The Fallacy of More

It is an odd twist of capitalism that is breeds the idea that more is better.  More money, more possessions, more of everything, but is this fundamental theory holding up in practice over time?

Has the more mentality of capitalism and the push to acquire and the systemic inherent judgment of others and judgment of ourselves led us to a happier place?  I believe it has led as most events and systems and judgments to unintended consequences, specifically to a desperate loneliness and isolation of this culture of greed.

I offer as one illustration the fact that the American culture has become so ill-defined.  In fact it has become a bit of a joke that we Americans don’t have a culture.  Our culture is work most of the time, spend and accumulate the rest of the time; no time for each other, our children, our neighbors or meaningful friendships.  No time for meaningful music, art, or creating expressions of who we are beyond grand multi-story glass and steel structures.  Is that who we have become?  So many of us have glommed on to other cultures and we have embraced multi-cultural philosophies as if other cultures have some intrinsic value that ours does not have, or did have at one time.

But if one thinks about what it is that we enjoy about other cultures it is that the outward evidence of them that we enjoy so much, that time spent in an outpouring of joy celebrated together, in spending time doing something shared, in family time, in dance, in music, in collaborative cooking, in creating art.  We are not glomming on to the way that other cultures vacuum their floors or make their beds.  We desperately desire the bond of coming together, the welding together of spirits that occurs in a time and place of common joyful purpose.

So we take some time off from working and spending to become a voyeur to a culture that appeals to us because it speaks to our spirit and its desire to connect with other joyful spirits. 


I recall a wonderful party in Mexico where a bunch of plastic chairs and a cooler full of beer were dragged out of a pickup truck into the dirt front yard.  A band showed up with amps and instruments and a party was born and the neighbors came with their chairs, and joyful dancing and singing ensued and even the neighborhood drunk was allowed to grab a few beers.  I recall a similar party in Greece where people came from all over the mountains to share in a spit roasted lamb and beer and the party with festive clarinets and recorded music went into the wee hours of the morning by firelight. 


In both cases, the spirit was joyful and made magic and powerful by expense of time and the communal willingness of all to relax, and to laugh, and to pass time in celebration of each other and themselves.

It is an unintended consequence of buying into the fallacy of more is better that leads us to isolation by labor, isolation by shopping, and isolation by judgment that somehow we haven’t acquired enough yet to be confident in spending time with our neighbors.  Perhaps the couch is worn or the car backfires when started; so in the capitalistic mentality of more, we do not measure up and our spirits are suppressed.  Surely a “successful” neighbor with a cleaner house and newer car wouldn’t want to socialize with a worn couch and old car?  Surely they must have better spirits to share with; but the trouble is they don’t, they simply drive a nicer car to the fiesta or to the Greek festival and like a spiritual parasite they draw some small sap of joy from it that allows them to go back to work the next day.  When all that was really needed was some joyous time with the people around them, it wasn’t necessary to rent a crowd, they live in one.

In America, so many of us separate from our families and friends and potential friends by believing that more is better.  We move away so we won’t be distracted by each other.  We look down at the sidewalk when we pass each other in the street because even asmile, a hello or a good morning might infer some commitment that would take away from time for earning and shopping.  I see the “more is better” men coming into a room of people and quickly scanning it, and me, to see where the advantage is.  They’re hunting for the people where this time will benefit them, who’s worth talking to and who should they cast no more than a quick glance downward at on passing by to bigger and better?

Where did the American culture go that I was taught about into which everyone was “melting” when I was in elementary school?  We were proud of our culture back then. The rest of the world wanted a piece of the action.  But somewhere along the line the people coming here, and the people living here, began to figure out that something vital was missing in the midst of plenty.  People time is missing and the American culture is rarely about spending time with people long enough for it to go more than skin deep, more than a handshake and a contract, or grabbing a receipt on the way to the next sale.

A woman I knew lived in Spain for years, she married a Spanish man and had children and then she and her family moved back to the US.  She told me that she was less happy here because in Spain people were so intrinsically social.  Shoe missed the fact that in Spain one never needed an invitation to come and visit, you just showed up and you stayed for hours and you talked and talked and talked.  My Dad told me that it was like that when he was a kid in Canada. 


My friend told me that even though she grew up in the US, she was amazed at her loneliness when she returned because everyone in her neighborhood simply stayed in their houses and nobody dropped in and if they did it was always planned for and always a brief interlude on the way somewhere more important.  I heard that she and her family eventually moved back to Spain, I wondered if it was the dreary loneliness of living without a functioning culture that drove them back.

Perhaps a great lesson could be learned in the current economic crisis that more is less, and that expressing love toward others through the joy of time spent with people is the more we really seek.