Incredulity as Default Emotion

Incredulity as Default Emotion

By Chris Churchill

I’ve noticed a real problem in society these days. And it’s been a long time in its full manifestation but it’s here. The default emotion for humans walking amongst other humans in public spaces has become incredulity. Sure it’s annoying, but it’s also really problematic. 

Incredulity, i.e., “I cant believe that—(x)” seems like it’s everywhere now. “I can’t believe that that person didn’t use their signal.” “I can’t believe that he didn’t say ‘Thank you.’”

 He can’t believe you are reading this! You can’t believe I assumed this monkey is male! I can’t believe you thought this lemur was a monkey!

He can’t believe you are reading this! You can’t believe I assumed this monkey is male! I can’t believe you thought this lemur was a monkey!

When you’re in the midst of it, doing it yourself, it feels right. It feels like the world is a ridiculous video game filled with half-programmed characters whose only goal is to disregard your specific personhood. And you are gonna play the hell out of this game. 

Someone walking too slow in the grocery aisle? Sigh heavily, roll eyes, level up. A child playing on the sidewalk near its yard but not in its yard while parents are on cel phone conversation? Widen eyes, let jaw fall slack, shrug wildly in the direction of the parents, and level up. Made to wait for your check for a full four minutes after you’ve given up on those slightly overseasoned eggs? Look around the room as if there are flying question marks above you that you must keep track of, tap your fingers on the table and dream of the day you can make your yelp review into a TED Talk about the service in this joint! You’re winning the incredulity game! 

I’m a pretty laid back guy. My biggest problem on the incredulity front, as evidenced by this essay, is my incredulity regarding the incredulity of others. 

 This monkey can’t believe it’s not human! You can’t believe I called this great ape a monkey! I know! it’s an ape! It’s an orangutan, you say!? I can’t believe you’re calling my son, “Fonzie,” an orangutan!

This monkey can’t believe it’s not human! You can’t believe I called this great ape a monkey! I know! it’s an ape! It’s an orangutan, you say!? I can’t believe you’re calling my son, “Fonzie,” an orangutan!

I wondered how this happened to us. The best I could figure was that generations of simplified characters and relationships have been flickering past our eyes and cultivating a strange behavior in those of us that have spent too many hours being entertained by television and movies. Especially, those of us who were raised with the help of Nannyvision.

When we were young enough that we should have been learning empathy and companionship from actual humans, we were learning them from shallow representations of humans on our favorite shows. I think I learned what was appropriately rewarded behavior from The Sweathogs, empathy from Mork from Ork and morality from the Cunninghams. And those shallow TV people on my mom’s tv were often rewarded with applause and laughter, a sign of acceptance for sure, for making jokes at the expense of some two dimensional fool, or tribalistic morality. 

They were praised for never wondering why the bad guy was so upset, why the fool was so confused, or why the other might actually be just like us. Except Mork. Mork was a great role model. Go back and watch. 

 I can’t believe you don’t believe John Travolta is my real dad! I can’t believe you thought I was referring to Travolta when these are clearly pictures of Barbarino! Barbarino isn’t my real dad! Freddy Boom Boom Washington is! “Up your nose with a rubber hose, pizza face!”

I can’t believe you don’t believe John Travolta is my real dad! I can’t believe you thought I was referring to Travolta when these are clearly pictures of Barbarino! Barbarino isn’t my real dad! Freddy Boom Boom Washington is! “Up your nose with a rubber hose, pizza face!”

Television people, no matter how well written and performed, are just slivers of the complex natures of those meatpiles that we share space and recycle oxygen together with. They have far fewer motivations than even the fat ass with his t-shirt tucked into his underwear at the Target returns counter. They’re just brightly colored shadows. Yet, we are more driven to get their approval and learn from their fictitious examples than to just be humans, with other humans, negotiating our humanness together with the knowledge that, chances are, almost everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt regarding those moments when you personally, with your limited perspective and atrophying empathy, cannot comprehend why they’re doing what they’re doing. 

You know why they’re doing that thing that annoys you? Because they’re not fully in this world; they’re too busy wondering why a different person was doing what they were doing. Often, they scoff at the exact same thing they had done recently or will do soon. 
And humanity scoffs at itself. 

Incredulity reigns. I can’t believe it.

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