Conditioned To Consume; Conditioned To Rule

We are the results of the conditioning our societies expose us to. Intended or not, as a positive outcome, the conditioning prevents the degradation of larger structures into chaos and non-cooperation (which they eventually do). This conditioning also sows the seeds for all the emotional and moral problems we experience in the society. Making humans work together in large numbers – people whom they share nothing common with, requires the invention of a lie. It is the easiest to blame just one or two of these – religion, nations or money; while leaving a special place of honor for the third one. But, all three are the timeless tools of conditioning, and also inter-dependent.

The structure which is forced upon the individual must find its outlet. These outlets are, for now, being channeled for better control with apt technology that addresses them. Inlets were always easy to manage, it is the outlets which still need work., but we are getting there. The tendency is high that these outlets often take the route of violence. Those are times of change, when a new recipe for conditioning is tried and we move from one bottled-formula to another. The monkey-mind which makes this outlet be unpredictable and ungovernable is also the same monkey-mind which seeks conditioning. It must latch onto something which brings a sensation of belonging to the tribe. We will do anything to belong – all culture is just about belonging to the group, all culture is conditioning.

We can look at social-conditioning as a gradient within a sphere, with an ever changing cultural command at its core, and its crust being most different from it. The crust, or the fringe, is out-of-step and often in conflict with this dynamic zeitgeist at the center. The zeitgeist will always be open to trying out some part of the fringe, but it is quick to discard and forget, and cycle through it. The mainstream’s values and ideas are as distant from the brothel in a city, as they are from a small independent church in a village.

The conditioning closest to the core, ever in flux, is of the kind which benefits nation-states and the market – this is where the modern man is educated, to become a good customer and an involved voter. The further one moves away from this core, one sees more rigid structures and loyal tradition, smaller groups and more individuality. True, that a person living in a tribe has his world-view shaped by the fifteen people he knows, but yours is shaped by a faceless advertising agency and is no different from at least ten thousand people in your city – who is now more original in their thought? Who is the one popping pills for anxiety? Who is the one ranting and complaining about everything, and involved in the lives of people he doesn’t even know?

Originality, whenever it surfaces, is just a mutation of thought – an anomaly in a string of unoriginal second hand experiences. And what if, that very perfect blend of second hand experiences caused this original thought to emerge in the first place? Ultimately, the individual must decide the level of compromise they are willing to make with the society. They have to test how much they can diverge from the mainstream, without getting penalized. Their groups must also work with that realization in mind. Cults, for this very reason, in their rate of emergence and divergence become an easy target for the society. At the other end of this, controllers of culture – governments, organized religions and corporations, also often push for divergence – but these pushes are of the safe and planned kind, with an assumption that culture can be controlled to achieve an agenda. What they do not wish to accept is that cultural conditioning is not conscious, even when it might seem that way temporarily. The anomaly does always arise, in some minor way, where the individual writes his own little book of laws in his heads.

In our own lives and stories, we often overlook how much of our own identity and actions are built on unoriginal tastes and choices. We are told to feel and react in a certain way for a certain situation. We are encouraged to have opinions, but only if they are not too divergent from what is being spoken casually on the streets. For each of these liberties and choices which define us in the modern world, we are encouraged to also consume something to make it look or feel valid. In the hand of the industrialized society, this becomes a model of governance – to rule via consumption for largely manufactured needs.

Even the peculiar life-choices, diverging away from the mainstream, are just a moment in the past which amazed the eccentric – it was a story of someone else he saw or heard, and in its pursuit he built a replica of it. But this is never an exact replica, because his own experiences differ uniquely, and eventually it becomes his own piece, only to be replicated by someone else. Social outcasts and rebels, unlike what they might think, are also not able to be completely free from this – their identity is a patchwork of other ‘influential’ lives at the fringe which fascinated them.

