Was reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and it got me engaging in a thought experiment:
Say you were trapped in a snowstorm for many days with one other person, a stranger. Your food rations run out, and both of you are desperately hungry. There is no one around to seek help from. The stranger is weaker than you, and you could easily overpower the stranger if you chose to. The only way you could survive is to make your way across the desolate landscape to seek help at a base camp, which you know the location of. You know it is not possible to make the journey with the stranger. Nor is it possible to make the journey without food in your stomach.
Would you kill the stranger for food? (By that I mean, eat him.)
The thought experiment was triggered off by the book's characters - a man and his son - in a post-apocalyptic world, probably after some sort of nuclear war has ravaged America, and left very little natural food to forage for. What was left in houses were long plundered and looted. Scores of people have perished. Bands of looters roam the landscape, ruthless, searching for food, and they care very little what form that food takes. Everyone alive has one and the same purpose: to stay alive. The difference lies in the methods they use, and the (lack of) morality and humanity that is implied.
Although the father and son come close to starvation sometimes, the boy continually seeks his father's word that whatever happens, they will not kill another human for food, because "[they're] the good guys". Even when they come across a dog, the boy begs his father never to kill the dog. Both requests are granted by his father.
So maybe it's as simple as this: that while staying alive and surviving may be a primordial instinct in all living creatures, for us as human beings that cannot be the sole justification for our actions. Whole societies may have been destroyed, whole systems of conduct brought crashing down by catastrophes and apocalypses, but cling to our morality - or at least our memory of it - we must. Because that is what defines our humanity, it is what makes us worthy persons. The minute we kill another man for the sake of feeding on him for our own survival, our life thenceforth is perhaps forever damned. It brings to mind the instance when Voldemort killed a unicorn and drank its blood, and was forever cursed with a sort of half-life after. (This allusion is an example of why I think the Harry Potter series is a magnificent meditation on the human condition.)
I've yet to finish the book, but I foresee shedding some tears at some point. This is supposedly one of McCarthy's more accessible books. I've only read No Country For Old Men by him, so I'd agree with that analysis. Do check it out.
"We're consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don't concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra." - Tyler Durden, Fight Club (the movie)
The Christmas period yields the climax of modern society's consumerist impulse.
Sephora is an interesting place to be in. Women go there to trawl through mind-blowing arrays of eyeshadows, lip glosses, blush, foundations, loose powder, nail polishes, primers (don't know and can't say I care what that is), and tons more of other gunk, to buy to put on their faces. I was amazed because with the insane variety of things there, I cannot imagine anyone bothering to spend the amount of time investigating the merits of a particular brand of eyeshadow vs. another brand's. Secondly, with the prices I was looking at, and the number of "sold-out" labels I saw on samples of eyeshadow palettes and lipsticks, I seriously think I'm part of the impoverished section of society.
And that's just a tiny cross-section of the vast consumerist paradise that is Orchard Road.
We're destroying the lands of this earth to build shopping malls, to sell to people things to fill their houses and bags and pockets with. We cut down trees, get rid of all vegetation, and construct box after box of giant concrete. And the more malls we build, the more advertisements promising a better lifestyle if you buy their products, so does our capacity to think and act decrease in tandem.
In many ways, it is near impossible to escape from the lure of material possessions. Perhaps we pursue them as tangible vessels of our self-worth and value; we need them there as assurances of our definite existence, that we are not just living in our own heads. In a sense, they are an "objective" reality, external to us.
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
I envision a world in which children will not be brought up by televisions and enticed to behave with promises of the latest video games and gadgets. Where parents will see that spending time with their children is more important than making money, and not foist them off on babysitters.
I envision a world in which people will not push one another in their frenzied attempts to get into packed trains, because they see and process nothing more than the irrational desire to successfully squeeze into a carriage; waiting another 3 minutes for the next train is unthinkable and could possibly lead to an aneurysm.
I envision a world in which the pressing conversation of the day is not about the latest It bag or the insatiable need for more shoes, or about so-and-so's hideous dressing, or whether one should get Blackberry version 20000 or the Blackberry in white. Man, there's a conundrum. But rather, a world where people are more interested in cultivating a virtuous and good soul, rather than cultivating a worthless existence whose value exists only in the temporary glitter and novelty of expensive products.
I envision a world which has not been bulldozed, steamrollered and paved over to build skyscrapers and shopping malls full of useless things we never needed and still do not need. I envision a world where we run free, hearts unencumbered, imaginations unshackled by the burden of keeping up with appearances or making money we do not need, or fitting in with everyone else.
I envision a world that is not made up of millions of classes of society dependent on "them-and-us" classifications to create a false sense of superiority. I envision a world where we aren't always devising new ways to kill each other or to wrest aid by threatening nuclear war.
I envision a world better than the one I live in.