Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Maze and the Minotaur

The role of false choices and the state in the age of unreason.

I witnessed a dispute between my nephew and his mother about the amount of time he spent playing video games and watching television. The nephew, upset at the television in the living room being broken disrupted his habitual video gaming and/or endless channel surfing. His mother, unsuccessfully, tried to explain to him that these "activities" were actually poisonous to his chances of a positive future. This sparked a thought; what where the real choices this fourteen-year-old boy had? Not the apparent choices but the choices that would actually do something to improve his life from his perspective. I struggled with this.

The kid spends his time playing first-person-shooter games. When he wasn't playing the games he would watch YouTube videos of other people playing the games. These games are mazes where the player navigates a virtual territory, destroys computer generated monsters and finds and utilizes virtual tools and treasure. None of this translates into the real world because the kid won't; leave the house, face any challenges in reality, or use any real world tools. He prefers a virtual maze. Strangely, this is absolutely normal.

What is it about mazes?

The ancient civilization that was Crete before the Greeks got organized was famous for having a Labyrinth, the original labyrinth, into which young men and women were tossed where they would wander the maze and, according to mythology, encounter the bull-headed Minotaur that would hunt them through the maze and kill them. These young people were paid as tribute to the Cretans from neighboring states. Right from the start of our civilization, a labyrinth of choices, young people tossed into the maze, and hunted through it by the ultimate government representative, the Minotaur.

Young people still face a labyrinth of choices. Most of them meaningless but touted, promoted, peer-pressured and infused into every media available to them as critical to who they are, how they will succeed or fail, who will love or hate them, live or die. Yet these are bogus choices.

All sodas are carbonated, flavored corn-syrup, artificial sweetener and tap water. All of them slow poisons. Our food system is like a corn maze where all the turns leave you facing yet-more-corn except one; the exit. The thousands of choices we are presented with are a mask for the ultimate non-choice; they are absolutely unable, most of them, to quit being consumers. There is no non-consumer space open to them. All of their needs, food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, medical care and now, social-interaction are presented to them by the maze of corporate culture. A culture so pervasive, so ubiquitous, that they are no more aware of it than a goldfish is aware of the water in his bowl.

The human brain likes mazes. Hundreds of thousands of years of walking down game trails noting which plants were fruiting, what had been recently grazed and which tree the leopard liked to lurk in gives us an instinct for mapping our surroundings. Wandering to unfamiliar or rarely visited territory was how our primate ancestors found new sources of food, game and shelter. Outside of cities every step on a wild trail is worthy of attention as there are things better left untrampled. Inside cities, people drag their feet around as if a step is the same as a stumble. In cities, your surroundings are important only if you have money. If you don't have money you spend your time hiding from the minotaur, the police. Police don't fight crime they herd populations. Try to get the police to investigate a burglary.

At the same time children are excluded from participation in much of the urban maze they are offered a plethora of virtual mazes. In a virtual maze they get to play the minotaur. The player is the hunter. The player gets little virtual rewards for learning the maze and dominating the virtual inhabitants. It's a really nasty bit too since a person playing a video game is captured by a maze bigger than himself and the game. The labyrinth builder doesn't even have to build walls or physically chase them around; their brain runs around in circles while they sit there as a passive lump taking breaks only to work, eat, sleep and dispose of wastes.

Is this starting to sound familiar? The supermarket is a maze; they change the layout regularly. Television is a maze; you make choices by changing channels but you are still entrapped. Schooling is a maze; it's television but more expensive and more demanding of 'buy-in' from the maze runners. Always there are a multitude of choices, tiny intermediate rewards and the promise of a great reward at the center, the heart of the maze. A few fools even get that reward from time to time.

The elites that design all these mazes have one goal in mind. They want to keep otherwise difficult populations available for use but disable their ability to claim free agency. The easiest way to do this is to reward poor choices. Most importantly they disrupt critical thinking and reward idiots. It's not an accident that people on television are idiots. It's not an accident that people are rewarded for demonstrating the ability to lie to themselves. It's not an accident that a certain political party has front men that are intellectually challenged. Reasoned thinking is dangerous. Somebody might get the idea that an hour of say, Jesus Montoya the grape pruner's life is worth the same as an hour of a Wall Street executives life. The grape pruner can be proven to be doing something productive. The executive is, at best, a symbiont, usually a parasite, frequently a predator.

So mazes are designed to control your thinking. Mazes are built to control your movements. Mazes are designed to entrain your mind and defuse your frustration. Start looking for those mazes and you will see them forming around you; physically, mentally, socially. Refuse one maze and you will be offered another. Start climbing the walls and you'll meet the minotaur. Just remember he's in a maze too. His choices have been programmed and you can use that programming.

Do your best not to play. Confound the labyrinth. Introduce errors. Teach critical thinking. Spend as much time as possible in the natural world. Limit your machine time. Don't run. Climb the walls. The true maze is in our minds.

3 comments:

Zoner said...

This was stellar. Your writing, and especially your discernment, are inspiring and a dagger in the heart of the maze-makers. I know a little of your situation, and have wondered what it must be like to be that far "outside", even if not entirely by choice.

My admiration for you and your strength grows. Be well my friend, and thank you for this gem.

Z

wv; redin. That's just up hwy 5, innit?

Pangolin said...

I'm working on mastering the obvious. When the pattern of being herded into a rat maze and offered a cookie is presented to me often enough even I can see it.

Being forced to take poor or false choices in order to continue to 'progress' in life has never sat well with me.

Publius said...

Wow. A great little essay, Pangolin. I hope you are well.
I've come to a place right now where I take advantage of any and all opportunities to subvert the systemic mazes, but am not engaged in so much constant futile struggle.
I feel that openings will start to appear more frequently for the aware as the system encounters collapse. Let's hope!