Geek As Citizen: Imagine There’s No Heaven

Sky Clouds Heaven

When discussing Geek Citizenship and our involvement in communities, there’s something that comes up again and again – and not just in geek citizenship. It’s an issue that pops up repeatedly when you’re dealing with issues of people being part of society versus cutting themselves off.

The desire to Get Away To Where Everything’s Perfect.

It’s the idea that we’re going to someday be rich enough nothing will bug us (even if some things should bug us). It’s the idea that we can get away from those people or maybe even, you know, get rid of them or isolate them – and then the world is perfect. It’s the idea that there’s something out there that can solve everything and make everything great forever, and if we just keep at it and give up everything else we’ll get there.

It’s an idea of Heaven, and it’s not so much a theological concept as the idea that somehow we’ll reach a perfect state where it’ll all be OK.

This idea is not just B.S. on many levels, it’s pathological because it leaves us always running and manipulating and cutting ourselves off. In short, I’m saying Heaven is a pretty terrible idea, even when we gussy it up with economic talks and technology dreams. In fact, it makes us worse citizens, and I’d like to think we can do better.

Not Perfect of course. Perfect Is The Problem.

Heaven Is A Bad Idea

C.S. Lewis once spoke of “The Inner Ring,” that place we find where someone is having more fun, money, etc. than us – and we want in. Of course as we get in we find there’s another more inner ring. And another. And another. Soon we’re on a treadmill trying to get to the place where we have it all – and we are easily corrupted, distracted, separated from others, or we’re just giant pains in the rear.

Now it may seem odd to discuss Christian writer Lewis in arguing Heaven is a bad idea, but he was a mystic in his own way, so I’d say his concept of a “real” afterlife were not like the stereotypical one. For many people, though, you can see that the Inner Ring is really a seeking a kind of Paradise – on earth or off.

Seeking Heaven sort of makes us into arrogant, distant, jerks because we’re trying to get to that perfect place we forget all else. We’ll sacrifice so much to get away, and cut ourselves off, because we’re sure we’ll get to that perfect spot and after awhile we won’t care how much damage we do or how much humanity we loose.

Ever met someone convinced they’d go to a theological heaven who was so arrogant about it you figured Heaven wouldn’t want them? And it seems they’re not happy anyway . . .

However when it comes to addressing Not Happiness, a real instructive person is the Buddha, and in Buddhism there’s a concept of the Wheel Of Life, and of it’s many instructive uses, it spells out why Heaven is a Bad Idea.

(And yes, there is some argument over if the Buddha himself created this concept, I actually lean to the thought that he did, but it’s a useful psychological tool, as Mark Epstein points out)

On the great Wheel, The Realm of The Gods is a great place to be reincarnated. It’s a realm of pleasure and happiness, which sounds great – Heaven in short – except nothing ever lasts. Even gods die, the pleasures flee, and they’re all unpleasantly reminded that they too are mortal because life is change. Sadly, in their realm of pleasure they’re divorced from the insight and compassion, that connection to others, that can set them on the path of enlightenment.

The Gods can be kind of crappy citizens, really.

Or in short, Lewis noted the race to get to that Heaven On Earth turns you into a jerk, and if you ever do get to some kind of Heaven, the Buddhist teachings note it’s not only not forever, you’ll get separated from your humanity and become unable to handle the fact all things end.

Maybe Heaven is best left for people not in a footrace to get there.

Geeks: Don’t Let Asgard Make You An Asshat

This brings me to my concerns about Geeks and the “Heaven Seeking” elements in our subculture. I discuss this idea because, simply, geeks are my subculture. When you look at it, we have our own ideas of Heaven that are pathological. As I feel we need to further focus on citizenship, I’d like to address them – and why in the end they’re a bad idea.

Heaven Seeking behavior can keep us separated and I’d really like us to work on that.

Right now our separation is a bit of an issue with the news, and the tech industry is seen as more arrogant, more in control, changing cities, etc. Of course every industry always has its uses – I’d even argue no small amount of this is unfair and is missing quite a few other industries and subcultures that are pathological. But there is some truth to this.

