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Happy Face Misanthropy
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Forty-One
by Brian S. Wise
4 November 2003

"Hell," said Sartre, "is other people." He was on to something.


No one seems troubled by the idea of two million people (if you believe the number) losing their jobs because of the federal “Do Not Call” list, so long as they are telemarketing jobs, a puzzling thing. Even more puzzling because there are nine Democrats (all right, eight Democrats and one “Democrat”) running for president who have gone to fantastic lengths to condemn the number of jobs lost since President Bush took office, how thus far America’s has been a “jobless recovery” and so forth, with nothing being said about the potential impact the list will have on people who work phones for a living.

Stranger still that no one, save eight Representatives who voted against the “Do Not Call” legislation, has had the nerve to speak against it, to even say there are ways to deal with personal inconvenience without getting the federal government involved, something that used to be a firm conservative principle. For example, I have avoided unwanted calls by not having telephone service in my home and shrugging off cell phones like they were AIDS infected Malaysian prostitutes.

Not everyone can go that way, which is why technology (again, for conservatives: the market) has risen to the occasion over the past several years by producing things like answering machines, voice mail and caller identification … you can walk into Radio Shack and drop $10 on a little electronic box that somehow blocks a large percentage of unsolicited sales calls. You would think that various combinations of these and other remedies would keep things quiet for those who want quiet; the notion that whatever helps you avoid calls from bill collectors, irritating ex-lovers and your boss is impractical for avoiding telemarketers is intellectually dishonest.

Wanting to be left alone for large portions of our lives isn’t unnatural, but we treat it like it is. It comforts us to say things like “Telemarketing calls are an invasion of my privacy” because the argument sounds and feels vaguely Constitutional, but telemarketing is not an invasion of privacy. In most cases, numbers the telemarketing companies use can be found in any phone book; anyone with the slightest inclination could find your number. An illegal wiretap is an invasion of privacy; telemarketing is a small detriment to the overall quality of casual living, but irritating, and therefore a popular conduit.

Truth is, many of us are slowly moving away from other people, but may not see it happening. Ford Motor Company now has for sale the new F-150, constructed with “quiet steel,” which helps to keep excess noise from entering the cabin; that is, the noise produced by other people, their hobbies and their jobs. If you have walked into a large supermarket in the last year, you have seen checkout machines that allow you, with 15 items or less, to conduct your entire purchase without any human involvement. (Unless you have one of the new $20 bills, but that’s another story.) When the fourth quarter economic numbers are released next year, not only will you see growth of four or five percent, but a dramatic increase in the number of people doing all their Christmas shopping online, because to spend so much time in stores, shoulder to shoulder with so many other people, is truly burdensome, and something to avoid.

To call it a creeping national misanthropy would be incorrect. Misanthropy for the masses is as close to impossible in America as is complete socialism; it would mean abandoning some enjoyable things that happen to involve other people, and there’s no point in throwing out the baby with the bath water. (Sex is one of those things, and it’s all that stands between me and complete misanthropy.) We want very much to dislike others but don’t want to say so publicly because it looks and sounds terrible … to other people, who for some reason we continue to pretend to care about.

Instead what we do is devise friendlier ways of forcing those we couldn’t care less about out of our faces; misanthropy with a smile, because we are still so much equal parts Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey. Somewhere over the years, being honest enough to say “Get away from me” turned to cries for “personal space” and not wanting to be bothered came to mean that those who didn’t forthrightly agree were “invading your privacy.”

“Hell, said Sartre, “is other people.” He was on to something. You’ll feel better if you admit it … even if its quietly.


Brian Wise is the lead columnist for IntellectualConservative.com.

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