Author: J.H.Hart

Love & Consumerism

Love & Consumerism

Recently I have been having long and heartfelt conversations with various single friends and family members (as well as privately with myself) about our solitary states. We all seem to be searching, relatively unsuccessfully, for a mate. Depending on the age, the desire to find the right significant other can be as traditional as wanting a spouse with whom to raise children, or as simple as meeting someone with whom to become a companion to share the later years.

When we ask ourselves precisely what we are looking for in this other person, the list can turn out to be startlingly long: intelligent, educated, good looking, healthy, thin, active, good sense of humor, similar interests to our own, wealthy, of a positive happy disposition, creative, capable, ambitious, good dresser, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, relaxed, sexy, affectionate, considerate, helpful, self-assured, original (but not too weird), politically aware and on the same wave length as we are.

And, of course, what we don’t want generates an equally long list: no heavy smokers nor alcoholics, no addicts of any kind, no slackers or drifters, no grifters or liars, no depressives or complainers, no neurotics or psychotics, no fascists or conspiracy theorists, no overeaters or junk-food junkies, no sexual hangups or STD’s, no financial problems, and no criminal history or bad habits.

So we are all looking for perfection, but the question for me is: why do we think that we deserve a mate that has all these stellar qualities while each of us is wonderfully flawed? What if this expectation, strangely out of proportion to reality, is, in fact, merely another aspect of the brainwashing of the consumer society to which we are habituated?

Many of us have used online dating services and apps like Tinder that are structurally not much different from Zappo shoes or Amazon. They work with a series of filters that focuses the available data to conform to our desires, but if we are not clear about what really makes us happy, then the filters and the ensuing data are useless. These services are quick and convenient, but I’m not sure love, affection, or even sex are really made more satisfying by being either fast or easy!

The whole process is being complicated by the rapid change in our mores, which outruns the changes in our values. In fact, the more stable values, that are embedded in our religions, philosophies, or communities, have been denigrated and marginalized for a long time. New is touted as far better than old;* and the virtues that have guided humanity for millennia are considered outdated and an obstacle to progress!

We are being encouraged to create our own values, a job that is far beyond the capabilities of most people. So most of us follow the crowds, doing what is popular and accepted in our peer group. For many of my male friends, they find themselves at sea as they try to figure out the new customs around the #MeToo movement. The irony is that these guys are exactly the ones that are least in need of being worried about their actions, as they are, in their nature, respectful and supportive of women.

The less aware men treat the women’s movement as noise; and they continue to learn how to relate to women by watching pornography, which creates a culture of disrespect, especially for younger people, of sexting, booty calls, and unprotected one night stands. (A quick note about pornography: pornography is the ultimate “spectacle” as Guy Debord describes it. To create the spectacle, the substitution of the image for the actual, the camera needs the “money shot”-where the man can be seen ejaculating-but this is not where pleasure or connection is to be found in real life any more than the enjoyment of food can be found in the endless photographs of meals and dishes on Instagram! In both cases, eating and sex, true enjoyment is not found in the seen, but in smell, taste, and touch, all of which is unavailable to the camera!)

It would be nice to finish this post with some great advice about how to find a lover or mate, but I am also feeling overwhelmed by all the advice available in the media and online, and I don’t want to add to it. We seem to be in an endless pursuit of improvement and happiness, and, again, I have a nagging feeling that this is just another facet of our lives as isolated consumers.

So I, for one, intend to concentrate more on how I can help other people, and to substitute gratitude for worry. And, of course, I will keep dancing!

*Though Nassim Taleb has an interesting question on this: what would you expect to be around one hundred years from now? We might answer: the internet, AI, self-driving cars, fully automated homes, but we would be wrong. The correct answer is whatever has lasted the longest to date: wine, cheese, leather shoes, glass goblets, portraits, dance, music, and all the other things that the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were familiar with!)

 

 

Advertisements

A Happier New Year!

new year's (2018)card lilies 2017 web
© J. Hart ’19 Watercolor pencil on paper. “Winter bouquet.”

“…the driving force behind most of the unintended changes in society is the power exerted by the countless small decisions made by people in the course of their daily lives.” from The Long Descent by John Michael Greer.

We are starting the New Year (2019) in the United States with a revitalized House of Representatives filled with a newly elected, young, and diverse group of Congress people whose mission it is to make the government less corrupt and more responsive to the people’s needs. It is a tremendously encouraging beginning to the New Year.

However, a political and governmental response to the grave problems we face is only one part of the equation. The other part, rarely spoken about, is each of us as moral agents making important choices individually in our every day life. The government sees us as voters, as workers, as consumers, but not as free agents able to change systems by our combined individual actions.

For much of our life, we are enmeshed in an economic system, and, like fish swimming in water, we really are not aware of the water in which we move. The system is not transparent, so it is difficult to make out how it works, even if we wish to understand it: it is hard for us to know what are the best (or better) choices that we should make.

