Of Mobs and Men

Humans, on the whole, are pretty damn decent. Over the last 50 years I’ve met a whole lot of people and for the most part I’ve liked them all. Oh sure there have been a couple of insufferable assholes, but they’re by far the exception rather than the rule. I truly believe that, left to their own devices, most individual humans are kind, loving, and pretty cool. So why is the world frequently a heartless shithole of intolerance and petty conflict?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I’d really like to know so I’ve spent the last little while thinking about it. Not raging or blaming. No judgments or wild hyperbole. Just thinking it through so I’d have something more positive and helpful to write about. Now I figured I’d share my conclusions, and if that doesn’t interest you, what the fuck are doing reading my blog? (I love the people who read the blog and write to me to ask who the hell cares what I think. Genius.)

Let’s start with compassion and responsibility. These are two of the foundations of good human behavior. We feel things for other people and we own the results of our own actions. I’ve come to believe that they are both absolutely constant and finite in every situation. In other words they don’t increase if you add more people. If the compassion and responsibility factor of a situation is a 6 nothing in the world can make it a 7 or 8. (The numbers are meaningless, just used to illustrate the point.) Get it? Good. So what happens when you add more people?

Here’s a little thought experiment. A small kitten is stuck in a tree and clearly starving. Let’s assign this situation a compassion/responsibility factor of 12. (Again, a random number.) If one person is at the base of that tree he feels the full force of that 12 and probably saves the kitten. Now put two people under the tree. That 12 is now two 6’s. Still, the kitten gets saved. What if it’s twenty four people and each one only feels that they own .5 on the compassion and responsibility scale? What about twelve hundred people? At some point each individual’s number is so small that the freakin kitten starves to death in the damn tree.

Put simply, compassion and responsibility are divided among the participants in any situation so the larger the group the less any one person feels. This allows groups to make truly shitty decisions that don’t actually reflect the humanity of any of it’s individual members. And it lets really large groups be totally fucking monstrous.

We know this is true. Think about it. A committee makes a worse decision than a person. A congress is worse than a committee, and mob makes very poor decisions indeed. So why in the name of all that is holy do we leave the most important questions we face up to the largest groups we can muster? Why are we ruled entirely by mobs?

Let’s make a list of the the three biggest conglomerations of organized individuals we can think of. Corporations (executives, employees and shareholders), the government (elected officials, bureaucracies, and employees), organized religions (leadership, pastors, and adherents). Now let’s make a list of the 3 institutions that we entrust to make the most important decisions in our country. Oh wait. IT’S THE SAME FUCKING LIST.

Would go down the street and throw your 78 year old neighbor out in the cold? Of course not. But Bank of America would. Would you purposely hold a child in your arms and poison it to death? Monsanto does. Would you sit in front of a teen-aged gay daughter, look her in the eyes and tell her that she was evil, an abomination and should burn in hell for eternity? Your church might. I think we may have answered our original question.

Since we now know that people are basically good and that mobs are not, shouldn’t we at least consider reordering our society to reflect this truth? Don’t you think we’d be better off with humans exercising compassion and taking personal responsibility for important decisions? Perhaps corporations, monolithic governments and giant religions don’t actually make us richer, safer and more pious. Perhaps they rob of us our humanity. And maybe, just maybe, we could limit their power to fuck things up. That would be an excellent step towards Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.

A Conundrum

So you might have noticed the lack of posts in the recent weeks. Yeah, I noticed it too. It seems I’m stuck in a bit of a conundrum. I’m a mostly positive person. I like people and I’m generally optimistic about the future. I understand the corrosive power of hatred and anger. And yet every time I sit down to write about the world I see around me the rage comes spewing out like some caustic turbocharged Nina Hagen lyric. (I’ll take obscure punk rock references for 800, Alex.) Who wants that crap informing their life? The anger, not Nina Hagen. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the conundrum.

I don’t want to be angry all the time. I don’t want to go through life filled with rage, no matter how justified it might be. I want to grow and love and have a little fun. My days are increasingly filled with music, spirituality and training. I work hard to keep dream killing negative people out of my life and yet I’ll sit and watch them on the news or read their crap in the paper. A few minutes thinking about the government or the damage done by fear drenched religions and I’m all lathered up and ready to man the barricades with my pitchfork. I’d really rather go to the pool and have a cocktail than get all pissy so I’ve stayed away from the word processing program.

I suppose this is parter of a larger issue. Can one lead a positive spiritual life and still be engaged with the world? Can one address injustice and fear without being consumed by anger or hopelessness? Even if one is Scottish and Irish? The Buddhists and other renunciate religions don’t think so. And I’m not sure. Thus we come back to conundrum.

I like writing about the world as I see it. Some people seem like to reading my little diatribes. Of course my angriest pieces bring about the most feedback while my positive, thoughtful essays are accompanied by the sound of crickets. That makes sense because the negative is much more fun. I know that anger is bad for me, and probably the world doesn’t need it much either but I’m unlikely to transform into some kind of ‘everything is blue sky and rainbows’ hippy. I just don’t know.

A few weeks ago I saw Arlo Guthrie. He quite accidentally solved a question I’ve had problems with for years. I never know what to say when people ask what I do for a living. It’s just too complicated and unusual to explain in a sentence or two. When people asked his dad that question he responded by saying “I think about things and try to help the people around me”. What a great fucking answer. I’m stealing it. I’m just not sure if my getting royally pissed off is helping anybody.

Oh well, enough whining about my little problems. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens. Can the essayist stay positive? Can he write about the good things that make up the foundation of his life and practice? Does he resist the temptation to bathe in the rage of righteousness? (Resisting temptation is not my strongest suit.) And which road leads to Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion?