Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Evil in our neighbors

We are a generation without manners

‘These fish have manners’ – Tom Cruise as Jerry, in Jerry Maguire

People like Tony Robbins will tell you that if you do not anticipate, if you do not move forward fast enough, the world will leave you in its wake, eating dust, perhaps even ash. The message is clear: keep moving with the stream. Don’t get left behind. And move fast, there’s no time to think.
In a recent movie, Meet the Robinsons, similar worldly wisdom is dispensed: ‘Keep moving forward’. The point of opening with these dual epithets of what may be termed ‘conventional wisdom’, is that in a world without manners, in fact in a world that doesn’t make sense, the underlying framework, however sensible and apparently intelligent, will tend to fall apart.

I believe it was Noam Chomsky, the linguist (and the world’s foremost intellectual) who said the point of advertising is to have people (us) max out our credit cards, and not pay attention (to what’s important) in the world. The reason the middle class need to be controlled by the elites is that they need to do their thing (which is become more wealthy, and more powerful) without interference. So if you read cautionary articles such as this one, or the writings of Peak Oil alarmists like Jim Kunstler, and you wonder: ‘How come these are the only guys worrying/arguing?’ Well, the thought is a normal one, given the intention by the media in general (and advertisers – brand merchants – in particular) that people not think, but be herded into a system where they can be controlled as greedy, addicted consumers.

The best illustration for this ‘evil’ has to be firsthand, otherwise you could accuse me (just as I accuse advertisers) of spreading malicious code into the hearts and minds of entire populations. So here’s a firsthand scenario. In South Africa, it’s fair to say that the telecoms giant Telkom (also a state-run monopoly) is the most hated company in the nation. This is due to the strangehold the company has on all communication infrastructure, which is why South Africans pay more than just about any other country to make telephone calls, and to use the internet (which is slow). This strangehold continues into the cellular market, where Telkom is also a major stakeholder in Vodacom. Yes, even our cell fees are amongst the most expensive in the world. Thus, in South Africa, unlike elsewhere in the world, consumers – instead of calling teach other – prod at their keypads to send SMS’s.

Meanwhile, someone I know works for Telkom. Now it’s true that most people may dislike a company for what it represents, but do we dislike it enough to not work for this company, or to hold those accountable who do (and not just those in the upper echelons). This person I know is paid a huge salary. I’ve been told that employees found with pornography on their computers are dismissed, and their computer’s seized for formatting. The interesting thing is this person I know, and others high up in the company, first make copies of the pornography and distribute it amongst themselves, before formatting the computer. The evil part of this story is not that pornography is involved (well, it’s a much lesser evil at any rate), but that the management of this company are so duplicitous. And for as long as everyone consents to what is happening, it may not appear to be such a bad thing. Except, for the person who has lost his or her job, and the eagerness of those to expel more people (for their own pleasure) – these in combination contrive to become a society without manners, or conscience. This contract is what I describe as evil.

To use yet another contemporary example, it may be pointless to pontificate endlessly about Seung-hui Cho when no one really knew who he was. How could his roommate not know what Cho was studying, even after sharing space for 9 months? Obviously the roommate decided to just ‘keep moving forward’ (why get stuck talking to a difficult kid, and be associated with a loser and a dysfunctional). In that scenario, such a person (the roommate), given the diabolical result of the roommates months long preparations, loses the right to offer any comments or provide any insights, because not only do they know nothing, but worse, obviously made no attempt and basically did not follow up as any rational human being ought to have done. And because how could such a person have any insight, beyond wanting to justify themselves and offer excuses?
“So what are you studying?” I would have made that my first question, in the first 5 minutes, and if I had difficulty finding an answer, I probably would have noticed at some point textbooks or a schedule. Cho and many other people besides live an entirely disconnected life while they are right beside us.

A cartoon in yesterday’s newspaper said it best: It showed a reporter beginning with an introduction to ‘America’s worst killing spree’ by a ‘madman’, but behind her was an endless strip mall filled with gun merchants. They had names like ‘Gun’s Galore’, and ‘Gun Ark’and so on and so forth. Children were sitting on sidewalks with toy guns pretending to shoot each other, guns were flooding the streets. The details are less important than the basic premise: our words, our reactions to what happens in the world are entirely disconnected from the reality, which is a culture of violence, and the scenario of unintended reality that begins to be created around us as a result. And when the world and the world in people’s heads do not fit together, do not in fact overlap, you find yourself with a populace that has simply gone mad.

It is not an exaggeration to use the word ‘evil’ to describe the way people treat each other, when this treatment is disguised (made to look like) fraternity, and described as ‘right’. What we are not doing enough of is focusing on where we are. Instead, we keep moving forward, and in the spirit of moving forward, there is not much time, so we lay blame quickly and conveniently at what appears the quickest and easiest conclusion to draw. But reality is not fast food. It is not quick. And it is not convenient. And until we can own up to our own bad manners towards those around us, we’ll have evil served to us for breakfast. This is our daily bread until we learn how to treat each other, and ourselves, with more respect.


Abby said...

Yes, I agree. I can come into work here and walk to my desk and sit here all day (and all week) without a single person actually saying hello or acknowledging my presence. I can walk around saying hello to everyone I want, I could saely say that under 10% actually respond.

What has happened to everyday politeness? What about respect?

Nick said...

I think the problem is partly to mdo with the fact that we conventionally use machines ALL the time. People were afraid that computers wopuld be like machines, and possibly take over the world. Instead, the opposite has happened. We have become more like machines. When we sit in front of computers, are we programming/inputting them, or are we being programmed? Increasingly we become more and kore like zombies, disconnected and discinlined to talk - even politely - to each other. We've lost respect and love for our own lives, hence we don't respect others as we ought to.