“Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us . . . But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements? To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture’s being drained by laughter?”
Just about all of us are familiar with George Orwell’s 1984 nightmare novel, whether we read it, know someone who read it, or watched the crappy movie adaptation on Netflix. We know about Big Brother, and have developed an innate fear of security cameras and police batons.
Others of us have mentally (or actually) donned Guy Fawkes masks in solidarity with our favorite anti-gov anti-hero, V (for Vendetta). A debate is currently rocking the country over the possession of firearms by everyday citizens, and the common cry of the arms-bearers is “What happens when the government comes to take away our freedom??”
In his book Amusing Ourselves To Death, Neil Postman asserted that the dystopian future we as a country (and potentially a race) might be headed toward would likely be more akin to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World than Orwell’s 1984. Postman noted that in Huxley’s account “no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”
Sound uncomfortably familiar? Over the course of his career Postman observed our steady decline into hedonism, our readily embraced apathy, and marked disdain for hard work, learning, and cultural activism.
We’ve all tasted it. It plays out in every episode of “Jersey Shore.” It’s writ large across every cosmetic surgery billboard. It’s contained in every bill that reduces educational funding.
We blame governmental conspiracy, corporate money-mongering, and the stupidity of “everyone else.” But can it *really* be possible that each of us reading this is the only one smart enough to recognize that everyone else is doing it wrong? Maybe we need to check our statistics.
Lambs to the Slaughter
It occurs to us with the conclusion of every year more we survive how much of a sheep we had been up to that point. We are always learning new ways to outsmart the trials of the world around us. We’ve listened to the right people (read: those that agree with us), rejected the wrong ones (read: those that don’t) and navigate our lives as best we can with that information.
All the while, we are deceived by our own minds. The human brain hasn’t evolved for over 10,000 years – we’re still running the same hardware as those lovable, stick-and-berry gathering clods we snap instagram pics of in brightly-lit museums. The only major difference is the info our gray little meatballs are packed with now, thanks to “Wild” Bill Nye and his ilk.
Our ancestors were just as obsessed with comfort, food, sex, and entertainment as we are now. And millennia later our maniacal pursuit of all things “fun” has led to the development of California King beds, McDonald’s, PornTube, and Verizon FiOs.
My point? We never had a chance. The flames our ancestors were proverbial moths to have evolved into flashing screens, comfy furniture, and drive-thrus. It’s in our DNA to seek the path of least resistance, and now that path has overgrown the wilderness that kept our senses sharp.
When many people think of chronic addictions, they envision veinfuls of drugs, inside-out poker pockets, and smoky, yellowed beards and teeth. They think of interventions and rehab and cold turkeys. Some of the more savvy crowd think of the little box in their pockets, and the screen they’re reading this on (if they aren’t one and the same), and they likely already see where I’m going with this.
What Postman was saying about Huxley’s future dystopia, was that we would readily enslave ourselves without any need for government coercion; that we are the jailers in our own high-tech prisons. There are widespread movements denouncing capitalism and corporations as the villains of this story – sociopathic oppressors of the people that they are. And there are plenty of other factions blaming Republicans, the Chinese, Illuminati Freemasons, and every other “they” that can be conjured.
But the truth is that a man is only a man. That is both a comfort, and a condemnation. People are the same everywhere, whatever their political convictions, education, or heritage – all that is changed by those things is the degree to which they are equipped to achieve what all people innately desire as creatures of nature: Comfort. Survival. Happiness.
Thousands of years of innovation and perseverance have basically placed the world at our soft, pedicured feet. Everything now is faster, more abundant, more connected. Our streets may not be paved with gold the way some childhood immigrants had hoped, but we certainly have raised the standard.
The problem with having too much, is that it weighs one down. Eat too much and you get fat. Sleep too much and you feel disoriented. Play too much basketball and your femur blows through your thigh like a macabre wishbone.
And as everything gets gradually “better” we are pulled with the tide. We think less of it. We stop noticing. Eventually 5 seconds of video buffering becomes excruciating. A six-day wait for a package from the other coast seems absurd. We spend more time doing everything while we do nothing – screens replace our interaction with the physical world.
Easier. Faster. Constantly available.
I can feel it as I sit here. My email tells me I have a new follower on Twitter which I’m hoping will spread popularity of this blog which I’ve linked to my FaceBook and Tumblr. My phone next to my laptop lights up with a notification that someone likes another of my posts.
I sip an energy drink to restore all that I drained staying up drinking rum so that I could be social and friendly and entertaining late into the night. Pandora’s blocking out the television and pesky social interactions distracting me from updating my blog that I want to become popular so that I can show it companies and have some kind of relatively employable human worth among the *throngs* of other struggling individuals praying for income.
Grit and elbow grease don’t cut it anymore. John Henry is dead, folks. We are now concoction-infused automatons wired into the high-speed switchboard of the modern world. If you unplug, you fade away. If you don’t self-enhance, you lose. Evolution is out of nature’s hands – it now resides in pharmacies, salons, and tech stores.
