Artificial thoughts aren’t limited to manufactured desire for certain products. No, it’s much worse than that. Our heads are being filled with manufactured desires for all manner of nonsense. Crazy religions. Psychotic politics. Sleazy new social mores. Consumerism is just the tip of the iceberg really. (Because these other things are often behind the push of consumerism.)
This is why it is imperative to practice an Ecology of the Mind. Spending time outdoors – where the only incoming messages are from the wind and the flowers and the birds – is an excellent first step in cultivating an unpolluted mental environment.
But as human beings lucky enough to live in developed countries, there is never a lasting respite from the relentless attempts to insert artificial thoughts into our brains. It’s apparently just part of the price way pay for running water and central heat and air. We might throw out our TV or radio or even unplug the Web at home, but as we move through the world we will be subjected to a constant onslaught of manufactured desires. At those times, awareness is our armor.
This is really one of the primary purposes behind Unbridled Existence: to make people think about the things they’re thinking.
Reminded me of a recent essay from Micah White:
Since Zola, however, mental environmentalism has been stuck in a philosophical morass. To claim that advertising is metaphorically mental pollution is one thing, namely an easily dismissible rhetorical flourish. To say that advertising is literally a kind of pollution and that TV commercials and highway billboards are more closely related to toxic sludge than to speech is another matter entirely. And while mental environmentalists have always tried to make the latter argument, they have more often been forced to retreat to the former. Where is the evidence that advertising is a species of pollution? Isn’t it obvious that a corporate slogan is nothing but glorified, commercialized speech?
Into this difficult question has stepped one of the greatest living philosophers, the eccentric Michel Serres, who has written the inaugural philosophical work of the mental environmentalist movement. Malfeasance: Appropriation Through Pollution? is a radical reconception of pollution that cements its primal relation to advertising. The big idea of this recently translated book is that animals, humans included, use pollution to mark, claim and appropriate territory through defiling it, and that over time this appropriative act has evolved away from primitive pollution, urine and feces, to “hard pollution,” industrial chemicals, and finally to “soft pollution,” the many forms of advertising.
It strikes me that “natural/artificial” is one of those almost subconscious distinctions that brook no opposition, much in the way that politicians talk about America — yer either fer it or agin it, and you dang sure ain’t agin it, is you, boy? Likewise, who wants to argue for nuance when it comes to all things “natural”?
But I don’t feel like making an issue out of literal nature-romanticism here. And I certainly am in favor of people “thinking about the things they’re thinking”, which happens to be one of my favorite definitions of philosophy. I just find this arbitrary Platonic (of course) divide to be so tiresome and silly: here, in this column, we have the true, the good, the beautiful wants and needs; for community, close-knit family, love, meaningful work and peaceful worship. In this column, the false, the contrived, the greed, the jealousy, the petty vanity and feuding. The ones that don’t “naturally” exist, of course, having been smuggled into Eden via some nefarious scheme that always goes unexplained. If only people would get in touch with their “true” nature, blah blah blah.
I trust I don’t have to remind you what I think about consumerism, the contemplative life, etc. All I want to offer here is an observation that I suspect a lot of people would find terrifying if they really took it to heart; namely, that your “self” is much more fluid and malleable than you’re likely willing to admit. The thoughts and desires you count as “yours” are part of the cultural atmosphere, likely absorbed from your parents or peers and are simply ones you’ve become habituated to over your lifetime; they predated you and will outlast you. Mental evolution, like its biological counterpart, is about adaptation, not progress. Perhaps the vast majority of people want a world of bright lights, sleek gadgets and an ever-changing array of personal accouterments. Maybe the “purpose” of human activity is to prepare the ground for a super-race of radioactive cockroaches to rule the planet for eons, didja ever consider that?