Conservation of Energy

To assign proper definitions to the oversimplifying and overused jargon of modern psychology (which is typically employed as a set of catchall abstractions without any essential lines of demarcation), an extravert is a person who gains energy in the company of others, while feeling drained during extended periods spent alone, whereas an introvert experiences the opposite dynamic. In other words, an introvert is one who naturally feels himself losing energy (or “lifeforce,” if you will) in social situations, and who therefore tends to crave private time, especially during periods when frequent social interaction is unavoidable — often to the point of appearing to others as rude and taciturn.

Quite opposed to the extravert, then, the introvert, apart from the basic need for privacy, finds his key to successfully navigating social existence in conserving, as far as possible, the energy he develops in his privacy in order to have enough in reserve for those situations in which social interaction will be beneficial (to himself and others). Stated most directly, the introvert will by nature be a saver, one inclined to avoid waste of all kinds, and at almost all costs; particularly, he will avoid wasting his immaterial substance, having both intuited in his heart and learned from his experience how easy it is to find oneself short on spiritual fuel at moments when engagement with others would be truly desirable.

The rules of introverted self-preservation: Few friends, and fewer close ones. Life as a continual process of trimming away relationships, or reducing to peripheral status those which have outlived their necessity or benefit. Full comfort with others found only in the company of individuals with whom one can share long periods of quiet without anyone feeling a need to “fill the empty space.” A deep, almost visceral understanding of, and agreement with, Rilke’s depiction of human attachment: 

I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharings which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation. (Letters to a Young Poet)

Rilke’s perfect description, however, applies only to introverts, and not at all to extraverts, for whom the very opposite might be true. And there are far more true extraverts than true introverts among our species (whatever today’s loose-talking pop psychologists, with their undefined vocabulary and their craving for a mass audience, wish to claim) which is why extraversion is often implicitly regarded, both in everyday life and in the rhetoric of psychological “advice,” as a sign of health and a measure of a person’s potential for success in life. (Jordan Peterson, modern psychology’s most popular theorist of the moment, embodies this implicit assumption, to the point of making himself irrelevant, perhaps even ridiculous, to the genuine introvert.) The category traditionally designated by personality psychologists as extraversion is nearly coextensive with what we typically mean by normalcy or “being well-adjusted,” which is why introverts are far more likely to be judged, on the popular standard — which standard is necessarily and inherently social in its perspective — as “strange,” “abnormal,” or “difficult.”

The saver is a troublemaker in a world of free spenders. One who conserves energy among others is the nemesis of those, i.e., the vast majority, for whom social existence itself is the great source of life. One who fears waste, and the waste of his soul most of all, will always be perceived as a thorn in the side of the extraverted majority; hence the self-description of Socrates, a classic melancholic, as a stinging gadfly among his fellow Athenians. But nothing is more dangerous than a crowd that feels stung, which is to say resisted, and particularly one that feels resisted in its pleasures, its chief pleasure being the group as such: the togetherness, the chatter, the tribal bickering, the push and pull, the “networking,” the shared effort, the mutual dependence, the carefree collective expenditure. To deny this to the extraverts — which one does, from their point of view, simply by refusing to share it with them — means to deny life itself. Thus, the true natural introvert (a relatively rare creature) becomes the crowd’s most reviled enemy, as though his innate need for solitude, psychological distance, and non-participation were a direct attack on the extraverts’ innate love for society.

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