This morning my flight was cancelled, I had a few hours to kill in the neighborhood where I grew up. I flipped through the mail on the counter in my parent’s kitchen. There were two checks for me and a mail-in ballot. The pressure from “the liberal media” groaned at me like or as Pete Davidson having a moment of clarity with silver hair. Fifteen minutes later I was filling out online quizzes to receive a personalized voting guide, (turns out–according towww.isidewith.com–I agree with 37% of what Donald Trump says—bummer.) So for forty-five minutes I was changing the world by placing my unique perspective in one of two bubbles, or, as a rebellious act of anarchy, no bubble at all. I was giving those binary politicians a piece of my mind. I was voting my conscience, you know, making a difference. Or, I mean, I did as I was told, or, I mean, I did something about my dissatisfaction, or… I mean, I spent my own time acting on what I think… or… I mean, I played the game? It’s like, what else could I have really done to make a difference with those forty-five minutes?
But where is the intersection between my practicality and my potential? The Internet has made all the data available, the world is radically interconnected, I am everywhere separated only by a few small screens capable of millions of hues, infinite gradients. I overload my finite attention span with my screens, filliing every spare moment with moving content and highly practised bias. The gap in between the lines of digital text has become too full, my indexes and glossaries longer than the literature itself. It is the context of the content that has slighted me into believing a scantron is my greatest act of social/political/economic defferance. There is no practical act in voting–however Randy Hiroshige might tell you otherwise, and do so very convincingly. It is, at best a conceptual affirmation of my own beliefs, no matter how strongly or loosely I hold them.
There is a book of ancient Near-Eastern wisdom literature written sometime between 300 and 500 BCE. It decries thankless toil, and laments vanity, it reminds the one listening in on the conversation that memorizing a set of proverbs is not the key to life. You cannot will your desired outcome into actuality, there is no rationale for a formula, and there will always be the good that die young and the wicked who prosper. All that’s left is to look at one’s lot in life and take it in, to be content and then to go back to work tomorrow operating from that place of contentment. The wisdom required to unveil the worlds inner workings is not frowned upon in this lecture, it simply is not the key to life, it is only the operating system—it is just the lens. Kierkegaard calls this wisdom despair. He writes in The Sickness Unto Death that the way to freedom is not to dodge despair but to lean into it, to reckon with its hold on the world and to find the synthesis of the finite and the infinite wherein the hopelessness of a limited existence has no guarantee but this present moment. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and theologian says that meditating on contentment and/or gratefulness is the only way for our minds to be altered by it. If we simply move through those emotions without a second thought they will pass by our psyches without shifting that lens of despair there will be no space created to reckon with that Kierkegaardian synthesis of the temporal and the eternal. It is only by diving inward or going underneath the cultural narratives that tell us we are a billboard, defined by products and followings. In other words, I’m saying in order to fight the narcissistic ego that consumerism creates we must first realize ourselves. We have to make the move to consider that relation in us which relates to the infinite which holds all of us together, that contemplation of meaning.
To remain in space and time seems at first like the only thing we can do. However I find as reality is virtualized and we are increasingly becoming convinced that we are players in a global tournament of economic and social sparring, it becomes increasingly difficult to remain embedded in the paths which our analog lives present us with. I find myself seeking out one of two responses:meditating on the infinities behind the finites of the passersby and seeking out their particularity, which is to say integrity, or condescending to the parts of those selves which are only concerned with the competition to appear as the most beautiful billboard. Both pursuits drain me, yet my evangelical roots are still yearning to create change, to stir hearts or effect minds, or whatever. Is the goal not to create a new Earth, to seek out reconciliation and to curate peace? And if so, is remaining embedded in my own time-space creating a network that could oppose, or better yet, alter a global system of consumptive and oppressive relationality?
I often find myself recognizing that I must vote with dollars on which networks expand and which networks collapse (as opposed to a simple intellectual affirmation that somethings are bad). There is no conquering the system of consumption until we can speak its language with fluency, which means we must reckon with the fact that the capital we operate with is always in every moment measured against a monetary canon. Unfortunately one of the major barriers to honest campaigning against the consumption of people is how veiled the money collection process has become. The largest networks of consumption have forged pathways to passive income through designing a world of faux-dependence on their products and services. I say faux because it is no more than convenience which convinces us we depend on them: cows, free-shipping, iMessaging, fact-checking, ceaseless streaming of entertainment, malice, antibiotics, geo-location of every acquaintance, etc. The systems that keep us dependent do so by creating Attention-Deficit-hyperactive-consumers. (We created an aluminum straw industry overnight because we are convinced buying things makes us feel good, even though having more things is the opiate which enslaves us.) We have been conditioned to privilege convenience and cost over freedom from our own oppressors, we have been conditioned to fend of the awareness of out synthesis by the rush of spending dollars on our own finitude. In light of this how can we forge pathways of patience, peace, and justice in out monetary lives?
This is where the prescription breaks down, well almost. What I have come to is an arm’s length–or the ability to measure impact in human terms, which is a radically particular process for each consumer, but the form of the actions can be traced out. And while it is tempting to rail against the way “shop small” has become corrupted and perverted by national corporations guising themselves as the small-town heroes who work for them (mostly because there are no other options), I will exercise self-restraint for the sake of the length of this rant. The reason it is important to me to qualify purchasing options in human measurements is because it is a built-in unveiling mechanism. It unveils the process through which you come to your goods. To see the people who make it, or package it, or design it, is also to see the people who benefit from the purchase of it. It fosters confidence in the product itself, and will make that product less dispensable to you the person buying it. It also pushes confidence one more step up the ladder of consumption. Providing the small business, craftsperson, or farmer with the confidence to put trust in their purchasing, and the ability to treat the land and human capital they consume intentionally. And so on and so forth. This mindset will create a set of concentric circles of impact that radically overlap. It will create consumers and producer/consumers who are more aware of their own communities by virtue of their impact on them. Each monetary decision a vote against veiled and oppressive systems. They will be able to see voting as a constant process, a natural outcome of a day’s work (or a night’s rest for that matter.)
To commit oneself completely to this process is utterly exhaustive in the beginning (and maybe the end, but I don’t know yet) because there are steps to be taken everywhere: the grocery store, coffee shop, the church foyer, in-n-out, Nordstrom, the hardware store, literally everywhere. There’s no quick fix or easy answer either, there are resources sure, but all the options require doing some homework. So start with a factor you can control, your morning coffee, your glasses, your gasoline, Aunt Mary’s Christmas gift, etc. Commit to learn and let the circles of interest begin to overlap and take over your consumption, and then tell people why you choose what you chose. So go out and support a chain of consumption you can see, and begin to free yourself from the anxiety inducing oppression that our blind consumption leaves us with. Your world and mine will thank you.