It’s much easier to not bother. If we don’t push ourselves to improve, to find truths and to be a model of the lives we’d ideally like others to be living too, if we fail to challenge wrong and don’t shape the world into a better place, at every opportunity to do so, then it’s an easier life, but only apparently so and only in the short term. Our indolence condemns us to guaranteed long term misery.
Complacency is the enemy of good art. Our inherent laziness and unwillingness to challenge ourselves, to live substantially outside of our seemingly safe comfort zones, sabotages our work, our art and permits stupidity and evil to flourish, in a world already saturated with both.
Better information and ideas are available. They exist and we can find them. Do we have the motivation to seek them? Usually not. Self-study and life-long learning are both possible choices, but so many people actively choose to not continue studying and to cease learning, once they have the requisite qualifications on paper. Their minds and attitudes remain frozen in time, increasingly anachronistic and unimproved.
In large part, we choose bad outcomes because we obligingly, and almost by default, engage with that which does us all harm. It’s the soft option. It requires the least thought, morality and responsibility. We opt for the bad things that are only too willingly made available to us, for profit, by people that don’t care about the consequences, because we aren’t sufficiently motivated to seek, demand or provide better alternatives. We’re happy to choose the lesser of two evils, instead of steadfastly demanding or creating a benign option. We hide behind a lack of choice when the absence of choice is due, in no small measure, to our own laziness. We absent ourselves from blame, for that situation.
We’re told that ignorance is bliss, yet it is undoubtedly true that wilful ignorance is one of the most potent dark forces on the planet; one which permits Hell to exist on Earth. Why should we care? We can leave the problem to subsequent generations. There is no need to preserve and nurture, when hedonistic pillage is the easier thing to do. It requires no sacrifices or any tough decisions.
Engineers do their best to make medical diagnostic tools, like pulse oximeters, which measure your blood oxygen content, crucial for life, so that they work reliably. That doesn’t mean they don’t fail. As a clinician, you can either learn about how these things work, so that you can recognise when they are faulty, or you can blissfully ignore learning about their principles of operation and the limits of the materials used to create the device and blindly, uncritically believe the numbers they spit out, whether or not they are absurdly wrong. You are free to make potentially fatal clinical decisions, based on bad data, emitted by a faulty device. It’s your choice. It’s alarming that so many healthcare professionals make that choice.
A better choice is to know how to test the device for trustworthiness, before life and death decisions are made on the basis of what it reports, but that would take study and effort, in a field of study unrelated to your own vocation. You would need to be interested in engineering, even though your profession is medicine and patient care. Remarkably, in our overly specialised world, few would bat an eyelid at the validity of remaining ignorant of the physics, engineering and materials properties that one’s clinical decisions hinge upon. It’s thought to be fair enough and nobody’s fault if you kill the odd patient, based on data from a broken machine. Well, I assert that it’s not good enough. Complacency cannot be acceptable.
We all use computers and mobile devices these days, but few know how they work, or how to fix them, when they don’t. The consequence is that we are, therefore, prey to those that would charge exorbitantly to fix simple things, or prone to wastefully throw away perfectly good devices, for want of the knowledge required to make them work properly again. Diagnostic skills are woefully underrepresented, in the general population. It’s easier to do the polluting and impoverishing thing. You don’t have to learn anything, to spend more money and throw things away. There are large organisations that want you do precisely that, so that they profit. Your ignorance is their wealth. We complacently play along.
It’s within our gift to demand durability, simplicity and elegance of design, so that ordinary people are able to understand, diagnose and remedy broken things, instead of throwing them away, but we don’t have the will to do the self-education, or to engage in the required consumer activism. We’d rather leave it to self-appointed experts, who can tell us anything they like, knowing they will certainly get away with it.
We permit these computing devices to become tools of permanent and constant surveillance, because we don’t know how to stop them. As a consequence, we meekly accept our shackles instead of rejecting them as illegitimate. Our complacency makes us sitting ducks for those that would use our indolence against us.
The comfort zone is a deadly place. It leaves us open to being cheated, lied to, manipulated and even killed, because we don’t have the intellectual self-defences to know when we’re being sold a pure fabrication. More truths live outside our potentially fatal comfort zones than lie within, but we content ourselves with self-serving, self-justified, vehemently-rationalised falsehoods, instead of discomforting and challenging ourselves to find out the actuality. Our uninformed choices kill people. We even kill our own children, without even realising it, through lazy, complacent, indolent choices, made in the absence of any attempt at critical evaluation and investigation. It’s easier to do what everyone else does and what has always been done. It’s even easier to do what we’re told to do.
