The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself - Fredrick Nietzsche
Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. - Malcolm Forbes
Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth. - Mahatma Gandhi
I. A GROWING EMBER:
II. SEARCHING FOR HONESTY:
III. DESTROYING HONESTY AND TRUTH TO CREATE DISPOSABLE UTILITIES-TOTALITARIANISM:
IV. MORALITY, POWER, AND FREEDOM:
V. DRAWING A LINE BETWEEN CONFLICT AND SACRIFICE AND ABUSE AND EXPLOITATION:
VI. WHAT A CULT CAN LOOK LIKE:
VII. BAD RELIGION - THE SCHOOL'S FiLoSoFY:
VIII. FRAUD #1: WE WILL MAKE YOU 'SOPHISTICATED/COSMOPOLITAN/WELL ROUNDED/UNIQUE', AND A BETTER PERSON AND STUDENT:
IX. FRAUD #2: UNIVERSITIES CARE ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMIZED, UNIQUE AND WELL ROUNDED 'ASIS 'PeRSoNaLiTY' ' :
X. FRAUD #3: OUR REPUTATION WILL GET YOU INTO A BETTER UNIVERSITY:
XI. FRAUD #4: WE PREPARE YOU FOR COLLEGE, WHICH PREPARES YOU FOR LIFE:
XII. FRAUD #5: WE ARE THE BEST HIGH SCHOOL YOU CAN GO TO:
XIII. FRAUD #6: IF YOU FAIL HERE, YOU FAIL AT LIFE:
XIV. EDUCATION RACKETS AND WORK LIFE :
XV. MY REALITY:
XVI. DELAYED GRATIFICATION OR WASTED TIME - MY EXPERIENCE:
A GRAIN OF SANDXVII. CONFORMING AND BELONGING:
XVIII. NATURE VS NURTURE-CULT BEHAVIOR:
XIX. RECOGNIZING AND DEALING WITH TOTALITARIANISM:
ENDXX. MAKING THE JOURNEY WORTHWHILE THROUGH OUR OWN PATH:
RESOURCES:XXI. LINKS TO OTHER PAGES:
I. A GROWING EMBER:
When I started jotting down a loose collection of small but seemingly unrelated ideas long ago, no specific agenda or philosophy drove or even guided me. I wasn’t trying to discover some profound and eternal reassuring truth, just the feeling of simple contentment, self-value, and joy for simple pleasures in here and now of life that I felt as a young child. Aside from a general emptiness, anxiety, and anger combined with a sense of isolation and lack of purpose, I couldn’t pinpoint the source of my emotions. When depression and anxiety become a normal part of life, even emotions like sadness or relief are hard to come by. A constant emptiness and dulled dread make it difficult to enjoy the simple things in life that many take for granted. The sensations associated with simple joys become negated by and ever present vigilance and detachment. Both sleeping and waking up can be hard. You are never really on, and you are never really off.
Something very simple but powerful inside of me wanted to get my head straight and understand myself on my own without relying on the worn out cliches and empty dismissive platitudes of professional and feigned concern trolls alike. I have found that without significant common ground or shared experiences, discussions with many only go so far and so deep. Unless you can get to the point where you are discussing more than just subjective feelings and experiences, nothing really of value can be learned. Likewise if someone dismisses your experiences and feelings based on some abstract ideology, you are pretty much on your own to judge the merits of such an ideology based of your own experiences and feelings.
I couldn’t count on anything to be true anymore, and I realized I was on my own and that I would have to figure it out on my own from the very bottom up. I just knew something was fundamentally wrong and that as difficult as it would be, I would have to find a way to trust myself in a way that I never had. I had no choice. I had been delaying the inevitable for far far too long because I could just not face the ugly reality that I had always been alone. More and more I came to realize that what I had always suspected but that was just under my grasp, was that everything I was raised to be was a fundamentally a lie. It took me many years before I could look back and realize that everything I had ‘worked hard’ and suffered for was for nothing.
Maybe a better word than ‘lie’ is ‘error’, however the amount of calculation, effort, and abuse involved in such an ‘error’ leaves me not only comfortable but in no other position but to use the word lie. I had really been trying to hang on for too long for something that wasn’t there. In reality, I had been avoiding the truth because it was just too painful. I had just been staying alive. It was not until I began trying to explore everything out there and live life for myself in the here and now that I realized for how long I had been absent from even myself. I had been completely hollowed out.
No one experiences trauma in the same way. Every kind of traumatic experiences has its subtle and distinct nuances that affect the mind and body. Some trauma is easy to identify. A car accident, a sudden and brutal assault, or an unexpected death all take their physical as well as emotional toll. You feel it in your body as the experience unfolds. You shake and may feel disoriented, and have a hard time talking. You feel numb.
Getting attacked by four guys in a MacDonalds doesn't have the same emotional triggers that some people might think it should have. It was such an isolated incident that occurred in a time in my life when I was mentally and physically strong, that I can think about it without it placing me in a bad place. Although they were not able to catch anybody, the police showed up and gave me a ride to the bus terminal. As ridiculous as this may sound, there was some consolation that I was not completely alone and that what happened was not supposed to happen. I can look back with a detached mind and focus on the tactical errors I made. I know I can avoid the same scenario from unfolding again simply by being mindful and aware.
Other traumatic experiences occur over a period of time made up of many smaller traumatic experiences. They occur as an erosion. When you are denied the basic necessities of a healthy and meaningful life your growth becomes severely stunted. In many ways such prolonged experiences are the worst to deal with because you can't put the experience in a nice little box and pack it away at the back of your brain. Prolonged trauma is so dangerous because you are never given a chance to recover and once you do, you can never really shake it off. It penetrates the very core of your being and covers you like a dark cloud, and contaminates you like a corrosive slime. 'Normal' things that remind me of certain people, places, and behaviors are somehow infinitely more powerful triggers.
When you are told that your every natural inclination is selfish and evil, you really begin to believe you are inferior. When the only time anyone pays attention to your pain you are either met with indifference or told your suffering is a duty to endure or a consequence of your own selfishness, you begin to question why you exist at all. From my own experiences as well as the few that went through anything similar, I really do believe that the worst trauma is caused by a calculated betrayal of trust by those whom you are taught to 'revere' if not worship. The damage it does is more profound, because it makes you complicit, and as it is hard to even notice as it fundamentally changes you as a person and how you relate to the world. Such forms of trauma often submerge beneath the surface, only to resurface from time to time when your guard is down. Even if you are not thinking about IT, IT is still always there.
Many times I thought I had successfully put things behind me only to have my past rear its ugly head. I trusted people simply because I had nowhere to turn. I didn't trust myself enough to NOT trust the wrong people and learn from my mistakes, making it very difficult to trust anything at all, including myself. If most of what you have been taught you entire life is a lie, it is very difficult to know where to begin and start over. It’s even harder than being a child because you have to unlearn behaviors than have been seared into your psyche. You don’t know how to trust instincts and listen to your own body because you were taught they were evil and could only be overcome through suffering. I didn’t know how to like myself let alone love myself. When solitude only leads you to be tormented by your own thoughts, you can never really be at peace. When you can't even escape inside your own head and trust your own thoughts, you really reach the end of your rope. The only hope one can have is that somehow someway things will get better. Such trauma shapes EVERY aspect of your being and never really goes away no matter how hard you try to analyze it. It is not a concise episode that one can dissect.
People affected by such trauma have a hard time understanding themselves what is going on. In some cases it can take many years for a traumatic experience to catch up to you or for you to realize the full extent of the damage it has done. You may think you are in control and that the past is the past. You may think you are coping with a trauma only to wake up many years later and realize that it has controlled you in ways you could not have even imagined. All your 'solutions' or coping mechanisms for life only dealt with a set of symptoms and created new problems in other areas.
Trauma was the last thing on my mind when I started writing, even if it was unconsciously driving me. I was just doodling and trying to connect concepts and find some underlying principles that would give my life meaning, purpose, and light again, or at the very least peace of mind. I had no plan or outline, I just wanted to understand things on my own from the inside out without resorting to the worn out wholesale prepackaged ideological outside in explanations of the world as I had in the past. I had relied on them because I didn't know where else to start. Unfortunately such ideologies will take you to a point of understanding and then abruptly stop and insist you go no further.
I knew I had wasted a lot of my life on unhealthy things and people, but I didn't know why. Even once I understood this I didn't understand why I continued to end up in similar situations and coming full circle. I didn't know what the real problem was. I spent so much of my life chasing other people’s dreams which turned out to be complete nightmares that I didn’t even know what I wanted. What I had wanted never mattered. I looked for salvation in unicorns at the end of rainbows without realizing that in chasing something that didn't exist I was really running away from a feeling of emptiness, powerlessness, and lovelessness. I was not able to enjoy the simple joys because the simple joy had been crushed out of me. I had been trying to fill a void with another void only to make the hole bigger and bigger.
I had been trying to understand myself and the world through other people's eyes and ideas instead of my own. I wasn't being honest with myself. Even though each one of us has different experiences and perceives reality in a different way, everyone can shed some light on universal issues when we are honest. People see eye to eye on a lot more than we think when we make the effort and respect each other’s different life experiences. Our agendas, fears, assumptions, egos, pain, and naked self-interest often get in the way of getting through misconceptions and seeing things closely, clearly, and for what they are.
Formal belief systems and allegiances may seem to offer ready made explanations. They may even give us a sense of 'brotherhood' and 'purpose' especially in the face of an enemy or adversity, but they blind us from reality even when it is squarely in front of us, staring us in the face. It’s easy to see the most noticeable things in terms of good and evil, and its comfortable to take sides even when the world is much more a chaotic interaction of self-interested actors, overlapping agendas, and an ever-evolving spectrum of grey shades. Its not that things are 'complicated' or that everything is ‘relative’; the simplest explanations are the most probable.
Such belief systems are more likely to obfuscate and complicate things than make them more clear. Ironically the things that are truly evil go unnoticed because they are so woven into the fabric of ‘normal’ and justified via ideology that we don’t even notice them. Good and evil often brush shoulders with each other, but neither have source nor design. Rather, they exist as cumulative and emergent properties. Most things are not totally good or evil and situations are often not what they appear. Deception, both intentional and unintentional is everywhere, and there is often more than meets the eye.
Chance also plays as much of a role in everything as human intentions. It's really a cop out to say everything happens for the best, for a good reason, or even any reason at all. Not believing that makes it a lot harder to get through life. Fundamentally, there is no good reason for anything in the world, including all the suffering it produces. History has no prime mover nor a final destination, and most of what happens in the world is random and arbitrary, even if there are patterns to be found in human behavior. One of the most painful realizations is to discover that our suffering is totally arbitrary and out of our control. The human race has no singular purpose, and yet human problems, conflict, and oppression all stem from the same things, making all of our problems connected in an indirect way.
I really don't give a shit anymore if people feel my pain or give a damn about anything. Ultimately we all die alone. I just wish I had had the courage years ago to go my own way so that I wouldn’t have wasted so much of my life. Most of the ‘unity’, ‘love’ and ‘virtue’ in the world is a façade that covers naked self-interest, survival, and brutal subjugation. Understanding the natural and social world as it is has been the only thing to give me any comfort. It has been said you are not supposed to talk about sex, politics, or religion in the polite company of strangers. Yet I have noticed if people have a soapbox, a megaphone, and a captive audience not only will they talk about such things, they won't shut up. What it boils down to is people are uncomfortable talking honestly about their own agenda, the nature of power, and human suffering. They are afraid to confront their relation to the big picture if it highlights how insignificant or self-dealing they are in contrast to their stated lofty intentions. Ultimately people don’t want to be reminded of the fact that existence is haphazard and theirs doesn’t count for anything more than anyone else. I am no guru, I am just tired of hiding from reality. Even if one honestly wants to face reality, understanding what is going on is difficult. Assumptions have to change over and over again before one can develop and be confident in one's position.
With enough practice however, I have found trying to understand the world to be the only worthwhile form of therapy. When going back to ignorance is impossible, the only two options are death or moving forward. The only way to understand anything is to study everything from as many angles as possible. Writing helped me determine my most basic core values and understand the world from the inside out from my own personal experience, as opposed to understanding myself based on arbitrary standards and concepts that the world has created. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired of listening let alone trusting other people's, especially 'important' people's contrived glib 'answers' and convoluted and byzantine self-serving logic. The more I have learned the more skeptical I have become, even of myself. I try to be as detached, honest, and realistic as possible without betraying some sense of consistency and humanity, even if it means my values must evolve to maintain some connection to reality. I have found that being detached is the only way to preserve my mental health and see things clearly. I keep my attachments to the simple things that I know I can always count on.
Inevitably I came to realize that values and norms are something that human beings create to serve themselves. There is nothing inherently special or 'holy' about them. A lot of times they are not even functional; most people only value what they do because they were told to and/or because they think doing so will get their way or their needs met. A lot of people don't know what they value or if they do value something, they don't know why. If they do claim allegiance to a system, they may pick and choose what serves them depending on the situation. There are even people that don't value anything at all. They WANT, but they don't know what to prioritize and sacrifice, if they are willing to sacrifice at all. They want it all, and they simply take, if they must.
People love to have an 'identity', especially if it revolves around a group because they want to belong and be loved. They may feel that it makes them more of an 'individual', but in reality they just want to feel validation, reassurance, and control. Some people may even use it to feel a ‘cut above’ everyone else. It makes complete sense in a world full of so much calculated manipulation, distraction, lies, and cut-throat competition. In particular, they define an 'individual' by their superficial characteristics and social role. If you define yourself by your function and service to others, you are allowing others to define you and ultimately control you.
What really separates an individual from a follower is not just their doubt and curiosity, but also there sense of integrity. An individual questions themselves and everything they were taught regardless of whether is does or does not get their needs met. A real individual refuses to be defined by others and can't even define themselves; they are always evolving. However a real individual also refuses to label others merely as a means of dismissing or taking advantage of them. On some level being an individual means being curious, skeptical, and questioning things for its own sake, but also having the integrity to be honest with yourself.
For this reason changing people's opinions does not guarantee real change. Even if you can get people to concede on a point you are not necessarily getting them to question things or think and act for themselves. Certain people will follow a crowd, no matter how small or irrelevant it is as long as it gets their needs met or gives them some sense of 'belonging' or safety.
Things can change, but ideas alone don't drive history. By in large, they are merely symbols, representations, and products of institutions, movements and social and material forces that do. People will always join groups, and no matter how ignorant or immiserated, have always and will always find ways to organize themselves socially to survive. Ideas and ‘values’ make people more socially cohesive and collectively 'productive', but they don’t drive human organization or behavior in of itself. It was only with a very tangible and functional printing press making widespread literacy possible, that abstractions like free speech, public education, democracy, and human rights could be conceptualized.
The same principles of self-interest, power, and manipulation have always driven collective human behavior. Players and circumstances change but the game of social dominance and power essentially remains the same. The rest is just the details and presentation. Human beings are fundamentally biologically creatures with biological imperatives that live in a material world. Culture and upbringing shapes a lot, but certain biological drives are not just universal and necessary for the continuation of the human race. Politics is just the surface manifestation of what is going on beneath the surface, and no ideology will change who we are. This is a curse or a blessing depending on how you look at it.
Who we are may be more under our control than we think. If we understand our own biology, we are not completely at its mercy. If we can control ourselves as individuals, we can have an influence on those directly around us as well as those who are also searching. We might not be able to control the macro, but by mastering ourselves we can better adapt to the environment. Occasionally ideas are created ahead of their time with enough broad appeal and historical relevance to have an impact, if not shape, material forces and power relations. When they can’t however, they can still have an impact on a few people's lives in the here and now. In the aggregate and over time, those few individuals can still have an impact beyond their numbers and ahead of the material conditions of their time.
Nobody can come close to having the full and complete ‘truth’. Nobody has the final word. If we have honesty, we don't need conviction, causes, warriors, or martyrs. We may not even need enemies if we can touch on enough ideas to connect various interests and perspectives. Because it is far easier to agree on what is wrong than what is right, compassion, solidarity, and free inquiry go a long way in overcoming suffering and oppression. Any social movement that places ‘unity’ within above ‘solidarity’ with others is doomed to failure. Any social movement fighting for the interests of a group of people but without universal appeal to all people and all aspects of life will only replace the very problems it was seeking to redress in the first place. People have been fighting and dying for utopias and pie in the sky for 'their people' since the beginning of time. Fighting for 'peace and justice' becomes redundant unless we fight and live honestly for each other in the here and now, regardless of our differences.
I would rather cast doubt than have anyone believe my 'truth'. If nothing is put on a pedestal, nothing must be stigmatized. If nothing is sacred then nothing is worth killing or dying for, and nobody has to be disposable. Oversimplifying and reducing things to some meaningless formula, plan, or rhetoric and in the process, 'dumbing down' concepts to reach a wider audience, repeats the entire process that causes problems in the first place. It also makes it seem like one person or system can have the answer. There isn't one, and if there is, it couldn't even be taught. People can come to completely different conclusions. If they are thinking for themselves, they will, but they will be able to understand where others are coming from and may still be able to work with them. I want this page to be as user friendly as possible, so that anyone can take from it whatever they want and can. The spark starts the fire. Opinions and suggestions are always welcome.
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II. SEARCHING FOR HONESTY:
Before anyone questions anything or challenges a situation, they vent as a means of mental hygiene. The problem is that it works only for so long and it only goes so far. You may get some form of sympathy or be able to commiserate with others who have gone through something similar. Other people's sympathy however, can only make you feel good for so long and will eventually run out. The people that do care often do so because have their own baggage and ongoing problems to deal with. Their ability to help is limited.
Venting alone doesn’t fix problems or change the environment let alone lead to personal growth. If you don't understand where your problems are coming from let alone what is causing them, you have no way to address and solve anything. Relating to people through pain is not healthy way to build positive and functional relationships, nor is it even that effective at making allies. Its not even a good way to make conversation. Until you find someone who approaches problems from a similar angle and has a similar outlook on life, you can't know if it is worth partnering up with them let alone engaging in a meaningful exchange. You don’t even know if you can trust them.
I spent my whole life burdened, chasing something I couldn't put my finger on. For the longest period of time I tried to escape my feeling of emptiness by 'connecting' with other people and being a part of their 'team' and 'causes'. In truth I never liked teams and causes, I just had no way to find people that I could relate to honestly. Its human to seek intimacy and friendship, the problem is connecting with people is impossible if you don’t know who you are and they don’t know who they are. Although everyone has their faults and issues and only a minority are truly that bad, as a result of my family background and later upbringing, I had no yardstick to sort out the seriously sick and deranged people from the rest who might be just as lost as myself, from those who actually had a good heart. Sick and deranged was all I knew. It took me a long time before I was able to detach and see my family as being the truly disturbed, dysfunctional, and cruel people they were. As a result, for a long time I ended up in some relationships and friendships that were truly horrible and damaging to me.
I didn't understand my problems, or what I believed or knew or why. I didn't know enough to know how little I knew. I didn't even know myself. I was lost, completely. Even worse for the longest period of time I didn't know who I could turn to and be honest with. I was tired of playing the same games over and over again and getting nothing out of it. I could never seem to look eye to eye with anyone. It wasn’t until much later in life that I found worthwhile people around whom I could truly be myself. And yet even once I found them all I discovered was that all the ideas I had held on to were a house of cards. I was just staring into a dark void, feeling empty. It was at that point that I realized I had no real understanding of myself as I had spent my life adapting to an environment built around ideas that were not even real. I wanted to know for myself what was real. I sketched and expanded on multiple issues and contradictions that had been bothering me for a long time, trying to find an underlying cause to them all. I had no plan or direction, I just wanted to understand something so completely and thoroughly from every single direction on my own that I could know with certainty that it was true.
To what extent I had been complicit in my own situation due to either some inherent lack of character or naivety, or that I was truly in a hopeless situation and I couldn't have known any better I can't know. Least of all did I ever want to justify or excuse my own failings to myself. Doing so just makes you better at going in circles and rationalizing forever, until you are never able to clearly look at yourself, deal with anything as it is, or exert any control over your life. After a string of failures and disappointments, one really has to take inventory of who one is and what is important to them. I really didn't want to feel good about myself or even to feel good about something and have something to live for. I was tired of struggling and not being able to make any sense out of the world and why my life had been the way it was. I wanted a sense of direction and strength that came from within me. I wanted to be able to trust myself again. Regardless, I would hope I can serve as more than just a warning or an example to others. Through writing I have come to understand a lot more than I ever thought I would from the recycled ideas of others. And if only a few people can take some positive value from any story it’s worth making, even if it have no broad impact whatsoever.
The more I suffered the more I thought that through reason, understanding the world, and practice, I could manage people and connect with anyone. In being honest with others and looking for the 'redeeming qualities' in other people, I thought that they would return the favor. I knew what people were capable of, but I thought that deep down most people were no different from me. Through effort and persistence, I thought I could see eye to eye with someone if I tried hard enough, and that somehow I would get something out of it. There was no way I could have known that I had never experienced genuine and healthy love let alone respect or regard. I had no reference point and I didn't know how to 'just be myself' because I had never been allowed to think for myself let alone be myself or love myself. I thought that with intellect and good intentions I could get a feeling I wanted but never had.
If something called love does exist, it is no more rational than hate. As much as they drive us, there is no formula for either. Many years passed before I accepted how little influence 'reason' plays in people’s attachments and social interactions. People bond with each other through their own passions, whether they share them or not with the people they are bonding with. They don't even need common ground to bond. The only care about ‘the truth’ as it pertains to them directly in their life in the very present, and they certainly don't care about 'good intentions'. For the most part they care mostly about their own needs and passions, and will assert what they believe is their self-interest with the minimal amount of energy expenditure.
Everyone has something basic in common with everyone else. We all eat and shit. Provided someone else’s needs and passions do not conflict with your own, there is no problem. However, competition and a struggle for survival can make commonalities irrelevant and the most trivial and banal more important than anything else. There is only so much empathy to give and people have their own priorities and concerns. We all have our own lives to live and for the most part we are mere ships passing in the night.
People will be nice to you when you have something to offer or when they want something from you and with enough effort you can get along with almost anyone. It doesn’t mean you are going to get anything out of it. You have to have a lot in common to make any sort of relationship work in the long run through the trials and tribulations of life. When someone’s basic survival or self-interest is in grave jeopardy they may put in the effort, make sacrifices, and possibly reevaluate themselves. They may also become more rationalizing, exploitive, ruthless, and cruel. Nobody will ever change because of some abstract moral principal handed by someone else. The more similar people are in terms of temperament and outlook, the more influence they will have with each other. However, no amount of enlightened and well-articulated reasoning or flowery language in the world overrides anyone’s agenda, passions, compulsions, drives and instincts.
It is in particular pointless to get people to think and act with fairness, reason, respect, or consideration of other people if they have a selfish character and self-interested intentions. Such people will do whatever is in their interests and power to do regardless of the consequences to other people or even themselves. Some people are driven by irrational compulsions that they cannot understand, and will act on them even if it is not in their self-interest. Reason has no effect on those who are too limited to really learn and change and some are unethical and just want their way. The worst view people as pawns and life as a game; they are the least likely to change. They certainly will not change because someone told them to. No amount of intelligence, character, effort, persistence or even appeals to higher authority or ideals will make any difference. Certain people are going to do what they are going to do regardless of the consequences to themselves let alone others.
While you can understand people better, it is impossible to get inside any one persons head completely. This doesn't mean you are powerless before people. You don't need to know everything about someone or a situation in order to manage it or at least navigate it as quickly as possible. To different extents everyone lives inside their own head, and while you can’t completely get inside someone else's mind, no one else can’t get inside yours either. I don't have to allow anyone to dominate my mind by living in their head and microscopic bubble of a world, and in the process waste my own time and energy, even if I have to put up with their presence and behavior. The more you care what someone thinks the more control they have over you. No matter who someone claims to be, no one's opinions and feelings can automatically trump anyone else's. If someone can't communicate honestly and respectfully and they have no interest in what you have to say, then they don't view you as a human being. Nothing you say or do will change what goes on in such a person's head. All you can do is return the favor.
While we may have to act like such people just to deal with them, we don’t have to become them. Many people will say that we shouldn’t ‘stoop to their level’ or judge, and that we must turn the other cheek and be understanding. The bottom line is that if we want to get through life we must be discriminating. Everyone does it, and anyone who says they don’t is a liar. It is impossible to hold everyone's opinion and feelings in the same regard. We have no choice but on some level to think for ourselves just to survive. Even if we do choose to follow, we must pick and choose who we hold in higher regard, and that can only be based on how someone conducts themselves and treats us. Trust is NEVER owed to anyone no matter what someone says about themselves or who they in fact are. Trust is always earned based on behavior, but before one can get to a point of trust with anyone, there must be honesty and reciprocity. Any healthy relationship must have a foundation of honesty and reciprocity to work. Before one can get to a point of love or any sort of attachment with anyone, there must be trust and respect. As trust grows, a relationship deepens.
No one owes to anyone else unconditional service and benefit of doubt. People may live in their own head and believe anything they want including that they are superior and infallible, but I certainly don't have to make them feel comfortable about doing so. In particular, people that want to be followed and exert control over others will always portray themselves as being unique and a cut above everyone else. Pointing out the fallacies and inconsistencies in another’s thinking (or lack thereof) on its own changes nothing in their thinking or character, but it lets them know that they will not be obeyed or worshiped unconditionally.
The amount of control anyone has over their environment varies, but the power to say 2 + 2 = 4 is a power all people have. Sometimes it is the only power we have and the only way to resist, even if it is token. The freedom to speak freely and state the obvious is the most fundamental of freedoms. All other freedoms derive from it. Without it we have neither freedom nor security, nor our own sense of ourselves and our humanity. When things get so bad that that power is challenged, we begin to lose our understanding of ourselves, our dignity, our humanity, and eventually our sanity.
For this reason "T H E T R U T H", whatever it may be, has always had value regardless of its popularity, how uncomfortable it makes people feel, how it is defined, or even how ruthlessly it is driven out of the open. You cannot jail, evict, or murder a single idea let alone something as all-encompassing and omnipresent as the truth. The truth can never be repressed for long or permanently crushed because everything in this world is connected in some way. 'Truth' is nothing more than an abstraction that encompasses everywhere and in everything; it’s just reality. A lie is nothing more than a deliberately created temporary and local distortion, intrusion, and distraction from the bigger picture. Eventually a lie is forced to confront and is engulfed by reality from all directions, which then exposes and isolates the lie for what it is. Ultimately, the truth always rears its head.
However, as immutable and uncompromising as truth may be, no one, not even the smartest, most successful, most powerful, or those with the purest of intentions can have a monopoly of it, and rarely are any ideas completely wrong or completely right. As individuals we are limited in what we can witness and therefore understand. We have no choice but to start out relying on the ideas and experiences of others. Yet ALL discoveries in human knowledge have been made by either by trial and error or questioning ‘conventional thinking’ and the status quo. All the knowledge that we do have today was built on the skepticism, research and testing of many people that came before who questioned everything around them, including the 'conventional wisdom' and 'expert knowledge' of their time. Even if a group of people somehow are right most of the time or more right than another group of people, they can never be right all of the time.
Having a lot of experience or tradition behind a practice may make it more likely or feasible, but it doesn't make it the best or only way of doing things and it certainly doesn't prove it on lofty platitudes or justify it on higher moral grounds. Ideas can not be proven 'correct' based on their popularity or longevity. Slavery existed for thousands of years with all sorts of justifications, and yet today, most of the entire world universally disavows it. People thought the world was flat for thousands of years, and now we have pictures of the earth from space. 'Common knowledge' has a way of constantly evolving.
In a world of imperfect information and hostile conditions, groups of people and not just individuals have had to build and rely on the knowledge of those around and before them. That doesn't make such knowledge perfect or even partially correct. This is made even more the case considering the world is also one of manipulation and hidden agendas. Without doubts there can be no proven truths. If the 'truths' are only there to cling to, then our own point of view becomes stubbornness. The ONLY way to 'prove' an idea is to try and falsify as rigorously and as repeatedly as possible; our understanding of the ‘TRUTH’ both personal and collective is constantly evolving as we test what we ‘know’. Unless we are talking about facts or very specific ideas, we can only know our ideas are most probable until a better idea comes along.
For this reason the ‘TRUTH’ does not come from special sources. The greatest thinkers made the largest leaps in thought because they saw the contradictions in conventional structures of ideas of their time and realized that such models could not explain phenomenon to the degree that they claimed. The most successful people got where they wanted to be because they learned from the mistakes they made and continued in spite of the odds or discouragement from other people for doing things differently. This doesn't mean they were right about everything or that they didn't make mistakes. To the contrary, they were willing to make mistakes and be wrong in order to solve a problem on their own terms.
People and institutions have always used a monopoly on ‘the truth’ in order to control people. The problem is when you tell people that you monopolize the ‘truth’ they tend not to believe you. Ideology is almost always placed as ‘the truth’. I have had many conversations with people that went nowhere. On rare occasion I have encountered people, such as my parents, who are nothing more than nihilistic control freaks that will say and do anything to fulfill their compulsive desire for control. Such people are empty shells who have no attachments to anything. Their words are empty.
Most of the time however, a disagreement is unresolvable because the person in question has bought into a world view that is so rigid and all encompassing that they can not look at any issue in isolation and see it for what it is. In effect, they have completely surrendered their ability to think for themselves and confront reality as it is. A lot of time there is an overlap between the two types of people. ‘Leaders’ have always known that through ideology, they can maintain a monopoly of the ‘truth’ by which they control people.
For example, many institutions and people that claim to be infallible may respond that such scientific discoveries and worldly achievements have nothing to do with the nature of their beliefs. They may argue that they are concerned with our moral and spiritual nature, and that the material world gets in the way of that. Yet it is impossible to be infallible on one aspect of reality and fallible in another, unless one believes that a particular aspect of truth is revealed by a higher supernatural power. It is also impossible to divorce our spiritual, moral, and even political nature from the material world. Human beings exist in a physical reality. We eat and breath.
Even if one were to believe that 'truth', even if it is just of a moral or spiritual nature, could come from a higher power, the problem arises to whom is such knowledge revealed and the fact that even if one supposes that such knowledge was revealed to such a person, such a person can still not be infallible. Knowing one thing does not mean that one knows another, and certainly not all things. While there are 'experts' in particular fields, such fields are always growing and their knowledge is being revised. More importantly, nobody could be an expert on everything or life in general without being everywhere at all times.
Moral and political 'leaders' may argue that moral 'truths' and their political offshoots don't change. While this may be true, it conveniently ignores that fact that moral 'truths' are the hardest to support, let alone prove. They CAN'T be proven through any scientific or philosophic process. All we can do is make arguments that are the most likely. While the credentials, past achievements, and 'importance' of a figure may make an idea more noteworthy, it in of itself will not 'prove' any idea. This applies even more so to moral truths. ALL human beings are fallible and no person is omnipotent.
Certain sources may be better guides than others but ultimately we have to make the journey on our own in order to understand it. Even if we are simply trying to understand something that has already been discovered, we have to experience it for ourselves to understand it. The truth is everywhere and thus too large for any one person to fully know. The all-encompassing truth is only discovered collectively through the sharing of our own personal discoveries and our personal scepticism. No one individual fully understands it on their own. The closest we as individuals can come to understanding it is by the experience of living, verifying the knowledge of others for ourselves, and discovering it on our own. On an individual level the truth is a destination we can never fully reach, and there is no one source or nor path to it. There are many, and we as individuals must decide which path to take.
For this reason the process and act and process of obtaining the ‘truth’ is even more important that the so called ‘truth’ itself. Modern science doesn't even claim to have all the answers, let alone the answers regarding the macro 'truth'. Rather, it has attempted to explain what is most easily measurable and micro, and then has worked its way out towards the macro. There are no 'sacred cows' or 'perenial truths', but rather ideas that can be verified through evidence, empirical observation, and repeated testing. There are not moral 'truths' in science and science doesn't tell people what to do. It just tries to explain the world in the simplest terms possible.
In science knowledge is constantly being updated and previous assumptions are questioned. Research is reviewed by experts in the same field before it is disseminated and yet nobody, including the so called 'experts' are infallible, even if they do know more than the layman. As was the case hundreds and thousands of years ago, discoveries are often if not usually made by chance. Researchers often don't know where to look for the answers, they merely have enough knowledge to have the tools to investigate unaccounted for or unexplainable phenomenon in depth. They also make errors in judgement all the time. Although they may, they do not necessarily have 'special insight', just the right tools and a lot of practice. Neither knowledge nor mystery is put on a pedestal.
This doesn't mean everything from the past is wrong or 'bad'. Knowledge has to start from somewhere. Few ideas are completely wrong. Usually they are inaccurate or incomplete. Going in the complete opposite direction is no more likely to lead to 'the truth'. The ideas that are completely wrong are the ones that are deliberately and calculated so. Such lies are always supported with bad logic and partial truths, but their partial truths do not make the ideas in entirety any more 'true'. Although not always, the search for the scientific truth and questioning of worldly powers, as with Copernicus, have often gone hand in hand for the reason that the powers that be have often used a monopoly of the 'TRUTH', especially 'moral' and 'political' truths to keep a lie in place, and unfortunately while we all can identify a lie as individuals, we can not understand the truth until we have exposed the lie.
The idea of people being free to express themselves and question things doesn't come from some concept of humans being infallible, incorruptible, perfectible, or precious little snowflakes. It derives from the direct opposite. The idea is not that everyone is entitled to their '15 minutes of fame', but rather that everyone is entitled to live up to their potential and expose lies, nepotism, hypocrisy and corruption upon which tyranny rests and stifles individual growth and morality. When free speech and inquiry is curbed, it is not just the expresser that is condemned, but their audience and all of society itself. Free speech and inquiry affords ALL people the opportunity to explore new ideas and get meaningful feedback from others and have a fuller more complete understanding of themselves and reality, and a more productive and fruitful existence. Free speech stops one human human being from telling another 'Here is this truth, now do what I say.'
Without such a process we become cut off from each other, our personal and collective histories, and ourselves. Society becomes an assortment of atomized individuals without a spontaneous or genuine common sense of shared history, reality, identity, or destiny other than what is foisted on them from above. Collectively, organic culture stagnates and is replaced by dictates, propaganda, and marketing imposed from outside and above. Natural evolution is replaced plans, blueprints, formulas, quotas, and a concept of 'progress' determined by the powers that be. Human interaction loses voluntary and mutually benefiting qualities. Most importantly of all, free speech affords people the ability to have a peaceful and civil if strained coexistence with those different from themselves without the interference of a state or 'higher power' imposing ‘order’ and telling them what to do. There is no end so noble that would justify limiting the thing that makes us most human and most free, nor can we be protected from ourselves by being forced to wallow in ignorance. Such ignorance will only make us more dangerous to ourselves and others.
Real freedom CAN NOT EXIST without complete free speech and free inquiry, which means all expression is protected and nothing is beyond questioning or doubt. Without free expression our ability to think for ourselves declines and our understanding of the truth and ourselves is hampered. We even lose our sense of direction as well as our moral compass. Even if a middle ground cannot be reached between people, at least with open dialogue we can have a better understanding of our own views and the intentions and reasoning, or lack thereof, of others. Dissent from the majority or status quo has some value no matter how much in the minority, novel, isolated, strange, misguided, or even ill-intentioned it may be. A particular form of expression may appear to be lacking in content to some but as long as it gets people to think and talk it is accomplishing something. If it fails at that and is simply an attention seeking annoyance or disruption, the worst case scenario is that it is a mild inconvenience.
Even if dissenting opinions or expressions threatens to bring about radical change, abolish established order, or lead to 'bad acts', there is no value or justification in preventing its expression. No idea on its own has ever led to violence, anarchy, or 'revolution' and nothing as abstract as an idea can be permanently destroyed. Revolutions do not occur because an evil/misguided group of people conspire to manipulate the masses and overthrow the government. They occur because the material conditions of a society become intolerable, and because the system has become so inflexible or corrupt that it can not reform to meet the basic needs of the majority of people. Revolutions in fact often occur spontaneously and chaotically without a leadership, planning, or guiding ideology. People disobey, defect, and riot when their survival is at stake and the government does nothing to help them. It is only after an initial outbreak of violence and chaos that an organized opposition comes front and center to try to direct the discontent of people.
Neither do people do bad or anti-social things because of bad ideas. 'Leaders' of all stripes argue that bad ideas and 'influences' lead to a decline in morality, which intern leads to 'disorder', a 'weakness of the nation', and eventually 'chaos'. They believe in preventing all types of speech and behavior on the grounds that if they don't, they will be seen to be condoning it, which in turn will only lead to 'bad elements' spreading such ideas, more immorality, and chaos. The argument has also been made that 'traitors' and 'spys' hide behind bad ideas in order to help outside enemies while masking their intentions. Even people who believe in the idea of democracy still nonetheless think that censorship is sometimes acceptable and if not necessary for reasons of maintaining 'public decency' and 'morality'. They use essentially the same arguments as dictators, minus the anti-state/counterrevolutionary rhetoric. Instead they appeal to public safety and protecting youth from 'corrupting influences'.
Any idea that is wrong will eventually fall flat on its face and replaced with a better idea. If an idea is in some way truly 'bad' and only used by 'bad' people to push their alterior selfish agenda, it will eventually be exposed for what it is. Either way the best way to contain any bad or incorrect ideas is to constantly test it or publicly expose them and let them winnow away. Certain people may continue to believe in certain ideas no matter what, but the more such an idea is exposed the more and more the number of adherants will decline. Those in favor of censorship may argue that 'extreme' and 'deviant' ideas that are 'dangerous' can be censored without infringing on the rights of the 'majority'. Such ideas will continue to exist no matter how much debate there is and will never really contribute in any meaningful and productive way to public discourse. Without censorship the argument goes, such ideas can spread even if they have no reason behind them.
While there may be an element of truth to this, the problem becomes deciding who gets to decide what is 'extreme', 'deviant', 'dangerous', and what constitutes 'the majority'. Any idea that is new or critiques the status quo can be construed to be 'deviant' and 'extreme'. Unless you allow such ideas to propogate in society at large you can never be sure how unpopular, deviant, or 'dangerous' they are. The only way to get rid of 'extreme' ideas is to make everything the same and dictated from above. There will always be unreasonable people that believe in ridiculous notions. It is only through a process of open, unfettered, uninhibited, and involved discourse, that reason prevails.
'Bad' ideas don't need to be crushed nor can they, they only need to be made to be irrelevant. Reason may not always prevail in the moment, but in the long run incorrect or incomplete ideas are replaced by more accurate, complete, and truthful ones. Their existence helps us to understand who we are and why they are bad. Certain ideas will inevitably gain more popularity and airtime than others while others remain on the fringe, nonetheless meaningful discourse requires that ALL IDEAS have the right to be expressed.
The only reason free expression is ever curbed is so that one group of people can impose their 'truth' and 'morality' on others, and thus control them. Real traitors are more likely to be motivated by personal gain or dissatisfaction than ideological conviction, and 'bad' people are going to find some way of being 'bad' and corrupting other people no matter what you teach them. The only way to really prevent people from being 'corrupted' is through education. Only through a process of free inquiry and exchange can people learn individually and collectively from past experiences and history. Clamping down on a free exchange of ideas will make people more ignorant and pliable, and usually more submissive, but if they are abused or their survival is at stake they will revolt anyway. The best way to prevent large scale violence and revolutions is through debate and reform, not repression. Dictatorships use repression not because they fear revolution, but reform and their loss of a monopoly of power itself.
Yet as liberating as the pursuit of truth ultimately is to everyone and no matter how little it threatens the status quo, there will always be people at every level of society who feel threatened, offended, or disgusted by something simply because it is different or new, or because they feel it threatens their world view, their concept of the status quo, or their self-interest. There are people that would rather feel safe and secure in their familiar rut than put effort into understanding the world and grow as people. Some people even deliberately take offense and accuse others of throwing their weight around simply as a means to throw their own weight around and push their own narrow self-serving agenda. Everything imaginable offends someone somewhere in the world for some arbitrary and irrational reason that cannot be articulated. Even without attacking or threatening, or purposefully offending or trying to be controversial, there will be people that react negatively and irrationally to anything.
Even in trying to find the middle ground or simply understanding something for yourself, some people will accuse you of being partisan and having an ulterior self-serving agenda. There are people that don't want to look deeper and understand, nor broaden their horizons and see eye to eye with others. There are people that just want to be ‘right’, unchallenged, and have their way, and will stop at absolutely nothing to get their way. They are not interested in compromise, nor the happiness, rights, or even lives of other people. They feel threatened by anything that is in anyway, no matter how slight or tangential, a challenge to their power and self-interest, as little or as much as they have. They especially feel most threatened by free inquiry and dialogue, as the only way for them to get their way is to mask their behavior and intentions and silence others through violence, intimidation, and shame. Even once they have what they claim they want they are never happy for long as anything can be construed as an insult or threat to what they have and their power. Abstaining from genuine free inquiry and hiding from the truth will not shield one from their hatred and totalitarian wrath. Rather it only delays the inevitable, and not for very long.
Ultimately, the pursuit of the truth is the only thing that will expose such evil self-serving tyrants and demagogues for who they really are, and separate and resolve the disputes and conflicts that are based on genuine misunderstandings from those conflicts based on unilateral aggression. Censoring oneself and remaining silent to avoid conflict is pointless. If you can't please everyone, there really is point in pleasing anyone. Tact and diplomacy will only go so far and reality can only be slanted and spoon feed so much. Capitulating to people's indignity or ‘sensibilities’ and silencing oneself will not placate them, as some people ultimately only care for is themselves and their domination of other human beings. Micromanaging your interactions with people and trying to separate those that are bad from those that are ignorant is a waste of time and energy. Conflict will find you sooner or later no matter how many people you try to please and no matter how much you hide what you really believe and who you are. Either way, uninhibited free speech and free inquiry is the strongest weapon against oppression and the best tool for resolving conflict.
