I first heard mention of Radical Losers when Gabby Giffords was shot. I no longer remember where I heard it, and I have this feeling that there was an article/book by that title, but it’s late on Sunday and I’m too lazy to look for it.
Anyway, the original article was ranting about how when these shootings happen everyone looks for the least likely person (and for this, as a mystery writer, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa) but in fact, nine times out of ten, the culprit is a “radical loser” – someone so far out of touch with reality they couldn’t find it with a seeing eye dog and a cane, someone who has a Satanist temple with a real human skull in their backyard, someone who has fallen so far into a dream that “What’s the frequency Kenneth” has a meaning to them, someone who – in fact – would shock normal people and make them run away in terror.
They’re also usually people that have failed at everything, people who have trouble coping with the every day reality of being human and making human compromises.
I think the radical in the article referred to something else – to radicalization or “extreme” views. It is of course very easy for people to get “radicalized” when they don’t fit in anywhere. This accounts for why, if you polled the science fiction community Lenin might be too right wing. (There is another effect there, the tendency of outcasts to form their own dogmatic communities that enforce weirdness, and also the pathetic attempt to out-cool the main stream, since left is perceived as cool they try to be “even more left.”)
But let’s leave that aside for a moment.
Every time I hear of one of these incidents, I cringe, and I think “One of ours, who went too far.” “One of ours, who stepped out in the dark and lost his way.”
Here’s the thing with us – for lack of a better word – Odds: we don’t fit in even if we try to.
I don’t even quite know how to define us. It’s not even a matter of intelligence. Yes a lot of “odds” are intelligent or brilliant, but it’s also often in a rather specialized, narrow front, almost bordering on the idiot savant (myself, for instance, I write) but they could pose for the “absent minded genius” in most other fields.
I’m fairly functional, but I have friends who should get help to cross the street and who, really, really really (it’s on my list if I ever win the lottery) need a housekeeper. As is, I could truly use a secretary/assistant. (Stupid lottery, keeps drawing the wrong numbers.)
A lot of us, but not all – younger son and I don’t – have trouble reading people, and could if you squinted be considered to be on the autistic spectrum. A lot of us are on the autistic spectrum. And a lot of us have learned to cope with it so that no one would tell.
But it’s not true. People can tell. We can for instance. Let’s go with Science Fiction, which is a good bet as a repository of “odds”. I no longer remember when or where, but it was one of my first World Fantasy cons – we left out of a fairly large airport, and most of the flights headed any distance left a few hours after the con ended. So we trickled in by ones, by twos, by masses, and mingled with large groups of “normal”. There were, of course, some tells that didn’t need thinking about. A lot of us were wearing fannish t-shirts (me. I never wear t-shirts for cons, except at liberty con or for the travel. I try to be professional. [Liberty is exempt because Liberty is family.]) or carrying sf/f books. But there was the usual complement of editors who probably think they’re normal and certainly try to appear it in skirt suits and such.
We were in a relatively central area and this was pre-kindle. I didn’t have anything to do but people-watch.
After a while I realized I could tell “our people” – and I would keep an eye on them till a “tell” emerged, like pulling out the latest sf/f novel, or talking to one of the con attendees and hailing him as an old acquaintance.
I was always right. It wasn’t a 90% thing, which would already be impressive. Even for the well-dressed and the aloof, I was always right.
Now if you asked me why I could not tell you. I could tell you we hold ourselves differently, we walk differently and the way we pause to look at things is different too, but I couldn’t describe it.
I might be taking Dave Freer’s name in vain, but I have a vague memory that in one of our late night conversations years ago (we stopped them as we got old 😛 I actually think they were early morning conversations for him, they were very late night for me) we discussed social species and particularly the other great apes species. If I’m remembering Dave right and not confusing him with something I read somewhere, he said that in all species that like ours are social, with a bit of learning and mimicry thrown in, most of the apes (eh) attune themselves to the group and “are like the group.” There are ways of being fully integrated in the group, ways of following the leader, and most apes fall effortlessly into it.
But there is also a percentage – a tiny percentage to be sure – who are outliers. Some radically out of step and out of norm. Some subversively so.
I don’t think any of it is as bad as the pink monkey where its mates tore it limb from limb. I think there is some aggression always towards outliers but outlier behavior is tolerated in some measure. (The measure will vary with stress put on the group.)
I think that’s what we odds are. We’re that minuscule percentage of outliers. Yes, there are probably more of us than the usual ape – or hominid – band. More on that later.
We can tell each other without being sure how, and other people sure can tell we’re odds. Children are always better at discovering this, and most of us were probably more unguarded as children too.
Most of us had no idea we were odd or we stuck out until we hit elementary. I know I didn’t. It was a combination, I think, of the family itself being on the odd spectrum and of my assuming my family members were a little weird. So, no one out there would find anything strange about me, right?
Wrong. In my case, I seem to elicit reactions of the love/hate type. People either love me or they hate me, with nothing in between. In elementary this often took the form of trying to bully me. I have no idea what would have happened if I were bully-able. I wasn’t. So the result is that often hate turned to love, and I became a leader of sorts. (As I said, unable to play sports – my coordination took a while to kick in, a result, probably of being very premature at birth – or the stupid elastic jumping game, I invented games for the school to play at recess. In retrospect, I “invented” LARP games: Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, WWII spies [ don’t even ask. That one I wrote characters for.]) By fourth grade, everyone in that school played my games, and the lower classes missed us horribly when we moved on.
But in middle school, in a larger area and with no recess long enough to allow me to influence others, I just became a loner. I had this game of walking around and around the playground on this little ledge. Later, I’d just stay in the classroom and read or write stories.
