I spend a good portion of the day living up in my head lost in thought. While it can lead to ill-timed and unsightly mouth breathing, I do find it comes with a few benefits. Namely, it’s turned me into a contrarian of sorts. You know, that annoying guy who is always disagreeing just to disagree. But contrarian has a nicer touch, so I’ll stick with that. It’s not that I want to disagree; it’s just that I find new ideas make better bedfellows than old ones.
I have been thinking about what it means to have a life well lived. I think it would be a joyful life. It would be peaceful. It would not wish ill on other people. It would not want to rule over others. It would not support endless wars. It would not subject people to opinions through law. It would be a peaceful coexistence. It’s that thing we knew existed back when we were kids – when the whole world was a wondrous thing. Back when we had dreams in life; back when we imagined what could be.
But we lose sight of it. Parents beat those ideas out of our head, because society beat it out of theirs. They were not brought up that way, so they cannot imagine anything differently. We have been told our whole lives to fall in line, and to surround ourselves with insular crowds who think like-mindedly. We’ve been told that individual thought and rationality doesn’t really matter. We’ve been told our ideals are too idealistic; that virtues belong in storybooks but not in real life. We’ve shattered the idea that people are capable of making good choices on their own. We’ve invented institutions precisely to manufacture what people should think, what people should know, and what people should believe.
One belief is something people often refer to as the Greater Good – whatever that really means. People suppose it to be many different things: the progression of society, the advancement of thought, the evolution of human interaction, and the propulsion of popular ideas. Whatever we believe it to be, I think it wise to end its masquerade.
Life is not about contributing to some Greater Good; it never was and it never should be. The Greater Good implies that you, individually, don’t matter. It says, “Whatever the majority of us think is far more important than your two cents.”
No, life should be spent caring for the individual – not the whole. I know who individuals are; who is the whole? When I focus on the Greater Good, I focus on some arbitrary idea. When I focus solely on the whole, I lose the individual; I lose sight of each one of us. I lose sight of the importance of individuals. I lose sight of being an individual myself.
So what happens, when some day, far on down the road, by random twists and turns - what happens - when someday I am that dissenting individual who disagrees with the majority? What happens when I decide to disagree with whatever the Greater Good says?
What happens is actually tragic. The propaganda machine I spent my whole life feeding comes back to destroy me the moment I oppose it. The Greater Good societal system I built breaks down exactly when I needed it most. Why? Because society is told to not care for me unless it benefits the Greater Good; I alone am not the Greater Good.
Actually, I would argue the only real reason we justify doing things for ‘the Greater Good’ is because most often, it benefits ourselves in some way. The Greater Good does not benefit all, because it cannot benefit all; it leaves out countless individuals. It only benefits the majority; it disposes of the minority. The Greater Good is intellectually lazy, it is ignoble, and it is irrevocable.
Surely we wouldn’t live in a day and age like that would we? Of course not. Our President received 62.6 million votes in 2012. Surely those voters weren’t trying to control the 59.1 million who voted differently. And surely those other 59.1 million voters weren’t trying to do the exact same thing. That wouldn’t happen here. Americans would know better than to try to control one another with institutions and power structures.
We’ve literally bred this nonsense into our own society. We’ve lost sense of the individual. We’ve lost our ear for individual opinion. We no longer will listen to individual thought different than our own. Fox News thrives on this. So does MSNBC. So do religious institutions, and so do governments. If people clang their version of Good loud enough, the lemmings will come running.
We try to control the idea of The Greater Good by controlling popular thought of the people. In fact, the Greater Good is just that; it’s Popular Thought.
It’s simple, really; at some point we humans need to stop trying to control one another. We need to stop manipulating one another through Popular Thought, monopolies of force, crony laws and legislation, and with institutions designed to inculcate. We can do better - and some day we will.
Many will say that it’s impossible. Many will says it’s irrational. Well, it’s not. The color blue and the refraction of light exist because it is woven into the physics of the universe. Bad ideas only exist because we want them to. And, as a long as individuals wish to control others through power structures, we will unfortunately continue to let those ideas exist.
Nevertheless, we can let ideas die. Good ideas come and go. Great ideas are only good ideas, once a better idea comes along. So I have a self-proclaimed great idea: let’s pursue peaceful interactions – without making excuses. Let’s not lock people in cages for opinions different than our own. Let’s not threaten people with force because we disagree with their ideas. Let’s not manipulate money or markets. Let’s let people live peacefully. Let’s let people interact voluntarily. Let’s not instill morality through violence. Let’s not wage war against one another. Let’s not wage war against minority thought.
So, I propose a change.
Yes, of course the transition will be messy. It will look nothing like we’ve been told. It will run counter to everything we’ve been taught by our society and institutions. But, at the end of the day; at the end of our lives – if we could make a decision that impacted our children’s children - if we were given even two choices
1) What we have now, or
2) The way it could be,
why, on earth; for the sake of your kids, for the sake of all 7 billion of us, why would we ever settle for the first option?
Are we that naive? Are we that hopeless? Are we that powerless?
The good in me says no.