There is something hovering just beyond my fingertips. My brain is rolling around, trying to see the connections. I know it’s all there: the link between mental health, diet, physical wellness, emotional wellbeing, relationships, and communication. We’re creatures in a vortex of the artificial, looking for piecemeal solutions, for instant fixes to what we view as discrete problems: sleeping pills, diet pills, comfort food, TV, Twitter addiction. We are lab rats compulsively pressing buttons.
How do we break this reactive cycle? How do we stop looking at ourselves as pieces instead of wholes? Why do we focus on the holes instead of wholeness? We are educated to be dissatisfied and brought up with the message of what we lack. Schools don’t tell us how much we already know, but how little. Work doesn’t showcase our unique talents, but forces us into performing repetitive tasks. Marketing tells us what we lack, what’s missing, what we should aspire to be; it highlights our supposed flaws and imperfections. We are never encouraged to celebrate what we have, who we are and what we’ve accomplished – the message is always ‘do more, be better’. We are so inculcated to this abuse that we never stop and ask ‘why more?’ or ‘what’s ‘better’?’
I believe there are two fundamental human needs: love and agency. Research backs me up: according to a recent study “Men earning at least £50,000 a year feel much less enriched [by brands] than the average person, as do men aged 45 to 64… [and] people who are married or living with a partner… are 13% less likely than average to believe that brands add to the pleasure they feel in their lives”. The same study shows that the people who feel “greater benefit than average” from brands are young women earning under £15,000 a year and single parents (“the report suggests that brands can act as ‘surrogate partners’”). Quelle surprise: the socially and economically empowered, and/or people with satisfying emotional relationships, care less about stuff. They don’t need ‘surrogate’ love from products. So it is very much in the interests of corporations to keep people disempowered and alienated.
Capitalism is doing a bang-up job of ensuring the poor get poorer, so corporations don’t have to do much on that front, apart from needle the middle classes with false ideas of what is ‘necessary’ for a good life. Impeding the natural human urge to find companionship is trickier but luckily for corporations they have the technology. Mass media throws endless roadblocks in the way of self-acceptance, which is an essential precursor to accepting anyone else. Magazines, TV and newspapers are a giant fault-finding loop, telling consumers how far behind they are, how unattractive, unsuccessful, unglamorous, and inadequate. Anyone with the psychological fortitude to shrug off this personal onslaught still has to contend with the doom and gloom of the ‘news’ which reminds you that even if you’re feeling fine the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, fast, and if you aren’t anxious for yourself you should certainly feel guilty over the less-fortunate.
If we get past the psychic hang-ups (corporate) culture has a set of spanners to throw in the works of our relationships. It requires repetitive, unsatisfying work that gulps time and sucks up emotional energy; it makes us sick with food and drugs, then sells us more drugs to try and fix things; it clamours for attention with TV; it co-opts our attempts to connect via social media; it uses high transport costs to keep people physically separate; it deprives the needy and demonises the powerless. It would be fantastic if this were a conspiracy, if there were in fact a shadowy cabal somewhere we could hunt down and overthrow, but there isn’t. Corporations hate each other as much as they hate us. There doesn’t need to be an evil genius behind the system because the system itself is evil and ingenious.
Not being able to beat corporate culture is no excuse for joining it; however, this is where my mind gets stuck. How do we create freedom? The blunt fact is we are not in control. We can resist, avoid, interpret, criticise, and occupy till the end of time but, to borrow a line from Jarvis, “cunts are still running the world.” The best people I know are the ones who’ve made a separate peace. “Life is a bunch of waves,” my brother told me, “All you can do is pick which one to surf.”
The craving for a big, black-and-white answer is itself a mendacious outgrowth of corporate culture (“buy this and be happy!”) I suspect the only way out of this kinghell mess is to admit there is no way out, and to live well anyway. Turn off the TV, delete the Facebook account, put down the pint glass, throw the ready meals in the bin, flush the Prozac, stop buying Heat, stop judging and show some love.