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What's the best way to live?

posted by Paul on 7/31/03

How do we live in the modern world?

As anyone who uses the internet knows, the world is full of desperate people. It's a world where we have essentially lost sight of what's important and our attentions have turned to short-terms gains and material fixes. We tend to define ourselves by what happens on television or what's deemed as socially acceptable. If a new hairstyle appears, it has invariably been spawned by some hip show and over-groomed celebrity. Our language has devolved into buzz words and rap-star lingo. Perfectly good words are dumbed down and new sentence structures are created all the time. God forbid we might have to cherish the English language! Kthnx!

Most of us, to be fair, have lost the art of conversation. How many people can genuinely hold a conversation about something other than sport, television or celebrities? It's not easy, granted, since few of us ever have to think seriously about the world. Similarly, online conversation between the opposite sexes typically involves some guy trying to "cyber" or "get into the cyber pants" of someone who's equally lonely. And if you ask some people something more probing than "how much do you bench?" or "did you see (show x) last night?", you're viewed as some sort of hippy. Hey, someone who likes music, craves interaction and wants world peace. I wish there were *more* hippies in the world!

I don't wish to demean anyone, so I have no superior stance here. Rather, I'm guilty of the petty foibles that I'm bemoaning. Someone offers me one million dollars, I'll not refuse. Work me a diet plan to give me those 42 lbs I desperately crave, and I'll follow it. And god knows I get anxious in certain social situations, uncomfortable in scenarios where I have to do most of the talking. And regardless of how many friends I've had at any one time, I've often felt strangely disconnected from the world. While I may have fit in on the surface, there have been times when I feel misunderstood and isolated. Trust me, I'm not some fourteen year old sitting in a basement here (not that that weakens or strengthens the point). But loneliness is a more a feeling than a state of being, and feeling lonely in a crowd of people is one of the most perplexing feelings. Some of the greatest artists and minds in world history have felt so dismayed by the nature of living. Apparently, it's not about money or looks or how many friends you have. Kurt Cobain, one of the most charismatic young musicians of the nineties, couldn't even bear to look at himself in the mirror. He was loved, but he didn't love himself.

It would be far too easy to blame all this on the media, but they play a big part. They keep us nervous of failure and mistrustful of our fellow man. They also propagate what we should wear, social etiquette and how we should look. Be damned with individuality. I thought one of the really interesting portions of Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" was the apparent disparity between actual crime and what's reported. Does the media affect how we view the world? Undoubtedly. For some, it's the only way they can get to see the world. Thus, the media helps to control what they think. So, instead of seeing Iraqis (for example) as equals, many people have been forced to see them as somehow sub-human and unsophisticated. Likewise, anyone who watches "Sex and The City" would presume that the only thing professional women discuss is the pursuit of penis. Maybe they do. After all, I don't know many professional New York socialites.

The other myth that the media helps to sell is the image of easy gains. The internet alone is a potential goldmine for ruthless people who know nothing more than how to market effectively. One in six emails says you can earn thousands of dollars by working from home. And the spread of gameshows and reality TV has created a new sort of "reality", Instead of earning your money or letting talent grow organically, a slew of hopefuls jump on TV and earn mega-bucks and entertainment ties just by letting mounted cameras film them. It's too easy. Of course, we realize this is too easy, so we all want a slice of the pie. Win a half-million whilst getting a degree of fame? What a pact! All the so-called "beautiful people" on sitcoms have great jobs and killer apartments. Have you ever seen any of the "Friends"' characters openly despairing for their financial affairs? No, even though Phoebe is a ditz, she's still financially secure enough to pay the rent on a lush NYC apartment. Even the "everyman" characters on TV live in plush surroundings. And, since you seldom see anyone toil, you start to question the injustice of it all :)

The Hef enjoys living by popping as much Viagra as possible and having premature sex with girls young enough to be his great granddaughter!

