This World is Becoming -- High School
A philosopher's job isn't easy, and it's blighted by image as is every other job. They sit there, day after day, working on grand theories of where we went wrong as a species, because unless you're a mental mushroom it's clear something went wrong and we're in a devolutionary tailspin which will end in regression to third-world, or worse, status.
The philosopher chews his pencil and looks for a unification theory. "That's it - we've forgotten the rules of magnetism!" he shouts, and works out an intricate metaphor linking society's decline to an eloquent, intellectual-sounding premise. Or maybe it's a writer like Thomas Pynchon, trying to use General Relativity to explain man's inhumanity to man (which, given the number of inhumanly stupid people out there, could be a good thing). I've chewed my pencil (not my metaphorical pencil, thank you) long enough now to have a simpler, although less grand-sounding, theory:
Our society is slowly becoming High School.
You remember high school. Come on, now, admit it. We all went through it, and the only people who didn't think it sucked are now counting test tubes while sneaking a page at a time of their latest self-help book, "Realizing That You Suck (For Dummies)." You had to run a narrow path between rule-bearing Authority Figures and the ubiquitous social pressures that everyone assumes are tough on teens because they're a new introduction; far from the truth, social pressures are tough on teens because the social pressures themselves are broken and sick and teens still have enough childish hope for life to resist them.
Adults, of course, were the plodding, schedule-oriented, lifeless beings who limply went through the motions and then ran off home to pleasures that couldn't be mentioned to us. I found out after high school that of my favorite teachers, for example, three were alcoholics and four were potheads, and the remaining two were both fringe figures on the swingers scene. If this came out on CNN.com, of course, America would rear up its head and scream, "Holy crap! These are the degenerates who teach our children?" -- but the ugly truth is that these are the best we have, as everyone else is more dysfunctional or has out of fear run to a high-paying job so they can grab their cash and head for the hills.
Kids were imprints of adulthood. The really screwed up kids had some kind of family trouble, in every case: divorce, drunk parents, drug-addicted parents, mean parents, abusive parents, and/or poverty. This isn't to say that poverty is some magic cause that takes nice people and turns them into monsters, but that unstable people usually end up in poverty, dragging their kids with them. Most of the impoverished kids showed clearly why their parents were broke: they were slow, and or mentally defective in some fundamental way, so most of us gave them the best charity available and ignored them. There were a few who had a spark of life, and they were accepted in social groups, where it was quietly not mentioned that they wouldn't be chipping in for beer because they didn't have the amount the rest of us tossed out for coffee, cigarettes or other pleasures of an unmarred adult future.
Bearing with them the sins and successes of their parents, kids were merciless to one another. Among those who had enough money to live normally, there was competition for popularity and what would eventually be sex appeal but at that time was assessed by one's same-sex peers as general fitness for survival: appearance, strength, intelligence, and ability to socialize smoothly. In that was the cruelest cut, in that everyone grew up at a different rate, and those who learned the ground rules of palliating and complimenting others used their new status as socially-acceptable to pound the crap out of the rest of us. In their most sadistic moments, they didn't just apply the fist themselves; they called others around and would mock us.
For example, the hapless nerd. He grows slowly and so during his junior year still hasn't had a girlfriend, nor tried a cigarette, nor even gotten drunk with his peers. He simply doesn't care: he's too busy having a good end of childhood, including spending time by himself outdoors, enjoying his family, and possibly indulging a nerdy habit like learning to program a computer or make a radio transmitter. He's not aware of his clothing, hence wears whatever hand-me-downs his family gives him, and he's not socially alert enough to constantly watch his own behavior for unacceptable things. Nerds suffer little from social fear; they know they function adequately as human beings, and as such aren't afraid to have a kleenex showing in their sleeve, or wear unhip sweaters from T.J. Maxx, or listen to goofy music like the Beatles or Kraftwerk and admire it for its musicality.
