You Are What You Say

A propos group formation, I remembered this fun story from the times I was learning Spanish.

I didn’t learn my Spanish in class. The only language class I took did nothing for me. Instead, I joined a language exchange program. The program was organized by the university. For $50 a semester (which was a huge amount of money to me at that time), you could attend meetings in an enormous room where people would exchange their language skills. For instance, English-speakers would sit with Spanish-speakers. For the first hour, we’d all speak English and for the second hour we’d switch to Spanish. If you met people you liked, you could take your meetings outside and practice as much as you wanted for free.

Of course, everybody wanted to be part of a large group because there are more opportunities to practice. Initially, I was part of a tiny group of 4. But one of the 4 was very smart, and shockingly, that was not me. Within a week, he turned our tiny group into the largest group that everybody wanted to join.

The way he achieved it was absolutely brilliant. He started to address one of the guys in the group as “President.” Whenever the fellow would appear, the smart guy would loudly announce, “Hey, the President is here! Hello, President!” and we would all clap, greeting “the President.”

Immediately, everybody noticed. And of course, many people wanted to join the “it” group that had the President in it. Our group grew. People started approaching me to ask me in respectful, awed voices if it was OK to join the group.

To say that I had been an unpopular kid in high school is to say too little. I was the definition of unpopular. I was where unpopular goes to die of loneliness. So to become all of a sudden a member of the core group who had been with the President from the start was huge.

This was when I learned that you are what you say you are. Nobody ever asked us why the President was the President and what he was President of. People just accepted it. Nobody wants to invest too much effort into finding out. This is why people will accept your our narrative of yourself gladly.


Fasting vs Dieting

Let’s take fasting as an example. I always thought that fasting was dumb and religious people were idiots. Surely, I thought, God can’t be so puny and trivial as to care about what you eat and when you do it.

Now I know, however – because somebody was kind enough to explain – that the reason people fast is because that’s a way of experiencing something larger than themselves and their own, individual need to consume. Fasting works and dieting doesn’t because dieting is turned inwards, it’s all about the self. Dieters do not form a coherent group because their desire is aimed inwards.

People who fast as part of religious ritual experience closeness to God and to their religious community because of this shared sacrifice of their own consumption whims to an objective that lies outside of themselves.

It is no surprise, then, that religions that abandon a shared system of seemingly pointless limitations on the desires of the faithful lose all meaning and are abandoned by said faithful in droves.

The Last Chance

People need something outside of themselves to give their life meaning. Today’s liberalism in all its forms gives people nothing but the promise of endless consumption choices (see yesterday’s quote from a dumb starlet on feminism). It offers nothing but the idea that an individual is the source of all truth. Its recipe for every ill is to offer a chance to consume more. It cheerfully promises to maintain the basic biological survival and expects that to be enough.

But this isn’t enough. This doesn’t lead to happiness. This leads to depression, anger, and alienation.

Geert Wilders lost his election. This gives a chance to liberalism to start looking for something bigger than consumerism and bare biological survival as its big offer. Otherwise, people will look to other systems of thinking. Religion is dead – killed by that very liberalism because it was an obstacle to unbridled consumption and to the idea that an individual is the Creator. What’s left is nationalism and similarly scary things.

This is literally the last chance for liberalism to come up with something more satisfactory, something more collectively oriented, something less pedestrian and sad.