We are all playing the same game of make believe. We are expected to, and expect others, to act in accordance with the societal norms. But these norms are fixed relatively. Anyone who has been to other countries knows that, in general, they will have a very different experience in Mexico than in Japan. Going out for drinks and dinner with a group of Mexicans is significantly different from doing the same activity with a group of Japanese or Korean people. My own case studies tell me the main differences are talking volume, level of politeness and the acceptable amount of alcohol consumed. This is not controversial, as the known study of anthropology goes all the way back to the 5th century BC.
It is normal for us to earn our living by standing in one place all day while thinking about being anywhere but here. If you ask a member of the Penan tribe of Borneo if they would enjoy this method of living you’d be surprised not to see a shocked look on their face. Money? What is that to a tribe that lives in the forest and hunts using blowpipes? Conversely, asking an investment banker if he would enjoy spending his days in the forest stalking animals and foraging for food you’d be surprised if this seemed enjoyable to him. This is because what is normal in any society has no common fixed point of reference between them except for the fact that people will act and organise themselves in some way or another and they will act differently depending on where they live/or grew up.
What we consider normal is merely ideas that have made their way into us during our lifetime; specifically from childhood. To be loud, passionate and flamboyant in one culture would have you fit right in but go to the other side of the planet and if you’re anything but humble you won’t be much liked.
What does this say about what is real or right? We decide what is real by either learning the behaviour from other people or by being complicit to the standard of behaviour of those around us. The latter is the most common as most of us are unconsciously complicit; we don’t even think about whether the way we do things is the right way. And if we do deicide what is the right way it is rarely objectively right. The right English accent depends on where you live just as much as the “right way to act”.
Another example that most of us have never thought about is alcohol and other drugs. Alcohol is responsible for more crime, deaths, violence, abortions, car crashes, neurodegeneration, sexually transmitted diseases and harm to children due to neglect than any other drug. Yet, in New Zealand anyone could buy enough alcohol to poison an entire neighbourhood at any time and usually within walking distance. We have places set up dedicated just to the consumption of alcohol, we often consume so much we find it hard to function the next day and we are all complicit in its acceptableness. If we poll people asking whether we should set up places dedicated to the consumption of marijuana, or other safer drugs, a large percentage of people who think alcohol is ok would disagree with this. This disagreement is completely made up and in most cases unconscious. All anyone needs to do is look at the statistics to see that alcohol is the worst drug. Some drug experts say even worse than heroin and methamphetamine but when comparing its acceptableness to almost any other drug most of us would favour alcohol despite what the facts are. We think about how people act in society on alcohol and somehow find it acceptable and when we think about how people act on other “worse” drugs the stigma kicks in and we all agree people shouldn’t be allowed to consume them legally, let alone in public, and yet, most of us have never actually seen with our own eyes how people would act if they were allowed to consume them. Our minds are made up and we have never looked at the stats or seen anything with our own eyes. Expect for alcohol. We see it’s destruction everyday and we are all ok with it. This is because the way we act, think, socialise and organise ourselves is entirely made up, perhaps with the best intentions but still made up nonetheless, and differs not just on a macro level from country to country but also on a micro level from city to city, town to town, and friend group to friend group.
I don’t hate alcohol, I consume it with significant regularity, and I am not a drug propagandist or think that most drugs should be legal. I actually think people are the problem and not drugs. But I am a thinking propagandist and most of us don’t think about the state of anything objectively let alone how and why we act the way we do or the drug and alcohol situation.
A running theme of my writing is self examination. As I mentioned in my last post the more unconscious influences we can make conscious the more control we have over our life. It’s not about seeing that our behaviour is learned and influenced and then doing the opposite. It’s about seeing that our behaviour is learned and influenced and having the ability to act in a different way if we so choose. For the choice to act any different than we are is not available until we have been exposed to other options. Only then can we choose to act differently and differently might or might not be better but we won’t know if it would be better if we don’t know it is an option in the first place. If we have never been told that exercise can improve our health and longevity, would we ever consider exercising? And if we have never realised that the way we act is not the only way to act then would we ever be able to act any differently?
“Busy yourself with the routine of the money wheel, pretend it’s a fix-all, and you artfully create a constant distraction that prevents you from seeing just how pointless it is. Deep down, you know it’s an illusion, but with everyone participating in the same game of make-believe, it’s east to forget.
The problem is more than money.” – Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Work Week.