Sunday, 16 December 2012

In the beginning

The best thing that can happen to you in  life is to feel utterly disillusioned. To feel that everything society has fed you is worthless, to feel that the path you're headed in is not one you like, and to dislike the people around you.

Why is this negative moment positive? Because it's the first step towards recovery: towards 're-illusionment'. From the moment you're born you're told what to think: your parents, your friends, your Government, your employer, your religious leaders. It's time you think for yourself.

If you're lucky, becoming fully disillusioned doesn't happen all at once: you're surrounded by micro-disappointments your whole life, things which just feel 'wrong', and one day all those little things crystallise into your personal world view. It's not an end to your journey, it's just the start of a lifetime discovering what feels 'right', knowing only what feels 'wrong'.

I don't claim to speak for everybody. Indeed, the furious debates I've gotten involved in point to me holding viewpoints which are very contrary to the popular doctrine. I don't have a problem with that: I'm not living my life as a popularity contest, and if anything the 'right' way generally fits somewhere between all the emotionally-charged polar opposites.

Ok, so at this point you're wondering if I can add anything constructive to your life with this blog. Maybe that's not my goal. Sometimes what many people need is something deconstructive - a voice to question the popularly-accepted truisms, a voice to challenge.

I'm not at the end of my journey. I'm just near the start. I'm adding daily to the list of things which are 'wrong' with society, and trying to find a useful place for myself in that society. As a taster, some of the things which are patently wrong - but, as is typical of humanity, best compromises - are as follows:
- Capitalism. Everybody is promised a middle-class life, but the reality is we still need street sweepers and the system will ensure a constant supply.
- Democracy. Everybody's voice needs to be heard, but democracy is at its heart a 'majority rules' system where the majority parties dominate, or the minority parties compromise within coalition governments.
- Charity. Save the rhino. Save the baboon. Save the lesser-spotted egret. Since when did human suffering take a backseat to animals'? By placing the responsibility for poverty with poor people, we simultaneously absolve ourselves of charitable responsibilities and deny that capitalism is a failed system.

I recognise that my context has informed those viewpoints. I live in the city with the highest contrast between wealth and poverty in Africa: Johannesburg, South Africa. I'm ekeing out a middle-class life for myself, sharing the same streets with the ultra-wealthy and the dirt-poor beggars. Complicating the political mix in South Africa is the racial dynamic, where being a successful white citizen carries with it a side-helping of guilt: you're statistically in the country's minority, and as such everything you have deserves to belong to the country's historically oppressed majority. 

Complex discussions surrounding racial identity, political performance and entrenched social capital form the unescapable background for life, drowned out by the workday monotony and re-runs of Survivor on TV. Isn't life complex enough, without these added problems? I say this with full recognition that people the world over are facing equally universal challenges flavoured by their unique geopolitical situations.

More than anything, life in Johannesburg has reinforced for me the pointlessness of caring for what Matt in his excellent blog calls the 'Money Tree'. Driving through some affluent suburbs, you can trace your whole life in a single street: first I will live here, then I will move here, then I will move here, and finally I will retire here. It's the same thing with cars: I first drove a Ford Lazer, then a Hyundai Atos, then a Renault Sandero, now a Citroen C3. Later I hope to drive a Volkswagen Jetta, then a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, then maybe a BMW 6-Series.

People living my 'dreams' drive past me every day and force me to question my life's goals. Why do I want a Jetta when I already know my next goal will be a C-Class? Why do I want to continue working in this job if it will never get me to a 6-Series salary level? Why seek happiness which is so temporary and brings with it - for most people - only added stress through added debt?

No, I don't want to be 'rich' if being rich means being constantly unhappy. In many ways I'm already rich, relative to the world's intense poverty. Rather, I want to contribute, to make the world a better place for having me in it, and to continue enjoying the priceless happiness of my wife's hugs. There's no debt with those, and nothing better later on you see: just a lifetime of acceptance and love.

I can't say that all my posts will be this long, but I hope this sets the tone for the blog. It's a journey which may well take me to unimagined places as I try to create a story for my life which extends beyond my car purchases and the movies I watched. If you're craving more before the next installment arrives, check out my opinion pieces on MyNews24 - a South African news website's community forum: MyNews24 opinions

Just because it struck a chord with me, I'll end on another quote from Matt's website: "Everything will be alright in the end, and if it's not alright, it's not yet the end".

1 comment:

  1. Very well said, but more to the point, very accurate representation of what disillusionment tends to represent.
    As far as the end goes...we all have a bit of pitching in to do in order to get to that ideal end.