The Culture of Most Harm [Scope]

Sometimes, an idea pops into your head so suddenly that you wonder if someone didn't put it there.  We call these thoughts epiphanies, and they have led to some of the greatest discoveries of all time.  It's as if our instincts, when coupled to a conscious motivation in a specific and delicate manner can form new ways of thinking without our direct input.

The whole concept is pretty bizarre, but perhaps more bizarre is what I just experienced while reading Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn (Yes, I'm on a Quinn kick this week).  Some of Quinn's ideas are of that perfect, epiphany-esque quality and must have given him great joy and exhilaration during their creation.  What's more amazing is how perfectly these ideas resonate in my own brain.  In this case, someone HAS put this idea in my head, very directly via the written word, and it feels as if I've been thinking it for years and years.

The idea itself is difficult to transmit in my own words because of the inevitable perspective difference you, the reader, have in regards to me, the writer.  Put simply, Quinn as stated that as a society we are unique in believing that all others must live the way we live.  No one in history has believed this and gotten away with it, except for us, the descendants of the agricultural revolution.  It's quite an uncohesive "we," because the civilizations included did not all go through this revolution together.  The fact remains, however, that this viewpoint is the most harmful way of being ever invented.  In its wake it has left millions dead, marginalized, and overcome with an insatiable greed and desire for consumer goods.  We are the pinnacle of this idea, working tirelessly such that all of our descendants will continue to live the way we live.

Quinn takes this concept and quickly moves past its application to current events to cover his main thesis regarding how to move PAST this idea, and I see his advice as being timeless and almost above reproach.  However, in the spirit of intellectual observation and categorization, let's investigate the ways in which this view manifests itself in myriad ineffective, harmful ways.

1.  Activism:  (quick note:  I love activism.  I'm an activist for all sorts of issues pertaining to human equality.  I also see it as ultimately unsuccessful.)  This is sort of the ultimate realm of "treading water."  The basic idea behind activism (on all sides of all issues) seems to be "I have ideas about the problems in the world.  These ideas are true for these reasons, and therefore you have no moral choice but to believe what I believe."  Regardless of the merit of the ideas themselves, the pattern is almost always the same:  people who believe strongly in the ideals posited by a movement will join it, quickly at first.  Then recruitment efforts begin, and ultimately fail, for the simple reason that a person has to want to change their mind.  Period.  If there are compelling reasons not to change the way one conducts hir life, then that person will not change.  Period.  And thus, activist groups end up wasting huge amounts of energy on recruitment and mind-changing under the false hope that something will give, eventually.

2.  Criminal Justice:  This one is very, very easy to see.  Some laws are made to protect people (laws against violence, sexual misconduct, stealing, etc).  Others are made to keep business running smoothly (business regulations, tax laws, election laws).  And still others are made to keep people "in line" (laws against drugs, public exposure, obscenity, sex-work, copyright law).  All three categories have some successes and some failures.  What unifies them all is the belief that if we write it down as illegal and prosecute it, people will stop doing it.  As a result, we have a growing number of people in prisons every year but no appreciable drop in crimes of any sort.  The lesson here:  people will not behave in a way just because they are told to do so.  The fact that people will risk punishment to act in ways considered unsavory by society is strong evidence that this instinct runs deeper than simple anti-social attitudes.

3.  Globalization:  simply put, we believe all people should be privy to the "beauty" of capitalism.  Not unlike the proselytizing of evangelical missionaries in the last few centuries, we are under the impression that all people the world over will be "freed" by capitalism (the fact that it pads our pockets isn't a deterrent, either).  As Buddha said (and I am paraphrasing here, I have not spoken with Buddha in awhile), having money only induces greed.  Despite the economic and social destruction that the introduction of capitalism inevitably brings (argue with me all you want, having more is not the same as having more of what you need), we continue to push it on the as-yet uninitiated.  The crux of this is, we believe all people should conduct business the way we do. 

So there you go.  A quick set of examples.  Tomorrow I want to explore what this means, and where we can go without making it worse (short answer:  anywhere but here)


Post a Comment

A blog about social change, written from Brooklyn, New York. Currently looking for contributors.