Wednesday, 18 August 2010


I get the impression that most people on the web don't feel the need to rationalise what they say online, but for me what I say in a public way matters to me. Talking in person is much easier, there is so much more information to work with, you can judge the listener by their appearance, read their body language to see if you've got their attention and carefully pitch your material to suit their interests and tolerance for controversy. Also people forget easily, the internet, on the other hand does not. But lately I've been feeling that it would be nice to give the whole internet thing a go. I'd love to find some people who care about similar things and like a good debate. Also over the years I've accumulated a good number of ideas and perspectives that could do with a bit of analysis and hopefully some people might find them entertaining.

First off how about a quick introduction:
My name, as you have probably guessed, is John Bustard. As you can probably imagine, for most of my family losing the name Bustard has been a bit of goal, my wife in particular is not too keen on adopting it. However, I'm a fan myself. When you're growing up, with a name like Bustard kids don't have to be too creative when they're picking on you and it draws their attention from anything you might actually care about. Also it's pretty memorable which can be handy.

Now if this were a normal two way conversation I'd probably be shaking your hand and smiling. I have nice shiny white teeth (or so I've been told) and my smile varies from the warm to the slightly manic. When it comes to greetings I tend to be a little too intense and keen to please, so you may notice an initial intensity followed by a slightly forced calmness as I remember that lots of people judge the status of a person by how apathetic they appear (not a view I share I should add). The best meetings are when the intensity is reciprocated (but these are rare, I live in England :) ) however intense first meetings often fall at the next hurdle, which is that having established a warm bond there is a slight urgency to find a shared interest as our warm greeting leaves a lack of body language signals to indicate that we both like something, so on balance perhaps a more muted first response is preferable.
Usually I start with where I'm from, or what I do for a living, depending on context. I'm really just throwing out information so the other person can respond and we can start a slightly more personal discussion. I got derailed on this one recently at a wedding, where after describing how I was related to the bride I realised with horror that the conversation was turning to the weather. Frankly for me the weather is a solid conversation blocker, I've failed if we're on to the weather. We've looked at each other, got a bit of information and decided that we suspect that neither of us have any shared interests and fear that revealing anything more about ourselves will only lead to uncomfortable moments where our fundamentally incompatible world views will only upset one or both of us if we continue.

By this stage of course you will have seen me so you'll already have a lot to go on: Caucasian, male, 30ish, 6', glasses, pretty conservatively dressed (shirt, jeans, generic-looking converse like shoes), probably stubble (but not designer, just sloth) and slightly overweight but not so much you'd think it was a big deal (unless you're a bit of a fitness freak). In short, probably a bit uncool, but probably clever, conservative, not rich but not poor either, probably in IT. Although if I'm on a good day my confidence and playful side might shine through and any strong prejudices you have about my social worth might be put to one side, I've found with a good smile you can often get a positive response from a lot of people. Of course I do tend to find the whole experience of meeting new people a little exhausting unless I can get into a good discussion, which is really what I'm in it for.

For most, a good conversation is a form of mutual social grooming, with each person making some statements about their day, ideally with a little personal information to demonstrate trust and with the other person acknowledging what they're saying and validating their choices. Now don't get me wrong, that's a fine way to spend time and the feeling of human connection and the sense of bonding that comes from sharing and mutual validation can be extremely rewarding, only problem is, I need something more.

You see, I'm what you might call a natural born intellectual.
(Generally I don't use the word intellectual as it's often associated with a lifestyle I don't share (literary, snobbish etc.) but it's as good a description as any).
I'm natural born because I'm not an intellectual as a lifestyle choice, I didn't join an intellectual club, I just have a basic need to think about things and to discuss them.
It took me until I was 19 to realise that it was a need and not an interest. I started to realise how frustrated and moody I got during the holidays away from university. I realised I needed to discuss the ideas I'd had or at the very least download my thoughts into some (vaguely) willing acquaintance. I'd also found that having a good discussion or debate with someone was one of the most enjoyable things I could do. Unfortunately I soon realised that my tolerance for these kind of conversations was much greater than that of other people and worse still, was the fact that the topics that I cared most about were often the topics that others were uncomfortable even mentioning (religion, truth, virtue, value, status etc.). School taught me that this kind of talk was dangerous, on many occasions people who were not in conversation with me but within earshot would interrupt a conversation or discussion with a friend, usually quite angry at what I was saying (not to mention how I was saying it). Eventually I learnt to keep my thoughts to myself. The problem is that once you've thought about topics like value, truth and status, the disparity between your perspective and that of others can become difficult to reconcile particularly when dealing with authority or conventions and taboos. So it wasn't until I returned to university (PhD) as a mature-ish student that I started talking about these things again. The great advantage of university (and studying for a PhD in particular) is that a lot of people there view intellectual discussions as part of the experience and sort of feel that participating in them is a sort of proof of intelligence.
But like all junkies, these occasional hits aren't enough, especially when you start to care about what you're talking about. Of course like most people I medicate my mind with a healthy dose of brave new world entertainment. But even the enormous luxuries of modern society eventually run out. Once you've bought all the gadgets, read all the stories, eaten all the exotic food, looked at all the porn, you're back at the same old problem:

What should I do?

You see getting by, playing the game etc. just isn't enough when you're an intellectual. You're constantly distracted by the nagging thought: What if there is an answer to the question? What if a life of hedonistic normality isn't all there is to life, what if you could solve the problem?

And of course, understanding the problem is half the fun :)

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating break down of the "meeting mechanic". I'm still not sure why I meet new people. I can't think of any agenda I have behind it, other than someone, or society, has told me that I should. I also enjoy being in conversation with people, but I can't precisely put my finger on why!

    Also, I feel inadequate for not being an intellectual junkie! Is everyone an intellectual junkie and I've just missed the boat? Or is it just you, John? Maybe I just haven't consumed enough: there are far more gadgets, stories and food left for me to discover!