“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” – John Cage
I know I’m not “normal”. I know I’m not like most people. Ok, fine, but I live amongst “normal” people, and some days I even talk to them. (I gotta say, I love my freak enclave social group.)
But I don’t understand the pervasive aversion to change that grips our culture. And I don’t accept the hand-waving dismissal that it’s “human nature”.
Whenever people discus radical ideas, there’s usually a chorus that rises up in indignation, decrying the ideas as “unrealistic” or “good in theory, but not practical” or “a pipe dream” or “a threat to the status quo” or fill in the blank. If the objection isn’t a specific material criticism about the particulars of the idea’s application or ethics or utility, then it’s almost invariably couched in an assumptions that the status quo is either A: inevitable, or B: desirable. I reject both.
The first is easy. I had a friend in University that, when I started to wax idealistic, would cut me off with a “that’s a nice idea, but things will never change.” Probably he just wanted me to stop moaning about politics. But that attitude is pervasive – don’t bother doing anything about things we don’t like, because that’s the way things are and there’s nothing we can do about it. Things will always be this way, save your breath.
Now, please tell me I don’t have to explain how absurd this is. Ignore the Zen implications – every moment is transient, and we can never step into the same river twice. Ignore the physics – entropy ensures that no system can stay static. Ignore technological innovation. My rebuttal is more visceral. The amount of social change we’ve seen even in my lifetime puts the lie to the cynical defeatism that discourages any form of activism. Gay marriage is legal in Canada, and in more American States every year. Transgendered people are getting more and more protections under the law. Hell, Roe v. Wade and Morgentaler alone represent enough change over the decades to keep the fire in my belly stoked. Who could even imagine that the defining issue of the 2012 Presidential election would be unequal distribution of wealth? There are still deep and seemingly insoluble social injustices in our society, and I would be the last to gloss them over. But human rights are more protected and more respected every year – despite high-profile examples to the contrary – and to deny that is to deliberately choose to live in a worse world than we actually have.
The second is a little stickier. Is the status quo desirable? I don’t think so. Remember those deep and seemingly insoluble social injustices? Not my kind of world. In Permaculture, we often get resistance when we talk about simpler, lower energy ways of life. We talk about living closer to natural cycles, and the response is “what, we should all move out to the woods and live in caves? That’s hardly sustainable.” The only possibilities open to too many people are demonstrated realities – if the status quo is better than any previous alternatives (and I’d more or less agree that it is), then surely any threat to the status quo promises a regression.
The first step to building better futures is to believe they’re possible. Dream about them. Write about them. Read books about them. Talk about them with your friends. What kind of a world do you want to live in? What would you do if you assumed it’s possible and that acting toward it would make it real?
Think up some new ideas (which, typically, are ideas old enough to feel new again), and let your freak flag fly.