Extraction and Replenishment

This is quite a disturbing subject for me to write about and it will require a great deal of generosity of spirit to complete.  The reason I find it so distasteful to even discuss, in writing, is because it is so ubiquitous and such an anathema to what I think is the only survivable way of organising human affairs.  Artists, generally, are all about replenishment, growth and giving.  Sadly, they appear to be in the minority.  Even among artists, there are those that are all about extraction, selfishness and taking.  It’s not pretty.  No wonder so many people are depressed.  So they should be, with the state of most people’s mindsets.  It’s a total drag.

With that optimistic opening out of the way, let’s begin our discourse on the matter of extraction and replenishment.

Some people, as we are all too painfully aware, are all about taking and never giving.  We have an entire, global, economic system predicated on that ethos.  Taking is enshrined in law and culture.  We live in a fundamentally extractive system, purpose-built to take as much as it can get away with taking.  To be effective and favoured actors in this humanly constructed game, of our own devising, one must fully embrace extraction and take more than the next fellow.  It’s a form of arms race, where one’s value and worth is measured by the size of the pile of stuff you have extracted, both from the planet and from others.  The heads of this hierarchy are those that take the most.

We also know that those who set their mind to taking (and taking and taking) encounter no practical limit to their avarice save for the complete exhaustion of whatever resource it is that they purloin for their own dubious purposes.  In other words, it’s an open loop system.  There is no feedback to limit the extent of absolute extraction, other than ultimate exhaustion of the environment we depend upon to sustain life.  The feedback built into our thinking is only relative, where we regard the taking as a zero sum game:  what I have, others cannot have.

This also turns out to be untrue and we sacrifice abundance by insisting on extracting from resources we ensure are scarce.  It doesn’t need to be this way.  There is another choice.  We can opt to replenish, but there are few incentives to do so, in a society that is hell bent on taking more, the moment replenishment occurs.  We’re never content to let a replenished resource just be, unexploited and unspoilt.

If we all take and nobody ever (voluntarily) gives, while still fewer replenish, then eventually everything runs out.  Are you a giver or a taker?  Honestly?  If you’re like most people, the human being inside you knows, intuitively and instinctively, that taking without self-restraint is not sustainable.  You will, by nature, be inclined to be a giver (assuming you are not pathologically psychopathic).  However, you will have chosen, through the constraints of the society we have agreed to uphold, to take relentlessly, because that’s what everyone else does in order to get on.  Against your better nature, you may be burning down your own house in the name of status, wealth, impressing others doing the same and to fool yourself into thinking it makes you more important, special and powerful, in the hierarchy we made up.

Burning down your own house and all the furniture in it, in fact, leaves you naked, vulnerable, unprotected and exposed to the vagaries of the weather, but few see it that way.  Why do we do something so unarguably irrational, en masse?

It starts from another human folly – a mindset constructed from zero hard evidence that we all buy into without question.  We feel entitlement.  From a young age, we’re taught that everything and everybody exists solely for our pleasure, entertainment and fulfilment.  It’s a self-centred, narcissistic and infantile world view, but it’s an article of faith and axiomatic of modern life in our society.  The message is reinforced hourly.  We’re bludgeoned into adhering to this nonsense by the media and our leaders.  Vast fortunes are spent ensuring that we continue to believe in this idiotic premise because still others, suffering from the same entitlement delusion, find a way to extract even more for themselves, if the rest of us do.

If you accept the orthodox premise uncritically, without question, as so many of us do, you begin to think life is little more than an opportunity to wield your personal power capriciously.  Your agency is applied to the purpose of destruction and extraction.  It never occurs to most of us that the alternative is to view life as an opportunity to contribute.  We can play our parts, as part of an interconnected biosphere, to help it survive and prosper, through our actions and agency.  Our powers of creativity can be equally well used to enhance the biosphere, rather than being used to find ever more devious ways of fooling everybody else into allowing us to steal the lion’s share of it.  We think we can own parts of the biosphere, failing to see that it is we, in fact, that are owned by it.

The belief in infinite extraction, which is at the very heart of our global economic system, is an unrealistic insanity.  As much as economic theorists and business leaders clothe themselves in credibility costumes and with stern, serious, studious countenances, pronounce on the rationality of their self-made game, the facts of the matter are that these people are completely unbalanced.  They are, quite literally, suffering from a mental illness, in plain sight.  Their belief system is, at root, totally crazy.  What they tell us can happen, cannot happen.  It’s a mass delusion.  The self-appointed and elected prophets of this orthodoxy are hallucinating.  They are not of sound mind, for all their pretence to the contrary.  If you consume non-renewable resources, without constraint, eventually they will be gone.  Forever.  Then what will you do?  What will you extract, at that point?  Indeed, how will you even sustain your own life, in order to carry on taking?  Extraction is a slow suicide.

Those of us that insist on fostering growth and tapping the enormous powers of creation that humans, by some happy accident, happen to possess are called stupid, unrealistic hippies and tree huggers.  We’re ridiculed and insulted, denigrated and lampooned, for our dedication to what is, in truth, the only rational option available to us.  The people dedicated to destruction think of those of us dedicating our lives to creation as madmen, when in fact it is precisely the opposite way around.  If our ideas begin to resonate with other people, we’re branded as subversive reactionaries, hell bent on revolution.  And so we are, because if nobody does change, the end-game is drearily and depressingly predictable.  We’re ultimately doomed, if we carry on mindlessly extracting, without ever replenishing.

Economic inequality, which is inexorably rising and to an extent that most people cannot even comprehend and visualise, is a symptom of this entrenched extractive mind set.  It exists because we are extractive and have been so, for a very long time.  The solution to economic inequality, some posit, is for everybody to have the opportunity to take to the same extent as those at the top of the heap.  That’s ridiculous.  The real solution is twofold: firstly, ensure that those at the top of the economic rankings consume much less (since they acquire far beyond their material needs, feeding only their egos) and secondly, for the rest of us to focus on making more available.  Switch from non-renewable resources to relatively renewable ones and ensure, through our technology and creativity, that we make these abundant.

We think we need government to protect us from the extractive, but our governments are the extractive.  They are not the givernment.  They are the takernment.  Elected leaders are as avaricious, self-serving and extractive as the worst excesses produced by our economic system.  They extract money, with menaces and threats, from the population, calling it taxation and spend it on massively extractive projects, in the main.  Relying on these people to overturn the insanity is like allowing the lunatics to take over the asylum.  We’re mad for believing they’re going to solve the problem for us.  Whatever the solution is, to changing the human mindset from taking to giving, it won’t be found through elected leadership.

