What is there left to say after Aldous Huxley and Chris Hedges in ‘Empire of Illusion’ and Neil Postman in ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’, after they have predicted and described the present and extrapolated our futures? The only role, for me, living within the framework of their descriptions, is that of an eye-witness, an impressionist.
So where to begin. I live by myself, in a duplex surrounded on three sides by woods. The other side of the building is quite small and usually unoccupied. My area is comfortable, with a few neighborhood cats roaming around the premises and spending as much time inside as they like. It hasn’t always been this way, having been married twice and having lived with a couple partners I cared about. Over time, my sense of self-worth increased and this led to independence. It came to me that I’m more connected to people in general than to individuals. And that the individuals I was close to were, and this worked both ways, in large part a security blanket, a comfort zone.
I’m explaining this because it represents my even and ever larger freedom from the mandates of trendy social movements. This living room never reverberates with the roar of television programming or commercials. My passion for movies and documentaries I satisfy with rentals. The only period my flat screen sees services comes when the dvd player sends signals to it. Television has been out of my life for a decade, a big change from my teen years when every program on the three networks for every night of the week was part of what I deemed necessary to know. But, television was different then. Society was different then, in the 1950’s and 1960’s. What we have become fomented beneath the social fabric of those years, ready to overwhelm our lives but doing so not at our request but with our quiet assent. Doing its work slowly, we have succumbed to its easy ways and have become a people addicted to convenience and comfort.
Using the definition of comfort as “a state of being relaxed and feeling no pain,” we strive for easy living. When a few years back, NPR mentioned that what people desired most in their lives was convenience, that coupled with a poll on Yahoo which asked which of these is most important to you at Thanksgiving, television, football, or computer games, I realized that Soma had come out of the closet. It was no longer a prescription drug like Prozac, but was openly accepted as both popular and necessary and available to all for free. In fact the drug is highly recommended and promoted on every commercial and in every mall. Of course, we do pay a price for Soma, but no one regrets the loss of solitude or the welcome escape from unpleasant thoughts.
Let’s introduce a new word, “somatized.” We have, as Adous Huxley described it, “raised a quite impenetrable wall between the actual universe and [our] minds.”
“[We’re] blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; . . . plagued with no mothers or fathers . . . got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; [we’re] so conditioned that [we] practically can’t help behaving as [we] ought to behave.”
The original word in brackets was “they,” as the line is spoken by one of the elite in charge of maintaining the peaceful status quo. Does that scenario seem a little extreme? It’s not. Underlying the health craze which swept over America in the 1980’s with the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star, was the quest for victory over death. And we’ve succeeded for the most part. Situation comedies on the tube abound. Pseudo health products abound. And the consensus is all is well if our bodies are strong. Not a thought for the mind. What mind?
As for passion, it has been supplanted by easy comfort. Passion is only necessary when we can’t achieve carefully considered options, options like self-expression or self-fullfillment. Stronger emotional and mental effort is needed to realize these; we need a passion for them. Passion is the mental equivalent of the body’s adrenalin. Passion steamrolls through hardship and unpleasant circumstances, driving us from the malaise of ease and convenience. But soma has convinced us we can detour the bumps and dirt of hardship toward the easy drive through the kitchen of pre-cooked meals, the non-confrontational friendship of internet chat, the theater of non-expository action images in movies and video games, and through channels of sexual self-stimulation.
The responsibility of parenting has been replaced by an uneasy peace in which the old family hierachy now strives for friendship rather than stewardship. And the husband and wife have little to fear from marital responsibility, not when easy divorce beckons, santioned by statistical acceptance and cheap lawyers. With passion out of the mix, self-satisfaction rules. No complex ideas to resolve, no impinging morality leading to shame or guilt, no eternal love to hinder us from pleasure. We are free, satisfied, and the label on the drug feeding our addiction reads “infinite refills.”
Where does all this leave me?