Note: What I’ve published so far is only partial and partially edited. There may be some egregious mistakes; I haven’t looked over the whole thing. I plan to edit it further in coming days, weeks, years or decades, and I will most likely add to it, but I’ve decided to publish what I have so far. If parts of it are crap, well, you’re the ones who decided to read it in spite of this disclaimer.

One of the odd, even disconcerting, things that I’ve noticed as an American on visits to Continental Europe is that Europeans don’t expect one another to run their damn mouths all the time. Coming from a place as noisy as the States, the silence can be deafening, but this isn’t the case because Europeans are all taciturn and laconic; the stories of iciness towards strangers are a bit exaggerated. The root cause of the quiet is that Europeans are fundamentally comfortable with quiet. Their attitude can be described as, “if you don’t have anything to say, don’t say it.”

Americans, not so much: the Ugly American has certainly become larger than life, but it’s no myth; I’ve seen more than a few ugly Americans in my travels abroad, and damn straight I’ve been one, too. We do more than our fair share of gum-flapping across the pond, and often in a manner that can’t remotely be described as dignified. To paraphrase the ghetto-ass bitches of 103rd Street (I rode with them on the Blue Line all the way from Metro Center one afternoon), “We ugly! We KNOW we ugly!”

Learning how not to be an obnoxious gasbag has long struck me as an important part of growing up; it certainly was for me. It’s a basic social grace, one that some people have from childhood and others never learn, but it’s certainly one whose cultivation ought to be encouraged. The strange thing, then, especially for those who have visited Continental Europe and paid a lick of attention to the human environment during their visits, is that American culture actively discourages the cultivation of conversational modesty and consideration. There are exceptions, but this is largely true at every level of culture, from the familial to the social to the civic to broadcast popular culture.

Perversely, in my effort to more fully socialize myself by not impulsively saying the first half-cocked, obnoxious thing that came to mind, I deacculturated myself in my native land. My cultivation of the introversion needed to avoid routinely making an ass of myself convinced a sizable number of my countrymen that I am socially defective. It isn’t necessarily personal; a great many Americans consider shyness prima facie evidence of social defectiveness. Being prone to medical fads, many of us also stupidly consider shyness evidence of serious psychological disorders, often clinical depression or Asperger’s Syndrome, which we don’t have any qualification to diagnose and whose actual diagnostic criteria we don’t even know because we’re too busy watching Dr. Phil to read the DSM-IV.

As I mentioned, this is not a problem in Europe. Continental Europeans are put off by conversations that take the form of incessant, dueling monologues; this includes Italians, who may talk thus with friends but consider it a rude way to comport oneself among strangers or casual acquaintances. The British and Irish are a fair bit more talkative than Continentals, but not being the aggressive social conformists or pop psychologists that Americans are, they don’t consider not talking a whole lot a diagnostic pathology.

Whoa, Nellie! Did I just say that we’re more conformist than our limey friends, with their hidebound class structure? You betcha. I don’t have the rigorous sociological data to prove my assertion, but neither do sociologists. One thing I can state with reasonable certainty, however, is that this state of affairs didn’t arise overnight. Alexis de Tocqueville argued that the United States had the narrowest range of socially acceptable opinion of any Western country. We were, in other words, the freest country politically on the face of the earth for groveling, lily-livered conformists. Take that,  socialist cheese-eating surrender monkeys!

As I mentioned, one of the ways in which the good Yankee is expected to conform is by being, or at least pretending to be, outgoing. Being a wallflower, or the quiet kid in the corner, or a contentedly withdrawn bookworm, is just weird. The normal thing to do is to ostentatiously ask one’s companions how they’re doing. With rare exceptions, however, it’s considered rude to answer this question candidly or with any detail, and the interrogator is fully within his rights to ignore such unexpected rudeness. Similarly, it is not at all rude for a third party to interrupt a conversation in order to ask one or both parties, even in the most general terms, how they’re doing at the moment; the only rude thing to do in this situation is for one of the interrupted parties to criticize the interloper for gratuitously interrupting a perfectly good conversation to which he was not a party.

Regional caveat: In the Pacific Northwest, it is customary for cashiers, baristas and the like to ask their customers, “How’s your day going so far?” Impressively, it is not considered impolite to answer this variation candidly or verbosely as long as it doesn’t really hold up the line or visibly annoy the questioner. Answering, “sore question for me, boss,” is considered impolite, but in point of fact is entirely proper, as this question is hell on those of us who are having shitty days. So far. Ain’t gonna make it better by asking about it, either.

