“If you spend fifteen minutes in a shopping mall, you will pass more people than our ancestors saw during their entire lifetimes.” – Rolf Dobelli
Don’t be too critical of yourself if you have a general distaste for large crowds. Although it seems that way, it’s not the status quo of human experience.
I’ve never struggled with social anxiety and I’m very grateful for that. However, some of my close friends do, and I often wonder what their experience must be like. I don’t necessarily get my ‘power’ from bustling crowds. A city often feels threatening to me (I have the advantage of being a tall young man, so even the vague oppression of crowds barely wisps by me). I just don’t find large crowds particularly invigorating, and frequently I end up feeling emotionally drained having to spend all day in a teeming metropolis.
Large crowds of humans are a phenomenon restricted to a small fraction of our history as a species: Modern Times. There was a period in our distant past, it is theorized, that as little as three thousand humans roamed the earth. This is of course the extreme example, but when we look at our time here as a totality, being surrounded by absolute strangers is the bizarre exception, not the norm.
Modern living comes with advantage and disadvantage. We alter our environment faster than we can adapt to it, leading to malady and disease. Industrial technology allows us to live together in large numbers. However, with large crowds came the fear of large crowds and public interaction, which quickly became a diagnostic reality in psychotherapy.
There is another recent malady that came with the upsweep of civilization: Diabetes
Diabetes is a modern ailment, and a serious one. A result of being exposed to massive amounts of quickly-digestible monosaccharide and disaccharide sugars, which are metabolized like magician’s flash-powder, taxing the pancreas and leading to dulled sensitivity to insulin and eventually, a breakdown of function. This is contrasted to our past environment, in which we could only forage for simple sugars in smaller amounts (berries, fruits) and our diet contained more slowly-digesting fibrous vegetables, and animal proteins.
That’s the dietary environment of city living, what about the socio-personal? Living in a modern city, you are exposed to a massive population of other Beings, all with their own habits, goals, motivations, and intentions. No strong bond is ever formed with these thousands of men and women; sometimes social interaction is as restricted and minute as avoiding eachother’s gaze on the subway. This friction between physical and emotional ‘distance’ can put a strain on you in a very real way. Contrast this with ancient times, where an individual could spend their entire life engaging and nurturing powerful, deep social connections with twenty or thirty other people.
Perhaps social anxiety is the result of ‘digesting’ large amounts of quick, vapid, shallow interactions with an endless stream of strangers. The psychic ‘organ’ which is capable of forming lasting human bonds with others is wrenched this way and that like a fought-over doll. As a result, there is a loss of ‘social sensitivity’, you become more deadened to human interaction because you get so much of it on a non-engaging, facile level. Eventually, there is a breakdown of function and meeting other people becomes a source of fear and misery rather than inquiry and openness.
Now, I’m not attempting to romanticize our theorized ancestral past. Nor do I want to trivialize diabetes or social anxiety. I’m hard-pressed to think of any other life I’d like to lead than my own.
However, for those of you who feel isolated in their abhorrence of large crowds. You are not alone, perhaps every other person on that subway car feels the exact same way.