Dictatorships, fascism, oligarchies, monarchies, capitalism, communism, kleptocracies and plutocracies are fundamentally extractive, in mindset.  Wars, too, are extractive. They’re all about taking what belongs to other people (even though it doesn’t really belong to them either; we belong to it) and they do so wastefully and destructively.  The preparations for war are especially wasteful and extractive.  We’re using resources we can’t get back to prepare for an orgy of destruction which may or may not ever happen.  Either way, we lose.

Even anarchy can be either extractive or replenishing, depending on its complexion.  Extractive anarchy is the one they always scare you with, where you have to single-handedly fend off hordes of violent thieves that want to take everything you own, by force, with pitchforks and fire.  Replenishing anarchy sees people conducting themselves in a more relaxed, generous and abundant manner.  Always choose replenishing anarchy, when given the choice.

I think the most effective solution lies in collectively snapping out of the hallucination that prevails.  We all have a part to play and we can all take individual actions which, collectively and in aggregate, amount to a seismic shift.  The sun only shines because one in every few thousands of millions of fundamental particle collisions results in the release of a single photon.  That photon takes on the order of 170,000 years to reach the surface of the sun, whereupon it is emitted with a spectrum that relies on the vanishingly unlikely occurrence of an exotic isotope of hydrogen, present in a vanishingly thin photosphere.  Yet, the sun powers the entire solar system and gives us life.  I think it’s analogous to the sort of revolution we have to make happen.  A few of us need to start emitting our replenishment powers, like those photons and the collective mass of those individual acts will eventually become an unstoppable force of nature.

Expecting creatives, the artists among us, to do all the giving, while others continue idly to do all the taking, won’t work.  We all have to challenge and question our blind loyalty to extraction.  Today, the takers think they’re really clever, while thinking the givers are complete and total imbeciles – rubes to be exploited mercilessly and with contempt.  Creation is not honoured or respected.  Rather, it’s despised as a weakness.  This has to change.

The essence of art is a certain generosity of spirit.  You can’t do art well unless you are prepared to put something of yourself into its creation.  It’s hard to be a giver surrounded by rampant, delusional takers, though.  You always feel as though you’re being taken advantage of, because largely you are.  This is the courage that is required of makers, in order to make a significant difference.  We’ll have to stare the takers in the eye, even as they rob us and know that what we’re doing is ultimately rational, sane and sustainable, whereas the behaviour of our robbers is infantile, self-defeating and wrong.  That’s going to take quite some courage.

Artists and artists’ managers can be extractive too.  We’re not immune from the madness, just because we’re creative.  There are legions of artists that have been exploited to destruction by their managers and artists that have preyed on their fellow men, to achieve success.  The mindset of an artist is not necessarily that of a giver.  There are artists on the dark side that are pure takers.  Artist burnout is the ultimate proof of extraction.   We even have the fable of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs to describe it.  Alternatively, artists, their careers and output can be managed for sustainability.  An artist managed in this way is productive for their whole life.  Sustainability is a much better goal than rampant extraction.

If we truly believe we humans are, by nature, an extractive species, then we really are doomed, because extraction has hard limits, which we are rapidly approaching.  I, for one, don’t believe that for a second, though.  We are, by inclination, generous, communal, social and sharing.  Somehow, we’ve talked ourselves into suppressing that side of us, but it’s an overturnable choice and we should overturn it.  On the other hand, few species are as extractive as we currently are and many, like the bees, replenish abundantly, in contrast to how we behave.  There is some evidence that, given our creative powers, we could be abundantly replenishing too, by choice.  It’s just a mindset, after all.

How could we start?  Well, we could all adopt permaculture and live sustainably, without the sheer wasteful overhead of opulent, extractive rulers.  Why are we carrying those leeches and why do we enable and empower them, in their quests to extract even more?  That’s not sensible at all.

In looking for technical fixes, those that want to cling to extraction as a way of life may propose biodegradable plastics to solve the ocean waste problem, for example.  You can still make money selling plastics, if the plastics eventually break down, when tossed into the ocean, after all, right?  Or, you could just not toss plastic into the ocean.

You could also make something that isn’t plastic; to do the job of those six pack can holders that are the bane of ocean life.  You could invent edible beer can holders, made from the stuff you would otherwise throw away as waste product anyway, which not only biodegrades faster (in hours, not decades), but also can be eaten by sea life, as food.  Or you could question why beer has to come in cans and why do you need to be paid to clean up your own ocean?  There are many approaches to adopting a replenishing mindset.

Instead of thoughtlessly killing things, you could take more care to ensure that they live and live well.  Bernie Sanders recently tweeted: “It can seem easy to turn our backs on the vulnerable, but I believe what human life is about is everyone has an impact on everyone else.”

When you ask somebody extractive in mindset, an extractavist, to forsake extraction for replenishment and they reply, “What’s in it for me?” as they are likely to do, there can be only one response to them:

“It’s so that you can thrive, you idiot!”

Further reading:

Here are some excellent articles I used as inspiration for this post.  Please read them, because my blog stats will tell me if you don’t and I will be very disappointed in you.

 

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The Downsides of Being Yourself

It’s supposed to be a good thing.  It’s the goal.  You’re supposed to find yourself and then be as authentic to that self-discovered conception as you can possibly be.  It’s supposed to be the optimum outcome and your best and only chance at succeeding, in life.  There’s a high premium placed on having personal integrity and living your life as truthfully and faithfully to yourself as you can.  Being yourself is everything.

What happens, then, if you discover who you really are and set about living your life as authentically as you possibly can?  Does it all pan out like they promise it will?  I don’t think it’s that easy.  There are some downsides associated with being yourself, which people rarely tell you about.

Before going on, this is not an argument against being yourself.  That turns out to, indeed, be your best and only hope of having the happiest and most fulfilling life possible, but it’s not a bed of roses, by any means and there will be assaults on your happiness that will arise, simply because you are being true to yourself.  The reason why is because we live in a society that is not, in the main, comprised of people living authentically, due to the penalties involved and in no small measure because of our cradle-to-grave behavioural conditioning to conform and obey.

So, without further ceremony, here are the potential downsides of being yourself:

  1. Nobody has to like you – It doesn’t follow that just because you have a sense of living an authentic life, everybody has to suddenly adore you. It has nothing to do with being likeable.  In many cases, your authenticity will have an abrasive character to it and you will, quite frankly, annoy a lot of people that are also living authentically.  Your sense of what’s right for you might be at odds with what people believe to be right for society as a whole.  You may simply be an authentic outlier.

 

An interesting piece of evidence for this is social media.  Some years ago, when social media was new, people started presenting themselves online with a, “This is me, Take me as I am,” air of gay abandon.  Many people discovered, to their cost, that presenting themselves as openly and honestly as this had consequences and they very often received very negative reactions to what was their very essence (what if what you really are is an arsehole, for example?).  Today, you have many former social media extroverts acting like digital hermits.  They observe from the sidelines, but they’re less keen to portray themselves in such fine-grained detail, any more.

