The Ruricolist is now available in print.


Living among animals, you notice there are people – many people – who can handle themselves well with animals, but not with other people. This is strange, because body language and tone of voice are the only channels of commmunication with animals, but body language and tone of voice are where these unfortunates fail with other people – they are oblivious to other people’s cues, and when they speak they seem cursed with bodies they do not know what to do with.

I classify this as one kind of overthinking. They believe that there is something special about social interaction, some difference that raises human sociality above animal sociality, some special prospect of human connection in what human beings, and only human beings, share. But when they reach for it, they lean too far, and they grasp only dead air.

They are not wrong about the difference; they are just looking in the wrong place. Our difference lies, not in social interaction, but beyond it. The mechanism of sociality is not how we connect, but how we avoid and regulate connection. In all human beings there is something so tender, so piteous, so kind, so sympathetic and so generous that it would sooner have us, like the heraldic pelican, wound ourselves to issue blood and give it, than see another go thirsty – something more than vulnerable, self-vulning. To survive we must armor and bar this something; so we place it in the same protected center of our instincts where the animal keeps its throat and belly. It will not be exposed to you until you have proven trustworthy, well-intentioned, and undemanding. That you are human does not give you the right to expect others to undress for you, even if you undress for them; to expect this deeper unveiling, even if you go about so deeply unveiled, is deeper folly.