This post on Quora reminds me of something I’ve noticed in myself and I suspect is common with humans. That is, we decide whether we like someone within a few minutes of meeting them. In many cases, we strongly like or dislike the person for no obvious reason. On the other hand, there are times when we know exactly why we have the strong reaction to the stranger.
An example that comes to mind of the irrational reaction is Newt Gingrich. The first time I laid eyes on him I detested him with the intensity of a thousand suns. When he opened his fat mouth and started talking in that nasally whine, the urge to punch him in the face was almost overwhelming. Even though he was saying things that I should find agreeable, the only thought in my mind was of him being hit by a bus.
Later, I was proven right, but I also figured out why I had such a strong reaction to him. That is, my bitter weirdo theory of human organization. The first order of business when organizing your society is to make sure the bitter weirdos have no power or authority. Newt grew up as an annoying fat kid picked on by normal kids. He turned out to be a bitter weirdo with a chip on his shoulder. His life is consumed with settling petty personal scores.
An example of someone who I never liked, but instantly knew why, is Ann Coulter. In fairness, I have softened on Coulter as she has matured. When she first got on the scene, her act was just an act. It was plainly obvious. She was the precocious daddy’s girl getting the attention of adult males by saying impolite things. It just seemed like a made for TV act.
That Quora piece got me thinking that maybe there’s something else at work. The human mind, to my observation, is a pattern matching mechanism. It’s what makes artificial intelligence so daunting. It’s not the speed of our synapses; its the nature of them. Our brains have a massive catalog of concepts through which we instantly sort to find the one that closely matches anything new.
Imagine a four dimensional database in which one dimension is time. The new thing is compared to the closest thing in the database, then the next closest and so on at the speed of light. Once we land on a match, that’s where we start to place this new thing in our database of knowledge.
It’s why deception is so effective and so disdained. It violates the innate rules of the human mind. This new thing that looks like this known thing suddenly turns out to be different is alarming. Alternatively, that thing we had put into its proper category that suddenly turns out to be something wildly different is scary. Deception causes us to doubt the very thing that makes us tick.
It’s tempting to assume that we react to strangers strongly because at some level they remind of us someone we know. That strikes me as simplistic and not a very useful adaptation. There’s enough variation in people where we will meet people who are not much like anyone we have known. Children are innately fearful of strangers because their catalog is small and most everything is foreign to them.
My hunch is that in the case of Gingrich, I was picking up on the minor deceptions in his demeanor. His carefully cultivated presentation lacked authenticity and that’s what triggered my dislike. This was a smart guy really good at lying to people. That makes him very dangerous. Ann Coulter, in contrast, was just a TV phony, not dangerous or threatening, just annoying.
As I said, I’ve softened on Coulter. She can still dine out on her looks, but that’s not the sale these days. She can say what she wants as she has her own money so she is more relaxed and honest. Her fake laugh still bugs me, but that’s more than balanced by her ability and willingness to punch a hippie.
Of course, there’s something else that may be specific to me. I detest phonies. I can get along well with people who are what they are, even if what they are revolts me. Here in the ghetto, there’s a lot of social pathology, but it does not bother me as these people are what they are. In SWPL-ville, most work hard to conceal their intentions, which I find intolerable.