Life = Prison?

Well, that got dark pretty quickly, huh?

Unfortunately, this is just how I have been feeling over the past week-and-a-bit. A small disclaimer first though. I am fully aware that living in the West is a charmed existence and just another day in paradise compared to the suffering endured by those in other parts of the world who have infinitely worse circumstances than my own. I can, for example, type this post without fear of having a bomb dropped on my head or wondering when I will have my next meal.

I feel that it’s important to make that clear before I carry on. I even have some posts on the horizon that go into the subject of remembering what we have and how good we have it instead of constantly moaning about insignificant first-world problems. So look forward to those.

Unfortunately, it’s this very same “free” (the quotation marks are imperative to note) society that can inspire the horrible feeling of being imprisoned in your own country; your own home; your own head. It isn’t the obvious kind of suppression however and it might be all the worse for it in some ways. I’ve referenced Mark Manson’s fantastic book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, many times already on this blog and I’m certain that I have even repeated the following quoted passage before but this section of the book simply struck a real chord with me. Mark talks about visiting Russia and having to get used to the blunt honesty of the people there.

This is why it became the norm in Western cultures to smile and say polite things even when you don’t feel like it, to tell little white lies and agree with someone whom you don’t actually agree with. This is why people learn to pretend to be friends with people they don’t actually like, to buy things they don’t actually want. The economic system promotes such deception.

True, there’s nobody here holding a gun to my head and saying that I must do X or else I will be shot. Similarly, I’m not exactly in a do-or-die situation. What happens here in Western countries is that we get manipulated and herded into pens like sheep. Our society is full of liars and false imagery. Even more dangerous still, the media and those in power play us off against one another, creating a highly toxic us-versus-them environment where we are too busy despising people for their political views or lifestyle preferences to unite against the real threats. We are kept sedated by mindless consumerism, placated by that new TV or showing off our wonderful lives on social media. This is how our system wants us to be because we are easier to herd in this state.

We are forcibly pushed into this system – this established order of things – by our education systems that prepare us for lives as just another cog in the machine. We are needed, after all, to keep the big machine running and the profits coming in for those in the control room.

There is a downside to “waking up” and really questioning everything arout you though. You begin to feel trapped – trapped by having to go to work at a job that has no meaning for you because you need the money to keep the bill collectors at bay. Trapped by a judgmental society that you feel the need to please by conforming to the image of a “normal” man/woman. Trapped by this awful consumerism that makes you feel left behind if you don’t have the newest shit – the same consumerism that brainwashes you to want more, more, more of the ultimately meaningless material products.

You might come to believe that you are living in the world’s largest open prison. No, you aren’t technically incarcerated but do you actually feel free?

 

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[Source]

So you start to question rather than accept and it can result in some extremely horrible realisations. After all, it is said that if you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss will stare back. What I mean by all this is that you might just see the futility in it all and it will bum you out. It’s much easier to STOP questioning and carry on being “normal”. It’s more comfortable; it’s what you know.

But once you’ve started asking questions and silently challenging the credibility of the status quo, it’s difficult to ever stop asking those questions. Especially if you hate your job. I personally don’t hate my job (that would be too strong of a description) but I don’t particularly enjoy it either. Going through the motions, the daily 7am-5pm grind, the lacklustre wages that don’t get you anywhere in life…none of it is inviting. “But work isn’t supposed to be fun!” I hear you cry and you’re right. Likewise, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that I get a different job. That could be a whole topic in itself but in general, it’s being part of a huge machine and working for thankless corporations – that really don’t care about you as an individual component in their organisation – that is beginning to bug me.

The obvious solution, then, is to become self-employed; to find something that I enjoy doing and can make a living from so that I can be my own boss. That takes energy and quality time to figure out though, let alone put into action. Not easy when the job you have to keep going to in order to collect pennies drains all of your physical AND mental reserves and leaves you feeling like an empty shell that cannot be arsed once the day is done. I’m typing this post in the evening for example and I’m just barely maintaining the motivation to keep hitting those keys.

On the subject of employment and freedom, there is a quote from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello that has resonated with me ever since I first came across it.

“America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you’ve lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn’t belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don’t care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve.”

Now I’m not saying that we should become lazy bums and sponge off the state while everybody else works to pay their way. I’m not even saying that I have the answers because I don’t.

