I am (almost) full of admiration for people who can take a very clearly definite position in the world. In connection to… well, pretty much everything social. It seems that they have to be either very, very intelligent (as in, they have thought of everything that plays a part in every single equation of their world model and made up their minds) or else, and I’m trying really hard not to make this sound mean, but… quite misguided.
While trying to decide how I feel (think) about all sorts of social topics, I have come accross the same type of mind-numbing complexity.
For instance, on one side of the possible ideological field, it seems very well-intended to want to change skewed relations in society in order to give people who are being treated unfairly a better chance to realise their potential – yet that means that a) the efforts of the people who have managed to overcome the income crookedness/glass ceiling/education gap/ (fill in any of tens of topics divided along this line) become irrelevant the minute the rules change; b) that the stimulus (for people on both sides of the normal distribution) to make any effort gets seriously reduced – and people are nothing if not lazy; c) that, eventually, excellence levels out. It’s hardly worth illustrating this point with politics, therefore I’ll depict this puzzlement of mine within other topics of potential interest. I read this post the other day which, to me (and I apologise for the need for labels), falls under `feminism`. And I felt, for one part, as if I was ready to stand on a barricade for the right to behave like a girl, to accept one’s emotions and live one’s – socially successful – life within the framework of one’s own gender (and nevermind, for the purpose of this discussion, how much of that is social anyway). Yes, it felt unfair and crooked that you’d have to `man up` about everything („stel je niet aan”, „nu-ţi pişa ochii”) instead of being allowed to be in tune with yourself. Yet, for another part, it seemed as if, if that rule changed, then half of how I, personally, and many women with me, define themselves would become worthless. The ability to play `as men` and to perform within the crooked framework – it would be irrelevant as soon as everything got redefined to make the playing field level. As for what it would all look like as soon as we structurally embraced emotionality, I dare not formulate any thoughts on that matter…
Another example: University entrance exams – in my generation, they were still the rule. Luckily, Romania still being a postcommunist country, the divide between extreme incomes had not yet systematically become so large that some would always be able to get preparation for a superior education and some never (although I am sure there will always have been people in whose horizon of expectation school didn’t play a part to begin with). It was, quite often, a matter of working hard (or at least, so it felt). People whose parents earned little worked extra hard, without private lessons, to pass this entrance exam. And there were fewer places. Today, everyone is welcome, on the basis of their highschool exams (SAT-like) and a tuition fee. Democratisation, in a way, although there are much fewer scholarship places and much more tax places – more students in general (because more people should be schooled), but also more students that can afford it without particularly having to make a dramatic effort. And yes, although the system of the small elite may be unfair, it seems unfair to one who couldn’t afford many things, but went to university in a time when it was a bitter struggle to get in, that their diploma is worth much less, through sheer inflation.
This is not, by the way, a post about rather sympathising with right (see, I said it, it seems impossible to get out of the left-right paradigm, however much you try). On the other end of the ideological paradigm, it makes perfect sense to me to assume that people will be more motivated to produce and make an effort when they embrace their self-centeredness – therefore a liberal economic and social system based on people’s self-driven `pursuit of happiness` sounds correct to me. But then, again, there have to be some rules so that one’s freedom shouldn’t impede on someone else’s freedom. And that’s where I start seeing flaws on this side as well: a) it is difficult to make sure that the freedom of people with more resources doesn’t become more important than the freedom of those with few resources – because man is nothing if not corruptible, especially when distribution of wealth becomes very skewed; b) this sort of system, without in-built (and therefore, unfortunately, state-built) holdbacks, will always choose money over quality of life – on a societal level: there is always the question of how economic motivation stops being the motivation of gaining a certain quality of life – because, well, in the process of attaining it, you relinquish the momentary quality of life (you hardly see your kids, due to the long hours you have to put in to pay for the dream-house that you hardly live in) and after a certain ceiling of wealth, the accumulation no longer simply sustains the very high standard of life, but becomes self-driven – because man is nothing if not greedy, as well; c) not everything is as profitable and therefore the market system reduces potentialities because not enough people are interested in them, although the input of different points of view/cultural products/niches may be very fertile for the evolution of the mainstream – it’s as if you chose (oh wait, that has already happened!) sweet corn as the corn that everybody likes and stopped producing regular corn other than for livestock, thereby losing large portions of food culture relying on a taste that isn’t there anymore, sweetening `general preference` in a way that subsequently requires the sweetening of all sorts of other varieties of food and – oh, surprise! falling into the pit of a structural body weight problem; d) not all external effects can be quantified, therefore the market system overuses resources… and, of course, one can go on for a long time. (I know, by this point it really is purely political 🙂 ) .
Coming back to where I started: I can very well imagine society as an organism that needs persuasions the way our body needs hormones. THe moetaphor is, to spell it out, that a group of people of one persuasion is an organ secreting a cetain type of hormone and, on the big scale of things, hormones keep each other in balance – right-wing governments follow left-wing governments, some push one way, some the other, public opinion on… say, body image gets formed at the intersection of beauty industry-generated models and people militating to step away from photoshop representation of bodies and so on. It seems fair enough, if that’s how you represent the whole thing in your mind, to strategically pick a place to stand in one organ or another because you feel it needs reinforcement. But there are so many unquestioned, well-rooted beliefs in our heads that it seems to me almost impossible to make a well-informed choice on this matter – and sometimes on any matter. And then I wonder (especially at times when the level of alert in the world reached boiling point) – does any single neuron of this organism-thingy know, at any given time, how it ought to work? Is there anyone with a firm position about everything which is actually based on something?