In popular culture, there is a distinct skein of hedonistic anti-intellectualism that runs through much of the art made for the genre. We encouraged not to think too hard, to be ridiculed for questioning and inquiring and for curiosity to be reviled. It’s cooler to be a bone-headed nincompoop, in fashionable clothes, making the right “statement”, with carefully contrived poses and postures, than to challenge what one’s government does, what the authorities are up to and whether or not you are being taken for a fool and cheated, at every moment of the day, by giant corporations. What is the “selfie”, other than the most egotistical, self-centred expression of vacuousness and vapidity? Who benefits most from all this anti-intellectualism?
Why do artists continue to make dross, in the service of the aim of dumbing people down? It’s because they’re too complacent to do otherwise. There is less stress and work involved in taking the easy money, to produce mind-numbing garbage, than to find a way to create worthwhile media messages, with meaning, that benefit the majority, not just the elite, powerful and wealthy. It’s much harder to fund art, critical of powerful patrons, but it is the right thing to do.
Much of the art produced in support of popular culture glamorises superficiality and unthinking acceptance of the status quo, along with the requisite unquestioning obedience to corporate interests and authority. You only have to turn on a news programme to see it for yourself. Whatever horrible hardships are meted out to the most vulnerable in society, it is always justified on the basis of how the suffering helps businesses and the government. We must accept and obey, supporting and enduring unconscionable human suffering, rather than question why we should accept and obey, or why the interests of business and government are paramount, compared to the privatised despair inflicted on millions.
It is a supreme irony that some of the most complacent people alive, those with the most dubious claims to intellectual supremacy, often set themselves up as “the authorities” and demand fealty, on the grounds of their pretend cleverness and fake insight, even though their claims are utterly bogus and empty, based on little more than sheer vanity and a sense of entitlement. We feed these monstrous egos, when we are too complacent to challenge them. When we are too intellectually lazy to separate our idealised, mythical construct of a holder of high office from the flawed, often criminal, human being occupying the leadership position, then we endow them with qualities they don’t have and rely on their wisdom, when there isn’t any. We’re too lazy to conceive of other forms of human organisation.
Even when, by happy accident or happenstance, artists produce works that challenge entrenched complacencies, these works are banned by the rest of the population, via their “authorities”, in a determined effort to stop anybody from thinking critically about anything. It seems that people would rather vehemently, vociferously and violently defend their most cherished and settled ideas; indoctrinated into them by people they trusted as children, rather than to examine them anew, in the light of fresh evidence or ideas about their beliefs. Information that they may have (deliberately) overlooked is simply discarded, if it doesn’t fit with their decided world view.
Most people have a stronger desire to be entertained and distracted, instead of confronted with the uncomfortable truth. As artists, we can play to that desire, like the most determined, controlling, profiteering manipulator, or else we can seek to teach, enlighten, edify, inspire and encourage. The choice is ours, but the indolent, complacent choice is to give the audience what they want. It might not be good for them, but we can excuse our actions on the grounds that the audience is too complacent to choose otherwise, thereby self-justifying our own complacency.
By our influence, artists can encourage fear, anger and selfishness, or the opposites of these. One choice is harder to make than the other, though. The better choice is to help people see what they truly need and what serves them better. Politicians have used the instilling of fear, anger and selfishness as their stock in trade for years, but it is artists who have helped them deliver their messages. We cannot shirk the blame. Our unwillingness to challenge this behaviour has let it run rampant, to the detriment of society, the economy and the planet.
Artists can and should teach people why they should want something better than their own complacency, ignorance, indolence and tacit acceptance and approval of the things that diminish their lives, potential and environment gives them. We prefer to stay safe and remote from the responsibility, obligation and opportunity to choose the harder, better option. If we choose to reject our complacency, we’re responsible for the outcomes, aren’t we? Well, we’re responsible for the outcomes anyway, even if we remain complacent. Denying our responsibility does not absolve us of it.
What one complacent, lazy, indolent habit of thinking will you challenge today? How about tomorrow?