Nonloners. The world at large. The mob.
The mob thinks we are maladjusted. Of course we are adjusted just fine,
not to their frequency. They take it personally.
They take offense. Feel hurt. Get angry. They do not blame owls for coming
out at night, yet they blame us for being as we are. Because it involves
them, or at least they believe it does, they assemble the troops and call
The l-word as we hear it most often today sounds nasty. It is the sound
of a nervous music, a whine of
mistrust, the hiss of fear, the dull growl of incomprehension. Animals
make that sound when foreign species invade their dens, or when they find
a rogue within the herd. Loners live among the mob, so the mob mistakes
us for its own, presuming and assuming. When the mob gets too close, the
truth is revealed. Running or walking away, chased or free, any which
way, we tell the mob in effect I don't need you.
Hell hath no fury like a majority scorned.
Yet here we are, not sad, not lonely, having the time of our lives amid
their smear campaign.
We are the ones who know how to entertain ourselves. How to learn without
taking a class. How to contemplate and how to create. Loners, by virtue
of being loners, of celebrating the state of standing alone, have an innate
advantage when it comes to being brave — like pioneers, like mountain
men, iconoclasts, rebels and sole survivors. Loners have an advantage
when faced with the unknown, the never-done-before and the unprecedented.
An advantage when it comes to being mindful like the Buddhists, spontaneous
like the Taoists, crucibles of concentrated prayer like the desert saints,
esoteric like the Kabbalists. Loners, by virtue of being loners, have
at their fingertips the undiscovered, the unique, the rarefied. Innate
advantages when it comes to imagination, concentration, inner discipline.
A knack for invention, originality, for finding resources in what others
would call vacuums. A knack for visions.
A talent for seldom being bored. Desert islands are fine but not required.
From the chapter on friendship:
Of course loners have friends. Fewer than most nonloners have, maybe.
But loners, with our extra capacity for concentration, focus, our fewer
distractions, make excellent friends. To a few. One, maybe, but a real
But why do nonloners care? Why don't they cheer because the fewer
friends we have, the more potential friends for them? They care because
they need a universal currency by which to judge us. And friendship is
something they all understand. A nonloner need not be smart, skilled or
in any way distinguished to have friends. Sometimes it seems the least
distinguished acquire friends the easiest, giggling and jostling strings
of chums. Instant collectives. All their lives, nonloners have dealt in
this currency. They know its feel, its soft smoothness when old, its shine
when new. Regarding friendship and its value, every nonloner is an assessor,
an assayer, a professor.
And based on what they see, they say we lack friends. Thus we lack value.
And by this standard alone, the friend standard, our characters are assassinated
It is all a mistake.
For some loners, a paucity of friends is a matter of time. There is simply
too much to do alone, no time to spare. Shared time, while not entirely
wasted if the sharer is a true friend, must be parceled out with care,
like rationed sugar. And time shared, even with true friends, often requires
loners to put in extra time alone, overtime, to recharge. It is a matter
of energy: loners as a rule have less for the social machinery, the talk
and sympathy. Our fuel runs out. This is what nonloners don't understand
about us, what they cannot see. We do not choose to have such tiny fuel
tanks. These can be quite inconvenient. They are why we seem rude, when
we do, why we seem bored and often are. Spaced-out and often are. Running
Not heartless. Not unappreciative. Not fools. We know the rest of the
world has big tanks. We know they don't know.
I am hypoglycemic. I like sugar very much. Chocolate halvah, coconut cream
pie. I know how little of it I can stand before the onset of sick, cottonheaded
shock. But blood glucose can be measured in medical laboratories. Tolerance
for company cannot. (Yet.)
No one wants to make himself sick. And if our vector is an overdose of
chat regarding diaper brands or whom the Redskins might get as their third-round
draft pick, we retract.
By contrast, the average nonloner seems able to stand hours and hours
with almost anyone. Sometimes it seems they would rather have anyone around
than no one. The absence of friends, at least companions, is by their
lights an abomination. The result, from a loner's standpoint, is
that many nonloner friendships are matters of default. Of convenience.
Such high tolerance for company, we might argue, makes for much lower
From the chapter on technology:
What does work mean for loners? For some, the smart and lucky ones who
work alone, it means accomplishing things without being made to suffer.
Simple as it should be, no loner can take this point for granted. Along
with whatever other hardships work brings — difficulty, danger, dullness,
unfair pay — loners who labor any way besides alone endure one more.
