Saturday, October 20, 2007

What is an Occupation?

As I continue to watch the second season of Lost, I'm reminded of a basic human fact- people need something to do. If they don't have an obvious task to complete, they will seek something else. It's striking just how often you see characters in a television show mucking things up out of sheer boredom. It's easy to observe from the outside, and to predict the trouble down the line. We are tempted to revel in our own objectivity and superiority, believing that we would act better in similar circumstances. Most likely that's not true... at all. It wouldn't be true if we were on television. And it wouldn't be true in our own lives. For the most part we can't leave well enough alone. If left to our own devices, we will create our own drama.

We are warned about this in oral folklore tradition, in children's books, and holy texts- "Curiosity killed the cat", the damned monkey always finds trouble when he fails to mind the man with the yellow hat, and Adam and Eve got expelled from paradise for their transgressions. Why can't we let well enough alone? Perhaps it has something to do with the size and complexity of our brains. Maybe we are too self-conscious? Or maybe we just have too much time on our hands. Ever since the invention of agriculture and the surplus of food, we have been making things complicated for ourselves. The smartest of men are often the most to blame.

It could be that free will inevitably produces chaos and entropy. If we are kept busy with foraging and hunting, sleeping and eating, finding shelter and voiding our bowels... when will we find the opportunity to create additional problems for ourselves? I'm pretty damned sure that the majority of Americans would turn sour if they worked a 30-hour work week. It takes the discipline to impose a self-created structure so as not to go bad during large blocks of free time. Compounding the problem is the fact that we have poor examples to follow. Surf the internet porn sites or go to a casino of you want positive evidence of what I'm talking about. We'd have a leg up on our addictions if we merely had the ability to manage our extra time wisely.

All of this becomes especially poignant while walking the picket lines. Union workers are asked only to demonstrate by walking a circle in a circumscribed plot of ground. Doing this for hours can be quite maddening. Naturally this is where many of the most destructive and insidious rumors and resentments are formed. The mind is free to wander, and do the devil's business. After the first half hour or so, you've exhausted all the innocuous topics of conversation. At that point anything is fair game. The alternative is to keep to yourself and let whatever transient concern occupy you to the point of obsession. It's not mentally healthy. Four hour confined strolls are quite illuminating. Imagine what living through a long prison term is like. Is it any wonder why incarceration often transforms into criminal graduate school? The wisest leaders control minds by deciding what their followers are to do.

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