Saturday, January 21, 2006

Attitudes and Culture.

Reworked old post.


Civilization, someone claims, is distinguishable from barbarism in that lie simple is replaced by lie composite. That said, it has its virtues. It allows possibilities of catering to our collective needs in a more sustainable way. Although it takes work!

Needs, desires, wants, impulses, ambitions, aspirations, goals, and objectives pose challenges to human collectivities in so far as they are always irksome and often difficult to acknowledge or even comprehend.

But no escaping them.

How societies respond to them ultimately determines a given convention’s efficacy or viability long term. Herein the routine and the mundane assume their significance. The dominant attitudes of a society can make or break her denizens.

What we are after here is exploring how the “mundane,” really makes all the difference to the constitution of our being and how our attitudes toward the routine comes to wreak havoc on the structure of our lives.

Let’s play. Try to envisage yourself an “identical” businessperson opening a gas station in two imaginary cultures simultaneously --two distinct and interrelated universes.

In one you conduct yourself with an attitude that seeks to “normalize the exceptions.” In the second, you choose to “exception-less the exceptions.” (Term is coined, I believe, by an Israeli jurist, Oren Gross)

I know it won’t make much sense initially. Be good sports, though, and play along. Assume as well that the people you interact with in each universe mostly share your outlook on life. And note that the virtues and the vices we’ll encounter in this post exist in both universes. I am simply going to deal with archetypes since it becomes easier this way to make my point.

You have a very demanding, entitled family with many requirements and they are boisterous to boot. On any given day you burn a lot of cash on various expenditures and now you hope to make life easier for everyone.

You are hoping to satisfy a single requirement initially. A society performs when bodies move in space with a sense of time. And the cars people use to get them from point A to point B run out of fuel at some point. You are counting on this simple “lack” and the anxiety it generates to “cause” people to stop by at the particular location of your gas station during certain business hours.

Now try to imagine what happens in the first universe—the one that normalizes exceptions.

Everyone initially stops by for gas but then you notice that of all the people who stop by, a certain percentage also require oil for their engines. Not everyone mind you, but a fair number. So, instead of waiting for them to ask repeatedly, you get cans and place them on a display for everyone to see and to have access to. Save yourself time and headache.

Then you notice that some cars have one driver and others come with passengers. A certain percentage of those passengers also want to use the restroom. Some are hungry, others are bored, a few appear pregnant, and others have babies who need diapers changed and so on and so forth.

So now, given that you’re in the business of normalizing exceptions, you decide to acknowledge them-- whether you’ve really cared to or not—as real and consequently, instead of yakking to everyone individually, you try finding ways for each to satisfy whatever wants, desire or need possible in that space without coming to you first while they are around.

You open up a restroom, and perhaps make it more accessible to the occasional pregnant woman with that child in need of a diaper change. And since you understand that in the middle of the road some might feel insecure or frightened, you add a series of lights around your station. And then you get some food going, initially sandwiches, then depending on your determination of the likely reception, perhaps other eatable stuff.

You get tired of doing all the work, and decide to hire help. There is a musician who lives close by and doesn’t want to work all the time but won’t mind some extra cash either. So you get him to come in and occasionally clean everything, including the restrooms because a certain percentage of those who’ve stopped by are normally exceedingly undisciplined and always make a mess.

Your part time employee/musician then gets his girlfriend, a struggling painter, to stop by and prepare some hot food every now and again. Then it occurs to you to get some music going on the busier days. There is music subsequently. And after some of the bored customers have had a chance to gorge on some hot food and listen to some melodies, they become more talkative.

So, the three of you discuss the change of atmosphere due to the changes you’ve made. Suddenly, the woman painter tells you that perhaps she should bring in some of her work to see how people react to them. She feels comfortable making the suggestion and you are open enough to give her a chance.

Then, sure enough, you notice that people are ready to talk about them. And some are even buying a few drawings. You also notice other odd changes taking place around you.

The musician and the painter who normally live an isolated life in the middle of the boonies now are responding positively to that one day a week when they can act on their passion. So you catch the fellow practicing more often trying to come up with more interesting and complicated tunes. And he begins to get a more enthusiastic reception from the audience. The painter too works more diligently at painting since she has now noticed how people respond to her passion, of course, as something wonderful and amazing.

