Put up or shut up
It’s time that I put my words into actions. Repeatedly, I’ve said to myself and others that its more important to pursue your own ends, to be an individual first. I’ve said that the groups you belong to come second to yourself. Remarkably, its much easier to say then do.
I’m a tall, white man. I’m a geek. I’m college educated and I’m a manager at work. I’m the Man. I’m a member of KQED (the SF public TV station), the EFF, the ACLU, and I’m registered in the green party. I’m a member of the NRA, but I don’t tote a gun. I don’t smoke and I’m a jogger. I’m a genXer and a child of young boomers. And until a few weeks ago, I was one half of a ‘couple’.
Each of those groups wants to grab a hold of my identity. The green party pamphlets, printed on triple recycled paper, come in the mail with my renewal notices from all the charity ‘membership’ organizations. My intercourses with them entice me with offers of money, pride and a sense of belonging. They shame me into their arms with sprinkles of white liberal guilt and suggestions of bad things to come without my support. I’m reminded how I should or should not live. Slight gestures dictate how I should or should not behave. Examples show me how I should or should not think.
I’m seduced into consuming this group fodder and the blame for this should is placed squarely on my own willingness to belong. That willingness is guided by insecurity and lack of confidence in myself. For wanting to belong is the opposite of being an individual. It takes courage to be an individual and you have to work at it. Lack of courage or laziness pushes you away from yourself and it becomes easier to consume others’ thoughts and behaviors then it is to invent your own.
But individuality is insidiousness as it is its aim to undermine others’ individuality. To have a thousand followers, is to be the ultimate individual. For to have followers means that you’ve created thoughts or movements that are so original and provocative that others give up their own to borrow yours. You must destroy others’ individuality to complete your own.
On the flip side of the coin: as an individual who seeks to be creative, you’re drawn to other individuals who are like-minded. Like gravity in the forming of solar systems, these individuals form groups. And of course, those groups, being groups, are hell bent on destroying the individuals in them.
Why do individuals gravitate towards each other? You cannot create anything out of a vacuum. An individual’s creativity, whether its in art or science, is shaped by the observations made around them and it is shaped by the creations that came before. In painting for example, the artist fills his canvas with particular visualizations of the natural world. To be original and therefore creative, he must paint in response to others that have painted before him. Even if he paints the opposite of what has been painted before, he can only paint in the context of what was painted before or what is being painted now. In any case, the very notion that he is a painter requires that he has joined that group of people that wield paintbrushes and who know the names of all the colors on the color wheel. There’s no such thing as the painter who is not a painter.
If you are an individual consumed with ideas, you are naturally attracted to other people that are consumed by similar ideas. Ideas, like works of art, build off each other. The group’s purpose becomes allowing the individuals to efficiently build off each others ideas. The group develops short hand ways to talk about things, making it easier to create new ideas and subsequently attracting more people to the group. This is why economists talk of demand curves and sociologist talk of power dynamics. In physics, relativity was a revolutionary idea, but, contrary to some theories of otherworldly origins of Einstein, even it was developed in the context of the thinking on physics of the day. Who could really believe in the “ether”, anyway?
In a sense, this all means that groups enable individuals to be creative. By presenting a dogma, the group allows individuals to build upon the faith or to bounce ideas off the canon. An individual’s creation can be additive or it can be made in contrast to the present way of looking at things.
So groups are good, right? Right, except they also can be destructive to the individual. The group has the ‘average’ individual. Of course, the ‘average’ group member is not a real person, but if you took an individual out of the group, at random, you would find some of the traits of the ‘average’ individual. The larger the group gets, the easier it is for any one lazy individual in the group to pretend to be average. So instead of generating their own thoughts and actions, the lazy group members starts acting and thinking like the ‘average’ group member.
Well, I’ve been getting lazy lately. I was too willing to let my identity morph into the averages of the two primary groups I belonged to. First, I’m a manager at a small company. My thoughts were consumed by 401ks, stock options and all manners of business jargon and fad-speak. This is all typical of your average businessperson. Second, I got lazy in relation to my ‘couple’ group status. Buying a house and having children consumed my thoughts. Again, these things are typical of your average middle class male provider.
Truth be told, I’m not really big on making a lot of money or on deriving meaning in life via reproduction. My laziness and group identities were pulling me away from myself.
I’m resolved now to do the following because they better define me and speak to what I think is important in life:
– I will volunteer in the community, ideally helping children or the poor (within the month)
– I will meet interesting people that are interested in ideas and learning (ongoing)
– I will recruit and groom a replacement at work (starting in October)
– I will get into a top economics PhD program in a California public school (2005-2009)
– three letters of recommendation (1 by the end of the year, the other two before next summer)
– I will take math and economics-related courses at DeAnza (one each quarter)
– I will take the GRE (early next year)
I will make progress towards these goals every day. I’ll note progress on this website. Please, loyal readers, keep me in check.