Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Flies on the Steering Wheel

Like the fly on the wheel who says
"What a lot of dust we’re raising"
Are you under the illusion
That you’re part of this scheme?

- Neil Peart, "The Stars Look Down."

We have been duped by the doors that modern technology has opened into thinking we have way more power than we do. The new "opiate of the masses" is the impression that because we can, say, write a blog or post about social issues on social media, that we can "make a difference." We are all scuttling around -- all of us writers and socially conscious tweeters and Facebookers -- dumping our energy into the garbage bin. We click "post" and we feel as if we have contributed to the well-being of humankind, for the day. 

We have not. It is a drug. It lulls us into not acting in the way we should to help our fellow humans. It is a distraction; it is what we are doing while real opportunites for doing some thing meaningful are slipping away.

I recently wasted a large portion of intellectual and emotional energy on a Facebook discussion about a political issue. As I was wrapped up in it, I stopped and asked myself: Why am I doing this? Why am I investing time and emotional energy into this discussion? What's the payoff? The truth is, I was participating because I am Peart's fly arguing with some other flies. In point of fact, the only measurable results I have seen come out of conversations like this have been ruined relationships. I know tey say you shouldn't say this, but, "Never again."

Even this blog -- I love to write it. (I sounded like Donald Trump just there...ha!)  I have some excellent, consistent, intelligent followers. I have made some very cool "friends" through blogging; friends from many parts of the world. I appreciate that very much. But I have, long ago, dropped the illusion that what I say here has any impact beyond earning head-nods from those who would probably agree with me, anyway -- which is why they come back, really.

This is not to say that a conversation and a kicking around of the finer points of a topic are not useful. It is a worthwhile activity. But it is arrogant to think most of this is anything more than just a water-pistol squirt into the ocean. 

I recently saw a quote attributed to Mother Theresa:
"If you want to change the world, go home and love your family."
I have been saying things similar to this for around six years now, on this very site. We need to stop being sucked into meaningless "dialogue-ing" on social media and look to our neighborhoods, our children and our friends. That is where we can make a difference. We can make a difference by volunteering locally, by becoming teachers and couselors, but not by sharing memes and getting into scraps with people over Trump's administration.

We are, indeed (and I have been there, too), all that fly on Peart's steering wheel in the opening quotation. This sets the perfect stage; we think we are contributing to change, so that those who would take advantage of us can use the time to plot. At the risk of overdoing metaphors, the dogs have been thrown a steak (the Internet) and we canine fools hunch down and blissfully devour as life goes on outside.

Sure, I will keep writing what I think, but not because I believe I am in control of the wheel -- because I am the sort who has to express his ideas and because I hope to raise interesting questions that might -- just might -- contribute to something positive.


  1. My blog helps me sort the thoughts in my head, but once clarity is found the sole purpose becomes to act on that understanding in whatever way comes. In other words, it is a kick in the bum to get me moving!

    1. I agree -- it is a great motivator. I once heard a writer say, "How do I know what I think unless I write it down?"I love that.

  2. I agree that political discussions on Facebook are utterly futile. When did anyone ever change their viewpoint or concede that their opponent had made a persuasive argument? It just seems to stir up a lot of unnecessary bad feeling.

    Blogging is more civilised. I never thought it would make any difference to the world, but it did help me. As well as finding the act of writing cathartic, I also discovered that when the comments started to appear, I wasn't as alone as I'd sometimes felt. There were other people out there who not only got was I was struggling to express, but often felt the same way. The realisation that there are like-minded souls, scattered across the globe, has been a huge comfort to me, so that's why I keep blogging.

    1. Sadly, I had some muted hope that it would make a difference in the world -- blogging. But I am okay with just helping to firm up the ideas of those who agree with me anyway. You're right that is it quite comforting to hear from those who share on's beliefs. I get a lot of support for the blog on Facebook, ironically, and it is quite a boost. But it is even more of a comfort, as you say, to find that people far-away share many of my ideas.