The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

How Our Everyday Life Creates Our Character and Our Destiny

We are what we do. What we experience during our daily lives creates our habits, both of action and thought and those habitual actions and thoughts are our character. The character of men and women, and the shared character of a society is destiny. It determines how we respond to what happens, it is as close to fate as exists in a world awash in choice, where we make the choices we are expected to.

The defining characteristic of growing up in the modern world is school. In school, we are taught to sit still, speak only when we are allowed to by an authority figure, and do meaningless work that is not suited to us. For the bright kids, school is stultifying. They sit there, bored out of their skulls by how slowly the class proceeds. For the active child, school is stultifyingly boring because they are told to sit on their butt for most of the day, when they’d rather be doing something physical. For the creative child (which is all children, till they have it schooled out of them), school is, yes, stultifyingly boring, as it is all doing what someone else tells  you to.

Outside of class, school is about nasty peer pressure and fitting in. Even if you aren’t a loser or a loner, even if you belong to a clique, you quickly understand what happens to someone who doesn’t fit in, who doesn’t do whatever it takes to belong to an in-group. Our society is rife with comments about how something is “high school all over again,” and we don’t mean anything good by that, we mean a horrible game of cool kids and jocks and geeks and fitting in or getting ostracized at best, or possibly beaten down, or worse for the truly unlucky.

By the time we get out of school, most of us have been trained to do what authority figures tell us, had the creativity taken out of us, lost all real intellectual curiosity (because intellectual pursuits are associated with the horrors of school), learned that nothing is more important than fitting in and that popularity matters more than virtually everything else. We have come to accept that we don’t make choices except those on offer to us: “You may write an essay from the following list of topics/you may select from the following list of electives.”

Our adult life is little different. We have some more choices, but most of us will work for someone else, and that someone else will tell us what to do, how do it, where to do it (at their workplace), and when to do it. Our consumer existence, in which we appear to have choices, mostly involves choices between Brands X,Y, and Z, and the choice between brands is almost always completely minor: The differences are not substantial. More importantly, again, we choose from choices offered us, we do not create our own choices.

This issue has arisen since most people have entered formal schooling as children and since people have moved into wage labor. Before the late 19th century, you did not see this type of conditioning (though they had their types) in the majority of the population. Mandatory regimented schooling, and wage labor, in which we do not decide what we do with our time, has made things very different from the previous society.

One of my uncles lived in, let’s call it, the pre-industrialization lifestyle. He was a farmer and a fisherman (and hunted on the side, for food for his plate). He had huge lists of work to do, but he chose when to do it and how to do it. He controlled his own life. This is how free farmers and artisans used to live. In the day-to-day detail of their lives, believe it or not, even many peasants had more freedom than most industrial and post-industrial workers do.

This has grown worse over the last three decades.

Free play time, as a child, was when we used to have choice. As a child, outside of school, I had to be home for meals and bedtime, otherwise I was my own boy. I had very few toys, and I and my friends made our games of make-believe. I created the rules to my own games, made my own pieces, and played them. I ran wild through the neighbourhood, living a hundred different imaginary lives from books and movies, but also ones I made up myself. My parents did not try to control the details of my life beyond making sure I got to school and got fed, so long as I didn’t cause (too much) trouble.

Oh, it was still a regimented life, but it was a much less regimented life than today’s helicopter children experience. The conformity of that late industrial society, oddly, was less than the conformity pushed on children for the last couple decades by their own parents.

The workforce has in some respects also become worse. The sort of micro-control that is commonplace in Amazon warehouses, with a supervisor electronically watching you every second, was almost impossible in the past. The sort of micro-measurement of productivity was also impossible in most jobs, though certainly, assembly lines were hell. In most jobs, your boss had to give you the work and check in later to see if it was done and how well. As long as it got done, you were fine.

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Again, to be sure, there were micro-supervised jobs even then, but technology has made it possible to micro-supervise the sort of work which simply could not be supervised then.

And when you left work, there were no cell phones, no pagers, no laptops. For the vast majority of workers, once they left work, work was done for the day. They were not, for all intents and purposes, on call 24-7.

High surveillance societies produce conformity, because we are what we do. What we do forms our habits, our habits form our character. If you are constantly under your boss’s thumb, you learn to act reflexively in ways that will satisfy your boss. Of course, we all rebel where we can, but the margins for rebellion are growing smaller and smaller.

We have created a society where people live regimented lives, doing what they are told, choosing from choices given to them, learning that nothing matters more than popularity, and constantly under supervision or at the beck and call of their teachers, bosses, and other lords and masters (including their parents; sorry parents).

This is not a society that makes people happy. There is good reason to believe (Diener) that rates of depression are about ten times higher than they were one hundred years ago. But more to the point, it is a society that creates people with the type of character that does not produce better futures, because they are conditioned to choose only from what is offered them, to sit down, shut up, and do what they are told, and to play popularity games. If you don’t, well, no good job for you, or no job at all, and in this society having very little money is very unpleasant. We do not think up our own options, create our own politics, choose options outside of the limited ones offered by our lords and masters.

