A 20 Something’s Guide to Living Passively In A Passive System


This is not an animal rights article nor is it not an animal rights article. Having said that, proceed.

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The simple answer is to do nothing at all. We currently live in a system of commerce that requires very little input from ourselves outside of negative choices, not that, not that, not that. I’ve written on aspects of this before a bit but think about it, when was the last time you made a positive, affirmative choice? Yes, Starbuck’s? It’s simply the choice you were left with, not your ultimate preference. No, most of our choices are simply sifting through what we have left, what we haven’t rejected. It’s fairly similar to the mechanical processes in the video which, to me, represents the absolute commoditization of the concept of life as well as actual living beings. This isn’t news, nor does dwelling on it do much besides make us depressed. But, truly, this is a cultural problem, not a purely moral one.

The difficulty is that, in a passive system, choices are made for you and then presented to you in such a way as to make you believe you made a choice when, in truth, choices have been made for you by corporations or government representatives and then two or three things are presented to you as being ‘the full range of options.’ These choices are an artifice. They are outside your control and understanding and are presented to you as brands and concepts very often divorced from their intrinsic meaning. The simple example that coincides with the above video is the “farm fresh” idea which conflicts with the bio-industrial food production sector which tells you one thing when the opposite is the case. They present you with a panacea, a retrospective of a simpler time, and you absorb that propaganda because it allows you to feel as if you have made a choice to support a sort of true representation of “farm fresh” when the truth is that you have actually purchased what could better be described as a “protein unit.” This happens with everything your life touches, not just things you expressly buy. It happens with schools and jobs and it happens with political candidates and charities.

But I don’t want to get hung up on the specifics of this example. Instead, what I’m thinking about has more to do with choice in cultural systems as that relates to true or false representation. I want to talk about ‘local’ and why ‘local’ has the potential to completely eliminate the phenomenon of passive choice. It is very, very simple and it has solely to do with control, distance, and verification. Hopefully it will also cause hipsters to cease to exist as well since these kinds of cultural labels and grouping are absolutely the result of consumer propaganda and choice making by negation.

But I digress, if you lived in a cul de sac of three homes and were the only person with a dog would you allow that dog, when taken on a walk, to soil your neighbor’s lawn? No, of course you wouldn’t, because there is no doubt that your neighbor will know who is responsible for the soiling. You are immediately recognized as the sinner in this equation. You have the immediate responsibility and everyone knows it. You’ll be the one getting the talking to. This, in a nutshell, is local interaction. You’re in a place, you have responsibility for your actions within that place. Responsibility is concentrated. It inhabits its source. It dwells there. Is that what our economy looks like? No. Our economy is industrialized with multiple levels of equal responsibility. That responsibility or literally any action that affects the final “product” can therefore be tossed around and effectively hidden. Example, a neighborhood with 20 houses and everyone has a dog. You find some poopy on your lawn and you’re never finding out who left it there. The key to effective propaganda is making you think  that you know who did it. That’s what press releases are for. Regardless, you can’t make affirmative choices without information that is accurate.

This is simple stuff in many ways. We learn it as kids, reasonable doubt, shifting the blame, smiling when we’re angry or scared. It’s basic deception. So, how do we make affirmative choices that aren’t reductive and how does ‘local’ enforce affirmative choice-making (I just made that term/word up) behaviors? It IS simple. Local means ownership and it means responsibility. It means responsibility for consumption and it means responsibility in how goods are provided. It creates and enforces affirmative choice making because it does two things:

  • It limits options
  • It identifies ultimate responsibility

Any time your options are limited you’re going to be able to better understand them if you can understand them at all and anytime there are only a few options you will know who has responsibility for those options. A basic example is the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. There were only two options for who was at fault and they were BP or Halliburton. They immediately blamed one another but you knew that they were ultimately both responsible so it was easy to identify who screwed up. In situations where you have nationwide honey bee die offs it’s not nearly so easy to identify the culprit because there are numerous culprits and they are nationwide or even global. They can bounce the question around for decades, and have.

So, you need accurate information so that we can be aware of which choices have already passively been made for us so that we can then avoid living such a lifestyle where these are the only choices presented to us. This is very personal and specific to each individual and I think it takes some real work out in the world to settle it. You have to spend real time thinking critically about yourself in the world and I strongly discourage from buying into ideas quickly lest you try them on like pants for fit and finish and discard them six months later though it may take that.

Think about how much control you actually have over your choices and try to determine which of your choices are passive and which are active and affirmative choices. Where are you making choices you understand and where are you making choices that you do not understand. Do you have some control or have you unknowingly accepted choices that were already made for you off screen? I’ve done this a few times over the years and it’s not difficult to do. Prioritize your list according to what you care about the most. You might find that by being more aware of your choices you gain more actual ownership over your own life and that, in turn, might just change how you think about both yourself and the world around you. Then you can avoid living passively and the choices you make really will belong to you.

Note:  Thanks to Jeremy Sheeler for getting me thinking about this via his FB query.

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