We have made the human body inhumanly “sexy” with plastic and vacuums. We have lengthened the limit of mental and physical endurance with beverages and pills. We have created food that could sit in the sun for days without being affected by the elements, and animals would only eat it out of ignorance of the nutritional facts (much like ourselves). And all of it can be acquired in a micro-fraction of the time any of it would have taken a century ago.
There is a price in forsaking nature. Many of us have felt the slog and the stress of constantly “needing” something to keep us going. If we don’t break down completely from the stress of keeping up, we revert into a mindless state of task-completion with little or no sense of reward. Like some kind of… machine perhaps?
Famed futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted that by the year 2045 the distinction between what is distinctly “man” and what is obviously “machine” will have become too blurred to clearly define. He calls this “The Singularity.” Psychoanalyst and creepy grandfather figure Sigmund Freud asserted that machines would “live on, rather than in man.”
But there is no doubt that at some point our creations, our shiny little machinated saviors, will be so intertwined with our daily lives that we will lose some of our original selves in them. As I said – we were destined.
Fortunately, alertness is always rewarded in time. Sliding recklessly into a narcotized, dependent state is a very real possibility. And we likely wouldn’t even recognize that it was occurring – in fact already has. The more we substitute our internal drive, cognitions, and discernment with supplements and interactive screens, the less able we will be to do anything for ourselves.
It is important to recognize that the more we partake of a “treat,” the less of a treat it becomes. Our brain loves to play the game of “diminishing returns.” Everyone gets sick of their favorite food, favorite movie, favorite porn after they watch it enough times consecutively. That’s nature telling us to slow down on the hedonism.
Too much of *anything* can be bad for you, even things that are good for you! Vegetarians can’t maintain a healthy body eating ONLY spinach for every meal, or even a mix of vegetables. We’re omnivores in diet and in *life* – we thrive on diversity; no matter how often we try to deny it.
The best way forward is not so hard to discern. Physically we haven’t changed in thousands of years. Partially this is because we haven’t had to fend off a lion without the use of a sharp stick since we started walking upright. But it’s also because we’ve hit sort of a genetic jackpot. Our physical nature is well-developed, and all it takes is the right operation to make a body into a marvel.
To Win, Don’t Play
Eastern monks pursue a rigorous life of discipline and personal development. They not only train their bodies and minds to work harder and more variably, they train them not to *need* things. Buddhism promotes a strong mentality of detachment. Not in an apathetic way, but a rational one. You will not be any less of a person without your nice clothes, without your car, without your meager savings.
These things make life easier, some might even say more enjoyable. But the fact is that you will not *die* without them. And what are we here for if not to live? The higher we stack our towering monument to happiness with *things* the more unstable it becomes.
It seems trite. “Just be one with Earth and love and be the trees man and happiness will follow like a rainbow cloud of sunshine!” It doesn’t have to be like that. Just think of a math problem. The more numbers and signs present the more of a headache you develop. Thus is life. The more complicated it becomes, however much cooler and more impressive it may seem, the harder it is to process and understand.
Do yourself a favor. Minimize your headaches. Let go of what you don’t need. Learn the difference.
How many things do you interact with and ingest every *single* day. How many of those things are produced in a factory? How many of them do you understand the workings of completely?
It’s easier to ignore these things, to just let them work their magic and counterbalance them with “fixes.” But more fixes mean more numbers and signs in the equation. Look at the billboards, commercials, and websites with a scrutinizing eye. What are they trying to say to you? About you?
You’re not pretty enough. Not strong enough. Not rich enough. Your possessions aren’t as good as these. You’re not safe. These people are happier than you. Because they eat here, smoke this, wear these, etc…
I once watched a documentary about healthy eating wherein a man talked about his experience with self-doubt. He compared his internal criticisms to a person constantly standing next to him telling him how much he sucked – and how he would never put up with that from anyone else, so there was no reason for him to put up with it from himself.
Again, maybe this is trite. But it hit home for me. We’re often the only people we’ll take that kind of crap from, and we’re around us all the time so that can’t be good for our self-worth.
We deserve better. You deserve better. You don’t need “them.” They can’t help you, because the only thing “wrong” with you is that you keep getting sucked deeper into their game.
Try to stop playing for a while. Maybe you can’t chuck your phone out onto the freeway, but you can turn off the more superficial alerts. You don’t NEED to check FaceBook at every red light, or every five minutes at a party with real people who would probably love to talk to you and maybe even give you a smooch.
Try cooking a meal with your friend (boy, girl, or other). If that’s a different ballpark, try looking for a restaurant that sells more than fake-meat-on-bun. Break the mold, man. Show yourself you can. It becomes an addiction of its own. Freedom. Proving that you don’t *need* anything.
Make our ancestors proud 😉 Fight back tooth and nail. This is your life; don’t let it be subverted behind your back by sneaky, greedy profiteers who couldn’t give two shits about the effect on you.
Nothing is ever as it seems.