Why Is It So Hard Saving the World?
Posted on 18 August 2014
I have been an activist for more than thirty years now. The world is in ever increasing social and environmental crisis. People are frightened. Some people have been frightened for so long, or have cared so much for so long with insufficient results, that they find themselves unable to engage anymore. Despair and disempowerment are creeping problems infecting us all.
Now more than ever we can’t have people giving up when it comes to crucial issues. We need activists. But where are they? I remember the social activism of the 1960s and 70s. Where are the young people today who are banding together to ensure they have a future?
Why Are People Giving Up?
Culture is a way that we interact with one another and our environment. It speaks of our values and our beliefs, and gives continuity to a group through time. Culture can also be a veil that obscures our view of reality, such that we start to mistake the veil for reality. Our culture currently dresses little girls in pink and little boys in blue. This has gone on long enough that many people have convinced themselves that this is because the boys and girls prefer it this way, or it is “natural”.
Our culture is very much into hero worship. We have mythologies about “the chosen one”, one ordained by the gods or fate to lead or save us. Hollywood almost exclusively uses this trope in its storytelling. This has become codified by the pernicious adherence to “The Hero’s Journey”. Science has never backed up the universal existence of a “hero’s journey”, particularly one that is “archetypal”, existing in perfection within some platonic sphere, or “hardwired” evolutionarily into our brains.
So long as people believe in a “chosen one”, they never have to take responsibility for themselves. They can sit around going, “Oh woe is me, there is no one to lead a revolution.” Of course if someone decides they are going to be the chosen one, on the light side they may take on too much responsibility and burn themselves out or on the dark side create more problems through domination and ill-conceived tactics.
We are also endlessly fed stories through television, film, news, advertising, etc, where everything in life has a swift and apparently understandable solution. When someone experiences good fortune, it is for a reason. When someone experiences bad fortune, it is for a reason. These reasons are often seen as entirely under the control of those who experience bad fortune, but are mysterious when it comes to good fortune. We are taught to believe that we will always understand why a thing happens to us. No one dies of old age any more, they die of a specific illness that we believe is ultimately curable. Solutions come with ease and haste to those who have the money to buy them. Losing hair? Buy a cream. Need a cure for warts? Give money to the appropriate charity or research centre.
Some problems are so large and so complex, we cannot hope to resolve them in this lifetime. That does not mean they cannot be resolved, that does not mean they should not be resolved. It means we will have to take up such problems because we care about the welfare of future generations, whether or not we will personally experience any benefit. I have a great grandmother who was a suffragette. She didn’t get to enjoy the vote, I do. I am deeply grateful to her.
Our market culture is also teaching people to not think for themselves, but rather turn to corporations to supply answers to needs. If you have a health issue that could be resolved with a lifestyle change, rather than leaving you to take responsibility for your changes, they offer an apparently easier path where you pay for pills and you pay for gyms, where walking to the shops and eating carrots would take care of the problem. People start thinking, “it’s not up to me” and start relinquishing far too much of their own responsibilities and thereby too much of their own power.
Why Aren’t We Coming Together?
We all want freedom. But it is becoming a freedom from one another, rather than a freedom that includes association. We have city people admiring small town communities because they see how everyone seems to be supporting one another. We also have country people who admire cities where you can seek out like-minded individuals rather than having like-mindedness enforced upon you. Community and free-association are important. Individuality and cooperation are important. These all require a balance that relies on thoughtfulness. Cultures of domination will not encourage thoughtfulness.
We aren’t coming together because we have a culture that has chosen trade as a means for people’s livelihood. We no longer form extended family groups that share what we have. As such children, the elderly, and the debilitated have their survival always under threat. Since we trade in numbers (meaning currency), there are ways to manipulate its flow and thereby control people’s access to a livelihood. So, women who may be contributing the lion’s share of work and goods in a community can potentially have their survival threatened when their access to currency is limited.
Those who can provide goods and services know that they have to sell a certain amount of these to make a living and a certain amount more to make a comfortable living. This may involve selling more than people actually need. This can be done by making goods and services attractive, addictive, and by putting your competition out of business. Status gives you access to more currency. So, competitiveness becomes more intense.
If status seekers can get you to give up by shaming you, they will. If status seekers can get you to buy their goods by making you afraid of what others may think or do to you, they will. If status seekers start destroying their environment in order to encourage over-consumption, oh well, as long as the suffering doesn’t touch them then it doesn’t matter in their opinion. Marketing is teaching people to be endlessly shamed and afraid of one another.
How Can We Gird Ourselves for the Task?
We have to be prepared to be small. It can’t be about a single person’s victories, or a single person’s place in history. It cannot be about our egos or status will kill our ability to make positive lasting change. The problems of this world are all our responsibility. Each of us is culpable when it comes to the problems we are facing, each of us is crucial in taking what steps we can to create change. However, no one person can be expected to take on the whole of our shared burden. Give up on the idea that there are a special important few, and that everyone else is dross. Every single person is critically important. Every…single…person.
We have to understand that we live in a world of partialities. We only have partial control and partial understanding of our lives. That’s why we need one another. That’s why acceptance and tolerance are important. Everyone has a piece of the puzzle that is life. When you readily and harshly judge people, you are cutting off knowledge and experience that might be crucial to our survival.
We must train ourselves to be resilient. We must train ourselves in the ways of healthy lasting friendships. In this manner we can help one another. We must learn to laugh, create, and play together. These are invaluable for our mental health and our ability to effectively engage with problems, rather than be defeated by them.
Instead of getting wound up in what we don’t want, we need to celebrate what we do want. Instead of always angrily protesting what is wrong, we need to create what is right and provide an example, a meme that can go viral, to the whole world.
We must respect our emotions, recognising that they often tell us when things are wrong, that it’s not just in our head. We then need to ask “why” am I feeling this way, and dig very deep into the situation: how is our outlook causing these feelings, how are our circumstances a cause, what can be done? We must respect our intellect to help us always question, but that intellect must be tempered by compassion. Otherwise, it can become oppressive in its own right.
We must take care of ourselves. We must look out for our health. We must live a life where work, play, quiet time, friends, and family all have their place. Self respect is the beginning of respect for others and our planet. We must never neglect it. We also must must must value kindness over looks, power, money, or greatness. I can assure you that a world of shared kindness will be saved.
Peace and kindness,