When times get really hectic, we often have to pause and ask ourselves if we are keeping up. Most people want to ‘meet the test’ and participate in the process of life to the maximum extent possible.
The question, though, is what criteria we judge this process by. If we’re saying keep up with the Joneses, then the criteria must be material acquisition and the recognition we get from displaying the accouterments of wealth – those ubiquitous symbols of achievement that seem to define a substantial chunk of Americana. And why not?
We’re a country put together by a large number of disenfranchised Europeans. The Irish, fleeing from English hegemony, the Italians – most of whom just wanted the opportunity America offered, or, the Eastern Jews – leaving behind the historical legacies of religious prejudice. Most early immigrants came from a place where certain types of ownership were denied them either because of who they were or how they thought.
Hence, modern Americans take an almost hysterical pride in buying what they want (though not always what they need). Everywhere you look today-TV, magazine ads, newspapers, even signs on the sides of our public buses - reminders that consumption = success are visible.
On the other hand, new age liberalism has produced a few in our generation who believe that the process must be spiritual. Operating on principles that border on asceticism, the proponents of this mindset often lose the attention of most. This is also understandable. After all, when someone tells you to sit in a hot trailer and sweat because running your air conditioner is destroying the tropical rainforest, it’s hard not to let comfort reign over a philosophy that seems at best only marginally applicable to our everyday lives.
So where is a person supposed to focus their daily thought, on committing to the mainstream or joining the fringes. For someone who thinks they can make a difference by their choices, this question becomes the anvil that they forge their moral views upon.
While it seems so easy to take the high road of thought, or as Frost said “The Road Less Traveled”, consider that a well-worn path (this could be the Interstate you know) always facilitates quicker travel, not an insignificant fact.
I suspect that both sides have merit - both material and spiritual, because I don’t want to live in a world where it’s necessary to believe that “they’re” wrong and “we’re” right.
To me, black and white is great, but it’s like Plato’s concept of perfection – great for philosophers espousing doctrines of thought that sound meaningful, while they live amidst the largesse of material abundance and all the while knock the very foundations they stand upon. It’s intellectual arrogance and the main reason why most people today ignore scholarly thinkers.
The world for most of us is grey. Some days a dark grey and some days almost white, but grey nevertheless. Suggestions that ignore this reality are seldom followed.
Carl Conley, Ed.