We have been created this way, conditioned this way, trained this way, by the everyday experience of our lives, starting from a very young age. To be sure, this is far from the only reason our societies are dysfunctional and careening from disaster to disaster; there are very real material constraints on what people can do in this society, largely through control of who is given money and credit, but it is a major reason for our problems. We have been shaped into people our lords and masters sincerely hope are not fitted to freedom, not able to make choices outside what they offer, not able to challenge them effectively, and well suited to the trivial jobs they want us to perform, mostly by fighting over which billionaire is the richest.

If you want a free people, you must free your minds, but free minds come from the exercise of practical everyday freedom.

Originally Published November 11, 2013.

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  1. Celsius 233

    You have nailed why I’m in a foreign country, alienated from my fellow countrymen and women.
    Happiness was not to be found after my very free childhood; I was despondent and only escaped the Vietnam war by the good graces of a doctor on the inside, who gave me an out; which I grabbed.
    I forever thank my free thinking parents for my continued independence of thought and spirit. And I thank you, Ian, for your clarion calls to the better parts of our being.
    Keep the torch and take it everywhere a light is needed…

  2. jump

    Agreed. Individual thought, creativity, self-worth and confidence are all suppressed if not destroyed through institutionalized indoctrination which has progressively become more aggressive over the years.
    My response to people who ranted about the oppressions of communism was, “so you think you are better off defining freedom as which color television to buy?” That was my university days in the seventies. I still coax people to wake up but my expectation of positive results has been diminished.

    “deliver them from their greatest anxiety and torture–that of having to decide freely for themselves”
    Grand Inquisitor (from Brothers Karamozov) – Fyordor Dostoyevsky

    My complaint on our education system is that the focus is on what to think, not how to think. But best not give anyone the tools to be independent, maybe even a rebel.

    I chose to be on the fringe; I was happier there and the people were more interesting.

  3. Beleck3

    it is great to see you commenting of late, Ian. great to see the conversation being what it is and the topics brought forth.

    Living in such a material world, such ideas and concepts are not the topics we see, though these things are the most important things that comprise the very existence of who and what we are.

    to be otherwise, is to die a slow, rotting existence, which is what our society has become. a slow rotting empire of misdirected actions. Our society is not a life affirming existencce valuing the wonders that we have in abundance during our short time here.

    i hope you continue to bring these ideas up and i enjoy the interplay of the ideas. you help to highlight what is often obscurred in the travails of everyday living.

    i am so pleased to see those who have made a difference in our society show us a deeper side to their actions. from the outside looking in, i do wonder about the motivations of those who influence the rest of us.

    thanks again, Ian. keep up the posting.

  4. Dan H

    Hammer meets nail again, Ian. I am the oldest granchild on my mothers side of the family, and the last ten years have seen a good number of new cousins born. It has been both instructive and depressing. Ive watched toddlers full of energy who run naturally on the front of their feet decay into heavy footed children weighted down by inch thick soles and fear of mistakes. Ive watched one of the youngest go from stoutly refusing candy and literally hanging off my arm as we ate blueberries and cream to now stoutly refusing fruit and devouring candy. Shes only four… Another is ten and has had both an iphone and ipad mini already. The mind control has come so far that the “subtle” physical reactions to those rules hamper us from our earliest days now. Watching age hit my parents and mothers siblings like a bag of bricks is terrifying; my generation will be fucked by 35… Ive also run head first into this nonsense consistently while walking my dog, an indication of how invasive and expansive our culture of rules has become. The absolute fear that most Americans live in of their dog being off leash is stupefying, and too often the results for those that do try are poor because they cannot get time to actually train said animal. It is as you commented yesterday Ian; money is a claim on anothers time. Unrestricted accumulation of money is obviously contradictory to democracy in any system based on specialization, wherein fungibility of money is a requisite.

  5. Tony Wikrent

    Your observations about your uncle who “controlled his own life” immediately brought to my mind the reasons why Jefferson and Jeffersonians were horrified by, and so adamantly opposed to, Hamilton’s plan to nurture the shift toward an industrial economy. (This nurturing included both protective tariffs, which the Jeffersonians grudgingly came to accept, especially after the difficulties encountered in procuring domestic military supplies during the War of 1812; and the capitalization of the states’ and national debt and concomitant development of a national financial and banking system.)

    Very few people today understand the sources of Jefferson’s opposition to Hamilton. They are grounded in the view of classical republican theory,or, more accurately, the 18th century American interpretation of the histories of Greece, Rome, and other ancient republics, in which the purest, most civil-minded citizens were the farmer and the husbandman – the people who worked directly with the soil and hence, in this view, earned an “honest” living by reaping the bounty of nature. The sources of corruption in the Jeffersonian view of these histories, invariably were the merchant and financial interests – people who made there living by extracting an “unnatural” profit through price-gouging, fraud, duplicity, and (most importantly, I believe, for cleansing today’s conservative movement of its worship of “the market) purchasing the favors of government.

