Wednesday, July 23, 2008

People should be more selfish, not less

Humans are the masters of mediocrity. They live in the happy median between two extremes and will do anything in their power to remain that way. Whether it’s the Pope, the Jihad or the President of the United States of America, the extremists will eventually lose when they remove the majority from its comfort zone.

There was a great moment in the new Batman film – a film that should be applauded for its dark, moral complexity alone – where Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne are having a dinner conversation about Rome in its time of peril and domestic tumult. One man stood up and took charge of the city when no one else would and for a time took matters into his own hands, and it was considered a public service. But this man eventually kept the power for himself, and became the first in a long line of Ceasers to gain and maintain power. And maintain they did, for a good 400 years, at least.

That seems like a hell of a long time for people to just follow self-appointed rulers. But the truth of the matter is no one really gives a fuck what’s going on around him unless it affects their ability to acquire food and take a shower (this may be coming to a head in this country real soon, but don't expect any revolutions until then). They prefer comfort over action. Ask anyone today why he wants more energy alternatives such as ethanol or hydro-electric, and the number one reason you’ll get is money. They’ll play ball if it saves them money, but no one, save for a small minority of – you guessed it – extremists, really gives a shit about the environment.

We are so used to thinking of this kind of mentality as “apathy,” myself included. But I now think the matter runs much deeper. A person’s inability or unwillingness to act should not be couched in such language that makes him appear to be right or wrong for doing nothing. It shouldn’t make him think that he has to write to a congressman, or lobby against a tobacco company, or lay down in front of a Caterpillar tractor to save an Oak tree, or donate money to a campaign, or solicit pamphlets and books about nutrition or drugs or crime or pot or God or whatever – it shouldn’t make him think that if he doesn’t do one of these things that he’s a bad person and that he cares about nothing and no one but himself.

If people actually cared enough about themselves, they wouldn’t constantly place burden and blame outside themselves. “Oh, the police didn’t get here fast enough,” says someone who doesn’t care enough about his own safety. “The doctor gave me the wrong diagnosis,” says the person who doesn’t care enough about his own health. “The mechanic broke my car,” says the ignorant man who doesn’t care enough about anything that he owns. Be your own mechanic for a change. Be your own doctor. Be your own security guard.

The point is, if people cared just a little bit more about their own lives, the world would be much better off. They wouldn’t rely on every Mexican or shop clerk or waitress to give them what they need. This doesn’t mean being heartless and uncompassionate, it simply means being responsible. The trick is this: whatever you CAN do for yourself, do for yourself, or learn. Don’t blame our leaders for your problems. That’s how Rome ended up the way it did. Not that Rome didn’t have good leaders, because for a time, they actually did; there was no war and everyone got along great – for a while.

Having leaders is good when times are bad, but they’re just people who can’t be expected to handle everything, and certainly shouldn’t be granted limitless power and authority. Besides, the kinds of people attracted to leadership are usually very idealistic extremists of some sort or another; just because they aren’t Islamic extremists (the only thing we seem to think of when that word comes up) doesn’t mean their views aren’t extreme. Someone stands up and says “I believe what we need is a theocracy,” and if enough people agree, then it stands, and it works. To them it’s not extreme, but to others, it very much is. And we bomb those people. Because we’re extreme, too.

Being mediocre at a lot of things is what made men like Einstein, Newton, Franklin and Edison so great. They weren’t one of a kind people, they were simply ordinary men thinking outside of the box. We made gods out of them with our teachers and our textbooks.

And that is why man is not usually seen as the mediocre person he is: the in-between doesn’t get nearly as much ratings. People want to believe in something bigger than them, because it gives them hope, not to mention a sense of self-worth. I can't imagine why, since it in turn makes them powerless. Were they to realize that great men are actually common in this world, they might be forced to become great themselves. And that requires sacrifice. It’s easier to believe that one day some deus-ex-machina-like hero will decend out of the clouds and save them all in the end.

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