We’re all guilty of apathy every once in a while.
The world and its problems can be overwhelming. And absurd. Absurdity, as we’ve talked about before, can be especially paralyzing to intelligent people. It shuts the thinking mind down.
But when things are happening in the world that just seem, well… ludicrous–things that you feel infants should be able to see their way through–the temptation is to throw up your hands, declare the world fit for its handcart, and shut yourself away while you wait for the grey goo implosion.
To me, the absurdity is not usually the problem itself. Humans have always had problems. There always has been (and always will be) a cast of villains trying their damndest to F-over humanity. (Here’s a hint: they’re usually the ones claiming to save it.)
The absurdity is what people unthinkingly accept. What they consider “normal”.
Consider. These are the new “normal”…
It is now “normal” for humans to eat and drink MOSTLY poison.
It’s no secret: the nutritional value of our food has been on the decline for decades. The carrot you eat in 2014 doesn’t hold a nutritive candle to the one you ate in 1964. It’s a pale copy, at best. Many causes are batted around, from selective breeding, to depleted soil, to shipping and storing methods. Take your pick, you won’t be wrong.
But that’s okay, because we have Science to conjure up laboratory edibles to replace what nature can no longer provide, right?
So now it’s normal to eat packaged edibles (notice I don’t call them “food”) filled with hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup and carcinogenic chemical additives and sweeteners. It’s normal for livestock to be pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. It’s normal for our produce to be sprayed with toxins. It’s normal for our water supply to be filled with fluoride and chlorine (despite many countries around the world banning this practice) as well as pharmaceutical drugs, hormone-disrupting chemicals and pollutants. It’s even normal for there to be such a thing as an infant-obesity epidemic.
We don’t care. If it’s being sold as “food”, we buy it. We even feed it to our kids.
We swallow it all, literally and figuratively, without thinking.
It is now “normal” for humans to take medicine, every single day of their lives–from cradle to grave.
Remember when taking medicine was abnormal? When it meant you’d suffered a temporary setback from health and were just using it to get back to “normal”, which meant “medicine-free”?
Not so, anymore.
It’s now normal for 7 out of 10 people to be taking prescription drugs (mainly antibiotics, antidepressants and painkillers). For seniors, the number is closer to 9 in10.
It is normal for 1 in 5 people in the U.S. to be on five or more prescriptions.
Do you have elderly parents? Chances are you’ve heard them talking about all the pills they take. And the pills they take to counteract the effects of the pills. And so on and so forth.
Think this is an accident?
Pharmaceutical companies deliberately crank out “blockbuster” drugs in the manner of Hollywood executives. Those ads you see in between the depressing news stories are targeted marketing campaigns, more profitable than any movie trailer ever cooked up. They are profitable because they are extremely effective at convincing you that life is inherently riddled with disease and pain; that it is normal to be unwell; that you became a hapless victim the moment you were born; but that it’s all going to be better now since they have manufactured the cure. They get you so focused on your pain and the life of bliss waiting on the other side of their chemical solution that you don’t even hear the list of debilitating (and in some cases, deadly) side effects that they are required to list. And why should they mind listing them? It gets them out of the inevitable lawsuits. “We warned you!” And whatever lawsuits they do face are simply absorbed as part of the cost of doing business.
The worst part is, prescription drugs don’t cure or prevent disease. Aside from antibiotics, most drugs are just symptom blockers that alter your brain chemistry and nervous system so that you no longer experience the symptoms. (Is it any wonder that pharmaceuticals are associated with cognitive decline?) The underlying cause of the symptoms are still there, of course, but your body can no longer give you the signal that something’s wrong. Meanwhile, you’ve gotten yourself a whole host of new symptoms in the bargain. But that’s OK, because they’ve got some drugs that will take care of those, too…
It’s madness. And, on some level, people know it. They say: “Sometimes, I really wonder why I’m taking all these pills,” but they go on swallowing them because their doctors say so and their insurance picks up the tab.
