The Convenient Society; How Hard Work Could Save Us.

Yesterday I had two conversations of note. I personally respect each party involved equally, although they have opposite dispositions. One I would call true a progressive; naively hopeful, convinced the world can actually change – she is sure we will be saved. The other is a pure isolationist.

While I see the appeal of both sides, I am forced to ask how these two contentious positions can be tempered and reconciled. As for me, I am maybe somewhere in the middle, and while that appears to be more balanced I feel it might just be a compromise that lacks the conviction and scruples of my colleagues.

I write quite a lot about being progressive, so much so that perhaps I’ve lost sight of what that means. I might have never known at all. I merely want to live in world I can be proud of, and to enjoy a balance of the internal and external. I understand and can respect the notion that one’s immediate surroundings are all that is truly important: a hometown, your friends, your family, your daily grind. I get it. But I can’t pretend to prescribe to such a lifestyle. These external forces are always finding their way in. I am caught looking at the machine as a whole, rather than at its moving parts. However, I do understand that each bolt and each screw has a purpose, and that the machine’s operation is partially dependent on at least one person caring for and maintaining those small parts. I think it is high time that I stop merely proposing how and why the machine has become a failed project, and propose some way to fix it.

Sometimes, when I glance over my body of work, which admittedly only encompasses roughly 5 years of writing, I am discouraged to find merely trifles; a discomforted under-my-breath tangent about everyday evil. I believe, and quite earnestly so, that I have been after the heart of something, and in searching for it, have overlooked all those distinct moving parts.  And perhaps therein lies the fault. I may have made a grave error in avoiding the specific happenings that spell our collective doom in favor of focusing on what it all really means. I thought I could eat my dessert first. O what a fool I’ve been…

A myriad of writers and artists have admitted that it wasn’t an obligation to inform or enlighten that drew them into their line of work, but a need to expel feelings that, over time, grew to a critical mass, until they felt they would suffocate if they continued to starve the beast within. In short, it is not communication I’m after. I’m not trying to enlighten you, or teach you, or even engage you. I only feel a certain way, and hope you feel that way too, or at least that you understand what I feel and why I feel it. So when I say that when a member of an independent militia kills a doctor who offers safe abortions in Kansas, that America enables terrorism by not forcing the disbandment of militias, I hope you agree, or at least see why it is a valid argument. We need to be vigilantly proactive.

But this isn’t the point. The point is that I am spinning my tires. In fact, it appears to me that all those like me, let’s call us ‘progressives’, because to call my self a liberal would be a grave misnomer, are moving backwards into extinction. There’s an oil geyser in the Gulf, a growing fascist movement at home and abroad, and even here, in the great-white -leftist-north, we have moved inexorably further right and continue to do so by the day. For Fuck’s Sake, our government is refusing to offer the third world safe abortions because an invisible man in the clouds frowns upon it. Where do these words get us?

Sure, there are solutions. And it’s not having an open mind so much as it is having a level one. Until we can do something worthwhile as a species, together, we aren’t getting anywhere as individuals. Not moving forward. Not advancing. The advent of the Internet was an impressive one, but while we use it to watch rape porn and argue about that fat woman from Britain’s Got Talent, it’s not exactly solving our problems. It is convenient though, and that’s all that really matters. Ah, here’s that truth I was mining for. The problem with both of those positions I brought up earlier; one is too convenient, the other, not convenient enough.

We live in an age and place where convenience is our monarch, and he rules with strict authority. Convenience is a religion, a philosophy, a policy, and a stringent way of life. It has made us fat, stupid, and incompetent. But it has less to do with the specific parts of our convenient society than it does with a general desire to be withdrawn. It is by any means necessary that we stave off serious toil and resign to be taken care of. Eventually we will live in pods and pay a slave to work for us, and feed us intravenously.

Your New Home

But in all seriousness, this may be one of the reasons why the news-media has become terminally ill. It’s not just that people show a categorical lack of interest in the world around them; they consciously choose not to care. If people really engaged with the world around them, and examined their own political life they might revolt. If we had some spontaneous cultural reformation and suddenly awakened to the stark truth that our society is constructed to make us consumers first, humans second, I’m sure people would feel obligated to affect some kind of change. Or if people truly understood that one company, Monsanto, essentially owns the worlds food supply, and can manipulate it in anyway they choose, we might feel different about the direction our planet is going. But it seems that nothing can shake us from our slumber. Even news that our environment is eroding, that we are destroying our habitat at a near irreversible rate, is insufficient impetus for action.

We either have the privilege or the burden to be alive right now, in a time when we have the wherewithal to understand the dooms that approach, but lack the courage to stop them, or perhaps the ingenuity. Maybe for all our brilliant designs we have failed to construct the instruments necessary to prolong our species. While we may look around at our immense urban sprawl, while taking our anti-anxiety medication, and marvel at the capacity of our race, should we not remind ourselves that it is longevity that indicates the success of a species? We sure have created a lot. We’ve made our lives so convenient. But we’ve also reduced them to pure wind.

Photo Credit: Gus Powell, The New Yorker

We’ve become empty. And this emptiness is at least partially the fault of a lack of effort. Many things become simple and intelligible through labour. And without that frontier we forget the most basic principles of our existence and we become distracted by the tools of convenience.

Consider the notion that our constant traveling has impeded even our understanding of space. We naively expect that we’ve created some kind of ridiculous ‘global village’, where we are all equal citizens, where we could not (as good pious folk) stand idle while members of our village suffer. Except we do. And this, although having much to do with a historical context of subjugation in the name of profit, coupled national and personal entitlement, has a great deal to do with resignation. The world as we have re-constructed it is severely solipsistic. We have been trained, as a culture of consumers, to think chiefly about ourselves, and this has made community essentially impossible. Recently an elderly man was mugged on the TTC, in a full train car, in broad daylight. The response of the other passengers: nothing.  This is the risk of isolation. This is life in a brave new century, where the Citizen’s obligation is primarily to himself. After that, he can only be expected to help his fellow human beings at his own convenience. This was not even our ‘extended-village’. It was our geographical village. A single train car.

How do we stray from this pattern? It may be as simple as hard work. We need to make conscious decisions to better ourselves, to engage with the tribulations of our generation rather than conveniently ignoring them. There has to be some desire to live a virtuous life – something that means more than simply enjoying yourself. A person ought to strive for more, should she not?

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