Consumerism and finding direction.

I always had a hard time understanding what I wanted to do with this blog. And it’s because my interests are so divided that no “box” would have me.

How can I explain that I am highly critical of leftwing beliefs, every form of sociology, progressivism, etc, yet I am interested in environmentalism and liberalism?

How can I explain that I am critical of unemployment among women, religion, racial segregation, etc, yet I am focused on traditional and tribal communities?

I am too rude and blunt, too traditional, too forgiving, too irreligious, too deistic, too maternal, too workaholic, too offensive, too liberal, too capitalistic, too easygoing, too unapologetic to belong to anyone.

I want to write about cooking and foraging, babies and freelancing, budgeting and crafting, fitness and diet, relationships and philosophy, whatever strikes me as curious or fun or new.

I guess the one thing that ties every aspect of myself together is my hatred for consumerism and the structures around it. I genuinely despise them. I don’t necessarily hate all the humans involved, but I hate the actual sin. Advertising is offensive to the eye and mind. Minimalism is a lovely goal when it isn’t commercialized and impractical. Poverty can be entirely your own doing without you being responsible for the stupid decisions that caused or preserved it. And I really don’t care what people do in terms of faith, diet, community, surgery, or shopping, so long as it is increasing the wealth of the system or removing themselves from the system, rather than sucking it dry.

So everything I do, my budgeting and DIY, my advocacy for traditional relationships combined with working women, my refusal to accept systems and structures that exploit the workers and enable the dependent, my entire self, seems to be held together by that.

It would be nice to have a community of extreme-leaning centrist, anti-consumerist, realist, relaxed, unemotional people to share this with more closely. But for now I suppose I’ll just continue being offensive to everyone.

In brief: Why you should admire and not covet.

Jealousy is a plague that has followed humans since our earliest existence. As living beings, we are constantly competing against our environment and other humans of a similar standing. As social animals, we are in close contact with our competition and superiors. So we naturally look at what we have, look at what they have and want a better lot.

This can be very good in that it helps us set high goals, gain healthy respect for our peers and superiors and understand our position and potential. However, it can also cause us problems.

We start to develop a deep envy of anyone who has something we want. We covet what they have, be it a fancy car, curly hair or a knack for music. And rather than enjoy their merits for what they are and look to the good in ourselves, we focus entirely on our lack of these things. Which leads to social disruptions as we become jealous of our peers and lose self esteem over our differences.

And all this is perfectly natural. But, just as eating and getting fat are natural does not make obesity good or healthy, neither is jealousy and low self esteem healthy just because competitiveness and living in close proximity to your competition are natural.

For a healthier outlook, instead admire the positives in others. Don’t look at what they have and get angry because they have it and it’s nice. That may be a natural reaction, but it is also immature and harmful. Look at someone who has the car you want and admire that car. You can do this and accept that you don’t have the money to buy it (yet). Look at someone who does amazingly in maths exams without any effort at all and admire their talent. You can do this and accept that you have to work harder than that and may never get those results. Look at someone who has the curly hair you’ve always dreamed of and admire its beauty. You can do this and accept that your hair is not naturally curly like that.

It’s key to respect your differences. You may want to be the same as your friend or a celebrity in certain aspects, but there is no point harbouring envy and anger because someone has something you don’t. I’m not really a believer in the doctrine of “everyone is equal in their difference”. There are plenty of bright people who are also athletic, attractive and charming. Not every dumb person will have anything to compensate for it. But generally people have good traits and bad traits, even if they aren’t really excellent in any way. You may not have your friend’s hair colour or gift for mathematics. But getting het up about it doesn’t help you get it. It just makes you angry, insecure and bitter, all of which are actually making you worse as a person. And when we try and improve ourselves from a place of jealousy, trying to seize what we covet… Well, like the proverbial flower that is picked, the thing we thought was so beautiful is ruined and dies. When we get a face lift or botox to get beautiful skin, we wind up with unnaturally stretched, creased skin. When we lie in tanning beds or bleach our skin, we get reddened marks, cancer risk and blotchy patches. When we cheat in a French test we get pushed beyond our abilities in the higher classes until we drop out. You can’t just see what you like and angrily grab at it. Sometimes it’s beyond your reach and snatching it will only break it.

So try and appreciate yourself. Bear in mind that the traits you would readily cast aside for something else are also coveted by others. Even the tallest man wants the normalcy of average height. Even the richest person wants the simplicity of less. Even the greatest mathematician wonders about becoming a gardener. Nobody is ever fully satisfied. Someone out there wants your hair, your waistline, your money, your family, your job. You may not enjoy any of it. But at least appreciate that whatever you have has some value.

