Today’s guest post comes from Dan O’Brien. A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, Dan has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, Deviance of Time, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, The Twins of Devonshire and the Curse of the Widow, and Cerulean Dreams. He also works as an editor at Empirical, a national magazine with a strong West Coast vibe.
When Dan approached me with a view to hosting a guest post on “Exquisite Corpse”, he sent me a selection of posts to choose from. My choice might seem odd at first – it has nothing to do with writing, and it is deadly serious, which is not the tone I usually choose to affect on my blog. I chose this one because I believe in the message he is sending. It needs to be said, loudly and often.
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The world is in crisis.
We have been lied to.
Each of us deceived by those who we thought would protect us. Conditioning has placed us where we are. Conditioning is what will free us once more. There is much about the world around us that we cannot understand for what it is; interconnected parts working for each other against the best interests of humanity. Like lambs to the slaughter, we were shown our roles. We did not fight for what we believed, nor did we conform to what they wished.
We succumbed to the will of perceived inevitability.
I think that we are avoiding the most obvious point of it all. It is not whether it is happening because we started it. The thing that we must remember is that we can do something about it. What we know and believe is little more than what we were told to believe; the wealth of our knowledge is little more than what has been told to us. The nations of this world are divided by walls and barriers that are not physical, but instead ideological and financial. We are not creatures of evil or apathy, but instead we are taught throughout our lives to behave this way, adhering and following the antediluvian archetypes of centuries and empires past.
What can be offered is not a panacea.
What can be offered is to help find the value in living, and the love in what is all around you. These times that face us are powerful and sorrowful, for each day defines the next. A change does not appear before our eyes, but is instead the earnest, incremental struggle of ideals and beliefs that will change the world.
It has been said that one human being cannot change the world. This creates a false dichotomy insofar that we have been made to believe that either our actions can change the world, or they cannot. This is not the way of things. We may change, for good or bad, upon the shoulders and backs of our brothers and sisters.
The world is sick.
Humanity is ailing.
We have hunger, famine, disease, and widespread violence the world over. Consuming the resources of this one planet, we do so at such a rate that we will collapse beneath the weight of our own refuse before our time. If we are to survive, then we must fight to stay. We must believe that this world is worth having, and prove that we deserve to occupy this planet.
Some have deferred responsibility, saying that the world will do what it must and technology will catch up. But how can technology match our consumption and destruction pace for pace, if all of our monetary resources are being funneled into that consumption and destruction? All of us are responsible for what we do, how we behave, and the lives we live.
Granted, some of us are dealt sadder and tougher hands than others. I find it prudent to say that those nations and societies that have the least – at least in terms of what the West has designated as categories for determining status – have the strongest cohesion amongst the members of their societies because they must become interdependent. They see crisis and they join together, whether they understand it or not, and survive.
We as a species face such a need for survival. No longer can we look at the plights of the world through rose-colored glasses, or from atop our distant steeples. We must accept responsibility for the actions of the nations in which we live. Though we did not deprive a village of their resources, our constant demand for new things has driven industry to knock on the doors of nations the world over for resources.
It is time to stand up and say no more.
Not because it is popular amongst the rich and the famous, but because it can and will save the world. None of us are perfect. Nothing is expected of us in this life except what we are willing to give. But we must not be afraid to give.
We are a community whether we wish to believe it or otherwise. Even if you strand yourself in the farthest reaches of the world, your existence is dependent upon the creation and distribution of consumer goods that you will need in order to survive. We are an interconnected world. We have this one world and we have to prove that we belong here. I have heard – from loved ones and mentors alike – that we cannot be responsible for what is happening to his world; that we are too insignificant to make an impact.
This feels like an excuse.
We want to be responsible when it is in our best interest. People wish to judge the actions of others, but not be judged themselves. They wish to say whatever comes to their minds, critiquing and attacking others, but not to be held responsible for the insufferable, illogical discourse that marks their opinions and doubts.
The constructs of what we have been fooled into believing is the result of our own ignorance, and the arrogance of those who skirt across the tops of the economies and industries of the world. Some blame money for our ills: corporations. Others say that greater laws that enforce the practices of the corporations are the answer.