How did we get this way? Let’s make like David Brooks and get sociological. Like Brooks, I’m a licensed and boarded armchair sociologist with a subspecialty residency in boboology. (Hot diggety, real sociologists, the kind who have doctorates, would just love to have board exams for their “discipline.” It would give their line of work a shiny patina of academic rigor, kind of like statistical analyses and pretentious wording do today.)

Speaking of Brooks, I need to get to the Applebee’s salad bar sometime. I hear it’s yummy.

All right, what I’m really going to do is make a bunch of observations about people being assholes to each other, or not, and use them to correlate multiple variables, none of which can be isolated: in other words, sociology, minus the claims of scientific precision and with much better writing.

The first variables are the regional variations. Thank God for them; otherwise, the whole country would be insufferable. Truth be told, I can’t really figure out the South, although there seems to be a bigger dose of enforced extroversion in the asshat parts, like the wacko precincts of Texas and Arkansas, than in the civilized parts, like most of Virginia. Then again, Louisiana, undeniably a place of entrenched viciousness, seems to allow its local color to be sullen and withdrawn. (Don’t believe me about Cajuns having a proud tradition of asshattery? Get back to me after you’ve given some thought to Huey Long, James Carville, Angola State Prison, bayou law enforcement as it pertains to BP, and the New Orleans Police Department.) In the secession-challenged parts of the Union, there seems to be relatively ample social latitude for introversion in New England, a swath of the Midwest from Kansas northward, much of the Mountain West, Hawaii and Alaska; rather little on the West Coast and in the Mid-Atlantic; and an amount close to the national average in the rest of the country.

Some of these places are special cases illustrating the importance of other variables. First up is Washington, DC, possibly the most neurotic, high-strung city I’ve ever visited, at rush hour a place swarming with hordes of harried government lackeys, every one of them wearing a visible ID badge, often as a sort of lanyard necklace. Our country is governed from this hellhole. Easily a quarter of the working population in the District, as well as Fairfax, Arlington, and Montgomery Counties, is in desperate need of weekly psychotherapy, but more importantly a stiff drink and a train ticket out of town. This neurosis is currently diffusing ever deeper into the exurbs, although not particularly into the urban parts of PG County and hardly at all into Alexandria. Alexandrians are gracious; Washingtonians are faux-polite because it’s good for business, and there are some hardcore, stone-cold automatons from National Airport to the Falls of the Potomac. As JFK said, it’s Southern efficiency and Northern charm.

Sadly, our government is run not by Alexandrians, but by bottled-up nutcases up and across the river. Nova and the District feel for all the world like an open-air prison for federal employees. They have to keep a game face on for business, but inside more than a few of them are seething. Since Washington’s strict protocol forbids them to openly vent their disgust, they build up a pressure head that shoots out in unexpected places, hopefully soaking the little people instead of their superiors. It’s a city full of Hillary Clintons, people who scrupulously hew to the letter of protocol but are self-evidently deranged and, all too often, indecent. You never know when one of these freaks will send a lamp flying across the room. Considering that we, the people, are on the receiving end of their services, it stands to reason that so much capricious bullshit issues from our federal government.

Next up is New York. The New York that I have in mind isn’t the one where the locals live; these are a strange flock, indeed, but as abrasive, dysfunctional, vain and neurotic as they can be, they are fundamentally much more morally grounded and mentally sound than Washingtonians. They’re weird, but they don’t have their heads up their asses, or periodically extract them to tell all who will hear that their own shit doesn’t stink.

The New York that I have in mind is the one where the disoriented transplants live, the ones who, no matter how long they’ve been in town, never quite look like they have their social or work lives together. These are the people who present whatever God-awful trainwreck of failed relationships, atomization, loneliness, and cobbled-together work and living arrangements they’ve stumbled into as a fascinating big-city “adventure.” Penn Station is full of billboards pandering to this crowd, and it’s a scary sight. Tropicana, which has presumably researched its target demographic, regards New York’s commuters as a group whose romantic lives consist of trying to pick up passersby on the streets of Manhattan whom they may well never lay eyes on again, and as one that is too harried to get to a grocery store or fix itself breakfast. These vignettes, which Tropicana promotes as examples of New York “cool” and “uniqueness” that warrant the purchase of obscenely overpriced and overpackaged orange juice, are in fact examples of profound personal and social dysfunction.

