“You’re an asocial, aren’t you?” It’s a line from “Fatherland,” the novel by Robert Harris, set in the postulated world where Germany won WWII. It’s the hero’s son’s accusation against him, hurled from the boy’s Nazi education.
I have a list of such lines from novels and movies that I take personally, lines like this that hurt my feelings. I may have mentioned in the first few schizoid versions of my book, the bit from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, that Stevenson invoked a ‘vague sense of deformity’ to heighten our sense of horror at Hyde’s presentation bugged me, considering my own birth deformity, the umbilical cock-up that left me with a belly zipper rather than a button. Did this author’s leveraging of that basic (and base) human emotion mean that disgust was to be the normal human response to me too?
Thanks a lot, RLS. Wait – was that a schizotypal leap, a ‘loose association?’ Is this one of those things that my closest friend in life, my wife, cannot understand, how I went from a line in a novel, to awareness of the literary/emotional device employed, to that device signifying a human trait, to me also being subject to that human trait? Then after that, my bad feelings about it – is it a schizotypal leap to that somehow being ‘personal?’ I mean, I don’t think Robert Louis Stevenson was trying to fuck me up personally, of course. When anything messes with our person, though, that is personal to us, isn’t it?
I know I mentioned also, that The Metamorphosis messed me up bad, and no one line stands out; the whole damn thing hurt like Hell. That was clearly Kafka’s editing test, if it doesn’t hurt like a motherfucker, throw it out. I imagine that’s true of everything else he wrote too. Hemmingway must’ve loved Kafka, talk about bleed.
But this one.
You’re an asocial, aren’t you.
Yes, my children, my wife, my friends, I really fucking am.
If I were into human-style socializing, if I were simply a member of my own social group and happy to go along, happy to love what they love and hate what they hate, then we all know who I’d be, right? Come on, we don’t pull any punches here, don’t be shy, we can use the scary words, as long as the context is correct. Correct for me, I mean, for this asocial.
I’d be an old fucking white guy.
One who never saw real poverty in his adult life through no merit of his own, like so many others, and I’d like what they like, maybe vote for whom they vote, turn that blind white eye to the never ending persecution of all things non-white, non-straight, non-Christian. I ain’t doing that, and I hate seeing white people’s blind ignorant FB pages regarding Islam or BLM. I am not your peer, I do not need your human contact quite that badly. Rather, if that’s what I need or I die, it’s been nice.
I mean, I know I’m seeing these sorts of posts from my friends, people I love, or at least people I really should, by social group, by shared or at least common life experiences, but well, here’s the thing.
It’s one or the other, individual social viability or social change. No-one likes a troublemaker.
Maybe it’s depression, the suppression of my survival’s belief that I’m somehow worth more than the other humans I may find myself in conflict with, but screw my viability, screw my personal happiness. What has anyone’s personal happiness ever done for humanity? I’m choosing social change, and my friends, my family, if you’ve got social group values and concerns that conflict with humanity’s, I’m sorry, but I’m positioning myself on humanity’s side, and where there is any conflict, against you all. I don’t do “don’t talk about politics.” What is our social support for one another worth when the world is burning down politically?
Well, it’s worth life, apparently. Contact and social support are everything for humans, primates, mammals, the biggest thing that if we don’t get we die, outside of food, water, and air. So I’m alone, always have been in this sense, in the way I think, the way I see and feel things, the low value I put on relationships and my obsession with what I consider to be the “real world” beyond our feelings and our social world. I can feel it, though, I ain’t immune. I’m a seriously lonely person, even at risk at the moment. Try as they may to send the right message, when you’re alone and lonely, seeing all the regular folks out there counting their blessings, loving one another and reminding one another to think of folks like me at Christmas time only drives the point home harder. My solution is a form of madness, of course.
I talk to myself, yes, out loud. I recently bought a “living Christmas tree” a live pine or something, and now I can talk to it too, so there are three of us now which means a lot more options. I know it’s crazy, but you have to talk to someone or you die. I assume that isn’t your recommendation? I’ve been reading until the last few weeks, and now I’m watching biology lectures on YouTube, and I talk back to the books and videos too. These are the people talking about what interests me these days, science authors, so these are the conversations I need to have, whether it’s real or not. I seem to be trying to fool my social self, I’ve decided that I do have a social group I don’t mind (safe as long as I never actually meet these people), and that these brilliant authors are it. When an idea comes to me, Pinker, Trivers, Sapolsky, these are the friends I want to share it with, Goodall, folks like that. Judith Rich Harris.