 

The caveat, of course, is that even if people dislike you for being yourself, it’s far less despicable, in the long run, than trying to live your life as if you’re something you are not or not being true to your values.  Unfortunately, many people get away with wearing a mask for a very long time, before they’re rumbled.  In the mean time, they can be very popular and widely appreciated.  That’s a total bitch, isn’t it?

 

  1. Nobody has to pay you for it – It doesn’t follow that just because you figure out what kind of human being you are, what’s important to you and what you value and then start living your life in a way that is consistent with that discovery that there automatically has to be a business model or job that supports that conception. Money need not necessarily flow to you in cascades, just because you worked out that, at heart, you’re a guitar player.

 

That doesn’t mean that what you are is not valuable, or worse, valueless.  It just means it isn’t valued. The difference is important.  You actually might be a true blue guitar player, to the very core of your soul and being a guitar player may be the route to being paid really well, if you get lucky and happen to also be good at a range of other necessary skills that a successful professional musician must have, but don’t expect the money to come flooding in, the moment you recognise your own inner guitar player.  It just doesn’t work that way.

 

You’re fighting against an edifice that has decided, by default, that guitar playing isn’t economically important.  A giant system is of the opinion that it can live without guitar players and that they create no value worth having.  Don’t try to combat this with facts to the contrary.  The facts are irrelevant.  What holds sway is the general perception.  Until you can change the perception of an entire population, money won’t come to you just because you are the most authentic guitar player that ever lived.

 

  1. You might not be any good at it – Let’s say you discover that, deep within yourself, it is undoubtedly true that what you are, above all else, is a writer. That’s you.  It’s what you truthfully are.  You’re a writer.  Having concluded that, what if everything you write sucks big time?  What if you haven’t yet put the energy and effort into meeting the required quality bar for written work?  Does it mean you’re not a writer?

 

Sadly, you are a writer.  You’re stuck with it, even though you have a lot of work you still have to do.  Being what you are and being good at what you are can be very different things.  It is likely that if you work at being a good writer, you’ll make it, because you are a writer, deep down and you love to write.  But, it’s a hard, long road ahead.  You’re going to have to put the work in, it might be a monumental struggle and you might never reach the required standard.

 

The worst mistake you can make, of course, is to abandon the life of a writer, when what you really are is a writer.  You can’t be anything else.  It’s what you are.  You’re just going to have to suck it up and keep on improving.  This is one of those times when there really is no viable alternative, but success and acknowledgement may still be a long time away, in the far future.  Sorry.  That part of being authentic really blows.

 

  1. You might be even worse at faking it – Your cunning plan B might be to comply and become the thing that everyone expects you to be, pay the bills and not fight so fruitlessly against the tide. In acquiescing and adopting the role that all the forces around you designate for you, you betray yourself.  While you might find some satisfaction and fulfilment in living an inauthentic life (it’s not all bad and some of it can be quite good), somewhere at the back of your head will be the painful reminder that your life span is finite and that, while you’re busy realising other people’s dreams, you’re not accomplishing anything that feels important to you, or which provides meaning and purpose to your own existence.

 

Being somebody else is ultimately very stressful and soul destroying.  If something is important to you and you’re not spending any of your time on it, this causes a very distressing internal conflict.  Living with that conflict, long term, simply destroys your health, happiness and well being.  There are no exceptions, so don’t believe you will be the one spared.  It will eat at you, from the inside out.

 

You’ll also discover that, when push comes to shove and you are required to go the extra mile to produce the best work you are capable of, in your non-authentic occupation, you will find it very difficult to care enough about it to come up with the goods.  When it all comes down to it, you are much more interested in something else entirely, which you are not doing, because you have bills to pay.  Being asked to make sacrifices and endure the indignities and discomforts of making the supreme effort just won’t turn you on enough to get you engaged fully with the project.  You’ll fail at it.

 

  1. Inauthentic people will despise you – For every person that finds out what they really are and lives their life consistent with that discovery, there are legions who either have no idea what they really are, or who know and yet to continue to live inauthentically. These people will hate you.

 

You are an inconvenient, living, breathing, inescapable reminder of their own lack of integrity.  These people will not feel comfortable in your company.  They’ll avoid conversation with you, for fear of the matter of their vocation coming up in the discussion.  Above all, they will see your own comfort, within your own skin, as something they lack and this will make them feel even less comfortable in theirs.

 

Of course, they will also have bought into the myths that once you discover who you are and set about being that person, everything magically falls into place for you.  As we’ve already discussed, it doesn’t.  The struggle only begins there.  Money may not come your way, for doing so, for a very long time, if ever.  There is nothing at all comfortable about this life choice.  Inauthentic people see none of this, however, because it’s beyond their experience.  They’re still living a lie.

 

  1. You will defy categorisation – The thing about being yourself is that there is a distinct possibility that what you are is unlike anything else that has ever existed before. You might defy all attempts at categorising you, pigeon holing you or describing you within an existing framework of understanding, or taxonomy.

 

Isaac Asimov, a veritable polymath, described himself as a “speed understander”.  One can intuitively appreciate how useful such a skill might be to a wide variety of occupations, but try finding a job description for a vacant position that requires a speed understander.  You’ll search in vain.  There is also no calibrated pay scale for professional speed understanders and no industry body that represents them.  It doesn’t matter how much value you can add, by being a speed understander.  It just isn’t recognised.

 

Even if you can describe yourself, succinctly and in an intuitively understandable way, which portrays the value of your peculiar way of being, others will struggle to know what to do with you.  They’ll try to force-fit you into job descriptions that don’t quite apply, or which try to reign in some of your more outstanding characteristics (whether they mean to or not).  Somehow, other people’s categorisations will limit you and bend you into something you’re really not (or not quite).  Being made to feel like a square peg in a round hole, when there is nothing at all wrong with being square, is truly horrible.

 

  1. Don’t expect gratitude – Most people’s reaction to you pronouncing that you have found who you really are and have decided to live your life authentically is, “So what?” Nobody cares.  You’ve found your particular niche and have the courage to occupy it, but it is of no importance to anybody else.

 

Everybody is looking to find who they are and everybody would love to arrange their circumstances in such a way that they can live authentically, but most people fail at one or both of these.  Why should anybody thank you for doing something they can’t accomplish?

 

Some people think that, once you have found yourself, the world should breathe a sincere sigh of relief and be grateful that one person fewer is living a lie.  It doesn’t.

