Interpersonal vs Social vs Societal relationships


Continuing the discussion from Forums for discussing social and political issues:

In making some interesting points about communications styles, @nemomeno cast a flashlight directly at what has been a chronic blind spot for me.

I don’t really have/do/understand interpersonal relationships or concepts. They are probably such a basic area of life which many take for granted, that most people find it difficult to even explain what they are, or how they are supposed to work. Much of my daily concern is about society and interactions, because this is a human faculty, and because it enables groups of humans to undertake efforts which they could not do alone.

In my personal life, this makes interaction surprisingly difficult. Being rather selfless, I am happy enough to do most anything to help people. But my efforts annoy because most people instead worry about whether or not I like them, or whether or not they like me. So, instead, nothing gets done. With some aspects of life, such as sexuality, people get quite hot about it not being social, yet tend to not have any pressing reasons why. Sex is a great example because people seem to intuitively and immediately see the difference between the interpersonal and the social. But, the differences and preferences between them seem to factor heavily in many areas for people.

Is having a social life or societal constructs without interpersonal relationships lame? How do you find that they help? Do they make more formal/methodological interactions difficult for you? How do you make these distinctions?


The concept of consent is important since it partly depends on offering some amount of subjective, idiosyncratic control to the other person.


Sort of. But people tend to be really resolutely informal. I tend to not be addressing another individual specifically, but rather addressing a group, or trying to catalyze a group.

“How many people here agree to build a picnic table now?”
“Who wants to start an art/sex commune?”
“Is our workgroup consistent with the charter of our company?”

I see it as a group mutually negotiating terms, rather than individuals offering control. But people tend to avoid formal structures. Yet they lament other structures which they claim they do not consent, such as governments, companies, families, etc. So offering them to join and create new truly mutual structures seems quite respectful. Yet, most seem really frightened about it. If people insist upon interpersonal relationships, then why do they usually insist that it is impersonal social structures which define their lives? And, even more perplexing, why do they refuse to make their own?

When people decide to have no social goals, criteria, protocols, etc - it leaves very little formal basis for interacting with them. Yet they are usually willing to have these applied from outside, rather than mutually and spontaneously, as would seem preferable.


I’m probably Aspergers (no formal test, but everyone in the fam. says I am and I meet most criteria solidly). So interpersonal relationships/interactions are something I am terrible at and I spend time analyzing since when I’m talking to someone I’m lucky if I notice body language/expressions, I rarely look at people’s eyes unless I remind myself to, and there’s always mental calculus going on for “is this socially appropriate? Does this make things work better?” Neurotypical people apparently just do that stuff naturally and have a feel for it. I hang out with friends sometimes (preferably in small groups, since large groups are exhausting to track), and have a wife/kids, and work with people at the job, so I have to work at getting better at it just to manage in life.

This probably also explains why I can ramble instead of saying things in nice small idea sized bites, was a little too tenacious in that Jesus thread, why I write C programs to find interesting prime numbers in my free time, take a lot of nice photos (I can show people photos of neat birds/interesting places and have an easier topic for small talk which can be very hard), and kind of like animals more than people (way easier to interact with and also they’re wonderful).

So I’m not a great resource for the topic in one sense, but in another I have spent longer thinking about it and testing things (with mixed success) than a normal person ever would. Here’s the important bit: working on developing empathy/compassion/understanding of others, whether it comes naturally or out of some formal calculus of rules you’re carrying around in your head will do you good. Regardless of whether those people are in meatspace or online. Finding errors in people’s belief systems/ideologies/formal presentations of ideas is fun and easy, but it’s also an interpersonal disaster and will alienate people.

How would you have a social life without interpersonal relationships? That does not compute.

You can’t avoid some level of interpersonal relationships, humans are social animals, and it dominates life, so it’s in your interest to improve.

People don’t really make a ton of sense. We all walk around with conflicting values/desires/goals/core beliefs/belief systems/motives. Formal/methodological analysis to sort those out can help, but learning to interact with a sense of humor, some compassion, and some empathy will help a lot more.

Oh God, I rambled. Sorry.


When we step past the question of consent, we more often encounter the sorts of issues described in the OP.


Dooood, this has been on my mind a lot. I have a bit of a different perspective than you do, but I think we are closer in opinion than different.

Impersonal interpersonal relationships: that is what you and I are doing right now. I think of it as my stream buffer that has to be emptied, otherwise it will overflow. It is a release valve. That doesn’t cast any aspersions on anyone that I talk to, any more than a creek from a lake casts aspersions on a valley.

personal interpersonal relationships: I force myself to have these. I really do force it. And they make things better. I could give you countless phone numbers of people that will say the same thing–japhroaig is awesome, but why isn’t he normal? Why doesn’t he just call me?

People need and want different things. I’m kinda on the edge between two common ways people interact (I don’t want to say spectrum, its rude, and I have no idea if you or I are). @popobawa4u you are farther on one side than I am, but I can still see you (if that makes any sense). It’s kinda like I can send you semaphore, and we both get it, but noone else evens knows what semaphore is :slightly_smiling:

Anyways, I have jam to attend to.


I wanna give you a bear hug so hard. Instead, you get a bear.


Okay, what question of consent?

