If you are reading this and living in the Western World, this probably rings true, whether you are aware of it or not: we live in a dogmatic society. In a capitalist world, the majority of people tend towards a pissing contest of wealth and status accumulation to feel superior in comparison to other people, cultivating their sense of worthiness and their ability to be loved.
Don’t stop reading just because I used the word “capitalist,” please. I swear there’s more to this.
If we take a step back from this and look at it at a macro level, from the industrial revolution and the blistering success of the democratic system to the staggering new highs in technological innovation, it is clear to us that something is improving, at least through our lens of the world. For Isaiah Berlin, the best way to run a society was to pursue the ideal. The caveat though is that no one’s ideal is any more ideal than anyone else’s. No one is more right than someone else. If you are running the world and we are pursuing your ideal, then we may be pursuing a utopia in your world but not in mine, because I have a different idea of “ideal.” This is what keeps things moving. This is why humans create innovating. There is a sense that we are chasing something — singularity, maybe. Singularity might just be the ideal. And if it is, democracy might be part of a map that gets us there, technology will be the vehicle that gets us there, and status anxiety will almost definitely be the engine to that vehicle. And this is so very limited.
Not everyone thinks like this, though. Not everyone accepts the need to believe that once you have more money and occupy a higher social status, everything will be all right. Hippies don’t. Bohemians don’t. The communists didn’t. Revolutionaries don’t. What communism was onto, really, was the recognition that this very myopic way of viewing the world was not going to lead to any paradise. It certainly wasn’t right then, and it certainly is not a paradisiacal world right now. True, red-blooded communists, at their core, recognized that there was another way to do things in this world. Where they failed to implement change — that is to create a widespread altering of consciousness — was that they substituted dogma with dogma. The repressive tactics of communism were grossly more severe than the capitalist infused democracy, and the new dogmatism much more dogmatic. The problem was that they substituted one system with another system.
Fuck the system? Not quite. Not all the way. I’m of the belief that far more people question the reasoning for why things are done the way that they are done than they let on. There are plenty of inquisitive people in the world, but they turn that questioning off at some point. Turn off is the wrong word. They repress it. So they join the rat race, or continue on it. They justify working gross hours to pay for the huge house that they need to live “comfortably” – more comfortably than their peers. At a glance, it seems like a crazy accident that we live the way we are living. Who chose this? And we’ve been on this road for so long that we are starting to talk about singularity? And what do we do after singularity? After all, it’s possible that despite insane technological advancement we’ll still be part anxious humans that try to one-up each other in every way.
Naturally, human curiosity is a big part of what keeps innovation going forward. But this is a very limited view of human curiosity. We’ve popularized curiosity as a scientific term. How do things work the way they work? What happens if we play with these cells? We’ve stopped asking questions of a much larger scope. We have stopped asking “why?”
It is the single most powerful question. Why do we do the things that we do? Why are we living the way we are? And to be honest, the answer usually leads us back to some sort of trace anxiety. There are tons of people that ask this question, particularly in this day and age, and this is encouraging. There are people asking why we do the things that we do, and what we should instead be doing. And it seems that when we have an answer, an alternative life-pursuit to the status quo, be it love, art, social justice, religion, mysticism, Zen and non-duality (the art of not pursuing anything) there is nothing to do about it. There is no way to share it without being crazy or being a revolutionary. There is no way to do it without trying to overhaul the system with another system. There is no way to do it without being as dogmatic as the communists.
But if there are rebels that want to change the way the world thinks – to make people realize that they are focusing on so few things in the world and that they are missing out on a much, much bigger picture — they aren’t going to be able to spark change with a change in system to another system. They are going to have to systematically de-systematize and reprogram the existing system. They are going to have to focus on a vehicle inside of the system that opens the doors to other way of thinking. They are going to have to fight dogma with dogmatic anti-dogma.
They are going to have to focus on curiosity. Cultivating and encouraging curiosity is the most rebellious thing that you can do, not because it is the most radical action, but because it will eventually inspire the most radical change. If we lived in a society that did these things, more people would be asking “why” and less people would be caught up in the status anxiety feedback loop trap. How do you focus on cultivating and encouraging curiosity? Talking with people is a good start. Talking about important things. Writing, like I’m doing now helps too. It helps me. Changing the factory-line-worker ethos that our public schools embody will be good. Changing schools will help. Period.
The point is that there is a point to focus on. We don’t have to have a revolution to change the way things are done. To change the way people think about things. In fact, it would probably worsen things to have a revolution. Things honestly aren’t that terrible the way they are now. We could be doing this whole thing a lot worse than we are. So maybe we need to change the definition of “revolutionary.” Maybe instead of someone who is able and trying to create a system overhaul, a revolutionary is just an effective seed planter — someone who gets people thinking. Who gets people asking “why?”