Saturday, 31 August 2013

What I have in common with Jack Reacher

If you're not familiar with the excellent Jack Reacher series of crime thrillers by Lee Child, I highly suggest you get hooked: for sheer gritty detail and page-flipability, they're hard to beat.

In short, every book revolves around the central hero of Jack Reacher, an ex-military hard-ass who's wandering America, trying to just enjoy life but always drawn into solving other people's problems. Jack's unique in that he doesn't believe in working in a fixed job, owning a house, or surrounding himself with the trash that you and I are told we should desire. Apart from the great action, it's a refreshing narrative.

I'll be honest with you: in my 28 years in this world, I still haven't figured out why it's taken the shape it has in the glorified 'Western' world. Post-modern cynicism mixed with battle-weary religion, rampant capitalism, crashing poverty, the all-pervasive fear of crime, and above all else a culture of individualism.

Seriously people, in 200 000 years of humanity have we still not figured out some way to live together harmoniously? If you step back out of the rat-race for a bit, it's mind-boggling.

In a mini-string of stories I had published on a Romanian news site, I wrote that the desire to emigrate has had a significant impact on my view on life's challenges and my priorities. A spin-off of this is my view towards worldly possessions - you seriously start analysing every item you want to buy, asking yourself if it's something you'd put in your single suitcase of no more than 30kg when the chance to emigrate finally arrives.

I hate the fact that I have to live in fear of fellow human beings, all sharing this journey with me. I hate the fact that I'm meant to want a dream which is a plain lie - the majority of the world's population will never be so much as middle-class, never mind wealthy.

As a side-note about me, like so many other avid Grand Theft Auto fans around the world I can't wait for the imminent release of Grand Theft Auto V. That said, I'm desperately looking for a television which will be big enough to do the awesome graphics in the game justice, but cheap enough to feel disposable (because it won't fit in my suitcase - see analogy above). No luck yet.

However, this drove something home for me: you can buy a flat-screen TV for R3 500, R6 000, R16 000, R25 000 or R200 000! Yes, as you go up the price ranks you get 3D, bigger screens and internet-enabled 'smart' features, but really ... the easy observation here (if you step back enough to see it) is that you'll always be wanting a more expensive TV, and feeling rubbish about the one you have. The same thing goes for the car you drive, the house you live in, the clothes you wear, or where you sit in an airplane (economy, business class, first class or private jet!).

Don't get me wrong: I'm not a monk, about to quit my job and go live in a monastery. I like the human comforts as much as the next guy, and don't see anything wrong with wanting better for yourself - I just think humanity as a whole has lost the plot. That message was also driven home by the excellent movie I watched last night: Elysium.

We live in a world where people are starving of hunger, and other people are buying Bugattis. We live in a world where young kids are trying to support their extended families but cannot find jobs, while Robert Downey Junior earned $75 million last year. We live in a world where the US may invade Syria, because the Government may or may not have gassed a lot of innocent people with chemical weapons.

This isn't a world I want any part of. I certainly don't want to spend the next forty years of my life paying insurance, buying increasingly higher-priced consumer goods and just supporting the system happily.

For me the real problem is that The System, such as it is, is geared at splitting all of humanity up. We don't feel like we're in an extended family of 9 Billion people - we feel like we're trying to find a peaceful zone in a hurricane of humanity. Why is that?

Greed, weak political leadership, a corrupted social fabric ... blame it on what you will, the equally obvious observation is that it doesn't have to be this way. The way the world is now is just one possible outcome of a galaxy of options, and we continuously renew it through our support of the existing systems.

I'm not the first person to reach this realisation either. You just have to look at all the riots to realise that the next World War isn't about country vs country - it's about people as individuals against anybody they deem to be The Enemy. When you get enough of those individuals grouping together, the ramifications get serious real quickly: assembly plants shut down (there's a current automotive strike organised by unions in South Africa), private property is damaged, and police turn on the very people they're meant to protect.

It's all too Judge Dredd for me. Why can we group together to express our anger through violence, but we cannot unite to express our shared empathy for each other and work towards complex solutions? Sporadic acts of charity flit up here and there, but it's clear that it's way too little, too late. How do you choose which beggar to feed out of millions? How do you choose who to give a job to, out of a lost generation?

Humanity needs a new medium to communicate. Social change won't come through a Facebook group, however. A Facebook 'like' doesn't equate to a commitment to turning your world upside down in favour of long-term change. By 'upside down' I'm not advocating that we all return to an agrarian barter society - although the thought is appealing at times - but rather that we just find a way to work together, instead of laughing at each other cruelly through puppet politicians and the glossy pages of gossip magazines.

Who's with me?

For a start, I suggest we find some way of truly eliminating hunger or the fear thereof. It's as elemental as needs come, and the truth is that there still aren't enough soup kitchens for the poor (in 200 000 years!!!). If as an entire species we're not afraid of starving to death within two weeks if we 'fall through the cracks', I think it will have a landmark change on our collective psyche. It's something concrete to aim towards.

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