Consider the following situation: you are walking outside, and someone you do not know and comes up to you and starts talking to you. Of course, your first impression is that he must be a beggar or a salesman, which is basically the same. In any case that you would brusquely tell the man you're busy and have no time, or no interest, or both. Suppose however you don't and find out he's not actually in need of your money but just felt like making a conversation with a fellow human, wouldn't you be somewhat surprised?
Nowadays, we shut people we don't know out of our mind, we do not take the time to greet someone we don't have any business with, and we certainly don't feel any connection with strangers. We consider ourselves the centre of existence, labelling everyone we vaguely know as 'friends' and ignoring everybody else. Socialising is done mostly with people who we need to get along with for our jobs, or on parties that are mostly a matter of seeing how much alcohol one can ingest before it comes out again. Standard forms involve asking a person what they do for a living, rather what their dreams and ideals are, and a question along the lines of "How are you?" is not meant to be contemplated and answered truthfully, but is rather used out of politeness and to fill an awkward silence.
This lack of interest in those around us becomes even worse when we observe the more base amongst us. While we preach egalitarianism and mutual respect, the media are filled with programmes and stories about the most repulsive, rude, sickening people, to make us feel better than others.
One place where this alienation is especially clear is the internet, due to the relative anonymity it grants. The internet should've been a haven for exchanging worthwhile information, a place where we could find anything and discuss every niche with similarly interested people from all over the world. Instead, we find the place filled with blogs where people can dump their personal drama to have others pity them or grant them the attention they crave, and topics on the fora quickly degenerate into name calling and ad hominems: a disagreeable comment is answered not by saying the comment is disagreeable, but by telling the person who made it that he's an idiot and should stop wasting everyone's air. Even the language used has developed to reflect this: half the abbreviations are a way of putting someone down, and most of the jargon is used to state that one is better than someone else. Examples such as 'gtfo,' diaf,' 'stfu,' 'flame war,' 'noob,' 'owned' and the like abound. Even the form of humour is affected: anything that is not bitter sarcasm or vitriolic parody is rare.
Self imposed isolation was not always the case: it is well known that humans are pack animals, and in times past, a strongly tied community was not just the social norm, it was in fact a necessity for survival. So what has caused the collapsed of unity?
The main source is without a doubt the extreme individualism that has been preached in the west since the renaissance and has been elevated to dogma. Focusing on bettering oneself is all well and good, but we should not lose perspective of the greater good. Without a community to serve, such self improvement turns to self obsession and selfishness really fast.
Another point is humanity's exponential growth. During the middle ages, most people lived in small villages where everyone would, sooner or later, get to know one another and strangers were rare. Nowadays, people live in gigantic cities with faceless masses infesting every square inch of ground. Where before, the blacksmith was the only source for tools, we have at least half a dozen mega stores to pick from now, with cashiers who have not a clue about whatever it is they're selling, since they're only temps with no other task than selling the products to the numberless unknown customers.
Globalisation and the fear of nationalism that has arisen since WWII is another factor that exacerbates the problem. Patriotism is not appreciated and showing signs of kinship with a select crowd that excludes others based upon factors that they clearly have no influence on (as if factors such as personality and intelligence aren't mostly the product of genes and upbringing, two things one has next to no influence on either) is frowned upon at best. While globalisation is supposed to make us all into one big happy family, the fact of the matter is that since we're all from different cultures and can't properly relate to one another, we tend to stick to surface issues that we can agree on, while never truly making a lasting bond.
Finally, most people are in fact worthless peons with nothing to learn about. You cannot really try to bond with someone who literally has no thoughts beyond what's on the TV tonight, and it's very hard to consider a dysfunctional, neurotic, selfish non-contributing subhuman as a part of your community. The problem is, these people don't even realize their own flaws, and refuse to reconsider their own position in their arrogance. This is probably the prime cause for the sad state of affairs on the internet: calling people an idiot and feeling smug about it is much easier to do when your target is, in fact, an idiot.
Personally, I consider this alienation an unhealthy thing. Humans have always been pack animals, and this internal mistrust leads to a lack of direction and thus to problems that cannot be solved without unity, such as the current environmental crisis. Now, what I am not suggesting is that you go step outside right now, ring your neighbours bell and tell him you wish to be closer connected to them. Since the problem has roots in such fundamental mentalities that are accepted as axioms in our culture, we first need to rid ourselves of these. Seek out intelligent people, and make them aware of the failings of ultra-individualism, multiculturalism and globalisation, point out how all the current day isms are interconnected and logical consequences of another, and suggest healthier alternatives that are shunned at the moment. Only by creating awareness of other options and advocating their implementation can we fight the monopoly that liberal humanism currently has on our way of thinking, and only by changing this 'weltanschauung,' if you will, can we deal with this problem.
August 28, 2007
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