I have a serious question for anyone who reads this. I honestly and truthfully want to know opinions or thoughts on this question because it really just bothers the hell out of me. My question is as follows:
When did life become more about living for society and less about living for yourself?
Or, more importantly, when did we decide to sacrifice the things that make us truthfully happy for the things that our neighbors or coworkers enjoy? Why do so many people change how they live because of the way people they’ve never met live? Why do they exercise just because movie stars always look good? Why do they read books just to have something to talk to coworkers about? Why do they alter the way their relationship works just so it will match the family in Happy Days, or whatever programs the kids today watch?
Okay, so maybe that was more than one question, but the main question remains: When did life become less about being happy and more about being average? Why do so many people live in so much fear of persecution that they toss their own joys to the wind and settle? This is something that has plagued me for years as I’ve watched my peers grow up and slowly shed their golden dream scarves (excellent band name) and adopt lives that their former selves would have scoffed at.
Now, don’t think for a second that I am so naïve that I choose to believe that larger persecutions such as those on Religion or Race are things we can simply dash with a few poignant words. I understand that in any country where there exists majority and minority (excluding portions of Russia where there is a majority of cold and a minority of fun and the two seem to work hand-in-hand), there will be some form of persecution or conflict between the two groups. This will remain true until the day we resemble the androgynous Thermians from Galaxy Quest. Now, I may have made the jump from naïve to cynic, but in no way am I saying we shouldn’t at least try to nurse the wounds caused by such persecution. I merely mean to say that a look at the human condition shows that a group in power will almost always persecute weaker (politically or economically) or more sparse groups in order to maintain that power until the day when the two groups become similar, either in population or literal description. Thus, I want to point out that this post is not about the persecutions that run incredibly deep, such as Race, Sexuality and Religion. That’s a strong topic for another post. This is more an analysis at how the nature of persecution has seeped into the very heart of most men and women, creating a society wherein most people are persecuting themselves in fear of not fitting into the world around them.
As people go through life, we are constantly met by choices. These choices range from life-changing to choosing today’s socks, but they all cross through the same avenues in our brain. A choice usually begins down an avenue of our own preference, then continues to a brief look into the past, an analysis/prediction of the future and finally a look at factors in our present world that might affect our choice. For instance, when I wake up and mosey over to the basket where I keep my plethora of socks my first thought is that I prefer softer, thinner socks. I will then recall which socks I have worn recently and check to make sure I won’t be needing any socks for future engagements (i.e. black socks for a suit and tie day). Having mostly decided on a pair of thin white socks, I will then recall that the weather forecast has stated that it is going to be quite chilly, so I will instead choose a thicker pair of socks. Done. Decision over. Obviously, decisions with more of an impact can take much longer in any particular stage or can even address multiple stages at once. For instance, a decision about a relationship usually spends a large amount of time in the past whereas a decision about a job will spend much of its time in the future. Recently, this process has seen a new addition, a freshly installed bureau of affairs that must process all new arrivals. We now pass through the office of Society. We now judge every decision on how normal or abnormal the result will be. When looking at jobs, we fear not that we won’t get the job, but we fear that the failure will sever us from the average. We fear that being unemployed will make us abnormal. As we get older, we worry about not having a relationship not simply because we feel lonely, but because we are afraid of what our friends, family and strangers will think of us. It even affects our more superficial decisions, from hairstyles to clothing. From pets to apartments. From food to television shows. We are constantly rating our own decisions against those of society. Constantly wanting to fit the mold for average and afraid of taking risks that might result in our failure to conform.
