Did you ever wonder who they were? The “they.” The “they” that tell us that low levels of radiation and E.coli are safe. Or that extraction industries boost the economy. Or that fracking and tar sands are the only way to solve the energy crisis. They tell us that we don’t need labeling on our food. They tell us that the upswing in adult diabetes is normal.
Sometimes they are much more superficially benign, simply telling us that we should get married, buy a house and start a family. “They” say that it’s good to get an education, or be seek full-time employment, or….well, the list goes on and on.
It’s really eerie, once you start to notice how many times people simply refer to “them,” the ultimate invisible authorities, without ever questioning it. In conversation, people simply agree that “they” told them that they needed surgery or that “they” told them that they needed to go to college. It goes something like this, “well, they say that…” and nobody ever wonders who “they” are.
The ubiquitous “they.”
Like the shadowy players in Kafka’s The Trial, you never really see them. But, they are there, silently running the show. “They” are all of the normative claims that get taken at face value: the “shoulds” and “oughts.”
But, I would like to argue in favor of questioning “them” – all of them, all of the time. It strikes me that questioning holds them accountable. Just because a celebrity or advertising campaign promotes something, that doesn’t make it necessarily wise. Or, just because a certain groupthink only believes one way, that doesn’t mean that it is true.
I’m talking about critical thinking. About deconstruction of social ideology. If what “they” say is valid, it’ll hold up under scrutiny. And, if not, it can be replaced by new information or insight. I’m advocating that we become responsible for our own beliefs instead of just morphing into societally conditioned cookies straight from the same cookie cutter.
Systems that don’t get questioned become entropic. And, entropic systems collapse. A resilient, thriving system is one that responds to questions in adaptive ways.
They used to say the world was flat. They used to say that women shouldn’t vote. They used to say that people couldn’t engage in interracial marriage. These were all just memes that eventually got deconstructed.
Now they say that the economy is more important than the environment. That little-picture thinking is better than big-picture thinking. That single-generation planning trumps seventh-generation visioning. Those are the current memes. They beg to be deconstructed, to be examined critically.
Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living. That’s sobering when we see so many modern people living their lives like robots, going from job to home to school to shop, without so much as a thought to why the are doing what they are doing. Life becomes nothing more than an exercise in being pulled along by the collective unconscious. Unexamined habit energy.
So, the experiment is to examine habit energy. See, for example, if this upcoming holiday season could be more about nature and less about spending. Could we choose more time by the wood-fire with local friends instead of on the interstate in our cars? How would it feel to craft our gifts and cards by hand? Or offer our own music?
The examined life just might be liberating.
— Sherry Ackerman, Transition Voice