And it still doesn’t answer why so many people claim to submit themselves involuntarily to structures they don’t consent to. For example, people getting quite agitated about me discussing the creation of new voluntary countries, because “we all” are supposedly captive to the systems of distant, indirect others? If people are so interested in consent, then why don’t they personally negotiate their rates with their utility companies? Consent in interpersonal relationships seems more symbolic than practical, because these are areas which don’t socially accomplish much of anything. Consent seems vital to me, but I have never met anybody who is consistent about it.

How I see the personal and the social intersecting is through some sorts of attractors. There is no need for consent or trust, you just voluntarily attach to a node that you find agreeable, and work from it. If either you or it changes, connect to another. We could connect to any number of such nodes simultaneously, or none at all. It is completely voluntary, so the only consent is your own. If you or others didn’t want to participate in a given node, you’d be in a different one. Such groups function as “activity stations”, which people flow around.

That’s what I am having trouble with! Most of what passes for interpersonal relationships seems to me to be quite capricious and arbitrary, not very social. I’d rather make some structure which anybody could interact with.


Well, yeah, interpersonal relationships have lots of capricious/arbitrary parameters, but they have some constants - trust (or lack), respect (or lack), liking/disliking, social hierarchy (the worst), kinship, mutual interest, and some other stuff. There’s lots of randomness that gets people together in some relation, but once they’re together there are things that stick. I feel like by social you mean connection? Whether people that are together are close and connect, or not close and distant will be depend on whether they trust, respect, like, each other, etc. Maybe you mean something else.

Structure like socially structured time engaging in an activity? Like playing a game, discussing something interesting, playing tunes with a band, or doing something? Or structure in some other sense? Not sure what you mean.


Well, I am going to have to get my smoking jacket and find a pipe, ol’ chap.

You and I (and probably @nemomeno and maaaaaany others here) are in a rarified class. It isn’t good, bad, better, worse, or really any ethical or moral vector. Just different. I am gonna be blunt, because of two things-- I think you appreciate honesty and I think you handle it well. I am a weirdo and people have to deal with me, but you are weirder.

It doesn’t mean you are wrong, and it doesn’t mean that your thought process isn’t correct. However, [quote]If either you or it changes, connect to another[/quote] doesn’t work for the normals out there. And I know you know that.

Shit dawg, I know you know the examples I’d bring up to show you that I know you know it:D. You are divorced with a family, you care about them, there is no question in my brain that you get relationships. And as proof, well you have your family and us as proof that you have solid relationships.

So what I’m getting at really, is don’t sweat the small stuff. Yes, it is diatracting. And yes, it can seem like Sisyphus. But every social structure doesn’t need to be dissected. (We can, but dude we could both earn PhDs if we followed through)


There’s only really one “question of consent” and that’s whether there is consent. Does the other person agree with you? Until there’s an explicit, “Yes, I agree,” then consent is a questionable proposition at best.


Dude, the preferred nomenclature is happy mutant.

But yeah, what you and @nemomeno have said.


@daneel, @nemomeno, @popobawa4u I am happy to be weird, a mutant, or a kitty around all of you, if you will have me :slightly_smiling:

(Its likely just gonna be weird)


Probably? I almost danced when my little program reported that (32*10^11399-23)/99 is a probable prime. That’s 32323…32323 with 11399 digits. Normals never get excited about smoothly undulating palindromic prime numbers as a hobby, only mutants.

Also normals don’t really grok a person writing little stories about their hedgehog as a space explorer with accompanying photos of the hedgehog in a space ship visiting the Planet of the Dinosaurs. I can’t explain why, but know it to be true.


I believe you’re on the Autism spectrum and that mentioning this to people, if it is the case, might help explain some of the issues that you have with social interaction and understanding subtext that is implicitly stated or done non-verbally. If I’m misrecalling about you not being neurotypical, please feel free to correct me.

I have a coworker who is autistic and also face blind. He often mentions at least the latter to new people (the former is often a norm in our profession or at least quite common) so people don’t wonder why he doesn’t greet people in passing or address people by name (answer: because he very likely can’t recognize you and has no idea who he is talking to). This allows people to have a framework for his behavior and maybe do things, like I used to do, of saying, “Hey, it’s name here, how are you doing” when you walk up to him.

To be additionally clear, I’m probably somewhere on the more “mild” end of the Autism spectrum (where Aspergers lives) as both my mother and grandfather were diagnosed with it and I exhibit a number of the common symptoms (but not all). I sympathize. That being true, not everything with people follows a rules based system so you have to accept a lot of fuzziness or lack of clarity.


Because not being a part of such structures isn’t, in practice, actually an option.


Being face blind would be so hard. I don’t have great eye contact and don’t remember faces sometimes which can make things awkward when I encounter people who behave like they know me where I have no idea who they are. Not even being able to parse that ever would be really difficult.

So true. You can’t analyze your way through everything in life.


He can learn to recognize most faces. It just takes a very long time. I’m not sure how long. I gather he goes by voices a lot (he works for me now). If you look distinctive, outside of your face, I think it helps as well.


I’m not face blind per se, but I am, how to say, face challenged? (All you fuckers look the same, let me hear your vocal pattern and I’ll get you in a second).


Yep, I’m not face blind, but have much worse that 20/20 face vision. In part it’s that I’m not always really paying close attention to whatever my eyes are reporting. Voices are much easier since there’s pitch, timbre, accents, diction oddities, and I don’t tune out audio, but may be busy visualizing something while talking with someone (esp. at work where we’re dealing with really abstract networking things).