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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Maddeningly Unaware

Awareness is a word that presently lives 'within the box'.  Defined, it means: having knowledge; conscious; cognizant, or informed; alert; knowledgeable; sophisticated.  To me, an even more illuminating analogy of how it relates to our lives is from the sports and video game world.  “Madden” is an American football video game mimicking the top professional league in the US, the NFL.  Every team and player in the NFL has their own likeness in the game.  Each one is based on the perceived skills of each individual's real life capabilities.  This is broken down into a number of different categories, speed, strength, agility, acceleration, toughness, catching, carrying the ball, tackling ability, breaking tackles, throwing power, kicking power, etc.  All of which are more or less important for each player depending on their position.  But perhaps one of, if not the most important, category is 'awareness'.  Speed is not so important for a quarterback who throws the ball nor is 'carrying' for a linebacker who rarely touches the ball, or tackling for offensive players such as a running backs and wide receivers never really asked to stop anyone.  'Awareness' is the one key component of a player's overall grade that greatly affects every player in the game.  It is a measure basically of how aware they are of everything going on around them during the course of the game.  It is pretty much the only mental indicator in the game and has run throughout the Madden series (now on number 20), and it encompasses a general player's cognitive ability to play the game.  Speed, strength, etc. are all important, but awareness is about a players mental ability to be in the right place at the right time, or to even know how to get onto the field of play.  

But think of this in our own lives.  Imagine if we were all given 'awareness' ratings.  Who is it that would assign them?  And how much 'awareness' must they have?  It is one thing in a specific sport like American football.  These players are judged on 16 to 20 games a year and on the specifics of the game by a few people sitting in a room assessing their skills.  There is a finite amount of knowledge in and of the sport and it is fairly obvious in these game situations.  The people that make the ratings in the game just watch every game (and I'm sure Google the players to find articles that might express 'awareness' capabilities) and grade out each player on all the categories.  If they are seen to make mental mistakes, they lack experience, do the wrong thing, run the wrong route or blow an assignment then their awareness ratings would drop.  So in this type of game this is somewhat evident – it is their 'awareness' in relation to this one sport.  It is not an intelligence meter, or an experience meter, but it is something that includes these perceived characteristics.

So what about in our lives?  How would we measure our 'awareness' and who would do it?  I mean firstly, 'life' is not a finitely defined game with specific rules.  It is an open container ready to be filled with the undefinable intricacies of our individual lives.  But it seems to me that if we decided to undertake a judgment like this, we would end up judging our 'awareness' on a very simplified scale based on strict views and 'rules' of society.  What would be the highest rating?  And how would you judge it? common sense? book smarts? age/experience?  The people that where given the task of grading us all would most likely come up with a criteria based on categories: education, life experience, travel, criminality, promotions, etc.  They would base everything on a person's ability to navigate and work within the confines of the legal and social scenarios that their immediate world entails.  But is this really a good way to measure 'awareness' of our world and 'life'?

The fact of the matter is that we really don't have a clue about our world, but our definition would lie strictly within the confines of what it is that we do (think) we actually 'know'.  And this here is where the issue lies.  Having 'awareness' of our world would actually be coming to understand that we don't really know much of anything.  Does a person recognize and know where the power resting above them hails from.  Who or what it is that controls them and their existence.  Is it of this world, another?  How are we to know?  People claim god, some claim politicians, others corporations, the list would be infinite.  But that is the point, our awareness of our true lives is minimal.  Yet on the sliding scale we would think to grade ourselves on, someone would certainly get a 99 (0-99 scale).  Some Nobel prize winning economist or professor for sure.  But really, is it that just because they have a great knowledge of the world that we have shown ourselves does that mean they really know anything of time, space, crossing the street, etc?

And what of us, the average people?  Do we really know anything?  After all, we do not even know anything about the known world that sits in front of our eyes.  What is the global percentage of children that will starve this year?  How many people live in poverty?  What about even your locale area, what are towns like outside of your normal area of usage?  What is the poverty level in your town?  But those are statistical things not to be felt, smelled, or tasted – think about food; what is in the food you eat?  Read the ingredients, do you know what everything is and where it comes from?  Do you know about the company that manufactures the product, the ingredients in it or the individual that grew it?  What type of agricultural products went into it?  If it is meat, was it fed with animal byproducts (usually pig shit), was it doused with pesticides or other chemicals?  Is it in-fact bad to eat chemicals?  Your clothes, your cars, your friends, your lives.  How much do we really know about any of it.  We go to a store, we pick up a product based on its appearance or maybe even simply our mother's preference, and we buy it and use it, and buy it and use it.  Maybe we switch if something else catches our eye or it doesn't work exactly as we think it should.  But do we really know if the person that made our shirt was 9 years old and working 14 hour days and the product was then shipped thousands of miles, or if it was locally produced and/or under respectable working conditions.  Do we even care?  What are 'respectable' working conditions?

So many people simply want a cheap price for something functional.  But again that is the point.  We are not aware of the lives we live.  We grow up with an ingrained list of awareness priorities. Emotional security, nutritional security, physical security, etc.  The thing is though that in the world we live in so much of this comes down to financial security as this is the key to be able to to achieve the others given our current socio-economic system.  But this line of thought is not the point I'm trying to make here, the point is that this type of prioritizing has left us mostly disinterested in the rest of the world as it actually surrounds us.  Yes, of course there are some that choose to research and learn some of these things (of course this information is only available as it is interpreted and presented by others).  Even so, how would these people fare on the 'awareness' scale.  Would a local hippie type that knows all there is to know about food and clothing production and where/how the things intricate to their lives are obtained be measured highly on this scale?  Unlikely. It would be the academic, not the local hippie buying local and organic and showering every other day.  This person is not seen as 'aware' but perhaps as an outlier.  Yet they know a great deal of how things seem to work, and perhaps it is exactly their disengagement with society that grants them a level of awareness that even the smartest of academics can't have.

The world is a tricky place that we know virtually nothing about.  This is the key to life.  We do not know as a civilization, let alone as individuals.  We each must learn to recognize our inabilities (and our world's), and at least attempt to rectify our own disinterest and unknowing of the known world.  Frankly, we are not aware of anything – foreign or domestic.  We do not know how people dance in Thailand, cook in Africa, or view the world in Venezuela.  And actually, we probably don't even know how people across the river or in the next town celebrate their birthdays and holidays, or even how the family next door eats dinner.  Fact is, we actually have no 'awareness' of life as a whole to make a measurement of, but even if we attempted to on our own sliding and distorted scale, we would all grossly fail as we are all grossly unaware of our lives.

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