Monday, August 20, 2007

A Few Thoughts About Quality Of Life

Let me get right into it: we have been defined in the economic image of consumerism. Of course there are other parts of the definition; we are a generous nation, we love our freedoms, we tend to be fast moving, we have a spiritual sense, etc. But beneath it all there has been a cloning of the "gotta get money" gene into our social DNA.

Thankfully that gene isn't in our original stem cells, but if those who want to be even bigger fat cats could, they would insert it into every corn flake in every supermarket in every state, city, town, village, and hamlet in America. In fact they would want that desire to be added to the basic instincts such that everyone would have three basic instincts: survival, procreation, and "gotta get money."

And having been defined that way, we grow so accustomed to define and appraise others with the same financial yardstick that we come to think of it as the natural way of things. But I don't think that is the way it has been all along. There has, I suspect, always been throughout history an awareness of how well one person is doing vis a vis their neighbors. That is understandable since we are hardwired to live and travel in packs. If their pack is doing better than our pack, then we want what they have, etc. It's a survival thing.

In the really old days those comparisons might mean do they have more food than we do, and are their hunting grounds better than ours? Have they been able to stay warm during the winter months? Do they have a means to keep their fires going?

Nowadays the comparisons are much more superficial. We don't need twenty questions to assess how others are doing. I was going to say we don't need twenty questions to assess how we are doing...but I'm thinking that we really have to do our financial self-assement in comparison to the "well-being" of others. More on that later, but for now, because the self worth part is determined on getting more and then that is coupled at some mythic time in the future when we will have enough and then we can live the really good life and never have to worry any more about having enough of - you got it - moola.

Let's see, what are the basic dozen questions we need answered to see how we are doing in comparison to others? Some are resolved in "conversation" and others are driven by visuals.

Where do you live?
What do you do for a living?
How far do you travel?
How do you travel?
What clothes do your wear?
Who is your mate (and all of the same questions about the mate)?
Where have you gone for vacations?
How successful do you appear?
How well do you express yourself?
Do you seem confident?
How good do your teeth appear?

Hmmm, I don't know that we will need the dozenth question, or even the baker's dozen question.

For right now, I'll stop. Perhaps you could add a few more. And I'll expand on this later, I promise, because to stop there is to just put us into a nasty despondency based on shallowness. And expand we must; expecially in these troubled financial waters we are observing.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Good Guys and Bad Guys

My wife and I have been talking about the volume of media articles and programs reporting on horrific events happening in the world - both abroad and, sadly, here also. It seems like there are just endless reports of genocide, terrorist bombings, home invasions, infanticide, beatings, political corruption, and on and on. I know that much of the emphasis on what is presented is driven by a rapacious media machine and other institutions which use fear and insecurity to further their own self-interests. And I know that the lesson of history is that there is nothing new with these actions, even though they are presented as "new" developments but, well, there is just so much of it.

Mary says very thoughtfully: "There is so much evil in the world."

Me: "Yes."

Mary: "But there are good people and those who are doing the right thing."

Me: "Yes. ...You're one of the good ones."

Mary: "You're one of the good guys also."

I then went on to talk about a book I had just finished reading: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. It's about a journey and a conversation between a father and his son. It's not exactly clear but I would put the boy's age at about 5. The setting is a post-Apocalyptic scenario of bare bones survival, shocking descriptions of extreme inhumanity, and constant vigilance in the face of an ongoing condition of imminent and total danger. One moment of inattention could change everything on a dime. Almost everything is pared down to food and water and survival from others. Even the thought of attempting to bond or form alliances with others is almost impossible to risk.

Every plan that you could come up with for sustaining yourself and your loved ones in dire situations is removed in the reality of the author's earth-encircled dust cloud and it's profound consequences for our planet. Food, and the possibility of even growing your own, has never been more literally "off the table." There is nothing but survival and the immediate choices of how to do that and what to hold onto in your humanity. It's as if you are stripped of all hope and confronted only with the present moment and choices contained therein.

It was one of the grimmest books I have ever read, and yet, I couldn't put it down and I would also rate it as one of the best books I have read in some time. As it so happens, it is also a national bestseller and on Oprah's Book Club list - I mention this to indicate that I am hardly the only person who is willing to read disturbing material.

The survival of the father is held onto, it seems, only for the purpose of bringing his son along on the road towards the West. He doesn't know what lies out there but he knows that if he stands still he will be eventually overwhelmed, enslaved and consumed. He also knows that there is no going back. He has seen the desolation of that. There is only forward, and intent and integrity are the only driving forces.

His overriding purpose is the protection of the son, the keeper of the light, the fire, the innocence, the potential. The father's personal survival is only important in the service of protecting his son. Nothing sappy, and he is not even exactly clear why the mission is so important. But he knows that if anything happens to his son, his reason for being here disappears.

The dialogue between the father and son is sparse, pared down like everything else to just the essentials. It's like that's all you have energy left over for and also it's a decision based on energy conservation. Long gone are any discussions of Disney World, the latest movies, and what will it be like after the reality of Peak Oil really sinks in.

And in that dialogue, there is frequent reference to the question of: "Are we the good guys? Are they the bad guys? Are you a good guy? Am I a bad guy because of the decision I/we just made for our survival - at someone else's expense - (and remember on their journey they were always talking about every action leading to either death or survival)?

That was the context of my saying to my wife that she was one of the good guys. Yes, even is Shangri La, in our context of living in the Garden of Eden, we need to think of who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

Oh, there is so much to this.

Enjoy the present abundance. Build character. Make wise decisions. Strengthen relationships.