The good news – the light at the end of this dark, depressing post – is that there is hope. Life can feel like a prison but the truth of it is, we willingly entered our cells. A lot of it is in our heads and the way we perceive the world around us. True, we have been groomed to be good little members of society and to go to work and to accept the way things are but we also – unwittingly of course – allowed people to do this to us. The cell door is closed but it isn’t locked.

Happiness, peace and liberation can only be achieved by asking those questions and understanding that just because something has “always been this way”, doesn’t mean that it is right or that it is the ONLY way.

Breaking out of my cage and living life on my own terms is now one of my top goals. Accordingly, I have been reading and listening to various related things and so I will have some more posts coming up where I look at some ideas and pointers designed to help one wake up and start living a better life.

 

You’re not Extraordinary (and that’s okay)

In recent years, there has been a big shift towards being told that we are all extraordinary people and that we can all attain greatness – that we can all become legends. Perhaps this form of self-improvement advice has always been around and is now simply being magnified by the powerful influence of social media but I don’t necessarily think so.

There is an ocean of self-help books aimed at making you financially rich for example. Then there is the legion of popular Youtube channels pumping out inspirational and motivational content, telling us that we CAN be great and that we WILL be extraordinary…if we just listen to some ten minute speeches backed up by dramatic music and imagery of people working out. And let’s not forget the feel-good content enforcing the notion that we are ALL extraordinary people.

Being average = to have failed in life – apparently. Being average is to be a nobody and that’s a bad thing…apparently.

Before I continue however, let’s remind ourselves of the dictionary’s definition of “extraordinary”, shall we?

adjective

adjective: extraordinary; adjective: extra-ordinary

1. very unusual or remarkable

And here lies the biggest contradiction of all because if all of us could indeed become extraordinary then, by the metric of comparison, we would all once again be the same. We would be ordinary, not extraordinary. So to peddle the idea that we can all be extraordinary achievers living the high life is an outright lie. All of the self-help gurus seem to skip over this point but it’s hardly surprising when they are trying to get you to subscribe to their Youtube channels or persuading you to pay them money to access a simple five-step programmme that will have you wiping your nose with £50 notes and drowning in pussy within the year. The irony that they are making stacks of money from your desire to make money is so delicious, it has my mouth watering.

My initial inspiration for this post was Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck. It’s a book that I have referenced here numerous times (and even reviewed) and with good reason. The book contains straightforward, realistic advice centred around home truths and becoming more grounded. Mark puts the “extraordinary ordinary” contradiction like this:

Being “average” has become the new standard of failure. The worst thing you can be is in the middle of the pack, the middle of the bell curve. When a culture’s standard of success is to be “extraordinary”, it then becomes better to be at the extreme low end of the bell curve than to be in the middle, because at least there you’re still special and deserve attention.

A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept it, they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life won’t matter.

This sort of thinking is dangerous. Once you accept the premise that a life is worthwhile only if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population (including yourself) sucks and is worthless. And this mindset can quickly turn dangerous, to both yourself and others.

The ‘dangerous’ part is actually quite relevant to a theory that I read about the other day; a theory that inspired me to finally write this post. It was a discussion on the problem of mass shootings in the United States and why there are so many shooters that appear to have lost their minds and all empathy for other human beings. Could it be that their disilluson and disatisfaction with society led them to unload on a shopping mall of innocent civilians? Could it be that they feel that they were promised extraordinary things and a certain type of life – that they are owed it – and when it didn’t materialise, they converted all of their bitterness and warped resentment into an ammunition clip before emptying said clip into a school hallway?

I’m no psychologist or expert. I’m not even American. But even so, I saw some potential truth in that searching explanation for these heart-breaking tragedies that continue to occur in the US.

Because the education system is flawed. It teaches children what the System wants them to know in order to to mould them into shiny new cogs to keep the machine running; to keep business running; to keep the rich and the powerful in rich and powerful positions. We aren’t taught the realities of life. We aren’t taught about the real battles that we will have to face as individuals. School taught us that if we work hard and make good grades on our exams then the pieces will fall into place on their own. Our grades will earn us good jobs, we will own our own spacious home and we will drive about in a nice BMW or Mercedes. We will have a beautiful wife and two beautiful kids that we love playing with in the back garden.

