How Should We Live Our Lives?
Most people (maybe us) meander through life in a more or less robotic state. As this is a fate that awaits any of us at any time I will use the term us. Little that is done contributes to a general purpose of existence but instead is done in the desire to look good in the eyes of others. To the great detriment of this lack of any over-arching life purpose, subdues us into a state of permanent drowsiness, like being permanently sedated, so that we may never attempt to stretch our power to the limits or attempt to question the status quo. But rather drugging ourselves against the feeling of sedation and helplessness.
However, for some people, meandering through life in this manner eventually proves unbearable. These people – the outsiders – come to sense that more is possible and greater things can be achieved than merely striving to make others think well of them through trivialities. The outsiders are obsessed with the problem of how to escape the sheer triviality of life. They live knowing that there is much more to discover and with a sense of wonder and awe.
To a point, everyone shares the outsider’s restlessness and ultimate desire to escape what the philosopher Martin Heidegger called “the triviality of everydayness”. But the outsider differs in that they are individuals who have consciously decided to try and do something about it. In searching for a more fulfilling and meaningful life the outsiders are very much motivated by the sentiment behind William Blake’s statement that one must “create their own system or be a slave to another man’s”.
Why then do so many people remain locked in a purposeless life, never even attempting to tackle the outsider’s challenge of how to escape from “the triviality of everydayness”?
As much as I am not keen on categories of separation it may help us here. There are thought to be the following types of people. Being Flexarian I see the following categories as the two extremes of the same Directed Person spectrum – the important thing being the ability to find a flexible sweet spot for each present moment along the continuum.
The other-directed person
The other-directed person cares more for what the neighbours think than for what he wants in his own person; in fact, his wants eventually become synonymous with what the neighbours think. He believes he wants what he desires and gets. He lives his life keeping up with his peers.
One of the main reasons for the intensification of other-directedness in modern society is the fear of appearing worthless – or the belief that one lacks the power and ability to achieve anything of great worth. This fear springs from the fact that the complexity of our society tends to create a defensive attitude in many people, the sort of acknowledgement of defeat that we all experience when we look at something and we seem out of our depth. The initial recoil associated with any new challenge such as looking at a French book before beginning to learn French. A fear of failure and looking foolish in the eyes of others. Standing at the bottom of a mountain before the ascent. The result is a sense of insecurity, a loss of the feeling of being self-determined. This insecurity gnaws into the nervous energies, it narrows the individual’s conceptions of his own abilities and values. Doubting one’s abilities, unsure if one’s goals are not merely delusions, those afflicted by the fallacy of insignificance are unlikely to have the self-belief required to step out from the crowd, take risks, and see what they are capable of.
But fortunately, the fear of appearing worthless is just a fallacy – a way of viewing ourselves that has no objective truth but only places unnecessary limits on our potential accomplishments.
The inner-directed person
The inner-directed person, on the other hand, is the true individual, the person more concerned with authenticity than imitation, and the type of person the outsider strives to be. We all secretly aspire to be unique but few of us manage the reality that being an outsider can be a lonely place. The inner-directed type of man is the man with pioneering qualities; in an expanding and changing society, he can cope with the confusion because he possesses the self-discipline to drive towards a goal he has chosen.
Most people have momentary periods of optimism where they believe even their loftiest goals to be achievable, but these moments are usually dispersed within much longer periods of pessimism. Pessimists always think their view of life is the real one. It is crucial to realize that a pessimistic vision of life is not necessarily a realistic one. Rather pessimism is very often a subjective perspective we impose on reality and if we are conscious of this we can strive to reframe our perspective toward a more optimistic, life-affirming one. We get to choose how we create our apparent realities.
If, like me, you can see yourself on both ends of this spectrum. Caring about what others think and not wanting to let others rule your life. The Flexarian would suggest finding a position where you are able to play the game of society and at the same time develop your own uniqueness to the full. Being totally inner-directed or other-directed would just not work and being totally inner-directed may not even be possible. The thing to strive for is to break free of the game of automaton existence that awaits us all if we succumb fully to capitalism and the status game.
