It has come to my attention that there is an endless amount of advice available at any given moment and even when unwelcome, it runs heedless like a river. To continue the metaphor, one can find the perspectives very wearing and, if one wishes, can drown out any inner voices by the rippling of many. Once more, with enough exposure, that inner voice can sit silent and dumb, staring back with a glazed expression upon the belated request for input. One conjures the image of the zombie mask worn by children who spend too much time in front of the television, or the wearied, dead look of those who have spent too much time in a cubicle.
“You used to have this spark. Where did it go?”
I feel as if I can’t go five minutes through my day without being accosted by some new, helpful tidbit of advice devised to remind me to get the most out of life.
The bumper sticker on the car in front of me: “Live, Laugh, Love.”
Magnet on the fridge at work: “Don’t frown because you never know who’s falling in love with your smile.”
Printed on the foil of my chocolate: “In your winter, find your invincible summer.”
Enough already. The platitudes pile up like trash, inexplicably and exponentially multiplying. I find the female demographic is specifically targeted with feel good tips and uplifting reminders and I am ambushed at every turn: the lid on my yogurt, commercials during a movie I enjoy, even my vitamins remind me how special I am, specifically my bones, as is their prerogative. And every single time I read one, I am reminded of all the little ways I am constantly failing, constantly forgetting how wonderful life is.
In my humble opinion, I think life is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Of course, it’s easy to point to all the problems with the way we live life now. Rampant materialism, corrupt and tottering bureaucratic systems, suffocating working conditions, rising health problems and death due to indulgence makes the cynic’s job something a recent college graduate could manage. But the unflagging optimism that radiates around and above these conditions requires another type of energy that is not known to me. For that I can thank the sociopaths.
I believe the sheer width and breadth of the optimism industry speaks to the pervasiveness of the sociopathic mindset in the day to day. The bite-sized, easily digestible commandments for happiness are on the mouths of prophets and repeated like a liturgy by the flagging, beaten down shadows that stalk to and fro. The buzz creates a din where contemplative thought has no place and one can go days, weeks, months without hearing a sincere, weighted word for all the hollowness. Like the empty calories and plastic food sold in bulk, emotional sustenance too is pared down to its most marketable form and sold in big box stores to the hungry.
The final creed, the culmination of these pieces is to live fiercely, passionately, going after goals and desires with unwavering singleness of mind and purpose and accepting no substitutes. Let no one stand in the way of happiness. Persevere against all odds and takes names while doing so.
It is an extremely attractive creed, one must admit. It addresses the rampant insecurities necessitated by the endless demands from our culture and justifies compulsive selfishness all in one fail swoop. Although I do recognize the importance of identifying individual goals and having the courage to achieve them, this creed takes it those few, small steps beyond that into a realm of surrealism. The traits necessary to live this creed are those found in sociopaths, whereas those who aim and miss this life-goal tend towards self-destruction in the attempt to twist themselves into this mold of unyielding expectations.
To break this idea down:
The creed, when executed by a sociopath, works with a beauty and simplicity normally reserved for razor edges and slaughterhouses. It is truly a sight to behold: the weighing and measuring and subsequent judgment and adjustment- it is a steely and cold as a decree from a surgeon with his scalpel. If something presents as an obstacle, it is cut out without further examination and regardless of any good qualities it carries. Any situation or person that carries an element of chaos or loss of control is cut out quickly and thoroughly. The end result is something akin to a bulldozer; the intensity and drive held by this person is a powerhouse worth marveling at, holding its ground with the unquestionable and immutable persistence of a brick wall.
However, when this creed is carried by those whose mental make-up does not include a fair amount of sociopathic tendencies, the result is, at times, pathetic, and at best, hollow and forced. These efforts are also accompanied by the constant feeling of failure, as the efforts do not mimic the grandeur of slaughterhouses and death camps, but like young children with knives, throwing tantrums and stabbing at their dolls in anguish and frustration.
For an outsider, the easy answer for the poor soul with fewer sociopathic tendencies floundering with the weights and measures of the creed is to merely stop heeding said creed and find one more fitting for their personality, and one may argue, specific mental illness traits and tendencies. This brings us back to the ubiquitous nature of the sociopathic creed in our culture and the phenomenon that keeps it thoroughly lodged despite the flagging masses.
It is no secret or great feat of insight to say that our culture is built on the ideal of the individual. It is, however, a great misconception to stop there. Rising up like totems for the worship and guidance of the lost are great personalities, larger than life, unstoppable forces, issuing forth decrees on personal happiness and leading by example. When one meets on of these personalities, it is not easily forgotten, and woe to the opposite sex who mistake it for something it is not. They are completely and utterly entertaining, their audiences swept along with tales and stories that make the teller’s life seem glittering with comedic farce, irony and misconception. Friends and acquaintances crawl over one another to bask like iguanas in the energy and light radiating from these individuals.
It would be an insult to the powerhouses of our culture, the media in its vast iterations, to not fully expect TV, magazines, motivational speakers and self-help books to pick up on this marketable trait and infuse their output with it. Here are the advice givers of our culture. In the age of disconnection, where everything happens behind closed doors, where the nuclear family has split into its individual atoms via atom-smashers, where internet forums offer more connections and ties than face-to-face interactions do, where cubicle walls separate us and computer screens entrance us, each in their own quiet fury seeks out the only sages left to us. Unfortunately, the realm of wisdom, experience and perspective has been commandeered and ironed out into according to our culture’s needs: quick, easy, and with minimal effort.
I submit for your approval: 5 Easy Steps for a Better You.
So what is missing from the Betty Crocker Recipes for Life Success? As the masses are weighted down with obesity, health problems and chronic illnesses from the empty calories, preservatives and fast food that we eat, so our souls are equally malnutrioned by the endless, empty phrases, tidbits and advice pouring from every open mouth, every TV star, every pundit.
