Distorted Perspective and The Easy Life
The Center of Reality
It is fascinating what people spend their lives urgently running around doing. Aside from the necessities, conspicuous consumption has become the primary focus of the western world. We are no longer satisfied by a modest living, and sufficient food, water, and shelter. There has been an unrealistic notion sold to us that we all must make enough money to buy expensive status symbols.
“He who is not satisfied with a little, is satisfied with nothing .” - Epicurus
Here is some insight into status symbols and basic economics. Take for example luxury brand cars. There are some additional features, perhaps a few more horsepower, or some more bells and whistles. Overall, the hugely inflated price compared to a similar car without the luxury branding does not just take into account these additional features. There is a large profit margin that places the brand into a particular category. The thing that you are buying is the fact that everyone knows you paid a tremendous amount for such an automobile. It becomes a filtering mechanism. Only when you make so much money are you able to afford such a symbol. It shows that whatever it is that you do, means a lot to many people. This is how a status symbol is created. There is little to do with supply and demand. In some cases, the product is slightly better in quality or looks, but often it has much more to do with the amount of money paid in exchange for its acquisition.
Now we either spend our lives attempting to attain luxury status, or we give up and become discontent with the fact that we will never achieve such monetary wealth. We then make that wealth the enemy. We become resentful and dislike those who have had the situation to achieve such financial plenty. This drives underlying cultural resentment and cynicism.
Even if we have reverted to no longer desiring such exorbitant material wealth; we often still retreat toward a system of trying to gain some wealth. We become so committed to "earning a living," that we get lost in a fury of rushing around. This is likened to keeping up with the Joneses. If we continually try to do this, then surely all of the hours of our day wither away. We must work more hours for less pay, and then attempt to come home to a dysfunctional family. After many of our hours are taken, sleep becomes a secondary priority. When a cycle of lacking sleep starts to happen a degrading and downward spiral begins. With less sleep, we tend to consume more caffeine, which drives higher states of anxiety and stress. With more caffeine, we tend to exercise less, eat more and drink more alcohol. The cycle continues, picking up momentum. As the energy of this cycle increases, awareness of our actions and mindfulness of others decreases.
We become mindless, fearful, stressed out drones. With these chemicals running the show in our brains, we became even more anxious and stressed out over minor things. We are tired and hungry as we stand in the line at the grocery store. We begin to have a panic attack in traffic as the commute that usually takes us 20 minutes to get home, will now take us an hour, because there is an accident. We stress out as we know the amount in our bank account along with our income is not enough to pay the bills on the house, car, cable and everything else that we're told we need. So during your entire workday, you are consumed by this notion and are running on high alert. This affects in the most negative of ways all of your interactions at work. What should be quality interactions and relationship building, become a treacherous obstacle course of anxiety, fear, and depression?
Human interactions and connections become superficial waypoints on your marathon toward material plenty. If you are sincere, how many relationships do you have with others purely because you enjoy their company? Maybe a hand full if you are lucky? Most of our interactions and relationships are derived from perceived necessity. We must interact with colleagues and bosses to gain money. We must communicate with an annoyed store clerk to buy goods. We must communicate with a car dealer who is trying to sell us up so that we might get the luxury brand car, or the SUV, that provides us status, or a perceived notion of safety. We as humans are inherently social creatures. We need quality social interactions. However, when society is based on a rat race, everyone becomes a rat, and material possession becomes more important than anything else.
“The trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat.” - Lily Tomlin
The Easy Life
This material possession mindset is compounded by another notion that we are sold. We are told that we are supposed to have fun all of the time. This is exceptionally clear in the "new age millennial" mindset. There is a widespread desire to do their own thing because that will provide "freedom" or will allow for "creativity." These are excellent ideas. However, the fact of the matter is that forging your path is difficult. It is not only tricky, but it is so for an extended period. This new culture wants to do their own thing, on their terms, with little to no input effort. There is no acknowledgement that perhaps, sometimes, life is not fun and nor should it be. We have been trained to maximize perceived pleasure; this includes gaining things and possessions for ourselves with little to no regard for others.