Any person or institution claiming to be infallible or that even puts being 'right' over the pursuit of knowledge has an agenda of power and control over other people. As soon as any person or institution claims to have the whole and only 'truth' or method of obtaining the truth, the only way to maintain their position is to attempt to prevent others in their attempt to seek the truth on their own terms. Institutions and groups of people that want to hang on to their infallible mantra will grant that individuals are fallible, but their knowledge built upon generations is not. Where 'errors' are made, they are about the local and specific; their macro vision of the universe remains the one and only truth. Such manipulation only 'works' however on people if at the same time you are able to keep them ignorant.
Such power hungry people and institutions will hide their intentions by making their ideas more complex than they need in order to get around people asking inconvenient questions, and will never accept any wholesale attempt by outsiders to understand their system. They will shroud knowledge in mystery to make it seem more substantial than it really is. They make long-winded round about arguments to hide what they are really saying while at the same time trying to sound intelligent and/or not self-serving. At the core of their systems lie absolutes that must be taken as faith, around which lie numerous arbitrary rules that have numerous equally arbitrary exceptions. They will back up their systems and 'values' with 'evidence' that their systems offer the best explanation for how the world works. By making things sound more complicated than they are, mystics can make it seem like only the 'experts' are capable of making ordinary decisions people need to make about their lives, thereby imposing their values and agenda on the people they wish to control.
When they do use esoteric knowledge and evidence to back up their arguments, they will claim that their esoteric knowledge is somehow inaccessible and/or incomprehensible to the average person without the 'full knowledge of their system'. They will hoard their own 'knowledge' on the grounds that it is 'too difficult' to grasp, only revealing 'higher level' in controlled piece meal portions when the 'lower level' knowledge is 'mastered. When esoteric knowledge is brought forth that challenges their ideology, they will not discuss the evidence but will respond rather with more ideological rhetoric and hair splitting semantics. They will only expose their 'insider' knowledge to select few outsiders when they feel their legitimate is as stake. The origins and methods by which they have obtained the truth will always be shrouded in mystery to all but only those at the very top of their institution in order to make it impossible to verify or disprove their claims.
When better explanations are put forth they will argue that such arguments can not explain all phenomenon, and therefore are no more valid than their own system. When people criticize what proponents of their belief systems have done, they will retort with ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacies. They may even dismiss such counter arguments as ideas of the 'enemies' of their system of thought or 'hate' itself. In other words, even if their ideology has flaws, at least their proponents have ‘good intentions’. When their methods are exposed as being manipulative, such people and organizations will fall back onto their last card which is that even if they can't verify their claims to the satisfaction of 'detractors', nobody else can disprove them, no one can tell them what the truth is, and finally that the 'good works' that they do outweigh any grounds for criticism.
Ultimately such people, institutions, and ideologies have no substantial arguments of their own built on solid reasoning and fact. What they do consists of nothing more than projection, redirection, and obfuscation in order to help them rationalize what they were going to do in the first place. By masking their hate, ignorance, and desire for power as compassion, understanding, and an interest in the 'greater good', such people and institutions can pull the wool over the eyes of people that do not or cannot think for themselves. When they label their detractors as 'hateful', they are just trying to silence any and all criticism. Bullies mask their arrogance, narcissism, stubborn inflexibility, and desire for control as strength, confidence, and conviction. When they demand their reasoning, point of view, and values be accepted on faith, they are really asking for unconditional obedience and absolute power.
Such institutions are more interesting in selling themselves and winning converts than spreading their knowledge to the public at hand. Where they do reach out to the public it is purely as a means to win converts or protect their interests. They will also scapegoat and attack people as a means of explaining the failings of their system, and then defend there scapegoating by hiding behind their 'values'. The surest way to control another human being is to control the yardstick they use to measure themselves and the world, and thus their values. The best way to do that is not just to keep them ignorance but also by preventing their independent thinking by nipping it in the bud and stopping them from asking questions in the first place.
A complex idea is not more valid than a simple one and most people are quite capable of understanding enough about the world to think for themselves. Arguments, theories, and even authority can only be legitimate if they are backed up by evidence and reasoning. Indeed the process of science is always trying to streamline our understanding of the principles that govern the universe by making the 'exceptions to the rules' smaller and smaller. Science has discovered that there are no absolutes, only general principals that can express themselves in many different ways. In this way the world has become more rich, diverse, and dynamic and yet easier to understand. Otherwise such unfounded ideas are nothing more than either personal preferences or suspicions that require further investigation.
A lot of times we are forced to make decisions with limited information because a decision has to be made right away. However if someone is going to be making an important decision or a decision on our behalf or other people, they better be able to explain themselves. Anyone in authority better gather all the information possible, analyze is scrupulously, and be able to explain themselves to the people with whom must trust our authority. If we want people to follow us, it is not good enough to believe we are right. We must practice what we preach and set an example. Ideas can only be persuasive if they are made understandable from someone else's point of view, experience, and knowledge set. People can make can make any decisions they want that only concern themselves, but when you take someone else's imperfect decision as gospel you are basically putting your life in their hands.
When we fight for the right to honestly express ourselves, pursue the truth, and understand things for ourselves we are not fighting 'to be right'. On the contrary we are simply trying to grow as people as well as fighting against tyrants who want to control and exploit us by 'being right' and dictating to us what the 'truth' is and what our values should be. If we DON'T think for ourselves, someone else who's is just as fallible but with their own agenda will be telling us what to do, and it probably will not be for our own benefit. The best way to deal with mystics, people that hide behind their 'values', or anyone who makes complex but incomplete argument is to just reiterate the most obvious counterpoints over and over again. Getting sucked into trying to deconstruct their worldview will only have you going in circles and lost in a maze of their byzantine 'logic'. 2 + 2 will ALWAYS equal four. Everything else is just details.
In such a way we can stay connected to reality while accepting that our perspective on it is limited and willing to broaden it. There is no way to be sure of any belief until one has tested it repeatedly and has explored all the alternatives. The people who are only interested in their own point of view and are not interesting in exploring those of others are only concerned with their own self-interest. Even if theoretically some such person was 100% correct on one issue or makes a really good argument, it doesn't mean they will be 100% correct all the time. When they ask others to take their word on any matter, they are either arguing a) they are infallible or that b) even if they are wrong they still should be obeyed.
I do not claim a monopoly on any such full and complete ‘truth', nor do I seek to push my version of it or my values on other people. I express myself so I can seek it and refine my values and grow as a person, and I can speak for nobody but myself and from my own experience. I speak because I have wasted too much of my life censoring myself, maintaining appearances, and hiding behind a facade to get on with and get by with such uncompromising, demanding, and self-righteous people and their 'majority', ‘values’, ‘expectations’, 'feelings' and ‘needs’. I avoided expressing what I really thought because I didn't want people to have leverage over me. I not only did it to avoid the condemnation and wrath of people that held real power, I even did it with those whose power only lied in the illusion of having something to offer and hiding behind the majority, the status quo, a cause, or some abstraction. The majority of such people were arrogant self-serving manipulative users and smug self-entitled dullards who had neither lofty let alone substantial intentions, nor mine or anyone else's interests at heart. Most importantly they had nothing to offer.
I don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to deal with the self-dealing makework that such people throw in front of me. Such an attitude may drive a lot of people away, but quite honestly I have come to find that to be a good thing as such people really are not worth any level of effort. In spite of what they have others believe, one on one such people are actually too low functioning to have any significant power over anyone. It is only in numbers or with institutional power that such people are intimidating, destructive, and dangerous. On an individual level they can only offer or deny their approval and cooperation as part of a game to get their way, and will always make it sound like they have way more people and abilities behind them then they actually do. It’s one thing to prostrate yourself because you fear serious and imminent bodily harm, but reducing yourself simply because you feel like alone or like an outsider is to go down a path that leads nowhere. Ultimately, those people really have nothing to offer, hardly anything to deny, and not much to take away.
I am not interested anymore in 'the majority' or their groups, causes, 'norms', or 'values', regardless of their character and circumstances, or what their intentions are. Their opinions and feelings are no more important nor relevant to the big picture than anyone else's. Ultimately we are all equally insignificant. In accommodating the nebulous and ever shifting 'majority' and ‘norm’, one is just selling one’s soul to the lowest bidder. Gradually it will atrophy, and then eventually shrivel altogether until one becomes an empty numb shell without meaningful thoughts, opinions, ambitions, or will of one’s own. At that point, the only way to get through life is to follow the mob at every turn because you no longer know what to do with yourself.
How one outwardly appears does not make one an individual or a person of substance, character, or integrity; one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions do. If one can never submit a well thought out opinion backed with facts, or express sincere feelings without any reciprocation and only to have it used against you, then there is no point being around such people at all. People that only want their way will often accuse others of being selfish, however you can care about rights of others without allowing yourself to be hijacked by emotional manipulation and vituperative. Nobody's ego can trump reason or another persons self-interest. Ego is an unnecessary attachment to a predetermined concept that acts as dead weight and gets in the way of productive change and living life, however if one must always avoid being their true self in order to serve the ego's of others and avoid conflict, then life has nothing to offer. I accept my failings and limitations, but that doesn’t give anyone, group, or institution the right to infringe on my autonomy, exploit me, or make me suffer for their own benefit.
Anyone can be deceived and misled. Unfortunately much if not most of what we learn is through trial and error, making experience is the best source of knowledge. We are just as likely if not more so to be misled by following others as we are trying to understand things for ourselves. It is the things we have witnessed and experienced directly time and time again, and that we have tested that we can be the most sure of. The simple things ring most true.
People that make mistakes can still make meaningful decision for themselves, especially when it only concern themselves. You can be answerable to yourself first and foremost and be able to focus on yourself and have the best life possible while having meaningful and productive relationships with other people. Indeed it is the best and only way to do so. I don't want to waste resources getting on and by with other people that are going to do nothing for me only to neglect focusing on myself, regardless of how it may make such people feel. It’s nobody's responsibility to make anyone else happy or feel good about themselves; happiness is something we all work on an individual level. Nobody should put their life on hold or play games so that others benefit or feel comfortable, nor should anyone surrender their dignity and autonomy any more just to please people, serve their agenda, and feed their bullshit, ego, bank accounts, and political agendas. I am not interested in what they claim to offer or threaten to deny; I refuse to live a lie and suffer in silence at the hands of someone else for their benefit.
People may have to live with their mistakes but they should also be able to discuss and learn from them and help others to do the same. Just because we live our life on our own terms doesn't mean we shut ourselves off from others or think that we are immune from criticism. To the contrary, when we go our own way we have so much more to share and so much more to learn. To some, talking about things honestly is 'complaining', which is a sign of weakness, and trying to understand the intangible is 'obsessive' and 'impractical'. To such people taking the shortest route and most worn path is ALWAYS the best way of going about things. The mob mentality is if you can't 'beat em', then 'join em'. Otherwise if you "can't play the game" then the only alternative is to "take it like a man".
Yes the problems of life do not always have simple solutions and not everything can be spelled out in some sort of formula. That is exactly why honesty goes so far in helping us to understand our own problems. There is no reason people should not be willing to share their experiences with each other, so that they learn from the mistakes and failures of others and don't repeat them. Doing whatever it takes to adapt to the status quo and bend to the will of others requires destroying one's conscience. Suffering in silence or living in denial doesn't prove anything either. On the contrary, it makes you worse than somebody's slave. It makes you an unperson, as if you never existed in the first place. Even slaves have some qualitative economic value to their masters, and have the suffering of their existence acknowledged by each other. Without learning from the trials, misfortunes, and mistakes of others, humanity would still be living in the Stone Age.
There are times when one must be tough and adaptive, but as imperfect as this world is, this doesn't mean we should only live for the hope of a better future. It would be nice to know that there is more to life than just enduring pain. We can try and make our lives better in the here and now by taking as much charge of the things we can influence, even if it is only incrementally. Putting up with mistreatment and obeying for someone else's benefit just because they unilaterally dictate so proves nothing and serves no higher purpose. Such exploitation and oppression can't be justified by some moral platitude, heuristic, or ideological 'high ground', or 'practicality'.
It’s entirely self-defeating to live going against one's every natural inclination and benefit to the point of self-negation and complete self-denial. Being miserable for someone else's benefit does nothing for ourselves nor the 'greater good'. If you only live for some abstract cause or distant future goal, you are never living in the here and now nor growing as a person. A big part of the problem has been that when people fight and live for a 'truth' that was handed to them and what they think is a utopia or a just society, they cease thinking and end up living in their own heads, pushing 'their' ‘values’ on others, and marginalizing people that don't think like them, thereby replicating the very process of oppression itself. No dignified, meaningful, or productive life is possible when oppression and exploitation is so great that refuge cannot be found in one's personal life, and one is forced to live a lie. Neither will being invisible, powerless, or dead serve any cause, noble or not.
Freedom isn't the ability to do whatever we want whenever we choose. That is power. As much as we have to be responsible FOR ourselves, freedom also involves being responsible TO ourselves as well as each other. Even if we must cooperate with others we don't have to put on a facade or play an assigned role handed to us by someone else as part of their game, nor do we have to accept the ends any game without our consent. Loyalty does not entail absolute obedience or self-denial and being a good person doesn't mean we please other people. We can still be productive and helpful members of society or any group for that matter, while being critical of it, maintaining our personal sovereignty, and pursuing our own passions and happiness. Even more important, being moral creatures that not only have respect and compassion for other living creatures but can engage in meaningful and loving relationships DEMANDS that we think and act for ourselves. Love only exists with respect, understanding, and compassion. A machine that cannot think for itself nor feel anything other than the vague apprehension of fear and sensation of danger, is not capable of love and will only ever act in self-preservation, and ruthlessly so.
Destructive cults are totalitarian environments that are so toxic and controlling that they corrupt individual agency and reduce people to robots. They demand total obedience, a rejection of free inquiry, and a control of not just all aspects but the very aims of life itself. They corrupt and corrode the independent human thought and spirit by appealing to the most irrational and primitive of emotions while attacking and controlling the very idea of 'truth' itself. Thought and ideas become passive and shallow. Reality is becomes dependent on perspective while values and beliefs become absolute. What becomes practical to the status quo is taken as moral. Anything universal or outside the norms of the status quo becomes evil. Doubt is taken as weakness and questioning as treason, while hubris and arrogance is taken as faith and confidence. Blind faith is elevated to wisdom and insight.
Information, ideas, and emotions are manipulated and subordinated to the capricious whims of the organization whose true ends are hidden behind a shroud of dogma and secrecy. Fact, opinion, and fabrication become indistinguishable. Means become subordinated to ends until ideology loses all tangible connection to reality, and a universal respect of life and humanity that is binding on all individuals becomes crushed under the desires of the totalitarian machine. Contradictions cover up contradictions, which cover up even further contradictions until reality becomes blurred through an entangled web of lies. In a world of absolute conformity and institutionalized lies, the idea of truth and the pursuit of truth outside of the needs of the system ceases to have any public relevance at all. Values in such organizations and societies degenerate from being a general guide for human interaction based on experience into an ideological blueprint imposing its aims of life on all society to transform people and society itself into the image of its desires.
Living in such a society is being forced to live with and propagate a lie and be complicit in one's own oppression against one's will day in and day out. At every turn one is forced to compromise one’s personal integrity and autonomy in order to survive in the system, only to be forced to publicly praise the system as the most moral system that exists. The needs of collective ‘society’ are paramount and must always be met before the needs of the individual; one is expected to adapt to and master the system in order to live with dignity and get one’s needs met. At the same time one is constantly on guard, one is also paralyzed by an inability to really control anything or live like a human being. It’s not just a traumatic experience, but a traumatic existence brought on by a traumatizing environment. It’s a mind rape that corrodes the soul to the core. At best it’s a stagnant life lived on the defensive.
To a greater or lesser extent all totalitarian institutions operate in the same way in their attempt to impose their aims of life on their members. No matter how much the individual sees through the charades and smokes and mirrors of the power structure, it becomes difficult to be sure of what one really knows and what the truth is. You can always question things, but when very little makes sense you inevitably end up spending a lot of time living in your own head. When the lie is so omnipresent, it becomes really hard not to end up doubting reality and ultimately one's own thoughts, senses, and even character and intentions. The only hope of seeking solidarity with like minding individuals in such a society is difficult. It is hard enough trying to see the charade for what it is; trying to get others to do the same is that much harder, and potentially dangerous.
Although I have become much more comfortable in my own skin, I write also because sharing my experiences with even trusted people face to face has not been easy. It’s not so much that I feel shame anymore as it is that there is simply too much ground to cover and too many pain and 'negativity' for people to handle. The handful of people I trust enough to explain my experiences and ideas had a hard time completely understanding. It’s difficult to describe such an all-consuming experience when there is that much ground to cover and there aren't many similar frames of reference.
There are parallels between everyone’s lives. Everyone has dealt with bullying, controlling, and difficult people and situations at all the stages of their life. Self-dealing exploitative behavior and the pointless conflict it creates exist everywhere. Youth in particular can be difficult because you are inexperienced, naive, and vulnerable, and you are still trying to figure out who you are. It only makes bad situations far worse. It was in many ways somehow qualitatively as well and quantitatively different. My individual experiences were not more unique, alien, distant, and absurd, as much as all the same evils I had to deal with were organized under one umbrella that were constantly trying to control me. I can't separate all the distinct tangible experiences I had and reenact some sort of linear storyline with a resolution. The point is there was never any resolution nor a storyline with a direction; my experience was an all-consuming unyielding process.
Mostly writing has enabled me to be honest with myself and understand the world on my own terms. In particular I have learned people are often not likely to tell you what they really think. Everyone has baggage and insecurities that make it difficult from them to be honest with themselves let alone each other. Through writing I have become far more independent. I can figure out a lot more on my own by approaching a problem from many different angles as well as an abstract approach.
I don't expect or need honesty to come from anyone easily, but if I have to play games just to be around people then I don't want to be around them at all. After living a lie for so long and having nothing to show for it, honesty is all I have left to offer or live by. I don’t seek honesty from people because I want an understanding mother figure, but because nothing else really matters. Their power, abilities, and stated intentions mean nothing if I end up becoming a pawn in their game. I don’t expect anyone to share their darkest fears or personal secrets, but if they can’t search for answers with me and let me know what they really believe to be true, I can only suspect they have a hidden agenda.
Honesty doesn't automatically lead to an understanding or trust between people, but without it understanding and trust is impossible. The harder it is to get honesty from other people, the harder it is to be honest with them, and the harder it is to be honest with others the harder it becomes to be honest with yourself, which is most important of all. Honesty keeps the mind clean and keeps you focused on what is most important in your life. When I can’t get honesty from others, rather than trying to feel connected or getting people to understand me, I have done everything I can to understand people and the world on my own terms as much as possible even if only so I can avoid the right/wrong people and places altogether. Honesty helps to navigate around all the lies and crap that exist without becoming entangled in it.
Honesty not only helped me to realize I can't change people, but that I shouldn't care anyway. In many ways human behavior is quite easy to understand. We share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees. We evolved from animals, and our behavior is not that different from animals even if our sophistication appears to take us to an entirely new levels. Like animals, we have instincts and drives. Under the right stressors we lose our higher order critical thinking skills and return to our primitive state. In spite of our knowledge, we can become just as superstitious, prejudiced, and predisposed towards group think in the modern age as our not so distant Stone Age ancestors that stoned and burned people to death on scant or no evidence at all. Education, intelligence, social class, or culture will not override the fact that we struggle to survive in groups and optimize our self-interest. We possess 'reason' but that doesn't mean we can make people use in the way we like if at all. 'Reason' may guide us, but it is not what drives us.
For the most part 'reason' has helped people be better than animals at getting their needs met and surviving. What we call culture and religion is nothing more than a rationalization of a lifestyle that enables the group to adapt to its environment. Over time culture, religion, and politics become powerful forces that take a life of their own and whom nobody is immune from. Even people that possess 'reason' can do things that appear to be 'unreasonable' and even 'evil'.
Good people can do bad things, and bad people can do good things. Right and wrong really has nothing to do with it; good and bad people can be at their core followers and irrational even as individuals. Anyone can be driven into submission. History shows 'normal' people are quite capable of extreme brutality and callousness under harsh conditions or when a charismatic and intelligent leader is in place and the right buttons are pushed. People may be well intentioned, but they are just as susceptible to rationalizing, projection, externalizing evil, and self-deception that has led to conflict and exploitation. They are still animals. People that engage in sheepish be behavior are not evil and all people are followers at certain points.
Considering the amount of effort, sacrifice, and even risk it can take at times, it doesn't surprise me so many people choose to go along with the crowd and through the motions in order to live in their own little bubble. Being a true individual requires not just strength, intelligence, constant practice, and persistence, but a willingness to go against the grain, face conflict, and be a damper on people's as well as one’s own feel good mantra and self-righteous aura. Most of all it requires unwavering skepticism and even self-doubt. I now understand why people think that if you are getting your needs met and you think you are happy, being an 'individual' seems like a foolish, niave, and irrational compulsion.
For these reasons groupthink tends to be far more the rule than the exception, even if it requires a high level of self-deception. 'Normal' people not associated with any fringe groups or behavior routinely engage in self-deception and rationalization every day to benefit themselves at the expense of others, including those quite close to them. People often go to great lengths just to conform and go through motions just because it may be momentarily appear to be a bit easier. Deception and rationalization are far more the rule than the exception in much of human interaction. Until we recognize this aspect in ourselves we will never be able to see cults in particular, and totalitarianism in general as a natural extension of our human drives when our human psyche is placed under severe pressure.
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III. DESTROYING HONESTY AND TRUTH TO CREATE DISPOSABLE UTILITIES-TOTALITARIANISM:
It is misguided to believe that cults and totalitarian movements and societies simply 'brainwash' people by replacing their personalities with entirely new ones, completely taking away control of their own behavior, or by casting some magic spell on them. People CAN be 'brainwashed' to a point where they lose a great deal if not all of their autonomy, but it takes YEARS of conditioning. If you are raised in a society that teaches you only one thing from the day you are born, your ability to think for yourself and understand yourself will be greatly hampered. However, you can not take an fresh individual and brainwash them with new ideas, unless they have somehow been 'pre-soaked' in some way that lends them to falling for an ideology or surrendering their autonomy to some 'higher power'.
People by in large are social creatures and creatures of habit. A large part of our mental processing occurs at a subconscious instinctual level and the majority of what humans do is driven by our temperament, habit, and instinct. Our social world is also very complex and driven by forces that 99% of people don't understand. Most adults humans have no understanding of how central banks, currency exchange, or macroeconomics works, and yet children understand at a very young age that if they have money they can get things. Like animals, we understand that heights can be dangerous, even if we don't understand the laws of physics behind such forces. We learn how to navigate the environment simply be experiencing it every day, even if we don't understand how it works. The problem is that if we don't understand the environment it can control us in ways we can not comprehend. Even if we possess good reasoning abilities, we simply do not have the time and ability to understand everything on a rational level; no person has that much control and insight into themselves.
Its even harder to understand the mental and emotional process of another's mind making it very difficult for one person to control another. Even if we can reason with someone, we can not influences them unless we understand their motivations and character. Institutions and people in large groups have no more insight than individuals, but they possess a lot of coercive power. Even if they do not have physical violence at their disposal, they can exert great influence over what we think about and how we relate to other people. When they are large and powerful enough, they become indistinguishable from the environment itself. On a large enough scale, they become harder to understand, let alone reason with. The larger the group of people, the more and more complex rules are need to guide social interaction.
On the largest scale societies are headless monsters. There may be people at the top that have power, but even they do not control everything nor do they completely understand their own motivations or the motivations of those around and beneath them. The people that make up such groups and institutions are reacting to each other by following and even making rules as they go along. Even if they collectively don't understand what they are doing, as a group they can still manipulate our emotions and instincts on an individual level and place restraints on our behavior. Over time, the group can condition us as individuals to behave in ways without us even being aware of it.
For this reason it is grossly misguided to believe that only a few emotionally weak, intellectually limited, or deviant people can be manipulated and controlled. Unless one finds a way of becoming completely independent of other human beings, EVERYONE is controlled to varying extents by the society around them. Our own personal agency allows us to mitigate the amount of control that our society exerts on us, but we can never be completely free unless we are completely independent. People in cults are viewed as 'crazy' simply because such societies are small and have no clear borders holding people inside. The more and more 'mainstream' such a cult movement becomes, the less and less deviant and 'crazy' its followers appear to be, irrespective of the beliefs of the system and the methods of control used.
Most people have no idea how much they are controlled by the society around them as much of it is not only done without violence but even visible or tangible methods. The concept of 'thought control' and its manifestations in propaganda and dogma is subtle, insidious, and ubiquitous, and has much more to do with indirect and subtle emotional manipulation than conscious rational influence. It is not so much about changing people as manipulating them emotionally by surreptitiously attacking and appealing to their ego and basic survival instincts at the same time, while turning the critical thinking part of their brain off. Thought control also works through distraction, controlling information, subtle suggestion, social pressure, and placing constraints on the environment. It doesn't matter how rational or intelligent one may be, given the right environmental constraints and pressure, ANYONE can be manipulated. Thought control is found everywhere, from advertizing and politics to pop culture and religion.
People that have lorded over others have always had to have some ideology to hide power relations while justifying their position of power. Traditionally, ideology and dogma have served as methods of control which coupled with the use of force in non-democratic societies, has kept people subservient. Dogma can come in any form, and has for thousands of years. Initially, many dogmas arise from philosophies, disciplines, and grassroots movements that had very specific goals in mind. Often times they are not designed at all and rarely have even one original creator, and are nothing more than a rearrangement of smaller ideas that make up various other ideologies.
What separates dogma from a philosophy, discipline, or science is that the later are methods of seeking answers whereas the former pose as the answers themselves. Almost any idea or concept can be stripped of all of its content and substance and reduced to a formulaic shell of rituals, rhetoric, and lifestyle. Although the slogans sound different, communist dogma works just as well as fascist dogma in offering simple and catch all solutions to complex and ever changing problems. Both includes rituals, myths, heroes, and enemies. Both rely on black and white thinking, absolute devotion to a cause and leader, and scapegoating, suspicion, and repression. Dogma and ideology do not appeal to people's reason; they are anti-intellectual in nature and arouse peoples fears and passions. Dogma and ideology operate as a mask, not a lense. People don't need to intellectually comprehend dogma in order for it to work as an agent of thought control because in the aggregate, the ideas of the dogma itself is not what is directly controlling people.
Precisely the opposite happens when one strutinizes dogma; all the contradictions become apparent. This is why dogma doesn't have to be sophisticated or involved at all, and it doesn't have to appeal to the majority or even a large number of people. It doesn't even have to make sense. The critical mass of devout 'true believers' it has to appeal to and inspire can actually be quit small. As long as people can be conditioned via incentives and shame into playing their role, convincing them to deliberately and consciously support the system is irrelevant. As long as they are given enough crumbs and are sufficiently distracted, the use of force is usually unnecessary. Dogma for the most part just needs to justify and provide a framework for the structure and rituals of an organization and society while hiding basic power relations between those who run such organizations and those who are governed by them.
The justification for rulers has always boiled down to playing their 'role' of 'maintaining harmony' between the social classes, preserving the 'peace', protecting society, and serving the 'greater good'. Typically ideology justifies a hierarchy and spells out the roles various sectors of society plays as well as the various mores that all of society should abide by. Rulers have always been a first amongst equals from the ruling classes whose goal was to keep them united while ruling in their interests. They are often portrayed as neutral arbiters of justice and virtue.
Throughout most of history rulers, whether they were French or Chinese despots used the same ideologies of 'divine right' to justify their hereditary rule and their position at the top of society. The earliest despots such as the Egyptians were deemed Gods themselves. Surrounding them were a caste of priests who in turned ruled over the rest of the population. Only very gradually over thousands of years did government distance itself from religion. Even though medieval monarchs and popes were not deemed gods themselves, they still used religious ideology to control their subjects. Although the majority of the population may have been exploited serfs, ideology only justified people playing their 'natural' or 'God given' roles.
Only over time did political ideologies develop completely divorced from a concept of god, that existed side by side with religion. In modern secular societies, rulers play the same role using 'science' and 'economics' as opposed to religion to preserve a social order. Even today in western democracies religious and political ideologies overlap and support each other. It may demonize, but rarely does ideology condone exploitation outright or the right of one group of people to dominate another. Every society on earth since the beginning of time has had multiple layers; never are there just two distinct classes with one dominating the other. Ideology simply justifies keeping an apparently 'natural' or 'virtuous' social order intact.
No society(or movement) would last if officially based itself on exploitation or oppression. Rather than condoning either, ideology tries to convince people that they are free or living under a 'just' or 'natural order'. Only at the very bottom of societies existed slaves, who were held in bondage and existed only to be exploited. For slaves, there is no pretense of benevolence or a 'greater good', 'harmony', or someone lording over them in their interests. Slaves have always had to be viewed as subhuman or inferior as slavery is exploitation in its rawest form, with human beings being reduced to cattle. Slaves were typically aquired through warfare, subjugation of the 'other', or punishment of individuals. However, no society on earth has been completely supported by slave labor. Slave labor is relatively unproductive, and slave societies are subject to revolt. Where slavery was the main means of production and their numbers were in the majority of the population such as in the carribean, revolts were common. While slavery has periodically popped up from time to time in many societies, it never lasts long.
Most societies have had multiple ideologies justifying the same rule at the same time. Ideologies used to justify rule are rarely ossified or insular, but rather quite fluid and overlap with other ideologies. They become a method of control gradually and quite inadvertently. Often times those in power adopt ideas from below simply because they have become so popular that endorsing them adds legitimacy to their own rule. Initially, Roman religion was practical and contractual, based on the principle of do ut des, "I give that you might give." Sacrifice for divine intervention was the norm. Many gods existed, each serving a separate function. The priesthoods of public religion were held by members of the elite classes, who alone could interpret the will of the gods by observing natural phenomenon. However as Rome spread, it co-opted many of the gods of the people it conquered in order to make Roman rule more palatable. Eventually this happened to christianity itself.
While initially it was a persecuted movement, Christianity eventually became the official religion of Rome when it became so popular that the majority of the population was practicing it. It condemned sacrifice, as god had sacrified his only son so that we wouldn't have to, and preached that all human beings were born in sin and could only achieve salvation through faith in one true god. Unlike the preceding pagan religions, salvation in the afterlife was the ultimate goal, and acts were to be done 'in the glory of god', not reward on earth. In medieval Europe Christianity preached obeideance and meekness, and the last shall become first in heaven. However as Christianity spread throughout medieval Europe by force from above, it still had to adopt many of the pagan rituals in order to be more palatable to the masses, repeating the cycle that all religions go through. Ideas that are popular or useful are co-opted by the powerful as long as they can be used to justify people playing their roles.
Even ideologies of the modern age are never completely original or created out of nothing. Most can find their roots in older philosophies and religions. Almost all the religions of the world share the same meme of the 'golden rule', 'redemption', 'sacrifice', 'rebirth' and 'salvation', and most of the political philosophies of the world have some concept of the 'greater good', 'social justice', 'law and order', 'harmony', or 'quid pro quo' whereby enlightened rulers rule in the interests of society.
Even so called 'revolutionary' ideas were not as novel as their proponents made them out to appear. Karl Marx didn't invent the concept of communism any more than Hitler invented the concept of Fascism. Marx added a 'scientific' aura to socialist ideas and revolutionary upheaval that had existed for hundreds of years in order to adopt it to a time when religion was losing its sway over politics. Hitler borrowed most of his ideas from Mussolini and other fascist 'thinkers', who in turn based most of their ideas off of social darwinist thinking of the 19th century. While individuals and societies alike have a way of cherry picking and emphasizing ideas that support their particular way of life and circumstances, ALL the political and religions ideologies of the world throughout the ages have shared the same concept of individual sacrifice and struggle for the 'common/greater good'.
What separates totalitarian societies from freer societies are not just the ideas themselves. ALL societies have ideologies that advocate the concept of individual sacrifice for the greater good. However, in open and free societies there are no official ideologies or state religions; numerous ideas and ideologies are allowed to openly compete in all areas of life. In free societies where there are elections, political parties may have ideologies but they are never able to monopolize power and push their particular ideas nor rule only in the name of their ideas. For this reason democracy is so difficult to define; it doesn't have a written screed or dogma, so many people define it differently, and it is expressed differently in different societies. The best definition people come up with is a system of multiparty elections and majority rule that respects individual and human rights. Because it is so hard to define, democracy is vulnerable to corrupting tendencies and being overthrown altogether.
The less free and more closed a system, organization, or society is, the less variety of ideologies are allowed and the more speech is restricted, the more black and white the ideological thinking becomes, the more loyalty is demanded, and the greater the power of the state. In completely closed systems where there is only one ideology, such 'ideas' pervade all aspects of life; social, political, economical, and personal. In such a society, dogma only has to serve as a litmus test to separate and isolate those who are too reflective and critical, or who's goals do not coincide or lie outside of the goals of the group or the leaders. Any lack of enthusiasm or doubt is seen as disloyalty or even treason. Such people who fail to swallow without questioning the shallow wordsmithing and pontification of appointed ideologues as well as the directed frenzy of the mob stick out. People in power are easily able to identify which people are too independent minded or have other loyalties to people and ideas impeding their unquestioning followship.
In totalitarian societies, the state rules according to one ideology alone and excludes all other ideologies from society. The state makes sure that all realms of life operate within the framework of the official dogma. There is no rule of law or due process. The state answers to no one and rules by what is convenient and expedient to itself. Loyalty to the state trumps individual merit and character and the only loyalties that are allowed are those to the leader and organization. Mere contact with unorthodox ideas, suspected 'traitors', and 'enemies of the people' are enough to condemn oneself. People are expected to denounce family members and friends should merely their loyalties become suspect.
During the "Great Cultural Proletarian Revolution" in China and Stalin's Soviet Union, children and spouses who failed join in the persecution of their 'counterrevolutionary' family members were deemed themselves 'counterrevolutionary' and worthy of persecution. Distancing oneself from 'counterrevolutionaries' was not enough to protect oneself. Nobody was viewed as neutral, anyone could be suspect, and everybody had to participate and denounce or risk being denounced themselves. Totalitarian societies regularly persecute large groups of people because they are seen as being a POTENTIAL base of opposition. Such societies require constant scapegoating to blame for past and present failures of their society. Leaders easily attack individuals in such groups as having hidden ulterior motives and working against the group "from within", setting an example to others who fail to march in unison and conformity.
But many organizations are guided by a single ideology or purpose. Even in so called free societies there are institutions such as the military that are part of the government that exist for one purpose alone. Where does one draw the line in separating those that are totalitarian from those that are not? What about all the religious organizations that exist? How are cults formed and how big can they get? How is a cult different from a totalitarian country? How can a cult be totalitarian if it does not have a coercive state apparatus with the ability to use physical force and how do they control people? Is a society that is not democratic totalitarian, or is there some kind of continuum?
There has been widespread acceptance of totalitarianism as well as the cult phenomenon for years. While totalitarianism has been much easier to define, there has never been one definition of a cult. Part of the reason for this is that when a government uses brutal force to exert control over its subjects, it is much easier to identify and understand what is going on. Because cults operate on so much smaller of a scale than totalitarian governments and without a state apparatus, the 'damage' they inflict recieves less media attention and academic scrutiny. In the structure and application of their ideology, cults and totalitarian states are the same thing.
Whereas there is a pretty strong consensus on which governments are totalitarian, there is a lack of one as well as a lack of understanding on the nature of cults. Much of the controversy surrounding cults stems from the fact that many people strongly disagree as to which organizations can be labeled cults. The term "cults" was originally applied to religious groups and 'new age' religious movements early in the 20th century. Eventually it become a term applied to a wide variety of destructive and secretive organizations. Cults can be organized in a wide variety of ways, and can utilize a wide array of ideologies. There are religious, political, artistic, self-help, sports, and even educational cults. Cults can range from a small and informal group or even a relationship between two people, to a well organized, well funded, well connected, and multi-generational international organization(like Scientology).
There are many models used to describe and identify cults. My preferred model is the BITE Model. BITE stands for Behavioral Control, Information Control, Thought Control, and Mind Control. Despite all the different models for cults, a working general consensus seems to be that cults engage in various forms of mind and physical control. Every cult is different in the methods and degrees of control, the level of secrecy, the structure and organization, as well as the fundamental beliefs and what it claims to offer its members, nonetheless total control seems to be the underlying drive of every cult and/or totalitarian ideology.
Most models acknowledge and most people would rightfully assume that cults control their members. So do many institutions in society and entire societies themselves to various degrees. How are cults different? All organizations have rules necessary to exist. This concept could be taken further and the assertion could be made that cults control their members to their member's detriment. Certainly the prison system does this, and many would argue that even the military does this. If one were to take this logic to its conclusion, one could argue that almost ALL societies are totalitarian as no societies are completely free. Additionally, ALL so called 'free societies' can only exist because of institutions, such as the prison system and the military, that many would call totalitarian.
What differentiates totalitarianism in general and cults in particular is not just the level and kind of control that they desire, but the disconnect between their stated purpose and their functional behavior, and the fact that such systems are closed and operate in isolation. Cults and totalitarian societies systems use their ideologies to exert the level of control that they do so they can feed off of their own members and exist as independent societies isolated from the rest of the world.
The military and prison system can not exist or survive in isolation. They are not self-sufficient. Without the police and criminals, no one would enter. Without taxing outside society, neither the prison system nor the military could exist. Neither can just parasitically feed off of its own members. Also, although people enter the prison system from the outset against their will, there is no ideological unity amongst the inmates or staff in any prison. The guards in charge do not live and sleep amongst the criminals they are put in charge of.
The military has high ideological unity and exerts extreme control over its members. However, the military does not exist separate from society nor do its commanding generals personally and directly benefit from any manipulation of exploitation of its ranks. It is even easy to see how such control can work to the detriment of people choosing between enemy fire and the firing squad, and yet at the end of the day most people would not think of the military as a cult. Both the military and prison system exert enough control on the environment to the point where they can break people's individuality and identity down and temporarily emotionally repress aspects of their personality. This process doesn't completely change people, but it does impede their ability to think rationally and act independently. The main difference is that whatever you think of the military and the prison system however, both serve their stated function to society, whether one judges it good or evil.
Additionally, although both the prison system and the military may rely on secrecy in order to maintain the security of their operations, there is very little secrecy regarding the general way their operate or their existence and both are puppets of their political masters that can not operate without support of other institutions. Neither system generates its own political ideologies. Rather both are held captive of the ideologies of their masters. Whether in a democratic or a non-democratic society, there is no secrecy nor denial of the fact that they are both tools and branches of the state.
The same logic applies to any unscrupulous corporations one can think of. Regardless of how greasy MacDonald's Big Macs are and how exploitive Walmart may be with its workers, MacDonald's still manages to make their slop availible to the public 24/7 and Walmart still manages to provide discounts on everything. Cults are unique in that they almost universally don't even CLAIM to provide or contribute anything to society outside or the status quo. They may have aspirations of overthrowing and changing it entirely, as they view outside society as corrupt, decadent, and/or ruled by evil forces. Where cult-like or totalitarian organizations are not interested in overt power and are isolationist in nature, their sole concern is with winning converts. Even if some service or benefit is provided to the members in such a cult, it will do what it can to dominate its members for the organization's benefit. Every cult uses different methods, engages in varying degrees of dominance, and has varying levels of success in dominating its 'members'. Inevitably the relationship usually ends up becoming far from reciprocal.
At the greatest extreme when a government degenerates into a cult, it is able to use its armed bodies of men to dominate in a ruthless manner. Even once in control of a nation state, such totalitarian dogma driven states will not be happy until they have conquered or at least dominated the world. Such states have a history of mercilessly exploiting their citizens, starving them into submission when they resist(or when they comply), working them to death in Gulags, and committing wholesale genocide of entire groups of people. Such totalitarian countries are rarely interested in a prosperous co-existance with other nations, even other totalitarian ones. The only people that benefit from such an organized system of state terror are the top leaders themselves, and they do so at the expense of everyone in their society.
Totalitarian regimes including cults can ONLY exert absolute control by existing in isolation. Totalitarian states limit interaction with the outside world and outside ideas from coming into their societies because such ideas threaten the ruling parties monopoly of ideas. Usually people can not freely leave the country and only a limited number of outsiders are allowed in, and always under some governmental supervision. Very little free trade even at a small local level within the country is allowed. Even trade between totalitarian societies that are allied are often limited as such governments strive for some form of autarky.
However unlike small cults that exist in a larger society, totalitarian societies must involve themselves in some form of meaningful production to provide goods and services for their own society. However, they are just as parasitic and exploitive as cults; the production they engage in is for production's sake and not for the consumption of its 'citizens'. It is no coincidence that totalitarian societies place emphasis on heavy industry at the expense of consumer goods only to squander such wealth on military expenditures, while at the same time placing an emphasis on economic isolation and military expansionism. It is also no coincidence that such societies rely heavily on both slave and conscripted labor.
Cults are parasitic totalitarian organizations without a state that exist apart, are disconnected from, and serve no purpose to the society around them. Cults don't just place negative limits on behavior in order to seek cooperation amongst its members and the collective functioning of the organization, but seek positive control of behavior and thoughts in every aspect of their member's lives. They strive to control the hearts and minds of their members so as to limit their ability to function independently and thus foster dependence. Cults tell people who they are, what to believe, and what to do so that they can't act for themselves. Such domination is necessary in order to exploit the members, without which the leaders of such organizations could not find sustenance. There is no real value of purpose to the existence of the organization for its members or society at large, except serving the leaders of the organization.
Because state power is not available, typically most cult organization will use manipulation and the threat of ostracism and expulsions to make sure that it has a monopoly on the lives of the people that it dominates and that it determines the 'moral standards' of all individuals(officially of their own free will-of course). The most commonly used emotions are guilt, shame, fear, and a sense of debt/obligation. Because the promoted end product and result of such organizations is impossible to measure, it is always very easy to convince members that they are not doing enough to promote the cause of the organization.
