Column: Superfluous Man

By Kevin Hartung

When did man become so nonessential in our society? It seems to me that an American way of thinking is to view our own beliefs or values through the prism of whether they are shared by others. This cult of personality ideology is, I believe, diametrically oppositional to the principles used by a free, democratic society. When an ideologue emerges, we should see the person as one formed by a cult of personality before we decide who or what he represents.

Today. men let tribe mentality determine their values, their thinking, their actions, and their narrative. An individual lacks real power to make others sit up and take notice, so he uses the power of groupthink to get his message across. However, no matter how much control he has, another ideologue can convince the group to cancel that individual and his ideas.

To determine if we are listening to an individual, we listen first to what he is saying. If what he is saying is a predictable, group-think response, then we are not talking to an individualist. An individual becomes nonessential when he is unable to determine his own values and live by them. Thus, the superfluous man needs to grow in courage.

With real self-examination, a man can articulate what he stands for and what he is unwilling to change because of group pressure. Without self-examination, he ends up following the crowd and becomes so overly concerned with what others are thinking that he does not question his own perceptions. A thorough self-examination of a man’s opinions and beliefs holds the strong conviction that is lacking in the redundant man’s entertainment by mob mentality.

The challenge today for readers, viewers, and listeners across the ideological-spectrum is about a ‘compare-and-contrast’ examination of all viewpoints. It just seems to me that we as Americans seem incapable of calling a spade a spade. We know what is demonstrably represented, but despite our own political perspective, we do not speak up. Today, absolutely all of reality must be viewed through the political prism.

As individuals, we lack the determination to be objectively perceptive. We are so concerned with how others think, we fail to reflect on our own judgments. Self-examination is more important today than ever because instead of looking for blame in others, we may find there is blame in all of us. Amending our way of thinking challenges how we see our nation and the world.

The intention to change other’s mindsets and belief-systems has always been with us since the dawn of humanity. It is why we argue, debate, write, speak, vote, and so forth. It is the core idea of most future-oriented, science-fiction, dystopian novels. But it is also how we grow and develop. If people have the freedom to think and grow, how do we prevent them from thinking ‘wrongly?’  Wrong, at least according to whoever wants control over them.

All the media outlets, the books written, the debates, and the division taking place are about changing people’s minds. They fail to completely win others over because simply put, there are too many others saying exactly the opposite. Many of us do not know our own minds so it is not difficult for someone else to change them. We do not want others to do our thinking for us which is what a dystopian nation is all about. Without introspection, we agree or disagree with whatever viewpoints are being made. It seems better to contemplate on what we heard or did not hear and our own thoughts or feelings about it.

Defaming, blaming, and isolating people or their ideas effectively reveals the mob mentality or group-think prevalent in the public space. We know what can happen next. What transpires next is an attempt to eradicate those who challenge orthodox thinking and any contributions to the discourse on ideas.

Americans are aware of the division and hatred taking place in our government and society. Our self-awareness tells us this is wrong and goes against our principles and values. That is if we genuinely want to live in a democratic, open society.

I believe that challenging the ideology of group-thinkers is vitally important to create a better place for all to live. However, I also believe—like I have said before—that how we approach that challenge today is fundamentally the wrong approach to take. We must consider human nature, free-will, self-determination, and the individual sovereignty others have over their own mind, body, and actions. We cannot coerce people to commit to something that they do not want or believe. Only through civil debates and discourse do we voluntarily make lasting changes, not through the power of mob-mentality.

The examination of this urgent and pressing issue is not just about our American Society but all liberal-democratic, free-market societies of today. I believe whole-heartedly in the idea “to be the change that you wish to see in this world”, and if you put positive energy into the world it will be multiplied among the masses.

An adage says, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” I am convinced that a rising tide of optimism and cooperation will lift the populace out of the tribal mindset we are experiencing. We do not have to live with hatred, discord, and division. With self-examination, we can discern our own minds and be a testament to what we believe, so that others can see that a change in oneself does make a difference. Changing oneself can help precipitate a change in others.

To quiet the discord, we must look at what is happening within ourselves that makes us so unwilling to look at how we are affecting events in society. We need to listen to ourselves and make heartfelt choices and not listen to the many voices of the tribes. With self-examination, it becomes clear that we do not differ as much from each other as the hyperbole of the media has us believing. Because we are not so different, we can accept the differences and agree to a civil exchange of ideas.