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Is THIS “success”? It’s certainly not guaranteed, as nice as it looks. [Source – Google/German Edition]
Except it doesn’t necessarily work that way and to lag behind on reaching that destination means that you are failing. I worked hard all through school and got great grades but I haven’t “made it” yet. I left education just as the banking crisis tanked the economy and so my grades and CV didn’t mean jack. Eventually, I took a retail/manual labour job in order to get some money coming in and to gain work experience and guess what? I’m still there. In a different role but still there in the same sector. Thing is, school and education doesn’t teach you that there are other obstacles such as personal motivation and self-confidence, both of which I admit to suffering with. After all, you can get the best grades but if you aren’t great with people then the paper they are printed on could be irrelevant. In my case, I’ve never had any real direction or firm idea of what I wanted to do.

Right now, I too could be severely disillusioned and feeling betrayed by society. In fact, I DO feel a pang of jealousy when I see a dude around with his beautiful lady and two kids, enjoying themselves in the park or at the beach. I think to myself, “damn, that’s where I should be by now.” In this situation, it’s easy to feel resentful and bitter about society. It’s easy to hate on other people. But I have to remind myself that everybody’s situation is different and that some people DO have distinct advantages or have had better opportunities. I am an average guy with an average job, an average pay, average looks and you know what? That’s okay. I have Grand Canyon-size space for improvement but it isn’t failure. I know that I’m not owed anything. It’s all down to me to work things out in my head.

Unfortunately, our lovely media is more than willing to finish the job that education systems start. We are shown a 24/7 feed of people who have achieved extraordinary things. We follow and idolise celebrities with fat bank accounts who are untouched by the “street” problems that we average folk have. We digest carefully-packaged TV shows that follow successful people and their money-making antics. We put our brains on the shelf and stare at “reality” television which, in fact, is nothing like reality at all. We forgo personal development and improvement for hours of watching our favourite Youtubers and their lives or scrolling through the social media feeds of those with more money and material wealth than us.

And all of it is force-feeding our subconscious a highly toxic message: if you aren’t like these extraordinary people then you are a nobody – you are failing at life.

If you aren’t earning wads of cash and driving about London in a supercar then you are a lower-class person who is doing life wrong. If you don’t have Kate Upton’s tits or Kim Kardashian’s arse then you aren’t attractive. If you aren’t living in an expansive, modern home then you are slumming it and are failing. If you aren’t the life and soul of the party then you are boring and irrelevant. If you are a guy and you don’t have a trouser-straining horse cock then you won’t be able to satisfy women in bed.

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Should THIS be the definition of “success”? It doesn’t have to be. [Source]
I could keep going but there isn’t the need – you get what I’m saying here. The message from society is clear: if you aren’t like these uber successful or beautiful people then you aren’t doing it right.

Being “extraordinary” is directly linked to success and how we elect to measure it. The problem is that we have a pretty shitty metric for success, especially here in the West. We judge the worth of others based on their bank balance, material wealth or physical looks and we are judged on the same criteria by our peers. Worse still, we compare ourselves to others – compare ourselves to the extraordinary people that we are shown by the media. We are all different and live in different situations with different backgrounds. To pit yourself against somebody else, Top Trumps style, is utterly pointless and harmful to your own personal growth.

I should point out (disclaimer-style) that we aren’t all guilty of being so shallow and misinformed. Likewise, not everybody is out to reinforce the fallacy of extraordinary = successful. But it is an undercurrent that undeniably runs through our society.

I’m also not saying that there aren’t useful things that you can take from the abundance of self-improvement videos and books out there because there certainly is. Anything relating to how the human mind works or can be utilised in a better way for example. You should also still seek improvement but it needs to be on your terms, not somebody else’s. You need to improve for yourself and for your loved ones, not for society.

Basically, focus on yourself and do what you need to do in order to feel happy in yourself and be the best version of you. Don’t do what society encourages you to do. Don’t aim to be like what you see on TV or social media. Most importantly, stop comparing yourself to others and judging your worth based on whether or not you measure up to them.

It’s okay not to be extraordinary. Being average is not failure.

