ESCAPING DICTATORSHIP, PART 2
By Roland Watson
I ended the last article by saying that as long as we refuse to participate in governing our society, we will be abused by it. The reason for this is that today's society is dominated by selfishness, not selflessness, and competition, not cooperation.
What should our social values be?
This brings us to values. We must escape from the values that underlie our traditional patterns of behavior, which have been seized upon, and reinforced by, society. The problem is: it is the forms of human behavior that have been evolutionarily "successful," which have given us inequality, and divisiveness, and a world based on competition.
Freedom or equality?
There is a fundamental confusion over our goal, and which I already introduced in Part 1 of the website. Is it "freedom," or "equality"? To me, the goal is equality, but this is often confused with freedom, with which it is in regular conflict. If we want equality, we have to give up a few freedoms, such as the "freedom" to be unethical.
More deeply, this means that we must give up the freedom to compete, and to be unequal, although another paradox is that when we do this we can still retain the ability to be different and unique. The reason for this is that the former derives from competition with others, while the latter comes from competition - or cooperation - with yourself.
We need to value equality more than freedom, but the latter does, of course, remain a goal. We seek freedom from form, including the forms that prevent the achievement of equality, and also those forms that restrict our freedom of action. We want such freedom of action, but only when it is not unethical, or when it does not conflict with equality.
As an individual, the excesses of freedom that you should strive to avoid include not disciplining yourself - always saying and doing what you want, and using form to get your way. You should further say to yourself, like a mantra: "I am against competition. I do not always need to win. Having a successful career is not the most important thing in life. I am not hip, or hot, or cool."
The need to reappraise value
What this also reflects is our lack of knowledge of real value. We must reappraise our concept of value, and learn to attribute it more accurately.
For instance, we have seen that natural habitats, and other species and indigenous cultures, have values and rights in and of themselves, without regard to us at all. This is one such reappraisal, but it is not the only one.
As another example, when developers take a traditional urban neighborhood, or country setting, and then "fix it up"; when they make it "rich," by adding skyscrapers, or fancy houses, golf courses and malls, it actually loses value. It loses, through this redesign, and the elimination of such things as family stores and farms, all of its real character and originality, which is priceless. In addition, such a "makeover," or gentrification, exacerbates class differences, by fueling inflation so that only the wealthy can afford it, and driving out local, long-term residents as a result.
Also, the identical process occurs in tourism, when idyllic locations are "developed" with luxury resorts. Indeed, many of the world's most beautiful environments, including beaches, islands and mountain and rainforest settings, are being ruined this way. In the process, they are being reserved for the rich, which is nothing short of their theft from the general public, which is no longer able to visit and appreciate them.
Another variation on this theme, which arises from the fact that many ages are still in progress around the world, is the on-going clash between traditional and modern. What I am referring to is: can a relaxed approach to life survive the modern onslaught of drive and ambition?
I characterize this as manana - we'll do it tomorrow, or mai pen rai - don't worry about it, versus "go, go, go" and "rush, rush, rush."
On the other hand, this comparison, and judgment, is not as simple as it seems. Drive and ambition often have an underpinning of cultural imperialism - our way is better, but they are also the means by which good technology, and education and knowledge, are distributed. And, a relaxed approach to life is admirable, but not if it means being lazy and ignorant.
Manana will not prevail, and it is not even an ideal worth preserving, if it means:
- being lazy and unethical - not doing what you say you will do.
- littering and polluting nature - not appreciating its beauty and value.
- not being curious - not striving to study and learn.
- being brutal and savage - enjoying the killing of other living things.
But, manana can - and should - be preserved if it means relaxing and enjoying and understanding life, without getting caught up in the forms of social and material ambition. We must recognize, though, that this will only occur if it protects itself from such influences.
For example, in some countries people work only when they need to, to meet their basic needs, but in others they work all the time, to accumulate as much as they can.
The main migration issue with which modern society has been preoccupied is the movement of people from the former to the latter. Using designations that are pregnant with negative form, we call this from the "Third World" to the "First." However, the reverse movement is actually the greater threat. If you let people who are obsessed with ambition into a relaxed environment, nothing will stop them. Without some check, such as restrictions on the ownership of land and businesses, they will take over.
Also, and regarding time, there are a number of different ways to live. You can live for the future, for when you finally become who you want to be. Or, you can live for the past, if you dislike the changes of society and of your life and wish that, somehow, it and you could go back. Alternatively, you can live for the moment. Life is a succession of moments.
However, there are actually two perspectives on this. The view of the modern world is that to live for the moment means you shouldn't waste a second. Time is money! You should always be busy, making the most of your time. The view of the traditional world, though, is that you should enjoy every second. You should work when you have to, but then just sit around, take it easy, and watch time go by.
Both of these views have merit, but they are irreconcilable. But, just because modern society is obsessed with the first does not give it the right to try to exterminate the second.
I can also say, and even more broadly, that not everyone has to be deep. This is also a form. It is not unethical not to strive to develop your intellect to the greatest extent possible. Nonetheless, the objective reality of this is that the rewards for doing so are so profound, that you should at least consider it.
All of this brings us to dictatorship, and determinism. Modern society is shaped, first and foremost, by the behavior of corporations. But corporate domination is only the latest in a long line of oppression.
Our goal is not only to escape from this particular form, but essentially from our reactions to the conditions of existence that render us susceptible to any dictatorship.
The development of society has been arrested. This is due to the corporate-driven focus on success, rather than on life and knowledge. Not everyone can be successful on society's terms, and many people give up. But, if the underlying goal was knowledge, we all could win, since everyone can learn.
Society-wide, a focus on success leads to inequality, dictatorship, determinism, and regression, even de-evolution. The pursuit of knowledge, though, leads to equality and real progress.
In summary, the world is permeated with form. Unexpected shocks from technology are all but guaranteed. The end to overpopulation is not in sight. There is pervasive and increasing inequality. And, great cultural and environmental destruction is already programmed, and hence unavoidable. Also, while the majority of countries may have functioning legal systems, the majority of people still live under natural law, are poor and disadvantaged, and reside in societies where the process of development is untenable, and where there are many remaining blood feud conflicts.
These are the concrete barriers to real progress that we must face, in addition to the many other intangible ones that I have described. The question is: how will we possibly overcome them all?
The starting point in solving this conundrum is to recognize that most of these problems, in one way or another, are the consequence of behavioral form. Up to now, people have looked at, and written articles and books about, social problems in isolation from each other: why there is child abuse, or corruption, or a particular war. With this website I have tried to describe what connects and underlies all of these problems, no matter how dissimilar they may appear. This is form, or the varying types and effects of our social influences.
I want to instigate a change in the way that we view problems, and the language that we use to describe them. I want to encourage the use of the word "form." (Perhaps this is already obvious!) When you are in a situation where there is a noticeable influence, say to yourself, and others: "That's a form." When you see news of problems on TV or the Internet, or read about them, think of the forms that are responsible and whose interests are being served. When people try to manipulate you, tell them: "Stop telling me what to do. Stop forming me!"
To the extent that we can encourage the use of this word, we will also further the thought - the education - that underlies it. We want everyone to become sensitive to form, even preoccupied with it; and to use the word to such an extent that it achieves the status of common currency, and replaces the influences and usage of such terms as "cool."
Only when we learn to view problems in this way, when we recognize that there is a deeper problem and set our minds to confronting it, will we have a chance of finally curing what are really only symptoms, including their habitual recurrence. Through this we can see that the revolt against form is a real revolution, actually, an evolution, since it will not involve a reversion to the same old state of affairs.
A good place to start is to question all of your own, and society's, assumptions and practices. Anything at all that you think and do is potentially a valid subject of scrutiny, particularly those things that you take for granted.
In the next two articles, I will evaluate our long-term social trends.
© Roland Watson 2015