The Consumer System
It has been said that our Ego has no limits in its desire to feel satisfied. Nothing is ever enough. Not love, not excitement, not stuff, status nor food. Our hunger knows no bounds. Part of this is the wiring of our brains. Our nerve network does not respond to continuous stimulus of the same intensity. The same old thing over and over dulls our senses. We often crave stimulation (from an external source) and we want what we want when we want it. Our entire economic system plays into that part of our makeup. New and better stuff is unendingly presented to us. Consuming things, collecting things, hoarding things is suggested to us over and over again. Is consumption wrong? Are we, through our habits of wanting, consuming more than our planet can give? When there are too many of us with the same habits will it be the end as we now know it? Can all throughout the world live with the same degree of consumption as the US does now? Then President Bush said "our quality of life is not negotiable", Our standard of life is something we hold dear. We are proud of it, we defend it, and we display it for all to see and emulate. Capitalism is the economic foundation of our Democratic System. We have more to make and buy than any other people in the world. Our desire for more and better is unquenchable. This is not necessarily a good thing. When shopping becomes an end to itself we are way off balance.
Is it wrong to want things, to have a better life, to have the opportunity that this system of consumption provides us, to eat well, to live well, to feel secure? Is less better than more? Or is more better than less? And how does all of this relate to self discovery, remaining centered, awareness and letting go?
The religion of consumption replaces a deeper spiritual awareness. Corporations that make stuff and market it to us take advantage of our inner desires and cravings, our unquenchable needs. The impact to our lives, to our value systems, to the integrity of our home is lost to the immediate satisfaction a purchase provides us. Saying no is difficult. But being aware of the impact that all of this stuff has is just a shift in perspective. Then saying no is not only possible but preferred.
Discussions with many different people almost invariably touches on the following praise for our system and some of the concerns such questioning brings to the surface. We have the best system in the world, capitalism is our foundation. It provides opportunity for growth, a high quality of life, jobs for almost everyone, and an abundance of what we all need to live well. What good does denying ourselves do? Technology will solve the waste problems, new and better sources of energy will be discovered, and reducing consumption will not solve the demand for goods and adequate food for the world's increasing needs.
Capitalism, continuous growth and product replacement, is fed by our purchases. Status in our societies is determined and fed by our purchases. We distance ourselves from the rape of the planet that makes all this possible. We distance ourselves from all those who cannot participate in the orgy of buying. We lose our connection to the real source of all of this abundance.
Awareness gives us the opportunity to choose and to choose wisely. To choose to consume gives the power to the corporations, to choose not to consume brings a balance back into the system. We cannot change the depletion of our planets resources until the power of our decision to buy or not to buy is deeply felt by those who would exhaust our resources just to make a product, just to make a profit, so that the cycle can continue until little is left.
The net of it is simply that tampering with the most abundance generating system in the world would not be a good thing, and even if it was how could you safely alter how the whole system works? Technology and innovation is the answer, not less consumption. Sure we have pollution and waste problems and yes fresh water will be a problem in the future. It is arguable that our population will keep rising exponentially, some research points to it leveling off or even declining in the future. The resources for our needs in the future can be found or alternatives will be discovered. Plastics were an innovation that made all of our lives easier and even though they have become a problem (possible health impacts, waste disposal, sea life impacts) other alternatives can and will be discovered. just as plastics replaced glass and some metal containers, something will replace plastics, whether something new and different or a safe biodegradable version.
So, what is really going on? Are we happy? Is all of this abundance making things better? Has our habits of wanting more contributed to greater meaning in our lives? Do we each feel deep down the almost sacred connection with all of the life and energy around us? Do we honor our relationships? Or is it every man and woman responding to the urge of more, more stuff, more stimulation, more and newer relationships, greater status, or the idea that everything and everyone is temporary and replaceable? The last reference came from observations of all ranges of people who do not want to deal with each others issues or pain. It is easier to move on to greener pastures, and the promises we make to each other aren't really binding for life, are they?
