Do we live in an autocracy of ideas?

October 14th, 2016

Does the insatiable appetite of innovation enslave those who might be satisfied with the status quo?

It occurred to me this morning, whilst simultaneously pedaling on my indoor trainer, listening to NPR news via web-radio and catching up on my email and Twitter stream on my iPhone, that perhaps there is a world out there that is not so hell-bent on the constant and ever-increasing pace of change we are currently experiencing.

Perhaps this has to do with my recent viewing of Winter’s Bone (an excellent work of uncomplicated narrative), or reading Ferenc Mate’s thought-provoking musings in The Wisdom of Tuscany, but I found myself suddenly feeling a bit sorry for the 95% of the general population who are not engaged in the need for constant re-evaluation and improvement that seems to drive the pack with whom I roll. I mean, if Western democracy, as we experience it in North America, is meant to represent the wishes of the majority, why does it seem that the agenda for life as we know it is allowed to be set and executed by a very slim minority of innovative thinkers who live in constant need to test and retest the boundaries of what is currently possible and acceptable? Perhaps this preponderance of folks, as simple as they may be, would prefer to slow down a bit enjoy what they have in front of them – the delicious ideas that have taken centuries to ripen on the vine, to paraphrase William Gibson. Did anyone ask them if they needed smartphones or sub-prime mortgages or 3-D television or GMO food? And sure, you could argue that they can simply vote their opinion with their collective wallet, but can they really? Does the individual really have the power to stop the juggernaut that is our modern society? Without the proper time to reflect on ideas before slamming them into the mainstream of our beta-test lives, is there really an alternative to jumping on board?

Here in North America, we have become increasingly attached to our notion of justice, and we have constructed our systems of democracy to safeguard the majority from the whims of a few who might wrestle away a disproportionate hold on power through some clever conceit or display of force. But this only applies to government, which has increasingly less influence on shaping our society. Who, or what controls the dizzying pace and agenda of commercially-driven change that has become, in recent times, the real author of our collective experience? Who is representing the real interests – not just the passing fancies – of the rest of the iceberg? Because the frustration that has become palpable outside of the silicon/ivory tower that represents the tip of the aforementioned iceberg is likely borne out of a lack of control; control to which we have grown accustomed after generations of living in a society that was more responsible to the needs and wants of the majority instead of the whims of those who are, in any particular moment, at the leading edge.

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