The target audience for these ads is always trying to make a good first impression because it’s angling for a leg up in an uncertain, barely navigable world. Wherever these people live–which is, to some extent, every large city–they look askance at locals who have their shit together, whose social and work lives have continuity and stability, as baffling aberrations who aren’t getting the most out of life and making it the adventure that it should be.

This is the point at which I should make explicit a caveat that applies to every city: neighborhood is a huge factor. Many Philadelphians imply that their city is unique in being a “city of neighborhoods;” although they’re absolutely correct that Philadelphia has more neighborhood cohesion and identity than many cities (e.g., a whole lot more than Washington), it is far from unique in having neighborhoods with strong local identities and cultures.

Crucially, a neighborhood’s culture doesn’t have to be widely recognized to be relevant. Regardless of a neighborhood’s name, or lack thereof, and regardless of the hot air that does or doesn’t emanate from its boosters, there’s a huge difference between a neighborhood dominated by longtime residents and one dominated by people who rolled into town the other week. A large population of longtimers has an easier time integrating a small number of newcomers into the civic and social fabric than a small population of longtimers has integrating a flood of transplants. Many people who settled in places where a plurality or majority of the residents’ families have been in town for generations claim that they are never truly accepted by the locals as equals. Having been relocated as a child from the Bay Area to rural Pennsylvania, where my parents and I arrived with practically no contacts, my reaction is, big fucking deal. Regardless of any Scientology-style inner circles that existed in Lebanon and Lancaster Counties, I had a much more functional social life there than I had in Center City Philadelphia, where most of my neighbors seemed to be recent transplants.

A major vein of shallow, forced extroversion is celebrity culture, which brings us to LA. Although the absurdly vain parts of Los Angeles get the lion’s share of the area’s media attention, they make up a rather small, lightly populated swath of the hills north and west of downtown. Outside of this swath and the gnarlier ghetto neighborhoods, LA is really pretty laid back. Compared to New York and Washington, I see very few people on the streets there who look like they’ll explode from the tensions of court life at Versailles or are pretending not to lead personal lives that are in total disarray.

Then again, I haven’t spent much time in Hollywood because it’s a shit hole. As I understand it, the out-of-towners hoping to strike it rich in the big city are concentrated there, and the metastasis of that segment of the population never does a place good. I’ve heard that NPR once aired a segment in which a reporter walked along Hollywood Boulevard, asking passersby how the screenplay was going, and got only serious answers; NPR does edit its segments, but I don’t doubt that a random sample of neighborhood residents questioned on Hollywood Boulevard would suffer from untreated high self-esteem.

The ambient vanity of Hollywood diffuses into other LA neighborhoods, too, and of course there are other centers of wholesale self-promotion in and near LA: the San Fernando Valley, sweet home of the Valley Girl, for porn stars; Studio City and Culver City for secular television and radio hustlers; Orange County for megachurch pastors; Calabasas for John Mayer. In many cities, it’s the floridly psychotic who belt out poetic freeform rants in public places that aren’t usually considered performance venues, so it might be said that the difference between Philly and LA is the difference between a wild-eyed nutter in Market East yelling, “smashed in his knees with a two-by-four! Smashed in his knees with a sledgeHAMMER!”, and a completely sane fellow in a sequined shirt and pink shorts entertaining me and a Mexican lady at the westbound 117 bus stop at Century and La Brea with a spoken-word poem about how “all the hotels in this town are owned by Punjabis!” I would argue that one of LA’s saving graces, a rather ironic one, is that Angelenos wear their vanity on their sleeve, which makes for a lot less duplicity than one finds some places.

That said, the popular image of LA in other parts of the country begs a question: LA, a city of three and a half million or so with millions more in adjacent cities and nearby unincorporated areas, is no monolith, so why are pop culture depictions of the LA Basin so narrowminded, hackneyed and derivative? Los Angeles County is an industrial powerhouse, an active oil producer, and a major port and railroad center, and these operations don’t run themselves, yet the overwhelming image of LA on TV, and often in the movies, is of a few absurdities that are aberrations even by local standards: Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, the Beverly Hills 90210 crowd, Hugh Hefner and his picturesque but borderline retarded whores, a beach scene dominated by roided-out, musclebound freaks and women who are about to be toppled by their own chests.

The only other heavily promoted depiction of LA is of one of the seediest parts of its underbelly, the very gnarly swath of ghetto between Vernon Avenue and the 105 freeway, whose constant depiction serves mainly to promote what are frankly racist urban legends about the inevitable violence and degradation of black neighborhood life; you’ll have a damn hard time finding a pop culture reference to Leimert Park or any of the relatively safe, functional multiracial neighborhoods in the LA Basin.

