Welcome to La-la Land



We are lost in images.

Prom night. These girls are in love - obsessed, consumed - by an image. The image is of the fantasy prom, or a disney princess. The most likely source of this image is a film.

We make the mistake of thinking that our fantasy images can be real. We seek to bring them over into the real world, blurring the line between fantasy and reality.

For these girls the dress, the makeup - the 'prettifying' or 'slutifying' - are not about wanting to appeal to boys; even if from the outside it would appear so. Boys have nothing to do with it. It is about realising the fantasy image. The real world signifiers (short skirt =  male attention) become insignificant next to the fantasy signifiers (short skirt = what the fantasy person wears, i.e. fulfilment of image). Meaning is lost in a world of cut-out fantasy images.

The reality of the situation (the actual prom) threatens to bring the person back down to earth, because reality cannot compare to fantasy. But instead of realising our mistake and relinquishing our images, we attempt to twist reality to fit our fantasies. We dismiss what is real, making everything unreal.

On this charge, film has a lot to answer for.

Films sell us fantasies that get lodged in our brains. They give us images that we are compelled to realise - make us chase apparitions - and they do it without us even realising. Their images filter into our subconscious, sneaking in through the back door. Before we know it we have built layer upon layer on top of them. We have based our hopes and dreams - our lives - upon them. They become near impossible to dislodge without risking a total breakdown.

And often all of this happens whilst we are young. Their images become so ingrained and prevalent that we may even think that they are part of the natural order; that human beings naturally desire these things and that, importantly, there is no viable alternative. Once you've built a skyscraper it seems like madness to knock it down to check its foundations.

Films are not the only culprit; and the symptoms of our 2D culture are not just confined to young girls who want to be princesses.

When an image - the short skirt, the revealed leg - becomes detached from its real world signifier - male attention - meaning gets lost. When this happens over and over again, it becomes the norm.

We are in a culture that encourages us to lose sight of reality. One thing can mean a million things. Play around, be creative. It needn't mean that. It needn't mean anything. Eveything is unanchored.

From a narrow perspective this all seems like good fun. Life is short, so play around while you can. But there are severe consequences.

Through repetition of this pattern, we are becoming more and more conditioned to only look for the image, and not for the truth that lies underneath it. As long as you say you're sorry convincingly enough then I don't care whether you actually are or not. I'm only interested in the speech, the sensation: not the reality.

We are becoming conditioned to stop short at the surface, and to not look beyond it. Ours is a superficial culture, in most senses of the word.

In some contexts we may be able to convince ourselves that this is a harmless development. But in others we cannot.

Politicians need no longer even make a show of sticking to their word. They can say one thing whilst openly doing another, just as long as the way in which they said it is convincing enough; that it sounded right, good, strong. They can be as dishonest as they like, as long as they have the right stuff; a winning smile, an air of heroism, a good marketing campaign.

Politics, as with so many things, has become unanchored. We need only look at the majority of our media coverage to see that it is almost entirely show. Journalists - by name only - touch every superficial detail whilst circumventing the mundane and often inconvenient reality. 

When a person loses sight of what is real and what is fantasy we generally seem to consider them a bit barmy. If we can, we try and bring them back to the real world, remind them of what is true and what is false.

Collectively we are going barmy. Can we bring ourselves back to the real world?

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Related posts:-
The Real Thing
The Tyranny of Novelty
Life Amongst the Rubble
Post-modernist Soup
The Perils of Radical Subjectivity 
Information and Knowledge
Tasteful Distance
Arrows pointing at Arrows
Leaving the Vessel
Only Playing

You ought to be more like me


A note on difference and criticism

Most people do not want to hear criticism because they are solid, like statues. They are not open to change and are primarily interested in defending themselves - i.e. in defending the shape that they have become. They are not interested in becoming a different shape and so defend against attacks that may crack, shatter, or otherwise deform them.

At the opposite end of the scale are people who are more fluid. They have not settled on a shape. These people are more open to things that may deform them, including criticism. They are less likely to defend against an attack, inasmuch as they perceive themselves as having less to lose by being deformed. They are shape-shifters. Now this shape, now that. Like a liquid, they can fill many forms.

Neither of these is inherently better or more desirable than the other. One might be more adaptive - more favourable - in a certain context, just as the other is more favourable in a different context. Each has its place.

Because they are more able to adapt and change, fleixble people are more able to see, speak and act upon the Truth. They are its natural guardians. This is because the Truth may often be at odds with the way we live, with who we have become. It may point out inconvenient and disturbing things about us. To act upon the Truth (and to a lesser extent to see and speak it) requires those who are able to adapt themselves to it, regardless of where its trail leads.

It is therefore the role of the flexible people to steer the rest in light of wisdom, of the Truth.

It is the role of solid people to bring weight, balance and consistency to the whole. They add reality. Liquids cannot hold a form; but solid things can.

They must, therefore, be as they are and must not seek to change. They must accept their various shapes. When viewed from the context of the whole species, these people - hard and soft, curved and straight, large and narrow - all balance each other; just as the ballast on a ship must be correctly positioned to provide both weight and balance. These are people of substance and integrity. Without ballast a sailing boat may be capsized by the wind in its sails. Ballast - weight - keeps it steady.

It is, therefore, both unfair and short-sighted for those who steer - those more flexible types - to criticise a solid person for being what they are, for their solidity (be it  too large, too narrow, too hard, or too soft).

And visa-versa. Fluid types must not be criticised for their lack of solidity. As with the sailing boat, society needs both, for different reasons.

Criticism is only truly useful in helping another see themselves more clearly. At best, it provides clarity. It leads, in other words, toward Truth. And Truth being the province of flexible types, criticism is rightly theirs and theirs only. It is their tool, a double-edged sword, wielded in the name of Truth. In medieval times honour dictated that a knight in armour  must only battle with another also in armour, and a similar rule applies here. The sword of Truth must only be used against another of like-kind; never against a solid person. Criticism is, after all, irrelevant to someone who cannot - and should not - change.


