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Are you a misanthrope?
It's tempting to identify with misanthropy. After all, the agents of the travesty on earth - the human species devolving into self-obsessed, destructive, thoughtless whores - are humans. However, after contemplating this topic for some time I have to say I'm not a misanthrope.
First, I don't exist via "anti" sentiments, such as hatred or broad dislike. To the contrary, I enjoy being alive. I like people. I identify with a certain American comic who said, "I've never met a (human) I didn't like." This is true for me. Of all the people I've met, I've found something redeemable in all of them, even the ones I loathe with a passion. Ariel Sharon might be a scumbag, politically, but he's a funny and affable guy when you read his commentary. George Bush is likable, as, once you get past his nerdliness and emasculation, is John Kerry.
However, part of loving life is to love what makes it great. In my experience, that is a form of architectonic structure like that of nature. This structure encourages intelligence, and thus among other things, I love intelligence. Any astute observer will note that to love something is to hate its opposite, and clearly I detest stupidity. However, detesting a symptom is a far cry from hating its agents.
Stupidity is upsetting, but it is one aspect of every human being. Even the dumbest person on planet earth has something to recommend them. That can't get in the way of recognizing that they're not designed for creating valid opinions on certain topics. It also can't interfere with the knowledge that, since we're overpopulated and it makes sense to keep the best among us, I'd shoot a lot of these people in the forehead with hollowpoint bullets (I favor a world population of a half-billion, preferrably of high intelligence, character and ability). These aren't emotional decisions, as misanthropy would be, however; they're pragmatic ones.
On the same level, if someone breaks into my apartment or brandishes a weapon at me, I have no problem taking that life, then eating a big meal, drinking a beer and getting a good night's sleep. In that case, what I would have done is natural: killing a threatening predator. That doesn't mean I disliked the person, or had an emotional response; rather, I did what I needed to for my own survival and the bettering of the population and nature as a whole. Chances are, if me and the burglar sat down for a beer and chatted, we'd hit it off. But one must do what one must do.
Part of the reason I can do this is that I have infinite trust and faith in nature. For every life that's lost, or every tragedy that occurs, nature keeps going and produces more of the wonderful things that make life as divine as it is. If someone I know who is of high intelligence and character, distracted by the beauty of life, wanders across a freeway and is turned into pasta sauce by an eighteen wheeler, it is sad, but the sadness passes: much as a strand of trees still exists if you cut down one, the good aspects of the human species continue.
The only thing that threatens this is stupidity, specifically, devolutionary stupidity.
When people care more about emotions, and individuals, than the whole, the focus shifts from the strand of trees to the individual tree. At this point, the threat of a lone woodsman becomes remote, and the threat shifts toward the strand itself: will too many trees in an area of limited size choke each other with their roots, block out sunlight and drain the soil of nutrients? To care so much about any one tree that none are allowed to die is to doom the strand. That would be, in my view, stupidity.
Most of the people who provoke ire in me to the point that, were I emotionally out of control, I'd grab a .45 and put a lobotomizing bullet through their upper lobes, are merely in the grips of stupidity. This is often compounded by a natural disinclination (and lack of ability) for the type of thought that would help them see that the strand as a whole is an organism, and the trees within it, more like its cells.
Many people make a Big Deal of the left/right divide in politics, but for me this is a misnomer. The question isn't finding which "side" is "right," but in finding a workable solution. And honestly I find as much inspiration among the left as the right. I like people who are radical Greens, and who believe that society should act collectively. The basic assumptions of the left make sense to me, until we get into crazy Utopianism, at which point I then say something like "a Utopia requires dystopic elements, or it suffocates itself."
However, this doesn't change the fact that most people's opinions are ignorant and or crazy, and that if allowed, they'd implement those opinions and destroy humanity by focusing too much on the individual. The stupidity that that would entail most probably awaits us, and will result in humanity being transmuted into a species of weak individuals who are dependent upon technology. If we don't end the stupidity, that is our certain future, and it will involve a loss of most good things in life, including our natural environment and the highest capacities of humankind.
Yet it's not wise to swallow your anger, and nurture it; it's better to give it a clear object and not strike at symptoms, but causes themselves. This is why the Greek myth of the Hydra saturated their culture. The idea of a creature with many heads but one heart describes most complex problems. If a roaming animal attacks, it is a simple problem, but anything inside of society or the human mind is more complicated, and will have many visible manifestations (symptoms) and a single source (cause).
In the case of modern society, which is a deathmarch into being less capable beings dependent on technology much as unhealthy old people need laxatives, the Hydra is stupidity, and its many heads are the people who parrot or invent stupid things because they cannot do otherwise. Hating them, or declaring oneself a hater of all people, is emotionally gratifying but factually incorrect, and thus a part of stupidity itself.
As the ancient Greeks also knew (but Christians and Jews do not), sublimating your anger is a one-way ticket to becoming passive and helpless, striking out at something you don't believe you can change. In this mode of psychology, the individual attacks with cruelty and snideness, but is incapable of heroic action, and thus becomes what he detests. This is why in our modern world those who are misanthropes or outright bigots become swallowed by the same impulses that manifest themselves in what they detest.
The way I look at it, fighting stupidity without emotional reaction is the only way to achieve a lasting victory. Sure, you can murder the heads of the Hydra, and slash away at symptoms or even kill every stupid person on earth, and it will bring short-term relief. But until the cause is removed, the problem will keep regenerating itself, and ultimately those who oppose it will be defeated.
November 12, 2004