 

  1. There are sacrifices to be made – It’s not cost free. You are going to have to pay and pay dearly to be who you are.  In making a definitive choice, you also close the door on some of the perks of living inauthentically.  Don’t expect this to be a comfortable ride on rose petals.

 

Consider musicians that find themselves touring for the best part of every year.  They’re sacrificing relationships with people they care about to do that.  Important moments, dates and occasions are missed, because they are sitting in a lonely tour bus or cheap hotel room, miles from everyone, pursuing their authentic life.  They’re doing it, though, because they have no choice.  It’s who they are.

 

While their peers are buying houses and planning their retirement savings, the touring musician is barely making ends meet, even if their career is doing well.  The physical, mental and emotional strains are very real and an inseparable part of being who they are.

 

  1. It can be lonely and isolating – Discovering you’re not like everybody else, or even discovering which tribe you belong to, is one of the loneliest, most isolating moments of your authentic life. Suddenly, you also realise who you are not and all of those associations and comforts fall away.  It can feel like being marooned on a desert island.

 

Once you establish your own identity, it’s very much harder to seek out and find like minds, who share your values, outlook and viewpoint.  You might not find anybody that feels the same way that you do.  Projects or changes that seem vitally important to you may have no meaning at all, to anybody else.

 

We all like to find purpose and meaning in life, but we’re also social creatures that only truly thrive when we’re liked and accepted.  Unfortunately, in precisely defining who you are and what you value, your conception for the future may be utterly alien to everybody else you know.  You might not even be able to start a conversation with them about it, so wide is the gulf of understanding between you and them.  There’s hardly anybody you can talk to that will grasp what you’re talking about.  I have this exact feeling as I write these words.

 

  1. There are too many people just like you already – The worldwide demand for people just like you might be small and already fully satisfied. We may have reached saturation point with poets, painters, musicians and writers.  There just might be too many for the population to absorb.  What if what you really are is one of these things?

 

Of course, this is a categorisation mistake.  Yes, you might be what is conventionally categorised as a painter or a musician, but you might be a unique combination of those things, or a distinct type of painter or musician.  Precisely understanding what you are, eschewing the traditional, orthodox categories of description, might actually be the key.

 

It is my belief that there is always room for the outstanding, no matter what you are.  This is why striving is so important and also why there are no job descriptions for speed understanders.  In being who you are, be precise about that and understand how you differ from the rest of people that are loosely described as being the “same” as you.

 

  1. It’s hard to be more unique than all the other unique people – Let’s face it. The quality bar is very high.  There are lots of authentic, outstanding people in the world.  In being authentic, you can’t be average.  You have to find a way to let your uniqueness shine and this requires work, patience, practice, discipline, dedication, opportunity and support.  The outstanding are noticeable, no matter what it is they do, but being ordinary, even if authentic, is unremarkable.

 

Differentiating can’t be what you’re all about either, however, or you risk smothering that essential characteristic of yourself that is your true being.  It’s not a race, even though the spoils always go to the so-called winner.  In a winner takes all society, such as we live in, how can you not compare yourself with all the other authentic people and not try to make some difference?

 

In the end, all you can really do is be more true to yourself that you thought possible.  Being uncompromising in your identity is possibly the only way to exist.  I’m not sure about this, though.  I’d like to think that you can just be who you are, however that is and it ought to be sufficient.  It just doesn’t seem to work that way, no matter how much I wish it would.

 

  1. You’ll be misunderstood – The more unique you are, the less understood you will be. It can feel as though you’re speaking an alien language to people that can’t hear at those ultra-high frequencies.  If your inner life is so distinctly different to the real world you inhabit, as authentic people’s inner lives often are, then even expressing your thoughts is prone to gross misinterpretation.

 

Other people won’t have your mental model or any grasp on understanding what you have long ago internalised.  They just won’t have the vocabulary or conceptual framework.   They don’t start from the same assumptions or axiomatic truths as you do.   Aspects of what you say and do will be so far outside of their experience that they’ll simply conclude you are baffling or mad (or both).

 

The only thing you can do is to over-communicate, patiently and with forbearance.   You’ll get stupid questions and invalid objections.  People will misquote your words and attribute motivations and conclusions to you that you had no intention of having.  It will take a very long time and a lot of repetition before anybody begins to get you.  At that point, of course, what you are will seem obvious and even passé.  Nobody said that being yourself was easy.

 

  1. People aren’t used to people that don’t fit in – Because most people spend their lives anxiously trying to fit in with their peer group, their experience of encountering somebody that doesn’t fit in is quite limited. In fact, they’ll see the confrontation as somewhat threatening, because everything they hold to be important (being accepted by their peer group) is of no consequence to you, who only wants to be who you are.

 

Their default reaction is to try to make you feel weird, awkward and damaged, instead of bolstering and celebrating your uniqueness.  It would feel much more comfortable, to them, if you would just conform and comply.  Your spinal fortitude bothers them.  Why do you have to be so sure of yourself, when they’re such a lost, neurotic mess of contradictions and ill-defined characteristics and values?

 

This is why there is so much bullying in schools.  At a time when young people are still trying to define themselves, those lacking the confidence, courage and insight to do so would rather everybody around them was the same as they think they are.  They are quite prepared to use physical and psychological violence to prevail upon their peers, too.  Being yourself, under these circumstances, in the face of extreme peer disapproval and ostracism, can be very, very painful.

 

  1. Some people will be jealous – There are some people that will immediately recognise your unwillingness to follow the crowd and even acknowledge those iconoclastic aspects of your personality, but who will, instead of praising you for them, resent you because they lack what’s necessary to be as courageous and self-assured as you are. They’ll make it into a competition, because while they can see the desirability of you and them both being who you each happen to be, they feel they can’t.  This won’t seem fair to them.  Their jealousy won’t be fair on you.

 

Their actions can be very hurtful and the fallout can stay with you for a lifetime.  In rejecting your authenticity, out of pure spite and envy, they can convince you that what you are is no good, or is wholly unacceptable.  If this is what you truly are, then how do you reconcile that inner honesty with the information they are delivering – that what you are is just no good at all?  What are you supposed to do about it?  You can’t be anything else.

 

It’s their problem, not yours, of course, but it can be very difficult to discover this truth and harder still to ignore their behaviour and opinions, especially if you have strong affection for them, as well you might, if you can see that they secretly value or at least understand your individuality, even though they would never admit to it.  You can hope they’ll change their mind, at some point, but often they don’t.  It’s tragically sad.

 

  1. You can hurt people just by being loving – You would like to think that being an authentic, loving and affectionate human being is no bad thing and in the main, you’d be right. However, loving somebody that has other commitments or arrangements in their life, or in a way that makes them question their relationships with others, is not ok.

