I have often made the remark, that it seems to me a great mistake to regard the civilization of the United States as a materialistic civilization, which is a very common assumption among the peoples of Europe and Asia. The Americans and especially that aspect of American civilization that we call the Anglo-Saxon subculture is constantly accused of being interested in absolutely nothing but material values. But it seems to me on the other hand that if you can make any really broad generalization about something so complicated as the civilization of the United States. That it is fundamentally an anti-materialistic civilization not perhaps so much by intent as in the general effect of its action that seems dedicated almost I might say to the United Nation and destruction of the material world. And to its conversion into a junk heap of unimaginable dimensions. I travel around the country a great deal. And more and more one sees. A thing that is called the growth expanding community is. An extension of something over the landscape. That sometimes is almost indistinguishable from a rubbishy. One goes down the main streets of all kinds of small towns. And it seems to be if you look at it. As you pass by in a car or in a train you just see a mass of all kinds of higgledy piggledy pieces of cardboard and pile, decked-up with neon lights and wire and automotive junk yards and. All sorts of parking lots and dumps of every conceivable type yes there are some nice residential areas out on the Kong but by and large we seem to be converting the world into a dump heap. I have called it the progressive Los Angeles-zation of everywhere from Honolulu to Nantucket.
Now, what is at the root of this why is it. That we don’t seem to be able to adjust ourselves to the physical environment without destroying it. Why is it that in a way this culture, represents in a unique fashion the law of diminishing returns that our success is a failure. That we are building up in other words, an enormous technological civilization. Which seems to promise the fulfillment of every wish almost at the touch of a button. And yet, as in so many fairy tales when the wishes finally materialize they’re like fairy goat they’re not really material at all. In other words, so many of our products, our cars, our home, our food, our clothing, looks as if it were really the instant creation of pure thought that is to say is utterly insubstantial lacking in watch the connoisseur of wine cold body. After all, we’ve made the soil incredibly productive. But it’s products so largely appeal to the I rather than the stomach. People have been saying all kinds of people been saying this is by no means my idea my feeling. That vegetables and fruits and above all that simple bread, is just a kind of visually attracted to pith or foam rubber. And although it has all kinds of vitamins introduced into it what I think many of us want of our nutriments is not so much medicine as food. And in so many other ways, the riches that we produce are ephemeral and as a result of that we’re frustrated with terribly frustrated we feel that the only thing is to go on getting more and more. And as a result of that the help the whole landscape begins to look like the nursery of a spoiled child who’s got too many toys and is bought with them and throws them away as fast as he gets them…plays them for a few minutes.
Also we’re dedicated to tremendous war on the material the basic material dimensions of time and space. We want to obliterate the limitations. We want to get everything down as fast as possible we want to convert the rhythms in the skills of work into cash. Which indeed you can buy something with but you can’t eat it. And then rush home to get away from work can begin the real business of life to enjoy ourselves. And, you know, for the vast majority of American families. What seems to be the real point of life what you rush home to get. To. Is to watch. An electronic reproduction of life and you can’t touch it, doesn’t smell, and it has no taste. You might think that people getting home to the real point of life in a robust material culture would go home to a colossal bank with our knowledge of love making or a riot of music and music and dancing but nothing of the kind. It turns out to be this purely passive contemplation of a twittering screen. As you walk through suburban areas at night it doesn’t matter in what part of the community it is you see mile after mile of darkened houses with that little electronic screen flickering in the room. Everybody isolated, watching this thing. And thus in no real communion with each other at all. And this isolation of people into a private world of that is really the creation of a mindless crowd. Some time ago, it occurred to me that. A crowd could be defined as a group of people not in mutual communication. A crowd is a group of people that is say in communication with one person alone I regret to say that you are listening to me at this moment not by constitute a crowd we’re not really in full communication with each other and naturally it’s terribly difficult to bring about mutual communication between a large number of people. But that is it does seem to me to be the essence of a crowd and the thus of a community that is not a community not a real society but a juxtaposition of persons.
Now, one other thing that one notices about this anti-materialism is its lack of joy or I prefer to call it it’s lack of getting. A little while ago I was reading a book called motivation and personality by A.H. Maslow, who’s Professor of Psychology at Brandeis. And he had amassed together a very amusing set of quotations from about thirteen representative an author originated American psychologists. And they were all saying words to the effect that the main drive behind all forms of animate activity was the survival of the species. In other words, all the manifestations of life are regarded by these men as intensely purposive, and the purpose and the value for which they strive is the value of survival. And Maslow commented on this that American psychology. As a result of its contact with the culture is over pragmatic over Puritan and over published. That no textbooks on psychology ever on psychology have chapters on fun and gaiety or on aimless activity or on purposeless meandering and puttering and so on and he said they are neglecting perhaps what may be. One whole and even the most important half of life.
