Monday, October 31, 2005

An invitation

In my last post I outlined the formation of and consequences of the western economic system, specifically how work that people are coerced into doing produces within them the desire to spend their free time in mindless activity. It doesn’t matter what type of coercion is used, whether it’s a Soviet system of the supreme authority of the state, or the western system of rewards. In both systems people are not motivated by their own personal choice, but rather by societal forces. “Work how we tell you to, or you are a traitor!” Our society is similar to such Soviet dogma. Our school system tells children that the only way to be a good member of society is to do what you are told. Sure we don’t tell this to them directly, but the grades they receive and the subsequent praise or criticism they receive is all they need to hear to get the idea. Either way, the motivation is coming from an external source.

Any type of outside coercion will create a barrier in an individual between their natural drives and their ability to act. Once our required work is done, we will not pursue our natural drives because we feel “we have exerted ourselves enough for the day”. “I deserve a break after all that work.” Such an attitude is in no way “bad” or lazy. It is a necessary consequence of acting on an external motivation. Without such a break from activity one would not be able to return to doing an activity that is motivated externally. Externally motivated activity requires the reward of mindless activity (or a break from real activity). Otherwise, no one would be willing to put up with coercion.

So what can we do to reverse the trend of increasing amount of time spent on mindless activity? I believe the best answer lies in Education. The purpose of education should be to allow an individual to find a place in society. Modern education has lost sight of its purpose and strayed from its chief use to man. It has been a wonderful achievement of the past century that every individual has been given the opportunity to fill whatever role they prove themselves capable of. However, because of the coercive measures schools use to teach students, this benefit is by far outweighed by the harm that this system causes. This coercion creates students who spend their free in mindless activity. It follows that they will see their job only as a means for continuing this existence; the better the job, the more time they have to pursue whatever mindless activity draws their interest. Thus, to them whether their work contributes to society or not is insignificant. Their motivation for work is the external desire for mindless activity; a desire which was conditioned into them due to the coercion of the classroom.

The new system of education must be one which excludes the use of any type of external motivation or coercion. It should allow students to be motivated solely by their own interest in a subject without any fear of punishment or criticism, while still providing them with the opportunity to learn about every sphere of society. I believe this vision would best be accomplished if public schools (at least K-12) were to stop recording grades. Without any threat of consequence for poor work, all outside compulsion would be eliminated from the classroom. Students would still have the opportunity to learn the skills needed for whatever job the wished to have, but they would no longer be coerced into gaining these skills. The result would be that people would work in the sphere in which they thought they could contribute the most to society rather than in order to fill their desire for mindless activity. Not only this, but students will be able to learn at the right pace and will be able to gain a more complete understanding of the subjects they choose to study.

There are, of course, many issues that I still must address. What is the best way to insure people are properly qualified to do their job? Would not being forced to learn affect people’s ability to be able to pass certification tests? What about students who aren’t interested in learning anything in school? My quick responses would be that people may have more to learn going into a field, but would be better able to become good workers in that field, since they approach the work in the right way. And I would also claim that forcing students who aren’t interested to learn probably does more harm than just allowing them to be not interested, even though this may result in some people who don’t learn basic arithmetic, reading skills, etc.

I believe the elimination of recorded grades as means to evaluate an individual’s economic worth is a desperately needed reform in our society. Such a reform would destroy the root of much of our society’s anxiety related problems and allow individuals the freedom to develop a productive orientation in their lives. In order for such a change to happen, a large number people first need to become aware of the need for and the potential benefits of the change. Change occurs when individuals understand and react to the social forces which face them. The sooner that individuals react properly to the social forces of coercion, the sooner our society will be able to recover from the decay that is being caused.

For further reading on issues similar to the one I discussed here, I highly recommend To Have or To Be and The Art of Being both by Erich Fromm which sparked many my ideas for this essay.

Friday, October 28, 2005

well, started up only to stop again. i don't feel like defending my posts and i'm just not a motivated writer. tom will do a better job than i at making interesting posts.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

An observation

Certain aspects of society today are in a state of decay. The purpose of an economy should be to facilitate society’s ability to meet the natural demands of the people. However, rather than serving the people in this way, in modern society the people have been made to serve the economy. Due to the constant pressure to maximize the profits of an industry, modern society produces within people a need to relax and escape from the compulsory activities of the work day. This need creates within the commercial market a high demand for mindless activities, as is evident from the kinds of movies that continue to be popular, the amount of time spent watching TV, and the continuous consumption of the newest products, despite their being at best minimally better than the products people already possess. This demand for mindless activity requires mindless workers to meet it, because no truly sane person would spend their life working to meet the trivial needs of others (or would do so only when no other ways of earning a living were available). Thus a large part of our economy requires the systematic training of workers who, while skilled in producing certain goods and services, will not consider the social benefit of their work and will be eager to consume similar goods and services during their free time. Such people therefore work in order to fill a role in the economy, rather than a needed role in society.

