Prosocial rendezvous

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.

But prosocial?

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.

Category(s): L4

50 Responses to Prosocial rendezvous

  1. Interesting about children and stories.

    It reminded me that the kiddo (autistic) sometimes finds it easier to empathize with characters in stories than with real life people. Most likely he always struggle with empathy, but the stories sometimes bridge the gap between real life and imagination.

    He was almost four when he first read “The Dot and The Line,” and it immediately became his favorite book, due to the word play and fun with mathematics (he was intensely interested in geometry at the time). But one day he became teary-eyed at how the Dot tore into the poor Squiggle at the end. I had to agree with him that she was being very mean to him. Never did understand what either the Line or the Squiggle saw in that silly, shrewish Dot!

    He sometimes draws cartoons or writes dialogue for the things he’s working on. Once he was learning the difference between acceptable and unacceptable comments on people’s personal appearance–e.g., you may say “I like your freckles” but you may not say “what’s up with the weird freckles?” One day he had drawn two guys talking–the first guy says “Hey I like your hair,” and the other one says “Thanks–it’s a mullet.” He had drawn a classic MacGyver mullet on the other guy. The amazing thing is he actually meant it to be funny in an ironic way.

    Here is the animated version of The Dot and the Line:

      Gay State Girl says:

      I’d empathize with things rather than people. I was always upset when my mother threw things out. Like “where is it going to go?” “who will take care of it?” I was even upset to part with napkins.

      • The kiddo would play with abstract objects rather than toys that represented real things–people, animals, what have you. No action figures for this guy. He would take document clips, rubber bands, etc. and make them “talk” like disembodied mouths.

        Throwing things away he had no trouble with–he used to try to throw away things I didn’t want thrown away. Occasionally things were misplaced because I hid them from him and forgot where they were.

      • That reminds me that his favorite storybook characters were often things rather than people. “The Dot and the Line,” “The Greedy Triangle,” “The Ice-Cream Cone Coot and Other Rare Birds.” That last one was about birds made of objects like scissors, telephones, clocks, ice-cream cones.

        That last one is out of print (I still have mine from when I was a kid), but it’s obviously fondly remembered by many Gen-Xers–used copies start at $35 on Amazon and new copies go for over $200! Holy fishpaste!

    Gay State Girl says:

    Me too. The poker chips were my babies. I played with dolls too, but used them for action/ adventure, and experimentation rather than interactive play. My doll house people went bungy jumping off the observation deck of table mountain.

      Gay State Girl says:

      and floating on the salt floes of the dead sea.

      • Tears?

          Gay State Girl says:

          I didn’t actually go in.

            Gay State Girl says:

            Just sat on the side and dunked them in.

          • Oh, you visited–for some reason I was picturing an imaginary play scenario.

            Never visited the Dead Sea, but I did visit the Great Salt Lake in 1978. I remember floating in it felt different than floating in the ocean. The Dead Sea is saltier if I recall correctly.

            Gay State Girl says:

            No and I took them up table mountain as well. Mom wouldn’t let me take them bungee jumping out of the open cable car though, so I had to settle for the observation deck, which was not stimulating.

          • Moms are funny like that. I’ve put the kibosh on several indoor stunts. Though I allowed jumping on the bed and the kiddo managed to break it.

            My Mom would have had a conniption fit if she saw some of the stunts we pulled when she went out. Still can’t believe we never broke anything–on ourselves or in the house.

            Oh wait, that’s not true. We broke a bed at Granny’s house. Though three of us were jumping on it at the same time!

            Gay State Girl says:

            How many are “you?”

          • Not many–one sister, two male cousins–the cousins and I were taking mid-air Polaroids of ourselves jumping on the bed.

            How many are “you”?

            Gay State Girl says:

            I have two younger (by more than five years) sisters. I don’t have any biological first cousins. My family was not really close to our second and third cousins and not many were close to my age.

            You’re the oldest too?

          • Yes, the oldest–also older than my cousins, though the youngest of us is only five years younger than I am.

            We all have kids of our own now. Haven’t met any of my cousins’ kids though–haven’t seen them in–wow, over 20 years!–though we exchange photos and etc.

            Gay State Girl says:

            Do they live in a different part of the world?

            I always liked being with adults better. We didn’t do much together and never shared anything because of the age difference. I had a very different experience during my childhood. Back then, my parents were not so religious, and all four of my grandparents were still alive. I spent a significant portion of my early childhood in South Africa before my grandfather died. My sisters don’t remember it at all.

            Gay State Girl says:

            A favorite from my childhood.


          • Yeah–they grew up in Missouri so we only saw each other every one to two years. Now nearly everyone on that side of the family has died or moved to California. No one’s left in Massachusetts but me, which is strange as I once had a lot of extended family here.

            With a few exceptions, I found adults somewhat intimidating as a kid. I didn’t necessarily get along well with other kids either, but vacations with the cousins were always a lot of fun and far too short. I don’t remember ever fighting with them. Maybe it was because we didn’t see much of each other!

    Gay State Girl says:

    The books from my formative years are now collectables.

