(A bit on conformity and freedom.)
You know a society that optimizes for conformity is running functionally, propagating certain norms, values, and cultures, when those who step outside of the bounds of said norms, values, and cultures, are either, for their actions, quickly chastised back into the dominant mode of operating (actualized through various mechanisms of brainwashing (e.g., language passed on by other members of said society, through propaganda, through internal feelings of shame, guilt, etc.). Or, they are exiled; physically or mentally forced to disassociate from society. (Layman term: society will keep your ass in check.)
As a person who has spent much of my life unquestionably abiding by rules, a sort of gravity has pulled me closer and closer to the edges. Or rather, a curiosity has tugged on me lately at the infinite possible ways of existing. What might my life look like, say, in an alternate universe, if the rules and ways of being, humanly constructed and crafted, weren’t befallen upon me, crippling me? What would I be doing, how would I be spending or (wasting) my time? Or how might time drop off, dissolve, or become irrelevant in this imagined world?
(To make this more concrete, because the above is incredibly abstract. Think norms/value placed on ideas like education/college. Intelligence. Ambition and drive. A hard work ethic. Relationships and the idea of a single partner or soulmate. Things I value and have an appreciation for, but only so because of the indoctrination and socialization of my mind since I could read, walk, interpret, etc.)
I have thought long and hard, especially more recently, about life beyond what I have accepted as the right path, the right way to live. (Inspired by the realization that we essentially have no true control, no true autonomy over ourselves. (Or maybe it’s just me?))
I felt that even more after engaging with an 18-year academic system that eventually dropped me off at the doorstep of a 9 - 5 (really 8 - 6) that has given me a scarce amount of time to truly sit, think, and reflect on my purpose and position in the universe. And then carry said purpose out to the fullest potential. (Stresses this point.) That I spent those 18 years with the assumption that freedom was the reward in exchange for my dedicated time, when in reality, the opposite was true; because you did x, y is the only path you can take to be a credible, productive, and reliable member of society. Choose the path well. Or choose irrelevance. (Again, likely a statement that clearly shows the product of my socialization.)
Much of this journey, though not all, has felt like an amusement park (EVEN MORE WITH THE PERFORMATIVE NATURE OF EVERYTHING WE DO… we perform friendship, we perform happiness, we perform professionalism, etc.), a curation of exhibits meant to distract oneself away from the ultimate point all of this all; to figure out who we are and connect, genuinely and authentically and radically, with other human beings. And because I’m unsure if this is actually the purpose…
Let’s take a break from this special programming and veer off on a tangent real quick, a little poll I conducted with friends to validate or deny this thesis.) So, bear with me, the purpose of life.
“To transform your environment in a way that supports the next generation. So leaving your impact in every space you engage. Also. Live on in other people’s minds.” Okay, okay.
“I’ll say love (romantic, friendships, other relationships, etc.) and finding/exploring passions.” Lol, love it’d like to think.
“To save the planet.” Don’t disagree here. #climatechangeisreal #savetheplanetorsaveourselves?
“To be happy (means different things to different people.)”
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s a purpose to human life. I think we as individuals choose to make purpose out of our lives, but I sort of think humanity as a whole is just an experiment.”
Or maybe it’s to die. To be sucked into a dark hole of oblivion, nothingness. And we spend all of our lives circling that truth trying as much as we can to avoid the inevitable. (And no. I’m not a nihilist.)
But to go back to the last quote. “I don’t think there’s a purpose to human life.” Which may be right. Essentially that the idea of extracting purpose out of life is implanted within us. That we have to be driving towards something to achieve endless/perpetual growth. (But also Pavlov’s Reflex of Purpose. All creatures need a purpose.) Maybe it’s that the search for purpose (ahhh, I have no clue what I want to do in this life) actually distracts us from our purpose.
And now. Back from the tangent.
Constructs. After reflection on the topic, I have made attempts a resisting, even if at minimum, a few of the forces, norms that I have decided I no longer want to be a part of. I quit SnapChat and Instagram. Voluntarily rejected myself from the platforms. Quick note, I hate what I’m doing here, as if I’ve risen above the masses and am somehow better or far more mindful because I don’t find joy in posting vacation pics, raunchy pics (I have the body of a 12-year-old) or birthday pic shoutouts for the sake of proving I 1.) have friends and 2.) I have friends who are cooler than you are and ever will be. I hate what I’m doing here, but I’m doing it anyway.
As I’ve experimented life without the ghost and the gram, I’ve also begun to see the negatively reinforcing effects of stepping away from an entire community that occupies the psyche of most of my generation. I am left out. I am slower to pick on cultural references that spread through SM. I am seen as awkward or off beat after forgetting how to engage with a camera potentially attached to an audience of hundreds. I have forgotten how to perform.
Moving along, I have also made attempts at getting rid of my phone. It started initially with threats from my dad to cancel my phone bill. Something about responsibility, because I apparently don’t have enough of it.
Do it, please do it. I used to think of myself. Partially, because I didn’t want to pay the bill. Partially, because I was tired of fixating my attention on a ~3.5 x 2 inch screen. All. The. Damn. Time.
When he didn’t, I set a goal for a month to turn it off for 4-hours daily. I failed. The incessant email checking and FaceBook refreshing. Like a tic. Or an obsession. Or a distraction from really sitting with the ugliest and most depressing realities of a life I spent trying to avoid. (My life isn’t that bad I’m just over dramatic/incredibly sensitive.) Not only this, but I also failed because of the urgent need to keep up. That if I wasn’t even remotely engaged in group chats or endless conversations with people, I’d somehow be forgotten.
The last one I have yet to figure out is work. Or the notion/concept of humans of productive beings that turn their mental capabilities, physical strengths, etc. into work which is translated into dollar bills. Because I am unsure where to go from here, I will stop and go nowhere.
I have joked, on and off with people kind enough to listen, about the desire for a simple(r) life. One void of the tireless ambition and drive that at times, pushes me to the brink of exhaustion. A life without the incessant pressure of continued growth. (Likely put on by none other than myself.) A life without materialism and over consumption. A life with mindfulness, with spiritual ecology, and with deep, genuine, human connections and bonds. Maybe that is the alternate universe. The panacea to the world we live in today.
As I close, because I have thought myself into a corner (or a deep deep hole that I cannot crawl my way out of), in a way, this all goes back to a post a wrote a while ago. That there has to be more to life that we as humans have yet to discover. (And a revolution in our imagination is only waiting for a handful more people to alter the modus operandi.)
I like to root myself in history. That a hundred years ago (~155 ) and (exactly 400 years since blacks enslaved by white people (“slave” ignore’s the oppressive, abusive forces and harm white people continuously inflicted upon black bodies) folk set foot in Virginia), my ancestors, tortured, beaten, and shackled, fought for freedom. And here I am. Free? No. Not really. Not at all. In a way, un-free, bound to a prescribed way of being that is forced upon most, if not all of us.
I am realizing. That life is truly is an experiment. And it’s up to us to test out as many ways and possibilities of being. To resist conformity. And demand a true (or truer) freedom than what is today.
As Henry “Box” Brown said, an African-American enslaved man living in Virginia in the early 1800s who shipped himself in a box, to freedom:
I looked forward to the good time which every day I more and more firmly believed would yet come, when I should walk the face of the earth in full possession of all that freedom.''
Also. It’s a rhetorical question.