The People vs The People

People. They’re everywhere. Up in the sky or buried underground. Walking around a garden centre or running through a water fountain. Inside diving bells or outside semi-digested food. In fact, in some large cities you’re never more than zero feet away from a person, and it turns out it’s you. Terrifying.

An old friend of mine used to express her frustration at long queues or slow-moving crowds by exclaiming ‘Ugh! People!’ with a sort of browbeaten inflection as though this was typical behaviour that she was once again the victim of. As though she was annoyed at the whole concept of peoplehood based solely on the actions of these individuals. I would politely tell her that she herself was people, to which she would wryly remind me that she was not; she was a person. I would then explain, with a hopefully well-communicated level of sarcasm that, no she wasn’t, because she was a woman. We don’t talk anymore.

If I find myself disagreeing with or being confused by a large group of people, or an individual, I try to put myself into their mindset, in the hope of realising that if I was doing what they are, I’d probably understand. For example, some people naturally walk slowly, that’s fine. Some people like to wait until they’re at the front of a queue before they decide to even consider what sort of coffee to get, that’s… I mean that’s… whatever… I guess. Some people like to practice the Ferber method a.k.a graduated extinction with their child in a public place, where they let the child ‘cry it out’, so they can learn to self-soothe. And it seems that no matter how many other customers I’ve cajoled into a sort of class-action complaint, it’s close to impossible to get them ejected from Waterstones.
It’s not always easy to sympathise. In fact, just as I sat down to write this in a public place, a stranger sat down next to me (I won’t say what her gender was, nor try to put a number on her advanced age, lest I come across as discriminatory) and proceeded to manically and feverishly devour the loudest packet of crisps I have ever encountered outside of some very niche ASMR videos. She was eating them with the hysterical aggression you usually only see in movies where a teenage runaway is given their first proper meal in months. As she snuffled down her Kettle Chips, I found it difficult to put myself in her position to understand her urgency, and only struggled to concentrate on this excellent blog, hoping that when she’d finished, she wouldn’t start on a bag of pork scratchings or a sachet of popping candy. She made a comment to no-one in particular about the changeable weather, perhaps hoping I would acknowledge it, or chip in. But I ignored her, staring at my screen with the intensity of someone taking a BuzzFeed quiz entitled ‘How Long Can You Stop Blinking For Before People Start To Worry?’ I know I should feel guilty about being rude, but actually it’s pretty typical behaviour for me. In the end I was just pleased that I was behaving consistently on brand, and considered myself to be the Daniel Day-Lewis of method acting my own personality.

It seems quite common to claim to have a general hatred for other people. In an indiscriminate way I mean, not like racism. Although, racism’s doing well too. A lot of social media posts and memes seem to be concerned with the idea of not enjoying crowds, or socialising, in a way that might even diminish genuine feelings of agoraphobia or social anxiety, like I just did in the above paragraph. If I was to over-analyse, I might bullshit that it was as a result of social media and digital interaction creating a real-world interpersonal dissonance, or as a response to the distasteful populist movements going on such as Brexit, and Trump, as a way to distant oneself from the idea of a mob mentality. But I think it’s basically been going on longer than that. It’s just another way to feel distinct. Like choosing to sit alone in a coffee shop writing a blog, imagining that one day in the future when you’re a famous comedian, people will revisit the blog and go: “See, he was always going to be successful. Just look at the quality of his writing. He even used the word ‘dissonance’.”
I certainly understand an attitude of wariness to populist thought. We all remember that zeitgeist-penetrating scene in Men in Black where Will Smith asks Tommy Lee Jones why they have to keep aliens a secret, since people are smart and deserve the truth. Jones responds by saying that, “A person is smart. People are dumb.” And he’s right. Just look at what happens when big groups of people get together and lose their sense of self, or right and wrong. You have protests turning into aimless country-wide riots back in 2011. You have a nation voting for someone who openly took the piss out of a disabled guy to a crowd of laughing supporters. And you have Ed Sheeran concerts.

Distancing yourself from adhering to popular ideas which have traction just because of their prevalence and popularity can be healthy. But similarly, every individual is ‘people’. No single person likes being in the queue that they created, but everyone blames everyone else for it. Remember, if you’re not part of the solution, then that’s probably okay, no-one’s perfect. You’ve got your own thing going on and I respect that. Give my love to Ashley and the kids.

The loud crisp-eating woman has gone now. Maybe I was too judgmental about her abhorrent behaviour. If you see her, tell her I’m sorry, and that she’s right, the weather is crazy.

Next time on the bandwagon – I amalgamate two of Stephen King’s best works: On Writing and Carrie, to create a new bawdy comedy-horror, Carrie On Writing. Expect telekinesis, puberty anxiety, and lots of veiled knob gags.