Why is humankind so selfish? Why are we so egocentric? Why are we generally so focused on ourselves – the individual, rather than the collective? Why do we seek personal benefit, gain and profit, while disregarding the basic needs of those around us? Why aren’t we instead living in communion with each other, sharing our resources, helping and supporting each other?
These are the kinds of questions which gave me an insight into how the environment we live in, affects our behaviour, and dictates which character traits are nurtured, developed, and perpetuated throughout society.
This environment, which is the system that our society is run by, is what I would like to focus on in this article. I would like to explore with you what I believe to be the principles it is based on, and how those characteristics impact the way we live our lives, and ultimately the course our civilisation is currently on.
1. Survival as baseline
One of the main issues with the system which governs our society is that the vast majority of people living within it, have making a living as priority number one. That is the baseline.
Making a living is a phrase that is so ubiquitous nowadays, that we almost forgot what it means, which is surviving – namely having enough money for food, rent, bills, mortgage, medicine, public transport, car petrol, and so on. Think about how common it is to be asked “what do you do for a living?”. Which basically means “how do you survive?”. Once I considered this, I’ve found it quite shocking to realise how normalised and mundane this question has become over time, while people have lost the sense of what it actually means.
If we are supposed to be at the pinnacle of human civilisation, how is it that surviving is still the dominant concern? Aren’t we supposed to have evolved from the stone age scenario where we had to fight for our own survival? Today we live in a vastly different world, but this bottom line concern is still there. It’s just that today we don’t have to worry about being chased down and eaten by a tiger, but about being thrown onto the streets and starving to death instead. What is at stake is ultimately the same thing – our own life.
2. The scarcity – progress relationship
This is where an essential aspect of the system which runs our society, comes into play. And I believe this aspect had and still has, a principal role in holding humanity back from evolving out of a life dominated by survival-related concerns. That aspect is scarcity.
Throughout our known history, the systems which have run our societies, have all been based on scarcity. And I am not talking about naturally occurring scarcity, but scarcity which is engineered as an integral part of a system.
Scarcity is also an integral part of the system we currently live in, which essentially constrains us to focus on surviving – mostly without our conscious realisation. And I believe there is a direct link between scarcity and the level of development of a civilisation.
For when scarcity is at the core of a system, progress is inhibited from taking place. And that is because when we essentially have no choice but to tend to our own survival, we simply lack the conditions which would allow us to work on creating a better world. When our number one concern is having enough resources to survive, working on a better world simply has no space in our lives.
When a scarcity-based system keeps us preoccupied with our own survival, we are naturally focused on just that – ourselves. And in a world where we are forced to focus on ourselves in order to survive, the last thing we can afford is to work together on communal projects which would benefit us all, and thus further humanity’s development – especially as we are trained from a young age to be in a state of competition, instead of cooperation with each other.
As long as scarcity is embedded into our societal system, we will not evolve from a survival based lifestyle, which keeps us away from fulfilling our life purpose, and prevents us from redirecting our attention and energy towards creating a better world, for the collective benefit.
3. Artificial limitations
I believe the overarching nature of the system which dictates the way we are to live our lives, is constrictive and limiting. We are not given the opportunities to expand into who we can be, but are instead directed into living our lives the way we should be (so to suit the system). We are herded into predefined boxes, which restrict our otherwise boundless creative potential, and nullify the expression of our unique individuality.
I believe these artificial limitations to be another prominent reason for why positive change and progress seem to happen so painstakingly slow in our society, or even stagnate altogether. Some people wait a life time for change to occur, but never live to see it happen, continuously voting for politicians in the hope that something will finally be different, but not much ever is. And it can’t really be any other way.
It took me a while to realise that the people we vote for are also constricted and limited by the same system we all live in. And so, while a lot of politicians might have genuinely good intentions during their election campaigns, once they finally win the office, they find that their hands are tied and that they can’t keep their promises, no matter how well intentioned they are.
4. Sameness and separation
What else is this system based on, that holds back the evolution of humanity and keeps us from living in harmony with one another? These are 2 perhaps contradictory aspects, which nonetheless combine to produce the society and mainstream culture we find ourselves in.
Sameness – Whilst travelling on the system’s “conveyor belt”, our unique characters and appearances suffer the necessary modifications, so that by the time we have “a proper job”, we all act and look pretty much the same.
And we are prepared for this sea of “sameness” from a young age. At school, we are taught a standard way of operating in life. We have to wear the same type of uniform. We learn to shut up, comply, and follow the orders of the person in charge. We aren’t encouraged to question the way things are, or think critically for ourselves, but instead we are simply told the way the world is.
Throughout our time in education, we also essentially get acclimatised to living under the pressure and stress of deadlines, and are taught the importance of restraint and holding ourselves together. So that by the time we are finally out of the education system, we are moulded into compliant, obedient, and servant beings, who mechanically do what they’ve learnt they are supposed to do, without questioning anything.
Separation – Whilst being taught particular ways of acting, looking and thinking, we are also given different labels, which create a false image of separation. And these labels almost never appear on a spectrum, but rather as black or white.
You can only be either or – you are either a conservative or a progressive, right wing or left wing, republican or democrat, socialist or capitalist, religious or atheist, good or bad, and so on.
When people get labelled in this way, an artificial sense of separation is created. An illusion which goes against the universal truth that we are all integral parts of the same oneness that the universe as a whole, is.
This denatured way of perceiving the world which is deeply ingrained in our society, is another cause for the individualism, separation, conflict, competition and “each man for himself” way of approaching life, that we see all around us. It is another reason for why we are not working together, helping each other, and cooperating in creating a better world. How could we, if we are supposedly so different?
Wrapping it up
What I’m hoping through this article, is to open people towards a bigger picture. That our perceived defining negative traits, are in fact not as defining as we might have thought. They are not the rule, but rather manifestations dictated by the environment we live in – the societal system that I talked about.
The liberating implication of this is that the world isn’t just the way it is. It is not set in stone, and we are not doomed to keep living in the current version. For we make the world what it is. We create the reality we want to live in, and that in turn defines our world. Not the other way around.
If we created our faulty system, we can also create a new and better one. A system which isn’t based on competition, but cooperation. A system which isn’t relying on people’s existential fears, just for the sake of perpetuating itself. But a system which is designed to enable us to thrive, and which thus opens the door to the creation of a better, healthier, and more harmonious world.
We can make this new world happen, starting with one brave small step outside the current system. And seeing what else is possible. And then, as we become aware of the world of possibilities that exists outside, we can keep taking small steps, putting one foot in front of the other, and create the more beautiful world that our heart knows is possible.
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