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Where some ideas are stranger than others...

Without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.
- Maya Angelou

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2022-08-18

The Moonspeaker:
Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...

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Supposed Season of the Introverts (2022-05-16)

Illustration by George Barbier from the periodical *Gazette du bon ton*, 1914 via oldbookillustrations.com. Illustration by George Barbier from the periodical *Gazette du bon ton*, 1914 via oldbookillustrations.com.
Illustration by George Barbier from the periodical Gazette du bon ton, 1914 via oldbookillustrations.com.

I have observed more than a few comments that suggest that somehow being in lockdown or carrying out most paid work and unpaid learning activities online is an "introvert's dream." While there is no question that some people have found these sorts of scenarios congenial and would like to stick with them to the extent possible, I have to call bullshit on the claim that this situation is somehow a turn to conditions especially suited to introverts. Superficially there is a lot going for the conflation of "interactions via remote options" and "the sort of interactions introverts like." Superficially, so long as we accept the unspoken assumptions that what we are dealing with here is a preference and the preference is for avoiding direct interactions with other people. These assumptions are both unmitigable bullshit, and while they play well into a general mainstream north american claim that people presumed to be extroverts are hypersocial go-getters who insist on shaking everybody's hand and who always succeed and therefore are better than introverts, they don't help us make sense of our actual experience of "online interaction."

Now of course, part of what is causing difficulty here is that the implied definitions of extroverts and introverts are caricatures. What people who are more extroverted share is being energized by meeting new people and generally spending time with others. People who are more introverted share an experience of being tired out by spending extended periods of time meeting new people and spending time in large groups. We can expect that people will tend to prefer spending more time in conditions where they feel energized rather than tired out. But actually, there is only so far we can push that expectation. How energizing or not being with other people can be depends on many factors. Meeting new brand new people where we need to learn the particulars of their body language, social queues, and reactions entails some real effort, even if we only have to meet those people once. In a gathering of people we already know well, the effort is much less, and so long as the gathering isn't so large that the issue of noise and heat levels begin to impact things, chances are those can be fairly neutral, whatever amount of extroversion or introversion a person may have. Okay, but this is still all predicated on direct personal interaction, and it is levels of direct personal interaction that have been cut.

So does removing the direct personal interaction element make it easier? Well, it sounds like actually, it doesn't. Just do a search in your preferred search engine for the newfangled phenomenon of "zoom fatigue." It turns out that video meetings are exhausting, I suspect especially those including more than two people, because monitoring body language and getting a sense of "the room" is much harder. Truth be told, I am skeptical of the possibility of gauging "the room" at all, although of course we all try, while trying to build an appropriate mental model of what "the room" means in such a context. This is leaving aside the headaches of fouled up cameras, slow connections, outages on the servers for whatever video meeting software is being used, and interruptions and other challenges for each person who is working from an ad hoc or even planned office at home. Many people live in smaller homes today because of the level of dementia in the housing market whether in sales or rent, and one of the means of managing this was having access to alternate working, learning, and socializing spaces. Not everyone comes from a culture with techniques for handling a busy space in which household members can't depend on a wall or other divider to create a private or merely quiet area.

So my suggestion is that the idea that this might be an introvert's dream is precisely backwards. It's an extrovert's nightmare, because much of what makes them energized in an interpersonal interaction is contingent on the enjoyment of meeting the challenge of rapidly and effectively responding to social and body language cues. That is, more extroverted people are stuck trying to carry on in conditions that muffle and block those cues, so that they aren't getting that happy rush of getting into synch with others as quickly or consistently. And furthermore, I suggest that this is also an introverted person's nightmare, because while an introverted person may find ordinary interactions draining rather than energizing, those interactions are nevertheless satisfying in many cases for the same reasons they are for extroverted people. We humans are social animals, we like hanging out together more often than not, and even the most solitary of us whither without a bit of basic back and forth with others. When the more introverted person goes home early, that shouldn't be read negatively, although I have friends who are prone to doing so, anecdotally speaking.

End result looks to me like everybody is doing the best they can with a less than ideal need to use video meetings to do an important portion of their professional meetings and socializing. It's not a slam dunk for anybody, and that adds to a level of persistent resistance among some people to the types of precautions needed to reduce the severity of the covid pandemic. I doubt acknowledging this in and of itself would help those most determined to resist doing anything like that, but maybe it would help everyone to at least let go of such unfortunate formulations about how certain people must be flying high doing everything through their computers, including meetings.

 

Like the Land

Years ago now, I had the opportunity to listen to a talk by a fluent Dene speaker from what is currently called the northwest territories in canada. It was an incredible talk with so much to think over. For the purposes of this document though, I am going to focus on one snippet that particularly stuck with me. When I heard this, at that point having completed most of an archaeology major with its requisite anthropology courses, one claim repeated in many of the text books and articles among those I was responsible for reading, was that every linguistic group had a term for themselves. That seems quite uncontroversial, obvious even. Quite a few of these sources added that in the case of Indigenous nations of the americas, these terms all meant "real people" implying that each one perceived themselves as the only humans. This always bothered me, because it didn't make sense, and while the idea that others were not human in comparison to a given person's own group has certainly had too much play in many parts of the world including parts of the americas, it still made least sense as a generalization here. Not because somehow Indigenous peoples in the americas are mythical noble savages, but because most Indigenous systems of thought count plants and animals as other than human beings, other but not lesser or to be dominated by humans by any means. Since derogating humans often depends for its power and effectiveness on equating the humans selected for this treatment to animals or even plants, it's tough for this to take off if animals and plants aren't considered lesser for not being human. So a great many things clicked when the Dene speaker pointed out that while "Dene" could be translated as people, maybe, really, it was more accurate to render it "those who are like the land." According to mainstream lights, this is a romantic sort of idea, being like the land. But is it?

