Thursday, June 18, 2009

Boorish and Boring

Naturally, we are all intrigued by human anomalies like boors. Never knowing when we will encounter one, we prepare ourselves by rehearsing the different ways we can normalize a situation that falls outside of the domain of normal human commerce.

Yesterday I posted about Mark Edmundson's article about bores. There I suggested that Edmundson's bores were also boors. You can, after all, be boring without being boorish.

People who are overly fastidious or punctilious are boring without being boorish.

In response to Edmundson I offered a number of different ways we might engage a boring boor in conversation. As Edmundson suggests, conversation is the cure for boringly boorish behavior.

Bores and boors are anomalies because they fail to respond to the subtle cues we read in our interlocutors during a conversation. A twitch, a nod, a sigh, a frown, a smile... we normally use these cues to orient our speech.

When we see that our listener is attentive and engaged, we are likely to continue on the same topic. When we see a sign that our listener is bored we move on to another topic.

A bore, however, presses ahead, with more fervor and intensity, as though the failure to engage the other person were a sign that he is not trying hard enough.

Or else, as Edmundson offers, bores see the world as a stage and cast themselves as performers or storytellers.

Of course, some people think human life is a story writ large and that the normal form of human conversation, the kind that expresses our soul, is storytelling.

This means that there are cultural forces that encourage boring and boorish behavior.

Edmundson offers other explanations for the phenomenon: "I am not sure that bores, who often act in what seems a kingly fashion, don't feel at all regal, but operate out of a sense of despair." He adds: "Some bores seem to be lonely. They have such a need for human contact that they come on too strong."

Surely, there is truth to this. If someone is boring, if he refuses to enter into conversation, he will have fewer friends. And that will naturally make him more desperate to sustain even an unsatisfying connection, no matter the cost.

For a person in despair, any connection is better than none.

Bores avoid conversation. They find it threatening, not only to their finely crafted personae, but to the purity of their thought. When we enter into conversation we allow our thoughts to be subject to what is called the marketplace of ideas. And they are not likely to come out of that marketplace looking exactly as they did when they walked in.

In Edmundson's words: "Bores don't want their one-sided, usually self-deifying, constructions of reality punctured by anyone or anything else."

Well said. I would add that they do not simply not want this to happen; they cannot afford to have it happen.

Edmundson continued: "...there's something slightly autistic about the bore's take on the world, and usually something a little skewed. His sense of things hasn't been aired out by exposure to other people's views."

The bore does not want to test his ideas; he does not believe in trial and error. He believes in the intensity of his own conviction.

Also, he refuses to collaborate with others, because they would involve giving up sole authorship of his thoughts.

The bore wants to preserve his own ideas, pristine and inviolate, and he undertakes a tactical assault on his interlocutor-- essentially shutting him up--in order to protect his grand ideas from questioning or doubt.

As Dr. Kristina Jones noted on my Facebook page, the bore is a type of narcissist. Some, she suggests, are very engaging and entertaining. And thus, not as boring as their fellow boors.

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