Coming back from the verbose segue, in short – all of us are not free from social conditioning. Even when we do become aware of it, and act to reject it, the outcome is nihilistic and can lead us to dark ends. There is also the path of non-participation, to not react to the conditioning and then mastering the inner reality – this is what the yogis and other spiritualists can do. Again, non-participation is not an easy journey and not for everyone. It offers its own temptations in groups, which the establishment almost always reacts violently to. The third one, though in participation with the system, is the awareness and self-awareness of social conditioning which a leader exhibits. I have increasingly begun to believe that the leaders of thought and societies across the world were aware of this conditioning they were born into. Their rejection of it, while participating in it, is what the system automatically selected for. Their anomaly found a way out at the top only to trickle down and repeat the process once over again.

Discarding Democracy

The emperor’s divinity was replaced by an equally absurd idea – that an individual’s voice matters in a crowd, and that a crowd of such voices is capable of undertaking well thought out decisions. It was never defined what kind of crowd this must be, and it is assumed that the crowd has common goals, histories, values and aspirations – which it doesn’t. Most of the times, the qualification to be a part of that crowd is to simply be born within a certain geography. Any of the impactful and complex human experiences and identities do not matter. Societies which tried to further detail the definition of this crowd were quickly isolated, demonized and replaced with the standard. Nation states pride themselves on how much of a democracy they are, often competing for pats on the head by Uncle Sam, and imagine the non-democratic countries to be a prison camp from which souls must be liberated.

As a voter, no matter where you lie in your political views, you are bound by this ‘democratic thinking’ where you select a group of people of your liking and see them march hand-in-hand towards a bright future. The mere presence of this mental propaganda poster, regardless of the party signs or the people you see, is a sign that you are enslaved to this type of thinking. This thought is also essential to the survival of the nation state, and you are the least of its concerns, let alone for the people you imagine in that image.

In my younger years, I was fanatical (like most young people) about democracy over anything else. Democracy seemed like the light the world desperately needed more of. It didn’t matter how it was delivered as long as it was being delivered – democracy could fit into bombs and food aid bags with the same ease. It felt just. And as a young person, justice is what you seek in the smallest bits of your existence. The absence of that justice in the real world makes you angry, outraged and volatile. It is a weird age when Ayn Rand seems to make sense but the working class also deserves its own pedestal. Your education informs you of the battles against injustice throughout history until now, and then it leaves you with the momentum – charged up, informed and ready to vote. All the political movements rely on this promise of justice, which can never be delivered, and hence all political involvement relies and feeds off on that youthful rage, which does have its place, but quickly starts looking ugly when exercised past a certain age. For most, according to me, this delusion should end the day they pay their first tax on income.

If you are still stuck on the ‘but my taxes help build roads and bridges’, I think that this conversation was never meant for you. I bet that you decorate your property with stickers of your favorite political party, or worse – your favorite sports team.

Income tax is the most direct and forced transaction and interaction between you and the government. A police arrest comes second. It is only facilitated by the lie, accepted at varying levels, in the statement I just quoted in the last paragraph. Here are some realities of taxes – no matter how much a citizen pays, it is never enough. The return of protections and services by the state is never met or allocated correctly back to the taxpayer. Even in cases where it is stated that it does, it is used for something which the taxpayer never asked for. ‘Here, a new train station to the airport you can never afford to fly out from. Also, don’t get stabbed while getting there. How about some mosaic art on the station walls?’ This is your connection with your government, at its most efficient, least influenced by the the layers of emotions, politicians and analysts. Now, one by one, add these layers to it and replace the incentive of money (i.e. a universal incentive) with a paper slip and the press of a button. This is what democracy is for me.

Of course, there is the bit about participation, grassroots and representation. Nice words. But the moment you talk about them, diluting factors also come in, which range from business interests to the demographics which shape the opinion over yours. You can call your local politician every day but without enough numbers you cannot be heard. Creating such pressure by itself can only happen once you become a part of this system – if you can rally the support of a group of people to get a law passed, you are already a politician at some level even if you do not call yourself one. As you go up the totem-pole, you begin to lose autonomy and the leash gets a more bipolar and ruthless master. ‘I serve the people’, they say.

