I’m beginning to notice some things about myself and the world around me. When I say the world around me, I mean it in the context of my community back in the states, the overarching networked society, first world western civilization. These things have become apparent mostly because of the contrast with third world civilization, the environment in which I currently find myself.
To sum it up succinctly, we have gone fucking soft. If you want the more eloquent (crass) explanation with supporting points, read on. But you could stop right here, think critically for a few minutes, and see that it’s the truth. You don’t need me to tell you. You can feel it.
We are soft because we are entitled. And in having access to certain luxuries, scratch that, every luxury, we have robbed ourselves of an ability fundamental to our existence. This isn’t going to be news to anyone. You’ve probably heard it, read it, and felt it about a million-trillion times in your life. That ability is to find joy in the simple things. This cultivated habit is exactly why the meek shall inherit the earth. Don’t be fooled by the word meek. The reason they will inherit the earth is not because they are quiet and awaiting protection from a god on high. It is because if it really came down to it, they could tear us to shreds (Of course, for now we can hide from anyone behind the largest, unsustainable military budget in the world. But someday when it all comes falling down… and it will, gravity spares nothing… any people with 500 years of developed grit will walk right over any people with a recent national commitment to diabetes, obesity, and television). These people work every single day as you have never worked a single day in your life. They carry water to rooftops. They hand wash their clothes. They cook as nutritiously as possible over coals, outdoor. They walk EVERYWHERE, usually with some kind of excess load on their malnourished, but well muscled frames. And they do every single one of those, what we would call menial tasks with a smile and a song. Not because they aren’t smart enough to know there’s something better or easier, but because what else is there to do? Fucking whine? Complain? The tasks will remain. And no one else is going to do it. So they just do it. Not because there’s a reward or praise upon completion. But because it’s to be done. And in the process they have developed a strength of character and stoicism that frankly, makes me a little bit ashamed of myself.
This joy they have cultivated is a component of this strength of character. It’s like the cement holding it all together. Haiti is, I believe, the first and only successful slave-nation rebellion in history. They prevailed against all odds. Without guns, they started a rebellion against one of the most well organized armies in the world. Meek, indeed. They slaughtered the French with the same joy that they wash clothes or attend a party. We used to be like that once. Remember back when we had to fight for independence from a bigger, badder, more refined British army? After that, a bunch of us just headed west. No fucking clue what was there or how we would succeed. Just knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we would. Some, like the Donner Party, ate their dead in order to succeed.
Say you are a direct descendant of someone who ate a dead person’s hamstring just so you could be where you are today. What do you think they would think of the fact that you’ve gotten fat and lazy, choose to eat garbage food even though some of the best food in the world is readily available to you, and whine and complain about anything and everything that hasn’t been handed to you? Probably not a lot.
It’s not all doom and gloom. The American spirt (of old), mirrors the Haitian spirit. This is evidence that it is probably the true the human spirit, because we sure as hell started from vastly different places and cultures but have this in common. The problem is that our sense of ourselves is choked by greed, laziness, self entitlement, excess, and an insistence upon the rights of the individual accompanied by a deliberate dismissal of an individual’s responsibility to their families, community, and society. Run-on sentence much?
I have some simple suggestions about how to start fixing this shit. None of these ideas are mine. I stole them directly from this experience being had in Haiti.
Cultivate an actual sense of community. It has occurred to me that despite the… I’ll just call it what it is… horrid living conditions in Haiti, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of chronic depression or poor-me bullshit. I attribute this directly to the fact that they exist as an inextricable part of a bigger community. They do everything together. This is counterintuitive to the rugged individualism falsely purported to have built American culture. We idolize people like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford for their individual contributions to society. But this is marketing. A closer look at most of the American “heroes” of yesteryear will reveal something startling: they were exploitative and self centered assholes. 22 people invented a light bulb before Edison. He just made it profitable. After violating their patents. While shitting all over and blatantly covering up the contributions of people who worked for him. So it wasn’t even “he” who did it. It was them. But “he” had friends in high places. Rugged individualism is a fantasy. That’s why they say there’s no such thing as an honest millionaire. That isn’t to say there aren’t leaders. That isn’t to say that valiant individual efforts to the greater good aren’t absolutely necessary. Additively, many of these create a critical mass and this is where change begins. The point is, we are obsessed with individualism to the detriment of the community that is actually supporting us. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down. Which is why I implore you to get off the computer. The secret to life is not found behind any screen. Go be with your friends. Go teach your nephew something that will irritate his parents. Go have sex with somebody. Go to a place with a bunch of sick and dying old people and ask them “What the fuck is up old people?”. They will love talking to you and chances are they probably know some shit or have had experiences so mind blowing that it will blow your fucking mind. Plus they usually have candy hidden somewhere. The likelihood of this goes up if they have diabetes. Take note. Just go be part of some community and contribute something to it.
