Alan Watts: What’s Wrong With Our Culture
“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 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 wish is finally materialized, they are like fairy gold, they are not really material at all.
In other words, so many of our products, our cars, our homes, our clothing, our food, It looks as if it were really the instant creation of pure thought; that is to say it’s thoroughly insubstantial, lacking in what the connoisseur of wine calls body.
And in so many other ways, the riches that we produce are ephemeral. and as the result of that we are frustrated, we are terribly frustrated. We feel that the only thing is to go on and getting more and more.
And as a result of that the whole landscape begins to look like the nursery of a spoiled child who’s got too many toys and is bored with them and throws them away as fast as he gets them, plays them for a few minutes.
Also we are dedicated to a tremendous war on the basic material dimensions of time and space. We want to obliterate their limitations. We want to get everything done as fast as possible. We want to convert the rhythms and 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 and begin the real business of life, to enjoy ourselves. 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. You can’t touch it, 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 banquet or an orgy of love-making or a riot of music and dancing; But nothing of the kind.
It turns out to be this purely passive contemplation of a twittering screen. 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 their own is really the creation of a mindless crowd.
And so we don’t get with each other except for public expressions or getting rid of our hostility like football or prize-fighting.
And even in the spectacles one sees on this television it’s perfectly proper to exhibit people slugging and slaying each other but 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 love are 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.”
YOU MIGHT ALSO DELIGHT IN ALAN WATTS’ ARTICLE:
“The experiences resulting from the use of psychedelic drugs are often described in religious terms. They are therefore of interest to those like myself who, in the tradition of William James, are concerned with the psychology of religion. For more than thirty years I have been studying the causes, the consequences, and the conditions of those peculiar states of consciousness in which the individual discovers himself to be one continuous process with God, with the Universe, with the Ground of Being, or whatever name he may use by cultural conditioning or personal preference for the ultimate and eternal reality. We have no satisfactory and definitive name for experiences of this kind. The terms “religious experience,” “mystical experience,” and “cosmic consciousness” are all too vague and comprehensive to denote that specific mode of consciousness which, to those who have known it, is as real and overwhelming as falling in love. This article describes such states of consciousness induced by psychedelic drugs, although they are virtually indistinguishable from genuine mystical experience. The article then discusses objections to the use of psychedelic drugs that arise mainly from the opposition between mystical values and the traditional religious and secular values of Western society.”