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Friday, November 18, 2016

How Neurotic People Abuse the News

It's not easy being well-adjusted in a neurotic world.

Negative emotions like sadness, anger, and fear tend to come as a package.  Personality psychologists call this package “Neuroticism.”  There’s a spectrum, of course.  At the high end of Neuroticism, we have people like Seinfeld’s George Costanza, who finds misery and outrage wherever he turns.  At the low end, we have people like Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer, who discovers amusement and excitement around every corner. 

Having a Neurotic personality is not fun, and Neurotics rarely let us forget it.  This doesn’t imply, however, that they’re victims.  By acting on their sadness, anger, and fear, Neurotics routinely make the people around them sadder, angrier, and more fearful.  Parallel claims hold for non-Neurotics.  They rarely complain, but that doesn’t imply they’re not victims.If your Neuroticism is high or even average, you probably aren’t even aware that you’re imposing on others.

How exactly does society victimize the non-Neurotic?  Look at the news – or, in an election year, politics.  It’s a parade of stories crafted to make every onlooker feel sadness, anger, and fear.  It’s a pan-ideological problem: Left and right disagree on many things, but both tribes of activists want you to get upset about something every day.  Take a look at the stories your friends shared on Facebook today.  How many aren’t a thinly-veiled demand for negative affect

If your Neuroticism is high or even average, you probably aren’t even aware that you’re imposing on others.  For you, calling on people to be sad, angry, or afraid is on par with asking them to walk with their eyes open.  And since non-Neurotics aren’t prone to complain, it’s easy to remain oblivious to their concerns.

Actually, as a self-identified non-Neurotic, I should say, “our concerns.”  Though I loathe to complain, I can’t stand to see my people suffer any longer.  Sadness, anger, and fear do not come naturally to us.  We don’t “love to hate” things.  And though we are happy to lend a sympathetic and constructive ear to your concrete problems, we don’t want to be part of the vicissitudes of your abstract offense.

I know Neurotics are highly unlikely to change their personalities.  But it would be nice if you showed us non-Neurotics a little consideration.  And we so rarely ask for anything!  Without reproach, I ask you this: Please, stop trying to make us feel what you feel. 

Thanks in advance!

Republished from EconLog.

  • Bryan Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University, research fellow at the Mercatus Center, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and blogger for EconLog. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.