It is also funny how voting is treated as a very private matter, the booth is covered with curtains as if people cannot look at you or your social media posts and tell whom you would vote for. People have become the symbols of their political parties. I knew before coming the US that one of the American etiquettes was to not discuss politics at work, or with strangers. Maybe 2016 was the wrong time to arrive and make this observation, but since then, every conversation I have experienced at work, school or with a stranger disregards that etiquette. This might be something recent too, where expression of individuality has bubbled over into expression of political allegiance – a necessary dilution? a subconscious cope for a society seeking a group? I am sure that it is the belief in certain specific things which bring people to support the political groups they do; and again, most drama is when people do not walk the line or fail to check all the boxes of the party, which becomes the fodder for commentators of the opposing group. It is an endless cycle. However, I cannot help but be very sure that the people who were at the forefront of these ideas, which attract individuals to gravitate towards a party, were themselves highly distrustful of these democratic establishment. No man who truly believes in a cause also leaves it open to be ruined by politicians.

There is also the state-sponsored drive where the voting process is celebrated, advertised as a duty, encouraged and even pressured for. They reward you with a holiday for it. It is an old trick of the nation state to maintain its relevance – as long as the people believe, it exists. Another interesting observation in the 2016 and 2020 US Presidential Elections were the campaigns on behalf of the social media giants which bombarded their users with ‘Go Vote’ messaging. It was a mobilization of their users, a large part of which was known to vote a certain way. The posts of people with the ‘I Voted’ stickers changed their meaning, from seemingly harmless acknowledgement of participating in the polls to well-targeted political signaling. Top all of this with the voter fraud accusations, which came both the sides of the political aisle in both the elections. This was democracy at work at all its stages in apparently the strongest democratic systems in the world, and I was blessed to witness it from within as an outsider.

I feel that the only reason why democracy remains popular is because it does what it promises – it over-democratizes power regardless of capabilities of those seeking it, and it makes its replacement the only penalty for them. It is not about improvement, fairness or choose what you may – it is about power. For the voter, it is the illusion of the proxy-power it provides. It plays on the strings for him which hit a more primal note – there is something which feels ‘just right’ about the rule of the people. Maybe, it is that brief moment when a society recognizes the otherwise invisible underdog – when they see him go to the polls, with a wish that his vote would align with theirs.

The flaws of democracies, which are at the heart of every dissatisfying piece of news one reads (which is all news), have been well discussed and demonstrated. Some groups know very well how to play this system to their advantage, but it usually ends up backfiring, because the control over the chaos of the crowd is always lost. Having an opinion against this structure is an unholy opinion to hold, but it is a useful one, definitely the one which will keep you alive. Because, you are the one who is prepared and at peace when people are killing each other off over a decision someone else made for them or for a decision they are making at someone else’s directives. The ones who are the most devastated, and even entirely consumed by this structure, are the ones who were the most invested and reliant on it, because they signed away their individuality with the ballot.

I do not know what will replace the collapsing nation states and their democratic structures, (I do not care about them tbh) but I can be prepared for what comes next by unlearning this inefficient concept and its false promises. I am certain that democracy would be getting discarded as we go ahead, it will not vanish but fade out or change its form. One way to look at the future is to be skeptical of technological progress and the darkness that it brings, but another outlook could be of how much closer to nature does machine begin to behave. Humans might finally apply machine intelligence to restructuring structuring society in its most natural form devoid of political structures. It could find the right amount of people forming small bands of flat hierarchical societies local to an allotted land, each group ‘matched’ to its neighbor as a transience of human collective. Maybe the crowd has been subconsciously trying to do just this all along – to use democracy to make democracy obsolete.

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