Welcome to the ‘monthly segment’ of the blog section of my website. This consists of a commentary on ideas, people, books, or films that I have explored in the past month. Not only will it help me digest what I have been interacting with, but I hope it will also make you more conscious and determining in what you consume, and how you view it.
This month I have been reading the Scythe series again, by Neal Shusterman. It’s set in a utopian world in which humans have mastered nanotechnology and genetic engineering, and are able to “turn back the corner,” which means they can become young again, or whatever age they want. Immortality. They’ve also fixed all problems like pollution, world hunger, and politics, by handing over the reins of humanity to a benevolent AI named Thunderhead. The world is a pretty great place. But there’s a max population of 10 billion, because the planet can’t support anymore than that, even with the A.I. So there’s a group of people called Scythes. They “glean” (kill) people for a living to keep the population down. It’s really one of the most fascinating speculative fiction settings I’ve ever explored.
Although I did write an extensive overview on the series (Utopia, Where No Dreams Exist), I wanted to take a look at a specific idea which can be seen in the book. I do believe that I have been thinking iterations of this idea many times over the past few years, but it was concreted by a quote I came across from Robert Bellardine: “flee idleness… for no one is more exposed to such temptations than he who has nothing to do,” and of course, a video by the Academy of Ideas named “Why Passivity Breeds Mediocrity and Mental Illness.” I’ve run into physical iterations of this idea not only with myself, but numerous other people, and I think it deserves to be well-explored and researched.
“This is one of the most urgent problems for civilized man. He has created civilization to give himself security. Security for what? For boredom? His chief problem seems to be that most human beings need a certain amount of challenge, of external stimulus, to stop them from sinking into the blank stare and blank consciousness of the idiot.” (Colin Wilson, New Pathways in Psychology.)
I cannot emphasize enough how important that quote is. In a world where we don’t need to work to survive, it is paramount, paramount to fill our lives with other challenges and inspirations. This is so very clear in Scythe, where they are living a true utopia, one in which there is even more freedom from the struggles of life.
“Was there ever a time when people weren’t plagued with boredom? A time when motivation wasn’t so hard to come by? When I look at the news archives from the Age of Mortality, it seems people had more reasons to do the things they did. Life was about forging time, not passing time.”
And quoting from my previous post. “I found this to be a fascinating paradox. You can see it right throughout the series. This utopian future isn’t the place of dreams, it’s the place where no dreams exist. By having the “freedom” from suffering and hard work, society simultaneously took away its purpose to live or do anything. If everything has been fixed, everything has been learned, and everyone has all their material needs satisfied, then what more is there to do? Only the Scythes have a purpose, but even then, that purpose only exists because of the utopia.”
This shows us that human beings need purpose. Without purpose, even if that be as simple as cleaning our rooms, having a hobby (let me get back to that), or researching a topic you’re interested in, then yes, we are left blowin’ in the wind. Oblivious to both the beauties that we are given and the mild suffering we receive. “Yes, and how many times must a man look up, before he can really see the sky? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”
This idea of technology being a double edged sword is also one which fits in with this exploration and idea. However good technology can be, it seems almost self-destructive to have so many things served on a plate to our couches, both literally and figuratively. Pizza delivered to the couch of a predatory animals at the click of a button. Almost unnatural. Something more self-serving such as cooking your own meal would be a better alternative in this way. It creates a need and lets us fulfill it with the work of our own hands. Little things like this end up building up and making you a little more human.
So going back to the hobbies and purpose in general. Doing things is so very important. Every human I’ve come across is defined by one or both of these two simple things; what they do (e.g work, hobbies, or charitable gestures), or what they’re interested in (writing, films, music, etc). I’d definitely fit into that latter category. But you can see here, these two categories are how people view you. You as a unique soul to interact with, and not just one more mediocre organism among many. So if you have nothing to do, and nothing that you’re specifically interested in, then the very walls that define a human are being turned into mush. The things we do give us purpose, and the things we are interested in fire the flame of the soul. Without neither… Can we call you an individual? Perhaps not.
That wraps it up for another meandering reflection on life. I’ve been wanting to articulate these ideas for a while now, and here they finally are. It’s probably gibberish, but I hope I drove my point home. Do things, constantly, and somewhere along the way, along the winding white waters of life, you’ll probably find yourself.