Sawing Off the Brakes

The other day, I saw this xkcd webcomic someplace:

xkcd comic: The Ten Thousand

I was reminded of it when, going through some old posts and tidying up some messed-up Youtube embed code (from a plugin long dead and gone), I saw a little manifesto I wrote about culture, art, and creativity, “Pearls Before Swine, Or, The Time Has Come To Saw Off The Brakes”:

You know.

You know better.

You know most people would rather eat what they always eat, think what they’ve always thought, drink what they’ve always drunk, read what they’ve always read. You know that so many people have no idea how interesting a world of diversity and difference is. They say “Everyone does it this way,” whether explicitly or implicitly, because they wish everyone was just as boring as they are.

So many people — is  it wrong to say most? I’m not sure it is — couldn’t be bothered. They’d rather just stay in their rut. It’s comfortable, it’s easy. Sure, the rut is a little wider in some societies: some people will be willing to eat Americanized Chinese food, for example, or takeout curries or try some other mass-market watered-down tasteless beer. But wide or narrow, vast numbers of people live in that rut and aren’t really interested even in expending the energy to hop up to the edge of it and see what’s out there in the world beyond.

Rut is actually the wrong word, except insofar as it reminds us that people are indeed stuck in them. Ruts are for wagon wheels, though; ruts implying going somewhere, however routine, however mundane, however familiar. Ruts, at least, implying some sort of movement.

The ruts have been dug deep, though. They have become trenches. And the people stuck in them have become unwitting soldiers in a war they don’t really understand — like soldiers in any war. There they hunker down, compelled by Sony Music Corporation (or JYP) and Microsoft Windows and Budweiser (or, for you Canadians, Labatt’s, or you Koreans, Hite and Chamiseul) and 20th Century Fox and Hyundai a million other companies, tastemakers and marketeers and profiteers of bored petulance and re-treaded crap.

And even some of those who do venture out into the No-Man’s-Land beyond the lip of the trenches, mostly don’t open themselves to it, don’t take it in…


[But] there are people in the trenches who want out, who want to see an enjoy more. They want to hear songs they’ve never heard before. They want to taste foods they’ve never heard of before. They want to wear something other than the clothes they wore yesterday, something other than whatever everyone else around them happens to be wearing. Not just because they want to be nonconformists — for nonconformists often make a great effort to conform with other supposed nonconformists — but because they crave alternatives to the rut, to the trenches. Because  they know they were born for more than the same junk everyone else is endlessly, inattentively filling their lives with.

You can read the whole thing here. While, as I say, it has a bit of the manifesto about it, it’s also one of the few posts I’ve seen from years ago that made me nod my head and say, “Yeah, that’s still applicable.” It seems to be catching on out there, too. The whole “Maker” movement, the tons of people releasing creative work into the commons, projects like Beck’s return to sheet music in Song Reader, and more.


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