Where to start?
Ask yourself if there were no other people on the planet when you woke up one morning – how would you live? An extreme thought I know but does make one aware of how much we strive to keep up with the Joneses. We are all guilty to some extent of caring about how we look, what we own, where we live, how successful we are, and what dog we own! The list goes on and on. A list that needs some work for each and every one of us.
Being or becoming more Maverick naturally requires that we are self-reliant.
“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Self-reliance is not a trait we are born with, rather it is one which we must develop. In our early years it exists as a dormant seed but as we mature the first roots of it may take hold or remain buried forever. Whether the potential for self-reliance blossoms or vanishes without trace depends on the individual, but sadly in the modern world, there are many powerful forces impeding its development.
“The virtue in most request, is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
There are many influences with which we could lay the blame for the lack of self-reliant individuals in society but possibly two of the prime candidates would be the modern family and the schooling system. Spending well over a decade of prime development time in educational institutions, we are not encouraged to think for ourselves or to develop autonomy but instead coached in the art of docile obedience. We are not taught to explore, criticise, question or play with ideas but to memorise and become conditioned with the dogmas of the day. Which our teachers are equally programmed with. And so the process reproduces constantly. This leads to a lifetime of dependency and devotion to ideas that are not even our own and often not true for us. How many young minds are limited in this way?
I have written previously about this – that schools and families were originally set up by rich philanthropists to protect them from what they deemed the dangerous classes. Who they thought were out of control and needed to be constrained in some way. They gave money and favours to those that met the conditions they determined would preserve their wealth and status. Included were church attendance, school attendance and marriage. To this day we are still under the social control of these processes which were birthed by the ruling classes’ purely selfish actions. And like all good social control mechanisms, the victims believe it is for their (our) own best interests. Is it still happening? You be the judge!
“Our mind moves only on faith, being shackled and constrained to what is desired by someone else’s ideas, a slave and captive under the authority of teaching. We have been so subjected to leading-reins that we take no free steps on our own, our vigor and liberty are extinct.” – Montaigne
Most of us never recover entirely from this condition as it is entrenched firmly in our psyche and has become the norm and we know how powerful the social norms are. How many normal behaviours still make sense when looked at with a more flexible mind?
Most never outgrow the influence of our schooling, rather, we remain submissive to the demands of others in various subtle ways. We hate to stand out too much for the wrong reasons(?). For example, we rarely stray too far from the belief system imposed on us by the schooling system, family, peer group, religious sect, the media or the government, and thus perceive reality through a worldview that is not our own. As a result of ignorance, laziness, and cowardice, we prefer the certitude of psychological chains over the uncertainty, discomfort and tension of freedom. Even when we have alternative views and thoughts, we tend to keep them to ourselves out of fear of ridicule or even worse being ostracised. Our desire for acceptance and the dubious respect of others far outweighs our commitment to the many alternative truths. Our hunger to express our thoughts and ideas proves no match for the power of the norms and programmed dogma to reign supreme. This timidity and refusal to speak what we feel to be true may halt our mind’s development and render our character weak and scattered. Not to mention feeling helpless and unfulfilled at a deep level of our conscious existence.
“Well, most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson – Self-reliance
Our self-reliant maverick, in contrast, values independent thinking for self and others and suffers greatly from the smallest things while others live in self-delusion. Mavericks liberate themselves from the beliefs imposed on them and use their critical capacities to forge a worldview they can call their own whilst taking into account all other possibilities with flexible open-mindedness (Flexarian attitude).
“I must Create a System,” wrote William Blake, “or be enslaved by another Man’s.” Mavericks are unafraid of the insults and contempt their opinions may incite, from narrow-minded others and undeterred by the standards of social and political correctness which keep most confined to a narrow range of belief and opinion.