And if you find actual flaws? Flaws that hinder you, that aren’t representative of you, that you could easily fix? Build yourself up from there. You don’t need to hate your hair to get a haircut or to hate your job to change careers. You don’t need to be bitter towards the maths whiz to work harder in maths or to get angry at attractive celebrities to get fit. Just because the baseline is “be me” doesn’t mean that you can’t go beyond it. You stay “me” every step of the way, don’t you? You will still be true to yourself if you become wiser, more attractive, wealthier, more powerful, fitter, more educated or stronger.

So admire the things you love in others.

Respect the difference between yourself and those around you.

Appreciate every blessing bestowed upon you.

And never stop growing.

After all, you’re perfect, but you need to keep going.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

The Importance of Sacrifice.

Lent started last Wednesday. Which means that for Christians a time of self-deprivation and religious reflection has barely begun. Pretty much every religion has a tradition of enforcing humility, fasting and the giving up of your leisures, to surrender your earthly possessions, your greed and your desire where they are affecting your spiritual growth.

But the purpose of such tradition can be lost on most of us. We’re pampered, coddled souls in a world that offers us nearly everything we demand. Not only that, but we’re sheltered from the sufferings of others and we hide from things that our ancestors and relatives in distant lands witness daily. We haven’t really known scarcity. We haven’t really known poverty. We haven’t really known death, disaster, loneliness. Even when you’ve gone a day without food, you’re moments away from a bite, a bit of kindness away from sustenance. The idea of going a week without food and with none anywhere in sight is gone. We don’t know true hunger or true deprivation. We just know mild forms of suffering, catch glimpses of it through a screen or over a sanitary barrier.

And as such we desperately need sacrifice. We can’t actually experience the mental state of scarcity this way. After all, you can easily just go and buy a chocolate bar during Lent or get yourself a flashy red car as a Buddhist. Nothing stops you. But at least it will help us reflect on how much we have and how little we need.

Because we really are overwhelmed. We’re obese, abusing medications, developing alcoholism and drug addiction, not managing to sustain relationships, giving children vaccines for STDs, shopping our way into debt, partying all night with our 500 facebook “friends” and still somehow bored, lonely and sad. But it isn’t, as some people assume, despite the abundance and freedom we have. It’s because of it. There is too much of everything, it comes too easily and it’s killing us. Like many animals, humans are meant to jump at every chance to eat, rest, have fun, reproduce and socialize. But we’re surrounded by these chances and we’re indulging them too much. These necessary acts we used to perform to keep us alive have become abundant indulgences that make us ill.

Not only have they become indulgences. Because we have almost no upper limit for these acts, they have also become booming industries, with vast numbers of brands and products competing for our attention and wealth. So we’re not just surrounded by food, drugs, media, shops, sex and events. We’re also surrounded by constant reminders of them, a constant pressure to consume.

So eventually, in our own little way, we cave in. We eat too much, take drugs (in one form or another), enjoy casual sexual stimulation, overspend and generally obey the media around us, wondering why we’re still not happy.

And we’re not happy because too much is never enough. I used to be obese. Between that and the preceding eating disorder, I have actually lost my appetite signals, have an overly flexible stomach and can eat almost continuously. When I was obese, however much I ate wasn’t ever enough. I needed more and, even as I was getting fatter, congratulated myself on my restraint. Even after losing weight, that feeling of permanent hunger was so hard to fight that I would indulge, guiltily nibbling at unhealthy foods to kill the cravings. But then I tried fasting. It was as part of a Paleo style diet and I figured that if my ancestors managed to fast for a day once in a while, so could I. The first twelve hours were tough. I was sure that the next day I would be famished. But I wasn’t. The following day I ate moderately and cleanly, not craving junk foods and not wanting massive portions. I felt genuinely satisfied on what would have previously been seen as “too little”. And, for the first time in years, I felt full. Too much was never enough, but sacrifice was plenty.

Likewise for everything. Living on a lower income than you actually have is more rewarding and enjoyable than keeping up with the Joneses. Drinking only on special events improves the taste and enjoyment of the alcohol and helps you drink less, sometimes you’ll even turn down a drink even when you’re “allowed” one. Working your way through lethargy leaves you feeling more rewarded and at ease by nightfall than sleeping or resting until noon does. Spending time in your own company leads you to better appreciate whose company is good and whose is bad. Too much is not enough, sacrifice is plenty.

