Once reports came in that a misanthrope had been spotted on the outskirts of town. This news caused quite a stir, but serious doubts about the sighting were raised almost at once. Most in dispute was whether the creature belonged to the species of true misanthropes or was, on the contrary, an example of that rarely seen relative, the mock misanthrope. This second species, having diverged in its development from the true variety at some point in the misty past, was known to compete for the same habitat but had been steadily losing ground when it came to the survival of the fittest among misanthropes. Simply stated, the mock misanthrope just wasn’t equipped to adjust to a rapidly changing environment with the speed necessary to avoid extinction. Instead, it clung stubbornly to an approach to life’s challenges that true misanthropes no longer fully embraced or had abandoned outright: a reliance entirely upon the contents of one’s own braincase to make it from this day to the next. In fact, to trust in anything other than the intelligence of the species struck the mock misanthrope as a grievous lack of faith in oneself and one’s own kind. Any neglect of these inherent mental strengths in favor of some makeshift and tenuous survival ploy would send it into an exasperated howl. “What are we,” it might shout at such times, “an evolutionary dead end? A waste of good gray matter?” Unfortunately, rather than encouraging others to make better use of what gray matter they did in fact possess, these sarcastic barbs only drew attention to the mock misanthrope itself. And with the negative consequences that might be expected. Its criticisms typically met with hostile silence or else a grumbling dismissal and an avoidance of further contact. Little wonder, then, that the mock misanthrope was in trouble and was spotted with increasing rarity. There was even talk of the need to place it on the endangered species list. By contrast, the survival strategy of the other branch on the misanthropes’ evolutionary tree had demonstrated clear advantages time and again. The true misanthrope decided at an early stage in its development that relying on one’s own wits and strengths alone could be suicidal. These might fall so far short of what was required to advance one’s individual prospects and those of the species as a whole that abandoning them as often and as fully as necessary became the preferred course. With the stakes so high, no alternative to risky self-reliance should be overlooked. The most common tactic whenever danger arose was to hope for some miracle of deliverance or pity by powers greater than oneself. Lacking confidence in itself when faced with any imminent threat, the true misanthrope perfected the art of making itself appear as small as possible and therefore not worth the trouble of putting an end to. It might be heard to plead at such times, “O, what a weak and worthless wretch am I! Have mercy on me for my miserable failings!” After repeating this trusted formula until it was hoarse, the true misanthrope would slowly open one eye and look anxiously about. If nothing had happened, the true misanthrope would take this as a sign it must be doing something right and resolve to make itself appear even smaller and confess its weaknesses even more plaintively the next time around, if that’s what it took. Counting too much on your own ability to meet life’s challenges simply wasn’t a safe calculation and might even land you in deeper trouble for your pains. Better to lament your shortcomings loudly instead and turn your fate over to some superior being to do everything for you that you feared you couldn’t manage yourself. An alternative survival strategy that might be resorted to by the true misanthrope was to veer to the opposite extreme, noisily drawing attention to itself by claiming its species was too important not to leave a gaping hole at the top of creation if ever dismissed from it. To support such a declaration, the true misanthrope would set up an idealized version of itself on a grand pedestal, declare it the measure of all things, then worship it day and night as transcending all limitations of nature and time. If the former tactic of self-denigration sought to arouse the pity of an almighty power as a way of deflecting any threat, real or imagined, this second tactic aimed at feeding an absolute conviction that the species would remain forever at the apex of being. To both of these tactics, the mock misanthrope would rejoin, “Why not just be who we are, right here and right now, without cringing or boasting? Have faith in yourself, whatever the outcome! Answer the challenge within to live your own meaning and do justice to it! And if you must bow down in worship, bow down to those who believe so deeply in the worth of humanity they will sacrifice themselves for total strangers.” As natural selection took its course, the species of misanthrope possessing the adaptive trait of alternating between self-doubt and self-glorification multiplied rapidly and spread around the globe. They could be found everywhere, enjoying the considerable fruits of either deflating or puffing themselves up as two halves of the same survival strategy: one that forced the increasingly outnumbered mock misanthropes, with only themselves to count on, ever closer and closer to dying out. In light of this fact, it was the ultimate consensus among experts that the particular misanthrope reportedly seen near the city limits was almost certainly not of the mock variety. It must instead have been one of the far more common true misanthropes.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans