This Island Cardboard

I try to make myself and my immediate surroundings as self-sufficient as possible. There’s something innate in me that makes me want to do everything myself, to not depend on anyone, and even more so to be free. Of course, “free” can hide a lot. Despite how ingrained this part of my nature is, though, I can see where it’s been reinforced. As always, it begins with a “there but for the grace of God go I” situation.

This doesn’t mean I’m some kind of prepper, but there’s a similar pitfall at play.

At some point when I was much younger (roughly between 11 and 14, if memory serves), I read David Brin’s The Postman. I’d learned of the book due to the eminently forgettable movie that was loosely based on it. But the movie coming out in the 1990s meant that it made no real effort to actually understand the book, and threw out all the interesting themes and ideas in order to make something about as generic as possible. I will not be referencing the movie further.

The book takes place in the post-apocalyptic Pacific Northwest of the United States. The main antagonists are a group calling themselves Holnists (after Nathan Holm, their founder), a fascistic, individualist culture. (That the book was published in 1985 shows how little some things change.) But the idea that has really stuck with me is a point of history in the book’s world. The collapse of society wasn’t brought about by war (mainly EMPs and bioweapons), but rather these isolated survivalists that kept attacking relief convoys and generally preventing society from rebuilding itself. (Looking back, I have to wonder of Hideo Kojima was influenced by this story in making Death Stranding.)

I think about this idea a lot. Prepper culture, to my limited outsiders’ point of view, largely ignores the need to rebuild a society for any individual to survive. Having 10 years’ worth of food in your basement won’t do much good if you’re attacked by a well-organized group, no matter how many guns you’ve stockpiled along with it.

We see echoes of this in the present as well. How often are we told about how “it’s not what you know, but who you know”? Networking is such an all-pervasive practice that it’s almost cliché at this point. As an extremely introverted person, however, that advice always feels like a bit of a slap.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more it’s also very telling. The idea that we should be building relationships solely out of what those people can do for our careers is an extremely cynical take on social structures. I’ve always found myself uncomfortable with such a mercenary approach. I’m not sure how you keep it honest, which is to say how you avoid what amounts to being nice to someone solely out of the hope that they’ll do something good for you in the future. Even if both parties are going into it with their eyes open, there’s still something about it that cheapens the idea of community and our relationships with each other. I don’t think it’s possible to entirely prevent having this kind of relationship in your life from bleeding over into others.

The result for me has been an unwillingness to do traditional networking things. I interact with co-workers whom I like interacting with, and maintain the relationships I want to maintain. I have nothing to do with LinkedIn.

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if I’m not going too far. Not in feeling networking to be distasteful, but in trying to go it alone. I’m not sure yet where the proper line is. On the one hand, I’m all about finding teachers, and tend to learn a lot better in that context anyway. And it’s not like I would never call someone I have a genuine relationship with for help. My default, though, is absolutely to try to do things entirely on my own. With this in mind, it’s a small wonder that I so often feel disconnected, and like so much of what I do is done, well, in isolation.

The other side of my highly independent nature is that I don’t trust myself to be able to build any kind of community. I love the idea, to be clear: I’d really enjoy having a group coalesce around something I do or have done, whether that’s this blog, some creative project, some app I code, whatever. This too is telling, in that it’s an example of how I want connectedness but with a minimum of risk or vulnerability. I have a very difficult time becoming an integrated part of the social groups I’m part of, and often feel forgettable or disposable. After years of this, I don’t really seek out groups, and have very high rejection sensitivity (even where no rejection is intended). It’s this self-fulfilling cycle of not putting in the work to really be a part of the group, then feeling rejected when I’m not part of the group, followed by pulling back.

Even though I intellectually understand it, I have a very hard time with the work aspect of relationship-building. (I’m sure Mrs. Zampanò would agree.) I have to imagine that some of it is “forgetting” to do it (the non-squeaky wheel doesn’t get any grease), while some is my issue with the perceived cynicism. I also don’t want to come across as desperate for inclusion, since that’s understandably a turn-off for most.

So despite my actions to the contrary, this box isn’t entirely isolated, and there are bridges to it if you care to cross them. Maybe the first step is to start working on some signage.