Home >Opinion >Columns >The unrelenting nuisance of sociable people

There, the gregarious are starting the whole circus again. The slightest respite in lockdown rules, and they have to go meet other sociable people. This is exactly how the second wave began.

The sociable declared Indians special and immune from whatever it was that people in the West were going through. They attended weddings, parties and dinners, and surely laughed hard. If you ever investigate why a group of ten people laughed so much in a restaurant, what was the exact joke, who made them laugh and why, you will never find out. This is a world filled with laughter, but some of us struggle to find a half-decent new sitcom.

When the second surge occurred, India did what it did best. It planned for nothing, but looked baffled at the rational consequences of its inactions. And everyone blamed politicians, which is the most therapeutic thing that is available to Indians. Now the same people are at it again. They have to go out and meet people in crowded places; that is what they claim is life and joy, and even the economy.

I read on Twitter, “You spend your whole life gathering guests for your funeral." Several people have said this without crediting whoever came up with it, who I suspect was a loner, one who did not collect too many guests. But, the calamitous second wave that sociable people triggered by being sociable resulted in funerals without guests.

Modern life is an endless nuisance caused by sociable people. The nuisance is not in the act of meeting other people, which may be an essential activity, but in the excess. People tend to overdo what helps them escape themselves. The same phenomenon occurs in socializing. There is excess, and there is addiction. And, what people mostly think is moderation is in reality excess. The gregarious not only spread diseases more efficiently, they also crowd restaurants and aeroplanes, and inflate the general price of fun for true moderates, the decent misanthropes. The gregarious also control success.

One way or another, success is not a reward for being extraordinary. Success is a reward for being a good friend, given by good friends. People, especially the talented, gain immensely from finding their own tribe. And relationships with people are not built on efficiency because there is no such thing as quality time. There is only time; you need to marinate in people; that’s how companionship works. But then, everything about meeting others is unhealthy, involving large amounts of sugar and disruptions of a sleep cycle. It need not be this way, but it is. As a result, even without a pandemic, the sociable end up becoming the first carriers of any new pathogen. Also, they create a social order based on likability, friendship, drinking and the capacity to waste time with other people.

Now that such a social order is in place, there are vast professional and emotional advantages in leading unhealthy lives and some disadvantages in leading a healthy lifestyle, like rising and sleeping early, going out only to meet those who matter, and picking online chess over an outing for ice-cream. Actually, forget physical health, even if you have high standards for conversations, you are at a disadvantage in this world.

So, what am I asking the world to do? Stop attending weddings, stop crowding restaurants, stop meeting people, get interesting and quit laughing hard ? I knew you would be melodramatic. I am talking about a form of excess here.

The sociable are people who indulge in an excess of human companionship and facile activities like drinking to achieve it, as opposed to, say, trekking, which is a more difficult way to enjoy human company. The gregarious, who are addicted to excess socializing, are neither a minority nor as numerous as they seem in restaurants. By nature, they are just more visible (and audible) than the rest.

One may argue that most of the world is sociable and those who are not so, and who write good-natured columns rebuking the sociable, are a fringe group. But this is not true. There are many who don’t want to indulge in the excess but are forced to play along by a powerful system of fun created by the gregarious.

Have you tried asking people to meet you over a walk instead of food and drink? Many find it weird, or too intimate. But this was not how the world was. You read any history of modern science in Britain, you will invariably encounter two young scientists meeting up and walking through the woods for hours discussing the nature of reality and so on.

But today, especially in India, there is no network effect to support healthy and beautiful ways of meeting people. This is how the sociable are a never-ending nuisance to the misanthropes. Also, they have defamed the misanthrope as a people-hater. Leaving psychiatric cases aside, in the practical world a common misanthrope is not someone who hates people, and this is because most people are not interesting enough for that. The misanthrope merely despises what a collection of humans create—like, for instance, the dull social world, and the cult of mediocre superhero films.

A misanthrope is not necessarily a hermit. Surely, he did not stay at home throughout the pandemic. This is someone who would take some calculated risks to fly to beautiful places. An aeroplane is not a risky medium when it is not a social vehicle. It is safe if you don’t open your mouth too often.

As sociable people now begin to step out, and make plans to meet other sociable people, I do hope they achieve one of the most useful things that sociable people ever achieve—herd immunity.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, and a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’

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