Sure the fellow is no Bach and neither is the woman a Picasso. But you’re perfectly content to see them for what they are and acknowledge that they are doing their best with the hand that’s dealt them. And that in itself is what really counts. Consequently, they feel good about themselves, their work and each other. The extra cash doesn’t hurt either.

On that one day, there is excitement in your station. Normally, no one sets out to be a bore intentionally. But not being one requires work. So, in a round about way your adjustments compel even your customers to ponder a bit more carefully and thus try finding better and more sophisticated ways of thinking about their experiences when talking about all the things they’ve encountered during the week with you and each other.

So the three of you begin visiting a writer who has been living a rather isolated life near you next—out of curiosity and simple wonder—and begin to discuss more interesting stuff over coffee, only occasionally. Your wife (or husband) and the kids too come in every now and again and notice how some can and do paint while being poor, and some can and do talk about painting as visual feasts without actually having the prettiest of outfits.

They also get to observe and think about how it is that others can and do actually play music while also cleaning restrooms for a living and so they too begin to want to settle on finding their passion in life and try to pursue it under whatever circumstance—however unflattering or difficult at times.

Thus you notice that even they have actually ended up being less obnoxious as well having sensed clearly that there is normally more than initially meets the eyes about everyone they encounter and that they should give them a chance. A bit of broadened horizons has never hurt anyone. Neither has openness to being surprised.

Not everyone will react that way, of course, but only a fair number who try.

So the three of you and the writer come up with a plan to have him write some articles for a newspaper to let others know what is happening at your station and all the music and the warmth and the paintings and the mingling. And you offer some money to the writer as well.

The extra cash and the exposure reawaken the dream of the writer for finally finishing and trying to publish that novel he has been working on ever since adolescence.

There is, consequently, an enveloping sense of community just as enthralling as it is welcoming—once a week. For once a week, an otherwise isolated group of individuals come to feel appreciated and begin to respond to each other in more diligent, attentive, receptive ways. They come to appreciate genuine passions and expressions.

So in responding to each other’s needs, wants and desires, and by exploring all the various ways numerous cravings are being catered to, explored and discussed, they choose to see to it constantly that they come up with different and new ways of approaching old subjects, and experimenting with new modes of cooperation and even flirting with novel manners of talking about them.

Yes, in many ways, there is nothing new under the sun. Whatever you try to do and say in a gas station has probably already been done and said thousands of times before. But so what? How do you know what you end up discovering about yourself and others unless you try the best you are capable of yourself?

So, by being more curious, interested and open to experience of surprise and marvel, and always keeping an eye out for ways of taking the next step—the very logical next step—small, humdrum and not really all that dazzling whenever the opportunity presents itself, people alter the routine in ways that are possible to achieve only when people rely on each other and cooperate thus inevitably discovering methods that is there to see when one is attentive to the inner dynamics or the logic of his or her activities.

Then the fellow who owns the factory that sold you all the lights used to brighten your station sees the story the writer has done about what’s happening in your life and decides to show up to see what the hoopla is all about.

The two of you hit it off and you begin to talk about the various chores and you end up complaining that although you’re content, it nevertheless is a hassle having to get a ladder to go change a number of those light bulbs that burn out quite often. This, especially since, as a general rule, a certain percentage of the light bulbs always burn out prematurely after a given period of time.

Not all of them, mind you, but a fair number.

And while you are at it, you also tell him about how a certain number of those bulbs you’ve purchased end up having been broken to begin with once you take them out of their packages.

The factory owner has no idea what you’re taking about. So he asks you to keep some notes about the frequency and times and to call him later with more exact information. He then goes back to the factory and begins to snoop around and sure enough, some problems become more visible to him. He comes to institute a quality control system in place consequently and also gives the truck company which delivers those bulbs a call.

And at the truck company, too, they begin to examine the root causes of some of the problems that results in broken light bulbs upon delivery. And so your entire supply chain begins to revaluate their ways of doing business as a result. There will be changes in the packaging too due to all these activities.