    “Oh, and I know she dislikes me. I get the vibe.”
    Gee, I don’t know why since, to quote you from this current post:
    “I don’t like being around people, I don’t like talking, and I’m bothered by everything incisively human.”
    Dude, I am begining to think my references of you as Mexihermit is really serious.
    I am trying to figure the whole reading thing.
    I was reading the Left Angeles Times at 4 years old.
    I guess it turned me into a conservative?!
    I don’t know.
    I think that maybe it is that you find being around a lot of people hard.
    Me too.
    I don’t REALLY like parties or being around people I really don’t know well.
    What is the first question one is asked?
    “So, what kind of work do you do?”
    Anyhow, I will have to come back to this.
    Almost time to leave work! LOL!

    • At parties I tend to zero in on the person who doesn’t fit in. That’s usually the person who has the most interesting things to say. Normal schmoozing is dull and sometimes insincere. I can manage, but I don’t enjoy it.

      • Ahh, then you would zero in on me! As I said, I can do quite well holding up the wall. But I rarely am one to start conversation. Just the way I am.

        Gay State Girl says:

        Do you have a blog?

        • Nope. People keep asking me that, though.

            Gay State Girl says:

            Is your son enrolled in public school? Birthday cakes and bake sales are now banned in Massachusetts public schools.


            The bill (planned to go into effect August 1) has been toned down to allow bake sales. Still, it’s messed up. As far as sending snacks for school parties and etc.–where do you draw the line between a granola bar and a cookie? How do you enforce it? Feh!

            Gay State Girl says:

            Devil Patrick is such an ineffective governor.

          • Are there any politicians worth a damn? I think we should throw in the towel on the whole “leader” paradigm. People are stupid, lazy, immoral, especially those who seek office. And we entrust them with our interest? I don’t wnat to play that game anymore. I’m going to stop voting for anybody, including the dog catcher!

          • Well, part of the problem is when people do NOT hold the people they vote for accountable. When I started my blog, one of the big issues was, and is, illegal immigration. Then President Bush wanted amnesty. I can not tell you how many posts I wrote opposing that. See, I try not to follow any “leader” blindly. When even one I like is wrong, I will say it. And it is not a new thing to me. When I actually became a voter in, OMG! 1982, I wrote to the White House about President Reagan caving in on raising taxes. What is really amazing is how the Obamawhore sychophants are hailing his “evolution” on same-sex marriage. The dude has ALWAYS been for it. He lied to be elected to the senate and president. Yet go on Facebook. There they are, praising him like he is Moses or Jesus Christ himself. Please! That is why I myself put my faith in God. I know that will get ya!

            Gay State Girl says:

            Tim Cahill said he would penalize businesses that employed illegal aliens.

          • Sure, don’t vote–it only encourages them!

            I already posted this once today, but I had an unintentionally funny exchange with the kiddo…he had come across the word “pimp” and I began to explain it to him.
            “OK, do you know what a prostitute is?”
            “Does it have something to do with politics?”

          • Bingo!

            I guess you could always clean up the word and tell him it describes the process of putting shiny things on your car.

          • We discussed that meaning as well. Either way it falls into the category of Words He Mustn’t Use In School…it’s not enough to tell him he can’t use a word; I have to explain why.

            Gay State Girl says:

            That’s why I wouldn’t have a problem if the traditionalists took away our voting rights.

            Mickey Mouse, Homer Simpson, and Archie Bunker have all received a number of votes.

            But is there an obvious money trail behind the anti obesity crusade that I’m not seeing or are these small (counterproductive) motions just a form “lip service” or a distraction from more pressing issues?

          • That’s an interesting question. Maybe someone wants to hire a bunch of new bureaucrats to watch what we eat, plus a new Fat Czar.

            Gay State Girl says:

            At first I thought it was a nice gesture with stupid outcomes, but now I think there is an sinister ulterior agenda behind it.

          • Yet you (I don’t mean that about you or Amy, the people of your state) voted for this guy not once, but twice. I think the people deserve what they get there. We just get 70 year-old plus retreads to become governor here. Hey, we did not get enough of Jerry Brown screwing us up in the late 70s & early 80s, but we are getting the second act. And it is just as bad.

            Gay State Girl says:

            Voted for Tim Cahill. He was pretty bold.

      • You’ll always find me at a party because I’m the person who didn’t show up.

    • Oh, I am back now.
      Well, as I said, I am not one for being in social situations. Actually, if were not for my wife, I would be as you have been. Holding up the wall. Hell, even today people find me standoffish when it is really I am not the glad-hander type. I do not do well in the social sits.
      Having said that I try to balance being Rightyhermit and social butterfly. It is not always easy.

    • The operative phrase here is “narrative fiction” and though you may disagree with the LA Times, it is ultimately not narrative fiction. It seeks to report, not to evoke emotion.

      • Well, when I was 4 yeas old, that may have been the case. But not now. You really think that the Left Angeles Times has no political agenda? I wished that was not the case, but it is.

  3. New dictionary word meaning:

    Rainman- n, An Unmarried Man.

    I could not resist that.
    But Amy has an interesting take.
    You spout off like crazy here and yet are the wall-holding champ in real life. Very closely followed by me to be fair.
    It says something about this internet thing. I guess.

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