The true meaning of ‘misanthrope’ can be found in a comedy series | Mint

The true meaning of ‘misanthrope’ can be found in a comedy series

Smart investing is misanthropy in that you do make money going by the wisdom of crowds, but you make much more if you know when to bet against the herd.
Smart investing is misanthropy in that you do make money going by the wisdom of crowds, but you make much more if you know when to bet against the herd.

Summary

  • Misanthropy, as a general frustration with society, is more common than it appears at first glance.

In Curb Your Enthusiasm, a series created by Larry David, he plays a melodramatic version of what he claims is his real self. Once, he encounters a large woman in a shelter for battered women and he suspects she is lying about her trauma because she is so physically imposing no man could have battered her. Another day, he appoints an African-American man to behave poorly with Caucasians, on his behalf. At the peak of the #MeToo movement in America, when Larry David finds a date, he persuades her to appear on tape with him giving him consent to get physical. Also, he woos a disabled woman to get ahead in queues and ends up cheating on her with another disabled woman.

The twelfth and final season of the cult sitcom dropped a few days ago. Long before that, Larry David has been celebrated for all that is great about him. Except one thing—he is not hailed enough for unintentionally introducing to the modern world the most sensible meaning of the word ‘misanthrope.’

There is a corrupt side to language, especially English, which has words that do not exist in most languages. Through labels, it simplifies complexity, and at times manufactures ideas that do no exist (just about anything that ends with ‘ism’). Among its odd words is ‘misanthrope,’ which dictionaries interpret as “hater of mankind." It is not an obscure word at all. Yet, its dictionary meaning is obscure. “Hater of mankind." Who hates humans, really? People do say that, but without seriousness. Larry David himself says that. Yet, he is a man who loves his friends, and even an ex-wife. No one truly knows the meaning of ‘hating humans.’ At best, it is a lament. Or there could be a form of mental illness that makes some people despise humans.

But ‘misanthrope’ always had a potential meaning that could describe more than six weird people, it could describe a human state. Its true meaning lay hidden for centuries as it was appropriated by misguided linguists who were confused by too much knowledge of Greek etymology.

The true meaning of ‘misanthrope’ was prophesied by a broad type of people. They did not hate humans; they had contempt or just amusement for what humans did. The contemptuous and the amused are two different types of misanthropes. Both can have astonishing clarity about humans because they find a way to observe their species from the outside, but only one of them is a natural storyteller. The contemptuous artist is a bore, but the amused observer of the herd is interesting to the whole herd.

Misanthropy, as a general frustration with society, is more mainstream than it appears at first glance. What else is the government’s family-planning policy but a form of misanthropy?

Environmentalism is mostly misanthropy. Also smart investing. You do make money going by the wisdom of crowds, but you make much more if you know when to bet against the herd. Also, a good diet is a misanthropic diet. If you don’t eat how most people do, it usually means you have intelligent eating habits. There is a reason why the best way to irritate relatives is to follow a healthy diet. It makes them feel that you are abandoning them as they sink into their slow deaths.

A person who is suspicious of the majority condition deserves a word that means more than a “hater of mankind," who may not even exist. The misanthrope is not a psychopath (who too may not exist but that’s for another day). Everyday misanthropes can see clearly the absurdities of herd behaviour.

Across the ages, misanthropes were among the most influential people. The distant amused observer is a common trope in the arts. Comedians have used it for long. Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David tapped it for the comedy Seinfeld. The misanthrope is the soul of Fleabag, a comedy about reasonless grief. But the ‘misanthrope’ was never clearly marked and named until someone used it to promote Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David thus became not only the most famous ‘misanthrope’ in the world but also one who was most likely to actually exist. His mistrust of human beings makes him see through their facades. In one episode, Larry David discovers something only he could have—that a hip restaurant gives the best seats to attractive people and hides other people, like him, in the back.

Misanthropy is also a layer of morality. Once, in the series, Larry David hires a garish street sex worker so that he can use the car-pool lane that is unavailable to solo drivers. This is a truly egalitarian man, who only sees where he wishes to go and not a class hierarchy. He gets into a lot of trouble because of her, but treats her as an equal all through. Another time, he discovers a Palestinian restaurant that serves the best chicken he has ever eaten. This discovery is bad news for some adulterous Jews who have been bringing their lovers here, confident that they will never be seen by other Jews. Larry David invites a Jewish friend there who arrives in a yamaka (Jewish cap). As the man approaches, Larry David, who is Jewish himself, figures that he would be debarred from the diner if the Palestinians see him with such a conservative Jew. He has to choose between chicken and Jewish pride. It is a no-contest. He wrestles his friend outside the restaurant to remove his yamaka. Palestinians inside the restaurant watch, baffled, and Larry David becomes their hero. A true misanthrope upsets his own tribe more often than his historic foes.

So often in real life, the misanthrope is an accidental humanitarian, and people who call themselves ‘humanists’ are dangerous.

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