“Be quiet, play by the rules, stand in line,” the system implicitly tells us.
To hell with that. Break the rules. Open your eyes. Make some noise. Our institutions and sociocultural structures are failing us, and now is the time to take notice. Economic inequality has never been greater. Billions of people are living in poverty, starving, and/or dying of preventable diseases. Hate and misunderstanding abound. Education is broken. Wars rage on. Our air is unclean. Our food is full of chemicals. Environmental crises loom. The list is endless.
Don’t let this depress or paralyze you. Don’t wallow in self-pity and ask why you had to be born into such a shitty epoch. Every epoch has been both hideous and gorgeous in countless ways. Ours is arguably better, in many regards, than any prior time in human history. We’re simply more aware of the corruption, suffering, and violence nowadays in this so-called Age of Information. With that awareness comes a certain amount of responsibility. Most people choose to ignore or escape the shittiness/suffering or claim that it’s someone else’s problem. I say again: to hell with that. We’re all drifting through this bizarre void on this tiny rock together. We’re a deeply interconnected global community sharing finite space and resources; our actions unavoidably affect everyone else.
Thus we’ve got to care, on an individual level, about changing our collective ways. We’ve got to extend our individual vision and sphere of compassion to encompass all living beings—everyone affected by our common predicament. If we don’t, we will continue to disregard the billions of people and animals who have been on the losing end of the last few hundred years of history. We will continue to condemn, exploit, dominate, dehumanize, compete with, and discriminate against one another, instead of sharing, loving, and cooperating. We will continue to pollute the planet and sap its resources until scarcity and environmental disasters foment widespread conflict, pandemonium, and global catastrophes.
Our situation is phenomenally difficult for any one of us to grasp. I certainly don’t claim to understand this hyper-complex historical moment or to know how I ought to live in the midst of it. No single person grasps the convoluted web of technologies that now permeate the planet and allow our modern world to function. We are arguably not built to fathom, let alone care about, seven billion humans, and that’s saying nothing of the 8.7 million other species on Earth. Most of us find it difficult (or lack the luxury of spare time necessary) to see beyond our own immediate context—to consider how our day-to-day actions affect people across the world, or how they will affect our descendants two hundred or two thousand years from now.
But I don’t need to grasp fully our situation to perceive the unsustainability and injustice inherent in our current system. I don’t need to have all of the answers to begin making small-scale efforts to change my own lifestyle and affect the larger human enterprise. I would argue that the urgency of our present situation dictates that we cannot wait for some crystallized understanding that may never come. We must undertake the work of educating ourselves, changing our lifestyles, and contributing to various movements and initiatives that aim to fundamentally alter our global systems.
This doesn’t mean that any of us has to make a 180-degree change overnight. We can’t. The process of becoming more active, caring humans is unending. It doesn’t have to consume all of our time, and it might even be enjoyable. Make small, gradual, conscious efforts to become a kinder, more generous person. Raise your voice on social media and in the “real world” against injustice and in support of humanitarian efforts. Attend protests. Subvert and disrupt the status quo. Make some art. Plant a garden. Form real communities. Become a more conscious consumer. Recycle. Educate yourself in conventional and unconventional ways. Donate to worthy causes. Become minimalist. Strive to find work that helps others and is in some way an expression of self. Seek love and truth, not wealth and comfort. Travel to gain perspective. Have empathy. Promote peace. Disregard the critics. Realize that your every action is in some way political, whether you like it or not. Vote for a more just, open, humane, sustainable system in the way you live your day-to-day life.
Recognize that in spite of all of the darkness, much beauty, joy, and love still exist in this world. Don’t forget to perceive and pursue those wonderful things in your own life―existence hardly seems worth it without them. Feel and express gratitude. Much needs to be changed and re-imagined, but you’re still alive, and that means infinite possibilities. It’s an adventure, and no one knows what the hell is really happening, so chill, soak it in, do your thing. But begin to open up to the idea that “doing your thing” might involve positively impacting the people around you, your local community, and the entire global shindig.
It could be cool: a couple new habits here, a bit more awareness there. Ripple effect, ripple effect. Yes. You have more power than you know.
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About Jordan Bates
Jordan Bates is a Lover of God, healer, mentor of leaders, writer, and music maker. The best way to keep up with his work is to join nearly 7,000 people who read his Substack newsletter.
Jordan, This is a very eloquent and passionate appeal to the general public, and I want to recognize you for doing what you can to move and inspire others to join the collective effort to “save the world,” so to speak (which sounds cliché, but it is true that the world needs to be saved, and if our reality is cliché, then all the more reason to work to change it, yes?). I have mad, mad respect for you as an artist and intellectual, and it takes a lot of courage, conviction, and love to put yourself out there and… Read more »
Jacki, Thanks so much for the comment. A piece like this one touches upon so many things so hastily that I think it’s main purpose (apart from being a place in which like-minded folks can find some solidarity) is to be the start of a conversation, or a number of conversations. It’s a tip-of-the-iceberg-type piece. And so thank you for beginning one of those conversations. You’ve touched upon something so important to think about immediately after reading a piece like this—namely, how? And what will the challenges be? It’s easy to rave and idealize like I tend to do while… Read more »
Hey friend, I’m gonna pick a fight with you. And it’s gonna be long 🙂 It’s not about the piece overall–as you know, I largely agree with the message you’re communicating, even if I would have communicated it in a little different way myself. This is about a particular bit of language use you are perpetuating, that I think you might find it interesting to reexamine. You claim in this piece that, “the planet has been raped”–certainly not an unusual or uncommon claim. In fact, it’s the ubiquitousness of this metaphor and the way it’s so often tossed out, unexamined–as… Read more »
jessica, thanks so much for taking the time and effort to write out this extremely thoughtful and helpful comment. i think this was a brilliant critique of my rhetoric and i changed the phrase in question. i hadn’t thought before about how violently accurate idioms might yet be counterproductive in actually affecting meaningful change. i think sometimes strong language can be effective, if for no other reason that to truly communicate to people how strongly you feel about an issue. however, i think in general that such language is misplaced on this site, as i’d like for this to ultimately… Read more »
I really liked the idea of the three late pieces you have published. Unfortunately this has been going on too long, and which is more morose many do not see the situation, or even the rim of disaster we are moving forward to. I agree, and believe that if becoming more as an individual can be fun, it will most likely eat up all your time (for the love of knowledge knows no bounds). While I feel social media and the governments failed us, it is still possible to enact change by spending your hard-earned money wisely (and saving most… Read more »
thank you for the wonderful comment, Ashimself. quigley’s work looks super interesting and i’ve added a book of his to my list. cheers, take care.
much appreciated. as i mentioned on twitter, i am writing one. thanks for sharing your work and for the support. peace and thank you so much.
I know this is cliche, Jordan, but you really need to write a book … badly … on the “Refine the Mind” mission.
Or at least, assemble and edit some of your best blog posts into a book form (Paperback, please).
You have a new reader. I’m paying attention.
I’ve also written a “Look Ahead Into The Future” that touches on a lot of what you have been bringing out in your recent blog posts.
17 page essay: http://josephratliff.com/downloads/Future.pdf
The only reason I introduce it is because of how this recent writing of yours has resonated.