The only reason cults exist in spite of their parasitic nature and the absence of a state is because they are able to attract and cycle through enough people to survive as an organization. Of course there must be some pretext of providing some form of service or higher purpose or else cults would have no way of initially bringing people "into the fold". Often times people will defend a cult because they identify with the belief system and ideals of the organization, no matter how corrupt and self-dealing the organization and leadership may be or have become. Over time many if not most individuals may become disillusioned and leave, but as long as they leave as individuals or small groups over periods of time the organization remains intact. Those that remain climb the hierarchy but are forced to become even more isolated from society and invested in the fate of their organization. Inevitably and regardless of stated purpose and intentions, in practice cults operate for the benefit of the leaders. When groups become so dogmatic and controlling that they are able to create the "Cult of Personality", it often becomes difficult for members to separate the goals of the ideology from the will of the leader and organization. Such 'leaders' become the sole arbiters of all truth.
Authoritarian governments and institutions as well as their dogma have also existed for thousands of years, and although they have had many totalitarian aspects, they never came close to the level of control that modern state totalitarianism has. Many ancient and medieval monarchies were totalitarian in ideology but didn't have the means or need to exert total control over society. They may have been totalitarian at their centers, but their 'tentacles' never penetrated that deep into society. Ordinary peasant didn't have much interaction with the state other than the payment of taxes. The state existed to preserve the social order in times of upheaval. Under totalitarianism, the state IS the social order; everyone including common people and those at the very bottom must interact with it every day as it directs the cultural and economic life of all of society. For this reason the nature of its dogma is to demand unquestioning obedience by forcing people to live a lie.
Many dogmas go so far as to even place the cause of the evils and sufferings on the very people trying to escape or overcome them. Indeed cult organizations and totalitarian ideologies thrive on human suffering, alienation, and desperation only to replicate it. Additionally most cults have a set of standards members must live by that are deliberately set high enough that most if not all members persistently fall short in some way. This only perpetuates the sense of guilt, shame, and debt members must feel towards there all knowing, all loving, and infallible big brother. In both a god believing theism and an athiestic Stalinism, sacrifices are demanded in order to reach a brighter and a more moral and just future.
Falling short of such standards by followers is usually 'attoned for' by repeated displays of self-flaggelation and loyalty to the group and leader. Examples of this are confessionals and penances in some forms of Christianity and group 'self-critisism' in Maoism. Often times members are forced to confess to things either things they could not possibly commit, or things anyone could commit at anytime, as happened during the show trials under Stalin and the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
In many religions mere thoughts are sinful and must be 'accounted for'. Although despotic absolutism under which the will of the ruler is law has existed since the dawn of time, the Spanish Monarchy was the first regime under the inquisition to SEEK AND ROUTE OUT potential heretics and traitors before they had a chance to act on their 'criminal thoughts'. People were encouraged to come forward with any known heretic, or face punishment should investigation uncover harbored heretics.
The Spanish Inquisition even forced people of non-Christian faiths(Jews)to be publicly identified with badges hundreds of years before the Nazi's did the same thing. Later in eastern bloc countries and Mao's china people were tortured into publicly confessing to crimes and conspiracies with predetermined accomplises no one could have committed and which never took place, but not before they also showed their 'remorse', named their fellow 'conspirators', begged for 'forgiveness', and 'praised' the very leaders and regime that persecuted them. Even the techniques of modern totalitarianism are nothing new.
Concepts like 'guilt' and 'innocence' let alone due process play no role. Anyone can be suspected of any type of 'crime' or 'heresy', to which there is no defense as the accusation is so broad and the 'crime' doesn't consist of a specific overt act. An accusation or denounciation is almost always validated as a guilty 'verdict'. Such 'crimes' often consist of some sort of critisism no matter how slight, failing to meet economic quotas, some sort of 'negligence' or failure to fullfill one's 'duties', or even associating or failing to denounce someone. Often times one only has to no longer be useful to the state to be labeled 'criminal'. In reality such 'crimes' are used to cover up the systems own crimes and failure and/or as a cover up for removing opposition or potential opposition. Theistic and anti-theistic totalitarian ideologies alike NEED scapegoats in order to divert attention and place blame for the human suffering they cause. In such a society, nobody is above suspicion and 'enemies' lurk everywhere. Such a society rules through terror and suspicion alone.
Only the leader(s) is ever above suspicion or reproach. The leader NEVER makes mistakes, and any 'blunders' are always blamed on the people around them, EVEN IF THEY ARE ACCUSED OF DOING THINGS THEIR LEADER TOLD THEM TO DO. Often the leader is raised to the level of an all knowing all loving demi-god, and absolute obeidience is expected of his/her will. Those that can neither live up to such standards or do not prostrate themselves before their 'betters' are devils, heretics, enemies of the people. In such a manner all totalitarian societies attempt to make sure that the organization in question is the center and at the very least the most dominating if not the only force in the lives of the people under its rule. In a totalitarian society every aspect of one's life is influenced if not outright controlled by the ruling organizations.
How totaliltarian systems are born is a matter more of chance and evolution rather than intent and premeditated design. Almost never are they designed at the outset to justify a system or act as a means of control. On a nation state level, they are brought to power by social turmoil or revolution. A well organized political party capitalizes on a breakdown of state power to seize and monopolize power for itself in the name of the people. In such power vacuums, it is the most organized and top down parties that seize power. In such turmoil, such political parties are able to marginalize other political parties and movements.
While such parties may base themselves on ideas that criticize preexisting ideas, and as a reaction to oppressive conditions and the status quo, when such radical ideas are used to justify a new rule brought about by a revolution, such ideas get corrupted to suit the needs of the new group in power, and the new rule is likely to be more despotic than the one it replaced. As a movement and institutions particular ideologies are attached to degenerate, ideologies lose their content and become ossified. Leaders pick and choose which components to stress, deemphasize, and remove all together. New ideas are created and added on the the original.
On a non state/national level, the process is in reverse. In such situations cults typically start off as organizations and movements that have no interest in seizing state power at all. They may in some way claim to be bettering society, but their goal is to ‘save’ people one at a time. Initially hey may live up to their stated goals and principles. However, human beings are corruptable and capable of self-deception, expecially when no check is placed on their power. Additionally, every idea and organization serves or deals with self-interest and power, and consequently is cooptable and corruptible in some way.
Long after forming or taking over a group or an organization, leaders may still have good or at least normal and healthy intentions. Even if they engage in less than ethical behavior to benefit themselves at the expense of others, at the end of the day they will rationalize and see themselves as doing greater good than evil. Every ideology and movement, no matter how idealistic it's original intentions, from Christianity to Marxism to Buddism, eventually gets used by really bad people to justify their exploitation of others.
Slowly things can begin to change due to a combination of outside and inner pressures. Sometimes organizations will outlive the original social conditions that brought them about. Sometimes when individuals and groups become that dedicated to their cause and ideas, their sense of perspective can become warped. They will see everything in black and white terms and feel a sense of urgency that compels them to take militant action. This in itself does not become a problem until such people surrender their freedom and their ability to think for themselves and dedicate their lives to their group and leaders. In their eyes their goals become worthy enough to be obtained by any means neccessary, without regards to empathy or compassion for others or a universal sense of ethics rooted outside their ideology. Their ideology becomes their morality and the fiber of their being as well as their means of understanding the world and interacting with others. Their ideals, their goals, and that of the group become one.
When such a mentality takes over a group it will drive many non-dogmatic people away. Such a group gradually becomes more and more isolated from society. As this continues over time, there becomes less and less outside perspectives within the group or outside monitoring of the group behavior. Of course while such ways may draw criticism by outsiders, cults will have their members cut off contact with former friends, family members, and people outside the cult, so that the manipulation, indoctrination, and intimidation process go unchecked. Such a dynamic feeds on itself, as the followers become conviced they are right and the leader becomes more and more addicted to the power they have over their followers. Once this is successfully done, a rigid uniformity of though and behavior and acceptance of some hierarchy is enforced.
Such an organization can continue down this path until to the point that fear and contempt of the outside world or influences dominate the mentality of the group. At that point, the leaders can use people's fear to control them, and consolidate power for themselves. Such leaders will become more and more focused on maintaining their power until the organization no longer lives up to it's original goals, but meerly persits as a shell of its former self for the benefit of the leaders.
All movements and ideologies go through this same cycle of its ideas becoming ossified and disconnected from reality. Christianity originally started as a reform movement against the corruption of an organized religion(Judaism) that had become a powerful institution based on dogma and had diverted from its roots. The earliest disciples of Christ considered themselves Jews who were following a Jewish messiah. Eventually Christianity itself underwent the same process. The roman emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as a means to co-opt a movement that threatened his power, and in turn use it to assert his power.
Over hundreds of years Christianity evolved from a grassroots underground movement into an independent and powerful Catholic Church that justified its exploitation through nonesensical esoteric dogma, shallow rituals, and meaningless platitudes. When brave and free thinking individuals came along to bring it back to its roots during the protestant reformation, they were once again denounced as heretics and unbelievers going against the one and only 'True Faith'. Early protestants like Luther wanted to reform the Catholic Church, not to create a new religion. Protestantism only evolved as an independent branch of Christianity when the Catholic Church refused to reform(except for the most extreme 'excesses'). In turn however, various sects that believed that they had the 'pure' teachings of Christ broke away only to in turn persecute eath other. Marxism, a 'material' and non-theistic philosophy, went through the same cycle as well, repeatedly(Soviet Union, China, Cambodia).
Even organized crime was a part of the same cycle. Organized crime provides a great example because no one can argue that criminals who band together deliberately to exploit and harm others can be anything other than a parasitic organization. Crime syndicates such as the Chinese Triads and the Italian Mafia were originally revolutionary organizations with a political purpose, or organizations that served the community in areas dominated by outside forces. In the case of the Triads, their original purpose was to overthrown the Qing dynasty in China. Due to changing circumstances, in this example the collapse of the Qing dynasty, the organizations quickly degenerate into parasitic organization that exist for the benefit of its leaders.
So if we can have some understanding of how cults operate, how do we determine if an organization is a cult? There is no template or litmus test to determine whether an organization is a cult. In spite of their ideological differences, cults and totalitarian societies tend to have similar superficial attributes that can be identified and measured, but one has to wholistically interpret a constellation of traits and attributes. Every cult is going to be organized a different way, exersize a different degree of power, and be destructive to a different degree. Cult behavior as with all human behavior, exists on a spectrum. Certain organizations and societies tend to be more cult like than others. Some organizations will have cult like traits without being cults or totalitarian. Others may have few cult traits while being extremely destructive nonetheless. Some cults are agreesively expansive. Some are strictly isolationist. The visable extremes are easy to identify; its in the middle outside of the media spotlight where it is not so clear.
The bottom line is that there is no purely scientific or mathmatical way to empirically quantify cult like characteristics let alone identify a cult. The equivalent would be like expressing a religion in a mathmatical formula. Judging a society soley based on its professed values is flawed because we can only do so using our own subjective experiences, values system, and world view. One has to look at the way an organization operates and examine how it is run and how it treats its members, irrespective of its professed ideology and values and even our own values. Even looking at actions in isolation is not enough. It is the underlying process beneath the oberservable behavior that ultimately determines the nature of an organization. ANY VALUE SYSTEM OR ORGANIZATION CAN BE CORRUPED, AND NO GROUP WILL EVER ADMIT TO ITSELF LET ALONE IDENTIFY ITSELF TO OUTSIDERS AS A CULT.
Even the least democratic of organizations and societies are always even hard pressed to admit that they CONTROL their members en masse. Even in societies governed by totalitarian states, methods of coercion and repression are only ever officially used against 'agents of foreign powers', 'subversives', 'enemies of the people', and other such minorities. 'The people' and 'the masses' are always officially and enthusiastically behind their 'leaders', and the leaders always have the interests of their people in mind. Cults and totalitarian societies are masters of denial and rationalization. As good as they are of convincing their members that they are a source of salvation, liberation, empowerment, and global 'good', they just as good at convincing the outside world of their good intentions and innocuous if not benevolent nature. Ultimately its the way a system functions in practice in relation to the world around it that determines its nature, not its professed goals, values, or 'theories' of its 'leaders'.
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IV. MORALITY, POWER, AND FREEDOM:
No matter how 'objective' or 'scientific' a belief system may call itself, underlying every ideology and world view is a value system that interprets the social and natural phenomenon in such a way that fulfills particular goals deemed worthy of pursuing. However, at the base of every 'moral' code is also a set of assumptions based on a material outlook on the world. Even the religions look at the physical world as being driven by spiritual forces. Essentially value systems, morality systems, ideologies, cultures, and movements all one in the same. Political ideologies are just macro solutions for 'realizing' or enforcing a particular 'morality', and most 'moral' codes evolved under socio-political systems to keep them socially cohesive and intact. Some systems may be more grounded in reality and some scientific process than others, but at the end of the day no belief system or ideology can be 'proved' 100% probable nor worked out mathematically or deductively. They are all just theories that seek to find the most likely and/or pleasing explanation for particular phenomenon and help us realize particular goals. Science can explain the natural world and can offer great insight into human behavior, but it will not give you a life method or provide answers to complex ethical dilemmas regarding interaction between people. Plenty of value systems and ideologies that claim to have been built on science did nothing more than distort scientific ideas to advance and agenda of one group of people against the interests of another.
The very first ideologies had no overtures to the scientific method, and were strictly religious in nature. They sought to explain natural phenomenon at a time when our knowledge of the natural world was limited, especially when such phenomenon caused human suffering and death. Inevitably, such explanations also sought out answers for human suffering at the hands of other people. The problem is humans seek patterns and explanations that are most comfortable or seem to make the most sense even if there is no pattern there. Religion created mysterious supernatural forces of good and evil that caused human suffering and death. It was only a matter of time that such explaining became a tool for proscribing and then justifying particular types of behavior. Elaborate systems were created that not only explained the origins of the world and life, but told how people should live their lives. Elaborate social structures were created that organized people. In spite of their lofty rhetoric and fancy imagery, such idea systems were nothing more than systems that helped groups of people survive.
There is nothing inherently special, mystical, moral, objective, scientific, or universally functional about value systems or ideologies, nor is there is no grand design behind them. Despite their claims to explain the world, they are simply things that people want(or think they want). Because it is not possible for all human beings to have everything they want, all the time, human beings must inevitable prioritize. Every achievement requires some expenditure of effort to get the things we want and certain things have prerequisites. We also have a finite amount of time in the day as well as limited life spans. Values are nothing more than a hierarchy of priorities that tell us how to spend our time and energy, as well as a hierarchy of things we wish to avoid our exposure to or don't want at all, in order to pursue our goals.
However, no human being has the exact same experiences and temperaments. We will either adhere to or develop different values, and define 'good' , 'evil', and 'freedom' in different ways. Whether we can admit it to ourselves or not, most of the time we label things that we want or perceive as serving people and/or ourselves as 'good', and anything that threatens or hurts us, or that we don't want or that we do not understand is 'evil'. Inevitably every human establishes some sort of hierarchy in their head of ‘goods’ and ‘evils’. Some people go further and establish some sort of principles behind their hierarchies and perhaps even a worldview. The only thing that can be inherently dysfunctional or ‘bad’ about this is if we forget that not everyone can live by exactly the same values. People may share a value system, but the things that led them to that system vary from person to person. Values are ultimately utilitarian and can only operate within particular circumstances and an interpretation of the world. The real question is WHO and HOW to do such values serve?
Value systems are handed down from generation to generation because they serve some purpose to large numbers of people. Although individuals can and do create their own value systems, historically, value systems, cultures, and codes were created by groups of people to enable them to function in groups and adapt to their environment. Consequently, such values tend to emphasize group unity and survival at the expense of the individual freedom and growth. As such values are adopted by the largest group of people and are most likely to be passed down from generation to generation, they tend to push out ideas that contradict them, no matter how valid, practical, or useful to a particular individual they may be. Inevitably, small groups of people realized they could use such systems as a means of controlling and exploiting large numbers of people. Such value systems continued to exist even to the detriment of the group, as those in power could monopolize the ruling ideas.
There have always been people that have questioned what they were taught, but when we are born into this world we have no choice at first but to emulate others in order to survive. Most of what people 'know' or 'believe' in are recycled ideas that have been handed down to them. Even if we try hard to be as critical as possible of what is taught to us, it is not until we have experienced the world for ourselves and have developed the ability to think critically for ourselves that we can create our own understanding of the world. Even if we as individuals chose not to be critical of a value system handed down to us from others, we inevitably and unconsciously tweek it based on what has worked for us in our personal life experiences and based on what we believe makes sense. Some just do whatever serves their self-interest and pick and choose which ideologues to justify their own behavior. Even if we consider ourselves to be selfless, loyal, and devoted individuals that believe in a code based on altruism, 'honor', or the 'greater good', we will not believe in anything long that serves neither ourselves nor others or that causes more harm than benefit.
'Good' is an impossible thing measure for the reason that NO ACT IN ISOLATION IS OBJECTIVELY AND UNIVERSALLY GOOD NOR WILL IT ACRUE BENEFIT TO ONESELF OR OTHERS IN EVERY SITUATION. There are an infinite number of things that help or give pleasure to or work for different types of people in different ways and to different degrees. Some things that will help or give pleasure to some will hurt others. In one situation an act may be helpful to a particular individual, where as in another situation the very same act may be harmful to the exact same individual. Helping particular individuals may empower them to only hurt others, while crippling and killing some might prevent them from hurting others. Even something as simple as being 'generous' may be harmful to both the performer and the recipient if it is not applied selectively.
Ideologies and value systems attempt to fill this void by maintaining a monopoly of ‘the truth’. Even if some aspect of their system doesn’t appear to be good or is inconsistent with other aspects of their system, such systems will claim that in the end their system will result in ‘good’, ‘justice’, ‘virtue’, and maybe even ‘joy’. Essentially such systems are saying that any negatives will ultimately count as a positive and that their practices will yield results that are greater than the sum of its parts. Another way of saying this is that such systems will justify themselves on the basis that they serve the ‘greater good’. Essentially the argument is that their values are the most likely to bring the greatest amount of benefit to the greatest amount of people. It is a utilitarian outlook that makes its assessment on how people are benefited in the aggregate. The problem is that such benefit is difficult to measure and easily misrepresented. Ideologies often state that people have to make sacrifices for a brighter future. What this future will look like and when it will occur is conveniently never answered. Another problem is that on a specific and local level, one can almost argue that anything somehow indirectly benefits people in the aggregate. It is not falsifiable. Thus such ideologies are able to gloss over any of the harm such they perpetuate.
When we judge a value system or chose one for ourselves, we will always be doing so from our own values, desires, needs. There is no way around this as it is the only way anyone can judge any value system. If we want just understand any value system, we can only do so it based its consistency, and its ability to succeed in fulfilling its explicitly stated goals. The point is value systems can’t even be judged based on their collective utility as the ‘benefit’ accrued to a group is very difficult to measure and it in no way mitigates the lack of value or even harm done to individuals. Whatever value system we have, we can not draw that line for other people while believing that it will work for them in the same way. There is no way to determine which value system is ‘the best’ for everyone, and it is not good enough to determine the merits of any system to how well it serves its group as a whole.
This does not mean that everything is relative, one 'truth' is just as good as another, or that we can not judge or draw a line for ourselves. Everyone has the right, if not the necessity and responsibility to draw their own boundaries and understand things for themselves so that they ensure their survival and self-interest. By definition every value system and ideology strips us of our ability to do this by hiding behind the fallacy of ‘the greater good’. The intentions or characters of their creators or their advocates do not make a value system more viable or moral. It is how values play out in practice that counts. Such things will naturally be linked to its likely positive and negative consequences to the value systems advocates AND the people around them. However, we also can't judge a value based on its popularity, longevity, or so called 'practicality'. A value that works to the benefit of only one individual without hurting others is no less valid than a value that has served one half of humanity at the expense of the other for thousands of years. 'Good' and 'evil' can only be determined based on how we treat each other and operate within groups as well as how we treat outsiders. When we judge an ideology when must assess whether it serves it followers and treats individuals including ‘outsiders’.
The bottom line is it is impossible to determine which value system is the best for any group of people. Individuals must be free to make that determination for themselves. There will always be different ideologies that each have their own concept of what the greater good looks like. Such ideologies will always conflict with one another in order to assert their monopoly of the truth, and will drag anybody and everybody they can with them. The only way to resolve this conflict is to come up with some universal system of ethics or morality that respects differing value system provided that such systems respect the boundaries and value systems of others.
To do this we have to reject the idea that individuals must sacrifice themselves for the greater good. This is the fundamental error upon which all ideologies rest. We can still have a personal concept of a greater good, but no two people on earth are going to agree on exactly what the greater good looks like. We can also keep the idea of sacrifice, but it can only be to people and not ideas. Another reason why such an idea is flawed is that it is impossible to determine when one has sacrificed enough. Essentially such systems demand obedience until death. Since one can only serve one master to that level of obedience, ideologies inherently demand loyalty to their ideas and ‘leaders’ above that to any human being. Such ideologies rest fundamentally on force, which completely contradicts their claim to a morality because if might makes right, then nothing can ever universally be right. Such ideologies by their very nature are not just flawed but are also oppressive and expansionist.
Getting rid of such ideologies is impossible, however their influence can be contained by rejecting their fundamental premise of sacrifice for the greater good. In doing so, it may be possible to build some sort of working consensus of what is right and wrong based around this idea of mutual regard for each other, but not without sincere and open dialogue with one another as well. People just have to accept that there will always be grey area where people disagree, and that consensus is not needed on a whole lot in order for people to cooperate let alone coexist.
While this may sound daunting as everyone will define 'good' differently, there is are things in this world so universally destructive and causing of suffering and death that a near unanimous consensus can be reached regarding them. Every society and most human being understand that in order for people to coexist in groups violence on some level must be rejected. The problem is that ideologies and cultures add so much extraneous material that the basics are often overlooked if not forgotten when it is convenient to the powers that be. Every culture in the world believes that random murder of people within their group is 'wrong'. Every culture on earth places some sort of value on human life, even if it is only in the abstract, aggregate, or collective. It is when we move further and further away from the most destructive or obvious evils that consensus on what is ‘wrong’ starts to break down. We could take this idea and say that if there was one thing people could agree on to create a workable model of 'good', it could be the rejection of violence, cruelty, and any behaviors or ideas that lead to or require violence and cruelty to exist. Slavery for example, could be justified on some ideological ground, but is fundamentally invalid as it relies on violence to exist.
Of course that requires developing a large and developed consensus of what is truly destructive and coming up with an appropriate way of dealing with it. If people critically examined themselves and the world around that we would come to a much broader and deeper consensus as to what is destructive and constitutes ‘evil’. A lot of the time this is difficult to do because it is hard to see the forest through the trees. We are so involved in our daily lives and pursuit of self-interest that we are usually only dealing with lesser evils or the symptoms of evil. The greater evils might not be as tangible or apparent, but they are causing and driving the lesser evils that we do have to deal with.
People can personally witness violence without understanding why it occurs. Most civilized people in this day and age would condemn torture of suspects or deliberate indiscriminate killing of civilians by the government, and yet the question remains why is it that regimes continue to commit such atrocities. The short answer is that regimes that have evil intentions of complete domination, will resort to any means including heineous ones to achieve their evil goals. An evil agenda leads to evil acts. Of course this fails to answer why any regime or individual would want to total control in the first place and how do such people get the power they want.
Compounding this problem is that so much of what is evil in the world, especially the greater evils is shrouded in 'good', including not just totalitarianism but all forms of oppression. Evil thrives when it has power, people, and a 'moral' shroud to hide behind. Hence people and institutions with evil intentions never state what it is they really want, which invariably is power. Where they admit they want power, they insist it is nothing more than a means to 'the greater good' or some other 'noble' or justified end as spelled out in their ideology. NOBODY EVER ADMITS THEY WANT POWER FOR ITS OWN SAKE OR TO SERVE THEMSELVES.
Universally, most people in this world agree that oppression is a form of evil, maybe even a highly organized evil in action or a domination of evil. Everyone however, defines 'evil' and therefore oppression differently due to their different temperaments and values. Yet an 'ends justifies the means' mentality justifies all atrocities, oppressions, and transgressions against people, regardless of the goals and values driving them. All oppressions share this 'greatest evil' in common, yet this often goes unidentified because it is so common.
And yet ironically(or maybe not so ironically) most people would also agree that the most evil things including oppression cannot just be reasoned away with logic or wished away, it has to be fought against with some kind of force, after all it only exists because it has force behind it. There are many different forms of oppression, all justified with different ideas, but oppression can not exist unless it has some force behind it. It is not good enough to fight bad ideas with good ideas, if the bad ideas are forced down your throat while the good ideas are censored. Yet its impossible to fight against oppression or anything very 'evil' unless you have some idea of what you want to replace it with which requires having values of your own. You don’t have to have a plan of action, strategy, or tactics set in stone or a blueprint for what the future, utopia, or 'goodness' looks like in action, but you need your own personal values and principles that you have developed from struggling, resisting, surviving, and just living. If you only know what you are against in this world, you have no idea what to replace it with. It is not possible, necessary, or even good to know what a ‘moral’, ‘just', or 'free' society will look like, but it is necessary to have a good understanding of what kind of principles such a society should NOT be built on and exactly why.
Even if you only have principles that seem lofty and hard to translate into concrete terms, they can serve as a beacon and guidepost for action and values, as well as a starting point to understanding on your own terms. Without your own values you cannot develop an appropriate set of tactics for survival, let alone resistance to any form of oppression. If you resist according to the principles of the status quo, at best you will only be reproducing the same problems over again and replacing one form of oppression with another. If you resist using someone else's principles, in addition to the aforementioned problems you will never learn to resist in an autonomous and effective manner and will never be as powerful and you could be. If you resist without any principles at all, you do nothing more than lash out like a caged animal, living defensively, merely reacting in a haphazard and unproductive manner to the symptoms that cause pain, displeasure, and suffering. As long as you are not imposing your values or using them to control others, your values can be a source of personal liberation.
People throughout history, no matter how ignorant or how long and severely deprived, have fought against oppression in all its forms and expressed their desire for freedom in one form or another. In spite of the fact that it is harder to define freedom than oppression, you won’t find anyone that doesn’t want ‘to be free’. Some may have warped definitions of freedom and may rationalize the deprivation of freedom of others, but on some level most view freedom in of itself a good, noble, moral and if not the most important thing in life in that it is a basic necessity for not just happiness, but functional and independent living. People just get it in their gut that when you deprive someone of freedom, you will cause them great distress and limit them in a profound way, and that without some reason or justification for doing so you are committing a grave act of injustice.
The problem there have always been people that find a way to rationalize anything. We can agree that if we don’t give freedom to EVERYONE and allow oppression to exist anywhere in a society, such oppression will find a way to grow. And yet people have used and abused others since the dawn of time by labeling them as subhuman. Even theories concerning human rights can be completely subverted by any ideology. It is really not that difficult to demand more protections for particular groups of people, which in turn can infringe on the protections and freedoms of others.
There will never be any total consensus on what freedom and morality is and there are no ‘bulletproof’ arguments. There will always be sadists that make a clever case with much screaming and frothing for raping babies and eating kittens. The only step one can take is to create the broadest consensus possible on the most basic of human rights, and acknowledge that all sentient beings deserve some respect of their safety, lives, and boundaries, and that they are capable of thinking for themselves. Regardless of whether one deems them inferior all living creatures deserve to be free from physical harm needlessly or cruelly inflicted on them. From this we also have to accept that since no perfect consensus is possible, being free doesn’t mean that you automatically get what you want or are always happy. In order to live with people we can't do whatever we want or expect to have what ever we want. In order to receive consideration for what we think freedom is we have to give some as well. Freedom in the absolute sense is only possible if we live completely alone and apart from people. We don’t even need to cooperate with other in order to share freedom with others, we just need some rules and framework in order to coexist. For those whom we have nothing in common we must find a way to coexist.
Implicit in this concept is the respect of boundaries and compromise with other people. In a free society we have to accept that conflict is inevitable and that only through reason and honesty can we work things out. A framework is necessary to work out conflict between people, but for such a society to truly be free requires that any framework created can not be used to control or oppress any group of people, even if somehow some people find ways to deems them inferior. A government that is free to oppress any one particular person or group of people at any particular time, has the power to oppress all people indefinitely. In a free society nobody should be disadvantaged by the government in order to advantage someone else. Whether we like it or not, our rights and our freedom are all interconnected. In a free society we should be able to do whatever we want provided we are not oppressing others. In the broadest sense a 'free society' isn't one where we can do whatever we want, but rather one where we are not subject to government oppression or one group of people oppressing another.
However, for the same reason oppression can only exist with force to back it up, our freedom too can only be protected with some sort of force to back it up. Inevitably any question about how a free society works involves the question of how power gets allocated and administered so that our freedom is still protected. Yet the age old question of how power gets divyed up only repeats the same old patterns of carving up pie, fighting for resources, pushing ideologies and values, and competing for advantage over other people. Changing the status quo using the ideas of the status quo, is only likely to recreate it. Although nobody will view freedom and oppression in the same way, some fundamental consensus can and must be reached as to what is oppression and what is essential in order to have freedom.
The ONLY workable position to start from that gets anywhere is the idea that human beings are ends in themselves to themselves, that ALL human beings are entitled to the same freedom provided we respect the same freedom of EVERYONE else, and that we ALL have some basic rights that must be respected regardless of any circumstances. Even if the argument is made that some people are inferior, they are still human. Nobody can have a monopoly on the standards by which someone is deemed 'inferior'. If people can take care of themselves and respect the boundaries of others, they are just as much entitled to freedom as anyone else. Even if they are not completely independent, as living creatures, they can still share the same protections that would protect us from cruelty. Such basic boundaries and protections that are self-evident and non-negotiable due to the fact that no human being is invincible or immortal, and that no human being that lives in society is truly independent. Irrespective of our personal abilities, interests, inclinations, social status, values, or influence, we all deserve the same basic rights and protections. Without this we can only base our concept of freedom on some idea of what we think is right not just for ourselves, but OTHER people, which can only lead to one group of people controlling another.
As participants in a free society it is up to us to respect, if not fight for the rights of each other, and not just for our own rights and what we believe is right, or the rights or needs of our own group. If we only fight for our values or particular group without fighting for the rights of all, we will only be pushing our will onto other people. This is where 'The Golden Rule' starts to break down. Not everyone wants to be treated in the same way, live the same life, or have the same values. A better derivative of the 'The Golden Rule' would be the older rule of ‘do not do to others that which you would not have done to yourself’. We can expand this to say that we can live our life in any way we want provided that does not stop other people from doing the same.
This can only be accomplished by conceding that all human beings have some basic rights as sentient beings that are capable of thinking for themselves, such as the right to bodily autonomy and freedom from deliberate physical cruelty, that exist axiomatically on the basis that if we start making any exceptions we might never be able to stop. They also exist on the grounds that such rights are so basic that they can not be broken down any further. The right to be free from random but deliberate harm and violence and the right to protect ourselves from such violence is our most basic right. Without it we would not be able to stay alive, in which case everything else including government and laws would be pointless to our individual well being.
Essentially a RIGHT FROM is a human right that everyone has on the basis that they exist and live side by side with other people in the same society. People can argue all they want about whether ‘human rights’ are natural or whether they can even have any basis in anything other than our imagination. It’s immaterial. While rights may not be ‘natural’ and only exist as abstractions that human create, they confer very tangeable realities. Rights are no more natural than government itself. Rights are a practical necessity that are part of a social contract that allow people to live together in groups. Without some basic rights, society couldn’t exist. A lot of things, like telephones, are survival mechanisms that while unnatural, help us do natural things like remain in contact. A lot of things that are abstract like laws and banking, confer very tangible benefits. Civilization can not exist without laws.
Rights are legal concepts not too different from laws, that ensure that government exists for the benefit if individuals living in society. All rights are meant to protect us somehow. Our most basic rights are that which protect our lives and safety. In a free society such rights are so important that they can not be trumphed or taken away, even by the government, regardless of the circumstances or any excuses that it can come up with. If the government can make exceptions and take away human life whenever it feels, we have no rights nor do we have any purpose in remaining in such a society. In such a society, we would be nothing more than disposable utilities that exist for the benefit of the government, which is the essence of totalitarianism. Legally codifying the concept of rights that governments must respect is a necessary first step required so that people can preserve their freedom. In a free society our most important rights are our most basic rights, which are our rights FROM things.
RIGHTS TO are also important. Our RIGHTS TO help protect our RIGHTS FROM. Our RIGHT TO serve on juries and face our accusers protects us FROM arbitrary search and seizure. This combined with our RIGHT TO vote ensures that we have a say in our government and that our government will not resort to terror and infringe on our RIGHTS FROM. All human beings have needs, but if our RIGHTS TO things are all we have they become meaningless, as there are no boundaries between people. If we allow anyone's RIGHTS TO something to trump another's RIGHTS FROM, then some third party must always step in to determine who's rights are more important and that can only be done based on their concept of what is right and wrong, who's needs are more important, and their vision of 'the greater good'. Inevitably such a third party has the power to impose their ideological agenda on all of society and then draw the line however they want, whenever they want.
If we want to live in a free society where not even the government can violate our basic building blocks of freedom and begin to dictate our values or runs our lives, even if it is in the name of freedom, we must make sure that our rights FROM are kept intact under all circumstances. To do this we must concede that our freedom TO something can only start and end at the point of another individual’s freedom FROM something. Any rights TO SOMETHING, whether it be that of an individual, an institution, or the government, must be conditional and predicated on the basis that no parties rights FROM anything are violated. The only rights that cannot be conditional are RIGHTS FROM.
Where we as individuals draw the boundary between people's rights to things depends on what our personal values and preferences are. As there really is no 'objective' way of determining where the line is drawn as we are all going to draw the line in a slightly different way, we have to work out where the line is drawn for ourselves and between each other. This doesn't mean we can't come up with some basic rules, consensus, or system to help us work conflict when we can't work out our differences on our own, but it should only be used as a last resort. No two people will ever completely agree on everything, including a working 'morality' or a concept of 'truth'. Any party that steps in to prevent conflict before it starts will inevitably assert an agenda. NOBODY IS 'OBJECTIVE' OR INFALLIBLE AND EVERYONE IS SELF-INTERESTED. The worst tyrannies are those that hide behind a smokescreen of absolutist 'objectivity', 'science', 'reason', and 'virtue'. Even if everyone agrees to live by a code of being selfless for the 'greater good', there still will be conflict and there still will be people that are selfish and take advantage of and abuse others in the name of 'the greater good'.
On a broad level a 'free society' entails that no single party, namely the state, unilaterally coerce people along the lines that it deems fit. In a free society, people must cooperate and work out their problems together without being told what to do. The most important thing is that people themselves work out amongst each other in the here and now where the line is drawn without some third party preemptively drawing out the line according to their values and ideology, or even worse coming up with a permanent plan or a 'solution' for everyone. Laws will always be needed, but in order for freedom to prevail they must be enacted and enforced in such a way that both respects and protects peoples fundamental RIGHTS FROM. Any laws that grant us RIGHTS TO must respect and protect our RIGHTS FROM.
Really the question can only boil down to whether people ‘deserve’ fundamental rights and whether a free society is possible due to our ‘human nature’. Maybe a better question is whether oppression is somehow ‘natural’. It seems like every single political discussion ends up asking the question whether our natures enable us to live in freedom and respect each other. I would argue that while people have animal instincts, there is no ‘human nature’ that remains ossified. Unlike animals, we are not just instinct. The one thing that differenciates us from animals is our ability to adapt to the degree that we have in markedly different environments. Our cognitive abilities enabled us to develop technologies such as fire and basic tools hundreds of thousands of years ago. There is scientific evidence that during that time we did in fact evolve. In other words, human evolution itself is unique in that it is a dialectical process our ability to control the environment fostered which created further evolutionary pressures. We must also remember that we can be nurtured and grow as individuals. Rather than ‘overcoming or animal nature’, I prefer to think of the dilemma as nurturing our nature and harnessing our instincts so that we can actualize the fullest potential of our being without being dependant on others. It is only under freedom that we can nuture our natures and fulfill our potential.
Whether we ‘believe’ in human rights and rights from really boils down to our values and whether we believe in freedom. Fascism is no more natural than representative democracy or people living in stateless tribes. All have managed to exist. Whatever you think of ‘human nature’ the bottom line is that people in general are quite easily able to understand reciprocity, mutual exchange, power, and responsibility. Societies have been creating social contracts since the beginning of history. The idea has always been that people surrender their sovereignty in return for peace and security. In a free society the social contract states that government only exists with the consent of the governed.
We are even capable of voluntarily forming groups with a goal in mind without the use of force. Without such understandings, we wouldn’t be able to form personal and business relationships. Clearly it is our animal nature as even pack animals on a very primitive level understand that role playing is necessary for the survival of the group. The ‘alpha’ of a wolf pack is the only one that gets to breed for the season, but he can only remain so if he is successful at leading his pack on rewarding hunts and keeping the pack safe from danger. Even if the concept of ‘individual human rights’ can not be found in nature, a very basic concept of a social contract can, from which human rights can also derive. There are no dictatorships in nature.
Most people are capable of creating complex social contracts with other people in a group and to a limited extent enforcing them on their own. If we accept that our RIGHTS FROM deserve the utmost priority, and we accept that people are intelligent enough to designate for themselves what role they play in society, we can also accept that the social contract between the government and society does not have to be very complicated and that freedom is not beyond our grasp. Laws and rights are just conscious human abstractions that enables us to voluntarily form even more complex forms organizations and social contracts with each other than exist in nature. A free society has at its basis a very simple concept that allow us to develop the most complex and developed society of all. Other than paying taxes, the only obligation people must respect in a free society to respect other people’s RIGHTS FROM.
The goal of a free society is to fine-tune the terms of its social contract so that it is enforceable and not just a theory that tyrants can use to enforce their continued despotism. In a free society, the government is not an end in itself, but merely a tool of the people. People use this freedom to organize themselves and live their own lives however they deem fit. Where the government does get involved in the organization of society is to arbitrate and enforce contracts where people are incapable of arbitrating and enforcing them non-violently, or were people are incapable or providing services for themselves. It simply makes sure there is a level of transparency and that no one is initiating force on anyone else and that the state can only make sure that people are not putting other people unknowingly and unwillingly in physical or financial harm or risk of such harm. In the most abstract sense the only way to really define a free society is to base it on the idea of individual and social contracts OPEN, MUTUALLY, AND WITHOUT COERCION worked out beforehand that establish a balance of rights and voluntary exchanges between various people and groups. Government only steps in when our inability to resolve conflict, or willing cooperate through our individual and collective efforts results in a breakdown of peace. It serves as a superstructure that intervenes at the request of the people it serves to bridge a gap and facilitate and already functioning, healthy, vibrant, and independent civil society on a larger scale.
In a free society government exists only to preserve individual liberty. It doesn’t have any bias or agenda other than any short-term goals necessary for the preservation of individual liberty. Its only national interest is its immediate self-preservation. For this reason the concept of a free society has to go beyond mere formal conceptions of democracy like majority rule, minority rights, equality, or representative forms of government. These ideas are both beneficial and necessary towards preserving freedom, but unless there is some substance and principles driving and preceding these forms, they are difficult to pinpoint and substanciate, and hence are meaningless. One person will define concepts like the majority or equality in ways totally different from someone else.
Majorities for example, are never monolithic and permanent. There might be majorities on really specific issues, but on general issues majorities are made up of loose alliances that are constantly shifting. Every individual can belong to a variety of groups and classifications, and no one can purely belong to a 'minority' or 'majority'. Going into the realm of 'minority rights' only murkies the waters further as it implies minorities somehow need extra rights. The end result of this line of thinking is identity politics and a system run by people chosen to represent at best the 'majority' or 'society' or at worst 'their people'. Such 'leaders' become a permanent political class with its own separate self-interest that can impose its will on the people in the name of 'the majority', 'the will of the people', or simply 'their people'.
Even concept like the political left, the political right, libertarianism, and socialism have valid points but are outdated and limited. Ruling society according to an ideology or even multiple ideologies inevitably results in a group being in charge and pushing their values on everyone else. No political party in a democracy ever has enough power or holds on to it for long enough to ever completely fulfill its agenda. Compromise is inevitable. The problem is competing political parties often compromise and collude in private to pursue a hidden agenda at the expense of our individual liberties while their stated objective are never realized anyway. If our individual liberties are the goal of legislation then we can pick and choose the most functional from the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ and no groups need extra ‘rights’, protections, or subsidies from the government. Our choices do not have to be black or white, all or nothing. People can still be individuals AND part of a group when they chose the group they are in based on their own personal values and play an active creative role in their group. If a ‘greater good’ could exist, then it would best be served by finding solutions through reason and trial and error while respecting individual liberty.
Even concepts like 'A government that rules least, rules best' or prohibitions against 'the initiation of force' are limited, and fail to illustrate what that means or how we would get to and remain at that point. If government can only use force to stop force, how does one enforce any contract or stop the unintentional destruction of property and life. Such concepts may work on a very small scale, but how would one justify the myriad of things necessary to make modern society work safety? As undemocratic and anti-freedom as collectivism can be, it is only so when it is pursued as an end in of itself. Government and taxes will never disappear, and neither will people that pool their resources together for their own economic advantage as well as to influence society at large. You will never stop people from rent seeking or lobbying the government on their own behalf. You can try to keep collectivism out of the government, but you can not keep it out of society. Even if humanity consciously and collectively makes an effort to renounce civilization, there will always be small numbers of people that use force to reinstate it. The bottom line is civilization and even biological human existence is an inherently collectivist endeavor to begin with and nothing you do will make it go or stay away.
A more realistic approach is to realize that there will always be some balance between collectivism and individualism. Some problems can only be solved with some sort of collectivist answer. Sometimes individual action can solve a problem better. Sometimes individual action is the only solution. The state can provide services and social spending, as long as it was agreed on through some democratic process that excluded no one and as long as it is universal, non-discriminatory, non-arbitrary, and value neutral. In a free society the state does not provide 'services' in order to push an agenda or benefit one group of people to the disadvantage of another.
