That is the question.
Just got off the phone with my best guyfriend where we were discussing existential guilt in terms of being First-Worlders (Americans) who benefit off the backs of what amounts to modern slave labor elsewhere on the planet in order to provide us with cheap goods. He’d recently heard something about refugees peeling the shrimp that are shipped to U.S. restaurants. Listened to another man the other night complain how Carhartt brand items are created by Cambodians under essentially slave conditions, all while he wore one of those cheap santa hats that can be purchased anywhere for a buck or two that are guaranteed to have been mass-manufactured in China. Thinking about the migrant workers who stream into California each year from Mexico to harvest the fruit crops. And on and on and on we can go with this. Examples abound endlessly.
Okay. We all know this. And it makes some of us sick in the spirit thinking about it. Go off and try to buy American products and find out that somehow, some way, those too typically on some level wind up involving slave labor conditions somewhere within the manufacturing process. Practically everything. Can’t barely go to the grocery store without coming out feeling a bit evil and complicit. This is our current condition, whether many care to consciously acknowledge it or not.
And yet I’m told repeatedly that my job is to basically do whatever I must so as to make me happy so that I won’t bring others down. Mentioning that sort of thing isn’t a way to attract friends and positively influence people. Lamenting the reality we’re contending with only highlights the suffering that so many people are aiming to ignore and avoid. And then we’re chastised as Americans for not being happy with this bounty that’s been afforded to us, as if it were some gift from the gods and we’re an ungrateful lot if we dare look that gift horse in the mouth.
Humans never cease to unnerve me. Because we talk out of both sides of our mouths. Want peace and a more just world, yet are willing to benefit at another’s expense when it’s convenient to do so. Even if those others are little Asian kids producing Disney toys for our very special and privileged children whom we could not imagine ever being subjected to that level of exploitation. It’s different when we do it apparently. When we dictate from afar based on our market ambitions and desire for cheap goods that we can then neglectfully hoard in spare rooms in our homes.
Bitch about this and people think you’re a jerk. What do you want us to do about it? How can we change the world when we’re each just one individual incapable of overhauling the system in place on our own? And what effective action even can be taken now? Go out and protest in the streets and wind up jailed and fined by police, helping their police state but not yourself one iota. Make videos and blog posts on the internet so you can demonstrate how much you care, but that does what exactly? Nothing. Self-aggrandizement at its best. Patting ourselves on the back for being “enlightened” while we go about our regularly-scheduled routines of paving the way to hell, just as we do every day, ad nauseam.
Refuse to shop here and there or to buy this brand or that brand — okay. But there are so goddamn many to keep track of. And it’s not like small purchase items are all you have to be concerned with. The materials our homes and cars are made out of also factor in. Then we can veer off into the ecological consequences of our standards of living and we’ll wind up bogged down there with the hippies for years to come, gnashing our teeth while trying to live more ascetically since damn-near everything comes with a hidden, externalized cost to it.
Such is business, some say. In life there are winners and losers, they also say. This is what the market demands. Gotta learn to gracefully take it all in stride.
Well, I can’t. I suck at this game. And while bitching about it doesn’t right any wrongs, I am thoroughly frustrated with where humanity stands at present. Yes, yes, it’s probably never been any better. Yes, yes, life has always involved struggles and suffering and victors enjoying spoils acquired through exploitation and outright theft and coercion and acts of war and violence. Such is life. Okay…but where does that leave us? How does one contend with and face this reality without it tearing apart his or her spirit? How does one throw on a smile and conjure up a bunch of gratitude when these underlying concerns refuse to remain hidden out of sight and mind? What now? How do you accept this? How do you live with it each day without going mad?
And not just that — there’s so much more we can worry over here. We can speak on the emerging totalitarian (top-down centralized forms of government) system unfolding pretty much everywhere with its global alliances taking shape, eerily resembling Orwell’s nightmare written about in the 1940s. We can talk about how rights don’t really exist when it comes to the operation of a State and how laws tend to be arbitrary by their very nature, especially now since there are so many on the books (and always changing and being added to) that no one human being can possibly fully know the laws governing his/her jurisdiction. We can talk about the threat of police brutality, here and everywhere else, and argue over the dream of anarchism and libertarianism while we watch the opposite come into being.
Let’s not stop there. Next, we can turn our attention over to the medical establishment and the corruption sown there by insurance companies and big pharma. And we can observe how insane the mental health field is and always was, yet how much more power it’s being granted with each passing decade to medicate children against their will and cage people who’ve committed no crime greater than falling too far outside of what their “experts” deem “the norm.”
Oh, we can go all over the board if we so desire. And we can work ourselves into a massive tizzy and cry like babies over our sense of powerlessness and shame, then we can turn on one another and cast blame because that’s our favorite knee-jerk response. We can complain about how it’s those others who won’t accept responsibility. But what responsibility do I personally have and how can I act on it? Is speaking out anywhere near enough? Is simply acknowledging this is the way life is currently doing a damn thing more than merely stoking our own existential guilt?
And that’s why people opt for illusions and fantasies and mindless entertainment. Because reality is a bitch. Stare into that abyss too long and you stop liking yourself, you stop respecting what is and begin fearing what’s unfolding all around. Who wants to torture themselves like that? Not I, we all chime out in unison. Better to occupy ourselves with endless reams of sport footage and online gaming and shopping. Because that’s become the American Way.
We live in hell because that’s what humans have constructed. Doubt that people, individually or collectively, ever really intended this outcome, and yet, here we are and here’s where we’re headed. Good intentions aren’t good enough, folks. Never were and apparently never will be. So what now?
I don’t know. I’m just a neurotic who’s bitten off more than I can chew. And chewing is all I seem to know how to do anymore, forever ruminating and pondering and wondering if we aren’t all mad. Makes me envy those who can take it all in stride and not get bogged down and morally troubled by what we’ve become and what we are becoming still more.
People like to say that you find some small area where you can make a contribution and then you content yourself with that. And maybe that’s all a person really can do. But doesn’t it feel like we’re losing ground no matter what? You put in your volunteer work while at the same time you buy into all the rest of this junk and your tax dollars go toward funding exactly that which you claim to detest. Is there no way out of this conundrum? Is slavery just the modern human condition, inescapably so? Are we fools for ever thinking creating civilizations was a form of progress? Are we still fools for thinking bigger and “better” forms of government can remedy what’s come to pass? I think we are.
Happy holidays, my fellow Americans.