Do you ever feel like the world presents us with a series of either/or situations where you have to choose one side or the other? Even though you have a sneaky suspicion that the two sides are not all that different?
Well, if you do, then you’re on to something. No matter the issue, both sides are the products of our culture and are therefore by definition entangled with each other and enmeshed with whatever problems are inherent in our culture itself. Your suspicion that many of the choices we are presented with are artificial is dead on.
This is a problem, as people who are thoroughly encultured will not be able to see the many alternatives outside of these binary scenarios. One solution I would like to suggest is simply going “counter-culture”.
Let’s resist the temptation of slotting that phrase into its former usage, and consider whether going counter-culture in our current situation simply means identifying things in our society which we find destructive and choosing real alternatives to them.
As a simple example, not many people would deny that our culture at large is becoming more and more depersonalized. This is a real problem, and it doesn’t help to cite sight widespread examples and try to unearth the anthropology behind it, only to end up in a sort of blame game.
What if, instead of pointing fingers each of us just determined to actively “re-personalize”? To find humanity in all our interactions with other people no matter their circumstances or social situation? We could start with some simple choices like listening to people and trying to understand or empathize with their point of view, even if we disagree. We could choose to show kindness and respect to those we interact with across the café counter or the customer service phone line. It’s easy to feel depersonalized within the small cubicle where you do your job. How about pushing back by making sure that those in the cubicles around you feel like they have a real connection with you, and letting them know that you care about their lives?
In addition to these kinds of positive “counter-cultural” actions, there is also an element of thoughtful rebellion. Does your local supermarket chain think it can triple the price of essential items with no repercussions? Show them actions have consequences. Don’t buy those items, find alternatives in other venues, or (God forbid!) go without. If you want to be funny about it you can quote The Godfather and tell the store “It’s not personal, it’s just business”. If enough customers decline to buy for $6.45 a product that cost $2.00 last year, something might change.
That said, going counter-cultural doesn’t need to be a mass movement or anything. Those tend to derail after two or three years anyway and get eaten by the culture they are trying to reject. Living counter-culturally just means living more freely, and that’s something you can do right now even by yourself. Is everything on television poorly-written crap? Turn it off! Is every other movie a tired revenge romp about some guy whose wife, kid, or dog got killed by the mob? Turn it off!
Does counter-cultural living answer all the questions we have about human meaning? No; but it does address the way our current culture grinds all sense of true meaning out of all of us like a giant machine stuck on autopilot. If we are going to get out and avoid being ground to dust we will have to use some of our unique human gifts: our freedom and the fact that we are essentially relational. The big machine can’t understand these things and will never be able to respond to them.
I have a lot more ideas to throw around, but I don’t just want to listen to the sound of my own voice. Let’s discuss this further in the comments. And if you’re interested in joining a counter-cultural think group like the one we are going to host here, please drop me a line saying so and make sure your email is registered.