But, in the end, the existence of corporations is for profit. Private ownership and multinational corporations are two entirely different entities. The concept of personal freedom and the necessity for broad mass marketing of goods couldn’t be further from each other. We don’t need all of the things that we have.
I’m not saying that consumerism is the root of evil, but it is certainly a negative impression on the record of humanity. Our ever-growing hunger for consumption and subsequent squandering of resources might as well replace baseball as our national pastime. There are numerous documentaries already that can aptly explain to you the vicious cycles of production and consumption, and the eventual and monumental process of disposal.
It is often hard to realize that the reality we have found ourselves in is a conditioned one. We were not born with ideas of capitalism or communism, libertarianism or determinism. These sorts of thinking (I hesitate to use that word) are generated from socialization and the ways in which we are instructed and conditioned to think. David Hume was a firm believer that society was not born of a social contract agreed upon by a meeting of the minds, but instead that we were born into an invisible caste bondage that holds us for our lives, if we allow it.
I find that I agree with such a position.
The inner-workings of class structure, as well as the distribution of wealth, tell us much about the realities of how we are programmed to think and conduct ourselves. Though there is something to be said for free action and thought, this seems a luxury that is talked about more than it is exercised.
The vicious cycle of consumerism is a product of this conditioning.
When the holiday seasons approach, as they inevitably do, it would do us good to look at the consequences of our behavior. It is the season of giving, but I challenge that prospect. Is giving for all to see truly giving? Is buying materials and transmitting them to another human being who is expecting that gift truly the giving spirit? Are we not simply doing what is expected of us when we ravage national chain stores, hording goods that have been discounted to move product that will only end up in a dumpster a few months later and contribute to an ever-expanding vortex of garbage that threatens to consume us?
Is this too negative?
Am I a scrooge?
Giving is not about physical substance, but about enriching the lives of others. If you truly wish to give something during this self-proclaimed giving season, then I would challenge you to give something that will truly help someone else. Give a child attention and enrich relationships with family. Donate time to help those less fortunate. Impossible, you say? My relatives would never go for something like that, some will say. I can hear the objections, but tradition has long been poor criteria for what is right and moral in this world.
But what is giving?
Is it simply time?
Or is it something more?
Kantian philosophy would have us believe that it is deeds done because they must be done, and not because of how they make us feel; to some extent this is what I am talking about. Giving because it is expected, or because you enjoy the outcome, the cheery faces and the thanks, seems empty compared to goodwill that is done without regard for personal satisfaction. This selflessness seems an impossibility given the nature of consumerism, but I feel as if there is a well of hope in humanity that is waiting for a moment to be great. When the giving season becomes a time during which personal tragedies and depression rank as trademarks of the holidays, we have to question what we have become.
As our need grows, it expands beyond the boundaries of what the forest and bounty of our own land can yield. As skillful consumers, we take the lands of those people who we perceive to be in less need of their resources. Because, after all, we are the greatest nation in the world and our needs come before naked villagers in a far-off country whose name we cannot pronounce or spell.
It would appear that empathy is a forgotten emotion.
In our air-conditioned homes in the summertime, and heavily-heated homes in the winter, we are perfectly insulated from the plights of those people who are without homes or resources. Or are we? The ever-growing number of poor and homeless in the United States is an epidemic. Children still break open fire hydrants to cool off on hot summer days. Families still turn on ovens to heat their homes because they cannot pay energy bills, and that is if they are lucky enough to have a stove. The unequal distribution of wealth in this country is astounding. The gap between the rich and the poor grows each day.
Creating a system in which the blame falls on the individual despite the nature of the system has become the standard. We think that every person is capable of overcoming circumstances; that advantages are not awarded by birth and affluence. Pop culture has told us that if we think positively about something, if we dare to dream, then we can influence our future.
But this strikes me as logically incongruent.
And it should sound problematic to the world.
