Opposite

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Set against? Sounds quite divisive… and I have an issue with that! But there is a line between enemy and difference, and it’s that line that I wouldn’t mind travelling on. I am talking about people, you know, and more specifically about the line between the individual and the social creature. What are the sacrifices? How far should we go? Where do we stop? What do we expect from others?

It comes as no surprise that we live in the world of people, made by people for people’s purposes. Which people, from when and what price this world I will discuss shortly. Suffice it to say that making a living alone on a deserted island (Scotland, anybody? Or maybe the Pacific) is very rare and suits a very few of us. Most people live close to other people, in distance if not in spirit.

And chances are that if you live close to people sooner or later you will bump against certain rules, many of them of the negative sort (don’t…). Provided you don’t have certain health conditions, you are made aware of those rules since when you’re born. They shape your life, whether you will it or not, whether you respect them or not. They become part of you. So when you meet someone who doesn’t have precisely the same rules, you are made aware of difference.

Of course the above is too simplistic by orders of magnitude. The factors that influence our lives are many and complex, the relationship between them is complicated at the best of times. We give the rules different names and different powers and different weights.

But the individual questions remain the same. What is the price I will have to pay to be part of this social group? How much of who I am do I need to restrain, renounce or defend in order to belong? How do I make that choice and will I be satisfied with what is left? Is it worth it? Yes, I am aware that the social contract theory is not the be all and end all of the universe 🙂

Then you get into the self-esteem questions: am I not likeable the way I am? Am I good enough now or do I have to whittle a little bit more of myself?

The funny thing is many of us find our peers, our family by choice, based on our individuality. We create clubs, we have coffees and dinners together, we go for walks together. But remember that Clavell quote about the three different hearts of people? The obvious one (shown to the world), the closed one (shown to few), the secret one (shown to no one)…

I am running out of my self imposed space 🙂 I wanted to write about the weight the social factor has on the individual. I wanted to write that the secret face deserves to at least be acknowledged by the individual, not subsumed to the social. I wanted to write about inflexible systems that crush difference and try to fit the person in rather than become fit for the person. I wanted to write about rights (freedom?) and lifestyles.

I was watching “Moana” the other day. I am not the only one whose heart strings were tweaked by her breathless “we were voyagers!”

And I was thinking of the old adage, that if a human wants to live in a tree, we must make sure that the tree is fit for human habitation 🙂

Is there a difference? Or enmity?

Personalize

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I was thinking about this after a long talk with a friend but also after a bit of a media binge. Government departments applying the rules with no flexibility. Businesses trying to reach many more people effectively. Finding a doctor that suits one’s personality and approach. Industrial revolution – no, I am not joking! They are related at some level but it took a while to figure out what that level actually is.

And I’ve got it!

It’s the generalized approach. Like clothes size 8 that fit only a percentage of the people who should generally meet the size criteria. It’s the rules and regulations that we are supposed to follow just because they are despite not actually being suited to the humans who live with them. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not against rules and regulations per se. In fact, I think they are necessary. I just don’t think that there is a one size fits all approach.

Where does the industrial revolution actually fit in this? I have this (potentially wrong) idea that prior to the industrial revolution most people were self-employed contractors. Some were not, like slaves, priests, aristocrats. But most were, participating in a loosely wild economy. It seems that the industrial revolution changed this into a rigid, time-bound system that had flow-on effect on most human life, from child care to leisure to death. And despite it being only a couple of hundreds years old, the “civilized” world swears by it and has to be forced to percieve alternatives. The language we use is telling: a self-employed” person is somebody who is “out of the rat-race” as opposed to a government employee being “out of the wild race” or some such expression. So the rat-race is normal and being out of it is not, with (again!) flow on effects like being eligible for social welfare or insurance.

One reason for the above is sheer number. Of people, I mean. Because, of course, other flow on effects of the industrial revolution were the advances in health care, sanitation, convenience etc. So people numbers went up like a kite. So then the generalization that made the Industrial Revolution possible became necessary – or so we think.

Now we’re going the other way and talking more and more about population burden and reducing the number of people on Earth. Few of us have actually stopped to think what that may mean though. We may agree that there are too many of us, but somehow we never include ourselves in the number of people who needs to… disappear, for want of a better word… like death. It always seems to be someone else who needs to die so that we may continue to experience the better life, on a cleaner planet with enough food, water and services.

And yet live how? Why do we have to be lucky to be told that there are alternatives to the rat race? Like self-sufficiency. Or financial independence. Or self-employment. Work from home. Creativity.

What would you choose, if money was not a factor?

Systems, revisited

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It seems to be a fact of modern life that people complain. They complain about the weather and each other, mostly, one which can’t be helped at all and the other one… well, I will not get into the inter-personal stuff right now. But there is something else that people complain about, and that sometimes can be missed because it is rarely put clearly. I am talking, of course, of systems.

