I’ve always lived in a world that was more comfortable on the edges looking in than on the inside dreaming of getting out. My family was a culturally blended stew with lots of different flavors, none of which got along well with the neighbors. They survived too many wars, saw too many horrific examples of man’s inhumanity to man to ever stand a chance of willfully joining the human race.
After what they lived through, my parents didn’t really like people much. My father was an unsuccessful gambler. When his winnings bought us a roof over our heads, the next hand took it away. We moved around a lot, often in the middle of the night with little notice. We lived in the car, on the road, in cheap motels. When he drank, the cops came. Sometimes they took him away. Sometimes they left him behind, angry, vengeful, and seeking soft targets.
There was no safe world for us. Most of it was controlled by bland, church-going pillars of whiteness who feared and distrusted our dark, accented, religion-mocking lawlessness. They thought they could save us. They saw us as savages in need of civilizing, so they flung invitations to church like monkeys flung poo.
But we flung it back by refusing to become part of their Borg-like existence. From the outside looking in, it seemed as confining, as limiting as the world on the other side of the door. It angered them. And then it frightened them. How dare we not assimilate. They warned their children away from us. They made us outlaws by default. They left us only one path to walk, our own.
It wasn’t until recently that I began to understand what a gift that was, how unusual it was to walk a path undefined by others. It was a rare freedom, this right to forge one’s own path. It is a freedom unknown to many people.
One place I notice the absence of that kind of freedom is in education . Students are well-trained in their skill set. They are the best at what they do. They can discuss their field endlessly and flawlessly. Until they run into a very large wall.
That is the wall of singularity. They know what they know, and maybe the more creative ones can imagine and implement ways to incorporate what they know into something similar, something that will grow into a third thing. Like sequels, prequels, and remakes. Like cover songs and knock-offs. Like mass produced reproductions.
Members of the singularity know their subject. They can apply anything to that subject: the religion of computers, the politics of engineering, the literature of design.
But then the wall gets them. Then the noose of singularity cuts off their thinking. Then the conversation becomes forced and not as entertaining. It becomes as meaningless as discussing the weather. Yes, it rained in the past. It is raining in the present. It will rain in the future.
But there is no poetry to the rain. There is no search for meaning in the sound of the rain or the feel of it upon the skin. There are no love songs written to the rain. It is all sterile and precise and oh so tedious and boring. It is all so singular.
Such singularity easily crosses the short bridge to dogmatism. No new input means no new ideas. No new ideas means the existing ones are elevated to the point where they are beyond criticism. They take on a holiness, a religiosity that won’t allow criticism, because the other sides no longer exist.
People become as rigid as their ideas. Change becomes fearful. Differences become scary. Different ideas become tyranny. The more the world around them changes, the more the members of the singularity cling to the only things they know, whether it is religion, science, art, politics, music, literature, murder, mayhem, war, hate, bigotry, intolerance.
This is when cultures begin to die, because it wasn’t their differences that destroyed past civilizations. It was their sameness. Inbreeding of ideas was just as destructive as inbreeding of people.
Over time they were left with monumental stupidity and nothing to repair the damage done to communities, towns, states, countries, and the planet. There was no one left smart enough or educated enough to fix the problems, so the culture died.
We are once again moving in that direction, and we will reach the crossroads fairly soon. Ignorance has a way of taking over because it feeds on itself. But there are a few things to throw in its path that may not stop it, but it might at least slow it down some.
One of the biggest is education. I was one of the lucky ones, as were many of my generation. We had a true liberal arts education, which meant we had to also study math, science, history, literature, and art.
We learned how to think and analyze, something that is rarely taught anymore. It was valued once. Now only outlaws think outside the herd. It’s discouraged, and instead students are taught to focus, to apply precise learning to precise topics and to never deviate from the task at hand.
But we need to deviate. We need to learn how to apply what we are taught to the past, to the present, and to the future. We need to see the historical consequences of actions, and not have them filtered through the cesspools of politics, religion, and dogmatic thinking.
We need to understand what it means to make our own decisions and how to accept responsibility for our own actions. We need to learn to think, to analyze, to discuss, to hear, to listen, and to contemplate.
Because if we don’t, our singularity will be one end of a chain hooked to the nose of our precious little prejudices, and the other end will be held by those who need herds of singular minded sheep to exploit for their own purposes.
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Ursine Logic’s Books and Art