Thanks to market-based economics, we know that companies produce products to fit the needs of the consumers. Considering the sheer volume, pervasiveness and dollar value of these Betty Crocker Recipes for Life Success, one can safely assume that the need for direction and assurance in our society is one akin to a ravenous pack of wolves. Marketing degrees are the home economics degrees of our generation. Self-help books have exploded onto the scene and stand, like bullies nursing an inferiority complex, next to the literary giants, their pint-sized and simple codes of happiness written in large print for the ease and comfort of those who are frightened of what lies between the lines. And yet, the hunger is never sated and one feels a slow hysteria growing in the unconscious of the collective mind, expressing itself in porn addiction, organized religion, school shootings, infotainment, reality television, consumerism; some of the hallmarks of American culture.
Another interesting coping mechanism for this growing hysteria is social welfare projects, with the prize bragging rights for those who can afford to undertake them in foreign countries. Although I feel that acts of selflessness are one of the main redeeming factors of the human race, many of these projects manage to parade self righteousness and congratulation under this banner. It would, again, not be a feat of sleuthing to find multitudes of documented cases in which the humanitarian efforts have left its beneficiaries in a worse state than they were found in, not to mention the undocumented or forgotten incidents. Even if the perversion of selflessness (indeed, selfishness) only caused in part these regrettable influences, the volume still demands attention and analysis. Indeed, when viewed through the lens of an emotionally malnutrioned society, these acts can often take on a sad desperation, grasping at real human suffering as a way to still the gnawing emptiness created by the intake of the empty calories of the culture. As these humanitarians are ridding the African populations of parasites, they are feeding their own. Ironically, those children with swollen bellies and flies in their eyes enjoy a more spiritually fulfilling existence, forging the human connections and integration to nature that our luxuries will not allow us to experience. In the culture of luxury, the sufferings and trials are turned inward and manifest in an argueably more debilitating way that poverty; luxury stunts the soul, the human spirit. Western culture has spent so much time worshipping the body that it has completely forgotten the soul. Even more devastating to our growth as a culture and species, the hunger wails of the soul are dismissed as petty and weak. Treatment for the soul’s cries include the 5 Steps to a Better You and a healthy dose of guilt and self-loathing, as prescribed.
As Karl Stern put it, “This is the world of slow and noiseless violence in which we live.”
To fulfill the mandates of the sages, the media machine, the expectations of our peers, a personality split is necessary; life is lived in two ways: the public and the private. In the public realm, the expectation is to exude the necessary self confidence and singleness of purpose deemed appropriate by the rippling of voices, by the stipulations of the career and the duties to one’s partner or family. The past creed of ‘pulling oneself up by the bootstraps’ has mutated with the evolving cultural environment and mated with the proverb ‘you are what you do’ to create a monstrosity of demands to each human soul: there is one definition of success, and it is worn on the outside for criticism and judgement. The private life, where personal growth and satisfaction would be delegated, is consumed by coping with failure in the public sphere.
“We work fifty-hour work weeks because we need to look responsible and motivated and have credit-card sized cell phones that carry four days of music, videos, and television so that we never have to hear the silence and the sound of fear. We complain about the shortcomings of our colleagues to deflect from our own; we whip and beat our bodies and self-images to look as if we care about ourselves. We have nervous breakdowns in the evenings and apologize to our superiors in the morning for giving less than 100%. We beat our husbands, wives, and children; we turn dogs into children and children into miniature adults. And over, during and behind all of this, we consume.”
In every bad relationship, the overarching advice given is just to leave. If the aforementioned attributes of our society was assigned to lover, friend, parent, boss, co-worker, the rippling of platitudes, of voices, of sages would agree that it is time to cut this out of negative influence from the fabric of one’s day to day experiences. And although there are certainly some remote places left on this Earth, some cracks of geography or poverty or insanity where the Creed of Self Interest does not reign supreme, even the minority of those who desire to escape the endless rush of advice for the masses will have no lasting respite from the battering emptiness of sociopaths. They will always have to find a way to live within their parameters.
There are many dichotomies one can pinpoint as players in this scene of human existence: public versus private, body versus soul, logical versus emotional, science versus myth, rational versus intuitive. Whichever of these dichotomies more aptly describes the aspect of this culture in question, they all have one thing in common: a pathological valuing of one and devaluing of another.
As Karl Stern discusses in the opening chapters of his book The Flight from Woman, the eventual devaluation of the aspects of these dichotomies generally assigned as ‘female’: private, soul, emotional, myth, intuitive is the logical and necessary outcome of the modernist thinking begun by Descartes in his Meditations and continued on by many great and respectable minds. A worldview or culture that values the public, body, logical, scientific and rational approach to the world to the exclusion of all other perspectives necessarily results in such power structures and individual struggles as seen today. In a society that values growth and success in the public sphere to the exclusion of the private, a necessary spiritual sickness and death will result. The collective hysteria that underpins the ills of American society will not be fixed by the same approach that has encouraged them, however it is the only approach that is considered, per the axioms of modern thinking: rational to the devaluation of intuitive.
In a society that is suffering from a spiritual sickness, from a childlike retardation, creating an even stronger, unified authority to relieve the individual from personal responsibility and growth will only worsen the problem. Continuing the champion the value of public success and devalue the space and time for private growth will only continue to create public leaders, role models and figureheads who have succeeded in mimicking or embracing the sociopathic Creed of Self Interest and will only further push the masses into a continued, downward spiraling hysteria. If a reevaluation and rearrangement of priorities regarding human growth is not an option, I would advocate a society akin to that found in Huxley’s Brave New World, as it would at least be kinder and more genuine in its aims for its citizens.