More than personal success, it's important to have a mind. That really does transcend IQ and intellectual posturing. A person who can really form their own opinions and rationalize life is a rare beast. Life is an ongoing puzzle and we'll never have all the answers. And yet the answers, I feel, depend upon the person. The ability to think independently, however, is something I take very seriously. That said, it's virtually impossible to promote individual thought: you're conforming to something. From an early age we're force-fed world beliefs and religious mantras. Our teachers, even the free thinkers, told us what to believe and we had to accept the standard modes of education. I contend that schools offer up a microcosm of society. Anyone who ever thought "outside the box" was punished for questioning accepted methods. The small and weak were bullied; the more physically developed were revered for their athletic abilities. Not always, but enough for it to be a trend. And anyone who's ever aroused a teacher's irrational dislike will understand that school, like much of society, is not bound by equality and justice...

Morality varies from society to society. But, lunacy aside, most of us have ingrained beliefs. Most of us know right from wrong. Some accept the Bible verbatim; others (myself included) doubt many institutions. Yet even if you do abide certain beliefs, the belief in democracy and justice, it's still important to look at something with both eyes open. For instance, if religion was so all-consuming, then why are there so many denominations? Wouldn't one religion suffice? Ultimately, it all comes down to individual beliefs and preferences. Religion is good in the sense that it gives us hope. The Catholic Church always reassured me that, even though I'm a sinner, I'd get to Heaven if I repented. It also promoted the fundamental goodness in humanity. It's funny, because I look at the news and I don't see much of that goodness. In fact, when I walk down the street, I see few people smile and many seem weighed down by the burden of reality. Meanwhile, other religions tell me I'm doomed, just because I don't blindly practise what they preach. Who's right? And what to believe....

Again, it's good to try to experience things for yourself. It does ease a lot of the fears. No, no-one's going to force your eighteen year old soon to try cocaine. He's probably only trying it because he's tired of being restrained. If we listened to the media, we'd never leave the house. After all, we might get mugged, stabbed or blown up within five minutes. Hysteria is rampant. Certainly, it'd be good to just go outside and take people at face value. That's what was great about being a kid. Everyone was nice to you and no-one seemed to have an agenda. Sure, the old guy who liked to bounce you on his knee is an unsettling image in hindsight, but imagine not having to be so suspicious of other people. Admit it, if someone walked past you in the street, randomly smiled and said "Hi!", you'd be checking your wallet in about five seconds. It'd be great to strike a balance between naiveté and prudence. Sure, people die everyday from drug abuse, but what about people who die from stupidity? You know, those people who think they're on "Jackass" and set their heads on fire?

How many kids are reading great literature or being forced to integrate with other kids? They're brought up on a diet of fast food, mistrust and selfishness. Invariably, the children of today are mollycoddled and not encouraged to think for themselves. Not all parents allow their children to fall into this trap, but how many kids really enjoy going out anymore? Even if they did, parents are so terrified of the pedophilia threat, that they hole their kids up out of "kindness". And going out and innocently playing with your friends is one of the true joys of childhood. How many pedophiles do you think really exist? Pedophilia, a very real threat but one overblown by the media, has created a whole new hysteria. It's made us deeply mistrustful of people, particularly men, who like kids. I mean, if you have an affection for kids, you must surely be a freak. Right?! As a guy myself, I must admit that I'm now afraid of conversing with other people's kids! It's ridiculous. I love kids and I can't wait to be a father some day. However, I'd hate to think that someone might get the idea that if I smiled at a kid, I'm sort of sicko. And aren't the people who always suspect this the *real* sickos?

