lateblt (lateblt) wrote,

People aren't going to be different in the way you want them to be

My first public presence on the Internet was the website which I first put online with GeoCities in the late 1990s; I believe the exact year was 1998. As many people do when they first expose themselves and their creations to public scrutiny, I invited feedback, noting that I couldn't think of any feedback which I wouldn't welcome. This is something that people often say when they get started with putting their presence out into the larger world, as a way of saying that they are not adverse to negative remarks; usually what "I welcome any and all feedback" means is that people do not just want to hear positive praise along the lines of "This is great!", but are also open to receiving criticism.

I did not receive much feedback on my website, but over the years, occasional e-mails slowly trickled in from random visitors who had been motivated, for one reason or another, to send me an e-mail. What I came to discover, however, was that if you invite feedback on something you've written or otherwise created, that feedback usually doesn't take the form you expect it to take.

The problem with feedback is not criticism. Criticism can be constructive, of course, but even unconstructive criticism is sometimes entertaining if not especially informative. Back in the days when it was still common for people to have personal websites where they would post information about random topics of interest to them, it was common for people to collect and even publicly share negative feedback they'd received, because e-mails full of profanity or insults are often more entertaining than they are troubling. It's amusing to think that someone became so upset by your choice of a background color that they took the time to personally insult you for it. The Internet was a different time back then; offensive and abusive behavior was more widespread but less targeted, meaning people were generally fairly indifferent to it and often even rather amused by it, because there was a sense that it wasn't so much a personal attack as just how some people behave on the Internet. Tirades full of insults were common, but they weren't usually seen as something to take personally or seriously. (I say "usually"; obviously, there were exceptions.)

What I ended up getting for feedback on my website, however, tended to be not so much positive or negative commentary on the site itself, but more like entirely irrelevant or even unrelated content which people had inexplicably felt the need to send me for one reason or another. Of course, a lot of the communication I received was spam, and even worse than the automated spam which was sent by "mailer robots" was the directed advertising which took the form of people who seemed like very nice and genuine people who took an interest in the things I took an interest in, only to later turn out to be advertisers who were just trying to get me to buy their product, or advertise their product on my site. ("I think your readers would be really interested in this amazing product I found recently" and the usual similar phrases which such people use to abuse people's willingness to give their time and attention to strangers.)

Besides the advertising, though, I got a lot of comments which had very little to do with what I'd actually put on my website. People would read some particular thing I had written and send me a long, rambling message because they were so bored and lonely that they had no one else to talk to and felt like I was someone who wanted to listen to them. So I'd get long e-mails which contained nothing that I could really meaningfully reply to, and often not even anything which I could make any real sense out of, but that didn't matter to the people who sent the messages; they were so socially outcast that they would spew their stream-of-consciousness writings to anyone who would listen to them, and even to anyone who wouldn't. I often felt bad for these people because they had taken the time to write me something lengthy, but it was also apparent that these people were somewhat unbalanced if not outright mentally ill, and it became clear to me that if I tried to reply to them, the "communication" (if one can call it that) would just go on forever.

And even when I got messages which related to what I'd written on my website, it still wasn't really anything which I could meaningfully reply to. People might say "Hey, I saw that you liked this book which I read when I was a kid. I liked that book and remember reading it with my parents" or some similar personal anecdote which would invariably leave me with not much to say other than "Thanks for sharing your story" or something similar. I realize that these messages were heartfelt and meaningful, because people had been touched in one way or another by something that I'd written and that was why they had taken the time to write to me, but there wasn't much I could say to them other than a brief reply of acknowledgement and appreciation.

I won't deny that I got some messages which were very kind and thoughtful, and which contained useful or interesting ideas or suggestions for the website, but I would not characterize such messages as being in the majority. I eventually came to understand that I already had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do and say with the site, and so there wasn't really anything which people could tell me about it which would be both new and interesting to me: I knew what I wanted to hear, and the fact that not everyone told me what I wanted to hear was simply my own fault for expecting that people would, when clearly, they wouldn't; there was no point in people telling me what I already knew or had already said. If people would have anything new to say to me, it would necessarily have to be something unexpected.

