Monday, January 13, 2014

You Don't Know My Life

Freddie deBoer:

The sad thing is that Munroe has brought up, in this comic, a topic that is very important to me: the sad tendency of people to be so threatened by the possibility of judgment, they seek to deny even the implied judgment of alternate behaviors. The internet is a set of communicative technologies that have the capacity to reveal the full flower of human diversity to us, but which are very often used in the service of conformity. That’s why “You’re Doing It Wrong” is an internet trope, because the very thought of different people behaving in different ways came to be seen as threatening. In a cultural age dominated by insecurity, to see other people living lives that are different than our own is to invite the possibility that ours could be perceived as less worthy. So preemption becomes essential; the behavior of others becomes not different but wrong, even ridiculous. That’s how you end up with an online world filled with essays about how, say, your choice of coffee grinder reveals your character.

Anticipated reproach, you mean? The social web has certainly brought about a "revillaging" effect, familiar to those of us who lament, like Michael Corleone, that just when we thought we'd escaped the stultifying conformity of small-town life, they pulled us back in. But this is hardly a new phenomenon; it's as old as homo sapiens itself. We've always been insecure social animals with a strong drive to monitor and regulate the behavior of our fellows. That's our default state.

Ask any introvert — we've had to wearily navigate the intricacies of other people's insecurities all our lives. "Thanks, but I really just want to go home and read some more of my book" is never going to be accepted as a valid, non-rude excuse to opt out of an invitation. People with conventional, mainstream preferences and habits will always take it as a snub when someone declines to join them, no matter how politely or apologetically. You don't want to come over/go out together? What's wrong with me? Don't you like me? You think you're better than me or something?

It's been my experience that the sort of cosmopolitan self-assuredness, if you want to call it that, necessary to not feel implicitly judged when confronted with people who think and act differently is something people have to grow into, and many never do. Perhaps we can get all Hegelian about it and suggest that there's a sort of dialectical process to it: first, you're a typical herd animal; then, you join some sort of subculture out of rebellion, only to find that such groups tend to ultimately be even more conformist than the culture they're rebelling against; and then, finally, you just learn to enjoy what you like and quit worrying about what everyone else says and does.