The People Problem.

May 17, 2011

Stupid lemmings. They haven’t even invented nuclear weapons. So stupid.

    Ah, humans. The Cadillac of the biological world. The culmination – depending on your viewpoint – of millions of years of biological evolution, or of creation by God, and in His own image. We are the pièces de résistance. The big cheese. The kings of the food chain, the apex predator to top all apex predators. We subdue and have dominion over all creation. Crocodiles, great white sharks, lions, tigers and Kodiak bears: they’re all looking up at us. Our intellect sets us apart from all the rest.

    Except when it doesn’t. We can be shockingly unremarkable when it suits us. Banal, conformist, and shackled by old ideas and prejudices. These things are nowhere more evident than when many human beings get together to form a group.  And we have determined that groups, meetings and fellowships are the best way to defeat addiction.

    Ironically, it is group-think that often puts us in this predicament to begin with. We start using for a variety of reasons, and get addicted for a variety of reasons, but many of those reasons fall under the group-think umbrella. Fitting in. Peer pressure. The phenomenon of thinking we don’t have a problem because we’re not as bad as that guy. Until we are that guy.

    So now that we know we have a problem, we turn to a group. A group with good values instead of bad. A group that eschews the ephemeral in favor of the permanent. Long-term fulfillment instead of immediate gratification. But it’s still a group of imperfect human beings.

    Truth be told, there is plenty to find unlikable about these humans, if I want to look for it. Not everything people say in groups is beneficial to every person in the room. Or any person in the room, for that matter. Sometimes what people say is downright contradictory, banal, or even stupid. Sometimes what people say is flat wrong. True wisdom is a rare commodity, as in life, even in the best rooms.

    This same phenomenon made organized religion unappealing to me for a very long time. As the Big Book puts it, it’s possible to miss the beauty of the forest for the ugliness of some of its trees. I would even say “many” of its trees. Because human beings are flawed creatures.

     But history is littered with flawed humans performing beautiful works. If we were to throw out every idea that emanated from a flawed human being, we wouldn’t be left with a whole hell of a lot. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, David of the Bible,Voltaire, Socrates, Plato, and on and on. All flawed. And if thieves, philanderers, adulterers, murderers and racists (as represented by my collection of historical figures) are capable of producing enduring works of wisdom and beauty, then a group of drunks is surely capable of saying just enough to sustain me for one more day.

    One of the things I need to get over is my idea that a thought – to have merit – must come from an intellect that is at least the equal of my own. Not only is this idea a fallacy, it’s repugnant to some of the ideas and some of the teaching of the very people I have placed on intellectual pedestals. Jesus Christ, MLK, Ghandi, and Jefferson, just to name a few, believed fervently in the wisdom of the “common” man. And who am I to even make a determination of who possesses a common intellect, and who does not? My mistrust of others is rooted in my own flawed determinations of who merits listening to and who doesn’t. I’ve been wrong several times about people here at the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch.

    But on occasion, people will do and say unmistakably stupid things. And they will do and say unmistakably stupid things in groups. So, what do I do? Throw the baby out with the bath water? Or recognize that groups are made up of imperfect people, but people who can nonetheless be used for a higher purpose. A miraculous purpose even. Jesus didn’t spend a lot of his time with the intellectuals. He preferred the prostitutes, the dregs of humanity, the proletariat. Jefferson trusted the wisdom of the people (tempered by a representative republic structure, but that’s a story for another day).

    At the end of the day, though, the best reason to leave my prejudice at the door is that I am not qualified to make a judgment about who is worth listening to and who is not. The things I hear should be judged on the merit – or lack thereof – of the thoughts themselves, not on a judgment I make on the person submitting them. After all, I must consider the possibility that my own ideas might just as easily and summarily be dismissed as the judgmental and addled thinking of a drunk.

That's me on the left, the one with the white wooly coat.

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