Sunday, April 28, 2019

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Question: How do you know if someone is an introvert?

Answer: They're going to fucking tell you.

Right now, it's very popular to be an introvert. There are various introvert webcomics, TED talks about why introversion is so great, and numerous people who will tell you that they are an introvert and subject you to discussion and analysis of what this means with the same enthusiasm of someone who reads horoscopes. People confess to introversion with the same kind of humble bragginess as self-obsessed artists who roll their eyes when you compliment their art and say it was "just a sketch."

It's true that being quiet or shy (note: these are not the same thing) used to be considered a bad thing. I grew up at the height of "party culture," when all things club or frat were popular. Jersey Shore was on TV, skirts were short, hair was frosted, and everything was superficial and light. If you couldn't fizz and glitter like a sparkler in everyday conversation, you were weird and everyone hated you. I was weird, and people were not fans of me. I wore all black, read Anne Rice, and listened to Evanescence and The Cure while pondering why all of my classmates were idiots. My scorn probably didn't help, but there was absolutely no way at the time I could have fit it, or been happy doing so.

Skimming through the reviews, I noticed I was one of the few self-professed introverts who despised this book. I thought that was interesting, but it's not completely unforeseen. I actually self-describe as a "social introvert" or "false extrovert." People who meet me for the first time think I'm very extroverted. I can be very loud and chatty, and organize a lot of social events in my office or with friends. But I'm also very uncomfortable in certain social situations and as much as I enjoy being out, I'm sometimes secretly delighted when plans are canceled and enjoy spending time by myself.

It's been a while since my psychology days, but there is a chemical basis for introversion and extroversion. One of these lies in the sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous systems. People who are introverted have a lower threshold for being overstimulated, and when they reach that threshold, feel drained and must rest. People who are extroverted, on the other hand, have a lower threshold and need to seek out stimulation in order to get the bar up. If they don't get stimulation, they feel sluggish and depressed. I thought the neurotransmitter in question was dopamine, but a quick Google makes it look like the neurotransmitter in question is actually acetylcholine. #TIL

I have taken issue with a lot of these pop psychology books. I wasn't a fan of THE SBUTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F*CK, which seemed like the self-help version of snake oil, and recently also read SNAKES IN SUITS, which was like a Lifetime movie wearing science like it was a pretty dress. This one had a bit more science, but Susan Cain definitely spent way too much time cherry picking her arguments and the end result was me having a bad taste in my mouth and wanting to roll my eyes.

I guess I have a few take-away points here.

1. Introverts and extroverts serve different functions in society. Neither is an intrinsically good or bad trait, and they are not binary. Like many human characteristics, these exist on a spectrum.

2. We live in a social society, and acting antisocial to coddle your introversion makes you look, well, antisocial (confrontational, against society) instead of asocial, which is just wanting to be left alone.

3. It's probably true that a lot of introverts were responsible for inventions because they spent a lot of time alone, but this is not the only type of genius or the only form genius takes. As I said in point #1, humans exist on a spectrum, and there are many different shapes of brilliant minds out there.

4. People enjoy belonging to groups. That's why horoscopes are so popular, and why people post their Meyers-Briggs results on their dating websites. We live in an in-group vs. outgroup society - yes, you too, introverts, jeez - and enjoy feeling as though we belong. Introverts like calling themselves introverts because it makes them feel a bond with other introverts (seriously, just read the comments sections of any of the positive reviews for this book), which promotes bursts of probably dopamine.

5. The author seems to be claiming that extroverts have the natural advantage and are mean to introverts but then spends a big part of the book shitting all over them. Hypocrite.

At the end of the day, you should take books like these with a grain of salt. They're definitely more self-help geared than scientific, in my opinion,and a lot of the arguments and conclusions feel cherry-picked. Introverts may enjoy reading it while vigorously patting themselves on the back, but we as a society are moving in a direction where this is starting to feel kind of redundant and narcissistic.

1 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work by Paul Babiak

Wow, it's the first book I've actually finished in almost two months. I honestly can't tell you the last time I went this long without reading, and to be completely, 100% honest, it's because Goodreads and blogging almost ruined reading for me. Goodreads used to be one of my favorite sites and I used to love reading and blogging for books, but increasingly, Goodreads started to feel more and more commercial, and the reviewers and authors on there started to feel way more entitled. I kept seeing authors whining about negative reviews, and I kept getting users coming onto my (mostly negative) reviews to engage with me repeatedly, despite my attempts to make it clear I had no interest in discussing with them Why They Believe My Opinion Is Wrong and Why They Are Entitled to Tell Me So. More and more, writing reviews started to feel like a very stressful job I wasn't being paid for, so I deleted about a thousand ARCs (advance reader copies) of books I'd been approved for from my device and stopped using Goodreads for about two months except to read comments and occasionally respond to people who checked in.

I get that Goodreads is a commercial website that is free to use and one of the ways they keep the site running is by advertising revenue, but at the same time, promoting that kind of atmosphere creates a site that can become exhausting to use because it rewards spammy behavior of self-promoting reviewers and authors who only want to engage with you because they want something from you. I'm really not interested in a quid pro quo relationship and I've dealt with too many authors and reviewers who act like anything that they write is gospel truth, and if you disagree with anything they say, you're out of the cult - no questions. I've also dealt with too many people who take a review of a book as a personal attack, discussion of racism as racism, disliking books written by people of color as not liking people of color, and criticism as general negativity. It's possible to disagree in opinions without resorting to insults, and I really wish people could get over their own discomfort with weighty topics long enough to realize that they're adding to the problem by acting like talking about it is a problem.

Anyway, I'm back and I'm tired and I'm probably not going to use the site as actively as I used to, but I still have books to read that I bought with my own money that I will be reviewing. Like this one, SNAKES IN SUITS. (Sorry for the earlier rant, but I value transparency and felt like it was important to talk about why I basically disappeared for two months without really saying anything.) SNAKES IN SUITS is part psychology book, part business book, and maybe part self-help. It's written by one of the guys who created the Psychopath Test, which is a test you can take to find out how much of a sociopath you are. I haven't taken the test myself, but I'm sure some of my haters probably think I'd get a perfect score. As a psychology major, I'm skeptical of tests. I think people want to think the best of themselves generally, and are prone to answering in a biased way because of things like cognitive dissonance or even because they want the researcher to like them more.

I had a lot of problems with SNAKES IN SUITS. It features stories that I think are made up or compounded of actual interactions with sociopaths. They come across as cutesy Lifetime synopses, and feel way too dramatic to take seriously, even though I'm sure they're representative of actual interactions with psychopaths. I also feel like the book isn't particularly helpful because the general takeaway message I seemed to get from these was, "Avoid them if possible, because once you get involved, you're totally screwed - good luck, Jan." I was expecting something more scientific, comparing psychopaths in the general population, psychopaths in the prison system, psychopaths in corporate positions (hence the title), and things like recidivism, pros and cons, and evolutionary bases for why psychopathy has an evolutionary advantage in the first place (opportunistic bastards).

I would not recommend this book to people who are looking for help in dealing with psychopaths in the workplace OR for people who are interested in studying psychopathy. It reads like a cheap, pop psychology book and wasn't particularly informative or helpful, imho.

2 out of 5 stars