If you’re in the same boat as the typical American, your dilemma might look something like this:
You’re enduring some type of chronic illness, over-stressed and rushed, unrewarding job, little or no savings, greatly in debt, fat mortgage, two vehicles in the driveway with a 5 or 7-year loan on each, lots of gadgets and toys to keep you occupied, huge TV, little free time for yourself due to your career and a demanding spouse, weekends filled with church and/or senseless entertainment, and a bathroom cabinet heavily stacked with pharmaceutical tic tacs to help cope with the emptiness of it all.
This is probably you and it’s OK. This is considered normal in America. You are a success. You’ve achieved the American Dream. Your obedience and education and hard work have paid off. Congratulations.
But the problem is that you’re miserable and shallow and quite possibly unhealthy and a little dispirited and you’ll likely die of either heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, or suicide in the not so distant future — statistically speaking.
Or you’ll make it to old age with this all too common deathbed regret — wishing you had the courage to live a life true to yourself, not the life of what others expected of you.
Despite living in the richest country on the planet with a gargantuan military (and budget) to keep you so-called “safe,” you’re frightened and unhappy more than ever before. Seems your material abundance and chronic hustle and “good citizen” ideals have done nothing for your happiness or well-being.
In fact, this status chasing, security-obsessed, hurried American lifestyle is draining you of your life energy. It’s killing you. It has been for some time. And you feel it.
This article is for you. Let’s go.
The reason you don’t feel alive is because you aren’t alive. You’re merely going through the motions in a fast-paced, consumer-centered culture that has transformed our once beautiful land into an asphalt wasteland strewed with digital billboards, fast food joints, soulless malls, and complete carnage.
Your constant craving for objects and status (the American way) has robbed your life of its freedom and creative zest. You live routine and stressed and you’re chained to a sluggish and predictable way of living.
The less you are inwardly the more you feel the need to buy buy buy. And the more you buy the more hours you need to put in at a useless job that has your stomach riddled with ulcers. Or you go deeper into debt. Or likely both.
The less-developed you are as a mindful person the more susceptible you are to the psychological conditioning of the cultural engineers. The less you’re able to express yourself as a vitally alive human being the deeper the need is for you to hide behind luxuries and status.
You’ve become what they needed you to become. And you’re sick because of it.
You’re trying so goddamn hard to keep up with the Joneses because you lack in BEING. You can’t afford that “hey-look-at-me” lifestyle that you flaunt around but it helps decorate and perpetuate your otherwise empty image.
It’s not all your fault. You’re a victim of a fucked-up culture and the indoctrination system we call “education.” You were raised and molded in a distorted environment. Who you are today is a manifestation of the social arrangements you were accidentally and randomly born into.
But it’s not natural and it’s killing you — this American life you’re living.
As the great social psychologist and philosopher, Erich Fromm observed: “The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.”
Your life is so much more precious than the automaton it has become. I think deep down you feel it, you know it. But it’s hard to break free from the chains that you can’t see or the shackles you were taught to adore.
As Colin Wilson wrote over a half-century ago, “These men are in prison…They are quite contented in prison — caged animals who have never known freedom; but it is prison all the same.”
I was talking to a nice couple the other day who had a combined six-figure salary. They told me that they were unable to come up with a measly $1000 in cash to put down on a house they were trying to buy. This is the typical American today — rich and poor at the same time.
This is the American Dream and this is the definition of success in our culture — degrees, jobs, families, consumerism, and raging debt. From an early age, we were egged on to get good grades so as to get into an overpriced university to better the chances of sliding into a dull career where we end up like the person in the opening paragraph.
As the feisty Los Angeles poet, Charles Bukowski, once wrote: “At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidates who reminded them most of themselves.”
In spite of a so-called thriving economy in the land of plenty, a great number of people still feel insecure, lonely, depressed, and suffer from a lack of enthusiasm over the miracle of their own existence. We’re all bogged down and life doesn't make sense to us because we’re living so far from our nature as humans.
Many of us, if not most, are too thoughtlessly caught up in the facade of culture to see what we’ve become as modern people — alienated, mindless consumers patting each other on the backs for our worldly success at the expense of wreaking havoc on our inner lives and the entire ecosystem that sustains us.
As the American physician and psychotherapist Alexander Lowen acknowledged: “The modern individual is committed to being successful, not to being a person. He belongs rightly to the ‘action generation’ whose motto is ‘do more but feel less.”
Perhaps mental health has little to do with the individual and more to do with the culture they were born into. It’s been said before, it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
We’ve been led, and yes, I do mean led, deliberately so, by persuasive, scheming forces into believing we can buy our way to security, to happiness, and, even on a deeper level, to immortality.
Our deluded industrialized mindset, manufactured for us generation after generation, has us chasing empty pleasures and glittering gadgets at the cost of turning us into over-medicated debt-serfs.