So give up something, anything, everything. Maybe for Lent, maybe for a day, maybe for a year or forever. Reflect on the abundance around you, on the pleasure of indulging in a controlled manner, on the joy of prohibition and the freedom of sacrifice. Your body, mind and soul will thank you.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

The Chains We Tie About Our Necks.

Chains1

I’ve seen this quote a thousand times and often thought upon it. You see, the idea is inspirational. We, like birds, have a million places or more we could be if we wanted to, if we really wanted to, yet we don’t go there. We dream of having the money, the freedom, the means to travel to distant places, or live somewhere better. Yet we’re apparently already free to go there. However, when I thought about it some more, I realized the modern Western human does not have the freedom of movement that Harun Yahya implied we do. In fact, we are firmly anchored, chained to one spot. And really, we have nothing and nobody to blame but ourselves.

Of course, we start out free enough. And, in the beginning, we are locked down by others, innocent in our own imprisonment. As infants, children  and often as teens we need our parents for sustenance, safety, education and comfort. Where they go, we go, and unless they fail to provision us one of our four main needs, we will be tied to them for many years. Even if we were to be separated from our parents, a new set would take us on, or we’d be cared for by an institution or another relative. Many of us, myself included, have been taken to new countries, quite against our own desires, thanks to our bond with our parents. Finally, being yet unformed, unwise and uneducated, children need guidance. A child that is free and wild is usually a child that is dead, so even if we were to secure freedom at a young age we would promptly die, implying that said freedom truly is unattainable to a child.

Fortunately, whilst we are bound to our parents, they at least normally act in our personal, individual best interests. Where they will guide us to becoming a more adjusted individual that fits well into society, they would never actually cause us harm so as to bring good to society as a whole. Having children is a selfish act and thus, so is raising them. Most parents want their children fighting fit, educated and free to fly the nest whenever they need to.  The same can’t be said for what is often our primary caregiver in terms of time invested: the educational system. Don’t believe me? A child can spend 8 hours at school (8 til 4, as it was in one of my past schools), one hour traveling to school and one back, plus at least one hour, if not two or three of homework every school day. That’s around 55 hours a week, not counting any weekend work, that a child dedicates to education over term-time. Meanwhile, a primary caregiver parent may spend two hours helping them get up in the morning, then two hours at the end of the day before it’s the child’s bed-time or TV or computer time. If we include after-school activities, a parent’s time with their children on some days could merely consist of getting them up in the morning, a few hours of driving them around followed by dinner. At the weekends the parents take control, but if a child lies in until 10am, spends 6 hours playing with friends or having fun on their own, one hour on homework and then goes to bed or back to their gadgets at 7 or 8pm, that gives the parent an opportunity to get in a whopping eight hours per weekend with their kids. So the time a child invests into parent-child time could be as low as 28 hours for primary caregivers, or even just 7 hours a week for working parents, a far cry from the 55 hours that education seizes.

Yet our new primary caregiver doesn’t particularly care. Children are kept sat still at a desk, in a small room, for between five and ten hours a day, either paying attention in class, doing extra work, having lunch indoors, doing their homework, etc. This is far from a healthy start and promotes inactivity and restlessness, contrary to the Victorian beliefs that came up with these schooling systems. Children are given large amounts of homework they are expected to complete to reach their target grades and not given any idea how much or how little this homework will help them. [Confession: as a teacher you sometimes have to hand out homework but don’t have the time to make some, or don’t see any way it would help. So you give the kids sheets that don’t help at all and will take half an hour to complete.]

And, of course, children are encouraged to be uniform in appearance, sometimes even having to wear little, expensive suits and ties to class; are educated and directed in matters of their social life, morality and individual purpose. They are tailor-made to slot into any available job or university degree around, to seamlessly fit in and start turning their little gear of society. They learn to fear nonconformism, adventure, alien beliefs and moralities. They learn that their purpose, their life, is designed for them, so they don’t need to work. Just fill in the multiple-choice test, get on the conveyor-belt and start turning your gear.

And when they reach higher education they stumble on another stone in the path, one that peddles the complete opposite message: “You can do whatever you want! Follow your dreams!”

Coincidentally, Aaron Clarey went into this a short while ago, which means I don’t have to. But the short form is: if you dream is to be a rainbow unicorn, then good luck there.