In other words, it is a basic premise of the culture, that life is work and is serious. And herein lies its lack of joy. Life is real, life is honest. What do we mean when we say life is serious. What do we mean when we differentiate work for. Play. Well work it seems to me is what we must do in order to go on living in order to survive. And play is pretty much everything else. But now you’ll notice that in this culture play is justified and tolerated, insofar as it tends to make our work more efficient we have the saying all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy but that really means dollop work. Play is recreation something you do to get refresh to go back and face the great problems of life. Now this is old and well but that saying, even to play. The play is necessary you must play I remember in England we used to have the institution of compulsory games in school as a result of which I developed an intense loathing for most of the games that we played like cricket and football and so on. They were forcing you to apply. And so in the same way the thought that. The supreme value is survival value. The thought, in other words, that it is absolutely necessary for us to go on living is a basis for life which takes the joy out of life and is really contra to life. And I feel that I think biological process that we call life. With its marvelous proliferation of the numerable patterns and forms, is an essentially playful. By that I mean, that it doesn’t have a serious purpose beyond itself it’s in it’s an art form like music unlike dancing. And that point of these art forms is always that present unfolding the elaboration of an intelligible design of steps and movements through time. That is not to say, that the goal is the present when you think of the present simply as a headline on a watch the immediate instant the present is that’s only an abstract present. As for example, in listening to music. A person who hears a melody he doesn’t hear simply a sequence of notes he hears the steps between the notes. A tone-deaf person hears only the notes what a person is able to hear music, he has is therefore steps in a certain order and this is what this diffuse present is what I would call the real office a call present. And I feel life is very much something of this nature. It is a play and it is its own end.
But now if you say to a form of play you must happen you’ve got to go on you immediately turn it into work. And you immediately turn it also into what we call colloquially a drag. Are we surviving as it had duty to survive in order that children may go on living well if we think that our children catch the same point of view from us and they go struggling along for the sake of that children and the whole thing becomes a fatuous progress to an ever-eluding future. And it is because I think fundamentally that we have this compulsive view of the necessity of existence that our culture is distinctly lacking in gaiety. Now it seems to me that this attitude rests on to further premises. The first is the idea of God that we inherit from the European Protestant and. To some extent Catholic and Judaic background. This conception of God as creating the universe for the fulfillment of His purpose is a conception of God Quite strangely lacking in either humor or joy. Despite some hints to the contrary in the Bible. But, they they haven’t made very much impression there was a passage in the Book of Proverbs where the divine wisdom which is God’s creative power is represented as playing but in the King James version that’s translated rejoicing. Now to rejoice is something that one can do very properly you can rejoice by singing the more joyous him. But that’s not quite the same thing as playful joy or gay it. In other words look at out church is symbols of our attitude to God. Must we not admit the fact that the vast majority especially of small town Protestant churches in the United States, are absolute triumphs of architectural gloom. There is nothing in the remotest beautiful about them they have a calling windows of an indescribable brown yellow, motley stained glass. They have vanished wooden pews and pulpits and altars and hanging of plush and usually dock red or a dismal and unspeakable green.
I’ve looked at so many buildings lately of an ecclesiastical nature and muffle at the pure ingenuity for religious arguments that lies behind them. And this you see reflects the idea of God. As a very solemn serious father of the universe who’s created the world for some purpose to which our attitude is supposed to be sort of a stiff as Marines looting the flag. It’s something that more or less resembles an everlasting church service. And in view of the kind of churches we have for the most part plus there are exceptions but do the kind of churches we have this is exceedingly gloomy prospect for the spending of eternity. And, but unfortunately, this is the idea of God that is in the back of our minds. And that state of mind persists even in people who don’t really believe in that kind of God anymore but for whom God remains a symbol for a sort of moral idealism in the same way that Uncle Sam is a sort of symbol of the people of the United States.
