Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Pressure to be Different

This is Scott Siskind, responding to the notion that some people with mental illnesses play them up to make themselves seem interesting:

Since we’re on the topic of Special Snowflakes, a point only tangentially related to mental health.

Right now, our society demands you be a Special Snowflake. Women who aren’t quirky enough are “basic bitches”, men who aren’t quirky enough are “yet another straight white dude”. Just today, I read some dating advice saying that single men need to develop unusual hobbies or interests, because (it asked, in all seriousness) why would a woman want to date someone who doesn’t “stand out”?

Someone on Twitter complained that boring people go to medical school because if you’re a doctor you don’t need to have a personality. Edward Teach complains that people get into sexual fetishes as a replacement for a personality. I’ve even heard someone complain that boring people take up rock-climbing as a personality substitute: it is (they say) the minimum viable quirky pastime. Nobody wants to be caught admitting that their only hobbies are reading and video games, and maybe rock climbing is enough to avoid being relegated to the great mass of boring people. The complainer was arguing that we shouldn’t let these people get away that easily. They need to be quirkier!

A friend read an article once about someone who moved to China for several years to learn to cook rare varieties of tofu. She became insanely jealous; she doesn’t especially like China or tofu, but she felt that if she’d done something like that, she could bank enough quirkiness points that she’d never have to cultivate another hobby again.

In this kind of environment, of course mentally ill people will exploit their illness for quirkiness points! We place such unreasonable quirkiness demands on everybody that you have to take any advantage you can get!

I’m guilty of this myself. I think I’m an interesting person in certain ways. But those ways tend to be things like “I wrote a blog that was condemned by the New York Times”, and “I’m in a group which many people consider a cult” - not the right type of quirky for job interviews. So when I got the inevitable “tell me about yourself and how you’re different from all our other applicants” question, I talked about how I’d struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Which is true. It wasn’t a very interesting struggle, and it didn’t particularly shape my subsequent personality. But I’d never admit that to an admissions officer.

And on one level it’s definitely true that mankind will not be free until the last admissions officer is strangled with the entrails of the last New York Times journalist. But in another sense, we do this to ourselves. We demand quirkiness from our friends, our romantic partners, even our family members. I can’t tell you how many times my mother tried to convince me it was bad that I just sat inside and read all day, and that maybe if I took up rock-climbing or whatever I would be more “well-rounded”. We can stop at any time. We can admit that you don’t need a “personality” beyond being responsible and compassionate. That if you’re good at your job and support your friends, you don’t also need to move to China and study rare varieties of tofu.

But if you do insist on unusual experiences as the measure of a valid person, then there will always be a pressure to exaggerate how unusual your experience is. Everyone will either rock-climb or cultivate a personality disorder, those are the two options. And lots of people are afraid of heights.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

This is remarkably vague. Where are these articles? Lots of "I know a guy who knows a guy." No real data points. Not a really argument that there is a real trend here.