Basically, if drug companies can dream up a way to mask your symptoms, you will buy it, swallow it and call it “necessary”. Your doctor will facilitate this and legitimize it. You will believe you are doing all you can for your “health”.
Big Pharma wins.
Now, bad enough if this were confined to adults and seniors, who presumably can make their own decisions, but, get this… one in five children are routinely given prescription drugs.
1 in 12 children (ages 3-17) are diagnosed with ADHD and medicated with a whole range of stimulants and antidepressants like Adderall, Wellbutrin, Dexadrine, you name it. Teenagers, in particular, are routinely prescribed antidepressants and antipsychotics. Preteen girls are being vaccinated with Gardasil, with its own host of horrible side effects, including some deaths. Preschool kids are prescribed Ritalin for “behavioral problems”. Even children ages one through three (let me pause while you read that again… one through three!) are being prescribed regular doses of antidepressants like Effexor and antipsychotics like Risperdal. And infants… yes, babies, less than a year old are being prescribed with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) (such as Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid, Aciphex and Protonix) to prevent “acid reflux” (a.k.a. spitting up) and irritability (a.k.a. “crying”.)
These things are now normal.
Cradle to grave–Big Pharma’s got you covered.
Doctors are no line of defense. They have been trained, for decades, not to heal you, but how to spot symptoms and pair them up with the right drug. They too, have been sold on the “if the symptoms can be suppressed, it’s cured” philosophy. Your doctor is nothing but the unwitting infantryman carrying out pill-pushing orders that originated in an executive boardroom.
Drugging babies. Honestly, is there a low enough rung in Hell?
It is now “normal” for your every aspect of your life to be tracked, monitored, recorded and stored in a database–with your help.
Julian Assange called Facebook “the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented”.
It’s an intelligence agency’s wet dream: a program that appeals to your innate sense of vanity that causes you to supply it with all the data they could ever want. They just sit back and let the info stream in, no investigative work required.
Your name, date of birth, appearance, job history, list of former and current addresses, educational background, belongings, your lifestyle, your travel plans, your relatives, friends and business associates, your religious and political views, your current location, right now—all of it is being collected and parsed in the world’s most comprehensive database.
In Facebook’s terms of service, you agree that all of it–any data or communication you make–can be given to third parties. What you own, your plans, your beliefs, pictures of your kids, all of it. That data no longer belongs to you. When you post it, you are surrendering it.
Corporations use it. Marketing firms use it. Law enforcement uses it. And you better believe the world’s intelligence services use it.
Of course, it’s not just Facebook. Google and Yahoo are storing your searches, your browsing history, your emails, and your location. Online shopping sites use predictive analysis to know when you’re going to buy something before you know it. Your “smartphones” are smarter than you think and we use them for just about everything, including purchases. Who wouldn’t love the information that your phone alone could yield? Humans are being microchipped to allow for easy access to medical records, security access to buildings and even… pay for drinks. (Yep, you read that right.) There is facial recognition software on city streets and in flying killing machines (a.k.a. drones). And thanks to a few recent whistle blowers, we now know that the NSA can listen in on every phone call, read every text message, and copy every packet of data coming in through fiber optic choke-points into the US. Without exaggeration, if it happens online, they have a copy of it.
Now, most people, even when confronted with this knowledge, say something like “Well, I don’t have anything to hide. If it helps catch some bad guys then what do I care?”
Let me ask you this: do you lock your door when you go out? Do you leave your car keys in the ignition? Do you hand out your bank account information to acquaintances and strangers? Do you give your phone number to any telemarketing company that asks for it? Do you put a notice on your front door that says whether you are away on vacation or not?
The reason you don’t is that you have an inherent sense of ownership. These things are NOT for others. They belong to you and no one else.
Would you mind if anyone could come up to your windows during the night and watch what you were doing in your house, with no consequences? What if the police decided to show up once a night and observe you for a few hours? (After all, that would keep you “safe”, right?) What about a two-way camera, a la Winston Smith, which showed you in your home and which could be monitored by intelligence agencies or marketing firms 24 hours a day?