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Related posts:-
Small Part/Large System
Small Mind/Large Mind 
Everything is Connected
Maintaining the Balance
The Colour Wheel 
The Colour Spiral
Assuming a position
Get Real 

Paradise?

When Neo awakens to the 'real world', he does not realise that what is seeing is paradise.

The world of the machines only looks horrifying to human eyes. Viewed objectively it is a paradise: in other words, a harmonious perfectly balanced eco-system. They have achieved what we, with our technological Towers of Babel, gesture towards.

In this sense Agent Smith is the real hero of the piece. He seeks to eradicate the causes of imbalance. As he says, human beings are like a virus. We threaten paradise. Agent Smith - Angel Smith - seeks to preserve the Garden of Eden, by eradicating that which would throw it into chaos.

Neo looks out at paradise and is horrified.

He wants his games, his imbalance, his imperfection. This is the truth that lies beneath all of our moralistic posturing: that none of would really want paradise if we knew what it truly meant.

Masters of the Universe

 
Technology takes us away from our true nature. The further we get from our true nature, the more lost we become.

The will - the universe, the life-force, the all, God - expresses all of its possibilities in its many manifestations. Things clash, bite, swoop, soar, glide, drop, run, trickle. Things are rooted, immovable; flowing and unplaceable.

Each manifestation is blessed with certain potentialities; certain things that it is "adapted" for, or meant to do. The Swallow is expert at gliding over the water but not at swimming on it. The Duck is not so agile in the air, but is good on the water.

The form of a 'thing' shows us what it is meant to do: its nature is displayed in its appearance.

Humans, as with all other creatures, have a certain range of potentialities; a nature. Our hands allow us to grab and manipulate, our legs to run; and so on. As with other things, there are limits to our potential; borders to our nature.

Our technology has allowed us to transcend our limits. 

Lacking wings, we cannot fly. It is not in our nature. And so we come up with devices that allow us to get round this limitation.

Through technology we mimic the potentialities of all other things. We go beyond the borders of our own nature - as defined by our bodies - and become something else. One way of seeing this is that we are like a child who has been given a gift. We are pleased with our gift, but notice that other children have also been given gifts, and that they are different to our own. We wonder about them and, slowly but surely, begin to covet them.

Through technology we aspire to become everything.

We are now king of the jungle. We have secured the top spot at the table. We are less at the mercy of our environment, more able to defend ourselves from danger. This appears to be a good thing for the individual; if we define "good" as being that which allows the individual - in the here and now - to live longer and more comfortably. It appears to be good for the species because it allows us to dominate the scene.

But this definition of "good" is fundamentally short-sighted. It is "good" in the way that junk food is "good"; in other words, good in the now. It gets lost in the taste of things, but does not see the long-term harm that these things will do.

The further we stray from our true nature, the bigger mess we find ourselves in. We do not understand the larger balance, and cannot hope to replicate it through technology. As we get further and further away from our nature, we are faced with more and more problems; and our answer is to medicate these problems with technology; high-tech short-term solutions that - being more technology - only serve to take us ever further away.

And so more problems spring up. Our answer: more technology!

In this way we find ourselves on an endless downwards spiral; no sooner have we patched up one hole then another two appear. Our battle is endless, and will always be endless. This is because of a simple truth that we refuse to collectively accept: that no amount of technology - regardless of how advanced it is - will allow us to reach the peak of the mountain from where we can see it all and understand it all.

No amount of technology will allow us to become God.

So whilst technology continues to be good for us - as individuals in the here and now - we are on a time limit. Just as a person can get away with eating junk food for a time without any serious consequences, eventually their bad habits will catch up with them. In acting in the interests of the individual in the here and now - in acting with a short-term mindset - we are neglecting the long-term picture. In practical terms, our short-sighted self-interest has negative consequences for our environment. We are fine - for now - but everything around us suffers.

The mind fools itself into thinking that it is fine, whilst the body slowly deteriorates.

Just as the person consuming junk food is "fine" - in other words - can go on consuming junk food - we, collectively, appear to be fine. This is because - like the junk food addict - we are choosing to ignore the signs that something is wrong. There are signs everywhere, but we cannot face them because they may force us to change our habits. Above all, we want to continue as we are: to go on eating, tasting, enjoying.

But there is only so much junk that a body can take. It will, eventually, give in.

We can define an organism as a system of 'things' that depend upon each other for their individual survival. The cells and organs of a body need each other; and we, as the body, need them. Inasmuch as we are reliant upon our environment for our survival - the creatures and life that surrounds us - then our organism expands to include all of this.

We are part of a larger 'body' - and we are taxing it to its limits.

It will give in.

And where will that leave the individual in the here and now?

Our answer to this threat is technology. We eat bad food and when problems arise we medicate them. And then we eat more bad food. More problems? More medication. We endlessly patch up a faulty machine. But there is only so much patching up we can do before the machine becomes irreparable.

We attempt to sever our reliance upon our environment - through technology - but lack the wisdom and insight to build a sustainable alternative. In jettisoning our current environment we assume the role of gods; but we do not see that compared to the wisdom of nature - the wisdom that permeates all things in the universe - we are merely hopeless children with expensive toys and inflated notions.

The answer to our problems is always staring us in the face; and it is simple. But it is the answer that none of us want to hear: stop eating junk food!

How we view this is probably dependent upon how far out we draw our borders. If our concern stretches no further than ourselves or our immediate family then we will not see the problem with any of this. Because, as we have seen, technology is good for the individual in the here and now.

We might be able to get away with our bad habits. But in doing so we pass a terrible legacy on to our children. We show them that we were too weak to defeat our addiction, and we pass the responsibility on to them. This is our gift to them.

The point will come when our body will give in: when we will have taxed our environment to the point where it can no longer support us.

Technology leads us down a never-ending spiral and at all times the answer is beneath our noses: stop doing the things that are bad for us.

We must remember our true nature.

We must stop running away from it - with all of its vulnerabilities - and come to terms with it.

Amongst other things, this means coming to terms with limitations, and ultimately, death. We must stop trying to defeat it, stop trying to lengthen our lives. Stop taking for granted that a longer life is always a good thing. It is only a good thing to a people that are growing ever more scared of dying.

