November 7, 2008

I Know No Other Way

I was asked in a comment to reflect on, my lack of participation in this election and my relationship with consumption before criticizing…

Here is my reflection: I live in a constant state of guilt and frustration, because I do not know how to live in this world. The world I envision and the one I live in are not the same. This disparity causes me much grief. Desires and consumption controls my life in such a way that I often feel powerless and lost. The things I say, the criticisms I make are not directed solely at some subservient public; they are most often directed at myself.

I am a consumer just as much as the people I chastise. I do not know how not to be a customer because I was bred to consume. Every aspect of my life, despite my parents’ strongest attempts to shield me, has been affected by a capitalist culture designed to make me a happy consumer. I assuming that the comment was made to make me think about my hypocrisy. I am not blind to this. I am a hypocrite and this fact causes me much suffering. I cannot stop being a hypocrite, because I do not know how.

Perhaps much of my angst and rage stem from the fact that I feel controlled and not in control of my own life. I do not feel free. Do not get me wrong; I do not take the physical freedom I have lightly. I know I am blessed to sleep every night in a beautiful home with everything I need to survive, an amazing little girl, and a great friend in my wife. Despite my blessings, I constantly feel like I am running in circles, and that I not only tolerate a rotten system that thrives on injustice, but that I am actively contributing to it.

I read my Zen books and understand the concept of starting with myself and taking it slow. But my awareness does not necessarily make it any easier.

The only way I see a way that I can become the person I want to be is to totally disconnect from the system and live off the grid. I am not brave enough to do this. Perhaps it is because I have a family and my choices are now not only mine. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I want to escape, or that my family is the only thing holding me back. I am not saying that at all. My family is the single most important thing in my life. My wife and my daughter sustain me. I am just saying that this sense of powerlessness may cause me to lash out.

It feels that the profit based-system has become so intrusive to our collective consciousness, that there is no escape. I feel like a prisoner to my own desires and needs. Perhaps this constraint and reduction of freedom is beyond politics and economics.

I am sure people will comments that say, we do what we can and try to work within the system, and I agree to an extent, but really then aren’t we are all hypocrites? I hate believing in and understanding revolutionary ideas, knowing my history, but still living the life of a reformer or worse a passive participant, or even worse, an active contributor to a system I can see is collapsing.

At the end of the day, I am just trying to learn how to find peace in a convoluted world. I may rant and rave, I may not participate in elections I don’t believe in, or I may have a dysfunctional relationship to consumerism; I am not denying any of that. I am just saying that I know no other way.


  1. Hi there,

    I got here by chance (that is, Twitter). And I have to say that I agree with you completely, even when I'm from a different country.

    I feel the same way, and I'm doing my best to get a grip on consumption. But it's not easy. And at the end of the day, just like you, we are all hypocritical.

    Now, I'm not sure if getting off the grid would make any difference in the long term. Take the Amish, for instance. Even if they stay away from many of the features of our crazy culture, the impact that our actions have on their life is undeniable, and their lifestyle will be compromised if things get ugly (as it looks they will get). So, it's even more sad. Seems like there is no escape. At the same time, looks like you are not really a "happy costumer" at all. That's the price of questioning.

    But then again, something has changed. I mean, a few years ago you would have felt the same, but even more isolated. I think is kind of reassuring to read about new forms of government, new ways to understand money, and to discover there are lots of people around the world feeling that things are not right.

    Yet, I wonder what's needed for us to make that change happen. I like to think (maybe I'm delusional) that something will happen sooner or later. It's just not possible for a profit-based system to keep going like this forever.

    But looks like it won't happen overnight, and it will be iterative. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was destroyed in just one. But it fell nevertheless.

    Finally, congratulations for being hypocritical. I think that's preferable to being asleep.

  2. I feel the same. I am totally complicit and I don't know how to not be. When I realized that I wasn't willing to take the only route that I see to become un-complicit in this fucked up system (totally drop in the woods in a debris shelter...hunt and gather primitively, etc), I started looking around at what I could do about it. The only thing I could think of to make this a better situation was to start working to empower people who are not complicit. And when I started looking around for people who aren't complicit, the only group I could find were people who were too young to be able to fully participate in the system. Children are not yet fully complicit in our fucked up system. And that's how I came to work with kids. I hope to make them aware of the hypocracy of it all while they still have some ability to make different choices, before they have car payments and kids and a taste for Irish Cream Mochas.

