Sample Essay for Demand Studios

The System is a Little Frayed at the Seams

Written by: Andrew Macauley

In life, there are certain things we have control over—such as where we decide to work, or go to school. And there are other things that are out of our hands. Even then, the things we feel we have control over could slip away at any moment, and the things that we feel are beyond us—such as the state of the world; and sometimes, the state of our own lives—are really more up to us to determine than we realize.

One of the strange and unique things about existence is that we each, essentially, live in worlds that are separate from those of the people around us in all but the most superficial of ways—i.e., the physical. And in fact, it is merely our perception of the physical that determines how we feel about it, and which, in doing so, determines what is there. (“One man’s heaven is another man’s Hell,” right?)

Because, if you really think about it, which is more important: an object (say, a toy from your childhood), or how that object makes you feel? To someone else, that toy that elicits nostalgia is maybe just another piece of useless junk on the pile. And that is because the majority of this world is relative to the person perceiving it.

But then there is this remarkable thing that happens when enough people believe the same thing: sometimes, whatever it is begins to seem like the “right” thing or the “wrong” thing, or, stranger still, the “Reality” of things. The statement, “History is written by the victor,” is evoked here. But for a more relevant example, just look at advertisements, which say, “Coca cola – cool! Beer – Manly! Thin and pretty – Important!” When, really, it’s all inherently meaningless and, oftentimes, incorrect.

So while pure water might, in fact, be the best thing to quench your thirst, people instead think of a Coke. Or while fruit and salad and vegetables might be both the best thing for them and the best tasting thing, properly prepared, people say, “A Big Mac would really hit the spot,” in large because that’s how they’ve been conditioned to think… well, and also because the food is physically and psychologically addictive. (Just think about the weird cravings you get for Mickey D’s and tell me there isn’t something unnatural about that.)

But, as a species, we would be perfectly happy without McDonalds, Frito Lay, and T.V. dinners if we had never had them in the first place. So, sure, this food is probably comforting to those of you who grew up with it, or eat it all the time, but it is far from ideal. And yet it has become a part of our diets anyways. (Sort of like how we use shampoos and conditioners with ingredients such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which has been suspected to be a carcinogen and to cause canker sores when used in toothpaste. And who cares if it doesn’t cause cancer? Just the fact that we suspect it should set off warning bells in the public consciousness. Sort of like how certain Red food dyes (No. 2, 40, and 106, according to an Oxford Toxological science journal) cause DNA damage in mice. I mean… holy fuck, are you serious, American Food Industry? Is it really that important that our disgusting, store bought pastries are that particular shade of pink or whatever?)

But if water and natural foods really are so much better than Coke and Cheetos, why don’t we eat them instead? Wouldn’t we, as a society, be able to see through the bullshit of T.V. ads? And if these ads aren’t informing us with anything valuable, on the whole, then why do they work so well?

It is because they suggest a unifying image of a new reality that we all create. And a reality that, in the grand scheme of things, is about as “real” as the idea that ‘women are less intelligent/competent than men, and thus are incapable of voting rationally,’ or that ‘people of differing skin colors are subhuman'... Both ideas since determined to be fallacies by a significant enough number of people that they are now unacceptable to most; both ideas which were once considered indisputable truth by just as significant a number of people.

Now, you might ask, “What, exactly, is the ‘Grand Scheme of things’ then?

And the answer is simple, really. (Because let’s take things one step at a time.) The Grand Scheme is this—we are a species that has lost pieces of its nature and has settled on reclaiming it through watered down visages labeling themselves as “Freedom,” “Liberty,” and “Love.”

We call cars, money, and the internet “Freedom.” We call ‘Not getting shot at, or beaten by the police on the way to work,’ “Liberty.” We call “I don’t want you to be how you are, but I love you anyways; and, I worry because I love you,” “Love.”

But we have become the worst kind of prisoners—the kind who shut ourselves in cages and mindlessly throw aside the key. When things are “Good enough,” when we believe that you have to have “good days and bad days” and “That’s just how life is,” you aren’t giving yourself full credit for your power to completely change the world. And I don’t mean the material world—I mean the world you live in and the way you see things.

