Religion and science can’t agree on much, but aside from the fundamental opinion that old men are right about everything, one of the few areas where they do concur is that the human animal is a social animal. Like otters, termites and wildebeest we are stronger in groups, working in unison to do everything from building igloos to delivering a third quarter earnings forecast. Banding together is how we managed to fight off the velociraptors and dominate this planet to a degree that even the members of our species stupid enough to appear on reality TV aren’t picked off and eaten by mountain lions.
Unfortunately, our success comes at a psychological price, and I don’t just mean the indignity of people from TOWIE using up valuable oxygen. Unlike otters or wildebeest my gigantic human brain has a lot of spare capacity, and in the absence of wild predators a lot of that anxiety bandwidth goes to thinking about how uncomfortable I am with the thronging millions of my own species. We’ve been so successful at building a safe, modern society that I’ve learned to survive with minimal interpersonal contact, and as a result my basic social skills have gone the way of my tailbone and appendix. I seldom need to team up with strangers to bring down a mammoth, and so have little opportunity to get used to those strangers’ weird smells and irritating mannerisms, perhaps even to come to love them. Although I’ve always contended that being a misanthropic loner should be a legitimate and respected life choice, if I’m being honest I’d admit that the quickest way to a successful existence really isn’t far removed from lining up to eat ticks out the armpit of a bigger monkey.
Fake it til you make it
This would paint a sad picture, except unlike wildebeests humans have also evolved a thousand ways to pretend that we like other people – even when we don’t want them to have sex with us or give us money. I’ve studied these extensively, and am now confident that I can feign not to be appalled by humanity, moving through your birthdays and weddings without anybody guessing that I’m about as interested in hearing about your children as one of the murderous androids from Blade Runner. Perhaps even less interested, because the androids from Blade Runner weren’t forced to add you on Facebook in order to fit in at the office. I’m like the Terminator, if the Terminator was only programmed to pretend it was having fun at your Christmas party before going home and drinking half a litre of amaretto.
Diversify your personal portfolio
The only thing you need to worry about is making sure that you evolve more than one strategy to prevent people from realising that you’re a creepy introvert with a freezer full of stolen house pets. This is a rookie error, but a surprisingly widespread one – the most obvious example being people who mistake non-controversial gender-based interests as being an adequate substitute for a convincing personality. That phrase sounds like the kind of thing my psychologist used to put in reports (before he went missing in those woods), but in regular English I’m talking about people who think that building their “personal brand” exclusively about one interest is a substitute for any personal depth. The most obvious example is obsessive sports fandom, which takes all the complicated aspects of physical competition and replaces them with a lifestyle based around chuntering out dull statistics and pointless opinions about whether one bunch of millionaires can kick a ball further than the other. The only positive thing I can say about conversing relentlessly about sport is that there’s a certain grim irony in lazing about, hammering your body with booze and pork scratchings whilst prattling on about an activity that was designed to keep you fit.
Stepford wife swap
In some ways it’s easier to pretend you have an acceptable personality if you’re a woman, perhaps because there are so many men out there who won’t pay the slightest attention to anything you think or like if they can be persuaded you’ll listen to them talk about themselves. Even our supposedly liberal western societies have such low expectations of women and girls that few people notice if your personality entirely consists of talking about babies (and sometimes cats). You can be interested in other stuff, but only to the extent that other stuff plays a role in the singular purpose of nurturing babies (and cats). A convincing identity can be constructed from a thousand images and anecdotes about your children, or just random children you made up, offering a smooth facade of bland, tedious normality that very few people will question. If she loves cats and babies so much, why does she live in an unlit apartment full of gin bottles and shoes? Nobody thinks to ask. This is why all the serial killers who get caught are men.
Graeme Norton American Psycho
Sadly I couldn’t pull that one off, because no amount of conditioning can obscure my innate revulsion to nappies, “kids say the funniest things” rubbish and how your “little ones” are doing at nursery. If I see you have a Baby on Board sign on your people carrier I instinctively start driving more dangerously. So, my winning strategy for social camouflage has been to avoid focussing on one area, and instead develop a surface personality where I pretend to be slightly interested in a wide variety of things, when really all I’ve done is mined social media for a broad spectrum of unchallenging positions to take on things. I’m like a chat show host, a smiling parasite that thrives amongst you and distils polite banter into the poison sacs incubating in my subterranean lair. Like Jonathan Ross I can be your best friend for up to seven minutes, which is usually long enough to lull people into a false sense of security if I need to chat to you at a cocktail party or are simply looking for a fresh body for one of my monthly feeds.
So, have I managed to find a way to fit into our society? I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s been an unqualified success, but I think I manage a fairly convincing impersonation of a human being. I might not be top of anybody’s list to be a godparent to their child, but neither will I be the last person allowed onto the lifeboats. You can talk about sport and babies, whilst I’ll be busy working out who I’m going to try and eat as soon as they get sunstroke. See you at the Christmas party!