Sunday, July 16, 2006

How To Be A Proper Oddball #2

Since I am going off on one, go check this out first.

I have harped on before about the value of the mutants; deviation being a necessary condition for progress, whether in evolutionary terms or in any area of human thought and experience. If nobody ever strays from beaten track, then there will only ever be one road, heading in one direction. Of course oddness is not a sufficient condition for greatness – some mutations, like freckles, make little difference to anything and others can be detrimental; some oddballs only demonstrate how not to go about things.

However, without some deviation, we never make any progress. People who achieve great things are necessarily extraordinary, usually in more than one aspect of their abilities and behaviours.

Which bares the question, why do we push difference out to the edge, why do we discourage variation when it is so very good for us? I guess in terms of the way we have run our lives for the last several hundred years, deviation has generally caused a lot of trouble to the individual. Most people have been bound to a particular life according to where they happened to be born and who they happened to be born to.

If you think about small, self-sufficient communities, everyone would have to play a different role and do what they’re best at. But when you have large-scale agriculture or industry, you end up with a large proportion of people doing the same thing, regardless of their individual talents and temperaments. Well, it’s easier that way, you may well say.

I’m not sure it is easier for the vast majority of people involved in such systems, where there is minimal flexibility between roles. Okay, so any community – whether a group of four people or the population of the planet, has to delegate. However, as Charles Dawson recently recalled; a hundred years ago ordinary people in this country were effectively owned by their employers. And today, very much of the food we consume in this country, along with our clothes, the components of our technology – very much of everything we’ve got is supplied by people who are living with similarly few opportunities.

People who may have the temperaments and abilities of great artists or scientists may have no choice but to be harvesting your coffee beans or taking up arms for the coltan in your mobile phone. Not that I want anyone to feel bad about this; we rarely have that information, and what information we do have is muddled in with all the other pieces of information about what is good or bad for the non-human environment, for animal welfare, let alone our own health.

Which is a rather big tangent, I know. But suffice to say that this is a bad situation for all of us. People say, but someone has to do the dirty work, the menial tasks, the boring shit and this is quite true. Only why should this be determined by accident of birth (or uh, the colour of a person’s skin)? And why must some of the most necessary of work be conducted under such poor conditions? It is no better that we have entire countries bound in the service of other countries than it was when most of us were serfs bound in the service of our masters.

However, that’s another three thousand, four hundred and fifty-two blog entries…

Trouble is that because of the legacy of serfdom (for lack of a better, all-encompassing word), because of the legacy of communities where there was really only one job and one lifestyle young people could contemplate, I believe we fear and discourage deviation – we discourage people from harnessing their talents and temperaments where that might mean living life in a completely different way. And yet in the West, we are the people with the greatest opportunities to experiment with living. We dishonour the entire world when we make choices in the name of normality. And people do, all the time. People aspire to it.

I haven't finished yet, I'm afraid. I'm close though.


Anonymous said...

1.xenophobia in the strictest sense - fear of the alien - seems to be a basic part of homo sapiens's makeup. It's probably how sapiens (his own self-bestowed adjective) came to dominate over all other humanoid species.
2. there is also fear of being shown up. by which I mean, x dislikes the fact that y has a talent s/he doesn't have, because it makes him/her feel inferior.
3. there is also longing for security - if we can pigeonhole other people into well-defined functions and status, we feel less threatened by them. Corollary is that someone, anyone, who refuses to be so pigeonholed, is seen as a threat.
4. Very many species, although not all, have this sense of hierarchy. It's not a result of human intelligence or lack of it; it's instinctive.

5. It;s too hot to write anything but short notes.

The Goldfish said...

I must say that - although it may sound a little hypocritical, that I do struggle with any trait which is consider natural - especially when it comes to human nature.

I mean, there's xenophobia, but there's also curiosity and the fact that people often demonstrate immnense kindness to the strangest of strangers. And as for hierarchical structures - that gets very very messy when you try to apply the sort of thing we see in animal behaviours to what we see going on among humans.

Maybe I'll expand on this another time.

Hot? Is it? ;-)

pete said...

This rebel without a clue
Has sustained a lobster hue

Anonymous said...

Goldfish, there are all sorts of things that are part of human nature - like territorial instinct, the ability to survive, murder, steal, lie, to reproduce, etc etc - which we, being humans, control as best we can. That is to say, we have an ability to override our instincts in the name of reason, common-sense, conscience or expediency. That is something that distinguishes us from other animals.

But it doesn't mean that these drives aren't there underneath.

Hierarchy. This is an enormously complicated subject since its expression varies from species to species. I think I will blog a bit about this, if you don't mind, when it gets a bit cooler, rather than clutter up your space.

The Goldfish said...

Pete - hope you're not too burnt.

Charles, I look forward to reading your thoughts on your blog. :-)