The Dangerous Question

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July 22, 2008

The powers that be hate, above all else, the following question: "Why?" And we the people are more than happy to avoid asking it. For that dangerous question is often the first step toward any positive personal, political, or social transformative process.

Case in point: Congress currently enjoys abysmal approval ratings and a sore lack of public confidence, our top elected leaders are lampooned regularly as a matter of American tradition (regardless of approval ratings), we're currently engaged in several unwinnable foreign wars, we're suffering under the weight of destructive economic policies, trusted federal functions like education, feeding the poor or flood control are in a pitiful state. Yet if you ask the person sitting next to you right now if we need central government in our lives, if that's the answer to all our problems, the answer would be a guaranteed, "Why, of course!" followed by, "Are you crazy enough to suggest we don't?" But then why do we continue selling our souls and submitting our bodies to this evil institution, the State, if we are still unhappy and feel things are moving in the wrong direction?

Don't hold your breath for an answer. We "realistic" and "mature" adults happily choke down our cognitive dissonance, choosing to accept and rationalize the supposed need for this System despite its unacceptable performance and cruel premises. Hence we proclaim any earnest questioning to be mere childish fancy. How ironic then, that so many adults aren't courageous enough to demand answers, get to the bottom of why our dissatisfaction with the way things are going, and finally get something done about it! You know, taking responsibility for one's own life -- isn't that what adults are supposed to do?

But indulge me a minute and observe children at play. Look at how energetic they are, how open, how honest, how eager they are to learn about their world, like little scientists and philosophers. Look how they assail you with questions. Untrained in the arts of nuance and euphemism and evasion, they ask straightforward queries and appreciate such answers. And of course the ever-present, ever-irritating, yet innocent question: "Why?"

Now, look at adults: always tired, always plotting, always trying to get ahead in the meaningless rat race. Adults, you'd expect, with their advanced experience, knowledge and maturity, would be able to deal with the world and its uncomfortable realities better than a mere child. But alas! Adults seem to be more adept at both making up humbug and accepting it passively despite the untold strain it puts on them. Whilst commiserating over the unsatisfactory "way things are" or some isolated injustice or absurdity that keeps repeating itself (usually as part of an oppressive social or political system), how often do the adults in the audience seriously and earnestly demand, "Why?"

But the majority of adults accept what is put on their plate, no matter how insane and counterproductive to their interests it may be, and call that being "realistic". They're afraid of rocking the boat, whereas children hardly know they're on the damned thing. On the contrary, I've never been "realistic" in my entire life -- may I be struck by a bolt of lightning if I ever start! Vicious, illegitimate authority thrives on that kind of thinking. Indeed, why do you think they always say, "get 'em while they're young"?

The true essence of a person is their mind, their ability to reason and think. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, if you're not thinking, you're not living; for living in this world requires that you use your mind to adapt and survive. And this means that you can't ignore the things your mind is telling you in any given circumstance, and then hope to flourish. Hence, I've always said that if a certain system does not work out in your favor -- nay, works against it -- and results in more harm and exploitation and hubris than it should, then the only thing to do is listen to what your mind is telling you and change it!

That is truly living in the real world, and the first step to the process is asking "Why?" The dangerous question.

Indeed, you could say that the radical is like a child in their endless questioning and desire to learn and explore their world, combined of course with the hope of building something new and better. Here we see an obstinate mindset that demands integrity, as opposed to the cognitive dissonance that the masses endure for the oppressors' benefit. But if the radical is like a child, is the child a little radical by nature? A radical whose flame has been snuffed out by worn-out, passive adults and their "education system" and their Prozac and their mostly fabricated "Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder"; oh yes, these mature grownups who so desperately rationalize their passivity and acquired intellectual laziness. The child, the little radical in the making, penetrates the haze with a simple, "Why?"

If we set aside the child's naiveté and lack of knowledge and emphasize their simple honesty and forthrightness, we start to approach the kind of mentality that one needs in order to be strong enough to resist the temptations and hubris of the oppressors, build up their own life to the maximum, and help others to do the same.

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Marcel Votlucka's picture
Columns on STR: 29

 Marcel Votlucka writes from Brooklyn NY.  His work focuses on the connections between psychology, culture, and anti-politics.  Visit his new website at