How is it that people recognize others as allies? I spent quite a bit of time enjoying some pleasant reading and observation and most of the people around me were sensible enough to leave me more or less alone to read and make witty comments from time to time, but an elderly gentleman sat next to me for whom English was clearly not his first nor probably his second or even possibly his third language and introduced himself as a healer and assumed that because I had a book with me on the history of ancient Egypt that I was the sort of person who was interested in various mystical theories about the healing power of Pyramids and mysticism in general. I endeavored, mostly successfully, I think, to be polite and not to offend him even if I was annoyed at being interrupted from my reading by someone who considered me an ally when it came to various bogus theories. This sort of experience is by no means an unusual one. My habit of reading books of various and diverse kinds tends to attract a lot of people who think that reading a book is a sign of agreement with the author’s agenda, or the agenda of the person in question, which is by no means the case.
Those who are out of the mainstream feel it very necessary to find allies, and the problem of signalling becomes important. This is not a problem I am unfamiliar with, since some people become so used to hostility from others that they view as potential allies anyone who is even polite to them and shows the slightest amount of interest in a given subject or the slightest amount of friendliness towards one. As a result, those people who tend to be polite find themselves put upon a great deal by people who are more than a bit needy for approval in a world that is harsh and unforgiving towards those who are outsiders and outcasts. I am not so popular, nor have I ever been, that I am unaware of the nature of the problem, and the way that people are often so desperate for approval that they latch on like a lamprey to anyone who shows even the slightest bit of politeness or friendliness towards them.
How can such a problem be resolved? It would be easy to be harsh and cruel to people so as to not have to deal with their odd interests, but that would not only be unkind, it would be positively dangerous in a world where kindness for those of us whose interests are odd and strange is rare enough anyway. It would also be easy if oddballs found it easy to unite, but quite a few people are nearly monomaniacal and have interests that others find somewhat dull and uninteresting, and even those of us who have broad interests may not be sufficiently interested in any one particular thing to care much to spend a lot of time with someone whose interests are deep but very narrow. To do more than bite one’s tongue and listen politely while desperately hoping for a chance to exit an interaction at the earliest possible moment that it would not be considered rude requires enough communication to show the extent of one’s sympathies and the limitation of one’s agreement, but it is hard to communicate such things. And such is the story of our lives.