God knows and I know that I don’t belong in that social group, but that’s one I might want to belong to, at least, even if they are mostly old white guys. At least they aren’t mostly Christians!
Besides talking to myself and my imaginary super smart friends, I find myself mining everything I see for the remotest hint of support, of something human I can identify with and relate to. I watched everything I could on YouTube from Sapolsky this month, and he’s a very genuine fellow, he looked into the camera and calmly and steadily shared some real emotion with us all in his documentary regarding stress and I am taking those moments to heart, anything that feels real and genuine and good, despite that it was not at all personal and the gulf between him speaking and me hearing was years and thousands of miles. These are the crumbs of human contact that I’m down to, taking every bit I can get if it really is free of charge.
Dec. 24th., 2016
Hmmm . . . maybe the madness is passing, finally.
This division, between our personal stories and our public ones, it’s not really an even split. The social world is everything. Where the two are in conflict, public stories do not win out and for many detailed reasons, all adding up to that we are social animals. Humourous that “public” and “social” turn up as opposites in this discussion, but that’s no mistake; if it seems like one, that’s because we use the word “social” in a loose and lubricative way. We think it’s a “positive” term. It’s not.
“Social” means ‘pertaining to social things. The value judgments we apply aren’t part of the totality of the concept. The term for negative social things, we all know, it’s “antisocial,” and the feelings and actions associated are well known: anger and hatred, along with abuse and violence. The positive term I think, is “prosocial,” and involves love and trust, along with gentle touch. The point is, the term “social” is a dangerously loose one, because we use it like it means “prosocial,” and so we think it’s all good, but defending the world of “social” things means we are defending it all, good and bad. Well, it ain’t a popular idea and I am deeply in denial, no fucking doubt, but when we are directed to focus on our personal stories and our social well being, that is exactly what is happening. To any degree that we cannot find reason or time to address our public issues because of our social ones, we delay the enlightenment of humankind, because social things are a zero-sum moral game. We love our neighbor and we hate who he hates. The very best morality to be gleaned from our social lives is adversarial: morality, to date, is a matter of treating your social group well and reserving abuse for those outside of it, so if we are ever to address all of us, we need something better than social considerations.
Of course, that’s what no-one seems to get about one another. If I’m a “good person” in my group, how can those others think I’m not? Well, that’s what “good person” means, it means socially, mostly, meaning, in your group. Unfortunately, this conflict I’m describing, the need for a wider sort of “good,” means that to the socially oriented moral person, I’m immoral, meaning anyone trying to resolve this limitation of our moral view is perceived as betraying the group.
Well, yes, I guess I am.
I mean, I’m not president or anything. I don’t think this stance is going to start any legal proceedings, but I’m not in your group. Honestly, you all mostly seem to agree with each other, or at least you have found a way to get on in the social sphere, you all don’t need me, one more guy – and I have never used my membership anyway. I’ve almost made it to the bell, I’m nearly sixty and Mom and Dad never made it much past seventy, so screw my personal story.
I am dedicated to my public one, and the conflict is real. No-one wants to talk about AST, my pet theory. It drives people nuts. I worry that it’s exactly the stance that the ladies in my life seem to feel as an attack (and some not in my life too, online acquaintances) . . . maybe having a social conversation about the nature of what is social is just impossible, like licking your elbow. I will persist in getting my idea out there, but maybe I’ll learn to shut up about it occasionally. Maybe I’d better make at least that compromise with society.
Just because I don’t want to join in society’s dark side, your wars and pogroms, doesn’t mean I want to see the column of pitchforks and torches heading for my house either. I’ll be screaming it out a high window, risking the arrows.
“I’m a good person, I’m a moralist! I’m only trying to make things better!”
And you can put a plaque there where my house was, with your answer.
“This guy just never did fucking get it.”
Mar. 22nd. 2017
You sound a lot like me. I’m not sure that is a compliment exactly. BTW Kafka was a sensitive guy, even so far as having become a vegetarian. He explained that he felt such a relief when he visited some aquarium and was able to look at the fish without a sense of guilt.
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