People say that the anonymity of the Internet unleashes people’s inner jerk. But I’ve been struck all my life by how certain some people are, to the point that I’m almost convinced there are two separate kinds of humans. I’ll call them Homo Definitus and Homo Curiosis, with the former quite possibly being far more numerous than the latter.
To the extent that this is the case, most people probably don’t fall neatly into one category or the other. But for the sake of this post, let’s entertain these two types in their pure forms. Take the recent death penalty case of the Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a case study. In the immediate aftermath of the verdict to end his life, there were many tweets and web comments to the effect that THE BASTARD SHOULD FRY!! and many others to the effect that THIS IS A PRIMITIVE AND TRAGIC DECISION THAT BRINGS SHAME ON ALL OF US.
Sometimes I worry that maybe I missed the civics class where most people learned that as a participating member of a democracy you have to take a definite stand on every public issue. But I would honestly much rather listen to and consider multiple perspectives on just about anything, just about endlessly, than assert a conclusion or pass a confident judgment. I am not in any way OK with the Boston bombing. It goes without saying that its victims deserve all possible empathy and assistance. But bloodthirst on the one hand, or foaming outrage on Facebook over the inhumanity of the death penalty verdict on the other, I just can’t do.
If you’ll agree, for the moment, not to pass judgment on me for this tendency, I’ll suspend judgment on those of you who prefer to judge.
The trouble, as Internet theorist Jonathan Zittrain pointed out in a recent Big Think interview, comes when people are playing different games on the same playing field, but aren’t aware of the fact. In life and on the Internet, Homo Definitus wants to assert and debate her position on any given issue, with the goal of winning and being proven conclusively right. Homo Curiosus wants to keep the conversation going, wants to flesh out the texture and the nuances. If they were books, Homo Definitus would be The 8 Proven Principles of Success and Homo Curiosus would be The Brothers Karamazov. One is more interested in answers. The other, in questions.
When these two types cross paths, they inevitably misunderstand one another. Homo Definitus thinks Homo Curiosus a “flip-flopper” and a namby-pamby time waster. HC on the other hand finds HD incredibly boring and reminiscent of his dad, always making pronouncements and pointing his finger. For HC, the game of debate is incredibly dull because he has no interest in winning. He just wants to converse. HD can’t imagine why anyone would want to do that. To her, there is nothing more pointless than this aimless coffee shop chatter. “Let’s cut the BS!” she thinks. “Are you with me or against me?”
Again, “pure” HCs or HDs are likely rare, but I think there’s something profound underneath this. In history and politics its corollaries might be Democracy on the one hand and any kind of Fascism on the other (religious orthodoxy and punitive political correctness included). Or maybe that’s a dangerous example. When you think in those terms, it’s tough to be charitable toward HDs . . .
Intense competitiveness is an HD tendency, too. Screaming bloody murder at an opposing sports team. Working overtime to surpass that bastard who got a better performance review than you did. Displaying one of those Louis Vuitton purses that everybody else has, too.
An HC like me tends to see all that as toxic and unlikely to lead toward any kind of lasting happiness. But for HDs, not caring about such things (or pretending not to care) is delusional and childish. Status matters. Your standing in the pack is under constant assessment. People know what you are the instant you walk into the room.
One of the most gratifying experiences I can imagine is when an HC and an HD have an intercultural dialogue. This may be a kind of HC fantasy, the stuff of HC romance novels. Being an HC, I am always looking for these opportunities. Always believing that there is a common ground beyond our differences. Such moments do happen — the HC finds himself admiring the passion and discipline with which the HD pursues her goals. The HD finally sees the true depths of the HC’s creativity and sensitivity. These are the moments in movies that always make me cry. Maybe, at bottom, it’s a father/son thing.
If there is any truth to these personality types, except for those rare instances in which the tendencies of the opposing type are threatening you and yours in some fundamental way, I think we should mostly just give each other some space. Live and let live. Maybe it’s because I’m an HC, but in spite of how alien and dispiriting HD games always feel to me, I feel unqualified to judge whether the world would be better off without them. For example, if I found myself in charge of, say, England in 1933, I hope that for the good of the world some HD would come along, depose me, and declare preemptive war on Hitler’s Germany.
Sometimes the zero-sum game is the one that needs to be played.
But most of the time, happily for us HCs, it’s not. So if you happen to be playing in my vicinity, more power to you. Have fun, and leave me out of it. I’ll just politely excuse myself and go off to read or write something without a definite conclusion.
Come talk to @jgots on Twitter.