Tag Archive: society


Balance as an Ideology

A misunderstanding about the concept of balance prevails in our society. Society would have us believe that balance is somehow a natural phenomenon: rain falls, plants grow. A person dies, a person is born. And so on.

In the same vein, a percentage of the population that is poor is balanced out by the percentage that is rich, and that combined percentage is somehow balanced out by the percentage of people who are somewhere in the middle.

This is a naturalistic fallacy, however. We “see” balance in nature because we want to see it; we believe, with reason, that our lives depend upon it. However, conflict is the rule, and balance is less than the exception. In nature and in all human endeavor, balance is neither a natural state nor a natural phenomenon. Rather, in any form, it is fought for, whether against society as a whole or against elements of it, in light of the fact that everything that exists resists balance, rather than hastening it. 

Development as a human being is generally considered to require some element of balance. If a person is personally “imbalanced”—for example, living a turbulent or unstable homelife, constantly in financial straits, plagued by mental illness, or generally ruled overmuch by emotion while remaining estranged from intellect or vice versa—that person will most likely not excel outside of her particular sphere. This is by way of saying that the idea of balance has value in our society.

Those who are able to balance emotions such as desire, ambition, and pride with intellectual qualities such as inquisitiveness, observation, and deduction, possess the potential to excel where “imbalanced” individuals would falter. Moreover, those who are further able to overrule any remnants of ethical consideration, conscience, or dissent they may have gathered incidentally along the way—shedding them as a snake sheds its skin—are encouraged to make the most of their potential in any direction they choose, as long as that direction preserves society’s overall status quo—rich, poor, and in-between—rather than endeavoring to alter its fundamental nature. 

Such balance as is produced by this tacit agreement is dependent on a certain level of self-awareness on the part of the individual, and a desire to “go outside her comfort zones:” to be challenged and pushed towards areas of achievement that are new to her and that put her skills and balance to use.

So, in order to obtain personal balance, these individuals actually create types of imbalances against society. Or put differently, they actively further imbalances that already exist. They are not concerned with finding or creating actual balance—in which anything is equal or any actual calm exists—within society.

This is not because they don’t want true balance in society (although they would not), but rather because they believe that the current state of society, which demonstrates the exact opposite of actual balance, is, in fact, balanced, and in such a perfect way as to allow exceptional individuals such as themselves to succeed. This success comes by nature of being able to strive for an internal type of balance: balance between what they want out of life and what they actually get out of it, regardless of “what people think” or indeed what they themselves think.

In this way, anyone overly preoccupied with “maintaining balance” by not pushing themselves or pushing against the prevailing idea of “balance”—i.e. passive acceptance of “what is meant to be” coupled with the ethical inhibitions of common morality—is limiting their ability to actually achieve any sort of balance, whether with a society in which true balance does not exist, or with themselves. They are resigning themselves to be always at the mercy of the demands of that society, such that their own desires are held as secondary to those demands.

Without some component of self-fulfillment and self-realization along these lines, balance in any form is a totally impossible ideal, reserved only for those who seem to have “the time and the money” to act on what they know will give them a sense of balance: feelings of freedom manifested in the realization of desires.

It is true that an increased level of financial and temporal freedom lends itself to the fulfillment of personal desires to some extent. However, this state of affairs is reinforced if not created and recreated by the unwillingness of “ordinary people” to place their goals, dreams, desires, and ambitions—whether societally implanted or not—on the “front burner” of their lives and to instead focus on what society expects of them: resignation and acceptance that endless deferral, struggle, loss, and insecurity are “just the way life is.”

If the destruction and reshaping of this state of affairs were to become somehow a priority in the mind of those who generally cling to “balance” as an ideology, perhaps after a long and costly battle we would see some true elements of balance enter into our societal sphere, i.e. more people positively engaged in their lives, less poverty, less crime, less mental illness, fewer suicides, fewer wars, less time spent on addictive behaviors, etc.

