Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Such a child may set to work at a surprisingly early age to mediate on life and death and human destiny.  He becomes an introvert, melancholy at first, but seeking ultimately the unreal consolations of some system of philosophy or theology. The world is a higgledy-piggledy place containing things pleasant and things unpleasant in haphazard sequence.  And the desire to make an intelligible system or pattern out of it is at bottom an outcome of fear,  in fact a king of agoraphobia or dread of open spaces. Within the four walls of his library the timid student feels safe. If he can persuade himself that the universe is equally timid, he can feel almost equally safe when he has to venture forth into the streets - Bertrand Russell - The Conquest of Happiness.

In the Conquest of Happiness Russell, who was suicidally depressed during his youth, advocates adopting an extroverted zestful approach to life.  Introversion he says must be overcome because it harms our enjoyment of life. The quoted passage does have some truth : introverted people like myself can sometimes retreat into books and intellectualism to hide from the world or to gain a sense of control in a world we feel apart from. We all feel the need to understand the world - it's part of human nature - but constructing little intellectual ivory towers is perhaps not the best way to enjoy life.

On the other hand Jeffrey Ellis over at The Thinker has an interesting counter point:

What introverts need is for extroverts to understand that we are happy the way we are. Forcing us to interact with them against our will (which I have dubbed “conversational rape“) drains us of our energy and quite honestly causes no small degree of resentment. By trying to pull us out of our shell, they are not helping us back to some “natural” state; they are actually forcing us to go against our nature.

As an introvert, I have to agree with the above.  I find small talk tedious and draining and I wish people would learn to be comfortable with silence and with their own thoughts.

So I have to disagree with Russell on this point. I am perfectly usually happy being an introvert and frankly consider it a blessing. But his point regarding 'unreal consolations of some system of philosophy' is valid. There comes a point when trying-to-understand-the-world turns into trying-to-hide-from-the-world with the side effect of becoming an ideology driven asshole who believes he has everything figured out.   The ideologist is much like the gambler who is convinced he found the perfect system to beat the odds - life will prove him wrong every time.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...