Saturday, June 9, 2012

Lonely Vs. Alone - Which Are You?

Finally over another dry spell of blogging - at least for now.  For some reason, these things just come and go for me. It reminds me of a painting I saw at a small but good art museum in Louisiana several years ago - a painting of an art studio with all the artist's paraphernalia and such. In that painting is a desk with a flipover notebook on top, flipped open to a page on which the artist scribbled "The Magic Knows What It Wants To Do".  I took from that "the magic" flows in and out like a tide, or perhaps over long periods ice age glacial periods  That's exactly how I am about blogging, apparently.

Anyway, on to the topic in the title, but with some background first.

The Set-Up

Almost everyone has a need on some level for social connections, for they satisfy some in-born need to communicate and even connect to other people somehow.  If you ask me, it probably evolved due two needs (a) resource acquisition and (b) protection from predators.  In both cases, more people means more success at both endeavors.  Ten people in a group means ten times more eyes, feet, hands, and (perhaps most important) brains and other information to gather new food and other resources.  It also allowed faster spread of new ideas that helped widen the gap between the group's present position and starvation. A similar story for defense against predators and human competitors. In both cases, the grand new inventions of the basket and the bola could spread more rapidly among large groups than small ones (understand I'm not saying how this did happen, but I'd argue it over a light lunch or beer - or on a blog).

Yet, there are some people who have little to no real social connections with others,whether obvious or not. The most extreme instance of such people are those with a condition psychiatrists call Schizoid Personality Disorder. Despite the name simliarity, it has nothing to do with schizophrenia.  The chief difference between these two is that schizophrenics often have drastically distorted perceptions of reality, or likewise equally drastic delusions, illusions and/or paranoia.  By contrast, the schizoid's fundamental perceptions of reality are quite sound.  They may even lack obvious behavioral quirks or oddities, and what strangeness they may have is no more drastic than minor to moderate behavioral or affective quirks (i.e. basically a harmless eccentric and little more, if anything else at all).   The only significant difference between a schizoid  and a "normal" person is that they prefer to be alone, or at least see no real point in socializing with others too frequently; even if their capacity for day-to-day interpersonal functioning is clearly within the "normal" or "acceptable" range.

Lonely vs Alone

There's a difference between being lonely and being alone. Lonely means to feel on the outside looking in, so to speak, and wanting to be on the inside. Alone is simply that - by yourself and nothing more. I'm alone, but not lonely. The reason is that I found that exploring ideas and speculating about the nature of things offers a lot of emotional fulfillment without any of the downsides of being in a social group (gossiping, peer pressure to be all this and all that, social group politics and drama, etc.). 

Some may argue that I'm missing the up-side of socializing - good times, great fun, having a sense of belonging, being part of an "acceptable" group, getting out on the town, etc.  However, this assumes my own definitions of these labels match those of mainstream society (i.e. at least 90% of all people).  There's another problem with urging me to look at the up-side of socializing: While it does not - in a strict logical sense - have to follow from their claims that they think I ought to remake my definitions so as to conform to mainstream society's, in the real world of day-to-day human relations this is usually the case.

On the first count, my definitions of good times, great fun, having a sense of belonging, being part of an "acceptable" group, getting out on the town, etc have little to no overlap with mainstream society's. Certainly any overlap between my and the mainstream are so little they barely qualify as a commonality, if at all. The second count - that my definitions ought to match the mainstream's - is presumptuous at best and outright contempt for my authentic personality at worst.  In fact, this is simply another form of mere peer pressure - assuming that anybody non-mainstream in even a moderate way has something wrong with them.

They may truly believe they are trying to help admitted introverts like me, but what they can't see is that mainstream society's definition's of "normal" and saying you ought to be "normal" (by no means limited to in socializing habits) are just some kind of cultural bureaucracy that, if adhered to, stifle individuality, creativity, and the human spirit just as surely as real-world government bureaucracies can easily stifle initiative, decisiveness, innovation and entrepreneurship.  The analogy holds especially well with people who are frankly bored by the mainstream-most 90% of the world.

So in a real sense, not being a highly social person (although I can be quite sociable among mainstream social groups when I feel like it) is actually a blessing: it gives me a great freedom to do my own thing without this "be like the in-crowd and keep up with the Joneses or be dissed" attitude that deeply pervades so much of society. Also, being alone means I have a lot of freedom to do whatever I want. Likewise, it gives me more time to explore whatever ideas my imagination concocts and my own personal potential without worrying about what others think. Not only do I actually learn more about the world, I'm also more freethinking as a result. The very quality of my thought improves with being alone to think for myself.

All this is orders of magnitude easier today thanks to the internet. Even without the internet, it's always good to read a good book or magazine though.

Don't get the wrong idea.  There are plenty of "mainstream" people I do like, and plenty more that I don't dislike. It's just that on the deepest ultimate level I don't feel any deep connection with most of them, and I'm not upset about it. I just live my own life as I want to and whatever happens as a consequence of my being alone - well, it happens.


Anonymous said...

I feel that the so called "social need" is exaggerated in mainstream perception. There's something painful about the socializing stuff. It's more of an addiction to stimulation/delusion/escapist outlet than a real need.

filrabat said...

I certainly agree it is as what you described for many people. Even so, different people will have different needs.

It seems a lot of this emphasis on socializing is due to our image-conscious society, no doubt promoted by the media. The visual media especially necessarily promotes image above little, if anything, else. Watching thousands of hours of that stuff by your 18th birthday can't help but subtly influence your definition of "normal" anything.

I'm not saying it's all due to our media environment, but I do believe a large part of it is. Even so, there are a few of us who do see through it (whether thinking it out for themselves or getting nasty jars to their self-image that forces them to fundamentally reassess what happiness is).

Stacy said...

The nice thing about the internet is it allows us to communicate with others who have similar views, even if our views are very much out of the mainstream. I don't know any other antinatalists who live in the area I live in, but I can communicate with others on a regular basis because of the internet.

filrabat said...

Certainly true, Stacy. It's true for other kinds of non-mainstream thought too. Ditto for hobbies and interests.

The Internet definitely helps speed social change - namely by democratizing creation of and access to information (admittedly not always the best thing - lots of junk out there. But that's just the "price of the product", so to speak).

In the Renaissance and Early Modern Period, the agents of social and cultural change were books. In the 19th and early 20th century, the mass printing press. In the early to late 20th century, radio and television. From the tail end of the 20th century to today - The Internet.