The Age of the Merchant
Dears, I'll write about a very serious disease that in different percentages is afflicting all of us.
Deep down, none of us can honestly say to be immune to this contagious illness. I personally try to pay a lot of attention to limit its influence in my life and to my choices. I noticed that the disease decreases spontaneously and proportionally to the increase of my awareness.
Yes, it subsides, but it's never completely eradicated: it's always there, latent and ready to take advantage of any moment of weakness to recover strength and momentum. Sometimes the same sickness is expressed in a reaction to something or somebody and thus we find a justification for it.
I believe this to be the "Disease of the Century", which is genially defined by Trevanian in his book "Shibumi" as "Americanism". It is an illness that tightly clutch our culture since primordial times and I think is our duty on Earth to eradicate it or at least try to do so. As Trevanian (who is American) explains, the term "Americanism" shouldn't be misinterpreted, in fact it has nothing to do with being American or of any other nationality.
For a better understanding, let's read quietly for a moment the words of Trevanian about it, because very few others have explained this devastating disease in such a direct and clear manner: "What bother me are not the Americans, but the 'Americanism', a social syndrome of the post industrial world that's inevitably spreading to all the mercantile nations and that's called 'American' only because America represents its most acute clinical form, as can be the 'Spanish flu' or the 'Japanese encephalitis'. The symptoms are the loss of business ethics, the decline of the inner resources and the continuous need of external stimulations followed by spiritual dullness and moral degradation. It is possible to recognize the victim by the constant efforts to come in touch with oneself, by believing one's own spiritual weakness to be an interesting psychological deformation, by interpreting the escape from responsibilities as a demonstration of being extraordinarily open to new life experiences. At the last stage of the illness, the subject is reduced in seeking only what's probably the most trivial of all human activities: entertainment."
You know, after reading something like this it's hard to keep going and to add something else. What's described by Trevanian is so clear, straightforward and absolutely true. But what does all of this mean? It basically means that we are not anymore able to conceive an action that doesn't have personal advantages and from which we can get something back. If someone does something without a comprehensible personal advantage, is treated with suspicion, skepticism or considered a crazy person. We immediately think that there is something wrong with this person and that is better not to trust. But why so? On one side there is certainly the incapability to understand something that doesn't reflect the usual modus operandi; in other words, we are so ill that who is not or that sometime doesn't seems so, looks like to be the sick one.
But there is more. Who doesn't behave to obtain personal advantages, but acts on different ethical reasons, is a person that is not for sale and doesn't have a price. And this is really upsetting, irritating and quite scary. We worry so much by pursuing what comes under the name of "freedom", whatsoever meaning we can give to the word, and then we end up in a shelf with the label of our price stuck right in the forehead. What sort of freedom can this one be? When in reality we are probably not even able to do an action that's truly "free", just because as long as we have a price, as long as we measure all that we do accordingly to what we can get out of it, we will always be for sale and we will never be free.
So we live our entire life through the polarities: victory/profit and defeat/loss. At first it may appear like a stupid thing, but it is not indeed. Approaching the world with such an attitude has the sudden result of seeing the others as enemies, because our profit/victory will inevitably correspond to the loss/defeat of somebody else. Then our world become populated by winners and losers and we have no choice, based on the situation or context we can only end up in one of these two categories.
The whole of our energy and emotions is sucked by the sick idea of success or defeat and we forget, or perhaps someone did never even realized, what are the meanings of honor and shame. Victory is something belonging to the outside, while honor is an inner space that often we don't even acknowledge that exists. The honor is related to the esthetic of the action and not to its goal, it has to do with the beauty of the thought or of the action and not to its motivation. It's somehow like a flower that is beautiful by itself and the sole reason of being is its own beauty. The flower is not beautiful because it has to decorate our home or because it has to carry the message of a feeling that we nourish for somebody. Its beauty may certainly be inspirational, but the flower wasn't born just for that.
This mercantile illness leads to a death that is much worse than the mere death of the body, it leads to the death of "humanity". The individual affected by this malady becomes an anonymous piece of meat roaming the shelves of anonymous malls and supermarkets; it becomes a sort of zombie that differs from the objects that he buys only because he has the capacity to plod around. In the mind of the sick person the disease creates a world populated only by objects; everything, everyone and the subject himself becomes an empty object without a soul. In the analysis of this condition, Trevanian goes deeper and in few paragraphs tells us about our derangement. The spiritual emptiness that we feel is mistaken by an "intriguing psychological distortion" and automatically we rush to the psychologist or to someone that can alleviate the pain provoked by this internal void.
Then comes the idea of freedom that I mentioned before, that's an idea already rotten at the very root because it is completely based on the outside. It is that sick idea of freedom associated to doing as many experiences as possible and doing "all we want" without neither ethic or care toward the others or the surrounding environment. It is that false idea of self-realization based on how much we own and on how much power we can accumulate. And then comes the last deep thrust of Trevanian about "entertainment" as the ultimate form of relief. A sort of entertainment often identified with sexual activity and trivial feelings or with the obsessive idea of conquest and triumph.
We become unconsciously enslaved by the idea that we must have fun at all costs, and as if wrapped by a an impressive spider-web, we found ourselves compelled to spend hours and hours queuing in a car to go to work and do the same during weekends to go to the places of entertainment or shopping Malls (entertainment and shopping are often seen as synonymous). And what else in between one queue and the other? Just a few hours of fleeting relations with other bodies forgetful of their souls, ending up our days in overcrowded restaurants eating too much food (another form of entertainment) and drinking too much alcohol, or torpidly collapse in front of a dull screen.
The so called festivities just went by and is then easy to remember how such a great mirror they are of what we have become: the utmost pleasure of all being stuffing ourselves with whatsoever food we can come across, drink like fishes and buy quantities of useless things.
And then? What to do? First of all "what to do" should be the most important thing to take into consideration and the first thing to do is to acknowledge of being sick, because without this first step everything becomes useless, these words are useless, this article is useless.
And the second step? I guess there can be many second steps, but they all go through a narrowing which is the letting go of the fear to be "losers"; in order to "play" and do it well it is necessary to let go, not be scared to lose and to play for the sheer joy of the game.
You know, everything can start and end with simple and small things: like to find grace in any movement that we make, like to forget the reason of why we do something, like to get lost in the commitment of placing balance and lightness in any gesture, even when the gesture is swift and unexpected. The same aesthetic can be expanded to the thinking and mainly to the observation and to the listening, and by observing and listening I mean also the others, but mainly I mean the neutral observation and listening of oneself. It is also important to have the highest ideal about oneself and try to aspire to it during each single moment of our life.
And lastly, as the great Jesus of J.Niven says:"...just behave, it's very simple to understand".