Don't be a robot

September 12 2015

I got damaged by photographs
got fractured by songs
diminished by cinema
and broken by books and hearts.
But in all these things,
pain is growth, growth is love
and we are smitten and shrunken small
so that may grow to be giants in our own lives.

I believe that the human species' greatest weakness is obedience. Whether it’s going to war or buying a pair of jeans, we are remarkable good at doing what we’re told, even if we disagree with what we’re told to do. Google the Milgram experiment to find out more about this tendency to obey authority. Find out more about obedience studies and how this tendency in human beings leads to all kinds of horrors. Think about your own responses to the world and whether you would obey authorities and follow orders that you didn't agree with. Think about how you can free yourself from the programming that we are surrounded by in the 21st century. Try to learn to think for yourself. It's harder than it sounds - we all get trapped in the dominant belief systems of our times and it can be very difficult to transcend them.
These experiments took place in the '60s and '70s. I'd like to think that things are changing and that in the internet age, it's harder to lie to people and that people growing up today are more likely to question authorities and less likely to follow orders that conflict with their own morality. I hope so. What do you think?
I've lived most of my life in Durban, South Africa, and currently live in Berlin. Last year in Durban and around South Africa, there was a violent and heart-breaking eruption of xenophobia against Africans from outside the country, in which several people lost their lives. The whole city shut down for a day or two as a result, with the highway into the city itself being closed off and a terrible climate of fear and despair prevailing. Things got better and the ghost of genocide and horror slowly dissipated.
Watching the refugee crisis in Europe at the moment, I am reminded of a similar feeling. But it's been deeply heartwarming to witness the embrace of refugees by communities across Europe, even as Hungary continues to install a razor-wire border to stop the Syrian refugees from making their way to safety.
It has long seemed to me that there is a planetary war between the forces of love and compassion and the forces of profit and destruction. Although human consciousness has radically expanded in my lifetime (I'm 44, born in 1971), I often feel that the forces of darkness are winning. The embrace of the refugees by hundreds of thousands of people in Europe has shone light into that darkness and it feels, even if just for now, like love is taking the upper hand. And I pray that that love will spread.
So don't be a robot. Think for yourself. Practice love and compassion. Make kindness your religion. And let these forces of positivity spread like wildfire. We can make this world a better place. We can save it. We can save ourselves.
I'm a writer and artist. If you'd like to see some of my poems and pictures, google "The Corduroy Man Peter Machen" Not all of the links work - the site is very old now - but there is a link to a wonderful interview with Patti Smith that is well worth reading.

Have a beautiful day or night wherever you are in the world. Mail me. I'd love to hear from you.


Peter Machen
[email protected]

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