Wednesday, January 13, 2010

America Addicted to Junk

I've been reading about addiction lately, the symptoms, causes and effects. No matter how you cut it there has to be some kind of damaging result of a habit to call it an addiction. We all have habits that don't add up to addictions. Why? Because we aren't really damaged by them. I'm addicted to solitaire. You know the game where you deal different stacks of cards and then stack them in order of number and alternating suit and then pile them all on top of the suited ace? I will play this game beyond the normal level of interest. I will play and play and actually curse when I am dealt three 5s on the opening draw. Come on! Or all red suited cards on the first lay down. What am I gonna do with that?
I keep score and even printed a screen that has my high score of 730. That's a good score. I don't know what the maximum is but I know there is a maximum because the number of points you get for each successful lay down is set as is the points deducted when you cycle through the draw deck. So there is a known score that you can't beat. Anyway, my interest in the game started back in HSU. I met N___ at the dining hall and then we would meet at the computer room (before home computers were $180) and play solitaire next to each other. It was a kind of courtship because this ridiculous game had strategy that we shared and the opportunity for jokes never ended. Then we would go to the commons and eat cereal or lasagna or play piano in the music building.
Ah, those were the days.

Anyway, not to get off track, I'm addicted to solitaire and usually play one game before I do any writing. And if I look at the same sentence for too long then I play another game. And I play until I win. I do not just play and get stuck and quit. I reshuffle and play again. I'm not afraid. But it's at the point where I recognize the patterns the game throws at me. The red tens are always buried. So is one black King. The aces are usually given in the shuffle deck. So it becomes a game of guessing which layer has the king I need. It's usually in the layer of 8 at the far right end.

The point of this is that while my addiction to solitaire is mild, harmless, some might say natural, but my concern with the addiction of America to petroleum and copper technology IS ALSO AN ADDICTION. It's like I'm co-dependent on the computer junkie culture I'm living in. Yes, I rationalize that it's no longer possible to escape. I went to the most remote beach I have ever been on ever...a beach so far on the edge of nowhere that people fished with nets and spears...a beach that should have been deserted...and still I parked next to a guy who uploaded video footage of his flying machine to a computer station in space...using a satellite. So, am I the one who's addicted? He was completely at peace with the insane amount of computers and copper based. silicon enhanced machinery he used. I was the one appalled. But which of us is the addict? My assertion is that because copper and gold and silicon refinement is a gross exploitation of a global environment it is HE that has the problem...a problem he was blissfully ignorant of. But I had the problem because I was living in a van with less technology than in most cell phones. This van, my 1969 van, was manufactured the same year someone landed on the moon! And that was considered big stuff back then. Nowadays people get upset if their phone doesn't toast bread. But I bet my van was still considered fairly out dated because it lacked power steering.
Damn it. Listen. Living in a van because I don't want to be addicted to petroleum is damn near impossible. In Mexico I only met three other people who lived in their vans on the beach out of choice. One guy was named Phoenix and he lived in a kind of high ceiling cargo van that he called The Mothership. He had sold everything to buy it and it was a piece of work. He only wanted to do yoga, surf, and play chants on an Indian harmonium at 3am. The other guy was a semi-pro shortstop named Jay who only wanted to surf and play baseball. His van was, I think, a '70s era Chevy with plush lining and a woodland art scene airbrushed on the side. I guess I should include the technophile who arrived in a gigantic RV towing a gigantic trailer with enormous solar panels to power the satellite dish. He broke all the molds of self reliance. I can't categorize him because he was a skilled paddle surfer who also had built a kite flying machine from a VW engine and he would fly around looking at whales. Give him a bone and he would go to the Survivor island AND EAT ALL THE CONTESTANTS. Those guys were like bake sale moms compared to him. Never in my life have I encountered someone that intense.

We all had our different reasons for being there. Or at least we all started out with different reasons that eventually dissolved as we had to survive. We all wanted to live independent of a consumer culture. I believe this is important because philosophically it is the most rational. Like eating a ton of food will not kill you but it is philosophically grotesque. Self indulgence is one thing, but devouring more than necessary for survival is akin to theft because most of the world doesn't have the option. When you eat less you do less. When you do less you don't need as much food. This isn't glamorous so it doesn't appeal to the public like McDonalds and Hannah Montana. But it is nevertheless the alternative to an addiction to oil.
Unfortunately, it has become to resemble a drug addiction. I say this because every other person at the group home is an addict. One tenant just said, "I'm trying to get out of this mess."
He meant living at the group home. They are all recovering drug addicts and I'm right there with them. Basically, when my philosophy lands me in the same place as drug addicts, unable to get a job, unable to keep a job, too broke for even staples, walking miles to save gas, playing solitaire in a small room, undesirable, outcast, hairy, disease ridden, THEN it can be argued that I am no different than a drug addict. Even my buddy Don, the hooker king of La Paz, suspected me to be a meth addict. He wasn't just talking about my weight loss due to the 115 degrees in my van and diet of shrimp and chips. HE was talking about the wildness in my eyes and the stubborn adoption of SOMETHING (he didn't know what) that had me driving a 1974 Vespa with no accelerator control around Mexico with my guitar on my back and a solar powered speaker strapped to the front wheel. I'd run along next to it and pop the cylinder compression lever and it would spurt forward and I would jump on and take off as Don walked off with a whore and her pimp.
"I couldn't live your life for one day," said a guy who had been stabbed, shot at, imprisoned, married to abusive Russian wives and used drugs most of his life.
But it is not drugs. It has never been drugs. I have no desire to do drugs. Give me a choice between cocaine and solitaire and I will choose solitaire. And I know that sounds good, everyone should be real proud, but that's where it starts to go wrong too. Because it goes from no drugs to no beer to no salt to ONLY THE EXACT NUMBER OF RAISINS AND NUTS NEEDED TO SUSTAIN ME IN A PRONE POSITION.
Believe me, I'd be better off with a serious crank habit. I met people with serious crank habits who have adapted better. But what does that tell you? It tells you that the flip side is a culture addicted to Avatar toys and plastic spoons and wireless racing games. But since EVERYONE shares this addiction the adaption is simple. You fit in if you have credit problems and major debt. That's GOOD. Drug problem? Simple, just find GOD. You are included now.
I think it comes down to being at peace with your addiction. I renounced consumer culture and it has become an addiction that is not acceptable. But the addiction mimics an addiction to crack and since I don't smoke crack people suspect I am lying...because I ACT LIKE SOMEONE WHO SMOKES CRACK. Oh, the indignity. I don't even like gum...or caffeine. I put back a bag of $1 cookies the other day because of the sugar.
The important thing is that everything stays ABOUT ME.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.