Bigsley the Oaf

The Insult of Complete Understanding

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on October 13, 2010

In my mind the idea of completely understanding someone is fundamentally insulting.

Suppose that someone told you that they knew why you made a difficult life choice. What if they offered a freudian interpretation, claiming that you were dumping your girlfriend because she was too much like your mother. Or perhaps you’re quitting your job because you just “can’t commit.”

The idea of understanding someone is insulting because it implies that their motivations are simple. The fact that I can explain anything implies that it is simple or, at least, much more simple than we give ourselves credit for being.

But what if you really are simple? What if your personality and most of your interactions with the real world can really be explained using easy words like “confident” or “idiot.” What if you’re a stereotype – what if you’re really a “jew” or “gay” or “whitebread,” not in the sense of being of jewish ethnicity, homosexual, or a motherfucking WASP, but in the sense of fitting these stereotypes to the point that your behavior and decisions become predictable to those around you.

In some sense stereotypes are so insulting because they imply a simplicity of character. To call someone a “whitebread” in the pejorative sense is to imply that they are lacking in essential humanity, a mere concept wrapped up in a physical form, nothing but a sweater-vest wearing, easy-listening listening, cracker.

And there’s a ladder of simplicity, too. I think that stereotypes are near the bottom, perhaps only self-aware idiots (idiots who know they’re idiots but won’t admit it) are below them. But above them are a whole spectrum of people whose personalities consist of combinations of increasingly complex but subtle principles. “Stubborn,” “Honest,” “Wholesome,” “Kind,” “Malevolent,” “Magnanimous”, “Enlightened” etc.

Now I’m not claiming that there’s a unique ontology of human personality. I’m not saying that, given a person, they fall somewhere along the spectrum I describe above. Perhaps there are lots of people outside of the spectrum – I like to believe that I am, for instance (probably everyone likes to believe they are – which is why it’s so insulting to claim they’re simple). I’m just trying to lay out what I see as some facts, here. There are people whose behaviors you can predict because these behaviors are similar to other behaviors that you have seen them exhibit in that they are associated with a virtue in some sort of religious/literary/cultural tradition. To the extent that this is actually true, to the extent that their behaviors ARE in fact predictable, they are simple and capable of being “understood.”

Oh and one more thing:

It’s funny, but the thing that locks people to these traits seems to be precisely their denial of them. Who seems more predictable, the idiot who knows he’s an idiot (Forrest Gump or “The Idiot” of Dostoyevsky) or the idiot who doesn’t (Bill O’Reilly or Ray Kurzweil)?


I didn’t want to talk about the low points of human existence, it was merely necessary to get to the meat of the THING. The thing I wanted to talk about is methods for going in the other direction:

WELL for one thing:

As I just mentioned, you can stop denying that you are the things you are. I guess the sort of neurotic and obsessive behaviors that emerge from a steady commitment to denial of personal truth are useful if you want to break everything in you to correct for it (every gay republican ever), but the other option is to be like water and fill the goddamn cup motherfucker! (Bruce Lee)

Actively develop some of your virtues. It’s not bad to be a stereotype if you wear if like a coat. (Chris Rock) People who reject stereotypes and all virtues (hipsters) generally blow. And if you’re self-conscious enough then you can play it like a guitar. Oh, and play the guitar even though it’s trite, if you want to.

Look for people who you can’t figure out. These people are so beautiful. The fact is that if you can explain someone there are two possible explanations. The first is that you have a habit of oversimplifying things which, if that’s true, means that you also don’t know that you do. So check that, and if you do have that habit, admit it, and try to move on – it’s hurting you more than you’ll ever know. The second possibility is that this person who you can fully or mostly explain the actions of is actually just simple. They’re so stuck on the things they are, it hurts.

Man, because the way that a thing evolves is like:

it must become a thing

it they must realize that they’ve become the thing

and it must move on.


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