Stay Human

December 15, 2007

Our task is to be human.

While that sentence may seem abusurdly obvious to some people, to me it feels like a reminder of something important that I forgot long, long ago.  I’m struggling with the old activist bash-people-over-the-head incarnation of myself and with some of the attitudes I met when I was in that environment. To be fair (and accurate) though coercive tactics is endemic thoughout our entire culture. But then maybe that’s the problem.

The reality of changing the world is that there are two ways to do it. We either attempt to use top down coercive measures, or we become someone who can get alongside people of all stripes and talk to them at an personal level. It’s only when we get that close to someone that we’re truly in a position to effect positive change in their life. The only thing is that if we do we’ll probably find ourselves helping them with a whole bunch of personal struggles before we can move on to convincing them to do some recycling. However, most people just prefer wacking each other over the head with their chosen ideology.

I am seriously questioning the usefulness of my intellectual nature at the moment. As far as I can see all it has done is to disconnect me from my emotions, thereby enabling me to do emotional, mental and spiritual damage to myself – and probably to those around me. The intellectual approach to life means we put ideology ahead of relationships. It’s not so long ago that I found it impossible to be friends with people who I had philosophical disagreements with. Most philosophy is a superficial irrelevancy, the important things in life are our relationships and being able to listen to our inner voice. I find that lots of women instinctively understand this but that most men don’t.

Essentially I burned myself out trying to advance my particular ideology – to what benefit I don’t know. To be fair, opposing the release of GE organisms has a lot to be recommended and putting out news that is more truthful than the mainstream version is not that bad an idea either. The problem is that burned out individuals aren’t a very good advertisement for any kind of cause. They’re not much use to their family and friends either. People often cite their children as a reason for joining any number of causes but the biggest difference we could make to our children is creating a life where we feel refreshed enough to want to spend time with them.

I’m really starting to have a real problem with all these attempts to wake us up – they bloody depress me. I’m pretty sure it’s not just me that has this problem with being told to wake up either. The urge to tell people to wake up reminds me of the ‘tough talk’ that our teachers and parents gave us as kids. It’s the sort of hard talk that usually makes the speaker feel good but never the listener. It’s the sort of thing we refer to as an ear-bashing in New Zealand.

People already feel pretty overwhelmed and trying to shock them into ‘waking up’ is probably just going to add to their feeling of powerlessness – hardly the energising effect actually needed. Dan showed me his copy of What a Way to Go recently. It’s got many of my favourite authors in it but I don’t feel like I can recommend it to anyone. I’m feeling much more receptive of positive visions at the moment

People don’t need more shock treatment, they need encouragement, and they need help with where they’re at. So do I.

Ran’s blog seems to be the best option around here for that at the moment but I’ve also spent some time with a group of people in party mode in the UK recently and somehow, after all the activism I’ve done I’m struggling to explain why I wouldn’t have been better off just fooling around for the last few years. What’s the point of fighting the good fight if we lose ourselves and what it means to be alive in the process. I mean isn’t that pretty much what They are trying to do to us anyway.

So here’s what I think; if we have to live in a hierarchy then I propose a new indicator of social status whereby the people having the most fun, or getting the most satisfaction out of life are at the top. The people at the bottom would be the poor souls who feel compelled to stick it out in jobs, causes and relationships that are bad for them.

This isn’t a-political either, a society full of people who were genuinely focused on enjoying their lives rather than running after more abstract goals would look a lot different to this one.

I have no idea what it would look like on a large scale but on the part of the planet where I can have a useful effect (family and maybe friends) I imagine that we would turn the focus of our lives to repairing relationships so that we are better able to rely on each other. I hope we would be better able to live with each other (not in the same house though, that would be a bit ambitious at this stage) and support each other. It’s much easier to do this when people are physically close. I’d love to see our siblings and parents helping us raise our kids and in a couple of years our kids will be in a position to help to raise their younger cousins. I’d love to be able to break out of my civilised shell a bit so I’m more fun to be around, although I have only a very vague idea of how that might happen, and I’d love to be able to just chill out a whole lot more.



  1. Hi Aaron,

    I discovered your blog via Ran’s. Very interesting post – I’ve gone through some similar thoughts about activism over time. I wondered if you could clarify something:

    “I propose a new indicator of social status whereby the people having the most fun, or getting the most satisfaction out of life are at the top. The people at the bottom would be the poor souls who feel compelled to stick it out in jobs, causes and relationships that are bad for them.”

    This sounds like it could easily slide into a fairly standard countercultural attitude, in which hedonism is regarded as automatically subversive. Arguably, consumer culture (as opposed to earlier, more austere and conformist incarnations of capitalism) is very comfortable with the idea of a social hierarchy based on who’s having most fun.

    I have a strong sense that you’re reaching towards something different – and a healthy escape from some of the unhealthy characteristics of activism. A lot of what you say is in tune with Ivan Illich’s philosophy of friendship, but perhaps his emphasis on the value of ‘austerity’ (not as self-denial, but as making room for what matters) offers a balance to the language of ‘fun’. (When I was a teenager, I remember my dad observing of the Saturday night culture of small-town England that “Some people’s idea of fun is my idea of bashing my head against a wall!”)

    Another connection I thought of, reading your post, was my friend Anthony McCann’s reflections on Crafting Gentleness (http://craftinggentleness.blogspot.com/). I think there’s a lot of common ground between you.

    Anyway, thanks for an honest and thoughtful post.


  2. I was really trying to conjure up an attitude with that paragraph rather than seriously proposing that we try it , and talking in fairly mainstream language at the same time – as you say it could easily become another stick to beat people with.

    The use of the word fun was more a reminder for me I think. For people who are already out looking like they’re having lots of fun I added the word ‘satisfaction’ which is hopefully a little deeper.

    Mostly what I am trying to chart is how I have kind of gone full circle and come back to my roots. I say ‘kind of’ because I am quite different than I used to be but I also know that I have to be my self.

    That doesn’t quite answer your question though; part of the change is also the realisation that I need to focus on the small things in life and seek to change only what I can see in the mirror.

    I’ll check out your friend’s blog

  3. Thanks, Aaron. That makes a lot of sense to me.

    That sense of “kind of going full circle” always makes me think of the coil of a spring: in one dimension, you come full circle, while in another you’ve moved on. And that makes me think about the nature of time, both cyclical and linear, the wheel and the road. The loss of the sense of timeliness, the shift to an entirely linear understanding of time, often seems to me like one of the deep roots of what is wrong in the world.

    But enough of my rambling! This is a very interesting blog you have – I’m enjoying exploring your old posts. Thank you!

  4. A coiled spring – that’s a great metaphor.

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