Friday, October 8, 2010

Death By Convenience

America is clamoring for change...some of it good, some of it bad, and some of it downright ridiculous, but most of it is wishful thinking or the essence of a pipe dream at best. Much of it is powered by good intentions and emotionally charged visions of a better America...but all of it stands to face an uphill battle against the status quo...and the status quo is more powerful than ever before.

What makes even the smallest changes such an uphill struggle? Corruption, negligence, crony-ism and more reasons roll off the tongue easily, but there is a hidden poison that has added to the problem at every level, altering the mechanisms that would bring about changes for any party interested in making them.

What separates this era from any other? What marks this time and place as unique in history? What impedes the normal process of flux and change from progressing as it normally would?

Given the title of the article, it's clear that I think the problem is convenience, so let me outline why I believe this to be true.

First and foremost, just since the advent of television as a medium for entertainment and advertising, the culture of consumerism and the sedentary nature of leisure activities is a fact so well documented and evident that it literally requires no evidence to back it up...beyond asking people to examine the contents of their homes and assess for themselves the nature of their entertainment/leisure pursuits.

The hallmark of American life is the vast variety of creature comforts that are available to us. In fact, it's even the way we advertise our superiority to the world, advocating that they too could someday be as comfortable as we. Our food is price fixed to stay affordable so that chain restaurants can keep those cheap meals flowing fast. Even households not blessed with great income have DVD players, CD players, radio, wireless, cellphones with internet access and more more more.

We are a convenience culture, with stores on every corner, food that comes ready made or can be prepared and consumed in minutes, and entertainment that can soothe the restless mind always ready at hand...and this is not all bad...but there are side effects that may not have been given the consideration they were due.

In a world where one struggles for little, what value does patience or determination really have? Thinking cautiously and planning for the future are reflections of an ethos that was necessary a few generations ago...but is no longer relevant the way it once was. A person prepared to endure go without what they desire in the short term so that they may have what they prioritize in the long a person well prepared for survival in ANY era...but that person is rarer than ever.

As clear as in our personal lives, our politics also darkly reflect an intemperate, hasty, slapdash sort of thinking...a hunger for immediate satisfaction that can quickly turn into outraged frustration... more-so now than ever before. The overwhelming and sudden success of the Tea Party is a mirror held up to our own nature as a society. Where once people rose up and faced violence to fight for labor conditions that weren't terrifying or downright routinely lethal...or for civil rights so that each individual citizen might have the same access to the benefits of citizenship in a free society as any we are treated to the spectacle of people rising up on behalf of the well funded pundits and think tanks that answer the question in their souls: Why am I not happier?

Like snake oil salesman, the pitch is delivered fluently, sympathetically and skillfully...aimed at people who in the midst of overwhelming plenty, still are not content, and who need somewhere...someone on whom to lay the blame. The secret of advertising is to know your target understand what moves their hearts. Insecurity? Fear? Anger? Loneliness? Whatever your emotions may be, an appeal is being made to them, calculated to have an impact that isn't thought about...but which is responded to quickly.

The great peril in a free society where advertising and convenient entertainment is an everyday experience is that the people so exposed to that culture of convenience may become less conscious of their own responses, simply reacting from the gut without any understanding of how they can be manipulated. Our society has been built on the back of self determination and self management...principles that in theory are quite conservative...and very agreeable to me in principle.

But what becomes of such a society if it allows the minds and spirits to degrade into a state of pure, animalistic reaction? How then will a people, supposedly the masters of their own destinies, manage themselves well in a democracy? The answer is that they don't. It ceases to be a democracy in anything but name, and the gifted will simply manipulate vast herds people into believing, with righteous indignation, that they are enacting their own will...rather than echoing what has been spoon fed to them as the latest cure-all for their ills.

And here we are...nearing the eve of mid-term elections with a new and thundering voice being heard...clamoring not for freedom, but for the right to reduce inconvenient freedoms. Sounding off, not for the rights of people...but for the rights of corporations. Crying out not for equality...but for a limited superiority for certain classes of citizens.

How low have we fallen from the ideals that brought us into being as a country? How much lower can we fall? We'll find out in our lifetimes...and we should have a fairly clear vision of what that fall will be like...just a few weeks from now. An electorate driven by emotional responses to carefully selected buzzwords cannot prevail and choose a wise course, or wise leaders...and in due time we'll see where a life no longer built on patience and self determination, but instead crafted of convenience, has led us.


  1. The people who need to read this the most never will they they don't have the patience or intelligence.. good essay very good indeed..

  2. I assume that you've read Wendell Berry?

  3. I haven't read Wendell Berry...but now I have to look him up...since I suspect it would be relevant and inetersting!