Thursday, March 16, 2023

Pariah Mentality

Negative attention is better than no attention at all.

I was woken up at 4:00 AM this morning by a barking dog.  A neighbor down the street let his dog out in the cold weather and it barks and barks and barks.  He has another dog that barked, too, but I talked calmly to it and over time, it stopped barking.  So he got another dog that is even louder.

He is the kind of guy who likes to do shitty little things like that, to see if someone says something. He desperately hopes someone will say something.  He leaves his garbage can ("Wheelie Bin" for all you Brits) at the end of the driveway for days on end, and lets his lawn get unruly, hoping someone will say something, so he can stage an incident.  It infuriates him that no one says anything, so the incidents of passive-aggression escalate - and will continue to escalate, until something awful happens.  I hope to be out of town that week.

What causes people to be like this, and why is it so popular these days?  In part, it is the culture of belligerence I noted before - where people act hostile or posture as make-believe "tough guys" because they feel unempowered.  It is also a desperate plea for help, I think.

Online, you see this all the time.  People say obnoxious things because it garners them attention.  No one really cares about the Harry Potter franchise anymore and cashing royalty checks is boring.  So why not go online and say hurtful things?  And when someone calls you out on it, double-down your bet to garner even more attention?  It is the actions of a small child.

It is the same with graffiti "artists" and "taggers" who deface public spaces, or teenage vandals who smash things for the hell of it.  Deep down, they hope to get caught, and get attention - even negative attention - as a result.  It is the disruptive kid who sits in the back of class.  He will never understand the lesson - because of fetal alcohol syndrome - so he might as well throw a verbal firebomb into the middle of it.  Sad thing is, these days, they aren't just verbal firebombs anymore.

Why is it that people feel the need to be so hostile and mean all the time? And has this increased as of late, or have people always been little shits the whole time?   I think perhaps both questions can be answered "YES" in part.  If you go through history, there have always been people who relished violence and meanness and hostility.  Usually, however, there was some motive to their hostility. Military leaders and dictators invaded other countries to take over land and resources.  There was some sort of profit motive.  They didn't do it for attention.  Or did they?   Maybe it was a matter of both.

But lately, it seems this new form of hostility is pointless.  You "roll coal" with your diesel pickup truck, or drive around with a loud exhaust to annoy the neighborhood and.... what do you get out of it?  Nothing, perhaps, except some brief thrill that you "got away" with being a meanie or something.  But in terms of the personal bottom line, such activities are pointless and often costly.  People bankrupt themselves for "bad boy" accessories, to impress... who, again?

Maybe the Internet is partly to blame.  And again, I wonder if the Russian Internet Research Agency isn't feeding this general feeling of discontent.  I go online sometimes and read things people post, and it is interesting to me that there is this general drumbeat of discontent about every damn little thing in life.  Is the world really going to hell in a hand-basket because you had to wait 20 minutes for your Starbucks order?  (and was the door behind you locked so you couldn't leave?  Sometimes it is best to walk away from dysfunctional restaurants and businesses, rather than trying to salvage a bad deal using the sunk cost fallacy).

I think we are being trolled - big time.   Every damn little thing in the news is blown out of proportion and twisted to fit someone's narrative. Three banks which exclusively dealt with narrow segments of the market that are rife with fraud (Silicon Valley, Crypto) go bust, and people are crying that the entire banking system is ready to collapse.  Who benefits from this "sky is falling" narrative?

Yes, sure, we are facing a recession.  Venture Capitalists pulled out of tech funding back in April of last year.   So it is no surprise that tech firms are laying people off and that a bank that exclusively handled tech accounts (and was invested in low-rate Treasury bills) would go bust.  No, it was not a "Twitter run on the bank" but basic balance-sheet stuff.  But hey, the former narrative certainly boosts the sagging ego of the new owner of Twitter, don't it?  Oh, wait, I thought he was buying that bank!

Speaking of which, what a poster-child for what I am talking about.  Musk could have kept his head down and kept his focus on business and would have been remembered for Tesla and SpaceX - even if he really had little in the way of leading these companies, other than Seagull Management.  But no, he had to interject himself into everything that was in the news, which is to say, everything he read on Twitter.  Some kids stuck in a cave?  Elon to the rescue with some half-assed "submarine" that would have been of no help, whatsoever.  When this is pointed out, like a petulant child, he calls the real heroes "pedos" in a temper-tantrum tweet.