But this idea has become so prevalent that a lot of modern youth then proceed to get a degree, any degree, without considering employment prospects, time and money invested or even whether they actually want it. I’ll go into this in a little more detail in another post, so just take home that many Western graduates come out of university in debt, having lost anywhere upwards of three years of their lives, with no employment prospects in anything other than menial work. Which leads us on to the next stage: work.

The modern work system is a thing of genius. You have already skimmed the cream off the milk by filtering it through higher quality universities. Sure, a few drops remain, but all you have left is the more watery portion. They have spent almost the entirety of their formative years in a system, sometimes in daycare from age 1 until graduating at around 25, the age when your brain ceases to drastically change. You have created an adult in the system. They have little to no knowledge that would burden them with an awareness of their own state. They know nothing else but uniformity, sedentary life, conformism and slaving away. They have only just been severed from their parents and they already have debt, which means they need to work and work hard. Of course, this system is now failing due to the burden of caring for so many uneducated, weak-willed, dependent creatures. But for companies they’re still a goldmine. They can turn out a problematic worker at the drop of a hat and swap a more compliant one into their place. They have an infinite supply of a workforce.

And the workforce plays along. After all, they need the money to pay off their debt. And, even though their degree didn’t give them the rainbow unicorn job they’d dreamed of, any money is good money when you’re broke and in debt. This is often a little easier for British graduates, as we get a break when it comes to tuition fee loans. However many UK students also end up with private debt and the free access to education encourages us to fritter away three or four years of our lives even moreso. The end problem is the same, just with differing levels of hardship.

And all the while the graduate is convinced they’ll finally get their rainbow unicorn job, if only. If only they save up and specialize more in their dead-end. If only they get the work experience they need to get the job where they will get work experience. If only they pay of the debt, then they’ll be able to move somewhere there’s a demand for rainbow unicorns. They cling onto these hopes, knuckle down and continue to dedicate their lives to coffee, mops and chips. And they spend a lot of time on this coffee, mops and chips. Sometimes 40-60 hours a week. Which leaves them drained and with little time for self-improvement. Most have a day that looks like this:

6.00: Get up, dressed.

6.10: Eat something. Get ready for work. Mess around on your phone or computer.

6.30: Go to work.

7.30: Sign in.

11.00: Snack break.

11.15: Back to work.

13.00: Lunch break. Eat food and mess around on your phone or computer.

14.00: Back to work.

17.30: Finish work. Tidy up, get changed.

17.45: Head home.

18.45: Get home and sorted. Get food.

19.30: Eat food.

20.00: Mess around on your phone or computer, watch TV.

20.30: Tidy up a little, maybe do the dishes or laundry.

21.00: Get ready for the next day.

21.15: Mess around on your phone or computer, play games, read gossip or watch TV.

22.00-1.00: Go to bed and go to sleep.

Sometimes going out drinking or for dinner is inserted, or an exception is made and something worthwhile is done, like reading, properly socializing, going to the gym, studying or practising a skill. And, of course, some people made wise decisions and are in far better places than that well before they’re 25. But generally, that is a day in the life of a graduate.

But what happens if you swap out the phone, computer, games, gossip and TV? Swap in some valuable habits? Well, then we see people getting run down. A minimum-wage, full-time job is designed in the assumption that self-improvement is not your goal. Many full-time workers in jobs they don’t like find themselves becoming tired, frustrated and depressed when they curb their idle pleasures. You need these things to keep you sane. You live in a small, unnatural environment, your spare time is restricted, you are easily replaceable, eveyone around you is tense, angry or depressed, your hopes are being shattered, debt looms over you and everything is generally rubbish. Without escapism many graduates wouldn’t be here today. Financially, many end up losing out or breaking even. They may pay back their loans and finally make enough money so they feel their time was well-dedicated. But they may also end up forever burdened by the loan and their job, never quite paying everything off, going from university debt, to personal debt, to a mortgage, to the grave in debt. And any financial support that would help keep them out of the red is often more debt or charity. Basically, unless you’re truly destitute, you can’t even buy yourself time without borrowing money to buy it with.And, finally, there are the continual, gnawing, low-level expenses. I will challenge you here and now to keep a diary for 6-12 months. Every time you spend over £100 on something that isn’t groceries or rent, every time you pay more than usual on your groceries or bills, every time you have an accident and need more money, note it down. Then divide it by the month. Most people will spot anywhere from £100-300 of entirely unaccounted money leaving their accounts every month. It may be new tyres for the car. Or a more expensive phone-bill. Or new clothes. Or an upgraded games console. Or a leak in the kitchen. Or a night out. Or an ill pet. It won’t be a consistent thing. Every time you’ll just tell yourself how its “a one off”, how it “won’t happen again for a while”. But the money going out is consistent.  And oftentimes when you add the low-level expenses to your rent, debt, bills, groceries, transport expenses, hobbies and the likes, you’re breaking even or in the red. So even saving has become difficult.

