In my October 11, 2017 post I discussed psychologist Elaine Aron’s concept of the highly sensitive person. She came to the conclusion that her HSP diagnosis was necessary because of the profound difference in sensitivity among people.
There is definitely a sensitive/insensitive divide in us. Dr Aron would caution me to say – ‘more sensitive/less sensitive’, since all people, she says, are sensitive to some degree. Well, I’m a little sceptical of that. I’ve met many very insensitive people.
When I first entered school as a boy in the 1950s, I was appalled at the rampant insensitivity. In my novel The Birdcatcher, Christopher Stone describes his experience of that like this:
….. I remembered my own first day at school, that morning in September, 1953, when I crouched in a corner of the old brick walls, instinctively protecting my back, waiting for the school to open. I remember the yard full of pushing, teasing, shouting children. Though I couldn’t have put it into words then, I felt like an alien child, an orphan from some far away star, left behind on a strange and unfriendly planet.
Like Chris Stone, throughout my life, in elementary school, high school, university, and, especially, in workplaces, decade after decade, my experience of people did nothing to convince me that insensitive people were not shockingly common.
There is no problem understanding where sensitivity came from. You can find it throughout Nature. It’s tied to acute senses, something necessary for wild animals. Dr Aron believes that too.
But where did insensitivity come from?
That question troubled me for a long time. Then one day, as I was working on my novel Skol, I realized that insensitivity is probably associated with humanity’s transition from the small hunter-gatherer family to the tribe.
That’s when a new theory was born, the outcome of AI research in the 22nd century, which is now in Skol. Beginning with the fact that our brains have been shrinking for the past 20,000 years (something that has been known from the study of fossil skulls since the 1970s, though we preferred not to talk about it), AI scientists develop the theory. Here is the page from the HHTF (History of Humanity and the Third Federation) where the origin of insensitivity is explained:
Social Devolution & the Desensitization of Man
Why did the human brain shrink?
The accepted theory now is that larger societies did not require larger brains. To control and discipline large groups of people one needed something simpler than the acute sensitivity, strong memory and creativity of hunter-gatherers.
What the tribe needed was individuals who could dominate, and others who could submit.
A more social world required more restricted minds and more restricted emotions. Dominant members had to be more unfeeling to inflict the injuries on their companions required to discipline and control them, while those people who submitted had to feel their injuries less if they were not to run away.
So it was that in these new tribal societies different men and women emerged, emotionally tougher and less sensitive than the people of the past.
There it is, simple as that. It’s an idea that I’ve seen nowhere else, in science media or in fiction, so I lay claim to be its creator. Many people think I’m wrong, and I may well be wrong, but I think it’s more likely that I’m right.