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Dreams, Pragmatism, and the Media: An Unintended Trap

I’d intended to lighten things up for a time, but something’s come to my attention that I feel the need to discuss. If you recall from my last post, I discussed the life path a lot of people my age chose, and how it unintentionally cause major problems down the road, getting a “higher education” leaving us without job skills, holding the first to be more important than the second, not giving a thought to how things will work out. Bear in mind the following is all opinion. I may be entirely wrong. Maybe in a few years, I’ll recant this position.

The problem is that we didn’t make this post-secondary decision on our own. We were taught that, and now we’re reaping the consequences. Take a look at this comic, an animated form of a lecture by Alan Watts. it’s what triggered this rant:

2013-01-08-alanwatts

Sounds pretty good, right? It should also sound familiar to you. It’s the same sort of theme we saw in a lot of media aimed at kids. I’m pretty sure a lot of the Disney canon consists of this same message. We all know the familiar story. You don’t want to follow in the footsteps of your family, or your social class. You have ideals, you have dreams, and those are important. Anyone that says otherwise is a soulless oppressor, or possibly horribly misguided, and is trying to make you give up your dreams, and your special unique talents. Perhaps, if the young dreamer sticks to their guns, they can show their oppressors the error of their ways. Either way, all they have to do is chase that dragon, things will work out, one way or another. The thing is, it’s entirely wrong, possibly damaging, and the opposite viewpoint is one we now reflexively dislike, as we associate it with those misguided antagonists in that fiction we loved.

I think the big problem is that fundamental assumption that we’re supposed to follow these dreams of ours, do these things we enjoy, and forget the money. What are we, soulless? Draw your art, ride your horses, write your articles, make your videos, and damn anyone that says you’re wasting your time. The problem lies in the whole “ignore the money” part. “What if money was no object?” that cartoon asks. Well, it sort of is. It is, and pretending it isn’t, turning a blind eye to it, not worrying about those bills you’re going to have to pay one day, that’s a ruinous mantra.

We’re told time and time again, money doesn’t buy happiness, it’s not about the money, money is the root of all evil, et cetera, et cetera. It’s true money doesn’t buy happiness. What it does buy is security, stability, and life. Knowing what you like, and pursuing your dreams is good and all, but you need to be able to function in society as a grown person at the same time. And that doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning those interests that some would scoff at (I talked about that at length here,) it means being able to live unassisted on your own. It’s hard to follow your dreams if you can’t feed, clothe, and shelter yourself. These things will not magically appear. You need to make them happen, and to make them happen, you need cash. We need to step back and accept the fact that some sort of income is necessary in order to live, and it’s not going to come to us automatically. And if you’re not making it appear, then someone else is, and you’re living off the dimes that they’re earning.

The reason the philosophy preached in that cartoon potentially damaging is because it ignores this basic fact. That, and it leaves out the fact that we like do not always equal things we can do for money, that one won’t automatically lead into the other. Maybe you’ll become the best at what you do through slavish dedication, and get money that way. But to count on it is to ignore the present, and ignore some other, very real, non-optional needs.

Take a look at that dream. Can you realistically expect to make money off it soon, as in in the next few years, instead of some hazy future where you’ve mastered that skill? If not, then that doesn’t mean you have to abandon it. It merely means that you’ll need to do something else to earn income, and work on that dream of yours when you’re not out earning your living. I suppose that’s the other false dichotomy that the media presented us: That the two are mutually exclusive, that deciding earning a living is important means your interests and dreams have to die. They really don’t.

So, here’s my own philosophy, what I’d wish modern media would teach a new generation: Follow your interests, but get paid. If your interest won’t pay you, find something, anything that will, and work on that interest in your spare time. Maybe, if you stick with it, and if you have and/or grow the talent, you can leave that other career and take your interest on full-time. If not, you’ve got a roof under your head, food under the table, and something you like to fill your spare time. If that seems a bit unfair, consider that a realistic perspective won’t turn you into a starving artist, merely a really busy one.

Epilogue: And if you are in one of those situation where you can’t support yourself, that’s hardly uncommon for modern youth, thanks to the world we inherited. The best thing, I think, is to simply recognize this fact, and try to worm your way out of it, and not simply be content to freeload for all eternity.