 

You might be a genuinely loving, warm and encouraging person at heart, but in being so, you can inadvertently cause profound changes in other people’s lives that you really don’t want to cause or have on your conscience.  You have to be aware of the obligations that being who you are places on you and act responsibly, to cause the least hurt and damage to others.  Being authentic is no excuse for being some sort of destructive typhoon.

 

There are uncountable instances where somebody was being honest and well-intentioned, giving attention and acknowledgement to somebody that genuinely needed some, but causing undesirable and unintended consequences.  By all means, be yourself, but be careful.  You don’t want your authenticity to be an agent of devastation for others.  Even authenticity has its limits.

 

  1. Life is not a support system for art – It’s the other way around. The novelist, Stephen King, said that.  He’s right.  The art you create and the practice of making it may be the very thing that acts as your refuge and what sustains you, in the face of a world that neither appreciates nor values who you really are.  Your life doesn’t exist so that you can be an artist; you’re an artist so that you can enjoy an authentic life.

 

Profound, huh?

 

  1. You’re not better, just different – Just because you’ve figured out who you are and are living a life that is in perfect alignment with that information doesn’t make you any better (or worse) than any other person on the planet. You’re just different.  Yes, there are some advantages to figuring this out and living this way, but as we have discussed above, there are also some distinct drawbacks, too.

 

You have no entitlement to a sense of superiority or to believe that you are one of the chosen few, with special access to privilege.  An authentic life is not a passport to the fast lane, riches, recognition and lasting fame.  It’s nothing more than a high-integrity way of being.

 

  1. Learn to just be – It’s all you can do, in the end. You are what you is.  Learn to be OK with that.  The rest of it is all just superfluous noise, as inconvenient and confronting as it can be, at times.  You are good enough and being who you really are is just fine.  Let it be.

 

 

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How to Do Art

Here are six random ideas for how to do art, whatever your art happens to be.  They just might help you be a better artist.  This is not a comprehensive list, but it is a list of useful nuggets of thought I thought worth sharing.

  1. Never play to the gallery. Don’t make your work for other people, bending it to suit what you imagine their preferences to be.  Don’t let pleasing others be the central thing, in what you do.  Don’t try to second guess what your audience wants or likes.  Don’t try to fulfil other people’s expectations of you.  Make work that pleases you.
  2. Remember why you’re an artist. You started working because you felt that there was something about yourself that, if you could manifest it, you would understand more about yourself and your place in the world.  Don’t lose this sense.  Keep working toward that goal.
  3. If it feels comfortable, it’s too safe and uninteresting. It needs to feel more uncomfortable and risky.  Be at that point where you feel you’re just out of your depth, where your feet can’t quite touch the bottom.  That seems to be where the best art is made.
  4. Play the part of the artist you imagine yourself to be. Treat it like a role you’re playing.  Pretend you are that ideal artist you can see in your mind’s eye and act accordingly.  If the artist you are is simply a character you portray, you can also step away from the role, whenever you need to.  This can be helpful and self-preserving.
  5. Exaggerate and understate. Sometimes, the central idea behind your art, or an element in it, gets much better if you amp it up to the point of absurdity, or if you attenuate it aggressively, so that people have to really pay attention to notice it at all.  There is value in the very big and ostentatious and the very small and demure.  Make art that is both difficult and easy to overlook (not necessarily at the same time).
  6. Collaborate with or be mentored by artists that complement what you do. Somebody that does almost exactly what you do will always demotivate you, unintentionally, because you will find yourself comparing yourself against them.  If you work with somebody whose skills are different to yours, or who works from a different approach and perspective, that can be invigorating.  You learn more, that way.  So do they.
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Fear in Moderation

Often, the cautious, incremental, conservative, moderate, careful approach is the least appropriate and stupidest response, under the circumstances.  It’s the mindset that leads to the wrong answers or to a lack of effective action.  This kind of approach leads to worse outcomes, not better.

It’s not reasonable or sane to apply a “steady as she goes” rubric, if it’s really just fear cloaked in language that tries to dignify that fear with a veneer of legitimacy.  How much of the measured thinking is simply inaction in an acceptable dressing?  What we, as a society, consider to be “prudent wisdom” is often nothing more than our collective paralysis in the face of frightening scenarios, but painted with fiercer and more palatable markings.

In fact, to imagine that the nay-saying, sceptical, wait-and-see-what-happens, let’s-not-do-anything-too-rash way of thinking and acting is not just plain fear, made manifest, is perhaps the most insane belief system conceivable.  We fool ourselves comprehensively, when we fail to call it what it really is.  Violently and vehemently defending this way of acting, as many in our society often do, when confronted about it, is little more than the insane, irrational, wild-eyed lashing-out of desperate, cornered animals.

Many times, the radical, revolutionary rethink, from fundamentals, or the discomforting, discomfiting, disruptive innovation, is the most rational response and ironically, also the safest, in the long run.  Doing something big, different, serious and permanent is precisely the best course of action available to us.  Sometimes, tearing it all up and starting again, no matter how much we’ve invested in the current course of action so far, is the only solution that can really work, or make a visible, meaningful difference.

We’ve been conditioned to avoid rocking the boat or upsetting the apple cart, for fear of the consequences, but it’s just fear.  When you’re programmed for obedience and compliance, from a very young age, your capacity to turn and face the strange is severely impeded.  That’s why we all wear suits and ties, in muted, understated colours, in order to safeguard our jobs, rather than expressing our own creative spirits through the colours we choose to wear and the styles of clothing that give us most freedom of bodily movement and comfort.  Individuality is treated the same way a leak in the bottom of a boat is treated.  It’s a threatening problem, to be covered over as soon as possible.

As a member of the compliant majority, our first instinct will always be to freeze and wait for someone in authority to give the orders.  Where it all falls apart is that the authorities are drawn from that same pre-programmed-for-obedience stock as the rest of us and so, wait for the wisdom of some non-existent higher authority, before taking an effective decision.  We’re paralysed, collectively, by our crazy, fixated desire to do nothing until we’re told to.  Humanity stands, looking up at the sky helplessly, as it falls down.  Those that benefit most from things staying the way they are most often rush to vilify any of us that want to shake things up.

Should you obey them, for the sake of appearing to be reasonable?  Or should you take your dose of fear in moderation?

 

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To What End?

Guess what?  You can cheat, deceive, confuse, manipulate, conquer and control most of the people, most of the time.  There is abundant, credible, readily verifiable, hard, unarguable evidence that this has been done, many times.  It’s well within the realms of possibility.  You can plunder, feed people adulterated food, poison them, infect them deliberately, abuse and mistreat them, torture them psychologically and/or physically, take away their choices, subject them to extreme violence, put them under saturation surveillance, deny their humanity, wage perpetual wars, which they have to participate in, degrade them, and destroy any sense of hope they had, replacing it with dark, deep, black despair.  There is practically nothing, it transpires, to stop you.  If you read history, you can find lots of examples where these things were done, without consequence to the perpetrators.  In short, you can treat your environment and fellow inhabitants of the planet as badly as your whim dictates and you’ll get away with it.  Such people almost always do.

The bigger question, though, is this: to what end?  What do you actually accomplish?  The argument is that all of these things are necessary to preserve unearned privilege and to live in opulence, as a powerful, feared, respected big shot.  Indeed, the adherents to this line of thinking assert that there is no alternative.  Yes, but is this the shredded remnant of the world that you wish to inhabit, from the safety of your walled, gated, isolated, removed, exclusive enclave?

Is that your definition of “winning”?  Being too afraid to associate with humanity, or go anywhere that isn’t robustly defensible?  Is your existence contingent on avoiding eye-to-eye contact with those from whom you have stolen and destroyed?  That, to me, sounds like a very limited, shitty way to live.  You’re no longer free to go wherever you wish, despite your power and wealth.  Instead, you have to skulk around, like some overfed peacock in a cage.  Where’s the magnificence you so avidly sought?  You’re afraid of every loud noise and ducking for cover instinctively.  You know everybody wants your blood.  Given half an opportunity, you are certain they would tear you limb from limb, like berserk, wild animals.  You live with that constant fear and isolation.  The only way your existence is in any way viable is to keep on perpetuating ever more brutal and terrifying acts on your fellow men.

The fact is that any given person can choose to short change or bore the rest of us to death, stifling our artistry and creativity, doing the least for us, while charging the most, but what does this course of action really accomplish?  Is it even worth pursuing?  What do you actually win, by doing so?

As an enterprise, what is the actual point of designing personalised customer experiences, deployable at scale, for people that are too poor and ill to afford to buy from your automated, robotised, corporate, commerce interfaces?  The whole reason for being in business collapses if, as a collective, businesses are so extractive and brutally repressive, that those people they call “workers” are also actually the “customers” that are unable to buy from you, no matter how slick your e-commerce mobile app.

If we create art that is never and can never be experienced by anybody else, what was the point of creating it?  Was it just so much self-indulgence?  A denial of our connectedness and human community, pretending we are singular and supremely isolated – somehow special, destroys any basis for making art or creating anything at all.  If your greatest creative act consists of smashing the lives of everybody else you come into contact with, what was its use?  Why did you bother?  What did you gain?  Perhaps you derived a selfish, sadistic pleasure from being able to do what you did, but can you eat it?  Will it love you?  Does it improve your life or avoid your mortality in any material or spiritual way?  What did you conserve, from the exercise?

For whom is computer-made art and for what ultimate purpose?  Is it to communicate with another human being, to move them and affect them emotionally, or is it just to take their money?  Is machine-made art even “art”, or is it just a mechanism for extracting wealth?  Do you care about human-to-human communication, in an emotionally affective way, or are you trying to subvert and fake that, pretending you don’t have to speak to anybody, through your actions, or be accountable for them, to anyone?  Do you not see that, in making a machine that makes art to fool humans into believing you are communicating emotionally with them, you are communicating with them, as a human being, only the message you are sending is one of contempt and disrespect for them?  Is that the sum total of your existence, on Earth?  Was your ultimate purpose to create a machine that insults the intelligence of your fellow humans, while simultaneously eroding their ability to communicate back to you?

Are we charging recklessly, head-long, into creating a future where robots are chauffeured, in self-driving cars, to the last remaining jobs, to make products and services for nobody to consume, while needful human beings longingly watch, in hunger, ignorance, poverty and ill health, from the sidelines?  To what end?  What will your creations get you and is it worth having?

If being an artist means anything at all, it means connection and shared experience.  A society built on denial of this fundamental principle is an artless world.  There may be astounding things created in it, but they will have no relevance or meaning.  Without that human-to-human communication, they are essentially hollow acts.  The reason for doing anything is to uplift your fellow earthly inhabitants.  Anything that doesn’t, no matter what the temporary, selfish, personal gain, dissipates our very humanity.  Taking without giving is simply not sustainable.  Yet, we have an economic system that holds this up as the highest good.  It’s a lie.

Next time you think up your next subtle ruse, clever swindle, untraceable scam, bold blatant lie, plausibly deniable campaign or means of getting others to do your bidding, either against their will or unwittingly, ask yourself this fundamental question:  To what end?

 

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The Idealist – A Social Pariah

One of the surest ways, in this world, to lose friends and fail to influence anybody, is to be an idealist.  Idealists are treated like lepers once were.  They’re socially excluded.  Nobody wants to engage in debate with them.  Their minds are already made up, after all and so, entertaining the thoughts that the idealist espouses is rather bothersome.  It’s boring.  It’s something best avoided.

Idealists are regarded as delusional cranks, at best, or as just plain stupid.  “Utopian” has come to be a pejorative term, in modern parlance.  To most people, it means “hopelessly doomed to be utterly unworkable in practice”.  In the popular imagination, “quixotic” has taken on the mantle of describing those that are barking mad and somewhat pathetic.  Idealists are said to be utopian, quixotic and therefore wholly unrealistic.

But what do they mean by “unrealistic”?  Is it that they are tacitly asserting human kind is too fearful, cynical or stupid to make changes for the better?  Are people so craven, self-interested and ignorant that they cannot recognise a more satisfactory settlement for all?  Do they not see it as worthwhile?  Do they really lack the courage, brotherly love, empathy and common sense to act to make changes that take us all closer to a utopian existence?

Not the critics, charging idealists with being unrealistic, of course.  They have all the courage, wisdom, open-mindedness and insight necessary.  It’s everybody else, isn’t it?

The other common reaction to idealism is that group of people quick to dismiss the idealist as “negative” and his critiques of the way things are, compared to how they could be, as just so much “negativity”.  I don’t know about you, but I am so weary of people that use a charge of negativity as a cloak for stubbornly persisting in their own ignorance.  It’s a fraudulent use of the word.  Not only that, it attacks the character of the idealist, not the idealist’s arguments.  It’s an accusation which fails to address the substance of the idealists’ propositions completely.

Anyway, since when was an ideal world more negative than the real world?  Or do these people truly believe that we already live in Utopia?  If so, why aren’t they charged with believing in the unrealistic?

An idealist’s life is a terribly lonely and isolating one.  They are widely misunderstood, shunned and their motives suspected.  Nobody thinks they’re right in the head.  Idealists are frequently friendless, or rather find themselves alone, without anybody else that shares their ideals and idealism.  It requires a great deal of fortitude, resilience, integrity and character to remain idealistic, in the face of universal exclusion.