A 2015 article at Waking Times asks the reader, “How did the United States, a nation founded on Puritan, non-materialistic tenants become filled with the biggest shoppers on the planet and end up occupying 29% of the World’s consumer market? As it turns out, Americans were carefully and systematically manipulated into becoming insatiable shoppers.”
Edward Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud who worked as a propagandist for the United States during World War I. After the war, he set himself up as a public relations counselor in New York City.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Bernays used his uncle’s theories on the human psyche to develop “public relations” (aka propaganda) to help control and manipulate the mindset of the masses for the corporate elite.
In the words of the narration of a phenomenal must-watch documentary, The Century of the Self, Bernays “showed American corporations for the first time how they could make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.”
Big Business used these Freudian ideas for the crooked task of indoctrinating the masses into eager, devout consumerists. And they were successful.
As Jim Quinn put it in a great article: “Generations have been socially engineered in government schools and propagandized through the techniques of Edward Bernays by the corporate fascists to believe buying baubles, trinkets, gadgets and luxury automobiles on credit makes them wealthier, when it only makes them debt-serfs.”
Keeping up with the Joneses has been ingrained in their psyches through the conscious and intelligent manipulation of their minds by the unseen forces operating behind the curtain. Whether you call them the Deep State or the invisible government, they represent the true ruling power of the country.”
Erich Fromm related our rampant consumerist society today to a soulless machine — a machine that is our God and we ourselves feel “godlike” by serving the machine.
And ultimately it’s this machinery that gave birth to the “alienated character” we see all around us — people alienated from their work, from themselves, from other human beings, and from nature.
As Fromm put it, “The dream of being independent masters of our lives ended when we began awakening to the fact that we have all become cogs in the bureaucratic machine, with our thoughts, feelings, and tastes manipulated by government and industry and the mass communications that they control.”
We the people of the United States have been led far away from the vibrant American spirit of Emerson, Thoreau, and Walt Whitman. Instead of living poetic lives close to the earth with little possessions, we barricade ourselves behind drywall and plastic and sit in front of screens, constantly buying things we don’t need to impress assholes who are doing the same thing.
As Thoreau well understood, “Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”
We prize HAVING over BEING, material possessions over experiences. We have contempt for nature these days and are too engrossed in the mechanical ways of living to truly FEEL what it means to be alive on this planet.
Even the devout Christians among us, as far as I can see, are more influenced by our diseased culture than the “give it all away” teachings of Jesus.
Christians tend to be up there with the most materialistic people among us, which is ironic because they supposedly follow the teachings of the least materialistic human known to man.
The culture of materialism and consumerism is our God. Yes, even among the devout.
The cultural programming runs deep and it’s clear to see that our hearts and minds have been severed from the sacred.
As Freud pointed out in Civilization and Its Discontents: “It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.”
It’s an empty existence, this object-oriented world we live in, and everyone knows it on a spiritual level. It’s not where it’s at.
As the character in Arthur Miller’s play, “The Death of a Salesman,” confesses at the end of his life: “I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been.”
What you and I consider “reality” is nothing but a thin veneer of illusions and lies and hallucinations that we’ve all been conditioned to agree upon.
In the words of the great propagandist himself, Bernays writes:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country… We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
We’ve all been lured into the trap which is why we’re so busy all the time running from one lame obligation to the next.
What is to be done?
You have to unplug from the machine and take back your life and learn to live with less and sit under trees and read the great minds and create art and listen to music and sound your “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”
Quit doing things you hate to impress the faceless people among us.
Decondition yourself from culture, quit suppressing your uniqueness, travel to places that frighten you a bit, learn to embrace silence and solitude a few times a week. And most importantly — you must awaken from your culturally-induced slumber and try to find simple joy among the sacred.
As Joseph Campbell so poetically voiced, “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with nature.”
That’s where it’s at — it’s where the fullness of life reveals itself to us. Simplify, simplify, simplify, and become one with yourself. That’s where, in the words of Henry Miller, “the insignificant blade of grass assumes its proper place in the universe.”
It’s no secret that the happiest people on the planet are those who live with little. With little leaves more freedom and playtime to discover our true creative genius within — our true nature. We all have it.
Become the person you are, and perhaps would have been, before culture contaminated you and brought you into disharmony with yourself.
As the great Tom Robbins once wrote: “If civilization is ever going to be anything but a grandiose pratfall, anything more than a can of deodorizer in the shithouse of existence, the people are going to have to concern themselves with magic and poetry.”
You can choose to live your life in the vital mode of BEING rather than the empty mode of HAVING.
As Fromm fully understood, “The full humanization of man requires the breakthrough from the possession-centered to the activity-centered orientation, from selfishness and egotism to solidarity and altruism.”
I’ll end with a beautiful little poem by Czeslaw Milosz to help remind us of what so much we’ve forgotten by living this hurried, American lifestyle:
A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.