I’m sitting at the edge of town, or rather, I am sitting where the edge of town used to be. A block away from the locally owned coffee shop where I now sit lies the world of tomorrow, a dystopian vision of faceless corporations and computerized interactions.
Just beyond—I would see it if the shades were opened—is the world of Walmart,as well as a collection of chain stores that have glommed on to the area that surrounds the interstate exit of this and every other moderate-sized town. It contains the same shops that you can find in every small city everywhere: Starbucks, Applebees, Buffalo Wild Wings, Perkins, etc. It sits upon land that used to be family farms while buildings sit vacant in the downtown area.
The lights are a little brighter on the new end of town, everything a little newer. But crossing that line I can feel it, a palpable anxiety. I was just there, I had stopped at the Starbucks in order to relax for a moment before finishing up the necessary Christmas shopping. But somehow relaxation does not seem to occur in this area. The stores are all crowded and I find myself becoming impatient. The roads are busy and I find myself disliking my fellow man as they drive by in their vehicles, not having to care for others because they are insulated from them.
I swear to God we are missing out on things by converting our society over to a mass-consumption culture, a streamlined process of getting as much for your money as you can. There is more than just the exchange of money for goods that leads to human happiness. I don’t have to explain it to know it’s real, I feel it. I feel it and if I could only quiet the urge inside me to keep moving forward, to consume more and more, I’m sure I could find intellectual reasons as well. Something is missing, something important. The accumulation of goods is the basest form of pleasure we can experience. It is something that, once the necessities have been acquired, should be set aside so that we can experience the deeper joys of life. But it’s being force-fed to us the way food is shoved down a goose’s throat to fatten its liver. We have lost the capacity to slow down and reflect, and so we are unable to get free of the machine that drives us onward.
I sit here alone in this independently owned coffee shop thinking about what I don’t want us to become and realize that we’ve already become it. My hope lies in the belief that once we realize what we’ve created we will reject the choice we made. We will observe what we have created in all its shallowness, wastefulness, and inanity and seek a different path. We will shrink somewhat from what we have been mislabeling progress and embrace some of what humanity has held sacred for untold centuries. We will appreciate once more the things that truly bring sweetness and joy to our lives rather than driving in our oversized vehicles to acquire as many products as possible. It’s not a radical idea, it is merely stepping back from a precipice we have found ourselves at. It is the correction of a behavior that has not gotten us where we want to be. It may take some effort at first to train ourselves to make different decisions, but that is what grown-ups do when facing life’s moments of decision.
This is not some kind of regression, nor some vain dream of a better world that lies somewhere in an imagined past. It’s simply an admission that we have screwed up. It’s realizing we have to take a step back in order to move towards the world we want to live in. Of course the machinery that is in place will try to talk us out of stepping away from the reality it seeks to weave for us. But arguments and propaganda can only go so far in persuading us to pursue a lifestyle we know deep down is killing us spiritually, is killing the world literally. The machine is quite large, its influence quite strong. But it is not reality, will never be reality. In the end humanity will triumph over the machine it has built to move us forward. In the end we will abandon a vehicle which we can no longer steer but seeks to steer our course for us.