A bit of industry and ingenuity wouldn’t hurt either. Remember when America used to produce actual physical objects, and not just sub-prime lending catastrophes, and money out of thin air, taxed at a lower rate than someone who sweats for it (God bless America). Man, those were the days. When Sam Walton was still around, the shelves of Wal-Mart were filled with American made products. And those products were of the quality one would expect from a nation who used to give a shit. Now his fat fucking crybaby descendants, none of whom contributed anything to the development of the once great retailer, quibble incessantly about who gets what, have filled the shelves of Wal-Mart with Chinese products, and outsourced the healthcare of their employees to whatever local welfare system exists where they plop down a Supercenter. I’m getting way off topic. But back to the point. Even though we are obsessed with rugged individualism, we have lost our ability to achieve that fantasy-goal because none of us know how to do anything anymore. As recently as a few generations ago, we could fix things if they broke. Not the case anymore. The value of the ability to look at something, think through the problem, and affect a solution can not be underestimated. It is another one of those values that should be practiced always and has tremendous transfer and carryover. One’s ability to make an assessment, formulate a plan, and execute it, trying again if unsuccessful is a general skill that can essentially be applied in every context of life. Learn to sew. Build something for your kids. Take something apart and put it back together. Computer, motorcycle, whatever (this does not apply to biological organisms, making a puppy work again after taking it apart is a bitch and should not be attempted). In spite of the fact that Haitians do physical work all damn day long, some saw fit to build a gym of sorts so they could do more physical shit. They built it out of scrap and third grade educations.
You wouldn’t have come up with this given a decade and a manual. But you think that because you have an iPhone you’re smart. Joe Rogan made this point once. We think we’re smart because we can use things that other smart people invented. We should start thinking we’re smart, or at least a little bit useful because we can actually produce, repair, or improve upon something. There’s nothing new under the sun. But these days, it seems like we don’t even have a handle on common wisdom.
And finally, slow the fuck down. If you’re too busy or too irritated to answer the spontaneous call of friend or family or stranger in need, then you’re too fucking busy. This goes back to suggestion 1 and suggestion 2. Cultivate community and solve problems. We tend to fill every minute of every day with some activity. Then we die from some disease with stress as a risk factor. Fuck that. Take a break from your life. I promise you, you’re not as important as you think you are. Except to your kids (this extends to anyone with a child watching them. They record everything you do). In that case you’re more important than you think you are. Better start setting an example. No. Better than the one you’re setting now. Always better. I have discovered, only because I have been forced to that most of my busy-ness is invented and detrimental to the things I’m talking about now. So how to rectify this problem?
A simple way to do this would be to sit down and make a hierarchical list of your priorities. Go ahead, write them down in order of importance, I’ll wait. Now looking at the list, if it even made the cut observe where health falls in the order. Then slap yourself in the face. Because what ever things are on that list, no matter what they are, none of them will even be available to you once your health fails and you’re dead way too young from something way to0 preventable that causes way too much damage to the human organism. So start over, health at the top. Which means, good sleep, good food, some exercise and a sustainable pace of life are the very first things that should matter, all else be damned. Your kids are watching. And recording.
This is how WE stop being so soft. We develop weathered, strong, stone crushing hands, capable of joyfully producing something of value, joined together, moving forward with the tenacity and deliberate pace of a bulldozer. My, that sounds nice.
This is EXACTLY what Haiti has. This is why the French no longer lay claim to this place or these people. And this is why no matter how often a misguided ruler, nature, or the rest of the world takes a big steaming shit on the still-free nation of Haiti, they march on, at the slow pace of a bulldozer. I’m not so sure we could endure the same adversity. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. No, our response to 9/11 is not evidence of our toughness, no matter how many chart topping country songs came out after that. Our response to 9/11 is only evidence of our greed. Our response to Katrina is evidence of our ineptitude. And so on and so forth. But it doesn’t always have to stay that way. We have a marathon bombing to test us now. But I’m not holding my breath for a collectively positive result. Surely triumphs of the human spirit will come out of this tragedy. But our dream should be something along the lines of a united, intelligent, and productive response.
Logical note: The cynics among you will point out a simple inconsistency. If Haiti is so great and has so much to teach us, then why does it still suck so bad all these years later? To which I retort, similar to the illusory concept of the mobile class system in America, the predictor of an individual’s success is most often determined not by their merit or effort, but where they start out in the race. Take blundering, stuttering, dipshit, ex-president as evidence of this. With no documentable skill or merit whatsoever, he rose to the most powerful position in the modern world. But only because that rise was the equivalent of stepping up on to the sidewalk from the street, given where he began. Haiti on the other hand, started its life as a nation of uneducated slaves. To stick with the analogy, they are digging their way out from the center of the Earth. And you can kind of tell, because it seems like their spirits have been tempered into steel by the molten lava supposedly at the core.