Monday, December 14, 2009

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

A fraudulent society - by Nick van der Leek

What do I mean by that? What is a fraudulent society? Well it is a large number of individuals who are individually and collectively corrupt, collectively caught up in a cycle of counterfeiting and artifice. What do I mean?

It means the entirety of our values are seated in money. It means we lack a sense of continuity, cohesion or conscience. These lacks will lead, finally and ultimately, to societal collapse. Don't believe me?

Well let's take two icons of our time. Michael Jackson and Tiger Woods. Michael Jackson's dalliances with little boys seems not to matter as long as we remember he made beautiful music. Really? So there's one rule for child molesters and another for rich, grotesquely self-indulgent child molesters. If a child molester makes us feel good - with nice songs - we hold them to a different standard. Really?

Tiger Woods is a different animal to Jackson. A man representing discipline and poise. He is a different kind of fraud. A man who to his own wife represented an entire counterfeit charade.

James Moore of The Huffington Post summarises Tiger's betrayal perfectly

Nothing Tiger might have done could have more deeply harmed his wife because she now sees her entire existence in his world as a fraud. How does he fix that? Who has that much forgiveness?

The people who suggest, as did Jack Nicklaus, that this is "none of our business," are terribly mistaken. In fact, Nicklaus is one of the many people who turned Tiger into our business. Nicklaus anointed him as a player with almost inhuman skills. Golf wanted all of us to make Tiger our business because it was good for golf's business. The sports fans are justified in feeling as though they, too, are victims of a betrayal.

Some people say that Tiger's philandering - with pornstars and what not - doesn't matter. Among these people are Tiger's sponsors, notably Nike, who still stand by him. In Tiger himself we see a noticeable schizophrenia. A man presenting one image to his wife, and fans, and then another Tiger. Moore describes it thus:

His behavior appears pathological and suggests he psychologically compartmentalized his world into a road version and a home edition.

At the heart of this attitude is one simple thing: ARROGANCE. And if there is one thing that breeds arrogance, it is money - having too much of it, and being worshipped for that.

It is against this background that two powerful stories have penetrated our public consciousness. One is INVICTUS and the other, James Cameron's AVATAR. I've been dismissive in the past about movies, and fiction in general. But I've had a change of heart. Sometimes there is little or no inspiration in reality. It is then that we must find inspiration in the works - sometimes the mere words, ideas, hopes - of others.

In INVICTUS Mandela says something that is extraordinary powerful: To build a nation each of us must exceed our own expectations of ourselves. The opposite, is a fraudulent society - with low standards for itself, its leaders, its models. A fraudulent society places value in one thing - what it wants for itself, whether or not this translates to a good thing collectively. Today that one thing tends to be money. The way to raise our game comes down to each person, you, me and those around us, raising our expectations for ourselves first, rather than judging and blaming others first. If Mandela can forgive the gross injustice of 27 years in jail, perhaps we can exceed our expectations of ourselves in terms of forgiving those not like us who we feel transgress against us. Isn't this the least we can do?

AVATAR presents a more visionary look at the human heart. It presents a young warrior, played by Sam Worthington, in a basic situation. He is a pawn, essentially, with science on one side [with all its informed insights, affirmations and environmental concerns] and corporate interests on the other. Greed is immediate - Sully [Worthington] is offered the gift of 'new legs' [he's a paraplegic] in exchange for the aggressive and loyal pursuit of these vaunted corporate interests.

AVATAR goes further than most Hollywood fodder by politicising the process, and having Sully question the legitimacy of his mission. Sully becomes, in essence, a revolutionary.

“When people are sitting on stuff you want, you make them your enemy”.
By the same token, when it enriches you not to know something - to deny something - what do people do? When it enriches you to believe something that may not be true - what do people do?

An article in WIRED sums up our common denialism succinctly:

...climate change has an added aspect that is very important. The scientists who built nuclear bombs felt guilt about what they did. Now the guilt is real for the broader public. Why don’t people seem to care?
Kari Norgaard:On the one hand, there have been extremely well-organized, well-funded climate-skeptic campaigns. Those are backed by Exxon Mobil in particular, and the same PR firms who helped the tobacco industry (.pdf) deny the link between cancer and smoking are involved with magnifying doubt around climate change.

Climate change is disturbing. It’s something we don’t want to think about. So what we do in our everyday lives is create a world where it’s not there, and keep it distant.

For relatively privileged people like myself, we don’t have to see the impact in everyday life. I can read about different flood regimes in Bangladesh, or people in the Maldives losing their islands to sea level rise, or highways in Alaska that are altered as permafrost changes. But that’s not my life. We have a vast capacity for this.

To be explicit, Norgaard is saying we have a vast capacity for denial, for fooling ourselves, in effect to bullshit others and be bullshitters ourselves. How can we as individuals break out of this destructive and delusional pattern?

Image above of a Norwegian farmer who built these windmills on his own farm.

By being true to our gut-instincts. By challenging ourselves in constructive ways. By associating with people who think critically [as opposed to cynics, or perpetual optimists/doomsayers].

At a basic level we're combating our own doubts and fears. So what to do? Confess your lack of self belief, look for factual proof for why you believe what you believe. Apologise to yourself for those self doubts and limiting, controlling self beliefs that you've allowed to reign and ruin inside yourself. Forgive yourself - this frees you to forgive others, and liberates your real self beliefs. Finally, develop a sense of gratitude. This will inspire you to want new things, and test whether you can have these things, and provide the motivation to go and do what you must do. So in summary - when you have doubts, confess them, test them, apologise when they're found to be irrational, forgive yourself and then cultivate a sense of gratitude.

You can write lists for yourself - of things you can do. Journal your emotions. But are you moved emotionally, or are you moved literally. Because therein lies all the difference. It is by our works that we can redeem ourselves. Until then, we're walking, talking, bullshitting fraudsters and we can't expect a functional world, and a functional system, if everything about it, and everything about us, is dysfunctional. So let that change start with you. Start by doing one simple thing: be honest. Then live honestly.

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