Archaeology buffs who keep a close eye on popular magazines on the subject will already be familiar with bone isotope studies. Radio-isotope dating is probably even more broadly familiar because different isotope combinations are used to date different crystals and fossils in the ongoing efforts to map geological time and the changes in animals, plants, and the Earth beyond human memory. But the isotope studies I am referring to here are those first used to determine which plants and meat or fish predominated in the diet of different people and animals. For people this is usually tied to arguments about agriculture and changes in local climate conditions. For animals it may be about those questions, or trying to understand how the animals survived in places they weren't expected to be or that other evidence suggested they had recently moved to. Dogs are a special target, because once domesticated their bones may serve as a proxy for the diets of the humans they lived with. So is it really so implausible that people could refer to themselves as "we who are like this place" when most of their food, clothing, and shelter is drawn from that very place? Well, I have colleagues who would refer to that question as handwaving. Okay. So let's take another, more recent, and to the scientists involved, a more startling example.

A snippet of Blackfoot leader Old Swan's map, drawn in 1801 on the request of Peter Fidler. This snippet comes from the *Discovering Lewis and Clark website*, but to see the whole thing in wonderful detail, see Margaret Schultz's project *Mapping the Old North Trail.* A snippet of Blackfoot leader Old Swan's map, drawn in 1801 on the request of Peter Fidler. This snippet comes from the *Discovering Lewis and Clark website*, but to see the whole thing in wonderful detail, see Margaret Schultz's project *Mapping the Old North Trail.*
A snippet of Blackfoot leader Old Swan's map, drawn in 1801 on the request of Peter Fidler. This snippet comes from the Discovering Lewis and Clark website, but to see the whole thing in wonderful detail, see Margaret Schultz's project Mapping the Old North Trail.

In this case, the scientists in question are trying to understand specific ecosystems in what is currently referred to as british columbia, usually hard to access coastal rain forest areas. The lens they are using is DNA analysis of local grizzly bear populations. Rather than using a high interference, high impact, high expense method of collecting DNA samples like tranquilizing them from helicopters or trapping them, the scientists came up with something far more sensible. They set up piles of smelly stuff the bears would be interested in looking at and smelling, and added a patch of barbed wire arranged to catch some of their fur. Analysis of the DNA from the samples revealed three genetically related groups of bears that the scientists avoided referring to as families, of course – whose ranges matched with the regions defined by the Indigenous language families in the same place. According to the science magazine article, a scientist at the university of guelph who was not part of the research team described the results as "mindblowing." The dedication at the head of the actual article reporting these results by the research team characterizes the matter with more nuance:

This work is dedicated to the late Nuaqawa (Evelyn Windsor), who taught us that people learned their language and way of life from the bears.

The bears had already adapted to the land, they are famously omnivorous, and they like a great many of the same things that humans do and find digestible. Learning from the bears makes a great deal of sense, and where they are among the local keystone species, even more so. Other First Nations refer to keystone species whom they learned how to live and speak from. Bears, wolves, bison, deer, salmon, sturgeon all play this role in one place or another.

Having written all this, it is important to make sure to explain what I am not arguing. I am not arguing that every Indigenous nation's term for themselves could or should be translated as "like the land." In fact, the point is that all these examples reiterate the point that First Nations make about their close relationships to the land. The relationships are not some kind of romantic caricature drawn from the curious annals of hippies and other frustrated non-Indigenous people trying quite reasonably to untangle themselves from colonialism. Certainly these are spiritual relationships, and they are also fiercely practical, they arise from living by eating and generally building needed clothes and shelters from the land. But this is still a very two dimensional way to describe it. Striving to get closer to at least three dimensions, let's consider the snippet of Old Swan's map that is reproduced here. It is an abstract Niitsitapi style representation of the part of their traditional lands Peter Fidler asked Old Swan to lay out for him. A scan of the full map is reproduced as part of the Mapping the Old North Trail Project. The rocky mountains are referred to as the backbone, and there are a number of key locations that Fidler noted the names to. I learned about this map in one of my anthropology classes, where the instructor explained how the rocky mountains are none other than Napi's backbone. Napi is a powerful spirit being who arranged the land for the Niitsitapi to live in, and he is still there. The major land forms there correspond to his body where he lays asleep. Hence the two rivers that so famously mark the present-day city of calgary's location, the bow (as in bow and arrow) and the elbow.

Copyright © C. Osborne 2022
Last Modified: Thursday, August 18, 2022 23:23:38