To do this we must weave a culture that tells different stories. That accepts death and paints it in a positive light. We must create a culture that tells stories which encourage us to lead sustainable lives.

If the mainstream culture will not do this, then it is up to us to create our own sub-cultures - sanctuaries where new stories can be told, and new people created.

It is these people - with our help - that will bring us back to balance.

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A trip abroad = a large juicy hamburger
An immersive computer game = a chocolate bar
The internet = a tub of ice cream
A film = a large popcorn

All these things taste good. But what are the long term consequences of our indulgence?

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Related posts:-
Lines and Circles
The Real Thing 
Taking the Rough with the Smooth 
Small Scale/Large Scale
Small Mind/Large Mind
Everything is Connected 
The Earth's the Limit 
Part of a System
Guiding Fiction
Re-write It
Rights and Responsibilities
Live Forever?  
Fuck It

The Earth's the Limit

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The oft-repeated doctrine of a progressive development of mankind to an ever higher perfection [...] is opposed to the a priori view that, up to any given point of time, an infinite time has already elapsed, and consequently that all that is supposed to come with time is bound to have existed already.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, Volume II, p.172-7, 184

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1. Living between extremes

We always exist between a pair of opposites.

Think about the temperature of the room you are in. How would you describe it? Hot? Cold? Warm? Whatever word you come up with to describe it, your description will always fall between two points:

1. The hottest temperature
2. The coldest temperature

Let's visualise them differently:

1 < ----------------------------------------------------------------- > 2

The temperature in your room must fall somewhere between these two points. It cannot fall anywhere outside of them, because they represent the limits of temperature, the most extreme possible. Whatever is the hottest or coldest thing you can think of, then they are it.

In truth, these "hottest" and "coldest" temperatures don't really exist. They are just ideas inside our heads. Someone will have recorded the hottest and coldest temperatures, but one day somebody else may record a hotter or a colder one.

To give another example. Take a look outside the window and pick an object. How would you describe its size?

Small?
Large?
Somewhere in between?

Again, your description is always going to fall between two points:-

1. The smallest thing
2. The largest thing

or..

1 < ----------------------------------------------------------------- > 2

And again, whatever you see cannot fall outside of these two points. In reality these limits are only defined by the tools that we use to measure them. So right now the smallest object may be a quark, but when we develop more sophisticated microscopes we will probably discover smaller objects. And then we'll develop even more sophisticated microscopes and see even smaller things. And so on. Into infinity. So in reality our two boundaries are always shifting.

But however you think about these extremes, we always exist between them.

This is the way our minds experience the world - by placing everything between two opposites - and it applies to every area of our life. 

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2. Line and Circle

It is on one such pair of opposites that we will focus.

1. Expansiveness

and its opposite:

2. Limitation

Sometimes it is helpful to visualise these ideas as images.




Number one, expansiveness, can be represented by the image of an arrow travelling in a straight line. The line is infinite: it has no beginning and no end, it just keeps travelling onwards into space, forever.






Number two, limitation, can be represented by an arrow travelling in a circle. Instead of travelling forward into space, the arrow goes round and round, following the same circular path forever.




We can see these opposites at work in many different places.

Lets imagine two musicians. They have equal talent, but very different ambitions.

1.The first has modest ambitions. He just wants to make music for the people he knows and if he achieves fame locally then this is good enough for him. He does not desire fame beyond this.

2. The second has grand ambitions. He wants to use his music to become as famous as possible. He hopes that there will be no limits to his fame. His name must ring out across the country, the planet, the galaxy!

When it comes to the fame that they desire, our musicians have different ways of thinking. We can describe our first musician as having a limited mindset. Whilst he recognises that his talent could make him very famous, he does not want to maximise his fame. He is happy with being appreciated at a local level, and it is here that he draws his boundaries.

Our second musician has an expansive mindset. He wants to be as famous as possible (and then even more famous!). He does not place any limits on his fame. The only limits are those applied by his environment, not those applied by himself.

Another example is the way we think about time. In our culture we tend to think of it as linear - as progressing in a straight line, ever onwards. In other cultures, time is thought of as cyclical; as ever-repeating. Thus 'progress' for us is a voyage into the unknown; it involves improving and building upon the past. To them it may be more about re-treading familiar territory and repeating familiar patterns.

I'm sure you can think of many other day to day examples of these two ways of thinking.

Here are some other words that are associated with expansive, along with their opposites:

Expansive                                     Limited
Global                                           Local
Infinite                                          Finite
Deregulated                                 Regulated
Undefined                                     Defined
Novel                                            Familiar
Unpredictable                               Predictable


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3. Wisdom of Commerce

As a society it seems that we are collectively in the grip of an expansive mindset. This is because we view most things through the eyes of our economic system (through commerce). Where once our values may have been determined by religious standards, now they are determined by economic standards. "Good" has become synonymous with "good for the economy." Something is worth doing if it promises to bring material gains. Success is generally defined by abundance; in other words, by having a lot of something (be it fame, property or money).

Commerce demands expansiveness. It is embodied by the image of the line, continually travelling onwards and upwards, tearing up new ground and seeking new frontiers. For commerce to prosper, there must always be growth. How often do we hear politicians talking about "growing the economy" as if it were the meaning of life?

This is because most of our politicians are caught in the grip of the expansive mindset. They are guided by the wisdom of commerce, which is to expand at all costs. This is at odds with true wisdom, which recognises the necessity of limitations. It knows when enough is enough. It knows that constant growth without end, and without any thought to the preservation of resources, is simply and wholly unsustainable.

If we were to let the wisdom of commerce rule our bodies, for example, then they would not last long:

Our body is a balanced system. Generally speaking, it strives to keep itself this way. If we get too hot then we sweat. If we get too cold then we shiver. We have all sorts of ingenious systems in place to keep us balanced and healthy. There is a wisdom written into our body. This wisdom combines many ways of thinking - both expansiveness and limitation - into a very well balanced whole. If we somehow managed to overthrow it, replacing it with some other system that we thought was better - a system that was based on a very singular way of thinking - then we would soon start seeing problems.

