I am still reading Paul Johnson – well, I’m not reading much, as any form of mental effort seems to result in lengthy naps. I do think I’m over whatever the heck this was, but two and a half weeks of being ill, culminating in a stomach disturbance does leave you somewhat weakened. So I’m reading this book in installments, mostly when I am eating or doing something else that won’t take a long time. (I like books of essays or very short stories for this, because it allows me to read, then go back to what I was doing without being captured by a novel.) I hate eating alone, so I read through it.
Anyway, one thing I’ve got as I read about all these founders of the currently predominating intellectual fashion, is that most of them hated people. They “loved” broad categories of humans: the workers, the downtrodden, women, students, intellectuals. They loved these classes in the abstract, often not knowing a single member of them, or if they do behaving horribly to the individual they knew. In fact, that’s pretty much a given. These men of intellect and supposed heart, usually left a wide swath of destruction in their personal lives – horribly mistreated parents, abandoned and mistreated women, emotionally crippled children, abused mistresses and unacknowledged illegitimate children.
I’d like to say this is because these thinkers and artists made a philosophy that dehumanizes people central to their life. I’m not sure that’s the right way about though.
Reading about these people also brings a squirming sense of self-identification. Oh, not fully – though for a mental packrat like me, it’s impossible not to sympathize with Marx’s issues with not fully integrating data – because their defects of character aren’t mine (though I have defects aplenty.) In fact, in some ways they are almost the opposite. But I can tell how they got there and by what pathway. So could almost every reader of this blog.
To be absolutely blunt, most of these people were Odds, a name we came up with in the blog for those people who never quite fit in society, who are “goats” in the human flock of sheep.
These people are often smart, or at least test smart in IQ tests, which is one form of “smartness,” and are often identified as “autistic” of some form (About a year ago I had to bite my fingers hard not to tell an SF editor who was lamenting his son’s diagnosis as Aspergers, that I very much doubted the kid was any such thing, because the symptoms he listed were exactly the same as most people in SF/F and in fact a lot of Geeks: Other kids at private school rejected him on sight and just didn’t like him; he was awkward for his age and could not ride a bike or jump rope; his fine motor control lagged his other development. That pretty much fits everyone in my family as kids, with minor exceptions. And NO ONE on my dad’s side has ever, that we know, been able to ride a bike or jump rope [something that bewilders my mother.] Notwithstanding which some of us are socially gifted and almost the opposite of aspergers in affect.) That diagnosis, as mentioned here, has got so broad as to be meaningless and seems to be in practicality “This one thing is not like the others.”
But they might not be smart across the board, and it seems to be more of a personality thing, or perhaps – who knows – a subtle body-clues thing.
Whatever causes it, the Odds don’t seem to fit in front the earliest age, and it seems to have nothing to do with personality as such. You might have the brightest, happiest, most engaging toddler in the world, but he enters pre-school and you find the other kids overwhelmingly rejecting him, so he stands alone in the playground, while other kids play.
I am an odd Odd, which figures. Until and unless I found myself in a position when other considerations made it impossible for me to have friends (a period of about two years when I learned what most other Odds experience their entire lives) or to be popular, I was always fairly popular. Even when I couldn’t – motor control being a mess, though that might trace back to being premature – join in the agility games that were most of what girls in my elementary school played, I simply convinced them what they REALLY wanted to play was basically RPG with acting out of whatever book I’d read recently. We played Robin Hood, and Three Musketeers, and War of The Roses, and World War II spies, and of course cowboys and Indians. (This led our teacher to think we were the oddest bunch of girls ever to cross the school. She apparently never figured out it was just one ODD subversive girl.) Interestingly it never occurred to me to play the less physical stuff I did read, like Enid Blyton’s boarding school stories. Mostly, I think, because I liked playing parts that got to use a sword or shoot.
After my time in Coventry, that form of popularity returned. Through high school I was a noisy (if not influential) member of my form (my influence was mostly bad, like convincing the others it was a really good idea to sabotage the electrical system. Don’t ask.) One form of popularity at least I enjoyed, which was that everyone wanted to read the novels I wrote during the boring classes.
And in college I was a member of several intersecting and often mutually inimical groups.
But here’s a thing – even though I seem to handle the social stuff better than most odds, and even though people don’t tend to reject me on sight (It’s gone now, and I was never aware of it when I had it, but I wonder how much that ability to overcome most Odds social ostracism thing was driven by physical attractiveness. Humans react oddly to beauty) in one respect I am still an odd – that is, while groups claimed me, while many people might think we were very close, I always had a sense of inner isolation – of not quite belonging.
If this had only shown up after the two years of Coventry, I’d say that it was driven by it, but I don’t think so. My very first grades said something like “doesn’t play well with others” – which in my teacher’s parlance meant exactly that. I would either be the leader of the group, or I really didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t so much an objection to playing along, as the fact that what most other kids wanted to do was incomprehensible to me and what they found fun was either boring or terrifying (and in an amazing amount of circumstances both).
