It seems in modern life that we live in strange relationship to the world around us. We spend vast amounts on makeup to ‘look our best’, then need to spend almost the same again on cleansing or beauty regimes to redress the damage. Or we indulge in food or wine ‘because we’ve earned it’, but then need to work that off through suffering, deprivation or the endurance of a fitness regime. Is this imbalance – and the cyclical way of life that ensues – simply how things are or could it change?
With consumption, it seems many of these things cancel one another out. This could be seen as part of a larger pattern of creating problems we then need to solve, but it seems to work out well economically. As in Values and the economic, this lifestyle seems sensible in terms of making money; in that light, reinforcing cycles work better than a life of harmonious balance. If the ways we live become mutually dependent – the demand for one thing creating the need for another – then culture can work hand in hand with capitalism (see Relating to cultural benchmarks and How many aren’t well represented?).
In a way, this is one of the fundamental patterns of life. Looking to religion, we find Shiva, the Hindu god linked with both creation and destruction. Or there’s the Taoist concept of yin and yang: the balance of opposites that makes life possible; the complex relationship between chaos and harmony. Maybe these cycles are inherent to life or, more specifically, to material existence.
But what does it mean for us? We’re not eating to excess in order to support the fitness industry; we’re trying to live a meaningful life, to find our place in human society, to feel good about ourselves. I don’t feel that human beings seek imbalance or the psychology that often accompanies the need for much of this. I think we seek meaning, belonging, harmony, wholeness. Perhaps we also seek differentiation: to be better than others, to stand out. It seems it’s this that is being capitalised upon, rather than the fulfilment of genuine human needs.
While on a natural level such cycles are part of life, as indicated in ancient teachings, I wonder to what extent they’re suited to human existence. Our cycles of behaviour or consumption often seem linked with the psyche: with the social need to belong and hold meaning in the eyes of others. I’m just unsure these cycles of modern living are in our best interests or those of the environment (see Living the dream, Waste and consumer choices, or “Small is Beautiful”).
Essentially, what I’m saying is that maybe we’re worth more than we’re being told; and that our value as humans need not be linked to things, to these patterns of indulgence, avoidance, suffering and judgement. Our culture could uplift us, rather than bringing us to compare or to criticise. Are there other ways to co-exist on this earth, should we choose our values differently?