If the expansive mindset ruled our bodies then what would happen?

We would begin to maximise everything that we did. We would eat too much, drink too much, sleep too much, stay awake for too long, run for too long. We would get too hot, too cold, too alert, too tired, too happy, too depressed.

In short, our bodies just wouldn't know when to stop. Everything would be done to excess.



Unchecked expansiveness is the hallmark of cancer. Is it a coincidence that a society caught in the grip of an expansive mindset is beset by such a disease?

Clearly our bodies would not stay healthy for long if ruled by this kind of "wisdom". Thankfully they frequently ignore the short-sighted demands of our minds, and take their guidance from their own inbuilt wisdom.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our society. We are not guided by a timeless and balanced wisdom. Like the dysfunctional body described above, we have reprogrammed ourselves to be ruled by a singular way of thinking.

When we are in a society that is guided by the wisdom of commerce then true wisdom necessarily suffers.

Inasmuch as it is short sighted, and centred around limitless growth, the wisdom of commerce can be described as a youthful wisdom. In this sense is not really "wisdom" at all. Traditionally within a society it would be the elders - those who have seen and lived - who would advocate limitations. Their conservative influence would temper the youthful spirit, which naturally seeks to explore, push boundaries and challenge limitations. It is a timeless balance.

Now that we have fallen collectively under the wisdom of commerce - synonymous with the influence of the youth - we find ourselves in an unhealthy imbalance. The youthful - expansive - mindset rules, and is no longer tempered by a mature influence.

As a society we have become immature.

We have only to look around to see manifestations of this epidemic.  We are afraid of aging. Maturity has lost its place and value. We no longer see the point in it. Our old people are now striving to be young, abandoning their roles as elders. Many are carted off to homes where they can trundle about without bothering the rest of us. Instead of being wise they frequently become selfish, vain and obsolete. Any wisdom they do have to offer rarely gets to see the light of day, and it is even rarer that such wisdom makes it into the public domain where it may be able to guide us collectively. 


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4. Global vs Local

Remember our two musicians from before? Which one would you class as the more successful? We generally seem to measure success by how expansive something is.  The most successful musician is the one that either sells the most records or achieves the greatest fame. Likewise, the successful artist is the one that sells their work for the most money, or, again, has the most fame.

The local artist - the one that achieves limited reknown - is generally thought of in lesser terms than one who has international fame. It may be that there is little or no difference in their talent. Fame separates the two, elevating one in the eyes of society (i.e. the eyes of commerce).

"Local" has become synonymous with inferior. This is a natural and predictable outcome of our current way of thinking. Viewed through the eyes of an expansive mindset, local is defective. It is not expansive enough.

The local business suffers in the face of the multinational. The local hero suffers in the face of the international superstar. Both pale in comparison to their expansive counterpart.

A world of novelties has been laid before us - distant lands, novel experiences, exotic people - diverting our sights away from our immediate surroundings. We are persuaded to look outwards and upwards - for inspiration, for sustenance - and lose belief in our ability to sustain ourselves. We think we need things from outside, that outside - far away - is somehow better. The grass is always greener elsewhere.

Where once we may have sung our own songs and told our own stories, we now have world-reknowned singers and high budget films. These things rob us of our self-sufficiency, yet we are drawn to them like moths to a flame. 

We forget that our community can produce its own heroes, who are just as worthy as those from afar. If a community does produce internationally reknowned talent, this talent will generally abandon the community in favour of somewhere "better" (i.e. not local), thereby reinforcing the idea that local = inferior.

Large chains - supermarkets, fast food restaurants, clothes shops, and so on - dispossess us of ownership, the ability to craft our own locality. We no longer have any say in what our surroundings look like. They end up looking like every other "local area", with the same shops selling the same things.

Local character is disappearing.

At one time, to travel to a different part of the country would have been like travelling to a different country altogether. Each area would have its own character and traditions that would bind the locals together and create meaning in their lives. These are now dying out, to be replaced with a more generalised - globalised - sense of self.

We no longer have a strong sense of identity. We don't really know who we are.

When we are encouraged to think expansively, as we currently are, then the idea of "local" is bound to suffer. In becoming global citizens, we risk forgetting how to be local citizens.

When "local" suffers like this, we necessarily become disenfranchised. We lose our independence, our ability to look after ourselves. 

If people stop believing in themselves they crumble. It is the same for communities.


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5. Heroes

Our heroes are distanced from us. 

They do not live where we live, and they are not like us. They are somehow special. Where once the best singer you knew may live on the next street, he or she now lives in a far away world of celebrity; a world unlike our own. The importance of local heroes is that they are attainable; we can talk to them, ask them questions, socialise with them, get to know them. Understand them. We may even take over from them one day. Global heroes generally appear to be unreachable, untouchable. Their distance makes them appear unearthly. We have a sense that we will never reach them, let alone become one of them. They tower above us and exert a form of tyranny.

Our heroes have become heroes of commerce, rather than heroes of morals.

We look up to them because they best embody the goals of our commercial culture; not because they best represent universal and timeless moral standards.

We admire them despite the fact that they often reflect the worst in us, not the best.

Our youthful mindset produces immature leaders.

Imagine you are stuck on a desert island with a group of people. They vary in age, from very young to very old. You must all work together in order to survive. Who will your group take direction from?

For some reason you decide to take your lead from a seven year old.

Being immature and unwise, the directions of your leader are frequently based on shallow thinking and selfishness. Because he is your leader, you begin to unconsciously elevate the values that he embodies. Childishness, selfishness, and youthful hedonism reign. You all become like children. It is fun for a time. You enjoy the lack of responsibility. The fun, the games.

You forget that you are on a desert island, and that you must do what it takes to survive. Your long term survival does not fit into your leaders short-term way of thinking. He rapidly leads you to ruin.

Would it have been a different story if you had taken your directions from someone more mature? Someone who had an eye on the long-term welfare of the group. Someone wise?

