Being Better has Resulted in Our Not Being at All
I am obsessed with the question “What on earth has happened to us?” And won’t let it go – or perhaps I should say, it won’t let me go.
Whatever it was, is sure was devastating. It seems to me that we no longer exist. I have no way of explaining this intuition to others, since I have no gift of poetry. But poets go on about it all the time – which is perhaps why we have no interest in poetry.
Emerson said “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.” And, along with everyone else, I am inclined to agree with him. This is obvious. But it is doesn’t explain enough.
One is tempted to consider greed as the root of all evil – except this analysis is hardly new. It is even one of the Christian sins. But it is close to the problem.
The Problem seems to have become critical about the time of the Industrial Revolution – when consumer goods began to be produced in abundance. Immediately, everyone had to have them – and a lot of them.
I am interested in Early American History, and in the Founding Fathers. They were mostly Southern Plantation owners, with plenty of slaves, who tried desperately to imitate the British upper classes. And could see nothing inconsistent in this with their passion for liberty and equality. Although this is is not quite true – when pushed, they would admit the evils of slavery, and were in favor of its eventual elimination – in theory.
Thomas Jefferson is the perfect example of this. He could not control his spending, and his estate had to be sold at his death to pay for his debts. Sally Hemmings was kept by the family, although her children had been freed – and were considered free whites.
The point I want to make here is that greed, which had existed forever, metamorphosed into something more more powerful, insidious and irresistible – which kept getting worse, without anyone being aware of how serious a problem it had become.
We became unaware in many ways – the very worst thing that could of possibly happened to us. Its effect was cumulative – it kept getting worse and worse – and we ended up not even being. With all kinds of possessions that had possessed us.
Let me repeat: we thought being better mean having more things, which meant we changed ourselves to make more of them and use more of them – and this meant we have to have even more. We had to have a growth economy forever – when that was clearly impossible.
And this race to nowhere has become embedded in our social DNA. The most serious result of this is not in our oversupply of things – but our undersupply of aware, functioning people. We have focused on our things so much we have become things ourselves.