October 2017
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"the unexamined life is not worth living" "be yourself" "go with the flow" & other shitty nonsense


I used to think that "the unexamined life is not worth living" was a great quote. Everyone should examine their lives, I thought, instead of just floating by and not considering things deeply. What I didn't realize was that those aren't the only two possibilities by a long shot, and while there are plenty of defaults who should stop floating on by, there are also good reasons not to examine one's life:
1) You can't. If your life is just surviving, there is no time or energy for self-examination. It's a fucking luxury and the more oppressed you are, the less likely you are to have this luxury, this privilege.
2) It would harm you. Sometimes self-reflection would break down the assumptions that are keeping you from falling apart. If you have nowhere else to go, you might need to believe that family is all-important because that gives you the strength to endure abuse and survive.

And then there's "be yourself" which would be great except sometimes it will LITERALLY GET YOU KILLED. So don't go around telling other people that they need to be authentic even if it risks their life or their ability to feed, house, and clothe themselves. You don't know what other people need and the ability to be yourself is available exclusively to defaults and near-defaults. If you're black and you "be yourself" by not straightening your hair, you might get fired and you're likely to have a much harder time getting hired. If you're trans and you "be yourself" by dressing in the way that feels good, you might get fired or raped or murdered. If you're queer and you "be yourself" by being out you might get disowned by your family and get kicked out on the streets. If you're disabled and you "be yourself" by using a wheelchair part-time because that's how often you need it, you may get treated even more like shit. Sometimes to survive you have to play a role, and that is an authentic choice in a world that is unsafe for so many people.

"go with the flow" is just awful, it's the worst possible advice. The 'flow' is created by oppressive forces. To go with the flow is to participate willingly in the oppression of others while you float content on your privilege. It's gross. And I say this knowing that people who use this phrase are usually super kind-hearted and well-meaning people, who are non-violent as far as they can tell. The problem is that oppression is always there and it is always violent, and if you are not resisting it then you are being passively violent to everyone with less privilege than you. They're on the bottom of this avalanche and you're surfing the top. The flow needs to be changed and you're the one with the ability to do it -- going with the flow is cruel.

Stuff like this is why I find it almost impossible to have spiritual or artistic community. Unfortunately, people who have the time and energy to devote to things like art and spiritual exploration also tend have a lot of privilege. So I'll get excited that there is a spiritual group that explores energy work, and then they'll be full of messages like the above, not considering how exclusionary and oppressive that is. And if I dare to point out that going with the flow means tacitly condoning harm, they will react with such violent upset at my 'divisiveness'. Or I'll find a group of artists and be excited about creating, and they'll look down on people who don't "pursue their dreams" because they don't realize the immense privilege involved in being able to live off of one's art.

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Comments
rainbowfox9 ══╣╠══
This is a really, really good post and excellent thoughts and seriously well-verbalized something that people don't realize when thinking about these sentiments: there is only a certain part of the population that can (generally) 'do these and get away with them', to put it bluntly. I so seriously get this.

These sentiments are often written by people who are in an enormous amount privilege. (I don't know that I've ever used these sentiments myself, but I'm also aware that I have a great amount of privilege.)

May I ask what has propelled your deep interest in these social justice kinds of questions? I think there are some gaps in what I know of you since we were last so closely connected.

These seem to be more social-stratification questions/points.

I am trying to think up more of an educated/informed response and I am getting stumped.
belenen ══╣garrulous╠══
It was something I was concerned with to a certain extent since I was about 16, but it was only about 3 years ago that I took a class on race and ethnicity and it taught me how much I didn't know, and how pervasive and urgent the problems are. Since then I got a lot more involved with social justice work. I guess what propels me to continue is just seeing things like a young black girl whose car broke down and so she went to ask for help and the homeowner shot her in the face when she knocked. And knowing that that isn't rare, violence is a very real threat for anyone who is not "on top." I am still in a stage where all I know to do is to speak up against oppression when I can, but I hope to find a good path for more action at some point, and I feel that my efforts have a ripple effect. So I have to do what I can. I write about it mainly because it affects my life daily.
John Stewart ══╣╠══
This.
This.... this.... a thousand times, this. Your perspective brings me joy, and reminds me to remain awake, even when the world beats me down and makes me want to return to slumber. I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for writing this.
belenen ══╣╠══
Re: This.
*hugs!*
delicatexflower ══╣cartoon-me-hand over mouth╠══

oh my god, james! yes!

i always thought "go with the flow" were the same sayings as "lighten up" or "get over it" -- it is never a straight flow. it's never a straight line. it curves, it turns and it goes up, down... you get what i mean.

i am always in surviving mode, my life has been trying to swim the current--sometimes i don't even have the energy of for self-examination. when the currents calm down--it's almost when it's over with, i am able to fully self-examination my life and that experience.
theindiequeen ══╣╠══
I enjoyed this post.

I think "be yourself" is a weird phrase anyway. I see what the idea is, but we are ALL different people in different situations. I am a totally different person at work than I am on stage and I'm different with my partner than I am with my family, etc. etc. Everyone is constantly shifting. Does that mean we all have "fake work selves" and "fake family selves," etc.? I don't think so. I think you can play many different roles and still be authentic.

I feel like "go with the flow" is mainly intended in specific situations--like if someone is freaking out about plans being changed and someone else says "hey, just go with the flow." They aren't speaking to an overall state of the world, but rather, that particular situation. I still think it's pretty stupid, though, because when has saying "go with the flow," "chill out," or "calm down" ever actually worked? I know I certainly don't find those phrases to be effective!
volamonster ══╣descent of man╠══
Yes yes yes yes yes to all of this. I've had to do a lot of growing in this area--the first one in particular, demanding authenticity from people. I was pretty blind to my privilege in that regard until a few years ago.

And I share the challenges you described here re: artistic and spiritual community for the exact same reasons. It's extremely frustrating and exhausting. Most of the community I've found has been scattered and based online because I've found other disabled, queer, poor folks. Still, I ache for that local sense of spiritual/artistic community.
raidingparty ══╣╠══
Stuff I had seldom considered all the way through, thanks.

Another problem with a related mindset: "Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow"... it devalues labor, and tells people who are struggling that they're to blame for not picking a happy job.
kmiotutsie ══╣╠══
Ah Bel I love this; it makes me think of the whole 'do what you love" philosophy, touted so strongly my steve jobs and other white cis dudes. Like... sure guy, you just keep on talkin.

Also, I saw a fantastic write up the other day about "lifehacking" and how "winning at life" often just involved TAKING ADVANTAGE OF YOUR PRIVILEGE, and it was just amazing.

(Sorry I'm so exhausted I'm a little delirious right now.)
camilleyun ══╣Camille Claudel╠══
So much this!

I seem to be stuck in item 1 a lot.
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.