Lately I have not felt like myself. It comes as a surprise and a disappointment because I thought I knew who I was. I have always questioned authority, challenged rules, asked ‘why.’ Up until now, I have been applauded for my critical thinking and independent spirit. I have always characterized myself as an optimist and I would go so far as to say I am an idealist. But lately I have been accused of being a downer, a pessimist, a misanthrope. Of course I argue “No, I love life and the people in my life. I only want things to be better.” These accusations, aimed directly at the heart of my belief system, has got me thinking about idealogy.
Like ‘comfort’ I have come to find that ‘better’ is an equally ambiguous term. Reading Mau, specifically Robert Freling’s discussion about his SELF project had me thinking “man, maybe I am a cynic.” I was extremely wary of his vague use of ‘productive’ (“…Families were engaged in productive activities during the evening hours.”) and ‘difference’ (“It has really made a difference in their lives.”) and ‘disadvantage’ (“If you’re out in the middle of the Gobi Desert, you’re often at a severe disadvantage in terms of your access to information and entertainment.”) among others. Now, I don’t doubt that Mr. Freling has the best intentions at heart and that his SELF project is indeed impacting countless numbers of people, but I am wary and skeptical of his Euro-centric, globalistic ideologies. Just how would he define ‘better.’ Why do we need to be ‘productive’ at all hours of the day? In my opinion, the night offers a reprieve from work and a time to relax in whatever way you find enjoyable. While sitting by a fire with the same group of friends each night might not sound like fun to us, I doubt that the idea of sitting in front of a computer ‘talking’ to friends you’ve never met on-line would sound like much fun to people of another culture. We assume that everyone wants to live like us because we’re ‘comfortable’ and our lives are ‘better.’
I know I sound like a cynic, but our lives aren’t that great when you think about the high levels of crime, violence and mental illness, including depression, that we live with. These are not facts of life for all cultures. These are facts of life for cultures that lock up resources and, consequently, compete for those resources. This is a relatively recent model by which humans live – we did not always live in competition with each other and with the earth. For millions of years humans have managed to live without the creature comforts offered by technology. Less than one percent of our population continues to live without these innovations, cultures that would never even dream of locking up resources and selling off valuable, irreplaceable reserves. The irony is that we call them ‘primitive’ and ‘savage.’ The sad thing is that we are changing their cultures to be more like ours when it is them we must learn from.