As it is, the “balance” between those who excel and those with mediocre and unfulfilled lives continues to justify the self-absorption of people with “the time and the money” to dedicate to personal fulfillment. In the shadow of their taut (and taught) disdain for “everyone else” who does not seem able or of adequate character to excel, the rest of us continue to wait and hope for balance to prevail “as it always has” (read: as it never has) without fighting for it, while beginning to actually take comfort in the belief that the disdain of our betters is warranted—that we are in fact lazy, unambitious, and undeserving of anything resembling emotional and personal fulfillment in this life—and in the hope that some conveniently eternal spirit will succeed where our mind and body failed.

I don’t believe nature owes me anything, but I believe society does. Nature does not act with purpose; it just is. We perceive purpose in its actions, but it doesn’t. If the world ended tomorrow, nature wouldn’t care. It would just go on in a different form.

Nature is merely the means by which I am conceived and born. But society, in its various manifestations (parents, family, community, country, culture) is the cause, and society acts very much with purpose. No one asks to be born into this sniveling, pathetic excuse for a world filled with war, murder, racism, oppression, lifelong exploitation, childhood trauma, loss, sadness, disillusionment, confusion, and ultimately inevitable terrifying death. Rather, society asks that we be born, whether “society” means our parents who want to populate their lives with meaning, or whether it refers to culture, which tells our parents where meaning originates, or to our political system, which wants to prolong its “life” with a steady source of consumers and workers who all buy into that meaning. Society creates each individual person for these purposes which are alien to him or her; meanwhile, it creates or is complicit in all of its injustices and horrors.

In this way, while society brings us into existence, it presents us with very little besides the myriad reasons why we should regard that existence as a curse. The absolute and essential need for full-time employment makes alienated puppets of us all, contorting ourselves into our desk chairs or lifting and swinging hammers into concrete, turning our bodies into twisted, broken prisons consisting of one or another pain or preventable disease, and our minds into clenched fists of chronic stress that beat us into submission with refrains of “never enough time/money/status/possessions.”

“That’s life,” they tell us, as they were told.

Society wants to punish you for being born. It is completely ill-equipped to do anything else. Perhaps childhoods can be idyllic for some, but when “real life” takes hold, each person realizes what life has to offer, and uses what means are at his or her disposal to ignore this fact. Among the most common means for achieving this are drugs, alcohol, television, religion, unhealthy food, and expensive consumer goods at best; racism, xenophobia, patriotism, sexism, and imperialism at worst.

In essence, society brings us into this world and then gives us the means to kill ourselves, our hopes and dreams and aspirations for a better world. Rather than hand us a gun and have us blow our lives away, it prefers that we consume as much as possible before doing so, not because it eases any actual pain but because it enriches the people who benefit from society as it is. Mass infirmity, just like mass ignorance, makes those elements of society richer.

If we want to see any changes, however, we must not simply expect society to start giving us what it owes us. We must alter it as a whole. We must change its mechanism and purpose, from one that takes as much as it can from each citizen, to one that gives each citizen as much to live for—as much freedom, as much expression, as much value and worth, as much warmth and love and happiness, as much ethical fulfillment and consistency, as much support and solidarity, as much understanding—as possible.

That must be our goal. When we have accomplished it for everyone, we will have started to pay back the children of the world, and they will thank us, and then we can sleep peacefully, knowing they are safe.

There is an epidemic of mental illness splashed across my generation like a heart-shaped bloodstain. Why is that? Is it that doctors are too prescription-happy and get kickbacks from drug companies? Is it that all humans are, in some way or another, intrinsically damaged simply by existence? Is it that young people are insecure and simply grasp at any convenient sign of their own identity, and any pill to go with it, anything to make them feel more entitled to the benefits of being “normal”?

We like to forget that society produces the mentally ill people upon whom it imposes the many designations of mental illness it also produced. It created these designations to seemingly address the problem of mental illness. But before mental illness was categorized, it certainly existed, and now that it is categorized with as much gradient variation as geology, meteorology or any other science, it still exists. It even thrives, such that every deviation from the norm—overt anxiety, overt sensitivity, overt awareness, overt fear, overt particularity—can now be categorized, diagnosed, catalogued, and panoptically scrutinized by a chorus of licensed professionals.

