Friday, June 25, 2010

The Social Skills Series: Misanthropy

My default setting is to not talk to people and I've decided that the reason why is because I really just don't identify with most people. I think that's kindof a generalized conclusion when the reality is slightly more complex, but, at the end of the day, it's essentially true. I guess we could go on ad nauseam about the differences between sympathy and empathy and why they are mutually exclusive and why identifying with people is not really a prerequisite for socializing with them, but for me, identifying with someone goes a long way toward building some sort of relationship.

The problem I seem to have is that a lot of the people that I end up interacting with are just really stupid. And it's not like I go out of my way to find stupid people all over the place, they just are all over the place. And dealing with stupid people really just enrages me. And so there's a slippery slope argument where I just think about all the interactions I could have that would end up with me being enraged at the general stupidity of the world and I just choose to opt out a lot of the time. (Joe just ctrl-tabbed to another tab in order to link to an essay about how the slippery slope argument is flawed.) I know this is not a logical thing to do. In addition to the slippery slope argument being flawed, this is definitely a case in which an existential instantiation is reapplied as a universal generality, a logical impossibility.

Here's an example. I went to McDonald's the other day to get a frappe (yes, I quit McDonald's, but, as discussed, coffee products, really the entire McCafe line does not count as cheating). I ordered just that one thing and it cost $3.03. Immediately I was upset at the fact that someone decided that this was a good price for this product. That three cents just bothered me from the jump, but I had also just taken all the change out of my pocket so unless the kid working the drive through was moderately with it (two chances, slim and none), I was going to end up walking around with 97 cents in my pocket. Paying fractions of dollars less than ten cents is one of the things I've decided is just a travesty of justice that should be abolished by society, although clearly it's something that is just going to continue to bother me since there's really no reasonable recourse. I decided that for my sanity I would not try and talk the guy out of the three cents, instead I just handed him $4.00 and let the energy flow through me in a positive way.

Then....then....the fucking kid reaches out his hand and says, "Ninety three cents is your change," and dumps the change in my hand along with the receipt that says my change is ninety seven cents. I stared at him for about a half second. In that half second I'm sure that what was going through the kid's mind was "I like cake" and in that same half second I had a revelation. I had an entire vision of asking this kid why he needed to charge me the three cents when it was a negligible amount and then, just to add insult to injury, he decided to stiff me on my change by FOUR cents in a bit of irony that is really just too perfect for Tennessee Williams to construct. And then the kid was going to say something ridiculously stupid, and then I was going to have to ask to talk to the manager and then we were going to have a whole discussion about this and I was going to be late for where I was trying to get to and all of this was going to be over seven cents. So instead I just made sure to stare at him long enough so that he thought it was weird and something must be wrong, I put the change in my pocket, and drove away. And every day, over things like seven cents, I lose faith in humanity.

You're going to say something like if I had just told the kid that he owed me four cents then he would have given it to me and I wouldn't have to lose faith in humanity. Or, more generally, if I would let people know when they don't meet my expectations then they can meet them, or at least try. But I can't do that. I don't want to tell people that they don't meet my expectations, I just want them to do it. I have reached a point in life where in most situations the most I ever expect of people is the absolute minimal level of effort, competence, and basic wherewithall (three word compound word. awesome). And since, from my perspective, my options are to either spend most of my day literally yelling at people or to just stay calm and not say anything and let the moment pass, I choose the latter. This argument extends far beyond people providing me with a service. Most interactions involve expectations of some sort, either specific or abstract.

Anyway, a lot of my interactions, even the seemingly innocuous ones, have repercussions like this in my head. Also I find that having a genuinely innocuous interaction is something that is undesirable and unacceptable and essentially pointless. I'm not willing to have a conversation that doesn't have a point. I personally prefer awkward silence to meaningless chatter. That seems to be a minority opinion, but I really just can't participate in conversations that do not have a concrete foundation. And so I don't really find it easy to converse with most people, especially new people.

I'm not trying to suggest that I'm the only one whose doing this life thing correctly. Nor am I trying to suggest that my opinions are the correct ones. Nor am I trying to suggest that I don't necessarily fall into the subset of stupid people. But I did read an article in the New York Times the other day about some research that suggests one of the hallmarks of incompetence is the inability to even notice one's incompetence. At least I recognize my shortcomings in the social arena, and I'm trying to make some sense of it.

An ancillary benefit of my misanthropy is that, every once in a while, I'll meet a person who I do find it easy to converse with. And those people fascinate me. I've been trying to decide what it is that makes those people different than everyone else and I've got a couple of ideas, but no real conclusions. The people that I find it easy to talk to are usually pretty smart, roughly my age, and have an appreciation for esoterica and/or popular culture.

But most people, well, most people just don't do it for me.


Anonymous said...

On behalf of the stupid, the incompetent and the lazy, just yearning to be improved by your genius, thanks so much for not rubbing it in when we fuck up.

Open Bar said...

How many fucking times do I have to ask you to put a fucking picture in your posts? It doesn't even have to be related to the post. A hot chick, a cat wearing clothes, a fucking still life. ANYTHING. God, you incompetent prick.

That said (<--favorite segue), it's not so much meaningless chatter that annoys me (that can be fun, like you can play a little game where you see just how far you can push the envelope with this strange new person before they're like "Wait, what?" -- and they don't even know they're playing), but rather the next step up. Let's call it shmoozing (not Steve Summers shmoozing, mind) -- like at some work-related function where I already kinda know some people, but not really and I'm not interested in getting to know them anymore than that and the bar isn't serving whiskey. I hate that.

ChuckJerry said...

Dear Anonymous,

I really thought the tone of my post suggested that I'm aware that my social issues are on the tail end of the bell curve and are, in most respects, irrational. It's quite possible, nay probable, that most people aren't as stupid as I imagine them to be.

You, however, are definitely stupid.

Not Anonymous.