Hello, Old FriendA few days back, I came across an old Facebook post from over a year ago, posted by a "Facebook friend" of mine, on which I had commented extensively. There had been some debate, particularly between myself and a mutual Facebook friend. Eventually the debate died down, and we went back to our lives. Then, a few days back, someone managed to dig up the old post with a new comment, and hence I took a trip down memory lane.
The debate itself is unimportant, but what struck me about the conversation was the disconnect between myself and the other commentators. The difference between our perspectives was palpable, and I'm not just talking about our perspective on the issue in question. I mean, there was a wide and insurmountable culture gap between us, and I don't mean that we came from different places. I mean that our personalities were so different, our highest values so different, our objectives in thinking about the issue so different, that we might as well have been speaking two different languages.
I was a little bit aware of it at the time, but I am a lot aware of it now. Eventually, I phased-out my interaction with that particular circle of friends, not out of animosity, but simply due to this "culture gap." I have little interest in pursuing that sort of conversation, not because "it sucks," but just because I'm not interested. And even when I become interested, I'm interested in an aspect of the discussion that is uninteresting to the others.
In short, we just don't mix.
You Know You're A Ruritainian If...The birth of this blog coincided with my writing a couple of Mises Daily articles for the Ludwig von Mises Institute (find them here). That was a great experience. Not only is it extremely satisfying to write for a large audience, it was also an excellent opportunity for me to learn about what I was writing about. Thankfully and happily, many of you reached out to me via email to discuss what I had written, and I had some great correspondence that way. I'd like to do it again some day.
On the darker side of things, I started following the blogs of various people who seemed to read all the same blogs I did, and while that was initially very interesting, it turned sour. Some people - such as myself - are attracted to liberty because they see it as the best way a society can function; others, however, are attracted to liberty because it provides them with an excuse to think, say, and do things that would otherwise be verboten. While I like free speech because it allows the truth to rise to the top, others like free speech because they have a hate-filled message that they don't want censored.
Let's put it this way: I'm not interested in associating with people in that latter category, and I never have been.
Discovering all these liberty-oriented blogs out there placed me in a virtual community in which there were a few too many of the wrong kind of people. When I discovered blogs like that, I quickly stopped following them.
The reason is because of something I learned a long time ago: If you look around and see nothing but knaves, the likelihood that you yourself are a knave greatly increases. If, for example, I frequently read a blog the readership of which skews racist, jerky, or rude, I have a little evidence that I myself might be a little racist, or a little jerky, or a little rude.
And some of those blogs - RWCG, for example - are written by people that I believe are fundamentally good, but who never take the time to ask themselves, "What does it mean if the blog posts I write tend to attract racists, or jerks, or rude people?"
Maybe it means that the stuff you're writing particularly appeals to one of those categories. Is that what you want?
The Right PeopleI seem to have developed a good method for identifying when I'm surrounded by the wrong crowd, and quickly making my escape. That sounds good, until I consider a parallel problem I have: failure to identify good groups and stick with them.
I write a lot about individuality on this blog, and for good reason: I think it is vitally important, and what I wrote in the previous section is just one way a robust sense of individuality will serve you well in life. Still, it's also true that humans need to belong to some sort of a community. Even the racists and jerks have the support of their friends, and that's true despite my ability to recognize their jerkiness and head in the opposite direction.
One problem I face as a passionate individualist, then, is that a sense of belonging is hard to come by. If I settle into the wrong kind of group - a group whose values are too different from my (as per Section 1) or one that is too exclusionary (as per Section 2) - then my gut tells me it's time to leave. How do you find a community of people whose core values are similar enough that friction is avoided, and is not so singular of purpose as to create animosity toward outsiders? Is it even possible?
So far, I think it comes down to meeting as many people as possible and sticking close to "the right ones." If you meet someone you admire, learn from that person, and work to befriend him or her. Clearly a person you admire must be doing a few things right, right?
It's possible that such a person already belongs to a strong community, and that you yourself won't mesh with it. But you might meet someone else you admire. And then, you might meet someone else. Eventually, you'll find you know a circle of people who might come from different backgrounds, but who all have you in common. At that point, it's up to you to see what kind of a community you can build from a group of people who you greatly admire.