The media brings our frailties as human being into the lime light. But the media does not create those frailties. At most the marketing arm of the media inundates us with stuff that will make our lives better, fix our injured and ailing bodies, or just make us feel better if we purchase what ever it is that they are selling.
I do not believe consumption is in and of itself a bad thing. But no one can deny that we are bombarded every second of every day with things we can purchase that will (according to the advertisement) make us feel better, fix us or make our lives easier. We have so bought into this consumption state of mind that shopping has become a form of pleasure and satisfaction all by itself. The marketing efforts even target our youngest children in order to associate the brand with their later power to purchase.
Is the real problem here our desire? Is the real problem our lack of awareness of the impact to others or even the planet that our need to have stuff, greater stimulation, or more of, creates? Is there a problem at all?
I believe so. In my own life and those lives that surround mine I find that our level of consciousness is many times less than it could be. Enlightenment is not what I am talking about here. It is a conscious awareness of our actions and the ability to say no if what we are doing has enough negative impacts to warrant concern. This awareness has many levels. From "that is going to hurt someone" to feeling the separation such action will have on the integrity of all life, even the pain of the planet we call home.
If this seems extreme, how many times have we bought clothing that came from sweat shops, how many times have we bought things we do not need just because we can. How many times have our actions caused others real pain. How many times have we purchased something that far away was destructive to the environment, a pollution generator, a loss of species, a habitat destroyer, a killer. We have and if we thought about it for one second we would say no.
Like marketing that tries to persuade us to purchase, conscious awareness can allow us to say no. Our greatest power and influence on the behavior of those who generate stuff they want us to buy is to not buy it. Not buying can shift the consciousness level of the entire planet. That paradigm shift can be the catalyst for real and significant change.
There is no need strip our ourselves down to a bowl of rice and run naked in the streets, but there is a need to expand our level of conscious awareness to all areas of our lives. To be in the moment is a good thing, but to be aware of everything that moment impacts is a game changer.
The Case of the Wandering Guru
Dispensing wisdom is less effective than living wisdom. Your children, spouses, friends or enemies know you at a certain level. That level is guided by their own image of themselves. These perceptions rarely see you as a total being. Other people take snapshots of you at any given moment and call these snapshots you. You are more that what they see, everyone knows this, but simple judgements are easer and more convenient. If they believe your words (read dispensing wisdom) do not line up with their perception of you then your words fall on deaf ears. You may even at times feel the sting of dismissal. Of course other people's opinion of you is really none of your business, but, we all live in a community so the community's perception of you does affect you. It just does not need to shape you into something you are not, something that fits into the imaginary person they want you to be. You are unique, you have much to offer and your changes within, occurring throughout your life, are real. You are a "wandering Guru" full of wisdom and inner strength that you emit with your every deed, your every hug, and your every laugh, your every expression of non judgmental compassion.
"Teach what you understand and practice, not just what you have knowledge of". Knowledge of is good, but it does not compare with the deep understanding of awareness of self. The wandering Guru knows this and seeks to influence through the mirrors of living. As the old saying goes "Feed a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats forever". Of course fishing is not necessarily catching, if it was we would call it catching, not fishing.
Having the knowledge and the tools does not always mean you will succeed in the short run but in the long run you will. While old habits die hard, new ways of feeling and living bring about the changes that are important for living a happier fulfilling life. Even if that level of understanding appears late in life. More interesting and fun if it arrives early in life.
My own wandering has not been without its pot-holes, self pity, anger, resentment, pain, depression and loss. But as I continued, often with tenacity and not so much understanding, the lights came on, the understanding deepened, and the anger/self pity was no longer present. Freedom is an amazing thing. Shackles I learned are voluntary but awareness of choices is also voluntary. The difference in how life is experienced is night and day.
