01 May 2008

The death of individual thought

There are cities and then there are cities.

The largest, most thriving urban centers - New York, Chicago, London, Paris - have something going for them. They are the centers of originality and diversity, of original thought and creativity. Of course not all folks who live in these urban centers fall under this description. And not all ideas - nay, most ideas - that derive from these centers are of any usefulness or value.

But at least there is original thought going on. In the wastrel heartland where a thousand lesser burgs reside, inhabited by their dull workaday residents, little originality, diversity, or eccentricity is tolerated. This is Middle Amerika - hardworking and productive, but mind-numbingly conformist to a man.

This country claims to celebrate individuality and originality. But when push comes to shove most Amerikans prefer the safe, comfortable out in life - live like everyone else, in the same kind of house, watching the same television programs and films, working at the same kind of jobs, residing in bleary dull suburban neighborhoods which are virtually indistinguishable among themselves, filled as they are with the same styles of single family homes, allegedly attractive green lawns, and two car garages.

No, when it comes right down to it Amerikans play it safe. No making waves, no hint of original thought, just conform to the unthinking mannerisms of the rest of the Amerikan sheeple, do what you're told by your leaders, and let the warp and loom of your life be dictated by the intellectually nimble.

No wonder there is so much income inequality today. Few Joe Sixpacks are willing to remove themselves from the couch and truly dare to use their minds. Few people deign to be original and creative, coming up with products and innovations which could benefit society and enrich themselves. Instead they demand an easy life requiring little effort at an overvalued wage. Next time you think you're underpaid, just know that you are actually earning far more than you would command as your poorly skilled self; the difference comes from the productivity advances you have received thanks to the efforts of the men of the mind.

People want something for nothing nowadays. Such is the byproduct of advanced capitalism that increasing wealth of the many allows increasing numbers to slack off via the surplus wealth, at the expense of the productive remainder. The State assumes its parasitical niche here very well.

In any case, witness the cities of Middle Amerika. Note what distinguishes them, besides the obvious factors of specific local cultures, city sizes, specifics of their local economies, climate, etc. I mean, really, what specifically distinguishes, say, Birmingham from Sacramento? Kansas City from Detroit? Atlanta from Cincinnati? Phoenix from Memphis? Dallas from Seattle?

I mean, most people in any of these cities live similar lives. They live in identical types of houses, shop at the same chain stores, visit shopping malls which contain the same anchor stores (thanx to Macy*s), drive to work on the same highways (Interstate freeways), watch the same TV programs and films, listen to the same insipid Top 40 songs, attend the same types of sporting events (even if they cheer for separate teams, mostly) even work at the same kinds of jobs (low-value service and retail positions, pointless office work, food service). The pointlessness of the life of the average conformist Amerikan is clear. What's to life if you don't make something of it beyond the common runt of humanity?

This rant was inspired by something I have noticed lately. The city in which I live is like a thousand other mid-sized metropoli scattered across the heartland. Largely it comprises a large sea of suburban wasteland sporting its false wealth and defense of White privilege, surrounding a relatively small impoverished, decaying, and increasingly empty pre-WWII urban core. This vast suburban area (which is itself surrounded by an even larger exurban region which can only be described as a deformed mutant cross between suburbia and rural land) is mostly composed of interchangeable residential neighborhoods with their single family detached dwellings, lookalike shopping centers, lots and lots of traffic cramming inadequate former country roads which betray their rural origins too well, and bland institutional compounds such as office parks, hospital districts, and industrial estates.

Matters are not helped by the fact that if you get lost out there, forget finding yourself again. The street names have a maddening tendency toward repetition. So many streets with words like
park, wood, hill, ridge, spring, tree, oak, water, lake in their names....the list goes on. In this city there are 367 instances alone of the word "wood" comprising a portion of a street name. ("Heh heh heh, he said wood." Eat your heart out, Beavis and Butthead.)

This is what I am talking about. No originality, all repetition. Play it safe, live like all the other people you know. Folks say in public meetings all the time that they desire unique and diverse places to live, and they (sometimes even willingly) pay tax dollars to their local governments to fund city planning departments to this end. But when push comes to shove they will choose a bland, 'safe' neighborhood which is just like ten thousand others across the land, populated by people just like them, with nearly the exact same income level, tastes, socioeconomic background, and definitely the same skin color.

Why the tendency to conform, in this land which was allegedly founded to preserve the individual's right to pursue whatever course in their lives suited them (you know, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and all that)? Could it be.....might it be....all together now....


Yes, wild and wonderful Amerikan fascism which labels anyone who acts a little different from the 'norm' "mentally ill"; which labels those who have political views which vary even slightly from the officially approved 'liberal/conservative' minor diversity of thought, "lunatics" and "nuts"; which labels those who are just far too different
from the rest of us, who do not partake in the goodies of false and borrowed wealth which the elites magnanimously bestow upon us, "enemy combatants", and holds them indefinitely in a "detention camp" where they are "interrogated" as to the nature of their blasphemous beliefs.

In a way, it is a wonder that any diversity of thought survives in Amerika today. Thinking 'outside the box' as corporate dickheads love to say, might just get you arrested, tortured, and even killed.

So go back to watching CSI and drinking your Budweiser until you are stupid with inebriation. Move along, nothing to see here.