    I suspect that you do this too.

  3. look- unless you are prepared to run away to the deep woods somewhere and become a squatter- you are part of the system no matter where you live. the bottom line is- we all are hooked into the matrix. it is how you choose to live your life that matters- even the buddhists believe that. i read the book you suggested 'creating true peace' :) reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, grow your own food, walk, be aware of where your purchases come from- it's a start. there are hundreds of things that we can do in our everyday lives to commit to change. we can become involved within our own communities- here in the states- we can get involved in the election process. everytime i go to vote there are ancient senior citizens manning the machines- why? why aren't we pushing our local governments for more accountability or pushing to have community garden plots in downtowns?

    the way that the system is set up- we are all on a grid for power, for water, grocery stores warehouse our food. we can continue to lobby congress for greener power and pressuring the executive branch to work with other nations around the world to get on board with gore's plan. but we have to start somewhere. we can all grow a tomato plant in a pot- and we can become vegetarians- meat and dairy production is one of the biggest environmental detriments to the planet. we can all turn our computers off at night and put power suckers on a strip to turn off at night. help lower our electricity consumption. we can start buying only what we need and delaying what we want- that will help with our finances in the short term.

    we have to think outside of what we have always known. think about what can be rather than what we have always done. i know, it sounds weird coming out of me :) but it's true. we have a new generation of young folks that started their own movement. it was less about the democratic party and more about change. if we interact with people and start talking about third party candidates at the local and state levels- it will move. if we start working on talking to people in inner cities about what their rights really are- and empower them- they can't be suppressed and perhaps we can have new blood in the intellect pool.

    it isn't working within the system- it's living life. our whole planet is interconnected in similar ways now- there isn't anywhere to escape to- and we shouldn't even if we want to. the world needs us- needs caring, thoughtful, intelligent people now more than ever. this is the catalyst bz- let's run with it.

    sorry- i got a bit long winded :)

  4. You will find many people that agree with your sentiments. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I live in a world and a society in whose values, processes and power structures I have absolute contempt for. And can you ever really come to terms with it? Possibly not - it is a daily, ongoing process as to how much you have to sell out your beliefs in order to just get by and live a life with moments of happiness.

    One of my favorite books, which mirrors this dilemma, is 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying' by George Orwell. The protagonist, Gordon Comstock declares war on 'money' and 'capitalist vulgarities' and exiles himself from society, only to discover that in doing so, he exiles himself from those who care about him and spirals down into isolation, poverty and depression. He finally accepts that he must reintegrate himself into the society he does not believe in to some degree in order to live.

    The final point is the most interesting - how much do we have to compromise our ideals and 'play the game' in order to live and, in some way, make a difference or help shift perspective?

    I believe the current world view and system will fall, unfortunately after a crash or severe contraction in economy (is it happening now?), civilisation, population and unfortunately in the biosphere and its ecosystems. While it may be painful and we may not all live to see it, that is the simple nature of things.

    All things are impermanent.

    All things are interdependent.

    We cannot isolate ourselves from our world, simply make some choices as to the level of our hypocritical involvement.

  5. diego leal -

    "It's just not possible for a profit-based system to keep going like this forever."

    Since the day a caveman discovered fire and immediately started charging his friends mammoth meat and sexual favors if they wanted some, every human system has been based on certain people profiting far more than others, for various reasons and through various methods. There never has been and never will be a human society that is not based on profit.

    Our system is just honest about it.

    Or do you think the Pope's expense account is empty?

    Or the Dalai Lama's?

    Or Fidel Castro's?

    Talk about profit...

  6. Just found your blog - It's massively refreshing for me to find an American who can think for themselves!

    I understand your agony, but as others have said - you just have to get on with living your life in the way you think it should be lived - balancing the paradoxes and compromising where you have to. You'll only achieve so much - but rejoice that you are doing better than most and undertake to do better yourself as soon as you can. It's a journey - you shouldn't expect to arrive so quickly.

    As for albtraum - man am I glad I don't live in your world!

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