In an earlier post I wrote: “Life being good is maybe one of those deep dark profound and scary secrets that virtually nobody in America really believes anymore…”.
Now I’m sure some readers ran right over that without hardly a second look, but others might have stopped and thought: Really? What is this guy talking about? How can it be “scary” for life to be good? What is so “deep and dark” about that?
Well, think about it.
What most of us really believe is that it’s good to be comfortably sheltered from life. At least most of it.
Stop a minute to imagine living as a stone-age hunter-gatherer; dressed in animal skins and living outside everyday. Sun, rain, and wind. Digging roots with a stick, and chasing down deer with a spear. Hands in blood and dirt on a daily basis. Sitting by an open fire in the evening, the whole family sleeping together every night.
Now imagine life as a well-off suburban white-collar worker. 90% of your time spent indoors. Dressed in clothes bought at a store. Working on a computer. Hands soft and clean. Wearing deodorant. Picking up plastic-wrapped dinner at the supermarket on the way home. Watching the nature channel on a plasma TV, maybe going mountain biking on the weekend. The kids tucked away in their own rooms each night.
Where on this continuum is your life? How about your dream life?
The Lakota philosopher John (Fire) Lame Deer put it this way:
I think white people are so afraid of the world they don’t want to see, feel, smell or hear it. The feeling of rain and snow on your face, being numbed by an icy wind and thawing out before a smoking fire, coming out of a hot sweat bath and plunging into a cold stream, these things make you feel alive, but you don’t want them any more. Living in boxes which shut out the heat of the summer and the chill of the winter, living inside a body that no longer has a scent, hearing noise from the hi-fi instead of listening to the sounds of nature, watching some actor on TV having a make-believe experience when you no longer experience anything for yourself, eating food without taste – that’s your way. It’s no good.
Yeah…when I first read those words, I have to admit they stung a bit, then tingled. They stung and tingled like only the truth does.
But the more time I’ve spent diving into nature then coming back to mainstream America, the more it seems to me that the goal of the American way of life is to shield us from as much reality as possible.
We shield ourselves behind a wall of stuff. And media. And division of labor.
Only about 2% of Americans farm anymore (though, to be fair, a much larger number of us do grow food in gardens). At best, 5% of Americans hunt. Only about 1% of Americans build shelter, and an even smaller percentage make clothing.
The fundamental realities of life are food, clothing, shelter — and most of us just don’t do them anymore.
Then we use phrases like “the real world” to refer to the economy. As if green pieces of paper with presidents faces printed on them were more real than meat and blood and roots and dirt and wind and rain. As if the lawyers or bankers who live in the suburbs and make enough money to drive Mercedes are somehow more successful in “the real world” than the cash-poor back-country hicks who get their hands mucky hunting, fishing, growing a garden, working on their old beater trucks, building shacks and raising snot-nosed kids.
But we’re told that the great thing about modern civilization is that it’s “freed” so many of us from having to do these very things.
So we can do what, exactly?
Well, from what I’ve seen we fill life with trivial pursuits. Most of us work less-than-meaningful jobs, we kiss our bosses butts, and we shop. We watch TV, mow lawns, and hang out on Facebook. As if the basic necessities of life were things best avoided. Because “life is good” is mostly just true in small doses. Maybe on the weekends, after a few beers.
But what if life really is good?
What if there is nothing more worthwhile in this world for a man to do than feel hunger, hunt, and bring meat home to his family? Or for a woman, than to be a provider, to dig roots and pick berries — to feed, clothe, and shelter her children?