And in college, while a ton of groups claimed me – the theater group, the would-be writers, the poets, the fashionable girls, the linguists, the philosophers, and most oddly of all since even back then I made little secret of my hatred for the ideology, the communists – I never felt I belonged to any of them. I could hang out, or have a couple of them walk with me between classes. I could care for them, individually – but I never felt as though I were a part of the group. Even in the middle of, say, a Saint Lucia party, with the Swedish group, even when I’d had WAY too much to drink, I was still remote, inside, observing. I might be joking and quipping and even leading on the dreadful puns and all, but inside, I was apart, not quite a part of this.
In this, I think I’m a typical odd, though I don’t know how I got that way. I think most Odds get that way from physically standing apart and observing, so that even if they overcome it in later life, they never really feel they joined in. But perhaps not. Perhaps it’s something inherent in us.
And most of these philosophers, economists, artists were Odds of the sort that, for some reason, were rejected by others at an early age, and were held away from a group.
It’s easy in those circumstances – I remember my two years of hell – to start thinking of people in the abstract. You’re not engaged with individuals, one on one, so your mind starts thinking of humans as categories. (Of course dividing reality into categories is part of the human mind and its functioning.)
First of all you identify “like me” and “not like me.” I did this as early as elementary school and used my relative influence and my not inconsiderable size (I was larger than most boys/men my generation in Portugal) to either psychologically or physically protect the other Odds. (This earned me an… well… odd group of friends which persisted through a great deal of my life and might still persist except for my leaving the country behind.) But then, if you’re Odd and you know it, and you never quite fit in, you start looking for reasons why and assigning blame.
Somewhere in my heart there’s a cold spot for beautiful and fashionable blond women. Fortunately it doesn’t apply to blond women in the individual, even if they’re very pretty and very fashionable, but only to a general category. This means they might end up dying in my stories a lot, or being right b*tches in my stories, but it doesn’t affect how I view those I meet.
Marx and the like went for broader categories and out of the classroom/city/village. “The rich”, “the oppressor class”, “Greedy people” became the scapegoats for the odd.
And because they were all typical “odds” and didn’t make friends easily, they were able to see these classes of people in the pure abstract, and the classes they wanted to defend in the pure abstract too.
When this is your formative years – when you’re left so much alone that in Pratchett’s brilliant phrase, you fall too much under your own influence – you end up “knowing” several things that just ain’t so. One of them is that humans are interchangeable within the group they belong to. “Oppressed workers” are oppressed workers, not Bob down the street. The other is that there is an easy explanation for “why things are so messed up.” And, probably the most destructive idea of all, is that humans are infinitely perfectable.
The only person able to think humans are that moldable at will is someone who has never really interacted much with humans in the individual. You can look at categories of humans, throughout history and say things like “Workers have become less violent.” And this leads you believe you can lead that change.
You can’t, of course. What history masks and can’t show is how many times there was no fundamental change in a group or class, just a change in the ability to express it. And how that change was unintended and the result of new technologies selecting a whole different group of people into that class or group. Instead, it looks like a whole group of people changed beyond all recognition.
Meanwhile, if you have a lot of friends – or even better, friends, acquaintances and familiar strangers – whom you know close up and personal, one on one, you know how hard it is to change people even in minor things. (In fact, if you’ve ever tried to change yourself, even if you succeeded, you know how near-impossible it is.)
And it would never occur to you to construct an entire system that depends on changing people wholesale into more perfect beings which will then be able to live in this system.
It also would never occur to you that – to go Trekkie – “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one” because you’d go “What many? Which one?” having known several crowds of useless shifters and knowing they have no right to what one single determined individual created or fought for.
But these … midwives of the twentieth century were Odds who never had much contact with individuals as equals or one on one, and therefore thought of people as broad categories, and found humans – who didn’t act like the humans in their heads – infuriating and sometimes despicable. And who couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just change individual humans out of all inconvenient traits.
In thinking about people this way, they devolved to thinking about people as objects, which might be the worst sin of all.
We live in an era when the creations of a few – mostly odds – have influenced the entire society with the idea of “how stories go.” I wonder how many readers/watchers/listeners realize how little personal experience of individuals most of the creators have, and how much they rely on the theories of other Odds long dead.
This was, of course, at the back of the idea of my future history, where thy create “perfect rulers” who, in fact, aren’t because they aren’t a thing like those they’d govern and in a lot of ways they’re wounded just by being themselves.
All this to say that any collectivist thought that treats people as a lumpen group and which proposes to apply that to governance (which note my theory of how we Odds influence the world doesn’t) must be examined very carefully.
People who love the group but hate the individual might not in fact be able to perceive individuals as such or take human nature as it is.