The dichotomy between the left and the right is ultimately false. No matter how power is allocated or even monopolized, there will always be a left wing and a right wing. There will always be those that want progressive change and those that want to go back to the way things once were. There will always be those that want more government intervention and those that want less. Even in totalitarian societies which are nothing more than dictatorships where either the left or the right monopolizes power, there are wings within the government. They might not fight for power with open elections, but they still fight for power within the government. The truth is that often right wing politicians want just as much government intervention as left wing politicians and that neither left wing nor right wing politicians change anything. Change is brought about in society due to technological development as well as grass roots movements. All the government can do is decide how to react to these economic forces that are out of its control. When there is a recession, the government has a choose to either continue as it has or institute changes and either spend more or spend less. Ultimately the staged battle between left and right is a permanent war of attrition on both sides that can never be won. If one side ‘wins’ resulting in either Communism or fascism, both of which try to completely control the economic forces and human behavior, the result in practice will be almost exactly the same.
Some ideologies such as libertarianism and anarchism try to circumvent this dichotomy by making the state the enemy. Although there is some truth to this the state does not exist in a vacuum. Oppression is never exclusive to the state sector. Oppression exists even in stateless societies. I find it hard to believe that the people of Somalia are any more free than people living in run of the mill third world dictatorships. One observe the behavior exhibited by pre state peoples throughout the world and history and observe violence and even such things as slavery. Even if what such ideologies say is true about the nature of the state, the state will never disappear. The only way to ‘smash the state’ is to have some organized force which only leads to the creation of a new state. If the state simply collapses and dissolves as it did after decades of civil war in Somalia, armed gangs eventually take over and enforce their authority even if they are not unified.
With regards to modern societies, welfare, infrastructure, and military spending are not inherently good or bad, but are merely attributes of a system driven by certain principles and values. It is possible for any state to not engage in some form of social or military spending. There will always be borders and there will never be one world government. Likewise some form of government 'regulation' and social spending/safety net is necessary to prevent powerful corporations from monopolizing markets and infringing on people's liberties as well as necessary to encourage individual entrepreneurship. Such powerful corporations exist only due to government infrastructure and legal recognition in the first place, so to argue that 'regulating' them is an infringement on due process and individual liberties is absurd. Even the ‘free market’ is somewhat collectivist as it is collective demand expressed through many small individual choices determines which enterprises, ideas, and political parties survive. Indeed the line between infrastructure and social spending is quite blurry. A free society could take on many forms and attributes, but in order for it to be genuinely free it has to go beyond being formally democratic but also be democratic in content and principles. The problem with ideologies is that they dictate form without the content to back it up. In a truly free society the pendulum between the left and the right swings back and forth ever so slightly with popular demand.
The state doesn’t have to necessarily be an impediment to freedom. The way to measure the level of freedom in a society is to look at the relationship between the individual to the state and the surrounding society. It’s not enough to look at how wealthy or powerful society is, nor even how ‘just’ it is and ‘equal’ people are. A society can be wealthy through exploitation, and it can also be ‘just’ due to government involvement in our personal lives. Every society will have some level of discrimination, crime, exploitation, and injustice, both perceived and real. What really matters is do individuals have to have both opportunity, choice, and protections. As long as the state is not involved in discrimination or exploitation, people can still find a way to protect themselves and live their lives free from it.
For that reason it is so important that in a free society the state is truly agendaless and above the fray. Without democracy, this is impossible. It is not good enough however, to have elected representatives chosen by the public to ensure the government respects and obeys the will of the people and that it doesn't overstep is bound and take a life of its own. All sorts of atrocities and tyrannies have been justified in 'the name of the people' or 'the will of the people'. The most important thing in a free society is not just popular representation but also a universal respect for individual liberty, free inquiry, and due process and a government that operates according to such principles, not expediency or ideology. If we are to truly respect individual liberty and not just pay lip service to it, we can not trample individual liberties in the name of 'values', 'the greater good', 'patriotism', or 'progress'. Popular opinion, sentiments, and national circumstances can and do change quickly, all which require a change in policy in a democracy. However, such changes must occur while respecting basic rights due to the fact that such rights are so basic, can not be broken down any further, and make up the building blocks of freedom.
In a free society the burden of proof lies with the state to take action. It must prove that it is necessary to take action, that the majority of people approve of such action, and that such action does not violate anyone's RIGHTS FROM. It can not hide behind abstractions but must rather always state its intentions, goals, and methods of operating. It can only do what it is explicitly permitted by the people and its explicitly states laws and principles to do beforehand. People on the other hand can do anything provided it is not explicitly prohibited beforehand by the state. People may create their own contracts and surrender their rights FROM in order to achieve a right TO, but they can only do so for themselves and no one else, and nobody can force or trick anyone into any contract. The government can not overstep its mandates without the beforehand approval of the people and it can never unilaterally take away certain basic rights FROM regardless of the circumstances.
Therefore free society is a society of rule of law, not ideology or arbitrary rule of man over man. However if laws are used to discriminate against groups of people or particular ideas then they become nothing more than a tool of oppression. For such laws to truly be neutral and not just a tool of one man's rule over another, they can only be used to prohibit very narrowly defined types of behavior. The laws themselves must be passed and enforced in a way that follows a process so that they don’t just become tools of an agenda and that they don’t infringe upon people’s RIGHTS FROM.
Principles, procedure, and some form of direct participatory democracy must be taken into account to ensure that just laws are enforced fairly. All laws must spell out in no uncertain terms exactly what is prohibited, how such prohibitions are to be enforced, AND why so that they can not be arbitrarily used to enforce the will of bearaucrats and enforcers or push a hidden ideological agenda. A free society requires a transparent contract that deliniates the powers of the government and in which checks are placed against the power of the government. Therefore a free society must also have a written constitution that not only has a system of check and balances but that also spells out the social contract with the people and all the principles upon which all laws are based.
When the functioning of government is transparent and spelled out, the room for arbitrary force is limited. Without due process and accountability to the public, authority becomes unchecked power than can operate on a whim of whoever is in charge. Even law-breakers in a free society retain their rights as they are entitled to due process, and rights can only ever be taken away by due process. This ensures that nobody's rights are inadvertently trampled on in the process of the government protecting people's rights. Punishing the innocent as well as guilty in the name of punishing the guilty to protect the innocent is the ultimate perversion of 'justice'. Justice is ultimately an abstraction that is impossible to perfectly obtain in the specific let alone global scheme of things. The most workable concept of it is the most harmonious and equitable balance of rights that restores and preserves the liberty and dignity of the individual.
What this translates to in the legislative area is that due process as well as a process of free inquiry are paramount. The legislative arena has to be a place where the general public can work out ideas and 'draw the line' in some sort of productive debate. Of course elections become meaningless if the government can regulate any sorts of limits of 'respectable' discourse. The first step in preventing any government from overstepping its bounds is complete free expression as well as transparency and freedom of information at every level of government. Also without the complete freedom to petition and publicly criticize the government, public dialogue and discourse is squashed and the government is able to set values and the agenda. The more free expression is impeded the more the government can do as it wishes and no longer serve the people, but rather have the people serve it.
One problem that will always exist with representative democracy is that you will have ‘rent seekers’ that wish to lobby the government and do so at the expense of the population at large. It is not possible for legislators to be educating on everything, and very state needs the help of specialists who have highly esoteric knowledge. The problem is vocal and highly organized minorities can have influence beyond their numbers. Although this is not always a bad thing, when such groups do so in order to secure special advantages from the government, it can often lead to government infringing on people’s liberties and not even ruling ‘in the interests of the majority’. Ideally, legislators should represent their constituents to protect their rights more than they work to pass laws based on some ideological agenda or a special interest group. Of course the two are very easy to conflate by even the most honest of people. The first step to ensure that no groups have disproportionate influence over the government is to make sure that both the electoral and legislative process are transparent, and that no one has the right to have anonymous influence on the government.
There are several other ways to limit that amount of influence ‘rent seekers’ have on the state. As many political parties as have a following in the general public must have representation in the government. This can be done in a variety of ways including having some form of proportional representation at some level. It is also important that the general public must also have ways of placing initiatives on the ballot as well as voting on laws directly themselves via referendum. It is impossible to set up a system of direct democracy in this day and age, but if the citizenry can have some direct veto power in the legislative process, it would limit the power of the government to just do as it wants.
However the most important way to curb undue influence and protect civil liberties is to have a strong and independent judiciary whose job is to make sure that the principles of the society are always upheld by 'watching the watchers' and ensuring a balance of rights between parties both within and without the government. The judiciary acts as an arbiter between the legislative and the executive thereby ensuring a system of checks and balances between all three branches of government. It also makes sure that all laws follow the letter of the law of the constitution. Where there is any ambiguity, the judiciary should follow the spirit of the constitution in order for them to make a decision. For this reason a constitution should lay out some basic principles that go beyond the mere letter of the law and that stipulate individual liberty as being the highest priority.
Where the legislative bodies make decisions according to reason and popular will, the judiciary makes decisions based on legal traditions and principles that have been worked out over long periods of time that are not held as 'truth', but rather a practical and necessary vehicle for government functioning. Such legal principles and policy are constantly changing to keep up with the circumstances of the times and the needs of the people, but it changes within the framework of existing principles while holding individual liberty as paramount. In such a way, not even the government has a monopoly on ideas or 'the truth' and not even it is above the law.
In such a society the SAME EXACT PRINCIPLES apply to parties within society and the government alike. It is only when the enforcers are divided and must watch each other and apply the same simple laws and principles to each other as well as society that a society can truly call itself free. Power is diffuse but responsibility is given to specific institutions to perform specific tasks. Such institutions can only function by cooperating with each other, hence not just transparency but also compromise are necessary for getting things done.
Such a society may have many different and competing values, the state is nothing more than a valueless robot that acts only when it must to enforce laws that were deemed absolutely necessary by the people. It pursues just enough 'justice' and 'order' to ensure a workable peace between people. A free society is MEANS, not ENDS oriented; any authority exists to serve society by making sure everyone follows the same basic and simple rules and coexist. The state never acts preemptively, but rather reactively as a neutral mediator and arbitrator that enforces just enough peace and order to the extent that people can non-violently coexist with each other and live their lives on their own terms. It has no will or agenda of its own and uses the minimal amount of force necessary to ensure peace so that individuals are free from interference to determine their own destiny.
In an ideally free society, there is no rigid or permanent social order, value system, or hierarchy. Rather there are many groups with various value systems competing with each other and even they are constantly shifting and in flux. Such a society is constantly adapting, growing, learning, and evolving according the needs of the individuals in it. A level of flexibility and instability is built into it so that change can occur naturally without the need for violence. While there might be some collectivism in a free society, there is no central plan but rather a completely uninhibited exchange of goods and ideas.
Because there is no entity in charge of the distribution of resources, a free market has to be the foundation of how resources get allocated. Genuine competition and diversity of ideas are the only way to foster creativity, innovation, free inquiry, and dialogue, because unless every idea gets a chance to compete, every idea is constantly tested, and every individual is allowed to fulfill their potential, there is no way to know that those that make it to the top are in fact ‘the best’. Without competition, individual liberty, and an uninhibited exchange of goods and ideas, there is no way for people to fulfill their potential as individuals and be free while productively being part of a group.
Naturally certain tested ideas that have worked will dominate and leaders and some sort of elite may arise, but there would never be a homogeny. Nobody would be able to exclude anyone from the power process and nobody would be able to crash the party. In such a way, nobody would get to run the show for their own benefit. There wouldn't even be a show to run.
Certain people, groups, and ideas might have more influence, but only because they have for the time being proven themselves to be more effective until something better comes along. An elite that gets to dictate values and change the rules of the game for their own benefit or make exceptions at a whim is a parasitic ruling caste that feeds off the productive labor of society. Genuine competition and a real 'free market' can not exist without some sort of rules, structure, transparency and due process binding to all. A real free market and democracy go hand in hand. Even if they can be tools of it, authority, hierarchy, conventions, and traditions do not necessarily equate with oppression. They are simply means to an end, not ends in themselves. As long as they are fluid and not dictated by anyone they can ennoble us, and not just hinder us.
Some might see such a society as fundamentally unsafe, unstable, or vulnerable to predators and exploiters, and yet people made contracts with each other and existed without any form of government at all for thousands of years. Going back into prehistory long before the advent of states, people banded together for their mutual benefit and survival, and even developed complex societies without a state. Such stateless societies had rules and enforced them with varrying degrees of coercion and violence in order to preserve some order and protect themselves. However, no group of people wielded any significant power over another. A permanently armed body of men that existed apart from society only became a necessary evil not because some sort of moral and cultural consensus completely broke down, but because our societies became so large and complex that we could not longer rely on our networks of mutual aid alone to protect ourselves from outsiders. The first navies and armies were formed to protect trade vessels, thoroughfares, and cities from outside bandits and looters.
Unfortunately at the time the first states were formed, universal education and literacy were non-existent. Castes and classes of very small numbers of a literate elite ended up controlling government and using its power to protect their own wealth at the expense of the illiterate masses they lorded over. It is no coincidence that the concept of free inquiry of the enlightenment and universal literacy preceded the spread of democracy in the late 18th and 19th century west. People had to become educated enough to understand their relationship to government before they could use their rights and protect them from encroachment. Voting only became possible when some form of mass media came about that informed citizens on critical issues. Another reason elites had so much power was they were able to disseminate their own values that served their own interest while prohibiting the diseemination of those that did not promote their own interests. People today have far more freedoms and rights than they did hundreds of years ago, and yet government has always had the potential tc committ great evil.
The rights and freedom people have today were not granted out of some benevolent intentions of the state. No state has ever been able to guarantee anyone's rights and freedom. Any and all of the rights people have anywhere people have because they have been fought for and taken by people from the government, or simply because it became necessary in order to develop a more complex society. From the first day that states were formed, laws were written to ensure the smooth and uniform functioning or government and society. Concessions and protections were afforded to particular people in order to ensure cooperation of them with the government and each other.
Over time the 'rights' which were nothing more really than priviledges were extended to larger groups of people, and the exercise of particular ‘rights’ lead to the creation and expansion of new ‘rights’. Our ‘rights’ as human beings have grown slowly over thousands of years as we have exercised them collectively and as individuals. Occasionally people collectively rose up against their governments when their governments no longer respected the rights that they had granted people or when they became so corrupt and self-serving that society could no longer function. Sometimes entirely new forms of governments that pledged to respect the ‘rights’ of the people they governed would replace the old one’s. In particular, written constitutions became a way that people licensed governments, spelled out the social contract, and ensured that ‘rights’ were guaranteed and protected by force of ‘law’.
In theory, and to a lesser extent in practice, contemporary western ‘democracies’ respect individual rights. Often we take freedom away from an individual to seek some form of retributive justice against them for violation someone’s rights. However, just as often freedom is taken away from entire groups of people because we are told a few individuals are not capable of being responsible or respecting the rights of others. It is even done in the name of some form of collective historical retributive justice. In those instances we are told freedom must be taken away, perhaps even only temporarily, in order to protect or secure something, maintain some sort of basic order, correct some social injustice from the past, or even protect us from ourselves.
Even today we are led to believe that we much choose between, or have some sort of balance between freedom on the one hand, and security and order on the other. At times we are even told that we must sacrifice for the long term good. Unfortunately freedom is just as likely to be deprived as a means to ensure some sort of compliance with a particular groups hidden agenda and interests. The easiest way for people and institutions to push their agenda is to keep their motives hidden and act as if they are working in the interests of the majority, the ‘common good’, or ‘national security’.
In spite of constitutions and even representative forms of government, states have always used such logic and found pretexts for reneging on their own social contracts. States have even found reasons to not live up to their own constitutions, even if their intentions are not malicious but rather of expediency or desperation. There are always some ‘exceptions’ for when particular rights don’t apply, and ‘exigent circumstances’ during which to suspend their constitutions for 'emergency' reasons. Time and time again, dictatorships arose from democracy because people were willing to ‘temporarily’ give up ‘some’ of their rights to seek stability, economic growth, or to fight some 'enemy'. The problem is that once we lose our rights it is much harder to win them back.
As with the left and the right, the dichotomy between freedom and security is, and has always been false. Ultimately, freedom is the ONLY means to preserve life, limb, and property, and not just opportunity and the pursuit of happiness. Tyranny always justifies itself on spurious claims of temporary necessity and security. It will always seek to curb freedom and deprive people of their rights under the guise of protecting people from themselves, each other, or some outside force.
Every surreptitious attempt to increase the power of the state results in an erosion of freedom AND security of the people it rules. A government that can do whatever it wants, even if its ‘only’ to a small group of people, CAN AND WILL take whatever it wants, including life and property, from ANYONE. There is nothing more potentially dangerous than an armed group of people that claim a monopoly of force. Historically, no group of bandits, pirates, or brigands has ever come close to the death and destruction created by the state that has no checks placed upon its power. A government that can do whatever it wants is totalitarian, and totalitarianism has been the most destructive and evil force to mankind.
People that want to remain free must recognize that any government, no matter how it is set up, will always demand more power, and that we cannot trade in freedom for the security. The best way to have power is to be independent. A free and uninhibited exchange for mutual benefit is good, but as soon as we become dependant on any entity, we lose power to it. You cannot rely on anyone to protect your own rights or tell you what is right and true. No matter how much someone claims to be an ‘expert’ that you should trust, they always have an a hidden axe to grind. The more we hold each other accountable the less some sort of state authority has to. It is our duty as citizens and human beings to question not just our government but each other, and demand that the burden of proof lies with any sort of authority, whether it be professional, religious, or academic to justify its actions.
We can still have government that provides things for people, but people must ultimately advocate on their own behalf and not expect anyone to 'save' them. In a free society we as citizens must ultimately be responsible for our own freedom AND safety. While the government might be necessary to provide essential services, that buck still has to stop with us. As soon as we trust the government to make decisions for us without our knowledge and consent, we lose our sovereignty. We have every right to ask for help, but government does not need to decide for us where we need ‘help’ nor does it need to bring people together, force them to cooperate, or dictate our terms of interaction. As soon as we accept the logic of a broad 'compelling interest' or 'national security' as justifications for broad government action, its mandate will continue to grow larger and larger.
It is also not good enough to think that our government will do good if left to its own devices or that that we should wait until things get really bad before we take action. A free society must have a strong civil society made up of organizations like non-profits not involved in economic production but free inquiry, research, general advocacy, and mutual aid. People must be willing to get involved in the political process. Democracy requires that in some form we be creating our own values, taking action on them, and questioning each other all the time.
It is argued that people are justified in overthrowing their government when it refuses to listen to the will of the people. Where people collectively draw that line is very difficult to determine and only history can tell. Typically it is when the state consistently refuses to grant reforms AND uses indiscriminate violence against those it rules. By that point it is often too late. For that very reason people must always be asserting their rights and autonomy while participating in public life.
Ideally in a free society state power is so limited that the instant it oversteps its mandate, refuses to listen to the will of the people, and suppress the rights of the people it rules with force, it is very easy for the people to simply ignore and disobey its unjust laws because the state wouldn't have the power to enforce itself against such a large number of disobedient people. In a free society the state is so weak that overthrowing it becomes irrelevant. In a free society the state CANNOT rule without the consent and cooperation of the governed.
When 'authority' ceases to be neutral and it uses its power to serve particular interests (including its own) against the interests of others and exploits people, it becomes oppressive. When authority ceases to be accountable to the people it serves and when there are entirely different sets of rules for different people, it becomes oppressive. When the state discriminates against people simple for who they are, it becomes oppressive. When the state rules according to an ideology as opposed to a rule of law that is binding on all, it becomes oppressive.
Being accountable to a 'higher cause' or some otherworldly divinity does not alter the reality of what someone or an entity is doing. Even when people and institutions try to justify their deception, control, exploitation, and abuse of people with 'good intentions', 'knowing better', or 'progress' its still oppression. No amount of spurious abstract nonsensical pseudo pious gobbledygook religiosity or clever but glib wordsmithing changes the reality of the situation. Whether the malice and deception is deliberate and planned or merely a product of vanity, hubris, misguided beliefs, and people just feeding off of each other to get what they want is immaterial. Whether people in charge know consciously that they benefit their own flowery rhetoric and ‘smoke and mirrors’, or are merely players in a game larger than themselves is immaterial.
Despotism is despotism and exploitation is exploitation, no matter how enlightened and benevolent it claims to be and regardless of the intentions behind it. People in charge may genuinely have other people's interests or the greater good in mind. Through unceasing rationalization demagogues, ideologues, and pseudo intellectuals may also genuinely believe the jet stream of rhetoric erupting from their mouth regardless of how they actually behave. I may genuinely believe I talk to Jesus Christ through an antenna, or that I live on the north pole of Mars. It doesn't matter; people should be put in charge based on their talents, merits, and their ability to serve people, not just what they believe. Either way the results of despotism are never enlightening, empowering, or beneficial.
Quite the opposite the results are anti-life in every sense of the world. Only the despots themselves benefit. Usually such people have selfish intentions, even if they can't admit it to themselves and no malice is involved. No matter how you cut it, when idealistic and universal concepts like "Our Community/Our Country/The Common Good/The Common Man/The Workers/The Children" or whatever feel good cliché one can come up with are used to blindside people and push an ulterior and usually self-serving agenda, it is shameless exploitation. Even if no economic or surplus value is extracted from people or their labor, if people are manipulated into doing something or giving something up it is exploitation. The main failing of Marxism is that it viewed all oppression as rational and economically based. It failed to realize that power and exploitation can take on many forms. When people have decisions unilaterally forced on them, it is despotism regardless of the goals and intentions, and there is no goal so noble or expedient as to justify oppression with some universal moral imperative.
It is exactly for this reason why oppression is often shrouded in broader, lofty, and noble intentions. Ideology and dogma hide the true nature of power relations as well as justify them, while bringing followers onto their side. At the very extreme end of the spectrum of oppression, totalitarian societies elevate their ideas to a higher almost magical mystical plane of reality. Rather than being a dynamic representation, vehicle, and method of understanding a dynamic reality, the ideas become an ossified reality onto themselves. ‘Leaders’, ‘Imams’, and ‘commissars’ will even teach that the ideas, feelings, and self-interest of the members or anything outside of the governing ideology are not just less important but irrelevant or don't exist.
Individuals in such societies are mere interchangeable parts of a whole. Totalitarian thinking goes that the people that they lord over should just be happy with their lot, because their system of government is the best and only way to really enable people to live ‘morally’ and in ‘harmony’ with each other, even if it means that people must exist to serve the noble ideas and goals. The people they rule serve themselves by playing their ‘role’ and serving ‘society’ first. By serving their ‘society’ in particular, they are serving ‘the greater good’. Individual liberty, a diversity of ideas, and free inquiry threaten the smooth functioning of society; only the goals and ideology of the group are important. Anything that doesn't assist with those goals or somehow questions the status quo is looked at with suspicion at the very least, if not outright contempt and treason. Even if such ruling ideas seem so disconnected from reason, reality, and individual human experiences, they continue to exist through constant repetition and ‘praise’, and by suppressing any contradictory ideas.
Ironically while perfect harmony between people is neither possible, necessary, nor even good, it is when people can't respect the dignity, autonomy, diversity, and privacy of their fellow human beings, shit really rolls downhill fast. When ridiculous self-serving rationalizations and absolutist black and white thinking become unquestionable official policy, absolutely nobody can remain immune from such tyranny, no matter how much they prove their 'loyalty'. Depending on the level of constraints, in such a society where outlets are limited, the only way to survive let alone get ahead is to identify with the group and status quo and get one's needs met through 'socially acceptable' channels.
Forging a private personal sphere becomes so difficult that decent and ordinary and even apolitical and apathetic people are forced to outwardly support the system. The big lie is so omnipresent and powerful that people are forced to create little lies in their own lives in order to not be perceived as 'deviant'. At best they adapt by becoming really cynical and retreating into their personal sphere.
But even that requires creating a lie in order to keep ones personal life hidden from the society around them. The most horrific and disgusting thing about exploitive institutions in general and totalitarian institutions in particular is that they resort to unethical and even evil means to deprive decent people of their sovereignty all under the guise of empowerment, morality, or some broader idealistic goal, only so that they can bend them over for their own carnal, materialistic, worldly, and completely self-serving ends. Nothing is more evil than people and institutions exploiting the good in others against themselves for their own selfish ends.
Coercing people into playing institution specific roles in order to exploit and control them NEVER empowers people. It simply conditions people to put on a brave face while swallowing shit. Like hardened convicts that survive in a very specific niche by hiding fear and resorting to violence, but can't hold down a steady job in the civilized world, outside of their environment institutionalized people fall apart like paper Mache. Total institutions, totalitarian societies, and cults will drill into people that they have no worth or meaning outside of institution specific roles or performance, and that only the values of their ‘society’ are moral. That is how such societies control their people. In their eyes, functioning as part of a larger entity and serving ‘the greater good’ is the highest 'virtue' one can obtain. The devastating consequence is not only the destruction of a meaningful individual identity, but the ability the think independently and make healthy attachments to other people based on trust and reciprocity. Taken to the extreme can retard if not destroy the development of a personal conscience.
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V. DRAWING A LINE BETWEEN CONFLICT AND SACRIFICE AND ABUSE AND EXPLOITATION:
If we want to be free people, we not only have a right but a responsibility to think for ourselves, draw a line, and fight for our rights. However if we just fight for OUR rights, we weaken the very concept of a right in general. We have to fight for the rights of others, even if we don't agree or like them, because if we don't to a certain point tolerate people for their differences and respect their rights, we will never coexist let alone cooperate without some form of 'authority'. If we don't draw our own boundaries as individuals and as a society, some outside power will draw them for us and it will neither be for 'our own good' nor anybody else's. As long as we are open and honest with other people about our boundaries and values and respect the boundaries and values of other people, nobody will be imposing themselves on anyone else or oppressing them. Even if we don't like someone because of their values, we can only fault them for their dishonesty or transgressions on our and other people's boundaries.
This doesn't mean there will be no conflict. Where people draw the line between each other is not always obvious and people's differing values will inevitably clash. There will always be misunderstandings and some people want more than they realize they can get. A lot of times people don't even know where they really stand or what their boundaries are. There are no perfect solutions and not everyone can be satisfied all the time. Compromises have to be worked out with effort and sometimes time.
Even if we submit to an all powerful authority that runs everyone's life and imposes a rigid order in the hope of obtaining 'harmony', there will still be conflict as everyone tries to curry favor with the powers that be. Indeed, currying favor and proving loyalty in an authoritarian or totalitarian society is the only way to really get far. Such conflict that ensues is even worse because it tends to lie beneath the surface and therefore be more unfettered, divisive, and underhanded. Some who feel completley hopeless might say then 'to hell with it all' and completely retreat into their own little world to avoid conflict. When we do that however, we not only become cut off from people and ourselves, but we never learn how to exert our will nor manage boundaries and negotiate, essentially making conflict more difficult to deal with and being more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and oppression in all its forms. We can become fatalists and surrender our own autonomy to forces that don't even exist except in our head.
Conflict does not have to be dangerous or destructive. It can actually be productive and ennobling when it is out in the open as it is more guided and organized. It forces people to reevaluate their priorities and abilities. It can bring people together to cooperate and make them realize how much they have in common with each other, as well as help us to understand the differences with others. When we can't understand each other, as long as we are willing to respect each others rights and boundaries and recognize that everyone comes from a different perspective, we can at least civilly disagree and realize what we do and do not have in common with each other. Such a process fosters meaningful and productive dialogue, and ironically can help people to cooperate, cooexist, and create a sense of community.
The problem is that some people are just unwilling to compromise and want their way at the expense of everybody else. Unless such people are very cunning, devious, and socially adept, they usually end up alienating everyone and isolating themselves to the point of rendering themselves powerless. Those that have the ability end up trying to seize power of some sort. Such people will always create conflict no matter how much they are appeased. Even allying with them is pointless as they will eventually betray you once they feel you have served your purpose. They are only interested in total domination. NOT drawing a line simply to avoid conflict will neither please such tyrants nor help one avoid conflict. All that will happen is that you will fall prey and pointlessly suffer for someone else's benefit.
A lot of times we must fight and sacrifice to protect not just our values but our rights, autonomy, and safety. We might not be able to fight the world, but we can pick and choose our battles. Having values of any kind means that we must be willing to sacrifice something and suffer for them. Having values requires that we accept that we can not have everything we want. Inevitably, we must also accept that suffering and sacrifice are inevitable no matter what we do. However, we can choose to suffer on our own terms. Our values CAN make us stronger and endure suffering, BUT ONLY IF THEY ARE TRULY OUR OWN VALUES. When we suffer for someone else's values we do nothing more than demonstrate obeidience and self-sacrifice for someone else's benefit, and that we don't really value ourselves. For a value system to be genuine, it must be chosen voluntarily, otherwise we are not really valuing anything but rather just being obedient.
When we are obedient we are not making a real choice of our own volition, but rather reacting out of fear. Doing something merely to avoid pain is unlikely to have long-term results, especially when the threat of pain is removed. Positive reinforcement and a sense of responsibility through personal attachment is far more productive than punishment. When people do things because they genuinely want to, they tend to throw their heart and soul into it. When they do things because they have to, they do the least they can and are more inclined to resort to unethical means. Positive experiences that expand your emotional and intellectual horizons are more likely to improve your happiness, functionality, and strength.
Discipline, structure, and challenges are good and necessary for people in order for them to maintain a sense of purpose and direction so that they can improve themselves, but there is a big difference between undergoing a challenge and being subject to oppression, being stretched on a rack, and having one's teeth removed. Looking at life as nothing more than a series of choices of lesser evils is to view life as nothing more than a plebian, insipid, and ultimately pointlessly bleak task. It is to view life as a game of staying alive, which ultimately we all lose anyway. Even stupid and emotionally shallow people can develop a high level of functionality provided they have the freedom and experiences to become aware of their strengths and limitations.
There are people that argue you can get used to anything and that everything is just a matter of will. In other words, if you suffer enough you can get used to suffering and do anything, no matter how painful it is. Totalitarianism in particular elevates self-sacrifice and will power at the expense of reason, even on the collective and macro level. Even after massive economic failure as during the Great Leap Foward in China, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution-the most brutal and widespread wave of repression in history, against his 'opponents' and so called 'enemies of the people'. It didn't matter that his far fetched policies of rapid economic expansion caused NEGATIVE economic growth and food shortages. Somehow lower level officials, who made 'errors' in the execution of his plan were to blame.
Even if self-sacrifice doesn't cause death, accommodating to something to the point of no longer noticing it is not adaptation, its just mutted suffering and a protracted death. Pain and discomfort are natural and functional biological responses to the environment that have evolved over millions of years. You can dope yourself on PCP and herion to the point where getting shot doesn't bother you, but there are only so many bullets you can take from charging a machine gun before your shattered bones and pulverized bleeding body become a static pile of ooze on the ground. Even if you can 'take the pain', it doesn't mean you are going to get what you want. Most accomplishments require skill and years of experience, not just the ability to 'take the pain', and while some things like morphine will make pain more tolerable, they will not heal a wound, provide a source of nutrition, nor make one functional. Nobody can just will anything they want into existance.
If you have a particular talent, you can make it work for you. It is also possible to adapt to a variety of situations, but it is impossible to be highly functional in all of them. Great White Sharks and Tigers are both apex predators, but only in their very specific environments. In the middle of the pacific a tiger is shark chum, and on the top of Mount Everest a Great White is just a giant frozen fish slab. Both thrive in their respective environments because they have adapted to the over millions of years. It is biologically impossible to thrive in multiple types of radically different environments. You can have all the faith you want in a system and a leader, it will not make what they say to be any more true and it will not make their life methods and values work for you.
Yes you can learn from any experience, but at what price? War veterans have unique and life altering experiences that provide insight and that they can share with the world. They also have horrible memories and a haunted conscience that they must live with for the rest of their lives. There are only 24 hours in the day, and there is only so much time one has on this earth to live. Living a life purely of trial and error is basically to live no better than an animal. At some point one must question what is the point behind what one is doing, and what kind of values are driving one’s behavior(and that of other people). Even worse is making mistakes by placing 'faith' in other people's values. The only thing one can learn from such an 'error' is that one should not place 'faith' in other people's values.
People can change, but for it to be positive and lasting it needs to be voluntary, for the right reasons with some thought behind it. If you are constantly trying to win at other people’s games, you will never discover your own talents let alone fulfill your own potential. Inevitably you will just be grinding on the same grove over and over again. Being able to ‘take the pain’ will not make you more functional nor will it make you have more meaningful and fulfilling relationships with other human beings. Any additional armor you put on will only weigh and slow you down. As much as you need to be functional to be happy, you also need to be happy to be functional. When we suffer against our will for someone else's benefit, at very best it is just waste time.
Suffering doesn't even necessarily make anyone more appreciative of what they have, more understanding of other people, or more aware of their own failings. To the contrary it can make people more bitter, self-entitled, emotionally stunted, and stuck in their ways. Unnecessary suffering certainly will not make anyone more honorable, moral, principled, ethical or respectful of others if all it does is make them numb and obeidiant. If anything it is more likely to make someone a mean spirited son of a bitch and a willing executioner of any agenda if it hasn't already torn them down. Depending on what exactly happens and the duration, certain experiences over time will either cripple and destroy the soul, or corrupt it.
If suffering were really that positive and life-affirming of a force, the world would wouldn't be as it has been for as long as it has. Plenty of good people have had both good and bad lives, and plenty of bad people have had both bad and good lives. Powerlessness can be just as much if not more corrupting than power. Pushing yourself in a direction you want to go to see what you can achieve is one thing, but going completely against your basic nature and adapting to the environment at any cost will eventually eat you alive and warp you as a person. The more one has to spend energy on basic survival, the less energy one can devote to personal growth and reflection, and the more one is tempted to cut corners to ensure survival. When one has to live a lie, every action becomes a calculated act that turns life into a grind.
People can also recover from trauma, but its a process far from automatic, and it can't happen in an oppressive environment that is causing the trauma and preventing meaningful reflection and healthy interaction with other people. Humans are living organisms, and adaptation is part of the process of growing and living. When we grow, we not only adapt to our particular environment but become more adaptive to various environments in general. Human beings are not plants however. We can't just live off fecal matter and photosynthesize sunlight and air inside a constricted box. A toxic environment can be resisted and survived, but the only way to thrive in it is to surrender one’s conscience and any sense of connection to people around you.
Human beings are endowed with reasoning abilities that allow us to critically reflect on our past experiences and create unique solutions to unique problems. Like animals, we have automatic reflexes that enable us to survive in situations when we don't have the time to think. Unlike animals we can 'reprogram' our reflexes to make our responses more calculated, efficient, and functional. Regarding this, self-knowledge is the highest form of knowledge. Working with experience, what you know, and what you can do best is much more likely to get you to where you want to be rather than following some template handed down from someone or somewhere else. What works for one person does not necessarily work for another. Otherwise you will just be hopping from one way of living and one set of values to another until you think you find something that approximates your needs best. Why not focus on what you know, what you believe to be right, and what can do even if it seems very little, and then just work your way out from that? Eventually you will find your truest most functional self. Mistakes will always be made, but at least they will be easier to learn from, procure more valuable experience, and take less time.
I don't want to live in the past or keep picking at the same wound, but I also refuse to relive it in any way, shape, or form for as long as I live. Once is enough. I am done being a disposable utility that lives only to make other people happy. However, the past becomes prologue when people choose to not to face it. In the same way that history repeats itself when people choose not to remember and critically study it, people repeat the same patterns in their lives when they fail to confront themselves and their past.
For too long I repeated the same mistakes over and over again because I was unable to be honest with myself and confront my present let alone my past. I would rather be honest with myself and feel like crap than lie to myself, get nowhere, and feel like crap anyway. Sometimes it is good enough to understand a situation even if that means realizing one has very little control or can’t even change it at all. There is nothing liberating or empowering about pretending to control things one has absolutely no control of whatsoever and deceiving yourself that you are happy. It is much better to focus on controlling the things one can control and setting personal goals, no matter how small and distant they are. <>Even if one can't control or change the environment or the people one has to deal with, if you can understand them you can control how to react to them and how much effort to put into dealing with both. I am going to do whatever I can to understand WHY things happen so that at the very least I can minimize how much bad shit happens to me and the damage it does, even if I can't get a definitive answer as to why or I don't like it. Unless I understand why something happened, I know that it may very well easily happen again, and that is not something anyone should have to accept.
I don't need to understand and control a lot. I don't need closure and understanding on everything or to have my future set out in stone, but I need to be able to live my life with some direction, understanding, meaning, purpose, and principals. At worst, if there is no good reason for anything happening and everything is arbitrary, then I may as well live life on my own terms pursuing the things that make me happy. Self-sacrifice is pointless; I will be dead someday anyway. Why live life like some rat or circus chimpanzee mindlessly jumping through arbitrary hoops and pretending I approve of the way things are just because some ‘authority figure’, ‘expert’, or ‘higher power’ says so? I don't care what their ends are or how 'good' they claim to be, I won't accept things anymore just because someone tells me things will magically get better, or because it has always has been and should be that way and I should just put up with it.
Even from an abstract historical point of view, the 'take the pain' argument is utter garbage. People have been able to take their destiny into their own hands throughout history for the better, even if the principles that drive group behavior never change. People invented, innovated, and built because they wanted to make their lives better and easier. Even if their intentions were 'selfish', people still benefited from their discoveries and creations. Massive collective self-sacrifice, on the other hand, has often lead to NO PROGRESS WHATSOEVER.
Individuals and small groups of people can and do even occasionally have a broader impact on their societies around them, even if they didn’t mean to do so. The things that have changed for the better in this world have changed because people refused to accept the assumptions and values of the status quo, even if they were in the minority and they stood out doing so. Major social change only comes about because very large numbers of people decide to individually take very small steps first. Even when it becomes difficult or impossible to change the environment through open collective action, it is possible to resist individually through small acts. A lot of times people that have led major social change were merely trying to improve their own personal lot or just survive only to have people ask them for help and become allies. A lot of times they just could not take their situation anymore. When enough people do that in it self it can bring about broader change.
Even if there is NO hope for collective resistance or progress, there is always some level of resistance one can engage in, even if it is token, or some personal progress one can pursue. There is always the option of attempting to individually determine our own destiny by withdrawing into our own worlds and pursue knowledge in the hopes of self-improvement and self-empowerment, even if it means retreating from the gazing eye of society and the rule of the status quo. At very worse if circumstances become so harsh that we can't even cultivate a personal sphere and live in quiet dignity, we can always choose to try and survive and die on our own terms, as bleak as that may sound. If I have to do whatever it takes to adapt to the status quo I may as well do whatever it takes to resist it in order to not be crushed by it.
I refuse to relinquish my control to abstractions, cliches, cheap rhetorical phrases, or 'faith' in some higher power or ideology. Things do not automatically work out for the best, there is not always a happy ending, good does not automatically prevail over evil, and progress is not always indefinite. Even if God exists, we are infinitely better of trying to help ourselves. While I am interested in understanding and free inquiry, I am not interested in the opinions, intentions, or character of self-appointed 'experts', 'leaders', and authority figures whose claim to power and ‘truth’ is unilateral and unchecked. They might even have a lot of good ideas and be smart people, but nobody is so trustworthy, enlightened, and incorruptable as to be able to think for other people, run their personal lives, and determine their destiny. Nobody is infallible, all knowing, or 'better' regardless of their background, lineage, or credentials. ALL human beings are fallible and corruptable. Nobody is justified in forcing others to live on their terms or in fear of arbitrary and unilateral power.
I don't care who claims to understand 'God's true message', or be the true inheritor of the ONE AND ONLY TRUE filosofy of as;dklfjaasd;lkjzzzzzzzzzzzz12f. It doesn't matter how many babies they have kisses, who they have saved, what they have endured, or what they have accomplished. Even less do I care if such people make more money/have more academic credentials/have more seniority/can run faster or possess unique talents, even if such talents do benefit other people. No body can be so enlightened and virtuous as to be able to appoint themselves in charge of someone else's life or treat them as a disposable utility. Nobody is so 'special' that they have the 'right' to squash someone's face with their boot heal. No person, group, or institution has any right to oppress and exploit someone else knowingfully or not, REGARDLESS OF THEIR INTENTIONS OR STATUS, lofty, otherworldly or otherwise.
I also reject the notion that certain people deserve to be oppressed or controlled because there are inferior and/or they don't know 'what is best for them'. Not only is this blatant rationalization and creating a victim only to blame them in the extreme, but on its face value it is absurd. If someone or a group of people is genuinely inferior, there is no need to oppress them. Such people will be unable to compete against their 'betters' and will hold themselves down. If they are genuinely 'inferior' or 'defective' in some sort of way, no level of micro management will change them for the better or prevent them from harming themselves let alone harming other people. Society does not need to set aside a 'productive' place for them where they lose all their freedom; they will eventually on their own find a level of functionality and a role that they can play with other people. As long as they are not harming or placing other people at risk, controlling them in any sort of way for the benefit of 'society at large' is not only self-serving but unproductive.
People may rationalize further and argue that such people are incapable of determining their own role and destiny, and that if they are not held down with force they will corrupt society, harm others, or violently 'take over' and destroy it completely. Just because people refuse to play the role that has been assigned to them does not mean that society will descend into anarchy and chaos. It might not take the rigid form demanded by some prefabricated template, but it will still survive without descending into 'chaos'. As long as they are not forcing others to accept their values and lifestyle and no one else is paying for their lifestyle, no harm can be done.
Even if somehow some harm is being done, to punish an entire group for the actions of a few individuals does far greater injustice to the individuals in such a group than any justice by finding the guilty individuals. It is far more effective to go after the behavior than the 'kinds of people' that commit such behavior. If a group has organized and is working together for a particular goal, they can only be a ‘threat’ if they have overtly organized to threaten human life itself with some form of immenent violence. If people have a stake in their own society they will not try to tear it down or sabotage it. If they have a voice, they will not need to resort to violence.
No 'greater good' can EVER be served by oppressing anybody. Freedom is an immeasureable and universal good that serves all. Unless a person or a group of people is proven through due process to be an immenent violent threat to others or themselves, there is no justification in depriving anyone of their freedom.