Now that’s I think one root of the attitude the other root of the attitude is our conception of man. And this conception of man has the same history, because it comes from the same cultural roots as our conception of God. And this is of course the conception which Lance White has called the European dissociation the conception of man as an unhappy amalgamation of mind body spirit and matter. Ego and not-ego, subject and object known. And this concept of man has very curious consequence as I’ve mentioned a lot of them but one that I that strikes me more and more is that it’s a non participated conception of man. By that I mean. It causes us to feel ourselves. As observers of life, whether that life is inside our own bodies or whether it’s outside in the external world we are observers we are the subjects and all that is the object and that is to say it confronts us it stands over against us. And we are looking at it and in a way this is symbolized in our whole. Way of life in so far as it’s and an object seems to be to confront the television screen which is non participative contemplation of something which has been impoverished in its material and physical reality. Deprived of say touch and smell and taste and so on. And so. Because we have great expectations out of this contemplation whether it be of television or of mundane existence. But we are not with it. You see we don’t believe we are our bodies. We say I have a body and we say I have instincts we never sound I am a body or I am instincts. And the body is that we allow ourselves to have a little bit pseudo I mean. There are elegant surfaces. The ideal body is I mean you know Marilyn Monroe it’s an elegant surface, but it’s not supposed to secrete sweat or it’s not supposed to smell at all. It’s insides or other improper and one is expected to give it attention in a sort of aloof way but spend one’s life on the whole being as unconscious of one’s body as possible. All right then, so we have a conception of ourselves which is estranged from our physical organism and therefore our whole life is a strange it is as I’ve said not participated. And this comes out in a very marked way in the current attitude off this subculture to sexuality. Because here, where we represent sex as a necessary instinct.
Now of course we all know, sexuality in this culture is the big thing. The sex really seductive is used to catch the eye, and to advertise anything and everything however remote it may be from. The sex to a process that advertises beer, it advertises automobiles. It advertises undertakers. Bakeries. Anything because it will catch the I know that the. The thing is made for the. Fall that sense. Which rests upon the surface of things. And thus it comes about that our attitude to sexuality is a superficial attitude. And again, a basically non-participative attitude. As I said, it’s an attitude that’s changed a bit in recent years we can talk about sex matters very freely. We don’t. Have the proof of some of our ancestors but just the same although we can it’s all good clean fun you know although we can talk about it in terms of psychoanalysis and we can admit that yes the sexual drive is a very necessary thing and some outlet has to be provided for it. We’re not with it. It’s become a duty. Look, for example at the McKinsey report. This in a way it was a very remarkable job but it’s a catalogue off sexual that it’s. As if. Just all Gaza was a thing. As if, in a way, we had to have this outlet in order to reduce tension in other words to get rid of the urge. But note that in speaking of an instinct like sex or hunger as an edge. That we’ve set it away from Ansel’s we’ve represented it you see as an instinct of the body which drives the mind. And the mind is therefore moved to it. And it admits that it is unfortunately necessary to be moved by it but we say for example in teaching children about the birds the bees and the flowers that nature or God has given us the sexual instinct, in order to make the reproduction of the species is attractive on the assumption that if it wasn’t attractive we wouldn’t do it on the further assumption that life itself is a rather boring thing which we have to be made to undergo by rewards and punishments. By the seductions of sex, or by the penalties of pain which ensue with disease and not living a healthy life but these rewards and punishments are regarded as extraneous as things which drive us. And therefore to the extent that we feel that this is. The sexual urge to eat or any other so-called instinct in so far as we feel that is an alien an animal thing that exercise is a compelling power over us and here the us is the cut off dissociated little ego inside the body that is driven around by all this. Then naturally, our fulfillment of these instincts is fundamentally lacking in zest. We say, sex is necessary. On the assumption I suppose that if it weren’t it oughtn’t to happen. And that goes back you see to our psychology about play play is only justifiable to the degree that it’s necessary and play is only necessary to the degree that it felt as work all right the same attitude with regard to six around that it’s only justifiable because it’s necessary. Either to reproduce the species Well some new fangled ideal such as rounding out a complete personality. No one seems to have the courage to admit that it’s intrinsically a good thing and that the urge the basic biological urges are not mechanical drives, they are our own inmost wills. Why don’t we get with it? If we got within ourselves. And really admitted. That we are organisms. We might also get with each other. There again I pointed out how little we actually get with each other how in this television weld everybody stays at home and if you walk out in the streets in the evening the police stop you and wonder whether you’re crazy and especially if you’re not going anywhere because going for a walk that’s deep. Listen specialise I mean a person has to have a purpose you see he must be going somewhere. And so. We don’t get with each other except for public expressions of getting rid of our hostility like football or prize-fighting. And even in the spectacles one sees on the television. It’s perfectly proper to exhibit people slugging and slaying each other. Oh dear no, not people loving each other except in a rather restrained way one can only draw the conclusion that the assumption underlying this is that expressions of Physical Law far more dangerous than expressions of physical hatred. And it seems to me that a culture that has that sort of assumption is basically crazy and devoted unintentionally indeed, but nevertheless in fact devoted not to survival but to the actual destruction of life.