Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Things that seem normal but aren't, part 5

Continuing my occasional series, "Things that seem normal but aren't"...

9. Our cultural fascinating with the concept of "The One." The concept of The One permeates so many areas of culture. Most major religions -- Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all fixated on the concept of The (Chosen) One. Sports commentators call Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, or Tiger Woods, The One. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Oprah Winfrey anointed Obama as The One. It seems like any movie which costs over $100 million to make must be focused on The One -- Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Terminator, and Star Wars are all about the search for The One. Furthermore, beauty pageants and reality TV shows like Survivor are designed to identify and crown The One.

But here's what makes all of that so weird -- anything worth doing, anything of lasting value, any truly great accomplishment, is almost ALWAYS a collective effort.
Furthermore, it seems bizarre that the search for The One shows up in religious contexts because it invalidates the concept that we are ALL made in God's image and that the divine resides in ALL of us (in which case, we wouldn't really need to wait around for The One in the first place would we?) My hunch is that the reason our culture is so fascinated with the concept of The One is because secretly we all think we are the one, it's an affirmation and reflection of our own narcissism.

At the end of the day, The One, as a concept is the foundation of theocracy, fascism, monarchism, and hyper-individualism. But as animals, what makes us truly happy is connection with others, interrelationship, and collective experience. Therefore it seems to me that the sooner we abandon the concept of The One and acknowledge our interconnection instead, the happier we will be. Furthermore, it seems that shifting our focus to "the all" and collective approaches to problem solving will better enable us to build things of lasting value -- families, buildings, companies, cities, societies.

As one example, imagine if instead of spending billions of dollars every Saturday on college football (the search for The One national champion and The One Heisman trophy winner) what if every Saturday the people of every major city poured out to build (and improve) houses in the area. I know, it's very Amish, but when you realize that we spend billions of dollars on football while literally walking by people who are homeless, that's the definition of insanity.

10. The fact that apocalyptic thinking shows up in almost every generation. It seems that every time I turn around, there's another blockbuster movie about the end of the world (2012, 28 Days Later, Blindness, anything with Keanu Reeves, etc.). It makes sense to me that any generation growing up since World War I would be infused with a certain level of apocalyptic thinking -- because since then, humans have actually had the capacity to end the world with our own means.

But apocalyptic thinking goes back as far back as recorded history. The people who wrote Revelations weren't predicting the end of the world thousands of years later, they thought it was imminent. Jesus and Paul were certain that the world was about to end. Every generation has its religious gurus who predict the end of the world and it seems that they are usually able to attract a decent-sized following. The persistence of apocalyptic thinking throughout human history seems disproportionate to the size of the threat. So what explains that?

Like the point above, in some ways it seems that perhaps apocalyptic thinking is a reflection of our own narcissism. Apocalyptic thinking gives us a narrative for exploring the fact that, as time-limited mortal creatures, every generation really does experience itself as the last. It's a way to make each generation feel important, chosen if you will, the pinnacle and ultimate expression of humanity. It's a way of overcoming our own insignificance in the face of the relentless march of time.

So just to be clear, to me, the 2012 stuff seems really silly. But as I said above, since WWI we really have had the capacity for our own self-annihilation and global warming seems a credible threat to the future of the planet that merits immediate and comprehensive action.

Finally, a little antidote to the heaviness of this post. In looking for a picture to accompany this post I stumbled upon a blog post titled, "Signs of the Impending Apocalypse." It's pretty funny. [Hint, Heidi and Spencer are sign #4!]

Update #1: Another sign of the impending Apocalypse? The Booty Pop Panties commercials running on MTV right now.


Cassandra Yorgey said...

"My hunch is that the reason our culture is so fascinated with the concept of The One is because secretly we all think we are the one, it's an affirmation and reflection of our own narcissism."

Is it? or do people fear that maybe they *are* the one? I mean, it's probably a lot of work and responsibility to be the one, right? It seems to me like the concept of "The One" eases the transition into "it's Somebody Else's Problem".

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?"

RFK Action Front said...

That's very well said! Now that you mention it, I've certainly seen that as well -- people who like the concept of The One because it absolves them from having to take personal responsibility. Being The One does seem like it would come with a lot of additional burdens. (It would be interesting to apply this same line of thinking to the concept of The One as it appears in the dating world too.)

I wonder then if my post and your comment are flip sides of the same coin? In some ways this builds on my earlier post on Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Namely, if we live in a society made up of dominators and the dominated (sadly, there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest this is true), then perhaps dominators (from conquistadors to Wall Street tycoons) use the concept of The One to reaffirm their own narcissism while many dominated peoples use the concept of The One to grant themselves permission to not have to organize to fight the system?

Then, as you point out, confronting the fear of our own power is the path of liberation. I think that fits very nicely with Freire and is a wonderful post-marxist vision of what liberation might look like.

Thanks so much for your great comments Cassandra! They really open up lots of great mental space for new ideas to flourish!!!