Friday, August 06, 2004

growing up is hard to do

the majority of adolescents, by the time they leave school - whether to go on to further academic pursuits or to begin work - have already discovered that the majority of their elders are insane. the first day of work experience - that first glimpse behind the PR facade of any 'normal' working environment - is a shocking vision of institutionalised bedlam, wherein a microsociety of miserable, angry, frustrated people pretends, for eight, nine, ten hours at a stretch, that what they are doing matters, that it has meaning, and that it is worth doing, if only for the salary; whereas, given the choice, every single one of those individuals would be doing something else. this is insane, psychotic behaviour, and yet, very quickly - if they wish to survive in this world - the novice worker learns to accept that it is normal behaviour, and that seeing a circle but calling it a square is just what happens. exceptionally, there are some working environments that engage the willing commitment of an enthusiastic team of co-workers whose primary motivation is not financial - but they are few and far between. most people hate what they do for a living. 'the office' is not a satire. david brent is not a caricature.

'delusional' is one of those pseudo-scientific terms dragged from the bargain-bin of the most delusional of the pseudo-sciences (psychology) to justify defining 'normal' behaviour by how successfully the individual manages to constrain their impulse to liberate themselves from themselves (the latter being the self-constrained, 'normalised' version of themselves that they have been persuaded to believe is the more 'real').

reality - as in 'get real' - is such a contentious, over-rated state.

I'm absolutely convinced that the majority of the people I meet in the real world are virtual simulacra, with the 'real' version of their reconstructed selves silently screaming and writhing inside their socialised carapace. entire lives lived in a state of more or less stoical endurance, forever repeating this self-inflicted bonsai on the true self - clipping here, trimming there, always on the alert for some rogue root, branch, or leaf that aspires to a larger life, to a better, more fulfilling life, to - a life.

there are good constraints, of course - the learnt behaviour that modifies the infant's belief that the world revolves around them, that revenge is justice, that rules only apply to others, that might is right, and that the world is a limitless resource - is behaviour necessarily learnt in order to fulfill the minimum criteria on the syllabus of developing social skills. the self-adjustments required of the maturing adolescent, however, as he or she negotiates the cynical chicane of the education battery-farms and prepares for adulthood, is of a quite different order, requiring that they see a circle but agree to call it a square - because, in the real, conforming world, the prerogative of inclusion is conformity.

I hold to a tenacious belief in the interplay between inevitability and exceptionality in human affairs: hardly a superstitious belief, because it is a demonstrable phenomenon, but a creed in the sense that I believe that there are exceptions to every 'hopeless' situation, and that merely to be mindful of that can help turn hopelessness into hope. whenever, all too often, there is a moment of media attention on a disaster - an earthquake, for example, when whole towns are reduced to mounds of rubble in seconds - there seems always to come a moment, many days later, when the rescue workers have turned their attention from finding survivors to finding bodies, when someone is discovered alive, and rescued, in circumstances which are always described as 'miraculous.' miracles are rare, but they do happen - all the time - literally, all the time, in such fields as quantum mechanics and string theory, where the conformist restraints - physical, temporal, even dimensional - of the macro-elemental world get short shrift. so it seems to me to be no less necessary in the wider scheme of things to acknowledge the inevitability of these exceptional events than to acknowledge the field of inevitable contingencies out of which they emerge in the 'real' world.

if it is delusional to anticipate or to expect the exceptional, the highest aspirations of the noblest and most virtuous men and women in history were delusional - prior to their achievement; the whole of art is predicated on delusion; the leap of faith that is love is delusional; the expectation of life itself is, essentially, delusional.

this is not to deny that self-delusion is a form of stupid arrogance - or even, in some sense, just another sort of conformity - a romantic fallacy. clearly, to continue in the belief that, say, your opinion matters more than that of a hundred million people who disagree with you, and that, with god's grace, in time, they will come to see that you were right and they were wrong, is to embrace self-delusion in the most essential sense - this is the way 'leaders' behave all the time (the monkey, the poodle, and the pope, to cite the obvious current examples). it is stupid and it is arrogant - and it is 'real'. what could be more real than the suffering inflicted on countless millions as a result - however indirect - of our great leaders' decisions?

to apply the same term as a sort of generic insult to anyone who dares to dream outside the box, however, is ultimately just a distortion of envy - the macro-cultural expression of every harassed grownup's response to the adolescent's flamboyance: 'how would it be if everyone did just as they wanted to do?' and depending on whether a continuing response to that question suggests a vision of paradise or a vision of hell decides perhaps one of the most important choices of our lives.

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