The Welcome Demise of the Modern Misanthrope


“You walk in a room and hate everyone,” a Greek lover said to me a little while back. “You are misanthropos.” Seeing as we were lying in each other’s arms after a party I’d just thrown for a dozen or so friends, at first I didn’t know where he was getting that one from.  He couldn’t have read my earlier blog posts when I joked about being a modern misanthrope, so he must have remembered something I often say on first dates both for shock value and to test the potential lover’s mettle: “I hate people. I’m a modern misanthrope.”

The reality is I only intermittently dislike people, and it’s specific individuals or groups, usually with good cause.  When I was first on this modern misanthrope tangent a couple of years ago—I also liked the alliterative kick of the phrase more than what it really meant—I asked Tuttle on a hike one day to the Hollywood Sign if I wasn’t maybe misrepresenting myself in these pages because I’m actually quite loving and caring toward my fellow man, unless he happens to be a wacko terrorist, in which case I would not hesitate to shoot him between the eyes… if I knew how to use a gun, that is, and I don’t.  Tuttle replied, “The modern misanthrope is simply fed up of all the social media and interactions we have to make, the connections with friends we don’t know on Facebook, and whatnot.”

I can always count on Tuttle for a different way of looking at something I’ve been pondering, but I did mean misanthrope in the real sense, as a person who dislikes mankind and avoids society.  My father is something of a misanthrope, too, so it might be genetic.  Or just common sense.

The horrific punch line of modern misanthropy is events like those that occurred in Boston this week.  That is true hatred of mankind, directed at the American people in particular.  And as usual we come roaring back with rah-rah patriotism, and we wonder, like David Remnick in The New Yorker, why “asylum in a bright new land proved little comfort” to the Brothers Tsarnaev.

I don’t know what the Tsanaevs’ motivation was, but as an American raised abroad I’ve been subjected to relentless anti-Americanism my whole life, and I agree with some of it, but less now than before because this country has evolved considerably as a society since I was a kid, although we still have a long way to go.

Koch Brothers

If the Koch Brothers aren’t strictly speaking misanthropes, theirs are the sort of actions that are among the reasons we are so hated. And I think they’re misanthropes.

Most Americans (i.e., not ones like me) are baffled and angered by the way the rest of the world sees them.  Those who do admit we engage in some pretty fucked-up shit—like, say, the entire Iraq War and the Bush Era in general, when I basically went into self-imposed exile in England rather than live in the U.S., as the president wanted people who “aren’t with us” to do—would rightly point out that the positives about America, Americans and American culture far outweigh the negative.  And they are correct.

This latching onto the negative rather than the positive is apparently natural to the human condition, as studies such as this one point out. It’s the result of evolutionary instincts for survival: You are not threatened by the positive, but your mind focuses on the negative because your survival depends on being alert to it.

If we take this hypothesis as reasonable, let’s examine America’s negative traits as outsiders might focus on them.  We can be arrogant and bigoted, jingoistic and xenophobic, bullying and aggressive in an almost psychopathic way, almost exclusively mercenary to mercantile interests, proudly rapacious in business dealings, heedless of the sovereignty of select foreign governments (but supportive of others that ruthlessly oppress their own people), zealously religious to the point of extremism, at once gluttonous and wasteful of food and natural resources, convinced of a manifest destiny that makes us superior to all nations (a notion blessed by no less an authority on the subject than God himself), the biggest polluter of the planet, the lead cause of catastrophic changes to the world’s climate, but still Dennis the Menace deniers of any wrongdoing.

Those are just the behavioral and personality traits.  Now let’s ascribe physical attributes to this proto-Evil American: he’s bigger, stronger, better looking than everyone else and armed to the teeth.  Imagine meeting this proto-Evil American as a person.  Me being me, I wouldn’t just want to have wild sex with him, I’d want a whole crunchy dysfunctional relationship, what with all his narcissism, his delusions, his psychopathic traits.  (Oops, more gratuitous shock value. Sorry.)  Most people are scared shitless of the proto-Evil American, resentful, and have a great deal of understandable dislike for him; they are naturally focused on the negative and feel their survival is threatened, and in the case of families in Iraq and Afghanistan mourning the deaths of their children by drone strikes, they are right.

Am I justifying the Tsarnaevs, those ungrateful brats who bombed the “bright new land” that harbored them from those even more evil Russians who oppressed their people for centuries? No. I’m merely painting the portrait of how we are perceived by a sizable portion of mankind that feels menaced by us and wants to do us harm.

Mitt Romney

Who I imagine the proto-Evil American incarnate to be, but younger and on steroids.

A year or so ago, I met a guy from my gym at a nightclub who said, “You are one of the two most unapproachable guys at the gym.”  I don’t know who the other one is; I imagine he’s as standoffish and intimidating as I am.  The reason I’m standoffish is because the gym is where I do most of my thinking and sorting through issues — working out is a form of meditation for me.  I put myself on autopilot when I’m training, so the reason I appear unapproachable is because I’m not really present in mind, only in body.  If you add to this my shock-value statements like, “I’m a modern misanthrope,” I can see why even the Greek lover can take me seriously after knowing me so long.