Now, everyone who has been reading this is thinking one of two things. First, your brain is telling you “damn, we really need to watch Galaxy Quest again.” Second, you are screaming out at me with rebellious fervor. You are shouting, “I am not a conformist! I fit no molds! I am a member of generation X and drink Pepsi and love to skateboard and bask in my youth!” I respect you, ye gentle Lords and Ladies of uniqueness, I do. But let’s look at a scenario for a second. Say you buy a new shirt and you think you look absolutely gorgeous in it. You wear it to work/school/social function the next day. How would you feel if a) people blatantly showed disregard/disgust for your new shirt, b) people went out of their way to compliment you on your shirt choice, or c) nobody said a damn thing. If you peaked even slightly on your emotional scale for any of these, then you may not be as free from society’s grasp as you think. And, true, maybe you honestly don’t care what people think about your clothes. Replace the shirt with anything and it still holds true. What about if you were out on the town with your new guy/gal? Or driving your new car around? Or just got your hair cut? Or showing people your new business cards with your fancy new job title on them? If you place a heavy weight in the attention of others, either positive or negative, then you are not the rebellious punk God that you hoped to be. And maybe you honestly just don’t care, and Society has let you slip through its fingers. Well, answer me this: What are your friends like? Who are your role models? What books do you read or TV shows do you watch? More importantly, do all the major influences in your life have ultimately the same outlook on life as you? Nonconformity in groups is still conformity. Just because you and all your friends are too outside of society to vote, it doesn’t make you that rebellious if you all constantly listen to the exact same Gogol Bordello album on repeat.
So what are we doing to ourselves? I personally believe that our Super-egos have gotten moderately out of hand. We no longer have three levels of psyche. The id and ego have been drastically crammed together and represent mostly the same thing, with one presenting itself more forcefully at different times a la the Incredible Hulk. On the back of this feeble creature of dual personality rides the fat, pompous super ego, his bulbous belly ripe with the spoils of his recent feast of media, society and, most decadent of all, E! News. Our psyche is now rigidly controlled, whether we decide to conform to the average or conform to the nonconforming. Every move is watched by the elements that fill our brain. We take less risks. We’re less impulsive. We no longer live in the moment, but live more in a place of over-exaggerated past and paranoid future. Constantly, we fear the repercussions that society may enact should we make the wrong decisions. This fear has made us, as a whole, complacent and weak, settled in our position of slaves to a mindless, faceless entity that exists only inside of our own minds.
A few final thoughts:
First, I truly believe that there are plenty of people who are actually capable of living outside of this control. Do I think I am one? Not in the slightest. I recognize that I am a victim of the same circumstance I have just described, but I am trying to break myself of it. Second, you may be wondering what I think has caused this, and honestly I’m not sure. My hunches would be the influence of media and the cult of the celebrity. I personally believe that this slavery to ourselves is a result of the importance that we place in people whose ‘job’ it is to look nice as often as possible. These folks, in many ways are REQUIRED to be presentable whenever possible. Now, I have nothing against celebrities, I simply have a problem with how we try to adopt celebrity culture into everyday life. This results in a society full of people who imagine themselves as characters in their own TV series or stars of their own film. Our existence in the hyperreal is, in my opinion, the largest catalyst at work here. I feel this is exacerbated by Social Media, which allows various third parties direct access to our lives much easier than was ever possible in the past. Finally, I also do believe that this is mainly a problem in Western Society, and more specifically a problem in America. Though there are signs of self persecution in other countries, it usually takes on a different tone or has a much different cultural origin than it does here in the States. I am in no way an America basher, in fact I love the hell out of this country. I just hate seeing what’s happening to it.
So remember: Don’t resist doing things because you want to do them. Obviously, this doesn’t mean break the law because it felt right, but don’t let the opinions or concerns of others dictate your life. Be impulsive from time to time. Go to the gym and juice your pecs because you felt like it, not because your girlfriend keeps talking about Chris Hemsworth. Eat a burger from time to time and then diet because you want to for you. Take a day off from work to focus on your personal mental health. We need to stop fearing society, because we ARE society. We’re only fearing what we’re capable of. We’re afraid of what we can accomplish. Without that fear, the world is yours. Regain your psyche and take back your life.
What do you think is causing this self persecution? Do you feel this problem is getting worse or better? Was I completely off base? Are you all about that bass? Let me know.