Isolation

Slate Star Codex recently wrote a post about the lives of people who took pills to give them various superpowers. The yellow pill gives you the ability to search and read the minds of anyone you see. This is the story of the woman who took the yellow pill:

“Nobody is the villain of their own life story. You must have read hundreds of minds by now, and it’s true. Everybody thinks of themselves as an honest guy or gal just trying to get by, constantly under assault by circumstances and The System and hundreds and hundreds of assholes. They don’t just sort of believe this. They really believe it. You almost believe it yourself, when you’re deep into a reading. You can very clearly see the structure of evidence they’ve built up to support their narrative, and even though it looks silly to you, you can see why they will never escape it from the inside….

When you chose the yellow pill, you had high hopes of becoming a spy, or a gossip columnist, or just the world’s greatest saleswoman. The thought of doing any of those things sickens you now. There is too much anguish in the world already. You feel like any of those things would be a violation. You briefly try to become a therapist, but it turns out that actually knowing everything about your client’s mind is horrendously countertherapeutic. Freud can say whatever he wants against defense mechanisms, but without them, you’re defenseless. Your sessions are spent in incisive cutting into your clients’ deepest insecurities alternating with desperate reassurance that they are good people anyway.

You give up. You become a forest ranger. Not the type who helps people explore the forest. The other type. The type where you hang out in a small cabin in the middle of the mountains and never talk to anybody. The only living thing you encounter is the occasional bear. It always thinks that it is a good bear, a proper bear, that a bear-hating world has it out for them in particular. You do nothing to disabuse it of this notion.”

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“Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

“Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being ‘well-adjusted’, which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.” (David Foster Wallace)

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These two perspectives create a spectrum of where a social center exists. They are similar only in their pessimism of the human condition. In one hand you have narcissism: our default reality, fueled by grandiosity, a pervasive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.

In the other hand is ultimate transparency into the minds of others: mass insecurities, fears, failures, sufferings, trying to create hope at least as fast as it is taken from us; all in the isolation of a very narrow frame.

I think these two perspectives are useful in describing by negation a feeling that I consistently have. I don’t think I’m very narcissistic. I’m also not very capable of interpreting and handling emotional and social situations. So I’m stuck in a limbo, where the limbo is a wall. Intent on pushing outwards, but unable. Isolation with intent. That’s more depressing than just isolation. But maybe it breeds a valued motive. So I try imposing myself upon people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. Knowledge as a form of bullying. This doesn’t work. For God’s sake, do not try to bend the world to your will. Hope is lost in the silence of the world.

In response to the first perspective on the spectrum of isolation: one could make the self more porous, less atomic, and to bleed into others in a constructive way.

In response to the second perspective on the spectrum of narcissism: one could scale down the significance of oneself to become an equally weighted node in a larger social graph.

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