Boring People: Opting Out Is More Powerful Than Fighting Back
Don Corleone: “it don’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living, you understand.”
Most people are uninteresting. That’s not a typo: I mean uninteresting. Not worth your time. Energy vampires that tax your brain, instead of the interesting sparring partners that make you a better person, or in any meaningful way contribute positively to your life.
Almost nobody, I find, is interested in genuinely fascinating things. Partly, of course, that’s a circular statement because “fascinating things” are things I like: given the diversity of the world and the number of things to be interested in, it’s highly unlikely that random people around me — family, friends, neighbours — would be fascinated by that which I adore and admire. Pushed, they would say the same thing about me.
If I were to select my social environment on a variable of “interesting”, my life becomes a series of information bubbles. That sounds bad.
Robert Malone on Joe Rogan (#1757) said something that resonated with me and still bothers me greatly. The real problem of our times, he pronounced — citing Trump, social division, anger and grand-scale anxiety that I’ve considered before — is that
“We’re sick as a society, and we have to heal ourselves. One of the things we have to do is come together. We have to re-create our social bonds. We have to buy into integrity, the importance of human dignity and the importance of community. That’s how we get out of this.”
But I don’t want to.
Unless we redefine those terms to mean people (and ideas) I find valuable, I’m not so sure I want much of community or social bonds. I might need them, and they may be good for me — for reasons that my conservative friends may be well-placed to explain — but unless they provide value, give energy, I would struggle to see the point.
Let me tell a story.
When I was young, I used to think that everyone I met was interesting. No matter how mundane or uneducated a person, I was convinced they had experiences worth sharing — lessons worth exploring. Curious and hungry for trying new ideas, I nurtured friends and acquaintances across the political spectrum and took pride in having friends that held views opposite my own.
I would approach strangers and find what was interesting in their lives: what they dreamt about, what they thought and why, what they believed, and what they had gone through. I found almost everything fascinating: languages, cultures, historical events, morals, how the world works — everything somebody was good at, or a story they could tell.
At the time, everyone was better than me at basically everything, so no wonder I found the average person around me knowledgeable and fascinating. At my first job, I remember being both surprised and annoyed at meeting somebody who had no political opinions and no interests at all. She was around 60, hanging on for dear life onto a job she detested but needed for a few more years before retirement. Outside of work, as far as I could tell, she did nothing but the occasional work around the house or looked after her grandkids — which was the only thing we would talk about on our lunch breaks. She would show pictures of the grandkids, and I would insert “ah” and “ooh”, politely and unimpressed, before I probed into the rest of her life: Nothing. Whenever I pitched some political story I was currently concerned about, she would hum uninterestedly and look away. She wouldn’t read the news — apart from gossip magazines — and she wouldn’t know what was going on.
Endlessly frustrated, I was often mad with her for what I thought to be callousness and moral failings — why didn’t she care more about all these important things?
As I grew up, I learned like a sponge — read broadly, travelled widely, embraced one strange moral belief after another and constantly investigated their foundations. Most importantly, I grew up from that curious and precocious teenager to a much more cynical and dejected adult. Nowadays I rarely find people interesting: they’re naïve, uninformed, boring, inconsistent and rarely show an ability to reflect critically on information they relate or positions they mindlessly take. I find that most people I meet are much more like that co-worker I used to have — empty shells of lovable politeness but with nothing underneath.
There are two things to take from that story.
First, most people aren’t actually very interesting: I was just young and simple; innocent and duped; an empty page, an open book. In the real world of adulthood and sparse time: sort your acquaintances accordingly.
Second, that co-worker knew something big that it took me over a decade to grasp.
Intellectually, she was as far away from anything I could respect; but practically — and thus morally in all ways that matter — the best kind of person. Why? Well, she wasn’t fussed. She didn’t give two straws about this or that raging political topic — the whales or the melting ice caps, the privilege stories some university clown had recently spun or the morally indignant hills on which some political clown would make a loud-mouthed stand.
She left people alone, and contributed positively to the little niche of the world that mattered to her. Put in less “selfish” terms, she affected to the better the things she could affect, which admittedly wasn’t that much—and rendered onto Caesar those things that were Caesar’s.
The Virtues of Leaving People Alone
Some people leave others alone — ruthlessly, consistently so. Even if what they do is odd, weird, or even disgusting…
Only now, in Cuckoo land, have I appreciated her profound ability to ignore that which doesn’t matter. Only now do I grasp the power of her position, even if she never formulated it for me or realised it herself:
- Because most people are uninteresting,
- because uncertainty rules and time is the ultimate master,
- and because there is so little she could do about the whales and the ice caps,
= why would she even bother?
Information, as well as attention and mental effort, have opportunity costs — and requires skill and care and discipline to properly analyse. And even then, you are unlikely to understand how your preferred political policy interact with a complex world of moving parts.
Without a deeper investigation into some topic and its effect — including at the ballot box — it’s not just OK to ignore politics, it’s your obligation to ignore it. Voting under ignorance is as irresponsible as driving under the influence, and you probably shouldn’t do it.
With that in mind, suddenly, ignoring every loudmouth on a soapbox, every political pundit and grassroot activist with a platform, every public health official telling you how to live, seems like sound and proper advice rather than the pinnacle of callousness.
Many years overdue, I thus want to tip my proverbial hat to this thought-leader, so ahead of her time. I find myself, roughly, in her shoes — though with a lot more anger, dissent, rejection, dejection, and ready insults to sling. I’m interested in my own life and the things I have and the things that I care about, and I couldn’t care two straws about the rest.
Most people know very little worth knowing. F*ck ‘em.
Every evangelist thinks others living, praying and believing like him is a virtue. That because he has seen the Light, it falls upon him to brings others out of Darkness. In a civilised modern society, it doesn’t. Just leave people the hell alone.
I feel, increasingly these days, like Heather Heying — misanthropy thriving, hopelessness growing:
“Now that ancient misanthropy is once again returning, though, reversing upon itself, as I watch people contort themselves to justify the movements of governments against their own citizens, while feeling themselves to be honorable, smart, and kind. Fact-checkers with no ability or facility in the things they have been hired to fact-check are taken as truth-tellers, while those holding opinions outside of the accepted narrative, no matter how carefully considered, how supported by information, analysis, and logic — are taken to be enemies of those who fall in line.
Fall in line, the implied promise goes, and you will be delivered from evil. When you hear someone disagree with the accepted narrative, be assured that they are wrong, and quite possibly have ill intent. When you hear a voice of the accepted narrative turn in on itself and claim the opposite of what it told you before, be assured that you misheard, misunderstood, misremembered, and that this is all being done for your safety anyway.”
It’s not all darkness, and she has hopeful advice too:
“We need not live in fear, spy on our neighbors, or comply with incoherent public policies. Let us instead live in hope, seek the good within and without, and be open, truthful and courageous.”
On your list of New Year’s Resolutions should probably be to ignore more people — certainly if they’re in positions of political power. Check out and shut down; Avoid more conversations and conflicts you don’t need. And above all, get off that screen:
What are you waiting for?