I’ve been thinking a lot about determination and reactionism, if that’s a word.
I think we’re all pretty aware of how history tends to repeat itself within families and culture. The abusive, alcoholic parent whose children also end up abusive drunks, that sort of thing. In a less grim vein, think of the woman who complains relentlessly about her mother’s selfishness and hypocrisy while displaying the same behaviour, without irony.
We’ve seen the other way as well, the kids who rebel in the opposite manner from their parents. Parents too straight laced and strict, repressive beyond norms? Time to take as many illegal substances as you can and rock out with your cock out. Or what about the wild parents, too busy trying to remain forever twenty-one? Enter the teetotaler child who never misses church and joins the young Republicans (aka Hitler Youth).
Either way, in my opinion, it’s not like there’s been a lot of conscious choice. I’ve always been more of an anti-mainstream person, but very early on, I rejected the false notion that anything mainstream was automatically bad. The value is in the thing and what it is or does, not how popular it is.
In my grunge youth, I watched lots of kids reject all manner of art and cultures as they got bigger, as though Nirvana or Akira could be any less potent because they were well known.
The same is also true of what we now refer to as the hipster problem, where a thing is only cool if it’s on the fringe, if it’s new and no one knows about it. It has to be uncool to be cool.
To me, there’s little self-awareness or conscious direction in either. While certainly the myopia of following the repeated path is worse, the myopia created by the rejection of all things known or popular is also detrimental to an independent mind.
There’s something to be said for doing what we love, but if we read only literary fiction and denigrate all genre fiction, for example, we’re creating a prejudice that may actually harm us, by assuming all non-literary fiction isn’t worth the effort, or vice versa.
Blanket acceptance or blanket rejection (in many cases, often done blindly, without thought) is not the hallmark of an open mind. I’m very much guilty of both, in different areas.
For me, in my youth, institutions, no matter what they were, were bad. Charity, religion, government, school, corporations, didn’t matter. The presumption was that all institutions are corrupt and being most often hierarchal and involving the flow of money and power, that the endgame was never to serve we the people, but whoever stood to gain either of those things.
Institutions were not about education or infrastructure or the betterment of humankind. They were about brainwashing and subservience.
And I still think there’s a lot of truth in those things. Like money, itself not inherently evil, it’s all about how it’s used. There are great leaders with lots of power who do not use it in order to gain control over others, but to better the conditions of whatever it is they lead. That was the entire essence of the Dany/Jon debate in Game Of Thrones. Dany wanted to impose her vision on the world, regardless of the desires of others, benign or otherwise. It was about serving her vision. Jon just wanted to do right by people, to get to a place of relative peace and safety so they could get on with living their lives without the fear of bloodshed or oppression.
Those who seek power often seek it for their own means. Those who seek service often accept power in order to fulfill what they feel is their responsibility to their fellow beings.
The whole point of this is that there isn’t always two ways to look at things. As a child growing up, we don’t have to behave just like the people who raised us. Neither do we have to go to the other extreme and be the thing that they hate. Maybe your mom was selfish and hypocritical, but maybe she gave you a lot of leeway, something you’d like to emulate with your own children. Maybe your parents were alcoholics, which you don’t want to be, but they also knew how to cut loose and enjoy life, which you do.
Maybe that government entity isn’t just trying to steal your money through taxes and oppress you, but just needs the cash flow to keep that bridge from collapsing or fix a bunch of potholes. Maybe the school, despite the petty administrator, actually can teach you something. Maybe that owner, despite his Napoleon syndrome, has a meaningful vision for his industry.
Maybe that big franchise has something to offer. Maybe there’s meaning in that pop song. Maybe that sci-fi book you’re sneering at has more to offer you than Oprah’s book club pick or that novel that’s all the rage with the bloggers on Goodreads.
We can be an imitator or a rejecter. Or you can be a synthesizer, accepting and rejecting based on merits, rather than popularity, which regardless of what our hipsters think, is exactly what you’re basing your decision on when you pick something intentionally unpopular. It’s the same trap, only marginally better and no more independent.
We don’t have to be our parents. We don’t have to accept our environments as immutable. We can be whatever we want. That’s what independent thought is about – seeing as many options as you can, then picking the one that makes the most sense for you, regardless of past attachments or influences.
Or better yet, picking something entirely new, that you came up with yourself.
We preach what we must learn, don’t we?