It’s hard to argue that popular culture hasn’t exacerbated LA’s class, racial and ethnic tensions. These tensions have always been very real, but the racial chasm in particular is aggressively exaggerated by Hollywood for salacious effect, while the city’s middle classes, in the broadest sense possible, are entirely ignored. In a media-obsessed culture such as America’s, where perception is so often elevated above reality, gross distortions such as these are extremely destructive. The promotion of these distortions for crass monetary gain is unconscionable.

It’s problematic for Los Angeles that a vicious, utterly amoral mercenary cohort in Hollywood celebrates and normalizes the antics of two of their city’s most disordered subcultures, to the exclusion of a largely normative supermajority of the city’s residents. What’s worse is that the same noxious deviance and disorder is exported to the nation at large, and to the world. Volumes have been written about the destructive effects of Hollywood’s celebration of sexual laxity, drug use, irreligiosity, violence and uncouth language. I would argue that of these things, the celebration of violence has had by far the most destructive effect on the social fabric, but largely in little-noticed ways. Perhaps the worst effect has been the confirmation of the bias held by many beat cops, especially the less street-smart ones, that all black men are incorrigibly violent and criminal. I have no doubt that violence in the media has enabled more deliberate official oppression and predation by cops than impulsive, freelance violence by common criminals. You probably won’t hear this on the evening news, however, because the victim of a wrongful field interrogation or frisking doesn’t bleed like a corpse.

A notable thing about the theocratic family values scolds who get their panties in a bunch over sex and the secular family values scolds who get theirs in a bunch over violence and the degradation of women is that both have a rather selective and officious conception of sin. The religious right gladly intrudes into the bedroom to impose its narrow sexual morality on private, consensual activities, and its secular counterparts, led by the likes of Tipper Gore and what Rush Limbaugh calls “feminazis,” gladly intrude in order to denounce what it considers bad taste in entertainment, but neither obnoxious faction lifts a finger in opposition to unrestrained vanity, which has a clear degrading effect on public manners. We shouldn’t be surprised: it’s harder to hide seething arrogance, especially if one happens to be Hillary Clinton, than it is to hide one’s recourse to cocaine and loose women, so prideful denunciations of pride would be too ridiculous even for the goober portion of the American electorate; much better to be Larry “Wide Stance” Craig, calling Bill Clinton a naughty boy in public but secretly staying on the lookout for other naughty boys in private–make that, kind of in public.

Another reason we shouldn’t be surprised is that denouncing sins of excessive self-regard is bad for business, and meddlesome political nitwittery is, for many purposes, a business: the pay is good, especially upon retirement, and the relevant capital markets give you a shitload of money for ideological purposes with no expectation of direct repayment. That’s pretty much a Pat Robertson-style blood diamond mine capitalization, worthy of a song of praise in that favorite Holy Spirit-inspired tongue, Pig Hebrew (ish-chabish-kabam-cha-tshing!). The savvy demagogue doesn’t encourage his audience to be humble, or thoughtful, or empathetic, or modest, or much of anything else that might be considered virtuous and gracious, because virtue and graciousness interfere with thoughtless support of asshat demagoguery. (I have a sneaking suspicion that little of what I described in the last sentence made it into Bill Bennett’s “Book of Virtues.” Neither did Bennett’s own high-stakes Vegas gambling. One always wants to edit such publications for clarity and consistency of message.)

A very common critique of American politics is that it has degenerated into a shouting match between self-important adversaries who won’t listen to one another or to anything resembling reality. Critiques of this sort don’t always blame arrogance per se, but arrogance is always a factor in politics-as-mud-fight; it takes a measure of arrogance to reflexively assume that the opposition is immoral, deranged, treasonous or otherwise unfit for high office and unworthy of a fair hearing for its proposals. What Richard Nixon might have called a silent majority of Americans, mostly the same ones who don’t get to the polls for primary elections, badly want governance, not partisan war. (Guess who does go to the polls: “We are the change we believe in;” “Onward, Christian soldiers….pray by lifting the hand of [Rick Perry,] the one I show you that is in the place of civil rule.”)

It’s reasonable to ask why, if this sort of arrogance has been so disastrous in politics, we would ever want to cultivate it in the public at large. Do arrogant bastards keep getting elected in part because their constituents sickly view them as kindred spirits, or worthy role models whom they may someday successfully imitate? Many of the people asking questions of this sort are clergy, but, tellingly, not the sort of clergy you’ll see on most “Christian” TV stations. One reason why is that if politics is a business, TBN and CBN are most certainly businesses, too. In a sense, they’re ministries, but in another sense they’re mercenary operations with bills to pay, and lowest-common-denominator shysters like Pat Robertson and Joel Osteen bring in the cash flow. Ish-chabish-kamad cash.

CBN is pretty much a Southern-fried Elmer Gantry social control operation with some ancillary financial scams, but TBN is a more enigmatic case. It has a noticeably more Midwestern worldview, leavened with a hearty dose of California showmanship; the network is headquartered in Santa Ana, and its old mainstay, the Hour of Power, was hosted by Robert Schuler, an Iowan who established an ambitious and ultimately doomed megachurch, the Crystal Cathedral, in Garden Grove. The sad thing is that TBN, whose natural sensibilities are at worst flaky but well-intentioned and at best thoughtful and edifying, debases itself by syndicating Joel Osteen, a patent fraud. This is a broadcaster that has a library of excellent programming, including the full archives of Billy Graham crusades and Dave Stotts’ Drive-Thru History series, and that promotes itself as an alternative to the coarseness of secular television, but that broadcasts garbage every bit as vulgar and predatory as anything on the major networks. When Joel Osteen comes on, the claim that TBN represents down-to-earth heartland virtues evaporates. Broadcasting shysters like Osteen puts a whole lot of egg on the face of American Christianity. It’s pretty hard to even begin convincing secular observers that churches are trying to reform themselves when prominent, avowedly Christian broadcasters insist on syndicating con men and leave upstanding preachers to their own wits, which usually amounts to parish-level preaching and obscure tracts and YouTube videos.

Osteen brings us, circuitously, to a second important variable affecting the acceptance of introverts: the self-esteem movement. So does Schuler, to a lesser extent, as does a fairly large swath of American Evangelical preaching in general.

It wasn’t always so. Billy Graham was no shrinking violet about bruising his audience’s egos. Being a classy gentleman, he wasn’t gratuitous about it like Dr. Phil, but he considered it his duty to bring his viewers face to face with their own moral failings, those of their cities and countries, and the sinful nature of the world at large.

That was the old-time religion. The new-time religion, exemplified by Osteen, expresses a decidedly more positive opinion of the laity. As Grandma said, “He has such a positive message.” God has you right where he wants you, he has you in just the right job, you may not believe that God will use you for great things, but just you watch and wait, he will, etc., etc. I.e., you’re perfect just the way you are.

Notice that the timeline for theological degradation from Graham’s heyday to Osteen’s parallels the collapse of curriculum standards at many secular schools in the United States. There was probably some lag time from pulpit to classroom, but not a whole lot, and the same wretched dynamic is at play: where before we were encouraged to develop self-esteem by accomplishing worthwhile things, we are now encouraged to develop it by effusively praising ourselves and being effusively praised by teachers, parents, clergy, friends, or whomever. Not the stuff of greatness, I dare say.

An important object lesson of Osteentatious evangelism, for those who aren’t willfully blind, is that flattery is a stock-in-trade of the confidence artist. This is pretty much what fire-and-brimstone preachers have always said about the Devil. A useful corollary might be that flattery is also the stock-in-trade of the bullshit artist. In an environment of such neurotic political correctness that teachers are afraid to offend their students by correcting mistakes in their work or giving them poor grades, assessments quickly become meaningless. In an environment in which people feel compelled to heap one another with praise, whether deserved or not, and where mild criticism is considered beyond the pale, language quickly loses all meaning.

In some cases, language takes on the opposite of its apparent meaning. This wasn’t true of Graham’s sermons, but it is most certainly true of Osteen’s. There is an overpowering appearance that Osteen’s audience is full of people who hate their jobs and commutes, feel stifled by their family lives, and perceive no real agency in their own lives. Why else would Osteen need to regularly reaffirm that their work lives are being consecrated not only to the glory of God, but also to their own material prosperity, pursuant to Ephesians 3:20? Osteen is as slippery a character as exists on God’s green earth, as evidenced not only by his amazingly greased-up physical appearance, but more so by his irredeemably crass theology on tithing, which he promotes as a get-rich-kinda-quick kickback scheme backed by the full faith and credit of the Almighty Himself. The only reasonable presumption about Osteen’s honesty is that he has absolutely none, absent specific evidence to the contrary, which is applicable only to the subject immediately at hand, and is never applicable to anything related to money. Can people who have positive cash flow and are satisfied with their own financial status be expected to dump money down a megachurch rat hole on promises by a greasy televangelist of greater future riches? No way in hell, or in Houston. But I repeat myself.