I am resuming this blog, because I wish to share with you my attempts to make better choices in my life, and to hear, hopefully, what you are choosing to do in yours.

Some choices I am making this year are easier than others: I am taking a hiatus on shopping. I will continue to buy food, but I hope to avoid other purchases, especially impulse buying. So far, so good, but we are only a couple of days into the New Year!

Also, I refuse, and have refused for a while now, to buy anything through Amazon. I will not support a company whose owner doesn’t pay his employees enough to live on, and won’t pay taxes for the infrastructure he uses. Amazon also encourages a mindset of instant gratification that I believe is detrimental to people’s ability to act maturely and morally.

The more difficult choices I want to make this year are with my retirement income, which is tied to stocks and the stock market with its focus exclusively on money making; whether I should eliminate meat completely from my diet; and how to switch my household to a truly sustainable one.

I believe that it is worth putting in the time and effort of research and thought to make better choices in day to day, and everyday, life. Here is to a year of better choices for us all!

 

 

 

Tearing up my Bucket List!

compost watercolor copy
‘My compost bucket’ watercolor © J.H. Hart 2018

A bucket list is that strange collection of wishes that every middle class retiree believes that she or he must fulfill and check-off in order to die happy. The items on the list are usually in the form of exotic travel (an African safari; a visit to the Galapagos; hiking the Amazon canopy); or a once in a lifetime experience -because it is too expensive for those of us who are not billionaires to afford to do more than once!

Our bucket lists send herds of us, baby boomers, traipsing through the Louvre; invading Venice from off cruise ships; and destroying pristine natural habitats for a couple of selfies and the bragging rights to say that we were there, even if only for a couple of hours.

And because it is a list, there must be more than one thing on it: forty things to do before turning forty years old, or as many things as we can brainstorm in an evening. The irony, of course, is that running through each item on our bucket list  abstracts us from the beauty of our actual surroundings and alienates us from the people with whom we live and to whom we owe our time, money, and compassion. It is a good example of how more can actually be less: less fulfilling; less authentic; less likely to make us happy.

The bucket list is the transmutation of lived spontaneous experience into a commodity. The bucket list (from the expression “kicking the bucket” meaning dying) is a perfect way to exploit people at the time of life when they are feeling most mortal. The end of their life is approaching, and they are often reassessing what their life has been like. Hypercapitalism, through the media, aggravates the feelings of disappointment in the little we did; and remorse for the great deal that we haven’t done. It is the strange and unnatural idea of “never having enough!”

So I have decided to tear up my bucket list! (Well, to be honest, I never actually made a list, as I have been rather busy!) Instead, I am thinking about what I can do in the relatively short time left to me to improve the place in which I have chosen to live. There are no iguanas in Montreal, but the web of life here is as truly beautiful, complex, and unique as anywhere on Earth and it needs my support. And the people amongst whom I find myself also deserve my help and compassion.

And if I feel the urge to make a bucket list, I will make it backwards listing the gifts that I have already been given; and feeling gratitude for how unusually full my life has already been!

 

 

 

Keeping Compassion Local

black buddha w:mirror web
‘Black Buddha’ oil on canvas © J.H. Hart ’17

Every day for years now, I wake up with the thought, “today I will do better!” but I seem unable to do that. On the other hand, I see very few people able to curb their appetites or live sustainably. We are like fish caught in a tight net of desire that this economic system has thrown over us, and we are thrashing on the floor of the fishing boat, gasping for air and struggling to extricate ourselves!

Some of us are closer to the advancing disaster, but there are so many things that the society throws up to distance all of us from what is right in front of our noses. The news of those things are particular distractions for those of us who think of ourselves as “global citizens.” These realities that we can only know second hand are actual tragedies in far away places: wars, famines, droughts, disease, pollution, all of which are forcing whole populations to flee for their lives.

The irony is that there is very little that we can do for people who are at such a great remove from us. The difficulty understanding the complexities of their experience; the great geographical distance that dissipates our best efforts to help; the flattening and simplifying of their misery and deaths in abstractions and statistics means that our compassion and energy can never be awakened to the degree that it can be at home.

So while I fight the urge to run away; to find a safe quiet small town with kind people where I can grow a beautiful garden; and to hide from the coming catastrophe, I know that the reality is that even if I were lucky enough to find myself in a relatively safe haven, it is an illusion: there is no safe haven! The forces that are destroying a world that was perfect for our species’ survival (is this a second ejection from Eden?!) are operating within the circle of our influence.

So it is here, in our backyard, with the people whom we can help face to face, with the simplification of our personal lives, and with our firm resistance to greed and violence, that we have the chance to save the Earth and ourselves; and where we can most effectively make our stand.