Bleak Week, Part 2: Political Pessimism

Since I’m on a roll, I’m going to get all the heavy things I’ve already written out of the way. As such, I’m retroactively making this Bleak Week. Those that enjoy this, there’s more to come. Those that don’t, next week will involve lighter fare. Anywho….

I tend to stay out of discussions involving politics and world issues. It’s not out of a desire to keep my nose in the ground, and it’s hopefully not based in too much ignorance, though a bit of it does spring up from that evasion. However, recent events have caused me to stop and reflect on just what my attitude is. So, after much thought, I’ve come up with what my philosophy on the world, politics, issues, and life is.

For the moment, I call it Political Pessimism. I’d briefly considered calling it “Political Nihilism,” but a bit of research on the subject has assured me I don’t know enough about Nihilism to go making that claim. It sounds bleak on paper, but stick around until the end, and I’ll explain why I’m not the most glum person ever.

So, how do I define it? I suppose you could call it a belief that there really is no ideal political system, or ideal solution to most of the world’s problems. Capitalism versus Communism? Democracy verses Dictatorship? The whole Middle East quagmire? It isn’t a simple black/white dichotomy. In fact, both sides of each issue are an extremely dark shade of grey.

At the heart of this, it’s really a matter of human nature, I think. And this isn’t one of those “all people stink” rants. I’m not Rorschach assuring you all humans are savage. There’s plenty of good people out there. I’ve witnessed it myself. It’s more like if you take a large enough cross section of people, there will always be some bad apples. This is why crimes of opportunity take place. If you leave something valuable out in the open, it won’t always get stolen. But if you leave it out for long enough, inevitably, someone will take it.
The problem comes when you devise a system that fully or partially relies on the people in it being The Good Ones. Even if, when you create a political system, be it a parliament, or a kingdom, all those involved in it’s creation are The Good Ones, sooner or later, at least one fly will get in the ointment, and at least one bad apple will enter into that system.

Too much idealism leaves room for exploitation by the inevitable unscrupulous individual. If you leave a loophole somewhere, anywhere, and it’s loophole that can be exploited, then sooner or later, someone will exploit it. Really, this could be prevented if you just go ahead and assume that a system should be created assuming that sooner or later, someone corrupt will enter it.

So, let’s step away from the abstract for a moment, and actually apply this to politics.

The thing is, there’s a flip side to this, in that virtually any political system could work, if the person or people running it was a saint. Theoretically, even an absolute monarchy could be ideal. The problem is that they usually aren’t, and go disastrously wrong, because every King Solomon will be followed by a Caligula sooner or later. Communism has never really worked because of people. Democracy has its major issues because of people.

So what’s to be done?

I’m just some guy with a laptop, so I avoid going around giving “when I run things” speeches, so I’ll try not to sound too presumptuous. I think that a lot of issues, both small and large, could be dealt with in a much saner way if we assumed that there is no perfect solution. Instead, we should simply work towards damage control, minimizing problems and harms, looking at these problems with the angle of how someone could theoretically make this go horribly wrong, and how they possibly currently are, and going with the solution that does the least damage. We pick the approach with the least loopholes. People won’t change, nor can they be counted on to always flawlessly make the right choice 100 percent of the time. So we have to operate under that assumption, and try and pick options that leave people out of it, that make that wrong choice something that won’t do too much harm.

Here’s the thing. If this all sounds very depressing, it doesn’t have to be. Like I said, I’m not subscribing to the view that all people are horrible. Indeed, from what I’ve seen, it’s probably a minority. I’m surrounded by wonderful people in my life, and I like to think anyone reading this has at least a few great friends to make them smile. The danger lies in assuming that because most people are good at heart, that that cluster of bad apples doesn’t exist. And when you start relying on that group not acting up on a giant, nation-sized political scale, that invites disaster. So this is less of a philosophy of humanity being flawed, and more of a philosophy of there being flawed members of humanity, that sooner or later will get into the gears of whatever organization we’re looking at. One shouldn’t be discouraged. Rather, one should simply be wary. And for now, that’s all I have to say about that.