Monday, November 19, 2007

The wisdom of insecurity



When we compare human with animal desire we find many extraordinary differences. The animal tends to eat with his stomach, and the man with his brain. When the animal's stomach is full, he stops eating, but the man is never sure when to stop. When he has eaten as much as his belly can take, he still feels empty, he still feels an urge for further gratification. This is largely due to anxiety, to the knowledge that a constant supply of food is uncertain. Therefore eat as much as you can while you can. It is due, also, to the knowledge that, in an insecure world, pleasure is uncertain. Therefore the immediate pleasure of eating must be exploited to the full, even if it does violence to the digestion.

Human desire tends to be insatiable. We are so anxious for pleasure that we can never get enough of it. We stimulate our sense organs until they become insensitive, so that if pleasure is to continue they must have stronger and stronger stimulants. In self defense the body gets ill from the strain, but the brain wants to go on and on. The brain is in pursuit of happiness, and because the brain is much more concerned about the future than the present, it conceives happiness as the guarantee of an indefinitely long future of pleasures. Yet the brain also knows that it does not have an indefinitely long future, so that, to be happy, it must try to crowd all the pleasure of Paradise and eternity into the span of a few years.

Thus the brain designed to produce this happiness is a fantastic vicious cycle which must either manufacture more and more pleasures or collapse-providing a constant titillation of the ears, eyes, and nerve ends with incessant streams of almost inescapable noise and visual distractions. The perfect "subject" for the aims of this economy is the person who continuously itches his ears with the radio(or ipod), which goes with him at all hours and in all places. His eyes flit without rest from the television screen, to newspaper, to magazine, keeping him in a sort of orgasm-with-out-release through a series of teasing glimpses of shiny automobiles, shiny female bodies, and other sensuous surfaces, interspersed with such restorers of sensitivity-shock treatments-as "human interest" shots of criminals, mangled bodies. wrecked airplanes, prize fights, and burning buildings. The literature or discourse that goes along with this is similarly manufactured to tease without satisfaction, to replace every partial gratification with a new desire.

For this stream of stimulants is designed to produce cravings for more and more of the same, though louder and faster, and these cravings drive us to do work which is of no interest save for the money it pays - to buy more lavish ipods, sleeker cars, glossier magazines, and better TV sets, all of which will somehow conspire to persuade us that happiness lies just around the corner if we will buy one more.

It isn't that the people who submit to this kind of thing are immoral. It isn't that the people who provide it are wicked exploiters; most of them are of the same mind as the exploited, if only on a more expensive horse in this sorry-go-round. The real trouble is that they are all totally frustrated, for trying to please the brain is like trying to drink through your ears. Thus they are increasingly incapable of real pleasure, insensitive to the most acute and subtle joys of life which are in fact extremely common and simple.

Generally speaking, the civilized man does not know what he wants. He works for success, fame, a happy marriage, fun, to help other people, or to be a "real person." But these are not real wants because they are not actual things. They are the by-products, the flavors and atmospheres of real things - shadows which have no existence apart from some substance.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you may conflating the draw towards extremism -- the adrenaline rush of pushing limits -- with a more banal consumerism. Self-destruction or elation through excess can be a highly sophisticated art if done in moderation.

~Your Anti-Matter

indian_nomad said...

what a great picture. love the marlboro's on the table. glutton?

Socrates said...

i agree with above comment. one of the most beautiful pictures i have seen of a human.