My name is Chirsty, and I’m a university student in Scotland. I’d like to talk to you about something incredibly important to me. That something is life.
Life as we know it. It’s vibrant, exciting, magical, indulgent. Limitless. We are taught from day one that we can have whatever we want as long as we work for it. We can choose who we want to be. We can make as much money as we like, as long as we’re prepared to work for it. We want this, because money equals stuff. Stuff makes us happy. It gives us more of that exciting, magical, indulgent that we were promised. The new stuff is limitless, so our happiness is limitless. Our hopes and dreams are chased on money-driven paths, never straying from the straight and narrow of more stuff. We strive for enough knowledge and experience to get enough money to get that one piece of stuff that will makes our lives complete. And then we’ll know we’ve done it. We’ve made it to the top of the mountain, we have every thing we could ever want.
But there’s a big gaping hole. A hole of time invested in the present for the future because the present all too quickly became the past. There’s a horrible gap. A gap between ourselves and other people, between ourselves and animals, plants, nature, the universe. We’ve surrounded ourselves with all this stuff and nobody can get through to reach us. And we’re sad. We’re sad because we missed the point. We missed long term happiness because we were too busy getting our next fix, our fix of stuff. That quick burst of exciting, magical, indulgent, limitless joy that leaves you faster every time. The Western World is addicted to stuff.
This is the capitalist world. The ‘American Dream’, the Promised Land. Materialism at its finest. We are stuffing the holes with gadgets and fashion and movies and drugs and sex because we don’t know what else to do. By surrounding ourselves with things we don’t really want we’ve put ourselves in a cage made of it. We can’t see past the stuffing to see what we really need.
And I’m no exception.
I have gone through a number of ‘bad patches’ recently. Times when the stuff doesn’t work. Left feeling hopeless because stuff is all I know. What do you do when you can’t keep up with your own need for that fix? How do you explain to anyone how terrible you feel when you have all the stuff you could want? How does someone understand your feelings when the stuff still works for them?
The straight and narrow of your own mind would tell you to get more stuff. When that fails, a doctor may well tell you to try some different stuff that stops you feeling the need for stuff, or rather stops you feeling. With a knowledge from relatives of the terrible things that medical stuff can do to you (and not even knowing if I would be given such a thing), I decided to try something different.
I took a step off the path. A step away from the shoreline.
Time for some background.
When I was in high school, I wanted to be an actor. Everything I did in my spare time was music, drama, performance. It filled my life for a long time. Performing gave me that exciting, magical, indulgent feeling I needed and for a little while it felt limitless. One thing led to another and ‘reality’ set in. I wasn’t going to make any money acting unless I got very lucky. As a teenager with enough money to get by from parents and a gushing dream to escape from home, money became a goal. I realised I was more likely to succeed as a famous physicist. I altered my course for the straight and narrow (well, as close as I could make myself get) and got into the University of St Andrews, the best university in Scotland. I skipped first year and headed straight into second year physics with dreams of solving the universe and telling everyone. How great it would be to perform something I had written myself!
I hated it. I wasn’t even good at it. It took so much work just to pass, and I knew a pass wasn’t getting me places. I wasn’t achieving in my mind and therefore I wasn’t getting what I needed – that exciting, magical, indulgent feeling. A physics degree had limits.
I panicked, my life plans crumbling around me. About the same time I ended a long term relationship and started looking for stuff to fill the gaps. I took a step away from one shore to another not far away and changed my degree to Chemistry. I took dreams I’d heard about and convinced myself they were my own. I could engineer drugs for mental health issues to help others. Organic and Biological Chemistry 1 scuppered that plan. I was left with physical chemistry which I could bear because I was good at it in 1st year and by 2nd year despised because I wasn’t.
It was around this time when the same bad feelings as the year before came back that I knew something was badly wrong. In the summer I had travelled to 3 different countries and found love (in Glasgow). I had so much stuff going for me I was about to burst with happiness. Then uni came back and I started developing anxiety issues. I felt trapped. Achievement is my biggest stuffing. Achievement that can be measured, and my grades weren’t measuring up. I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t doing it right, I was going to fail and worst of all, I wasn’t going to make any money. I was frustrated because I was in love and I couldn’t be happy. I must be broken. All you need is love, right?
Like any severely distressed teenager does nowadays, I turned to Google.
After reading article upon article and blog after blog, covered in sunlight and yoga and tiny Buddhas, I can confirm that the general consensus of the internet is if you want to be happy, you have to love yourself. So the Beatles got there, sort of. Loving yourself comes from accepting that you have self worth. What really got me about this ‘self-worth’ thing is you don’t need any stuff to have it. Anyone can have it! You just have to say:
“I am worthy of being alive and being loved.”
Without your stuff. Without making money, without the newest shoes, without the best grade in the class. Without everything we have been brought up to think of as a necessity.
Back to capitalism.
Where does the word capitalism come from?
If you’ve got a savings account, the bottom line is your capital. That percentage that tags along with your account is the interest you earn on it – extra money for keeping money in the same place for a while. Capitalism is the accumulation of capital – the gathering of inert ‘stuff” to be used at a later date.
The whole world runs on capitalism, and has done for a very long time. The richest people have the most stuff, while the poorest don’t have a chance to get their hands on any because it’s been grabbed by the aforementioned rich ones. Rich capital comes from poor areas – which are poor because their resources have been taken by somebody else.
So the point of this piece of writing was to show that stuff isn’t really a good thing. It brings short bursts of wonderful, magical indulgence. Capitalism lusts after limitless stuff, but the world doesn’t have that. We can’t keep taking from poor areas forever – they’re running out fast. And even when we do get that short burst of wonderful, magical, indulgence, it never lasts long enough. If capitalism can’t make the most fortunate of us happy, and its gravely harming those at the bottom end of the system, I put to you one question:
Why are we still living by it?
Capitalism is a child that doesn’t understand limits. We are pushing the Earth to the edges and like spoilt kids we want more. Most of us don’t see the consequences of our constant need for more stuff. If we want to save the world and the people in it, we need to grow up and stop asking the Earth for more than it can give.
Read about it, do your research. Find alternatives. When you realise the mess we’re in because of capitalism, talk about it. Shout about it. Tell your friends. Convince them there is another way. Because the only way we can shake capitalism is by changing the general public’s perception of it which is fueled by those at the top of the food chain.
We need to stop trying to be children forever by pretending not to understand how overstretched our parent is – our Earth is starving and dying so we can be more privileged. It’s not Earth’s choice to change this. It’s the responsibility of each and every one of us.
Will you fight for a fairer – and happier – Earth?
I’m fighting every day. Help me.