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how can one person change the world?


When people talk about changing the world they mean, often, altering the system so that they are less excluded. In other words- they want power, or more power.  

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating (if somewhat verbose) account of British ambassador Geoffrey Jackson’s imprisonment for 18 months by the Tupamaro urban guerrillas of Uruguay. What he noticed was that his captors almost never had a clear vision of what they wanted to happen after the apocalypse of the revolution. The alarums and distractions of ‘seizing power’ blinded them. He also noticed they did not practise delayed gratification- on a few occasions he saved his food to eat later in the day and his guards begged their prisoner for some bread since they had gobbled all theirs. They lived more in the present than the future, a future which remained vague, a hazy compote of egalitarianism and the withering away of the state. Changing the world was not really their interest, destroying the existing world was what really drove them.

Another meaning for ‘changing the world’ is to alter some key element of the way the world ‘works’. For example, getting rid of money, or abolishing multi-nationals, or forcing people to grow their own food. Each of these would surely change what we did each day, and our power relations- fat cat CEOS would be out digging instead of raking in their salaries…but it would not change such human basics as our need for attention, our interest in good conversation, our desire for meaningful work. Now, the fact that people choose to work long hours to live in nice houses and drive nice metal is their choice. Much of the modern world is like it is because people like it that way. I may prefer a yurt and a sleeping bag (I do) but anecdotal evidence suggests to me I am very much in the minority (no one else in my family does).

But my minority is fairly vocal. And maybe we could force our views on everyone…thus changing the world ie. gaining power.

Maybe we have a right to foist our yurts on the world because the world is destroying itself…

Is it? I guess this depends on how stupid you think people are. Are people so stupid that they will allow the world to be destroyed? Maybe the bit they don’t live in, perhaps. But increasingly we all live everywhere, kind of.

It seems to me that the basic human instinct to not crap on your own doorstep, reinvented as ‘sustainability’, is the new form that morality takes. Now that nationalism is waning.

Is nationalism waning? I think increased travel and internet use has watered down natural barriers. When I write now, I know I am addressing people all over the world. This is a very large change in the last twenty years. Nine of my friends are married to people of another nationality- none of our parents were. We are living in the era of the hybrid, the hybrid world citizen. This is how nationalism gets worn away.

The world changes, but not fast enough for some people. Amazon probably speeded up ebook use by five years by aggressively selling kindles. Maybe three years…such is the perceived inevitability of a thing when seen in hindsight.

The world changes- but does YOUR world change? Because all this talk is predicated on some kind of continuity between ‘your world’ and ‘the world’. When people say they want to change the world they hope this changed world will make them happier.

I suspect that a common motive for wanting to change the world is feeling bad yourself. “I’m not OK. Who is to blame? The world. Alright change it.” A happy contented interested person is not usually an advocate of bombmaking. A bored person could be though.

Boredom. An issue rarely confronted by politicians, teachers, and other producers of mass boredom. Yet boredom drives a great deal of what happens in the world. It drives casual TV viewing. It drives gaming. It drives terrorism. It drives drug use.

Irving Welsh very truthfully stated “that everyone needs a compelling drama in their lives.” For him it is involvement in the film industry, writing books being rather a boring main occupation. He points out that drug use involves you in a compelling drama of petty crime, evading arrest and feeling cool. It’s not the drugs, it’s the lifestyle that comes with them.

Boredom is the opposite of a compelling drama. And ‘changing the world’ is a compelling drama. Just as revolution is. Some compelling dramas are benign, some aren’t. An expedition is a benign compelling drama. Robbing a 7/11 at gunpoint less so.

I talk a fair bit about walking on this site, and walking is not very dramatic. Strolling to the shops, plodding through fields- pretty yawn making isn’t it? But walking, with just a little thought, becomes more compelling. A long distance walk IS a compelling drama, especially if you don't speak the laguage of the country you walk through. But you don't need to go that far afield. A friend of mine just walked from Yoxford in Norfolk to Oxford in Oxfordshire and his account is the very opposite of ‘bored’- because the key to a compelling drama is not the drama- it’s being at the centre of it.

Boredom is being on the outside looking in. Boredom is non-involvement. Boredom is being a consumer not a producer, a producer is at the centre of things.

Of course a great drama, like a war, always sucks you in. Hence the addiction to such events by war reporters. The more dramatic something is the more you FEEL involved just by observing it. Your account becomes important in itself. Your account puts you at the centre of things even though you aren’t really involved at all.

But on a long distance walk you really ARE at the centre of things. Where will you sleep? Can you get food at the next village? Is this mountain the one on the map? Trivial events, maybe, yet when you are on the ground they completely absorb you.

There ought to be some kind of boredom formulae. The compulsion of any potential drama is related to one’s distance from the event. And we seek not just one off dramas- but ongoing compelling dramas. We want our lives to resemble a Holywood movie not a film by Andy Warhol (who famously filmed people asleep for hours on end).

The ‘problem’ of modern life is that it is boring. We are placed by institutions at the edge of things, looking in. We are informed by the mass media that this is a good thing rather than a pitiable thing. Take the Olympics. A great spectacle perhaps. But we are just consuming it. The real action is being a participant, one of the elect, not a prat in the stadium clutching a vat of coke.

Start your own Olympics. Start your own political party. Run your own festival.

Some of the above requires getting others involved. That might not be easy. But going for a long distance walk IS easy. You only need some basic gear (all available on ebay for very little) and the desire to set out on your own compelling drama.

Change the world.









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