If you want to be instantly shunned or “mansplained” (before you accuse me of sexism, don’t worry; women do this too), say something even vaguely idealistic on social media.  The unfollows and trolls will suddenly bloom, like weeds.  People will feel it important to tell you, in detail, why you’re wrong.  Some will mentally categorise you as somebody they shouldn’t interact with, ever again.

Nothing brings out the fear in people more than an idealistic statement.  Why?  It’s because the statement usually uncomfortably highlights their acquiescence in the prevailing programming and propaganda, that they have swallowed whole, without question or challenge, all their lives.  There are voting adults alive today that have known nothing other than neoliberalism, for example.  A single idealistic statement brings to mind the possibility that there is, in fact, an alternative (whereas, their default belief is that there is no alternative) and that sticking with the current orthodoxy is a choice.  “Idealism is unrealistic” is an article of faith, rather than a provable proposition.

Isn’t that article of faith just the prevailing notion, a fetishised obsession and an “idée fixe”, though?  After all, nothing revolutionary happens without somebody believing in better, so courageously, that they make it happen.  What’s so ideal about leaving everything the way it is, when it demonstrably causes pain and misery for billions of people and destroys the very planet we rely upon for our survival?  How is the current course of human affairs in any way “realistic”, when it inexorably and inevitably leads to slow, painful deaths, through starvation, poverty, preventable disease and war and ultimately to the extinction of the human species (or the vast majority of it)?

The truth of the matter is that those who have placed themselves in charge of everything have a choice.  They can choose to believe humanity’s ultimate purpose is to be conquered, commanded and controlled by them; farmed and exploited like dumbed-down domesticated animals.  Indeed, they can take active measures to ensure that it is so and they do.  That’s their current choice.

Alternatively, they can choose to see that it is our soaring imaginations and creativity that distinguishes us from farm animals and so, realise that unleashing and fostering that creativity is best for everyone.  It is the artistry, of which we are abundantly and inexhaustibly capable, which gives us the potential to create that utopian, idealistic world, but as a concrete reality, not a fanciful, impossible pipe dream.

While most innovation, today, consists mainly of creating ever more gigantic, powerful, private, monopolistic bureaucracies (most web apps are just form-filling in disguise, after all), a population whose creativity is unfettered could, instead, solve the hard problems (such as destructive despoliation of the planet, environmental pollution and the provision of harmless energy) with their bare hands, not just their imaginations.  You can’t tweet, facebook or blog your way to this idealistic future.  You have to do the real, hard work, not just fill in more on-line forms.

Here’s the catch, though:  You can’t govern, surveil and legislate creativity.  It’s not available on-demand.  You can’t exert control and ownership over other people’s creative ideas (though capitalist societies fool themselves into thinking they can and only do so by the exertion of violence, thereby killing the goose that lays the golden eggs).  Freedom from wage slavery and debt peonage is a necessary pre-condition for creativity to flourish.  This is the price of better.

Inequality would have to end.  That would require a political choice of major proportions and it is violently resisted, because there is a group of people who mistakenly believe that the current political and economic systems leave them sitting pretty, even while there is abundant evidence that the planet is going to hell in a hand cart and that they, themselves, have no way of escaping the inevitable consequences of their current political and economic choices.

What they hate is that money doesn’t buy you a special place at the creativity table.  You’re only as good as your ideas and the ideas that most of the moneyed cling to, so doggedly, stink.  They’re rotten ideas, with terrible consequences.  If their privilege is contingent on shoring up these broken, discredited, disproven plans, then they will be the enemies of progress toward better ideas, which lead to better outcomes, universally.

Are those in charge of everything too stupid, greedy and selfish to forego their privilege, in exchange for humanity being fully harnessed to use its almost limitless creativity, industry and imaginations, to create a much better world for all, than even the most opulent enjoys today?  That is the question of our age.

Perhaps the artists and idealists are more realistic than most people think.

 

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In Praise of Things You Don’t Like

Artists, as aesthetes, tend to surround themselves with things they like.  Part of their aesthetic is about what they select and what they discard.  Ordinary people do this in their everyday lives, too.  The totality of their comfortable existence is a product of the things they choose to embrace and equally of those that they reject.  These things can be fashion, architecture, ways of speaking, political ideals, the colours they choose for their walls (why is it always bleeding magnolia?!), you name it.  We’re all curators and our aesthetic choices are what define us as artists and people.

The problem with that approach is that it rapidly becomes sterile and sclerotic.  Eventually, you surround yourself with only the things you like and you become an intellectual museum piece.  While ideas and art move on, always innovating, you freeze yourself in a moment in time.  That might feel comfortable, safe and secure, but it’s also consigning yourself to increasing irrelevance.  You’ve opted out.  You’re no longer part of the struggle and the debate.  You know what you think and what you like and everything else is jettisoned from your world view.  You have become, in effect, bigoted.

We see this effect on social media and in art classes, alike.  On social media, you tend to endorse and follow only those people that say things you agree with and who are the sorts of people you would like.  Algorithmic timelines then ensure that these people’s postings are what you preferentially see.  In art class, people will cluster around a particular style and approach, rejecting all others, in the interests of group-think and unity.  We subtly conform to those around us, simply by choosing to be with them, instead of amongst people that will challenge and discomfort us.  We’d rather sip coffee over insipid chatter, than participate in meaningful, animated discourse with people that might change our minds.

We form these little hermetically sealed bubbles to exist within and so everything we hear is as if in an echo chamber.  It’s just a reinforcement of things we would think, say or create anyway.  We choose to block out the discordant noises and shut out the light that hurts our eyes.  We’d rather have our certainties and our prejudices stroked and reassured, than run the risk of being proven wrong.  We’d much prefer to perfect our ability to render the bland and superficial, in our art, with photo-realistic fidelity, than to attempt the risky endeavour of creating something abstract, or in false colours, or with genuine emotional impact, badly.  We aren’t, in the main, aesthetic researchers, explorers or seekers.  We’re aesthetic adopters.

When I was a young child, you couldn’t force me to eat prawns (shrimp).  The very smell and look of them was repulsive to me.  I didn’t get as far as tasting one, because the very idea of them made my skin crawl.  Later in life, I eventually relented and tasted one.  Oh my word!  What had I been missing?  These delicacies of the sea were utterly delicious.  Since my first taste of one, I’ve been fortunate enough to seek out and enjoy some of the most exquisite examples.  The best ones were in Spain and Queensland.  Had I doggedly stuck to my initial prejudice, I would have denied myself an entire universe of pleasure.  My stubborn insistence that I knew what I would and wouldn’t like proved to be wrong.  I was idiotic.  In truth, the years in which I eschewed prawns were nothing more than lost opportunity to enjoy one of life’s finer things.

