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Common Ideas To Put to Bed With a Shovel
Out with the old
It's the Information Age, everybody! Let's give ourselves a big friendly pat on the back, in celebration of how far we've come. Treble sherry, all 'round!
Now let's stop for a moment and consider that with all of this new information, we're going to have to have some kind of critical reasoning skills in place so that with all of these ideas whizzing through the air at us, we're not accepting the social and intellectual equivalent of spam. We're also going to have to give some real thought to some of the ideas and strategies we already have, individually and collectively, that are definitely ideas whose time has come... and gone.
This series aims to do just that. I was initially going to write Ten Ideas To Put to Bed With a Shovel, but I'm responding to public outcry about the size of some of my Hubs. So this will be an ongoing series, and feel free to add some tired ideas in the Comments area. We're so used to taking the time in the morning to make sure we look okay, make sure that we present ourselves to others in a way that's thoughtful, considerate and appealing. It's time we took the time to do that with our actual choices, by jettisoning what doesn't work. Enjoy.
"It's not my fault!"
How many times have we heard that? More to the point, how many times have we seen that in action, and had it just exist as a societal "given" - even when it's well beyond just "not true" and out into "completely bat-psycho"?
Man, those taxes are outrageous, aren't they? What about inflation? That war is certainly an atrocity, isn't it? How about those soldiers marching up your street herding people into concentration camps - how awful is that? Okay, I was a bit early on the concentration camps... but only just! And we have a whole society paying for wars, human torture, corrupt politics, and everything that we're trying to cope with in our daily lives. All those "make money fast", "get rich quick on the internet" schemes aren't talking to nobody. They're tapping into a huge demand for some way to live that's economically viable, because the system's so screwed up. And for most people, it's everybody's fault but their own.
It's the politicians. It's society. It's the media. It's the economy. It's the foreign market. Whatever. Just who put the politicians into power in the first place? You did! Who pays them? You do! Who pays for the "luxury wars" the U.S. has? Who pays for the concentration camps? You do! Cut it out, won'cha?
"Oh," these people say. "Well, it was a sham election." Or, "the system's screwed up, our votes don't count". Or, "I have to pay my taxes or I'll go to jail." Wait a second, wait a second. Back that train up about fifty feet. You've just said that the entire country is fundamentally broken, that the political structure of the country isn't working and it's not taking your votes into consideration, its representatives aren't listening to you... and your response is to do what, exactly? Blink, shrug, and go to the mall?
If people spent half the time taking direct action to fix the system that they spend complaining about the people whose job it is to represent them, we wouldn't have this problem. Blame-shifting is certainly a convenient way to play Hot Potato with the problem... but wouldn't you rather be rid of the problem? When people give me the "damn those nifferous politicians" speech, it's like some badly-dubbed foreign film. Their lips are moving, and oddly out of synch with them I hear someone going, "I'm such a hypocrite. I'm paying to create huge problems in the world, I'm not doing anything to stop them, they're wrecking all our lives, and now I'm going to sit here whining about it to you." That's about the time my eyes glaze over and I start getting some time in meditating while pretending to listen.
I know it's a side point now that I mentioned the concentration camps, but the same idea shows up in lots of places in society. Huge retail bookstore behemoths open up in a town, everyone heads there in droves, and the local booksellers shut down. Then a few years later nobody's reading because there's nothing good out anymore, and the local IQ of the area goes down about three notches. What about everyone complaining about how all the giant corporations are sending all the jobs overseas? The solution to that one, of course, is to go to Wal-Mart and take your pick of all the delicious sweat-shop prices! We have a society of people who are destroying the world with their choices, and blaming everyone but themselves. I'd put this idea to bed myself, if I could find a big enough shovel.
And if I hear one more time about how stupid George W. Bush is, I'm probably going to lapse into apoplexy. The stupidity is a paid-for PR move because if the media can make a case that you're stupid, they won't have to call you a liar - even when they know it for a fact. The whole thing's been carefully documented. You can check for it at your local library, or read some of it online. But if you really thought you had an idiot for a political representative - what would it be saying about you, that you kept a total fool in office to represent you? Aren't you better than that? I think you are.