    The Jeffersonians’ horror at the idea of a manufacturing economy was based on their experience and view of what manufacturing was in England at the time. There, manufacturing was engaged almost entirely in the production of luxury items for use by the oligarchy and ruling elites. The conditions of labor in English manufactories were abysmal, with impoverished workers paid subsistence wages or worse, and given little or no social services such as education, pensions, or health care. To a Jeffersonian, English factory workers provided a horrifying spectacle of former virtuous yeoman forced off their land and into a new, dystopian economic servitude of debasement, ignorance, and suffering. If you have read any letters or good histories of this period, you will hopefully remember how often American political theorist fretted about the corrupting effects of a “love of luxury.” Jeffersonians were simply unable, or unwilling, to conceive of manufacturing useful goods of general utility that would be widely used to benefit everyone, not just luxury items only the rich could afford. Indeed, Jefferson’s letters and writings from the period until the War of 1812 often included the argument that American agriculturalists were able to produce almost everything the needed, including the culturally iconic “homespun” clothing, by themselves, on their own farms and within their own homes. (Again, there is no little irony in Jefferson being such a large importer of luxury goods from Europe, including scientific instruments, if such may be classed with luxury goods).

    This Jeffersonian animus towards manufacturing, of course, largely informed the rise of the Confederacy, with the slave-holding planters conceiving of themselves as a noble reservoir of agrarian self-reliance (never mind the irony of having slaves do the work!) and classical republican virtue, while the North’s rise industrial metropolises were derided for being hotbeds of poverty, suffering, and licentiousness. Northern factory workers were derisively called “mudsills” by Southern elites. Incredibly, this animus survived the Civil War to be revived as the Southern Agrarians “I’ll Take My Stand” and even has echoes in today’s widespread acceptance of “post-industrial” society, though on this last I think Veblen’s explanation of the leisure class phobia about doing actual work is more to the point and more useful.

    Hamilton and Washington, on the other hand, correctly foresaw the transformation of the economy to an industrial footing (Washington took a keen personal interest in the various experiments of applying steam power to water transportation), but errored grievously in not recognizing the danger of financial interests coming to dominate the society and the government.

    I see one of the great unwritten themes of American history thus as a struggle to bestow upon the urbanized proletariat the same respect and importance that the Jeffersonians reserved only for agriculturalists. The work of Zinn, Pizzigatti, and others, of course, can easily be comprehended in these terms.

  6. Timothy Y. Fong

    A friend of mine was telling me about social science research in mixed martial arts gyms. The researcher’s thesis was that people liked fight training because it was one of the few places in modern life where people could feel agency– learning something every class, and then putting it into practice. That, and the community that comes from training together.

  7. BDBlue

    I don’t think I myself appreciated how hard it is to break out of the helicopter parent mold that society has set until I had a kid. Kid is still young (pre-school), but we’re already stumped about what to do about school in a few years. We’re leaning toward our local public because at least then she’ll go to school with kids who live nearby. Most of the privates require quite a commute for us, at least the good ones. And, of course, even the good ones still often suffer from the issues Ian identified. We looked into Waldorf, etc., but in addition to being unbelievably expensive, they would require us either to move or drive an hour or more each day (in addition to our current commutes). And I’ve already heard from parents of older kids about how hard it is to opt out of planned activities. Sure, you can leave Saturday open for free play for your kid, but if all of the other kids are off playing soccer, etc., then there’s no one around for them to play with.

    It’s all so different now. I grew up in the middle of the country in the 1970s and my friends and I pretty much had the run of the neighborhood and fields. Today, I’d be happy to have my kid run around the neighborhood on her own when she’s older, but she’d be essentially running by herself from the looks of it.

  8. Dan H


    As a BJJ student, I can attest to the truth of that in my experiene. Direct results seem natural. Any physical activity can provide similar feelings, but the complexity and community in martial arts give even more.

  9. peon

    Ian your comments mirror the reasoning of the original home/unschoolers. Long before the religious right took over home-schooling the “hippy, back-to-the-land” couter-culture people from the late sixties and early seventies began “dropping out” of regimented school choices for their kids.
    Young people who rebelled at the “authorities” and at the meaninglessness of industrial and white collar work bought farms, learned to grow food and began the organic food movement. When they had kids many of them choose to home or un-school them for the reasons you aptly illustrated.
    Many of these kids grew up one farms with little discretionary income , meaningful work and unstructured play time. A third world sub-culture in a first world country. They would be in their 20’s or early 30’s now. It will be interesting to see if they continue their parents experiment or flee back to the dying consumer culture.

  10. Ian Welsh

    In British Columbia, where I grew up, homeschooling = hippy. The right wing thing in the US still takes me by surprised.

  11. wendy davis

    A few (very) random thoughts; if I may, Ian Welsh. You say ‘we are what we do’ and ‘those habitual actions and thoughts are our character’. To me, ‘character’ also includes our feelings, both realized and unconscious (or at least unexamined for a variety of reasons, not all pleasant), and what we *believe*, just in case you might want to expand your definition.

    Trying to keep it simple, I’ll move on to ‘what we do’ might also be how we relate to others, which then caused me to ping on facades: the false faces we often present in social interactions, including school, work, and in our community relationships, yada yada. The two reasons I bring that up are a) I see ‘true character’ as what we do, feel, and think under duress/stress, most likely involving either ourselves, but our tribes, personal identities, etc. under some threat, and b) often times, the mask hides lies, and especially lies to oneself, which are the most pernicious sort, imo.

    What you’ve described about public education is spot on, and I think about it as having been cut whole cloth from the lies of the industrial revolution, that a) mass-produces interchangeable parts would create affordable machines and tools that would *free us up from work so that we’d have more *free time* for leisure pursuits like the arts. But what happened was schools decided that kids were also interchangeable parts, and school would teach to some stupid ‘norm’ of a kid.