Worse and most absurd of all is the justification for the exploitation of people, especially if based on their status designation within some arbitrary social hierarchy. To control someone for the purpose of expoiting them only benefits the controller, nobody else. Under a true system of rule of law, all members of society compete equally. This does not mean a darwinian free for all/all or nothing proposition where the 'winners' do whatever it takes to 'win' including using fraud and violence, only to take it all while the 'losers' get reorganized into dirt. Even if a particular group of people, such as children, the mentally ill, or convicts, are incapable of governing themselves, there is no good argument for the exploitation of anyone. Theft is theft, no matter how weak, stupid, or unliked the people are you are stealing from. You can't argue for the exploitation and abuse of people because they are 'inferior' or incapable of protecting themselves, and at the same time argue for any sort of system of law. People that do so are intellectually and emotionally on the same level as pedophiles.
Just as no living creature ‘deserves’ to be systematically subject to cruelty in order to serve the needs of others, nobody can deserve or earn the right to oppress anyone else. People can have status and power and still be egregious douchebags and parasitic assholes. The ability to get one's way does not correlate with character, integrity, or even a surplus of talent. It is not uncommon for people survive and get ahead by being ruthless and shameless opportunistic self-interest seekers that take advantage of other people. Even if someone is somehow 'gifted' or 'talented', they may be incompetent to run their own life let alone the lives of others. Essentially, the idea that there is any connection between someone's status and their character or some inate quality is absurd. Someone may have earned or deserve more than others, but no body can earn the right to despotically lord over someone else.
Any system based on the 'law' of social darwinism is nothing more than a system of organized brutality and exploitation that protects a ruling caste. There are no laws or governments in nature. Animals may fight for social dominance, kill and feed off of each other parasitically, but they are not capable of holding captive or stealing surplus value from other animals. There is no permanent class of 'alphas'; who is alpha changes from year to year and season to season.
Even humans are only capable of such things because of the existance of a state. People can take advantage of others who are weaker or in a weaker position, but to really consciously exploit someone with their full knowledge against their will requires decisive and overwhelming force that enables control without destruction. Even individuals with overwhelming biological advantages have to sleep, and when they sleep they are vulnerable to anyone. Exploitation and oppression are highly organized complex social phenomenon that only human beings are capable of with a state. The scientific theory of social darwinism can not provide a moral justification for any system due to the simple fact that as a scientific theory for natural phenomenon, it is an ammoral concept.
Exploitation and competition do not go hand in hand, in fact they are the diametrical opposite. In a true 'free market', nobody has any monopoly on anything that they can use to control other people. By the same token guarantying people rights does not stymie competition; on the contrary it enhances it and allows people to develop themselves and focus on investing in the future, and not just surviving in the now. The bottom line is not even the crassest and most nihilistic of social Darwinism can justify the organized exploitation of innocent people.
If people are having any surplus value taken away from them simply because they are at a disadvantage, they are being exploited. If people are not being rewarded for the same kind of work just because they are different, they are being exploited. If people must compete to survive but are prevented form climbing the social economic hierarchy, they are being exploited. If people must pay for lifestyle of others, they are being exploited.
People can play whatever worthless and stupid games they want to and believe whatever nonsense helps them sleep at night, but I don't want to or have to be a part of it or be forced to listen to what they have to say. As much as I may have a problem with people who play such games I realize that there is not much I can do about it. As long as they respect other people's boundaries, there is not much that can or needs to be done. Even if I don’t like it, I also don't have a problem with people who can't understand or like me. There might be reasons why anyone doesn't like me that I can't understand for the reason that people can have different life experiences and be radically different from one another. Its not possible to like everyone unless we are extremely one dimentional. Its all moot anyway. As much as I don't need to like anyone they don't need to like me.
I DO have a problem with people that mistreat others, violate their boundaries and trust, and disrespect their autonomy just because they are different, they can't understand them, or they want something from them. Those most likely to dismiss, condemn, and attack do so to that which they do not understand, often without taking any effort to understand it. Reasoning with such people is useless because they are not interested in understanding anything beyond getting their needs met with the minimal amount of effort and ultimately just want their way. They will judge in accordance with their self-interest and based off their limited life experience without questioning their own assumptions, prejudices, intentions, or experience. Such people often assume others to have the same narrow outlook on life and that if they don't then they have some shallow self-serving hidden agenda or that they are deficient in some way. Anything that challenges their concept of the world being a fundamentally just and orderly place or as they imagine it to be creates cognitive dissonance and anxiety, which they attack or ignore as best as possible.
Maybe if I had been able to radically change myself somehow I wouldn't have had the same experience when I was young. I was conspicuously never good at being a 'team player', 'competitive', or 'fitting in' even when I desperately tried, and I have never been good at group interaction. 'Belonging' always required I play some calculated role, fight for attention, project an image, and engage in high energy bullshit self marketing all the while pretending that 'I don't give a fuck'. I could never quite say what I really wanted to or when I did it just wasn't glib and polished enough. Even though I tried, I never became good at having to self-monitor, micromanage myself, and constantly be evaluated by other people. The closest I ever came even in an optimal situation from my point of view was being an amusing and interesting if awkward tag along. Nothing has changed at any point in my life. People can tell when others are different. I never have, and I never will fit in to any distinct social scene or general 'type'. For better or worse, I am an 'individual', whatever that means.
More importantly however, I shouldn't have to change myself to fit in to people's contrived schemas, make other people happy, or make them content with living their lie. Just as much as it is not their problem if I don't like them, it’s not my problem if they don’t like me. Although it took many years I eventually realized there is nothing particularly disfunctional with the way I am or being an individual at all. Being different is not in of itself a symptom of a social, cognitive, or emotional deficit. I would much rather genuinely interact with someone on my own terms so that I can learn from them and grow as a person than follow some script, play a role, and resort to manipulation in order to simply get through life with minimal effort to get as many needs met as possible. I hate social climbing and navigating a pecking order, and I don't like being sized up or sizing people up. I hate having to hide my true feelings, thoughts, and personality, and part of the reason is that I just have always been so bad at it and I never end up 'fitting in' anyway. It just takes me so much effort and it ends up being so self-defeating and humiliating.
The only thing worse than prolonged powerlessness and systematic humiliation is isolation. Everyone gets lonely or down, but its a mild discomfort compared to the constant feeling of being on the verge of falling of a cliff. The worst feeling in the world is to feel like you must constantly fight in order to live a pointless existance. Being punished simply for being different is depressing and humiliating. Furthermore, to have no control over your environment while suffering alone and not being able to trust anyone will have a debilitating impact on ANYONE. It is like silently having the weight of the world on your shoulders. You cease to exist in any meaningful or good way. Over a prolonged period of time both powerlessness and isolation erode one's self-esteem, understanding of oneself and other people, will, and basic mental health.
I can't fault people who go through the motions and parrot the convention when their back is to a wall. Everyone conforms at times for survivals sake. That’s life. I can't even blame a lot of the teachers I had to deal with. In many ways they were just as much victims of the situation even if they were enforcers of it. In the process a lot of decent people end up drinking the cool aid or just going along with the flow because they couldn't see any alternative and they were just trying to make the best of a bad situation. Part of what I found so disappointing was that none of the motions I went through and the effort I put forth translated into anything of any value short or long term. To a certain extent I participated like everyone else. I kept on clinging to the hope that somehow things would just get better and that I just had to tough it out, but like a black hole, absolutely no rays of light escaped from that vortex of darkness that made up that time of my life.
What was worse and what to this day I find truly disgusting are people that advantage of situations to exploit those beneath them all the while vomiting 'convention' and hiding behind feigned piety, meaningless platitudes, and self-serving cliches. Such toxic people only care about themselves but always hide behind an ideology or group, and are the core of the any amoral and destructive system. These kinds of people exist everywhere, and while institutions can't program people like robots, they can sort where people end up in the social hierarchy and use the right kind of people to their own ends. In the process institutions end up shaping everyone's drives, ambitions, and instincts. Such a process of manipulation turns people into pieces on a chess board by pitting their self-interest and survival against others. Those without moral scruples or personal attachments rise to the top. Such a toxic environment makes it very difficult not to play the game of survival and competition at any cost.
I lost complete sight of what little I knew about myself. Not only did I stop paying any attention whatsoever to my instincts, but I abandoned common sense itself. I didn’t even know what I didn’t want, let alone what I wanted because pretty much everything in my life was horrible. Everything was pain. I did what I was told to because I was scared and alone. You can’t know what you are missing if you have never experienced it. Even my parents always insisted that they knew what was best for me and had good intentions, and that any of my 'failures' with due to disobeidiance and/or some inherant defectiveness. Being a child, I had no concept of what independance and dignity felt like. Many years passed before I experienced genuine love. Even if you know you don’t like the feelings of your shackles rubbing your flesh raw, its still hard to envision what greener pastures you could see if you didn’t have chains on at all.
I was so used to being told what to do and who I was, that even once I gained my freedom I didn’t know what to do with myself. I couldn't even appreciate it. I felt lost and without purpose. I was a hollow shell and a lost soul for a long time. I took me years to develop into a mature, independent, and self-aware individual with a healthy identity and perspective on the world. I associated with anyone because I was used to not just being an outsider but totally alone and not having any valid or meaningful connection with people. I did it because I didn't have the confidence in myself have standards, draw boundaries, make necessary judgment calls, think for myself, and make my own way on my own. After years of isolation in an isolated environment, I had a hard time exploring and understanding the world and living life on my own terms. Many times I felt like I had to rebuild my personality from scratch, but I didn't know where to begin. I tried discovering and reinventing myself over and over again. I involved myself in various idealistic and yet shortsighted causes, and I ended up in the same trap every time.
It took time to step back, understand my emotions, and reevaluate myself, and realize how my experience impacted me. It took me much longer before I was able to organize my thoughts and write anything down. Eventually I began to trust my own experiences, ideas, and feelings and realize that they have as much merit as anyone else's, and that I can develop my own ideas, standards, and values even if they are different from everyone else's. NOBODY has a right to violate my very basic boundaries or unilaterally dictate the terms of interaction or a relationship without taking any of my feelings or needs into account. NOBODY has the right to exploit and control me, or dictate my identity and destiny, NO MATTER WHO THEY ARE. I have the right to demand SOMETHING from interacting with other people and I owe unconditional obedience, loyalty, and love to no one. I have a much right to assert my self-interests, get my way, and be as selfish as other people as they are with me as well as treat them the same way they treat me. NOBODY SHOULD JUST EXIST FOR THE BENEFIT OF SOMEONE ELSE.
If I had to do it again I would have done things totally differently. I realize nothing I would have done would have ever made me happy in such a place, but I would have been able to handle things with much more grace and dignity while keeping my core intact. Although it makes sense that I was trying to avoid isolation, I am still amazed, disgusted, and saddened by the pathetic lows I went. I over reacted when I could have just said to hell with it all. The few things I could have done I didn't do. I am disgusted by how hard I tried to be like everyone else. I can't understand how I became so wrapped up in trying to fit in and "belong". If people are that self-centered, vacuous, amoral, and pathetic, what good is their respect for?
But therein lies the problem. I was young, inexperienced, and niave. I was kid and I was in an institution that completely dominated my life and mind, and I had loveless joyeless parents that acted the same way. I didn't have the life experience, cognitive development, or social support to place any sort of distance and perspective on my environment. Even worse, alternate points of view and outlets were stamped out. If there was one thing I wish I had had, it was for someone to provide me with some nurturing, guidance, and outside perspective, or at the very least some breathing room, which is exactly the last thing a cult will allow.
Ideally my parents were supposed to provide that, but they bought into all the nonsense themselves because they had the same narrow minded nihilistic 'social climbing' elitist outlook on life. The world was divided into 'winners' and 'losers'. 'Goodness' and morality were stripped of any compassion and was nothing more than a function of social utility. They were just as controlling, abusive, and dysfunctional and were just as much a part of the problem. Any 'help' I received from anyone was only to make me more dependent, malleable, docile, and 'cooperative' to their will and agenda. I was surrounded by nothing but users, abusers, and hypocrites. I can't change the past but if I can have a positive impact on just one person my efforts would be worthwhile and my experiences would count for something. I hope that someone somewhere else can learn from my experiences the same way that I have had to learn from others to get to where I am now.
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VI. WHAT A CULT CAN LOOK LIKE:
Most people would agree that knowledge is power. No matter how much you know and how much experience you have however, certain people are impossible and/or pointless to deal let alone reason and negotiate with. There are techniques to disarm people and minimize their damage, but they only work for so long and go so far. You can momentarily stop their exploitation and abuse, but only with some effort, and you will never get anything in return anyway. All you will achieve is self-preservation. Such people tend to be drawn to situations, positions, and institutions where they have the upper hand, and they will never tell you want they really want or believe. They will hide behind rhetoric, social conventions, and the power they do have and just make excuses for themselves. No amount of micromanagement or 'covering your butt' in turn will change anything. At best all you can achieve is a stalemate. Even extricating yourself from their clutches can be difficult.
The best way to deal with toxic environments and people is to cut them off at the pass, if not avoid them altogether. Of course, the only way to do that is to know what you are looking for. As with every cult or toxic environment, no bad or toxic person will be the same in kind or degree. However, as much as you don't have to waste your life analyzing and trying to understand every difficult situation or person, it helps to develop instincts that alert you when something is not right. Even if it means limiting interaction with people, it is much more productive to focus on self-improvement and self-empowerment than 'managing' the difficult ones and classifying them into different degrees of 'bad'. If I must deal with something that is unavoidable, I just try to understand enough so that I can get through or around it. I prefer not to stick around just to try to get the most out of an undesirable situation anymore.
Trying to understand everything will have you going in circles and inevitably bring you to the same conclusions. There is always more you can know, but the returns on such knowledge are diminishing. Some things you just can not 'master'. People are going to do what they are going to do. Cults, demagogues, and even powerful tyrants can't reengineer human nature; they can only manipulate and channel human desires and fears to suit their own ends. Ultimately their power rests on a lie. It can be as insipid and innocuous as feeding people what they want to hear by providing a spurious sense of belonging, meaning, importance, and security, or it can involve scapegoating and evoking fears of enemies both internal and external, both real and imagined. Most cults initially bring people in by claiming to provide a practical or straightforward purpose, whether it is a political agenda, self-improvement, or a relationship with God. Once fully immersed and invested in a group, guilt, fear of ostracism, fear of expulsion, and a fear or contempt of the world outside are used to control and discourage members from leaving. Understanding WHY people are bad and WHY they exploit others is impossible. All that is important is that people and institutions only disempower others to control them for their own benefit. The rest is just details.
However, the more we know HOW someone or something works, the less we have to waste time trying to understand WHY. The more we understand HOW cults specifically and exploitive people work, the more likely we are able to identify them. With a handfull of small exceptions, few people decide to form a cult out of the blue soley for their own personal benefit, or with the intention of hurting people. Most sociopaths are too mercenary, practical, short sighted and/or lazy to go through such hoops. Sociopaths want to get their needs met with as minimal effort possible, and are willing to use and abuse people and any quick and easy way possible to achieve their goals.
Such people realize that there are far easier avenues for gain than creating an organization from scratch. They are more likely to opportunistically exploit vulnerable and/or trusting people or a pre-existing situation than create a new one. One exception would be the great L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the infamous Church of Scientology, who truely was a charlatan, a cheat, and an imposter from the onset. However, even Hubbard had to spend years trying to perfect various cons before he realized that 'If you want to get rich, you start a religion'. 'Scientology' was nothing more than the justification and perfection of the previous con known as 'Dianetics'. Normally however, the most common scenario is for such unethical people to rise to the top and take such organizations or movements in 'new directions' that disregard their original goals and values. Most groups are initially started by people that have some legitimate goal in mind that eventually gets corrupted by people without a conscience.
I also don't think the followers in such groups are bad people, or even that they are particularly defective, weak, unintelligent, or deviant in some way. Most people are followers. Many people that bump into cults are actually looking for a deeper sense of belonging and committment. While you can displace aggression and sublimate your very basic emotional needs through simple things like team sports, being a Jets 'fan' and drinking beer just doesn't cut it for people searching for answers or an 'identity'. Usually such people feel deeply alienated and unfullfilled, and are at a point in their lives when they don't have structure or support.
Even the higher level members in cults may be well meaning, but also misguided and prone to extreme rationalizing. I don't think many people would join any group or climb the ranks with the deliberate intention of exploiting others. There are exploitive people that do join such groups, but with no deliberate intent from the outset. They simply stumble upon a belief system and an organization that roughly suits their temperaments and needs and justifies/approximates their already warped and self-serving world view. Then they find their role and when they learn they can thrive in it they stick with it. They don't see themselves as exploiting or abusing others, they simple see themselves as managing people and 'spreading the word' for the good of the organization/greater good. If they benefit they see it as being rewarded for their hard work and/or competitive edge.
Most people have a hard time identifing cults because they are looking for very tangable markers that stand out. Cults are commonly portrayed in the most deviant and conspiratorial light possible. Indeed it is common to portray anything we don't like, including, evil itself, as deviant and conspiratorial. The devil in western society is portrayed as a powerfull figure with its tentacles in everything that plots suffering and tempts and beguiles people into committing evil. Conspiracy theories are usually way too complicated and yet try to make things as black and white as possible. They like to focus on the WHY of intent. They assign highly calculated and sinister motives to people while overlooking simpler explanations as well as the really obvious counterpoints. Most importantly, conspiracy theories can't be disproven. As improbable as they are, there is always some remote possibility that they could be true. This however, does not make them true.
The simpler less satisfying explanation is usually correct, which is that human beings are constantly competing for and trying to monopolize resources. Part of the way that we compete with other people is by forming groups so as to have power in numbers. Thus we compete as individuals within our own group as well as members of a group against other groups. Of course people wouldn't be able to form groups unless there were some rules and authority. Societies gradually evolve and adopt customs, values, and systems that help them preserve 'order' and adapt to their geographic environment. In turn, particular people that are more adapted to the geographic and social environment end up rising to the top and running the show. In turn they spread and push the 'values' and systems that benefit them onto new people and new societies even if such values and ways of life are not adaptive to their separate geographic environment.
Thus human group behavior inevitably takes a life of it own. What initially starts of as a means to an end becomes an end in of itself. Another manifestation of this is the inertia of institutions and people in groups. When an institution is created to serve a purpose, inevitably a group of speciallists are created whose sustanance and well-being is tied to the well being of the institution. Thus such institutions tend to outlast the conditions that necessitated their creation in the first place. In short, the world revolves around amoral principles that produces arbitrary social arrangements and haphazard social behavior. We have a knack for survival involving forming groups and opportunistically feeding of off each other while rationalizing our own behavior as well as that of the status quo.
This does not mean that people in general are evil, nor does it mean that there are no such things as evil people and acts. There are evil people and they have had an inordinate influence on history, but they do not have designs to spread it. They are not monolithic or united in an ideology, philosophy, or even basic outlook on life, and there certainly is no overarching grand 'evil conspiracy' to dominate the world. Evil people DO want to dominate others, but rarely is there some grand scheme on their behalf. Rather, very often they don't know what they want themselves. Indeed what makes them evil is the fact that they can't prioritize needs; they are fundamentally valueless and creatures of opportunity. They want EVERYTHING NOW, and if they can't get that, they will do whatever it takes to get EVERYTHING NOW at some point in the future. Yet even every evil individual has a unique temperament and needs. What separates evil people from everyone else is that they simply want there way regardless of the will or well being of other people. Other people are simply a means to an end, and dominating them is the means. When and where evil people work together it is for mere expedience sake, not out of some grand design nor because they share values. Evil people are just as willing to prey on each other, but they usually don't because they are not as easy targets.
Evil people are responsible for an inordinate amount of suffering in the world, but only when they get people on their side. Paradoxically, where evil people work together as a force, it is unintentional and without being some monolithic conscious entity. Evil never thrives in a vacuum. It is not even a force that can exist on its own, but rather can only function and spread under certain conditions by feeding off of people. A good model to think of evil is as mold. It can not be destroyed nor even attacked directly, and it spreads only because the conditions are ripe for it. Evil thrives off of corruption, narcissism, and intellectual laziness, things that most people would not label as in themselves evil. Leo Tolstoy once said, 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.' I would argue that unlike good, evil can never be crushed. Evil is a darkness, an absense of good. All we can hope to do is to be the light and spread it to where ever there is an absense of it. The instant we cease to be the light, darkness immediatly envelopes us. Fighting evil demands vigilance.
Evil people like Hitler and Manson would have been evil without followers, but the damage they would have inflicted would have been on a magnitude less. I actually believe that having followers feeds such narcissists sense of entitlement and destroys whatever empathy they have. Isolated, such entitled people expose themselves as unreasonable, completely self-centered, and out of touch with reality. They only have power when they have followers, and because beneath them in turn lies a layer of apathetic and ignorant masses. Charismatic but unscrupulous people in particular have a way of fanning people's fears, prejudices, and hatreds while feeding them what they want to hear including their sense of superiority and blamelesnes. The narcissicm of the leader and the narcissism of the group become one. In such a manner demagogues lead people by the nose. Often, they will take over a group during a time of crisis by acting as a savior, or by claiming to have a solution to everyone's problems. A lot of times people are looking for a scapegoat because they want a quick fix. They don't want to accept the simpler explanation because it is uncomfortable knowing that the world is amoral and haphazard and that things don't happen for the best or even a good reason. Most importantly, such people don't want to accept any responsibility nor the fact that they are fundamentally on their own.
People that follow demagogues are almost always followers. They would rather have collective solutions than deal with problems on their own, even if it means they must surrender some autonomy. Where the problem is collective, they don't wish to take the time to really understand it but rather go for the 'quickest fix' or band aid. They also hide from what people are capable of in groups because it challenges their sense of safety and security. Such people are used to hiding behind groups. Even people that are not complete sheep need to feel comforatable with themselves and around other people in order to function socially. They need to feel comfortable about themselves as people and how they get their needs met. Consequently, they often deliberatly overlook the "banality of evil" as Hannah Arendt called it, because it is too uncomfortable to see evil as something that haphazard, irrational, and ultimately silly that anyone could be an accomplice to or a victim of.
When people hear about such tyrants and leaders, they automatically assume that the circumstances that gave rise to them were radically different than those of their own. While there may be some truth to this, they look at the desperation, deprivation, manipulation, and deception that led to violence, and assume that only such conditions will lead to violence and oppression. It becomes assumed that such belief systems and behavior are somehow unique, deviant, and alien to their own time and place, and that beliefs that are unusual to them will lead to abuse and destruction.
However, its a great misconception that cults are all violent, abusive, and engage in fringe behavior. Although fear and conditioning can and are used as controls, the basic methods of control are far less coercive and sinister. The media stereotype of the cult being some group of lunatics led by a 'crazy' but charismatic leader that holds captives against their will in an isolated, walled, and armed compound is just a sensationalized extreme of a phenomenon that is widespread and common. Such extreme examples of cults dominate the spotlight because violent confrontations are almost always guaranteed to sell. Most cults exersize enough discretion and common sense and are innocuous and common place enough as to go undetected. Jehovah Witness, the Mormons, Nation of Islam, and Alcoholics Anonymous are just a few of the common and well known groups that a sizable number of people acknowledge as cults. Add to that thousands of other lesser known political and religious groups. Aside from being known as a source of annoyance and/or comedic entertainment, none of them have appeared in the press for engaging in violence confrontations with the police, engaging in mass suicide rituals, or holding people against their will.
Unlike large totalitarian societies, cults do not have to be all powerful entities with a massive coercive apparatus at hand in order to achieve their domination. Although some large cults like Scientology have organs dedicated exclusively to managing their image as well as repression and intimidation of outside critics, most don't have a 'state' to enforce their will. Ideology and an extremely controlled and contained environment are usually enough to manipulate the will of a critical mass of their members. Often, expulsion from the group is enough to keep the majority of people in line. Many, if not most people, are quite free in some way to leave to leave a cult, especially in the early stages, and often do so. The turnover amongst many cults can be high. It is for this reason that cults work so hard to remove all past influences of a person's life while creating a new identity for the individual. It's usually only the large and most powerful cult organizations like Scientology(which is really powerful and evil) that can not operate 'beneath the radar' which need large legal and press teams to preserve their reputation and kidnap and torture 'dissidents'. Such cults get most if not all of the publicity and create the stereotype of cults.
Direct violence is not even the most effective way to exert control, even in large totalitarian state societies. Universally speaking, violence is much more effective at stopping behavior than promoting it. Once it is used it becomes very difficult to gain back people's trust and cooperation, and any regime needs the cooperation of SOME people for it to function. It can have unintended consequences not limited to polarizing people uninvolved or driving the people subject to it to violently lash back. Additionally, the more violent a situation becomes the harder it is to contain. Violence is inherently chaotic and destructive. When applied on a mass scale it becomes indiscriminate and hard to control, even if it is one sided. On a mass scale it tends to interfere with the economic well being of a society as well as destroy the very fabric of society upon which order is based. It is not coincidence that the Stalin's Gulag and Mao's Cultural Revolution couldn't last forever. Repression is expensive to maintain and there are only so many people you can scapegoat.
Even when violence is successful at quickly and efficiently subduing people, it is not quite as effective as extracting value or labor from people. There is only so much you can wip a slave before it will pass out or die. Where people are being directly exploited through violence, they tend to do as little work as possible. Violence is usually used by regimes and even individuals when other methods of control have failed and their very existence is threatened. The most efficient way to control people is to have the power to offer and deny them something, namely resources and status, while keeping them sufficiently distracted from the workings of the system. As long as there is force to make sure that people abide by the rules of the game, most people will play it when they think they have a chance of winning. Behind every carrot is a stick.
Of course if people reject the game in its entirety, they will break the rules whenever they can and eventually the game will cease to function altogether. The only way to keep the game existing is to get enough people to think the game is fair and/or has a moral purpose. There will always be rule breakers, but as long as they are in a manageable enough minority, the game will remain intact. What is important for any regime to survive is to get a sizable proportion of people on its side. Propaganda needs only to affect such a critical mass of people that are willing to serve the system in positions of authority over others.
But even propaganda will only go so far in winning over the majority of people to a regimes side. Most propaganda becomes apparent with enough exposure. There is simply only so much spin one can put on the world. Keeping people ignorant and powerless is far more effective than trying to win them over. For this reason there is a strong positive corrolation between the shallowness and absurdity of an organization/society's ideology and the control of the organization. Ideology is just as much if not more about confusing as convincing. The less substance and the more formulaic and rigid a belief system is, the less room for questioning and the more people are encouraged to obeidiantly go through the motions and be subservient to authority. The less a system is grounded in REALITY, the more is it based on someone's arbitrary definition of THEIR MORALITY. The less a system of thought becomes about HOW TO, the more it becomes about WHAT PEOPLE SHOULD DO AND WHY. Even Hubbard knew that 'The only way to control people is to lie to them'. With enough lies repeated over and over again, it becomes difficult to know what to believe or to think for oneself.
I can't believe anyone who participated in the Cambodian genocides 'believed' that they were starting history again from year zero or getting rid of real 'enemies' of the people. Such people were pawns in a perverted power play that were only trying to ensure their own survival; that's all. They knew who the enemy was, and how to ensure that they could never be construed as an enemy themselves. The knew it was a game but they also knew that if they called a duck a duck they would instantly be labelled as 'enemies of the people'. In a twisted way its relieving to know that most people participated for fear of being persecuted themselves, because its depressing to think that millions could hold any value to such ridiculous beliefs.
Although Scientologists are more free to leave 'the Church' than peasants were free to leave Cambodia or China, enough control exists so that homogeny can at least be maintaining within the organization. Do any Scientologists take the idea of Thetans and Zenu seriously for long once they get to that level of scientology? I would wager not, but by then so many years have been invested in the organization that it becomes hard to leave for numerous reasons. By that point members have invested enough time and effort into the organization that their life revolves around it. They tend to cling on the aspects 'that have worked for them', and use that to rationalize their continuation and support for their organization. To leave the organization would mean having to start their life over from scratch.
Nonetheless people do leave, but it is not until the system completely fails for them and they realize they can incorporate the good aspects of it into their personal lives without outwardly or officially being a part of it. By that point, living the lie no longer serves their interests in any way. Scientology doesn't have a secret police, military, and a border patrol the way the Soviet Union, China, or Cambodia did, but they have enough psychological controls to maintain hegemony within their organization. Because they have less force at their disposal than totalitarian governments, they have to make the lie that much more enticing and deceiving at the same time.
The main point is that it is not just freaks, ideologues, or weak minded people that end up in cults or participate in mob behavior. Cults are EVERYWHERE and take on MANY FORMS. What one person sees as a cult another sees as a legitimate religion, and what one person sees as a legitimate religion another sees as a cult. There are an infinite number of ways to take advantage and exploit someone. Ordinary people get hoodwinked and taken advantage of more than they would like to admit, and any belief system or organization can be corrupted over time. Most ideas in the world are just a recycled perversion of a corruption anyway. Most people are not even aware of how Christianiy plagarized other religions, and most people can not even explain what they proport to believe. Whether we like to admit it to ourselves or not, most of what we do consists of 'going through the motions'. Every human being is prone to sheepish behavior at times, no matter how strong and intelligent they are. Nobody has no weaknesses. There are an infinite variety of groups that exist that take advantage of different types of people in different ways while operating beneath the radar of the media.
Anything can be corrupted or perverted so that people can use it to take advantage of others. Even something as basic as boxing was corrupted so that a handful of criminals could make money. The idea that a cult could take the form of a boarding school is not a bizarre or radical notion. A boarding school is a really good if not perfect model for a cult. Schools by their very nature are suppossed to be institutions of authority, conditioning, socialisation, and indoctrination. At a boarding school nonetheless, all parental authority is invested in the school, which is given extra power by the parents to 'protect' and essencially raise their children. It is a self contained environment that has its own culture and system of governence. Whatever one thinks of a particular boarding school or boarding schools in general, one must realize how controlling the environment can be. A boarding school has immense power to control the thoughts and emotional process of its students, especially when their world view and personality is not fully formed. Such an institution has enormous power to indoctrinate and manipulate even its adult members. The power differential between the students and teachers is great enough in such an isolated micro society to ensure a virtual domination the lives of the students completely. The potential for corruption and degeneration is enourmous.
In my particular situation the potential for corruption and degeneration was even greater, as the school was privately run 'American'/'international' school full of students not from the country in which the school was located. The school was completely separated and isolated from the surrounding society culturally, financially, and politically, and exempt from any government regulations. Even the teachers came from outside the country but resided in the school in question. The dominant group of students had parents worked for the school, literally grew up in the school, or both. The rest were transient short stayers whose parents moved them around the world from one boarding school to another like unwanted stepchildren. The school determined when people ate and slept, how they dressed, what was acceptable behavior, and who they associated with 24 hours a day.
From day one there was always the feeling of stuffy standoffishness, cold suspicion, contempt, suffocation, and anxiety. I couldn't put my finger on it because it was everywhere and it penetrated everything. The best way I could describe it would be as a monastery without the piety, a choir without the joy, a marching band without the rhythm, and a funeral without the mourning and sorrow. There was a dull, drab, subdued anxiety and aggression everywhere combined with an air of resignation and regimented monotony. The only thing that had any color in it were the school meetings and propaganda. Maybe a better word to use would be lost.
To outsiders the population might seem almost obsequious and orderly, but inside everyone was constantly angling and posturing to prove that they were ‘better’ and that they could keep up with the stringent demands of their unique 'selective' society. Students and teachers alike were so self-involved, competitive, and downright mean spirited they refused to acknowledge the presence and existance of people 'lower' in the social hierarchy. Everything, anything, and nothing at all would draw criticism from teachers and students alike, and become fodder for gossip and abuse. In group situations, I tried very hard not to rock the boat to the point of making myself invisible. Just to be tolerated and get some positive attention from people I thought could be my friends, I would try to be as accomodating and non-adversarial as possible while micromanaging my personality. In spite of my efforts, I got flack for about every concievable thing imaginable.
I realize people will say that it is like that everywhere, and that is the way people are. I completely agree. Everywhere you go there are people that play games and live in their own heads without regards to anyone else. The difference is everything was so sublimated to the needs of the 'community' that it became impossible to question anything or have any breathing room let alone create one's own 'bubble'. Everyone had to live under the exact same lie and play the exact same game. There was no room or time for any reflection and growth let alone genuine interaction. There was so much bullshit and drama everywhere I rarely challenged or questioned any individual on their bullshit, let alone the bullshit of the entire situation. Initially I could barely understand it.
I would go out of my way to sell myself to peers and teachers alike just to break my way in to some social circle and have some chance of a meaningful existence. Unbeknownst to me, they really gave a shit less about me let alone anything else. I hid my feelings out of fear of showing vulnerability and standing out and being isolated, alone, and abused even more. I hid my feelings to the point of being numb and totally disconnected from myself, and resigned myself to a life that I couldn't even admit to myself I despised. I allowed people to behave as though they were better because they were better at playing the game and had more status than myself, and to an extent I bought into all their bullshit. The only reason I associated with anybody was to avoid being a pariah, and in the end that didn't do me any good anyway. I couldn't even begin to think about figuring myself out, finding my own niche, and working on myself. My life consisted of basic survival day by day.
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VI. BAD RELIGION - THE SCHOOL'S FiLoSoFY:
Ideas themselves do not directly that control people. While ideas may evolve and every society has different ideas, the methods of control in every society have always remained the same. Shame, guilt, ostracism, and resentment of people outside the group are the most effective means to get people to cooperate and participate with a social order. Whether or not people accually understand or believe the ideology is immaterial. As long as you can make people fear outsiders and fear being an outsider you can keep a group of people under your thumb.
Even if it wasn’t designed from the outset, in the end everything my school claimed about itself and the world was a manipulation and deception designed to bring students in and make them compliant to the agenda and domination of the school. The ideology and propaganda acted as a carrot and stick. The carrot was that the school was not just an 'elite' but an unique school that served as a gateway to success and enlightenment. As an 'International' 'American' school it suppossedly innoculated a worldly sophistication that empowered the students in the classroom and that extended beyond, so much that acceptance and success to any school around the world was assured if one 'cooperated' with the system. The school claimed that it prepared its students for college by having a more rigorous course load, providing better faculty, building 'character' and teaching you the correct worldly "values" and "habits" to succeed in life. The school claimed its reputation was so great that applicants to college would have a leg up in the application process. It sold itself as being one of the best high schools one could go to in the world. The leadership of the school was philanthropic, benevolent, enlightened, and infallible and if you couldn't succeed there or be happy then there was something wrong with you.
The reason it took me so long to figure out the real 'philosophy' guiding the school was the users never state their true intentions nor their methods of operating. They don't even state their world view. It took me many years to figure out that all user fundamentally think the same way. Ultimately people that believe they are entitled to exploit others are valueless nihilists that are good are rationalizing in order to convince people that they manipulate that there is some value system behind their behavior. The truth is there is no real grand scheme, just petty self-serving exploitation. In fact, they are constantly 'update' their beliefs and revising history to perpetuate a sense of infallibility. Yet all totalitarians, regardless of what they call themselves and profess, believe the same thing.
If one can come up with a core philosophy of all totalitarianism it is 'enlightened' utilitarian collectivist social darwinism. While such a concept might seem contradictory, it only seems so because of our assumptions. Totalitarians will plagarise any ideas to their own ends. If one looks at societies that are socially darwinistic and lack any working central governments, like some countries in Africa or some prison systems, it becomes quite apparent that people will always form groups for their own survival and that there will always be 'rules' and 'authority'. While there may be many 'authorities' in such societies depending on which gang has the upper hand, someone is always on top, dictating and exploiting those beneath them. National Socialist were firm believers in evolution and social darwinism, they just believed that their particular group was the absolute best and 'deserved' to displace all other peoples and rule the world, in the name of the best interests of the human race, of course. They understood that the only way to do this was to have a powerfull state that not only could roll over any opposition as a tank would squash a grape, but that controlled and planned the economy for the benefit of the military.
Some might say that collectivism is nothing like social darwinism and that it can be good if 'the right people are in charge' or if it is run according to 'moral principles'. While this is true on a voluntary small scale, it is the farthest thing from the truth on a nation wide level. On a small scale individual still possess 'veto power' through their ability to disrupt the functioning of the collective or their ability to leave. Without a state, such small level collectives require some form of democracy if not concensus to run. Even a small block of opposition is impossible to ignore. Collectivism on a national level however always requires massive state power, planning, and top down rule. Past a certain point it become incompatible with democracy.
In completely collectivist state society, the state has so much power that its rule is arbitrary. There is no rule of law. In such a society the only way to get ahead is to ruthlessly compete against those around you and curry favor with those above you. Rather than being a society where everyone is 'on the same page', it is a society in which everyone is waging a life and death struggle against everyone else, even if it is hidden beneath the surface.
The bottom line is that social darwinism and large scale statist collectivism are indivisible and one in the same. They are totalitarian. In such societies only the worst of people rise to the top, and regardless of the rhetoric they profess, they fundamentally believe the same thing. Human beings are not capable of creating their own values not because they are bad but because they are incapable of seeing the 'big picture'. Morality exists only in that is gets people to serve 'the greater good'. Society exists to cultivate 'Virtue' in individuals, that are nothing more than parts of a whole. Given the right organization of society, the weakness and the strengths of the individual can become the strength of the whole. As long as individuals are obeidant, society with thrive and individuals in turn will thrive.
Unbridled competition combined with duty to the group is the only way to bring out the best in people, otherwise the world would degenerate into self-serving hedonism and anarchy. Someone will always be in top, so the best one can hope for is having the 'right' people rise to the top and tell everyone else what to do. People on the bottom who can't make it should just suffer, disappear, and die off in silence. The only thing totalitarians disagree on is the formal organization of society. While all totalitarians are collectivists, the exact nature of the collectivism can vary. Some prefer to allow some private property and want a society organized around a principle of God. Some prefer complete statist collectivization and a society run according to 'scientific' principals and historical determinism. Either way, all totalitarian societies are fundamentally collectivist and top down statist, and view human beings as means to an end.
All totalitarians believe knowledge is revealed by experts and passed on through tradition, not discovered individually or collectively through shared experiences or personal examination. Particular people have more access to the 'truth'. Only those who have studied the 'truth' as it has been revealed can develop such knowledge further and anyone who strays too far outside designated boundaries of thought or inquiry are seeking to be divisive and assert their hidden selfish agenda. Citing relevant and 'legitamate' authority figures is the only way to support a position. Even science may not be value neutral. In my particular situation it was the cosmopolitan, cultivated, and virtuous "renaissance man" that could do it all and knew everything was the hero that would rule all. A "true" education involved a study in the humanities and of the classics and 'discipline', not to actually question things but in order to take on an appearance of worldly cosmopolitanism so that one could flaunt social capital. Actual personal empowerment, exploration, or learning anything of any practical value.
The unique angle of the school was that it claimed to provide the best classical well rounded 'humanities' education by having an 'international' ie more sophisticated/worldly bent that distinguished its students and made them stand out from the competition. There weren't any cooking or wordshop classes because we as students "were better than that". The school was even littered with renaissance paitings and wallpaper everywhere(including the cafeteria). Students were constantly reminded that history was driven by great thinkers and leaders. In addition to ExElLenCE, TRadItioN of the most unbending sort was held in the highest regard. At its core, people who identified with the school really did see themselves as 'better'.
Beneath the pretense of cosmopolitan diversity and enlightenment, was provincial self-absorbment which at best could be described as pretentious and stuffy. The school called itself and American school even though it was virulently anti-American. America was the heartland of permissiveness, consumerism, individualism, political correctness, decadence, and unsophistication. The United States was nothing more than a dump of hicks, crime, and drugs. The philosophy of the school was that the permissive and "politically correct" US public school system 'spoon feeds' students so that they don't actually work. The core of the school was made up of virtual American exile families whose parents taught at the school and/or the individual had to compete to earn their keep and deserved nothing outside of what they could produce.
A competition was made out of everything no matter how trivial. There were competitions within competitions. There were knowledge bowl competitions. There were competitions to raise money. Everyone had to take after school activities and do community service. There were endless meetings pushing discussing the competitions and endless meetings building personality cults of the school owner, her minions, and the most senior teachers. At that time it seemed the only purpose to human existance wss to conform, obey, perform, and compete to gain respect and to place yourself into some academic and social hierarchy. As a walking body, I was merely a competing unit in a group. Any exploration, reflection, or personal growth was treated as impractical idle folly. High school along with everything else was treated as "make it or break it", and everything one did in high school supposedly sealed one's fate for the rest of you life and your worth. There were only winners and losers to be segregated and sorted. The path to success required accepting your conditioning at ASIS. Nothing else mattered. Supposedly if you don't go to an elite college following an elite high school, you can expect to spend the rest of your life as a pauper sweeping floors with immigrants from the third world.
There were an endless amount of brainwashing meetings in addition to the weekly Wednesday propaganda meetings to promote 'school spirit' and the ideology of the school. At these meeting the score and details of every single game of every sport were publicly announced by the team captains and heads. At these meetings awards would be given to 'outstanding' students and faculty. The school would also propagandize through numerous meetings that it was better than any other American or international school anywhere, and that America was an ignorant and backward place.
There were an infiniate number of formal and informal rules along with corresponding layers of authority to enforece them. There were privledges granted for loyalty and performance, not rights. Everything, including dignity, freedom, and even basic respect had to be fought for tooth and nail and granted by some 'higher power' or 'superior'. Even then character and integrity of the individual meant nothing let alone uniqueness, inquiring spirit, and effort. The only way to judge a human being was by results and production, and even then it was purely on the groups terms. Ultimately, the search for knowledge and the realization of one's potential was completely subordinated to competing for points doing menial tasks. 'Learning' consisted of memorizing information, wordsmithing, and performing tasks to please teachers and authority figures. A good 'student' was someone who could easily be conditioned, productive, processed a lot of information, and never thought for themself.
When I look back I realize that all the pretentions of the school were nothing more than half-baked rationalizations for exploitation and cheap marketing gimmicks. There were not even any recycled ideas taken from other philosophies and ideologies. At best they were critiques and reaction formations of other ideas and systems forming an eclectic hodgepodge of ideas that had been assembled over time. There was no real consistent worldview or philosophy other than a shallow 'we're better, people should know it, and the world revolves around us'. Sometimes the 'greater good' isn't even that great let alone good. Some ideologies just take less time to distill. In the end the school failed to even live up to its own rediculous and half-baked rhetoric.
