Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Void

Trigger Warning: This post contains apparent sympathy for Donald Trump

Here's a slightly outdated article about Trump being a vessel of positive emptiness (via BoingBoing). I'm not sure if I recommend you read it. If you do you may have to overlook the rocky beginning in which it is implied that
dogs don't have emotions
.

The point of the article is that we should be beyond the point of wondering what Donald Trump believes or thinks. It doesn't matter whether he really supports Nazis, because his calculation on the matter is probably something more akin to, "People are saying I'm bad for what I did so I will tell them I was right," rather than anything that factors in real world consequences beyond his own emotions. I think that's probably right.

What I don't think is right is that this makes him a "blank sucking nullity" or a "human void". Ordinarily I'd be fine with a novel insult for Trump, and in this particular case I am also basically fine with it. Still, this also awkwardly strikes home for me in a way that is a little tough to explain.

I am not much like Donald Trump as far as human beings go. I certainly have some similarities but I think personality wise most people would say I'm extremely far away from him. There are, however, a lot of dimensions on which you can measure things, and two things that are very different in an ordinary sense of how those things would be compared might be very similar along an unusual axis. If we believe a certain dossier then people who are into golden showers may have something very much in common with Donald Trump despite them being generally nice people who might bristle at the comparison.

That is not what I have in common with Donald Trump.

The thing about Trump that makes him so hard to understand for most people is that he seems to exist in a different dimension of personality. Most people will lie or tell the truth, and a person might be a liar or very honest. Donald Trump says things without regard for whether they are true or not, substituting an entirely different axis of decision-making. Some people know etiquette and some people don't, some people who know etiquette for a situation obey it to be polite and other flaunt it to be rude or to show rebelliousness. Trump behaves how he is going to behave regardless of what etiquette may or may not exist.

Trump isn't a liar or a boor, he exists on an axis orthogonal to those considerations. I keep hearing political commentators try to return to what they think the point is - how will this help or hurt Trump's agenda. But Trump doesn't have a political agenda, he has something perpendicular to that.

You probably have a moderate-to-good understanding of other people. Maybe that's a very intellectual understanding or maybe it's a very emotional one. However you came about it, the reason I can say you probably have it is because you have to have it to get on in your life. If you have or have had a job, or a romantic relationship, or friends, or a twitter following, you must have at some point figured out how to relate to people in some way they understand. You figured this out because your brain is a pattern matching machine and you were perpetually exposed to hundreds of data points on how humans behave.

If a human comes along who is a real decision-making outlier - who operates on decision-making axes largely independent of those that you are used to - they are going to seem inscrutable. That's why you don't understand Trump. There are few enough people who are like that that you've never had enough data to put a model together. Analogies to five-year-old children help, but it really is more like trying to understand the mind of a cat. If you've spent years around Trump you'll get better at it, but that's by developing a Trump-specific model, not by assuming you can work him into your human model.

There's only one place I could be going with this, and many of my readers may be tempted to stop me right here and say, "Come on, you aren't that different."

I am.

In my life there are a number of people I've strongly related to. People whose thoughts and feelings look like mirror images of mine even if they aren't the same. I wrote about this years ago when I wrote about John Campbell and his Kickstarter meltdown. Somehow his huge explanation of his life and himself seemed totally relatable to me while most people found it nonsense and
hardly a reason to burn books
.

There is someone who is widely regarded as a troll on a forum that I sometimes visit who just makes sense to me. To others, they must be trying to derail the discussion because their posts are too disconnected from what everyone else is talking about. To me, it makes perfect sense, and when I respond to them I get
coherent
responses back.

And yes, seeing Donald Trump spoken of as someone who can't be comprehended made me think of myself. Sure, that's probably only because I think of myself as
essentially bad
. But I've never really had much trouble understanding what Trump was like or who he is. I'm not troubled by questions like, "Does he support nazis?" because it's just not a hard question to answer - that is, unless you are caught up on what the word "support" would mean if you "supported" something and you are trying to look for an analogue in someone who just doesn't do that.

I've always gotten conflicting results on introversion vs. extroversion scales on personality tests. In
Jungian terms
introversion vs. extroversion is about your flow of energy: extroverts get energy from being around others and need energy to spend time being alone. Introverts need to spend energy to be around others and need to be alone to recover energy.

The reason my results are conflicting is because I am an extrovert - I get energy from being around other people - but I find having energy to be an intolerable state that I can't handle, so I need to spend time by myself to allow it to dissipate and return to being sedate. Being around other people makes me manic, and mania is terrible. That's a recent realization that fits a general pattern. I'm a funhouse mirror of a normal hedonic scale. Sometimes I'm better at my job because I'm depressed. I can have a negative reaction to feeling good. Most people probably wouldn't even know what that could mean.

Our zeitgeist tells us that people act out of self-interest, and that's embedded deeper in our thought processes than we are aware. While Trump is the ultimate example of someone who acts only in terms of immediate self-interest, I am probably as close to a counterexample of that as you will find. My actions are usually governed by the interests of others that I substitute for my own because I don't know what my interests are or by the desire to just stop, regardless of the cost.

The best strategy for most people to deal with Donald Trump is to stop trying to understand his internal workings and instead just look and how he works on a cause-and-effect level. I am the same and opposite to that - the best strategy for most people to deal with me is to assume my internal workings are the way they assume everyone's are because I will do the work to limit the possibility of challenging that assumption.

I was once told that fundamentally there are two kinds of mentally ill people - those that take it out on others and those that take it out on themselves. I think it's possible that Trump and I - aside from that one very important dimension - are much more alike than we appear.

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