Notice my use of the word “overt.” If these traits are not overt, if they are kept inside, they are not visible to other people and hence the need to categorize them diminishes until such times when the subject commits murder or pedophilia, to the extreme surprise of his or her familiars to whom he or she was “such a nice quiet person. I never would have thought…Sometimes you just never know.”

How could you “know,” how could you “have a thought” about something you ignore? Of course we are told to ignore the hateful and embrace the lovely, and of course we are taught to espouse it as well.  Even while we over-diagnose, over-medicate, over-scrutinize, we ignore and remain silent on the hateful aforementioned truth: that society creates its many segments, including the murderers, rapists, and corrupt politicians, because it thrives as it is through them. We are not taught to understand why a person commits murder or other crimes, except that they are aberrations, anomalies, and outliers, statistically insignificant, not signifying any greater message besides humanity’s ineluctable “dark side.”

Society puts dark ideas into our heads, ideas like “what is different is bad, what is the same is good,” or, “to dominate is to be right,” or “life sucks, get over it.” In the manicheistic pursuit of happiness, positivity, and self-interest, most of us tuck these lessons away to fall back on in the event of indecision. When we are not sure what to do with our lives, we can always rely on imitating the herd, the will to dominate (or, more likely, to be dominated, assuming its inherent virtue), and excusing the inequities and failures of life to steer us in the right and safe direction. This is what is considered “good mental health.”

But for the mentally ill, there are two other reactions to these adages. The first is total commitment i.e. taking it too far. These are murderers, rapists, pedophiles, the senselessly violent, hurting the innocent or defenseless, attacking minorities, preying on those they perceive as weak or different, and resolving any moral qualms with some variation of “life sucks, they’ll get over it. Life has winners and life has losers.”

The second reaction is emotional resistance. This puts the young woman or man in a state of anxiety while taking a test comprised of arbitrary criteria, depression when life appears worthless, anger upon learning about the state of the world, and (antisocial) alienation while struggling in that harsh “real world.” Pundits would have us perceive ourselves as “soft” and “weak.” “Sometimes life is sad, get over it.” “Sometimes life is anxious, get over it.” “Angry? You should be grateful!” “If you act like a weirdo, you get what you deserve.” Notice the similarity to the refrains of the killers.

For the emotionally resistant, the body is willing, though only under duress, and the mind is not. The mind is unwilling to accept the terms of engagement that have been thrust upon it, coercively, not as a request but as a requirement, if she should hope to succeed, to live safely and well, and to remain safe from the social stigmas of “failure,” having “never quite made it,” “never quite fitting in,” being “uncooperative,” “immature,” “ungrateful,” “underachieving,” having had “all the chances in the world to get ahead and missing or messing up all of them.”

Perhaps there is some compassion, some understanding that one aspect or another of society failed, not the emotionally resistant individual. This sense of shame and of self-disgust, of non-acceptance of the self, is laid at her feet for her to voluntarily take unto herself—as though she was being told to climb into her own grave—in the form of social stigma and mediocrity, to exculpate the society as the ultimate robber of this person’s “success” (a hopelessly twisted and obscure concept) to whom it never gave a chance, and place the blame right where it belongs: on the shoulders of the prisoner who hates her prison, her prison-guards, her prison-owners, no matter how beautiful a cell is promised or delivered, no matter how wonderful a meal is reserved for those who really “work hard” at deserving it, at fitting in.

She remains diagnosed as “her own worst enemy,” unsafe alone, unsafe with others, generally too sick to be around. Keep her alone, and silenced, and unloved, because her anger, her revulsion, her rejection of what is baldly wrong and unjust, of what completely fails to live up to the potential she sees in her daydreams—where hope is unneeded and fears are acted upon, where nature thrives and justice prevails, where the eye looks where it will and not where it is directed, where people are free—might rub off onto you.

And then you would be to blame.

