I’ve written about pursuing a life of service, most notably nearly six years ago in this space. Back then, I had hope in and for humanity. I was deluded by the idealism I was pursuing and promoting within the academy.
Now I live in the world of actual people, most of whom spend much of their time acting like narcissistic, self-absorbed fools. Indulge me, please, as I present a few contrary behaviors. You’ll note that I promote these behaviors, while often falling well short of achieving them. They seem absurd to most people with whom I interact. They are absurd if one’s pursuits are motivated by money.
Exhibit 1: The pursuit of excellence. As regular visitors to this space know, I encourage the pursuit of excellence. I purposely don’t define the term. Surely the typical reader has access to a dictionary. Surely excellence means different things to different people. Surely one can find excellence beyond the echo chamber of the dominant culture. If not, then idealism and its pursuit are not relevant. Go back to your treadmill, bearing in mind the dominant culture’s motto: Must go faster!
Not different. Not better. Not with introspection, and certainly not with merit. The dominant culture is not a meritocracy. Rather, quantity is the only quality that matters. Must go faster!
Exhibit 2: The pursuit of love. As regular visitors to this space know, I encourage the pursuit of love. I purposely don’t define the word or its pursuit. Surely the typical reader has access to a dictionary. Surely love and its pursuit mean different things to different people. Surely one can find love beyond the echo chamber of the dominant culture. If not, then love and its pursuit are not relevant. Go back to your lifeless existence, pursuing green pieces of paper and digits on a computer screen. Go back to the sociopathy promoted by the dominant culture and its “winners.”
If greed is your only god, the sociopaths assume control. This culture has arrived into this least desirable of states, fully consumed with consumption. The dominant culture presumes more is always better, when more refers to consumable items. When, instead, the issues in question are more difficult to measure than green pieces of paper and digits on a computer screen, the dominant culture proclaims the issues irrelevant or harmful. Integrity, psychological health, emotional well-being, and personal conscious are beyond the realm of simple measurement. The maxim often incorrectly attributed to Einstein — not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts — reveals itself accurate within moments of simple introspection. It’s small wonder introspection is disparaged by the dominant culture.
Educator Howard Gardner wrote about the improper focus of the public education system more than 30 years ago. The situation has become much worse during the intervening three decades. The notion of intelligence beyond language and numeracy is anathema to a culture intent upon counting everything, most of which doesn’t count.
Exhibit 3: A life of service. As regular visitors to this space know, I encourage the pursuit of service. I purposely don’t define the word or its pursuit. Surely the typical reader has access to a dictionary. Surely service and its pursuit mean different things to different people. Surely one can find a life of service beyond the echo chamber of the dominant culture. If not, then service and its pursuit are not relevant. Go back to evaluating your own success as done by others in this culture: the acquisition of fiat currency.
Serving financially poor humans instead of the dominant culture is viewed as bizarre. Imagine, then, the idea of providing service to non-human species. Or to providing service to the structures and functions that allow other species to persist. Think soil. Think hydrology. Think, at all.
I’m routinely asked why I’m a fatalist. How, people ask, could I “give up” on our species? How could I promote inaction?
I’m not a fatalist, and I don’t promote inaction. But I don’t think the universe spent 13.8 billion years just to come up with Homo sapiens. I’m not fatalistic about non-human species. I do not believe we’re any more special than the myriad non-human species with which we share the planet.
Most people I meet happily support the dominant culture. They are pleased to support the status quo, content that their grandchildren or great-grandchildren will die horribly as a result of industrial civilization. They are ecstatic to kill the biosphere as long as they get to maintain their lives of privilege.
Exhibit 4: Practicing a gift economy. As regular visitors to this space know, I practice and promote a gift economy. This approach was used for the initial 2.8 million years of the genus Homo. For only about the last 5,000 years have some humans practiced a system of currency based on debt.
Note that a gift economy does not entail giving everything all the time. Nor does it require “keeping track” of the monetary worth of items and services; indeed, that approach seems contrary to the concept of gifting. Rather, we are embedded within a system that essentially requires monetary exchange, at least some of the time.
My attempts to practice a gift economy have largely failed. It’s been primarily a one-way street, with about a -95% return rate (and no, I’m not keeping track … at least, not closely). And yet when I seek a small monetary return on my large investment in time, the disparagement comes like an avalanche. It seems empathy is a little-used characteristic in this culture.
I could write more, but surely the point is clear. I’m certain there are many other contrary examples, and any number can play. How will you act in your short time on this most wondrous of planets? Who are you? Who will you be?