What we are seeing here is the exhilaration at work of constant experimentation with different ways of looking at things. And also new ways of doing things and brilliant ways of talking about things, and openness to the sort of cooperation that engenders, or reproduces, an enchanting mode of being in the world.

There is constant, perpetual hustle and bustle--not free of problems, mind you, but nurturing of the kind of people who would tinker and putter and are willing to take chances. And sure enough, a certain percentage of their activities always create wondrous products.

Not all of them, mind you, just a fair number.

There is nothing really extraordinary about what they do. Millions are doing what they normally do everyday, but always with an eye on the exceptions and the various ways that it might be possible to absorb the exceptions into the normal routine.

All based on the attitude that assumes it given that a certain percentage of everything that everyone ever does or even wants to do always fall outside of the expected norms and it ultimately pays to normalize them.

The resultant vector emerging out of the millions of very small, ordinary exertions and all the incremental changes in the really mundane, prosaic, humdrum routine of the every day life is what would manifest as an awesome and fantastic achievement over time.

Now let’s go to the second universe and see what happens there.

Remember, you are the same person, which means you are basically capable of noticing the same things you noticed in our first universe. The one crucial difference is your disposition or the attitude that allows you to “exception-less the exceptions.”

So you are sitting in your station open for business, expecting to swim in the moola shortly. You notice that some of those needing fuel are beginning to also want oil. But since a certain percentage of the people you encounter will always want some imported brand other than what you are prepared to offer, why bother, right?

How much money can they add to your earnings anyways? Don’t you spend, on any given day, more on shoes and toys for your kids than all what you can earn from some nagging old man in search of the exact brand of oil he has been using ever since he purchase the-by-now old and ugly looking donkey which used to pass as an automobile eons ago?

So passé that ugly car! Not the latest model. What’s wrong with him, anyway?

And then there is that woman with a small child who needs his diaper changed. You see the woman, her child and the requirements clearly. You’ve raised children of your own, remember? And you still vividly recall how hard it was on those trips you took.

But what the hell?

You were not the one who got her pregnant to begin with, right? And for all you know, the unborn could be a bastard. So, why do you have to bother putting up with the manure? Especially since a certain percentage of the women who change diapers are too distracted to cleanup after themselves. How much money could she possibly spend in your gas station any ways to justify all the extra effort? No value add, really! On any given day, you spend more money on your wife’s make up. So, you lockup your bathroom and claim you have none.

You see the musician pass by your station everyday. You are tired of being all alone and doing what little you try to do every day on your own; so it occurs to you to ask him to come work for you.

Then you begin to conclude—even before you’ve begun to really think—that if he were any good, he would have been famous by now. So you choose to label him “the lazy ass” and have a chuckle every time he passes by.

Besides, since a certain percentage of all the musicians who are not really good at what they do and are poor lazy asses in need of money normally end up stealing, you definitively decide against hiring him.

It’s finally settled. You are not going to hire him. But all this has gotten you thinking about the possibilities of being robbed.

A certain percentage of the people on the road are thieves. What could you do? Add a bunch of bright lights around the gas station?

Hell no!

A certain percentage of all the thieves who’ve ended up robbing a place have normally first kept it under surveillance. So adding bright lights is certainly out of the question unless you’ve seen some image in a movie. But that’s another story.

Besides, isn’t it true that a certain percentage of the criminals who have ever robbed and killed their victims have also used a sharp object? And out of those a certain number have used broken light bulbs to cut the vein of some gas station attendant? At least one case is fresh in your memory.

So it’s settled then. No bright lights. Besides, it cuts into what little you earn. But you certainly need a muscle now.

Can you trust just any one, though? Isn’t it true that a certain percentage of the people who are strangers and get hired to do a job have ended up being crooks? What guarantee is there that he won’t rob you?

None really, when you think about it! There are no such guarantees in life.

Luckily, there is that brother in law you couldn’t stand though. He becomes your logical choice for the job. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

So now your family nags you about money when you are at home. You end up spending hours having to put up with the brother in law you loath to see at work. But on the bright side, the musician’s girl friend that stops by every now and then in one of her foul moods begins to look even better to you every day. And she is having a rough time of it at home.

