Capitalism’s participation in the cruelties of perfectionism may be fairly obvious, but I’d like to address it, nonetheless. This may also seem an odd blog for it, but racism and capitalism are as symbiotic to each other as they are destructive to everything else, so why not here.
Capitalism, in fact, thrives on the pursuit of an ever-changing idea of perfection. It thrives on pursuit in general, and the greater the pursuit, the greater the consumption – of time, of energy, and of course, of resources. And perfection is the ultimate pursuit. It keeps us focused on the future and unconscious in the present, missing who we actually are and what is actually happening in the desire for what we FOMO on. And everything in which we could seek perfection, betterment, etc. can be turned into a marketable, profitable commodity. Yes, of course, the pursuit of the perfect face, the perfect skin, the perfect body leads us to pay for diet books & plans, supplements, creams, facials, plastic surgery, gym memberships, trainers, and the new versions of those that pop up all the time. But there is also the pursuit of the perfect partner, commodified on dating apps that charge money or attention in the form of ads, and television shows that mock or glorify others’ desperation and luck. The same thing for houses – even if we can’t and probably never will afford the homes we see remodeled and sold on the endless homefinding and home improvement shows, the fantasy keeps us subscribing to the networks, watching the ads … unsurprising that the boom in home shows is coinciding with untenable housing shortages in the US? The other ironic capitalist capitalization is enlightenment – from trendy yoga studios to mega-endorsing spiritual advisors to multi-thousand dollar retreats and yogis by the hour; plus the made-in-china, mass produced Buddhas, the boutique yoga wear, the bowls and beads and bells and enlightenment in a bottle bullshit.
If all of us were satisfied with who we are, we wouldn’t buy nearly as much stuff. The necessities, of course. Some stuff for fun and relaxation and frivolity and gifting, sure. But how would advertisers suck you in if you were already, like, totally fine? Without constant buying, the treadmill of production breaks down. Without needy buyers, could we sustain a hundred models of cars? Dolls? Chairs? Thousands upon thousands of t-shirts? Of course not. In truth, we can’t sustain them now. Countless pounds of fast fashion are dumped every year, unworn. We extract physical resources and physical labor, then dump the physical objects they produce like it means nothing.
Would quality go down in a world without constantly escalating competition for products? Maybe. I’m not prepared to make a comprehensive argument against capitalism right now, just a analysis of how it fits in with the misery of perfectionism. I can say that studies have shown that when people are presented with less choices, they tend to be happier with their decisions and less likely to regret the choice they made. So the very practice of constantly increasing choices works against our happiness, regardless of how those choices make us feel about ourselves and our inadequacies, which is often neutral at best.
And if everyone were satisfied with who and where they are, maybe we’d have more energy to care about others, to look into the supply chain and recognize how massive, unnecessary production is gutting our environment and the living things that depend on it, including us humans; and additionally we as a species are often being enslaved, abused, neglected, endangered, and/or underpaid to produce the unnecessary products that we humans purchase. If we were not only satisfied with who we are but also had everything we actually need, would we stand for the human and environmental impact of the crap we make? Would we participate in the extraction and exhaustion economy?
I don’t know. I know that paying attention to the living things around me, and the air and water that sustain those things, makes me happier. And that our endless production-consumption threatens those things. And that people are on more antidepressants than ever. And that the screens that make us feel shitty keep selling us the idea that we should feel shitty about ourselves, our lives, our current possessions. And there is just so much sadness. I don’t blame COVID. I’m tired of people blaming COVID. It has brought a lot of pain and a lot of loss to a lot of people, but the underlying dissatisfaction was already there, because capitalism demands dissatisfaction.
Let’s make a mess of things, a dear actor friend would say before stepping onstage. Let’s shatter the idea that there is a Way to Be, a Way to Look, a Way to Live, and try to find the voice under the cravings and loneliness and jealousy that can tell us what we really need, and what really makes us happy. Sorry to get all preachy at you, but I do believe it’s possible. The Buddha lives in all of us, they say. We’re already enlightened, they say. There is nothing to find, because it’s already in you, they say. Maybe they’re right. I’ve seen some of it. I really have. For the rest, I go on my version of faith, and the belief that causing more harm to myself and others is probably not the road to happiness or enlightenment or healing.
Next time: The Perfect Definition
And especially: Creative Imperfection