We live in a dishonest society

I’ve reviewed and referenced Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, before on this blog and today I want to tackle another topic inspired by the contents of said book. It’s a discussion about honesty and how I have to agree with Manson that here in the western world, we live in a dishonest society. I feel that this is important to recognise and be aware of on a conscious level because while I hear people constantly acknowledging deceit and distrust, these same people are still consistently shocked when they are on the receiving end of it or hear some shocking news about a scandal involving lies.

dis1

On a brief side note, I’m one of those people that doesn’t believe the blurb about living in a “free country” or “free society”. We do but we don’t. It’s duality. We are free in that we aren’t ruled by violence, oppression or religion and we must never forget our freedom to do a great many things that we take for granted, things that people living in harsher environments beneath hardline governments could only dream of. At the same time, we are also sublety controlled through advertising, poisonous propaganda, social expectations and the media. In this respect, we are not as free as others with the biggest tragedy being that we simply cannot see it staring us in the face.

In the book, Manson reflects on time spent in Russia and how the bluntness off the Russian people initially shocked him and came across as rude. In time however, he came to realise that what he was witnessing was frankness and unadulterated expression.

“Honesty in the truest sense of the word. Communication with no conditions, no strings attached, no ulterior motive, no sales job, no desperate attempt to be liked”

“In this case, Russia had me reexamining the bullshitty fake-nice communication that is so common in Anglo culture, and asking myself if this wasn’t somehow making us more insecure around each other and worse at intimacy”

We can all relate to this. Grinning and bearing a shitty situation. Pretending to like co-workers when in fact you cannot stand them or the shit they come out with. Lying to your partner and saying she looks great or that her jeans don’t make her arse look fat. We’re constantly lying to each other and maintaining false frontages and these are only small, everyday examples that we aren’t even aware that we are partaking in. This shit goes all the way to the top and filters down into all levels of society like poison.

In a sense, it is understandable. After all, you can read this post (or any other far superior takes on the subject) but changing your attitude overnight is another thing altogether. Society won’t change with you. The reactions of others won’t be what you need/want to hear. For a full-on shift towards pure honesty to occur, society as a whole needs knocking over and re-building and that isn’t going to happen so the only other way forward is to commit to honesty and be willing to take the hits as everybody and everything resists you, despite an existence of honesty and openness being what everybody vocally cries out for. It’s fucked up isn’t it.

After all, standing up in the office and telling your co-workers that they are talking bullshit or telling them what you really think of them might end your career or – at the least – make your working environment too uncomfortable to continue with. Deciding to give the finger to the ‘grin and bear it’ approach could land you in similar trouble. And telling your girlfriend that her outfit looks terrible or that her backside does look fat in those jeans might put you in the doghouse or make you a newly single man. All of this despite society begging for honesty and the truth.

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The positive in this is that there are people who will appreciate honesty, even if they don’t say so. It’s a start at least. Trouble is, they are an elusive bunch. Some people do appreciate that being called out on their bullshit helps them to remain humble and continue to improve themselves or learn from criticism rather than be offended by it and fly into a rage. There are women who will listen to your unfiltered opinion (pun totally intended) on their outfit and tell you to “get fucked” but secretly appreciate your honesty. After all, what is the point in asking how you look if you are only after one answer? Men despair over these situations all the time: tell her she looks great and she says you’re lying or telling her what she wants to hear. Tell her she looks terrible and she gets pissed off. There’s no winning! At least if you have been honest then you have been true.

If she gets upset about your critique then it’s not her fault but the way that society has conditioned us over generations. She’s not upset at your criticism, more likely upset as a result of society’s pressures to be beautiful all of the time and to be extraordinary. If you really care then yes, some dishonesty and tact may sometimes be necessary – if you know that telling a brutal truth will flare up an existing condition such as anxiety or an eating disorder for example. On the flipside, your significant other may decide that she’s wearing what she wants to wear and that you’ll just have to deal with it. That’s something else to be admired and promoted by the way. That’s a woman not necessarily agonising over every detail or being totally controlled by the fashion industry or the expectation of others.