A leader should be elected to lead because he or she is fit for the role. They should act with the best interests of the collective in mind, and put their own interest to one side. They should embody the best in their people, and should strive to be the best they can be in order to inspire those around them. In short, they lead. And they lead in a positive direction.

Can we say this about any of our current leaders? How did they get to where they are? Are they in it for us, or for themselves? Can they show us the way? Do they inspire us?

We must think about who we are looking up to - who we are elevating - and for what reasons.
  
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6. Uses of Limitations

As a very modern development, the internet is a vivid embodiment of the expansive mindset. There are few borders on the web. When we open our browser we literally have the world at our fingertips. We can find out just about anything, and see things from all corners of the world. It is easy to access - many of us can now log on in the comfort of our own home - and is always there, whenever we want it. There are clearly great benefits from the kind of freedom that the internet offers. When we have a wide spread of information at our disposal we are less susceptible to one sided propaganda and manipulation.

But there is another side to this freedom, that is easy to overlook. When we are faced with a never ending world of information and possibilities it can easily become overwhelming. In times gone by we would have used libraries, newspapers and word of mouth to find out about our community and the world at large. These sources have their limitations - libraries shut at certain times, have a limited catalogue; newspapers have a limited number of pages - and so our borders were drawn for us.

The internet does not have a limited number of pages, or a closing time. The limitations that our environment once imposed on us have been defeated by this triumphant technology. We no longer have to travel to access our information. We no longer have to wait for books to be ordered, or papers to arrive. But when we look at the bigger picture, could it be that these limitations were actually good for us?

Where once we would have had limitations imposed upon us - decisions made for us - it is now up to us to decide when enough is enough.

The internet can seem overwhelming because it is a world with few limitations. It is an extreme product of a mindset taken to an extreme. It is expansiveness without its opposite, limitation, to balance it. It is up to us to apply this balance, for our own health.

Some of us may be good at this. We may only visit certain sites at certain times, and know our limits. But some of us may not be. When faced with limitless possibilities it is easy to get carried away and to lose sight of how much is too much. We become like kids in an overstocked sweetshop.

We limit ourselves every day. We stop when we have eaten enough. We do not drink too much. We know when we are exhausted, when our body needs to rest. Limitations keep us healthy, stop us from doing things from excess. But when we are caught in the expansive mindset we naturally begin to lose sight of their value.

This is when we eat too much, drink too much, work too hard, consume too much. We do so because we are unable to limit ourselves, or we have lost sight of the value of doing so. We need to ask: are we, as a society, beginning to lose sight of the value of limitations?

It may be that a lot of the "problems" that we are trying to find solutions for - the limitations that we are currently trying to overcome - are only problems because they are being viewed through the lens of expansiveness. When we remove this filter we may well see that a lot of our problems are in fact blessings in disguise. The anchors that we are continually trying to slip are there to keep us grounded. Without them we will drift off into space and lose ourselves completely.
  
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7. Restoring balance

If we allow the expansive mindset to take over completely then we will be collectively throwing ourselves into a very unhealthy imbalance. Traditional societies knew that the youthful spirit must always be tempered by the wisdom of age. This is why they valued their young and old equally, because both had vital contributions to make. We seem to have lost sight of this balance.

We must remember, what is good for the economy - for commerce - is not necessarily what is good for us as human beings. The two things do not go hand in hand. And it could well be that what is good for the economy is what is bad for us. We are human beings, not numbers and commodities.

We created the system of commerce to serve us. And now we serve it. It is not human, and its wisdom is not human. In living by the standards of an inhuman system, we are ourselves becoming inhuman.

It is time we began to look once more within our society and within ourselves to rediscover our humanity.

So what can we do?

We must first recognise the deeper causes of our problems. We are in an imbalance:

Limited < ----------------------------------------------------------------- > Expansive
                                                                                      ^

The solution is to shift our point of balance.

Practically this means looking at the ways in which the expansive mindset is manifesting in our lives and our society. It means moving away from 'global' toward 'local'; from 'youth' toward 'elder'; from 'excess' toward 'restraint.' It doesn't mean throwing ourselves into an opposite imbalance. Our task is to find a healthy equilibrium, tempering one with the other.

Let's look at how we are treating our old people. Are we involving them in our lives? Are we keeping them alert and vital by giving them their place within society?

Let's look at our own approach to aging. Are we going to become wise old people who have something to offer as old people? Or are we going to become young people in old bodies, striving to cling on to something that we should have relinquished long ago? Are we going to accept that society needs its old people to be old, and to give all of the gifts that only the old can give - wisdom, maturity - and are we going to look forward to being able to one day give these gifts ourselves? Or are we going to live in denial and become old people who have nothing to offer but a creaky immaturity that they should have long since outgrown?

Let's look at the people we place on pedestals - our heroes - and ask why we have put them there. Do they represent the best in us? Are they heroes of commerce, or heroes of humanity?

Q. How do we revive "local"?
A. By setting limitations 

Whilst it is tempting to look outside and to be caught up in all of the exotic distractions that the rest of the world has to offer, we must always balance this fascination with an equal interest in what surrounds us. In fact, if we care about our surroundings then they must always take priority over anywhere else. Local must come first.

For this to happen we must be prepared to tear our gaze away from the heavens. The view may not be quite as exotic, but once we readjust the rewards will be great.

Local celebrities in favour of national or international. Local artists in favour of international artists. Local shops rather than multinational superstores. Local musicians. Local farmers. Local bakers. Local butchers. And so on.

Let's think about how we view our local area. Are we proud of it? Let's encourage those that make it big to stay in the community and to invest their talents in it, to help it grow and regain its sense of worth. We do this by instilling value and respect for their locality into the hearts of our young people. Because it is they who will grow up to be the heroes of the future. 

Don't move, stay where you are. Find value in your local area, and send the message that it is worth valuing by staying put. Have you ever had someone believe in you? Often, when someone believes in us we are much more motivated to be the best we can be. Their belief gives us the power to grow. It is the same with our local areas. Without our belief they will deteriorate and become shadows of what they could be. They need us to believe in them.