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VIII. FRAUD #1: WE WILL MAKE YOU 'SOPHISTICATED/COSMOPOLITAN/WELL ROUNDED/UNIQUE', AND A BETTER PERSON AND STUDENT:
The hero of this world was the 'well rounded' cultured cosmopolitan 'Renaissance Man' that could do it all and knew it all, was a good team player, and gave back to the community. Such a person was destined to be a 'leader'. In reality this means be competitive and having no weaknesses, or at least appearing that way as best as possible. Academically this meant memorizing everything no matter how tangential.
Plenty if not most jobs and schools offer room for personal and professional growth for obvious marketing reasons. My school, however, took a feasible, productive, and valuable idea to the most pretentious and ludicrous of heights. Its one thing to argue that studying abroad at a private school is academically beneficial. Its entirely another to propagandize that one school in particular can make students more unique, sophisticated, well-rounded, somehow globally and qualitatively 'better'. Such an idea is absurd on its own merit; it's like watching midgets fist fight with brass knuckles over who is more humble. The school was always eulogizing how is provided not just the great opportunity for students to florish 'academicslly', but even the opportunity to enlighten people and make them better with stronger characters. All that was required was obedience, a lot of hard work, a 'positive' attitude, and the ability to 'give back' to the 'community'.
It was the major if not the principle tenet in the overall ideology of the school which also convinced parents and students alike that having such 'superior' personality traits would afford a competitive edge to students applying for university. Although I do believe that this was a deliberate and calculated marketing tactic to recruit and retain students, to be fair the school it also claimed that it was that way also because of the 'type' of people it allowed in. Most likely the school wasn't making extraordinary claims of radically changing people so much as the people who made it up and identified with it were just genuinely that full of themselves(as well as shit, amoungst other things). The truth was probably somewhere in the middle. Either way, ASIS was always compulsively trying to 'distinguish' and separate itself to an extreme degree from other international schools, other school systems, and the US, all while hailing itself as a tight nit community representative of the entire world.
It was more than just a reoccuring theme or widely held belief amoungs teachers and students alike how special and enlightened ASIS was, especially in contrast to the evil, corrupt, and culturally backwards the United States. It was official ideology that came from the leader of the school. We were always told that our experience at ASIS would made us 'different', and how the "friends and people you once know" would seem very different when and if we went back to our home countries. This applied to all students but in particular students from the US. We were taught that unlike the US where people just went along with the crowd, we would be able to find our own way, discover ourselves, and have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the world. We had meetings every week raising awareness and highlighting the contributions of all the cultures in the world, from Islam to Latin America. All the world that is except for the United states. I even remember having a school presentation on Detroit and how it represented everything that was wrong with the United States. We were shown pictures of abandoned lots, strip malls, polluted skies, and traffic packed boulevards. The talker who was also a teacher mentioned that for people such as us from an international background who were graduating and going to the US for college but that had never been there before, they would be experiencing something 'that you have not experienced before.' Every enemy has to have its arch enemy that opposses everything it stands for. For ASIS the US represented materialism, individualism, hedonism, political correctness, pop-culture, cultural backwardness, zenaphobia, and ignorance; everything that was suppossedly the opposite of ASIS. ASIS was a bastion of virtue, morality, tradition, culture, internationalism, collectivism, and enlightenment.
As rediculous as the arguement sounds, its still worth addressing only because it is common for people to join groups for direction, guidance, belonging, personal fullfillment, enlightenment, self-improvement, and empowerment. Unfortuneately people are even more prone to denial and rationalization as groups and such people who think themselves to be the most enlightened are the least. Cults and organized religions alike love to offer enlightenment, purpose, inclusion, tolerance, love, and a more meaningfull exisistance only to provide exclusion, intolerance, and ignorance all the while denying life in the here and now. As with all ideologies, the ideologies of cults seek to hide or justify power relations. However, because cults lack a strong enforcement mechanism like a state, they must also use ideology as a marketing ploy to bring and keep recruits in. It all boils down to control and one group of people believing they are 'better' and therefore justified in doing whatever they want to outsiders, non-conformers, and dissenters.
First of all, the arguement was elitist to its core in that it assumed that people with particular backgrounds and experiences are more moral, more functional, more enlightened, and overall 'better' people. Although concepts such as 'well rounded', 'worldly', 'cultured', 'educated', and 'sophisticated' do overlap, they are by no means the same thing. There are as many different types and levels of such 'culture', 'character', and 'sophistication' as there are gradations between arrogance ignorance and idealistic niavite. Its entirely posssible to be sophisticated but shallow. Its entirely possible to be a cultured but arrogant piece of shit. There is a difference between knowing of cultures and meaningfully appreciating them or at the very least meaningfully understanding and respecting them. Nazis considered themselves the pinacle of 'western civilization' and collected artifacts from non-aryan cultures as curiosity items and put them on display.
'Class' could be the one word that best sums up all of these traits mentioned, however someone could possess all these traits and still be a low life piece of shit(not be a better person) or even a disfunctionally tacky and socially awkward degenerate piece of shit. No amount of money, success, or power will make someone classy, and plenty of people with nothing develop class. True class and sophistication is as much a product of character as intelligence or upbringing. There are as many calculating, classy, and 'sophisticated' serial killers that prey on other people like Ted Bundy as well as smucks born into wealth who have no abilities or social graces. How 'worldly sophistication' manifests itself depends on the intentions of a person and the character that lies beneath.
This leads to my second point. Even if the basic assumptions of the ASIS ideology were true, their claims of even just being a 'postive' influence in such a way were way off. No institution, no matter how powerfull and controlling, can change one's character in that much of a qualitatively positive way. They can recruit people of particular characters and temperaments and condition reflexes. Certain traits can be imitated for a period of time so as to create a particular image or impression. However, positive, qualitative, meaningfull, and longlasting change comes from within as a result of some sort of reflection and genuine desire to change.
Unlike computers that can be reprogrammed, human beings have a large amount of free will and a variety of complex and simple needs. We don't just process information and respond to stimulus, we also perceive the mental process in our mind and the minds of others. We are self-aware and aware of gaps in our knowledge. We don't just reflexivly respond to our needs but are highly aware of them. This awareness enables us to prioritize our needs, plan for our needs, and anticipate unknown future needs. Although we have more reasoning power than animals, like animals it is our needs and instincts that drive us. Our powers of reasoning are merely guide our needs and act as a tool to get those needs met. Greater reasoning power or intelligence doesn't mean that someone will be any less driven by their passions, instincts, and temperament that make up their character. Consequently high intelligence does not neccessarily correleate with a more developed and multilayered personality or a stronger character.
If someone is primitive, one dimensional, and has only basic needs, no exposure to anything, let alone basic operant conditioning, will change their character or outlook. At the core of anyone's character encompasses their needs which may be repressed or altered in the way they are expressed, but not radically and permenantly changed. Needs are fundamentally instinctual and to a greater extent irrational, and while they may be repressed they can't be permenantly changed through any process of reasoning or conditioning. While our needs are hardwired, our character is more fluid and dynamic. However for people to change their character they have to want to change, and they have to want to change for some long term advantage and not just some short term benefit. Changing behavior for some immediate reward is unlikely to result in a long term change of behavior. The bottom line is there is only so much someone's character can be changed regardless of intelligence and conditioning, and that can only happen as a consequence if the person seriously desires it.
Even total institutions that do have immense power to condition and direct how character expresses itself, can not fully penetrate the human soul. Institutions and people can violently inflict a break down on someone's character and mental functioning to make them more dependant and subservient. Fear will change someone's behavior and stop them from asserting themselves. Fear will modify the outer layer of someones personality by augmenting, mitigating, or even repressing aspects of their personality. However as soon as the coercive environment that induces fear is removed, people revert to their natural inclinations and abilities to get their needs met and allow their core temperament to show itself. Nothing short of brain damage can permanently affect someone's character, and that does not neatly 'reprogram' someone's core character or change their potential.
The human brain is far more plastic when it is young, but even then the ability for change is limited by genetics. Schools do have a great impact on the behavior of their students, especially since they are still developing cognitively and emotionally. This is even more so the case because learning is such a complex and multilayered process. In addition to having different personalities and intelligences, all people have different and unique learning styles. However, teachers can not change the content of a student's core or make them care, but their attitude and ability and the institutional opportunites and constraints greatly impacts the student's motiviation and expression of talents and abilities. Because there is no one good way of teaching anything, the most important quality in any teacher is to get students to engage the material and think critically for themselves. This requires a genuine interest in the students and the material, as well as a certain level of respect for the student's autonomy. Certain things need to be availible to make an education work, but ulitmately it can only go so far.
It is absurd to believe any institution can genuinely make someone more sophisticated, well rounded, worldly or unique on any meaningfull level. Exposure, experience, and training can improve someone's functionality, but it will not change the way a person relates to people and the world, and it certainly will not change their basic physicological needs. Furthermore, its just as absurd to believe that just because someone lived abroad, recieved a private education, or even associated with people who did that they would be more meaningfully change as people.
In truth when the school used phrases like "well-rounded" what they really meant was being able to compete in multiple areas, not having multiple interests or being a person of substance or character. ASIS didn't want its students to have interests outside of school. They wanted their students constantly immersed only in the life of the school, competing with each other, and serving the school. Well-rounded meant being able to compete athletically and academically, not having a wide variety of interests and views, and it certainly didn't mean being a unique individual with a private life. Being a unique individual with an agenda and life separate from school was something that was crushed out of students.
This was done because while totalitarian institutions can't reengineer people, they can attempt to control as much human behavior as possible. Violence or punishment is used to make subjects outwardly compliant, obeidiant, or at the least, passive while propaganda is used to captivate as much of the human soul as possible. It is no surprise that totalitarian ideologies not only view people as a blank slate, but view them even lacking their own agency and importance. Individuals are meerly vessels and units of broader struggle beyond any particular humans control. Often people are determined to be good or bad not so much as a result of their individual action but because of their backgrounds and associations to broader groups. Inevitably such totalitarian ideologies view anyone who thinks for themselves or outside institution needs as 'intellectual', 'heretical', 'counter-revolutionary', and 'treasonous'. Such people pose the greatest to any totalitarian system precisely because they don't play any role in the totalitarian ideology and thus challenge the belief system as a whole. Heresy was the greatest sin the in medieval catholic church. Trotsky was more reviled in the Soviet Union than any western leader. Even though Stalin spent his youth in a strict seminary only to become and aethistic genocidal dictator, he still believed that poets were "engineers of the human soul". It is the outspoken critical thinking individual with their own indepedant values, goals, and life that poses the greatest threat to the totalitarian machine and who is the most ruthlessly crushed.
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IX. FRAUD #2: UNIVERSITIES CARE ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMIZED, UNIQUE AND WELL ROUNDED 'ASIS 'PeRSoNaLiTY' ' :
Not only did ASIS argue that studying abroad at a private school such as itself will make you more unique, sophisticated, and well-rounded, but that by having attended such an elite school colleges will be beating down the door to accept you. ASIS was suppossed to lead to Ivy League schools. Supposedly, all universities buy into the same ideology as ASIS and just assume without examining an individual that living abroad makes you more academically inclined, worldly, sophisticated, and an astute thinker. ASIS loved to harp on the virtues that a well rounded character would bring to the table to the point where such things were as important as SAT and GPA.
Firstly, although academia (especially in the Ivy League schools) may share the same lofty pretentions, in practice college administrations are marginally interested in such gimmicks in the most narrow sense and only to achieve very limited ends. Yes there is plenty of propaganda in academia about diversity and a commitment to diversity, values, the community, the future, bla bla bla. Yes we are all precious little snowflakes that all have something to offer the community through our uniqueness(ie racial/national demographic). Such lip service only serves to appeal ideologues in academia and grant doning government beauracrats. Universities are just as much in the buisiness of making money as corporations. Aside from a handfull of highly visible but token placements of 'diverse' students who either are on or close to some academic threshold or who really have some unique talent to offer(sports teams), such 'diversity' will not propel anyone to the stars who isn't already in the ballpark. Really what university selection boards care about is rankings, which they achieve by being more "selective" in the admissions process. This means standardized test scores, followed by GPA.
Having a diverse or eclectic background has no bearing on the originality of one's thoughts or character, and living abroad does not change the emotional content of your brain and it doesn't alter the intellectual capacity to perform academic work. Nothing will. Its an obvious fact like mud or death. It just is. In spite of all their rhetoric admissions boards know this. Genuine intellectual ability is even harder to measure than intelligence. The easiest way to sort people on some sort of cognitive spectrum is to compare people's ability to solve analytical problems quickly. Such linear and one dimensional problems tend to have only one solution, making assessments a relativley straightforward proposition. They want to know you have the capacity and potential to perform academically; thats why standardized tests such as the SATs exist.
Admissions boards have thousands of applications to go through. They don't even remotely have enough time to go through each application in its entirety. If an applicant's SAT is way out of range, they will not even consider your GPA, and vice versa. In my experience, the 'higher ranked' the school, the more involved the application process is with more essays. But such higher ranked schools are more competitive to begin with, so if you don't have the scores or the grades, you're not only not in the ballpark, you're not in the stadium. The personal essay, extracurricular activities, and letters recommendations are used for people on the borderline. Even if all three are stellar they will not make up for SAT scores and GPA and propel you into the next tier. If it really comes down to the point where you are on the borderline, colleges in the US will value diversity', but what that will boil down to the most part is race more than where you applying from.
Secondly, college administrators will not buy into the idea that studying in a foreign country makes you 'diverse'. There is no emperical way to measure diversity or uniqueness in an individual. 'Diverse' is an empty platitude that is completely determined by context. A black south african is diverse in a classroom in Norway; not so much in a classroom in Botswana. Admission boards are just as likely to discriminate against people coming from a private school. The better the college, the more likely that student from private school will be applying, and the less unique you will appear. If you have to write an essay for your college application, the content of what you write will speak volumes more than some international badge that states "better" or the fact that you went to ASIS.
There is anything inherantly wrong with studying in a foreign country. There is nothing wrong with going to private school. But neither in of itself automatically helps one's college prospects. The problem comes in when ASIS screws your GPA in order to take total control of your life and then justifies it with their "international" and "preparing you for college" pep talk. As with all ideologies, its nothing more than clever marketing hiding behind lofty intentions designed to bring people in and to get them to accept their roles.
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X. FRAUD #3: OUR REPUTATION WILL GET YOU INTO A BETTER UNIVERSITY:
What helps students the most next to standardized test scores is grades, and while standardized test scores can only be improved within a range, grades can be greatly improved. Unlike standardized test which test a very narrow set of cognitive abilities, grades can take into accound a wide range of abilities. Everyone has different learning styles and work habits.
ASIS made no effort to hide the fact that grades were deflated. In an orwellian fashion it actually pointed to it as evidence that it was teaching to a 'higher level.' According to ASIS, teachers in the US 'spoonfeed' and give all students good grades and consequently the grades are meaningless and nothing is really learned. ASIS on the other hand was proud of giving more work and having students graded on a curve. Teachers at ASIS 'actually take their jobs seriously' and 'provide honest feedback' that prepares students for what lies ahead in college. Apparently, most US public school students are completely shocked and overwhelmed by college. So the logic goes that by deflating grades, ASIS prepares students for college. Unfortunately ASIS not only completely screws grades by making learning a uniform process but also by deliberately deflating grades. Unless the reputation of a school is that well established, no college board will have any frame of reference to determine how well you 'stack up against the competition'. Colleges actually expect better grades from students who went to private schools. In reality the workload was Auschwitz-like, sleep depriving, and bone numbing to the core. I had to work more hours in ASIS than I did as a professional adult only to learn next to nothing in the process.
The grades at ASIS were so deflated for two reasons: teachers had to grade students on a low curve and the school could be more selective about its students. Its not until you get into graduate school that you are graded on a curve. It seemed like there had to be a quota of Cs and Ds for every class. While the school had the ablility to be more selective of the students it took, this only worked to the detriment of everyone who wasn't significantly above average by the schools standards. Inevitably most people's grades dropped.
Because the grades at ASIS were so deflated, many students were forced to take AP classes so that they can get standard AP grades. However, because of the size of the school, the AP classes available are limited. Most importantly, being forced to take AP classes on top of all the other 'college level' classes only increased the work load exponentially, and even the AP classes the grades are ridiculously deflated. The school said it made its AP classes extra hard so that the students do well on the final AP exams. I donï¿½t see the point in screwing the grades of students solely for the purpose of doing well on AP exams. A college is not going to look at a student with a 'D' who gets a 5 on an AP exam any better than a student who gets a B for the class and a 4 on the AP exam.
If your grades are screwed, then you will be completely out of range for the colleges you wish to apply for. Unless a college administration is intimately familiar with the school, they have no way to know for a fact that the courses you took in high school were at 'the college level' as ASIS claims. How can one high school out of millions around the world be known by even a handful of universities? In the United States alone, there are about 2,500 universities. There are thousands more throughout the rest of the world. How can any significant number of those schools be familiar with one small high school in particular? Is there any high school, let alone private high school that will not be playing the same game of selling its students to colleges? It makes no sense. In any university around the world there are plenty of students that apply from foreign countries. Applying from abroad didn't make students unique to colleges as ASIS as the school had them believe. This was just another fraud that made up the ideology of the school. It was nothing more then clever marketing designed to bring people in and to get them to accept their roles.
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XI. FRAUD #4: WE PREPARE YOU FOR COLLEGE, WHICH PREPARES YOU FOR LIFE:
The philosophy of ASIS was that by 'teaching' students how to handle the greatest workload possible while maintaining a positive attitude, students would be capable of handlingis college, work life, and life in general. Being able to memorize facts, blindly follow rules and authority figures, working fast, and staying busy made you a good student and a good person. Being a good student in turn means you will do well in college, and doing well in college means you will succeed in the professional world.
The first problem with this arguement was that the nature of work in college was radically different from the nature of work at ASIS. At ASIS such an insipid process of learning not only reduced the intellectual task of learning to the mental version cleaning toilets, it also reduced my freedom to prioritize, schedule, or sequence anything. I just had a ton of petty scutwork to be due everyday that I was ultimately unable to do. Ultimately it was because I had to prove to teachers that I was staying busy that I never got to intellectually engage the material. The bottom line was my 'learning' consisted of putting ink on paper and having to memorize something new every night.
The most important way to prepare yourself for college is to develop your critical independent thinking. This will help you obtain a deeper and broader understanding of any material, the ability to recognize patterns and construct concepts to explain them, conduct independent research, think outside of rigid paradigms, develop your own learning style, and the ability to apply knowledge. None of these things were taught at ASIS, and in fact they were even discouraged. All the work was so devoid of meaning and context that it amounted to heightened mental activity much more than substantive learning. Information went as quickly out one ear as it had gone in the other, and nothing built upon anything else. Not even a basic tangable skill, other than the ability to generically process information faster was obtained.
There is very little rote memorization or menial mental tasks in college; as long as you grasp the basic concept behind the reading and pay attention in class you are fine. Most of the grading focuses around term papers which are long term projects loosely supervized by professors. Most of the thinking in college is either theory, critical thinking, and the ability to make an argument and back it up, or the ability to repeat some sort of process in different contexts or using different data.
Yes there is a lot of reading in college, but you have much more freedom to choose when and how you will read and how you will study. There is much less grading, the semesters are longer, AND YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE CLASS EVERY DAY. Typically most students are in class 15 hours PER WEEK. This is because much of the learning you do in college revolves around research that you do on your own time. The classroom is the time for students to share their perspectives or results with other students and discuss them. The bottom line is that there is much less scutwork and almost no daily scutwork, and the teachers want students to intellectually engage the material on their own terms.
Even my most ideologically biased professors graded based on the ability to think creatively and make a good argument, even if it conflicted with the teacherï¿½s world view. The professors I disagreed with vehemently would give me lower grades for certain papers I wrote where I disagreed, but they gave me enough credit for class participation and my knowledge of the material to give me a final grade that I felt was fair.
College is a completely different ballgame from most high schools(and not just ASIS) and universities know that. 'Lower tier' universities knowingly accept a greater proportion of 'lower tier' students knowing full well that as a consequence a greater proportion of their students will drop out. I know plenty of people that did well in high school and failed miserably in college, and even more that sucked in high school that did well in college. Getting through college requires a lot more emotional maturity, involvement in the material, and long term self-management of your time.
I managed to do fine in college skimming through half the material and most students do. Most of my introductory courses were multiple choice tests. In the higher level courses in your major, most of the grading is based off of two exams and one research paper. The quizzes that do exist are there to make sure that you are not completely blowing off the reading. Typically, you are expected to have a firm grasp of the material and the concepts which are tested by two exams. Then you find an area of the syllabus that interests you and write a paper.
Secondly, in this day and age, high school is worthless in the work force. Even college degrees are becoming less and less valued as more and more education is being demanded and more and more people go on to higher education. High school in of itself does not prepare anyone for the work force. The only thing high school can prepare you for is collegs.
Granted that employers care about the most is being able to multitask, being organized, and processing information quickly, now so more than ever that the world is entering the service information economy. If the course load at ASIS didn't involve studying 18th century literature and medieval Europe, but rather Microsoft Excel and accounting, then I might say that ASIS with its strenous course load might be preparing you for the 'real world'. It wouldn't be preparing you for college but it certainly would be offering the most grueling boot camp to condition you for any crappy job that awaits you.
There are a lot of crap jobs out there, even one's that require college and even graduate degrees. But all jobs, no matter how intellectually stultifying require self-management. The ironic thing is that despite the grueling course load at ASIS, as a student I was so micromanaged that I really didn't learn how to manage my time at all. I didn't beome better organized, self-driven, or entrepreneurial, I just lost my life. In particular I never learned the long term self-management which is required in BOTH college and the professional world. Not only is memorizing details under pressure a very small component of learning, its even neccessary to becoming productive in the workforce. Using your intellect to become more efficient is just as important as being fast in order to be productive.
One could argue that most public high schools don't prepare students for the type of work involved in college, but then again PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOLS DON'T CHARGE MONEY, PRETEND TO BE BETTER, GIVE YOU AN UNMANAGEABLE COURSE LOAD, ELIMINATE ANY REAL PERSONAL LIFE, DESTROY YOUR PERSONALITY, OR CLAIM TO BE EXCEPTIONAL AT PREPARING YOU FOR COLLEGE. MOST IMPORTANTLY OF ALL, MOST HIGH SCHOOLS DO NOT DESTROY YOUR GPA AND THEN CLAIM THAT BY DOING SO THEY ARE PREPARING YOU FOR COLLEGE.
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XII. FRAUD #5: THIS IS THE BEST HIGH SCHOOL YOU CAN GO TO:
One could only believe this if one believed in all the other tenants of the ideology. Examining the ideology wholistically from the outside one can see the entire system is a castle in the sky without any foundation in reality. I think its a myth that private schools are inherantly better than public schools, and I think its a myth that 'elite' Ivy League schools provide a superior education. The same applies even for colleges and graduate schools. Ivy League schools are ranked as better because of their notoriety, the people they accept, and the money they can raise. Yes this does mean that more of their students graduate and that more of their graduates students are successfull in their careers. However this has nothing to do with the fact that the faculty or the way the school is run is better. No matter how good a teacher is, a student will only progress as far as he or she is willing to go.
The Ivy League community is a small but very powerfull and well connected network that helps its students get into valuable possitions. People that go there tend to have money, connections, and/or intelligence to begin with. The school serves as a good networking tool, but nothing about the school makes it in of itself any better. In fact, many of the best colleges are known for the research they produce, not how well they teach their students.
The idea that a high school can provide that much better of a teaching environment is absurb. ASIS propagated that all of its students went on to college. That doesn't say anything about the school. All the students that went there planned to go to college.
There are only three ways a school can be better; its teachers, its students, and its available resources. The teachers at ASIS well no better than the teachers in most US public school systems, and were nothing compared to college professors. Private school teachers are certainly not paid any better than teachers at public schools in the US. I really didnï¿½t feel like any of the teachers at ASIS enjoyed or cared about their jobs. Most of them seemed miserable, resentfull, and bitter. I certainly didnï¿½t get the impression that they liked or cared about their students by the way they treated them, let alone their jobs.
I know there are plenty of students in every school system who don't care. But it seemed like the teachers favored the students who were most popular, who spent the longest amount of time at the school, or whose parents taught at the school (all usually ran together). Itï¿½s not like teachers in public school systems are bad. Even in bad inner city schools in the US (or wherever in the world) you are going to run into idealistic teachers who are there to make a difference in the lives of children.
There was nothing better about the teachers and as I have stated before I really feel like they could have cared less. Instead of actually teaching material and engaging class participation, teachers were overseers, supervisors, and prefects overseeing students self-teaching. Next to none of the teachers at ASIS inspired or even encouraged me in any way. Most didn't even respect me. At best I felt like I was just another task for them. At worst I felt like they were going out of their way to belittle me and let me know how much of a burden I was to them. I even felt that they made students feel pathetic and showed how little they mattered in order to motivate the students to 'earn' the respect of their teachers, which of course involved performing utterly meaningless scutwork. Many of them had an attitude about being seen after class or during office hours no matter how hard you tried. Many of them treated me like I was stupid and lazy and not worth their time.
Many would accuse students of being lazy, which I found ridiculous considering the amount of work they gave out. I think that they felt like a student in trouble on meant more work for them. I understand that the teachers were probably not paid well, but they didnï¿½t have to be such pieces of shit. In fact, the teachers who had taught there the longest were usually the worst and also the nastiest, but received the most 'acclaim' from the student body and faculty at propaganda meetings solely because they had spent the most time connected to the institution. Honestly the relationship I had with the best and more involved teacher there pailed in comparison to any of the average teachers I had in college.
The one thing I am most grateful for about my professors in the colleges I attended was their passion and their ability to inspire me, get me interested in the material, and to get me to think about the world. I didnï¿½t have any professors in college who didnï¿½t have enough time to talk with me after class as well as during office hours. Not only did they help me to decide what I wanted to do with my career, but they helped me to come to an understanding of myself and the world. This might not mean a lot to many if not most people, but it meant a lot to me. Even if you think of education as strictly a vehicle for economic advancement and training, it helps to know what your interests and strengths are so you know what field you are going to excel in. It's when your young that you have the most time and ability to really discover your talents and work on the.
The second claim that the school makes is that it is exclusive because it is selective of its students. The only thing that the school can claim makes it 'exclusive' is that the institution can choose which students to accept. But when you look at the students you realize that even this is grossly exaggerated. The school might have been selective but its student body was by no means 'elite'. A lot of parents send their kids to boarding schools for disciplinary reasons and because they donï¿½t want to deal with them. The school is a dumping ground for kids whose parents don't want to take care of them. The school appeals perfectly to such parents as it allows parents to feel that they are proactively taking care of their children by giving them a good education, when in fact they donï¿½t care. The fact that the school becomes the parent of the student only amplifies the cultish nature of the entire 'community'.
Yes, there are plenty of dolts in the US public school system, as with any other public school system in the world. Most people are not going to college. Then again, from my experience, there were plenty of dolts at ASIS who had be passed from boarding school to boarding school because their parents didn't want to deal with them. In any public high school in the US you have regular, honors, and AP classes. If you care about school and are smart you wonï¿½t be taking classes with people who don't care or are not looking to go to college. One thing my experience has taught me is that you can get a good education out of public or private, expensive or inexpensive colleges or high schools provided that you apply yourself. The idea that your chances of going to college are hurt because you go to public school in the US is nonsensical; millions of students end up leaving public schools in the US to graduate from college and even go to Ivy Leagues.
The third way any school can be better is with regards to the resources it provides to its students. At ASIS, the courses available were limited, and the general requirements were numerous. The counseling I got was absolutely crap. I could have gotten better advice talking to a wall. There wasn't even a writing center. The only good thing about the school was the relatively small class sizes, which was completely negated by the teaching style and philosophy of the entire school.
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XIII. FRAUD #6: IF YOU FAIL AT ASIS, YOU FAIL AT LIFE:
For so many reasons this mantra still bothers me the most. Had there been a way to know better, all anxiety, depression, and self-doubt caused by this "make it or break it" myth would have evaporated. I invested in lies and internalized my own missery to avoid spending the rest of my life somehow living through something supposedly worse. Instead I just lost my youth. No minimum wage job came ever close to reducing me to the same level of survitude, desperation, isoloation, and numbness. At a minimum wage job you are at least given the dignity of not having to pretend you entire future is on the line. "Were're giving you so much opportunity, why is it that we are just not reaching you? Don't you realize how lucky you are?" How charitable and reasonable is the love of an enlightened despot.
Eventually it became obvious to me that high school carries no weight whatsoever beyond a certain point. Within one to two years of college, high school records becomes minimal. If one transfers colleges like most people do, high school performance is not granted much weight. Graduating college virtually erases a high school record. Even if you never graduate college or even go, it really doesn't matter. Employers do not look at high school academic records for jobs that only require a high school education, not so much because the people in these jobs are all stupid, but because an academic track record is irrelevant. Employers do not care how you did in Calculus if they are paying you $8.00 to lift boxes. They will not give is shit if you never so much as cracked open the Great Gatsby. The half of humanity that is below average and in jobs requiring no academic ability make a weekly paycheck and raise families without having accomplished anything academically.
With regards to "better" jobs, even those that only require an associates or technical degree, high school counts for a fat turd. There is nothing in your high school record that will indicate any ability to perform any of the jobs that are worthwhile. The work environment(and reality in general) has a completely different dynamic from academia. Succeeding in one environment does not equate to doing so in another. In the isolated ivory tower of academia, playing by the rules, operating within paradigms, making plausible arguements, and studing enough for the test makes a difference. 'Intelligence' and hard work roughly corrolate with success. Reality outside of academia it is not as rational, orderly, or fair. The world is ever changing and chaotic, and operates on ammoral irrational priciples driven by self-interest. Even large organizations are not driven by the most rational of principles. Competition for limited resources and a constant struggle for power means that in order for one person to succeed, someone else has to fail. Many people will do everything in their power including using force or fraud to get their way, and a lot of time the worst people rise to the top. Academic or even intellectual aptitude doesn't translate into practical ability, and particular talents, character, and the ability to market to as well as exploit people('people skills') trumps any academic 'aptitude' curve. Climbing social hierarchys, networking, and marketing are skills not taught or as applicable in academia, but are very importance.
College level GPA is only used to determine the dedication, discipline, and organizational skills of a person. Most professional work, from blue to white collar require a constant resharpening and retooling of a given skill set. Most of what one needs to know for a career is learned on the job, typically within the first 6 month to 1 year. From then on its a process of keeping up with changes in the industry. Employers was to see you can create, implement, and modify small ideas, not just analyze big ones from a distance. You are not learning brand new subjects every day, nor are you constantly tested on your ability to regurgiate new material. For this reason employers are always more impressed by experience than credentials, even if those credentials include graduate degrees. They are not really too concerned with the details of the academic work in a major and they certainly don't give a rats ass about any academic work done in high school. No boss ever cared that I understood the subtle difference between the early and later transendental works of New England literature, or any of the bullshit I was forced to digest and vomit. For this very reason even a college academic record becomes irrelevant after a number of years in the work force.
High school only prepares a student for higher education. ASIS couldn't even get that right. It did not make me a better student; it actually made me a worse student and hampered my ability to think for myself. The idea that a school can make a student better is rediculous on its own merit. The education one gets is only as good as the effort one puts in, and the willingness and ability to explore oneself and develop one's mind and personality. A school is there to offer guidance, support, and structure in the exploration process. Even the differences between Ivy League colleges and 'lesser' schools is greatly exagerated. Most professors possess a high degree of intelligence and talent. The high bar to entry to attend Ivy League schools is the only thing that makes those schools qualitativey different. Such schools arn't even more challenging to graduate from; Ivey League schools are known for having the highest degree of grade inflation compared to other private schools and state schools. The real advantage of Ivey League schools is the notoriety of the name and the chance to be with students who are smart and/or come from money and have connections. Going to an Ivy League school doesn't change anyone in any way or give them them skills that makes them more successfull. Getting into such a 'good' school just means you already have a greater chance of success in the first place.
I am not saying that there shouldn't be places for particularly talented and gifted people, or that achievement shouldn't be rewarded. People should be able to fullfill their potential. However, there are many different types of ability, talent, and intelligence, and the 'value' assigned to a person depends on 'values' of a society and the way it is organized. No human being can be globally and intrinsically 'better' or have more value than any other. 'Achievement' and 'excellence' unguided by values and devoid of any human benefit is meaningless. The most organized drug lord, prolific serial killer, or well spoken dictator is still a piece of shit. Society can be pluralistic in its values, but when competition is placed that much on a pedestal, all other values lose meaning. I understand why achievers will always be eulogized, but where I was it was taken too far. Life became a competition for survival without pause or respite. Our overseers loved parading their over-achieving stoolies and 'champions' as leaders and progeny of the future whom eveyone else should revere in awe and defer to at all times. Such greats would kindly tower over us lessers to kindly shield us from the illuminance of our superior's enlightenment, glory, and self-satisfaction. Us losers were expected to dutifully suffer in silence, lest we rock the boat and interfere with the momentum of inevitable collective progress of the school. Everyone was given the opportunity to shine provided that they participated in the life of the school, so why should anyone complain? Everyone knew the school was great. All we had to do is have the right attitude and 'apply' ourselves more. Anyone who disagreed was a disgruntled loser that couldn't hack it. Now I would have found a way to emigrate internally, but at that time in my life I found the ever constantly imposed self-doubt impossible to resist. It was unreal watching so many people acquiesce to their own mistreatment and exploitation.
Some people will argue that like any other 'elite' school ASIS was just preparing you for the 'world ahead' with their cutthroat competition and pseudo-religiosity. Yes the world is an ammoral place. It is true most employers don't really care about their employee's opinions and that the bottom line boils down to efficiency and organizing and processing data as fast as possible. Yes ASIS did give me more work to do than I could handle, but this never really taught me how to manage my time. Even if it did operate the way it did in order to teach students to live by the most distilled of 'real world' principles, the benefits were far outweighed by the costs. You can understand the principles by which this world operates without internalizing, eulogizing, or suffering under them. Sometimes its good to aspire to a little something more, especially if you are an institution of LEARNING. Throwing yourself into a tank of sharks might not always prepare you for being thrown into a tank of sharks. You may just get eaten by sharks, especially when you are that young. Although life may always be constrained by the principles of the world, there is no need to religiously worship such principles or judge yourself by the principles by them, and no one should surrender their freedom and have their life run by someone 'better'.
No individual, group, or entity has any moral justification in unilateraly and unconditionally dictating the distiny, identity, or role of the individual, not even if its a large group of people, the majority of people, or 'Society' itself. 'Society' is an abstraction nothing more than a collection of individuals created and run by individuals, not a monolithic living entity that can only exists if individuals serve and obey blindly like cells in a body. Human beings have always join groups for their own survival and self-interest. Its only over time that smaller groups have merged into larger groups. People are capable of intelligently negotiating their associations, roles, agreements, and exchanges they make with each other as long as overt force or deception is not being applied. While some people have more to offer than others and thus have more bargaining people, everyone always has something to offer someone else at some point. Even the anti-social and mentally challenged can perform tasks that benefit other people and only the most extreme of such people need their lives run by others. In such extreme cases it must be done conditionally and with due process; every human being has certain rights and boundaries that can not be crossed. No matter how smart, enlightened, or benevolent and individual or group is, when they unilaterally take away someone's ability to run their own lives they are acting as oppressors, When they unilaterally dictate someone's future, they are oppressors. Even if they are acting as a majority, they are oppressors. Real democracy and an enduring freedmom require going beyond the majority imposing its will on the minority. We are all capabable of contributing to other people in our own way. We can also change and create the world we live in provided we have the right opportunities and tools. Even if one may never change the world or even their own life, it is possible to stay true to one's principles and keep an intact personal life. No one should ever have to accept oppression or exploitation forced on them, no matter how ubiquitous it is or what 'society' says.
No one should never be told that their destiny will or ought to be determined by anything, let alone high school. Whether one has or has not discovered their strengths and talents makes no difference. It is extremely difficult to understand oneself and have an idea of the future at a young age. No one has enough life experience to know themselves as a person and their true strengths and weaknesses. High school is not the end of academic life, its not even close to the beginning of professional life, and it doesn't prepare anyone for much of anything. It may prepare some students bound college, but that is it. Nothing really fully prepares anyone for life; a lot of it is luck and the rest is how you play the cards that were dealt you. Next to finding opportunity and working well with people, it helps immensely to create a niche for oneself, which requires the ability to think for and understand oneself, as well as a lot of time and work. It wasn't clear to me at the time how many students do poorly in high school, go to community colleges, and transfer to really good universities. Most students I have known transferred schools within college for financial reason or because they got into a better school or one they liked more. Ultimately, their high school record counted for nothing. My 'failure' at ASIS had very little bearing on my life afterward. Any high school that has such lofty pretentions beyond getting students into college is full of shit.
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XVIII. EDUCATION RACKETS AND WORK LIFE :
Understanding the 'quality' of any education requires first defining the meaning and function of education and who's interests are being served. The hardest part is then emperically measuring whether those goals are being reached and whether they are being reached because of attributes of the education system itself. There is disagreement on what 'education' is and is supposed to do. It's methods and goals have evolved over centuries depending on the demands and structure of society. From the outset it was elitist. Only a very small minority with the time and money needed and could afford one. Only the wealthiest who were involved in buisiness, government, and positions of power required any sort of esoteric knowledge of the world or even basic literacy. Education for such elites was not meant to be practical or job related as such positions of power did not require as much technical knowledge as talent and experience. Such positions were so limited in number and political in nature that the competition for them was also limited and did not occur in an open free market. Jobs that did involve technical skills all involved a system of very long term apprenticeship and were either hereditary or required strong connections. People didn't compete for such jobs either based on skill sets in an open labor market because such jobs were small in number, and because guilds and associations placed high barriers to entry.
The goals of education changed only when publicly provided universal education spread and society industrialized. For the elites of society in private institutions and universities, education remained a process of preparing people to become planners, organizers, managers, policy makers, and 'leaders'. Higher education in particular remained a place to distinguish and identify those top of society and to help them network amoungst themselves. For the masses public education became a process of socializing, conditioning, and sorting people for the demands of a regimented and specialized industrial labor force. As more and more different types of jobs emerged demanding a wider range of abilities, technical skills and intelligence, the need to sort people and place them into a hierarchy increased. As society become more complex and technical and as the middle class grew, testing, separating and tracking people to different academic paths became paramount.
The demand for education to involve practical job training also increased. However 'job training' for the most part has only involved 'blue collar' work, is still considered 'unacademic' in nature, and has not become a part of higher education. Higher education has not kept up with changes in society and still plays the same role it did many years ago, even though most people who graduate from higher education do not end up on the highest rungs of society. Most university programs even at the graduate level focus on research and theory as oppossed to practical job training, and higher education in general is just as concerned with prestige and pedigree as it ever has been before. Even today higher education does not even try to prepare you well for the work force(even if supposedly it does prepare you better than high school). Instead of teaching you specific practical skills, a degree often does nothing more than demonstrate that one has a certain level of discipline and organizational skills. This model of general purpose higher education may have worked years ago when fewer people possessed college degrees and when fewer technical skills were required in the workforce, but it doesn't work quite as well anymore.
Compounding this, more people now than ever before go on to higher education so that they can attain a 'middle-class' lifestyle. Ironically, the more higher education has become accessible and sought after, the more the obession with prestige and pedegree has grown. As more and more people go to college, a college degree has become more and more expected as requirement for jobs. Even at the graduate level so much emphasis is placed on pedigree, prestige, and weeding people out as opposed to practical training. As more people people go to college, a degree becomes less valuable, further driving institutions to subdivide rank colleges into more and more hierarchies in turn makeing the value of a higher education degree in general worth less(and in some cases worthless). With the majority of people applying to higher education, it isn't enough anymore to go to college. More and more one must go to the 'right college' while college itself has become the new high school. This obsession with prestige and status has created a self-perpetuating cycle.
While sorting and separating people of different abilities is neccessary, it becomes a problem when it is the primary focus of the education system and when preparing people for the final stage. Not everyone should be or needs to go on on higher education. What people do need is the skills neccessary to thrive in an increasingly technical and bureacratically complex world. It has gotten to the point where higher education itself has become a weeding out process to separate those who will get 'good jobs' from those who do not. Although empowering people, imparting knowledge, and teaching practical skills is more important now than ever before, the basic functioning of education of sorting and categorizing people has not changed much.
It goes without saying that going to any 'good' high school or university doesn't in of itself do anything. The student has to have interest and ability. People who go to the ‘best’ universities tend to be successful because they have some combination of intelligence, talent, money, and connections to begin with. Ivy League schools are not in of themselves better at imparting information or teaching 'critical thinking skills' than other schools. The professors at most schools are roughly at the same caliber and one uses and perfects critical thinking skills every day. Such 'elite' universities are elite because many of their graduates come from money and/or go on to make a lot of money and give back to their schools. Such elite schools also get the most government money and produce the most research of all the universities. More money circulates through the school and more research is produced, but the quality and quantity of learning isn't any different. What such places provide are a name brand and connections. Without money or connections to begin with, the only way to get into such schools is to possess a high processing speed and analytical ability that can not be taught.
However, that is not what the education industry would have you believe. The education industry has grown so much that it has become another self-serving big buisiness industry. With more people going into school worldwide than ever before, standardized testing has become more important now than ever. The amount of money made not just off of private universities and prep schools, but all the standardized testing prep courses and testbooks is comparible to any of the multi-million dollar industries in the world. People fork over more and more money so that they get a better shot at a 'higher ranked school'. Standardised test are suppossedly scientifically designed to measure without bias, a person's academic potential and yet prep courses claim to be able to improve one's score. This is just another ruse to separate fools from their money. More and more I can't help but feel that 'academic ability' is nothing more than the innate ability to process and organize information quickly. Ultimately, the 'best' universitites care about this more than hard work, dedication, character, original thinking, or intellect. That unless of course one has lots of money and connections.
