Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eccentricity vs. Insanity

       One of the most notable double standards around is the old cliche: "Rich people are eccentric, poor people are insane". Many of the most admired celebrities, artists, inventors, politicians, scientists... were eccentric. Some were just very creative, some may have had Autism, some may even have had an undiagnosed mental condition. Yet most people just appreciate their work and their legacy and the details don't matter. I mentioned before how some of the behaviors of our current reality TV stars would not be so accepted or funny if they were acted out by average "Joe's" on the street. On the other hand if someone is successful, wealthy, aesthetically pleasing, or presented to the public just the right way, odd behaviors are treated more as "beauty marks" on their image. I think of people like St. Francis of Assisi, but also contemporary people such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, Elton John, Ozzie Ozbourne... Take the last one I mentioned, if the average person, let alone someone with a diagnosis, was seen biting the heads off of bats, even if it was just for show or even fake, they may end up in a mental hospital. If not people would still not find it amusing. Celebrities can wear the most off the wall clothing and end up starting a fashion trend as well as be admired for their originality and (not caring what people think of them). Yet if someone average and working class sported the same fashion a few years ahead of their time, it would be seen as inappropriate or even an attention seeking "toxic" behavior.
       When mental health people discuss and record "behaviors" in the developmentally disabled, many times they are things that not only TV personalities get away with, but things that are considered forgivable even in the average person. I'm not saying that everything is relative. There is indeed a line between eccentric and maladaptive behavior. Painting the walls of one's house fluorescent colors may be eccentric, while abusing animals or putting people in danger is "behavioral". The line can sometimes be a thin one, but our own prejudices, sometimes hidden can unfairly affect where the line is drawn. A more simple example is that if we already like and respect someone, the same creative and original behavior that would only increase our respect for that person would be seen as immature or attention seeking in someone we already look down on.
       Internet forums have their own dynamics. I would say most of them eventually develop cliques as there are cliques everywhere. A troll is a term for anyone who goes on a discussion board to start trouble and is usually the bogeyman of any Internet forum. Many times people do go on to start trouble and only want to get a rise out of people. The anonymity of the Internet combined with an audience can bring out the arrogant side of even if the most civilized people. On the other hand many of the so-called "trolls" are either people who disagree with the clique or politely question the orthodoxy of the larger group. Either way the same comments that are admired as "Telling it like it is" when it comes from an insider is seen as inappropriate, out of line, childish, or "trolling" if it comes from an "outsider". Usually this results in the "outsider" being shunned or ignored. Political pundits and "shock jocks" are another example, I mean on any side. They can say things that are offensive, sometimes deliberately, and get away with it. Sure people will hate them, but once they have an established loyal following and the safety of a group identity, they can offend people all they want and then take credit for their "courage" and even "martyrdom". It's all about the eyes of the beholder (or audience).
       If I may reserve my right to go on a tangent- which I am pretty good at- Another thing I notice on the Internet is that there seems to be no topics left that are safe from "flame wars" or offending people. This makes independent thinking difficult. If you belong to an ideological clique, then the "us" and the "them" is clear and if you offend or have "foot in mouth" issues you have you have a safety in numbers to safely "tell it like it is" or "not care what anyone else thinks of them". If you think for yourself then you may be on your own, or even be seen as a fence-sitter looking for an easy way out, even though having a "third" or  "hybrid" opinion is not necessarily easy. I can completely understand how people can get "passionate" when discussing war, religion, abortion, racism, or animal rights. But the once universal "safe" topics are no longer safe: "the weather" people can get into it over climate change, "gardening" it's a war between Miracle Grow users vs. organic gardening purists, "pets" it's Caesar Millan purists vs. positive reinforcement only people. While I try my best to be thoughtful, fair, inclusive, and respectful on this blog and my views are not necessarily that radical that I can think of off-hand, I have to resign myself that I will probably offend someone eventually and be taken out of context. For me to reduce that risk even more I would have to waste Internet bandwidth with superficial banter. We will always have double standards everywhere and no one is completely free of them, but it helps to be aware of them. Also I have found that on any issue the "all good" and "all evil" sides not all perfectly lined up in straight lines.

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