A Note on Individual Exceptionalism

So. Do you think you’re special?

I read with great interest an article that was published in Nature Neuroscience (via io9) that the human mind is programmed, in a nutshell to be optimistic. People like the dying earth scenario in films and books because often, they think that they will be that last person left – they are the Viggo Mortensen (The Road) or Sigourney Weaver (Alien), though they are far more likely to be the red shirted oik in the first 30 seconds who gets hit by a car, cannibalised or atomised by the latest shiny thing out of the Weta Works.

But it isn’t just optimism which has incited this griping. The type of exceptionalism I mean is that which I am not sure if it is a symptom of the present society we live in, or a malign force threatening to take it the wrong way.

It’s whether or not you think you, yourself, in the present, are exceptional. You deserve to jump the queue in the process or looked on favourably because you are so sure that only the person with the biggest hat in the organisation is worth listening to what you have to say.

Oddly enough, the people I find who behave with such exceptionalism are often those who believe most in the great, uniting mass of humanity, come different creed or culture. Not too different mind you, and God forbid you should have something that disagree with oik-in-question’s sense of morality – if they have developed ethically enough to have one. That last comment is not quite meant as a gripe, it is simply a statement of my experience. Often, the people who need to see the biggest hat in the company…. are those that need their hands to be held when they are embarking on something they’re unsure of.

Thus the problem: the world and time are awesome, dynamic forces constantly moving and ensuring that few things are actually certain. I look into the prospective futures I can connive with my own mind, and those my friends connive, and we too get that uncertain shiver down our spines as we realise that that’s it. University or college is actually the last guided goal we ever really have and once its gone, we’re out on our own.

Depending on what mood you’re in at the time this can give you a divine thrill, now master of your own destiny, or that gulping panic that holy shit, if we fall off this precipice of life we can fall very far and very fast. But that is the point: what’s the point of sailing the tumult of the world on your own little boat if it’s always tethered at the harbour, ready to come back in when the fishing goes bad?

But this isn’t something to be afraid of. And the world isn’t either. You are a being of life and the same competencies of everyone else, and since Homo Sapiens has come all this way beating out Mammoths, 5.9 kiloyear events, a tonne of disease epidemics and daily showering being a relatively new convention, remember: you don’t need someone to hold your hand. Sometimes you just need to politely tell yourself that fuck whatever else may happen, there’ll be no Sabre tooth tiger ripping your arm off if you don’t see the guy with the biggest hat – so maybe his more approachable underlings are worth seeing too.


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