In 2011, The Art of Manliness published a sweet piece on Conversational Narcissism. It’s an interesting read, and the tenets will be familiar to many i.e. “Last month I met up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in forever…. Having both read and written about how to be an effective and charismatic conversationalist, I followed the old dictum of listening more than talking and asking the other person engaging questions about themselves. This is supposed to charm your conversation partner. I guess it worked because my friend talked about himself for an hour straight and didn’t ask me a single question.”
Sound a little familiar? What’s neat about the article is that sociologist Charles Derber (whose book The Pursuit of Attention inspires much of the piece) has deconstructed some of the ways people masterfully – and subtly – monopolize the conversation back to ego numero uno.
Take the following two examples:
James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.
Rob: Oh yeah? What models have you looked at?
James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.
Rob: Oh yeah? I’m thinking about buying a new car too.
Rob: Yup, I just test drove a Mustang yesterday and it was awesome.
Woah!! Did you catch that weaselly move in Example 2? Rob, henceforth “Conversation Weasel”, has sneakily moved the attention away from James and placed it squarely on himself, in a verbal strategy Derber calls “shift-response” (as opposed to the polite and engaging “support-response” demonstrated in Example 1). The post goes on to elaborate on a number of fascinating ways Conversation Weasel can leave the listener high and dry while running away madly with the conversation football.
The author offers a nice little insight into the why of this, by stating: “In a time where a lot of the old social supports people relied upon have disappeared, people have become starved for attention. They bring this hunger to their conversations, which they see as competitions in which the winner is able to keep the attention on themselves as much as possible. And this is turning the skill of conversation-making into a lost art.”
P.S. This whole discussion seems rather evocative of the conch shell symbolism in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. In this book, a group of shipwrecked boys decide that “he who holds the conch” has the authority to speak without interruption, and that anyone within the group has the right to the conch. The conch in this case helps to ensure a degree of egalitarianism and collectivism to how group decisions are discussed and made. However, as the story unfolds, group structure breaks down, the rules of engagement disintegrate, the conch is shattered, and anarchy reigns supreme.
Now.. I’m not saying that Conversation Weasel sets out to create anarchy, but it’s mighty tricky to build something together when we’re all grabbing for the conch.
You’ve likely already heard of the giant ant super-city found in Brazil. If not, it’s pretty incredible looking and fantastically huge – check out this DailyMail link to see images of the structure. This eerie and highly alien city includes agricultural gardens, highways, waste disposal areas, and organized ventilation shafts – all distributed in a labyrinthine order of pods and stalks.
Leafcutter ants, the original colony, are food cultivators par excellence – you can see them beavering away in the short clip above (sorry about my unsteady hand – mucho coffee that morning). Basically they’re collecting leaves that are brought back to the colony and cultivated to grow fungus in the garden areas.
Sounds a little like organized agriculture to me.
To see the final structure, scientists poured ten tonnes of concrete into the ant city which then solidified. Although the colony was apparently abandoned, one has to wonder what the ants think about their very own Pompeii for posterity.
So there’s this pretty funky parasite that some researchers think gets into our brains and subtly manipulates our personality to engage in self-destructive behaviour (see articles in The Atlantic, The Guardian, and another similar example in Scientific American).
Apparently this parasite – Toxoplasmo gondii – might be subtly working on the connections in our brains to change our responses to situations, and possibly be contributing to car crashes, promiscuous behaviour, and certain mental disorders.
In rats for example, the parasite actually compels rats to go play with cats!
So I tried yoga a few weeks ago.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, you know, get more bendy. All was going well, until the call for backwards-facing-cobra or something to that effect. Unfortunately what I heard was something more like upside-down-manatee, or ungulate-grazing-in-reverse. As my neck hasn’t been the same since, evidently I wasn’t either of those two mammals in a past life.
More importantly, has anyone else noticed how grumpy some yoga aficionados look when you spot them doing ‘normal’ stuff like taking out the garbage? One would think serenity would prevail..
Mark my words, there’s something afoot.