    Yes, all the types of kid you mentioned suffer in school *except that dead center kid* who learned how to adapt to authority that dictated smiles for coloring inside the lines, shaming for failing to. No, learning how to think is not part of most kids’ education, nor is imagination valued; it is even worse now with Obomba and Arne’s ‘Race to the Bottom’. They now begin teaching to the tests in kindergarten, and at least for my grandkids, homework (for Gawdssake) starts in first grade. All time is now managed, as you say, but partially out of the conventional wisdom that ‘it’s scary out there’. Maybe it is, but I can’t afford to see it that way; maybe it depends where you live?

    But re: feelings. It’s my sense that a lot of Westerners are beginning to tune into a nagging sense that they were sold a bill of goods, and believed in the propaganda that not only enslaved them as debt-croppers, but also promised them an okay retirement once they wore out, and a certain social safety net that has been severely curtailed. Thus, more and more folks I talk to are beginning to recalibrate their thoughts, which may mean they’re ready for alternatives. Yes: freeing their minds a bit.

    More later, perhaps; this groweth entirely too longeth. 🙂

  12. Ain’t capitalism great? Do you have any familiarity with the academic word “coloniality“?

  13. cwt

    A few years ago, I chucked it all, and started a small homestead on Van Isle, just to feed me and mine. We have a few hundred birds and a couple of pigs. I bring this up because the animals are not unlike people. I have indoctrinated them to “believe” that they have to stay where I want them to and do what I ask. I have 6′ deer fencing and 4′ stock fencing and the birds rarely challenge the fences even though they could easily fly over them. The pigs are held in with 4′ stock fencing and a 3′ split rail fence that they could easily hurdle. It was 4 months before the pigs discovered that they could go over the split rail fence to get into the paddock next door and they only thought to because they had completely removed the grass in their paddock while the neighbouring paddock was lush and green. I took 2 days for them to remove the grass from the new paddock, proving that humans and pigs have a great deal in common. Even if animals “escape”, they come back by bedtime, lured by food and a warm bed. Animals that are violent, or “difficult” go to the freezer before their time.

    Draw whatever parallels you wish with modern human society.

  14. wendy davis

    @ cwt Are you too young to remember my favorite cartoonist R. Cobb? The best one he drew showed two mama pigs in a pen, a packing plant in the distance. The sows were peering out at two piglets who had just wiggled out under the lowest bar of the pen. One said to the other:

    “That’s all this younger generation thinks about: escape from reality.”

  15. Besides homeschooling there is also free schooling, as in Summerhill in England and the Sudbury Valley School (and its satellites) here in the United States. Such schools were at least attempts to do away with the regimentation of mainstream scholastic upbringing. I have no idea if they have or haven’t been impacted by the tests-and-standards authoritarianism of the Bush/ Obama regimes.

  16. markfromireland

    One of the effects of living amongst Muslims and Jews for pretty much my entire adult life is that I’ve come round to their point of view on how to judge people both individually and collectively. If you want to know what people are like be it jointly or severally all you have to do is look at their behaviour. What people say, or believe or profess to believe, is largely irrelevant what’s important is how they behave. Look at how they behave or fail to behave and you’ll have a very good idea of what their character and true beliefs are.


    PS and off topic have to say I envy you growing up in BC, in a mostly very happy and fulfilling life I count my time there as a teenager as among the happiest (and most formative) days of my life.

  17. someofparts

    It occurs to me that considering the cradle-to-grave conditioning of our industrial workforce, it is especially vile to kick all of us to the curb after the predators loot and dismantle our industries. It’s a bit like turning domesticated animals free to survive in the wild. Guess this is yet another ember to add to my smoldering pile of outrage against our malefactors.

  18. Celsius 233

    If one steps back just far enough, to get the view, it’s apparent humanity has gone insane.
    Breast feeding is controversial. Killing one’s citizens, extrajudicially, is okay, even children.
    And the new normal is; privacy is passe’; obsolete, non-productive, and a threat to society.
    Everything is inverted, twisted, and justified. Terrorist is the new boogeyman.
    And we’re all terrorists until proven otherwise.

    Our character? Our destiny? Character is the enemy and destiny is no where to be found outside of the edicts of the controllers/bankers/oligarchs/CIA/police/NSA/FBI/military industrial complex/POTUS; owned by wall-street.
    Just where the hell is the solution to that?

  19. Celsius 233

    Just to be clear, character, our character, is the enemy. Destiny is indeterminate; but our character is certainly a factor in out come. As it stands, character is a negative in the present paradigm…
    Character as defined by MacMillan Dictionary;
    good personal qualities, especially the qualities of being brave and determined when doing something difficult…
    Further; someone’s reputation, especially when this shows how honest or reliable they are…
    …the qualities that make something clearly different from anything else…

  20. Despite all, some of us did learn critical thinking skills, whether in school or out of it, didn’t we? (“I don’t know so much about thee, but it’s certainly true for me.”)

    Until the mid-Sixties, for example, California public schools (where I got my primary and secondary education) did the usual conformity and conditioning routines standard in all public schools and most of the private ones even more so. But they did something else, something I don’t think public schools do any more, nor do most private schools.