I have talked with enough of my friends – and my husband – to find most of us had that reaction. It was strange to find ourselves the butt of antagonism, to find that the rest of people weren’t in fact like us.
Those little shocks sometimes hit even today. (“What do you mean you haven’t read a book since high school? How is that even possible?”)
By high school I’d learned to masquerade well enough. I wasn’t popular, exactly, but I had tons of acquaintances and a few really close friends. And by college I’d learned to go totally submarine, and I was one of the glitzy and glamorous.
But I never forgot. Somewhere, deep inside me, there’s still that little girl who walked round and round the playground, feeling excluded from everything and everyone else.
I don’t say this to elicit pity. And I don’t think there’s much you can do about it, certainly not officially.
I say this because that little girl deep inside me still influences the things I do and the things I choose. We all know about the nature and nurture thing, right?
Someone here – I think he’s the new incarnation of someone whose IP changes a lot – was trying to bait me (eh – I’d rise to the bait quicker if I weren’t feeling so out of it due to the flu) — by asking me to write about how women shouldn’t work. I think he miss typed. I think he meant why women shouldn’t vote, because immediately after he went on this tirade on how all women are collectivists…
He’s wrong of course. Women right now are collectivists, because they’re told that’s what they should be. And most humans are really good at following those cues, except for the few radical outliers. Women have had it dinged into their heads that they’re a discriminated against class. Their entire learning of history from day one has been on how women were treated badly throughout history. And of course, they’re told men did this and would do it again given a choice (and not that men and women are both captive of biology and before the pill neither had a choice.) So most women believe that they need the state to protect them from the evil men. It’s what they were taught.
The little lonely girl inside never believed this – partly because if they tell you, it’s probably bs. These rules, these ideas are for normals. They miss us like so many other things do.
Of course, the way to correct that is not to take women’s vote away, but to stop teaching women (and men too, while we’re at it) Bog STUPID Marxist Crap.
Because the state can’t protect women and will in fact happily collaborate in their enslavement – see, most Muslim states.
Odds should have the advantage there. As I said, most of us realize that most of what we’re fed is pablum. But not all of us. There is the other force that acts on Odds – the desperate need to fit in, to be “cool.”
This leads into the extreme left odds. At some internal, aching level, they want the state to make everyone love them.
Perhaps I was blessed with teachers who tended to pile on with the other kids rather than intervene. Blessed? Yes, because it’s always what a powerful state will do.
The business of the state is to enforce order. Order and power over the masses are in the best interests of any state. The more powerful the state, the less it will have a warm place for odds. You might think, if you’re a radical, oh, Stalinist, that since every one of them you know is an odd, then if you were in power, Odds would be in power.
It’s never like that. Even those odds who achieve power tend to enforce the “normal”. The normal might be twisty and ridiculous, but it’s still herd behavior.
Take for instance the French revolution. I was recently reading the biographies of the principals and all of them, from Robespierre to Danton, were clearly radical odds. So once they took hold, the revolution came up with some spectacularly ODD ideas (changing month names, for instance.) But in the end, at the heart of it, what they were trying to enforce was conformity.
Do I know what to do about it? Oh, hell no. I know how I dealt with my odd children, fortifying them before they entered school, explaining the low-value of social conformity and how it’s possible to fake it better when you’re old, and that being an outcast in elementary doesn’t blight anyone’s life (unless you let it.) It seems to have worked.
And it’s all we have. That and explaining that the “cool cult of the week” if it achieved power would turn on them as much as the current status quo, if not more. And explaining that bringing society down would be worse, because societies under stress are less tolerant of us outliers.
And then you have to work the fine line between explaining they’re different and getting them to understand other people are still human, just differently wired – if you don’t want to create misanthropes.
This is all I’ve come up with and all I’ve managed. It might have been/be easier to be an odd in a time with no strict normality-enforcing schools – and as such we can hope to be headed there.
Because here’s the thing – what the internet has already done is allow more of us odds to find each other. To the extent this is a genetic component – and I think it is. It tends to run in families, like other genetically-undefinable characteristics – it means more of us outliers will marry each other and produce uber-outliers. To the extent it is an environmental component, it allows us to meet – in the science fiction community, among others – and reduce the tight control on ourselves, and be odder.
So there will be more of us in the future. We’re not in the old society where an odd might find MAYBE another one in the entirety of his life and probably not of an age to marry/be friends.
And odds can get very odd. They can become “radical losers” – rejected by school and family and their community, if they never stumble onto a reasonable enough and accepting enough community – they can, singly or in groups come up with totally twisty ideas of reality and fall off the edge, becoming mass murderers or worse (yes, Karl Marx was probably a radical loser.)
Since this community tends to be odd enough all I can say is ‘teach your children well’ and hope for a less conformist upbringing for your grandchildren – which of course means making sure we don’t lose the prosperity and security we enjoy. Societies under stress are always more conformists.
The odds are quite literally the salt of the earth – not in the sense it’s used normally, but in the sense of a small minority that makes the whole thing work. We’re the innovators, the ones who strike out in different directions. We’re also the ones who point and say the emperor is naked. There is a reason that the ape bands tolerate some odds. We are the brakes, the valve, the safety mechanism.
Will there being more of us cause a problem? Maybe. I think not. I think as a whole we’ll leaven society towards more individualistic, but we’ll still be a social species, and it’s impossible for the majority not to want to fit in.
But – absent guidance and comfort – that means we’ll also have more of those that fall off the ledge and become killers or bizarre philosophers. And that we don’t need.
Work to keep us prosperous, safe and tolerant. And teach your odd children well.