A man makes a romantic visit to a beauty spot with a girlfriend. She looks about her and exclaims..
‘It’s beautiful! Why have you never bought me here before?’
There’s no getting it right for such a person.
You might wonder about what makes her tick. You might make observations about the avoidance of intimacy, the refusal of gratitude, the enviously attacked moment of togetherness, the sabotage of aliveness…
and you’d be right..
but none the wiser.
A story that expresses this kind of eternal dissatisfaction is the tale of The Fisherman’s Wife. At first glance it seems like a salutary warning about the dangers of greed and an admonishment to be happy with what you have.
The story goes that the poor and luckless fisherman draws in his tattered net one day to find that he has caught the King of the Fishes who promises to grant him a wish if he sets him free.
The fisherman runs back to his filthy hovel to confer with his wife who says straight away that they should have a new house and in the blink of an eye it is done….
but the wife is…
It could be a bit bigger…
Off goes the fisherman to amend his wish. Even though the Fish King is a bit peeved at this shilly shallying he agrees and when the fisherman gets back the house has become a great mansion.
its just a matter of time before the wife wants a castle…
and a tiara
and a team of unicorns to pull her brand new golden coach…
Each time the fisherman goes back to the fish king the sea is that bit darker, the sky somehow more fierce with cloud tendrils scudded before a lashing wind.
She wants to be Queen…
She wants to be Empress…
She wants to be Supreme Ruler of the Universe..
and have a mountain of calorie free chocolate..
Finally the Fish King’s patience fails..
‘Go back to your filthy hovel!’….
and by the time the fisherman returns all is as it was..
Just as history is unkind to the vanquished so too is it difficult to find any sympathy for the fisherman’s wife..
she was a greedy cow and got her just desserts.
Well yes, but what on earth is going on inside her that no amount of wealth and power can fill?
And by the same token, what is going on such that Consumerism in all its fetid glory has come to typify our age? We focus on the shallowness of Western gluttony..
and feel bad about it..
but consumerism and the relentless greed that drives it are not the problem.
The problem is whatever it is that all that stuff is trying to fill..
So you can slag off greedy politicians, avaricious corporations and insatiable nations without it loosening your own grip on the TV remote one iota while you continue to channel hop entire networks devoted to selling you stuff you don’t need.
from the comfort of your armchair..
it would be comfortable if only….
So it may be that…
‘Consumerism is the corruption of the American soul.’ B. Nicholson.
Indeed, much of the literature on Western Consumerism pitches its critique at the level of crumbling social values and greed that is
the pursuit of happiness
We bandy terms like ‘social impact’, and talk about the symptoms of ‘Affluenza’, which is all very interesting…
but no-one is asking what Consumerism is for….
or why the West is stuffing itself like a starvling.
What on earth are we compensating for if our almost religious devotion to posession and accumulation is so great that it gives rise to imbalances of power tantamount to the economic enslavement of entire nations…..?
because you can’t have more than you need without taking bread from the mouths of others…
and, there, now I too am wagging my finger like a schoolmaster,
forgetting the profound levels of inner despair and emptiness, the loss of worth, of self, the hopelessness that leads to such gorging of oneself.
Its so easy to hate the Glutton.
One of the greatest sins at my boarding school in colonial Africa was, ‘uys grazing’. ‘Uys’ is Africaans for ‘by himself’, or ‘alone’.
Eating on your own.
You’d have to plan it. Quickly out of Prep and fly down to the trunk room, a long corridor lined with broad slated shelving for the dozens of black metal trunks stacked nine or ten high. Mine was always on the topmost shelf, not because I had been afforded any priviledge but because my trunk was a gauche, outsize, yellow pigskin affair guarenteed to mark you out on day one as a trouble-maker.
So I’d scamper up there like a spider, way above the glow of the single light bulb on its log flex and lift the heavy lid an inch or two with my elbow whilst pawing about inside for some goody, mentally listing the inventory, checking for theft, bolting down whatever could be found..
heart pounding at the prospect of discovery.
biltong and custard creams..
crisps and chocolate.
Put some in your pocket for later, you can eat them in the toilet.
it looks compulsive, greedy, selfish…
and it is.
just the kind of behaviour you’d expect from boys raised in the absence of women, a continuation of a childhood almost entirely devoid of Mother…
in a culture where the ample lap of the Great Mother is no longer even a dim memory….
where getting properly fed feels like a cross border raid into enemy territory in which you may be ensnared at any time.
So you have to be alert….
and feed yourself..
‘This is our futile attempt to fill a spiritual and emotional emptiness within, to gratify some long-buried need, to heal or at least numb some festering psychological wound. Such self-defeating behaviors are rooted in formerly unmet infantile needs, childhood and adult trauma‘. S. Diamond.
And so much as we might judge and condemn the fisherman’s wife, do we have the courage to go where she could not? Can we nurse the empty child within who has already decided on the basis of experience that there is not enough to go round?
After all, embracing the inner child is not simply a matter of tears, bandaid and kissing it better. There is also the unresponsive child who wants more than you have and will give nothing back.
‘Do you love life? Then love camp life, for that too is life.” F. Dostoyevsky.
For what would love be if it were not willing to suffer everything..
to find meaning in suffering
or grace in the dirt?
Calling ourselves ‘consumers’ is the newest form of a Freudian prejudice that blames baby for not being able to find the nipple or for crying in response to being un-held.
It also keeps alive the illusion that we have got to the bottom of ourselves by confessing our ‘avarice’, by feeling guilty for feeling empty….
please Sir, can I have some more?
and thus immediately raised back up in pious inauthenticity where we join the call for an end to Greed…
that gaping maw where Mother used to be.