolkit for understanding people--to know that everything you see in others can be found, and explored, somewhere within your own introspection. I may often wish there were more people with my particular proportions, but I don't resent those who aren't. I may wish I had wings, but I don't resent my arms. Even if I resented that I don't have wings, I still wouldn't resent my arms. It's an important distinction.

Still, I do use this label "misanthrope". Why? What does it mean to me? Quite simply, it means that most humans have a net negative impact on my personal goals, aesthetics, and ideals. This is an entirely subjective, selfish metric, and I recognize it as such, and so at the same time, I understand why people do what they do, and why it makes sense to them, and so I can't resent them for it. They are simply not me. Nonetheless, the fact remains that they have a net negative impact on my personal goals, aesthetics, and ideals, and hence I don't, on average, "like" them, sometimes as individuals, sometimes as groups, and sometimes as a whole species. Here one has to be careful to distinguish each thing in its own way and context. It may well be that I like each and every member of a group individually, but despise the group as a whole because of some destructive element of each individual that notably manifests only in the group. For instance, most people don't really grok economics and in particular the nature of government taxation and spending. As an individual, this little intellectual shortcoming is essentially irrelevant--it makes them no less interpersonally enjoyable. But when you put them together in a group, the interpersonal stuff averages out and the common economic ignorance emerges, and presto, you have a monster. Conversely: as a group, assembly line workers are a boon to my life, but spending large amounts of time with a typical one would be torture for me. And yet still, there are exceptions to every generality (go read Rivethead).

I'm no different than anyone here. There are those I enjoy spending my time with, those I don't, and a whole continuum inbetween. Most people feel the same way, though the earthiest ones may only admit it in rare moments of candor. The real difference between a misanthrope and an anthrophile is in some sense merely quantitative -- the average person is a net positive to the anthrophile, while a net negative to the misanthrope. And this may come down to little more than a difference of personal aesthetic, subjective desires, goals, tastes, what have you. In my case, it may simply be that I am far more driven by the prospect of cool new experiences than I am by the simple enjoyment of human interaction, which means I'd rather know someone who had a little time to share their creativity with me than someone who had a lot of time to share daily gossip with me. Doesn't mean I don't enjoy the human interaction, it just means I prefer it as the frosting rather than the cake. In fact, ideally I like people who have a little time to share their creativity with me, and a lot of time to share silence (or mutual activity, whether cooperative or independant) with me. I just don't enjoy talking and thinking about what most people do, to the extent that they do--I find myself wishing my mind could escape and return to something more interesting (to me). And many an anthrophile will take offense at my implicit declaration of most human interaction as un-interesting, but that is their insecurity, not my judgment. The same anthrophile would have no qualms about declaring sitting in front of a computer for hours on end terribly boring! And you know, I'm ok with that--I totally understand how they could feel that way, even though I don't, and I take no personal offense whatsoever.

There are other consequences of this difference of priorities, too. Things like responsibility and competence matter much more to me than to many. Why? Because I really want to see stuff happen, to get things done, to see progress. And when people stop caring, which is really the root of all incompetence and irresponsibility, then progress ceases to be rapid and smooth and starts dragging through a sludge, even going backwards against the relentless currents of time. And it's not just caring about a particular project, but about everything, about competence and efficiency in general; it's about being generally aware that with a little up-front thinking and habituation, everything can be done a little smarter, and that adds up to more free time. And it's about really cherishing that time, about living the reality of our mortality, about never waiting for "some day" but instead working to bring that day here, and then going further again, and all the while not with a robotic fanatacism driven by some residual parental pressure to perform, but out of a genuine lust for life, for this particular kind of life. So still, this whole obsession is something that only really matters to me, and people like me, and it all traces back to what types of things happen to turn me on vs. what happens to turn other people on. (Yet still, in the end, I think I am far more accepting of them than they are of me, because it is OK to be bored by computers, but not OK to be bored by people. It is OK to be bored by a person who only talks about computers, but not OK to be bored by a person who only talks about people.)

Lastly, there is this compounding effect that happens, where with those who can't relate to my basic drives, my priorities, my passions, who can't grok me, there is definitely less of a personal connection there. Part of the pleasure of human interaction is sharing a similar vantage point, so that when you see something neat you can point it out and they see it too, and so they can do the same for you. And if they just don't care about the same things, even at the most basic level, then you're pretty much alone in their presence. And this too is a continuum, and it is here especially that I think most people have a far easier time finding a connection than I do, simply because when it comes to drives and priorities, I am an outlier. Really there's no surprise in any of this. It's just statistics.

Once again from The Misanthrope's Alphabet:

The misanthrope hates not man. The misanthrope hates idiocy, stupidity, self-righteousness, authoritarianism, selfishness, greed, ignorance, dishonesty, cant, and balderdash. All of these he hates rightfully. The problem is that all of these are shared by no other member of the animal kingdom but man. And the misanthrope does not entertain the vain hope that these traits will ever stop determining man's behavior.

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com