In order to meet this vast need in our economy, the Western system of “education,” if it can still be called that, has acquired the chief goal of assigning an economic value to every citizen, according to how well he or she can fill a certain role in the economy. This goal is met through the system of recording the grades of each student. These records will be used to determine what university a student gets into, and then their records at university will be used to determine what job they get. In this way, the goal of the modern system of education is no longer to educate, but rather to train individuals to fill certain roles in the economy.

Undoubtedly much good has come out of the modern economy. The modern economy has provided a reliable source of income to a drastically higher percentage of the population than at any other time in human history, while requiring them to spend less time working at their job than in times past. What, then, could possibly be wrong with the system as it is now? Presumably, as technology continues to improve, standard of living should continue to increase and the work day could be made even shorter. As people have more free time to spend, they will theoretically be better able to pursue his natural drives and explore what it is to be alive. However, it is my claim that such an assumption is false. As long as people view their job as something they do only because they are required to, as long as the motivation for their work is something other than either the desire to fill a needed role in society or survival, people will spend nearly all their free time pursuing mindless activities.

This still leaves the question whether there is anything wrong with people spending all their time pursuing mindless activities. The 1932 Aldous Huxley novel Brave New World. Huxley creates a conceivably possible world in which all activity is mindless. Everyone seems pretty happy for the most part. One character in the society is unhappy but only because he is looked down upon by his fellow citizens due to his physical defects. He is an anomaly, by far the exception to the average citizen. Is there anything wrong with such a society? As Huxley did, I only know to leave this up to the reader to decide for him or her self. Perhaps we do have a clue though in the very way in which the society in Brave New World is set up. The society is by necessity set up in a way in which change for the better is not possible for both the society and the individual. In fact, any change at all would result in the disruption of the whole society. This stifles the drive to improve oneself, along with the drive to reach past any mindless activities and come to know other people as they are. Although society can attempt to cover up these drives through a constant barrage of other thoughts and activities, they can never be removed completely from mankind.

(Next post: my proposed solution)

Saturday, October 22, 2005


People tend to blind themselves when it comes to friendship. It's quite obvious that there is a gap between people that they constantly try to bridge. This attempt at bridging the gap comes in many forms of relationships, some good and some bad. Humans are communal beings at heart and basically spend their entire lives trying to unify with people. Reaching out to others is quite healthy and instinctual, however one should be careful that they do not reach out on the basis of attachment. Most people don't have a high sense of self worth, and as such are willing to basically delude themselves into thinking that "this is the best that they can get." This results in people hanging out with "friends" who don't really care about them, and this is done only to falsify a sense of acceptance.

Another big problem with false relationships is thinking of friends as property. For instance, saying something like: "I have a lot of friends." You don't actually "have" them, for you don't own them. Once one starts to think of friends on a non-attachmental basis, then they will enjoy them not as possession to be "consumed" but as true people who bring the most out of every moment with you. However when friends are not around one will not despair because nothing has been lost. Something must be possessed first in order to have lost it.

The very first person to look out for should be oneself before all others (I'll clarify this in later writings). In terms of relationships, the best way in which to do this is to freely love without thought of return. Doing so will result in those who are worth being friends with, responding in kind. Ironic isn't it that in being "selfish" will result in being unselfish. If someone does not respond to love in kind, then drop them and move on. You are better than that.

This was just a brief overview of the friendship relationship, I'll probably hit it again in more detail in the future.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Present

I have recently been thinking about the importance of living in the present. People these days tend to live in the future rather than in the Now. They worry about deadlines, tests, social events, and other things that really don't matter in life. I want you say the phrase "so what?" out loud. Go ahead. In regards to one's worries in life, 99% of them are not worth worrying about. So what if a test is failed. So what if a project is turned in late. So what if you don't get a date. Things such as these should have no affect on your happiness, for that comes within. This of course relates back to the several essays on attachments that I have already written about.

To go beyond the nonattachment mentality, we arrive at the state of being of "the now." One who inhabits the Now doesn't need to hear "stop and smell the roses", for their entire existence is all about the roses per se. One who lives in the Now truly sees reality, for no other thoughts or worries are present in their being. They truly see the tree by the road because it takes up all of their attention and concentration.

I'm reminded of a story found in The Song of the Bird by De Mello. A samurai was captured in battle in ancient Japan. He was stuck in a cell after being brought back to the enemy's castle and was sentenced to death on the next day. He tossed and turned the night before, unable to sleep until he remembered the words of his master: "There is no future, there is only now." Upon remembering this, he smiled and fell right asleep.