Why not? You have nothing to hide, right?
People are so inured to being monitored they don’t even care anymore. They are even helping the watchers by happily supplying the data. “Privacy”, once a sacred right, has become a flag that means you must be hiding something. (You’re goddamned right I’m hiding something. It’s MY life.) Companies that want your dollar and government agencies that want your information operate with complete arrogance, as if both belonged to them.
We should be outraged. Instead, we happily participate.
We have been trained. Habituated. It has become too “normal” for us to feel anything as strong as outrage.
It is now “normal” for a tiny, powerful elite to control the money supply–manipulating it in the belief that it will make the economy go.
Our central bank likes to play a cute little game with the currency called “Quantitative Easing” where they buy financial assets (like corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities) with money they create out of thin air.
(When you and I do that, it’s called counterfeiting, and we go to jail.)
The theory is that by “injecting” that money into the economy, it keeps interest rates artificially low and encourages things like borrowing and investing, which in turn will create jobs and improve the housing market. Since 2008, they have “injected” over 2 trillion dollars into the economy. As of today, they are still buying these assets (i.e., printing) $65 billion dollars a month, with no signs of stopping.
(Word-usage is everything. Notice that “injecting” has the connotation that they are healing a sick patient, or perhaps that they are “making it go” as in the case of fuel injection into an engine. If they used the word “added” it wouldn’t sound so good, would it? In fact, doesn’t “adding” trillions of dollars to a sick economy sounds exactly like the precursor to hyperinflation such as the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe?)
So, how has all the “injecting” worked out?
Has there been two trillion dollars worth of new jobs, new capital, new production, and new goods? Nope. In fact, there has been continued stagnation (and in many cases, decline) in all facets of the economy. Middle class incomes are dropping and the middle class itself is rapidly shrinking. One in three Americans now fall under official poverty levels. More Americans are on food stamps than ever before.
So, there is no new real wealth, but two trillion more dollars to buy it with. It doesn’t take a genius, folks – this is currency devaluation.
Your purchasing power is on the decline. Your savings are being wiped out. Your pension funds are collapsing. Each dollar now buys less than it used to, and you are feeling it in the rising food prices, rents, gas prices, tuitions, healthcare costs, and nearly everywhere else. (It also means an artificial increase in stock prices and a consequent “bubble” ready to burst–more on that in a second).
Here’s what we know: No nation or kingdom in the history of the world has ever printed its way into prosperity. Many have tried. In every case—every, single one–the attempt has only hastened the collapse.
Yet, the central bank thinks it will work this time.
Wonder why the global economy is stagnating? Wonder why there seem to be a never-ending cycle of “bubbles” and crashes? Wonder why economies are collapsing all over the world, despite too-little, too-late “austerity” measures? Wonder why the bank balance sheets get bigger even as the average family becomes more and more impoverished?
Look no further than your buddies down at the Federal Reserve.
When you ask anyone, do they care that a tiny elite are playing God with the global economy, trying to force it to produce things by throwing more paper at it? Why should they? They believe whatever they are told in the media, including the imbecilic observation that “the stock market is on the rise, so that means that recovery is right around the corner!”
Here’s the truth: there are always a few that get fabulously “wealthy” in the stock market right before a currency collapse—at which point they are wiped out just like everyone else. An inflationary monetary policy means currency devaluation. Currency devaluation means the prices of things (including stocks) go up. Investors ride the tide, thinking, “Hey, this is great – my numbers are going up!” In fact, the stock bubble should be a giant red-flag warning that the currency is collapsing. But media and government go on with their “everything is getting better” messages and people keep sucking them up.
After all, truth is repetition.
And leaving the financial world and its fate in the hands of a few expert “economists” is normal, right?