On the news, we hear about war and poverty; death and decay; financial collapse. People are depressed; drugs are required; there isn’t enough money for health care for everyone… etc. We might even think, “I should lose weight; get a shiny new pair of tits; eat [insert brand] food,” and we hardly even know why anymore because there is so much information in the world! You are assaulted by ads all the time, espousing conveniences and products and trying to get into your head in any way they can think of.

And so we forget. We forget that shampoos and soaps can smell great and work great and not have harmful chemicals in them; we forget that all these time saving devices—microwaves, canned foods, etc.—are only freeing up time for us to work our asses off at a 9-5 grind, and they are also unsatisfying, unhealthy, and not worth the sacrifice we are making for them. We have given up free time so we can work more to pay more for land, gas, cars, entertainment, and everything else.

But here’s the thing: We don’t have to. We just don’t know any better on the whole. Corporations pay for everything, and they dictate perception. They employ lobbyists to tell Congress what to do (using money to persuade them, naturally), which tells us how to think. I mean, just look at milk, from cows. You probably think, “Milk=calcium=good,” right? But where did you get that perception from? Probably all those “Got milk” ads, I bet. I know I did.

And if we weren’t so busy being inundated with advertisements which pay for us to watch the television that helps us escape from our lives which help us ignore the world and ourselves until we finally fucking die, maybe we would get up and go for a walk through the woods, play in the streams, drink in the ephemeral beauties of Earth… maybe then we would have a use for all that calcium we’re trying to keep in our bones.

Walk into any New Age bookstore though, and you will find a totally different perception of reality stacked upon the shelves. A perception that says that we are all inherently the best of the best and the worst of the worst, and capable of anything. And that the only way to change the world is to start with ourselves and decide, each of us, on our own, what is right for us; simultaneously the most selfish and selfless thing you can do—by becoming a better human, you are making every facet of your life better, as well as the lives of those around you (at least the time they spend interacting with you.)

Which reveals an interesting aspect of humanity: what truly and genuinely benefits one truly and genuinely benefits all. (And I’m not talking about getting a new car—that can be both positive and negative and it’s all relative—I mean recognizing the deep, beautiful nature inherent in all of us and wading through all the muck and bullshit passed down through the generations.)

Because here’s the truth: We are a beautiful species, deep down. And sure, it might be a little buried, but it’s there. We are each fully capable of saying, “You know what? I am ready to be happy,” and picking up something like “Autobiography of a Yogi,” or “The Tao Te Ching,” or, Hell, even the Bible! But read the new testament like you mean it, guys; the poor thing has been so thoroughly swamped in cultural mythos that a vast number of people simply rely on other people's perceptions to tell them how to feel about it, either demonizing it without attempting to understand it, or simply taking it for granted that when priests and pastors say "focus on this," that they should.

But think about how many of the clergy don’t, at all, embody what Christ was talking about, and can only seem to remember the one painful-seeming moment in his life; because we are a culture that, insanely, equates pain with love. (“I hurt you because I love you,” sound familiar?) And so we wear crosses around our necks--exalting the "sacrifice" in physical pain--and wait for Christ to come back to Earth and save us, instead of following the path of love and joy that he taught and saving ourselves right now.

And here’s the amazing thing: If everybody got to go to their exclusive Mormon/Christian/Whatever “Heaven”, those of us “left behind” would have a heaven all our own. Because this Earth is Heaven, it is “The Garden of Eden,” it is Paradise. It is simply frightening to believe that because it means that we, humanity, are what needs to change, and not the world around us.

And while change is hard, the source is simple, too. It is love. That’s all. Just love… made of compassion, empathy, understanding, and grace. Love for ourselves… For the people around us... For life and all its qualities. For the beauty of the ups and downs. The dark and the light. For death as our liberating, rejuvenating companion day to day, rather than an entity of which we are afraid.

Because life without death is crowded, confusing, and out of balance. And life without love is monochromatic. And the Earth without us is a confoundingly beautiful rock floating through space, with no one to appreciate it, muse over it, and love it as we should ourselves.

No comments: