Yesterday I suffered the most disturbing suspicion. Suddenly my complacency reverberated from an unidentified tremor. My entire life in spite of a preferred posture of sometimes flattering proportions abruptly resembled that of a goaded sheep. I saw myself sterilized by commonality and being herded along a predetermined path, railroaded, responding not to enlightened inspiration but rather answering mechanically to superimposed governance which nonetheless revitalized me. The absence of singularity was however overwhelming. My ambition to distinction (though perhaps not dignity) was but a haughty pretence. I felt manipulated by mysterious energy. The culprit was “they”.
Though it is not uncommon to dismiss personal inconvenience or controversy by casually asserting that “They should do something about it!”, seldom have I considered the ramification of that obscure allusion. “They” get blamed for everything, good or bad. “They” are society’s Prime Mover or Diabolic Drag. “They” are the author of All that is Unexplained, the resource for Ultimate Alteration, the mystical body of Hidden Operatives who like Santa’s gnomes fulfill the Ideals of Life. “They” are our unspoken Care Givers, the Managers of Things, the People Who Should Know. We talk as though we know them but we’d be hard pressed to point them out in a crowd.
On analysis I am convinced that there are unseen elements at play in the very fabric of our existence, ingredients which have unnoticeably insinuated our minds and which have succeeded to promote the mistaken view that we’re in control of our own destiny whereas in truth we’re only slightly more capable than a babe in a perambulator steered by a well-intentioned construct. I suppose the paranoia is a variation on the standard conspiracy theory which plagues popular media every time a catastrophe occurs. This particular discovery, though not involving subterfuge, is like an invisible electricity which superintends and energizes the masses. The success lies in the appearance of non-interference while skilfully cajoling or “permitting” others go in the desired direction without pushing them.
To appreciate the extent of the infiltration it is only necessary to recall how far we’ve come from our agrarian ancestors. While some may laughingly trivialize our advances in the past 100 years, such condescension is shallow. There are incredibly complicated and extensive networks which imperceptibly sustain our modern lifestyle. Think of traffic lights alone. Or telephone and satellite networks. Not to mention waste and water systems. Behind the veneer of civilized society is a vast assembly of unimaginable detail which has been brilliantly constructed to serve us at every turn. So labyrinthine is the creation that we have been forced by necessity to submit to it, something we willingly do in return for its narcotic effect and utter convenience (though perhaps at the risk of tranquilizing ourselves). Consider the effort that goes into the operation of airports. Even elevators are boggling! The automobile was unheard of not long ago but we have since adapted to a web of winding roads at racing speeds.
The year 1886 is regarded as the birth year of the modern car. In that year, German inventor Karl Benz built the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. Cars did not become widely available until the early 20th century. One of the first cars that was accessible to the masses was the 1908 Model T, an American car manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. Cars were rapidly adopted in the United States of America, where they replaced animal-drawn carriages and carts, but took much longer to be accepted in Western Europe and other parts of the world.
The endless provision of fingertip utility has however been wrought at a price. We have unwittingly learned to accommodate the necessity of more than the once unfathomable “information highway” and in the process have relinquished and discarded far greater personality than we might imagine. The governing thesis which drives these massive and spectacular systems is uniformity. As inventive as mankind may be there is always a point as which harmony demands conformity if the privilege is to be accessible to the members of the herd. Gradually we are eroding the troublesome fringes of individuals in favour of preserving the workable monolith, the large and impersonal political, corporate and social structure. To survive it is intractably indivisible. Such resolution and seeming nonchalance in the face of individuality renders the prescription a heartless monster no matter how beneficent. That’s the spooky side of it.
How odd it is that in spite of this pervasive and almost clinical uniformity we should preserve a quotient of character. The universal dilution of distinguishable features can never hide the irrepressible traits of distinction. Personally I have a passion approaching obsession for uniformity, but I do not consider constancy to be monotony. Rather the unease which affects me is the recognition and acknowledgement that we, like sheep, are easily duped and directed. If one prefers to believe in an altruistic government, the concession is without much import. I know there are those who greedily embrace the thought of hidden malevolence but I can’t really say that I see the point where the trend to universality is by definition something that affects us all. The greater threat (if indeed it is a threat or merely an awakening) is that our own view of our stunning singularity needs to be tempered by this cold bath of reality. As I experienced in my professional law practice, it is no indignity to discover that the coined corporate name which my client pored over for hours had already been thought of by someone else; the perfect resolution is simply to use one’s own name, hardly a defeat and usually more recognizable. I mention Ford Motor Company by way of example. I will however concede that Esso was a very clever play on the phonetic version of the initials of the pre-1911 Standard Oil. Apart from those exceptional circumstances I don’t feel we’re at risk of losing our personality in spite of standardization. But there persists the admission of the sometimes less than endearing image of the flock of sheep.