Pondering the American Life and “Where’s This Thing Headed, Anyway?”

Once again it’s late and my thoughts are swirling. A few things got my mind stepping from place to place. First it was this chemical spill in West Virginia that has hundreds of thousands of people without water to drink, bathe in, etc. Then there was the update on the Target data breach which now says that up to 70 million people’s card numbers, addresses, phone numbers, etc. could have been compromised. From there it was easy for me to jump to one of the few questions I struggle with on a regular basis: what the hell are we doing?

enjoy_capitalism-largeAs far as I can see, the vast majority of the world’s issues stem from money, one way or another. Governments and companies abuse their own people in order for a few to profit. Large populations are taken advantage of in order to make stuff at a lower cost, so that product prices are lower/more competitive, thereby selling more, and again, making a small percentage even richer than they already are. Capitalism and the model of “go to school to get a job to make money to buy stuff” just can’t be sustained. Have you ever walked through a department store or grocery store and wondered, “Who is going to buy all this stuff?” And for me, the next question is, “Why do I want all this stuff?”

In my own various states of unrest, I often drift towards wanting to buy something to distract me, and I’ve learned to look inward to what I’m not dealing with that’s pushing me towards distraction. And by now I’ve learned that no matter what I buy or what I do to distract or “entertain” myself, it never leaves me feeling at peace, content, or happy AND often contributes to some other evil.

I’m far from “enlightened” though. I have more stuff than I need and we may consume less than the average American family, but we still consume and own much more than we need. And again, I still gravitate towards consumerism as a distraction or remedy.

I tend to put limitations on myself. I like to think that anything’s possible: that I can have my dream job and live wherever I want and do whatever I want. I like to think that if I just want something bad enough, I can have it. Yes, this includes things like a better car or living by the beach, but it also includes much larger ideals like living in America, living comfortably, and not contributing further to the beast. I said I like to think anything’s possible, but I’m filled with doubt.

I like (or at least I’m comfortable with) the safe route—the status quo. I like having a job and making money so I can have a house to live in (with heat and AC), a car, ballet lessons for the kids, and yes, the more luxury items like a TV, stereo, and iPhone. I know I don’t need much, but I think the catch for me is that I want. Sure, I don’t have a lot of clothes and the ones I have aren’t expensive. We buy all organic food and try to buy local when we can. We recycle twice as much as we throw away and we only have one car. I’m proud that our other car really is a bike (from when I was in high school that I’ve maintained for 20 years). But is this enough? How do I get away from being attracted to “the good life” as it’s been defined in America since the ’50s? Where’s the line between enjoying what my life and privilege have to offer, and hurting others and clouding the future of my children?

I believe that every step in the right direction is a good one, and that if everyone made small steps, they would add up to massive change. I want to provide my kids with the best model I can for “responsible living in America” and I don’t want them to have the limitations in their thinking that I have. That’s one big reason why I’m working towards overcoming my own limitations—so I can be that example. I want them to know (and really believe) that the endgame isn’t getting a job to make money to buy stuff. I want our family to be content and happy with whatever we have, wherever we are, without settling for the status quo.