But I’m going off track here. Back to quoting the book:

“But in the “free” West, my Russian teacher continued, there existed an abundance of economic opportunity – so much economic opportunity that it became far more valuable to present yourself in a certain way, even if it was false, than to actually BE that way. Trust lost its value. Appearances and salesmanship became more advantageous forms of expression. Knowing a lot of people superficially was more beneficial than knowing a few people closely”

“This is why it became the norm in Western cultures to smile and say polite things even if you don’t feel like it, to tell little white lies and agree with someone whom you don’t actually agree with. This is why people learn to pretend to be friends with people they don’t actually like, to buy things they don’t actually want. The economic system promotes such deception”

“The downside of this is that you never know, in the West, if you can completely trust the person you’re talking to. Sometimes this is the case even amongst good friends or family members. There is such pressure in the West to be likable that people often reconfigure their entire personality depending on the person they are dealing with”

All of this genuinely hit me quite hard. On the surface, it’s basic knowledge that we are all aware of. We all know that this is going and we are all guilty of it. So why do we allow it to continue? For the reasons I already mentioned mostly, namely reprocussions from a society that has been conditioned to be false and ignore the beauty of raw honesty. Another reason is that people seem to get upset and offended ridiculously easy these days and so it is sometimes viewed as “safer” to either say nothing or to simply agree rather than poking the hornet’s nest with a stick. Also, resolving to be honest is a commitment: a commitment to a new life where you are likely to be ostracised or branded an outcast, a “bad” person even.

Look at how anybody daring to raise their head above the parapet and challenge popular opinion with some honest views is roasted on social media and branded a racist, sexist, homophobic, mysogynist or outdated personality. The world won’t appreciate your honesty BUT it will rip public figures to shreds, starved dog-style, if said figures have been caught lying or being dishonest. This here is a prime example of the dishonesty and blatant hypocrisy in our society. It’s right there on the surface but we can’t see it.

On the other hand, if you can find like-minded people to surround yourself with or a partner who appreciates your honesty (and is equally as honest with you) then you can have a much more fulfilling life. It isn’t easy but you have to ask yourself if you want to continue to be a part of the machine. Does the prospect of living in a superficial, hollow society drowning in falseness for many more years sound like an appealing future for you?

At the very least, it’s food for thought.

Book Talk: The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck (Mark Manson, 2016)

tsa-1I’m somebody who isn’t really that happy with their life and so – this admission out of the way – I’ve read a lot of self-help material and watched countless motivation and self-improvement videos on Youtube. Thing is, a good chunk of this stuff is, as it turns out, complete bullshit that doesn’t sink in at all. Even worse, a lot of it could be detrimental to our quests to improve. All of this advice that instructs you to be forcibly positive and happy 24/7 for example…it’s actually the opposite of what you should be doing.

Well, according to Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck that is. Avoiding the negativity in your life and plastering over it with forced affirmations and fake-it-until-you-make-it positivity is no good. Refusing to acknowledge problems means that you will never solve them and if you furiously focus on positives then all you are really doing is reinforcing the existence of the negatives. This is just a taste of the kind of insight this book offers.

In reality, Mark Manson’s advice is all stuff that we should already be aware of but we seem to have lost our way. Taking personal responsibility for everything in your life, the importance of being able to say “no” and how to decript the (potentially shitty) values that you are living by are just some of the over-arching themes that make up this book of real talk. It’s eye-opening stuff that seems so obvious and simple yet our consumer-driven culture obsessed with the ego, financial wealth and materialism has warped our sense of reality over time.

I’m not saying “buy this book and your life will be fixed” but all I CAN say is that this is the first self-improvement book that I burned through at a great pace then read again immediately. And you know what? I think I might even read it a third time. There are many lessons and pointers that you can take from the book and implement in your own life straight away but The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck has resonated with me so much that I feel like ramming it into my mind.

I’ve learned that I probably complain too much and that I also blame others and past events for my problems. I’ve learned that I need to take personal responsibility for 100% of my life. I’ve taken away new ways of thinking and looking at life.

As I said, all seemingly obvious stuff but until reading this book, I wasn’t fully aware of how much I was doing wrong in life. I’m not here to make such cliched statements as “It changed my life” but I do feel as if I have been given a kick up the arse and a bit of a jump-start. I cannot say the same for 99% of other books or videos that I have tried.

The book is very easy to read too as it comes across as more casual and direct-talking versus other alternatives which can sometimes be a bit too stuffy and loaded with psychology-speak. I would even go as far as to say that it is an enjoyable read in general regardless of whether or not you are looking to get anything out of the experience. If you are like me though and want to improve yourself and figure out where you might be going wrong then I would heartily recommend putting the other stuff on hold and giving The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck a shot.