This type of belief blames those who do not rise above their circumstances. There is a passive nature to this time of admonition, hidden behind a beautiful possibility. I ask: is this truly the nature of the world? If you believe something, then doors will open for you? I think the outliers and exceptions have become the norm. We expect that if we try hard, then we will be rewarded.
What of those afflicted with famine and victims of genocide forced into refugee camps the world over? What of rape victims? What of children abused? Did these people not wish hard enough? Did they not direct their thoughts in the proper direction to find hope? I have certainly outlined only the horrors of the world, but we cannot turn a blind eye upon these sores on the back of humanity.
Have we become a nation that hears, but does not listen? Have we become a nation that speaks, but says nothing? Some of my peers, as well as those a generation older, fear assisting those less fortunate; that by giving to them, the will to achieve will be broken. That somehow helping those that cannot help themselves will erode the fabric of who we are.
Is this true?
I am not suggesting that we bankrupt ourselves to help others, but as Peter Singer has suggested, we should give enough so that the least well-off can rise to a level that could be considered basic. When there are children starving in countries where what we pay for a gallon of gas could feed them for a day, I have to question whether sacrificing some comfort and affluence so others may simply live should not be considered.
We have been tricked into believing something that is not true.
They told us that there is a right way and a wrong way. They said there are republicans and democrats, conservatives and liberals. All around us the constructs of our society dictate endless false dichotomies that force us to choose one over the other without examining the rationality, or possibility, of something that we cannot perceive.
I sometimes try to think of a world that is so unlike this one. The mantra that there is no better place to live, or that we are number one, simply makes me sad. Who wants to be number one in a world where there is so much suffering and sadness? In America, there is immunity to the horrors and travesties of the world. We are insulated from the world that surrounds us.
We rally behind demagogues, partisan rhetoricians, who care more about the game of being elected than demanding excellence and change of policy. They have become so assimilated into the culture of domination and conditioning that their campaign rhetoric is little more than a clever game of chess with words. They dance and shuffle with issues that should matter, but know that the hot button issues (the ones we have been conditioned to care about) should have well-articulated and formulated opinions.
I ask you, the reader, if an elected official changes your life.
Unemployment goes up or down. Astronomical numbers of national debt are trickled down through the media. Wars are raged and lives lost, but to what end and purpose? Is there a greater good that is being accomplished by this careful illusion of smoke and mirrors? Or have we simply been deceived?
What is most interesting is that the people who rally the hardest for party politics are the ones most deceived by those in power. The struggling middle class and the poor unite behind a talking point. People have forgotten that they control everything. The concentrated wealth of the rich is such that they no longer fear.
The world does not change because power is assumed. One man can direct the world in a positive direction, but the capacity for change is in each of us. The ability to radically alter our circumstances is in the belief that we are equal, that we can help each other. Leaving those deemed as unworthy to fend in a world that rewards selfishness and shuns those less fortunate prepares us for failure.
I fear that when the times do not regulate themselves quickly enough, that change does not happen with the turn of a phrase or the passing of a single day, some will be quick to demonize. One man can lead. One man can inspire. But it takes a nation to change. It takes a world to see.
There are times in history we look back upon and shudder at the humanitarian violations of a government and the apathy of the people at its base. We wonder to ourselves how a nation loses its moral compass.
I would like you to ponder the information presented. Take it in and really think about it. Talk about it with your friends and family and encourage intellectual discourse. Find your own answers. Seek out information. Do not be satisfied with the status quo or the regurgitated material that you see on every news channel. Fight against the propaganda and lip service of news that is created for you. Remember that you have the power to change your mind.
People may tell you what to think, but you decide whether or not you will believe what is being feed to you is truth, or if you will search for something that might be difficult. Some may try to convince you that questioning the good life is wrong, or that what you have read is wrong.
There is nothing wrong with disbelief, it encourages discovery.
Do not be afraid to be proven wrong, or to prove something wrong. These are the issues I grapple with every day. These are issues that I think autonomous beings of the free world must talk about. It would be intellectually dishonest of us as thinking beings to not analyze the impact of who we are on the world.
A new condition must prevail.
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