In his “My Life In Comedy,” Garrison Keillor makes the point that while existentialism, doom and bleakness are universal, easily seen in the aggregate, happiness is very specific, only seen in the details of any moment.

If you want to explore happiness, you have to explore specific moments, specific details and move away from generalization.

I read a story in the New York Times about the plans to end the specific diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, and instead categorize it as one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders.  How do people survive the declassification of their identity label?

Dr. Susan Swedo of NIH is quoted as saying ““People say that in autism, everybody is a snowflake. It’s the perfect analogy.”

Okay, sure.

But isn’t every human a snowflake?

I mean Mr. Rogers was telling me I was special and unique since 1962 (and in Canada, no less.)

In the end, queer liberation is about the simple idea that “everybody is a snowflake.”

Does that make Mr. Rogers queer empowering?

Sure.  He wanted you to be the best you can be, and wanted others to listen and engage your specialness.

Our power isn’t in some overarching group identity model.

It’s in the specifics of our unique lives.

And as Garrison Keillor notes, that’s where our happiness is, too.

5 thoughts on “Specificity”

  1. If we’re all special…then “special” isn’t really all that special, I suspect. ;)

    It’s nice to believe that everybody’s defined by a non-obvious, outlying aspect of themselves; I don’t think it’s necessarily the truth, however. (Of course, I don’t think its converse is the truth either, that everybody’s defined only in the obvious, commonly-shared aspects of themselves.)

    I don’t know; it’s nice to believe a lot of things, but whether something makes us feel good isn’t really the yardstick I measure stuff by, I guess. *shrugs*

  2. To me, this element isn’t about “feeling special,” it is about being unique, both the same as everyone else and also exceptional.

    I had become a new person;
    and those who knew the old person laughed at me.
    The only men who behaved sensibly was my tailor:
    he took my measure anew every time he saw me,
    whilst all the rest went in with their old measurements
    and expected them to fit me.
    George Bernard Shaw, “Man and Superman”

    I have used the description of ice cream: we are all fundamentally the same, made of the same fundamental stuff, but we are also all essentially different, with our own unique essence and flavors.

    Like snowflakes, we are not unique in our composition — snowflakes are all water — but in our structure.

    Too much of society wants to generalize and group, to look for some universal whatever. And yes, many, if not most people, really work hard to maintain group membership, and in that quest minimize their wild uniqueness and develop their tame sameness.

    But the key, at least to me, is in the details, which is where we exist and happiness lies.

    If happiness — feeling good — or the lack of happiness isn’t relevant to the course of a life, then I don’t know what is. Follow your bliss, eh?

    Yes, if one uses happiness as a general measure, and not as a component of a specific narrative, then the measurement becomes irrelevant and specious.

    How does happiness or the rejection of happiness play not in any esoteric & generalized view of the way the world should be, but in your specific narrative?

    Because happiness and uniqueness only exists in the specific, not the general.

  3. The vast bulk of people operate within samenesses, simply because it allows them to function better. Whether there’s harm in it or not, it’s just what people do. If I want to communicate with people, I communicate differences using the samenesses, simply because trying to communicate the samenesses with the differences is crude, in my way of thinking.

    People want to be part of something; individuality terrifies them. Some people notice this, and promptly seem to think: “Being part of something is terrible! I’ll be an individual! No matter what!”

    And then they work just as dogmatically to “be an individual” instead of “part of the group”. No choice, as far as I can tell; it’s automatic behavior both ways.

    It’s nice to have the choice of sharing things with other people, IMHO. I used to fall into the latter “aaaaaah! groups!” category of thought; still do, sometimes. But I’m working on it, because I think it’s unbalanced for me to do that.

    Assuming that happiness must be the component of an internal narrative for a moment — assuming that, and with the understanding that happiness has different criteria and a different experience for every single human being, how can one talk about it at all?

    Happiness’s concept exists only in the specific, at that point; and two people talking about it may as well be speaking different languages altogether.

  4. I learned that I can’t see the world when I try to look at what “the vast bulk of people do,” especially when I assume that “dogmatic” choices and “automatic behavior” are at the center of the world.

    I need to believe in the power of the individual.

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

    Margaret Mead: The Making of an American Icon Nancy C. Lutkehaus

    Beyond that, I need to believe in the power to communicate thoughts and feelings, that we can share with others.

    The power of the individual to make considered choices that fall between assimilation and individuality, to communicate what is important to them in a powerful way that can create change, well, in my experience (as well as in Ms. Mead’s) this is at the heart of how culture moves forward.

    To decide that humans are unable to communicate their specific experience because other humans will forever be unable to engage that experience seems to me to be a decision that guarantees unhappiness by staying locked in a sweeping and generalized view of humans.

    And that loses us the specificity that I see as the only path to change, growth and happiness.

    The universe is revealed in specific moments of revelation.

    And in my experience, those moments count.

  5. If all we have are our specifics, nobody can hear them over the differences.

    At least, that’s been my experience — but as I’ve implied a number of times, my experience doesn’t count, being irrelevant to the larger dataset. *shrugs*

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