The Chaos of Social Interaction

The world of human social interaction often seems to me to be the exact opposite of logical. People will say things they don’t mean, mean things they don’t say and act as if apparently implied subtext is of more importance than the words actually said. These actions can lead to a higher probability of misinterpretations and conflict. Yet, these social norms persist. Why?

I have on several occasions considered the possibility that our species enjoys it when things go wrong. The amount of unnecessary arguments, broken friendships and hurt feelings could be greatly reduced, if only people would make their meaning a little clearer. It is the logical thing to do, and considering how usually both sides get hurt in misinterpretations, the best thing to do emotionally as well.

Social interaction norms are baffling and nonsensical. Even a neurotypical person, when asked why people do a certain thing, usually cannot come up with a better answer than ‘because that’s what’s done’. Society seems to lack the capacity for change in this regard. We have a system which doesn’t work, hurts people and makes absolutely no sense. There is a very easy way to change it, at no cost. Yet we don’t.

Humans often seem to ignore our instincts. We cast aside any instinctual feelings we have if they do not suit our purpose at the time. Everything from the need to sleep for long enough, to the fight-or-flight response can be ignored by humans. Given these instincts are there for survival, I rather think evolution has disadvantaged us in that regard. Our instinctual method of communication ought to be truth, yet the common system is based in hiding the truth under platitudes and false emotions.

Autistic people who do not behave in this illogical manner are punished. Behaving instinctually, speaking your mind truthfully, taking people at their word – society tries to stamp these out of people in childhood. You want to behave in a logical manner? No, you must be disordered and defective, here’s some abusive ‘therapy’ to make you act More Civilised, Like Us.

The concept of ‘civilisation’ can be very harmful. Oppressors have used it throughout history to justify their occupations of countries they deemed ‘primitive’ or ‘uncivilised’. But civilisation is one of those words that the definition will always be open to interpretation. And often ‘civilised’ means no more than behaving in a manner those in power deem acceptable. No matter how illogical or immoral.

Saying there is only one ‘right’ way to communicate is always going to be wrong. In a neurodiverse world, there will always be a multitude of different natural communication styles, and this should be respected. At the moment, however, there is only one society has deemed correct: and it is a style that is confusing, illogical, and seems to defy nature. It seems unlikely this system of hidden truths and spoken lies is anyone’s natural style.

Misinterpretations in interactions can have a world of unintended consequences. Lives can be ruined, wars can start… and given the giant number of misinterpretations that must necessarily happen on the whole planet, there will be some positive effects as well. Yet the unpredictability is a result of our chaotic system of communication. The number of misinterpretations per person could be reduced greatly if only we could adopt a more logical system.

The truth should not be something we try to hide. Naturally, we want to avoid hurting other’s feelings, yet often a hidden truth that later comes to light can be infinitely more hurtful than to find out the truth from someone who cares about you. All too often these days, people neglect intentions in favour of results. Yet intentions are important in communication.

For example, if someone had chocolate on their nose, a friend could point it out in effort to prevent further embarrassment. A bully could point it out in order to hurt. Both these interactions use the same fact, and will probably have the same initial result (embarrassment of the person with chocolate on their nose). But these are not equal, due to intentions.

The world of social interaction appears on the surface to follow a strict set of rules. Yet due to potential misinterpretations, and the infinite number of different effects these can cause, the system is entirely chaotic. It’s a bad system; if you don’t believe it, analyse it for yourself. We as a species can do better, and we should. Society needs to realise that it’s social norms are nonsense, and adapt the systems of interaction to make them more inclusive for all.

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