ASIS used myths about higher education to serve its own ends. In the process it took the worst aspects of the traditional concept of a formal education to a new level; its obsession with competition, classification, hierarchy, organization, regimentation, and ‘prestige’, and its complete lack of practical or humanistic value. Parents send their kids to such places thinking that they are giving their children a leg up when in fact such 'esteemed' institutions only feed the race to the bottom that is this quest for prestige. Someone that is smart, talented, and genuinely motivated to learn will succeed no matter where and if they go to school. The desire to ‘succeed’ and compete can only be beaten into people by striping them of their autonomy and dignity, and only as long as they remain in an environment that imposes it. It will not necessarily make them more successful of competitive. Such an environment does not promote the qualities necessary, such as curiosity and critical thinking skills to be a good student and learner. Memorization, legwork, and time management will only go so far. Being an institution that culls those that ‘can’t’ from those that ‘can’, does not make it a good school. Even worse is to think you can beat academic ability and character into people is an act of supreme arrogance and self-deception. Such a place encapsulated, epitomized, and ran a marathon with all the worst aspects of this world: arrogance, self-entitlement, elitism, pretentiousness, deception, hypocrisy, and group-think.
XV. MY REALITY:
ASIS claimed to provide a rigorous and meaningfully education. It took me years before I could look back and realize that the quality of education I received was at best mediocre. I learned nothing. Truthfully the place felt more like a boot camp, indocrination center, and a dumping ground for errant children whose parents couldn't or wouldn't put up with them anymore. Superficially the school was modeled on the 19th century British boarding school system. In the 19th century such boarding schools promoted ideas of service to the crown and Empire, and prepared its pupils to become members of the elite. Such schools focus on the classics, training in social mannerisms, and tough conditioning so that their pupils would someday be able to run an empire. All learning was role with the student being the empty cup to be filled by the teacher. Often times when such boarding schools were located throughout 'the empire', locals would send their children their in the hopes that their children could enter the governing british 'elites' or at least become part of the ruling bureacracy.
Academically, the school wanted students to be a mindless data processors and vomit bags for information that would not and could not be used in any meaningfull way. Critical thinking about the material and applying it was not important. All learning was done in a stricly binary and linear fashion. Teachers taught out of the book. 'Understanding' the material meant memorizing it and being able to reproduce it fast. Teachers called on students in class they just want to make sure they had read and sufficiently memorized the material. There was no worthwhile discussion of any material to indicate that the students had digested any of the material. The perspectives of the students or even the way in which the material relates to the world was completely irrelevant. There was only one right answer or methodolgy to everything; the teacher dictated, and I took notes. I remember often times teachers would not answer questions, get angry, or they would even refuse to take questions after class. Teachers confiscated any cliff notes they come across because the teachers may have well have been teaching out of them. At college, cliff notes are sold in university bookstores. I even remember teachers who graded in as arbitrary a way as possible so as to keep grades down and to cover up mistakes made on their own tests that they created. In essense, students 'learned' the material on their own.
Quantity and speed trumped quality and all academic work took place within a narrow framework. Grading was based soley on the ability to regurgitate the opinion of the teacher and memorize useless facts that the teacher thought were important. The material studied in itself has no value or purpose; the only point of it is to serve as a medium for assessing and ranking the productivity of students. All of the grading seemed to be strictly on a material covered basis; even in English classes material that was at best tangential had to be memorized. Being a good student means that you are a fast information mill that can take on a large workload, not being able to think independently and critically, apply information independently and usefully for yourself, or even care about the material. Thoroughness only counted towards quantity, not understanding something from many different angles.
Most of the testing was done in a way so as to make sure that students aren't 'cutting corners' and skimming material. Being able to talk about one aspect of a work of literature or the importance of a particular historical event was not important. I even remember that a lot of the teachers would not tell you exactly what they wanted you to regurgitate because as far as they were concerned you had to know the text book/work of literature through and through. You were not learning the principles behind something or how to do something. You were not even learning facts for the long run. You were just expected to store and process information for the time period in which it was deemed necessary. You were basically expected to memorize as much of the material as possible. At the same time, there was no room for differences of opinion or approaching things in a unique way. All ASIS does is turn you into a number crunching, regurgitating, soulless automaton that spent all their time on school work.
And because most of the classes were graded on a curve, a very low curve, the only way to do well was to kiss ass and prove to the teacher that you 'understand' the material better than your classmates. Content of thought, meaningful application, or depth of character is irrelevant. Questioning, let alone disagreeing with teachers, is not a good idea because it means less material for the class to get through and review for memorization. Even current affairs in British politics was never related to the material we studied. If you tried to get extra help because you were struggling in a class, the teachers would treat you like shit because it meant extra work for them. The teachers picked which students they did and did not like early on and nothing really changed. Those that they didnï¿½t like they would belittle and mistreat. Even concepts like the fulfillment of oneï¿½s potential paled in comparison to 'school spirit', "being a team player", and class rank.
Socializing and conditioning everyone to fit the same mold took took precedence over any real education. Emotionally, the school tried to turn its students into single minded unquestioning mindless sheep and functionaries with a narrow outlook on life and a shallow understanding of the world, who kowtowed to 'superiors', the group, convention, subordinated all individuality to the herd under the guise of "excellence", "school spirit", and "discipline", and believed that going through the motions as efficiently and obediently as possible in order to compete, performing for the group, and be rewarded is the only purpose of life. 'Winners' dominated. Anyone that couldn't assimilate was ground up and reengineered as unquestioning type A 'winners' or put in their place. Self-improvement and self-empowerment were so narrowly defined as to be meaningless.
My life became a never ending stream of meetings,announcements, and ceremonies during which consent, or at least the appearance of it was manufactured. Everyone had to enthusiastically but passively play their role. Any gaps were filled in with admonishments, threats, and deadline reminders. The outward display of collective enthusiasm became a self-referencial ritual. p>The top of the hierarchy consisted of the students who spent the longest amount of time and whose parents taught there. The turnover within the school of teachers and students was extremely high. It was not uncommon for students and teachers to remain for only a year. This was juxtaposed with the families that litterally grew up in the institution. The 'winners' also included those who excelled in teams sports and got medals for the school. Within the hierarchy students also formed clicks based on ethnic/national/language backgrouns, border/day student status, and team sports status. Most of the people that transfered into the school came from other boarding schools, and knew instantly how find a click and 'fit in'. One of the things that always struck me the most was the extent to which people stuck to their own groups. What this meant was that unless you belonged to a group or excelled in team sports, you literally became invisible. Most people simply refused to talk to people out side of their own group, 'Friendships' were constantly being broken off as well. The drama, social climging, gossip, and rumor never ceased to end. It was like being imprisoned in an echo chamber of self-referencial bullshit. Inevitably, the people I associated with were far from anything one could really call a friend, even a fair-weather one. They were just the people that tolerated my presence.
This hierarchy was everwhere and permeated every aspect of life.Upperclassmen were given privileges and positions of power in the form of student prefects, held positions on 'disciplinary committees', and had their own recreational areas. Upperclassmen would also routinely harass lowerclassmen. There were thousands of pointless rules that serve no purpose other than to crush all individuality and to give authority figures and excuse to harass you. I remember not being allowed to take my jacket off on hot days before 12:00 PM and getting in trouble for taking my jacket off after I spilled a drink on it. Students were regularly sent back to their rooms to shave if their 5 o'clock shadow grew too dark. The workload along with all of the 'extracurricular requirements' were kept at a level so that I never had any real free time.
The problem was that the competitiveness of the school, its isolated atmosphere, and the fact that everyone knew everyone elses buisiness worked with the social situation to make a really toxic environment. Another problem was that the cliques revolved around lifers who were students who have spent most time in the school and who have family connections to the school. If you do not find a clique, then you are absolutely nothing. The school taught 'being a team player'. Being different is looked down upon. If you are different in any way or unconventional, you will stick out like a sore thumb and you will be ostracized and shat on. The school isnï¿½t big enough and it certainly isn't supportive enough to be able to make a niche of your own if you are different. The isolated, hierarchical, and cult-like group mentality of the institution only enhances this. Because of the amount of time spent around school activities such as homework, required after school activities, required 'community service', and required school meetings, having a personal life that doesn't revolve around the school is impossible. The social situation was just another way that ASIS dominated my life and reduced me to an invisible number in a hierarchy.
The way the school structured the life of students made holding onto a strong individual identity extremely difficult. Even if a student didn't buy into the dogma, the game still had to be played. There simply wasn't enough time, space, or privacy to reflect let alone develop one's own personal life outside of the gaze of everyone else. Everyone was in constant motion and student's lives were mapped out. Going in any way against the flow was like moving against a tsunami. Ultimately the only way one could survive let alone get ahead was to be a servile sicophant to those above, a sheep with one's peers, and a bully to those beneath you. Being an individual and pursuing your own agenda outside and separate of school life was nearly impossible. I didn't even have the ability to figure out what I wanted because I was constantly being told what to do. Even when I called out bullshit when I saw it it didn't really matter because nobody listened to me or cared anyway. The ideology of the school constisted of nothing more spurious sales pitches awkwardly strewn together. Even when people didn't wholeheartedly believe in it they knew what was required in order to get their needs me. The only thing people in charge were interested in was fostering loyalty and obeidance to the school, dominating students, and reducing students to interchangeable production units that wouldn't question the agenda or operation of the school.
I could never understand how a place that prides itself on being so cosmopolitan and sophisticated would resort to the sort of ignorant bashing that it would ascribe to another society. Why would any institution that promotes being well-rounded, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan push any one single ideology whatsoever? What I could never wrap my head around either was how everyone could so enthusiastically think the same way. Even though I could not intellectually understand it at the time, I knew that it just didn't make sense. What was even stranger was the fact that the school did little to integrate itself into the neighboring school systems and society. To be quite blunt, in spite of being 'international', the school was as inward looking, insular, ignorant, arrogant, and as cut off from the rest of the world as any cult you could imagine.
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XVI. DELAYED GRATIFICATION OR WASTED TIME - MY EXPERIENCE:
Life does not follow a linear trajectory. There are ups and downs and detours. Conflict and problems are unavoidable. At some point everyone oversteps their boundaries or overestimates their abilities and makes an ass of themself. At some point everyone gets humiliated or disappointed. Ideally the mistakes made are small enough that it is possible to learn from them, move on, and grow as a peron. Sometimes the negatives outweigh the positives, but as long as there is some positive in life that distracts, inspires, and drives, one can keep their head above water. It is the positive things in life that gives us perspective, find meaning, and shape our values. It is the positive things that afford us dignity.
When one's entire life loses all positives, everything changes. Even if one can hold on to hope of a better future, when the mind becomes preoccupied with survial, paricular emotions start to dwindle. Fear, anger, anxiety, fatigue, and pain are primitive, powerfull, and all consuming emotions. Quite quickly they inhibit and crowd out other emotions. Over periods of time such emotions will reduce and human being to the worst of animals, and can be toxically lethal to both them and the people around them. When one loses access any meaningfull justice and security, the mind and soul starts to atrophy.
Experience becomes reactive and hollow and the time spent trying to stay alive feels dead. The success of 'getting throught' is pyrrhic. That particular period in my life was an everstretching barren void of unaccounted time. Even the memories feel like they are in black and white; there is little personal contex, attachments, or meaning, just images and sounds. The emotions attached to the memories are powerful but hollow. The emotional context from one memory feels no different from any another. Everything felt the same.
I don't know why I did the things I did. I didn't have the time or the ability to understand anything. Every moment of my existance was preoccupied with some goal or going through some motion. I always felt the same; I was just doing the best I could reacting from moment to moment and living on autopilot. I didn't even own my own thoughts. Even the memories which should have been good memories felt like relief from misery more that happiness. I was too numb and overwhelmed with anxiety to really enjoy anything, and such moments were too brief to ever really feel meaningfull. Something bad was around the corner.
As extremely unhappy as I was with with my life during those years, I could never quite articulate in any precise fashion how I felt because I could never escape the emotion or the environment causing it. I knew I hated where I was, but I could never really fully understand why or have a whole lot to compare it to. The same feelings enshrouded my life at every moment. I was drowing in a great big looming dissipated grey haze of toxic gas. I wanted to leave, but I didn't have the strength to defy my parents or insight to understand myself and my situation. At first I genuinely believed that as awkward and challenged as I felt, things would somehow get better and that in the long run I would figure it out and benefit. I thought that I would 'adapt' and grow into a better person.
Things never changed. Everyday continued like my 'first day'. More and more I felt like there was something deeply wrong with me for not being able to get by let alone 'adapt'. I couldn't make sense of the people around me. No matter how much I tried to be with them, I never felt of them nor was I ever included, even amoungst my so called 'friends'. The more alienated and isolated I felt, the more I desperatetely reached out to people. The more I reached out to people and put myelf out on a limb, the more exploited and marginalized I became. Gradually, my sense of self was so shattered I didn't even have the strength to run away, even as things got worse. I just felt inept, scared, ashamed, and deeply alone all the time.
My status within the hierarchy had been determined within weeks if not days, based on some arbitrary and irrational formula. Everyone had already made up their mind about each other and the respective roles we were to play in life of the school based on the ability to compete, conform, project a persona, and play a role. The slots within the hierarchy had already been established. All that was left was to fill them. My life lost its personal story and subjective meaning. The die had been cast. The show had to go on and I had to play my role on the stage. I was just an actor who had to read his script so that the play could proceed uninterupted and the audience could be satisfied. At best I was a tool to fulfilling someone else's agenda. At worse I was an obstacle or social pariah. My agenda, my life, and my future only counted for anything provided they fit perfectly like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle made up of everyone else's agenda's. Collectively everyone's agendas were cast by the life and program of the school. Even my efforts to play the game and good intentions counted for naught. On a good day I was a wandering apparition and invisible. On a bad day I became an outlet for everyone else's pent up frustrations and a scapegoat of all that was wrong in what was supposed to be their otherwise perfect little worlds.
Breaking the mould and asking broader questions about life beyond the walls of the school or engaging in meaningful dialogue was the LAST thing anyone wanted or could do. People were too caught up in denial, hysteria, and the rat race of survival to really think about life outside the walls of the school. Outwardly, everything seemed harmonious and tranquil. The reality underneath was an awkward and capricious feeding frenzy contained within a echo chamber. In a desperate final sprint, people fed of each other like maggots feasting on a rotting corpse, squashing any deviance so they could get ahead or avoid being a pariahs themselves. Drama never ended. 'Friendships' disappeared as quickly as they appeared. Everyone was a stepping stone to someone else, and gossip took on a life and a purpose of its own. Showing vulnerablity was avoided at any cost. Expressing oneself honestly or showing any individually immediately identified someone who couldn't play the game; it only made one deviant or worse weak. Going along with the crowd was the only positive way of getting attention and competing and vying for social dominance was the only socially acceptable way of displaying individuality. Competing on behalf of the school was the ultimate way to rehumanize oneself while showing devotion to the 'community'. Even the faculty didn't give a shit. At opportune moments they put on the mantra of a role model, injecting their worldly wisdom and spewing their all purpose glib aphorisms and lofty platitudes. Truthfully their students were a chore. What mattered is the students made the school look good. Everyone was competing and fighting against each other tooth and nail, and yet obnoxiously projecting themselves cheerfully marching in the same direction at the same time.
Everyone was taught that the rules somehow made the place better. They existed not just to instill 'discipline' and preserve 'order', but to make us better students. Being able to 'suck it up' not only made you more of a man, it instilled ‘virtue’. Its one thing to watch a volatile mob erupt into an orgy of primal and carnal desires, its another thing all together to witness people day in and day out dryly march in unison with such subdued cheer and banal obedience, only to ever break step to crush those beneath them. Nothing was more disappointing and depressing than watching people so enthusiastically participate and enforce their own oppression while hurting other people. Even people who were extremely smart towed the party line like dutiful lemmings; they refused to do anything but accept the system as a given at very best.
As in any totalitarian system, everyone was forced to interact and be complicit in the system. The fact that the school controlled every aspect of life fundamentally changed the nature of relationships between people. In such systems, it is very hard to isolate yourself from such a system without completely isolating yourself from everyone else. The system was hooked into everything. Even the few allies I had accepted the premise of the game and for the most part played by its rules. They even had the same particular complaints that I had but would never reject the system as a whole. The problem with any total system is that one must either accept or reject it; there is very little room for genuine permanent reform. Looking at totalitarian societies around the world(eastern Europe in particular), one notices that all movements for reform are short lived and are either brutally crushed with no noticeable long term impact, or result in the complete dismantling of the system. It is the nature of such institutions organized around dogma demand total control. Such systems temporarily reform and relinquish some control only when they have absolutely no choice, not even for expedience sake and never as a matter of habitual long term policy.
For a long time I tried playing the same game and I didn't even realize it at the time. Youthful naïvety, instinct, and fear drove me to assimilate, and yet I never could. Just being 'different' in the most subtle and innocuous of ways hurt me, and nothing I did helped me to fit in. When I tried desperately to fit in I just came off like a 'poser' and an imposter and I felt like some circus animal performing tricks. People couldn't even accept that 'a loser' such as myself could somehow have a worthwhile life. Whatever I choose to do, no aspect of my life failed to revolve around servitude, obeidience, competition, and self-denial. There was no place or time I could openly and comfortably be myself and cultivate my own distinct personal life, and yet I wasn't even able to play the game well enough to save my own skin. Survival and just getting through the day pushed everything unrelated out of my mind. Just trying to stay awake was a constant battle. After a while I didn't know how to do anything else and I forgot who I was. I even found it harder to remember what my life had once been. I forgot how to be a human being.
I can't believe I allowed myself to get so caught up in the propaganda of the school. At that point in my life, I simply didn't have enough experience or maturity to even begin to comprehend the situation on my own. In fact it took many, many years before I did. It was constantly drilled into my head how little I knew, how inferior I was, and how fortunate (and ungrateful) I was. Add to that as a teenager your inexperience, your heightened need to fit in and seek approval, and get your social and even sexual needs met can make you vulnerable to being taken advantage of. I wasn't even mature enough to find some productive and functional way of going against the grain or even doing my own thing. At any point in life, loneliness and isolation can warp your personality. As a niave youth, the consequences are even worse. I realize there was no way to emotionally distance myself from any of the things I was being told or the things happening around me. Yet I am still just as disappointed in myself as in other people for not responding differently.
I did eventually figure out that the whole thing was bullshit. I became angry, but even at that point I had become so engrossed in it that all I could sense was my own expendability, invisibility, transience, powerlessness, and isolation. I still couldn't understand why or how, and I had no solution to the problem. I couldn't even express my feelings to my ‘friends‘ or my parents. Everyone around me was engaged in a constant struggle of denial and self-serving rationalization. All my interactions felt so proscribed and scripted. Many times I knew that there were people around me who felt in similar ways and were aware of certain things, but they couldn't articulate it, they would only admit so much and only in private, or they didn't care at all. All I knew was I was of no genuine value to anyone and that my self-interest and autonomy carried no weight whatsoever. The concept of a 'right' didn't exist, only obligation. Even just fighting for some positive attention was an uphill battle. As much as I caught on to how things worked, it was many years later that I figured out on a lucid intellectual level exactly how much of a pathetic game and a con the whole thing was. It took me a very long time before I became even close to having a good understanding of myself or the world around me.
There are people who say everything happens for a reason. This is a copout, nothing more than a way for people for people to accept the status quo so that they can sleep at night. Bad things happen all the time without good reason and bad people thrive without ever having to answer to anyone or anything. I doubt my experience made me a better person. I was too emotionally and spiritually spent to realize how empty I was. It took many years before I realized the full extent that I had been taken for a ride and hung out to dry. Being at an 'international' school didn't have the same credentials with universities as I was led to believe, and it helped me with nothing else in the long run. It had been beaten into my head from day one that the path to 'success' and 'happiness' is patience, hard work, strong character, and the ability to delay gratification. No one bothered to explain what lay ahead let alone how the game worked. If you are playing in a rigged game, personality traits and a concept of honor will not help, but will rather hurt. The concept of sacrifice for long term gain or for a genuinely greater purpose makes sense. Individuals and groups make sacrifices to progress all the time. Under a system that is rigged there is no gain, long term or short. None of the 'hard work', living up to other people’s expectations and values, following 'the rules', or failed attempts at fitting in counted for anything. I prostituted myself and my life to teachers and students alike to get my needs met and failed in the short and long term. The entire stretch of time was nothing more than a big zero.
Some people might say that it was just a part of life that is difficult for everyone or that its ‘just life’. If I had just sucked it up and 'taken it like a man' like all the other lemmings, it wouldn't have been so bad. I just needed to suffer in silence more and dish out more shit to the people 'beneath' me. Maybe my problem has always been that I think too much and that I am not 'practical' enough. Maybe if like Winston in 1984, had learned to love big brother, I would have been happier.
I believe any avoidable suffering is absurd and pointless. There is already an outrageous surplus of suffering in this world. If one really needs to overcome something, of challenges, records to break, and people in need to help. Accepting oppression and cooperating with evil ultimately proves and accomplishes nothing. I have noticed consistently through out my life that the same people that accuse me of being ‘too sensitive’ and ‘thinking too much’ are the same people that try to change me and insist that I put up with any and all of their behavior. The same people feel entitled to criticize everyone but are themselves infallible and beyond criticism, and they usually have an agenda that is hidden. The fact that they are better equipped to adapt to the status quo(or at least present themselves as such) in their eyes places them above other people and gives them the right to tell others what to do, treat them as they see fit, and push their agenda.
I am not saying that competition, hierarchy, or authority is inherently bad. Competition and hierarchy is a natural part of every aspect of all organic life in this world. It fosters an allocation of resources without having someone in charge to dictate how it should be done. It drives evolution, growth, the world, and it is what makes human beings strive for greatness. Authority is nothing more than a vehicle by which people organize themselves. When however, competing amongst human beings to survive becomes the only purpose of life and nothing is given, everything becomes a commodity towards the end of survival. Eventually the commodities become more important than life itself, life becomes cheap, and then loses all purpose and value, ceasing to be an end in itself. In such a state when exploitation and oppression occur under the guise of competition and under the direction of authority, it is the WORST aspects of human nature that rise to the top, not the best. It is much easier to ignore the ignorance of other people and the injustices of your life when your present and future is not at their mercy and when they are not stopping your from getting your basic needs met. A dull, joyless, loveless, and barren life will still feel the same not matter how tough you are. You may get used to it, but you will still never like it.
If there is anything positive I have learned it is that if you really want to be loved, you need the strength to be hated. I would rather be hated for what I am and know where I stand with someone, rather than be loved for something I am not, knowing that it could all disappear at any moment. There will always be people who need to look down on, hate, and demean others in order to assert their status and identity and get their way. Reason, morality, and any appeals to empathy are meaningless to them. They NEED to be above someone else just to feel secure, and will always adapt to and hide behind the status quo in order to assert their dominance over people. They may target you no matter what you do. They will never feel safe, secure, and happy, no matter what they have.
Fuck 'em. Fuck them in every way possible. Such people are untrustworthy and not only potentially dangerous but inherently destructive. Whatever they offer you in the present is only do so to maintain leverage, and can easily be rescinded at any point in the future without a second thought. Other people may have no intentions of oppressing or hurting others, but nonetheless think that their way is the only way, and insist that you accomodate to them. Either way, both such types of people are not worthwhile on any level, and expending any effort to change their opinion or the way they treat you is a waste of time. The best response is to ignore them, tell them to FUCK OFF, and refuse to descend to their level. Picking and choosing one's battles wisely is essential, but realize that there may be times when one just has no other option but to fight. Hiding who you really are or making yourself invisible just to avoid conflict with such ‘people’ will not get you appreciation, acceptance, or toleration. IT WILL NOT EVEN MAKE YOU INVISIBLE. AT BEST IT JUST MAKES YOU INVISIBLE TO POTENTIAL ALLIES AND TRUELY WORTHWHILE PEOPLE. AT WORST IT MAKES YOU MORE OF A TARGET BECAUSE YOU ARE INVISIBLE TO POTENTIAL ALLIES AND WORTHWHILE PEOPLE, AND BECAUSE YOUR POTENTIAL OPPRESSORS WITH THINK YOU HAVE INTERNALIZED YOUR UNPERSON STATUS. SAVE YOUR ENERGY FOR YOUR TRUELY IMPORTANT BATTLES.
WHAT SEPARATES US FROM ANIMALS IS OUR ABILITY TO THINK FOR OURSELVES, MITIGATE OUR INSTINCTS, AND DRAW A LINE. WHEN THAT IS TAKEN FROM US BY SOME POWER “GREATER” THAN US, WE LOOSE OUR DIGNTITY AND HUMANITY. JUST BECAUSE THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE THINK A CERTAIN WAY DOESN'T MAKE IT RIGHT OR NECCESSARY. OUR PERSONAL STANDARDS DON'T HAVE TO BE IMPOSSED BY THE AVERAGE, MEDIAN, OR MODE OF THE MAJORITY. MAJORITIES HAVE BEEN WRONG MANY TIMES. I HAVE THE RIGHT TO DETERMINE MY OWN VALUES, PRIORITIES, AND BOUNDARIES. I ALSO HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE MY SELF-INTEREST AS MUCH A PRIORITY AS EVERYONE ELSE AND I DON'T HAVE TO LIKE OR ACCEPT OR PUT UP WITH ANYTHING WITHOUT JUSTIFICATION JUST BECAUSE ONE PERSON UNILATERALLY DICTATES SO. I DO NOT HAVE TO PUT ANYONE ON A PEDASTAL OR WORSHIP ANYONE OR THING, AND MAKING PEOPLE HAPPY AND FEEL GOOD ABOUT THEMSELVES IS NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY. I DO NOT HAVE TO PROVE MYSELF TO ANYONE OR 'PAY MY DUES' IN ORDER TO EARN THE RIGHT TO NOT BE ABUSED, EXPLOITED, AND EXIST. I DO NOT EXIST SOLEY TO SERVE A FUNCTION TO SOCIETY OR SOME 'HIGER PURPOSE', NO MATTER HOW NOBLE. EVERY HUMAN BEING IS AN END TO THEMESELVES, NOT A MEANS TO OTHER PEOPLE. NOBODY HAS THE RIGHT TO EXPLOIT ANYONE OR TO TREAT THEM LIKE A PUPPET, REGARDLESS OF THEIR INTENTIONS OR FEELINGS.
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XVII. CONFORMING AND BELONGING:
Human beings are pack animals. Like animals, people to band together for their protection and survival. We also need each other to fulfill needs and survive. These needs can be for things such as food and protection that are essential to our immediate survival, but can also include sex, attention, love, purpose, and a commitment to values, which are vital for our procreation and continued survival as a species. Our most very basic needs essential to survival itself demand that we form groups and be dependant on other people. People join groups for employment, networking, social, and political reasons. Nobody who lives in civilization is independent and it is very difficult for a human being to survive in the wild alone for any extended period of time. Most pack animals have a hard time surviving on their own, but the fact that humans are comparatively physically weak and ill equipped with physical weapons like claws and teeth makes us even more vulnerable on our own.
Our main weapon are our brains which enable us to communicate with each other, organize, and plan ahead. Our survivability is tied in with our ability to function as a group, which makes us even more inter-dependent than most pack animals. Like animals, humans form hierarchies and create codes of conduct so that the group functions effectively; only our hierarchies and rules are far more expansive and complex. In groups humans can accomplish things that no other species or individual human being can accomplish on their own. The same ability to communicate and plan ahead helps us to build bridges and form governments as well as kill woolly mammoths many times our size. Modern society is a complex network and amalgam of many groups interacting with each other that wouldn't exist at all without rules, hierarchies, and norms. There is control, safety, and ultimately power in numbers and organization that goes beyond the sum of any constituent parts. Our desire to form groups for our survival makes sense even if it is not completely conscious or understood by ourselves.
Because or ability to survive depends us functioning effectively and cohesively even more so than we other pack animals, conforming comes second nature to us. Conformity is so important to human groups in general and cults in particular because groups that are more cohesive function collectively more efficiently. Every society has to have some rules or norms that its members abide by. No society lies random violence within its own group. Conformity however, goes beyond the mere rules of engagement and interaction. It deals with the way that individuals express themselves and relate to the world itself at large. Rather than prohibiting behavior, conformity tries to enforce a particular type of it. It defines us and who we are. The degree of conformity is to the extent that everyone is required to have the same goals, values, and assumptions. Conformity curtails inner group conflict at the expense of the individual autonomy.
Particular groups must have a high degree of conformism to function. The police and military must function in an organized manner in extremely chaotic situations. Individuals in such institution must not only cooperate with each other, but must function in a choreographed and synchronized fashion dictated from above. They have uniforms that display numerous rules that outline their behavior. Members must rely on each other not just to do a good job, but to survive. Their types of work require split second judgment calls, not abstract reasoning or creative abilities. Excessive thinking outside of the box can be a liability and disrupt the top down nature of those institutions. A high degree of conformity is not only beneficial but necessary for such institutions to function.
Outside of such organizations and on an individual basis, conforming can offer benefits, depending on the situation, but the returns are diminishing. On a certain level, everyone conforms to people around them, or at the very least censors themselves to avoid unnecessary conflict. Telling everyone what you are genuinely thinking and feeling all the time is not practical. A high degree of conformity also ensures that independant minded or truly principled people who may pose a threat to the running of the organization are easily singled out. Not sticking out like a light bulb or being private are not the same as ‘fitting in’. Conforming and ’Fitting in’ goes beyond not straying to far from an average or receiving unwanted attention; it requires an outward display of following a code or culture. Such a mentality makes group and social interaction more efficient and ‘smoother’, but it isn’t necessary nor is it beneficial in most modern situations. It helps in organizations that must deal with chaos, such as the police and military, but it doesn't help foster creativity or entreprenurship.
On an individual level, conforming comes at a price. The individual can never be true to themselves and a group, and no compromise will satisfy either party. The more one conforms the more one becomes invisible. It is impossible to please everybody. The only way to win the approval of more people is to hide oneself from the world, which in the end only erodes one’s confidence and will. If conforming is taken far enough it can end up eroding one’s conscience and personality. At best, the more one conforms the more one ends up living up to a mediocre average.
The very extreme tends towards collectivism, where no one really owns the fruits of their own labor and the welfare of the group is placed above the welfare of individuals. Examples of collectivist societies include communism, fascism, and to a lesser extend feudalism. In a collectivist society the goals of the group are placed above the goals of the individual. There is little choice for individual expression or choice of values and people must play their role so that ‘society’ can achieve its goals. The danger with collectivist societies is that it is very easy for the people at the top to manipulate those beneath them, and maintaining group functionality requires constant direction and forceful prodding from above. Not only are collectivist societies are anti democratic in nature, they are often extremely so. Collectivist societies only exist by force, never consensus or even tacit consent.
Conforming never helps to meaningfully resolve conflict and foster growth, and it certainly doens't help make for real friendships. There is a huge difference between not revealing what you think in order to protect yourself, and mollifying and placating people and pretending to approve and be happy with them to fit in. You can meet individuals by joining a group, but you cannot have a relationship with a group. Relationships occur on a one on one basis and require honest exchanges and trust to last. When the intentions are transparent from the outset, people can join groups without conforming their soul and surrendering their sovereignty; ‘the group’ serves a purpose to the individual members without being placed above the needs and values of the people that make it up. Inside the group people can get to know each other and decide whether they want to pursue friendships on an individual basis.
Outside of structured institutions, things like 'popularity', ‘respectability’, and ‘reputation’ do not lead or even correlate with social dominance. Conforming and playing roles are necessary, but one doesn’t have to micro manage their in order to be socially dominant and get by. Social dominance is far too primitive to have anything to do with being 'liked'. The most socially dominant figures in history all had many enemies, even if they had more followers. They survived because they were ruthless and they had a small groups of people they could trust under any circumstances. Social dominance and power gets 'respect', instills fear, and offers benefits, but there is no way to buy or seize trust. Trust is the most valuable thing on earth, and it can only be earned.
This doesn’t mean that society can exist without rules and agreements. Everyone has obligations. At the very least we need to be responsible for and to take care of ourselves and put one foot in front of the other without imposing on the rights and boundaries or others. However, any obligations we have with other people come about as a result of a mutual agreement or understanding. Even our ‘Values’ and morality don’t just come from nowhere or from some abstraction. Every human being has their own personal values that they develop from experience interacting with other human beings. At some point, some people agreed on a set of collective values, culture, and a code of conduct because it served some function to someone. Sometimes the process was democratic. Most of the time it was not. Not everyone had to agree to such norms; as long as a critical mass did the functional results were achieved. Rules and 'values' have always served some functional purpose and have always changed as the world changed. Ultimately societies values are nothing more than an agreement between people.
So while we are obligated to respect the boundaries of others, no one has a moral right to unilaterally impose obligations or beliefs on anyone else. No one is ever obligated to ever accept any one else’s values or world view and no one ‘owes’ it to society to think certain things, appear a certain way, or be a certain type of person. Radically different people can and do cooperate all the time and heterogeneous societies can and do function quite well. As long as the vast majority of people can agree on some basic principles and live by the rule of law, they can coexist and even thrive. Ultimately the only obligation we have to ‘society’ is to contribute to the protection of boundaries so that it can function on a basic level, and to refrain from harming others or putting others at risk. Beyond that, nobody ‘owes’ anything to anyone else they don’t have a personal relationship with. People can and should do good or help others because they want to, even if ultimately they have selfish motivations, but it should be voluntary and undirected by anyone else.
Trust is the cornerstone of a genuine friendship. A true friend is worth more than 10 allies. Such real friends are found; they are not made by exchanging favors or engaging in routine rituals and gestures. No matter how much time and energy is invested, any relationship based on quid pro quo exchanges where people are just feeding off of each other will evaporate as soon as circumstances change and one party fails to live up to its end of the bargain. A genuine and lasting relationship is a long-term partnership based on mutual empowerment, understanding, and growth. A true friend will challenge you, question you, tell you what they really think, help you understand things, and allow you to do the same. They can be trusted with the truth because they are not interested in leverage or control and they will not take advantage of your weaknesses. They will not always tell you what you want to hear, but they will tell you what you need to know. True friends accept and understand each other on a fundamental level because they can think and feel in a similar way while appreciating each other’s differences. A true friend will help you out even if it's not in their own best interest because they know the relationship they have with you is unique and irreplaceable.
Conforming, mollifying, and accommodating people to avoid lonelyness or judgement is entirely self defeating. No one, not even the most ‘typical’ of people can please everyone anyway. All people have their own values and prejudices that are based off of their own unique life experiences and needs. Just as there will always be people that judge harshly and unfairly no matter what, there will also always be people who are able to play the game, conform, and compete in any social environment they are placed in. Such people are natural extroverts and camelions. There are plenty of people who are happy if not at least functional being institutionalized or living in their own small isolated reality. Most of the people I know in Jehovah’s Witness are EXTREMELY HAPPY, but it is still not for ME. Jehovah’s Witness is not necessary or even good for everyone. Even prisons are full of people that can function better on the inside than on the outside. All people are different, and all of our experience is subjective. Inevitably, people will judge others based on what serves their self-interest. As in any society, in the end it boils down to where you are in the social hierarchy, whether you are getting your needs met, and whether you are exploited or are exploiting. Reason will not change their behavior or opinion.
Personally, I know no matter how hard I try, I will never 'fit in'. I am too different from too many people and I am not good enough at shallow perfunctory glib exchanges and interacting with people in groups. I would much rather live with people's judgments of me than limit and potentially destroy myself as a person. People that are quick to judge based off of superficial and arbitrary criteria are not interested in trying to understand something that exists outside the bubble of their tiny world. The gossiping, backstabbing, and drama that comes with cliques and social climbing takes up too much of my time and energy away from focusing on myself. In addition to being untruthworthy, unethical, and unworthwhile, I generally find the people that enjoy such behavior to be repulsive. Also when it comes to things like keeping up with fashion trends and gossip, I am as awkward as a polar bear playing ice hockey. Sheepish people have always been good at sniffing me out anyway. Being a sheep requires never thinking about things in any depth, abstaining from meaningful dialogue, and foremost not believing or giving a shit about anything.
I look back at how I hid so much of my personality so that I could get attention without showing any vulnerability. It’s only after years of experience that I realized how counterproductive that was. Today, I wouldn't even dream of trying to associate or even be around the people I once did. The only reason I even held them in any regard back then was because they were getting their needs met and I wasn't, and because they had a certain level of power over me.
Not everyone can be on the top of the food chain. For every winner there is a loser. There is nothing honorable or dignified about being able to adapt to a sick society. Inevitably most people compete to survive, not to prove a point or because they believe in the system. People do judge others based on their status, superficial criteria, and the ability to play a game, but their opinions ultimately only matter to the extent that have a direct control over the lives of others. Such people have an impact on how happy you are only to the extent that you accept their assumptions and allow them to govern your personal life. If you reject their game, they can't get inside your head. One's best sense of identity and source of strength is knowing oneself and thinking for yourself. For that reason cults attack that first.
No group or amount of people can ever exert full control over another human being. As much as our minds are suseptible to outside forces, we can always control SOME of our thinking. No matter how great and omnipresent oppression is, it can never fully penetrate the soul if one choses to act and think for themselves and keep their spiritual automomy intact. Even when we are forced to outwardly conform and parrot 'conventional' thinking, one never has to fully internalize any ideology against their will, or to allow another to determine their self-worth. Happiness and self-worth is a mental state that results from the emergent properties of many different variables. It doesn't have to correlate with status, power, wealth, or rank in the social pecking order. Such things don't even guarantee happiness. GPA, job titles, elite memberships, salary, and awards have meaning and define us only the extent that we confer on them meaning and value. No matter how alone we think we are we always have the power to reject the majority or the status quo. When a system becomes so ossified that it is resistant to any change or critisism, it undermines the very principle it is suppossed to serve. When a system and its ends become more important than life itself, such a system devoirs even its own most loyal adherants.
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XVIII. NATURE VS NURTURE-CULT BEHAVIOR
Knowing how to deal with cults collectively as a society as well as individuals, requires facing the question whether cults are anomolies designed by deviant and malicious individuals to ensnare people, or whether they organically, inevitably, and unavoidably arise from 'typical' human interaction. 'Human nature' is not monolithic. It occurs on a spectrum and is as elastic and shaped by the environment as it is diverse. Pinning a particular person down is difficult. We can observe human behavior, but everyone's interpretation of that behavior is shaped by their bias. There are an infinite number of variations of an infinite number of patterns of general behavior driven by an infinite number of motivations. Everyone has different temperaments, cognitive abilities, needs, and methods of obtaining those needs, all of which are circumscribed by our environment. Science still has much to learn about the human brain, let alone how human consciousness is formed. Even our consciousness is limited and shaped by our environment, making even understanding our own motivations and needs difficult.
What fundamentally separates us from animals is that we have a conscious will that enables us to have needs that transcend basic survival. Unlike animals we have an imagination; we are conscious of our future, the welfare of others, and our own death. We have the ability to conceptualize our own self-interest and that of others. We can go beyond avoiding pain and survival and deliberately seek out pleasure. Conversely our heightened consciousness enables, if not compels some of us to transend an existence dedicated alone to individual survival, and to have a conscience and a moral drive to our behavior while simulteanously being able to seek some form of fulfillment or meaning in life. The very fact that we can control our environment means we can seek out a connection to it. Thus being a conscious human being without needs at all is impossible.
Even if we choose not to prioritize our own individual survival, we all fundamentally have some needs, whether spiritual, social, or material. All humans beings seek some form of pleasure, fulfillment, connection, or purpose. If one were to turn away from 'wordly temptation' in order to attain 'enlightenment' as a monk does, one would be trying to attain some need, no matter how intangible and abstract it is. No man is an island onto themselves. Even our highest order needs require some form of social interaction. It is hard to feel love, or even appreciate let alone create an idea, unless you have someone who inspires you and with whom you can share that feeling or idea. Even monks that seek to transend this world still need to band with other monks to create monastaries. They may reject 'worldly temptation' but they still need each other to survive and organize so that they can pursue their 'higher goals'.
Such 'needs' such as the desire to create, understand, or pursue knowledge may not be critical to our individual survival or procreation, but they have been important for group survival and procreation and absolutely essential for the advancement of the human race. Our ability to transcend individual survival in the pursuit of more permanent ideals and structures has helped the human race to develop technology, art, and science as well as create new ways of political and social organization. While not all human being have the same needs and abilities, we all inevitably consciously pursue goals of some sort at some point, whether for immediate individual survival or not. And no matter how independant we may be, at some point we need other people, which makes us all social beings regardless of our individual sophistication.
You would think our interdependantness and social nature would make our behavior more rational, and on the surface it may seem that way. Our behavior is certainly more sophisticated and organized. Unlike animals, we create the world we live in; we create complex organizations, plan ahead, communicate complex ideas, and develop sophisticated technology to control the environment. Nonetheless our fundamental drives and instincts are no so different from the one's that drive animals. Underneath all this deliberate calculation and our veneer of sophistication and advanced consciousness, human behavior is no than different from animal behavior. Just like pack animals, human beings join groups, compete within the group as well as with other groups, and form hierarchies for their short term self-interest and survival.
In spite of the simplicity of our drives, our added layer of consciousness and intelligence makes human behavior makes us more unpredictable, irrational, and disfunctional, not less so. The very fact that our behavior is so influenced and limited by our social organizations and environments makes our behavior even more unpredicable and irrational. The human world may be a sophisticated and organized place, but at its core more irrational, unpredictable, and often disfunctional than the animal world. If one can talk of 'Human nature' or 'human behavior', one can only speak of an amalgam of irrational idiosyncratic context driven behavior. We may create the social world we live in, but the social world we live in also creates us.
Cults are an example of organized but extremely disfunctional and irrational group behavior. They serve as a great example of what happens when our primal instincts that normally have a survival value are manipulated and hijacked so as to turn us against not just our survival as individuals but even our survival as a group. When trying to understand cults or any behavior, assumptions about 'normal' human behavior need to be challenged. Because of our sophistication it is very difficult to determine what is 'normal' behavior. What is 'normal' behavior is an ever shifting average determined by the political and social organization of the group. Cults may not be fringe entities composed of atypical people engaged in atypical behavior.