I must admit that I really do despair for the state of the world. I mean, take one look at your email and you're told that this pill or that pill will enhance your attractiveness to the opposite sex, cure your depression and mould you into the perfect weight - well, whatever perfect weight is being touted this month. One of the funniest products I've ever seen is this Pheromone Spray. The theory goes that, if you spray something that'll probably smell like a pig's rectum on your person, you'll be an instant smash with the ladies. You'll get eye contact, smiles and, by god, they might even talk to you. Let me tell you the real secret here: self-confidence. It doesn't matter what weight or height you are. Provided you have self-belief, someone will find you attractive. Thinking you're "hot shit" does rub off, even if you only think that because you sprayed some "hot shit" on your armpits! That's why we feel more confident when we drink alcohol. It removes our inhibitions, because we know we're drunk and can get away with more. We can talk openly, we can discuss taboos and we can show our emotions. For guys, that's definitely a very cool escape. You see, the media says masculinity should be stoic. All men should strut around like John Wayne and have large pectorals and Six-Foot-Two frames! I know guys like this. I prefer them when they're drunk.

"The meaning is life is...whoa, look at the tits on that!"
"That's my wife, you moron!"
"No-one's ever gonna sweep wiv me!"

Have you ever liked someone when they're drunk yet hated them when they're sober?

That's why I don't dismiss drink or drugs. We all have our escapes and, to be honest, I have had moments of complete mental clarity and harmony when under the influence. Does that make me a weaker person? Maybe, but at least I can confess to it. Philosophically, I feel that true reality is a depressant for many people anyway. Our vices usually say a lot about us. It's nice to escape into the world of fiction sometimes, to a world of make-believe. Movies, games, music and television offer a reprieve. The true artists GET IT. In fact, most of the great artists have felt similar dismay in society. Some of the greatest songs and best movies were conceived when the artists were "fucked". The point? Not that everyone should do drugs, but hey it's nice to escape and create something meaningful. Reality can be a little too sobering, surely?

It's better to live than to merely exist. Sadly, most of us exist in scenarios we really do feel are below our station. More to the point, we're supposed to pursue mediocre lives and the working-class war cry is to "work hard", "get real" and "don't aim too high". If you're not famous or revered, what can you hope to achieve in life? In fact, what do you consider achievement? Personally, I think happiness and self-contentment should be the goal. I'd also feel that I'd achieved a great deal if I could create a happy marriage, be a great father and provide comfortably for my family. For other people, it might be how many awards they win or how much they earn. Even the rich get the blues. Hollywood, for example, is brimming with insecure people who'll backstab and worm their way into positions that are way above them. Some of them lack talent and heart, while others have forgotten who they are. With only a handful of exceptions, few actors/actresses are in the business for the work. It's all about adulation, power and acceptance. Is THAT a good way to live?

James Cameron lives with a God complex and his beloved Oscars

Shout until you're blue in the face, but just can't live in this world without money. Money can do a lot of good, yet it's usually rooted in evil. It corrupts and is corrupt. Yet we can't avoid it. Those who are born into money, it should be noted, usually have an advantage in life. They have the freedom to pursue other avenues. They have the opportunity to read more, they can learn more freely and they can generally go where they please. Does that make their life experience any better? Not necessarily. Money makes life easier and without money, we're unable to travel and broaden our horizons. I really do feel that, when we travel and see the world, we get a more authentic sense of self. You never really know your capabilities until you leave the cocoon. Finding that there's like-minded people the world over is reassuring.

Despite what you may have heard, human experience is surprisingly similar. We all have similar fears and insecurities. We all worry that we'll end up alone, that we'll never realize our ambition or that life will pass us by. We're all victimized in one way or another. Whether it be skin color, weight, age, sex, sexuality, height, disabilities or creed, many of us have felt a sense of injustice. This perpetuates because everyone has a point. The world is just not a fair place and I'm realizing more and more that nearly EVERYTHING revolves around money in one way or another. And it's a terrible moment when, for instance, you go in for a job interview and you know the interviewer has already made up their mind five seconds after laying eyes on you. The modern western world stands on this podium of superiority, yet its ethos is still "survival of the fittest". It's a society which still prejudges and can't see past someone's physical appearance or bank balance. But, while the world slips even further into moral decay and many have lost hope, I think we don't have a definitive answer to the question:

How do we live in the modern world?


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