Oscar Wilde once wrote, “We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.”
How true a statement this has always been, and continues to be, in human affairs. Humans, for most of our time existing on this planet, subsisted as tribal hunter-gatherers. Fast forward to our current day and age in which the vast majority of people spend the vast majority of their time either working or consuming; and, you can see that life has become, for many in modern society, a competition surrounding who has what and how much? Unfortunately, as the old bumper sticker adage states: “You can’t take it with you.”
IF, indeed, we can’t take it with us, IF we shouldn’t be striving for material gain, however great or meager… then, what SHALL we do? Should we all as Jesus Christ and Buddha have both suggested, shed our material possessions, abandon our families and go forth as ‘fishers of men’?
It’s a dilemma most people would probably rather not have to consider. Many probably feel that they don’t have TIME to consider such matters when more prevalent concerns make up their daily existence. Did Jane finish her book report? Where are the dryer sheets? Has anyone walked the dog? Tomorrow looks no different for many.
Of course, the life of the average middle-income American looks much different when juxtaposed with that of many members of our global population. For the most part, however, life seems to boil down to who owns what. Could you live without your iPhone, without the internet? What would you do if you became homeless and you could no longer pick and choose what you owned, let alone what brand it was? What if you couldn’t identify yourself by what car you owned or how big your house was? Couldn’t eat in the hippest restaurant?
Human identity was once built around relationships among family and close friends. Now, many of our relationships wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for social media such as facebook. Not to say it is necessarily a bad thing that people relate through facebook. The issue at hand is more about the lack of regular physical contact and closeness. Humans seem now to have less eye-contact and less reason to actually get dressed and leave their homes unless it’s for a potential facebook photo-op. When people actually DO get together, most of their time seems to be spent gazing into their phones in order to tell their other friends what fun everyone else is missing out on. Meanwhile, the real experiences are left out in the lurch of half-happening.
Capitalistic societies are driven by creating the illusion that certain things are necessary. Humans should not have body odor: buy deodorant! Deep fried potatoes cooked by a pimply teenager making minimum wage instead of pursuing his real talent at guitar or martial arts would be preferable to buying a deep fryer and a sack of potatoes and making your own fries. People seem like they have forgotten how to think outside the box. It is sad to think of how much potential for creativity and self-expression is sacrificed in the name of conformity and going with the flow.
I’m not sure if it is possible to change this current state of affairs. Perhaps nothing can be done about it except for on a small, individual scale. Would human culture be any better off if Oscar Wilde had spent his time flipping burgers eight hours a day instead of writing? Would Oscar Wilde have written if he had been forced or had chosen to spend his time instead performing menial labor?
I think it’s true that humans must face adversity on some level if we are to thrive. Most of our numbers have not had to face such adversity; although certainly many others have. It remains up to each individual to decide where value lies for him or her. Do I really NEED to have five different kinds of heat-powered hair curling devices when someone else is standing on a street corner with a sign begging for spare change? Our true needs are minimal for survival and true happiness.