Groups may be very cult like in nature and some groups are more cult like than others. There are no cut off points; there is only a spectrum of behavior. While many groups and organizations may be disorganized, dysfunctional, exploitive, destructive, and even violent, a cult is different in not just how much they demand but WHAT they demand and the fact that they operate in secrecy or the very least a lack of transparency. A gang is destructive and violent, but its goals are quite transparently self-serving. There is no pretense of serving society or a cause. Cults demand total loyalty and obeidience and complete conformity and uniformity of thought in order to attain some broad abstract goal. Cults represent the most controlling and dysfunctional of groups and organizations because the lack of transparency hides the fact that nothing is provided to their members nor any cause. The most cult like groups are those that are completely secretive and parasitic in nature.
It is both rational and instinctual to join or stay in a group for practical, short term, and selfish reasons. Part of the exchange requires surrendering something and donating time and effort, but everyone expects to get something out of it. We do it when we get a job. Most people may not like their jobs and they chose among the options they have available for a paycheck; a selfish but necessary end. At the same time people don't have to allow themselves to be defined by their job, nor do they have to be particularly committed to their particular job and employer. Even if they dedicate themselves to their profession, there doesn't have to be specific allegiance to a particular employer.
Even jobs that demand a lot and offer little compensate with something transparent and concrete and will not demand conformity in every aspect of one’s life. The jobs where people work 80 hours a week tend to compensate well. Although they may dominate a person’s life on some level and demand a level of conformity at work, the exchange is still for the most part is transparent. To varying degrees the exchange is shallow but transparent. The façade of there being anything more than an economic exchange is very limited and both parties understand that their relationship is conditional an contingent upon each party getting something out of it. Almost never is there any evangelical aspect or concept that their job is connected to a broader social movement. Even if some deception is involved an one party has more leverage or bargaining power, the transaction for the most part is transparent insofar as both parties acknowledge that they seek nothing more than to benefit.
It is entirely another when one party sacrifices its self-interest and freedom for intangible and unquantifiable goals, whether it be 'belonging', 'acceptance', 'appreciation', enlightenment, or God. It is not rational to give up one’s freedom to benefit someone else, a group of people, or some cause. No cause can served by disempowering the very people intended to pursue it. People only surrender their freedom through deception or outright force. Usually the deception involves both offering something of value to the individual as well as the claim that some cause is being served.
What this requires is that they agreements be transparent. Manipulation and a lack of transparency is the cornerstone of an abusive and controlling relationship. When people demand that others approve of their beliefs or personality, demand that they adhere to rigid norms, tell others what to do or who impose their goals, values, or needs are on others, they always have a selfish agenda. Often they are trying to take advantage of other people. Unscrupulous, amoral, and self-serving people are comfortable resorting to controlling behavior to exploit other people, even their own "friends" and family members. The most common ruse is to accuse others of selfishness. Bad people will accuse others of selfishness when they don't have full control over them, or when they can't get what they want out of them. Such people will always be placing a demand on others, and nothing will ever be quite good enough. I do not trust ANYONE who tells me that I need to subordinate my self-interest and goals to some other person, group, institution, or abstract idea. No individual, group, or institution deserves to dictate value self-esteem based on what you provide for them, and no one should dictate your conscience. At the very least such people just aren’t interested in the welfare or even rights of others. What ever their logic may be, you can never help other people or 'the group' unless you can help yourself first.
People in general may have a hard time coming to terms with how animal like we are, and how much we are shaped by our environment. We would like to believe that we are special and that there is a wide gulf between us and animals. It would be nice to believe that people are fundamentally altruistic and rational, and with a will completely free and of their own. Its hard for us to imagine ourselves engaging in the kind of acts we see on the news or that occur in far away lands. Its easy to see that only 'crazy' people or people from alien ways of life are capable of atrocities or what we see as moral transgressions.
I had other experiences brushing shoulders with cults, as I hopped from one cause and purpose to another, however I never stayed in them long as none of them had any real domination over my life or my future. I turned to these groups to fill a void and make sense of my life, only I realized how self-dealing these turd bowls were with their far out and ridiculous ideologies. What separated ASIS from other cults was that it really had a lot of coercive power and that I really hadn't chosen to go there. Even if I hadn't fallen for any of the school's manipulation or the peer pressure, the cult still dominated my life against my will like no other organization I had experienced.
To varying degrees I think most people see the world as an imperfect place where there are good guys and bad guys. Things may get better or worse over time, but things happens because of deliberate conscious choices of people. Slowly but surely, good will conquer evil. People cling to these assumptions contrary to all the historical experience and evidence from the experimentation. History does not move in a linear fashion. Things do not automatically get better. Humans engage in the same sort of brutality and barbarity committed thousands of years ago. The 20th century has seen cult like political parties take over entire nations, transforming them into totalitarian societies that have wreaked death and destruction over hundreds of millions. People worshiped political leaders like Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler as though they were infallible benevolent gods, even when as with Hitler, they were on the verge of distruction. Even with the collapse of Nazism and the Soviet Union, regimes like North Korea and Iran remind us that things don't neccesarily get better.
For this reason research and activism into cults is so important, valuable, and relevant to everything we do and who we are. Until we look at ourselves really critically as a species, I can't help but feel that real progress will have yet to arive.
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XIX. RECOGNIZING AND DEALING WITH TOTALITARIANISM:
Totalitariam is not just a form of government or ideology. It is all encompassing force, mindset, and a way of being that has existed for thousands of years and has expressed itself in many ways. Totalitarianism in the modern sense only came in existance when technology made total government control possible, nonetheless totalitarianism is still nothing more than absolutism buttressed with superstition and leader worship. It is the worship of authority and group domination.
Totalitarian behavior is just as diverse as human behavior and can be organized in an infinite number of ways under an infinite number of banners. For every human need, temperament, and desire, there is someone or some group willing to exploit that need for their own benefit. Some organizations and societies promise earthly empowerment while others promise a closeness to God. Some promise their sincerity in fighting for justice and social and political change, and others just offer a job. While the intentions of those on the bottom and those on the top within each organization may vary, the dynamic of interaction within the group remains the same. Consciously or not, all totalitarian societies control and exploit their members.
What is unique about cults is that they are micro societies that exist within a larger society. Not only must they recruit people to survive, they must be very good at masking their control and exploitation in order to survive outside scrutiny. Their most visible and observable behavior will not appear to be deviant at all but rather innocuous if not benevolent. Human behavior occurs on a spectrum centered on constantly shifting norms; just as there is no template for 'normal' human behavior, there is no template for 'typical' cult behavior. The recruiting methods can be as varied and insidious as offering you information, inviting you out to a social gathering, or providing some free service. Cults will resort to the same sort of slick marketing techniques used by corporations, only when you watch a MacDonald's ad you know someone wants something from you. On the other hand cults NEVER advertise that they operate for profit. Rather they offer something to the public in the interests of society at large. They are always philanthropists by trade. There is no easy way to identify a cult unless you get involved with a group and find out how they really work and what they really want. For this reason foremost, cults are dangerous; you can't always realize what you are up against until it is too late.
Either way you look at it, cults seduce people by claiming to offer something unique and valuable to its members and society at large, but intangible and ultimately unquantifiable. It can be 'insider knowledge', 'enlightenment', 'fulfillment', 'belonging', 'special powers', ‘revolutionary knowledge’, 'God's Love', or even an alternate way of living to people who feel that they are missing something in their lives. Even when they do offer something immediate and tangible it is usually small and inconsequential compared to the intangible 'knowledge', 'opportunities', and 'experiences' provided.
However, no philosophy has all the answers and not even the best philosophy will produce results on their own. Knowledge is power and certain people and ideas can be guides, but results come from the ability to apply knowledge, which comes from INDEPENDANT practice and UNIQUE life experience. The same solution will not work in the same way for everyone. There usually isn't a perfect solution, only a best solution. Occasionally there is no solution at all. NEVER is there one succinct answer to all of life’s problems. No group or institution has all the answers. Self-knowledge, which includes he ability to apply abstract knowledge to very personal situation as well as the ability to understand how one learns best is one if the highest forms of knowledge. No person or institution can teach self-knowledge. It can only be discovered on one's own through experience and trial and error.
What cults really offer is a superficial and temporary sense of purpose, belonging, and direction. The security and simplicity that comes with believing in an ideology, having structure, and working, prosthelytizing, and suffering with others is highly appealing to those that feel lost or those who can't think for themselves. Such people are either looking for reassurance of their ego and validation of what they already feel, or they are looking to fill an emotional void brought about by some trauma or alienation from their environment. Unfortunately such powerful emotional needs can not be satisfied without spending time and effort by surrendering one’s autonomy and ultimately dignity to a ‘higher calling’. Even superficially having everything in common with someone and agreeing to live by the same values cannot come even close the bond of understanding someone’s heart and mind. Relationships take YEARS to develop through dialogue, exploring the world together, genuinely seeing eye to eye. A real bond comes from a partnership based on mutual respect and trust, not just following the same play book and being members on the 'same team'. A real sense of purpose, belonging, and direction come from being an autonomous and functional human being that interacts with other autonomous and functional human beings, not through organized mutual codependancy.
I am wary of any group, organization, or ideology that constantly drives a hard sell, claims to be unique or offer a unique opportunity, or claims special knowledge and easy answers. I am doubly suspicious of any group, organization, or ideology that places that many demands and personal restriction on life, and that uses invective and vituperative language to polarize people. Emotional manipulation and personal attacks and threats are used when their are no logical arguements to sway people. Such tactics are used when unquestioning obeidience is demanded. No institution, group, or person on earth is so unique or worthwhile that anyone should subordinate their life or be miserable to remain. The only thing that can be unique and worthwhile are people. People do not exist to serve ideas, movements, or organizations. Ideas, movements, and organizations exist to serve people.
There are no magic bullets when it comes to dealing with cults just as there are no perfect solutions to avoiding scams and exploitation or dealing with unethical people. No one is born into this world understanding it. Everyone gets exploited, with or without their knowledge. Everyone is capable of being hoodwinked. I believe in nothing and I question everything, including myself. I cultivate my doubts to understand. I don't want to believe anymore. I don't trust doctors, lawyers, politicians, or any such other 'experts'. I realize they know more than me and that I have to use them, but I don’t have to be dependant on their opinion. I always get as many opinions and facts as possible and think for myself. 'Experts' are still people. Even ‘they’ are biased, have an agenda and are fallible, and furthermore they deliberately mislead people ALL THE TIME. 'Experts' believed in witchcraft and that the world was flat for thousands of years, and the masses blindly followed them. Even people with the best of intentions are capable of making errors of judgment and rationalizing. I don't care how someone dresses, talks, or how 'respectable' they appear, they can still be a bad person and they can still make mistakes. Furthermore, just because I respect someone’s opinion more than others DOES NOT mean that I will blindly follow them or allow them to tell me what to do, especially if they attack my critical and inquiring nature, and that demand that I look at everything at face value without looking at what lies behind it. At the end of the day even if there are people who love you, the only person who can piece everything together meaningfully and look out for your self-interest is yourself.
The hallmark of a good person is that they don't disrepect someone because they are wrong or have made mistakes. They certainly never disrespect anyone or anything just because they don't understand it or it is different, and they will certainly never disrespect someone because they disagree. A good person judges others based on the way that they treat strangers as well as those close to them, not by how they carry themselves or what they can do. A good person values people for who they are and not just what they do for them, and a good person will not pursue their goals at any cost just because they think they are right. No good person ever demands total obeidience or sacrifice of anyone. A bad person will not do any of these things because all a bad person cares about is themselves. The bottom line is what separates good people from bad people is empathy.
Unfortunately even good people can believe in bad ideas and be manipulated into joining cults and doing bad things, especially if they are emotionally vulnerable. Sonner or later however, good people regret mistreating people and will question what they are doing. No matter how noble the professed intentions sound, any person or group that refuses to respect real differences between people or their thoughts and feelings without trying to understand them is at best dubious and suspect. Any person or group that treats people as pawns and pursues is goals at any cost is dangerous.
Totalitarianism is the institutionalization of evil. The most dangerous thing about totalitarianism is that it is irrational, it is very difficult to negotiate with, and it conscripts people into its cause. It is like a cancer that kills all life that it comes into contact with. It distorts ideas to suit its own ends, pushes hatred in the name of love and humanitarianism, and feeds off of suffering and ignorance only to create more suffering and ignorance. It insists on seeing everything in black and white terms and marginalizes people who don't see things exactly their way or fit neatly into their agenda. Even in the face of total obedience totalitarianism will still persecute. It NEEDS scapegoats and enemies. Not only does it shun, but it destroys meaningful and productive dialogue and cooperation, and places its agenda before and above the agendas and self interest of everyone else. The worst thing about totalitarianism is that it is toxic enough to make good people do bad things in the name of good. Even if there are people that can thrive in totalitarian and cult environments, at the end of the day cults in their very nature are oppressive, destructive, and opposed to individual freedom.
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XX. MAKING THE JOURNEY WORTHWHILE THROUGH OUR OWN PATH:
Everyone wants the best for themselves, but we don't choose the circumstances into which we are born nor are we born understanding ourselves and our world. How we get to where we want to be is a very subjective personal choice based on what we have to make do with and what we know. Just as there are many different paths that lead to the same truth, there are no secret solutions nor is there a formula for life.
We all have different temperaments, needs, and baggage and must follow different paths to find what works for us. We are all so biased by our life experiences and our limited access to information that there is no one path or 'method' to the 'TRUTH' our own personal 'truth'; often we blindly and traumatically stumble upon it. What works for some will not work for others, and no one can claim to have all the answers. Even if something works very well for a lot of people, it will never mean that it is the best or only way to go. Life is ultimately not very complicated; it boils down to survival and thriving by getting as many needs met as possible. The best way to survive and thrive is on our own terms through the practical application of our knowledge gleaned from experience. If in the process we make connections, help people, and have lasting and rewarding relationships along the way then it makes it all that much worthwhile.
Most of life we don't control; we are tying up loose ends and performing damage control. We don't control the really big things or the really small things. What we do control is somewhere in the middle; we have some control in how we react to people, circumstances, and to the 'negatives'. The challenge lies in neither overreacting nor underreacting. Yet reacting appropriately often only prevents us from falling further down. We don't have as much control creating 'positives'. Also the hardest and most pressing problems that affect the most people do not have simple straightforward solutions. Often they are imperfect and incomplete. Any rough 'solutions' stumbled upon are just band aids and guides that are neither direct nor immediate. Often our options are limited and we must choose between the lesser of two evils.
However we do not have to make a virtue out of choosing the lesser of two evils, and we should only do so when we really have no choice. There eventually comes a point when it is no longer appropriate to just adapt to our environment without trying to change our circumstances. Where and how we draw the line is up to us. Knowing where to draw the line is a matter of our priorities and values, and who we are as people. Although this is not the final answer, but it is not until we have a good idea of it that we can begin to live with deliberation and purpose. We never stop learning more about ourselves through trial and error, but if one has no clue what one fundamentally believes and values, moving forward will only get you more lost and repeating the same mistakes over and over again. We can not find homeostasis let alone master our environment until we have enough control of ourselves, which requires having an understanding of our needs, goals, limitations, and the world around us in order to get them met.
When we know who we are, what we want, and what our relationship is to the world, we no longer need a blueprint or formula for life. We can live spontaenously without micromanaging ourselves. We can't do this until we are honest with ourselves and strive to develop a personal but consistent understanding of the world on our own terms from the inside out, as well as a value system. There is not way for us to know everything, but once we know enough we can begin to trust our instincts and make educated guesses. Even if we must live with doubt we don't have to accept other people's answers at face value. Growing is a process not of revolution but evolution, building on the past, and incorporating other people's ideas into our own and being patient with ourselves. It is possible to set reasonable goals one at a time without establishing a timeline for your life, as well as living by values while accepting that our values will inevitably change. Whether we like it or not we inevitably reevaluate what we really want even if we do buy in to prefabricated ideological packages. Why not just be honest with ourselves, discard other people's ideas from the past, start from scratch, and just live for what makes us happy?
Some might think that such constant awareness and reflection is impractical and time consuming, and that if we are constantly questioning ourselves and the world we will never have any confidence or get anything done. It makes sense that when we are critical of everything we are less likely to trust and commit to other people, especially authority figures, however it is when we are the most aware that we naturally focus on what is most important and make the best decisions. The critical mind works best when it works alone and free of ideological and emotional constraints. The more critical we are the less we need to rely on and hence trust and commit to other people, including authority. An arguement will be made along the same vein that if everyone is creating their own values and doing whatever makes them happy everyone will end up just doing whatever they want which will only lead to people being self-serving and anarchy. The counter-arguement is though that if people are honest with themselves and each other, they can cooperate without authority or contrived and handed down notions of morality, tradition, or the 'greater good'.
Relying on and hiding behind tradition and convention is neither ethical nor practical. Just because something has existed for thousands of years doesn't make it moral or functional. Slavery existed for thousands of years. People have been suffering and dying for established belief systems for thousands of years. Unethical people have been able to manipulate the ignorance of the masses to exert control over them and take advantage of them simply by hiding behind ideology and concepts like 'the greater good'. Indeed the greatest advances in civilization were made when the conventional values of the status quo were challenged. Without the reformation, Europe would never have gone through the enlightenment, and modern science and democracy would never have developed.
A freer social order will always be more spontaeneous and chaotic, and when you give freedom to everyone you inevitably give freedom to people that wish to harm or take away the freedom from others. However, unethical people that take advantage of and hurt others will be bad no matter what you teach them or what the social arrangements of society are, and they will always be around. Indeed the worst of people are very good at adapting to any status quo and hiding behind belief systems, traditions, and institutions. People on the other hand that are 'good' are so because they have empathy and desire meaningful connections with people, not because they are told to be 'good' or because they are obedient. It is much easier to empower good people to protect themselves against bad people by giving them choices than to disempower bad people by trying to limit theirs. There certainly is no ideology that will get rid of bad people or change their behavior. Under a free social order good people are free to live and cooperate with others as they see fit.
Even if humanity is not that wonderfull, if people are encouraged to create their own values and live life on their own terms they will at least be forced to confront and explain themselves. Until people understand their own values, know why something is right or wrong, and understand that being good can bind them to other people and empower them, their morality is only an act of obeidience. Allowing all people to question what they really believe will not make them do so, but it will allow those that are willing to do so. Most importantly allowing people to question their values has NEVER made anyone worse of a person. The bottom line is you can't MAKE people be ethical or empathetic just by teaching them to be selfless for some 'greater good' as so many ideologies have tried doing. Such people will just be bad in 'socially appropriate' ways, and the really bad people never care about anyone or anything let alone 'the greater good'.
For this reason while freer societies may be more chaotic they are always wealthier and more peaceful. People are far more likely to be exploitive, destructive, violent, rationalizing, and even superstitious when they are forced to operate as part of a group or a consensus. When people are free to chose their own associations and create their own values they are more likely to co-exist and cooperate with each other in mutually beneficial ways. Top down societies and dictatorships are far more warfaring and brutal than democracies, and where social conflict or movements for change does occur in such societies it is always met with brutal violence. Freer societies have violent conflict but the overall level of violence is much lower. Just by looking at history it is apparent that the more individual freedom and pluralism has grown the more humane and less violent society has become.
Even if people are self-serving, short-sighted, philistine, hedonistic, and anti-social, when they are free to express themselves, question things, and live life on their own terms they are more likely to find what they have in common with others and less likely to be obedient to tyranny and lash out against scapegoats. As long as people are honest with each other about what they believe and want and respect others that think differently, people can only be critisized for their lack of consistency and their treatment of other people. When there is a universal respect the human rights of others and their is no consensus ideology, it is impossible for anyone to use their beliefs to exert control over anyone else.
No matter how free a society is, it will never be 'perfect'. Just as there are no perfect individuals there can be no perfect societies. Understanding oneself and creating one's own values IS time consuming and people will inevitably make mistakes and find conflict. However, it is impossible for anyone to avoid making mistakes let alone avoid conflict. As long as there is respect for human rights and due process, conflict can occur within clearly deliniated boundaries. When people do NOT think and act for themselves they repeat the same mistakes both individually and collectively. As and individual, all you can do is make your mistakes small enough so that you can learn from them. If you are honest with yourself and others you can also learn from them, but you can't really know or master anything until you have tested it and figured it out for yourself.
Even if something doesn't make sense you don't have to accept other people's half-baked explainations just because you can't come up with one decent explaination on your own. Our path to the 'truth' is never straight. If you think for yourself long enough the answer you are looking for will eventually come to you. In the aggregate if everybody did this and shared our knowledge with each other we would actually cooperate a lot better without the need for formal ideologies and leaders to help us 'cooperate'. People that claim they have the answers are only going to try and control others, and in the very least will lead others astray. Nobody can see the entire picture and we never stop learning. Thats why on a large scale collectivism in addition to being brutal and undemocratic is also very inefficient. If you are only emulating other people you are just going through the motions, and you are not being productive or learning.
Understanding helps us get what we want and helps us to put emotions in perspective, but we are only deluding ourselves if we thing living in our own head will make us happy. Happiness doesn't come from nothing. Happiness is an emergent property that comes from multiple variables and conditions. Some people would prefer to live a lie if they think it is easier. It may be 'easier' on some level, however there is a big difference between surviving and thriving. A belief system may give you some temporary sense of peace of mind or belonging, but it can only go so far. When you live a lie to convince yourself that you are happy, it inevitably comes back to haunt you. Unless you completely shut yourself off to personal growth or people living outside of your lie, you will inevitably have to confront reality. Once you figure out that it is a lie, you pay for it back with interest.
Happiness is a state of mind and a way of relating to the world, but it requires accepting that an possibly unpleasant reality exists outside of your head and beyond your control. It goes without saying that there is more to genuine and long lasting satisfaction than just the material world and getting what we want with minimal effort. Happiness is an emotional disposition that occurs in our head. If we are always looking to get our way, we can never be content with what we have nor can we ever be at ease with ourselves. Happiness requires having perspective on the big picture, even if it means that we realize we are not as important as we thought we were.
However, if we can't get any of our needs met or have any control over our environment, we can never be at peace let alone be happy. Happiness is based on a precarious balance of adapting to the environment and mastering ourselves, and of freedom and security. Only the basic conditions that bring happiness and success can be worked towards. While certain elements may not be sufficient in of themselves to get you what you want, they are still necessary and essential. If you have that much negative in your life or you are just focusing on survival, it is impossible to focus on the positive let alone personal satisfaction or growth. Sometimes the first step is to just get the negative our of our lives. Some people may think that their lie/belief system does this, however in my experience all it does it make us ignore and explain the negative with scapegoats rather than remove it from our life while adding a sustaining positive. When we live a lie we may feel better by ignoring reality but we are not really doing all we can do to control the stuff we can control.
We can not disregard what lies outside our own little sphere of influence just because we don't control it. Quite the opposite; the more we do so the smaller our bubble becomes. You can't focus on the positive or work toward positive change until you address the negative. The more we brush the negative under the rug, the larger it grows. The more we try to live in our own head the more disconnected we become from reality and the people around us. People that do so only pull it off because they surround themselves with people that accept their consensus 'truth' and live in the same denial. Their happiness and sense of 'well being' is derived from their ability to control other people and their immediate environment, which is always tenuous.
If we want to grow as people and reach our potential we have to be able to interact and operate in different types of environments and with different types of people. We don't have to master, thrive, remain long, or get on with any of them, but if we always remain within the same environment or what we think is within our comfort zone we will never know our limits or our potential. If we want our sphere of influence to grow we have to find not only allies and like minded people, but people that help us expand our perspectives, develop our values and abilities, and grow as people. Such people are the most likely to be trustworth and helpful. However, we can still not be dependant on them to help us find our path or give us what we want. Being patient and maintaining composure until luck strikes is often all that can be done.
However, common sense and being honest with oneself can tell you when you are wasting your time and energy, going in circles, taking on unnecessary risk or responsibility, or being taken advantage of. Taking care of yourself has to come first; if you can't then you are in no position to advance yourself or anyone else. The best way to serve any cause is with your talents and skills. No matter what you believe in or care about you still have to work on yourself. Nobody is going to take care of or save you. Nobody saves anyone else; we have to save ourselves. Thinking you can fill a void with causes or other people will only make the void larger. Any and all voids have to be filled with one's own independent action driven by one's own values and growing WITH people. No matter what anyone says, nobody owes to love or like anyone or anything and nobody owes anyone else absolute obeidience or anything they didn't agree to.
Nobody should change who they are just because someone else or some group claims it has more purpose or worth. The needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few only if we accept that we MUST all cooperate to survive AND that there are limited resources. The bottom line is the majority of the time we have the ability to chose our own associations, create our own resources, and function somewhat independantly. I allow myself to bend in the wind and evolve on my own terms, but I will not to be uprooted and constantly 'adapting' for the sake of others, the group, or the status quo. I will not allow myself to be tossed and turned about like some leaf in the wind without any questioning or thinking.
I can’t change people, but I don’t have to allow them to change me either. Sheeple will often use guilt and shame to get others to tow the line. Anyone who openly disrespects others simply because they are different, think differently, or have different goals, are scum bags. Anyone who shames or uses any form of emotional blackmail disrespects the intelligence and dignity of other people. Such people humiliate as a means to dominate. They will always be around, and as long as they stay out of my face and don’t waste my time, I really don't care. They can think whatever they want. Opinions are like assholes; everyone has one. I will not allow people to mold me into the image they see fit and I am not going to step outside of my comfort zone just so that others can be in their element and remain in their bubble. Is it worth trying to get ahead by doing what everyone else does and keep on failing even worse if in the process you become miserable? Is it worth getting used to a less than desirable situation when you fail to grow on any level, just so that people don't ‘disapprove’ of you? Is it worth dying for something you don’t believe in just so that others don’t think you are a coward?
I am not going to set aside valuable real estate in my brain to analyzing people's bullshit perceptions of me and the world simply because they must have a captive audience and they want their way. No one needs to approve of me, value me, or accept my values. Nobody needs to like or love me. Unless people are willing to engage in a meaningful exchange of ideas or at least provide some reasoning, their opinions are irrelevant regardless of their social status, accomplishments, opinions, gestures, and condemnations. I would rather just strike out on my own and completely fail and fall flat on my ass. At least when you fail on your own terms you can actually learn something and evolve, and when you suffer and die on your own terms you can feel like a human being. All I ask is to be left alone to pursue my own happiness and I will gladly return the favor.
I am not going to allow other people to waste my time or effort and abuse me or my trust anymore. All relationships boil down to trust and boundaries, and no matter how close you are to someone, you ALWAYS need some boundaries. I am not going to put the same level of effort into people, unless they demonstrate to me that they are worthwhile trustworthy people and that they are willing to return the favor. I put faith in nothing and I question everything, even myself. It is not self-entitled to ask that people sell themselves, be honest, and invest in me as much as I do in them. I don't want to prove that I am trustworthy, or that I have character and integrity unless they can return the favor. Trust is always earned and I owe nobody except people I am close with who have earned it. I don't care what my circumstances are, unless I am held over a barrel with lethal force I will not surrender my autonomy or dignity. Nobody is so special that they are entitled to mistreat or exploit anyone else.
People often think those that do not play 'the game' of social climbing, role playing, and wearing a mask are impractical, 'weird', arrogant, or that they think they are somehow special. They especially hate people who get their way by NOT being like everyone else and flaunt it. They get angry that THEY had to 'pay their dues' and put so much effort into being a sheep while someone who gets their way doesn't. However I also think that their ‘respect’ is an overrated illusion. If people judge and condemn without taking the effort to engage in meaningful dialogue or even without conducting basic research, then they and their opinions are a waste of time. Their checklists, credentials, and status are arbitrary criteria that are selfservingandultimately meaningless. They can believe whatever they wish and spread any ideas they want, but ultimately worthwhile people will think for themselves and judge on their own terms.
Everyone has to conform and censor themselves to an extent and in particular situations just to cooexist; society would fall apart if we didn't. However, there is no ethical or practical value in trying to change or micromanage one's personality and private life or mollifying other's feelings and ideas simply to please them or 'fit in'. Not being a follower doesn't make anyone strange or defective. Norms are often arbitrary. There is no functional value to living your entire life according to someone else's expectations, some arbitrary value system, or just to please other people and serve their self-interest. No single persons values and opinions are so infallible that they have the right to force the world to revolve around them or to make other people feel like shit because they don't live up to them.
And with failure, at least one can be somewhat happier and content knowing they gave themselves a chance and didn’t sell themselves short. It is much easier to excel in things because you intrinsically derive some pleasure, benefit from it, or believe in it on some deeper level, even if it is not changing your life situation. Even though they might not act it, most people would agree than anyone who respects others and tries to fulfill their potential has value. Even if all it does is make you happy, that is good enough even, if it doesn't make other people happy. The world operates on self-interest. No one deserves happiness anymore than anyone else. I am not going to put the self-interest or happiness of anyone else or some cause before my own. And I am not going to apologize if I need time to make up my mind or I haven't made up my mind at all. I don't trust people who force others to take a position or side, make a committment, or demand loyalty. Such things should evolve naturally. I especially hate those that try to map out my life, force me to live up to their expectations and values, or agree with them.
Whatever approach seems more individually appropriate, one thing is universally inescapable. Unless one is willing to completely separate from civilization, everyone must deal with other people and whatever irrationalities and self-serving intentions they may have. You can try to keep your eye on the big picture, stay positive, be selective about one’s associations, and focus on yourself, but as some point you will have to deal with bullshit in some form. Even if you know what is important to you and you have some believe system that gets you through the day, you still have to pay bills and take care of yourself. Conflict and dealing with the herd mentality is inevitable. There are always people that want more and are not going to change or be swayed by reason, especially when they are part of a group, have power, and only care about getting their needs met. The entire purpose of joining a group is power and to get needs met; a mob is always irrational and always wants its way. Most of all, it is unavoidable.
Inevitably there are two paths everyone take. The first is to surrender, to allow the crowd to lead you around by the nose via knee jerk impulses and heuristics, and to see the world through tinted lenses of emotionally fueled rhetoric and vituperative without believing in anything concrete at all. Although things might seem to make a little sense or at least feel somewhat comfortable, eventually one's experiences become ever more shallow and thinking driven by unbridled passions, heuristics, dictates, and apologetics. Even if you don't believe in any lie in particular, when you go along with 'the majority' or the status quo you are forced to put up a pretense and rationalize more and more just to keep up with everyone else. Eventually you lose a true understanding of yourself and world around you. The initial illusion of power and security of going along with the mob gradually fades away with the realization once again one is still nothing more than another cog in another much larger irrational and self-serving machine.
Directly challenging a mob from outside is dangerous and even going against the grain from within is more than challenging. One doesn't however, have to march with the crowd nor address it to get one's needs fulfilled or feel safe and empowered. Navigating through the mob requires being able to think for yourself and stay on ones toes as well as interacting with people as an honest and strong individual. If you can circulate through any crowd quickly and freely enough inevitably you can make your way to the periphery. From there you can avoid being surrounded as well as see where the herd is going, move at your own pace, and know when it is time to separate altogether. It is also more helpful that way to find helpful individuals without being labeled, pinned down, or singled out.
Once you really understand yourself and people, you can use people for what they are worth even if you really don't like or get on with them. You can winnow away the people that are not going to help you with your goals and find those that will. As long as you are not using deception or coercion, or are taking advantage of the good in them, there is no ethical dilema. You are only playing the same game they are playing towards your own ends and while keeping your values and integrity intact. Some might say that is just 'descending to their level' but really you are in essense cooperating with them on your own terms and maintaining your independence without getting sucked into their bullshit. You are not going to bring such people up to your level anyway; taking the high road even once people hsve shown they don't care or confronting them on their bullshit is only a waste of time. In this way one can avoid being invisible without being confrontational with the mob as unit. With enough practice and cultivation and trust in one's instincts a rhythm and flow can be developed. As much as I have never liked crowds, I have learned to thrive in them if I can understand them as a unit, navigate my way through them, and not be dependant on them. Even if I can’t stand against a mob I can always refuse to go along with it. At the very worst, if I am unable to refuse to go along with it or leave it, I will do everything in my power to subvert and take advantaage of it from within.
Of course it can take a long time to feel that comfortable and confident living in one's skin and with one's abilities. Living up to your full potential and finding those people that think like you and truly accept you for who you are can be a long, lonely, and arduous process of self-exploration and development that can take years and requires a lot of patience. A lot of people get by using shticks, gimmicks, and angles to ‘compete’ and get their needs met off of other people, but such methods make one ultimately dependant on them. If you can step back, pare down, and cultivate self-sufficiency and autonomy, you will get your needs met and grow with people. If you can cultivate a personal and private sphere, you can be selective about which people you choose to invite into your world and life. Develop and nurture your abilities and interests, whatever they may be and no matter how novice you may feel. The expert in anything was once a beginner, including the naturally talented who spend years of hard work reaching their zenith.
However as much as one can choose to be in a mob without becoming one of it or avoiding it altogether, one can not avoid competition; no matter what kind of society we live in for better or worse it is an unavoidable aspect of life. Before we can flourish and be happy, we must survive, and survival entails competition. Competition can be positive in driving people to excel and push themselves and their boundaries, but it can also be toxic and destructive and prevent us from flourishing as individuals. Competition doesn't have to be the most dominating let alone the only force in life. It doesn’t even have to be an important part of our life.
When it consumes every aspect of our being against our will, it becomes destructive and deadly. When conditions become so harsh that competition monopolizes life, we lose sight of our own talents, interests, happiness, and even moral compass. Competition is merely a vehicle for allocating resources, stimulating human productivity, and channeling human energy and activity. It does not promote free inquiry, creativity, innovation, and growth. Most importantly, it does not promote a universal sense of ethical regard for the world around us. Competition is a means to an end and nothing more. When it becomes the basis or our values and how we define ourselves, we lose our sense of ourselves as meaningful individuals with real choices to be made as well as our connection to the world around us.
Nor does the ability to compete and survive go hand in glove with being a unquestioning follower or a social climber. Being competitive requires having a real good sense of oneself; your strengths, limitations, and interests. Such self-knowledge separates self-confidence from arrogance and hubris. The most successful of people are more than competitive; they have a vision and don’t allow anyone to tell them what to do. They are hard nosed, self-driven, independent, principled, and entrepreneurial. People like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are willing to take big risks and go into uncharted territory, and even go completely against the grain when they must. They find a small niche that they are uniquely suited to and in which they can dominate. As driven as they may be they don't have to find a way to be better at something everyone else can do. They make their own path and enter a new area where their pool of competition is so much smaller. Rather than breaking to the will and fitting the mold of the group to survive, such individuals thrive marching to the beat of their own drummer. They leave the mob altogether, and when they can't leave it, they lead it.
The more toxic of an environment one is in, the harder it is to pull this off. If survival, safety, and competition are one’s most pressing concerns, the ability to push personal boundaries and grow is stunted. It is very hard to control let alone master oneself if one is constantly being controlled by the environment. If you are constantly told who you are, what to believe in, and what to do, you can never really know yourself. If the only purpose for doing anything is for reward and survival, one’s interests and abilities can never be discovered. Even if one becomes good at it doing things out of obeidience, to satisfy the fickle desires in others, or simply to serve some alterior end, doing it never leads to long term satisfaction, no matter how much one is rewarded. Even the most talented of individuals need support, guidance, and autonomy to achieve their goals. Any group or institution that does not respect individual differences or autonomy, let alone the dignity as an individual, will never help anyone reach their true full potential. The more restraints and restrictions one must deal with, the smaller the initial space one must start off with and the harder it is to fight for more ground.
In such an environment the only option is to survive. I am not even going to pretend that there is an answer. I probably wouldn't survive in North Korea. I do know that there are many ways to survive though. Surviving on your own terms and being as independant as possible are a form of resistance, especially in a society that seeks to make everyone have the same values and be completely dependant on the collective. If you can expand your personal sphere and refuse to live a lie, you can make resistance a way of life. How this is done is different depending on the situation, but I can't imagine it can be done easily, but rather slowly over time by networking and building allies. In such an environment cultivating a personal sphere and living in the truth is the only way to organize, and is the first step in the act of active resistance. In such a situation it is impossible to have a plan for changing the status quo. One can only fight the system's every attempt to enoroach into people's lives and deprive them of their human rights and humanity. Through building solidarity we make resistance more possible and every act of resistance builds solidarity. Every act of resistance is an assertion of not just our humanity, but humanity in general, and every assertion of humanity is an act of resistance.
Such brutal and all powerfull systems are never deliberately overthrown; they usually crumble under their own weight due to an inability to provide for the material well being of their people as well as mass disaffection before they collapse. In some ways it is easier to 'fight' against one big monolithic lie of a totalitarian society than the plethora of lies and distractions that exist in pluralistic 'democratic' societies. In most ways however, it is harder. It is very difficult to 'find your own path' when you have no freedom. People do try, and eventually they connect their little spheres of influence and build mutual but loose networks of support. When such a totalitarian system or toxic environment steps in to break the bonds that make people human, people have resisted by showing their solidarity and suppport for all that makes life worth living in this world. The simple affirmation of the simple truths and joys in life are the most appealling to humanity; their public display is the most powerfull challenge to any oppressive system.
However it is not enough to expose the deception and you can not fight bad ideas and lies with 'the truth'. It is not even enough to live and act in 'the truth' or with some sense of universal compassion. You are not going to change people that are comfortable abusing people and living a lie. There is only so much of you to go around and you can only make people care so much. If you are surrounded by nihilism, lies, and hypocracy there is no 'answer' that will change people, make them think for themselves, or make your life better. At the same time it is of no use to create a personal sphere based on the very same principles of the surrounding society. All you can do is be honest with yourself and never stop exploring even if things don't make sense. One must start from the inside and work towards the outside with what they know, can do, and have and then add onto that to create a sphere, no matter how small, of privacy, autonomy, and the freedom to experiment and express oneself and grow. If one's personal sphere is just a retreat from the status quo, all one is doing is capitualting to a status quo that states we must all be selfless for the greater good. One doesn't have to be constantly working to the ultimate goal changing the world, but one must be seeking to expand one's personal sphere to the point where one is completely living life on their own terms. Even if this is an a difficult if not impossible task to pull off it is better to try failing. Sometimes resisting and living on your own terms is the only way to surive.
I regret that I didn’t resist more and go my own way. I regret that I over invested in other people and their interests, ideas, and agendas, and underinvested in myself and my own passions. I didn't take enough time to really explore and develop my talents, abilities, and values. There is nothing inherently responsible in delaying gratification, and there is nothing inherently irresponsible in engaging in folly and self-discovery. I went along with everyone too easily and I was too afraid of being alone. When the times had called for it, I wish I had been less obedient and more disruptive.
I still feel I have yet to really discover myself. Nobody can be completely independent, but the best investment in life is in yourself; you are the only person you can depend on and no matter what happens, you will have to spend the rest of your life with yourself. Even your best corner man can't be by your side all the time. With all the support in the world, when you enter the ring you still enter it alone. Everyone needs help, but ultimately everyone has to save and emancipate themselves. This is not being selfish. Anyone who is unwilling to help themselves can not be saved, and anyone who is not mentally healthy enough to take care of themselves can not help others. Its good to fight for 'freedom', people’s rights, and whatever causes you believe in, but you are the most helpfull to people when you have figured out who you are and are on top of your game. If you are going to over invest and over commit to something, do it with yourself and for your own values.
A child rebels, acts anti-social, and stands out to get attention and its way. An asshole seeks conflict to get attention and their way. A principled adult neither seeks nor runs away from attention, neither negative nor positive, nor conflict. They act when something deeply wrong is going on and there are no more options left. They stand for what they believe if right without humiliating or dominating those who think or are different or beating other people over the head with their beliefs. They are strong because they are flexible but firm. They understand the idea of genuine individual freedom because they know that it is impossible for two people to be or think alike and that there are multiple paths to reach 'the truth'. People don't have to have the same goals and values to cooperate, learn from each other, and enjoy each others company let alone respect each other and coexist. They need even less in common to have compassion for and solidarity with each other. If someone can't respect your boundaries now matter how much you respect theirs, it is better to not be around them. It is good enough just being happy doing your own thing.
Human interaction takes effort and it takes time to find people that you share a genuine connection with. You may find that you feel more lonely and at times even scared, and you may wish deeply to be 'included' into the group, especially when you find yourself isolated, persecuted, or in pain. However, someone somewhere has probably been through the same thing before. Fredrick Nietzsche said that 'The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.' The companionship, comfort, safety, and sense of importance of being a part of the group is an illusion that exists only provided that you play a role and serve 'its' needs first and foremost. Good people and true friends will get to know you, listen to you, and eventually care about you for who you are and not just what you do for them. Good people and true friends will respect and care for you regardless of whether you share the same path, because they realize that regardless you may eventually reach the same destination.
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XX. LINKS TO OTHER PAGES:I would be more than happy exchange links to other people's pages. I have no set ideology or agenda, and I am eager to cross reference with a wide range of interests. Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions. Below are a copy of links I think are usefull.
Cult Awareness and Information Library
Religion News Blog - Today's Cults: You Might Not Recognize Them
Watchman Fellowshipï¿½s 2001 Index of Cults and Religions
The Rick Ross Institute
Ex-Cult Resourse Center
Aesthetic Realism is a Cult
Steven Alan Hassan's Freedom of Mind Center
What Is a Cult?
reFOCUS: Recovering Former Cultist's Support Network
Personal Growth from SelfGrowth.com-- SelfGrowth.com is the most complete guide to information about Personal Growth on the Internet.
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Self Help Cults
Chung Moo Doe Martial Arts Cult Info at Rick Ross
Chung Moo Doe Martial Arts Cult Info at The Freedom of Mind Center
Alcoholics Anonymous Info at Freedom of Mind Center
Alcoholics Anonymous by Paul Roasberry
Alcoholics Anonymous by Jack Trimpey
Religious School Cults
Greenville Christian 'School'
Christian School Tells Student to Skip Prom
*Disclaimer: This account is an account of my personal experience of my distant past. At this point I can not make first hand assertions to the current state of affairs of any mentioned institutions. All opinions expressed are soley my opinion and perspective. I make no claims about the intentions, characters, or reputation of any individuals in particular.
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