Investigate the riches that surround you. Build your heaven right here, instead of looking for it elsewhere. It may not be much now - we may find it a depressing place to be - but we put the work in so that those that follow us, our children, don't have to put up with the same conditions.

Act with local in mind. Ask, how can I be of benefit to my local community? Am I currently adding to it, or taking away from it?

The first step is to change the way we think, and the way we talk. When we begin to think of limitation in a more positive light - and when this thought is translated into the things that we are saying - then we can begin to affect change on a wider scale.

As always, we begin with ourselves. 

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Related posts:-
Maintaining the Balance
Revolution Begins at Home
Small Scale/Large Scale
Lost Tribe
Lines and Circles
Masters of the Universe
Per-fiction
Information and Knowledge
The Tyranny of Novelty 
A Healthy Environment
Addiction: the long and short of it 
Live Forever? 

Stand Tall


Contrary to what people might think, Nuts was staffed by left-leaning middle-class family men (and women) who were smart, funny and talented. The office would usually be found picking apart last night's Newsnight, rowing about politics or discussing house prices.

 [...] They were the funniest, brightest group of people I'd ever had the pleasure of working with.

[Terri White]
"My success was built on other women's boobs", Observer Magazine

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The people who can lead must lead.

The people who know better must act better.


There is a tendency in our culture for those of us who know better to indulge in things that we do not truly like or believe in whilst justifying our actions through irony.

We stand at the threshold of some sinful place and delight in its sights, whilst assuring anyone that passes by that we think it is terrible and depraved.

Yet we stay and watch.

We can see this clearly in the overarching nature of popular culture. There are those of us who may not see any problems in a programme like Jeremy Kyle for instance. We may see it as harmless entertainment, and may even think of it in a positive light.

But there are those of us who, if we think deeply enough, will find many things about it problematic. Yet we continue to watch it regardless of our reservations.

We watch with two sets of eyes. We delight in its base appeal - its cheap thrills and cheap laughs. Yet we also see beyond these shallow attractions. We see its problems, and the problems that it poses and reflects on a larger scale.

Irony is often a refuge for those of us who know better, because it allows us to have our cake and eat it. It allows us to split in two; to speak of principles, whilst acting in a manner that is contrary to them. It is a form of detachment; part of us breaks off and floats free above us, able to see and comment upon what we are doing without being tied down to our body and our acts.

Whilst irony may distance us from the consequences of our actions, it does not protect us from them. It is like a painkiller: we may not feel the pain but it is still there.

Irony finds its natural home in a culture of appearances; in a culture where we are judged by what we seem to do, rather than what we actually do. By what we seem to believe in, rather than what we actually believe in.

Our free floating culture has floated far enough. We are in danger of becoming entirely detached from what is real. We are losing sight of the consequences of our actions. We are getting lost in the fantasy world of words and images that we have spun around ourselves and have started to believe that it is real; that our dreamworld can replace the real world, if only we believe in it enough. We tell ourselves that there is no such thing as real, and are led to the conclusion that if there is no real then there is only what we imagine there is. And so we float further into the clouds; further away from the ground.

We are like a person who imagines themselves to be a bird. They may be able to maintain the fantasy for a while but eventually, and inevitably, they will find themselves on a rooftop ready to fly toward the heavens. Soon enough their body - that undeniable anchor - will remind them of who they are; and soon enough they will come crashing back to earth.

There is only so long that this kind of fantasy can continue before we come collectively crashing downwards; before reality begins to assert itself upon us, regardless of our posturing.

That time is now.

These times demand an end to irony. They demand that we become attached. That we become reconciled to what is real, and that we become responsible for it.

We can no longer afford to shelter within irony in order to avoid the reality of our actions. The only way we can create a more balanced and healthy environment is to be led towards it by those who are able to lead. If our leaders shrug their duty, then what hope do we have?

It is acts that convince, not words.

In any collective, there are those who have the strength and vision to lead the way. But it seems that our current culture is so unhealthy and unbalanced that even these people - our guiding spirits - have lost their way. By indulging in cheap and unhealthy habits they make themselves cheap and unhealthy. Instead of leading us to great things, they lead us further and further into an abyss.

Base culture has become so pervasive that it has become acceptable for anyone to indulge. Taken with a pinch of irony, anything becomes acceptable. Where do we draw the line? How much of ourselves are we willing to let go of? How low are we all willing to sink?

There will always be those who live in holes, who see only darkness and depravity. But these people must be balanced by their opposite. If, as we are doing more and more, we all decide to crawl down into these holes, then what hope can we have for our future?

Base culture is like junk food. We know it is bad for us, but it offers a quick and temporary appeal. It does not nourish us, but it tastes good whilst it lasts. It stimulates our taste buds with exaggerated flavours, giving us an instant hit.

Indulging in base culture ironically - with a degree of self-awareness and separation; with conflicted intent - is akin to eating junk food ironically. Regardless of your stance, it is going into your system and wreaking the same havoc as it is with anyone else.

The pattern of indulging in something that we know is bad for us is one of addiction.

The things that we are addicted to will ruin us in the end. The things that our society is addicted to will ruin us all if we are not careful.

If you can do better then you must.

Be honest about your dependencies.
Be strong.
Fight your addictions.

Just as those who are tall must stand tall and avoid slouching or stooping lest they risk problems in later life; those who are morally tall must also strive to stand at their full height.

Our culture vulgarizes us and encourages us all to stoop down. We must fight against its influence and stand at our true height, whatever it may be.

We must stop pandering to a culture that is beneath us. By engaging in it, even if only ironically, we are propping it up and ensuring its existence.

Do it not only for yourself, but for those who are relying on you to show them the way.

Do what you can.

Those who know better must act better.

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In the Mysteries, celibacy is reserved for those who have reached a certain degree of spiritual unfoldment. When advocated for the mass of unenlightened humanity, however, it becomes a dangerous heresy, fatal alike to both religion and philosophy.

[Manly P. Hall]
'Qabbalistic Keys to the Creation of Man', The Secret Teachings of All Ages, p.378

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Related posts:-
Sailing the Turbulent Seas
Only Playing
You or The Work
Sell Out
Perils of Radical Subjectivity
Life Amongst the Rubble

Digging Deeper


The way we deal with problems is like the way we deal with weeds.