What I learned from this experience is that people are unpredictable and confusing, and they are not the way we wish they would be, or even the way we think they are. When people imagine humanity as a whole, they tend to have idealistic notions; people seem to instinctively imagine that other people are like themselves. I think this stems from human beings' natural tendency to be friends with--and thus keep company with--people who are similar to themselves ("birds of a feather flock together"), which creates an echo-chamber effect in which people assume that because most of the people whom they see and talk to on a regular basis are similar to themselves, therefore most people in the world are similar to themselves. This is, of course, not true: Most people are pretty different from most other people, and not just in superficial ways, but in deep-seated, far-ranging ways.

I mention all of this because these ideas can, of course, be expanded to apply generally. When people who consider themselves "democrats", "liberals", or many other similar words think about humanity, they think about a big happy group of human beings who have values similar to their own, people who just want to experience the wonderful beauty of life, laugh with their dear friends and family, and give a little something back to the world to make it a better place. There may indeed be a lot of people in the world who want to do these things, but what they consider beautiful in life and what they consider "making the world a better place" may differ vastly from what you think of when you consider these ideas.

This can be seen, for example, among groups of people who talk about how they value "diversity" among people. When these people talk about how important diversity is to them, the irony is that what they really value is people who are like them and have the same values which they have. Their idea of "diversity" is someone with a different skin color or other superficially different physical appearance; they like that, but what they don't like is people with different opinions. This is why, time and time again, people will talk about "democracy" and "freedom of speech" and say a lot of things about how important it is that everyone be free and able to express their opinions, but then become dismayed when they hear opinions which they do not welcome: "We want the world to be open so that everyone can express themselves and their values in whatever form they want. Wait a minute... Now people are saying things which we disagree with! How could this happen? We didn't want this. We just wanted to hang out with people who agree with us. We didn't want to encourage anyone to say something we don't like!"

When people talk about "diversity", what they consistently fail to recognize is that diversity doesn't just mean people who look different, but people who have different values, different lifestyles, different goals, and different hopes for the future, including values and goals which may differ from--or even directly oppose--yours. This is a natural consequence of inviting "diversity" from humanity. If you value differences between people and want to encourage people to be different from each other, here's one thing which you need to clearly understand: People aren't going to be different in the way you want them to be. You can't control the ways in which people are different. If people are allowed to be different and make their own life decision, then they're going to be different in ways which you don't like.

That's why when people talk about democracy, freedom of opinion, and freedom of choice, these idealistic-sounding ideas inevitably come tied with self-contradictory plans about eliminating people who don't agree with them. The irony of democracy is that it is its own form of fascism: Anyone who doesn't agree with the ideals of democracy is not invited to take part in the democratic process, but rather shunned and excluded from it. The only people whom so-called "democrats" want to hear from is other people who embrace the same mentality. It's the same old story which we've seen countless times of a subculture which identities itself as being "different from other people" by means of all of its members being the same as each other.

On a recent blog post of mine, a discussion arose in the comments because someone asked me whether I would want all people to be the same. This is a common question which arises in these kinds of discussions, and it surprises me that even well-educated, deep-thinking people seem naive enough to adopt the fairy-tale line that "A world in which all people are the same would be boring and not worth living in". I think this thinking comes from the application of an unreasonable and unrealistic extreme: People seem to automatically think of some sort of theoretical science-fiction scenario in which human beings are normalized like mass-produced machines, where each person looks, sounds, thinks, and acts exactly like every single other person in the world. That's not the ideal that I mean when I say that I'd like to live in a world where all people are similar. There are differences between people which can be endured and tolerated, and then there are differences between people which cannot be.