It was during one of these non-present workouts at the gym yesterday that I was musing  about this essay.  I forced myself to be present and focus on other people in the room, most of whose faces I am completely familiar with—this is Golds Gym Hollywood, the sort of place where members like me work out seriously, daily. I recognize all these people very well, and yet have exchanged words with only a few.

I realized I had opinions about most of them, and the majority of those opinions were pretty negative.  There’s the 50-ish guy with the badly dyed hair and beard who is plainly so well hung he puts Jon Hamm to shame, but his junk deliberately flops all over the place to the extent I avert my eyes whenever he passes because his package makes me nauseous (I’m not a very good Ghey when it comes to certain things).  Then there are the dozens of steroid muscle Maries wearing such gay gear it makes me shamefully homophobic.  They make up about eighty percent of this particular gym’s membership, but I rarely make eye contact or smile at them, either, despite seeing them every day.

There was also That Trainer who looks, talks and behaves like Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose spin class I walked out of because I couldn’t bear the music he was playing or the fact I couldn’t understand his deep California argot over that cacophony.  Just as I was scanning the room realizing that I might indeed be somewhat of a misanthrope, a handsome, masculine Ghey of an age I should be dating if I were more responsible and less of a cliché about my tastes, who was working out his formidable pecs on the cables nearby, smiled at me and tried to chat me up, but then two of the aforementioned muscle Maries came up, hugged him and made small talk, which instantly made me label him as having too many friends of the kind I couldn’t stand hanging out with at The Eagle or whatever leather bar (even though, honestly, they are mostly very nice guys once you get to know them), so there was no future there or purpose in speaking to him, so I turned away and coiled back into Unapproachable Me as a reflex.

After I left the gym, I cycled past a pod of trannies on meth who, much to my further irritation, were blocking the sidewalk near Highland and Santa Monica.  I shouldn’t have been cycling on the sidewalk to begin with, but the fact they were in my way and are so vulgar and such junkies caused my temper to flare.  Now, these trannies and I are used to each other by now, but when I first started cycling that route, they were kind enough to hoot and catcall to me appreciatively, which should be flattering—I understand they are soliciting, but a man in gym gear on a bike is hardly going to swing open the car door and take them to a hotel.  So their approval was genuine, but I only responded with aloofness.

Having said all that, I’m not really a misanthrope of any kind, modern or otherwise.  To begin with, I’m way too sensitive and empathetic.  What I have is a lot of negative responses to certain visual stimuli and situations, I have many opinions and focused judgments, but that’s also part of what I do for a living.  I do know that I tend to dwell on the negative more than the positive, but now that I understand this might be an entirely normal human reflex I feel less guilty about it.  Best of all I find myself worrying less because I know it’s just my mind reacting to protect itself.

A real misanthrope is sociopathic, and probably took a visceral pleasure in what the Tsaraevs did.  So there’s no point in labeling myself that way because, again, it’s not true, and the unfunniness of what a real misanthrope is isn’t worth the shock value of pronouncements on first dates.

Philosophically speaking, a modern misanthrope is a contradiction in terms; there is nothing modern in hating society when mankind is every day evolving into more of a cohesive, if gloriously chaotic, unity.  The misanthrope is a throwback to our tribal, caveman selves, a negative force riddled with phobias and hatreds.  The truly modern, evolved person is a philanthropist and humanitarian, ideally one who helps and gives with open hands for the betterment and advancement of mankind, without attachments to religion, culture or nationality.

So from now on, no more modern misanthrope as a self-descriptor on first dates, I promise.

All my love, always,

James xoxo



Comments: 3

  • robertperez528 April 30, 20132:00 pm

    hmmm,maybe….you ought to try,abstract relations…Maybe ?

  • JamesTuttle April 30, 20139:17 pm

    I don’t know how I missed this one!  It may be your most accurate self-descriptive essay that I’ve read to date and it was a delight to read.
    In reading, I noticed how strong our own senses of perception are, to the degree that I don’t recognize any of the Golds Gym regulars you describe even as I am sure I’ve seen each of them hundreds of times and that your descriptions are absolutely accurate.  Less certain, however, of your sources that the US is the greatest source of environmental pollution or climate change because I think that honor goes to China now.  (Congratulations, China!)
    It’s comforting to me that, though we may all be naturally programmed to give greater weight to the negative in our experience, we can train ourselves to look for the positive until that’s our more regular setpoint.  I’ve come a long way in that regard and feel much happier every day as a result.  It doesn’t completely block my impulse to drive over aggressive cracked-out trannies but I haven’t actually done it in a while, so I guess that’s progress.
    Thank you for sharing this story.

    • jkillough May 1, 20135:39 pm

      JamesTuttle And this is by far the most astute comment you’ve written about one of my essays. Thanks so much. Yes, the focusing on the negative realization has helped enormously—once you antennae pick up on what your mind is doing, it’s, like, “Oh, you wily old devil, almost had me going there…”

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