More on misanthropy

So, okay, I should go to bed, but I realize that I’ve left the question of misanthropy open since my last post on that topic. If misanthropy isn’t the dictionary or wikipedia definition, then what is it?

A couple of weeks ago, I was surfing Wikipedia for vaudeville-related topics (as one does) and I came across the Wikipedia entry for William Frawley. You remember William Frawley, right? Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy? This quote from the Wikipedia article kind of blew my mind:

Both Ball and Arnaz agreed that it would be great to have Frawley, a motion picture veteran, appear as Fred Mertz. Less enthusiastic were CBS executives, who warned of Bill’s frequent drinking and instability. Arnaz immediately told Frawley about the network’s concerns, telling him that if he was late to work, arrived drunk, or was unable to perform because of something other than legitimate illness more than once, he would be written out of the show. To the contrary, Frawley never arrived at work drunk, and in fact mastered his lines after only one reading. Arnaz eventually became one of the misanthropic Frawley’s few close friends.

So, it turns out that William Frawley — consummate entertainer in vaudeville and Poverty Row character actor — married once as a young man, was shortly divorced, and subsequently had very few close friends and no known lovers.

Contrary to what you may want to believe, this is not a terribly uncommon occurrence. A broken heart is a very real thing, and not an invention of romantic literature. Broken men are largely invisible in our culture, although you can often find them haunting dive bars during the day or right at closing. Broken women are even more invisible, but I’ve no doubt they exist.

I have such a broken heart. It’s not a rational thing, and it’s not a thing that fits neatly into the DSM-V. It fits much more neatly into Victorian and Edwardian fiction; you find it in ghost stories and the works of Hawthorne, Bierce, and Poe. Sure, you can shoehorn that kind of behavior into categories like depression or neurosis, and prescribe medicine for it, but I think the literary models provide a better description.

So, when I say I’m a misanthrope, this is what I’m talking about. I have largely withdrawn myself from the society of humans, because human society does not meet my needs. Oddly, since I’ve reconciled myself to being a misanthrope, my moods are much more stable, and I can choose where and when I interact with people, which gives me a much-improved sense of personal autonomy. At the same time, I realize that asocial people have much worse physical and mental health outcomes than misanthropes. But I can’t quite bring myself to be so mercenary about my relationships with others, in no small part because I realize that Other People deserve autonomy as well, and I’m not sure that exploiting others to further my physical and mental health is an ethical thing to do.

On the other, other hand, I see these kinds of unethical relationships around me all the time, and I’m somewhat astonished that the Normals see nothing wrong with this.

I am a misanthrope

You think atheists/humanists/freethinkers have it tough?

Check out the Wikipedia article on misanthropy.

Let me tell you, we don’t get no respect. No respect at all.

/* nervously adjusts necktie */

Misanthropes don’t hate humanity. We’re not filled with disgust. Scratch a misanthrope, and you will find a person with a deep, abiding, and non-judgmental love of human beings. Go ahead, scratch me. Lower, no lower; more to the left. Ah, that’s it. Oh, yeah.

But somewhere, something went terribly wrong. And that terrible wrongness played out again, and again, and again, at increasing levels of social distance, encompassing immediate family, then friends, lovers, colleagues, political representatives, and so on outward from the cornfields of Indiana to the cornfields of Jilin and everywhere in-between.

Social scientists have one explanation; psychologists and cognitive scientists have another. Philosophers, as usual, weigh in. The vast majority of people, religious and secular, would rather not give it any thought at all.

Misanthropes, ultimately, love you very much, and we want to be sure to let you know that. We’re just very, very, disappointed.