What We’re Taught vs. What We Learn

My Friends,
   In the last few days I have been involved in a friendly Facebook debate based on some comments I made regarding the recent death of Muammar Qaddafi.  In defending my position rather than explaining it, as I should have, I went off on a bit of a tangent as I am wont to do.  This tangent was useful in the sense that it gave me some new ideas about things I already believe.  Luckily for the other parties to the debate, I had the restraint to not flood the thread with every thought in my head.  However, I will exercise no such restraint here.
  Actually, all I really want to express is a truism that most everyone probably realizes to some extent or another in their lives even if they have never vocalized it: The people we are taught to be as children and the people we learn to be as adults are vastly different.  Think about it like this; as kids we are taught to share, to be charitable, to love thy neighbour, etc…  For lack of a better word I will call it “altruism.”  Essentially, we learn nobility, duty and putting the needs of others before ourselves.  I learned these things in a Catholic school so everything good related back to the Christian God, but I’m sure all primary schools of every religion or none espouse the same basic ideas of good citizenship.  Furthermore, this conditioning (a word I use with no negative connotation) is compounded by a set of laws which at their most basic, serve to reinforce ideas of altruism and duty.
  However, we are faced with a contradiction in that to actually survive in this world, we must abandon to some extent the principles which have been impressed upon us.  I am talking about the pursuit money of course. How much is enough?  I dont know but I do know that you will have a hard time getting that much if you are altruistic and charitable.  From our first dollar, we are forced to compartmentalize in our heads how we should behave to be good people and how we must behave to survive.
   For a practical example, it is as simple as walking by a person asking for money on the street, one who appears destitute and hungry.  Ok, maybe you give them money and they buy booze, so you justify walking by them with that logic.  But why not just buy them a sandwich?  Because a sandwich would cost money; money which you could put toward your own survival.  Regardless of the fact that a sandwich probably doesnt cost shit for most passersby, it is still an incredibly unsound economic decision as there is no tangible return.  So in spite of what your teachers may have preached to you in grade school, common sense tells you different: instead of acting noble and compassionate, you act base because it makes good sense in the world we live in.
   I must be clear though, I am not condemning the passerby.  Quite the opposite, I am lauding his instinct for survival; it is hard to condemn someone for doing what life and his experience have taught him.  And this world teaches us not to view the suffering as fellow human beings, but as speed bumps.  That is the fundamental contradiction I wanted to express in this entry: we struggle because we have been taught compassion (and I would hazard a guess that we all want to be compassionate) but we are forced by the system we live in to be individualistic and self-serving.  
   I laugh when I hear the anecdote about John Dillinger, who, when asked why he robbed banks, responded, “Because that’s where the money is.”  How can you fault anyone who resorts to base means for money?  Sometimes…often in this world, money by honourable means is nowhere to be had.  In these instances we must resort to, at worst, criminal enterprise, and at best, a shitty job we hate, in order to survive.  While one is more legal than the other, both are simply base compromises of self, albeit necessary ones.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo


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4 responses to “What We’re Taught vs. What We Learn

  1. I think I see what you're saying Erich, but ultimately breaking bread with someone will still cost you extra money if its your bread. Of course two people sharing their resources would lead to greater equity but in this case we're talking about have sharing with a have-not. Of course balance is important (obviously you cant perpetually give others the food off your plate or else you starve) but any degree of balance in sharing with one less fortunate than you is going to lighten your pockets some. Is it the still the right thing to do? I would think so, but it still makes bad sense in strictly economic terms. P.S. thanks for making a bad economic choice by inviting me to stay over

  2. There's a third option to your selfishness/altruism polarization: Break your own bread with them. We must commune to have community, no?And besides that, having some balance between the two isn't uncalled for. :-)Erich(No, I'm not going to comment on all your posts. This one struck me, though, what with our discussion)

  3. Hey Ian, In this entry I wasn't talking specifically about Qaddafi although I do believe this line of reasoning can be applied to everyone. I really have nothing to say about all the pain and death Qaddafi caused. How do you say to a family member of one of the Pan-Am or Lockerbie viotims that Qaddafi was just a human being who was faced with a particular set of circumstances? Even if I believe that, those who have suffered at his hands are ill-equipped to. Even worse, they will chastise me for keeping a level-head and trying to look at the man dispassionately. Its like, how do you tell the mother of a kid whos child has just been killed by a drunk driver that the driver is anything but a monster? It doesn't matter that the driver could have been a fine, upstanding citizen for his whole life who made one tragic mistake. The mother, in her grief can no longer see things dispassionately, and dare I say, rationally.

  4. I understand your logic but here in Scotland as well as the US we had a hatred of him for what he did over Lockerbie also the Scottish Govt. for releasing the convicted bomber on humanitarian grounds, he or Gaddaffi showed none.

Go'head! Talk some shit! :-)

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