8.09.2015

It's Not Misanthropy. I Just Can't Stand People.


Sartre's play, Huis Clos/No Exit, haunts me: my hell is spending time with other people forever. But that's not a judgement. It's just how I roll. 
It took me many years to realize that my desire to spend time alone is not misanthropic. People are what they are — beautiful, grotesque, needy, loving, anxious. I pass no judgement on that as I am one of those people. But, for me, other people are a drain. That is a not a judgement about people. It's simply a statement of how my system functions.

Some people — many people, it seems — are fueled by the human teem. I watch baseball games on TV and see the crowds, all these people willingly — enthusiastically — spending time among throngs of other people. It's not that they love baseball more than I do. In fact, many of the people I know who go to games don't really care about baseball at all. They like the collective experience, the rush and thrill of the crowd.

I imagine this is how tourists feel when they walk through Chinatown and see chicken feet and strung up ducks and the like. How do they eat that? How can that be something that fuels their system, physically, existentially, emotionally? What body is it that consumes these things willingly?

Well, that's how I feel about watching people enjoying themselves in crowds. What bodies do they have, that I don't have, that makes them enjoy this? I feel assaulted in crowds, put upon, harried. I find myself expending all sorts of energy to duck, avoid, parry the plethora of bodies and glances and energy pulsing about. Meanwhile, other peoples take all those same things — those bodies and glances and odors and energy — and seem to find strength in it, energy in it. Where I am drained, they are fueled.

We are, all of us, little machines. We are systems of production, consumption, distribution, and expenditure. The calculus of these actions and their effects is what makes me me and you you. I used to think that my aversion was aesthetic or moral, that somehow I was above the mob. But that was just an odd attempt to justify the system that I am. I realized I am not a misanthrope; I don't dislike people. I just can't be around them for every long as they exhaust my resources, my personal reserves of energy. That's just how I roll, I suppose.

Nietzsche says that the ill constituted man instinctively reaches for those things that make him ill, that sap his energy, that drain his vitality. This is why I can't stand the sound of people eating popcorn in a movie theater: all those hands reaching instinctively and repeatedly for such foul food. It nauseates me. Sure, there are no doubt some people fueled by popcorn bathed in fake butter. But looking around the theater, I don't see a lot of vital, rosy, gleaming faces.

Meanwhile, the man of strength instinctively reaches for those things that strengthen him, fuel him, drive him. The complication is that there are no rules or sure set of things that fuel us. Sure, everyone these days is brimming with opinions on the universal good — blueberries for their antioxidants! Kale for its nutrients! Flax is a super food! Only eat raw food! Only eat cooked food! It really is madness as each of us is different. Blueberries, raw food, kale all fuck up my shit (as it were). Eating food or crowds or The New York Times or porn — or whatever you do — is the juncture at which all our theories become real and we have to decide yes or no to this and that.

The trick is knowing how your own system operates and how best to fine tune it — without becoming obsessed with the fine tuning! Man o man, people love to consume the act of fine tuning as if their actions were not part of their calculus, their equation of life, as if the what trumped the how so they can spend all their time fixated on whether to eat this nut butter or that. But the how is nearly everything.

Anyway, I am drained by the social. It's not just crowds. It's other people. Huis Clos haunts me. But it's not depression or misanthropy that makes me like this. It's me that makes me like this. It's neither good nor bad.

What's beautiful about approaching life as systems engineering is that it lets you shed moral judgement and its elaborate justifications of behavior. Fuck it. Whatever floats your boat! For me, it's being alone. And it's not because I don't like you. It's because I can't spend that much time with you without dying.

2 comments:

Osric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Osric said...

I am similarly constituted. This is what makes life in the contemporary workplace (particularly in tech) uniquely miserable. The open-plan setup, the forced collaboration, the constant interruption.

The need to pretend that I'm part of a "team," and that pushing paper (and people) around for a corporate entity is somehow meaningful.

After 30 minutes of that shit I just want to go and hide somewhere.