Monday, October 01, 2012

Gandhi III: Even Gandhier

The third social sin from Gandhi's list (Parts 1 and 2 here) is Pleasure without Conscience. This one resonates deeply in our culture today. We are a deeply indulgent society, one that has been carefully taught no to think of consequences.

Our consumer mentality has trained us to satisfy immediate desires and this has crossed over into our politics. We pass our economic woes down the line - then the other party points it out and we vote for them because we want to feel good about ourselves for caring about future generations - of course, then we expect the new party to also pass the buck... and they do.

It's a vicious cycle.

We are constantly seeking gratification. Like any addiction, we must constantly be upping the ante. Why were the three stooges so funny? (No, seriously, why are they funny? I was never much into slapstick.) People laughed at getting hit in the head with a hammer precisely because it wasn't real. Fast forward a couple generations: we only laugh if the problems are real. The outcomes of wrestling matches might be fake, but the chairs are real.

We are morbidly fascinated by The Real Housewives and The Jersey Shore because these are people living completely for the moment, completely without responsibility. It is our most intimate human drive: total self-indulgence.

Why do most people avoid such frivolity? We have a conscience. We have lives, families, responsibilities. If I get blackout drunk on a Tuesday, I get fired the next morning. If I take off for Vegas after lunch, my kid get stranded at school (and maybe spend the same weekend in foster care).

Of course we'd never actually do the things we laugh at on TV.


We might not, but our kids certainly will. Our culture is not reflected in our entertainment choices, our culture is formed by our entertainment choices. Check out this video for some insight on how MTV is actively shaping culture. It's a little dated these days, but the principles are the same.

One book I read earlier this year spoke eloquently about how our decision to become a consumer economy forces us to act like teenagers. If we weren't constantly making impulse purchases, we'd not be as well off as a society as we are, financially anyway... for those who don't actually buy into the impulse purchase game.

That's sort of the point. What's best for the top end is usually not what's best for the bottom. The election focuses on this economically, but it plays out across the spectrum of life. The partying culture works out well for those who can hold their liquor, manage their relationships, and avoid addiction - it works out terribly for people who don't have that kind of money to spend, don't know when to stop, and end up alcoholics.

It plays out in our sexual culture, our religious culture, our social culture - there is an elite who "succeed" by building, inheriting, or possessing better natural defenses. They can enjoy the pleasure without conscience because the bad stuff happens to other people.

Conscience is what turns our attention from ourselves, our wants, desires, and limits, and focuses it on others. Conscience makes pleasure less pleasurable when not everyone is in on the fun. Our society works hard to keep conscience out of the picture. It encourages anonymity and discourages intimacy. We have lots of friends, but few relationships. We can post a sympathy comment on Facebook when someone is hurting and never have to enter that hurt and suffer with another.

Is there a way for our society to make money without some ending up homeless? Is there a way for our society to enjoy alcohol without some ending up in AA? Is there a way for us to serve a God of love without some feeling rejected?

Gandhi seemed to think so; I believe Jesus would agree.

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