Inflation is addictive. Stopping it would arrest the economy in exactly the same way that withholding alcohol or heroine from a severe addict could kill the patient. The system is now propped up on an artificially inflated money supply. Ben Bernanke insists that the monetary pumping will taper off sometime next year. The minute it stops, and prices are allowed to fall to natural levels, there will be a crash in the stock market, another in the housing market (and we all know the globe-wide damage the last one did) and the rest of the economy will follow like a heavy load pulling its crane into the pit.
They can never stop, now. Inflationary monetary policy is the new “normal”.
It is now “normal” for the Federal government, particularly the executive branch, to expand its powers at whim and remove liberties as it sees fit—and you are fine with it.
Ok, this one is not exactly new. After all, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus (long before W did), had civilians tried in military courts, and ordered the blockade of southern ports without any declaration of war by Congress.
The difference: when Lincoln did it, people were pissed off. What was once met by outrage and cries of “Tyranny!” are now regarded as just another day in Washington. People shrug and say, “I just assume the President is doing what’s best,” or “I try not to think about it”.
Everyone, whether in favor of liberties, or against them, agrees: the history of the U.S. has been a long, slow sequence of people surrendering their liberties to an ever-expanding Federal government. To catalog them would take immense volumes, so we won’t do it here.
Suffice it to say, the last two administrations have outdone all their predecessors combined. From censorship to warrantless surveillance to denial of due process to use of excessive force by law enforcement. In the “land of the free” there have been indefinite detention of political prisoners as well as torture. Citizens have been detained on the basis of their race, religion, surname, and even, believe it or not, for shopping at Middle Eastern specialty food stores. There have been secret deportation hearings, revoked citizenships. We have seen that the police now have the ability (and authority) to “lock down” a city, controlling who goes in and out while they perform door-to-door searches (a violation of the 4th amendment on a massive scale).
All of this, purportedly, is done to keep you and I “safe” from terrorists and foreign aggressors.
Yet, our government provides arms and your money to those same aggressors if they happen to oppose an “enemy” regime. Using this and similar tactics, the previous two administrations have invaded thirteen countries. Yemen and Libya were attacked with no approval from Congress. The CIA has carried out covert drone strikes in six countries, most notably Pakistan, with hundreds of civilian casualties.
Meanwhile, the last two administrations have exploded the national debt more than all their predecessors combined. Each added a little over 5 trillion to a debt that stood at 5 trillion at the end of the Clinton regime. A tripling, with two presidents. Just over a year ago I wrote that the debt stood at 16.2 trillion. Today it is 17.3 trillion. A trillion dollars in 13 months. This is spending gone mad. Just… absurd. The interest payments on this debt alone are in the hundreds of billions per year. No amount of taxation will ever reduce this debt, not even 100% taxation (which would obliterate what remains of the economy.) It’s money that our grandchildren and their grandchildren will not be able to pay back. The Pentagon, meanwhile, is unable to account for a missing 8.5 trillion dollars. But I’m sure whatever they spent it on was for your own good and safety, right?
Here’s the thing: we agree with it all. We want to feel safe, and we believe those who are telling us that our liberties (and our taxes) are the price.
So we happily hand them over.
When “Absurd” Becomes Normal, It Will Go Unchallenged
Take a second, if you will, and conjure in your mind’s eye a vision of an alien technological civilization that is trying its damndest to self-exterminate. What would that civilization be focused on? What would they be doing? If they really wanted to, how could they accelerate their own demise?
Now, let me ask you: did your mental image look anything like our list of “new normals”?
Put simply, you want to predict the future of a populace, ask them what they think is “normal”. I was born in the 70s. When I was a child many of these would have been considered science fiction plots. Now they are the commonplace, the everyday.
It seems like a species gone mad. Hell-bent on embracing the asinine.
Yet, when you talk to people, they shrug and say: “Whadya gonna do? I just don’t think about it.”
If I were one of the world’s super-villains, I would think: “It’s okay. All I have to do is get through one news cycle and then people will forget. I’ll get away with it, scot-free.”
People just take it. They become desensitized to evil.
