What are you going to do about it?
What should we do about it?
What can they do about?
These are the questions that we hear in relation to problems that we encounter in our civilization. The central tenet of our belief system is that ‘doing’ is the only meaningful activity. We assume all problems just need a fresh coat of action in order to stop being problems. Yet this critically misses the obvious truth that under all those layers of action past the fundamental problems still remain. No matter how many times you try to freshen up an error, it still remains a failure at its core.
Even more insidious is what is meant by ‘doing’ most of the time. In our state-based social/economic/political systems, ‘doing’ often means employing the force of the state or of majorities. ‘Doing’ often means creating new systems to impose your will on others, or reforming old systems to do the same. More often than not, ‘doing’ is an act of aggression, or a contributing factor to other paradigms of aggression.
The old lady who eventually died of horse swallowing after a series of escalations following a fly ingestion incident was stuck in a feedback loop of ‘doing’. A rational person would have stopped swallowing things after the fly (not doing) and attempted to cough or vomit up the fly (undoing) if it posed a real threat, which it did not. It was only the act of repeated doings that escalated the situation to fatal levels, which is usually the case in these kind of matters.
Undoing may be argued to be a form of doing, which is right in some sense, but false in others. When I speak of undoing I mean tearing down, not to make room for building anew, but just to be rid of a thing that was not working. Too often our undoing is just part of the process of doing something else in its place. So I would suggest that what differentiates true undoing from doing is that it is followed by not-doing.
Doing nothing. Leaving things be. Minding your own business. These are things humans are not very good at. When we talk about ‘doing’ we do so with the urgency of belief that we must have a plan of action at all times. Yet we compulsively ‘do’. We need never worry about that. We should concentrate instead in where we fail, which is undoing and not-doing. These are the skills we should be developing as individuals and as a species.
I think the reason we have this problem is that extroverts have, by their very nature, become the default keepers of social systems and mainstream ideologies. Introverts who want to be left alone and leave others alone in the process are usually hiding out in a safe place while the extroverts are out ‘doing’ things. But as anyone whose tendencies lay nearer the introversion end of the scale knows, that ‘doing’ can make coexisting with extroverts extremely painful. Their insistence on compulsive interaction, and social systems which require and promote it, forces the rest of us into institutions and cultural paradigms that do not meet our needs.
Yet intelligence seems to be on the side of the introverts. And the internet has given a forum in which that intelligence can be heard, shared and adapted into solutions. If the pen was mightier than the sword, then the keyboard is hundreds of times more powerful. And it is here where we need to launch an attack against the primacy of ‘doing’ and the tyranny of extroverts. And to do so we must dismantle the false narrative of compulsive, busy-bodies who insist that we must keep swallowing larger critters following the unfortunate thing with the fly.
It is time we recapture the lost arts of Undoing and Doing Nothing. This old jalopy of a planet already has enough ‘doing’ on it to keep it going for a long time to come. Before we can do anything that doesn’t just add to the problems created by doing, we must undo much without worrying about what will take its place. Doing will happen as a course of human nature. Undoing and Not-Doing are far greater challenges for individuals and our species. Lets put our time and energy there and see if maybe we haven’t just been trying too hard and suffering from our overachievement.