Search This Blog

Monday, October 31, 2016

How We Wound Up Back in the Box

And How Do We Get Out?

Here we are eight days till we choose the form of the Destructor and most of the electorate is locked into a black and white, binary mindset.
It's an either or choice for Mr. and Mrs. (or Ms.) America, and few of us have the ability to think much beyond that. The idea that there might be something outside the box we are presented is too much of a strain on our brains in this busy world we inhabit. Anything outside the box just isn't worth the effort to think about. It doesn't matter that our "choices" are both the same.

I'm not going to talk about the election here, so hang with me for a bit.  I want to talk about choices. It's a depressing thought, but the current condition of our lives is the result, primarily, of a long series of choices we have made. Don't get me wrong here. I'm not ruling out tragedy. I've had my share of those and I know how tragedy can knock you off course. I'm not ruling out blind luck. That happens too. But even external factors have limited influence as to what kind of person you eventually become.

That does not mean that if all your choices are the right ones that you'll wind up wealthy and prosperous. Christ arguably made all the right choices and look where he wound up. His disciples didn't do any better. None of them wound up dying peacefully in their beds as old rich dudes. Almost to a man they died hard. The only one who died old was boiled in oil and spent his golden years breaking rocks on the Roman equivalent of Alcatraz Island.

That doesn't mean that Peter, James and John and the gang were failures or made wrong choices.. The Sanhedrin thought Jesus was a failure, but his followers became arguably the most influential religious group in the world. The Sanhedrin's followers wound up cycling through the gas ovens at Auschwitz and surviving as a tiny remnant fighting for their lives.

I'm not going to lament here about the good old days. They weren't all that good. Back then, most of the world worked themselves to an early grave in their 30s or 40s. If hard labor didn't kill them, disease, warfare, pestilence and famine did. Civilization remained pretty much the same from generation to generation. Nobody thought things would get any better. After all, everything had stayed the same with only incremental variation from Babylonian to Medieval times.  A few great thinkers tried to make choices outside the traditional boxes they grew up in. Most were quickly squashed by some thug who didn't want anything to get better because new technology and new ideas like Christianity's whole Golden Rule thing had the potential to mess up the deal that the big dogs had going for them. Serfs exercising free choice to the bosses seemed a very bad thing. So, as a way to keep everyone in line, they reduced their choices down to a simple either/or choice, neither of which actually changed anything.

Gruel with salt or gruel without salt?

The Founding Fathers had a great idea that dumbfounded the rest of the civilized world. It was the idea that we all are commoners and all are equal in the sight of God and therefore should all be equal in the sight of the law. The American ideal took decision-making out of the binary box where you had two choices, both of which were bad. In the beginning, the electoral system was all over the place and you wound up with things like John Adams as president and his arch-rival Thomas Jefferson as veep. In most cultures, there would likely have been an assassination with that arrangement, but instead there was a lifelong friendship between the two, despite their vast political differences. And the country got along pretty well.

Almost immediately, however, the folk who think they should run everything began trying to stuff us back into the binary boxes again. Within a hundred years our betters have whittled the scattering of political parties we once had down to two and only two parties. They have confidently proclaimed that we have a two-party system now, despite the fact that there's no provision for any such thing in the Constitution! Third parties it is agreed are unAmerican things and are unhelpful in decision-making for the good of all.

It's always about power isn't it?  People, thinking outside of the approved boxes, make it so hard for the rulers to rule. Out of the box thinkers have created all the innovation we've seen in the past 200 years. The world has changed. Communication, transportation, information sharing and processing, technology and art have blown up in recent years creating massive new tools for even more out of the box thinking.

Now look around and see who is trying to busily stuff us back in to those binary boxes again - you know the gruel with salt or gruel without salt kind of boxes. Those are they guys you want to watch out for. They need to reduce communication down to a manageable level. To many opinions lead to disruption after all. They want to limit transportation so we can't run around meddling in the social order without permission. They'll want to limit choices of all kinds and take over information sharing technologies like the Internet. They'll use fear, bullying and intimidation, over-regulation and meddling in your private lives. They'll call such liberty restricting collective efforts for the good of mankind and tell you that you are a bad person if you don't go along with it.

It's all really about simplifying how things work so that our choices are limited to what our betters think they should be. Nothing upsets folk in power like having the proletariat make choices that are outside the approved box o' choices. Too much choice makes the masses hard to control.

Can we break the cycle? Of course we can. Will we do it?  Probably not. And it's not just the leader class that make it hard to change. We are our own worst enemies in that respect. Out of the box choices are difficult to understand and often require hard work. Thinking independently may result in your separating yourself from the herd. But that makes us uncomfortable. There's security in the herd and just enough of the illusion of free choice to keep the cows content and to provide the bulls with plenty of amusement.

We are making the kind of choices that Dr. Jerry Harvey described in his brilliant paper "The Abilene Paradox". You should read it. It's a revelation. We Americans have wound up someplace we didn't want to wind up because our leaders have kept reducing things down to either/or choices and we've gone along with it.  The family in the "Trip to Abilene" story makes a miserable trip to Abilene to a restaurant in 105 degree summer temps in an un-air-conditioned truck after a series of either/or decisions based on false assumptions and in-the-box thinking.

We're there folks. Arguably the most important choice we Americans have to make has been reduced to a choice between the lesser of two evils. We've driven to Abilene and now we've got the whole long miserable drive back to look forward to. As for me and my house, I'm getting out of the truck and off the merry-go-round. It's time!

And I do want to apologize. I know I said I wouldn't, but I somehow I wound up back at the election. But it's not just about elections. It's about the choices we make in our lives. My wife and I chose a long time ago to go where God would have us go and do what He would have us do. It's kind of been a career like the disciples and the road has at times been hard, but one thing about letting God guide your choices. He keeps you out of boxes. This does not mean you'll be entirely comfortable. It does mean it's more likey that your decisions will actually be your decisions and not the decision of the herd.  The Truth will set you free of those boxes we were talking about.

I don't like boxes anyway, so that's okay with me.

© 2016 by Tom King