Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Product of the Times

To some extent, our ability to conceptualize is limited by the prevailing thoughts found in our society. The hardest things to think of are the things no one has ever thought of before. We laugh at the anecdote from the Decembrist revolt about "Constantine and Constitution" (which Wikipedia says is not true, by the way), but the reason the story is plausible is because of this limitation of thought. In a society with no limits on the ruler's authority, it's hard to get your head around the idea of a piece of paper defining the limits of the ruler's authority. This is the reason for Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four; if the language of revolt is transformed into the language of conformity, it becomes difficult to even think of revolting.

In our new ward, there is a high-functioning-yet-still-nuts young man (HFYSNYM, pronounced "heh-FIZE-nim"). He sits in the foyer with his computer playing video games and loudly talking about science fiction and pop culture with anyone who has to leave sacrament meeting for any reason. My mother was frustrated with him because when she was the Seminary teacher she overheard him giving her Seminary students an endorsement of coffee, contra the Word of Wisdom. I said to my wife, "He's just a guy with a compulsive personality who has grabbed onto the things society has presented to him. If he had lived a thousand years ago, he'd be some monk's assistant and be as over-the-top into Christianity as he is now with Star Trek."

This is the biggest obstacle to Zion thinking--that we are surrounded by ideas and behaviors antithetical to unity and selflessness. All we see around us from infancy onward is consumerism and confrontational individuality (by which I mean not sovereign individuality representing the freedom of the individual, but the zero-sum "every man for himself" system that pits people against one another in a battle for survival like the contestants in The Hunger Games). Those of us too weak-minded to formulate another way (and that is most of us; I'm not claiming I'm some intellectual superior to the masses of fools) engage in the consumerism we come to believe represents the only possible course of action for modern humans.

I thought of that when I read this article about subprime auto loans. Now, I've had two auto loans in my life. The first was zero percent, and the second is 0.9 percent. So when I read about the unfortunate people in this article who have 21.95-percent loans, my heart breaks for them. They are ruining their lives because they can't see any way of living other than buying a car (or, in most cases, multiple cars). The government and banking system support a society based on consumerism, so policies and practices drive consumption of superfluous goods in excess of prudence and reason.

In the event we want to assign blame, we say it's the fault of the individuals. But who told them they needed to overextend themselves financially, be it in purchasing a car or two, purchasing a house, or purchasing a college education? Who gave them the money when they couldn't afford to do it themselves? Who created an education system that prohibits critical thinking and demonizes heterodox thinking? These people have had the advantage taken of them, just as surely as if they were robbed of their life savings. It is their misfortune to live in times when any other behavior has been rendered literally inconceivable.

PS: My favorite story about HFYSNYM comes from two Sundays ago: I was in the foyer with the Screamapilar and the speaker said something like, "We live in unstable times." HFYSNYM yelled to me, "I'll say! This country--" I silenced him and motioned to the ceiling speakers. That held him for a while, but a little later he yelled, "If you really want to know what's going on in this country, you need to read my blog!" I thought, "That would be highly entertaining," so I said, "What's the address? I'll check that out." Unfortunately, it's a Facebook group, which then led to HFYSNYM wanting to become my Facebook friend. Luckily the "still nuts" part came to my rescue and he forgot to send me a friend request.

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