Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wednesday Musing - Anthropologically Speaking ...

Now, there is a 50 cent word and a fairly esoteric subject for a blog on living free, wouldn't you agree?

So, what's my point? Well, another year is winding down as we have entered December and what has become known as the "holiday season." This follows our annual Thanksgiving holiday that was preceded by, yet, another contentious and relatively negative general election that has left our citizens as divided as they were before the election. Add to this the ongoing sagas of economic crisis, war, starving people, increasing prices, well, you get the picture.

One bright spot at this particular time is that energy prices have been declining and gasoline may actually drop below $3.00/gallon again. Everyone gets excited when they think that gas will be less than $3.00 a gallon and rightly so. Actually, I remember paying for gas as low as $.20 per gallon in 1970 (in 1970 dollars). In fact, when you adjust gas prices for inflation (current real dollars), it cost $3.57 in 2011, $3.35 in 1919, $2.50 in 1931, but the lowest gas of all times was in 1999 when it was $1.44. So, in reality, except for a couple dips and a couple spikes, gas has actually remained very constant for the better part of the last hundred years. So, with gas looking like it's going to be less than $3.00 a gallon, we have a reason to be a little giddy.


I have been reflecting on many issues (and there are probably 20 or 30 more I could rattle off, but the number of issues isn't the point here). The point is that after living more than 6.5 decades on this planet and, more specifically, in the U.S. it has dawned on me that I have developed an intensifying interest in history and anthropology. In deed, if I were granted a "do over" of my life, I think I'd want to become an anthropologist. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an anthropologist is someone who studies the science of human beings; especially : the study of human beings and their ancestors through time and space and in relation to physical character, environmental and social relations, and culture.

Whoa, Nellie! Where did that come from? Actually, it's quite simple. I've, more or less, been a student of people all my life. My interests were disguised, even from myself, under the various guises of my early (teenage) interest in becoming a Baptist minister, my higher education as an educator, my graduate education in the field of television and radio and my life long career as an entrepreneur/businessman/sales & marketing person. I can honestly reflect back to my days as a 12 year old independent newspaper delivery boy with more than 100 customers I served daily, each very different and individual. I've observed people through my own personal relationships including my marriages, long-term and short-term romantic, familial and platonic relationships.

One could, perhaps, suggest that I'm delving into the human experience a little too deeply. I would agree that for most people, this would be pretty deep. But, as I observe the human species and the similarities and differences between cultures, generations and the genders, I'm more and more fascinated. I've reflected on how I have followed, what is probably considered pre-determined standards or norms of behavior established over millennia. Some of these behaviors are based on the most basic and primal animal instincts like survival, fight or flight, adapting to our surroundings/environment and procreation. While others are of human origin such as societal conditioning or nurturing. I would suggest that the saying, "it takes a village to raise a child," is indicative of this.

There is little question, at least in my mind, that religion has probably been the most powerful force in societal conditioning. Even before humans began becoming "civilized" they were in awe of natural events that were beyond their ability to comprehend. As the small, nomadic hunting and gathering bands began to create larger groups or tribes, civilizations began forming. Religions began to appear and identifying deities to explain all of the natural events and human traits. Eventually, as civilizations developed, religions evolved and the major religions determined that there was a single, omnipotent deity that created and controlled the heavens and the Earth. This made it easier to relate to the masses and to create "laws" or "codes" to live by, such as The Ten Commandments in the Jewish religion. The Ten Commandments carried over to Christianity and, while not spelled out, are basically embraced in the religion of Islam.

Why Anthropology and Why Me?

Okay, so all this is pretty much text book stuff. So, why my interest in anthropology? Because, as I've been simplifying my own life, to a very large degree, I've been reflecting on where I began and where I've ended up. I realize that, for me, all the material aspects of life, the organized religious of life, the success (work hard) aspects of life, the entertainment aspects of life and so on were never really fulfilling for me. Now, believe me, it's way above my "pay grade" to pass judgment on how anyone else chooses to live their lives. But, observing how others live, why they choose to live that way and how happy and fulfilled they are or are not, all based on the anthropological changes in human society and culture, is truly interesting to me.

