I few weeks ago I made a mental note to be wary of buying more books. I bought a few today – slightly compulsively and with a decent element of joy so I guess I am upholding a recent promise made to myself. That aside, the wander around my closest home city of Waterford felt a bit surreal, not least because of some of the fantastic murals that have sprung up as part of the recent Graffiti Arts Festival.
Some parts of Waterford can be pretty grim, and these murals are just the ticket.
There were other elements of the surreal too. I hadn’t been shopping for anything for myself in a long time. The experience of doing so felt strange, akin to strolling around looking for animals in a Zoo – I had a fairly good idea of what I might find in each location, most were disappointing, children and people were everywhere. I didn’t really want to be there.
As I sat on a bench eating a sandwich I overheard a man talking about having spent the day in the sunshine yesterday at Dublin Zoo with his family. Connections!
I am just back from spending eleven days at a friends house, helping him with a self-build studio on his West of Ireland countryside site. The contrast between the busy city centre of Waterford and the quiet, time-soaked days out West was very evident. The interesting thing is that I didn’t feel at ease in either, despite feeling that life in the country is definitely more to my taste. I mean, that sunset.
The type of unease in each place was quite different though. Different types.
Standing in the city centre I actually felt profoundly demoralized – and that is not a comment on Waterford itself. How long can the proverbial High Street survive? What is going to happen to all our city centres and shopping malls when the retail chains, large department stores, and even coffee shops have left the stage, largely consumed out of existence. Yes it’s a bit bleak, but I tend towards ‘when’ on this one, not ‘if’.
The definition of demoralized given at dictionary.com is
to deprive (a person or persons) of spirit, courage, discipline, etc.
In the generalized sense, repeatedly simply buying whatever is sought after without any meaningful constraints essentially erodes the satisfaction of being able to purchase the item. It is its habitualisation in and for almost every aspect of life that makes it so, not the specific act itself. Not to mention all the environmental destruction mindless consumption causes. Consumption increasingly becomes a self-reinforcing distraction, with fast realised diminishing returns.
The repeated cycle becomes demoralizing, defining life parameters that erode our essential humanness, intrinsic courage, and without doubt, self-discipline.
That may be seem a fairly drastic conclusion to make. Think about it though – that genuine sense of unease that many people feel with the state of the world and society itself is not going to go away. It is going to grow into the future. It is real and it is correct, instinctual. A culture which promotes competitiveness over cooperation, consumption over sufficiency, and growth above nature can never, no matter what platitudes or even genuine good intentions are delivered, serve the human needs of its inhabitants over time.
If culture is not serving those human needs, it is eroding or working against them. Where there is a deficit of human needs and demoralized people are found, they are easily led. Trumpism’s belligerent, vapid expansion being the most recent example. Arguing against Trump with facts is difficult because facts, like laws of nature, are only relevant in a given system of assumptions.
If the system feels rigged against you or even unreal relative to life circumstances, facts do not appeal to your needs. Real needs such as spiritual fulfillment, community, intellectual stimulation, purpose, and basic food and shelter for all are not cornerstones of neo-Capitalism. Fundamentally much of the cause of migrant-related backlash in Western countries is driven by wealth disparity – local, regional, and international. It causes the migration and a certain stage later, the backlash. Wealth disparity is the main output of neo-Capitalism.
That sad feeling today arose from the knowledge that, in the words of Jiddu Krisnamurti “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”. Comparing Western culture to less ‘well-off’, tyrant-dominated, or religiously-constrained cultures is entirely missing the point too.
Being ‘normal’ is today predominantly culturally relativistic, not guided by universal humanness, values, or indeed a deep connection with nature. Constantly striving to adapt and live up to cultural values that do not serve surely results in much of the illnesses, particularly mental illness, that is prevalent in life today.
One of the main reasons I started this blog was as part of a search for where that true ‘normal’ lies, what it means, behind the thick, star-spangled banner of reality. Not a ‘normal’ applicable to all individuals (that would be absurd), but a ‘normality’ that could be culturally subscribed to that respects life, humanity, and our place in nature.
Perhaps true normal human values that can be culturally disseminated can only ever be set in the context of the culture they are found, or indeed the planet they come from. The seed lies in nature perhaps, covered up like a Kinder-Egg in plastic and wrapping. Perhaps underneath the plastic and wrapping lies a useless widget that we wrapped up as the solution after a few drinks too many, and the answer lies elsewhere altogether. We have become disconnected with the past and much hard earned knowledge.
It is hard to find the start of the trail, let alone the answer, when most of life’s reality has become a commoditised byte, bite, or meme. Answers may lie at business end of five dried grams of psilocybin mushrooms taken, as Terence McKenna often recommended, “alone and in silent darkness”. Other shamanic substances and chemicals, meditation and religion may well all play their role.
As I stood in the sunshine of a that site in the West of Ireland, covered in mud and clay mixing up a plaster for one of the walls of the building we were working on, a similar sense of unease ran its course in my head. The unease was partially rooted in my recent, rapid removal from city life and the acclimatisation to working the day in a different fashion. I realised just how disconnected I have been from the land of my home country, the simple enjoyment of meaningful physical work, good company, and how hard it is to switch off from the digital modern job world having been in it for so long.
Most importantly, I felt that extending life into the realms of self-sufficiency, simplicity, commitment, and meaning that I glimpsed there would most certainly demand, not erode, real spirit, courage, and discipline. Sometimes it’s best to follow a nod in that direction.
Next stop Ecuador.