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Sad But True…

April 25, 2010

Bertrand Russell wrote this in 1949 in his book Authority And The Individual.  I thought it worth sharing:

In the modern world, and still more, so far as can be guessed, in the world of the near future, important achievement is and will be almost impossible to an individual if he cannot dominate some vast organization.  If he can make himself head of a state like Lenin, or a monopolist of a great industry like Rockefeller, or a controller of credit like the elder Pierepont Morgan, he can produce enormous effects in the world.  And so he can if, being a man of science, he persuades some government that his work may be useful in war.  But the man who works without the help of an organization, like a Hebrew prophet, a poet, or a solitary philosopher such as Spinoza, can no longer hope for the kind of importance which such men had in former days.  The change applies to the scientist as well as to other men.  The scientists of the past did their work very largely as individuals, but the scientist of our day needs enormously expensive equipment and a laboratory with many assistants.  All this he can obtain through the favor of the government, or, in America, of very rich men.  He is thus no longer an independent worker, but essentially part and parcel of some large organization.  This change is very unfortunate, for the things which a great man could do in solitude were apt to be more beneficial than those which he can only do with the help of the powers that be. A man who wishes to influence human affairs finds it difficult to be successful, except as a slave or a tyrant: as a politician he may make himself the head of a state, or as a scientist he may sell his labor to the government, but in that case he must serve its purposes and not his own.

The savage, in spite of his membership of a small community, lived a life in which his initiative was not too much hampered by the community.  The things that he wanted to do, usually hunting and war, were also the things that his neighbors wanted to do, and if he felt an inclination to become a medicine man he only had to ingratiate himself with some individual already eminent in that profession, and so, in due course, to succeed to his powers of magic.  If he was a man of exceptional talent, he might invent some improvements in weapons, or a new skill in hunting.  These would not put him into any opposition to the community, but on the contrary, would be welcomed.  The modern man lives a very different life.  If he sings in the street he will be thought to be drunk, and if he dances a policeman will reprove him for impeding the traffic.  His working day, unless he is exceptionally fortunate, is occupied in a completely monotonous manner in producing something which is valued, not, like the shield of Achilles, as a beautiful piece of work, but mainly for its utility. When his work is over, he cannot, like Milton’s Shepherd, “tell his tale under the hawthorn in the dale,” because there is often no dale anywhere near where he lives, or, if there is, it is full of tins.  And always, in our highly regularized way of life, he is obsessed by thoughts of the morrow. . . . . We know too much and feel too little.  At least we feel too little of those creative emotions from which a good life springs.  In regard to what is important we are passive; where we are active is its over trivialities.  If life is to be saved from boredom relieved only by disaster, means must be found of restoring individual initiative, not only in things that are trivial, but in the things that really matter.”

There really is so much I hate about the modern world.  I like to go for long walks around town and it’s sad that I’m mostly confined to sidewalks.  The world is completely roped off by personal property divisions.  If you start to walk through someone’s yard the police are there in no time.

The other day I cut through the soccer field of the middle school.  Within 10 minutes a police officer pulled up right beside me, stepped out of the car, and stared intently at me.   He lit up a cigarette and gave me the evil eye like I was up to something.  I walked right up to him and said, “Weather’s nice today.”  He said, “It’s a bit cold.”  And then I kept walking.  Paranoid society.

I walked along the side of the road in a neighborhood and when some kids saw me they said, “Stranger danger!  Stranger danger!”  Then they ran off.

There’s hardly any forests to walk around in anymore.  But one time I cut out of the forest and onto the sidewalk.  A young couple was walking down that sidewalk too and man oh man were they terrified.  I guess because I walked out of the woods, I dunno.  They got off the sidewalk and went way into the grass.  More paranoia.

I guess the woods is home to pot smoking druggies.  Who else spends time in them these days, other than me?

Bertrand Russell talked about visiting the hawthorn tree but nowadays there is no such thing.  And when you do go somewhere rural its all polluted.  I took a stroll down a country road and you wouldn’t believe what I found.  Some good ol’ country boys didn’t want to pay the dump fee, so they just discarded their old furniture roadside, including a now half-rotted bed mattress which just looked wonderful.  This was a perfect addition to all the Budweiser cans I found in the ditches and the Wal-Mart plastic bags hung in all the pine trees.

Even nice neighborhoods are getting polluted where I live, and it’s not intentional.  Our city has a recycling program where we’re given these blue bins to put plastic and other recyclable things in.  Well, those bins are way too small and they fill up to overflowing well before the next pickup.  Then a windy day comes and soda bottles and other trash is blown all over the place.   In the nicer neighborhoods they clean it up, but in other places they just leave it.  When I see that I can’t help but think, “Do the benefits of recycling outweigh all this pollution?  Probably not.”

Not too long ago I found this great country road.  It was beautiful scenery with these cliffs and trees.  I thought, “Wow, this is so nice, and you know, hardly anyone drives out there.  It’s peaceful.”  Then I looked over the edge of one cliff and found a surprise!

