(Mis-)Understanding the World

As humans we all think very differently. sometimes i think that it’s amazing that we are able to communicate with one another at all. There is so much misunderstanding in the world. I used to be very cynical about others peoples beliefs. There is so much trouble in the world. I struggled to understand and be distressed by such things as: why people keep electing the same bunch of idiotic politicians, why do people wear fur, why do some Christians struggle with the theory of evolution, why are some people are racist.

One explanation is that people find it hard to understand ideas that appear to contradict deeply held beliefs. That to understand the reasoning behind a set of ideas requires giving up certain ideas or at least considerable modification. People all have different learning styles, decision making algorithms and ways of thinking.

I would argue that there are both good and bad ways of thinking. The difficulty is that some good ways of thinking are not universally applicable. conversely bad ways of thinking seem to work, to lead to truths some of the time.

I used to suffer from chronic anxiety. To overcome this anxiety I realised that this was simply a bad way of thinking. anxiety is also self-enforcing, like a bad habit. It wasn’t easy to let it go and adopt a new way of thinking. It wasn’t easy, partly because of fear of changing other deeply held beliefs though the logic of the new way of thinking.

Really, there is nothing to fear. A good way of thinking, will lead to truths in a better way than a bad way of thinking. One of the things I found unnerving about my change in thinking was being able to understand religion and found that I had become a Christian. i can almost laugh about now; i thought that i might somehow believe that blowing up non-believers was justifiable, but that was a myth.

As humans, we have to accept that as individuals we will never get everything right, our ways of thinking, even good ones should be questioned and re-evaluated every once in a while. We will always have some mental blocks on understanding certain things. We should strive to unblock them, to focus more on the mental process rather than the conclusion. and of course to remember to live and not spend our entire lives re-evaluating ourselves, which I spent too much time doing. Rules are good and useful, we should never rigidly adhere to the conclusions based on these systems, as they are sometimes wrong.

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Teenage Fantasy

Having recently dabbled into teen fiction, I thought I’d have a bit of a look around. I believe that children’s or young adult books can produce great literature as much as any other fiction ‘genre’.  There appears to be quite a sub-genre of dystopian fantasy. When I was a teenager I read George Orwells ‘1984’, which had a profound influence on my understanding of the world, it is one of the classic dystopian novels.

I love Science Fiction. I love to immerse myself into different universes. I believe there is value in using created universes to explore concepts and also to compare and contrast such societies with the real world. There is also the appeal of escapism and anything involving spaceships! I have also identified more with SF, as opposed to fantasy. The key difference between the two genres is that in SF the worlds strive to be coherent and possible within the universe, or possible with particular defined differences. With fantasy, anything is possible, which makes for great stories, however they are perhaps often less useful as social commentary, due to not trying to be possible.

Both SF and fantasy seem to appeal particularly to teenagers. If teenagers are defined as people engaged with discovering themselves, wider society and the process of fitting in with society. Perhaps due to the pressure of the process,  a desire to escape, to create a space outside of the process is sought. Fantasy fiction can provide this.

I was interested in exploring  contemporary teen dystopian fiction, from an older perspective.  I read ‘Divergent’ by Veronica Roth. I feel that is i had read this as a teenager i would have hated it. Hated, because it isn’t a coherent universe, the society described is not possible, as such as a teenager I would have struggled to make sense of it. However, transcending this incoherence and immersing with the story allows the reader to appreciate what the novel does say, even if a fantasy.

Spoilers. The society of ‘Divergent’ is a dystopia consisting of a society divided into five factions, which are purportedly stable, as each faction offers a way of avoiding conflict, though in the novel this stability is breaking down as the factions evolve away from their founding principals. The factions  are based on five  human lifestyle guiding principals: Knowledge, Honesty, Integration, Bravery and Selflessness. At sixteen members of this society choose which faction to join. However rarely, there are ‘Divergents’ who do not have a single dominant principle and divergents are alleged to be dangerous to the social order. This idea of rare ‘divergents’ is where the coherenece of the society breaks down , as the majority of people in our universe are divergent and value more than one thing.

Nonetheless the idea is appealing, perhaps particularly to the teenager, concerned with finding themselves, how to act in society and a fear of conforming to a disliked lifestyle. Indeed, much of the novel concerns the protagonist being initiated into a different faction from her youth, where the behaviours of the faction of her youth are discouraged and new ones encouraged. Essentially some aspects of the  individuals personality are encouraged and others repressed. Thus, individuals conform to their faction, which is what most people do in the real world. For the divergents, they learn how to act as members of faction do, rather than conform. So, the novel actually, effectively explores some of the major issues of being an adolescent. It is an enjoyable, fast paced, action adventure novel.

The lack of coherence of the world still irritates me, the fantasy, the unreality. This is an objection i have towards contemporary society generally. We are offered incoherent fantasies as opposed to balanced accounts of the world. From politicians, from the news media, from the internet and popular entertainments. To be fair, these problems were probably just as bad as when I was a teenager. Perhaps I am frustrated that the world hasn’t improved, so when I discover another fantasy, rather than a thought through coherent world vision, I am frustrated. This puts me into a cynical mode, so I see how in ‘Divergent’ the story panders to the teen ‘market’, rather than as a work of art.

It is very very sad, that the world is now so tapped into commercial culture, that art, books and music, have to be ‘commercial’. so much is there a compromise between quality and commercial appeal. Yes, artists need to make a living. Yes, many artists do an amazing job of balancing these two facets of their work in ingenious ways. The problem is that the pressure towards commercialism away from value seems to be increasing.

Pop Politics

sometimes people are cynical about things. Sometimes, people feel less cynical and at ease and tolerant of the world.

Madonna has always been an interesting artist. She isn’t the greatest musician or vocalist. She is an interesting artist because she is very clever at producing music that is popular, whilst retaining an edginess, thus providing a social commentary on the times and popular music industry at the time. Madonna has retained her longevity but being able to continually re-invent herself as popular music changes.

I have never been a fan of Madonna. Indeed often I have felt cynical towards her music, because there has always been better, more interesting music available. I felt a sadness, that she has been popular whilst other artists, perhaps were more deserving of the limelight. Popular music is however is a reflection of what the ‘masses’ want, so listening to her output from this standpoint, one can find it interesting as social commentary and enjoy it for what it is. for there is always other music available for a deeper involvement with. This applies to other figures, such as Britney Spears or Katy Perry.

Politics, in terms of the machinations of party politics and media coverage of political events, is also interesting. This politics reflects popular concerns and serves as social commentary. It is also easy to be cynical about it as politicians don’t make the best decisions. Unlike pop music, it is harder not to get depressed about the situation, as these poor decisions affect the world and often are the causes of death of people around the world.

Like pop music, politics is a reflection of what the ‘masses’ want, or rather are told what they want by popular media. For example, a recent issues if that with high national debts, a focus has been on how rich people avoid paying there taxes. Yet the politicians spin this and instead blame obese people for costing money. In a democracy, the masses vote and keep voting in politicians that reflect popular views, which are always at a superficial level, never getting to the root of any problem and sorting it out.

Politics makes me fell depressed. Really, though I can’t do anything about it. Just as i can’t influence what music is popular. with any popularity contest, those who understand the issues deeply are always a minority. The ‘masses’ keep electing the same bunch of idiots to run the country and don’t listen to the best music. Whilst I find it harder not to feel depressed about politics, really treating it in the same way as popular music, enables me to not let it bring me down too much.

As someone who likes music and am concerned about the world, I should still keep listening and support efforts to make things better. However I should not feel overly burdened by it.