So I’d like to address where I see the Heaven Seeking in geekdom:

The Singularity: Look, I’m sure humanity will evolve into something high tech, but it really has become The Rapture for Geeks. It’s seeds are everywhere in our culture, from hack immortalism to a general sense Technology will solve it. Just because things will hyper-evolve doesn’t mean we won’t have problems – or need connections to others.

The Payout: You know what I mean here, there’s the idea that if we work hard for the right startup that we’ll all strike it rich and it’ll be great. Sure it may be great for some, but I encounter more hard luck stories than internet riches. of course for those that do strike it rich, it doesn’t take much time to notice stories in the news of arrogance and entitlement as people in the Realm of the Gods really don’t seem to get what’s going on in the real world.

The Solution: A lot of us are problem solvers. Trust me, I know. But we get a bit too enchanted with how this gadget, software, or tool will Solve Everything. We can miss that no it won’t solve everything, if it works well it may lead us to confront other problems, and there’s a chance the problem we’re trying to solve doesn’t matter to anyone but a small fraction of the population.

The Retreat: Some of us geeks still sting from social rejection and ostracism. We want to get away still – and admittedly it’d be nice to do it in a way that lets us lord it over others. Any of the above can be polluted by this desire – and really, it’s just a way to be separate and be a jerk.

These are the issues I see in Geekdom that lead to a bit too much Heaven Seeking- and estranging us from others and blinding us to the issues of the World. When we can’t relate to people and the world at large, we’re not good citizens – and frankly we’re also unhappy since the world just doesn’t go away . . .

Connected Is Protected

At the same time, I bring this up to do my own part to discuss Geek Citizenship because I have a lot of hope for what we can do in the world. I’m proud to be a geek, after all.

So my take is simply we need to avoid our Heaven Seeking behaviors, and as I’ve mentioned earlier, focus on getting involved with people and our communities. It connects us, makes us better people, makes us better humans, makes a better world, and of course keeps us from being obnoxious and hateable.

(As a side note, I’m never sure why people instinctively dislike geeks because as a rule I find us pretty likable, but perhaps it’s just my obvious bias)

We need to be human, to connect with other humans. We need to get our hands dirty and bleed a bit to help others, to be connected, to know what’s going on.

But I’m also positive because we have a lot of things to connect us to the world, to come down off of Mount Olympus if we found we climbed too high. I see a lot of geeks who are also connected . . . and that in fact is where our advantages are.

In The Middle: Geeks, as I harp on, are applied intellectuals. We’re the people in the middle in many cases, making infrastructure, processing information, and so on. We have an excellent ability to develop a wide-ranging perspective on how things work – and be good citizens.

Skilled: OK, maybe this is a bit arrogant, but a lot of us are damned talented people. Combined with our position in society, we can do a lot of good. We can get involved and have results, and see the value of being connected with others. We also have the skills to Lifehack to deal with our own flaws.

Timely: Sure, some people are angry about the tech industry, but we’re still in the Age Of Geek as far as I’m concerned – if anything being disliked by some is a reminder we have arrived. So let’s work on changing things and take advantage of our time in the spotlight. It won’t be forever.

Been There: No small amount of us are used to being weirdoes, outsiders, etc. Things may have changed, but it’s still a sad truth for a few too many of us. Well since we know what human suffering feels like, use that. Learn to reach out to people over common ground, take a cause that matters to you, and do something with it. (This is good advice for everyone, of course)

Passionate: We’ve all got something we love – we can use that to do real good, connect us with others, and keep us grounded in the human situation. Like to read, teach literacy. Good with speaking, work the phones for a charity. We’re deep into things – we can use those to be good citizens.

Onward And Outward

We don’t need to try to get away, seek perfect, etc. Actually for most of us, ready to try weird and crazy things, it’s odd to imagine us seeking perfection, escape, and some kind of Heaven on Earth. We like to do nutty stuff and are used to failure.

But we have our own habits and cultural elements that trap us in Heaven Seeking. As we are more prominent and more responsible, it’s up to us to get out of that trap, stay connected with people, and do real good as real citizens. Imagining an escape will get you temporary relief at best – and in the end create long-term misery.

But we’re geeks. We were outcasts a few decades ago and now we run stuff and people want to make movies for us. We can make it work.

– Steven Savage