While I have never been counted among the super rich or even the rich, I've lived a good and very comfortable life for the most part. I've enjoyed being able to dress well, always be well-nourished, live in comfortable, middle-class homes, drive a variety of vehicles (too many) including quite a few luxury cars, travel to some other parts of the world and stay in some of the finest travel accommodations. I've enjoyed my share of toys, too. Simply stated, I probably number in the small percentage of people in the world that the huge majority would love to experience what I have experienced. And believe me, I'm grateful.

But, one day, several years ago, as I was beginning to realize that I had passed the halfway mark, or, probably, more realistically, the two-thirds mark of my lifespan, I still hadn't experienced true happiness, real fulfillment and the ultimate freedom to find it. It was probably a combination of things that brought me to this realization. Some may term it wisdom. Perhaps, that is what wisdom is all about. I would see people in the local Costco Warehouse club walking out the door with massive cart loads of "stuff." I saw the same thing at the various department stores. I would see people with watches that cost $5,000 to $10,000 and probably more. I would see huge houses (affectionately referred to as McMansions) growing up in sub-divisions all over the U.S. where once upon a time, modest homes would have been built. There were multiple, expensive cars in the driveways including huge SUV's, luxury cars, expensive motorcycles and so on.

Now, if these were folks who had worked long and hard at careers to reach a point where they could afford all this, I wouldn't have given it a second thought. But, these were young people with young families. Needless to say, when the financial crisis that crashed down on us about five years ago began, these were the people in most jeopardy of losing it all. Ultimately, many of them did and many of those who have hung on are barely squeaking by.

Can I Live Without This?

A few years before the financial crisis, while I was witnessing this feeding frenzy for stuff, I came to a conclusion that I could no longer participate in this, in my opinion, self-indulgent, self-destructive game. So, when I went to Costco or just about anyplace else, I began asking myself the simple question, "Can I live without this (whatever it was)?" Of course I wanted lots of the stuff I saw on TV, in Costco, on Amazon,, the professional audio catalogs, Kohl's Department Store, etc. But, I was already feeling claustrophobic at the ranch I lived on in the Shenandoah Valley. I had more clothes then I needed. I had far more shoes than I actually wore. I had kitchen appliances I seldom, if ever, used. I had two large TV sets (I was single, living alone). I had a surround sound system I seldom listened to. Additionally, I had another professional studio monitoring surround sound system that I never even set up. I had two vehicles, one of which I seldom ever drove. (Twice in my life, as a single person, I had owned three and four vehicles at the same time and all the expenses attached to them).

So that simple question, "Can I live without this?" became my shopping mantra. That was a huge positive turning point for me. But, I was now becoming more and more aware of the society and culture around me. I began seeing how, we, as Americans, were having an impact on the rest of the world and how that world was now beginning to view America differently. I looked at businesses, relationships, reality TV shows, brick and mortar retail marketing, emerging on-line marketing, TV infomercials, the TV home shopping networks, credit and the various forms it takes, marketing of high-end items like cars, homes, jewelry, even religion and the list goes on and on. What I saw was an overindulgent society that had moved far beyond the point of fulfilling the needs of living comfortably to the insatiable appetite to acquire just about every "want" that came up spontaneously. Most of this stuff is nice, but it's also mostly not necessary to live a comfortable, happy and fulfilled life.

Avoid Pain or Gain Pleasure

Many years ago, in my early years of learning and striving for success, I did my best to motivate other people to want "success" and show them how to achieve it. Of course, I learned that you can't motivate anyone to do anything they don't want to do. I learned that there are only two things that motivate anyone to do anything. The first motivator is to avoid pain. The second motivator is to gain pleasure. Whatever you can name, ultimately, at its most basic core issue, will fall under one of those two primary motivators. Avoiding pain used to be the stronger of the two motivators. Unfortunately, I believe those motivators have reversed position over the past decade or so. Now, it's gain the pleasure and don't worry about paying the piper or we'll deal with the pain when it comes along. Thus, our huge slide into over-indulgence.