Cut the weed above ground level and it will grow again. Get it by the roots and it will trouble you no longer!

Like the roots of a particularly tricky weed, the ultimate causes of our problems are often deeply buried.

Some of us may like weeds, but for those of us who don't, when we look at a weed we see a problem. But most of the time we aren't seeing the whole problem.

Unless we get on our hands and knees and do a bit of digging then we will only ever see part of the picture. The bit that's right there in our face, spoiling our lovely neat garden!

But its those roots that we really need to be looking for. Because it is only by tackling them that we will be properly rid of our problem.

Now, let us take an everyday example and see how it fits into our weed analogy:

We develop a pain in our leg. How do we deal with it? A common approach would be to start with the closest problem or symptom and work from there.

1. We take pain killers to numb the pain.

This is like cutting the weed just above soil level. Its gone! For now ...

2. We do therapeutic exercises to treat the leg and stop the pain.

This is like pulling out the weed but leaving its roots behind. Again, our problem seems to be sorted ...

3. We examine what it was that caused the leg to become dysfunctional in the first place and make a change in our lifestyle in order to stop the problem from re-occurring (for example; perhaps the pain came from how we were sitting. So then we learn how to sit in a more healthy way, or we cut down on the amount of sitting that we do).

Finally we've done what we should have done all along! Our weed is gone for good, and no trace remains.

These root problems cause most of the smaller surface level problems, those that we all encounter on a regular basis. The weed grows above soil where we can see it because it has roots sustaining it out of sight beneath the ground. And yet we will often overlook the real problems simply because we cannot see them. We are so concerned with the fact that this horrible looking weed is ruining our garden, that we don't spend the time to dig a little deeper. If we have something that is in our face, demanding our attention, then we are likely to attend to this rather than something that is more distant, or unseen.

That's if we are lazy gardeners. If we are good gardeners then we always spend the time. Because time spent is actually time saved in the long run.

As a society we are lazy gardeners, constantly attacking problems at surface level.

This is because we want immediate results. We want to see something for our money. We don't want to have to get on our knees and get our hands dirty.

We can see this approach everywhere.

Football managers are hired and fired in quick succession. Alex Ferguson said recently that, had he been a manager today, he would have been fired before he had the chance to show what he was truly capable of. Few are given the chance that Ferguson had, to settle in to a club. To be able to make mistakes and to grow and learn. Ferguson was given the chance to mature into the great manager that he is today.

We see it also in politics. Politicians know that their time in the limelight is limited. And so few will be inclined to dig deep and offer effective - deep - solutions to the problems that face us. It may be that any lasting solution could take decades to produce any fruit worthy of notice. People whose careers rely on the superficial ebb and flow of public opinion cannot afford to wait this long. They need immediate results, because their jobs depend on it.

Bust the drug lords and they will be replaced. Bust the politicians and they will be replaced. Bust the bankers and they will be replaced. The weed will grow back unless you get to its roots.

We must dig deeper!

When we tackle a problem at a deeper level may not yield quick results. Pain killers will take away the pain immediately. But learning a new way to sit may cause us more pain to begin with.

Look around you. It won't take you long to see this approach in action. Bad gardeners everywhere.

Ask yourself: do I really want to get better? Do I really want to see these problems solved? Do I really want a solution?

If the answer is yes, then we must be prepared to get our hands dirty, sweat a little, and dig deeper.

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Now it is clear that such a method of diagnosis and treatment differs fundamentally in principle from orthodox medical methods, whereby definite local symptoms are traced back to specific disorders which are diagnosed as the cause of the trouble and then treated specifically.

[...] by this method specific symptoms may be and often are eliminated, but since

(1) specific symptoms are never found apart from wrong functioning,

(2) the wrong functioning associated with such symptoms is always, in my experience, associated with wrong use of the mechanisms of the organism,

(3) by such methods nothing will have been done to improve this wrong use,

conditions will be left within the organism which, if allowed to develop unchecked, will tend to lower the standard of functioning generally, and it will then be only a matter of time before the trouble - either the original disorder, or, as frequently happens, some more serious trouble - will manifest itself.

[F. Matthias Alexander]
The Use of the Self, p.94

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No method of 'cure' can be accepted as effective or scientific, if, in the process of removing certain selected symptoms, other symptoms have been left untouched and if new, unwished-for symptoms have appeared.

[...] If a defect is recognised in the use of a part, and an attempt is made to correct this defect by changing the use of the part without bringing about at the same time a corresponding change in the use of the other parts, the habitual working balance in the use of the whole will be disturbed.

[...] if the change in the use of a part is made in the face of impending factors in the use of other parts (as happens in any specific method of treatment employed to correct a defect in a part), the working balance between the use of that part and the use of all the other parts will be so thrown out of gear that the use of other parts will be adversely affected in their turn, and new defects in the use of these parts developed.

[F. Matthias Alexander]
The Use of the Self, p.76-8

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[...] in cases where disease has been previously diagnosed in any of the organs or systems, I have found that the faulty functioning which this implies is always associated with an unsatisfactory manner of use throughout the organism.

This goes to show that an unsatisfactory manner of use, by interfering with general functioning, constitutes a predisposing cause of disorder and disease, and that anyone who makes a diagnosis and prescribes treatment, without finding out how much of the trouble present has arisen from this interference and how much from other causes, is leaving untouched a predisposing cause of disorder and disease.

For this reason I make the following claim:

[...] No diagnosis of a case can be said to be complete, unless the medical adviser gives consideration to the influence exerted upon the patient, not only by the immediate cause of the trouble (say, a germ invader), but also by the interference with functioning which is always associated with habitual wrong use of the mechanisms and helps lower the patient's resistance to the point where the germ invader gets its opportunity.

[F. Matthias Alexander]
The Use of the Self, p.87-8

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Learning of the die-off of the estuary, I myself felt the impulse to find the culprit, to find someone to hate and something to blame.