Desire and Greed or I'll get my share no matter what
Invoking self awareness to subdue desire is like stuffing an apple in a straw. It ain't gonna work. Having read a great deal on the subject of our voracious needs, desires, wantings, emptiness and greed I find it most difficult to offer ways to correct these patterns of feeling and living. Though our need to follow a different path is obvious to anyone who takes a moment to reflect on the human condition, it is not obvious how to stop the train wrecks we continue to experience. Those in power to do great harm continue to do so, those who follow such icons of extreme mischief continue to do so. The rest of us wander around trying to set an example, fight the system when we can, and live our lives as kindly and compassionately as we can.
We are hard wired to explore, seek knowledge and understanding, innovate, problem solve and explore the reasons for our presence in this vast Universe. We are also hardwired with several other motivators for living and surviving. Self preservation, finding food, fighting or fleeing, reproducing, even love. But, we also have other drives and abilities that often stay submerged beneath the over riding power of our wants and needs, our very survival.
To fill the empty and alone feeling, we seek something or someone to fill it. To deal with all of the unknown and even death we find diversions while we spend our lives searching for answers. When the answers don't come we are afraid. Learning to accept death is a path unto itself. Most of us let the chips fall where they may and focus on something else until we reach our time.
Abundance distracts us from our real mission in life. It satisfies(no, it distracts us from) our cravings, our surface desires, and our deep need to find solutions to the dilemma of living. There is many times emptiness, more emptiness than we can deal with and still remain relatively sane. Being alone and separate, being a speck in the vastness, being fragile and often afraid is only a part of our existence. The other part is just as powerful, but happier and more connected. To feel part of something wonderful, way beyond our conception of wonderful, brings a different view of life. We make contact, we are enthralled with the possibilities and we enjoy what we have. We also choose differently. We choose to not create pain, to not destroy, and to protect life in all its forms while still protecting our own. If we look out at the Universe and imagine that it does not care whether we live or die, we behave one way. If we look out at the Universe and imagine the gift of our existence and all it took to allow us to be, we behave another way.
This is the choice we have every second, every minute, and every day.
An Organizational Dilemma
I have learned from the Catholics, the Buddhists, the Baptists, the Muslims. I have been a small part of a very large organization. I understand management, leadership, and the role of advisor. I have some understanding of spirituality, religious rituals, myths, beliefs and faith. But to be honest I do not have the skill or inclination to create an organization from the bottom up.
All through this website I have attempted to plant a seed of change. And there is much more to come. How some ever, the thought of initiating a parallel path of creating a new community, as all of the above have done, leaves me with the great phrase "Hey, whom am I kidding, I got nothing". I have witnessed so many people who are advocates of great change. I am in awe of their skill and ability to start building a community of like minded individuals and have those communities grow and grow into powerful catalysts of change. I myself have resisted such efforts and often ask myself why.
I do participate but I do not join. I advocate change at the most fundamental level and yet do not attempt to build an organization to expand that change, to sell it, to implement it. For myself I understand why.
The common element of all organizations is the creation of a hierarchy. I can say this with certainty, that all societies that are hierarchical in nature build a structure that can have a strong sound foundation. But all seem to establish a greater than and a less than perception of personal value. My first novel dealt with this subject. The solution was the creation of non hierarchical communities. Each individual participated according to their skills, knowledge and personal inclination. The only rule was contribute with the best you have to offer. There were no rich and poor, there was not dominance and submission, There was only a gathering of people who sought to build, share, help, train, and participate.
Of course this was only a novel, but the premise stuck with me. In our societies of great wealth and absolute poverty, of total domination and total submission, of the haves and the have nots, I have asked the most fundamental of questions. Are all organizations that are hierarchical in nature doomed to create the great divide: the rich and powerful, those in poverty, extreme abundance, extreme lack, those on the throne of prosperity, those on the edge of survival. Its not a question.
In a Capitalistic society, that depends on more and more growth to survive, all of the people will sooner or later end up as a layered community of wealth, less wealth, even less wealth, and pure poverty. The often quoted belief is that in our society opportunity for all is our guiding principle. We are not all equal but we all have equal opportunity. If this were not so why do so many want to come here. Why is this touted as the land of opportunity.