There’s a weird, saccharine positiveness to contemporary Evangelical sermons, and not just Osteen’s, nor just in relation to money. As an introvert and an adult convert to Catholicism, one of the things I find most absurd in Evangelical sermons is their frequent references to the Holy Spirit helping the introverted overcome their introversion by way of facilitating some public ministry. I can’t recall ever hearing such a thing from a Catholic priest. It’s notable that there are a lot of very quiet, presumably shy Catholic priests, but very few Protestant ministers of the sort, especially in Evangelical churches. I have never heard introversion presented as an obstacle to fulfilling a vocation to the Catholic priesthood. The reason, I have to assume, is that the very office of the priesthood in the Catholic Church gives precise guidance to those holding it on practically every matter imaginable. Priests come and go, but the office of the priesthood endures. Another way of saying that is that the Catholic priesthood is a lot less egocentric than the clerical offices of Protestant sects, and indescribably less so than the priestly offices of Evangelical churches, to the extent that the last can even be properly called offices, given the ad hoc nature that Evangelical churches often have.

One upshot of this is that Catholics don’t hear assurances from the pulpit that the Holy Spirit will come into their lives and help them not be shy, quiet, reserved, modest, or whatever else one might want to call not comporting oneself as a hail-fellow-well-met car salesman. Being laconic isn’t considered a liability in a church that places such an emphasis on introspection, liturgical forms, and religious offices rather than personalities. If there’s something that has to be said, it’s almost certainly literally spelled out in one of the Church’s liturgical books, and if there’s nothing inherently wrong with a priest being laconic, what could be inherently wrong with a layman being so? The end result is that introverted laymen aren’t made to feel defective and untouched by the Holy Spirit just because they haven’t yet learned how to noisily gladhand their fellows. At the conclusion of mass, the quietest people in the pews might make their parish priest sound like Calvin Coolidge, but that’s all right, because the priest is responsible for carrying out the duties of his office, which don’t include running his mouth all the time in order to impress his parishioners with his social skills. It’s worth noting that priests in episcopal denominations don’t have to pitch themselves to congregations in order to get parish assignments; they go where the bishop sends them, and damn straight they do if they’re Catholic.

All of this is the polar opposite of the dominant American culture, as promoted most vigorously by our public schools, Evangelical churches, and broadcast media. One affirmation that Catholic priests and religious most certainly don’t get very often is that they’re special as individuals, and they don’t often give it, either. Their “specialness” or “uniqueness,” which they don’t usually describe in such terms, is contingent upon their fulfillment of their vocations.

Paradoxically, this emphasis on self-mortification is one of the greatest gifts that an introvert can receive from society. Introverts don’t usually like being the center of attention, and we most certainly don’t like being made the center of attention without our permission. It is a huge relief for introverts to be in an environment in which there is no expectation of extroversion. The self-esteem curricula that pervade public schools, especially in the lower grades, are exactly the opposite of what introverts need in order to become comfortable with their own personalities and to develop a sense of self-esteem. By “self-esteem,” I mean not the bullshit and narcissism that the term has commonly come to mean, but a sense that one isn’t defective for not wanting to talk effusively about oneself. When a curriculum includes instructions to the students to articulate their own “uniqueness” in some fashion that would normally be considered insipidly narcissistic, it’s hell on the introverts in the room. For someone who doesn’t like being put on the spot to talk or write about himself, an assignment or request to do exactly that, regardless of the circumstances, can be excruciating. The ramifications may well include questions about one’s worth as an individual, e.g., “What’s wrong with me that I don’t want to be self-absorbed like these other people?”

The absurdity is inevitable: people are told to value their own uniqueness, but made to feel like shit if that uniqueness includes any reticence about praising themselves. We introverts get the feeling that we’ve entered the Twilight Zone, but it can be hard to put a finger on exactly what’s wrong with the situation, or how the hell it can be fixed. It’s reminiscent of political dissidents in the Soviet Union who were forcibly medicated in psychiatric hospitals to cure their “mental illness,” i.e., being democrats or other such scum. Diversity is celebrated, unless one’s diversion takes the form of not wanting to jawbone about one’s diversity. It’s a crazymaking mess.

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