Thus in many ways, a nerd is beyond the paranoia that grips all of us who try to "fit in" to a society. Unconcerned about external appearances, or who he offends by his behavior, or trying to pander to an ideal image that concerns the opposite sex, the nerd is alone with his thoughts. Until someone steps in his path or sticks out a foot, and calls upon others to laugh at the nerd, and possibly even beat on him, as frequently happens. The crowd hates anyone who doesn't fear it, and they'll do whatever they have to, everything they can, to enforce that fear upon the individual. (The only kids who escape are the ones who are both nerdly and psycho enough to slash tires or poison Cokes, and these get away because they thwart the crowd by not fearing them, thus turning the table of fear onto the crowd itself, which cowers from the lone wolf because it cannot be predicted by the rules of the crowd).
Our society is in the midst of a long progression from a state of animal freedom to this form of crowd-enforced conformity. Hilariously, it enforces this conformity with the illusion of individual "freedom," since hypocrisy is the most baffling defense any organism can use against another, and except in the cases of the lone wolves, is almost always effective. Since we no longer have to forge our own way, building our own homesteads from our own hands and providing for our families directly, we now depend on others. Thus we defer to their authority in collective form - that is the only power the crowd has, and it's a tenuous power, except that individuals can be cowed by the appearance of power more than power itself. Because of this cowardice - let's call it what it is - people derive authority from appealing to the biggest group of people possible.
In high school, this meant mocking the guy who spend his $14.99 at T.J. Maxx instead of Old Navy, and got the wrong sweater, and didn't watch the right TV so he doesn't know hip phrases like "Yo dawg" and instead says, awkwardly, "Hey everybody, what's up?" That's a nerd. Since the crowd watches TV, it can recognize a nerd and agree to make fun of him, even though in the crowd there are defective people, people hiding their secret homosexuality, people who are failures at everything they touch - but they can do one thing, and it's be part of the crowd. Like going to church, or joining a political party, or even being the popular one on your floor at work who brings candy on the holidays, being part of the crowd requires only an entrace fee - conformity - and then you have the right to exclude others and congratulate yourself for being part of the winning team. It's cowardice disguised as doing the right thing.
Our world is devolving into high school. The independent thinker will naturally come into conflict with some group in the crowd; in the 1950s, the independent thinker dressed differently or smoked marijuana, and thus could be spotted and crushed. In the 2000s, the independent thinker doesn't believe that multiculturalism is right, or that all people are equal, and thus can be crushed. It's the same psychology with the same basic value, which is appeasing the group and deriving power from that instead of asserting what is correct and forcing others to obey, even though its appearance is of radically different values. However, that's like mistaking a T.J. Maxx sweater for an Old Navy one; they're both sweaters, and in this case the fundamental value is pleasing the crowd: equality, egalitarianism, morality, diversity, empowerment, and other catch words just hide the basic truth, which is passivity, or deferring to the power of others while using that submission to take power for yourself.
It's easy to abuse the crowd's power. Once they approve you, just like getting in the door at church, you can hide your real actions easily. Be a pillar of the community and very visibly donate money to the orphanage, or spend your time feeding the homeless and black, and you can quietly purchase large tracts of forest and make them into soul-killing malls and no one will say a cross word to you - except those pesky lone wolves, of course, and they're probably racists, terrorists, drug addicts or hackers. Do we need another example of a child-abusing priest, a corrupt politician, or a businessman caught dumping toxic waste next to the homeless black orphanage he founded? These are abundant, but they fall into the memory hole, as there's no social value - no $14.99 Old Navy sweater - to be found in pointing out that our society is based on illusion.
Not only that, but the crowd hates the idea that our society is devolving. "What? This is the source of my power - in a society which competed on some level besides money, I might be seen as inferior!" goes the cry. This is true. A society based on appeasing the crowd can never discriminate against people for inherent aspects of their nature, excepting radical cases like retarded kids, or sociopaths, or ugly and deformed people. The crowd-appeasing society doesn't like the beautiful, or the strong, or the strong-willed, but it loves the range of mediocrity, from barely making it to nearly-good. This is why most failed societies produce people who look very similar at all levels of society. They've excluded the beautiful and the deformed, but everyone else is just a member of the team and is OK by them, so soon they breed themselves into conformity.
