Because Blogger's "Adult warning" often goes into a perpetual loop (isn't working properly), I will be making all new posts at my WordPress blog. You can follow it even if you do not have a WordPress Account. There're also my Twitter and my Tumblr blog, my Facebook and my Google+ page and my group.
(Update: Blogger hasn't fixed its problem with the "adult warning". Will go back to posting at my WordPress blog)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Friends. And enemas.

Humans have a constant internal war between being selfish and solipsistic* and being altruistic. Between love for self and love for others. In fact some thinkers (for example, Nicholas Humphrey in Consciousness Regained -- Chapters in the Development of Mind) have attributed the development of the powerful human brain to the need to handle these conflicts, to the need to persuade others to do what we want while leaving them still feeling that they are getting something out of it too. We developed consciousness as a way of understanding others: your mind is the best available guide to the minds of others. This is why fictional portrayals of such conflicts -- for example, sacrificing yourself for the good of mankind, or falling in love with a "forbidden" partner -- are so moving. Mankind needs children, and it needs them to be brought up safely, so there are powerful cultural and genetic forces making for sustained pair bonds. There are also powerful genetic needs to love and be loved. Sometimes the two conflict. And that makes for interesting writing (and gossip.)

In How Many Friends Does One Person Need, Robin Dunbar^ explains why we can never really have more than 150 friends, no matter how many people "friend" you on Facebook. A fascinating though not very deep book. In the book, Dunbar also points out that people have an inner circle of friends, of around 6 to 10, another circle further out of a few more, and a final largish circle of the remaining 150.

But what if you have no friends? Or, more precisely, you see six people very day, but they are the shop assistants you buy stuff from? Our genetically programmed need for friendship might make us try to be friends with them. But they already have six significant others. They regard you as outside their circle. You don't even have a circle. So you are too friendly, too talkative. Read this heart-rending story about a disabled older man hounded to death by teenagers he wanted to befriend. Or consider the case of the old lady I see every time I go to the shops, who talks to me in the supermarket as if I am her long lost friend. No, it's not funny or quaint. It's not a giggle. It's horribly, horribly sad.

Men are afraid to be too close to other men. What if they grew too fond of them? What if they did something gay, like hugging or kissing? According to the heteros who write psychology textbooks, we are driven by the need to reproduce, so all men are our competitors. What tosh. It's much, much more complicated than that. Men are also our allies, in the pre-historic hunting groups, in sports teams, at work. This produces the conflicts I mentioned at the beginning of this rant. Most men don't think about these things. The way things are is the way things are. You are only forced to consider the ways of the world when you are an outsider, when, for example, you find out you are gay and you all at once realize that straight men are a different species. A potentially dangerous different species, too.

So we have the tragic stories of straight men whose only friend is their wife, who when the wife leaves them disintegrate. High overt suicide rates, and even higher hidden ones, where they drink themselves to death. Salvation at the bottom of a glass. Young men have have plenty of acquaintances but no real friends. Their best friend is their dog. A guy who once worked on a gay sex-line (you dial a number and get to talk dirty with someone) told me about a young man from a country town who phoned him up and said he didn't want to talk sex, he just wanted to talk, because he was so lonely. I've seen hard-eyed men, Mr Machos in muscular four-wheel drives, get into their oversized vehicles and kiss their dogs. It's OK to love a dog, to hug him and kiss him. But not your friend.

We are so fucked up.

*if you can say this when you are drunk, you are a wondrous thing, God wot. A nice Latin word: solus = alone, ipse = self.

^he looks a lot like me

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