I wish solving our problems were that easy! If we could identify one thing as THE cause, the solution would be so much more accessible. 

But what is comfortable is not always true. What if the cause is a thousand interrelated things that implicate all of us and how we live? What if it is something so all-encompassing and so intertwined with life as we know it, that when we glimpse its enormity we know not what to do?

That moment of humble, powerless unknowing where the sadness of an ongoing loss washes through us and we cannot escape into facile solutioneering, is a powerful and necessary moment.

It has the power to reach into us deeply enough to wipe away frozen ways of seeing and ingrained patterns of response. It gives us fresh eyes, and it loosens the tentacles of fear that hold us in normality. The ready solution is like a narcotic, diverting attention from the pain without healing the wound.

[Charles Eisenstein]
'Of Horseshoe Crabs and Empathy'


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I have come to realize that this model, which is based on the strategy of finding the "cause" and then developing the best "solution" to eradicate it, never asks an essential question: "what might the unwanted teen pregnancy epidemic be telling us about our society, ourselves, the community in which the teens live, about the teens themselves?" Without asking this question I sense that we can never really come to terms with the dilemma of unwanted teen pregnancy.

Until we hear what it is trying to say, it will keep saying it in this or other ways, despite all our prevention efforts.

Unknowingly the model serves to hide, and even deny, the essence of the dilemma. Most tragically, the structures and actions of these programs proposed by this model inhibit us from becoming aware of and fully experiencing the reality of who and what we are as a society.

What we do not realize is that our strategy of attempting to 'eradicate' the problem without listening into what it is telling us cuts us off from experiencing soul.

[Matthew Green]
As quoted in 'On Returning to the Soul of the World: Archetypal Psychology and Cultural/Ecological Work', p. 11


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Related posts:-
Everything is Connected 
Escaping Uncertainty
Negative Capability
Small Mind/Large Mind
The Game Goes On: Lessons From The Wire
Structural Integrity
Hitting Bottom 
Part of a System  
Search the Depths
Addiction: the Short and Long of it
A Healthy Environment
Still Waters
Laziness (and other fictions)
Fuck It

Artist / Citizen

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In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

[Harold Pinter]
Nobel Lecture, 'Art, Truth & Politics' 

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What does this time demand of us?

Beyond the borders of our own world. The world that grinds on around us.

Objective reality.

What does it demand of us?

What is happening on the larger scene? In the bigger picture? What is going on in the world and how does it impact on us?

As individuals we - as we are constantly reminded - have many rights. We have the right to enjoy our lives, to embrace our individuality; to explore ourselves; to find our potential. You only have one life, so live it.

But always this microcosm - our own little world - must be balanced with the larger picture. Because, like it or not, it is within the larger picture that we all have to fit. It is the land upon which we stand. If it shifts and moves then our houses - with their bright walls, and individual flourishes - will come crumbling down.

So we must always be asking: what does this time demand of us? Is there a quake coming? Must we take a break from papering the walls and prepare for it?

At one point the larger picture may have demanded that we question everything; that we push boundaries and shatter paradigms. Maybe this was the project of post-modernism, and maybe it served a useful purpose - not necessarily for the individual, but for the larger picture. Maybe a spot of post-modernism was what was needed.

The citizen was required to become an artist; to explore their assumptions; to poke and prod and push.

The beautiful landscape wasn't good enough anymore. Maybe it represented complacency, a stifling status quo. And so it needed to be undermined, subverted. Nothing was as it seemed. Solid became liquid. Things melted into other things. Male became female, female male.

And now it is the right of every individual the poke and prod and push their own boundaries. Or at least to go through the motions.

But what does this time demand of us?

Where once the citizen was impelled to become the artist, now, perhaps, the tables have turned.

There are too many artists. And not enough citizens.

It is long overdue that the artist once again become the citizen. That we begin to solidify, to choose a path; to draw our boundaries.

To say: this is true. And this is false.

We are lost within our post-modern playground. We don't know which way is up anymore.

It is time to grow up.

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Related posts:-
Nobody knows, and nobody can ever know
The perils of radical subjectivity
Individual + Villager = Balance
Rights and Responsibilities
Life Amongst the Rubble
Walk a Straight Line

Eruption!

When you build up tension in your body it is important to release it in a conscious way. If it isn't released then it will find its way out regardless, and generally when you aren't looking.

It is like a pressurised boiler.

The tension builds and builds, the sides start to bulge and eventually nuts and bolts start flying off and jets of steam start hissing out!

Instead of letting steam off in a controlled way, you've ignored it until its found its own way out.

This principle applies as much to human beings as it does to boilers.

We can see it in action on the roads. When a car driver gets stuck behind a cyclist and has to slow down to a crawl, he may begin to build up tension. The more he has to trail behind the cyclist - who is going a snails pace compared to what he is used to - the more his boiler begins to fill up. And when he finally gets past he may be just about ready to blow.

He may let this pressure off by cursing the driver or putting his foot to the floor and speeding away, leaving the cyclist in his dust. But there is a chance that some of this tension could stay with him.

And then it begins to find its way out in all sorts of unfortunate ways.

Maybe the next cyclist he comes to he isn't so courteous with. Maybe his pent up anger and frustration makes him a bit reckless. Perhaps he gets a bit too close to this next cyclist. Maybe he even clips him accidently with his wing mirror.

Or he may not come across another cyclist. Phew! He speeds up and makes it home in record time! But he finds the kids even more irritable than normal tonight. He is short with his wife.

HISS!

Tension always finds its way out.

The question is whether you are going to be in control of its release, or whether you're going to let it do its own thing.

And if you're a cyclist then its worth bearing this principle in mind too.

You may have stuck to your guns and exercised your right to be on the road, annoying who knows how many motorists in the meantime. And you may have even got away with it unscathed.

But the next cyclist may just well be paying the price for your actions.

Be considerate. If there is someone behind you and they are aching to get past - and you can tell when they are - then don't be afraid to pull over and let them be on their way.

The communal gains from this considerate act are far greater than any personal losses.

(And this comes from a cyclist by the way!)

Related posts:-
Pressure Valve