Do Something: A Short Diatribe

“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.

Portrait of G. Courbet, Author Unknown. Photo Credit: Public Domain

Portrait of G. Courbet, Author Unknown. Photo Credit: Public Domain

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.

Reroute

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 creator, entrepreneur, and perpetually curious autodidact interested in just about everything. He tweets a lot. He questions all the things. He makes unusual rap songs. He wanders the globe and writes about the most vitalizing, useful, and/or world-changing insights he happens upon. He dreams of a more compassionate, cooperative global community in which every human being’s basic needs are met and in which all sentient beings are respected. Befriend him and/or get his free eBook on how to exit the world of traditional work and live a radically free life. Amor fati, humans.

  • Jacki

    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 speak up, for your own sake, and the good of others.

    I bring this up because it isn’t easy for people to stand up
    and champion their ideals (at least, not when everyone seems to be leveling such nasty words at the opposition, if internet comments are any indication). It isn’t easy to carry around an open and bleeding heart in a world full of
    thorns, and that is what prompts the need for finding love and acceptance where we can find it. Unfortunately, though, this need for acceptance can also make
    it really hard to step away from the herd and shake the status quo. This can even affect those small, daily decisions (which have a huge ripple effect, like you were saying) when we have been accustomed to judge and be judged for our
    every little detail.

    For example, one of the most basic steps we can take is to
    be conscious consumers, but the advertising industry has worked so hard to convince us that we are what we buy, therefore every purchase turns into a statement of who we are, and if we then choose to buy something different based on a new set of ideals, we can open ourselves to all kinds of judgment, especially from those closest to us. “Oh, you’re buying fair trade now? What, you think you’re better than everyone? The cheap shit isn’t good enough for you
    anymore?”

    We have to stop limiting our growth to satisfy the opinions
    of others, and we have to stop limiting others with our opinions, especially when they find the strength within themselves to change, in whatever way. We
    can’t tear each other down for being different at every opportunity, because who the hell has it all right in this world anyway? Sending scathing criticism to someone who is not only aware of the need for change, but trying to make it happen, does all the good of writing an angry letter to a soldier in the trenches and criticizing him for not knowing how to end the war.

    True, it is important to be critical, to analyze, to
    question the nature of everything and not blindly accept what we are told, but we also can’t take that to the other extreme and allow that criticism to paralyze us. So we’re going to be wrong sometimes, so we’re going to make
    mistakes. It happens to everyone. Be gentle with yourself and others. Growth is painful, it is scary as hell, and sometimes it gets so goddamn lonely it physically hurts, but there is community support out there for those brave
    enough to reach out and find it. I mean, you can always email people like Jordan. I’ve done it, and he’s really nice and supportive. I aspire to be as open too, though I’m working on ways to make myself more accessible.

    So, yeah, I agree with everything you said Jordan, and I
    wanted to show some support and encourage you and others to keep fighting the good fight. Hopefully life won’t always be such a battle and we’ll eventually be able to spend more time spreading the love. I think the first step is
    finding the courage to dare to hope. So here’s to laughing in the face of danger, here’s to tempting emotional death, here’s to being just crazy enough to love. Peace.

    • 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 overlooking the alienation and struggles that invariably come with choosing to shed numerous aspects of the culture into which one was raised. Resistance is always plentiful, it seems. I agree that the thing that makes it much more possible is to find those communities of other people thinking about the same things, who have had similar realizations. That’s what I’ve tried to build here and on the RTM Facebook/Twitter, and that’s what I try to offer anyone who reaches out to me online—solidarity, understanding. I’m glad you’re so appreciative, and I deeply appreciate your reaching out and getting involved in the discussion around here. It’s great to have such a passionate, lively-minded person adding to the conversation. Hope to hear from you again soon (and I’m going to reply to your last email soon, I promise. The last few days have been a blur, as I traveled to Atlanta and am here for a couple weeks seeing my girlfriend.). Peace, 1luv. :3

  • Jessica Clark

    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 in your piece, that I’m interested in highlighting.

    There is an interesting history in America of referring to the earth as a female, and in many cases not only a female, but a mother. While the female/earth correlation has long been a facet of human language, it became deeply ingrained in American culture and language upon the “discovery” by Europeans of “the new world.” The undeveloped land European settlers encountered became “virginal” and “pure” while simultaneously being the fertile birthplace or womb of the new society/culture/life they were building.

    Of course, developing the land then brought on the guilt of defiling it. Annette Kolodny describes in her essay “Unearthing Herstory” that “Colonization brought with it an inevitable paradox: the success of settlement depended on the ability to master the land, transforming the virgin territories into something else–a farm, a village, a road, a canal…and finally an urban nation. As a result, those who had initially responded to the promise inherent in a feminine landscape were now faced with the consequences of that response…” and that’s where the rape metaphors start flying, and they persist to this day.

    So–you might be thinking: what’s the big deal? Maybe strong language will more effectively convince people to change. (It hasn’t–that particular comparison has been around since the 1600s.) But the bigger issue at stake, I think, is that language use matters. First we use language to describe and define, but soon after those definitions we’ve created come to filter and limit the way we perceive the world and our experiences in it. When it comes to nature as female, we have two tropes: the pure virgin/fertile mother and the raped/defiled/broken woman. Either the land is untouched or it’s ruined. But we’ve never created–or it’s never become widespread–a means of talking about coexistence: using natural resources but replenishing them, living on and building on and cultivating the land but not depleting it–a partnership, a marriage in which both the natural world and the humans who rely upon it are changed by one another, but both reap benefits.

    In some ways, I think even that metaphor is egotistical, elevating humanity by suggesting that somehow or relationship with the natural world is different from that of any other living creature that affects and is affected by its surroundings, but at least it’s a model with some middle ground.

    In any case, I think the raping of the land language has to go if we’re ever to have constructive dialogue about how to really change the way humanity is interacting with and rapidly modifying the planet in ways that will soon leave us with no place that can sustain our existence.

    I know you tend more toward an interest in examining the human experience, but you’ve tossed out enough reference to environmental concerns that I thought you might enjoy some discussion of environmental rhetoric. 🙂

    I think the words we use to say something are as important as the message we intend to convey, no matter the subject. Although it’s a minute change, restructuring our patterns of expression could have a profound impact on our perception of, and in turn our impact on, the world. And isn’t that what you advocate for in this post–awareness and small change… ripple effect, ripple effect. 😉

    • 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 be a place of community discourse, not alienating ranting. so thanks for picking a fight. please keep sharing your voice with us around here. 🙂

  • Ashimself

    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 of it).
    The way it all seems to come together for me, is that in our lifetime we shall probably see either the fall or rise of man.

    Last but not least, I would like to suggest a good look at Quigley’s work on the evolution of civilizations. Quite interesting.

    Keep up the good work!

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • joseph,

    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.