Bad journey? I almost ranted!

Because of the ash cloud, I recently had to change my travel plans and make a trip to and from the UK by coach and ferry, instead of by air.

It really brought out the worst in me, in terms of “them and us” thinking, mostly because of the people on the coach (particularly on the way back), but also about coach station designers, and luggage designers, and bus internet ticket system designers. I really didn’t think very highly of them at all (and that’s a very polite way of putting it). In fact, I found myself thinking of many people as idiots, which is something Jesus discourages us from doing.

It did set me thinking some more about certain characteristics of people (in particular, idiocy, vacuousness, and a lack of interest in improvement), and my reactions to those characteristics (in particular, thinking of myself as better than them). This led on to related thoughts, including about what defines us as human, and how the effective availability of free will seems to vary between individuals. Integrity is important to me, and I can’t pretend virtuously to not notice idiocy; but can I, without letting go of truthfulness, be less judgemental about it? One of the keys here is that `idiots’ do not choose to be `idiots’; it’s more that they haven’t chosen not to be `idiots’.

On a larger scale, the worrying thing is that a lot of people seem to do things entirely habitually, and can’t really be said to be making real, freely-willed, decisions at all. In fact, a lot of the time, I’m not really making decisions myself. So there’s an action for me: make real decisions. And something good that comes from being trapped on a coach with people making inane, space-filling conversation: I’m raising the point about choosing not to be an idiot, and I’m putting it here for people to read. Dear reader, if you’re one of the people who hasn’t chosen not to be an idiot, here’s a suggestion that it’s not too late.

The sheer inanity of the chatter of a large group of people on the coach stoked anger in me, as did one of them vomiting copiously near me. Some of the chatter was the classic space-filler of recounting a conversation the speaker had with someone else previously — not even an interesting conversation, but boosting the speaker’s sense of being aggrieved and perhaps of getting one up on their aggriever. I can no longer think of inanity simply as the absence of mindfulness; it includes a presence of anti-mindfulness, something that expands to fill the void of a life devoid of interests other than feeling alright and adjusting your status as seen by your friends, so that you can be included in a social group — even if that group is `inane idiots’.

Ironically, it appears that such people are readily bored by talk about actual subjects.

Perhaps the positive inanity is like the rhythmic beat of the pop music to which many people seem to be addicted, designed to capture the attention and divert the mental apparatus away from thought, as thought might lead to awareness and awareness to pain; designed to divert, and to bond, to synchronize, the mindlessness of the crowds, and to let them go about their days unquestioningly. It’s rather like “The Song” in Iain M. Banks’ `Feersum Endjinn’, played into the ears of those mining the conscious substrate of their world, to distract them from knowing what they are doing.

Although it seems to be designed to reduce consciousness at the time it is heard, I suspect that such music, and the drivel of its lyrics, must have a persistent effect on the mind, which is why I think of it as `IQ-reducing music’ rather than just `consciousness-reducing music’. I’ve resorted to masking it out using a personal stereo, with a `masking’ playlist containing allegro movements from the Brandenburg concertos, rock/classic crossover by Sky, some lively medieval music, and some Mongolian folk/rock crossover.

It all seems such a waste; couldn’t these people develop interests in life, take up hobbies, do something that involves some thought, something that produces some character development?

According to Kazimierz Dabrowski’s character development theory of `Positive Disintegration’ (in which you break down your bond with the assumptions of society around you), the answer, for many of them, is that they could not develop such interests, because that would mean becoming different from those around them; and those around them, they know, would have to reject anyone who has become different.

Now I’m not meaning to reduce the humanity of those who avoid real thought; I think my definition of humanity is settling, for the time being, on being that which experiences (human) life (and in thinking about what the soul is, I’d describe it most often as `the experiencer’). The corollary of this is that we make ourselves less human (in my terms) when we try to muffle our experience of life, whether with drugs or with other shallow, and typically addictive, satisfiers; so although I don’t say that they lose any of what makes them, and I, human, it does sometimes seem like they’re desparately trying to lose it.

But there is more to life than simply experiencing what it throws at you: we shape life through the exercise of free will. And it seemed to me that many people, including some on the coach, and many of the zombie-like crowds who I saw stumbling grey-face through London, were stumbling through life without making any really conscious decisions; just taking the path of least resistance at each junction. Of course, I soon went on to ponder just how conscious, and how free, my decisions are. Action: make some real decisions; don’t automatically take the easy path.

So, a pretty horrible journey. The only bit of the transport `system’ that really worked well was the Luas trams in Dublin. But, I got home OK, and it was a relief.


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