On taking, getting, and the subtlties of force

“Winning ugly” may be preferable to “losing pretty” in today’s world, but if it throws out the window any possibility of seeing what “winning pretty” might look like, is it really winning at all, in any more than the most hollow sense of the word?

We moderns are raised with deeply-imbued notions of our own entitlement to minimize our own suffering at the expense of others, and we’re very good at rationalizing away any related guilt that might arise as a result.

After all, the conventional rationality of scarcity is unquestioned, and barely questionable: in our world there is, empirically, not enough of anything to go around (resources like food & shelter, yes, but also: love, connection, community, time for unrestrained service to others in need). Upon this life-ruling premise are built most all of our entirely-rational, yet deeply self-destructive impulses.

We protect ourselves in all kinds of ways that make complete sense in such a framework. I’d argue that if someone’s perspective seems inexplicable to me, I’m probably forcing my own framework on them — because each of our own assumptive frameworks by definition make sense to us personally.

Eventually, we may come to realize that we must become our own person in deciding what influences she will accept from others. Similarly, we must allow others to decide what will influence them.

For now, we are inevitably stuck in the logic of subtle manipulation and domination carried out in the name of our own suspected superior rationality. Each of us is the most rational being each of us know, because we have full context for ourselves, our values, our thoughts, our experiences. By comparison, everyone else looks (often inexplicably) misguided.

But the results of our subtle manipulations — persuading, cajoling, bending total honesty to a purpose, and especially the “getting” itself — we are too often disappointed to find that our understanding of the situation was in fact partial, and that we would have been better off — indeed, everyone would have been better off — if we had approached the same questions from a perspective of “what can I give” rather than “what can I get” (or its corollary: “what do they want from me”).

Of course, these questions make no sense today. While we applaud the givers, we find no rationality in their actions. Until more humans understand the paradox in which we’ve placed ourselves, that will never change.

It’s an impossible task from where we stand today, from where I stand at this moment. But nothing is worth anything, if it isn’t worth a try.

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