03 October 2014

Dear Rebel, have you got the e-factor out of the way?*

This is the first of a series of articles on rebels and rebellion I am writing for the FREE section of 'The Nation'.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness. 

You want to say ‘no’ to something you passionately believe is wrong or else say ‘yes’ to something you are equally passionate about but which, for whatever reason, is not sanctioned either by law or by custom.  So you want to be a rebel, touch the touch-me-nots, do ‘not done’ things, change the world for the better.  It’s a good place to be; being a rebel that is.

In general the word ‘rebel’ is associated with non-conformity, of not accepting things as they are, and believing passionately that there are other and better ways of doing things.  Sometime when we think of rebels we imagine young people with long, unkempt hair, piercings, tattoos and radically different in appearance to most people.  When you object to something, it is typical after all for you to affirm your difference in all ways possible including appearance.  You do things differently.  You find others who share your views and try to work out ways and means of creating the world you like to inhabit. 

Getting ‘The Look’ is the easiest part in all this.  Finding like-minded people is more difficult.  Getting a whole bunch of people who may have other interests too to stay on the same page for the long haul (‘Things in this world change very slowly if they ever change at all,’ is how the Eagles put it in their song ‘Sad Café’) is really tough.  It is easy to be a hero for a day. One-day heroism however won’t get you very far.  Systems are far more resilient than we imagine them to be.   Those rebels who actually make change of any significance are those who have the patience to wait, wait, wait and wait, doing the little have-to-do things but most of all never letting emotion rule reason.

It is easy to say ‘let’s smash our way through’.  The problem with that kind of strategy is that one tends to smash only the tangibles whereas true power (which you want to defeat in order to construct your Utopia) is not always visible or endowed with mass, shape and color.  There’s also that annoying problem of having to rebuild whatever you destroyed at some point or another.  In short ‘knee-jerk’ doesn’t get you what you want apart from making you feel good.  For a little while. 

Now we do get emotional about things.  Injustice, for example.  We get upset if we see a bully hitting a child and robbing his pocket money.  If we look around we see that happening everywhere.  In many forms; the powerful bullying the weak and extracting by legal or illegal means something of value from the latter.  Such things upset us because we have acquired a sense of good and evil, right and wrong, legal and illegal, and ethical and unethical.  Now these are all relative, true, but let’s not bother ourselves with that kind of issue.  What we are concerned about is rebelling and doing it in a manner which brings us to a place we like to be. 

So, upset as we probably will be by the ‘wrong’ that makes us want to rebel in the first place, if we want to obtain something more than a ‘good feel’ then we have to dial down the emotion.   The more emotional we are the less logic we can apply to the serious and often complex matter of resolving a situation to our advantage. 

There was a young man who was the loudest among a crowd of agitated youth protesting a rather high-handed and insensitive decision by certain authorities.  A key minister of the then cabinet arrived ‘to inspect’ the situation.  It was clear that the man could not do anything about what had happened.  He was booed.  He was forced to leave.  The young man had anger written all over his face. 

He came up to a friend and asked, ‘do you know how livid I am?’  The friend answered, ‘well, you do seem quite agitated!’  The young man’s face changed.  He smiled the widest and softest smile and answered, ‘On the contrary, never been this calm’. 

He was showing emotion but was not emotional.  He feigned anger because he felt that the minister’s involvement was only delaying any kind of resolution.  He felt (like others did) that the sooner the minister quit the equation, the better.  He did what had to be done.  All logic.  All reason.  Emotion just for show.

Often, though, it’s the flipside that happens.  Emotion drives things.  There would be reason in appearance but the operative logic would draw heavily from feelings.  If those who stand in the way, in contrast, have footnoted emotion and are being clinical in the application of reason, guess who will prevail?  Probably those other guys.  Especially if they happened to be more powerful than us.  

So you want to change things?  Then keep Reason as your trusted lieutenant.  Pick Emotion and you will have to accommodate the guy’s partner in crime: Error.  Why handicap ourselves, huh?