One part of modern society that I'm quite uncomfortable with are the ideas of individualism and competition. They just don't sit well with me, and I've never been cool with the idea that "some people grab the brass ring", while "some people don't". Self determination - the avoidance of imprisonment, the recognition of basic human freedoms a la Liber Oz - is important. Man has a right to do as he will, to live wherever he will, and to die when and however he will. Fixation on "personal responsibility" is another.
Screw "personal responsibility". It leads to the notion that one has a responsibility to participate in the wretched system of competition, to "succeed" as if life were a gladiatorial battle with a limited amount of brass rings.
We are not, and cannot all 'succeed'. There is necessarily a barrier between ruler and ruled, between government and governed. I never want to be a person of power. We who know ourselves to be small men, common men must not mistake ourselves for princes. Each has a role that is proper to himself within some community. Power and kingship are heavy burdens that are not suited for everyone. The search for meaning in a deranged "individualist" society, unfortunately, hinges upon the pursuit of what that role is. Yet there is no support for many roles that can be useful - the stay at home daughter is forced into schooling she does not want due to compulsory "school until age 16" laws, the farmer is forced off his land by competition.
Being unmoored like this, men are thrown into the individualist fray. History cannot turn back. Peasants mistake themselves for princes, they riot and seek to reign without knowing how terrible it is to be a prince - and they are permitted to do so by "democracy". They crash and burn. Look at today's politicians and their intrigues, the young inner city or rural youth overrun by the machinations of power. A "credit history", once the domain of business magnates and the aristocracy, is now a burden born by all and seen as mandatory for life itself. Every man is now a king - but is this ideal? I would rather live to serve my king than to be my own king.
"Hope! Aspire! Desire! Need!" The words repeat themselves as the creed of a modern church. They are hung from rooftops like prayer flags, they adorn childrens' schools (brainwashing starts early around here, especially in charter schools). Consume more schooling! Learn! Consume organic food and environ-green products! More! More! Go for that promotion! You can do it - don't give up, self esteem! Move to a "nice" neighborhood for the kids' sake (god forbid they shall befriend unrectified peasants!) Men climb upward, water flows downward! The mantras permeate our minds, so that those who refuse to compete are seen as mad.
Individualist-competitive people always believe that there is a problem. They begin sentences with "the problem with society is" and fixate on "social justice". They advocate a belief that the world is vanity of vanities, that it is full of dukkha or stress. They do not see the value of reforming their attitude. I am guilty of this - since I wrote the article, for gods' sake! But then again, I'm part of the problem, and need to wake up.
The world is not competitive or individualistic. We make it that way. Despite our projects of our own behaviors onto nature as 'red of tooth and claw', the world is positive, benign in its intent, and most certainly not illusory. Nature - Mother Earth - has a place for everyone. The earth grows enough food for everyone, but the hungry are sometimes not able to move freely in order to gather potherbs and gleanings. (After all, it is often expensive to drive the distance from a job-rich township to an agricultural region.) Although we cannot go back in history, we can step away from individualism and competition, and find out what that place is. This is the main challenge facing many today.
Knowing our place starts with accepting that we are not special. That there is usually no problem but yourself and your relationship with authority. You do not influence society, if we did then it would be utter chaos. You are not the government, no matter how much you vote.
Modern democracy did not evolve from the idea of specialness and individualism, but from the Renaissance idea of a joint stock corporation. In the original idea of the corporation, all men partook equally in both peril and prize. But you cannot suddenly declare yourself the CEO. Both peril and prize - few take part in peril any longer, save for the taxes that they pay imperiling their purchase of a new Lexus. Or in fighting a questionable war with which the citizenry does not agree. I never aspire to landholder status, since it is quite a burden. Again - sharing both peril and prize, not some mystical birthright.
Self-realization is a trap of the ego. The way I would put it is that we are all cogs and we need to find what part of the machine we were made for. As Edmund Burke said, the individual is foolish... but the species... is wise. We must find our fulcrum. Where can we make the best use of our talents in this great machine, how do we build this pyramid for the Grand Architect?
A conflation between the powerful and the powerless castes is a major issue. What is wrong with being powerless? Why not be the best of whatever career you have that you can be? More, more is the individualist / consumerist mantra. Only - this is all there is. Here it is. We can work with it. This is our place in the world, "aspiration" leads to madness and, in religion, the temptation of Satan.
You are already wealthy, enlightened. All that you were, or are, or will be is here now without effort. The future is written in the past. The world is not a web of illusion, but an open door to itself. Negative events are not effects of 'sin', but a transition toward the mark that is set for you. If you had something to eat today, if you can read this right now you have no need to "hope for change". All you have to do to be happy is to find your place. If that place is in the grave, or as a servant or slave, or a criminal, or drug addict, then so be it.
Freedomn has always been the same thing. Ancient teachings have posited racial and gender equality, homosexual acceptance, since the beginning of time. Property ownership or even Communism are as old as the hills. Freedom lies in powerlessness (if it is your True Will), because power is slavery to the thing that you have power over. If knowledge is power, then knowledge is slavery. You can't un-know what you know, and ignorance is the purest freedom. The freedom to not vote or run for office, for example, means there is less diffusion of strength among the wise rulers.
For myself, I know, power is anathema because I am happily one of the mass. My 'ultimate bliss' is to find my tiny spot in that universal machine where I can be the most useful cog I can be, while helping other cogs to do the same. This much is enough of a reward in itself. Basic food, shelter, a 50% chance of surviving to age 60 - to maximize my contribution while minimizing cost - group acceptance, this is what I demand as my "salary". If this wish be not granted, so be it. Whether a deity, or afterlife, exists at all, all we can do is live this way in the present.