Such a society is by nature devolutionary. It has removed the impetus toward excellence, and replaced it with a reward for not offending others, and for including others, and for pandering to the lowest impulses of others - since in a crowd of individuals, the only things that can be agreed upon are of the lowest common denominator, such as "we like to eat" or "it's fun to be intoxicated and watch TV." This crushes the independent thinker, who is feared because only independent thinkers come up with new ideas, and only new ideas can reveal that most people are oblivious to what is called for in order to evolve. (Evolution is the process of adaptation to one's environment, and isn't "progressive"; what is evolutionary is eternal - there's no new way to write a symphony, but a better symphony can always be written.)
High school is a devolutionary society, but it continues to exist because it's a temporary one. When your four years are up, they throw you out, even if you still can't read or write (luckily, hip clothing requires only a credit card, which does not require literacy). You never see the real tests of life, to which the kids who are the most popular are often radically unequal; it's a cliche that the most popular guy in your high school ends up an alcoholic bouncer at a local club, but how often this is true! During high school, however, there's no reality influence, so only social pressures prevail. Interestingly, television and movies provide a similar world, since once they're over the characters remain in that perfect state of appealing to something within all of us, that poignant moment of the perfect love affair or victory over the indubitably evil character. They're image, not reality.
What do we do, we humans among the ruins, in this modern time of crowd control mentality driving a populist force of conformity? The answer is more than "resist"; it is a combination of never giving in, and a looking toward an evolutionary future. You can't speak your mind in public because in a culture of empowerment, the offended parties will use the crowd against you; so make it clear in public that no one can speak without fear of retribution, and thus debunk the illusion that there's an exchange of ideas. Any time someone tells you this is so, tell them they're full of shit and that's the end of the story. They'll squall and bitch and whine and whore, but the few other thinkers out there will reocgnize a kindred soul and really, those are the only people you care about, since everyone else is broken and evolutionarily unfit. Next, turn off the sources of crowd control. Smash your TV, your video games, and if you must watch movies, watch the really sappy kind of movies that nice girls like. They're syrup but they're the least offensive, and it's more fun to watch movies with girls, anyway, since they inherently recognize that movies are a cheap drug and shouldn't be taken seriously.
Also, purge yourself of any crowd mentality. If someone points out that you have a small dick, stand up and be a man and say, "You're right - I have a small dick, and having a small dick is less preferable to having a normal-size dick" (having a huge dick is, like every other bizarre mutation, a temporary gratification; it usually suggests that something else has been shorted in order to provide an external figure). Don't be afraid to be a nerd, no matter how big your dick is, because what the crowd favors - its styles of clothing, behavior, and television preferences - are easily forged from a few minutes of watching these idiots. But most of all, recognize that any group which is formed based on its own membership, e.g. that when you join the group you're automatically above others, is broken and part of the same crowd that oppresses you.
This realization translates into other areas of philosophy as well, but you can make these into crowd groupthink as well by assuming that by recognizing these beliefs, you're living them. Look at the white power movement - white power should be as socially accepted as black power, but these fools make it into a clubhouse and thus defeat themselves, since they're using the same logic as the crowd. Go into any coffeehouse and see the hipster, who acts like a freethinker but is really creating an alternative crowd for those who want to be groupthinkers but can't bear to join the majority groupthink. And for a good laugh, go to a Pantera or Metallica concert and see all the "individualists" and "non-conformists" listening to pop music made savage with distortion. There's only one way to get above the crowd, and you can't do it by buying a different kind of sweater; you can only do it by acting evolutionarily. Push yourself to greater heights. Write a better symphony, or a better novel, or better software.