It is a hardship nonloners don't even know exists, cannot conceive
How much time spent with others is too much? Side by side, within their
sight, in earshot — forty minutes? Two hours, tops. Yet a standard
workshift lasts eight. Putting loners in busy workplaces all day is like
making albinos pick cotton without sunscreen....
Formulas for creating a successful 20th-century workplace have no room
for the loner. Exemplifying this, an article in Business Solutions magazine
is subtitled "Loners Beware." In the article, a CEO explains
her company's hiring policy: "We look for employees who have
been involved in group activities (be it church events or intramural sports
teams) in their personal lives." The office's ambiance, the
CEO adds happily, "would drive a loner crazy. We encourage teamwork
and brainstorming." To further ensure an extraverted staff, "we
hire mostly on personal references ... our star performers were hired
because they're friends of friends"....
The Internet is, for loners, an absolute and total miracle. It is, for
us, the best invention of the last millennium. It educates. It entertains.
It transforms. It facilitates a kind of dialogue in which we need not
be seen, so it suits us perfectly. It validates. It makes being alone
seem normal. It makes being alone fun for everyone.
And so it has its critics. They claim it keeps kids from playing healthy
games outdoors. They say it is a procurer for perverts, a weapon in hate
crimes. Underlying all this, of course, is the real reason for their dismay:
the Internet legitimizes solitude. The real problem is not that kids don't
play outdoors but that they do not play, the critics fear, with other
Terror is afoot of a sci-fi world in which machines have rendered social
contact undesirable and, desired or not, obsolete. In 2000, the Stanford
Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society released the results of
a newly completed research project. It revealed that one-fourth of those
interviewed for the project who used the Internet more than five hours
a week (and thus were, by SIQSS' definition, "regular users")
reported that they spent less time socializing outside the house or being
with family or friends than they had done before discovering the Net.
This percentage led the researchers to conclude that the Internet is an
isolating technology that separates users from the "real world."
Subsequently, a study conducted at UCLA found that a majority of its participants
did not spend less time with others.
The Stanford study made Internet users look bad, backing up that assessment
by saying See? They spend more time ALONE. Its UCLA counterpart made loners
look bad, too, by saying Hooray! Internet users still spend time with
others.... Either we should all panic because Internet use is creating
a world of hermits, the commentators seemed to say in the first case,
or, in the second, that we should all celebrate because Internet use is
not creating a world of hermits....
What are loners to make of the presumption ... that a less sociable world
is automatically a worse one? That free time spent socializing with others
is automatically superior to time spent in other ways? ...What if a certain
girl spends her time online studying the life cycle of luna moths while
the girl next door spends her social time sharing a crack pipe with the
boarder? ... Is socializing all that great? Riots are socializing.
From the chapter on religion:
Buddhism endorses a strong sense of community — not just among the
sangha, the monastic fellowship that is one of the "three jewels"
for which devout Buddhists give thanks daily, but also between all sentient
beings everywhere on earth, for which devout Buddhists are taught to cultivate
compassion. The man now known as the Buddha was a Nepali prince, Siddhartha
Gautama, and like Christ he was a born leader. As Christ would do some
500 years later, Siddhartha entered solitude as the means to an end. (Hermann
Hesse, the loner novelist, wrote a book based on this.) Long meditation
under the famous Bo Tree brought the prince satori, enlightenment, much
of which involved discerning the tragic but inevitable link between desire
Neither as socially oppressive as Confucianism nor as freewheelingly mystical
as Taoism, Buddhism rests between the two. Aspects of the practice appeal
to loners: the inward sojourn of meditation, the bright one-off flash
of satori. From deep observation flows acceptance and, from this, serenity:
the mindfulness by which each moment, as the Vietnamese Buddhist master
Thich Nhat Hanh likes to say, is a precious moment.
Loners do some of this anyway. Spending a lot of time alone is like an
accidental meditation. A casual mindfulness. We do not have to work at
this, at observation or serenity. Any loner is halfway to Buddhism without
knowing it. So it should not surprise loners that Buddhist hermits have
produced some of Asia's most immortal poetry.
One of these hermits was Han Shan, an 8th-century Chinese monk known in
English as Cold Mountain. In his Zhejiang Province hermitage, on a mountain
that is also called Cold Mountain, Han Shan wrote bold loner-friendly
verses studded with such imprecations as "trust your own true nature
... do it fast as an order."
"Since I escaped to Cold Mountain," he confides in one poem,
"I've lived on mountain fruit/What worries does life hold?"