Thursday, September 24, 2015

Seclusion

The mice are seeking new ways to enter the house and winter is in the air. I always look forward to this time of year, when activity slows and people begin to retreat indoors as the weather becomes cold and snowy. The contrast is not as great for me as it used to be, because now that I'm retired I have little contact with people year-round. However, there is less social activity during the winter months, and I still get a sense of recovery from the presence of others.

The impression I have is that most people have a greater need to socialize than I do, and that they are less sensitive to the differences in perspectives and interests of those around them than I am. Many of them seem to revel in a kind of herd mentality in which they spend time together not really communicating anything important but simply occupying the same space and imagining that they somehow form a cohesive group. On close examination I usually find that the groups are far less cohesive than anyone thinks, though they may fulfill some basic animal instinct. Nevertheless I must be susceptible to the same phenomenon myself, because I like to participate in male bonding rituals occasionally, though less often than most.

I find that I have so little in common with most of the people I run into that there is hardly even much point in attempting to engage them beyond the most superficial levels. At this stage in my life I don't expect anything more than what I might get from a brief chat with the mailman. Our neighbors and most of the people with whom I come into contact seem less curious about me than I am about them, and the people whom we know socially, perhaps with the exception of one or two, seem to have no interest in us beyond a very narrowly-defined social context that includes no real engagement. In short, for an independent person like me, most socializing is a complete waste of time even when I have nothing better to do. These days I see the value of socializing partly as a way to double check whether or not my relative isolation is putting me seriously out of touch with reality.

Over the years I've come to break down the groups I've encountered into two main kinds. I've spent some time with well-educated, socially mobile people whom I classify broadly as social climbers and some time with less-educated, socially static people who are ordinary, unpretentious and just trying to get by. You might expect from my intellectual leanings that I would favor the social climbers over the ordinary people, but I usually find it easier to relate to ordinary people because they are less pretentious, and, being somewhat imperiled themselves, they are often more sensitive to the imperilment of others. It is true that less-educated people are less capable of engaging in sophisticated discussion, but the surprise is that social climbers aren't usually any better at discussion, because their focus is on social prestige, and beneath the veneer you may find someone who has never thought much about anything of interest. Sadly, a college professor or a multi-millionaire with advanced degrees may be just as intellectually bankrupt as an uneducated, unemployed assembly-line worker. All things being equal, I would prefer the assembly-line worker, who at least is likely to be honest.

Another area of interpersonal interaction that interests me is family relationships. Having come from a somewhat dysfunctional family that I avoided during most of my adult life, my attitude has changed in recent years with the death of my mother and the continuing evolution of the family. Here I am finding that some of the herd mentality that I experience elsewhere may have firmer footing. Family members do seem to genuinely enjoy some level of contact with each other, and I notice that this has a basis in the palpable fact that we have similarities based on kinship. Although on the whole we are still a somewhat discordant group, I can see distinct genetic traits in sisters, children and a nephew that are more substantive than any socialization process. Perhaps the frenetic activity of social climbers is a misguided attempt to simulate a herd feeling that can only be found among relatives. Some kinds of social angst may be a product of human migration and overpopulation, which have forced us to live in groups that are now more genetically and culturally mixed than in the past.

You have seen from my writing what I find interesting and spend time thinking about. In routine social exchanges these subjects rarely, if ever, come up. Thus it is more satisfying to me to formulate my ideas here in seclusion, and perhaps the blog is better than nothing if one of my readers happens to benefit from it.

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