A pretty girl laughs a little too long at a man’s joke; is she trying to flirt with him, or just friendly? A boss calls her subordinate’s work “okay” – did she mean to compliment him, or imply it was mediocre? A friend breaks off two appointments in a row, each time saying that something has come up – did something come up, or is he getting tired of the friendship? These are the sorts of questions everyone navigates all the time, usually with enough success that when autistic people screw them up, the rest of society nods sagely and says they need to learn to understand how to read context.
But “context” means “priors”, and priors can differ from person to person. There’s a lot of room for variation here before we get to the point where somebody will be so off-base that they end up excluded from society. Just as there’s a spectrum from smart to dumb, or from introverted to extraverted, so there’s a spectrum in people’s tendencies to interpret ambiguous situations in a positive or negative way.
People self-select into bubbles along all sorts of axes. Some of these bubbles are obvious and easy to explain, like rich people mostly meeting other rich people at the country club. Others are more mysterious, … Even for two people living in the same country, city, and neighborhood, they can have a “society” made up of very different types of people.
The old question goes: are people basically good or basically evil? Different philosophers give different answers. But so do different random people I know who aren’t thinking philosophically at all.
I think both groups are right. Some people experience worlds of basically-good people who treat them nicely. Other people experience worlds of awful hypocritical backstabbers. This can be true even if they live in the same area as each other, work the same job as each other, et cetera.
And it’s not just a basic good-evil axis.
To return to a common theme: nothing makes sense except in light of inter-individual variation. Variation in people’s internal experience. Variation in people’s basic beliefs and assumptions. Variation in level of abstract thought. And to all of this I would add a variation in our experience of other people.
Notice this distinction, this way in which geographic neighbors can live in different worlds, and other people’s thoughts and behaviors get a little more comprehensible.