Society is Always Plural, Never Singular
We are the problem. But we’re also the solution.
Where do we draw the line between need and greed? How much is enough? And what happens when we live in a culture of instant gratification and overindulgence that encourages us to always want more?
What to do when our wants grow so large they eclipse our current circumstances and render us unable to appreciate how fortunate we are? No matter how modest our means, life in the West is undeniably good; we do not have to keep a packed suitcase ready and an eye on the door because we’re under threat, unlike our ancestors.
While illiberalism keeps nipping at the heels of democracy, there are fail-safe mechanisms that still allow people to push back but for how much longer? On both sides of the Atlantic, freedom of speech is an inalienable right; we are free to assemble, free to go on strike, free to hold our governments accountable if we believe their policies to be misguided.
And yet, no matter how much we have, many of us are unable to enjoy it because we always have our sights set on what we don’t have. And the more we want, the harder it becomes to fully inhabit the moment.
Instead, we let a future that is never guaranteed dictate how we experience the present, unable to remember where we come from or appreciate our current prosperity.
Going through life in a self-imposed state of lack that never abates is detrimental both to our mental health and to our relationships but we do it anyway, lured by the shiny bright lights of capitalism that promises significant life improvements in the form of goods and services.
We may not always need them but effective marketing somehow convinces us that we want them until we no longer know the difference between what’s essential and what’s superfluous.
We gorge ourselves on more food than is necessary to stay alive; we fill our homes with pointless gadgets; we feed our minds with noise because it is there while locating signal takes discernment and effort; we subject our hearts to the tyranny of social media promising instant connection and perfect love.
We transmogrify into monsters in thrall to greed as we obsess with the pursuit of fame and fortune. We want to be known no matter what for; we want to get paid no matter what it takes. We urge ourselves to dare dream ever bigger dreams whereby fame and fortune become insulation against a society that no longer knows the meaning of the word solidarity.
The self takes precedence over our peers; our interactions become transactional.
And then we wonder why we’re so lonely.
We no longer answer to curiosity, compassion, or an open mind but instead calculate how our peers can best serve us although we seldom admit as much. Because, deep down, we know how manipulative our behavior is but we simply cannot control ourselves.
We want it all and we want it yesterday; entitlement becomes our modus operandi.
Online, this mindset has given rise to the content of discontent, i.e. filler copy that taps into people’s deepest insecurities and expounds ad nauseam about how to make money and become famous, propping up entire careers built upon the self-made myth.
We spin our greed into inspiration and our deceitful ways into generosity by selling mirages of success to others, whom we purport to help while all we’re really doing is monetizing their greed to feed our own.
Dog eat dog and may the hungriest prevail.
Because the cult of the self sells and success is nothing but an attitude adjustment: We must be hungry for it, we must inspire ourselves, we must become our own superhero.
No Lycra tights or cape required: We don’t need anyone’s help or input because we are the one we’ve been waiting for.
Even though talking about ourselves in the third person might be a stretch for most of us unless we’re Trump, we’ve grown fond of prefacing everything with self-, erasing other people in the process. And yet, anything we do and ever achieve always takes people, from learning to speak and read and write to building careers, businesses, and families.
Society is plural, never singular.
Nevertheless, we argue that the secret to success isn’t down to the people who host our dreams for us, who support us, who encourage us, who take a chance on us, who guide us, who offer us feedback, who inspire us, or who hold us accountable.
As we dismiss the fundamental interconnectedness of society to focus solely on the self, we take to thanking ourselves until gratitude becomes a solo pursuit, or megalomania, depending on the girth of our ego.
We defend our greed by invoking the spirit of self-help; after all, we’re only helping ourselves.
To as much as we can because it’s never enough. Instead of putting our heads together so prosperity might benefit everyone, we compete so we might be the ones who get everything.
And the more we grab for ourselves, the more people get left behind.
Rather them than us, greed whispers in our ear, before we wonder out loud why our democracies are in such a parlous state.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.