But, you see, therein lie the problem and the solution.
The Real Villain: Look in the Mirror, Bub
I’m going to tell you something you won’t like.
It’s all your fault.
Let me explain.
Here’s what I believe: the so-called “state of the world” is nothing but a summation of our collective desires. We want things to be this way.
Maybe you noticed the “new normals” we’ve talked about have one thing in common: you.
You buy the poisonous edibles, you eat them, you feed them to your kids. You buy the pills from the pharmacy and swallow them. You hand over your data for surveillance. You want an elite controlling the money supply (because you don’t trust people and businesses to do it for themselves.) You don’t want your freedoms because you would rather feel “safe”.
It is ludicrous to blame corporations for the world’s problems in the same breath as you hand them your dollar and happily use their products. It’s ludicrous to rail against evils in government but go on supporting the next candidate for “change”, and the next one after that, and the next…
Sure, there are villains within food manufacturing companies, multinational corporations, Big Pharma, the spy agencies, central banks and governments. Of course there are.
But to the extent that you give them your consent, either through your dollar, your use of their products, your vote, or even just your principled avoidance of the issues, you are complicit. You’re paying their paychecks. You’re helping to feed and make them grow. You are the super-villain who is backing the little villains at their game.
You and I are to blame for it all. We participate in, and help create, the world. We make the world we want to see, every single day.
And this is exactly why there is cause for optimism.
Who Can Change It: Keep Looking
If I’m responsible for the state of the world, I can fix it by fixing what is going on between my ears. As Gandhi put it:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
We’ve talked about it before: get our heads right and the world will follow. Personal transformation begets social transformation.
I don’t mean pie-in-the-sky positive thinking. The Stuart Smalleys of the world are the first to get ripped to shreds in the crossfire while the rest of us are diving for cover.
I mean, acknowledge that there is an actual mechanism between what goes on in your head (particularly what you give your consent to) and how that consent manifests in the world. Acknowledge that without your consent, that manifestation would cease to exist.
One of the biggest lies that people just accept is the mind-body dichotomy–that our ideas have no relation to the physical world. It’s bogus. It’s all ideas. Everything in our lives, beyond basic vegetation, proceeds on the basis of some human-created fabrication—a story about what is true.
The world and its institutions only enjoy power so long as they enjoy our financial or mental support. So long as we go on believing in the prevailing stories.
But even Gandhi would acknowledge that it’s not enough to change our minds. Faith alone does not move mountains. We must also set right our actions.
So… whadya gonna do?
The Sin of Trust
First of all: withdraw your trust.
If there’s one thing that underlies all the evils we discussed above, it’s the following belief: There are experts who are wiser and smarter than me who know better than I do what is in my best interest.
When we accept this, we believe that laboratory scientists and food manufacturers know best what we ought to eat, and that they have our health and nutrition at heart. We believe that drug companies and doctors want to see a happy populace, thriving with health. We believe that those who eavesdrop and collect our data are keeping us safe (and well-supplied with products that we need). We believe that those who are manipulating the money supply and interest rates can actually “save” the economy and create jobs for everyone. We believe that the government really is trying to keep us safe and secure, rather than exercise more and more control over our lives.
Let me dispel some illusions for you.
Food manufacturers will package up whatever poison they can and sell it to you. How can you withdraw your trust? Stop buying. Buy from trusted sources, local farmers or grow your own food.
Pharmaceutical companies and doctors have a direct (obvious to anyone who thinks about it for two seconds) interest in keeping you sick. They have become extremely skilled at altering your neurology so that your pain signals go away. When you inevitably develop other pain signals, they can alter those, too. It’s a slippery slope ending in dependency, toxicity and death. Stop swallowing what they are pushing. There are home remedies, alternative, Eastern and homeopathic medicines that directly address the causes of illness rather than just stamp out symptoms. Even if you think all that is hooey (and would I urge you to think again) there are millions of people who exercise prevention, i.e., eating well and engaging in physical activity, who don’t even know what the inside of a doctor’s office looks like. Aren’t you interested in what they might be doing?
