Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hell is Other People

For a class called Other Minds that I took in college years ago we read the play No Exit, by Jean-Paul Sartre, in which the famous phrase "Hell is other people" is uttered by one of the characters. The context is that of three people who, it becomes apparent, are in Hell and are being punished for their sins by having to spend eternity speaking to each other in a room. This was a philosophy class, but I didn't particularly find No Exit philosophical. Nevertheless, it counts as good literature, and that phrase has stuck with me throughout my life.

As a person who enjoys being alone in my thoughts and observations, I am particularly sensitive to the intrusions of others. I recognize that I'm a social animal, but my social needs seem to be far less than those of most others, and now that I am free to spend my time as I wish I am more sensitized to intrusions when they occur. Since I don't socialize much and the people with whom I socialize tend to be low key, face-to-face interactions tend to be harmonious. Not having to deal with people in a commercial workplace has made life considerably less stressful for me. Many retirees feel at a loss as to how to spend their time and are bored with the idleness that retirement affords, while I feel freed of an unpleasant burden.

The notion that Hell is other people is an interesting one in itself. I see it as an unavoidable part of being human. Whether you put it in clinical terms, like eusociality, or conventional terms, like sociability, it comes to the same thing: our identities are interwoven with those of others. We derive most of our satisfactions from them and they from us at the cost of having the reverse equally true: they are a source of pain and suffering too.

Since I have the luxury of avoiding contact with most people whom I'd rather not encounter, lately that seems to occur for me mainly on the Internet. You have to choose Internet forums and blogs carefully, and even then unpleasantness is sure to surface occasionally. One kind of person who bothers me is one who dominates discussions and refuses to shut up when their agenda is clearly not your agenda. In effect they become bullies by forcing everyone on the forum or blog to adopt their preferences, whether they like it or not. This is especially problematic if, say, a dominant poster likes to keep everything light and airy while others would like to dig in deeper and have a more thoughtful discussion. More commonly I am annoyed by posters who are inarticulate, stupid, or both. This has led me to prefer websites that have few posters and which post topics that are accessible but more demanding than those found on most sites. A recurring problem that I've had has been disagreeing with someone, writing at length in an attempt to explain my point of view, and receiving only repetitive, uninformative, disapproving responses. I manage to avoid the most blatant trollish behavior, but those elements are often present.

When I think about this blog, although it sometimes seems pointless to continue it because it has so few readers, overall I'm glad that it isn't very active, because that could ruin it for me quickly.

5 comments:

  1. Now I'm scared to say anything, ha. No I'm kidding. I know you operate on a higher level than myself and most ppl that I know. I am always interested to read your posts and occasionally comment. Thanks Paul…Teresa

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    1. You and John are not a problem. I think John's tastes are somewhat similar to mine. I just meant that I wouldn't want to get into several arguments every day with people who are on a different wavelength, because it would be a waste of energy. It probably won't ever be necessary, but I could always block posters or take the blog private. I'm still enjoying writing whatever I feel like writing without some idiot moderator intruding.

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  2. One other thing I wondered if you read Justin E.H. Smith's blog as he seems to be in your league.

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    1. No I haven't. I'll take a look.

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    2. Smith's blog isn't bad, and I will look at it periodically, though it has a few drawbacks. On the positive side, he is knowledgeable and writes well, and the site is aesthetically pleasant. On the negative side, he is an academic, and it shows. For a philosophy professor he's OK, but most academics get on my nerves now; I've stopped corresponding with one I know and have discarded the entire correspondence because I don't want to think about it ever again. I prefer ideas that can be stated plainly without dredging up thousands of references and without meandering. In a way, many academics in the humanities are like hack writers who get paid by the word, and sometimes I feel like a fool for reading them. I'll give Smith a chance, though.

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