The philosophy, whose existence we all fear is here to scare us once again. Movies and books such as the Truman show, the Matrix and George Orwell’s 1984 are a dare reminder of its potential danger, as Jean Jacques Rousseau summarized its entire meaning in the phrase: “man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains”.
What I am referring too are rituals, a set of actions performed for their symbolic value and whose practical value is too make us comfortable to a point that we refrain from thinking about anything else. Rituals are the strings that connect the marionette with the marionette’s conductor. To a point humans are all marionettes and societies are all theatrical shows played by a set of individual marionettes- he are hooked on the movements both we and society has imposed on us, passing life mostly unaware of our actions and why we choose to participate in certain rituals, both individual and social.
The moment we become aware our primary observation is that our head, hands and feet are tied with strings conducted by a giant looking over upon us, abruptly jerking the strings when we least expect it. Hence the relationship between awareness and change is unreliable unless a detailed strategy is implemented, more so with social rituals than individual ones.
In some occasions rituals are positive acts: birthdays, weddings, spa treatments, exercising, healthy eating. Still if we think about it most of these positive rituals are consciously formed, well devised activities. For instance what is the different between the ritual of a regular runner and the ritual of an occasional runner? It has to do with the fact that the regular runner follows a set of specific and personalized cues and triggers that in turn converted the ritual into a habit. For example, the ritual of tying the lace, eating the banana, preparing the list of favorite songs at the same time each day transform the mind into ‘running mode’, as much as the after run reward such as a warm shower or 20 min of TV. On the other hand, the occasional runner never develops a habit because he follows social cues and goes for a run when a friend goes for a run or perhaps watched the Olympic games and felt a quick rush of motivation, but never made the effort to create a personalized ritual that transformed running into a hobby.
Rituals can be dangerous and mind dulling. Since existential purpose is to disintegrate our life into comfortable ‘syllables’ it is often to find comfort whatever it is accessible. For example, a beer with colleagues after work is as accessible as it is welcoming- it makes us feel comfortable because not only are we enjoying a refreshing beverage but we are also conforming to social expectations. This is such an easy trap to fall into. Soon the ritual becomes a habit that creates a beer belly, increases our alcohol tolerance and keeps us occupied from 6 to 8 pm- a two hour period which we could be using to do something else, be it gardening, running, cooking, arranging our house or spending some time chatting to our neighbor.
National rituals are even more dangerous- while individual rituals can deteriorate a person’s life, national rituals can destroy the future for generations to come, institutionalizing behavior of stagnation and decay. Many developing countries today are struggling to change their rituals simply by developing new laws and policies. But are those changes enough of a cue to encourage a complete reversal? This is the difficult part, for cues to be acceptable they need to be personal as in the example for the runner. For them to be personal they need to be broken down and personalized in smaller communities of like minded people- hence national policy should be fragmented edited for community specific usage.
To put an end to the puppet show each of us should start thinking about our own strings, making conscious effort to evaluate our actions and constructively build our own world of comfortable but healthy rituals. Special attention should be paid when interacting with others socially; humans naturally feel at ease when interacting, hence loose track of their pre-set values and rules, which in turn modify our rituals and break our habits.