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Have you ever felt more desrving of something than someone else? Why would there ever be an exception to any rules because of your, personal extenuating circumstances? There wouldn’t be, UNLESS you can make yourself seen as elite and apart from the average, which (let’s face it) is probably just a matter of how financially well-endowed or publicly well-known you are. The exceptions to the average are either wealth or celebrity (or a combination of the two).

If there are requirements to be met, then you can be sure you must meet them – no if’s, and’s or but’s – except: You can buy your way around it or allow fame to smooth the road. Ah, what a life, eh? The path to oligarchy, plutocracy and kakistocracy, as well as the takeover of media, is paved with the exceptions to being average in the sense of fortune and fame. It seems to be much easier today than at any previous time to reach a pinnacle for no particularly good reason because those deserving the attention just don’t get it anymore.

Nowadays, people who are exceptions to the average because they earned it are the dark horses of the spotlight. Does anyone remember who the socialites of Caesar’s day were? Or who the rich folks were in the Dark Ages? No. Why not? Because they did nothing for the advancement of civilisation on any level. Who do we remember? The scientists, artists, authors and philosophers who invented, contemplated and strove for better understanding of their world are the ones history remembers.

How will history preserve our time? Will our era be recalled for the low-bar set to achieve influence in society, where it is enough to pay to get your way and shape the world without a thought for the consequences? We have these people called influencers now, who exercise power over a following simply due to the development of the cult-of-personality platforms that have sprung up over the past decade. A YouTuber must simply be charasmatic to accumulate subscribers, not intelligent nor otherwise exceptional.

How about returning to a standard of merit-based elite? I would like to see active, contributing members of society receiving laurels rather than odious, greedy billionaires and empty-headed celebs. The rich shape society to their will because they can afford it and the celebrities capture our attention to distract us from what is really happening. And yet, these are the people who are omnipresent in the media. Unfortunately, the hard-working smart people just get discredited and smeared in current climate. Scientists face-off against flat-earthers and such; artists get their platforms taken away; authors are censored or blacklisted; and philosophers get caught up in wars of words with trolls.

The truth is that it is exceedingly difficult to do something remarkable. We should reserve our respect for the exceptions deserving of our engagement and not settle for the empty vessels of what many exalt as worthy. The millions of people filling previously non-existent voids the myriad media platforms have opened up don’t necessarily merit their place. Our careful judgement is required to evaluate their worth to ourselves and society as a whole.

 

With a birthday fast approaching, the time to contemplate my collected wisdom thus far might be ripe. However, instead of going through the catalogue of over-used pearls, I’d like to concentrate on one little gem in particular that only recently clicked with me.

The saying goes like this:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I used to think that only jaded pessimists who failed to acknowledge the efforts of others would trot this out in order to belittle them. Perhaps this is how it is intended some of the time, but now I recognise there is a much broader application of this wisdom, especially if a healthy dose of cynicism is added.

This worn, old adage can be applied to any and every aspect of life and will always ring true. It’s almost spooky. From the personal to the political, the social to the scientific, it always applies. Don’t believe me? Allow me to expound…

How many times in your own experience have you thought you were making a situation better only to learn that, in fact, you were making it worse? More likely than not, quite often, right? Sometimes our instincts are just plain wrong and we end up putting more fuel on the fire. Our well-meaning nature might drudge up stuff that was better left buried, or our well-intentioned advice could cause a whole new debacle to present itself. Sound familiar?

What about this scenario? Imagine any public, government-run service that has ever existed and then add „reform“ to it. Need more of an explaination than that? Let’s examine education. Public schools in most western countries are in a sorry state by all standards. With their roots in centuries-old educational doctrine, schools consistently fail to implement the latest findings to optimise learning. Instead, politicians propose band-aids to fix the problems. A little well-meant reform here, a dash of legislation there, some budget changes and presto! It never works, though, because fixing the holes in the roof of the factory isn’t going to help sustain the out-dated means of production under that roof.

It’s sad, but true. Good intentions are oftentimes misguided and that’s how we end up on the road to hell. Sometimes the road is narrow and winding and other times we find ourselves on the super-highway to Dante’s Inferno.

Global politics would currently find itself on the latter. The Doomsday Clock, for example, was recently updated for 2018 to show it is currently two minutes to midnight, the most precarious position it has been in for decades. Trump, trade wars, WMDs, and mainstream media are factors that keep us on course for disaster.

The hopey-changey promise of the internet, which has been a force for much good in the world, has also been commandeered to serve as a platform for distributing misinformation, causing confusion and manipulating our minds. The good intentions that paved the way for the early web to open communication and the free exchange of information across the world have taken a dark turn and made us into meta-data-producing, social media-consuming slaves and addicts.

Had enough yet? I could go on. It seems the older I get, the more perceptive I become (or maybe I’m just increasingly cynical). Identifying how good ideas that should benefit humanity are constantly being abused and misappropriated in order to inflict damage of one kind or another has evolved into a sport for me. At the personal level, we never intend to cause harm with our well-meaningness (unless, of course, we are sociopaths). However, when I look at the how the world is run and the current state of affairs, I recognise that a lot of it is deliberate. I guess some folks enjoy being on the highway to hell. I would prefer to be on the path to enlightenment.

 

The decision whether to sign up for an online learning platform, perhaps to pursue another degree, has been weighing on my mind for months. I’ve had a lot of time on my hands lately, and it seems a shame to waste a golden opportunity to expand my horizons and add to my resumé.

Today, by chance, I took another glance at the UK Open University website and realized the deadline for registration for the next course offerings is tomorrow. Half in a panic, I spent hours contemplating what my options were. Just this past autumn, I chickened-out of enrolling with the excuse that I couldn’t really afford to join a degree program. After picking through the Open University website, I have since learned there are several other online course and certification platforms out there which are quite affordable and interesting.

I discovered FutureLearn, where there are myriad courses across all subjects to engage the mind and pad the CV. There are free classes to appeal to your interests and hobbies, as well as certificate coursework for continuing education; there’s even the possibility to have certain courses assessed to earn UK university credit. OpenLearn, a free learning platform offered by the Open University, is also chock full of opportunities to hone your skills and gain new knowledge. Some of the classes only take two weeks, while others span eight or more. Certain courses are mostly passive learning, but others are more rigorous and involve testing.

Education is an extremely important topic in many respects. It is essential to civilisation, the economy, and personal development. Every individual is born craving knowledge. However, much can go awry in the pursuit of education. Society pressures us to obtain as much of it as possible, but degrees and titles are only awarded to those who can invest the time and money required to reach those goals. Faced with the dilemma of financing a degree, I think it is fantastic that there are now so many online platforms that offer paths to higher learning which are easily obtainable by a broad spectrum of people from around the world. The amount of courses and programs available for very little money was actually overwhelming.

So, whether or not I decide to go for an online degree program right now or not, I am at least going to try one of these platforms. The University of Glasgow has a course starting on FutureLearn in February called „Antiquities Trafficking and Art Crime“, which grabbed my attention immediately, even if it’s not a CV enhancer for me per se. As the saying goes, you have to start somewhere, so I guess I’ll dip my toes into the web-learning pool by trying out a course that interests me and without any pressure. If that goes well, then maybe it will be on to bigger and more expensive things – like a degree. It’s probably better to test the water on a freebie, though, before getting in over my head and drowning in a sea of obligation. A three-week art class is as good a place to start as any. Let the enrollment begin!