One of the problems with public discourse about "diversity" is that people never bother to define what kind of diversity they're advocating for, which is a very self-defeating act since it's clear that there are certain types of diversity which most people could reasonably want to eliminate. For example, do you want to live in a world in which there are people dying of cancer? If the answer is "no", then you are removing one type of diversity from the world. Having a particular illness is one way in which people can be different from each other, so if you want to eliminate illness, then you want to eliminate one type of diversity. That's why, when people who value "diversity" are talking about curing widespread diseases like cancer, AIDS, or this year's history-making coronavirus, it's worth posing the question: Wait, you want to cure people who have those diseases? All of them? Because that's tantamount to a form of genocide: A great deal of culture and artistic works--books, movies, songs, paintings, and so on--have arisen out of stories (both real and fictional) of people being terminally ill. If you want to cure these terminal illnesses for all people in the world, forever, then you're removing an entire genre of creativity and expression, and also removing one facet that makes different human beings different from each other. Now, I can understand doing this; I myself would not be opposed to eliminating such diseases from the world, but that's because I do not value "diversity" in all its forms: there are certain ways in which I do not want people to be different from each other, and in fact, I would be okay with living in a world in which not one single person was dying of cancer. I think that is a world I could tolerate living in, and I wouldn't feel like that world would be boring or lacking in variety because of its lack of cancer sufferers.

A perhaps more controversial idea is poverty. Again, if you could, would you want to eliminate poverty from the world? Would you want to make sure that every person was not poor? All of them? There are many political activists who would not hesitate to answer "Yes" to this question, but consider what such an idea entails. Once again, there is a very, very large body of cultural and artistic creativity which has concerned itself with the lives of the financially poor. Countless works of genius like Les Misérables, Oliver Twist (and indeed, most of the writing of Charles Dickens), and The Grapes of Wrath are mainly about the desperate plight of the poor. These books would never have been written if poverty didn't exist. Now, you might say that it would be worth giving up these landmark books if it could mean that poverty could be eradicated from the world, and you might even be right, but consider what you are doing by introducing such ideas: You are forming humanity into a more uniform mass where all people think the same thoughts and live the same lifestyle. That dystopia of a "boring", homogenized humanity becomes much more real if you eliminate illness and poverty from the world. In doing this, you vastly detract from the variety and diversity which you claim to value in humanity.

Lest anyone think that I am some chauvinist pig talking down to humanity and telling them how important it is for some of them to be poor, be assured that my own financial situation is by no means secure and that I am not saying any of this to benefit myself. To be sure, I am above the poverty line, and so you could rightly accuse me of not knowing what it's really like to be on the verge of homelessness (or, for that matter, actually homeless), but it so happens that the virtue of poverty isn't my own idea. In many places in the world, I have seen expressions against what people call "gentrification", which is the process of neighborhoods becoming wealthier. People who have lived in a certain place for a long time become alarmed when their neighborhood becomes "cleaned up" because they fear having to pay more money for their costs of living. More than once, I've seen clean, newly-constructed apartment buildings vandalized with graffiti which says things like "Clean walls = higher rents". These kinds of anti-gentrification gestures show that some people want to remain in poverty. It's not just anonymous graffiti, either: More than once, I have seen people wearing shirts saying things like "My neighborhood will stay dirty", meaning that they don't want a bunch of posh wankers moving in. We idealize both poverty and wealth, but the reality is that not everyone is unhappy being poor, and not everyone is happy being rich. You could rightly say that concerns about gentrification are more about people worrying that other people around them will become rich while they remain poor rather than a terror of becoming rich oneself, but this is not the whole story: There are quite a lot of people in the world who are happy living in "the ghetto" or "the hood", considering this environment their natural home and the people who live in such areas their natural community. Not everyone who is poor wants to be "rescued" from their life by some knighted "socialist" heroes.

Returning to the question of whether I'd like to live in a world where all people are the same, I stand by my answer of "Yes", but emphasize that this answer must be understood as having qualificiations. I don't mean that I want every person to physically look like me, or to like exactly the same things I like. But there are properties which I want all people in the entire word to have, as well as other properties which I would like for not one single person in the world to have. Once again, I admit that this means that I don't value "diversity" in people very much, but I'm okay with that. If you think for a little while, you can probably think of things in these categories for you, too: You can probably think of things like health, happiness, or thoughtfulness which you would like for all people in the world to have, and you can probably also think of traits like being a serial rapist or a child abuser which you would like for exactly zero people in the world to have. It's okay to value differences and contrasts between people, but you shouldn't make blanket statements in which you say that "diversity" between people is important. And if you do, just remember: People aren't going to be different in the way you want them to be.
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