on the explicit and implicit forces in everyday life

Kilfenora by Danu on Grooveshark

kilfenora jigs, a recently discovered favourite

ever since i moved i’ve felt different in a lot of ways. mostly i would say it was due to the clear lifestyle changes: new job, new culture, new language and so on. but along that came a feeling of uneasiness, something i had a hard time putting into words until now.

when i lived in lisbon, the clear and visible corruption of governments and the economic sector and the consequences of bad policy in everyday life were so blatant that i had no trouble in being aware of them at all times. this gave me a strange comfort, in that somehow my individual shortcomings were irrelevant when considered together with the massive financial crisis. in a way, i wasn’t even aware of my psychological limitations, since i could attribute everything that would possibly go wrong to these blatant outside forces. the oppression here was explicit in that it was known by me and everyone i interacted with, creating a sense of individual innocence. i had no weight on my shoulders — everything was the crisis, the politics, the corruption. i was on one hand suffering anti-democratic influences in my everyday life (in this case in the form of the economic oligarchy’s manipulation of my everyday livelihood) but on the other hand free in my mind: i knew i had had no role in it, no responsibility for what was going on, and that carried with it a feeling of dignity from being oppressed by these economic forces but at the same time emancipated by my own education

fast forward to my life in sydney. all of a sudden, the social state worked, employers were nice and worried about work ethics, i had no money issues or any political concerns whatsoever. in a way, i could no longer blame “the system”, because in a way the system worked fine. all of a sudden, i had to analyse why things would go right or wrong including my own capacities in the equation

life here is not only easy, it is promoted dogmatically as such, with an almost obsessive promotion of success, happiness and indulgence. this means that somehow for me there was no explicit blaming possible, no innocence by default. this made me start to experience an entirely different type of oppression: that of the implicit rules and values of an apparently functioning society. the constant exposure to beautiful people (in a superficial sense), to beautiful objects (in a materialistic sense), to wealth and exterior happiness started creating in me a sense of inadequacy that i never felt before

when i was living the peasant life under an incompetent government and a crippled economy, i had nothing to live up to but my own sense of ethics, since society was not an example to follow. in fact, i felt most of my ideas validated by the mistakes the government would make. now, since everything is easy and functional, i start to hit my own limitations, be it how smart i think i am, how attractive or how talented. these pressures are created by these implicit forces that exist in a society devoted to these ideas of success. successful careers, successful families, success in everything. this standard is too high for anyone: it’s a standard that guarantees that individuals will always feel inadequate, because any goal in a pyramid will mean the number of people at the top will always be outnumbered by the ones at the bottom, no matter the hierarchy. but these pressures are also entirely unnecessary and virtual. if i were to transplant my state of mind from one place to the other, i would be incredibly happy here. but with the easy life came these artificial standards that i was never exposed to. i started feeling like the guy that has a car but since everyone has two, feels like he has no good way of driving around. my guess is that these forces came with the dominant cultures, that work in terms of competition and pyramidal structures of power. nowhere is this spelled out, since it’s not part of any law or government. but it is everywhere in how people act with each other. never before i’ve been more told what to do “for my own good” by random strangers. it’s almost like taking a $1,000,000 mortgage is the right thing to do because that’s how you “make it”, even when that doesn’t mean anything. or when you work out too much because that’s how you’re “meant to look”, or when you spend lots on gadgets or ikea furniture because that’s what your money is for

in a way, i felt freer in a society where i knew where the boundaries of my cage were, explicitly, than in a society where the boundaries of my cage were inside my head, in a twisted mix of outside conditioning that implicitly controlled me directly through my thoughts. to this day i’m still not sure how to live here and how to deal with this pressure. i brush it off thanks to some self analysis, but it contributes to a strange erosion of my dignity, in that thoughts of inadequacy come up much more, even if they are unfounded. i know i’m a great engineer, i know i’m not ugly or unattractive, i know that i’m not poor any more, but permanent exposure to these artificial standards makes me feel it isn’t so

this path of self discovery has coincided with my slow distancing from the anarchist groups here, and from non-authoritarian activist groups in general. i’ve been slowly realizing that by not making rules and hierarchies clear and explicit, not only in what they are but how they come to be, is a dangerous game to play that will inevitably lead to the most manipulative, charismatic or passionate to naturally bubble up to power. when there is no clear distribution of power done by some kind of accountable supra-entity, we fall back to our basic tribal instincts that make us much more susceptible to be manipulated, consciously or unconsciously, by someone with charm and charisma. i’ve slowly been realising that the real (ideal) role of power is not to press but to protect the oppressed, to prevent these natural tribal behaviours to bubble up, to put bullies back in their place, to prevent victimisation of anyone. in a way, this means that even though i’m still a leftist, and certainly not a communist or a socialist, i’m also not enticed by the anarchist way of getting things done. too much time is spent trying to have no power structure, to the point that the collective becomes structureless and with it, powerless. the best moments of community work i’ve ever had were possible thanks to a common vision but above all, a sense of structured progress that i feel lacks in a lot of activist groups these days

both these points tie in with each other in that i see transparency and explicit definitions of power and motives to be more empowering to the individual than letting us loose with all the possible implicit forces that are stronger than us. with this i don’t mean we’re born evil at all — i mean that we have our shortcomings and that the job of collectivising into structures of power should be focused on liberating us from these implicit oppressive forces, even if it means to be oppressed by explicit (and therefore, controllable) forces

i’m reminded of the film ‘the day the earth stood still’ (the original 50s one), in which the superior race submits wilfully to killer robots with a higher standard of morals than they individually posses and with it achieve a peaceful and flourishing society. does this mean, then, that neither right nor left are good paradigms any more, and that our new insights into our own shortcomings as a thinking animal might be the first step into politics that’s done with one foot in empirically tested truths and the other in ideals that go beyond our ancient tribal baggage? i certainly think that time is coming