Courage to do what?

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.

Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Courage to do what?

  1. Grumpy Old Man says:

    B, you know I like you very much, I’ll always be your friend first but before that a man who will think of your well being above all. There are a couple ways you can see this perspective.

    In the US we’ve come a long way in our development and, yes we’ve extended our consumer production over seas. As I view it, we are also giving them the opportunity to prosper from our wealth by buying their goods. Like us privileged Americans they will go through the same process we went through with their labor issues and I have faith they will come out the other side as we have.

    Before this they were farmers, and in many cases a subsistence lifestyle. This new found wealth will, individually need to be addressed in their respective countries. You or I feeling guilty is of no consequence in their evolution. We stop buying goods they suffer, we continue in the hope they find their shared wealth and equilibrium.

    To those like the friend you mentioned, I’m at a ;loss as to where he is coming from. Is his expectation we cut all trade, is it we not share our wealth? Remember sharing our wealth is off shoring our production.

    Anyway I think we all work, make our way and in that we contribute to ourselves and the value of our product contributes to to the world.

    • Byenia says:

      Hi GOM. Thanks for weighing in. I think the disconnect here is in assuming wealth creation to be a higher “good” than subsistence living, and this I think has a lot to do with our perspectives based on what we as a nation and a culture have most invested in. Our pride is linked to it, and perhaps rightly so since innovation springs from creativity and hard work and skill acquisition. However, there’s also a downside to what we’re creating, and major class stratification is a major one.

      This is not simply the fault of the U.S. I only pick on my fellow Americans because I am an American speaking from where I live. This process has been going on for a long time and across many nations — I understand that. It’s a human issue. And that’s where the existential questions enter in.

      This winds up being an abstract concern, seeing as how this is simply where we are as a species whether we theorize about what changes we’d like to see or not. And I’m not suggesting any particular remedy, not that one would ever be adopted anyhow. The pragmatist within you tends to seek practical solutions and adaptation to what is, which is understandable since the world is how it is currently. But can you see how that still engenders a sense of guilt in people that it must be this way? That what we stand to benefit from must come directly through the exploitation of others who have little other choice but to go along with our schemes so that they might survive as well?

      That’s what I’m referring to when speaking of existential guilt — that and much more. And I know there are a lot of people out here experiencing it, whether directly conscious of the reasons or not. So it’s a question of what to do about that. How does one accept the seemingly unacceptable? I’m not certain that workers in Cambodia, to take one example, will come out the other side in a better financial condition as a result of this process, nor am I convinced this process itself is such a positive trajectory. Makes a person wonder what all may be coming down the pike from hereon.

      The reason I brought this topic up on here is I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading on the subject of fear, that being a major motivator in many people’s lives, my own included. And I’m wondering how we overcome that fear. Taking a long, hard look at it is likely the first step. This guilt I speak of here does induce or is linked with fear, from fear of rebellion from people in other cultures who feel negatively impacted (which is popularly being referred to as terrorism these days) to fear that we’re all selling our souls throughout this process and becoming increasingly alienated from nature and the art of living, from fear of what might be referred to as karma where basically what we (or our antecedents) did unto others will eventually come back around to roost for us or future offspring, to the fear that life may be this mad game where it boils down to the supposed strongest surviving through sheer cunning and technological advantage and that little else seems to matter in the end. These are legitimate concerns people are carrying around with them, and for good reason I’d say. I’m wrestling with them too and wondering what is an effective reaction or response to what we’re constructing here.

      My goal wasn’t to start an argument or to necessarily tick people off. But I do grow weary of these questions and also of people actively hiding from them while acting out in other ways. Seems that people either acknowledge them and tend to get overwhelmed by them or they reject them as worthy topics of discussion and just carry on as if these aren’t real moral problems to contend with. And I don’t know the answers and doubt any of us ever will. But I think about them and so then speak or write about them because it does put a burden on the heart and mind. Guess I’m grasping for some greater wisdom than what I’ve received thus far. I’m not content with simply putting my head down and trodding along and ignoring these life problems, because they return to me whether I want them to or not. And I can’t make myself believe that it’s all going to turn out all right for all involved.

      People are anxious, and perhaps rightly so. So I wonder how we answer this. So many wouldn’t be stressed out by these realizations if they didn’t matter. They say something about who we are and where we come from and what we’ve allowed our culture to become. I don’t believe there exists one overarching answer to it all, but I wonder what one can do in the face of this. And I will keep pondering on it since that’s what I do.

      Anyway, hope you and yours are well. Will catch you online one of these nights. Haven’t been home much in recent months.

    • Byenia says:

      Thanks for sharing your news source, Lars. Hard to fathom that that is the reality those people must contend with. Extremely unfortunate.

Leave a Reply