Solus Ipse

I have developed this theme numerous times in this blog, but it bears repeating in light of one of the most popular sit-coms on television that recently closed up shop. I am speaking about “The Big Bang Theory” which had eleven successful years before finally going the way of all old sit-coms: syndication. The question is: why was it so popular? The answer is complex, but part of the explanation has to do with the central character, Sheldon Cooper,  a genius who is a theoretical physicist at Cal Tech. He also has asperger’s syndrome, a condition in which the individual is totally unaware of the effect he is having on other people. He lacks sensitivity and a sense of humor in addition to having no compassion whatever and being socially inept. His behavior ranges from amusing to peculiar, even maddening.

The show also has several other characters including a pretty “dumb blonde” who seems brighter than the other supposedly bright people the show centers around. She may well be at least part of the reason why the show was so popular. In any event, the Sheldon character is most interesting because, as I see it, he is an extension of the way so many of us are becoming: self-absorbed, totally unaware of others around us: solus ipse.

The Sheldon character may have been modeled after the lead in a British sit-com titled “Doc Martin” which centers around a physician in a small village in Cornwall who also has asperger’s syndrome. The difference is that Doc Martin, who also lacks a sense of humor and social skills, is very much aware of others (for the most part they annoy him) — though unaware of the effect his behavior has on others. He is a physician and has a deep and genuine sense of duty to his patients — many of whom would try the patience of a saint! And it is this sense of duty, together with his dawning awareness that he needs to work on his social skills — which must be learned by those suffering from his condition — that makes him a more sympathetic character.

What makes these two characters interesting is that they speak volumes about the fact that so many people are apparently drawn to the two of them. Despite his many strange “tics,” Doc Martin is someone we can identify with and for some strange reason care about. So also, although to a lesser degree, is Sheldon Cooper. I have suggested why this is so, and I will repeat that we care about such fellows because more and more of us are becoming just like them. One thing that many find appealing, I read from the comments others have made, is that they are totally honest: they say exactly what is on their minds. They do not “suffer fools.” And this is true. Both of these characters say exactly what they are thinking despite the fact that in many cases what they say is hurtful to others around them, even those they regard as friends. And both of these characters are similar in refusing to accept any responsibility whatever for the blunders they may commit. Remind you of anyone?

At times, the behavior of such folks as Doc Martin and Sheldon Cooper strikes viewers as sadistic, but this would be so only if they knew they were hurting others whereas these two people do not. If they hurt others, it is collateral damage, something out of the range of their awareness. The question is whether this excuses them. Are we to say “no foul” if those around us are unaware of the effect their behavior has on us and others around us? I think not. These people can be taught how to behave toward others, even if their behavior does not stem from genuine concern. And this is certainly the case for the rest of us who seem increasingly to be trending in their direction. It’s all about awareness and concern for others — and accepting responsibility for our actions.

This is why the trend toward increasing involvement with electronic devices is so disturbing: it encourages a loss of awareness of the real world and other people coupled with a gradual desensitization to the pain of others. It has been shown that it releases dopamine in the brain of users and therefore is addictive, and this is certainly a concern. But as we become increasingly lost in an electronic world in which we talk to machines and they talk back even as they drive our cars, we risk becoming increasingly less aware and less concerned — in a world where a sense of community and the desire to live in common are things that separate us from the wild animals. And from people like Sheldon Cooper and Doc Martin.

10 thoughts on “Solus Ipse

  1. Hugh, we love both shows. I think your assessment is correct. The two are tolerated more because of their sense of duty. I thought the ending to “The Big Bang Theory,” revealed Sheldon’s evolution to recognizing (and stating) what matters most.

    Doc Martin will never be accused of a good bedside manner, but he brings competence to serve his patients. A few of them need his directness.

    To your main point, it is OK to be candid, but people need not take someone’s head off. Your kids will listen to a whisper more than a shout. I have had to tell more than a few clients some news they needed to hear. On a couple of occasions, I recalk saying “I would be remiss if I did not tell you…”

    I would add Greta Thunberg, the sixteen year old climate change activist, is on the spectrum, but she is very articulate and forthright, so diplomatic candor is not restricted to those off the spectrum. Keith

    • I can’t imagine you saying the inappropriate thing! Candor is to be desired, but there are ways of saying things that take the other person’s feelings into account. I have had to flunk poor students and cut inept players from the tennis team. But one must remember that those who fail or are cut from the team already feel bad. No need to pour salt into the wound.

      • Thanks. Failing or cutting someone is hard, I am sure. But, it is unfair to others who worked hard and accomplished their goals if you do not. As a manager, I have had the misfortune to have to let people go. Knowing that it bothered me seemed to help in the receipt of the bad message.

  2. Hugh – they are funny shows because the characters are funny in a different sort of way – but I think you are right – if we all get too involved with ourselves, the humor is lost. Susan

  3. More and more I’m coming to believe you are right about the electronic devices. We usually go out for an early dinner on Saturday if Chris isn’t at some band function, and it amazes me to see couples in a restaurant, sitting right across the table from each other, each tinkering on their phones, not even looking at each other, much less talking. And yes, people do seem to be less connected, less caring what they say these days. I have largely attributed it to the fact that the person in the Oval Office has no filter for his own mouth and has told people not to bother with being “politically correct”, as if common decency and kindness were dirty words. But perhaps the ever-increasing amount of time spent with electronic games, gizmos and gadgets plays an even bigger role.

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