A cursory glance at the ‘State of the World’ reveals what a mess things are: from the environmental emergency and war to injustice and poverty, a tightly woven man-made mess of interconnected issues, unprecedented in scale.
The greatest crisis of all, however, is humanity, and the culture that we, specifically ‘The West’, have built and are wedded to. The Culture of Pleasure sits tightly within and feeds the pervasive Ideology of Consumerism, a socio-economic model that has poisoned the environment and led to the commodification of everything, and everyone.
While there are counter trends with people living simpler, more responsible lives, broadly speaking humanity is immersed in the world of pleasure, and has lost its way. Our ancient connection to and respect for the planet has gone, as has relationship with others and with ourselves – with who and what we essentially are; the mystery and wonder of life has been trampled on in the race to consume, to achieve, to ‘succeed’.
This fundamental estrangement and the resulting sense of isolation lies at the root of many of our problems, and is particularly potent in western societies. It’s here that disassociation, exploitation and separation were pioneered and championed, and, thanks to the power of cultural imperialism and the reach of money, such reductive, divisive ideas have been exported around the globe. Almost every country has been affected, or should we say infected – often on the back of aid (glorified loans in exchange for access, e.g.) – ancient cultures subverted, communities dismantled under the suffocating weight of homogenization and the divisive ‘values’ of the market.
As the present civilization crumbles before our eyes, the levels of illness — physiological, psychological, sociological and ecological — expand and intensify, and humanity stumbles, bewildered and frightened from day to day; crashing from one crisis to another, applying outdated inadequate methods, which solve nothing and intensify much.
Instead of acknowledging the fact and acting to bring about real change, meaning a shift in thinking, in attitudes and values, the widespread response to this collective chaos is, perhaps understandably, to seek immediate satiation, distraction and pleasure. To cling to anything that creates or has previously created a sense of stability or relief, no matter how fleeting. Sentimentality reigns in such a shallow, fearful world where meaning has evaporated, and short term, immediate satisfaction is all that matters.
Empty and afraid, contemporary western societies, and regions infected by said nations’ ideals, have become more and more dependent upon pleasure as the ‘end’ for all ‘means’, the thing to work towards and for; the reason for living. And although it may provide a momentary escape from misery, pleasure and sensory gratification is devoid of substance and offers nothing of lasting value. In fact, far from creating happiness, it fuels frustration and discontent by design.
Desolation and division
An essential element in the consumerist drama of greed and ecological destruction, during The Covid pleasure’s hold on humanity has intensified, as has sentimentality: the pleasure and debilitating comfort of clawing sentimentality. In many societies the pursuit of pleasure has become an obsession. Sold as the elixir to internal emptiness and misery, pleasure has replaced essential happiness, which is a natural non-dependent state inherent within all people. As a result, our societies have become increasingly shallow and discontented, frightened, lacking meaning. Lost.
An essential ingredient in both the Culture of Pleasure and consumerism is desire. Constantly agitated by the media in order to maintain discontent and the itch for experiences and stuff, desire can be seen masquerading as love – remember love? Frequently referred to in sermons, speeches, novels, songs and the like, and cherished as an ideal, love has become increasingly irrelevant. Relegated to the sidelines of society, remembered in a maudlin fashion, but in a world of instant gratification, greed and nationalism, love is not taken seriously as a living principle animating all aspects of society; a powerful force driving right action.
Where is love within the socio-political constructs and the policies of governments, within which we are forced to live and function? There isn’t any, or none worth noting, and how can there be peace, social justice and equality without love? Acts of community kindness, which may well be prompted by love, still exist of course. But displays of social responsibility and environmental action, positive and encouraging as these are, are a meagre measure of love as we allow the planet to burn, wars to rage, refugees to drown in the Mediterranean or some other Sea; children to die of starvation and covid vaccines to be hoarded in their millions by rich nations too mean to share.
These and countless other unloving acts are perpetuated every day in our divided, cruel world. Actions, and in many cases inaction, sanctioned by a culture rooted in selfishness, division and the relentless pursuit of pleasure. It is within this facile destructive web that humanity finds itself; lost, and far from home, which is a frightening disorientating place to be. From this fragmented position decisions are made, actions undertaken, individually and collectively, the chaotic results of which are all around us.
If the many external manifestations of this inner turmoil are to be overcome a fundamental reorientation is needed. A revolution of ideals, of values and behavior; a movement (the early signs of which can be sensed and, on a clear day, seen) away from lives governed by desire and the search for pleasure, to modes of living founded on simplicity, sufficiency and responsibility, enabling the creation of societies based on love, and the principles of goodness that flow from love to gradually emerge.