We live in a world defined by the things we have. Whether it’s the title of our job, the house we live in, the car we drive, the cell phone we use or even the clothes on our back, our craving for identity thru the material world is like a drug. Apple, Nike, Amazon, Versace, these companies are the pushers and we the people the customers. Every day millions of items are purchased through various channels, propelling forward the capitalist, consumption machine. The craving for joy and meaning is temporarily fulfilled. This system, ushered in during the First Industrial Revolution, has become the stalwart of ‘westernized’ society for the last three hundred years and isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Where I differ from many of the left leaning, anti-capitalist, quasi-anarchists, is that I don’t view this system as the enemy of humankind. It is merely a part of our natural evolution. Whereas humanity has moved from polytheism to monotheism (and ideally one day to a system beyond the preoccupation of religious fascination) our economic system has traveled a historical road itself. From kinship production, to slavery, to feudalism, to capitalism continuing all the way to the government planned system of socialism to most recent…the government-controlled system of communism, our marketplace trudges forward. As with most things in life the outcome of economic activity produces a small number of winners, a large number of losers and an enormous number of participants.
No one (well almost no one) is exempt from this. Its reach is like the light of the sun, touching almost everything it comes in contact with. I’m not going to ramble on about the need to strive for income equality (nothing in this world is equal, wages are no different) nor am I going to send the reader on a quest to Walden…if you don’t know who Thoreau is you owe it to yourself to read at least ‘Civil Disobedience’. I also am not going to suggest you answer the call of the Wild, though McCandless was definitely on to something. What I am going to do is suggest a simple vacation of sorts – not to the Bahamas, though the island can be relaxing – a vacation from want.
It doesn’t matter if you commit to a day, a week, a month or even a year; some things will require more time than others but ultimately its up to you. The focus here is to switch your life from wants to needs. Air, food, water and basic companionship (not virtual) are good starting points; the last item is not necessary as part of this experiment and in principle may affect the last part. To what extent you can the goal is ultimately nothing. Put the phone away or at least on ‘do not disturb’ accept to the most critical people to keep in contact with – an example would be an elderly, infirmed loved one. Goodbye electronics, limit the noise, travel nowhere, buy nothing, talk to no one. Engross yourself in nothing, you can meditate if that’s your thing but it’s not necessary, and do this for however long you can manage. What you’ll find is that nothing is not really being without, it’s not really anything, and I think you’ll be okay with that.