    One was taught to think critically, not to accept what one was told without question. Yes, really it was true — at least for some students who were thought capable of handling such esoteric processes as thinking.

    Of course the widespread teaching of this sort of thing led to the unpleasantness called the Free Speech Movement that started at UC Berkeley in the fall of 1964 and spread like a virus through the UC system, the State College system and ultimately down to the high school level, which triggered a more or less general student revolt in California and much of the nation. Revolt against what? Revolt against conformity, against conditioning, against forbidding speech and knowledge…

    Mario Savio, unwilling hero of the movement, put it as powerfully as anyone ever has:

    “There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

    Of course, there was much more to his speech and his argument and to the revolt he was hailed leader of, and at this distance of history, hardly anyone knows what — specifically — he was going on about, or what the shut down of the University and the occupation of Sproul Hall was supposed to accomplish. They just know that little snippet a much longer speech and wonder how his white-hot passion came to be — and wonder what happened to it.

    Especially given how thoroughly conditioned-conformist — and how deep, deep in debt — so many students are today.

    Oh, yes. We have been shaped since that revolt, manipulated, formed and conditioned in ways that are intentionally designed to prevent any successful revolt — of that sort or any other that isn’t directed from above — from ever happening again.

    Despite all, some of us have learned or retained those critical thinking skills we somehow learned or at one time were taught in spite of so much conditioning and conformity.

  21. Some random thoughts:
    @Wendy Davis
    My favorite Gary Larson cartoon is a rich chicken suntanning by pool on lounge chairnext to a beautiful woman in a bikini, he says” I became a free-range chicken and never looked back”
    Personal note: I tried working for a company and lasted 5 years. Made up a job so I could work for myself. At times I look at my friends who were able to stay and work the system and envy their money, but how much is my 20 years of freedom worth? As the commercial says, “Priceless”. Freedom from subservience not freedom to choose from a limited range of products is real freedom. Freedom comes from solidarity.
    @peon and Ian
    Alice Waters and her restaurant “The Chez Panesse” is considered the mother of the farm to restaurant – grow local – movement. Also invented the “Edible Schoolyard”. After being involved in the Free Speech movement at Berkeley, she taught briefly at a Montessori school. Hippies in the city. A remarkable achievement of reconnecting the country to the city. The old model of the city state is much more sustainable than our sprawl.
    My rancher husband sets his schedule every day and every week. He has no concept of “weekend” as I do. He does what needs to be done that day. He has coffee in the morning in town and beers in the early evening. But this does not confer on him or his friends any better moral character when thinking about distant others. However, by and large, they are generous and honest with their neighbors if said neighbors are also honest and generous. Here handshakes are still part of the deal. Rich outsiders who buy ranches use lawyers too quickly. But again, these “salt of the earth” types can have the most insanely bigoted stupid crap come out of their mouths.

    I study personality type (Jung) and it has served me well in understanding others especially my clients. Personality traits like extroversion versus introversion is hardwired- your operating system. But character is molded by culture, friends, family… and include such traits as honesty/dishonesty and kindness/selfishness. It’s the software. And it’s not so easy to ascertain on first meeting or if you employ a team of PR people to spin your story. So you’ve got to go by “deeds shall ye be known” or “it’s not what you say, but what you do”.

    As Morris Berman notes, we are a nation born of hustlers and con artists. So our country’s character is not so good; we are a thievin’ lyin’ bunch.

  22. @ Che Pasa
    I was writing my response while you were writing yours so we overlap with references to the Free Speech movement that I only read about. Alice Waters is a product of that “freedom” movement. She, in a less obvious way made and still makes a difference. The “Occupy” movement had similarities to the “stop the machine” language of Mario Salvo. I have hope that more Alice Waters’ will emerge from that attempt. It must begin with dealing with debt and those who sin by charging interest on learning and health. A debt jubilee is needed. Imprisonment of bankers would also help. In Medieval times a lender took on all the money risk in going into business with, say, a farmer. The farmer supplied the labor and the field. If Mother Nature destroyed the crop, the lender lost his bet. The farmer did not have to repay the money. If the crop came in, they shared the sale of it. Better yet if the farmer can make his own machinery or borrowing a neighbor’s and have enough seed to plant next year’s crop than to borrow at all. I would imagine that wanting “more” is where farmers get in trouble i.e. expanding by wanting more land.

  23. wendy davis

    @ mfi: One of the effects of living amongst Muslims and Jews for pretty much my entire adult life is that I’ve come round to their point of view on how to judge people both individually and collectively. If you want to know what people are like be it jointly or severally all you have to do is look at their behaviour. What people say, or believe or profess to believe, is largely irrelevant what’s important is how they behave. Look at how they behave or fail to behave and you’ll have a very good idea of what their character and true beliefs are.