Yet we can’t entirely avoid these expenses. Some happen due to pure chance. And those that don’t are almost a responsibility. Why? Well, being social animals, humans respond to other people. Whether it’s someone pressuring you into going to their cousin’s birthday party, the desire to own a new bag to fit in with your friends or being guilted into helping someone out with an expense, we all end up spending on our social lives, often more than we’d like to or are able to. Because we just can’t break those ties. And the more ties your form, or the longer you hold them, or the more you give in, the more you’re expected to spend.

But other people add more than financial ties to your life. Above we addressed our first chain: a dependence on our parents. Well, now we are choosing our social chains and I’ll suggest that parents are also tied by their children. Children depend on you. They need sustenance, shelter, protection and affection. They must be educated, raised in a stable environment. And in order to provide for a child, get them educated and keep them safe and happy, we must stay put, at least most of the time. Same goes for any dependent. When we take on the role of a carer, we sacrifice a certain amount of freedom.

However people who aren’t dependent on you will also act as a chain. If you have a partner, not only do you have your work, debt, dependence or dependents, but you take on theirs as well. As long as you are a unit with someone, you embrace their restrictions and problems and welcome them into your life. The same often goes for close friends.

Finally, on the matter of social life, we have influence. As most people lead unhealthy, unfulfilling, consumerist lives, then chances are that most of our family, friends and acquaintances will also lead such lives. And if most people around you live a certain way, then you are more likely to be drawn towards it also. If your friends want to go out and get drunk, you either go with them or miss out. If your partner doesn’t want to go to the gym, you either stay home or go on your own. The fewer people that surround you when you step outside your comfort zone, the more likely you are to return to that comfort zone. And most people’s comfort zones are the same. We seek light, easy, unfulfilling entertainment. Stuff that numbs the pain and boredom of everyday life, even if we need a continual supply of it. Humans being neophiles, we become almost instantly addicted to these new streams of bland entertainment. And even if you don’t succumb, the majority do, which means the majority of your social circle does, which means you also may eventually slip.

And what are the consequences of the way we live our lives? Well, besides the limitations I have already mentioned, we see plain, run-of-the-mill ill health. As I have already said, the average person has little time to exercise or little time they are willing or able to dedicate to exercise. Most people you know will either drink, smoke or take drugs, if not all three. Most people you know won’t work out regularly. Most people you know watch 2-4 hours of TV a day. Most people you know eat a rubbish diet at least half the time.
Our workplaces keep us out of sunlight and away from nature. The modern recommended diet, with it’s high-carb, junk-friendly bias is similar to those diets imposed by cult leaders to promote passive, weak, sheep-like followers. We are surrounded by pollution of all varieties. And our doctors are so used to just being asked for a pill that many prefer to recommend medication over lifestyle changes, even where medication is the least effective option. Our environment and our social circles conspire together to keep us overweight, undermuscled, lethargic, passive, ill, drugged-up. And when you are weak in body and mind, your will to escape comes only second to your will to survive.We are bound by debt, work, children, friends, obesity, peer pressure and ignorance.

However, ultimately, we only stay in these bonds because we want to. Not because we want the bonds. No. We hang these chains around our necks because we dislike the alternatives. Sometimes we’re afraid. We go through education because we’re scared of not having a degree, of not getting work. We go to work because we’re scared of not having money. We tie ourselves to people because we’re scared of being alone. However sometimes we’re not even afraid, sometimes we’re just too comfortable, it’s just too easy. We do what everyone else does, we refuse to change, because this takes effort. We’re led into these chains and willingly, out of pure ignorance hang them around our own necks. Eventually we reach a point where we can only stay chained through our own faults, yet our faults are the only reason we needed the chains to begin with. We’ve created characters out of ourselves. Characters that are idle, ignorant, weak, debt-ridden, consumerist, hopeless, peer-pressured, obese, neophiles, hen-pecked, infinitely replaceable people. Characters that have debt gnawing on their skulls, people depending on them, a contract. Characters who have already dug themselves in so deep, they may as well keep digging. There’s no way out for them either way. We depend on the chains to excuse and support us, because, like an arm in a cast, we have become dependent on our limitations to support us.  And keeping these comfortable chains is easier than the pain of ripping them off and standing on your own.