Robin Hanson posted something titled “Stories Are Like Religion” in which he examines the (my crude paraphrasing here) elevating nature of fantasy and make-believe.
At our core, we are an escapist species, and I would venture to guess the only species capable of “unreality.” Unreality is the source of great industry and wealth and those who learn to market their vision of unreality become so wealthy that their lives essentially mimic unreality for the rest of us who never fostered such skills. The problem with most of us is that we regurgitate reality because we chase a reality we only know of. Unreality is frightening, erratic, and undependable, and for some people, contrary to their goals and values.
The first paragraph of Hanson’s post struck my eye for a specific reason having nothing to do with unreality (or the “story” as he terms it).
Small children (age 4-6) who were exposed to a large number of children’s books and films had a significantly stronger ability to read the mental and emotional states of other people. … The more absorbed subjects were in the story, the more empathy they felt, and the more empathy they felt, the more likely the subjects were to help when the experimenter “accidentally” dropped a handful of pens… Reading narrative fiction … fosters empathic growth and prosocial behavior.
The bold letters are my own.
“Prosocial” behavior was interesting to me because I believe I am one of those former 4 to 6 year olds who surrounded himself with nothing but books. I even tried to craft some rudimentary books by folding paper and stapling the folds while my childish yarns graced the irregular pages. I can attest to this in that I consider myself a master interpreter of human motives and emotions. Some people mistakenly call this intuition. I don’t like the word intuition because it seems to connote magic or psychic powers. I don’t believe in this stuff, but I do believe many people have intuition in the respect that they understand people so well that they can anticipate behavior before it happens. I consider myself one of this group. And if I had to ascribe my “skill” to anything, based on this paragraph, the early immersion in books fits.
The part that initially scared me was the “prosocial” thing. I can even allow for a great deal of empathy on my part…to a fault.
Prosocial is not what it seems. Let it be known that I did not open up Wikipedia or Google to find the objective definition of prosocial. I’m going with the flow, with my instincts. “Prosocial” does not connote that you favor a social life. In fact, prosocial is the antithesis to “anti-social” personality disorder which is entirely different than what it connotes. In fact, people always make the mistaken assumption that if you don’t like to talk to people, you are antisocial. This is false. It means you are “asocial” but not antisocial. Antisocial is a personality disorder characterized by risky and criminal behavior. These people might very well love crowds and talking. But clinically, they are antisocial. Conversely, I believe the prosocial moniker does not imply you adore the social life. Prosocial is not about being a social butterfly.
Rather, I thought of it differently in my own context of life.
I am prosocial in that I understand and comprehend the social dynamics of humans. Do I enjoy or relish it? Fuck no!
I don’t like being around people, I don’t like talking, and I’m bothered by everything incisively human. But I get them. Unlike the normal Aspy or pathological sociophobic person, I fully understand how people work, how they tick, and why tick like they do. I am prosocial because I embrace your behavior as an artifact of civilization. This is what reading a lot at 4-6 years of age opened my eyes to, and made me see the rest of my life. I know a lot of people who love “socializing” but they are not prosocial.