Always Room For Improvement

May 6, 2010

In the first world, I find that we engage in a lot of self-loathing. Rudimentary tasks– from food to sex, and everywhere in between, we just don’t think were ever doing it right. Always looking for something more. Looking to be better.

How could it be that a whole generation– a whole culture, really– has been raised with virtually crippling insecurities about the simplest things?

When we take a look at the barrage of contemporary media, it’s no small wonder that we believe stuff, places, and pills will complete us. No stretch of the imagination to envision the dull-colored scene of the infomercial we all are without our chemicals, plastics, or electronic gadgets.

Our lives have become a perpetual before and after. The after, however, is never as vivid or full-tooth-smile-worthy as the family on the box. We are keeping up with the Joneses, although we know full-well their family portrait was created in Photoshop.

We are all desperately seeking a level of happiness that doesn’t even exist. That maybe never existed at all.

But blaming modern media is too convenient. While it does serve to propegate and replicate societal dissatisfaction, the media is merely a mule for unattainable status quo; a reference guide to consumerism, capitalism and ethical bankruptcy, that we all mindlessly throw in our cart at checkout. We all buy it.

Media is a scapegoat for the thousands of years of moral misguidance humans have imposed upon one-another. Have imposed upon ourselves. I could arguably date our insatiability back to the time when we came down from the trees; when our altruism was exchanged for these large cranial masses; when we realized that being alpha was a whole new ballgame for the human species. Size and speed were traded for innovation.

Since the time of our earliest hominid ancestors, we’ve come a long way in our aspirations. As a species, we don’t just want to leave our genetic legacy– we want to become immortalized. We do not just struggle to one-up each other, or even set a new record– we want to create new challenges. Be the first!

We’re raised with the notion that nothing is impossible–  a message emblazoned on every elementary school wall in America. We’ve written books on morality; we’ve created religion to keep people on, what millenniums ago, was decided to be the straight-and-narrow. We’ve seen ethical empires rise and fall.

The bombardment of mixed messages comes not only from our contemporary media, for people were just as restless before they could read,  and long before they could veg out in a recliner to the network news. I believe it comes from our struggle against nature. What Freud so eloquently elaborated upon as the struggle between Id, Ego, and Superego. But beyond that, it’s a fight against our own progress.

What is “the dream?”

It seems to be this perpetual oscillation between security and freedom. Between land ownership and pioneering. Between procreation and scholarship. What is our measure of success?

We want it all. Everything. We’ve always been told that it’s possible– as nothing is impossible– why would we ever believe otherwise? We can be a rockstar and a family man. Run a multi-million dollar enterprise, yet have a little place to call home. We can spend every waking hour studying, working, learning; yet have plenty of time to keep the kitchen clean and feed the kids.

And we wonder why it never feels like enough. Wonder why we lie awake at night fantasizing about more hours in the day. Fantasizing about a lifestyle that only exists in our minds, and rarely, if ever, in practice. We are spread so damn thin, trying to juggle several versions of “the dream,” the true  anomaly is that  we are able to adequately complete anything.

Anxiously, we are overwhelmed and underwhelmed simultaneously. Not long ago, a friend told me that anyone who knows what they “want to be when [they] grow up by 40 is in good shape.” This was in sharp contrast to the messages my public education delivered me about immediate and ensured success. And this dichotomy of cultural ambition is evident in nearly every aspect of life. Magazine covers riddled with mutilated celebrities, the enormous amount of credit card debt people go into trying to maintain a “normal” lifestyle– it’ all illustrates a deeper dilemma. Our obsession with potential.

Sometimes, I think maybe I am living the dream, after all.

I hope she’ll be a fool–that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool… You see, I think everything’s terrible anyhow… And I know. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything.”


3 Responses to “Always Room For Improvement”

  1. Pauly Says:

    Well said. And I really dig the Gatsby quote.

  2. Ryan B. Good Says:

    Have you read A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle? What you write, the fact that we either lament the past or yearn for something in the future; we’re never content with right now, which is the greatest gift we humans can ever receive. You’ve probably heard the quotes, the past is over, don’t worry about the future, right now is the gift, that’s why it is called the present.

    • I did, years ago. I know I’m not reinventing the wheel, or doing anything besides pointing out the obvious here. Hominids have been discontent ever since our brains got too big for our mothers to comfortably deliver us like cattle. Since becoming self-aware, human kind has always wanted more, and we have soft spots in our psyche for anything that promises us a “better” life.
      Intentional or not. In modern America, however, I think that we are stretching well beyond what should be expected. Our lifestyles don’t allow much living in the present– that’s a reality.

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