“Happiness is not a goal...it's a by-product of a life well lived.” - Elanor Roosevelt
Perhaps, in life, the most rewarding thing that one can do is to work hard at something intellectually or physically arduous. By treating it like proverbially climbing a mountain, one can train for and then journey up the hill. The reward is getting to the peak, completing the task, finishing the marathon, etc. With the proper mindset, there is also a great deal of enjoyment in the process. There is something to be said about having self-discipline to keep a proper diet and exercise regimen required to finish a marathon. From an intellectual standpoint, there is something to be said about finishing a book that is long, complex and may have many footnotes. This may take a similar diligence to some tough college courses. However, in the end, the knowledge will be yours. A good writer will be able to convey what it is that was going on in her or his brain at the time. This is a rare experience in the human form. It takes work to read long and complicated books, especially some of the classics. There is common wisdom that can be found there that exists nowhere else in the world. You will probably not see this sort of information, or be able to retain it the same way as watching a YouTube video. After-all, it has been shown that when one reads a page, brain activity is many orders of magnitude larger than when one stares at a screen.
It is interesting to contemplate as to why people no longer like to read books. The first two components of being alone and in silence come up while reading a book. In addition to these, sometimes difficulty of material comprehension is also the case. In a society where the attention span has been bludgeoned to a 15 second YouTube clip, it is nearly impossible to get someone to sit down and “study” a text outside of school.
The school has been formed in such a way as not to get people excited about learning. It is not meant to create engaged, creative and genuinely academic scholars. School is designed to provide training to a skilled mass of workers. It is intended to kill free-will so that people mindlessly conform. They obediently drive to jobs that they hate in a sea of traffic that they cannot stand. The last thing school teaches anyone is that learning is fun. Perhaps the most rewarding of all things in life is a long and arduous struggle to overcome some intellectually challenging task. One of these intellectually challenging and daunting tasks is digesting and comprehending large and complex reading materials. Who aside from a few outcasts does that anymore?
Instead, we live in a fictitious matrix created by a capitalistic and consumer-driven society. We are sold the notion that there are happiness and fulfillment in acquiring material possessions. When in reality there is temporary "comfort and [permanent] emptiness in possessions." The true "modern-day mindset is sold as an individual." - David Foster Wallace. We must go out and "hustle" to get as much money and material wealth as we can at whatever the cost. We must sacrifice our happiness in the present moment at the dream of becoming wealthy beyond our wildest dreams.
Focusing on things that are fun or easy all of the time, leave out other, more nuanced parts of human existence that are direly needed in this day and age. Take for example sitting in silence and or being alone. There are vast numbers of people who, when they are in their homes, whether they are watching it or not, have the television on. People who do not have televisions have radios. If you are not at home, be sure that if you are in a space designed for consuming, there is music being played. Don't worry. There are advertisements within the music as well to ensure you consume more. Even when we are outside, especially noticeable in places like Silicon Valley, everyone has their headphones on and are connected to their mobile devices. We cannot deal with being alone and in silence with ourselves. If we were to do this, we would have to face everything that we have been suppressing all along. Many people genuinely dread being alone for this reason. We are now not focusing on our rich inner world, along with an increasing trend of a fading engagement with the outer as well.
People have been trained not to interact anymore. They drone through life distracted and "entertained." We have fallen into a cycle of being indefinitely sidetracked. If you don't think this is you, how long can you wait in a grocery line, or sit in the doctor's waiting room without checking your cell phone? It would be a fascinating statistic to see what percentage of humans on the planet, today, sit for more than 2 minutes before reaching for their cellphones. This probably tightly corresponds to the number of humans who do not have a cellphone. Do not take this the wrong way. I am not excusing myself here. I especially notice this when I leave my cellphone in the car and go to a store to buy groceries. The first thing I do when I get into the line is to reach for my cell phone. When the phone is not there, it triggers a moment of extreme awareness. That is an impulsive move that I wanted to make. Seeing those notifications gives me as much of a dopamine response as anyone else. We should realize that society has moved tremendously fast toward a state of instant gratification. This is mostly where culture is today, but how did we get to this point? Perhaps there is something in human nature that has allowed us to be led to such an end?