For much of human history, our ruling classes have relied on maintaining consistency in belief and behaviour to ensure all were tied to their common purpose and thus able to work together to ensure their survival in often harsh environments. The layman’s lives and freedom of real choice are often given to protect the interests of those considering themselves superior. Force and manipulation are their weapons. Over the decades this has changed into much more subtle social control devices set up to feel as if it is for the benefit of all and there is no other way. Individuals could only stray so far from the accepted tribal (even today) paradigms without threatening in-group harmony, and those who did not cooperate were often punished with ostracism, exile, or death. In other words, for most of our history self-reliance was viewed not as an ideal to strive for, but as a curse to avoid. Little has changed. The methods have altered but the masses still pay the price. We now pay for the very technology that takes away our freedom. And we seem grateful for the veiled privilege!
“But during the longest period of the human past nothing was more terrible than to feel that one stood by oneself. To be alone, to experience things by oneself, neither to obey nor to rule, to be an individual – that was not a pleasure but a punishment; one was sentenced “to individuality”. Freedom of thought was considered discomfort itself.” – Nietzsche
Is it really so different today?
Today, we have progressed undoubtedly but still, the attitude to maverick behaviour is frowned upon, to say the least. Most today not only spend their life within the safe confines of the status quo but also lecture and ostracise all who show signs of deviation from the norm or consider that there may be other ways. Maverick behaviour or self-reliance will result in at least some social outrage. Hardship is guaranteed for the maverick. But, with resilience, we may be able to overcome the deeply human need to follow the herd, for obedience and conformity and in the process transcend what is considered normal human life and attain peace of mind knowing we have lived as freely and true to ourselves as possible
“The individual has always had to struggle from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” – Rudyard Kipling
A quick and harmless example from my life happened last summertime. Julie, I and the 5 dogs were walking across a field out in the local hills when A guy on a mountain bike shouted across to us that we were not on the path and that it was ????? and he pointed out where the path was lest we didn’t know. He did this at a distance of about 100 metres. I yelled back in reciprocation that we knew where the path was and thanks but we were okay. He then assumed that the field was mine! And was thoroughly confused and not a little put out by our deviation from the most used footpaths.
Just to explain there is a gate we come through that if we walk straight on it is a more direct route to where we are going and depending on the time of year. We would not walk so as to damage crops. We either walk straight on or follow the herd path. This day the field was fallow and the tractor lines proved okay to follow across.
The yelling mountain biker was totally non-plussed by the fact that anyone would have the audacity to walk across the field when the paths are so clearly defined.
He and his friend walked with us for quite a while. He seemed totally confused and asked lots of questions trying to understand. Back on the herd path, I think he needed to clarify what was happening as in his world there are no such choices. His reaction was his attempt to play at being the nature police. To him, it was black and white whereas for me it is always shades of grey. Luckily I didn’t get started on my thoughts on property ownership and a planet carved up and owned by very few.
I know many would say – but what if everyone walked across the field? Answer! They won’t – the problem is not enough people create their own path not that too many people go their own way. This is a metaphor for a human life following the path everybody else uses as opposed to following the path less trodden. Or creating your own.
This is just one harmless example of how strong public opinion and conforming can be upheld. And why the ruling classes use it for social control and programme us from birth. using the power of the dangerous classes for their own ends.
The art, for now, is to play the game and find your own freedom simultaneously. Standing as much disgust from others for daring to be different as possible. But eventually, there has to be a more telling solution and it lies here –
The solution is to be found in the knowledge of how our brains work and an acceptance that the wrong side of our brains is dominant. Then to use every resource possible to balance the incompatibility of the right and left sides of our brains for the saving of mankind. This is grossly oversimplified but it is nevertheless true. We are in deep shit unless we change who runs the show both in ourselves and in the masses and governments. This can only ever happen if we take the time to understand ourselves and how our brains work. Read Iain McGilchrist’s book “The Master and his Emissary” and if you like a challenge “The Matter with Things” to explore this further.