I’ve been out in the wider world, for one of my rare excursions to places that are not a remote island, a ten hour ferry trip from the nearest somewhat larger Island (Tasmania) which in turn is somewhat distant and relatively irrelevant to the mainland of Australia. It’s probably a good thing, getting my perspective of the human race and civilization back into reasonable focus.

You see in a small remote place it becomes very easy to believe that individuals matter. Hell’s teeth, I know most of the people or at least their families or relations, and those I don’t, my wife probably does. They’re people, not numbers.

The reality, in a big city, is most people don’t know each other. Good, bad or indifferent — your value judgement (something we all do, no matter who we are or what we claim to the contrary – it’s as natural and instinctive as breathing) of people we come across but do not know HAS to be on superficial traits that we can pick up easily. Speaking from knowing a lot of people who are not what appearance might suggest, this doesn’t work terribly well, because most people aren’t defined by their clothes or their skin color their sex (or preference for that matter) – other than people to whom this has become the dominant factor of their persona.

We all know the individual whose life is their clothes. If you’re looking for a relationship, at the extremes of this, a relationship with a clothes-horse may be deeper and more meaningful (to say nothing of cheaper) than this, unless you’re one too. They’re not much fun to be with (unless you want to spend your life similarly obsessed), or to write about. Or for that matter to read about… unless, for that matter, you’re equally obsessed.

To most humans, these mono-focus people are rather like an alien species. We evolved to be very successful by being generalists — and that’s not just in our foraging but also in interests and abilities. Yes, we all have our specialties and there are few people who are like that. Yes, sometimes that specialty colors or viewpoints and lives, but if it does so to the point that it covers every waking moment and influences everything you do… you probably are only pleasant or fun for another of the same type, and may need help. You may have one interesting book to be written about you – because it’s a glimpse into something that most people only know a fragment of. It’s rather like historical tours of Bedlam. Maybe some visitors wanted to better understand the insane, but most just came to gawk. And one trip was usually enough.

Coming into contact with the nameless crowds has brought their very existence back to me, along with the vast size and complexity of our civilization and its manufacturing and industrial side. It’s kind of easy to forget the enormous supply chains and the sheer volume of people in these cities and what could go wrong and stop all of this working. We’re primary producers – and one forgets (as much as the kids (and adults) who think beef comes in plastic packing and milking in cartons) that we need the products they produce too.

It’s also a bit too easy to see these nameless people as cogs, interchangeable and mono-purpose — which (as I ought to know) they’re not.

It has been a good reminder to me in my writing of just how big and complex civilizations and societies are – and yet, all of those myriad people are as much individuals as the islanders I know by name. Not just cogs – some better some worse, some with special traits, some with lousy personalities, some fallible and some smart and some changing. And very few whose lives are just determined by one superficial characteristic – a trend in current mainstream traditional publishing. Don’t do it. No one really wants to keep doing that trip to Bedlam. That’s one (of many) of the reasons the publishing industry is in trouble. People are individuals and complex. Not interchangeable widgets whose entire lives, character and interests are totally decided by superficial traits.

We are more than that.

Image by dawnydawny from Pixabay

8 thoughts on “Cogs

  1. Presumably, this trip had something to do with the continuing saga of house.

    Any good news to share?
    We’re all rooting for you.

  2. I remember reading reviews for an alt-history book that had a lot of promise, but the author literally used a checklist to make certain that she had all the right groups represented. Even people who loved the idea (or the book concept, or both) gave her lower ratings because the heavy-handedness of the quota system. The author just couldn’t work in good reasons to have X type of person in the Louisiana and Mississippi swamps in the late 1800s. And it showed.

    1. I have seen them get into a snit about human-like alien races not coming in the right varieties.

  3. So many in my family are mono-focus. Socially awkward, as they have difficulty sustaining a conversation outside of their specific interests. So, I get this, from experience. Both from growing up in a family of like people, and, as an adult, working very hard to diverge from that pattern.
    I still tend to spin my wheels in the narrow focus area, but I try also to pivot to more generally acceptable conversation. Hence, I do my radio group stuff, and, when getting together with my family, give myself to that mono-focus talk.
    But, I also move to more normal means of interaction.
    And, if I might add, please give some 1-on-1 time to the mono’s. They can become quite socially isolated, given their trouble with shifting gears. Make a point of inviting them to gatherings, and delegate others to talk to them for a limited time. I’ve asked my children to do that, at holiday time.
    Some of this tribe have found it tough to get out of the ‘politics’ rut. Yes, they DO know a lot about the ins and outs that didn’t make the news. But, to discuss it in some circles is a sure way to get yourself excluded – and, for the socially inept, this hurts – a lot. They honestly don’t see what the problem is, so put on a persona of not caring.
    Don’t believe it – ALL humans need SOME social life.
    So, take the time to periodically get some face time with them. Call them. Send them some acknowledgement that they are part of the human tribe.

  4. Going out among Greater Humanity is annoying. I’ve been dragooned into doing it lately, and it sucks. Real estate shopping. Ugh.

    Looking at houses in the city has made me excruciatingly aware of something: nobody has books, and nobody has tools. I mean, they just don’t seem to have that stuff. I’ve gone through a dozen houses lately, and maybe three had -one- (1) book case.

    Nobody has hobbies? Nobody reads? What the hell do these people DO all day?

    One guy had an expansive shoe collection. Lots of sneakers. So many. At least he was interested in something.

    So, eventually I came to the sobering conclusion that Those Are Not My People. No wonder they act funny when they meet me. I’m like a huge slobbering aardvark to them.

    This leads to interesting connections though. I saw a few timber frame constructions I liked while being force-marched through boringly renovated suburban houses, and thought I might be able to build something like that.

    Turns out, it is quite hard to find a place to buy a large timber. If you want a log or an 8″x8″ beam to make a pergola out of, they don’t have that at Home Depot. I spent this evening hunting all through Southern Ontario, which is COVERED IN FRIGGIN’ TREES like you can’t believe, and I found three places you could buy a log or a beam. There’s 10 million people here in Southern Ontario, and I found three freakin’ sawmills.

    So yeah, it looks like Ontario is importing wood. Coals to Newcastle. In what kind of f-ed up economic environment is it cheaper to ship something from elsewhere that grows wild right here, and is sitting begging to be harvested? Someplace where people think meat comes in styrofoam tubs and wood comes from Home Depot.

    Dave, sometimes the Normies drive me nuts. Thank God I have my own little island-like bolt-hole to hide in.

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