The answer is we are a democracy, we still have our freedoms and we have a system of checks and balances that maintains that freedom. But make no mistake, we are not all equal and we do not all have equal opportunity. Our Society is stratified by wealth and power. Although some who are talented, smart, and believe in themselves can rise from the bottom many many others stay stuck at the bottom or move up very little. The great work ethic in some families, over several generations, allowed each succeeding generation to have more opportunity and greater participation in the wealth that is possible under our system. This was the sacrifice of many parents so that their children could have a better life.
But over time, the wealthy become more wealthy, the powerful become more powerful, the haves prosper. Yet the gap between those who have achieved much and have much and those who have little is widening and widening. The system is changing and not necessarily for the better. Our values have shifted from the small self sufficient communities where everyone contributed according to their abilities, to larger and larger communities, larger and larger companies, and more massive governments.
Our recent debacle, our financial meltdown and what followed is a case in point. Some at all levels but mostly those in a position of wealth and power took great risks with other people's money. They failed and the ripple effect took over. Many others who trusted (but wanted more than they could generate on their own) followed the greed example set by our financial wizards. We were all fully invested and we all lost. Some lost everything. The point though is that the very people who played such a risky game got bailed out first, those at the bottom of the food chain have not. The reason is our economic systems throughout the world were on the edge of collapse so our leaders borrowed from the future to cover the mistakes of the present. And the wrong people got a pardon. If AIG, GM, and all of the big banks, if Fannie May and Freddie Mac, if everyone were allowed to reap the consequences of their risky behavior, would we have entered a worldwide depression? No one knows. The seemingly only way out is for everyone to spend and buy.....more stuff. We will never know.
So why is this an Organizational dilemma?
If we observe the Catholic Church, we can take note that some who represent the Church to us and our children, violated our trust. The Church Hierarchy has refused to allow the Justice System to prosecute those who did great harm and those who covered it up.
Enron failed its employees, failed our Capitalistic system, destroyed many of its people and lost many their entire life savings. What happened?
All of the key individuals responsible for our current financial and economic failure, what happened to them?
The list is quite long and there are many side issues and examples. Corporate polluters, Corporate monopolies, Corporate Greed. Generally the takeover of everything that affects the quality and safety of our lives and our childrens lives is alive and well. Not to mention the Supreme Court's decision to give Corporations the same rights as individual citizens. We will all come to regret that decision.
But without going crazy by opening all the wounds that so many have caused over the decades, it is important to ask a few fundamental questions.
Do we continue to defend ourselves by creating more and bigger Activist Organizations?
Do we depend on our Religious Entities to guide and protect us?
Do we trust our Government's leaders to honor their positions as our representatives?
Or do we look inward? And make the changes necessary to seriously alter our individual lives, our Societies, and the values that will sustain us and our children far into the future.
You see I believe that more and more organizations are not the answer. They tend to get away from the great reasons they were created in the first place. Each of their agendas takes on a life of its own and although great good has come from them, the systemic failures of those in power weave a complex web of hide and seek. It is like a thousand mosquitoes in a room with you. If one bites you and you kill it (all Buddhists may take issue with that approach) there are many more to take its place and bite you again and again, until you have the sense to leave the room.
So rather than create a new movement, a new organization, I believe the answer lies with the individual. We can choose from so many options. To buy or not to buy. To cause harm (directly or indirectly) or not to cause harm. To become more and more aware of where our behavior and choices are coming from. To act with a thing called "mindfulness", where we are paying attention to not only what is going on inside but to the impacts of our decisions. To say "no" to excess is not a bad thing, but to say "yes" to some things is also not a bad thing. The middle road is a good road, it is not excess and it is not running around naked with a bowl of rice. It is awareness, it is choice, it is the path we must all follow if real change is what we really want.