The Antisocial

April 1, 2005

We are raised in front of televisions increasingly in this century, deriving our models of proper behavior from sitcom goofs, crime drama machos, starship captains, and a President who cannot bring himself to pronounce his speeches according to the basic rules of the English language. We are bombarded with "act now" and "buy now" messages in advertising that try to instill a sense of urgent need and encourage you to act rashly. These influences, along with most of the "pop" psychology and culture of the past eight or more decades, try to teach us that a person should be an extrovert or a "type A," competitive personality that communicates and thrives in socially demanding situations, speaking first and evaluating after. We get a sense of "squeaky wheels get the grease" in a society where good listening skills are not emphasized nearly enough. We are taught by the media and our free-thought dulling, conformist educational institutions that humankind is a "hive;" and that we are all social animals that need constant attention.

If you believe in environmental psychology, this has become true to a point as the mind-set of a fair majority of human beings, especially in urban areas. If you take a city kid out of the city, to a place where there are no visible neighbors, often times that person will be more afraid of the "unknown" than he was of the more clear and present threat of the city around him. The city dweller either rejoices in the quiet, or is uneasy and anxious about what "could happen" with no good samaritans around to hear him scream. Conversely, a person raised in the country will swear that there's less to worry about in seclusion, ever distrustful of what he perceives as a horde of people trying to rob him in the city. At one point in our history, especially in the "Wild West," a lifestyle more akin to that of Jeremiah Johnson, as a quiet loner, was generally more desirable to avoid rambunctious, gun-toting hordes of illiterate cowboys. The focus of living situations has differed throughout the past relevant to social situations and the growing pains of expansionism.

But if you look at how animals behave in the wild, it's somewhat a toss-up. If we were to put faith in our Darwinian "link" to simians (which is a concept that deeply angers many fervently religious people who often misinterpret the theory), then we would be led to conclude that humankind is a social type of animal that needs a "herd mentality." By this same thinking, we would have to include that certain acts of brutality, sexual deviance, and some basic deception would also be part of "human nature." The tendency of the "masses" to be influenced by media, propaganda, and peer pressure would support this. To the contrary, if one were to look at other animals' territorial and individualistic instincts, this might not be the only attitude to consider. Many types of mammals and birds mate for life, drive outsiders from their little part of the world, and attempt to raise their young in seclusion.

We have long felt the pressure to be social and part of the herd. But, now, as in certain times of the past, the herd mentality isn't always the most necessary or desirable method for survival. Trends in human behavior are apparently changing. One can observe an increasing desire in humans to live apart from each other. More and more family units do not include grandparents or grandchildren living together in households. More people than ever desire privacy in ways that are historically unprecedented, especially in urban areas. Soundproofed homes, high fences, security systems, privacy hedges, home shopping and delivery, and garages can limit your contact with your neighbors. In the last fifty years, workers have moved further and further away from their places of employment, content to commute longer distances and burn up more fossil fuels. The very wealthy are leaning toward a desire to live on large "compounds," fairly well cut off from the communities around them-- why? Because they can. People fear more than ever that they can't trust those around them. And maybe they can't.

People are going to cinemas and theatres less, and spending more time with home video, television, and the internet. Many seem to prefer home exercise equipment to the gym. More and more children are playing video games rather than sports. Little-league baseball participation is at an all-time low, largely due to more and more youngsters desiring more individual competition and reward, rather than collective achievement with a team. Internet dating services and chatrooms can boast vastly higher attendances than nightclubs. People are very concerned with having their own vehicles rather than sharing rides or using public transportation with others. And the mentality of fear in our government and the media has influenced people to travel less than ever. Could it be that humans are evolving into less social beings? Or do advances in communications and other technologies create a paradox of more interaction, but from a safe distance?

Most social and religious leaders would tell us that this is highly detrimental to the human spirit; that it goes against our basic nature as (attention and approval seeking) people. We are told we're supposed to cope with everyone else and remember our manners, too. They would have us believe that if you are a person that doesn't enjoy constant interaction and social activity, there is something wrong with you, or that you are a sad, depressed person. But with humans, especially in more recent decades, one cannot ignore more apparent major differences in idividual ideals and behaviors.