Overindulgence isn't new. You'll find it in the Old Testament. You'll see it in the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, Roman, Chinese empires and other civilizations and societies. There are always those who will gain power, wealth, be greedy and overindulgent, most often at the expense of those less fortunate. In the U.S., supposedly a classless society, we have actually created more classes. We have the Super Rich, Rich, Criminally Rich, Upper Middle Class (not quite Rich, but act like they are), Middle Class, Blue-Collar Middle Class, Entitled (those living off the taxpayers, faith-based organizations and everybody else they can) and Poor. But, the only group out of that list who aren't overindulgent are the Poor. They fight, scratch, beg and do whatever they have to do to simply survive on the most basic and primitive (for the U.S.) level.

Electronic Snake Oil Salesmen and Saleswomen

Every once in a while I will sit and watch one or the other of the two major cable-TV home shopping networks, QVC or HSN. I find it amazing to watch these (mostly) women (since 75% to 80% of their audiences are women) go on for an hour at a time pitching anti-wrinkle creams, every kind of imaginable make-up, each better than the next (except they are all better than each other), perfumes, all kinds of jewelry and baubles and faux diamonds, the Ah Bra and  clothes, clothes, clothes, clothes. And, of course, every clothing designer is amazing, the most gifted, etc., etc.

We can't forget the cookware, kitchen gadgets and the most amazing LED/LCD/3D, huge, flat screen TV's known on the planet - surpassing even NASA technology. And, of course, we usually get one of the guys selling the computers or other electronics. They go on and on and on. If you hear the amazing features and benefits explained once, you hear them described 30 different ways. It dawned on me one day, that this is the replacement for the traveling snake oil salesman. You have their money in your pocket and they will do whatever they have to do to get that money in their pockets.

Anthropology and Marketing

Anthropologically speaking, I wonder if women realize that make-up wasn't worn by proper or virtuous women throughout most of history. It was the realm of the prostitute and the courtesan who wore make-up and lipstick to attract "customers" for their services or to keep the aristocracy or monarch "entertained." Lipstick has some especially significant meaning, anthropologically. One reference is Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape. Please, ladies, I'm not calling anyone in our modern culture a prostitute. I'm simply explaining how all this make-up came to be. In actuality, most make-up didn't become widely used until the 20th Century and lipstick didn't take its more utilitarian form until around the mid-1920's. Even into the 1950's it was considered improper for teenage girls to wear lipstick so they wouldn't be considered "loose" young women.

Men, of course, have also worn make-up, including some lip coloration and powdered wigs. And, once again, more men are beginning to wear make-up and hair coloring to retain their youthful attractiveness. Both men and women are wearing modern girdles only they are made of spandex and they're called body shapers. The problem as I see it is that when the mature woman takes off her Ahh Bra or push-up bra and the guy takes off his body shaper - reality sets in, her boobs drop and his stomach falls out. The solution is simple, be sure to buy special lighting and special mirrors for the bedroom that help mask reality with shadows and whatever you do, don't go to a motel or hotel. It's the wrong lighting.

Yes, I'm making fun of humanity. Hey, I'm one of humanity. I don't wear a male body shaper and I don't care what kind of bra a woman wears. I live in the real world, not one of smoke and mirrors. I'm attracted to a woman because of WHO she is, not because of how perfect her body appears to be. I hope a woman who is attracted to me is similarly attracted to WHO I am. Again, much of the use of body shapers, make-up, "sexy" clothing and an obsession with looking 25 when you're 65 is what keeps the department stores, TV shopping networks, infomercials, men's and women's glamour magazines, etc. in business. This is where my growing interest in anthropology is founded.

Were relationships always as shallow as they are today? Did men and women cheat more or less in the past and why or why not? How did historically oppressive religious doctrine impact our modern culture (we can read about it in the Old and New Testaments and we can observe it in certain aspects Judaism, Christianity and Muslim culture). How did the drive for power, success, wealth (greed) and status develop to the point it has reached in the U.S. culture today? How are they manifest in the variety of cultures that came to the U.S. melting pot? My questions are endless. My universe to observe is huge. Where is that darn time machine, anyway?  

1 comment:

Shelley said...

Love reading all your posts! I just found your blog recently as well as . You and people like you have found the true meaning of life in its simplicity and experiences and not in its material trappings.