I believe the default nature of each and every human being on the planet is selfishness. Not in any malicious way, or even in a negative way, but just in a built in way. When you walk around town, everybody you see is just part of the crowd, an obstacle to be avoided. Cars aren’t even that. Cars are just cars, just machines stopping you from crossing the road. You don’t even see them as containing people. You don’t think that the cars are being driven, by people who have gotten out of bed, made their plans, walked to their cars and driven the route that eventually takes them past you. You don’t register the inarguable fact that they are people just the same as you yourself. That they have an existence before and after that split second they passed you in their car. That they have a head as busy and full as yours. An existence as fraught with casual existentialism as yours. As fraught with the everyday thoughts about life, past, present, future, happiness. You can’t recognise that they, just as you, are real. Really real.
It’s an idea so alien to recognition that we don’t have the words for it. The vocabulary isn’t available to present the ideas in an acceptable form. We know we’re real. We accept that our closest friends and family have reality. We know the people we see every day, co-workers, school friends, have some kind of narrative to their lives that overlaps with ours. We know that through repetition. Every Thursday we see them in the same lecture, the same meeting, and so we share the same time. And so we infer on them some reality.
But what about the people we merely pass in the street? People we serve at our jobs, people who serve us at theirs? We don’t even notice them unless their exceptional in some way. Maybe they’re visually striking, or maybe they’re rude, or particularly charming, or more noticeably insane than usual. Maybe you share a joke with them, or else an awkward moment. If not, they just pass on by, coming from one place, and heading to another. Completely unknown to us. One of those people could be thinking the exact same thought as you. One of them could share all of your interests, your politics, your aspirations. They could potentially be your best friend, your lover, your intellectual partner. And as you walk past each other you don’t even have the emotional capacity to consider them human. They’re just part of the scenery, an organic meat sack walking along with all the other organic meat sacks. You probably have more empathy with your pet fish then you do most people you walk past on the street. Out of the two, you’re more likely to humanise the bloody goldfish.
You walk past the same person enough times, maybe you’ll recognise them. Maybe then you’ll start to craft them some false personality, some bizarre back story or ambition – like an actor trying to give some greater purpose to his unimportant 5 frame extra. More likely you won’t even bother. You’ll just recognise them in much the same way you recognise the tree which bends in a funny way at the top of your road. Still only part of the scenery.
But it’s okay. That’s okay. I’ve told you that maybe you’ve possibly walked past a potential best friend, or a potential lover, but how would noticing them change that? Say you took the time to notice ever single individual you ever pass, you ever see or interact with? You’ll notice some look happy, some look sad or stressed or busy, but you’ll notice most just look indifferent. They’re wearing the face we all wear to face the world. That face which marks as out as part of the collective, as somebody not worth another look, not worth sparing another thought for. “A face to meet the faces that you meet”.
But, bear with me here, say everyone is being genuine. Say everyone is showing the world their real, unaffected face. What does it change? You’ll likely arrive at your destination feeling particularly emphatic. Your mood will have been influenced. You’ll be more at peace with the world, or more angry with it – depending on what you saw on the faces, but you still would have walked past your best friend. Nothing at all would really have changed. Oh, you’d also have to be the cleverest person I will ever meet in my life. To be able to process every face, every car, every bike, in the time it takes for them to enter and leave your vision. Why don’t we pay attention to every face we pass, never to see again? They’re not important. Not really. They just are.
This has rambled on somewhat further than I believed it had in it to ramble, and it has gotten lost down some rather strange unlit tracks. I believe I will leave it there, because I can’t find the way to drive it back into the light.