    I understand what you say about ‘behavior’ being definitive of character, and agree if you’re speaking of a moment in time, a snapshot. And yet my take is that both feelings and beliefs (even those that don’t reach the level of actual ‘thought’) can change one’s cognition rapidly, whether individually or severally (‘collectively’ is hard to gauge accurately, imo), then change behavior/s. Consider how quickly the 99% meme caught fire so quickly, and lifted the veil of the illusions over capitalism, and representative democracy as working in the US, for instance. was the veil created by such ubiquitous propaganda lifted for so many partially because oppressive coercion creates deep resentment (as has been pretty well-established in western psychology)?

    are we hard-wired for kindness and compassion as some studies show, or perhaps were designed to show? were cooperative communities based on that, or were they more pragmatically designed and formed, and policed against self-serving and greedy and competitive behaviors? is the burgeoning revolution of higher consciousness able to change behaviors rapidly? we’ll see, i guess.

    @ Montanamaven: (smile) on the cartoon. Both mr. wd and I have been self-employed since the early ’70s; too bad that tax policy punishes that sort of job creator, eh?

  24. Ian Welsh

    Behaviour is ultimately what speaks to character, absolutely. Still behaviour often comes from belief.

    I grew up in an old-school boarding school, best of the last of the Victorian education, hated the place, but they were right about a number of things. And for them character was behavior.

    OTOH, they also didn’t expect children to be angels, how you owned up to the things you did was also important.

    But their motto was “sine timore au favore” – without fear or favor. You do your duty, no matter who will be hurt or helped by it. Period.

    The problem, of course, is what duty is. But I still prefer that approach to today’s, where people don’t even do their goddamn duty.

    They recently hired some consultants to talk to the students and teachers to figure out what their “core values” are. The school I knew is likely gone, the old masters didn’t need to ask someone else to tell them what they believed in (and I don’t recall them using the word values, either).

    As for BC: probably not the most beautiful place on earth (there’s a lot of beauty out there), but I’d put it (especially the coastal rain forests) in any top 10 list. I spent a lot of time near the ocean, my uncles would tell me about (in the 20s and 30s), hooking fish right off the coast.

  25. Peter Cowan

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but there is something other worldly about the Pacific Northwest’s coastal rain forests. On a drizzly autumn day, sitting on a river bank watching the salmon spawn, it feels like you are on a different planet.

  26. Sara K.

    I grew up in the 1990s, and I had a relatively free childhood (compared to many other middle-class children of the time). Aside from compulsory school, my parents never made me do any extracurricular activities – if I did do extracurricular activites (i.e. take a class outside of school) it was because I had shown an interest in it and my parents wanted to accommodate, not the other way around.

    I did not have the run of the neighborhood until I was 12 years old (reasonable, considering local crime rates), but I didn’t mind this since I never lacked for things to do at home. Our backyard was fascinating (still is), and I have many fond memories. Pretty much all of my time in the backyard was free time – as long as I wasn’t damaging anything my parents didn’t try to direct what I did there, which could range from daydreaming to trying to count how many different species of plants I could find to watching ladybugs to collecting snails (actually, it was my friend who was really into snails, but I went along with it).

    And the library! I got to visit the library at least once a week, and I could borrow *anything* I wanted – while my parents sometimes made suggestions (such as ‘I really like this book, maybe you will too’), they would never tell me that I couldn’t borrow something.

    Once I was fourteen, I was basically allowed to go anywhere I wanted, even outside the city, even if it was a ‘bad’ neighborhood, though I was limited by the fact that I had to pay for everything with my money. I had to tell my parents where I was going and when I expected to be back, but I was merely informing them, not asking for approval. I could even come back home after midnight (I only did that a few times … but I *could* do that).

    Of course, it was not as free as my father’s childhood, which he describes as ‘benevolent neglect’ – i.e. he had to go to school, but other than that he could do what he wanted and go where he wanted when he wanted to, he didn’t need to ask for permission, and he didn’t even have a bedtime.

    When I was eighteen, I moved to a suburb, and I was shocked at how limited my peers lives had been as suburban teenagers – for example, the town I moved to had a 10pm curfew for anyone under 18. I even got stopped by the police once, though since I was 18 and had an ID card to prove they couldn’t detain me. And the lack of public transportation – considering that it’s illegal for people to drive under the age of 16, not to mention the complications of borrowing/getting a vehicle, I would have had a lot less freedom as a 14/15 year old if I hadn’t lived in a place with a decent public transit system. To me, good public transit, not owning your own vehicle, is freedom.

  27. jef jelten

    “The defining characteristic of growing up in the modern world is school.”

    Some aspects of this post are still true however this is overall a dated perception.

    I have kids in school and my sister who lives on the farm with us is a teacher currently teaching 4th grade.

    The defining characteristic of growing up in the modern world is money and each individuals potential to earn.

    Parents start as early as 2nd grade priming and primping their children for college and this doesn’t necessarily mean academically. Children today live under the pressure of having to enter into a successful career and make lots of money from the minute they are self-aware.

    Parents get violently incensed at any hint that some aspect of their child’s upbringing, which they have completely abrogated to the school system, might hinder their child’s potential to earn. They see the rising inequality and receding employment opportunities and are passing that pressure on to their children at an ever earlier age.

    Rather than address the issue we all just look on with horror as our children play musical chairs to the death.

    It’s truly sick.

  28. McWatt

    The World is upside down.

  29. anon y'mouse

    it took me 10 years of unemployed laziness and constant reading to figure out some of the above, and how much we are being lied to and have been lied to in our society about everything–from the trivial to the desperately important. naturally, for this I have been viewed as a parasite (for living with a caring spouse, who actually had a job in the trades that he loved doing), a lazy bum, a worthless nogoodnik with poor character. it got to the point that relatives did not want their children to talk to me too much, lest my fecklessness rub off on them (or started to look attractive? hrm…). that is not to say that I have rebelled, because the opportunity was not quite there (you have be free to rebel, it seems). but this is a state of insubordination to this society. and, it is intimately tied with work.

    it isn’t that I don’t WANT to do something valuable with my time. it is that I ONLY want to do something valuable with my time. that is considered unforgivably selfish in today’s world, and it might well be. but it’s one of those “die on your feet, live on your knees” kinds of positions. or at least I tell myself so, when someone asks me that perpetual question “so, what do you do?” and I don’t have a clear answer for them, and then they turn away as though everything you might say instantly has become too trivial to listen to.

  30. markfromireland

    To an orthopraxist those points are of tertiary importance at most. The first question is ‘did they do it?’ or ‘did they fail to do it?’ Once that has been established and assuming both mens rea and mens sana other factors such as intentions, upbringing, etc come into consideration. However they only come under consideration as very minor points to be considered as potentially mitigating factors.

    Follow the rules (do your duty) and character follows is the basic theory. Fail to follow the rules and you’ll be subject to retribution.

    As to human nature I agree with Simone Weil that barbarism is a permanent and universal human characteristic that is more or less pronounced according to the interplay of circumstances.

    Ian, yes absolutely recognising that you have duties and performing them is essential to civilised life. The list of duties includes the duty of care, I’d place that one very high up on the list but that’s my ideology talking.

    Agreed with you about there being lots of very beautiful places in the world whether its BC’s coastal forests as Peter Cowan has just mentioned, or the Okanagan ummm the Okanagan of about 40 years ago at any rate, or the harsh bleak utterly uncaring beauty of the Great Syrian Desert … then there’s the gentle beauty of the Danish landscape … I’d better stop this one fast or I’ll bore you all rigid with my rhapsodising.


  31. @Montanamaven

    Been pondering your link to Alice Waters and the FSM for some while now, and I don’t know that I have all that much to add at this point, except to say that just as the FSM spawned a generation’s revolt, so Alice herself, who was there in the midst of it not that long afterwards spawned a revolt against the conformity of what we eat, which in turn has spread throughout the country and far beyond.

    That there’s an iconic David Lance Goines Chez Panisse 4th Birthday poster in our dining room goes without saying!

    There was such incredible optimism then, and sometimes flashes of it still show up in our everyday lives.

    [Re: Debt. The story out of Strike Debt’s Rolling Jubilee is pretty positive, for example.]

  32. Formerly T-Bear

    Kismet anyone?

    There will be those who become captains of themselves, and in command of their lives,

    and then there are those who will not.

    Discipline. Duty. Excellence. Anything strike a bell? Maybe not.

  33. S Brennan

    “The problem, of course, is what duty is. But I still prefer that approach to today’s, where people don’t even do their goddamn duty.”

    Exactly Ian, people who regularly perform their duty may not have the answers, but people who won’t perform their duty…definitely do not.

    BC, particularly Vancouver Is. waters, both the east side and west coast are truly spectacular. Back in 1993 I solo-circumnavigated the island in 21 foot sailboat that I had bought for scrap and brought back to life, it took 32 days from Lake Union in Seattle. The Dent, Yuculta and Green rapids were amazing, as were the warm freshwater pans that sit above the saltwater, the desolation of Sea Otter Cove and mostly running the sound between Hot Springs and Tofino in a steady 35 knots of wind…good times.

    BTW, I think it’s good to be alone, for long periods in challenging conditions, for at least a few times in your life, you never know who you are until you start talking to yourself. I kept a log which I turned into a 40 page story, too long, or too short to publish I was told, but my relatives have given copies to their kids as an adventure reader…and [I am bragging here] the kids loved it and have asked me for copies in their 20’s.

  34. Formerly T-Bear

    @ S Brennan

    I suppose instead of duty, obligation might have been more appropriate but confounding obligation with debt and its association with financial or monetary binding contracts, all to readily assumed, deflected the use of obligation, therefore duty as a social obligation, whatever form that may take, e.g. military obligation, parental obligation, work obligation and etc.

    A note of thanks for not changing the meaning of the words I’ve used, makes having dialogue possible. BTW, agree with your observation about aloneness, not to be confounded with loneliness. Aloneness is a gift of unstructured (un-obligated) time, loneliness is the inability (and fear) to use that time.

  35. S Brennan

    T-Bear, please don’t “dialogue” with me. Thanks.

  36. Formerly T-Bear

    SB, as you wish.

  37. Peter

    The defining characteristic of growing up in the modern world is school.

    I don’t agree, at least no more so than with previous generations. I think the defining characteristic is the computer and high-tech communications. Those plus psychology run amok. These are luring the young into patterns of herd-mentality and forcing them into highly structured and controlled settings more than the most brutal Victorian schools ever did. It’s fun to indulge in nostalgia for the freedom of one’s youth, but the hard fact is many of today’s young wouldn’t go for it even if it were on offer. They couldn’t explore and wander the hills alone without constant texting and, besides, the equipment in their bedrooms is more fun. If they defiantly insisted that is what they really wanted to do, somebody would diagnose them and arrange counselling.

  38. kumquat

    The borg, the borg, we are the borg. Oh wait, that was Japan. No, hold on, we are now the borg.

  39. Where the Salmonberry Grow, CASCADIA is A Place Apart. I am writing a book of that title.

  40. Willy

    Don’t forget kumquat, the borg eat their own. And if the queen determines you a personal threat to her, despite having proved your high value to the collective, she’ll eat you herself.

  41. Willy

    When I was fourteen I was allowed to ride BART alone to many places, with no previous experience anywhere near that city. But when I visited Buena Vista park and strange men starting emerging from the bushes to take a better look at me, I hustled back to far more public places.

    Someday I think today’s kids will be writing about what they missed in their youth, especially lessons best learned from the street.

  42. dbk

    Another very sincere and genuine post; thank you.

    On the theme: “Everyday life creates our character and our destiny”, agreed to a large extent (there is some element of “nature”, i.e. genetics, as well).

    As someone who grew up in the Midwest but who has lived most of their adult life in the Mediterranean, this rings true. I often tell friends that for me, the most beautiful sight in the world remains a thousand acres of corn growing in every direction. “But the sea!” they tell me. Yes, it is beautiful–but it is not what moves me, despite its beauty.

    I am considerably older than most of the commenters, having grown up in the sixties when not much was expected of the lower middle class apart from going to school and receiving the necessary training in conformity.

    I was one of those who could conform on the surface, but who internally rebelled. And so, I left.

    This had a fearful cost, but I was willing to pay it.

    My children grew up in a restrictive school environment, but with almost no restrictions at home. When they finished (and left the country where they had been born and grown up), all I could think was “Thank heavens, they’ve survived the educational system intact.”

    What’s the way forward?

  43. Dizzily

    As I once heard it described, most of us are factory-farmed humans. It’s a simplistic take, but just pithy enough to be useful.

  44. Some Guy

    Saw a cartoon a while back, it was captioned, “What if the dinosaurs never went extinct”

    The picture was a bunch of dinosaurs hunched over computers in their cubicles, wearing dress shirts and squinting at their screens.

    Factory farmed humans indeed, at this point I’d guess we mostly don’t even remember what we’ve lost. There are few John the Savages around to remind us.

  45. realitychecker

    We are in the Matrix, where our role is to serve as productive livestock for the Masters.

    And we are OK with that.

    And so are the Masters.

  46. Willy

    But Neo was created to bring balance to the Matrix. Maybe the Masters created the Donald for this very purpose?

  47. Steeleweed

       The change from ‘pre-industrial’ to ‘modern mainstream’ is brilliantly discussed in Joe Bageant’s memoir “Rainbow Pie”. He grew up in what he called a ‘labor economy’ which was destroyed when millions of rural folks moved from the farm into the ‘money economy’. It’s well worth reading just to understand how so much of our humanity we have lost since the 1940s.
       I was lucky to grow up in a small town with recent pioneer roots and both the virtues of a close-knit community and the faults of a limited view of the world. One’s life is one’s character? Yes. In the early West, the primary virtues were Courage (because there was plenty of danger to deal with), Industriousness (because there was too much work to be done to tolerate laziness) and Honesty (because with the law two days ride away, folks had to deal with each other without sheriffs and lawyers). A lot of ‘anti-social activity’ – drunkenness, racism, violence – were overlooked if one was an honest, hard-working guy you could depend on when the Indians attacked, the cattle stampeded, the mine caved in or avalanches and flash floods swept down.
       Growing up a loner myself, I never developed what are now call ‘social skills’ (once called ‘social graces’, and the change in terms implies a different outlook, a deliberate and artificially cultivated stance). To me, the things that facilitate relations with others are matters of Personality rather than Character.
       What disturbs me is that I see more and more emphasis being placed on fostering personality traits considered useful than on fostering good character traits. A good (by whatever definition) personality may make life easier but that’s not what makes a life worthwhile.

  48. Think The Twilight Zone episode IT’S A GOOD LIFE.
    The six-year-old “monster” character (played by Billy Mummy) is a perfect metaphor for that all-around “Frankenstein monster” created by humans known commonly as “society”.

    Society is notorious for having a will of its own; being self-centered, prejudice and arrogant; for having a myopic overview of reality itself; for being clueless about the needs and desires of those under its control; for having no concept of stewardship, viewing “being in charge” as having the right to have everything “on its own terms” and to demand its citizens to oblige accordingly; for viewing its occupants as “having the obligation of providing servitude for the ‘system'” with any kind of defiance/rebellion considered an act of “treason” and met with severe punishment (or even total banishment from the “collective”); for being essentially immature and uneducated, even if “educated” in the academic sense—knowlegeable of technology but not of humanity—thus not being capable of understanding the idiosyncrasies of their citizenry, often viewing frailties and “warts” as being “defects” and those who have such as either “needing to be reformed” or of “being unfit for cohabitation among all the others”.

  49. ixtlan

    There’s an image somewhere on the web of a teacher in class saying to pupils:

    “Listen children, I’m going to tell you some lies about history we made up. You’ll have to figure out the truth later on when they invent something called the internet.”

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