I was raised by parents who were very into ‘new age’ culture. If you aren’t familiar, think things like keeping amethysts around for their healing powers, belief in any of the zodiacs and their descriptive and predictive power, spiritual healing, burning incense and all manner of now frowned upon behaviors for being not-fact-based. I’m not saying my parents believed in all of those things, I’m just trying to give you a frame of mind for the culture. Of course, in his defense, my father is old enough that he had genuine claim to the title hippy without being a hipster about it. Far out. If it weren’t for this sort of eclectic upbringing I think I would have been a lot more vulnerable than I already am, by virtue of being a human being, to group think.
Why do I have that opinion? Because despite abjectly finding the idea of the healing power of crystal points humorous, I very much like how they look. Actually my youth started a life long obsession with mineral specimens in a Kantian disinterest sort of way. I like how incense smells, I don’t think it’s going to help bring me to some higher plane of thinking over some light meditation. As for the zodiac, that’s a punchline I’ll get to later.
I actively hid these things about myself for a long time during and after puberty. I enjoyed these things, but not in the same sort of way my parents enjoyed them, and the sort of people my parents were, was being made fun of. Those are a few critical years of trying to fit in with your peers so I carefully considered answers to questions about my interests. Joke was on me though, I never ended up fitting in anyway. That was an easy lesson I somehow managed to ignore. Hiding my interests didn’t change me from being the sort of person that would be interested in them, and that person wasn’t particularly popular in high school.
I had actually managed to spend so long denying my interests that I forgot about them for a period of time. Love of minerals was one standout survivor but even that was kept pretty low key, that is, until I met Emily and started buying her jewelry. Emily seemed surprised I was so interested in buying these things for her. I mean, while the diamond necklace I had snuck into her high school on valentines day was a shock, it was also sort of expected, they’re diamonds and it was valentines day. I however, also bought her a range of earings and necklaces ranging from rubies to opals, a full gamut from precious to semi-precious. I had an outlet. It was however, something I still kept from most people.
The culture that really buys into those things seemed to be getting weirder and weirder. Colloidal silver and tinctures and anti-vaccinations had entered that area and I really didn’t want to be associated with them by having too many similar interests. I don’t despise those people, as seems popular to do these days. I would like it if drunk driving were met with half the energy devoted to the publicly acceptable shame and outrage, alas that still seems to be an angry-behind-closed-doors sort of thing. Still, I didn’t want to be associated with that crowd, and I thought expressing my interests in quartz points, tea, and incense would have left me defensive over it.
Then my daughter arrived. She got older. She turned three. Some time during that third year, by chance encounter, I stumbled upon one of those new age stores. They were having a moving location sale. My daughter and I were alone in the mall, which was a rare event. I think I was explicitly taking her on a date. I remember having reasons for it. Ah, that’s them. I will save those for a future post, they’re worth a future post. Daughters man, there’s something magical and frightening about them. Anyway, we were on our date and I see this relic from my own past, changing locations, deep discounts, meaningful ones, like half-off minimum. It was a liquidation. So we went in. After much looking around, my daughter fell in love with this sphere of gypsum. That’s all it was, plain jane ball of polished gypsum, it must weigh 3 pounds. It has a cats eye feature in it, and she absolutely fell in love with it the moment she set her eyes on it. That in turn, brought back memories of being in these sorts of stores with my parents, and that made me even more in love with her.
After I explained to my daughter that it wasn’t a toy, that she could easily break it, and that it was mostly going to be for looking at and having agreed to those terms, I purchased it and we got some ice cream and set back out for home. I took her shiny paperweight and set it up in a prominent position in her bed room so that she would see it all the time. Then I thought about myself and where I’d been the last decade or more. Out came my rose quartz candle holders, my oil fragrance burning apparatus, the tea candles that go with, I ended up going back and buying a wooden incense holder for the stick variety and ended up getting plenty of things to burn in it.
As chance would have it I was conversing with one of my older friends and somehow the subject of the zodiac came up. It was a gaming related context. Our group had been crustacean themed for some years now, and in the back of my mind was the information that I was a cancer, but until then that sort of thing was met with derision even from me. The song making fun of horoscopes by Weird Al was something of a favorite of mine growing up. But then we looked into it, and boy was I ever a cancer. I know I know, astrological sign descriptions are supposed to be vague to the point of applying to everyone, but this thing was dead on in ways that even surprise my friends. That doesn’t mean I “believe” in the zodiac, but the entertainment value given the theming of my gaming group was and remains high. Point of fact, neither of my wife’s signs—cusp baby—describe her in the slightest.
This all came to a head very recently when someone started criticising me for using an astrological sign to describe my personality. “Consummate cancer”, I told them. They droned on and on about things I already knew and didn’t care about. The lack of scientific evidence that they were efficant and blad-de-blah science I know. This person seemed to take it personally that I could find joy or entertainment in something not based on science while possessing the knowledge that not only was it not scientific but that it was a bunch of bullcrap. This interaction happened in the same culture that’s made Harry Potter a global phenomenon and devotes precious electricity and compute resources to making fan-theory videos about all sorts of fictional characters and universes. Hey, at least amethysts actually exist.
Then it hit me. Our culture has become one where we are hypersensitive to our differences, rather than what we have in common. I’ve learned to turn these interactions around with my own sort of pointed ridicule. I don’t know what sort of joyless planet liking shiny rocks or freshly crystallized bismuth is frowned upon on but please leave mine. Anyway, the crux of the problem is focusing on the wrong sort of thing. Now there’s all sorts of reasons and causes for this. We know through our studies of social media that these platforms directly encourage social signaling and outrage culture in their participants. Heck, I left Facebook over the obviousness of that phenomenon, among other reasons.
So that sorta brings me to my main point, and the title. I think it’s pretty important that we do what we can as individuals to get over minor differences of opinion when faced with the temptation to socially signal about it. On the other end, and I’ve seen a lot of people do this and I’m just as guilty, don’t frame your likes behind caveats, justifying your likes isn’t something reasonable people should be asking you to do, though there seems to be plenty of that going around. Now, social signaling serves an important function, don’t get me wrong. Social signaling helps us determine our societies overarching values and guiding principals as a whole and it is key to doing so as a social species. Social media however has allowed us to start micro-managing social signalling into areas that don’t really matter, and that needs to stop, or at the very least be sharply reduced. Try and be aware of what really matters when tempted to judge or dog pile people. Though, a few internet memes sums all these words a little more succinctly.