Apparently some small business found the area a convenient dumping ground for their truck-load of old CRT computer monitors.  There they were, like 40 of them.  I thought, “Oh, how nice!”   Man, what would that have cost to properly dispose of those?  $25?  $45?  Jethro yells to Cletus in the old pickup truck, “Hey guys, I just got an idea.  How about we save ourselves $45 and just dump these bastards over this here cliff side.  Nobody comes out here anyway.  Well, nobody but that philosopher guy who walks around town with his head down, thinking about who knows what.  He’s probably a terrorist Muslim extremist.”  No guys, sorry, I’m not religious at all and I’m just admiring these monitors you’ve dumped here.  Thanks though!

More and more people springing up everywhere.  Continual population increase.  You can’t take a stroll out in nature unless you want to walk 30 miles out of town.   There used to be a woods all over where I live but it’s all been bulldozed down now.  They put in a bunch of apartment buildings.  Everywhere you look they’re building something new, city limits slowly making their way outward.

It’s just like Bertrand Russell said.  I’m confined to this sidewalk walking around with cars driving by, having to breathe in their exhaust.  Half of them fat overweight people staring at me like, “What is that guy doing walking?”  It’s always funny when I walk by an intersection and someone will have their window down.  They roll up their window and won’t make eye contact with me.  I just laugh to myself and think, “No wonder people are manipulated by Fox News so easily.  God they’re paranoid.”  Not everyone is like that, but far too many people.

I’m not even rough looking.  I’m clean cut, wearing a nice button up shirt, clean pressed blue jeans, new shoes, my hair is cut short… There’s no reason to fear me.  But you just never know!  On Sundays half of them are on their way to Church, pastor giving a sermon about brotherly love.  What a joke.  If I was injured along the side of the road they’d be too scared to get out and help me.  They’d use their cell phone to call 911, but they themselves would drive off.

It might just be Missouri and the town where I live.  Not a whole lot of people use the sidewalks.

People are really homophobic here as well.  I went for a walk with my older brother the other day and some neighborhood kids around saw us.  The next day they rode up to me on their bikes and asked, “Are you gay?”  I said, “No, I’m not.  Why do you ask?”  “Just wondering.”

Imagine if I wanted to go skipping down the sidewalk, or burst out into song.  You can’t.  It’s impossible.  You’d have hordes of prudish people staring at you from within their cars thinking, “Oh my God, that guy’s a psycho.  Lock the doors.  Up the windows.”

Actually there is one guy who dares to do exactly that here in town.  Pretty hilarious actually.  He’s known as “walk-hard” because he’s all gangster and listens to his iPod, rapping and throwing up gang signs as he walks down the sidewalk.  Sometimes he’ll just throw his hands up in the air staring up to the sky as he crosses the street at a busy intersection.  He’s like Akon in a rap video.

Naturally he’s an object of ridicule, but I personally like the guy.  Unfortunately there’s this social construct that to do anything remotely fun in public is a no no.  You have to keep a solemn look on your face and just quietly walk from one destination to the next and hope the police don’t hassle you.  But honestly, just for the hell of it, I’d love to just start dancing in the grocery store.  Do some Michael Jackson moves down the isle, bust a little spin on the heels, grab my crotch, then tilt my hat toward some middle-aged woman.  Then grab the box of Corn Flakes and make my way to the check-out.  I admit though, that’s the very sort of thing I’d be complaining about if I had to deal with it every time I went to the store.  Be funny the first few times but it’d get annoying REAL fast.

I remember cutting through another area of town.  It’s not exactly the nicest area, so it might not have been a good idea.  Anyways, some guys started yelling out to me, “Hey man.”  I ignored them at first.  They kept yelling, “Hey man.”  I gave them a slight wave of my hand signaling “Hello” and continued walking.  Just four or five minutes later a black SUV pulled up RIGHT beside me and kept driving RIGHT beside me.  It was just a few feet away.  I looked in the window and for a brief moment made eye-contact with a very serious, scary looking guy in black-shades who wouldn’t take his eyes off me.  I thought, “Oh my God it’s Feds.”

Then all of the sudden three or four black SUVs and ten cop cars blazed into the area and surrounded those guys who were yelling at me.  They were arrested, apparently drug dealers.  I thought, “WOW… Good thing I kept walking.”

I’m just pacifist Jason, philosopher/scientist, trying to have a peaceful walk, and all this happens.  People wonder why I tend to stay up late at night and walk at 3 AM in the morning.  Outside of the beer cans reflecting moonlight, all the trash is hidden in the darkness.  There’s no stupid cars driving by with people staring at me.  No black SUVs tailing me, or drug dealers trying to sell me garbage.  No little homophobic kids pestering me.  It’s just me and the stars.  I’m finally left alone to my thoughts, but there isn’t much room for free-thought or time in this world.   I just want to relax and listen to the birds but there’s always a jackhammer or some kids making noise.

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