(Perhaps you are thinking that regulatory agencies are the answer. If you think the FDA are making food and drugs “safe” for you, you are deluded. The FDA rushes expensive new drug therapies and medical equipment to the market, regardless of safety. It uses advisory committees with industry-backed scientists. It routinely quashes or buries natural cures, including known cancer cures, in order to protect the Big Pharma interests. Withdraw your trust: do your own research. You decide what’s healthy for you and your family.)
The central banks do not have your best interests at heart. Their policies of bailouts, money printing and bond buying benefit their own balance sheets, big banks and politically-connected firms such as Goldman-Sachs. For you and I, the currency devaluation means wiping out our savings, investments, pensions and eroding our purchasing power. Withdraw your trust. Put your money in physical assets or put it overseas. Learn about fiat currency and how it hurts the little guy more than anyone. Petition your congressman to audit the Fed. Or, even better, to eliminate it. Support the repeal of legal tender laws so that people can use the currency of their choice. Understand how this would restore power to you and I.
That the federal government does not have your best interests at heart should require no further explanation. The goal of those in power is to maintain what power they have and grab up more of it while they can. What should be public servants see themselves, instead, as demagogues. Don’t fall for the perpetual trap of thinking that the next candidate will change anything. (After years and years of being rogered, at what point do we stop believing that the next guy in line behind us with a grin and a bottle of lubricant is going to be the one to turn everything around?) You’re smarter than that. See them for what they are: paid actors who spend their days trying to make you feel good about being rooked.
Ditto for anyone trying to sell you something.
The answer, in almost every case, is stop buying it. Literally and figuratively. Stop forking over your actual dollar, but also stop trusting that someone more powerful than you knows better than you and has your bests interests at heart. There is no bigger lie. Those entrusted to “safeguard” you are using your faith in them to get away with evil. Direct your dollar elsewhere and direct your mind towards questioning instead of mindlessly accepting.
Which leads to action #2…
Never Stop Learning
“Questioning” does not only mean opposing. It means seeking out actual answers for yourself. The minute you stop doing so you’re surrendering the game. Someone will happily supply you with answers of their own.
Here’s a habit that any thinking person would do well to adopt: any time someone says something that doesn’t sound quite right to you, make note of it, and resolve to learn the answer for yourself. Then invest the time to do so.
Most adults leave “learning” behind as soon as they clear the walls of their high school for the last time. A shame, since many high school graduates really haven’t learned squat (a fact amply demonstrated by their skill set and literacy.)
No wonder then, that most adults become mindless drones, accepting whatever they’re told. It’s not a moral failing; we cripple our children before they know any better. They simply never get a proper set of operating instructions for the organ that lives between their ears. What we do give them is a lot of pressure to accept received wisdom, and a lot of grief any time they try to defy it. After a few years of this, it becomes easier to coast than challenge.
Use it or lose it! goes the oft-used phrase in bodybuilding circles. Meaning, if you don’t exercise muscle it atrophies, shrinks and disappears. Think it’s any different for the brain?
Think about the Arab Spring, for a moment. In the last three years there have been massive protests, civil uprisings and even regime overthrows all over the Middle East. Now, think about what happened in the thirty years leading up to this climax: rising literacy rates, increased access to higher education, exposure to foreign cultures, and the development of internet-savvy youth culture. Do you think this is a coincidence? Is it just an accident that as people learned more, they came to obey less? That as they learned more about freedom they wanted less autocratic rule?
Meanwhile, in the West, we shun learning. Is it any wonder that the elite exercise more and more control over our lives?
This might border on a trite observation, but has there ever been a time in history when knowledge was so available to so many, and yet so squandered? It’s tempting to think that in our age of technology the common man has all the power; that there can be no more such thing as a “Dark Ages”; than an elite priesthood can no longer hold exclusive domain over knowledge.
It simply isn’t true.
