I don't usually like writing confessional blog posts that border on throwing oneself a pity party, but I'll like to begin this post with a little confession: I suffer from self-loathing. At least, that's what Wikipedia says. I don't consciously hate myself, but I do experience feelings of dislike and antipathy towards people whom I see as belonging to groups that I either belong to or identify with. Wikipedia also tells me that such feelings may be associated with feelings of autophobia. I've no idea if this is true. In any case, I'm not going to try to use Wikipedia to self-diagnose. But I'm saying all this to give you some idea of where I'm coming from.
Here's a very recent example of this self-loathing/autophobia. First, a little background story. At the coffeeshop near my home that I do my work at, there's another regular, a young guy in his mid-twenties who started coming to this coffeeshop a couple of months ago, and whom I've spoken with a couple of times. He got a degree in accounting from a nice private Catholic university in the Midwest a couple of years ago, then decided that accounting really wasn't his thing. So he went on to get an MFA in creative writing, and he's now trying to bang out a screenplay while reading novels by contemporary writers (Jonathan Franzen, etc.) in his spare time. I've no idea what he does to pay his bills, nor do I want to know. Let's call this guy the Aspiring Screenwriter (AS).
After speaking with AS a couple of times, I consciously and unconsciously began to stop talking with him. Not in an aggressive or rude kind of way: I'd just come into the coffeeshop, get my coffee, greet him in a perfunctory kind of way, and then sit down in my little corner and start working on whatever I happen to be working on that particular day. Not all of this is motivated by self-loathing; I also have a certain aversion towards talking with people in a non-professional context about what I am working on (see this post for more details), because everybody seems to think that just because I work in bioethics, they have something authoritative and insightful to add to what I am doing, and frankly, I'm starting to find that very annoying. I am totally aware that I am probably adding to this stereotype that many have of professional philosophers as aloof people who walk around with their heads in the clouds and cannot relate to "ordinary" people. But well, it is what it is.
But I digress. Back to the main story. Yesterday, my fiancee and I were at the coffeeshop having coffee, and AS was sitting at the table next to ours, working on his screenplay. He saw us, and tried to make conversation. He asked me how my work was going. I replied, "It's going." And then I turned back to my coffee. But then I felt that since my fiancee was with me, and she had never met him before, it would be very rude not to at least introduce them. So I did. I also pointed out to my fiancee that he also used to live in Milwaukee, where we lived for a year. That started a pleasant conversation going between the three of us. We started by talking about our favorite places in Milwaukee. From there, we somehow drifted into talking about literature, and the influence and interactions between literature and religion and the ills of the twentieth century, like anti-semitism and the rise of Hitler.
I really enjoyed our impromptu and spontaneous conversation. At the same time, I also realized that what caused the conversation to be so enjoyable for me was also precisely what caused me to avoid speaking with him most of the time. I sense that we have a lot of things in common, but at the same time, I also have this prejudiced perception of writers and literary/creative types as flakes who talk a lot about stuff but never get stuff done. In a way, you could even say that much of my adult life has been spent trying to make myself into a different kind of flake: A flake who actually gets things done. I mean, think about it: How many flakes do you know get up at 4:30 a.m. five or six days a week to practice yoga? Or maybe the very idea of a flake who gets things done is an oxymoron. Which makes me a walking oxymoron. In any case, what I'm trying to say is this: My self-loathing self perceives the flake in others, which reminds of the flake that is in me. And this reminding makes me not want to have too much to do with people who remind me of the flake in myself. Does this make sense?