Monday, August 15, 2011

The Self Amidst Others: Introduction

Karl has some interesting thoughts on social need.

As a definite introvert, I am often puzzled by the extraversion impulse of most of my fellow humans.

Being among large groups of people is not energizing to me. It feels oppressive....

To me, this friend's perspective screams "insecurity!" He is afraid of being alone. He is afraid that if his chosen preferences aren't validated by throngs of others doing the same thing, being in the same place -- then the preferences aren't worth holding.

A few thoughts. First off, in my experience of psychology, we're bedeviled by impulses pushing us toward both dependence and isolation. Enmeshment, estrangement. This should be emphasized; Karl's right in seeing a lot of dependence in people. Here's the other thing, though: we don't tend to see the downside of estrangement. It's other people's problem. It's self-correcting, see? People who can't deal with other people don't deal with them for very long. They withdraw and withdraw and use proxies such as work or the computer to let them avoid the direct connection that they both crave and loathe.

Another little nitpick, and this is something I can't stand, and I call myself an extravert. People think they have to call themselves "extraverted." This is what I hate about popular psychology filtering through into lay terminology. Here's the big secret: introverts like people too! Introverts can be social! Introverts can be confident! And while most introverts like to think that we extraverts are the aggressive, bullying, loudmouth, centers of attention that we often are, here's another axe I have to grind: introverts can be real motherfuckers if you piss them off, but they will often work in ways so institutional that you can't directly confront them. But that's a little issue I have and which I'll probably address in the future.

Here's my take. I both love and despise crushes of people. In Istanbul my mother was experiencing claustrophobia as we pressed through a mass of people in a tunnel/bazaar passing under a highway. I didn't particularly like it but I delighted in moving through it, in cutting a course around families and clumps of Western tourists. My mother hated it and we didn't go back through a similar situation. Some of us need space; some of us carry that space in our heads. I am a nervous human being and I sometimes find my calm when I'm surrounded by chaos and throng and thousands of bodies. It's a strength and a weakness, depending on my surrounding, I suppose.

Another example. I hated working at a theme park. I was impatient with the flow of people with no discernible goal, their sense of urgent insistence only equaled by their tendency to clog walkways with the mass of their bodies. Their numbers didn't bother me, but their viscosity. When I am in parts of New York I feel like I'm in heaven. It's so dense with people and yet I do not feel them. Even in a crowded subway car people know their place. I have a feeling some of us would feel like they were in the Soviet Union when they saw that; I feel like it's something that you might see in anarchy. No coercion is needed to yield one's seat to the elderly, or scoot back to allow a stroller to pass. Though the Western world is deeply violent, and our industrial order is predicated on iniquity and death, one does not feel that it is essential to the courtesy that is possible among great numbers of people with goals and plans... I have seen great numbers of people interdependent and yet not nearly so desperate for each other as one might think.

I have not given up on dense civilization, and in truth, even those who long for comfortable seclusion and space had better hope for the survival of mass civilization as well. After all, if it does not work, where do you think all those urban millions will go? There is a far worse thing than concentrations of people, and that is a world covered in the semi-urban sprawl that, to me, offers neither the benefits of concentration or space.


  1. The writer, CJ Cherryh, in the introduction to a volume of short stories, once wrote something like: the city is ecological; imagine every single man, women and child with an acre and an axe.

  2. One thing that puts my comments in context is the fact that I am a single man who chooses to live as a single man, who has no desire to have progeny, who has no desire for a spouse, mate, life-partner, whatever.

    I would prefer to call my outlook self-reliance, or independence. But the lingo commonly used by most people is intro- vs extra- (or sometimes extro-).

    Human psychology isn't precise like chemistry, mathematics, or basic physics. It's not really a science, in the same ways economics isn't a science, sociology isn't a science, political science isn't a science. It's a science-ish thing. I'll join you in criticizing its vagueness.

    But I think it has utility as a shared language. Nobody seems to mind that language is not as precise as mathematics, that some words have multiple meanings depending on inflection, facial gesture, tone of voice, use in a phrase/sentence!

  3. Another thought your entry prompts is a discussion written by Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, where Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker are talking about parties, and Jordan says something like "big parties are more intimate". Some people feel more secure in a crowd because in small clusters they worry others are paying too much attention to them; they feel the eyes of the world on them when in settings other than large masses of people.

    I don't think one way is correct and the other is wrong. My gripe is that crowd-lovers, other-lovers dominate American society and force people like me to always be moving further and further away, having to move again and again because each place goes from comfortable lonesomeness to clusterfucking "popularity." Fuck popularity. Fuck adulation. Fuck the need to have everyone think like me, emulate me, be like me... or me think like them, emulate them, be like them.

    In a strange coincidence I re-watched the movie Equilibrium on Saturday and was reminded of how (other than it being a pretty lame movie) it does a good job of highlighting the horror of groupthink and the supposed "security" of everyone being the same.

  4. Third observation:

    Your closing sentiment assumes a Jane Jacobs type of view on urbanization, and is belied by "development" patterns in America. We are presently sprawling out across open space. Urbanization doesn't preserve open space. Not in America. Americans are too busy showing their prosthetic penis and prosthetic tits -- their huge McMansions with gigantic SUVs in the land-wasting drive. The reason why my town is annoying is that it's being overrun by such pornstar wannabe people, who need to project an image of superiority through cosmetic devices -- and need even moreso, an audience for their projection. It's important for American yupsters and hipsters to move to small, lonely places and be the Big Dick or Big Titty in the hick town.

  5. An important post-script. I went to buy some clothes yesterday.

    I was surrounded by far fewer people than have surrounded me in Istanbul or Chicago or New York, but I sure didn't feel that way.

    And I also want to say that you're wise to point out the cities' role in creating sprawl. That said, I feel that Westerners have always had this dualistic crush--"frontiersmen" dragging the civilization with them and civilization "fleeing" its mess to find more land, more space, and act as if its mess will not recur.

    And of course, what surrounds New York but sprawl, sprawl, and sprawl? The notion that cities pop out of the plain like Metropolis or Oz is comical, and I didn't mean to suggest it.

  6. What we have going on in America now is the essence of a culture in its adolescence. It needs to learn that too much too fast kills you in the long run. The big Q to me is whether America will die like a drunken teenager driving into a bridge abutment at 75mph, or will have a near-death moment of a kind that brings some maturity into view.

    Sprawl is not the characteristic of a culture that has survived for 500 or 1000 years. Such cultures learned about the finite nature of resources, or they died off.

    We're about to learn what it means to continue wanting too much too soon despite all the signals indicating it's time to slow down and be more humble.

  7. I don't have my Meyers Briggs handy, but I guess I'd have to say I'm more on the introverted side. That's more misanthropy than anything else. Yes, we introverts enjoy the company of others. And I have no problem in large crowds. Subways are actually quite blissful to me. I can relate to your New York experience quite well. But being in a crowd is not the same as making small talk, which some of us find tedious... Authenticity is the key to meaningful relationships, in my view. Sadly, 'tis a rarity.