Your tastes change and evolve, whether or not you are aware of it or want it to happen.  It’s inevitable that, as you age, your senses change and you are inadvertently exposed to new aesthetic experiences, until one day you find yourself appreciating the finer points of things you didn’t much care for, or even notice, before.  I initially saw disco music as worthless, but have since come to appreciate its finer points.  It’s still not a favourite style of music, for me, but the excellent things in it definitely inform the way I create music in my own style.  The attitude is useful.  There are things I learnt from disco music that can make anybody’s music better, including my own, in a style quite removed from disco.

Your perspectives change, too.  Whereas I was pretty sure of my views on a wide range of subjects, in my early twenties, I’ve come to realise that I really didn’t know enough about what I thought, to think through all the inevitable consequences of upholding those ideas and ideals.  I know better now.  I’ve read challenging books and watched challenging movies.  I’ve listened to people with ideas opposite to my own, who eventually persuaded me to see the rationale and reason behind what they were saying.  There are many ideas I blindly endorsed, as a younger man, which I have come to see through, in later life.  I expect that ideas I hold today will also eventually succumb to better information and deeper understanding.  Being so sure of what you think that you stop questioning your opening assumptions is quite dangerous.  The rulers of everything rely on most people doing this, in fact.  People fixate on and ossify ideas that are repeated to them and that suits the people harvesting the rest of the population, for personal gain, just fine.

You see, each and every one of us has been neuroprogrammed, deliberately and systematically, since we were born.  Those that seek to preserve their privileges spend vast fortunes repetitively reinforcing ideas that they want the rest of us, without the resources to influence the masses ourselves, to adhere to.  We’re fed convenient ideas that defuse dissent and reinforce obedience and subservience.  We are deliberately passivated, in order to shore up their vast fortunes.  Our capacity for neuroplasticity is taken advantage of and we are brainwashed to think what we think, without being aware of the process, or acknowledging that the ideas we hold most fervently are not our own – they were implanted in us for a purpose.

But neuroplasticity works both ways.  We can reprogramme ourselves.  Through techniques of repetition and continual exposure, we can immerse ourselves in ideas and aesthetics that are antithetical to the interests of the privileged elite.  We can counteract the effects of twenty four hour, rolling news, with its drumbeat propagandisation, by reading alternative things, watching other ideas and exposing ourselves to ideas that initially cause us a feeling of emotional and intellectual discomfort.  We can overcome our own psychological inertia and begin to replace the ideas that were implanted in us, since we were children, with ideas that we’ve thought through, which faithfully reflect our human values and which we choose.  If we can’t choose the things we think, then we have no choice in anything.  Sadly, so few of us acknowledge that the things we think were put into our heads by other people, for their own interests, without us even noticing.

It’s vitally important, as an artist and as a human being, to stay open to the possibility that there are other possibilities.  Other ideas and aesthetics might be the prawns we’re currently refusing to eat, because we think they will be odious.  We may be denying ourselves intellectual delights and uplifting, emotional sustenance, simply because we refuse to entertain the very idea of understanding and embracing other ideas and aesthetics.  Stay open to new ideas and viewpoints or ways of seeing, even if they offend your aesthetic sense.  Your current viewpoints and aesthetic choices might be wrong, or not serving you as well as alternatives might.  It’s quite probable that they are.

Try to learn from everything; even stuff you don’t agree with or like.  Keep a few cranky extremists on your timeline, but genuinely attempt to understand their viewpoint.  Sometimes, they’re just damaged people, spewing their bile and hurt over everybody else, in an attempt to lessen the personal burden of it, but often not.  Often, the crank with the unworkable, unrealistic, utopian idea is onto something very valuable.  Sometimes the obnoxious, flag-burning renegade, with every conspiracy theory under the sun in their head, has exposed a real, gaping hole in the official story and revealed the manipulation and manipulators that need to stay in the shadows to be most effective.  Neuroprogramming fails, you see, if you can perceive the unsavoury motivations of the programmer.

The best way to develop your technique, as an artist, is to do the work that feels least comfortable and familiar.  They call it “going outside of your comfort zone”.  As a musician, try to play in a style you wouldn’t normally listen to, for no other reason than to inject new ideas, adapted from the style you don’t like, into the style you do like.  Always look for the gems.  You still might discard most of what you encounter, but if you were honest, you would always find out why other people like what you do not and find a way to respect and admire that aspect of it.

It works for painters, too.  Use the brushes, mediums, painting techniques and colours you don’t particularly like.  Paint in styles you prefer to bypass, in the art gallery.  Try to discover the aesthetic aspect that makes it work for other people.  See if you can make that idea work for you, somehow.  Be a collector and explorer of other ways of seeing and doing.  Get out of your self-imposed rut.  Creativity springs from this willingness to explore and experiment.  If you visit only your own, familiar neighbourhood, pretty soon you have encyclopaedic knowledge of it, but not much else.  Being an expert on a small world is not as exciting or useful as knowing a little about a vast world.

As a writer, use words you wouldn’t ordinarily use, in sentences you wouldn’t normally write.  Read books that express views you don’t agree with, or which tell stories in a way you find awkward and unfamiliar.  Write dialogue the way you would hear it and say it, not the way it has come to be stylised, in other people’s writing.  Break the rules.  Try to distinguish convention and habit from genuinely useful techniques.  If you write, write with honesty and heart, not in an attempt to emulate the style of a great writer.  If the style checking programmes indicate that your work is less than conformant with the designated style rules, rejoice!

The paradox at the heart of focusing your life and your art on things you like is this:  When it is all said and done, you can always find something disagreeable in even the most agreeable of companions or artworks.  Hence, there is no point in trying to surround yourself with only the things you like.  It’s exposure to the things that you don’t like that shape you into a better human being.  Being insular and isolated merely confirms you in your conservative, obsequious, subservient, obedient, designated role.

That’s a role that short changes you, denying you the opportunity to be the best human being you can possibly be and it’s one that short changes the rest of us, because your greatest gifts are never fully realised and shared.  It doesn’t even serve the privileged elites as well as unleashing your talent and potential would.

But they don’t see it that way, do they?  They’re stuck in their own echo chamber bubbles, living in gated communities, rising above the ordinary miseries of the common people through their sheer purchasing power.  They don’t interact or experience.  Instead, they seal themselves into their own private clubs and exclusive enclaves.  From their cosy viewpoint, they imagine a world out there that is theirs to control and farm, by right.  They never consider the possibility that a populace that disobeys and challenges the rulers of everything and doesn’t do what it’s told is actually the route to realising a much better world for them, too.

“None of us are as smart as all of us.” – Japanese Proverb

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