She paints, but no one pays any attention to her. The musician isn’t playing anymore because he is unhappy and self absorbed. He is not Bach, you see. But he either thinks everyone who plays music should be or that he should have been. The universe is so unfair, sometimes. And most of the tunes he plays have also been played before. So he’s really sad now. Additionally, he is screwing around on her with the occasional needy woman he meets at that occasional wedding he plays the always identical melodies in.

Besides, when he was serious about his music, he was also more attentive to her, and appreciated her paintings and was full of complements and praise and found her sexy and appealing. He does drugs now, abuses her and insults everyone and everything-- his luck, animals and even the soda cans that might cross his path.

And he ceaselessly dreams of becoming that famous musician everyone applauds all the time, but he never actually bothers taking the very small steps it takes to improve his skills. So they have become quite the dreamers. Idle dreams, mostly, that never amount to much.

They ignore each other and their life together is going nowhere. She is feeling lonely and though young, talented and beautiful, she has come to feel ugly, old and useless. So now you and her—the two unhappy creatures that are in a rot-- begin to find solace in each other’s company in that gas station bathroom no one else gets to use for a few minutes every now and again and consequently come to feel miserable afterwards.

Your relationship, as “wrong,” as it is, had a chance of being different when she first showed you a painting of hers she was really excited about. And even though you liked it, you couldn’t possibly bring yourself to say anything nice and encouraging.

Yes, somehow, you always end up uttering mean, callous things because you believe that since a certain percentage of all the artists who create memorable art have had noble souls, a noble soul alone is what really accounts for potentially great art. How is it possible for this young slut who fucks you in a gas station bathroom to be any good at creating anything, long term?

She is no Picasso, you see. She deserves whatever nastiness you hurl at her. So now you also become adamant about viewing all women as potential whores as well!

Isn’t it true that she has a boyfriend and, yet, here she is screwing you in the bathroom! You reason that a certain percentage of all the people in relationships always “cheat” for various reasons. So what is there to keep your wife from cheating? Especially since you are doing exactly what frightens you most about what she might do someday.

So now, you have become more suspicious, distrustful, and always wanting to keep her under control.

There was even a time you wanted to hire the writer living in the boonies to work with your child, but you can’t bring yourself to trust him alone with your wife either because a certain percentage of all the men you meet always lust after some one else’s wife or worst yet, are child molesters. And a certain percentage of the women you encounter will do exactly what their husbands or lovers do in their absence.

Consequently, the writer can’t earn enough money and feels useless and curses the day he ever purchased that first book which made him want to be a writer to begin with. So the novel that he had begun in his youth ends up sitting still in some box collecting dust.

And your wife is isolated, bored and bitter. Your child’s grammar and spelling suck as well. No matter though, he is exceedingly good at making fun of the neighbour’s accent. And full of ethnic jokes.

What you get then is an exceedingly entitled group of suspicious, mean-spirited, indolent beings. Highly talented, cunning creatures who are sadly self-destructive. There are obscene expectations so everyone is perpetually disappointed and such ridiculously high standards that no mere mortal could possibly live up to them.

There emerges subsequently a sort of universe populated by unhappy creatures humouring and demeaning each other all the time and inactive mostly unless they can be the stars; and rude, superficial, insecure, and successful in making themselves and others feel miserable perpetually. And infinitely paranoid, conspiratorial, and conspiracy minded!

And confrontational to boot. So confrontational, in fact, that at some point even principles become inconsequential for the confrontations. Petty bickering is all that remains.

No real sense of a community, either. Only rigidity, inflexibility, big dreams, false hopes, mistrust, exhaustion, despondency, mediocrity and endless, nauseating banter among the same family members or closed/closed minded cultish cliques about money, appliances, and all those humongous earth-shattering contributions being planned for implementation in the world—sometimes, somewhere, and always at some point in the future!

And, of course, those perpetual excuses!

No genuine passion for much of anything, really, nor an appreciation for life’s blessings. Arrogance. Bitterness. Callousness. Emptiness. Expectations. Intolerance. Melodrama. Resentment. Self-Pity. Ugliness. And then Death!

No comments: