Isn't it convenient that humans all need the same amount of schooling? Four years of high school, four years of college, and then we're prepared.
Isn't it convenient that driving a car is the exact maximum risk that 90% of Americans are comfortable with? No one thinks cars are too dangerous, but very few are willing to take greater risks.
Isn't it convenient that the standard American diet is the optimal balance between nutrition, taste, and health?
Isn't it convenient that TV is the perfect entertainment medium for all of us?
Isn't it convenient that we've all determined that working eight hours a day, five days a week, is the perfect balance between work and rest?
Isn't it convenient that alcohol is the perfect drug for everyone, the exact right mix of pleasure and bodily destruction? Any other drug is deviant, and abstinence is antisocial.
Isn't it convenient that marriage is the perfect domestic institution for everyone?
Isn't it convenient that we either agree with everything either the Democrats or Republicans preach?
Maybe these are all the exact right decisions for everyone, I'm some weird fringe weirdo who has to be different for difference's sake, and I'm foolish for forgoing these time-tested gold standards of living. Maybe that's true.
Or maybe, just maybe, we're a society of people who avoid making decisions. Perhaps our brains have atrophied from decades of being spoon-fed life, and we're now trained like pets to accept what's given to us. We go along with the flow, embracing defaults not because we think they're best for us, but because we haven't actually thought at all.
When I meet someone, I consider how normal their life is. I do this not because it's a one hundred percent accurate heuristic on how much I'll respect someone, but because it's damn close. If you have a totally normal life, then there are only two possibilities: you've thought through every aspect of your life and miraculously agree with society on each one, or you don't think at all. I try not to associate with people who don't think.
I think defaults are the most dangerous things in America right now. Why do we have an obesity epidemic? Because no one's thinking about their diet. Why is unemployment so high? Because the world is changing and we're still stuck in this school/job mindset from decades past. Why was there a financial collapse? It's not really because of the bankers, it's because no one really thought about their finances and they just went along with the flow, buying houses they couldn't afford. Not all of our problems stem from not thinking, but a lot of them do. Maybe most of them.
You have to think. You have to. Even as you're reading this, I hope you're thinking, "Is he actually right, or do I just agree with him because I like his writing?" Greatness is an absolute impossibility without thought. Is your goal in life to be great, or is it to avoid discomfort? I hope it's the former, because the latter is the worst life goal I've ever heard of, yet it's the goal that is actually responsible for most of most people's decisions.
Sorry for posting this so late. I thought that it was Thursday.
Photo is part of a statue at the Asian Art Museum in SF.
One of the great sacrifices of subjecting kids to school is that it trains them to ask for permission for everything, from turning in work late, to changing to a different class, to more mundane things like going to the bathroom. It's a tradeoff, of course: condition kids to seek permission for everything, and by doing so enable a system to exist where they receive an education.
Maybe that's a worthwhile tradeoff, and maybe it's not. But the real harm in it, in my opinion anyway, is that when we leave school, we're still in the habit of asking permission for everything. That's dangerous.
A manifestation of this that I come across with frequently is the questions that people send me by email. Here's a paraphrased template, which covers a good 60%+ of the emails I get from strangers:
"It just happened. Just like that. You know, one day I just had enough. No more! I haven't smoked a cigarette since then. That was three years ago."
Yeah, well, except it didn't happen just like that.
Here's how I think change really happens... and it's the same pattern that occurs all across the universe when anything new happens:
An idea is had. A heretic thought. Some inkling, some hint that maybe everything isn't as you thought it were.
It looks harmless at first. It's just an acorn of an idea. An acorn that will grow into a majestic oak that tears through concrete foundations.