I once had a conversation with someone about the fact that I can't accept employment, because they'd withhold taxes, the taxes would go to subsidize slaughter, human torture, concentration camps, and other varieties of treason, and that I couldn't become a party to that for political and spiritual reasons. She expressed the conventional view that because I wasn't employed, I wasn't socially responsible. Then she said that if nobody paid their taxes, we wouldn't have vitally necessary things like roads, street signs, schools, and all the rest of it. I had to pause and explain to her that if nobody paid their taxes, we'd still have all of those things. We'd have them because they were necessary for society to function, and the government, in order to provide them, would have to get back into line with what it's actually supposed to do - since people wouldn't tolerate the kind of thing it's doing right now. But because they don't, they just do the easy thing, we have the whole problem. And it's a problem that, if it goes on for much longer, will mean we won't have those vitally necessary things like roads, street signs and schools. We'll have global domination and internment camps for the survivors.
So it invariably turns out that whoever I'm having a political conversation with is literally a party to treason and human torture, and is causing the very problems we're sitting around spending our time jawing about. These are the caliber of people I interact with on a daily basis, smile and nod to on the street, greet warmly and ask how things have been. When it comes to interacting with nearly everyone, it's like I'm talking to one fractional piece of George W. Bush. Sometimes I can't believe that I'm actually sitting there talking to someone who chooses to be a party to atrocities, refuses to stop, and then will debate politics with me - usually utterly lacking in research - as if we're on an equal footing. The very essence of hypocrisy is that it creates a scenario where people aren't on an equal footing.
If the solutions got half the funding that the problems have, we as a society would already be beyond both of them, and living worthwhile lives. All it takes is for people to be a little more discerning with their they invest their choices. And that means taking basic accountability for them.
The whole point of a system is to serve peoples' needs. That's why we have an economic system, it's why we have a political system, it's why we have corporations - to accomplish great works like the Panama Canal that individual investors would never have had the money to create. But as a system goes on unchecked, and there's no accountability, the system starts to take advantage. It starts to throw its weight around, until ultimately the system demands that it is the status quo, and that people are merely resources meant to serve it. And after long enough, the repeated message lodges itself into a society, and people accept it as normal.
China is a great example of this. Honor is given to "the system" in general, and people do their best not to dishonor themselves in their attempts to serve it. It has taken on an almost godlike quality - in all the wrong ways. The system there has become something that rarely serves its citizens. It is wrathful. It is capricious. The ruler has his whims, and they are considered divine. Unlike a truly Divine agenda, though, they don't work - and yet people accept the supremacy of the system, for better or for worse. They are married to an error, and like a battered wife they aren't ready to give it up.
It's easy to see the folly of all this when it comes to China. But it's the same mindset we have here - just a bit more exaggerated, that's all. It's why people's solution to the political problems is to go to the mall. And whether we accept it as Divine in source, or just shrug at it and go shopping, while we accept the system's supremacy over us by not doing anything to shoot the idea down we're going to be increasingly stuck in a world that doesn't work, enabling the problems like a battered spouse who dabs at her black eye with a tissue and goes on about how she doesn't mind it, really.
End User Mentality
There's a tendency nowadays to interact with a system - a retail store, a government, a school, maybe even a website - with an end-user mentality. That is, people use systems, and act as though they're free to learn what the rules of that system are, learn how to use it, and go about their business. And that's the end of it. They're using a service, that service has rules, they're abiding by them, and they get to keep using the service. The End.
People have started leaving out a particular step in the critical thought process in cases like that, and the collective effect is a lot like watching a zombie movie. What I'm talking about here is the extra thought required to think about how a system works, and what it's trying to do.
I'll give you a f'rinstance. I use an amazingly awesome free internet hosting site, 110MB. We like it so much there and want to see it succeed, that we throw in new ideas to help make the place better. It's basic enlightened self-interest - we appreciate it, and want it to do well. We'd also like for it to continue being around for us. So we give back to it, because it's such an amazing system. And it benefits from having all sorts of creative minds thinking about how it can do well, and better than well - submitting ideas that the specific people who work there might have taken years to come up with all by themselves.
I'll give you another f'rinstance. People in America generally detest what their political system is currently doing. But they act like end-users. They keep their heads down, they pay their taxes, they obey the legislation - usually, and they expect that everything'll turn out alright. News flash! There's more to that in using a system. There's a certain amount of civic duty and participation involved in making systems work - even if you're just a user of that system. It means looking at where it's going, what it's trying to do, and making sure that agenda is in alignment with whatever larger system it's in - like natural law (physics, ecology, and so on) and spiritual law (human rights, dignity, compassion, Love, and joy). Sometimes that means actively participating to make that system better by adding something to it. Sometimes it means making it better by taking something away from it. But if end users don't keep tabs on the system and leave it all to whoever's in charge, the system's only as good as the people running it - and running it without anyone paying attention to where they're steering it.
Systems are terrific. I love them. They provide convenience, utility, they allow huge groups of people to leverage their efforts and get huge things done. They're like a dream come true. But... remember some of your dreams? Yeah. There are some that you wouldn't want to come true. We have to be selective about where we invest ourselves, our time, our money, and our participation - because that will keep them working well for us. Thomas Jefferson is attributed with saying, "The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance." Systems need vigilant users to keep them going strong and functioning in healthy ways. Without that vigilance, any system falls to bits. If you think a system is worth enough to use, it's worth investing a little vigilance into. And if you don't think it's worth that vigilance - why are you even using it? It's a hidden cost, but like a tip for a waiter it's absurd not to give it. We're better people than to stiff the system, and then to scratch our heads trying to puzzle out why it doesn't work for us.
And as a last bit to throw in on this, I know a lot of people come from regions where it's considered rude and disrespectful to question the system, for the same reason it's considered rude to question or disrespect your elders. I'm not trying to defy anyone's sensibilities here - unless they just plain don't work or are misapplied - but when it comes to most systems, that model doesn't apply. Our government, for example, is our elected representatives. We pick them, they represent us. They're more like our kids than our parents, and we have to discipline them - it's just family values, in an odd way. Even the founders of the united States were big on the idea of people keeping their elected representatives in check. If we're going to be respectful of authority, let's be respectful of legitimate authority. If we're going to say, for example, that it's unpatriotic to speak against a war that many of our boys are giving their lives for - how much more unpatriotic is it to go against the values of the War for Independance, where brave men fought and died to give us a functional system of government that we're just wasting, letting slip through our fingers? (And an apology to non-Union citizens for acting like the internet is solely America's playground. I know better, but some concepts just have to be addressed.)
Baby-Proofing and Idiot Proofing
One of the trends in politics and business to support and foster End User Mentality has been to baby-proof and idiot-proof anything and everything - from the cliche of spilled coffee-in-lap lawsuits which now require warning labels ("CAUTION: Contents hot"), to no nailclippers allowed on-board airplanes after terrorist blowback from government policies, to ubiquitous and dysfunctional Windows software designed for computer users who don't know how to use a computer and aren't interested in learning (honestly, who makes cars for people who don't want to learn how to drive?) - this idiot-proofing is everywhere.
Sometimes it's a matter of liability. Makers of products and systems don't want to get sued by people involved in accidents - it's a simple matter of indemnification. With over a million attorneys operating in America today, it's understandable. But it causes social problems, especially with so many corporations having such prevalent influence.
It nurtures a mentality of systems in the role of parents, and users (citizens and customers) in the role of its children. "Just let me do all the thinking and the hard work, and I'll take care of everything. Don't you worry your pretty little head about it. Here, have a milkshake." This mentality shows up in global behemoth corporations razing countries, both exploiting Third World economies for labor and superpower nations for their markets, until we have a generation of citizens who have forgotten how to keep corporations accountable to them. It's just the same as the 1950's housewives with all of their great little domestic tips - a generation since we've really used that information, and now people have essentially forgotten it.
And it demonstrates its effects politically as well, in the increasing sense of a Nanny State. The State will now manage everything for you, so just go back to sleep. It will determine what social programs work, and which should be eliminated. It will determine what rights you have. It will determine whether it is doing a good job or not. It will tell you what it thinks you should know about it, and it won't tell you everything. If the Nanny State were an actual nanny, it certainly wouldn't be Mary Poppins. It would be more like that baby-shaking au pair that made news a few years ago, or at least like the allegations that were against her.
This trend of baby-proofing systems from their own users creates a mentality that takes us away from a fair relationship with corporations and political systems, one that's based on freedom and rights, and instead makes us like chickens in those arcade games who play Tic-Tac-Toe with you. Have you ever seen them? They peck at the buttons to play, and they nearly always win. This is because they're pecking at the buttons that the computer lights up, and getting rewarded with feed when they peck at the buttons as the computer prompts them to. Somehow, I doubt this is the relationship we want to have with our governments and corporations. But that's the way it's going, with nobody speaking up about it and standing up against it.