6.30.2011

Making My Way as a Misanthrope, or Writing a New Social Contract

There are definitely different kinds of misanthropy. So I will say that I call myself a misanthrope in the same way one who's sensitive to light is called photophobic. Just as photophobia is not necessarily defined by fear per se but by aversion to light, my misanthropy is not a hatred of humans but an aversion to the social.

This aversion does not stem from a principle. I don't find humans inherently or even practically abhorrent (not in general, anyway; I find particular people abhorrent). No, my aversion is constitutional — it's just how I roll.

Crowds, needless to say, freak my proverbial shit (this is why I prefer Candlestick to the new Giant's ballpark — Candlestick was empty; I'd have a whole section to myself. The new park — whose corporate name I refuse to mention — demands I sit, eat, and piss arm to arm with my fellow man). But that's easy enough to avoid.

What's more difficult is social crowding. That is, when I have too many or extended social interactions, I become exhausted in profound ways. Just as a photophobe avoids too much light as well as light that's too bright, I tend to avoid the social. Which is just to say, not only do I spend a lot of time alone, I need to spend a lot of time alone.

Perhaps my constitution is more porous — too much leaks into me, leaving me waterlogged. Some people fare the social exquisitely — they are out and about non-stop and healthy as can be. Such is their constitution. Not me: I get inundated and then can't operate well.

The only time this becomes complicated is when there's a woman involved. Oh, man, dating as a misanthrope demands a lot — a lot — of verbal assuaging and negotiation. And, any way it falls, I come out looking either like an asshole or a freak — or both: either I don't want to be with the lady in question or I'm a neurotic.

This is the difficulty of operating in a different social logic. The prevailing logic is that the social is the assumed term; the only reason not to participate is health related — sickness of body or sickness of mind. Choosing to be alone is construed as not wanting to be with this or that person, as a negation of the other rather than an affirmation of myself.

This is my social logic. I always try to assume that everyone does — or should do — as he or she deems fit, as he or she is best served. And so if someone "blows me off," I don't care at all: I assume he or she is tending to whatever needs tending. Of course, it may be personal — perhaps she loathes me. But then what do I care? Who wants to be with someone who loathes you?

The difference is this: my social sense begins with selfishness, with self affirmation. This is not a selfishness that comes at the cost of the social but operates as part of the social — and, in fact, to me makes the social work better. But it only works if others enter the same contract — that is, they begin with their own selfishness, their own self affirmation. If the terms of the social contract demand that the social be sated, then the misanthrope such as I becomes anathema.

Now, I'm not talking about the selfishness that leads one to ignore the plight of others. No, I'm talking about the ethics of what William Burroughs calls the Johnson — mind your own fucking business but a) don't throw anyone under the bus; and b) if you can lend a hand, don't let the guy who's been thrown under the bus get run over. This is a social contract of respect: we assume individuals are individuals, affirming themselves.

My misanthropy, then, is not born of a desire to shun people but to roll with the social in a way that best suits me. And if others want or need to be social all the time, power to them — truly. Just don't assume that my solitude is a problem or says anything about you. Assume it says something about me.

1 comment:

69959e5a-57e2-11e0-a3a5-000bcdcb2996 said...

This summarized, in a nutshell, why I didn't want to go to the elegant eatery that is IHOP with my family today. Needless to say I won this particular battle, but many more will have to be fought in the name of solitude. Well done.