“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.