For once the word is Greek in origin – those are interesting, really, their history even more complicated than the Latin words. The combination of words that leads to system is “with “ and “set up” which tends to describe the rules that stand at the bottom of any system worth its salt. And therein you shall find the reasons for the complaints.

Let me explain 🙂

Last time I wrote about systems I was tired and only mentioned the linear sequences that a system is based on – yep, those are the rules of the game. But, as any student before the exam will tell you, it is the feedback mechanism that makes a system operate properly, otherwise you have a simple calculator. The rules give it strength, the feedback gives it flexibility. That’s the theory, anyway.

The glitch, as I see it, is that systems are set up by people. Yep, the same people who thought you could identify a criminal by his facial features. The same people who thought only birds could fly. The same people who saw a ship appearing on the horizon mast first and still thought the Earth was flat. In short, imperfect, bound already by whatever rules their culture set up as laws. The big systems like the Universe, Earth, Life already have rules (gravity, anybody?) and sometimes even systems (oh, look how many aphids, said the ladybirds and their population exploded) but those are difficult to break and even destabilize. And they are too big, so people have made up smaller systems, trying to account for consequences, and yet those come mostly as surprises due to people’s strange idea that their concepts take precedence over everything, including the big systems. Take communism, for example, ignoring competition. Or take capitalism, for example, ignoring community.

But I digress.

One would think that we could give a nice big computer the task of setting up the systems, so that we can be sure we cover more unintended consequences that imperfect people could ever conceive. But that would just take a rectifiable error and compound it until it is enshrined in law.

You see, people talk about rules and set up incentives and deterrents around them to award or punish the obedience or rebellion. But just like systems, rules are made by people FOR the people, they have to SERVE the people, not just bind them. That is the role of the feedback system, and that is where most systems fail, begetting complaints from the people who trip and fall instead of being helped. Rules are lovely, feedback helps them stay that way, instead of just empty relics.

People’s systems are, by their nature, limited and imperfect, like their creators. And yet they are better, for those people, than anything that comes in second place. We just need to remember that feedback – the flexibility is just as important as the strength.

Marriage

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I would like to have a chat with an evolutionary biologist or anthropologist one day. (In fact I would like to study those subjects.) The question I have is: do you ever feel like an alien?

Do you, sitting down at your computer and sending long words into a cloud that has nothing to do with cumulonimbus, do you have that self-righteous feeling that if only “civilized” people would behave more naturally a lot of problems might just be avoided?

(Deists might ask themselves the same questions, they would probably define “naturally” in another way)

Civilized people are the only species on this planet that ignore natural rhythms for reasons other than safety (think 8 hour work day, 5 days a week for an entire year, ignoring circadian, seasonal , climatic and personal objections).

Civilized people are the only ones who insist on wearing clothes when there is no need to and contort their bodies in awkward positions like sitting on chairs or the toilet.

Civilized people are the only ones who do not know what, how and when to eat.

And of course, they are the only ones that I know of whose genders come together in close relationships that have nothing (much) to do with survival – children, food, protection, safety etc.

I have a good opinion about the above coming together. In all its many forms. Including marriage, as it happens. (And when I talk of marriage, it’s a general term, a bit easier to say than “the coming together etc.etc.).

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I never was one who wanted or wished to get married. I never dreamt of beautiful ceremonies or ritualized commitments. So of course I found myself married 🙂

The marriages I had known about before have not been inspiring. Abuse, routine, divorce, nagging, cheating, compromise, hard work, what was there to like? Reading about marriage wasn’t much better, given that people of different cultures sanction marriages for all kinds of reasons that sound odd to say the least: getting pregnant, money and property, inheritance, power, promises, religion.

So, do I have the recipe for the perfect marriage? No. I have a recipe for a good marriage, mine to be exact. So for my marriage, this holds true: you need to start from a position of strength. Please note that I didn’t say equality, just strength. I was not pressured, commanded, pushed, coerced or cajoled into marriage. Nor did I need it. It was a choice of mine, and as such I am committed to it.

If the first condition is met, I reckon you are halfway there. But wait, there’s more 🙂

The second condition: being people takes precedence over everything else. Sounds basic, but culture and religion tend to prescribe a lot of what goes on in the privacy of one’s marriage. Number of people in that marriage, for example. The gender of the people in that marriage. The sexual positions that are acceptable. Who does the cooking, washing, cleaning in that marriage. Who works, rules, counts in that marriage. And if those tenets do not suit the people in that marriage? I say that the people come first. Rules that don’t serve the people do not a good marriage make.

The third condition: lay down the rules and don’t change them unless you change. Define cheating and personal space. Clarify points of contention and acceptable forms of endearment. Argue about the important things so you can compromise on the trivial. Be sure you can live with the other one’s rules.

You can love, like, help, support, respect, admire, hate, dislike, ignore and despise the other to your heart’s content at different times of the day. Be tender, playful, generous or the opposite. Food needs to be cooked, children need to be cherished, work around the house needs to be done. You can do that with flatmates, friends, genetic family. But if I want a good marriage, it behooves me to practice what I preach 🙂