As is my occasional habit, I am going to use today's post to answer an issue that has been raised in e-mail that I have received. On this particular occasion we will be addressing the concern that I am a generally sour, evil man who hates people. Given the way that I write in my blog, I can certainly see the rationale for making such an argument. It is not, however, entirely correct.
First off: am I a generally sour, evil man? Well, this depends on who you ask. If you ask me, I would tend to answer, "yes." I tend towards a considerable amount of what I refer to as "cynical optimism," which more or less means that people are flawed imperfect beings in a flawed imperfect world, but that with sufficient hard work, we might just be able to improve things. Maybe. Assuming we're not all stupid. While I would argue that cynical optimism is more rewarding than cynical pessimism, it is emotionally draining in that the apparent stupidity and selfishness of others is in part our fault. This is not the case for a cynical pessimist, who believes that things will always be bad and no amount of labor will alleviate the situation. So, bully for me.
If, on the other hand, you ask one of my friends, you might get a different story. During a recent conversation with Slag, as it happens, I was accused of putting up a false front of hostility and general nastiness in order to cover for my inherent generosity. His assertion seems to be that I act like a nasty little toad in order to prevent people from taking advantage of me, since I'm too nice to say no otherwise. While I find this argument- that I act like a little bastard because, in reality, I'm nice- to be fascinating on a number of levels, I don't think that Slag is entirely correct. Nevertheless, I thought I should reproduce his argument for the sake of fairness, or balance, or some other dumbfuck reason.
This brings us to the second part of our discussion today: the question of whether or not I hate people. Again, I can certainly see the basis for this claim. More often than not my blog involves condescending remarks made to, and about, others. This sometimes extends to the comments I leave on other people's blogs, although as a general rule I try to exhibit the common decency given to dogs (keeping in mind that this is an animal that licks its own ass in public) by not becoming a troll. The truth of the matter, however, is that I don't hate people.
No, really, that's the honest to goodness truth. It isn't that I don't like people, so much as I don't like you. Probabalistically speaking, of course, some of you who read this I most likely do
like. See? Don't you feel better? Okay, so who understands what I actually just said? Yeah, you in the back- tell me what I just said.You said that you dislike me! I'm really hurt by that.
Well, that's a shame and all, but I did not
say that I dislike you. Let's go ahead and pull apart the actual meaning of my statement, shall we?
I said, "I don't like you." In this context "like" means
"To find pleasant or attractive; enjoy." Simple enough? Okay. So how about "don't?" Well, "don't" is a contraction of "do not." "Do" of course simply means
"To perform or execute" and "not" is a straightforward negation.
I think it unnecessary to go into detail on what "I"
mean, since if you don't know, I probably lost you in the first paragraph.
So, when we put that all together, what I said was: "I am not part of the set of individuals who perform/execute/harbor a feeling of enjoyment in regards to you." Now, does this in fact mean that I dislike you?
No, it doesn't. "Dislike" means
"To regard with distaste or aversion." I very clearly did not say that I disliked you, that I regarded you negatively; all I did say was that I did not regard you positively.
The simple truth is that sandwiched in between "positive" and "negative" evaluations in the great churning burble of social life is a little area I like to call, indifference.
Except that this middle ground isn't a little area, rather it occupies more space than either the positive or negative poles. Most people on Earth I have not met- and therefore I have no basis either for evaluating them positively, or for evaluating them negatively. As a consequence, I feel indifferent towards them. On meeting someone I may begin to like them, or I may begin to dislike them, but in all likelihood I will remain indifferent. This is not to say that there's anything wrong with said people, but only that, like most people, I don't develop positive regard for every person I meet. That does not, however, ever mean that I develop negative regard instead.
Believe it or not, while I am indifferent towards most people, the set of people I like is quite a bit larger than the set of people I dislike. It's actually fairly hard to make me dislike you, though I am rather easily annoyed.
So why is all this important? Because I just feel the need to be understood? Hell no. Does this look like a livejournal to you?
Don't answer that.
No, the reason why this is important is I really think there's too much emphasis on liking people or, perhaps more accurately, pretending to like them. Guess what folks? We're human, we're finite, we're falible. Some people in this lifetime we meet and fall in love with. Others we meet and develop a boundless, unrelenting hatred for. Both of those extremes are perfectly fine. In fact, I would argue that if everyone likes you, you're doing something wrong. People come in such tremendous diversity that to be liked by everyone more or less means you refuse to actually be
anyone. That isn't what life is about.
The thing is, most people we meet won't fall cleanly into the "eternal love" or "boundless hate" categories. Why should they? Should I feel unabashedly affectionate for the guy who runs the coffee shop I frequent? Should I loathe the guy who lives next door to me? Probably not. In either case, it would be pretty stupid and dysfunctional. The truth is, I feel indifferent about them- not because they aren't human beings with intrinsic worth, but because we simply aren't very important in each other's lives. It isn't that they aren't important, it's that they aren't important to me. And you know what else?
I'm not very important to them. Nor should I be. The meaning in love, affection, hatred, and loathing derives from its scarcity rather than its ubiquity. I like to think that the people I do like are cognizant of how important they are to me precisely because I do like them. Oddly, the people I dislike may be aware of just how much of an achievement that actually is, although in all likelihood they don't know, don't care, or both. I prefer to think the latter.
I do, as it happens, like people. I'm very willing to do things that benefit others, like give platelets, be a member of the national marrow donor program, obey traffic laws, and display common courtesy towards others. I don't mind spending time with people I am indifferent towards. I just don't see any point in pretending that I love everyone and that everyone loves me. Such a world sounds nice, in the abstract, but would in fact be devoid of the very emotion people crave. A world in which all people are equally liked by every person is a world in which liking is a meaningless state.
So, maybe you like me, maybe you don't, and maybe you dislike me. Whatever your impression is, however, the possibility that you might feel otherwise is what makes the way you DO feel meaningful. I think most of you are probably very nice people, and I might very well like you if I knew you.
But I don't, so I don't. Fair?