Friday, November 24, 2006

Hail, Sate'in

The only reason I am bothering to post is because of what today represents. I know I've already talked about the subject a few days back, but this is less practical and more of a rant.

Today is "Black Friday" in the United States. Black Friday is the day that businesses officially open the holiday shopping season (which has been going on "unofficially" since September). The "black" of "Black Friday" refers to the color of ink used in the ledgers for bookkeeping. Black ink means profit, red ink means debt. In modern accountancy, red can be as good as black. I don't pretend to understand it all. Modern finance seems to be able to put a spin on any scenario. If you make a profit it isn't enough of a profit. If your earnings are up they are not up enough to jive with projections by experts. If you lose money it is good news because it wasn't as much as your competitor. If you lose money it is alright because you've invested in infrastructure and off-shore development. All economics are voodoo to me.

But I don't want this entry to be about ink color. I want this entry to be about satisfaction. Yesterday was a feast day. Thanksgiving is notorious for its overindulgence. We eat until we are literally in pain. Rather than stop, we simply loosen the belts (unless we had the foresight to simply wear pants with an elastic waistband) and keep on eating. We will lay in moaning piles on the floor hoping that the football game or the re-broadcast of a parade will somehow take our minds off our digestive distention. Then, in a fit of festive forgetfulness, we head once more into the breach. We writhe in joyful agony, wondering when that last piece of pumpkin pie will finally end its journey so we can feel normal again.

This is a nation fueled by dissatisfaction. We never cease in our quest to find more and better ways to satisfy the cravings within. If every day is a day of seeking contentment in this nation, Thanksgiving is the first day of our Bizarro Ramadan. These two days in November are a one-two punch to the concept of moderation and satisfaction. The High Holy day is Christmas and the fast (as in "consume faster") is broken on New Year's Day.

Let me quickly state that I am not writing this as one who is immune to this disease or even mildly aware of what causes it. I know I have it in some form or another and have examined the malady for a long time.

We are a bag of flesh that seems to instinctively seek ways to consume. We make room for this consumption by various purges (biological, emotional, psychological and economical). When we are eating our breakfast, we think about what we'll have for lunch. When we are on a date with a significant other, we look to the next table and mentally undress its attractive occupant. When we are buying a new music CD, we keep a mental list of all the others we need to buy next time. We'll "get into" eastern philosophy for a while, but notice that indigenous traditions are pretty interesting.

I wish I knew why we behaved this way. I know that variety is considered beneficial in a genetic sense. Perhaps this is a part of the riddle? I am not against variety of experience in life, but this goes deeper than simple curiosity or a desire for varied experiences. There is a hunger within us so deep than we simply cannot consume enough things or experiences to quell it. We use drugs, food, television, internet, sex, toys, sports, music, and anything within reach to stop the groaning. Like most people, I just assumed that I had yet to find the right thing for my hunger, but in time I'd stumble on to it. The more I looked, the more I knew something else was up.

In my thinking, the farther along we travel in our history, the less likely we are to find something that satisfies our longing. I say that for several reasons (and I know the reasons are foolish):

1) The longer you work on a problem, the closer you are to the solution. We've been working on this one for a very long time. I don't even see small signs of hope (yes, I am taking into consideration Tony Robbins and Dr. Phil).

2) The more people you have working on a problem, the more likely you are to have it addressed by keen minds. In all our history, some pretty sharp folks have tried to tackle this one. Again, we're still waiting for the white smoke.

3) The longer it takes to find a solution, the more input and data will be available for consideration. More products, ideas, religions, and snack foods are introduced every day. Each one is a potential answer to our various hungers. But the more options we have before us, the longer it will take to explore them. The day has long since passed where one person could experience all the options available to him. We'll always be missing something. What if it is the thing we need to fill the void?

I'm not skilled enough in anthropology or sociology to know if there is a culture that is truly settled and satisfied. I don't know if there are people that wake up each day to simply experience what the day brings rather than anticipate how they'll fill the many holes in their lives. All I know is that American culture has dropped the ball and we are never going to find it by doing the same things we've done for years.

I started to think that our consumption wasn't so much to fill our void as it was to distract us from it. At least when that grumbling place had a new philosophy or salsa to evaluate it wasn't bothering us with its incessant bleating. That new relationship may be good for a few months of peace. Trying out model airplane piloting is good for a month. Yoga may get you through half the year. A new outfit is good for a week. A video game system works great for a fortnight, but you'll need to add a new game regularly for about a year.

I'm not saying there isn't an answer, but I am saying that consumption isn't the answer. I'm sure everyone has experienced buyer's remorse. We've all ordered the Linguine in Clam Sauce when we should have ordered the Asian Stir-fry. Besides, we're just hungry again in a short time. If we all know that consumption isn't the answer, why do we keep pursuing it as if it is?

The down side to this insanity is that the more we feed this beast, the hungrier it gets. When it realizes that all our previous attempts at satisfaction were failures, it panics and increases the urgency of our quest. We seem to be positively racing toward new levels of consumption every day. All we get for our trouble is more debt, more disappointment and less room in our homes. Our bank accounts are empty, our hearts are empty and the future looks empty. Meanwhile, the beast has grown to the point that we cannot hope to fight it. I feel like we are totally lost in this country. I feel as if there is no hope for us to leave this insane consumer culture behind us and embark on a journey towards compassion, contentment and sustainability.

Maybe if we can sit still long enough to actually hear what our inner longing is saying, we might be able to figure it out? But when the sound of ad jingles, snack wrappers, fragging, clinking glasses, riffs, moans and crowds get in the way, we've no chance at all.

I really don't know the answer to the question. I not even sure I know what the question might be, but at least we have an anthem. In the end, all I can do is what I think is best. Today, that is staying home and not buying anything. I wish I had something more upbeat to post, but this is what is rattling around inside. January 2nd won't come soon enough for me.


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