The common man happily surrenders his power to an elite. Let the “experts” focus on knowledge, we say. We will obey. It’s easier that way. Let them be the guardians of knowing, and we will focus on frivolities and state-changing substances and our handheld dopamine devices, instead.
And yet, there it sits, hiding in plain sight. All that knowledge/power at your fingertips. I don’t have to sell you on the virtues of the Internet–you’re already here, and you’re reading. That’s good. But do you have a strategy?
Without a strategy for approaching knowledge, what I think of as a Conscious Reading Plan, you are lost—the Internet will drag you into frivolities again. You need a way to sift through the crud and approach things in a way that gets you what you want (answers). “Surfing” is just that. It’s the mental equivalent floating in and out with the tide, like a piece of debris. The question a learner devotes themself to is not how to merely float, but how to navigate the waters—how get to where you’re trying to go.
The first part of your learning strategy should be a commitment to getting knowledge in many forms. Youtubes and email subscriptions and RSS feeds are well and good. But make a commitment to also get knowledge from books, audio books, classes and lectures, conferences, seminars, podcasts, radio programs and documentaries. Each engages the brain differently. It all adds up to better knowing.
And how about conversations? (What’s that, you say? Oh… that thing we did with our mouths and faces before texting?) Find someone you think is oh so smart and try to learn what they know. Get in some for-real face time. People love sharing what they know. The very fact that you asked them something makes them feel like the bee’s knees. Throw in a cup of coffee or a glass of beer and they won’t be able to say no. (And, bonus, they’ll talk even more.)
I don’t know what learning strategy will work for you and your particular circumstances. Adjust it, modify it over time, but the point is: have one. Never just drift.
I hear this all the time: I want to read but by the time I get home from work I just don’t have the time/energy. I hear you. It’s legitimate. Sometimes the last thing I can think about doing is cracking open a book and focusing on little clumps of letters. (I’m a horrible reader-in-bed. I get maybe two minutes in then I’m out cold. It has to be a stiff, upright chair with lots of light and coffee for me, or nothing). But I bet, for example, if you got in the habit of listening to audiobooks and podcasts on your way to and from work, you’d never look back. If you’re like most audiobook listeners you get addicted. You get home and you don’t want the story or the learning to end. You immediately rush and grab a new book and start reading, or you rush to the Internet to look up the next book by that author.
Once you’re in the habit of reading there’s no question of not having the time/energy. You do it like eating or putting on clothes.
Listen, I’m not going to pep talk you. Bottom line, you’ll either be a learner or you’ll be a follower. There are ways to do it, if you really want. Some people get up early so they can read for half an hour before the rest of the house wakes up. Some people can’t learn on their own and need the discipline of attending a class or workshop. Some people prefer a more social setting like a discussion group. I can’t say what’ll work for you. Pretend your brain is a baby. You wouldn’t think of not feeding it, right? You may not know how to feed it, at first, or where you will find the time or energy, or even the food, but there’s no question of not doing it. That would make you a murderer. You find a way.
(Sounds like a good t-shirt: Stop murdering babies! Feed your brain.)
Also, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Sometimes I get the feeling that the “I have no time/energy for my brain” crowd think that either they must know it all or “what’s the point”? Division of labor is important. Some people research and write the words, some people pour the coffee for the word-writers, some people pick the beans that the coffee-pourers pour. It takes a village. That’s why it’s important to find, through trial and error, sources of knowledge that you can rely on so that they can do the heavy lifting for you. What we said earlier about “trust” still applies, of course: don’t unthinkingly swallow whatever you read–it still has to pass your own standards for truth/falsity. But it’s not necessary for you to independently discover and verify all knowledge from Fire and The Wheel on up. No one is omniscient and no one can learn all there is to know in a lifetime. Just be strategic: figure out where you’re trying to go and learn what is pertinent to you.
The point is: stay on your game. You have that organ between your ears for a reason. Have a strategy for its use. If you don’t, someone else will.
