All our energy is spent for the purpose of getting what we want, and most people never question the premise of this activity: that they know their true wants. They do not stop to think whether the aims they are pursuing are something they themselves want. In school they want to have good marks, as adults they want to be more and more successful, to make more money, to have more prestige, to buy a better car, to go places, and so on. Yet when they do stop to think in the midst of all this frantic activity, this question may come to their minds: “If I do get this new job, if I get this better car, if I can take this trip–what then? What is the use of it all? Is it really I who wants all this? Am I not running after some goal which is supposed to make me happy and which eludes me as soon as I have reached it?” These questions, when they arise, are frightening, for they question the very basis on which man’s whole activity is built, his knowledge of what he wants. People tend, therefore, to get rid as soon as possible of these disturbing thoughts.Erich Fromm, Fear of freedom (1941)
I remember standing in the smoke shelter of a power station somewhere in the Midlands, UK. I was twenty-six years old and the other person there was explaining in great detail the intricacies of the car they had just bought. I could see it from where we were stood, parked in the carpark and gathering coal dust from the heaps of coal all around that was waiting to be turned to electricity.
“How much was it?” I asked
“Thirty thousand,” he said
“Why did you pay thirty thousand pound for a car?” I asked.
“Because I like it,” he said.
“But you work twelve hours a day to pay for it. For twelve hours a day, it’s parked here gathering coal dust and then you drive it home?” I said.
“What’s the matter with you?” he said.
That’s when I realised it was a con job. Life I mean. An absolute blag. A culture of artificially implanted desires that lead us down roads of supposed happiness yet to be met with disappointment. I was working eighty-four hours a week at that time and was being paid quite well for it but I was miserable. I should have been happy; I had money and I could buy things but felt trapped. I was drinking heavily every night. My life had become a cycle of work, drink, sleep, repeat. Months passed by without me realising. Life was passing me by.
That conversation about the car made me think about what I wanted from life. I have a finite time on this planet to do something. Something, I hoped more than working my entire existence away under the belief that I would be free when I retire. I have been promised freedom at every step; when I left school when I got a job etc but every new phase of life comes with its chains that bind. Addiction being the worse. So if I wanted to find freedom then I had to remove the hooks of the chains.
I have to come to think that the external consumption model exists to plug an internal void. To mask an uneasy question. To make life seem a little more colourful even for a moment. For example; I drank excessively because I hated my life and myself. I hated myself because I didn’t have the strength to change my life. So I kept telling myself if I worked more, earned more and drank more it would get better. It only got worse. A lot worse. The same could be said of buying things; if you are unhappy with the shit you own then you will sure as hell be unhappy with the shit you buy. If that is the case, then maybe the problem isn’t an external one. It could be argued that the external is a reflection of the internal.
On my commute in the morning, I stand on a crowded tube that is bereft of colour. The only colour that exists is splattered on the adverts that line the sides of the tube train. Children and adults alike adorn their uniforms of conformity disguised as professionalism. We are a culture repressed. Seeking excitement externally while fearful of our minds. As we age we are weaned of creativity. Our existence is one of production not pleasure. The only pleasure we are encouraged to seek just happens to deaden our desire to live or increase our productivity at work; Nicotine, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, opium-based pain killers, anti-everything tablets. You get the idea.
Russell Brand said, “Drugs and alcohol are not my problems, reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solutions.” I would argue that yearning for reality was my problem. Yearning for life. Yearning for meaning, beauty and connection. Like the quote at the beginning says I used alcohol to rid those disturbing thoughts. Alcohol switched off that yearning but made me into automaton.
The feeling of being deadened to life becomes the accepted norm. Yet sobriety has taught me otherwise.
So I say throw off the shackles. Dust off the paintbrushes. Throw colour into your life. Embrace your eccentricities and be true to who you are. Life’s too short to live as someone else. I mean whose life is it anyway?
Thanks for reading,