Yes, social media is largely to blame for this increase in bad-boy behavior. Tick-Tockers quickly realized their "reach" was magnified by a factor of 10 or 100 when they posted a short video of someone doing something awful.  And no doubt, many of these postings were staged and arranged in advance.  And like clockwork (tick-tock!) we all jump in, like lemmings, to comment on how awful the people in the video are.

No wonder so many people want to ban Tick-Tock. It isn't that the Chinese are tracking us or harvesting data, but rather they are getting inside our heads and getting us all to behave badly and hate each other.  Social media is a cancer.

Part and parcel of this is what I call the Pariah Mentality.  People today want to feel they are on the outs, part of a persecuted minority.  And maybe this is the end-game to the victim mentality.  When being a victim is seen as a noble accomplishment, why shouldn't everyone strive to become one?  So we see the irony today of people on the far-right decrying the victim mentality and then claim to be victims themselves, for decrying it.

"Conservative" thought today (and I use that in quotes, as even Barry Goldwater would, today, be horrified by the likes of Tucker Carlson et al.) comprises nothing more than a list of grievances - alleged assaults on their "values" and "principles" that will surely cause the downfall of civilization.  The things they decry are often the things they are worst at.  Sex is out of hand!  Meanwhile, teen pregnancy is highest among evangelicals and conservatives.  Every accusation is a confession.

Lest you think I am picking on the right, the same is true of the left.  The whole "trans" thing is fueled on both sides, not only by transphobes, but also by people demanding to be called by certain names and pronouns.  Not asking - demanding.  And when they don't get their wayPariah mentality strikes again!  "Everyone is out to get me!" is the refrain from the Left as well as the right.

Maybe this is endemic and will never change.  Maybe not.  I remember a time when celebrities, whether they were movie stars or athletes or politicians were held to a higher standard than the rest of us.  And yea, maybe it was all smoke-and-mirrors.  Babe Ruth was famous for visiting sick children in hospitals.  He was also infamous as a womanizer - but we didn't talk about things like that back then.

Today, not only are these things talked about, but they are celebrated.  A celebrity is rated based on the number of trips they made to rehab, how many drunken brawls they have been in, how many times they tried to bring a gun on an airplane, or how many women they have abused.   It seems we just love bad-boys sometimes.   Are we a nation of abused spouses?

From a personal perspective, the pariah mentality is a dead-end.  Another neighbor down the street has a huge sign on the back of their Ram pickup (surprise, surprise) saying "DO NOT COMPLY!"  I am not sure what it is we are not supposed to comply with.  Is this an anti-vaxxer message or is he supporting BLM?  Either way, people sort of avoid him and his family as they correctly assume they are a bunch of fanatical weirdos.

Don't be a fanatical weirdo.

You subscribe to these extremist views and you may literally become a pariah - shunned by friends, neighbors, and relatives.  This, in turn, leads to more engagement with your new online friends, like Vladimir.  Of course, it then leads to loss of employment opportunities, as no company wants to be seen as the company that hires nazis and racists.  Rather than view this as an opportunity to look inwardly and see where this is going, the pariah wears this as a badge of honor - they are willing to sacrifice their own lives for the cause - even if the cause is ill-defined beyond an internet echo chamber.  They end up like the annoying man in short order - broke and outcast and unloved.  It is a death spiral - a death cult.

So what's the point?  I guess don't be a bad boy - there is no profit in it.  And the name of this blog is "Living Stingy" not "Sacrifice your life for some unknown people online advocating noxious causes." It really is simple, when you think about it.   Maybe it seems counter-intuitive, but selfishness is often not only the best thing for you, but the best thing for society.  Follow the unwritten social contract and do what profits you best - and it will profit society as well.  We all end up better off when you don't go off the deep end.  Mental hospitals are expensive to run, and homeless people are annoying.

How many "January 6th" rioters - who are now in jail - profited from their actions?  Did it really accomplish anything other than to put the nail in the coffin of Trumpism and ruin their personal lives?  Maybe if they worked at their jobs and saved their money, their lives would have gotten better regardless of who was President.  The outside agitators who instigated these things didn't care for them one bit - the "useful idiots" were there to be used and abused and then abandoned.  When the FBI came to call, Trump didn't lift a finger or spend a dollar to defend them.  They sacrificed their lives for nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

Politics?  Vote - or better yet, donate money to a campaign.  But making your personality toxic because of something you read online isn't going to accomplish anything.  Being annoying in a vain attempt to get attention is just childish.

We don't need more pariahs!