Now you won’t find me in Selfridges very often but occasionally the misfortune befalls me. It’s a funny old place. Full of people with cash to burn—or at least a credit card or some space in the overdraft—it’s a consumer’s dreamland, a temple to fashion, style, class, status and the superficial sense of self our world exalts; a church to the predominating values that more than ever define our times.
You can easily tell the Selfridges congregation apart from the rest of society’s rabble: As the hare krishna crew are conspicuous in their orange robes, the Selfridges devotees are instantly recognisable by the auspicious shiny yellow bags they proudly sport as they walk the streets of central London. ‘Ah!’, you might exclaim, ‘They have been to worship in the temple of Selfridges. They have been to pray at the feet of the god of money’.
Well as I found myself in this very temple the other week, I noticed some rather strange things as I walked the sacred aisles.
First came the seduction, my eyes feasting on the gorgeous array of shiny and loud digital goods, stylish tailored garments crafted by poor people in crappy countries with expensive cloth, and attractive over-groomed staff who spoke to me as if I was actually important. Like a kid in a candy shop who’d just stolen some money from mum’s purse, I desired all I saw.
Then came the sense of inadequacy as my false sense of self took over and I realised that if only I bought some of this shit I would somehow be a better person—more attractive to girls, envied by my friends, and admired by all who spot my shiny yellow bag. ‘Ah!’, they might exclaim, ‘This man has made it, for he has been to worship in the temple of Selfridges’.
Then came the reprieve as some sense finally kicked in and I somehow revived myself from this wild and crazy stupor. That false sense of self will always be lurking somewhere, I realised—my sense of inadequacy will not be vanquished by a new cardigan. It will take more than a fancy new pair of boxer shorts to displace the feeling that I hate myself and I’m just not good enough.
And this is the crux of our modern problem. While it’s great to dress well and look good, in a world saturated with adverts and pop culture that glorifies the superficial and unattainable, it’s all too easy to get swept away in waves of inadequacy. For those of us with a shaky sense of self, temptations lie in wait that serve only to further estrange us from the essence of who we really are.
What Selfridges appeals to is that part of us that wants to be whole, liked, and comfortable in our own skin. While clothes, gadgets and stuff can provide the temporary perception of such comforts for a while, in the end they only serve to distance us from the part of us that is always complete.
Dress well, look good, but beware the traps that lie all around. Your real friends don’t care what you look like.
One of the greatest motivations behind our behaviour, yet also one of the least spoken of, is our fear of the future. Despite being something so rarely discussed, this fear informs so much of what we think and do, and the fundamental ways in which we choose to live our lives. If we want to be free we cannot neglect to consider how this fear affects us, and how it can be alleviated.
There are many fears connected to a fear of the future: a fear of physical and mental degeneration, a fear of not having the financial resources to live a comfortable life after we stop working, and a fear of being lonely to name a few.
What’s interesting and slightly strange about this fear is that collectively we choose everyday to live by and exacerbate it. Woven in to the fabric of our society the myth that we can and should be financially independent fuels our insecurities about the future. We live and work from the premise that we are and always will be alone.
While striving for security we place both literal and metaphorical walls around ourselves. They do not serve to protect but to separate, further cementing the sense that we’re on our own. No man is an island, yet through our collective choices we are adrift in seas of separation.
Community can cure our fear of the future. Being in community reminds us that we really are and should be in this together. Living in community lessens or even sometimes negates the need for money, making accesssible what once was free but has since been monetised; things like childcare, care in older age or entertainment.
Sharing and exchange lessen the financial burden on us, as people with a range of skills and gifts can mutually provide all the things a community needs, from food to furniture. Expensive items that we all use from time to time only need to be purchased once. Need something? Borrow mine. In the future the favour shall be returned.
Community is an extension of family. In a world where we know we can depend on community now and in the future the less we are locked in to leading lives that do not fulfill. The more we live for the future the less we live for now, and there is after all, only now.
Assuming that happiness, freedom and a spirit of adventure lies ahead in the twilight of our lives is the great gamble, not living freely right now. People ask if it is crazy to give up what you are accustomed to in order to follow your dreams. I suggest it is crazy not to. As Joseph Campbell insisted, we all must ‘follow our bliss’, and a world in which we can depend on the community of our brothers and sisters provides the surroundings that allow us to do this.
This is not a fantasy, as much as the structure of mainstream culture by comparison may lead it to appear. People are already reaping such benefits, right now, all over the world, through their embrace of community and what we can do for each other, and consequently ourselves. What it takes to enact this is a simple choice, and conviction.
Do not fall for the pension paradox. Do not believe the illusion of scarcity that has been conjured before our eyes. A world in which we live for each other, not for ourselves, yet paradoxically can lead the lives we always wanted to, is possible.