Some people have actual disorders and phobias, which are crippling to a social life, but that is not the issue here. Many people are learning that they are fundamentally normal introverts who tend to ponder an issue more completely before they speak on it, or they require larger amounts of solitude for introspection or relief of stress. Introverts have a greater need to feel they are sure of what they are saying or doing well beforehand. Many people are simply uncomfortable around groups or unfamiliar people. Also, newer-age religious philosophies, along with millenia-old ones like Buddhism or Christian Gnosticism, are finding greater audiences who derive greater rewards from them. People who are of a certain temperment are better able to feel spiritual, or a "connection with the divine," when more removed from the clutter of civilization or the corruption of organized religion. "To thine own self be true" and "knowing yourself to better know God" is simply much more effective for many seekers than an external sense of "church."

Some people, myself included, just don't wish to succumb to the burden of being dominated in conversation because we don't wish to share our opinions, feelings, or knowledge so openly. Many of us don't wish to be bully-ragged in arguments no one can win or to bother volunteering our views to hear them degraded. It's difficult for some to endure being analyzed, categorized, scrutinized, criticized, demonized, or ostracized for our individuality. Some are better writers than speakers. Some folks just like to be left alone to read...

Sometimes a person needs someone to just listen, but no one wants to have to be only the listener all the time.

On the television show Roseanne, the main character, portrayed by Roseanne Barr, once said, "I consider myself a pretty good judge of people-- that's why I don't like none of 'em." Although this may be the wrong attitude, it's fairly easy for many sensitive people to feel this way after enough interaction with those around them.

I am used to dealing with extroverts and extreme personalities; but also perverts and birth-defects and drug-addicts and closed-minded curmudgeons. I grew up in rural areas with racists and bigots and fools of all kinds, content to live in their small worlds with their small minds and bring others down in their fear of "the other," or progress. I also spent several years living in cities, with all the conflict, constant power struggle, and intense capitalism everywhere I'd look. I worked in the service industries, overcoming some of my shyness in an effort to become more sociable and to learn more about people of all kinds. Many people seem to be scared to become something unlike or more open than their parents were, and the fear of the unknown paralyzes many that could have had a perfectly sound mind. Some people aren't wise enough to realize that, right or wrong, the majority of people of a different race, sexual orientation, religious conviction, or political stance won't/don't actually do them any harm. Living around such people made me more intolerant of intolerant people. Already something of an introvert, I found that hate-mongers, the prejudiced, and the judgemental made me want to spend more time on my own, or with a few people with freer, more open minds. I did not agree with the religious doctrines that were always being pushed in my face or the sense of blind, unquestioning patriotism that many around me have always expected me to conform to. I never understood how anyone could justify telling a person that he's wrong about things that are unclear, theoritical, unproven, or superstitious in nature. So many people constantly seem to be trying to sell me or brainwash me with their sets of ideals or values and/or insult me for having my own. Often, when faced with this treatment, or separation, I choose to seek solitude.

All extroverts and social butterflies taking the time to read this-- you're not bad people. We're just different. The purpose of this piece of prose is to remind everyone that we don't all process our thoughts and feelings the same way. Some need more patience than others. Some are more sensitive. Don't expect the quiet to become the loud, or vice-versa. A person with education shouldn't have to regress, nor should he expect the ignorant to become enlightened all at once. And hate-mongers and religious fanatics would reach their intended audiences better if they took time to ask enough questions to really know who they were talking to before they become hurtful. Ridicule, prejudice, pressure, and such only widen gaps between different-minded individuals. Trying too hard to make a "party animal" or activist out of a homebody will likely only alienate them. This applies especially well to romance. It's logic: pushing is applying force to something in a direction away from you. Pulling too hard on a person's arm might dislocate it. And individuals are bound to want different things out of life.

The great science fiction author, Frank Herbert, at age 18, wrote a poem published in The Lincoln News, September 30, 1938, called "Your Life?":

What is the meaning of your life?

If you live close to nature, is it hidden in--

a towering tree,

a busy worker bee,

a flower in bloom,

the sun piercing the morning's gloom?

Or do you live in civilization?

Does fancy people your imagination with thoughts of--

laborers, soot and grime,

youths leading lives of crime,

long hours and pay day,

night life in its hey-day?

Are you but chaff from the Great Miller's gleaning?

Or wherever you live does your life have a meaning?

Some people need to go and dance at the club. Some have a better time at home, alone.

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