Family of Oppressions

Do you feel satisfied with your life? Are you paying close enough attention? Do the things you have and hope to obtain in the future offer enough promise, or do you need more? Do you need to feel loved by someone who needs you, rather than waiting for appreciation from a world that couldn’t care less if you died?

Well then, do what we humans always do. Have children. How are you supposed to feel safe in this world of shitty healthcare and gutted Medicare if you know that no one else will be around to take care of you when you get old and gray? With your busy work schedule, how are you supposed to eat healthily, exercise, and stay off the couch? After a long day at work, nothing feels better than that bottle of Budweiser, that fresh new Jets game or hospital drama, and those old cushions stained with years of comfortable familiarity.

Yet when your spine bends inwards, your stomach grows ulcers, your liver turns into a piece of shoe leather, and your legs look like two broken sticks, who will be there to help you up? Help you to the bathroom? Help feed you bland food? After your busy work-day, that pays for the clothes on your back, the cable on your telly, the gas in your car, the lawn and chimney and rooms in your house or apartment, the Perdue Roaster in your fridge, you deserve a break, a time in your life to stop working, to stop thinking, feeling, fighting the inevitable collapse of your world around you, that forces you into a life of work for the purpose of things, items, stuff.

And what makes this break possible? The federal government? No. The obvious thing that, despite all these cyclically unfulfillable needs, will make sure that some aspect of your life has meaning, has resonance, and that all of your stuff and bodily functions will be duly taken care of, before and after you pass from this earth.

Children. The values of work, and possessions, will guide him or her or preferably them towards the wonderful places you have found yourself over the years: feelings of inadequacy, wanting more and not getting it, resentment towards your parents, all the betrayed intoxicating promises of “you can be whatever you want to be,” before the equivalently sobering mantra of “you won’t make any money with THAT major on your college degree” is shoved in your face like a deed on your future that someone else owns, not to mention respect for your elders, the same elders that told you the same things you’ll tell your own children in euphemism: “you were born to amuse me, for me to take care of, to add some meaning to my drab and unfulfilled life, to let me know what my children would look like and what kind of people they would be, to stand for some abstract promise of a future that I denied myself, and that will eventually be denied you, too, before I get old and need to be taken care of due to some stress-induced disease, the result of living a life where dreams rest safely in my youth, as yours will someday.”

Dreams, all of it, dreams. But children are real, solid things, with feelings and needs, and if you don’t tend to them, they will die. Not like the rest of the problems of this world: war, hunger, poverty, exploitation. These are but abstract issues, hardly real or solid, without inlet, without routes, without reconciliation to myself, for were I to address them, I would be forced to take responsibility for them. For these values—family, and possessions—these are the ways in which people like me ignore the suffering of the world, and focus our concerns on the “here and now,” the fulfillment of perceived needs, while the politicians and trillionaires create the conditions by which such misery and suffering are perpetuated. Yet I have no power, I have no voice except my vote….but my child will.

Ah-ha, not the power to confront, organize around, and defeat these conditions—that would take them away from me—but to be my way of feeling powerful, influential… he or she or preferably them will be shaped and molded by my “policies,” my “reforms,” to reproduce the same conditions that drove me rightly to act against my dreams and in my own material self-interest, which is a value that has never yet failed me. Perhaps one or two of my personal failings will be corrected, but in general, I will be important to this little tyke, loved, necessary, and not helpless or anonymous as this unaddressable world would have me be. He or she or them will be a mirror that can help me when I’m too weak to stand, too hungry to eat, too riddled with angst and unrest to even act civilly anymore, who will tend to me no matter what, and whose own dreams—needs, desires, impulses to address the world I know to be out of reach—can go by the wayside, while my house and car and things I’ve bought and held onto will all be dealt with, and “self-sacrifice” stands as the cardinal “family value,” while the real sacrifice is that of a world worth living in, where I don’t justify the starving and misery and death with my own sense of helplessness, where I don’t rise to the arrogance of a self-fulfilled prophecy, and wonder why those who suffer most hate me, and my child, and my definition of freedom.