To Defy the Human Condition

5 06 2010

I recently read a book by John Elder Robinson, the older brother of memoirist, Augusten Burroughs; which centered on his experiences growing up with Asperger syndrome. For those of you that are unfamiliar, this syndrome is considered an ‘autism-spectrum’ disorder, which basically means it’s a mild form of Autism. Some shared ‘symptoms’ include issues with social interaction, restrictive (and often very focused) or repetitive interests or behaviors, and speech/language issues. While all of these are excellent subject matters to discuss, I’m going to focus on social interaction – specifically lack of empathy and social isolation.

Robinson wrote that as a child he often didn’t understand how to react in social situations. Namely, an experience of a neighbor telling his mother something tragic, but otherwise unconnected to anyone involved. (I believe the situation was “My neighbor came over and told my mother about how her sister’s friend’s child died in a car accident.”) While his mother reacted, as I would guess most people do, with remorse and sullenness; John Elder reacted with laughter. This immediately caused the neighbor to become angered, as I feel most people would be in that situation. But he was laughing at the situation, not the details.

To put it simply, he thought it was illogical for his mother to feel sorry for a completely stranger. And this seemingly logical stance has caused me to evaluate human emotion and interaction. When tragedy strikes (for instance, Hurricane Katrina, the Earthquakes in Haiti), we immediately feel sorry and bad – what can we do to help? While I can’t say I didn’t feel that same way, isn’t that a weird experience? I don’t know anyone that lives in an effect region, so why should I feel sorrow? Aside from raising gas prices and taking time from television to raise money or report on the events, I was unaffected by both events. It’s because of our inability to seperate events outside of ourselves – Subconsciously, I was thinking “That’s terrible because people died.” and stepping further, “That’s terrible because brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents were killed.”, and humanizing further, “I have a sister, mother, father, grandmother.”, and lastly, “They could’ve died.”

If you look into the animal kingdom there is none of this to experience. Ants fighting between colonies in Argentina don’t feel bad for the ants fighting in Minnesota, when the ice melts and Minnesotans leave their caves. Is it the influence of news and media on human beings that create this effect? Probably. Could it be due to higher brain function? Sure.

But when you step back and look at things, isn’t it ridiculous to feel sorrow or remorse over the death or tragedy of life for other people (or hell, even animals/pets*)? There’s got to be some point where we don’t feel it – and I think most of it has to do with the stigma of seeming cold or uncaring. If someone said something to you about people dying in an earthquake and you said “Well, that happens.”, people may think you’re a ‘sociopath’. I just think you’d be a rational, logical person. If you murdered someone and danced in their blood, then you might be… well, a murderer… or psychopath.

And I fully understand the concept and necessity of remorse, I think it’s often taken to extremes though – we aren’t built to hold the world’s issues on our shoulders but we’re often expected to.

* – Try not feeling remorseful the next time a random friend tells you about having to put down Sprinkles.

[The book by John Elder Robinson is “Look Me in The Eye: My Life with Asperger’s” and is a wonderful read.]




2 responses

5 06 2010

That reminds me of when I was in high school. In AP Bio we discussed the bird flu outbreak, and one of the points that was brought up was about how it goes in cycles. Whenever the world population raises a lot there’s some sort of natural disaster or famine or something. I pointed out that it’s like a way of controlling the population, and everyone thought I was some sort of insensitive bitch or something.

5 06 2010

I’ve found if it’s stuff that has any remote possibly of occurring to someone close – like if it’s something that has or can effect someone personally, it always comes off that way. But like: Katrina, I didn’t know anyone that was effected by it; Haiti, didn’t know anyone.

I guess there would also be different levels of being affected by those events though; because I didn’t know anyone tied to 9/11, but the after-effects due to those events have drastically changed stuff within my own life.

*shrug* That’s just how I see it though. Thanks for the response. 😀

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