Do you ever — have you ever — felt like an alien in this world?
I have and I’m guessing you have, too. I first became consciously aware of my alienness when I was around 11, though it was unconsciously there the first times my kindergarten teacher tried to force me into “social” games that left me like a deer in the headlights. It was there in the way my parents treated my brother and me as if we’d been left on their doorstep by a particularly bizarre band of gypsies. (Brother and I were very different critters, but we were both unconventional loners and deep thinkers, unlike my uber-social, join-everything, voted-most-popular, shallow-as-a-mud-puddle older sister.)
By the time I was in high school, I’d invented an elaborate mythology to explain how I could look so human while being so apart from my supposed peers. I was sent here as an alien spy; the physical transfer succeeded but something went badly wrong when it came to transmitting my mind across space.
In the adult world — where there are so many more options, where it’s forgivable not to be just like everybody else, and where now there’s a whole Internet! — I’ve seldom been bothered by that terrible sense of being something irreconcilably foreign to the “normal” world. Adults can find their own “normal.” Or live outside of “normal.”
Once in a while alien horror strikes out of the blue, though.
It hit last week when mouthy morons blighted a great moment in science by making scientist Matt Taylor’s un-PC shirt more important than the fact that our amazing species (led, as always, by a handful of those above and beyond the pack) had just set a lander down on a freakin’ comet! (“A moving comet” as all the journalists breathlessly noted, showing their vast understanding of celestial mechanics.)
The shirt squawkers are not only self-righteous morons and bullies (as Mollie Hemingway notes so well in the article linked above). They’re not only intolerant conformists in the best public high school “mean girls” tradition. They’re savages — and I say that in the true sense of people who have no grasp of human achievement.
Savages. People who, on their own, would never have gotten out of the caves or figured out how to clothe their naked skin. To them, tribal conformity is proper and safe. Achievement is the work of dangerous weirdos, people you don’t want to share your cave with (though you’ll be happy to share their achievements after you’ve driven the creators out in the cold to die or stoned them to death for their heresy).
Poor Matt Taylor was the immediate target of their loud ignorance. Taylor and his colleagues. And the woman friend who lovingly made him that shirt with the scantily clad and well-armed women on it. But I wondered, How can anybody with a brain belong in a world with such screeching creatures?
Yes, I know that the ‘Net, for all its wonders, for all it allows us oddballs to be here talking with each other, for all its riches of information and culture, also provides a platform for the nastiest narcissists capable of setting thumbs to keyboards. The members of the self-righteous chorus trying to bring Matt Taylor down to their level are cousins to the ranters who cheer every time some child is killed with a gun, who wish all gun owners would “second amendment” themselves to death, and who think it’s a good idea to SWAT any peaceable open carrier.
I would love to think they were all just exceptions, just particularly vile, immature little brats who don’t represent any widespread viewpoint. I would like to think they’re the aliens, the outsiders, the unregarded.
But when I read the comments directed at a great scientist in his should-have-been-great moment, my reaction was visceral dread: how can intelligent people survive in a world where such creatures have commandeered such power? How can anyone with a brain and an individual soul fit in a world where #shirtstorm trumps great minds or the shrill shrieks of know-nothings ring louder than intelligent discourse?
I’m not even worthy to touch the hem of Taylor’s politically incorrect shirt. But I know that about myself. Those conformist ranters actually think they’re superior to him. One of them even accused him of ruining “her” great comet-landing moment — as if there would have been any such moment without people like Taylor to bring it to her.
There’s room in this world for both Kim Kardashian’s backside and the Rosetta team’s stellar accomplishments. One doesn’t interfere with the other. But I fear for a society in which the bigoted rants of an ignorant mob can drown out achievement. And it horrifies me to know that intelligent, informed, decent, achieving people struggle to be heard over the chitters, squawks, and blood-howls of such savages.
It didn’t help that I then re-watched Idiocracy, a movie I fear is going to be as prophetic as it is funny.