Survival of the loudest

Jan Zuppinger
Aug 29, 2016 · 7 min read

Yesterday our upstairs neighbor had some friends over and when they left a group of them kept talking outside of our house. It was pretty late when they started, but most annoyingly they talked at a very high volume right underneath our window, for at least an hour. This was very irritating. But so far nothing new.

Then I noticed something that made me sad. Another neighbor of ours carried out her recycled newspaper. Now, she is a very distinguished, older woman, past 70. She is also a respectful, friendly and very tolerant person. She walked past the group of people, who were talking loudly, and she looked at them with barely disguised irritation. I could clearly tell, she was uncharacteristically angry. And understandably so, since all this happened right underneath her window as well. The group just ignored her. In a passive-aggressive way she did communicate, she did give them the eye. But she did not say a word. She did not dare to say a word.

She did not say a word. She did not dare to. Nobody says anything. Nobody dares to say anything anymore. In this age of aggressive hyper-individualism no one dares to complain. No one wants to be the one to spoil the party. And those who do express their irritation get ignored or at best stared at in incredulity, confronted with a mixture of disbelief and arrogance, that tends to turn aggressive very fast. How dare you cramping our style? How dare you telling us what we can do? We will show you and be even more annoying.

I noticed it myself. I can’t bring myself to let people know when something is bothering me. At least not in a calm, gentle fashion, which would be the smart way to deliver such a message. After getting rude responses one too many times, I’d rather just shut up and swallow my frustration. But the anger is building up inside. And when I do say something, it’s usually too late, only when I explode, in aggression. And that never goes well.

Individualism has been on the rise for a while now, we probably reached peak individualism sometime in the 90s. What has been decreasing at an alarming rate in recent years is respect and consideration for others and their needs. And these two ingredients make for an explosive mixture. Individualism is not the problem. As long as it is not harming others or is too much of an imposition on others, individualism is fine. To each his own. But this has changed in recent years.

Individualism used to be, well, just that, individualistic, but mostly in an self-contained sense, wrapping the person into their own bubble. Remember when we used to go into our own space, when we listened to our music on headphones withour Walkman, Dicsman or much later our iPhone? Now people listen to their music loud, with speakers, in your face, in public, anywhere, anytime, whatever.

As such individualism has reached a new level, because people are now also constantly broadcasting their individuality to everyone in their vicinity. In broadcasting individualism, everything becomes a performance. On social media this of course is the basic metaphor. It’s always on, look at me me me. But this now happens more and more in meat space. It’s always on, look at me me me, PLUS check out the cool, great, AMAZING music that I like. It’s check me out, loudly, in your face. No off switch.

Well, maybe other people don’t like your music? Or maybe just not today. Or maybe they would actually like to enjoy a moment of peace and quiet in nature. And yes, that’s individualism as well. But then the question is, who wins? Who imposes themselves?

It’s summer, people want to be outside. That is understandable, what a fun time. But the noise outside is getting cranked up so much, that more and more people are forced to stay inside. Walk to a remote beach, and when you arrive there’s already a group installed there blasting their loud music on speakers. On every little beach a different group, sometimes several groups, with their sound system banging out crappy music. On every boat on the river. In buses. On trains. On public squares. Under bridges. While hiking. Driving on a bicycle. Anywhere. All the time.

People don’t give a shit anymore. And the other people, the ones who might like to enjoy some peace and quiet in nature, they always lose. Between the loud, noisy people and the more private, quiet people, it is always the same group that wins, the loud ones. The individualism of the loud people trumps all, it always imposes itself. The loud people always win. It is mutually exclusive. The people who crave quiet, well they are out of luck, if someone decides that the whole beach simply MUST listen to his or her music.

In German there’s an expression “das Recht des Stärkeren”, which can be translated as the might of the strongest. This may have to be changed to “das Recht der Läuteren”, the might of the loudest. The Darwinian dictum “survival of the fittest” has to be turned into the “survival of the loudest”.

With the reigning paradigm of hyper-individualism every situation turns into a stage. On this stage people broadcast themselves, they celebrate their individualism, and since everyone is doing the same they need to try and out-broadcast the ones next to them. And this usually works by cranking up the volume, the output, the frequency. The bass pumps. The shrillness of the music, the shrieks, the “woos”, the “yays”. They push each other up. It soon is a contest of volumes. Who can broadcast the loudest? Because the loudest one, the loudest will win.

Some people however do not want to participate in this, they are different. They are more private. They enjoy quiet, contemplative situations. They are not scared of empty moments, they don’t know this permanent need to fill the void with sound, with chatter, with distraction. These people are always on the receiving end, while the loud people constantly broadcast, turning ever louder.

In a world filled with broadcasters the ones on the receiving end get squished. Let’s hope they won’t implode too loudly.

I wrote these clumsy words a while ago. Out of frustration, but never dared to publish them. It’s been a loud summer around our house, my nerves are shot. I still don’t usually dare to say anything to anyone, even if they are clearly annoying, clearly an imposition.

But then yesterday I dared, and got punished, so it made me decide to publish this text anyway. Here goes:

Yesterday we went for a late swim, walked up river through the long, narrow tunnel close to our house. This tunnel can only be passed on foot and is barely wide enough for two people to cross each other. From the other end a family with two small kids, maybe two and four years old, were walking towards us. At some point the kids started to scream. In the narrow claustrophobic space of the tunnel, the sound get amplified, of course kids enjoy this. Their parents said nothing. As they approached their shrieking, shrill voices started to hurt my ears. I started to cover my ears, to protect them. I was afraid that the noise would trigger another tinnitus flare up.

When we approached the family I said in a pleading way to the mother who was walking ahead of the kids, “Please, it is very loud”. The mother did not react. Either she didn’t hear me over the ruckus or she ignored my plea. So I made a gesture, waving down with my hands, to sign please lower the volume, and then back to covering my ears. Again the parents did nothing. When we finally passed the group my ears were ringing.

Then we heard the father, who had walked at the back, encourage his kids, “Come on, kids, now really go for it. You can scream louder than that. Can’t you?”. What he was actually saying was “No one tells me (or my kids for that matter) what to do”.

We were speechless.

The parents had three choices, 1. respect our plea and ask their kids to lower their volume, 2. ignore us or 3. ask their kids to be even louder. They chose the last option.

My ears are still ringing.

Jan Zuppinger

Written by

The revolution will be tweeted. But Twitter may well block the #hashtag. Find my tweets in german: @janzuppinger

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