Begin with the assumption that the world is beautiful, that people are trying, that things aren’t easy for anyone. We are all here for the same reasons, to live, and love, and find meaning in the things we do. But the world is big and complex, and rarely do things happen as we expect them to. It’s all we can do to try and see patterns and then articulate them as best we can. As a species we are fundamentally dependent on abstraction as a means of communication, from the simplest forms of language to the most complex physics formulas explaining the scope of the universe. It is essential to being human, the experience of sharing with others the mental models by which we’ve come to understand our being. We know the basic limitation of our communication is that in order to convey the complexity we perceive, we must first reduce it to a mere shadow of itself, a symbol, a sound, a diagram, a map.
Leviticus 25 has God expanding on the commandment to keep the Sabbath, which has connections to the root word Shev (to sit or rest) but also to Sheva (seven). Now, it’s pretty explicit at other points, like in the Friday night prayer, Veshamru, from Exodus 31:16-17, that Shabbat means the 7th day of the week and it exists because there were 6 days of creation and then God rested on the seventh day (shavat vayinafash). Since it’s necessary for redemption and the affirmation of faith, God goes so far as to put a death penalty on those who work on Shabbat. So it’s clear that we need to rest every seven days.
I once thought I had diverse interests because I was keeping doors open, then one day I realized that that analogy was holding me back in a big way. You see, the principle behind keeping doors open is that as a multi-talented and multi-interested person you don’t want to realize down the line, that because of an earlier decision to let a door close, you now have less options. Well the thing is, there aren’t doors when it comes to interests. Maybe pertaining to career choices there are doors, but regarding yourself, about who you are, what you love to do and create, how you feel and what you think, there are simply no doors.
I am a good student of the 21st century liberal academe. I’ve learned of the ills of modernism, with their manipulative methods and tendency to prescribe absolute solutions to situational problems. The modernists overlooked context (a real nurture over nature philosophy), failed to recognize the interconnectivity of everything, and used structuralist methods to draw conclusions. These structuralist methods were brought into the spotlight of social critique by the likes of Derrida, which in part contributed to the gradual abandoning of the method. The ideals on which the bureaucratic system was based, bringing order, safety, cleanliness, and logic into every aspect of life, were losing popularity. “The Man”, insuring the preservation of those ideals and the system itself, is the most callous identity, with absolute disregard for anyone or anything not related to its goals.
I’m generally optimistic about the future, however a large dark cloud has come and settled over all my optimism in the form of a challenging dichotomy to which I have no resolution. That is competition vs. collaboration. I live this privileged life in which I am able to let myself believe that I don’t need to get caught up in the competitive nature of things. “I don’t need fame or recognition, who cares if it is ME that changes the world, as long as I do my part and the world is bettered…” rhetoric. And it is not completely unbelievable either. We in this society are of the mind that in order to make it, one needs to be recognized. Recognized by one of those actually important people, and then by everybody, because that is the way to success, and freedom… and happiness. We fight our whole lives, sacrificing our dreams, family life, moral integrity, in order to get that edge, that competitive advantage that might distinguish us and get us noticed. All in order to make it.
I am extraordinarily privileged. My parents have been supportive of me my whole life, financially and emotionally. While this is certainly a dependency, it also has made me receptive to a very deep form of freedom. I have from time to time confused freedom with independence. The logic would be that the fewer people on whom I depend and the fewer people who depend on me, the more free I am to make decisions that serve my best interest in any given moment. But that is so stupid, because no matter what, we are all interdependent — even the sixty year old billionaire bachelor. In fact, the quest for individual independence is often at odds with other things we aspire for, like intimacy, security, recognition… The freedom here is not a product of being non-dependent, but rather in being able to choose to whom one is responsible and on whom one can rely.
In the natural order, I am an animal,
An ant, not worthy of sympathy,
Not like a colony with its superintellect
Surpassing recurring dreams of insectual majesty
Purpose is not for individuals, it is for societies
But here we are all strangers from our colonies
We think ourselves to be super species in ourselves
We’d rather die than embrace the idea that we are not
So we create confined systems
A human centric, a me-centric system
Here things make sense
What a sophisticated mechanism we make for ourselves, that simultaneously offers us answers where there are none, and compels us to stop questioning the absolute nature of our social construct. To recognize the complexity of the world is to realize there is no appropriate course of action, but rather, there is just action, and the course will only be visible in hindsight. Our ability to predict the consequences of our actions has proven miserable to this point. The more assurance we have in our predictive mechanisms, the less prone we become to revisit and reframe our paradigms. It is faith in the system that causes us to stagnate.
To cultivate a society of people who are self-aware, socially-aware, and environmentally-aware, it's most important that we acknowledge the presence of the games we play that keep us motivated. Within these closed systems, our goals are our own, and we are empowered by our own will to succeed rather than by external reward and punishment. However, if we don't recognize that we are engaging with a designed system, we are likely to feel out of control or even manipulated. In these cases, we become susceptible to fall into system traps that make us want to "beat" the system, rather than "thrive". However, if we can see the systems for what they are, benefits and shortcomings alike, we can evaluate how we want to engage with it. This sense of voluntary participation is necessary to make the participant feel empowered and open to learn. This does however mean that the systems need to establish new mechanisms for motivation, because as of right now, many systems keep participation up largely by force.
It was not long ago that the world emphatically threw its support behind the modernist movements, self-assured that a strategic, centralized, top-down approach would yield greater efficiency and bolster progress at an astounding rate. But as we came to recognize the limitations of the beasts we'd created in superhighways, suburban landscapes, and systemic mass-consumtion at an unprecedented scale, we found solace in a paradigm shift leading us towards the proverbially local and post-modern aesthetic. This reframing offered validation for just about any individual style or contribution to society. In some respect, it's a revitalization of Adam Smith's invisible hand, the notion that the market works itself out, if we all play fair. In another respect, it absolves us from taking a stand concerning the current path of social development, all under the liberal ethic of absolute subjectivity.
When I was a kid, I used to feel chained down. I begged for the day in which finally grown-ups would “stop telling me what to do”. But I was eventually worn down, and I understood that if I was to succeed in school, I’d have to play the game. The game I refer to works as follows. There are four ways in which you can affect your score: Homework, testing, attendence, and participation. Based on how you do in each area, you are given points, and your points ultimately add up to a grade. The grade you need because without it you won’t get into a good school, you’ll disappoint your parents, look dumb to your friends, basically fail in life.
We are crying out for a revolution, one in which all the artificial systems we’ve constructed to structure our urban lives, to control and pacify the masses, will be revealed for what they are, merely constructs. We can recognize the rational basis for the existence of such systems, whether legal, financial, medical, or educational, and in that understanding comes the power to choose in any given circumstance to allow the precedent of the system guide us, or to follow our humanity. True, a world in which we all are masters of our own selves, making decisions as they come and without following pattern-driven rules, is an unpredictable world. In this lack of order we find chaos and anarchy, complexity and ambiguity and lack of purpose.