In order to understand the pathological need for wealth, fame and consumption that typifies Western Culture, we need to look further than mere greed. Having the moral high ground is not enough. You might still miss what’s so interesting about wanting more than you need….
The Rule of Intention says that the way things pan out has to do with the intentions of those who are involved. If children in their millions are starving then someone is witholding the spoon. If thousands have no education then that’s by design. If families are living on the streets someone put them there.
So then what does it mean that we collectively aspire to more than we need? Why is it that we regard excessive consumption differently from obesity? You’d be shocked if a person’s goal was to gain a hundred pounds…
”We are screwing the planet to make solar powered bathroom thermometers and desktop crazy golfers.” G Monbiot.
Are we then simply diplaying our wealth? Is there some arcane connection between wanton destruction and attractiveness? I think not, but whatever the answer it lies deeper than our greed or stupidity.
Symptoms of dis-ease are never arbitrary or simply unfortunate. They are the unconscious expression of something yet to be named. There is hidden meaning in desperately pursuing stuff you don’t actually need, stuff whose production enslaves and destroys into the bargain. Calling it addiction doesn’t quite work either, despite the added caveat to greed that there is more at work than mere self indulgence.
Believing we can convert the rhythms of work into cash so that real life might then begin may feel worth the price to be paid by aliveness, but what many of us do in our leisure time is just more of the very same consuming of life from which we most need to a break. In our millions we become even further absorbed…..
”in the electronic reproduction of life, the passive consumption of the twittering screen.” A Watts.
So we save up for our hols, to get away from it all, when proper enjoyment can get under way, only to find that it too is also somehow pasteurised, with boxes to tick and schedules to fill. Been there, done that… We wait to be amused, wonder what’s next and if we’ve had our money’s worth.
All of which..
”gives rise to a culture devoted not to survival but to the actual destruction of life.” ibid
So is our devouring of life a form of collective suicide, a Chomskian rushing to the precipice?
No, its scarier than that.
It is an attack, not just upon ourselves, but on our children. The planet that their parents are pillaging is, after all, their inheritance. The spiritual malaise and attendant acting out of the developed world is far greater, far more malicious, than mere apathy, denial or disinterest.
”Once you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Sherlock Holmes.
If we want to understand consumerism and its attended ravaging of the planet we need to ask what it is that people are really hoping for with the must-have item on their bucket list. Irrespective of its concretisation, the new car, the fancy vacation, the latest gadgetry, what people seem to be striving for is a sense of worth, of being safe and held and fed.
Collectively we are seeking the in-arms experience of infancy which, as a culture, we have simply not yet had.
‘When the expected does not take place, corrective or compensatory tendencies make an effort to restore stability.’ J. Liedloff.
Consumerism is a parody of contented infant satiation. We want life dribbling down our chin. We want to be in the ‘lap of luxury’. We want the safety of maternal embrace whose alternative is the poor substitute of being gripped by her dark and compulsive sister, (mater)ialism.
‘The infant (like the guru) lives in the eternal now, in a state of bliss; the infant out of arms is in a state of longing, the bleakness of an empty Universe. Want is all there is..’ ibid
Amassing the unnecessary to the detriment of life on Earth looks entirely crazy until we consider it in a symbolic light, the unfulfilled need of a culture seeped in denial about what is truly indispensible. Mother.
This denial reaches its acme in psychoanalytic theory with Freud’s Drive Conflict theory which entirely marginalises Mother as relevant to baby’s health or illness.
According to this theory dis-ease is not down to how we are treated, whether we are held and loved, but on dysfunctional ‘object relations’. You did it to yourself, a doctrine of victim blaming that also constitutes the final eradication of Mother’s relevance to life. In thirty years I have never found Freud to use the word ‘mother’ even once.
This denigration of life’s most important role impoverishes our entire culture but it does far more and has consequences you might not have considered.
Not only does the dominant form of spirituality in Western Culture fail to nourish, but our anxious preoccupation with and eternal focus on the future with its promise of salvation…at some point…does have the appeal that the indiscretions of today may be swept under the carpet, but in the process of ducking conscience we are also bound to be gripped with envious spoiling for those who are able to be in the moment where real life happens, where all bliss, joy, gratitude and celebration are to be found.
Much of the West’s ferocious subjugation of the ‘childlike’ third world has to do with this same improbable truth, that we envy them. Despite their poverty they seem to have something we do not, a living for today where the real riches of life are to be found. And so they are happy. For all our wealth and power in the West we are miserable. Our worrying about tomorrow means we cannot enjoy our mountain of stuff today because all enjoyment is Now.
I once asked an African man on a dusty savannah roadside in tropical heat when the bus he was waiting for would arrive. ‘Today”, he answered contentedly. By contrast and half a world away, commuters on Stuttgart railway station platform follow the digital clock ticking over, . At the exact same moment they all look in disappointed unison at their watches and turn to stare down the track as if they were practicing impatience for a show.
Our collective obsession with time and tommorow means that the aliveness gets sucked out of today. We become chorus lines to celebrity others whose lives have somehow become more real than our own. The togetherness, the gratitude for simply being alive can’t be entered into and like the uninvited guest, ‘Now’ turns cold, vengeful and wooden.
”Unlived life will not sit idly on the shelf, it will turn round and bite you.” M.L. von Franz.
If a sense of Self that transcends self-interest can’t be embodied it will be projected. The recipients will invariably be the next generation who are as yet untutored in guilt, whose feeling of belonging has yet to be eroded, who have yet to know alienation.
and who are handy…
‘will arouse certain longings in the adult. . . longings which relate
to the unfulfilled desires and needs of those parts of the personality
which have been blotted out. . .’ C. G. Jung.
Whilst we idealise, cosset and run around endlessly with compensatory gestures of slavish devotion, so too do we silently envy and spoil. The secret bit about narcissistic brats is that they were made that way by parents who first loaded them down with not only their own unfulfilled expectations but with all the potentialities in today that we can’t shoulder for the sake of insuring ourselves against tommorow.
The horror of growing old and dying without first having properly lived is all too much and become split in our affections.
I will pat you on the head whilst I poison your earth.
My father personally favoured random electrocution as a means to express his envious grievance at my blossoming youth. Bare mains wires ran down the walls both inside and outside my room. They would set window frames and brickwork alive, especially when it rained. You might say that most parents are not so pathological and yet the quest for more than you need means you have to go out and take it off someone else, perpetual warmongering for which youth in their millions are most necessary.
I once spent three days as part of a tiny force of green berets sitting under a tree waiting for the go ahead to take on 300 defected enemy soldiers who’d changed their mind and taken their new commander hostage as a prelude to melting back into the bush with shiny new G3 semi automatics. We all knew it was a suicide mission should the order finally came through, but the predominant feeling amongst us was one of quiet acceptance, the calm of sacrificial beasts under a stone knife, as though fulfilling some preordained narrative.
Saturn is eating his children.
Behind closed doors it’s usually less flamboyant than electrified bedrooms or going to live in a war zone but after three decades of being a psychotherapist I have to say that everyone who ever came to see me had the same issue. Their true self had been attacked and their destinies subverted by someone they were entitled to trust.
Which is why having more than you need is a form of poison. Its not just greedy. It’s a blow aimed at those who would be better stewards of this earth than ourselves, our children.
this article contains excerpts from my new book ‘Abundant Delicious.. on attaining your heart’s desire’. http://andywhiteblog.com/2016/06/11/abundant-delicio…ot-off-the-press/