In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.

Guy Debord

 

The Illusion of Limitlessness

Any given structure sets limits on function. Humans are no exception. The structure of the human body determines limits. However, the human ego, if not in harmony with the body may deny those limits. Technology can work around many limits, helping to give the ego the illusion of limitlessness. When limits are denied, the integrity of the structure is no longer respected. Limitlessness is partly described by narcissism but there is another problem posed by limitlessness which is lack of understanding where things come from or what they are a part of.

Cut and Paste Society

'Cut and paste' is a metaphor derived from computer manipulation of words and images. Pieces and snippets are isolated from their origins and recombined on a purely impressionistic basis. (This has been called post-modernism, but that term has many other meanings). While this can provide a near limitless aesthetic experience, it cannot provide a sound emotional or biological experience. The elements that are affecting a person in body and mind are not set in any tradition or context. People end up charged but with no understanding or feeling why, or how to discharge, or how to interact with others in the same state. There is no way to really become involved, heart, mind, or body.

An example is Disneyworld. Folk wisdom, fairytales, romantic legends, burlesque skits, bright lights, science fiction, vestibular shaking, and many other elements are combined in a way that they never would combine naturally. This can be considered the logical endpoint of human creativity and positive in an artistic sense, but the point to be made here is that devoid of origin, there is never any sense of enough.

The Substitution of Power for Authority

Power is the socially-sanctioned ability to stop someone from doing what they want. Secondarily power is the ability to get people to do what one wants because because one can punish or favor them. Authority on the other hand is the understanding in a community that a person's opinion and actions carry great weight and should be respected. If one goes against authority, one has the potential to be ostracized from a community. If one goes against power, however, one has the potential to be destroyed.

Authority and power has always existed in this world, but power has mostly been used by a few such as kings. Community and family matters have tended to be settled by authority. Now of course authority can and often is 'wrong' and can be abused. But authority is based on an understanding of the needs, history and limits of the community. Power, on the other hand, has no intrinsic limit. How power was obtained is irrelevant to how it is used. Money is the perfect symbol of this; how it is used is in no way tied to how it is obtained.

Money is the modern form of power. As everything becomes defined by money, power usurps authority. Even if large amounts of money are obtained by accident or birth, it still conveys to the holder, power over others. Political power is a strong second. Even well-intentioned efforts to improve living by the exercise of power (i.e. communism) weakens communities by obscuring limits.

Authority at least implies a relationship. Parents and teachers do not have the authority they used to. That is, children do not listen to parents and teachers as if those opinions had weight. Rather children assess the potential for reward and punishment. But reward and punishment are issues of power, not authority. When children and adult are in a power struggle, the limits, needs and structure of the family or school are of course obliterated, because power, unlike authority, has no embodiment of limits.

Conspicuous Consumption

As a people, we have been told, since World War II at least, that we must consume as much as we can, and that we must consume an ever increasing amount for our economy to survive. The idea is that the economy has no limit. But the economy is based on human labor and on the planet. As consumption without limit is encouraged, the structure of both the planet and humans is weakened. For individuals, consumption becomes a substitute for constructive or community activity. Generally, families used to be concerned with training children in production. Consumption was thought to take care of itself. Now a great deal of family attention is taken up with managing consumption. Not uncommonly children learn consumption better than production, but can they be blamed?

Need to Outdo the Previous

There is belief becoming more operative that to truly celebrate or honor something, the observance has to be bigger, more elaborate, or more expensive than previous celebrations. In a family for instance, the weddings of the present generation might be pointedly bigger than the weddings of the parents. In society at large, parades, memorials, fireworks shows, etc.. are all designed with exceeding previous shows in mind. Even olympic medals are trending larger, with the 2012 ones now actually out of proportion to the human bodies they are supposed to adorn! Needless to say, taste and beauty often go by the wayside. The statues on Easter Island come to mind.

Self-Deprecation

There seems to have been a great loss of humility. I do not mean just as seen in grandiosity and narcissism. Humility is the understanding that one lives in a natural world and a large human community, and that one's contributions are real but do not skirt natural laws and are supported by many other forces not of ones' doing. In humility, one appreciates where things come from. The idea of limits is built in.

Self-deprecation, on the other hand, is apologizing for not being perfect. It is based on the erroneous idea that if one applied oneself properly, perfection could be obtained. It denies limits, or at least the applicability of limits to oneself. It is actually the opposite of humility. In fact, it is common to get the sense, when someone is deprecating his- or herself, that they often actually mean the opposite. Self-deprecation has been substituted for humility as a social norm. Self-deprecation can be fairly insincere, as described here, or fairly sincere but still mistaken as described under the topic of respect.

Financial Instruments

Financial instruments such as stocks, bonds, securities debt, mortgages, etc.. have a basic role in exchange of wealth. Secondarily they have a role in bringing some income to those who trade them. However, there is no way that an entire society can be supported by financial instruments because in themselves they produce nothing. However, in our culture, there has come to exist the belief that everyone can become rich by such instruments, or that long affluent retirements for everyone can be paid for this way. This was behind the boom in real estate from 1982-2008, and the stock market run up from 1920-1929. Apart from the small amount of actual income produced by the underlying assets, financial gains in such instruments by some are balanced by losses to others, except it may take years or decades for the losers to realize who they are. Not understanding the limits of financial transactions shows a dissociation from the physical world.

The Myth of Immortality

A body that has lived a full life is ready to die because this is consistent with its state and feeling. The body understands limits. The ego however, wants to live forever. All individuals and cultures must balance the reality of death with the desire for immortality. Overall, however, and generally in folk culture, children were embraced as the solution. Once survival is secure in a culture, and sometimes before, children have been valued highly.

Our modern technological culture has seemingly obscured the reality of death. While the death rate has not changed at all (it is still one per person) a great deal of resources is now being diverted to immensely complicated expensive medical care at the very end of life. For all of us, individually, it is difficult to turn down anything that may extend survival for even a few days--the ego will take anything it can get.

But as a culture there has been a reversal. Instead of older adults serving and finding generativity in younger people, younger people are expected to sacrifice for the extended survival of older people. In the US, the national debt is increasing to support medical care. That is future generations will have to pay for end of life medical care that took place before they were born. Undertakings that support quality of life for everyone, education, leisure time, or ease of making a living, are being squeezed.