And thirdly, once you know what you know…
Speak Thy Truth
There’s a theory in communications called “The Spiral of Silence”, which proposes that majority opinions become more and more entrenched over time, since those in the minority increasingly opt to stay silent out of fear of isolation and punishment, and desire for conformity and acceptance. It was proposed by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, a writer who lived and worked under the Nazi regime. I guess she would know.
Here’s a quote you’ve probably heard, or read, if you’ve visited the National Holocaust Museum (attributed to Pastor Martin Neimoller):
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
We are not (not yet, anyway) in a situation where we have to fear for our lives for holding an opinion that challenges the norm. The only thing stopping you is fear of rejection and desire for acceptance. These are simply not good enough reasons to hold your tongue.
If you know what you know, stop staying silent. Even if you don’t know why, you can still say, “I disagree”. Speak truth whenever you can. Speak it to your friends, your family, co-workers, your boss. Speak truth to power. Above all, if you see wrongdoing in your daily life, in your workplace or in the market or in government, move to stop it. Look at it this way: when something is perceived as wrong, the universe has already thrown manpower at the problem. You are witnessing the wrongdoing for a reason. You have been put into a position where you can be the hero.
Take a stand. Forget the state of the world, forget the absurdity. Just do that, in the very least: let the world know where you stand.
If you do, perhaps others, also paralyzed into apathy, will shake the fog from their heads, wake up, and stand behind you.
In 2010, a 26-year old Egyptian woman named Asmaa Mahfouz recorded a video urging people to participate in protests on January 25th, what would have been their “National Police Day”. Five days after the protests began, the Egyptian government frantically tried to shut down the Internet. Eighteen days later President Hosni Mubarak was ousted. A year later he was in prison.
You never know.
Speaking out topples regimes.
What’s The Next Normal? You Tell Me.
Stop trusting. Withdraw your consent. Learn the truth. And share what you know.
That, in a nutshell, is my case for optimism in an increasingly absurd world.
(And you thought it was going to be all doom and gloom. Gotcha!)
Here’s the thing: we are only as helpless as we choose to be. There are ways to take control. Take control of your food supply. Take control of your health so that you never set foot in a doctor’s office again. Take control of your data. Take control of your wealth (physical assets, diversification, etc.) Take control of your police (tell them the rules). Take control of your government (we do not live in a system of autocratic rule, so there’s absolutely no reason we should have accepted any of the autocratic dictates of the past two administrations. Shame on us for choosing to be ruled in this way!)
Maybe you disagree. Maybe you think, “It’s not my fault things are the way they are. I can try to rail against the system, but ultimately I’m just helpless.”
That’s fine. Look, this is not about guilt, it’s about self-examination. The absurd continues on its course. It has become the normal because we have let it and even helped it along. Because we have wanted things to be this way. Not everyone has it in them to stand opposed. I get that.
But this is addressed to those who DO have something within, something they know they could change in their own lives, even if it was as little as saying “I disagree”, or committing to doing some research on something that’s been bothering them, or ceasing to buy some product which is helping the evildoers continue on in their course. If you know of such a thing, something you could do, yet do not, consider how you may be exactly the type of person the villains are counting on.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)
Here’s something else you can do: tell me if you disagree. Maybe you disagree with my assessment of what’s absurd in the world as of 2014. Maybe you think there are even more absurd things we ought to be concerned with. (No disagreement there, but, hey, you gotta start somewhere.) Maybe you think human nutrition is great and laboratory “food” is the greatest thing since cookie dough ice cream. Maybe you think the drug companies are saving lives, and the NSA is keeping us safe, and the Fed is creating jobs and prosperity. Maybe you think government should be taking our liberties–that liberty is the problem to which taxes and laws and politicians are the answer.
That’s fine. Here’s the thing: don’t let ME get away with it, either. Tell me you disagree. Here’s something I promise you: we can talk about it.
The alternative–unhappy silence–is how the world gets away from us and becomes absurd.