Only by exceeding the crowd can you leave it behind. Do something better, and you have the ability to turn around and say, "I've proven myself, and fulfilled my destiny." If you're a carpenter, be the best furniture-maker or house-builder. A musician, write the best symphony. And if you make sweaters? I'm sure you can figure it out. Even more, however, realize that you're not your profession: you're an individual, and the only way to be an individual is to act individually and to do what is best in all areas. Exceed. Be stronger, smarter, and of better character. Hold yourself to your own standards; if you're a better person, these standards will evolve to be the highest. Don't ever try to appease others by writing something that's more popular, or making music that's more popular, or selling sweaters to the most people; if you do this, you'll give your soul to the crowd and be absorbed by them. Stand for yourself, and to the crowd, say: "You're afraid of evolution: fuck you."
The crowd like to think you owe them conformity. Like in high school, they want power, and will assert it by trying to drag the free thinker into their midst, either through hard ways (mockery, cruelty, beatings) or by soft ways (social appeals, gifts, pandering), but either way, they hope to triumph, because the fundamental fear of every "individual" in the crowd is that someone will make a better way, showing that they way the crowd-individuals do things is in fact inferior from the only standard that matters in life, which is reality. No matter how popular someone is, if they can't survive a night in the forest and get their shit together to have a good life, a good brain, character and family, they're dogshit and inferior and they know it. Fuck you, indeed. When life says "fuck you," it's for keeps.
As our civilization slowly turns itself into high school, what is lost is reality, which is a place where time is real; physical events are real; and weakness-vs-strength is real. A healthy population of birds is maintained when foxes eat the dumber ones, and hawks kill the slower ones, and those that steal food from others are eventually killed by a free-thinking member of their own species. This conflict is natural and healthy; our crowd-impulse is to fear any death, or any display of strength, as it will make someone in the crowd feel inferior, but think about it this way: we want change to occur, even mutations and changes in our traits, but change doesn't occur only in "good" ways; it just occurs, mathematically. What to do with the failures? Axe them, and move on. Modern society, being gorged on its own wealth and the ease of its petrochemical power, instills in us a fear of this realization, since it would mean that some potential customers out there in the crowd will be alienated. Fuck them. They don't matter; what matters is making better symphonies, better sweaters, better people!
My goal as an individual is to crush weakness in myself; I can't do this with an external force, including technology. I can use vitamin pills to help me get stronger, but they in themselves don't make me stronger; only me testing myself against reality, including the reality of iron weights and seven-kilometer hikes, makes me stronger (alert readers will note this is the process of adaptation, and that over time, adaptation becomes evolution, by which the less-adapted are selected out either by death or lack of breeding at the frequency of the more-adapted). When I test myself, I don't morally judge myself, as one might in society. If I succeed, I gain. Everything else is unimportant. If a seven-kilometer hike bests me, I don't get my revenge on it by pretending it owes me something and calling it "racist" or "homophobic" in public, thus knowing the rest of the crowd will bring vengeful sanctions against it. This alone is growth, and only through this do I become an individual.
High school is now, thankfully, a distant memory. The nightmare around me - namely a society which is in decline and in total denial of that fact - cannot be helped, except on an individual level. Every day they get weaker, congratulating each other on their new purchases and novel catch phrases, and I get stronger, getting closer to reality and pushing myself to adapt to it. The problems of this civilization have already made themselves clear, from pollution to sick religions like Judaism and Christianity to bad breeding including multiculturalism and the belief that every race and every individual is "equal," and these are dooming it, slowly. Already in America we can see that the pace of actual invention has slowed, and we're more focused on selling crap to each other and denying that we're eating up our natural environment and replacing it with mountains of waste and suburbs and soul-killing malls. The time of the lone wolf is coming, and very rapidly now. Those who have not been absorbed by the crowd will be ready, and the rest will be stranded in high school, unaware that reality out there is coming to clean up, and the words on its lips are "fuck you."
December 28, 2004